Bill Gates still doesn’t believe in taking breaks
This recent Bill Gates interview got a great deal of attention for what he considers his biggest regret—not working harder, and taking his eyes off the ball and allowing Google to develop Android, now the dominant phone operating system, which, according to Gates, “was a natural thing for Microsoft to win.”
Asked about work-life balance and if Gates’s opinions had changed from a past statement that he did not believe in holidays, Gates replied with a no. He reiterated that working without a vacation is one of the sacrifices a company has to make in its early years.
The vacation-free approach in Microsoft’s early years is legendary. In the memoir Idea Man (2011,) co-founder Paul Allen recalled,
Microsoft was a high-stress environment because Bill drove others as hard as he drove himself.
Bob Greenberg, a Harvard classmate of Bill’s whom we’d hired, once put in 81 hours in four days, Monday through Thursday. … When Bill touched base toward the end of Bob’s marathon, he asked him, “What are you working on tomorrow?”
Bob said, “I was planning to take the day off.”
And Bill said, “Why would you want to do that?” He genuinely couldn’t understand it; he never seemed to need to recharge.
In a 2016 interview for BBC’s The Desert Island Discs program, Gates revealed that he was so obsessed during the early years of Microsoft that he couldn’t help but keep tabs on which Microsoft troopers stayed vigilant along the frontlines and which ones had retired home for the night. “I knew everyone’s license plate so I could look out in the parking lot and see when did people come in, when were they leaving.”
For most overworked and overwhelmed people, life’s great tipping point is the moment they realize something’s got to give
Hear any successful executive talk about work-life balance and you’ll recognize a pattern—they had an epiphany about the need for work-life balance. They were totally driven and single-minded for a long time, had difficulties in their personal life, and ultimately realized that they needed to have more balance in their life.
While this always makes for a stimulating narrative, the one aspect that is less emphasized is how much of their success was a direct outcome of single-minded focus. The truth is, most workaholics are successful.
Balance is Bunk: You can’t have everything—even if you work really, really hard
Some things are tough hard, and require an absolute commitment and high-level performance for sustained periods. Achieving distinction in any field requires extreme dedication, drive, and commitment to success—this is true of scholarship, business, art, music, sport, or parenting.
While it’s nice to extol the virtues of work-life balance, it must be acknowledged that balancing personal life with a career will inevitably lead to forgoing some advancement in the latter. Balance is sometimes about choosing between the two and setting priorities—it’s not just a matter of juggling on the way to “having it all.” This “balance” is something that each person has to decide for himself/herself.