Sustainable or endurable?

What does it mean to have a sustainable business?

I don’t mean sustainable in the environmental sense. I certainly support environmental sustainability, but I’m thinking about something closer to home, closer to our day-to-day experience of being in business.

Personally sustainable.

A business that gives us the time and space we need to enjoy our work and also our friends, families, and the things we do besides work.

We pay lip service to the concept that we all need time off, that we need to take care of ourselves, get enough sleep, eat well, exercise, and so forth.

But then we check email before bed, answer client calls on weekends, and agree to deadlines we know will push our endurance.

I recently asked a group of people to define what a successful, sustainable business would look like for them. I primed the pump, so to speak, by giving them my definitions to consider as they wrote their own.

SUCCESS: Doing work I love, with people I respect, enjoy, and like in a way that’s sustainable and brings in the money I need to live well.

SUSTAINABLE: Energizing, not exhausting; enjoyable, not an endless struggle to do things I don’t want to do; allowing time for play as well as for personal and professional growth through meaningful challenges; and with the flexibility to do things in my own way and in my own time.

I was surprised and somewhat saddened by their reactions.

It seems that many people define “sustainable” as what I would call “endurable.”  As in, “I can get through this, I can do it.  It’s not going to actually kill me, and it’s better than looking for a job.”

Wouldn’t it be more fun to be energized, delighted, fascinated, and intrigued by your work?

Isn’t that what we’re really here for – to find joy and to enjoy?

If we don’t know what we want, it’s hard to achieve it.

And if we have wonky definitions of the things we think we want – such as a sustainable business that’s really only endurable – well, what do you think your results are likely to be?