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Sacrifice vs Selfishness: Which Is More Important For Success?


Barnaby Lashbrooke

Founder and CEO of Time etc, author of The Hard Work Myth

9 minute read

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“Great achievement is usually born of great sacrifice, and never the result of selfishness.” - Napoleon Hill

In today’s world, many success stories are stories of sacrifice. From the athlete who wakes up every day at 4 am to train, to the top lawyer who worked two jobs to support themselves through college.

For entrepreneurs, the “sacrifice” mindset has been passed down for years. They put in long hours, take risks, and put their blood, sweat, and tears into growing their business. But when 63% of business owners are working more than 50 hours per week, 72% of business owners report experiencing mental health issues such as burnout and anxiety, yet only 30% of businesses survive up to 10 years, is this focus on “sacrifice” as a key to success doing more harm than good? Or is it the price we must pay to achieve our goals?


If you are reading this, chances are you have already put a lot on the line to start your business and get it off the ground.

For starters, making the decision to work for yourself requires sacrificing the stability and financial security of regular employment. You may have given up much of your own money to invest in your venture and maybe dealt with life on a much tighter budget than you were used to previously.

Without this initial sacrifice, our businesses would probably never even see the light of day. Case closed? Not quite. As well as the financial elements, there are other demands that entrepreneurs are expected to meet to forge their path to success. But are all sacrifices worth it?


The case for: Self-discipline

As a business owner, you’re in control of everything. When, how, and what you work on each day are completely in your hands. Such freedom and flexibility is certainly a blessing, but it can also be a curse.

The two biggest enemies in your journey to success are distraction and procrastination.

This may sound hard to believe, but humans secretly enjoy distractions. They save us from the difficult tasks or complex problems we should be exhausting our brain power on.

While a short YouTube video here or a quick social media scroll there may seem fairly inconsequential, each instance pushes you further away from your goal. Every time you’re distracted, you’re diverting time, energy, and focus away from more valuable work.

Closing statement: Sacrificing more pleasurable activities in the form of procrastination is crucial to achieving more in your business.

The case against: Work-life balance

When we think of the sacrifices business owners make, free time is bound to be at the top of the list. According to recent findings, 86% of business owners work on weekends, 53% work on major holidays, and 60% take just one vacation a year. Of those who do take time off, 75% spend that rare leisure time working.

Since our early school days, we have been told that hard work is the main guarantor of success. Of course, success rarely happens by accident, and you’ll struggle to get far without investing a significant amount of effort into your venture, but the “anything is possible if you work hard enough” mantra has led to some pretty unrealistic and often unhealthy views of how life as a successful business owner should be.

From Apple co-founder Steve Jobs to former US president Barack Obama, despite achieving outstanding levels of success in their careers and businesses, many share the same regret – not spending more time with their families. During her time as a palliative care specialist, author Bronnie Ware noticed that all her patients expressed similar regrets about what they wished they had done differently in their lives, with overworking being one of the most common. “They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship”, Ware writes.


Not only that, this combination of longer working hours and higher stress levels means that entrepreneurs are more likely to suffer from burnout. Aside from its impacts on mental and physical health, burnout can severely affect your productivity and the quality of your work.

So while long hours in the office, working weekends, and having “no time” for vacations are often seen as a badge of honor in the entrepreneurial world, they could all be taking you further away from success rather than closer toward it.

Closing statement: Sacrificing time with your loved ones to work longer hours can keep you from leading a happy, healthy, and productive life both at work and at home.


Because we’re always trying to understand the emotions, desires, and motivations of our customers, employees, and even competitors, “selfishness” is not a phrase often associated with business success. The idea of it runs completely counter to what we’re taught about teamwork and working with others. But if you want to run a successful business, does it pay to be a little selfish?

Here, I don’t mean being greedy or ignoring others’ needs and wants. Think of it more as focusing on what you want to achieve and how you’re going to achieve it.

The case for: Protect your most valuable resource

All businesses are born out of and driven by the passion of their founders. Your actions and your choices are what will ultimately push your company forward, or hold it back.


