Growing up, my father always said that if you learned from your mistakes, then you hadn’t truly failed.
As a teen, that was small consolation. As a teen though, life is short, sharp and EVERYTHING seems like a matter of life and death. Small mistakes can kill you – socially, academically, psychologically.
A couple of decades later and I’m getting closer to that zen perspective that mistakes aren’t failures – they’re just lessons along the way.
A year ago I rented an office.
My business was doing well, but I was struggling to maintain the much talked about and ever elusive “work-life balance.”
I was trying to juggle being a wife, being a mom and being a business owner and sort of sucking at all three. The lines kept blurring.
I thought that perhaps separating my work space from my home space would help.
After all, when I worked for Corporate America, I didn’t have these issues. I woke up as wife/mom, went to work, clocked in, did my time as a corporate worker-bee, clocked out, switched gears in the car and magically transformed back into wife/mom mode.
I thought perhaps the commute did it.
At first, my office was AWESOME! It was everything I wanted.
It gave me room to work, reliable hours to work in, a short bike friendly commute to change hats from my domestic role to my professional role and back again.
It was worth the $$$ I was shelling out.
I was no longer a “work from home mom.”
I finally had hours set aside where I could reliably wear my professional hat, and a cut-off time to switch back into my mom hat.
I could take myself seriously for 6 whole hours a day.
But then… the kids got sick.
One after another. As soon as one got healthy, the other one got sick again. It went on for months.
My hours are more flexible than my husband’s. I can edit any time I want. My profession also, on the surface, seems more like something you could do with kids around.
So… First I tried having the kids come to the office with me, to maintain my “I’m working now” perception of myself.
Small office + child = boredom, even if said child is too sick to think. Especially if said child is too sick to think. Then they want to be entertained!
Next I switched to working from home when the kids were sick, thinking I could plug them into the TV, give them stacks of books – AND, they’d be able to get their own ramen.
I mean, yes – I could do all of the above, but they were still sick kids who needed extra attention. Plus I had this new weird resentment because now my lovely office, that I was paying for, was sitting empty while I nursed a sick kid.
It felt like I was being punished for trying to have a life outside the home.
Finally, everyone got healthy.
I was thrilled to go back to my office.
I was going to work – at last!
I couldn’t wait to clock my first full week.
I managed to get exactly ONE week of work in before the holidays struck and knocked me out for a three full weeks.
Each month after that there was at least one random day off school for no discernible reason, one late start day, at least one emergency at home. And the kids got sick again.
Each week it was a struggle to put in enough hours at the office to make it feel like it was worth the expense.
Today, I started cleaning out my office.
I would have quit sooner, but commercial leases are hard to “fail fast” at. You’re pretty well trapped for the duration.
What did I learn from this “failure”?
What can I take from this moving forward?
First – If you aren’t ready to take yourself seriously – no one else will either. No matter how much you’re spending on rent.
One of the reasons I got this office was so that my family would take me seriously, so that I wouldn’t be the default sick-kid/random day off/home emergency/grocery getter spouse. So that I would get those spare 30 hours a week to work.
I thought for sure that if I was spending our money, everyone would pitch in to help make sure I was making the money we needed to cover the expense.
Not so much.
Because… They didn’t know. (I think.) And because we’d established some poor habits over the years when I was a stay-at-home mom by choice, and because… math – it did make more sense in the short-term for me to take the hit – but in the long-term… It’s hard to start a business when you’re only there if it’s convenient for everyone else in your life…
Second – Work-life balance is bullshit. At least the way we do it in America. On one hand we want everyone working 40-80 hours a week – and on the other hand we have this weird new competitive parenting thing happening. My husband and I keep joking that in order for both of us to build our dream businesses, we need a wife. (All genders welcome to apply.) We can’t both put in the 60-80 hours a week that building a business requires AND also be here for our kids AND keep the house at even our low standards of cleanliness AND have time/energy to enjoy the life we’re working to create. Something has to give.
Third – I’m not ready for an office. I might never be. I might not be that person. Because, when push comes to shove, I can be flexible, I want to be flexible. It’s one of the reasons I was so thrilled to leave Corporate America in the first place. There wasn’t room to breathe.
Part of the reason I chose my profession was because of its flexibility. I wanted a job I could do anywhere, any time of day.
So… I better practice that if I want to take this show on the road – and I do.
Last – Life happens. It’s busy and messy and its best trick is fouling up well laid plans.
I knew this when I chose my profession.
I knew this when I started building my life.
I knew it when I chose not to build a box around it all to keep it contained.
Life doesn’t like being contained. At least, not the kind I like to live.
I’m excited to get back to a place where I don’t have to resent that, where I’m not watching the dollars drain because my office is empty while I work from home. I’m excited about consolidating my energy and finding my rhythm amongst the natural rhythm of the life I’ve created.
I’m excited to learn to find balance, rather than trying to enforce it.
AND – with the money I’ll be saving on rent, if I need to, I can always borrow a table at the coffee shop for an hour or two and do my part to boost the local economy.
What mistakes are you learning from? What failures have taught you the most?