on success & sacrifice

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I was relaying some of the amazing stuff that’s been happening for me to my friend Hannah recently, and she said to me “you’re flying!”

And it made me pause, because I feel like I’m doing anything but. I’m chasing my tail and burning the candle so universally that it’s now just a puddle of wax. At 3am this morning I contemplated asking my VA to plan a birthday party for Orla, because in the wee small hours, that seemed like a sensible delegation. I’m very ready for a break.

A while ago I was talking with a mentoring client who was bemoaning her lack of time to take photographs for Instagram. “It’s easy for you, Sara!” she told me. “I have a whole business to run.”

I was taken aback because, despite what my Instagram account reflects, my entire life is not spent fannying about in the hills with a camera. That happens, absolutely, but apart from that I work – all the time. Why was she dismissing my business as ‘easy’?

Then I calmed down a bit and realised that perhaps I’m responsible for that perception. Perhaps I’m guilty of playing down all the stress and sacrifice, because the truth is I still feel quite guilty about it all. I don’t like to tell people how much I don’t do, because I worry they’ll think I’m a bad wife and mother and friend. I worry I am a bad wife and mother and friend.

My 3-year-old daughter goes to school 9-1:30, 5 days a week. Those are my official working hours – that’s it. In case you’ve never had a 3 year old, or have forgotten what it’s like, it’s pretty impossible to do anything else when one is around. She’s kind and clever and will happily play for a while, but she needs constant help to take lids of jars of Playdoh, dress tiny Sylvanian rabbits; to stop the cat eating her biscuit and to pull her tights up after a wee. Plus, she wants to chat with me, and to just… hang out. Sometimes she’ll shout me from another room just to tell me she loves me, and it’s glorious – but then it takes me 15 infuriating minutes to get back into the flow I was in. And she’s growing up faster than I ever thought possible, and it all seems so fleeting. So I sit torn between my work, which fulfils me, and my child, who fills up my heart.

The result is that evenings and weekends are spent trying to catch up, neglecting my husband instead. It’s a constant struggle – guilt for not working versus guilt for not being with my family. I’m sure many of you can relate, no matter what job you’re in, or what hours you work. I heard someone once say, “Women are expected to parent like they don’t have a job, and work like they don’t have children.” Seems achingly appropriate to me.

So when I *do* have the good times – the rambles on the moors, the Christmas tree choosing, the stomp through the autumn leaves together in new matching boots – I make a point of sharing it. It’s for me as much as any imagined audience – a reminder that I’m not quite as bad as I think. I reminder of the things I do get to do – an antidote to the running list of things I’m missing in the back of my mind.

And in case you share that guilt, and that FOMO at times, let me share some of that that stuff with you here.

Here’s some of the stuff I don’t do.

I don’t take my daughter swimming at the weekends. I haven’t seen her swim in about two years, in fact. I hear she’s brilliant at it.

I don’t join her and her Dad for fish and chips afterwards, in the steamy-windowed cafe in Hebden Bridge. Last week I planned to, as a special treat to myself, and then came down with cystitis about ten minutes before I left, so I sat in the bath crying instead. On reflection, my body was probably telling me something. 

I don’t wash up, or do the laundry. My husband takes on those roles, so that I can squeeze in an extra 30 minutes of work every day. Every winter he shrinks my knitwear, and I don’t get to complain, because he’s a hero in every sense of the word.

I don’t watch TV or movies. For the rare exceptions, I’m usually multitasking – replying to Instagram comments on my phone, deleting items from my hefty photo archive.

I don’t tend to my garden like I used to, or style and potter in my home, or read books, or spend hours trawling etsy for vintage white nightgowns to wear as dresses. I don’t have hobbies, as such. Just my work-hobby (which I love, so..)

I don’t switch off. I take my computer on weekends away with friends. My idea of an indulgent night to myself is working until 3am in my underwear.

