How to stop the hustle and establish work-life boundaries

Has our devotion to work and hustle turned into the UnAmerican Dream?

Some of the hardest working people I know are in sales and marketing.

We often read success stories about how hustle and grit drove fantastic success.

That said, the relentless pursuit of success can leave behind damaged relationships and personal life carnage in its wake.

Take me, for example.

Shortly after building up and selling a successful company, my 17-year marriage ended.

There’s a reason entrepreneurs have a higher divorce rate.

For me. My pursuit of business success left my health and my personal relationships in a severe need of help.

I needed to redefine the kind of life I wanted to live, make different choices, and set better boundaries.

It wasn’t easy.

Now, my health, relationships, and personal and professional happiness are so much better.

That’s why I was excited to interviewed Carlos Hidalgo (@cahidalgo), CEO of VisumCX and author of the new book The UnAmerican Dream.

In this interview, you’ll hear Carlos’s story about finding personal and professional happiness and establishing work-life boundaries.

This is a must-read for sellers, marketers, and entrepreneurs.

Can you tell our listeners a little bit about your background?

Carlos:  Yeah. Hey Brian. Always a pleasure to talk to you. I have been in B2B marketing and sales for over 20 years. I think right now it’s about 25 years, which is hard to believe.

I’ve been both client-side, and then in 2005, I co-founded an agency. That agency is still running. I left that agency at the end of 2016, beginning of 2017 to start another business. So, could say I’m a bit of an entrepreneur. I love creating things.

Now, I work with B2B companies in the whole area of customer experience under the new brand VisumCX, and then just wrote my second book.

The first book was on demand generation, so if you ever have insomnia, go for it. You can read that.

But this book was the UnAmerican Dream, which is more my story and a whole lot more personal than the first one.

Why did you write The UnAmerican Dream?

The UnAmerican Dream

Brian: Can you tell the story about why you wrote this book, The UnAmerican Dream, and why now?

Carlos:  Yeah, great question. When I left Annuitas, which was the first company that I had co-founded and started, I put a post on LinkedIn about why I was going.

It was more to get back to what I should have been doing in the first place, which was cultivating those meaningful relationships, especially with my children and marriage.

I was struck by the number of calls and emails I got from fellow entrepreneurs and fellow business leaders who were saying,

“So, how did you do this? What steps did you take because I am at my wit’s end? I’m never seeing my family,” or “My marriage is falling apart,” or insert whatever they were going through.

I was shocked.

Wow, this is not just me going through this.

So, that’s why.

But the why now, is the idea of that book came to me over two years ago.

But I needed to work on me first.

I had to get some things straight in me, and one of those things that I start with the introduction, I believe, saying I first had the idea in 2016.

When I told somebody the title, they said, “It sounds like an angry book.”

I believe if I had written it then, it would have been an angry book because I had a lot of things that I had to work through and deconstruct some things that I had held to be true which weren’t right.

So, I needed to wait. Waiting, I believe, made it a much more authentic book, a much more vulnerable book, but not an angry book in any way.

Walking away from the UnAmerican Dream

Brian:    I’m going to ask the same question you got asked by many people on LinkedIn. How did you walk away from this UnAmerican dream, and what do you mean by that?

Carlos:  Yeah. Wow. How I did it … From the outside, it probably seemed like, oh, he woke up one day and was like, “I’m done.”

It was a 10-month process for me. I really wrestled with the decision. And you know, Brian, you’ve started businesses. You’re an entrepreneur yourself.

When you start something from scratch, and you put everything you have into it, you really … The term I hear often is, “This is my baby.”

I wanted to make sure that, first and foremost, I had come to a place where I’m like, “I’ve got to do everything I can to get back those relationships that I had neglected for so long.”

So, I tried to do that within the context of the first business.

That took me 10 months.

I kept wrestling with what should I do and how should I do it?

Getting the courage to make the decision

Carlos:  It was a conversation which I’ve told many times, so I want to elaborate in case there’s an overlap with people who have heard this before.

But, a conversation with a colleague in the lobby of the Westin who encouraged me.

He said, “You know what you need to do. You just need the courage to do it.”

I called Suzanne, my wife, at that point, a few hours later and said, “I’m leaving.”

When it came down to it, I really just pulled the ripcord because I didn’t have a big buyout waiting. I didn’t have this significant hoard of cash in the savings account where I could run for months and months.

It was a risk.

It was scary.

It was like, “Okay, so what am I going to do now?”

