Fall 2009 I started my first semester at JMU as a Computer Science student. And when I say, I got lucky, I got really lucky. I didn’t visit JMU’s campus beforehand or do much research. I just picked JMU for a handful of superficial reasons and got lucky because JMU turned out to be amazing and I ended up making Harrisonburg my home.
But back to the story about me as a student.
I was pretty average. I couldn’t really stay awake in class. Didn’t really care to read the books I was assigned. Good grades and the hopes for a diploma, Deans list, and all of the above just didn’t motivate me. My master plan for university was to create some million dollar idea by the time I was a sophomore and then drop out.
Halfway through my time at JMU, I found myself with no million dollar idea and two years left to go. I hadn’t taken my time seriously for my first two years and I realized that “life” was just around the corner.
During my final two years at JMU I started spending my time where I believed it mattered. I became a part of a local church, Aletheia, that changed me in ways that would take too many words to describe here. I became the president of a campus leadership organization, The National Society of Leadership and Success. I started working at JMU Technology design as a web developer, picked up some freelance gigs as a web designer and got a remote job working for AOL as a backend software developer.
And for the first time in my life, I felt the full weight of the limitations of time and the limitations of my body to keep up with my mind.
It wasn’t unusual for me to wake up at 3AM, hit my office on campus, do everything in between (classes, freelance work, power naps at TDU, software development for AOL), and then finally head back home at 8PM to go to sleep and do it all over again.
As you can imagine, I was spending a lot of time on the computer. I was a computer science major and in addition I practically had three programming jobs.
When my eyes started twitching and I needed to dump my wrists in ice water to stop the burning (mainly due to bad ergonomics), it was time to take a break.
But I got comfortable with the mentality of a controlled burn-out in order to get ahead.
I’m still a huge fan of controlled burn-outs for short durations. Especially during your final years of college. At that age, you pretty much have unlimited energy reserves and you can give yourself an advantage that becomes harder to create once the responsibilities of post-college life start piling on.
But the problem is that controlled burn-outs can quickly turn into a lifestyle.
During my final year at JMU I decided to go all-in on working way too many hours so I started a web development company, Chiedo Labs. At that point, I was doing whatever I could to get paid. I knew one day Chiedo Labs would be a company that would work with companies and startups to turn their innovative ideas into code. Websites, APIs, user interfaces, and that sort of thing.
Additionally I decided I’d be a millionaire by the time I was 25.
Five years later, I owned four companies and employed 15 people. On one hand, things were going pretty well. On the other hand, I wasn’t a millionaire. I was doing well but fell short of my goal.
I learned another lesson about time. It has the power to change you in ways you never could have imagined.
While I wasn’t a millionaire, I was a husband and a new father.
And at that point the goal of becoming a millionaire kind of just didn’t matter. Financially, I just wanted to make enough money to provide for my employees and my family.
And more importantly, I wanted to have enough time and energy for the people in my life that mattered most.
A lot had to change.
I wasn’t sure what, but I knew I couldn’t do what I’d been doing.
I was the battery for my companies. Things were running on my time and my energy. Which was fine when I wasn’t married with a son. But once I became a father, priorities started to change.
The 12-14 hour work days I was doing regularly were no longer OK.
Becoming one of those work-a-holics who missed all his kids baseball games and ruined his marriage by never being around or having time wasn’t an option.
And while I knew I had to make a change, I wasn’t sure which changes to make. It was one of those moments where I knew what I wanted but wasn’t sure how to get there or what any of the logistics looked like.
So I had to re-think a lot of things.
Historically I always claimed that books were a waste of time and for people who didn’t know how to Google. I also saw myself as someone who no longer needed a mentor.
In a nutshell, those were the thoughts of a young and immature leader.
So I started reading like crazy. Paper, Audible, whatever I needed to do to learn. I went through like 40 books in a year and soaked in as much as possible.
And then I asked for and accepted mentors into my life. I needed input from older leaders who had something to teach me and input to offer me.
About a year after realizing I had to make major changes in my life, some major changes took place.
I wanted more time with my family, and I had to cut down the amount of hours I worked, so it immediately became apparent that I had to cut down the number of things I was doing.
I shut down two of the companies I owned. There’s more to it but in a nutshell the amount of money they generated for the amount of time and energy they required me to invest just wasn’t worth it. And out of the remaining two companies, I owned, I decided that I would let one fall into the background so I could focus all my energy on my main company, Chiedo Labs.
Secondly, I resigned from every board I was on except for one (not including my company’s board for obvious reasons). That was hard because I loved each of them but I was on seven boards at the time and I only had enough time and energy to properly commit to one.
In addition, I started to say no way more and started to route a lot more of my scheduling through my assistant and my automated scheduling tool (calendly.com/chiedo). I’ve always wanted to be easily accessible to everyone but when I’m easily accessible to everyone, I’m not easily accessible to the people in my life who matter most.
Lastly, I finally embraced the importance of delegation, systems, and processes within my company.
And after a year of taking a good look at everything I was doing, I realized I had a long list of weaknesses as a leader.
And these weaknesses weren’t weaknesses I had the time to improve. There simply weren’t enough hours in the day.
So I hired a Chief Operating Officer to complement my leadership in the areas where I fell short.
And all that to say, I finally got some balance.
Today, I put in 8-10 hour days and get to spend way more time with my family.
Will I become a millionaire?
Don’t know. And I don’t really care. That’s not what I’m focused on. But ironically, with all the changes I made these past twelve months, it feels more likely to happen than ever.
…. That could be it but I feel like I should clarify the take aways. So here they are.
- Prioritize what matters.
- Learn from people who are older and wiser than you.
- Time’s limited. Once you’ve covered your cost of living, remember that it’s more valuable than money.
- If you’re chasing “the dream”, make sure you’ve taken the time to truly think about what “the dream” is. All dreams come with sacrifices. What are you willing to sacrifice? (clue: It shouldn’t be family time)
In December, I’ll be in Australia visiting my Mum for the first time in over 10 years. I’m able to step away from my company today and make the trip. I’m able to skip a day of work and hang with my wife. I’m able to spend a little more time at home before I leave for the day. That’s the dream. The money? It’s not the dream. It’s just a supporting role.
So I encourage you. Find balance and make time for the things that matter.
Chiedo John (’13) a startup tech advisor and the CEO of Chiedo Labs, an agency that companies hire when they need new web developers for their web apps, web back-ends, and web front-ends. He’s passionate about his family, innovation, and the communities he serves in. And a fun fact is that he’s also a British citizen, yet the accent is no more. Check out this article featuring Chiedo’s work and accomplishments.