Do You Have Entrepreneur’s Guilt?

Do You Have Entrepreneur's Guilt?

A few weeks ago, I set out to find a bit of information about a feeling I only recently put a name to— entrepreneur’s guilt. I researched online, asked fellow entrepreneurs, and pretty much came up with zilch. In fact, if you run a search in Google for “entrepreneur’s guilt” you will only get 2-3 pages of results. In my world, that means it basically doesn’t exist. The only decent description I found was on SVN about Gary Hirshberg (founder of Stonyfield Farm – a 370million/yr yogurt co.) and his wife.

Why is no one talking about entrepreneur’s guilt? Is it possible people just don’t have a name for it? Perhaps they call it poor work/life balance or being a work-a-holic? For me, neither of those entirely fit the bill. In the aforementioned article, Mary Hirshberg says: “it’s never a solo venture, it always involves a family.” This resonated BIGTIME with me.

I decided to go beyond asking friends and family. I shot out some formal questions to a number of entrepreneurs with significant others, children, etc. that I know. Some of the responses blew me away. So much so I had to make an executive decision not to include some responses in this piece. I will say however, that many were filled with stories of marital dispute, divorce and worse.

I purposely did not define “entrepreneur’s guilt”. I want each contributor to define it for themselves. I want you to define it for yourself. Beyond this, I wanted to find out how they cope. Are they able to maintain a healthy lifestyle? Balance?

Finally, once you read through, we would love to hear your stories. I think many will agree, we could all use a bit of help in this department.

Our Lovely Contributors

Mike BlumenthalM. Blumenthal Alex-FusmanA. Fusman Mary BowlingM. Bowling Darren-ShawD. Shaw Matthew-HuntM. Hunt Mike-RamseyM. Ramsey

1.- Tell us about yourself and your business (couple sentences).

Mike Blumenthal – In a past life, I was a principal in a family run retail business with 50 employees and 3 locations. Now, I have a boutique consulting firm that I operate with my brother.

Alex Fusman – I’m an internet marketing consultant for agencies and SMBs. Clients approach me to help them increase their online presence, visitation, leads and sales. I also have some of my own entrepreneurial ventures that are separate from my consulting business.

Mary Bowling – I’m an SEO/Local SEO consultant living in a small mountain town in Colorado.

Darren Shaw – I run a company called Whitespark. We primarily develop software and services for local SEO, such as the Local Citation Finder and our Citation Building Service. I have been with my wife since we were 17, have been married for 14 years, and have a two and a half year old daughter.

Matthew Hunt – I am an internet junkie who runs a web marketing agency that helps small businesses dominate the web via local search engine marketing.  For those who have no idea what SEM means, we help small businesses show up on the first page of Google.  That’s the dulled down version I tell my family.

Mike Ramsey – I own a couple of companies. Nifty Marketing services businesses across the country with Local Search Marketing and The Voice is a newspaper in Southern Idaho delivered to around 18,000 houses.

2.- Do you feel what’s called “Entrepreneur’s Guilt?” Does it ever go away? How do you cope?

Mike Blumenthal – Firstly the question of guilt. Life is full of choices. So many that there is not enough time in the day to select every option. One is forced to pick and choose.

Is that my fault? No. Therefore I need to be aware of the choices that I do make and be sure that the choices I  make are ones that are well thought out and consistent with my values. Guilt, implies that I think I should be making other choices. If that is the case then rather then feeling guilty one should figure out if the other choices are the right ones.

Alex Fusman – Absolutely. That guilt comes from knowing there’s always more you could be doing for your clients and your business. Every hour spent not working or vacationing is another hour you’re not working on your business.

I think part of this comes from the way we think about entrepreneurship. We think that we’ll work extra hard for a few years in order to live an easier and more fulfilling life later on. This is somewhat of a myth because that’s not necessarily how things work out.

The guilt never really goes away unless you can truly accept that down time is not always wasted time. Time with family, friends and doing things you enjoy is not wasted time. In fact, it’s essential in keeping you sane and productive. That’s what I try to tell myself when I feel that guilt creeping in :-)

Mary Bowling – Well, first I had to google the term because I wasn’t sure what you’re referring to. But, yes, I often have to make myself stop working and participate in activities with friends and family so that I don’t get disowned. The odd thing is that a lot of people act like they feel sorry for me that I work so much. But I feel very lucky to enjoy what I do so much that I want to do it – a lot.

