Originally published in Inc. Magazine.
Like most successful entrepreneurs, working at a high level of intensity came naturally to Brad Feld, co-founder of Techstars and the Foundry Group. But over the last 30 years, he noticed a damaging pattern shared by many entrepreneurs: His words didn't match his actions.
He said he wanted to invest more in his personal relationships. He said he wanted to invest in his mental fitness. He said he wanted to work on himself. And yet work at the office always seemed to come first. Somehow, he was committed to never getting enough sleep, not taking enough space for himself, traveling too much, and repeating this cycle again and again.
So how did Feld break this classic entrepreneurial pattern? How can you break out of this pattern in your own work? For Feld, it all comes down to one big idea: Real success comes from blending the work in your company with a deeper kind of work, work on yourself.
In a culture that values external metrics of success (revenue, capital raised, number of employees, or profit) over inner success (contentment, happiness, and meaning), this view sounds radical. But Feld points out the obvious flaw in the ordinary mindset of most entrepreneurs: "If you're not healthy physically and mentally, how can you do any of this? And what's the point? Why bother?"
Here are the practices Feld uses to turn this aspiration of working on himself into a daily habit:
Every morning, Feld spends 30 minutes meditating. "I literally wake up, go to the bathroom, brush my teeth, and then go sit for 30 minutes," he says. His practice is what is often described as "open awareness" meditation. There's no goal. It's more about allowing the mind to relax and be with things as they are.
Feld describes working with an outside coach or therapist as an essential practice for all entrepreneurs. As he puts it, "every entrepreneur should work with a coach or therapist or possibly both. Because you need that time to work on yourself."
Decades of research show that sleep plays an essential role in reducing stress, consolidating memories, and enhancing cognitive performance. For Feld, getting enough sleep is now a top priority. "I try to get at least eight hours of sleep a night, and I let myself wake up whenever I wake up," he says. "I no longer sleep with an alarm clock."
Feld also relies on a regular exercise program to maintain optimal levels of mental and emotional fitness. And yet he notes that there's a risk in overdoing it. At one point, for example, he ended up competing in an ultra-marathon, which pushed him far beyond his limits and led to a prolonged state of depression and exhaustion.
If there is a common thread running through Feld's advice for entrepreneurs, it is this: "In your own way, invest in you on a continuous basis."
It's easy to overlook the ROI of working on yourself. It's easy to follow the path of least resistance that leads us to prioritize work above all else. And yet, Feld's story illustrates both the risks of ignoring this inner work and the powerful benefits of making it a top priority.