by Elie Steinbock

Start-up Burnout


Shabbat is the seventh day of the week. It starts on Friday night and ends on the following evening, Saturday. (A day starts in the evening for the Jews.) It’s also the Jewish day of rest — the Sabbath.

Many Jews observe Shabbat because it is a commandment from the word of God. I practice it out of habit, and also because my friends and the Jewish community observe it. As well, I enjoy it.

Shabbat is a day where Jews do not work. For the Orthodox Jews, they also do not use electricity or drive on Shabbat. The day consists of prayer services, sit-down meals with family and friends, and for many, a good sleep.

For me it’s a day I appreciate because I am not allowed to check my emails or to scroll endlessly through my Twitter, Facebook, or Medium account. Also, I get zero notifications from my phone. It’s a time to shut all that off. It’s a day where I play games, read books, go to the beach, see family, and talk to friends.

I run an early stage start-up with some seed (and pre-seed) funding. My job can be quite stressful. A big part of me wants to code on Saturdays, but I’ve decided I won’t. I’ve never written a line of code on Shabbat, and don’t intend to in the foreseeable future.

I’m writing this post because of the Twitter discussion that took place.

Blake Robbins started the discussion with these tweets:

These tweets received some strong reactions.

These messages received many likes and retweets, but many people argued against it as well. I put myself in the “against camp.” I agree, burning out isn’t cool. You have to look after yourself. But having said that, I do believe that if you work harder than your competitors, you’re more likely to succeed than your competitors. However, hard work doesn’t guarantee success. But lack of hard work also doesn’t guarantee failure. Nothing is guaranteed. Hard work just increases your odds of succeeding.

I believe that if you want to achieve greatness, hard work is the only way to achieve it.

There were two notable figures involved in this discussion, DHH and Keith Rabois.

DHH is the creator of Ruby on Rails, founder of Basecamp, a Le Mans racer, and the commissioner of the one-of-a-kind Pagani Zonda HH.

DHH cannot be faulted for his taste in cars.

Keith Rabois is part of the PayPal Mafia and is an “entrepreneur, investor, contrarian,” according to his Twitter profile. And according to Wikipedia, he’s known for Paypal, LinkedIn, Square, Yelp, Xoom, YouTube, Yammer, Palantir, Lyft, Airbnb, Eventbrite, and Quora.

Two incredible and successful people.

These two have very different views on work and rest. They had a heated argument on Twitter over this topic. Not sure who’s right or wrong.

Rabois made a strong argument for hard work:

As mentioned earlier, Rabois is part of the PayPal Mafia, which includes Elon Musk and Peter Theil, among others.

Musk seems to share a similar view on work ethic:

Work one hundred-hour workweeks, and you’ll achieve in four months what it takes others a year to achieve.

Here are some tweets that supported Rabois:

If you read through the feed, you’ll probably find 100 more arguments that support working hard, from accomplished people.

On the other side of the debate is DHH and his camp. And DHH worked hard to achieve what he has too.

Burning out is bad. You’ll achieve a lot more if you work 40 hours a week for 5 years than work 100 hours a week for only one year. You’ll probably burn out and never enjoy or have the desire to work again if you do the latter. Okay, that was a bit exaggerated. But I hope that my point is clear: you need to look after yourself. That much is obvious. You don’t sprint a marathon.

There are other things that are important in life. For example, family, friends, community service, relaxation, and whatever else it is that gives you purpose. I don’t know what Rabois or DHH’s personal lives are like, but you can still have those things while you work hard. For example, Musk is married with kids. He found time to be away from work, which included Tesla and SpaceX, to have a family.

It’s important to respect people’s decisions. If people want to work hard to achieve something truly great, then let them. But if their priority is to spend time with family or to build a home, then let them. And if they want to do both, then let them do that as well.

I started this post by talking about Shabbat. I’m going to end it with talking about exceptionally hardworking rabbis, whose work is to study Judaic law, the Talmud, and the Bible.

These rabbis practically devote their every waking hour to their studies. I have seen eighty-year-old rabbis walking through the streets with a Talmud in their hands, studying. This is what they commonly do. They travel like this from place to place so that they don’t waste time.

Rav Nevbenzahl — never stops smiling

When I studied in a yeshiva (a Jewish institution that focuses on the study of traditional religious texts), I sat next to the man who is pictured above, Rav Nevbenzahl. He is a very happy man. He has a family and grandchildren. His studies give his life meaning. It doesn’t even occur to him to take a break.

What is incredible is that he’s been doing this for seventy years. He taught for many of those years and continues to teach. He prays three times a day, and used to sleep only two hours a night. (Although I’ve heard that he regrets it now, and you can catch him napping during the day now.)

He has completed the Talmud multiple times over. I don’t remember how many times, but I am certain that it’s well over a 100 times. Now that’s really impressive. Meanwhile, 99% of Orthodox Jews haven’t even finished it once, because it’s so long and challenging.

This is how someone who believes a man’s ultimate purpose is to study religious texts lives. He believes that by learning and teaching these texts, he’s helping to make the world a better place. And that each time he reads these texts, he too becomes a better person.

So I want to make it clear that I do not agree with this lifestyle. I do not share his belief system. I think it’s based on false premises and is outdated.

But this man is extremely happy, and is a caring and humble individual with a good sense of humour. He lives an extraordinary life that is entirely devoted to studying ancient texts, and it gives his life meaning and brings him incredible joy.

That is this man’s work. He never takes a holiday. Or a break. And he doesn’t need it. Some people don’t want it or need it. Some people prefer to work than sit on the beach for a week. However, you shouldn’t tell people how to live their lives just because you don’t want to work 24/7.

Myself, I love what I do and it never feels like work. I can code until midnight or 3 am, and sometimes even 8 am. And I love it. I also wake up at ridiculous hours, sleep 8 to 10 hours most nights, and show up at work between 11 am and 2 pm. And of course, I take Saturdays off. A good time to catch up on reading.