But everything panned out, and everything worked out. I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was the best professional decision I ever made.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

Brian:    Well, Carlos, for our listeners, it will come through. You and I are good friends. I was just thinking about you as an entrepreneur and as I know you. I mean, entrepreneurship is in your blood. It’s part of your history, part of your family history.

As I was reading the book, you wrote about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. What’s getting in the way of that?

Carlos:  Wow, so much is getting in the way of that. I think, first and foremost, is we as Americans are on this treadmill and this pace, and we have made work our God.

We work more than any other group, any other nationality in the world.

So, just think about that. I just read a stat last week where 32% of Millennials will not take more than a four-night vacation because of work. 70% of the population says, “I don’t have work-life balance.”

I was at Nashville this last weekend, and the people we stayed with, he’s like, “I didn’t take all my vacation. I can’t.”

I think part of what’s getting in the way of our happiness is we’re slaves to our jobs, we’re slaves to our career, we’re slaves to our businesses, and that’s a choice that we have made.

I know people will debate me on that all day long, but it is a choice that we have made.

Quitting weekend work

I literally, before this, saw a LinkedIn post that said, “If you’re reading this on the weekend, it’s clear that you’re a top performer.”

So, the message there is if you’re not connected to your profession on the weekend, you’re not a top performer.

That is a total fallacy because I don’t work weekends anymore. I used to all the time. I don’t any longer.

That means I’m not on LinkedIn, I’m not promoting anything, I’m not doing anything for my clients, and everybody knows that.

That’s a boundary I chose. I think that’s one thing.

How social media impacts happiness

The other thing that I think that it’s really getting in the way of our happiness is social media, and these stinking things. We are so attached to, and I will use the word addiction, to our devices, and to social media.

To the point where we’ll put something on Facebook and then 20 minutes later we’re going and seeing how many likes.

We retweet.

“How many followers do I have?”

We have created what I call social loneliness where we are so socially connected, but we are so utterly lonely because people don’t really know us.

We haven’t built a relationship, and as human beings, we’re wired for connection.

I think when we put those things ahead of what we’re wired for, our happiness or our ability to choose joy, severely wanes.

Brian:    There’s so much there, Carlos, as I’m listening to you. Something I remember from a conversation you and I had a while ago, and you had been going back to when I was trying to start my company again, as I was starting something new. You talked about setting boundaries instead of trying to get work-life balance. Why is that?

Why Focus on work-life boundaries, not balance

I don’t believe in work-life balance because I tried it for … At different parts of my career, I tried it.

At other parts, I was like, “I’m completely unbalanced, and I’m good with that.”

Now, when I think about it makes me want to shake my head.

The stats will show you 70% saying I can’t achieve work-life balance. So, when I see that, I know the reality is it doesn’t exist.

The picture I get is my daughter, who was a gymnast for 14 years. Upon that balance beam and nothing made me more nervous.

I had kids in theater and kids in sports, and they could perform, and I’d get a little nervous, but man, when she was there, you think about that. It’s hard to balance.

It’s hard to balance across a trajectory of time.

So, what I did is I rejected the idea of balance.

Maybe it’s semantics, but for me, the idea of boundaries is they are more permanent.

If I draw a boundary or install a limit, it takes work to move. So, I’ve adopted boundaries, and when I say “I have,” we have because I’ve done it in community, first and foremost, with my wife.

Building boundaries in community

Brian, you and I have talked about my boundaries, and I’ve invited you into that community of people who have permission to be like, “Hey, I’m kind of seeing this stuff,” or “What’s going on here and how are you doing with that?”

Because God forbid if I’m the only one who’s going to determine am I balanced.

Defining what you value and want to protect

What we did was to define what we want to protect? What do we want to value?

For me, time with my family, time with my wife is priority number one.

My health, both physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual is essential.

So, I go to the gym regularly. I meditate.

I take time just to stop and think and shut off my phone and close my computer.

Some days, it’s just staring out the window. If you were to look at me, you’d be like, “Is this guy really working or what?” But I’m thinking.

So, it’s those types of things that I protect.

The counter to that is I’m so much wildly more productive in my work because there is a boundary around the time that I’m working. I’m not engaging in friendly conversation or texting or meeting a buddy for lunch. I am absolutely focused in on what I’m doing for a living.

So, my clients get the best of me as well as my relationships.

How to set work-life boundaries

Brian:    For those out there who are seeing this, it’s not easy to do. At least, for me, it isn’t. Do you have any tips, and advice on what you found we can do to get better at setting boundaries or non-negotiables in our life?