I don’t do small talk very well any more. Some subconscious alarm pings incessantly in the back of my mind – you forgot this! you need to send that! – while my husband tries to talk to me about his wood pile, or shoes.

I don’t play with my daughter nearly as much as I should, or always intended – because the second she’s engaged and immersed in something, I see my moment to send that urgent email. I rush through bedtime stories that I love, because I need to get back downstairs to finish that article that’s already a day late. I feel resentful and frustrated when she wakes from a nightmare – until I have her in my arms, hushing her back to slumber, and remember this is my real life’s work.

I don’t text my friends back. Ok, I was never *great* at this in the first place, but I’m 100x worse now. When all of your inboxes are overflowing and even the most urgent emails can’t get an immediate response, it’s hard to keep your social messaging separate. I might dismiss a message for the time being because I need to stay focussed, but then when I finally stop working 8 hours later, the last thing I want to do is send more messages via an electronic device. It’s pretty much my idea of hell, by that point, when I’m desperate to escape my screen.

 

success and sacrifice

I say none of this in a woe-is-me, self pitying way. These are the choices I make, and I’m happy with them on the whole – the beauty of being self employed is you really don’t mind giving things up for your wonderful, living & breathing dreams. And of course, the pay-off has been huge – this last year I’ve earned close to £100k,  travelled to great places and events, & met some wonderful, beautiful people.  I feel so much more confident and happy and whole these days, and it’s due in no small part to this business I’ve built. My whole life has changed, & I don’t want to change it back. I’m just sharing, I suppose.

My friend Jen once told me about a book she read about success. I’m almost definitely remembering it wrong but the gist was – we all have different areas in our lives: family, work, friendships, health, and sleep. At any one time, most people can only keep on top of four areas, and for successful entrepreneurs, only three.

I remembered it (albeit badly) because this feels incredibly true. When I’m winning in one area of my life there is always a payoff in another. When I’m earning my entire annual NHS salary in a morning online, I’m neglecting my daughter and eating toast for three meals a day. When I’m playing with Orla and putting her to bed by myself, I’m ignoring the emails from people who really need and deserve my time. 
We hear so much about ‘balance’, about ‘having it all’, but in my experience those things don’t really exist. We just oscillate from one extreme to another – from overworked to under-focused, from great friend to great success.

And weirdly, I’m ok with that. I’m done trying to be everything, to tick every box at the same time, all the time. That isn’t how life works, and it makes me half crazy to try.

How do you balance your heart and your work? What sacrifices have you made to make it all work?

  • Jo King

    I’m with you 100% luvvie! Bleugh. This post came just at the right time as I lost my shit with my nearly 3 year old. I don’t have a job other than being a mum and I struggle to cope so I can’t even imagine bringing work into the equation. Now that there are 2 of them it’s even worse, being outnumbered and all! I have come to accept that I can’t do it all but I struggle to get to grips with what needs to slide…so it usually ends up just being me. Not shaving my legs so I can hang another load of laundry, not remembering to wash my hair more than once a week so I can clean the bathrooms (why I felt 4 toilets were necessary is BEYOND me, not getting enough sleep so I can (insert a million other mum jobs here). I had no idea how hard this “being a grown up” thing would be. But as least I’m in good company. You are doing a fantastic job…even if it doesn’t feel like it xxx

    • Firstly, being a mum *is* a job – remember that when I work I have other people looking after Orla, and they consider if a job! So you definitely should too.

      And I hear you on al of these counts. Some days I can put off going for a wee I urgently need for hours until it becomes an actual toilet emergency – or put off eating, because there are so many other needs for these little people of ours that come first.
      I think my work allows me to put some of my priorities first, and that helps keep me sane. I get to dress it up as ‘my business needs me to do this’, and that is true, but secretly I need it too.
      Keep going mama. Every day that they go to bed happy and healthy is another victory in our favour x

  • The saying that always sticks with me is ‘you can have it all, but not at the same time’. I think it’s a similar vibe to the idea you can keep on top of a few areas of life, and I try to keep it in mind when I feel like I’m failing spectacularly at one area. Now is not the time for all the things, just for some of the things.