Darren Shaw – I don’t really have Entrepreneur’s Guilt anymore, but I am very familiar with it. Up until the past couple of years, I had a very hard time balancing work and life. As the business owner, there is always the stress of putting in the hours to get the bills paid, while still making time for the family. I certainly want to build a company that does far more than just pay the bills though, and that generally requires extra hours, which I definitely put in during the first 6 years of building this company. Family time suffered a little as I often put in long hours.

I think things changed for me when our daughter was born. There was way less free time available, so, I needed to limit work hours. I have pretty much worked 9 to 5 for the past two years. Interesting enough, the past two years have been the best years for the company’s growth. There is never enough time to get everything done, so, I feel that I just need to focus and work hard during the day, then when the day is over, leave it behind and pick it up the next day. I do have a bad habit of checking email and twitter in the evening, and that gets me thinking about work again, but I’m trying to cut that off as well. I find that I’m more productive after taking a complete mental break from work. each day.

Matthew Hunt – Not sure if I know what you mean by “Guilt”.  No I don’t think so.  Am I an Entrepreneur  – 100% yes!  I can’t look at anything without figuring out the angle to make money with it.  It’s in my DNA.  Real crazy ass people Entrepreneur  know what I am talking about.  I have to bite my tongue have the time around normal people, just not to talk about it all the time.

Mike Ramsey – Definitely at times. I have a young family. Two wonderful kids and another on the way. There are times I am NEVER around and it eats at me when that is the case. My wife is really supportive but if I am zoned out for a week or so in work mode when I am home I will definitely hear about it. At those times, I really have to think about why I am doing what I am and make sure I allign my priorities. As far as coping goes… Lately I have really came to understanding that I am not needing to run faster than I have strength. I dont think you can cope with being in the work zone 24/7. So, I check out of work. I put down my computer, iPad, Phone and bust out the lego’s with my boy.

3.- Do you maintain a healthy lifestyle (ie. exercise & diet)? What do you do and how do you make time?

Mike Blumenthal – One has to eat. For our family, we made eating a great meal once a day, together, a defining characteristic of our family. It meant that sometimes we had to cook ahead on Sundays, sometimes we had to be creative in the kitchen and be able to produce a good, fresh meal in 30 minutes. Both are possible. We prioritized this for everyone. As our kids got older we had to become more flexible as to what time we ate etc and who cooked but we have maintained the practice  for 30 years. Integrating good eating into our lives (our is a critical concept here) has become more than a daily habit, it has become a way to experience grace of the most meaningful kind on a daily basis.

Exercise has been more problematic. To some extent that is a systemic issue with our culture. Exercise is often defined as separate from daily living. That it needs to take place in a gym or on a playing field and required X amount of caloric expenditures.  It took me a long time to understand that and to realize that the separation served business values but not human values. For me personally, the best way to become more active was to reintegrate exercise back into my daily life. Not as a separate activity but as part and parcel of getting through my day. For example, it took me 15 minutes to get into my car, park it at the other end and get to my office. I found that riding my bike took 31 minutes to go the same distance. Riding home at the end of a long day was initially a (mental) struggle. but now it seems odd to get in the car. Thus I was able to get 62 minutes of exercise every day and it only “cost” me 30 minutes. A great value no matter how you slice it.

Alex Fusman – Because I mostly work from home, I don’t find it that difficult to eat a reasonably healthy diet. If I were out and about more, I’d be eating fast food more frequently. At home, I keep the amount of junk food in the house to a bare minimum, so there’s no chance of getting carried away. All I have to eat is the food I cook. Luckily, healthy food is easy to cook.

Making time to work out is a different story. When you’re having a productive day, you don’t want to break out of “the zone” to go work out. On the other hand, when you’re having an unproductive day, you really don’t want to walk away from work because it’ll mean you get even less work done. So it’s really difficult to make time to work out. I find that it helps if you schedule it for yourself in advance. Also, don’t worry about missing a call while you’re at the gym – you’ll call back. What really helps for me is choosing the closest gym to where I live. It’s close enough that I could jog to it in under 5 minutes. If it was any farther away, I definitely wouldn’t go as often.

Mary Bowling – I get up and exercise every morning before I can get distracted by work. If I don’t, I may not find time for it later in the day.

Darren Shaw – Not really. I used to go to the gym a few times a week, then it reduced to working out at home a couple times a week, then doing some chin-ups once a week, to now, which is pretty much nothing. :)

I’d like to get back to some more regular exercise, but it’s really hard to find the time. I generally eat healthy, and I’m not really getting fat, so, it’s not high priority at the moment.