Carlos:  Yeah, you’re right. It’s not easy to do.

I’m the first to say I don’t have this all figured out.

I’m on the journey with everybody else. I may be a few steps ahead, but I also know people who are so much far ahead than I am. It’s something I’ve been doing for two years. I shared with Suzanne the other day, I hate when people say, “Well, they’ve really done their work.” Like we’ve all arrived, we should all be experiencing.

Three weeks ago, I picked up my phone and wanted to check my email at 8:00 at night, and Suzanne’s like, “So, what are we doing because this is two nights in a row?”

And it was utterly appropriate, total gentle, not any kind of like … But that’s what I wanted.

Start with your closest relationships

Carlos:  Anyway, back to the question. I think, first and foremost, you have to do it in the community with your closest of relationships.

If that’s a spouse, that’s a boyfriend, girlfriend, close friend, close co-worker, even your boss, right?

Say, “I want to give the best of myself in all aspects of my life, professionally, personally, whatever else.”

Whether it’s work, if you’re going to the gym by yourself, I want to give the best while I’m there.

Write down what you value

So do that in community and then sit down and really write down what do you value.

I was talking to somebody the other day who was talking to me how much they value their physical fitness.

Then literally, almost in the same breath, it was like, “Well, I don’t have time to go to the gym.”

Okay, so you don’t really value your physical fitness.

When I say to them even go for a run outside because if you’re shunning that, or if you’re shunning the annual checkup or whatever that is, you don’t value … You may say you do, but your actions say you don’t.

Clarify what is getting in the way of what you value

Carlos:  So, really define what you value, and then say, “What are the things that I’m letting get in the way of those things that I say I value?”

When you do that in a community, you’re going to get a much different perspective than if we just do it in isolation.

Because often the people we surround ourselves with, that we are close with, can kind of point out our blind spots which are of massive value to us and should be embraced.

I would say those are a couple of things that I would highly recommend.

Identify blind spots by doing this

Brian: That’s really good. I can identify with the blind spots and the need to have a feedback loop. There are things every person has that we can’t see how we’re living our life or how we’re showing up.

We won’t know unless we ask people, “What do you see that I’m missing?” It sounds like to get to that place you got to have an intention or purpose, too.

How would someone start the conversation about this?

Asking for additional help

Carlos:  I think it’s starting with being really honest, first and foremost, about here’s where I’m at. I’m not here to judge people who are going to work 14 hours a day.

If that’s what you and your community have decided is good and works for everybody, who am I to say you’re wrong?

That’s not my place.

I think just asking the question, “How are we doing?”

Asking the question, “Hey, here’s what I want to be doing.”

I value family time, I value fitness, I value fun, which can be a value. It may be something you like.

Ask “What do you see that I’m doing that’s getting in the way of that?”

If you’re going to ask that question, be prepared for the answers.

Part of the work I had to do was to sit down and hear some pretty unpleasant things.

I didn’t want to hear about things I had done, the choices I had made, the decisions I had made.

That is not a fun thing to go through, but it makes us better. It makes us more aware.

Communicating your boundaries

Carlos:  I am so much more aware now, even more so than I was also just a year ago, or when I’m in my personal boundary after working hours of not checking my phone, not trying to stay engaged, not returning that text.

I’ve gone to this extent to make my partners, and my clients, and my professional connections aware of that, so oftentimes if I do get a text at 7:00 at night or 9:00 at night, what I’m starting to see is, “Hey, I know you’re not going to get this till the morning.”

I’m like, “Yeah, you’re right.”

Even if I see it, I’m not going to respond to it.

Why work devotion and hustle porn are destructive

Brian:    So, I was thinking about the LinkedIn post you brought up about, “Hey, if you’re looking at this on a Saturday … ” There’s this whole notion of work devotion or hustle porn. Why is that such a thing today? Why is it destructive?

Carlos:  I think the reason it’s a thing today is you’ve got so many loud voices out there promoting it.

You’ve got Kevin O’Leary who’s talking … Literally says, “25 hours a day.” In the interview that I think I quote in the book is, “It’s 24/7. Get used to it. Get over it.”

You’ve got Jack Ma with his ridiculous 9, 9, 6. 9:00 to 9:00, six days a week. You’ve got Grant Cardone with his unhealthy approach to 95 hours a week, and the list goes on.