In Stephen R. Covey’s bestselling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he outlines the importance of “beginning with the end in mind” as a strategy for determining what we do each day to keep us aligned with our goals.

“To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction... It is possible to be busy—very busy—without being very effective... How different our lives are when we really know what is deeply important to us, and, keeping that picture in mind, we manage ourselves each day to be and to do what really matters most.”

So if business growth is one of your end goals, you’ll need to be more “selfish” when it comes to how you spend your time and energy. Because let’s be honest, people rarely achieve their goals by bouncing between emails, meetings, checking notifications, and putting out fires all day. You should be aiming to spend the majority of your time on the most critical, high-impact tasks that will take you further. If it doesn’t take you in the right direction towards your “end”, you should consider automating it, delegating it, or eliminating it.

However, many find this “selfish” approach easier said than done because as the head of your business, there will always be someone or something that needs your attention. It might not seem like a big deal to stop what you're doing and step in, but the time and energy it takes out of your day can quickly add up. Part of being more “selfish” involves setting firm boundaries around your time to make each second in work as valuable and productive as possible. Saying no doesn’t come easy for everyone, and establishing boundaries might take some practice, but it’s a must.

Another way to ensure you’re maximizing your time is by observing your own focus and energy levels throughout the day and planning your schedule accordingly. You may have heard about successful CEOs who start their days at 4 am, but those extra hours in the morning will have nowhere near the same value if your brain and body are wishing they were still asleep! You may be used to certain routines or doing things in a particular order, but by paying close attention to your natural peaks and troughs throughout the day, you can be sure your most important work gets the focus and attention it deserves. For example, if you’re an early bird, try to avoid holding important meetings or making crucial decisions in the afternoon when you’re likely to have hit an energy slump.

Closing statement: Selfishness in the form of setting boundaries and scheduling your day around what works best for you allows you to make the most out of your time and give the best version of yourself to your business.

The case against: Don’t be seduced by short-term satisfaction

Similar to how distractions save us from the more difficult tasks we should be working on, a common reason why many business owners only spend around 32% of their time on high-impact work is that they find their day-to-day tasks easier or more enjoyable to complete.


From designing visual assets for social media to researching content topics, updating your website to managing your databases, ticking jobs off your to-do list is an easy dopamine hit and can make you feel like you’ve had a productive day. And if you enjoy all the tasks you do each day, it seems like there are no losers in this situation. But the truth is, just because you can do all these tasks, it doesn’t mean that you should. Remember, we need to always be focusing on our “end” results.

Closing statement: Spending your day on smaller, more satisfying tasks may be more appealing in the short term, but in this case, putting your own personal wants first will not help you succeed.

The Verdict

Whether it’s being your own boss, building wealth, or creating a lasting legacy, there are many reasons why people choose to start their own business. And the bigger your goals, the more time and effort you’ll need to achieve them. But with only so many hours in a day, how do we allocate our most valuable resources of time and energy? Do we give up more of our much-needed personal time for the “greater good”, or do we put ourselves first?

Hard work, dedication, and discipline are crucial components of success, but it’s easy to take it too far. Beyond a certain point, the more you give up won’t equate to the results you’ll see in return.

Understanding how your well-being and productivity are related is a vital step in the right direction. Here, selfishness doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It simply means being more intentional about how you spend your time and energy so you can get the most out of both.

At Time etc, we believe that the notion of having to work long hours, give up valuable downtime, and neglect personal relationships to achieve success should be left firmly in the past. If you’re ready for a less stressful, more successful life and you want to do more of the work that matters, try a highly skilled and experienced virtual assistant for free or speak to our expert team to build a plan that’s perfect for you.

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About the author

Barnaby Lashbrooke is the founder and CEO of Virtual Assistant service Time etc as well as the author of The Hard Work Myth, recently recommended by Sir Richard Branson. Barnaby is a Forbes Columnist on productivity and is also an accomplished entrepreneur, selling more than $35 million worth of services.

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