Reflecting back on my career and reminiscing, I realized that if we were all to receive a onetime mulligan, I probably would have made several changes. First and foremost, I no longer take the phrase “life is short” for granted, whereas now, I live and breathe this saying on a daily basis realizing that none of us knows what tomorrow will bring! Young entrepreneurs and especially concrete business owners can get so caught up in their daily regimen that before you know it, life has passed you up in the fast lane and you have children graduating high school and a head full of gray hair or worse yet, no hair at all! It is an absolute balancing act to juggle between running a successful business while trying to find time for your significant other or the kids sporting and school events.

Early on, it was difficult for me to make the distinction between personal and professional considerations due to the fact that my dad and his dad (Grandpa Harris) bled concrete, which either fortunately or unfortunately became engrained in my head. One of the most admirable qualities of concrete contractors is the fact that the vast majority of them are an extremely proud group of individuals that take pride in what they do, sometimes to the point of compromising the personal side of their lives.

How many of us are guilty of checking emails or phone messages (or gosh forbid Facebook) during our kid’s baseball game, daughter’s gymnastics event or during time on the lake? When in reality, we should be giving family members our undivided attention especially considering we are supposedly not working. I am absolutely guilty of crossing this line while having family moments and bringing work into the equation. For the most part, my wife and I are together 24/7 with her being the brains behind the operation. Having said that, we were both notorious for bringing our work home to the point of waking up in the morning and discussing shipping or sales issues while having our morning coffee. We started making a conscious decision to shut work off at certain moments while at home which is obviously difficult to do at times.

In general, the 20’s and 30’s generation business owners get so engrossed with refining their techniques and devoting most of their time to the business, before they know it, they are now in their mid to late 40’s and realize that they have missed some of the most important times of their family’s lives. In extreme cases, they have become such workaholics; they end up compromising their relationships as a result of putting the business in front of their family’s needs.

Recently, we were having a discussion with a close friend involved in the concrete industry about the fact it takes some of us nearly two-thirds our life to realize what is important and what our priorities should include. Of course when starting a new business there is no better substitute for on the job experience, I just wish the younger generation did not have to experience all of the obstacles thrown at them during the startup phase and were able to find the balance needed to succeed both personally and professionally.

Let’s review some tips to help you successfully walk the balance beam without falling off:

Set your business up with the end in mindI learned this lesson from Rocky Geans, a friend of mine, who always preached that while starting your business, you should set it up with the end in mind and do whatever it takes to obtain this goal. For some, this may mean retiring at a certain age or, working for 15 years and then selling the business or having family members take over the business. The point is, if you set the standard with established goals and realistic expectations, at least you can work towards this common denominator rather than just running wide open like a horse out of the gates and not knowing left from right. In today’s tough economic times it is too easy to drift from your goals, but rest assured, by having them, it will help you stay focused.

Prioritizing what’s importantFor many young and upcoming contractors I see out there, it seems their main motivation is to produce that perfect polishing project or show off their most amazing stain job to all of their industry colleagues. Although, for many years I definitely fit in to this category, learning how to prioritize what is important in the grand scheme of things is one of the most gratifying experiences one could ever feel. Occasionally, I’m still guilty of wanting to show off a really cool decorative saw cut design; however, it is so much more rewarding to see our grandchildren, Natilee, Brayson and Peyton grow up and accomplish their own set of challenges like, crawling, walking, talking or taking on that difficult spelling word.

Include your significant other in discussions about the business and personal timesYour life partner may not understand that pouring concrete is not a perfect science that you can set your watch to on a regular basis. The construction process includes dealing with climatic conditions that can effect drying times of slabs or sealers that can vary hours sometimes not to mention tight construction schedules. What’s more, some commercial projects require that all work performed needs to be done during the night shift. Having an open line of communication is paramount and often times all it takes is a brief explanation that certain scenarios may require you to work late or on occasion even on weekends.

Absolutely know when to shut work offBeing entrepreneurs we realize that it may be impossible to completely severe the life line to the business; however, it is crucial to know when to say enough is enough. If there are no 911 moments that need your immediate attention while running your business, turn the phone or ipad off during your family’s time together and dedicate all of your attention to these moments. As a young man, I have very fond memories of family camping trips in which Mom and Dad gave us kid’s full attention. It’s kind of comical to think that they probably had no other choice considering there were no such things as cell phones or lap top computers back then.

Give credit when credit is dueThis tip applies across the board both personally and professionally. I have a friend on Facebook who ironically I have never even met. Their company produces beautiful decorative concrete of which the owner proudly posts online for all of his concrete friends to see what they are doing that day. What impresses me the most about them is the fact that he ALWAYS acknowledges his team for a job well done and expresses how proud of them he is. This type of an attitude is contagious and is a huge motivator. The same logic applies at home. Just because you are the main bread winner for the family does not mean your partner’s job is any less significant. Some husbands or wives choose to be stay at home parents which we know is a job in itself. It is important to not just talk about your day and how the concrete almost got away from you. Ask how their day was while truly listening to what they have to say.

Cherish relationships and friendshipsThis gets back to an earlier point that was made which is, “life is short”. So much is happening in our world that it is easy to get caught up in all of the doom and gloom. When was the last time you picked up the phone and called a family member or friend for no other reason other than to say, “I love you,” or that your friendship is important? Speaking from experience, this really goes a long way. I have a younger friend that I met through the industry who on occasion calls and says, “Hello Mr. Harris, I just thought I would call to say hello and see how your day is going”. I’m usually left with a smile on my face and more importantly, a more positive attitude. It seems that recently we have had a barrage of tragedy not only within our own family but, with some of our close friendships as well. Don’t make the mistake of waiting to honor or pay tribute to someone important in your life. Speak your mind or make your peace. You may never get a second chance!

Understand the responsibility of what having a family means Assuming you have a family, there are very obvious financial obligations to consider for your family’s needs; however, more importantly, there are moral obligations as well. Try your best to turn work to the “off” position during personal time. Even if this is short intervals of 100% committed time as opposed to trying to answer emails or receiving phone calls during these times.

Do what is right not what is easyI like this saying considering how easy it is to get caught up in the same routine day in and day out. Sometimes slight deviations from your regimen can a have a huge impact. Recently we came across this quote and after re-reading it several times, it really made a lot of sense:

It's impossible to be loyal to your family, your friends, your country, and your principles, all at the same time.
~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook, 1960

The point being, each aspect of your life deserves its own independent attention.

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