Rila Mountain, Bulgaria
Every nation has a value system. All people value love, truth, justice and a host of other values. But in what order do they put them? For which of these values will they sacrifice others? For example, in the US the highest value is perhaps liberty, while in Slovakia it is harmony. Here in Bulgaria, the highest value is family, together with those friends who are considered close enough to be like family. I am sometimes amazed by how much Bulgarians will sacrifice for their families. This exactly matches my personal value system and is one of the primary reasons I chose to live here.
But there is often a conflict between dedication to business and commitment to one’s family. And many Bulgarians are at war with themselves over this value. They sacrifice financial gain for family, but then criticize themselves that they are not better off economically. And it is often the commitment to family which keeps them from having the time to start their own business, or working the extra hours their employer expects from them.
I have a physician friend here who has job offers from Western European countries for salaries of more than €100,000. She stays here in Bulgaria, because her family is here, but is constantly complaining over the low pay and her financial struggles. Bulgarians criticize themselves for being one of the poorest countries in the EU, but that standard is based on income level, not on quality of life or the value of a close family. Many Bulgarians are fiercely critical of their country and seem unable to see the positive aspects of life here. I have never seen one article criticizing Bulgaria for its poverty (whether from a Bulgarian or Western European) which talks about the importance of dedication to family. At what point do you decide that time with your family is worth more than the increased success of your business?
The cause of my change
I remember the day it all changed for me. I was living the workaholic, 80 hour a week attorney life in Los Angeles and was leaving for work early one morning. My one-year-old son came up to me and said “No, Daddy, stay. Play, Daddy!” – but I couldn’t. I had a trial that day and had to be in court. As I was about to get in my car, I looked back and saw my son standing at the window, waving goodbye, with tears streaming down his cheeks. On that day, I made the decision to do whatever it took, to give up whatever I needed to give up, in order not to miss my son’s childhood. One year later, I had sold my law firm and most of my investments in LA and was ready to move. I could obviously be making more money and have more financial success if I were still working in LA and trying to cram every day as full of work as possible. But at what cost? There is nothing that more money could give me that would compare to the time I spend with my children.
Of course, it is easy to admonish people to put family first and not to sacrifice time with their children. But for those Bulgarians trying to support a family on 500 leva (~ EUR 250) per month, or working two jobs in order to pay their bills, it’s not so easy to prioritize family. Or perhaps it is better to say that, for people in that situation, working harder for more economic gain is equivalent to commitment to family.
Bulgaria’s best hope for equalization – entrepreneurship
Of course, dedication to family is not the only thing that has produced Bulgaria’s economic struggles. It often seems that Western Europeans are not particularly concerned about Bulgaria’s economic equalization. I am sure that some are, but there are also many Western European businesses that benefit greatly from the cheap labor and infrastructure here in Bulgaria. And those businesses can be a tremendous drain on the Bulgarian economy, if they take the profit out of their company each month and send it away to foreign owners. I’m not condemning foreign ownership of businesses in Bulgaria – many of them provide needed jobs and economic assistance to Bulgarians. I’m simply saying that no one is ever going to be as concerned about the economic growth of Bulgaria as those who have chosen to make Bulgaria their home. And the best hope for equalization in Bulgaria is entrepreneurship. Bulgarian owned businesses will keep profits here, and are desperately needed.
Don’t lose the most beautiful thing
Anyone who has started a new business knows the tremendous time commitment, required by such an endeavor. Despite the promises of Internet ads to the contrary, it is a commitment which will require tremendous sacrifice, most likely including time with family. Ultimately, however, those individuals who are successful entrepreneurs can provide increased security for their families and will be able to choose when and how to spend time with them. That’s not always a choice that employees get to make. Personally, I think that now is a great time to start a business in Bulgaria and startups seem to have a higher success rate here than they do in other countries. I teach at several universities here and encourage my students to take the risk to start their own business. Bulgarian entrepreneurship is providing a valuable service that will be of tremendous long-term benefit to Bulgaria. I only hope that, in our passion for entrepreneurship and equalization, we do not lose the one thing that I find most beautiful about Bulgaria – the sacrificial dedication to family.