How to Build a Passion Business While Supporting a Family of 8 (the post to kill excuses)

Written by Scott June 20, 2012

Starting a business supporting a family of 8

“There is no cure for laziness but a large family helps.”

– Herbert Prochnov

Answering the difficult questions…

I am constantly getting questions from readers about how they can live their legend and pursue their passion given whatever life situation they’ve found themselves in. But one situation tends to come up more often than most:

“I have a wife (or husband) and kids to support so how can I possibly make the transition to doing work I love?”

They then list all kinds of reasons (that at times can be very valid) such as not enough time, they won’t make enough money, or for whatever reason they just can’t take the ‘risk’.

This question is near impossible for me to answer. Simply because I have not been there. I have a wonderful family of two – my wife Chelsea and me. We have plenty of obligations, but we do not have any kids (yet) and there are no doubt people who have a lot more at stake than we do.

So the way I always answer this is to point them to the people I’ve met over the years who are in very similar situations, who have families to support and big financial obligations, who have defied the odds and built an incredible life for themselves.

The first person I always point to is Leo Babauta, the creator of Zen Habits.

In a matter of a few years Leo went from working his ass off as a newspaper reporter, to creating one of the biggest blogs in the world, and having a 100% passion based business – all from a standing start, from scratch, while literally living in the middle of nowhere out on Guam. Time Magazine consistently rates Zen Habits one of the top 25 blogs.

And the kicker… he did all this while supporting a family of 8.

Over a long double date at one of our favorite SF spots, and after a few glasses of wine, he graciously agreed to write us all an article on how he actually did it.

Leo and his amazing wife, Eva, are good friends and he’s been a huge inspiration in a lot of ways. Live Your Legend would not exist if it wasn’t for the support, guidance and ideas I’ve received from him over the years.

So without further ado, here’s a guest post from Leo Babuata of Zen Habits

A man who can answer this question far better than I can.

*****

Enter Leo:

I’m often asked, as a father of six kids, how I’ve been able to live a life where I pursue the things I’m most passionate about, to focus on creating something meaningful — despite having large family obligations. I have to support my family, maintain my relationship with my wife, spend time with my kids, help around the house, help my wife homeschool the kids … and yet, I’ve created a life where I do the things I love.

I write every single day, read novels I love, run and exercise, pursue new learning, help others in ways that are deeply satisfying, meet with friends who are doing things they’re passionate about.

How is this possible?

The answer is simply simplicity. I learned very early on that my family was my most important thing, but that I didn’t have enough time for them. And so I made time, by simplifying my commitments, one by one. I had time for my family, but I also needed time for doing the work I loved, so I made more time by simplifying more commitments, simplifying my work, and simplifying my family life. If you can simply your family life, your other commitments, and the steps it takes to pursue your passion, you’ll have enough time. If you don’t simplify, you’ll just be trying to cram more things into an already crowded container.

How I Simplify Commitments

When I realized I had too much on my plate for my family and doing the work I was excited about, I realized something had to give. So I started to simplify commitments:

  • I started saying “no” to work committees. Yes, this meant I wasn’t as popular at work, but I decided my standing at work was less important than finding time for my family and passions.
  • I resigned from soccer coaching and the PTA board I was on. I wanted to be involved in my kids’ activities and school, but the commitments meant I was spending more time with other people working on various projects and teams, rather than actually spending time with my family.
  • I stopped accepting so many invitations. I had to say “no”.
  • I reserved one day a week (Sundays) for nothing but hanging out with my family and playing. That meant no parties, no other social obligations, no work, nothing.
  • I started getting out of other projects and commitments, one at a time. Getting out of these things is often just an email or a phone call.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. You think it will be horrible resigning or saying no to a project, but while people might say “please!”, they will usually accept it after a couple firm “no thank you’s” and find another way to make it work. Life goes on.
  2. Telling people your policy helps to keep your boundaries firm: “Sorry, I don’t make commitments for Sundays because it’s family day”, or “Sorry, I’m not taking on any other commitments for the next few months because my plate is full.”
  3. Its’ very easy to say yes to something, because it never sounds very difficult. But it will usually take about 5-10 times as much of your time as you think. Seriously. If your plate is full now, don’t say yes to something without clearing away something else.
  4. You’re not missing out on all the fun. It might sound like other people are having fun by going to all these cool parties, but you can have as much fun staying home and playing board games or kick ball with your family.