    It frustrates me that women, in particular, are expected to feel guilty for not doing it all – particularly in relation to parenting and housework. You may not take Orla swimming, but I bet that’s a really special memory she’ll have with her Dad – if anything, you’re making space for her to have that relationship.

    My husband does the lion’s share of the housework and, yet, whilst he is praised for that (“oh, he’s so good” everyone says when they find out that I never hoover or clean the bathroom), the same is definitely not returned when people find out that I do all of the cooking and meal planning for us, or that I arrange social occasions and make sure we’ve RSVPed to weddings and remember birthdays and gifts. It’s not that he doesn’t appreciate that, because I think we’re both feel that the ‘labour’ of our house is split pretty equally, but society definitely doesn’t see me as going above and beyond for doing my fair share (hence, I think, why women get the guilt when they are ‘only’ doing half – or less, because they have more work or childcare or for whatever damn reason they want).

    There are things you don’t do, but there is so much you do do! As long as you are not burning yourself out entirely, keep doing what you’re doing – it definitely seems to be working!

    • Oh this is so welcome and so true! No one ever says ‘oh you’re so lucky’ if a woman cooks and hoovers, yet I feel like I’m confessing to a lottery win when I tell my friends that does all the laundry! I like to remind myself that we are defying gender stereotypes and it’s a great thing if only for that. Orla actually asked me the other day why only daddy does washing, and not mummy! Ha!
      It makes me realise how far we still have to go – and generally I’m hopeful (R is leaving his job to be my assistant and look after Orla! More gender role switching!) but then I look at Trump the pussy grabber leading the free world and feel a wave of despair…

  • Nicola

    I don’t manage to do lots of that stuff either and I’m full time at home with the kids! Poor Toby has only been swimming about three times ever. Ok, Xanthe now has 15 free preschool hours a week but Toby is a whirlwind and it’s nigh on impossible to even think straight when they’re both here. But I have the guilt that I’m not going out to work any more and maybe I should be? Running your own business is hard, you can’t ever switch off. I see it with my husband every day and try to pick up what I can so our life is fairly balanced. It’s true, you can’t have it all, all the time. We have to appreciate what we have at this current time as things change all the time. Easier said than done. 😀 It’s fantastic by the way how your business has bloomed! X

  • Jessica Emmett

    You have a way of putting all the feels into words Sara. This is exactly it. I feel the same and yet I have no empire (yet!) just all the frustrations and guilt and time-poorness alongside a hearty dose of ambition and excitement for what the future might hold in my working life. I haven’t heard that “Women are expected to parent…” phrase before but that’s exactly it. A couple of things I would say: Rory probably adores that weekend time alone with Orla, I know my other half does and he loves taking ownership of her swimming development. Secondly, my mum worked full time as a teacher and then through the night on all her paperwork after the three of us girls went to bed from when we were weeks old. She is one of the most maternal people about and has been a wonderful role model to us in how to work hard in life. It’s just a shame I don’t have the same capacity to survive on four hours sleep a night as she did. As soon as Orla is old enough to understand your working world she’ll undoubtedly think you a inspirational woman as well as a phenomenal mum. x

    • Thank you Jessica! SUCH a great point about that father-daughter bonding time – can you believe that’s the first time I’ve considered it that way!? And lovely to hear that your relationship with your mum is wonderful and strong and not defined by how many hours she played Sylvanian Families with you for (oh, my Syvlanian Families guilt…). Four hours sleep a night sounds hellish, and I’m cheering you on as you navigate this impossible world of modern motherhood too! x

  • minitravellers

    This is fabulous and well done to you for making an amazing success of your business, but I agree, it’s hard and I am in danger of making this job harder than the ‘being a lawyer’ one I left for all the reasons you mention!