Daymond John’s, “Rise and grind.” We’re not real entrepreneurs unless we do this. I think those voices are so loud, and it’s this idea … I couple that with if I’m the scarce resource to my organization, which means I’m working long hours. I’m always available, we make that part of our identity, it is a perfect storm.

Carlos:  The reason it is destructive is we only have a certain amount of time each and every day. 24 hours a day, 86,400 seconds.

If I’m devoting the majority of that time to my work, something has to suffer. Either I suffer which, if I do, I can’t give the best of myself to my relationships.

So, either way, my relationships take a hit.

When I go back to fundamentally as human beings we were wired for a connection, then we have to start to think about, so, what does that mean?

When we begin to move against what we’re wired for fundamentally, we begin to see anxiety, we begin to see anger, we start to see sleeplessness, we begin to see loneliness.

More socially connected but more lonely

Carlos:  I was doing research on that this morning. It is off the charts.

Over half of Americans are saying they have feelings of loneliness even though we’re so connected.

Just like all porn, hustle porn is destructive. It’s toxic, I agree with Alex Ohanion. I applaud him for taking a stand against it.

Honestly, I would be delighted to have the individuals that I just named shut up because they are doing a disservice to entrepreneurs and business leaders and families everywhere.

That’s why I had Suzanne write a chapter because there is a story on the other side of every hustle story.

I lived that hustle lifestyle for far too long. It’s not sustainable. It did damage to us as a family and to me personally.

Sellers and Marketers are overwhelmed

Brian:    I really appreciate you just sharing that there is another side to this. As you mentioned and as entrepreneurs, and you and I have worked in the sales and marketing world for a long time, is this happening in sales and marketing? If so, what can we do to change it?

Carlos:  Oh, it is. I work with marketers on a day to day basis. I see more and more.

When you say, “So, how’s it going?”, they’re like, “Oh, my word. I’m slammed. I’m overwhelmed. I have so much to do. There are not enough hours in the day.”

I get emails from clients at 10:00 at night. I got a text from a client not long ago that said, “I feel completely overwhelmed, and I’m so down. I don’t know what to do.”

I go to conferences. At the last conference I was at, I asked a bunch of marketers, “How many of you feel there’s not enough time to accomplish what you want to do in a meaningful way?”

Virtually every hand out of 200+ went up.

I definitely see this on the marketing and sales front.

Giving people permission to turn off

I think what we can do about it is, first of all, business leaders if you’re listening, start to create a culture that gives your people permission to turn off.

Carlos:  When you are sending them emails at 10:00 at night even if you’ve said, “Hey, we have a culture where we have our working hours,” you’re putting them in a position of, “Can I tell the boss to wait?”

That is a disadvantage you’re giving to your people.

If you really want the best of them, you will allow them time to step away and turn off and not feel they have to shorten their vacations or be connected on vacation or connected at 9:00 at night.

That’s number one as a business leader.

Designing your job to fit your lifestyle

Number two, there’s a corporate profile in the book of a lady named Claire Potter who is in a sales role.

Claire works for a multi-billion dollar organization.

What she did was,

“Hey, I just had my first child. I travel. My husband travels. That’s not sustainable. I’m going to create a new job role in my organization, and at the same time, I’m going to create a plan B. I’m going to start to talk to recruiters and understand what jobs are available that would now suit my lifestyle.”

Then she went to her organization and said, “If you want me to stay, this is my new job.”

Her new organization said, “That’s awesome. We value you. We want you in the organization.”

She took the initiative to say this is what I’m going to do.

Defining the kind of life you want

Another profile in the book, Elle Woulfe, who is the CMO at PathFactory.

One of my favorite lines in the book, she closes with, “Life is short. I want to make sure I’m here for it.”

Elle had an opportunity to get a very high profile job with a great company.

She decided for her family and for her own sake, she was going to take a role which is still a significant role with PathFactory, but it didn’t pay as much.

But it enabled her to live the life she wanted. Define what kind of life you want, and then go design your career, your job, your business around that and what that looks like.

We talk about that as well in the book.

You may also like:

The UnAmerican Dream book website

New research: Empathy and solving buying problems

Growing B2B Sales with Trust and Empathy

Why customer advocacy should be at the heart of your marketing

About the author 

Brian Carroll

Brian Carroll is the CEO and founder of markempa, helping companies to convert more customers with empathy-based marketing.

He is the author of the bestseller, Lead Generation for the Complex Sale and founded B2B Lead Roundtable LinkedIn Group with 20,301+ members.

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