Erik Trautman logo crest shield seal

Erik Trautman

“Everything you can imagine is real.”
-- Pablo Picasso

Startup Addiction

My work/life balance sucks.

I plan my weekends off like you'd normally plan vacations because they occur with roughly the same frequency. I don't get to see my family or friends nearly as much as I'd like and when I do it's often in a very timeboxed fashion that doesn't leave enough room for serendipity. I've seen our coworking space at all hours of the day and night and share a special connection with the handful of others who regularly do the same. I have a growing list of hobbies and events that I want to do or try that never gets any shorter. I suck at spontaneity now. I started booking meetings 5 minutes shorter just so I'd have time to run to the restroom or grab a bite between them.

This typically looks like a recipe for a painfully sad existence.

I've never felt more stimulated or alive.

The Rush

I feel like a kid in a candy store of creative challenges. I could spend all night staying up tackling any one of them, whether it's strategizing about growth, planning partnerships, mocking up features, designing icons, crafting curriculum or just doing some good old-fashioned coding. Even the most awful of the shit work has diamonds of knowledge within it. There is so much I don't know.

The amount of personal growth I've experienced over the past year is enormous. Just by being thrown in head first, I've had to learn a dozen different full-time roles and adopt them all. I'm a product manager, a designer, a growth hacker, a recruiter, a fundraiser, a CEO, a developer, a teacher, a therapist, a legal assistant and a salesman. There's no room to suck at anything when you're in a small startup. Your biggest fire needs to be put out yesterday, whether you know how to do it or not. So you learn. FAST.

For someone as competitive and hard-wired for personal growth as I am, it's a call-to-arms to the most interesting battle in the world. Every day I feel a little more like Superman. Every day a bit more of the puzzle is solved. I'm more assertive than I was. I'm actually comfortable public speaking now (okay, I even enjoy the rush). I'm starting to see The Matrix all around me in the way marketing, customer development, business development, management, PR, funding and, hell, just plain human relationships work. Every day the world comes a bit more into focus and I level up just a bit more.

Don't give me coffee, don't stick a needle in my arm. Just give me an impossible task and tell me I need to become a unicorn to solve it. It's game on.

The Cost

And that's exactly the problem. It's an endless macro-level stimulation binge interspersed with intermittent "Oh shit, the world is ending" down periods perfectly timed for the creation of operant conditioning. A friend of mine recently compared it with shocking accuracy to the behaviors of substance addiction. She's not alone.

The high/reinforcement? Infinity learning and personal growth for the intellectually curious. The opportunity to change the world. Adrenaline.

The withdrawal/punishment? If you don't keep up, you're not going to grow as fast as you need to or, in a small startup, you'll probably fail. Oh yeah, and the employees you've brought on board with your vision, who have trusted you to take care of them and whose paychecks you are responsible for, will be fired.

If we could just live in a world of beautiful addictions free from cost… Well, we don't.

Being on this startup high pushes out so many other important aspects of life that the trade-offs in relationships, life opportunities and health are absurd. We all know the stories of people who "woke up" in their later life and realized they'd missed out on everything that really matters. More immediately, I recently had a conversation with a friend who described the same high immediately prior to a long and confusing crash into depression.

The few times when I'm able to get some distance to ponder the track of my life, I see gaping holes in everything not labeled "The Business".

My New Years Resolution was to improve the balance of my life and I'm failing to do so. Sure, there are worse things to be addicted to but in many ways the effects on your time, relationships and lifestyle are the same. I love this feeling of growth but the cost is high and I've got to figure out how to manage a better balance between it and the other things that matter in life.