    • Thank you! Argh! The day it hits being a lawyer levels you know something has to change! Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves? xx

  • Paula Solar

    Sara, you are not perfect and no one expects you to be. No one is perfect after all. You should put your life first always, otherwise you’ll get stressed and you’ll fall ill and you have to avoid it.

    I suggest you take at least one day off, stay away from everything that requires wifi and play with Orla, take a long bath, watch a movie with your husband, have a nice glass of wine. You are working hard and you deserve rest. Detox darling!

    Slow down and avoid multitasking as much as you can. Focus your attention in what you’re doing at the moment, whether it’s answering emails or playing with the little queen. I know being a freelance is the hardest work ever and that setting times and sticking to them is complicated, but it’s advisable, try to do one thing at a time and enjoy that thing. And also you don’t have to do everything yourself, there are things that friends can do for you, rely on them if you think they’re trustworthy (trusting people is difficult at this moment, I know, but it’s not impossible). Remember, you are not Superwoman… you’re human, and that’s the best thing about you.

    You have all of my support, in case you didn’t know. And if you ever need to rant, whine, cry or laugh, just do it. It’s healthy. Massive hugs!

    ps. Of course all of the above are little suggestions/ideas, I’m not an expert or anything. I just read a lot I guess 😉

  • What a wonderful piece of writing, you have summed up everything it is to be a successful Woman and Mother in this day and age. These pressures are not put upon us, we gladly heap them all on ourselves, believing that they all need to be fulfilled! Well done you for even getting close to nailing them! x

    • Thank you Em! That means a lot (it always feels scary putting this stuff out there – there’s a moment of thinking ‘what if it’s just me??’). Yep, you nailed it – we heap them onto our plate believing that they’re all meant to be ours, and then we stare at the pile and wonder how we’re ever going to manage it all! xx

  • Krissy @oftheeveryday

    I have missed your blog posts. And my stars, this was the best yet. Your wordmongering is just so. Thank you for letting us in to ‘behind the scenes’ so very candidly. How inspirational to follow you and your peers as you learn to navigate these new opportunities, make what you can of the new ways of working and earning and balance it, or at least keep most of the balls in the air most of the time. You are flying just now, which requires a lot of effort. Hopefully you can recharge and rest up soon once one of the destinations is reached. There will always be more, but these first flights are ones you are still learning to navigate. Excited to see what comes next for you.

  • this sounds like my life. Except the salary bit! ha! Dan is the child care, bed time reader, school run, laundry guy. I am rubbish with connecting in real life, I’m too busy for coffee dates. I’m always working – always. But I love this life, it’s wonderful. I feel extremely gratful for all I have.

  • Lisa Ridge-Valentine

    You’ve just summed up my life exactly, in a much more eloquent way than I ever could!

  • It’s so refreshing to hear the realities of living your life online, working for yourself and juggling everything in between. I salute you, because I’m juggling all of this without a 3 year old and I still struggle.

  • Ahhh I relate to this so much. Despite not having a three year old to look after (or business as diverse as yours). Yes, of course your brand dictates you have a positive outlook on life though your images…..but there’s so much more to it than that! I love seeing you list out all the little things you don’t do, that people might just take for granted.

    Somehow you’ve managed to make this a super positive post too!

  • Vanessa Clarkson

    Oh Sara, I do love your posts. This one made me smile about you missing Orla swimming because I am the same. Every Saturday Rob takes the boys while I’ll be at home catching up on work. He’s sends me little videos which are nice.
    I try to look at all this from the positive viewpoint that it’s nice for Rob to have 1-on-1 time with the boys. They don’t need us both ever-present.
    And on the emails piling up and messages unanswered… I think that is so usual for people now. I certainly don’t expect quick responses from people and plan accordingly for that (I dropped you a DM on insta the other day but it’s a few months away, what I messaged about).
    I also listened to your podcast on my way home from work yesterday and I loved it! I have actually not listened to one before (I hadn’t even noticed the podcast button on my iPhone – shame) and I had no clue it was so easy. Anyway, I loved it and look forward to more… very inspiring on many different levels, but especially as a working mum following your heart.x

  • Eva

    Beautifully and honestly written. My friend called me “the hardest working nap-time mom I know”, because as soon as my toddler is down, I’m down to – at my desk. And then some in the evenings. Sometimes, I’m tired of it, but if I cut back I’m also not heavy. so as long as the creative juices flow – so be it.