How I Simplify My Family Life

Family obligations don’t have to take up your entire life, but they should be made a top priority. I work at home, and my kids get my attention if they want it. That said, I also make it clear when I need to get work or some other commitment done. Here are some of the things I do to simplify my family life:

  1. I work early while the family is sleeping. My most important work is done in the early morning, so that by the time everyone else is moving for the day, I have time
  2. I reserve later in the day for the family. There’s always a point in the afternoon when I decide to call it quits, and focus on spending time with the kids. If I don’t, I can easily work into the night and never have time for the family.
  3. I take walks with my wife. We walk to do errands, grocery shopping, and to go to the gym together. We also do runs together sometimes.
  4. I let my kids know when I need to work. While working from home means I can always make time for my family, I also need to have work time. So I teach them to take care of themselves, learn on their own, help each other out, and entertain themselves, when I have to focus on work.
  5. We homeschool our kids. My wife does most of the homeschooling from home, so there’s no rushing the kids off in the morning, no commute to school and work, no big van needed to shuttle the family around to various events.
  6. We don’t overschedule our kids. Many kids have every minute of their day scheduled, from school to school organizations to sports to music or dance lessons to playdates and more. We do some of those things, but very few of them, and never more than one at a time. So sure, our kids do less than most kids, but they then have to learn how to keep themselves entertained, and have more free time for most kids. That’s good for them, and it means we’re less busy.
  7. We teach the kids to be self-sufficient. All our kids know how to get their own breakfasts, shower, dress themselves and brush their teeth, and the older ones know how to do dishes, laundry, sweep and mop, clean their rooms, cook simple lunches and dinners, and watch the younger ones. That means we have lots less work to do, and they’re learning responsibility.
  8. We aren’t worried about keeping up with the Joneses. The kids don’t have to have the latest gadgets or clothes, and we’re not worried that they’re “behind” other kids in learning. All kids learn at their own pace, and there’s no one pace that all kids should keep up with. Our kids learn based on what they’re interested in, not what other kids their age “should” know. That means we are more relaxed about education, and everything else, and helps keep things simple.

How I Keep My Passions Simple

While I think having work that I’m passionate about is very important (second only to my family), if I want to fit it into my life and still have family time, I need to be good about keeping work simple. Here’s what I do:

  1. I work from home. This saves a lot of commute and other time, so that I can get my work done in a much shorter time than most people, and have time for family.
  2. I limit my time. I didn’t always work from home — when I first started pursuing this passion, I had to do it in between regular work, family time and other commitments, and so I found ways to make my time matter. The trick is to set limits — I have an hour to write before I go to work, so I don’t have time to mess around. This limit forces you to focus on what’s important, to make important choices. I do the same thing now that I’m working from home: I set limits to how long I have to write, so I can get that done without filling that time with other things. I limit how much time I have for email and other social online stuff, forcing me to make the most of that limited time.
  3. I do 1-3 important things first. My early morning times, before the family awakes, is critical — if I don’t get the most important things done then, I might never get them done. So I pick one important thing to do today, and do that first, before my day gets chaotic. If I can, I’ll do a second important thing, and then a third.
  4. I cut out the things that don’t matter (almost everything). I’ve learned in the online world that there are lots of things you can fill your day doing: social networking, email, leaving comments on other blogs, improving your design, adding new plugins and widgets, checking your stats, and on and on. None of those matter. The only thing that matters is helping your readers with great content. That’s all that makes any difference, and if you cut out the rest, you have time for the important stuff.

There are a few things to add so that you get an honest picture here.

First, and most important, I didn’t do what I do alone. My wife Eva has made it possible, by supporting what I do from the beginning, by (later) quitting her job and homeschooling the kids (she wanted to do it, but it really helped me), by making sure I have time to work when I need it.

Second, it didn’t all happen overnight. I didn’t just quit my job and work from home. I started by finding spaces of time I could use to pursue my passion — waking up earlier and writing for an hour in the morning, writing during my lunch break at work, writing after work for a bit, writing when other co-workers were playing Freecell (this was pre-Facebook time), writing a bit on Saturdays. It was important to me, so I made the time.

Third, sometimes it gets harder before it gets easier. Simplifying any of the areas of your life takes time, so you have to find the time to do it, and make the effort. That’s difficult for many people, so they don’t bother. That means they never find the time to work on their dreams, and they blame their job and family obligations. I was one of those people for a long time.

When I finally found the passion ignited inside me, I stopped making excuses and started making priorities. And other than marrying Eva, I’ve never made a better decision.

*****

Enter Scott:

Leo is one of those people who, through the way he’s lived and what he’s built, shows us that so much more is possible than most believe. I hope this helps you realize that most reasons for not doing something meaningful are simply excuses. Find the people who have done what you want to do and follow suit.

Thanks for being the model you are Leo – both to me and so many others.

For those of you unfamiliar with Leo’s work, please go check it out for a few minutes at Zen Habits. Some of his favorite topics to help people on are simplicity, fitness and habit change, but he covers a lot more. Enjoy!

Now it’s your turn…

What challenges or questions do you have in pursuing your passion and balancing obligations? Leave them in the comments and let’s see if Leo or I can chime in with some responses!

FYI- I’m currently out exploring Turkey and I think Leo and his family are out in Italy so I hope you understand if there’s a little response delay on our end ;).

(email readers click here for comments)

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“It was 18 months ago when I came across Live Your Legend and it just completely blew my mind. I was living this life thinking I have to kind of just do this. Then it was like a kid on Christmas Day with my wife thinking ‘we don’t have to do this anymore.’ It was literally a life change. It opened so many doors. Thanks for everything you’re doing.”

- Simon P., Singapore