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Jeff Gabriel

Software development thoughts and findings.


Startup Work and Life

There have been some interesting posts on Twitter about work-life issues latey - especially visible are those from DHH like this one

Others have shown up in my timeline too, like those outraged at Lyft and others

The context isn’t all about startups - in general it’s the mystique of the harder-working, more committed, all-out grinder who is eating your lunch while you snooze. The fear that the other team is just better than you because they know what sacrifice is.

This is a culture problem - and one of those things that is like so many other boogeymen, based in a kind of truth but without all the facts. Like “the Secret” and its focus on a “name it, claim it” mentality - or more specifically, act like you’ve already obtained it - the focus is on some kind of sympathetic magic. The focus is all on the notion of committment as expressed by hours spent and misses the hours spent by inefficient workers and the long hours spent by a different kind of grinder whose sacrifice just keeps the lights on. I’ve worked with loads of people who didn’t ever leave the office, but whose work product I could never quite find. The fact is that hard work matters, but that luck plays a huge factor in success as well.

Why do I care about this? I work in a startup and lead a team of hardworking people who deeply give a shit - but who have lives. We have a responsibility to investors and even more important at the end of the day - we all want to win. We love our work, love our product, and think everyone should use it. In the mix is that there is also more to do than we can ever get done.


We can grind all day and never get done, lose our marriages in the process, see pics of our kids. Or, we can do life and work.

Funny thing is I don’t actually believe in balance. I’m a father and husband, a volunteer in my church, a little league coach, a blogger, a sports fan, a friend, etc, etc. I don’t balance that stuff - I live it. I prioritize and I schedule and I give attention to what needs attention. I leave work early when I have a date night or a game to coach and I code all night when I have an app that needs to get done.

Honestly, I can’t do what DHH talks about - working 8 hours a day and sleeping 8 hours a night. But, I’ll tell what I can do - hire smart people who care about being professional and really are committed - and then trust them. I can measure work by actual accomplishments rather than by measuring hours in the office. I can value a life which includes work but recognizes the foolishness of missing everything else in order to obtain a brass ring. I don’t think this life is all there is - but even if you do, hopefully you don’t think work delivers all there is. Accomplishments - like work trips to great locations - just aren’t as sweet when you don’t have anyone you care about to share them with. Or, as a friend of mine likes to say

“no ones deathbed confession is ever ‘I wish I had worked more’”

What am I suggesting? I suggest that you evaluate what needs to get done and figure out the best way to make that happen. Everyone has an agenda (this is not a bad thing - you have one too) and will gladly take what you give. Don’t just respond to every felt need. Don’t just do everything that others think is a priority. Be intentional about those things which are a priority to you. If you don’t like your work, figure out what it takes to be somewhere else. If you can’t - figure out how to appreciate what you’ve got. And more in line with the origin of this post - appreciate those who work hard but don’t have a trophy to prove it.