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Business Advisor

My 5th Commandment: Get Away From Work

You and your business will thrive when you are separated regularly. Long days and zero vacations will choke the business, stifle creativity, and wear on your family.

Who's minding the store? If you're business can't get along without you, then how will you ever get away?
Image Credit: Michael Strong

The importance of recreation is probably one of the larger parts of my father’s legacy, which he has passed on to us kids over the years. He has always put great value on recreation. He believes that recreation should be thought of as “re-creation.” If you do not practice “re-creation,” he warns, then you will only achieve “wreck-reation.”

True to that legacy and in demonstration of a lesson learned, when I sat down with my dad and we incorporated our business together 20 years ago, I listed recreation as one of my personal goals. At that time, I asked for 90 days vacation annually! In the early years, I got that time away regularly, but as our company grew, so did my responsibilities—and my recreation time dwindled. Yet I still do a respectable job of holding the line. In fact, I know I do a much better job than most of my contemporaries.

In by 7, Out by 5

When Dan Morrison emailed me recently to set up a time to talk, he asked about my availability. I told him what I tell most everyone else: I’m in the office until 5. That’s it. Kind of simple. I commute 20 minutes against traffic to the office. I ride my bicycle a few times each month to do my part in keeping cars off the road. I’m usually in the office at 7 am, having already gotten in my run or swim. And I like to be on my way home at 5 pm. Does it always happen? No, of course there are exceptions. But what is important is that it usually does happen.

Some of you who know me personally say I keep these hours because I am a newlywed racing home to my bride, and I would answer, “Damn right!” Those who know me even better know that I have kept these hours since long before I fell in love. What I learned early in life is that there are certain things that are more fun to do when you are in your 30s, and others more suited to your 40s, 50s and so on. If you wait until you are in your 50s to do everything, when you “have” the time and money, it somehow just doesn’t seem to happen.

The Old Man and the Sea

It’s like the old story about the grandfather on his death bed, advising his grandson that nobody ever wishes they spent more time in the office. Well, I’m 47, and I’ve seen some things in this world. I’ve lived overseas and camped, tramped and backpacked in over 50 countries around the world. I’ve seen solar panels on huts in the Kalahari, saved my grey water from the bathtub in California, and froze my tail off in the Alps because it was illegal to keep the car engine idling in the parking lot (even when the temperature was 10 degrees below zero). I’ve traversed over, through, and down exceedingly polluted rivers from the Yangtze in China to the Zambezi in Zambia to our own Mississippi. I have walked to the edge of incredible deforestation, from Cambodia to Venezuela to the fabled Black Forest in southern Germany. I’ve lived through 7.6 earthquakes and wildfires in Southern California and 4 ft. of flood water in my home in Cypress, Texas, and have been chased into basements during tornado warnings and chased out of town by hurricanes and tsunamis more times than I can count. In short, I’ve had more than my share of first-hand, close-up experiences to what Mother Nature can do to a home.

And somehow my business has survived without me. In fact, I believe my business has thrived without me. My periodic absences have enabled my business to grow because I am not there doting over every single decision.

By recreating away from the office, I have set an example for my employees and business partners that recreating is part of our company values. I expect them to recreate, and the result has been a strong 20-year run, a full pipeline through the fall and another trip being planned to Europe! So as your Green Building Business Advisor, I humbly submit my 5th Commandment: Get away! Your company and your customers will surprise you with their support. Life’s too short. You and your family deserve more.


  1. user-774310 | | #1

    Totally agree with all of
    Totally agree with all of that Michael, and I'm not a newlywed!
    I've always managed to turn off the phone, and the business, at the end of the day about 5pm. Get out and find the simple things in life, just a stroll in the countryside will reveal a myriad of things that we can all miss in the big race of business. As you said, life is too short.

  2. Michael Strong | | #2

    Would have responded earlier but.... was the weekend and I was not working! :) Keep it up Ray. It will drive your workaholic friends crazy!!

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