By Gene Ku
I was born and raised by entrepreneurs who, in my opinion, epitomize the American dream. My parents emigrated from South Korea with just the clothes on their backs before building a successful assisted-living business from scratch.
They knew — and impressed upon me — that nothing in life is free. Entrepreneurship, in particular, has steep costs. But they also knew that, in return for their sacrifices, they could achieve a level of success, fulfillment and freedom unattainable by working for someone else.
To me, their sacrifices were always just part of life. That meant some lonely soccer games and long days at daycare, but I didn't resent my parents. From a young age, I saw the long hours they put in, and I understood that their business thrived because of it. They modeled the discipline that I'd eventually need to run my own company.
For entrepreneurs, the company is a second spouse. Like any partner, giving it the attention it deserves isn't easy. Sometimes, it means late nights at work and missed weekend excursions; other times, it means choosing to delay parenthood or other life goals.
Nobody wants to have to make those choices. But if you want to succeed in business, then you first need to know where your priorities lie — and, more to the point, what you're willing to sacrifice in order to achieve them.
Today, I am 40 years old and engaged. While that might seem late, I saw my 20s and 30s as my entrepreneurial peak. As rewarding as relationships can be, they're also big distractions. It wasn't easy, but I chose to delay that gratification until I'd made my mark in business. I knew that if I chased two rabbits, I'd catch neither.
Unlike delaying starting a family, sacrificing social time wasn't one big decision; it was a series of small ones. I rarely attended happy hours. I skipped after-dinner get-togethers and Sunday afternoon football. There were ups and downs, but I knew that I'd never enjoy the fruits of my labor if I didn't actually put in that labor.
Every success story — not just mine or my parents — contains behind-the-scenes sacrifices. Yes, Tiger Woods has natural talent, but he'd never be a star without spending thousands of hours perfecting his game. The 10,000-hour rule of mastery may be a cliché, but as American writer and educator George Leonard knew, excellence does not come without practice.
Like Woods, entrepreneurs must practice their craft until it becomes an extension of the self. The most successful ones, at some point or another, learn to hone that part of themselves without neglecting the others.
1. Get off your ass. I get it. Life is hard, and it's easy to say, "I don't have enough time for that." But if you don't care for your body, then you can't care for yourself and, by extension, your company.
If you think you're too busy for fitness, just consider Strauss Zelnick. At 59, he's a father, a husband and a media executive, and he still finds time to hit the weights. Between running the private equity firm Zelnick Media Capital and Take-Two Interactive — the firm behind video games like "Grand Theft Auto" and "Max Payne" — he leads #TheProgram, a four-day-per-week morning fitness club.
So drop the excuses, and put your health first. Lift weights, go jogging, take a hike or head out on the bicycle. If Zelnick can do it, you can, too.
2. Find your entrepreneurial family. Most of the world doesn't know what you're going through. They're happy to come home after work, pop on Netflix and forget about work until tomorrow morning. And when you work harder than everyone around you, it's easy to throw in the towel.
The solution, though, isn't to quit: It's to meet and associate with people like you. Join entrepreneurial peer groups like Entrepreneurs' Organization, SCORE Association or YPO. Embrace those who are traveling the same path, helping you and cheering you on. There's nothing more uplifting and encouraging than sharing entrepreneurship's struggles and rewards.
3. Realize school never stops. Remember when you walked across that stage, diploma in hand, convinced your education was over? In reality, your entrepreneurial education was just beginning. In business, if you're not constantly learning, then you'll be left behind.
Become a self-guided learner. Read at least one book per month — something that's interesting to you and practical. For a few bucks, you could become a better leader, learn a new skill or even pick up a new language.
For auditory learners, podcasts can yield similar results. My favorites are "The Tim Feriss Show" and "How I Built This," which always help me put my challenges in perspective. Don't have time to listen? Pop on a podcast during your workout or commute.
Ultimately, being successful means being decisive. Don’t half-sacrifice one thing for something else, or you'll fail to achieve either. If you're rewarding your team with a happy hour or eating dinner with family, then put the phone away. You can't bond with people while working. And with all the distractions, you probably won't get much done anyway.
Success doesn't come without sacrifice. It requires you to be purposeful, spend time strategically, delay gratification, and care for your body and mind. If you do those things, then you'll achieve what you set out to accomplish.
Image credit: Frontline Creative via Unsplash
Gene Ku is the founder and chairman of Mobovida, a vertically integrated online retailer and fashion-forward, direct-to-consumer mobile accessory brand. Since 2002, Gene has bootstrapped Mobovida and CellularOutfitter, the largest pure-play online retailer of mobile accessories. Using agile product development and a sophisticated digital marketing model, Gene has propelled Mobovida to a remarkable 14-year compounded annual growth rate with nine consecutive years and counting on the Inc. 5000 list. Gene is also a venture partner at K5 Ventures in Orange County, Calif., and serves as mentor and advisor.