One of the higher-profile conversations about sleep this month has focused on Randi Zuckerberg’s explanation of what she calls “the entrepreneur’s dilemma.” From our perspective, this whole idea is a little problematic. By positioning sleep as optional, this mindset can take people into dangerous territory. In case you missed it, the dilemma lies in the necessity of choosing 3 of the following in order to achieve entrepreneurial success: maintaining friendships, building a great company, spending time with family, staying fit, and getting sleep.

All are Important; One is Essential

If you change “building a great company” to “doing meaningful work,” eliminating any of these 5 areas as a priority will have a negative impact on the lives of most anyone – entrepreneur or not. A lack of attention to any of them is quite certainly a very real compromise, and could actually diminish overall quality of life. The problem with this setup is that one of these things is not like the others. As much as we wish it could be, one of these is not a choice, especially in the long term. Sleep offers very little room for compromise.

Let’s make this simpler…

With the exception of sleep, success can be maintained in the other 4 areas through incremental focus. They’re flexible. They can be rescheduled. Even in the case of exercise, they accommodate off-days. Only sleep needs to happen every single day. Only the sacrifice of sleep has immediate and unavoidable consequences. Only sleep sits at the base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, able at any time to undermine all other areas of life. Thus, I suggest the entrepreneur’s dilemma is to choose 2 from the 4 non-sleep priorities. However, as ownership of this dilemma has already been assigned to entrepreneurs, it might be reasonable to narrow the choice down even further. Entrepreneurs by merit of being human need sleep, and by merit of being entrepreneurs need “work.” The only real choice in the matter is whether and when to prioritize family, fitness, and friends.

…But not necessarily easier.

It’s true. Entrepreneurship requires sacrifice and compromise. It’s hard to make it work. Despite the few gurus able to perfect and maintain work-life balance, this dilemma is real. Business owners, especially bootstrapping ones, enjoy very little time that’s not devoted to work or sleep. But those are the commitments involved in entrepreneurial life. Positioning sleep as an option rather than a basic human need puts undue and unhealthy pressure on those who (naturally) understand it as such.

Sleep is a need.

The reality is, you will not die if you don’t see your friends for a month. With the right supports in place, your family can manage a week without you. Even your sole proprietorship will weather your carefully chosen and planned vacations. As soon as you start skipping sleep, you’ll start feeling the negative effects. Some would go as far as to say that to a sacrifice of sleep equals a sacrifice in at least one of those other areas of life.

Sleep Well; Sleep Wisely

Entrepreneurship is a commitment. Slacking off on sleep is not. We urge you to give your sleep its time and space, expand your time by managing it wisely, and don’t undermine all your efforts by failing to meet your basic needs. If you’re having a hard time getting to sleep despite giving it sufficient time, it might be time for you to explore your local mattress store. Entrepreneurship isn’t a great reason to lose sleep, but an old, worn-out mattress is even worse.

Leave a Reply