  • Thank you for being so honest Sara, it is so refreshing! Being okay with oscillating from one extreme to another, as you said, is definitely something I need to work on. Thinking about my time in this way will hopefully allow me to let up on myself. One thing at a time and you can’t please everyone is what I keep repeating in my head:) Thank you for your daily dose of inspiration and in a way support. xx

  • Thank you for writing this post Sara. You pretty much summed up exactly how I’m feeling right now, and I felt a whole lot of guilt slip away the more and more I read. Accepting, rather than feeling guilty for having my work also be my hobby is a big step forward. And it’s good to know that I’m not the only one who loves working into the wee small hours, when all is quiet and the interruptions stop. Although, trying to put my game face on when my little girl wakes up early in the morning is not so easy…

  • Cariemay

    A very wise friend of mine said that to call it a work life balance suggests that something will always be missing out, and perhaps while occasionally true, it isn’t helpful. She told me to look at it as an integration – how do I integrate what I need to do with work with what I need to do for my family. There’s not an easy answer and the mix is frequently wrong but it helps me claw back time from work to use for family and not feel so guilty when it’s the other way round. Thank you for writing this and for being so honest; the comment about parenting as if you have no job and working as if you have no kids is horribly familiar and true – I wonder what we can do to change that?

  • Hermione

    Great article. Well expressed and totally relateable. Thanks for writing it x x

  • Emily Mathieson

    This resonated so much with me. There seems to be a common misconception that flexible/enjoyable work isn’t ‘proper’. Your openness is so helpful as we all feel this way and worry about all the things we don’t do, forgetting all the things we do do. Thank you for working so hard to share these thoughts with us.

  • Chloë

    So beautifully written and I couldn’t agree more. I’ve recently returned to work after maternity leave and I’m struggling with the balance and trying to fit a million and one things into each day and keep so many thoughts in my head at once! It’s really refreshing to know that I’m not alone with feeling guilty or having to chose some things over others xxx

  • Oh god, I so relate to all of this Sara! And I struggle with it all the time – this year I have just had to slow down a bit as stupid health things got on top of me at the end of last. I’ve always been good at going fast and the online blogging world rewards those who do, but eek, the resulting physical strain can really start to take its toll. Am trying to do all the things I love with work and family just all at a slightly slower pace, gah! Really interesting about those areas of life and only managing to be on top in a handful of them – I’ve aways felt this I think. And certainly seen it in others…

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  • Julia Smith

    Interesting read Sara and honestly written. It’s all about choices isn’t it? If you are happy with the very long hours for the salary in return then good for you! It’s incredibly hard to switch off when you are self employed in any industry (both my husband and I are). It’s your life to live your way x

    • Thanks Julia! (It’s always so lovely to see you here! x). You’re completely right. It’s not even really about the salary, but I suppose what the money represents, I suppose. That I’m not making this up, that what I do has a value. When you’ve been stuck in a relatively low-pay job for a long time (NHS!), having enough zeros in your bank account to make totally free choices is incredibly liberating.
      In the summer R will finish his job and come and work with me, and hopefully we’ll get some of that balance back. There are no right or wrong choices, right? haha x

      • Julia Smith

        Wish there was more time for reading others blogs but it’s one of the things that doesn’t always happen isn’t it? Good for you! Hope that the balance works from summer, how exciting to be working with Rory then, and indeed there is no right or wrong. As with all of this lark suck it and see. I do understand where you’re coming from and although my life since children took a different path to yours, I know just how satisfying it is to earn enough entirely off your own back and by your own merit. It’s something you should be very proud of. Just don’t work yourself into the ground xx

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