Matthew Hunt – Sorta.  I do exercise, but not enough (IMO).  I do plan on exercising and stretching more in 2013.  My kids think I have laptop growing out of my torso.  My plan is to set my Google calendar to go off at noon and 3 pm everyday to do 10 minutes of exercise on top of my 3 days/week at the gym.   I eat well for the most part, it’s just the sitting that is killing me.  I also have a sitting and standing desk, but currently find myself doing more sitting then standing.

Mike Ramsey – No, This is something I have to fix. Exercise seems to always be on my mind but never possible as I usually end up checking my inbox and a few hours later realize that I dont have time. Morning exercise doesn’t seem possible so I have put a bike in my home office and am trying to ride at night. As far as food, I try not to eat much, never drink soda and stick to water. Seems to help.

4.- Do you make time for yourself? How often? With your free time, what do you do?

Mike Blumenthal – this is a very strange question. I am myself and spend 24 hours a day with myself. Thus I have plenty of time with me. All time is free. Given that work is an intentional choice and a meaningful one, I don’t find myself lacking for free time.

Alex Fusman – This is a tricky one. I often spend time not working in between working. This is easily justified with the mindset of, “it’s ok to make time for yourself sometimes,” but really it’s not the right way to do it because your mind isn’t really disconnected from the work.

I try to make sure to take some time on the weekends and evenings to hang out with some friends, see a movie, or even just read a book. Blocking off a few hours every couple days as “personal time” reduces the guilt of missing a phone call or not replying to a client’s email. Besides, clients should learn to respect your personal time too.

Mary Bowling – I try to take my dog out for a run at lunchtime. It breaks up the day and we get some outside time. I do some kind of outdoor activity every Saturday and Sunday-either rafting, biking, hiking, snowboarding, skiing, ice skating or snowshoeing.

Darren Shaw – I love my work, so, I tend to jump on the computer with any free time I have. I am trying to make an effort to be more social these days though. I’ve been trying to get together with my guy friends at least once a month.

Matthew Hunt – No.  Not at all.  I work and when I am not working I am with my kids.  It’s not uncommon for me to pull 12 hour days most days and to work weekends once I get the kids to bed.  I should take some time off.  I prefer the odd night out with the boys, once every two months for some amazing food and few scotches. ;)  I find that ‘mini vacation’ does the job for me.   Besides I’ve never know any small business owner who doesn’t breath, eat, sleep, every waking moment thinking about their business.  It’s a blessing and a curse.

Mike Ramsey – I didn’t use to, but lately I have gotten better at this.I read (non related work stuff) I will just sit and talk with my wife or kids. I also will go mountain biking, snowboarding, golf etc. Basically, I do this as soon as I find that I am not effective at work. Not reason to be non effective sitting there. So, I will get up, get out, and get back to things when I can focus.

5.- Do you have any work/life balance tips that you can provide? Or is balance a myth?

Mike Blumenthal – My attitude is that work IS life. And life is work. I take a great pride in what I do and view it as providing meaning to me on multiple levels. So I don’t view the relationship as a dichotomy. Work, despite its definition by neoclassical economists as disutility, is the core of who and what I am. Along with my family, it defines the things I find valuable and meaningful. Thus I don’t see a need to balance it.  One has competing choices and picking amongst them is a constant process  but that isn’t a struggle or a burden.

Alex Fusman – I don’t think that balance is a myth, but it’s elusive. You really have to set yourself up for it and be disciplined. This is where I think most people fail when pursuing work/life balance. Most entrepreneurs work and live at the same time. Meaning, they combine work and life rather than separate it. This leads to never being in a state of “not working” and when they are working, they’re not as focused. I think the key is to be disciplined about making a daily work schedule and sticking to it. This allows you time every day for uninterrupted “life”.

That said, there’s no one right way that works for everyone. Many people feel more fulfilled when they can work and “live” dynamically throughout the day without having a separate “work time” and “non-work time.” It’s all about trying out different approaches, seeing what works best for you and then really sticking to it.

Mary Bowling – I think if you love your work, what seems like balance to you doesn’t seem like balance to the rest of the world. So, while balance isn’t a myth, it is open to interpretation.

