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.
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.