Darren Shaw – I tweeted this a couple months ago: ”New mantra: You’ll never finish everything. Work hard and focused, then let it go at the end of the day. Turn off work and return refreshed.” I’ve been trying to stick to it. Life is better because of it. I actually feel more productive than ever. The main thing for me is just letting it go. Trying to catch myself when I’m obsessing about work in off hours, and shifting my focus to something else. Being present to family and personal life is important and I am much happier for it.

Things have gotten tighter at work, but it has forced me to delegate more, say “no” more,  and focus on what matters both at work and in my personal life.

Matthew Hunt – In my opinion, balance is for people with “jobs”. ;) and it’s almost always bullshit.  Most people who excel anything are fanatics and crazy as hell.  Anyone who tells you different again is full of you know what.

Mike Ramsey – Delegation. This is the difference between successful growth and a failed company and life in my opinion. If you don’t have people to delegate stress and responsibility too then you will burn out and when that happens everything around you falls. So, creating a balance is about giving others responsibility, finding amazing talent, and putting yourself in a situation where you are not a slave to the daily dealings of the company. When you can create that, you can become balanced if it is something you desire. Not everyone is the same on this though. Some would rather their balance be that 80% of their waking time is their work. I am not that guy. I dont live to work, I work to live.

About Adam Steele

A SEO & Local SEO by trade, Adam spends the majority of his time creating new efficiencies through smart processes and the leveraging of technology. He is ruthlessly passionate about building smart, lean businesses, and exploring new, lean, internet marketing techniques. Find him on Twitter @AdamGSteele.

  • Anand

    I love this article. I have been working on delegation, but I still feel anxiety sometimes that I am not getting enough done at work, and almost nothing non-work/life-related.

    Saying “no” is huge.

  • Matthew Hunt

    So awesome to be a part of this. It was really cool to read every else’s responses on “Do you have any work/life balance tips that you can provide? Or is balance a myth?”

    Nice work Adam!

  • Matt Antonino

    Awesome article on something a lot of my former colleagues are still feeling. I used to be a full time photographer and with that came all the entrpreneurial roles: ceo, cmo, cfo, graphic designer, web designer, SEO, taking out the trash, taking boxes to the post office, album design, image editing, etc. You get overwhelmed because there’s no course for the small self employed business owner that tells you how to NOT work. It feels like the busier you are, the better for your business.

    Since starting my SEO company and working full time on this, I’ve been *much* better about it. I usually work a regular schedule, do a couple hours of light reading in the evening and don’t worry too much about working 16+ hour days. It’s not worth it. At the end of 8 years as a full time entrepreneur who was burning out, I had to change what I was doing. That’s not worth it. In 2 years of being a full time, committed but balanced person, I’ve done more and gotten further than in those 8 years with much more to look forward to in the future. 2012 was my “best year ever” and 2013 will make that look like child’s play.

    Is it important to work hard? Absolutely, yes. I have the entrepreneur DNA and I’m always “thinking” but sometimes you have to remove yourself from the computer and devices and enjoy the part of life you’re working toward. Otherwise it’s worthless. Rand F. had a great post on this on his blog earlier in the year. I think it’s worth a read for most small biz entrepreneurs.


    • Alex

      Matt, thanks for your thoughts.

      The realization that staying as busy as possible doesn’t necessarily relate directly to staying as productive as possible can be a turning point in both life and in business.

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  • Lew Newmark

    Hi Adam. I didn’t even read the whole article yet. After I saw the title of the article and read the first few paragraphs I totally understood where this was going and I have no problem relating to this one.

    Two different vascular conditions limit my ability to hold down a regular job, so I’ve turned to freelancing full time to earn a living, while I have to take my better half (no, really she is) to her 4 to midnight working hell. I always have this guilty twinge when I drop her and her friend off there each day.

    As far as a “balance” I’m still struggling with this one at the moment. I love not answering to anyone (in the “job”) sense, but of course there’s still the assignment deadlines, as well as creating my own content for my blog sites. It’s tough to strike that balance, and I applaud those of you who’ve been able to do that, as I fight the good fight. :)

  • AndreiiCGIFlythrough

A bad ass guide, that takes you through the most CRITICAL tips & tricks.


Andrew Shotland -

“Adam is a font of local SEO knowledge.  He’s the SEO the other SEOs turn to when they don’t know what to do”


Darren Shaw -

“Adam Steele is one of the sharpest and hardest working local SEOs I know. He’s a creative problem solver that knows how to get businesses ranked. I have personally learned a ton from him.”