I’ve been variously self-employed for a while now – since 2008, more on than off, in various ways. It’s been five years since I launched Foam on the Range, and nearly three since I gave up on my most recent attempt to co-exist with a Real Job [TM]. One might think I’d’ve sorted out most of the kinks by now, no?
Well, one would be wrong. Or at least, it turns out the kinks are self-replicating, and some of them hide quite cleverly and leap out at me just when I start to get all complacent and stuff. But kinkiness notwithstanding, I wouldn’t trade this life for any I’ve had before, or any of the ones I see around me, either. As it happens, I’m a cantankerous sort who prizes the freedom to do things MY WAY DAMMIT above predictability, security, or any of that sort of thing.
Anyway, my “I did it my way” mantra isn’t actually what I came here to talk about today. I came to talk about the illusion of work-life balance, and how I’ve finally begun to come to terms with the fact that it is, for folks like me, an entirely mythical unicorn of a beast. By which I mean: There will never be a time at which I am not working in which part of me does not think I ought to be, and there will rarely be a time at which I am working in which part of me isn’t thinking about laundry or groceries or something. It’s a fairly insurmountable issue, when my primary work space is about 15 feet away from my bed; the two lives – work and personal – that for most folks live in different buildings, become indelibly blurred and blended.
I fought against this for years, feeling like I ought to be able to set up a delineation of sorts. Then I got busy, and for another couple of years I lost all semblance of a “life” outside work at all; I couldn’t carry on a conversation about anything other than work, and if kept out of my workshop for eight or ten hours straight I’d get the full-on hand-shaky DTs. Neither of these is good; creative work does not respond well to attempts to corral it into scheduled “work hours”, and suppressing all non-work life leads in fairly short order to drying up the well that the creativity came from in the first place. So I needed a third option, one that would let me get things done without turning into a hollow, shambling semblance of myself.
In 2013 I tried taking a half-day off every week, figuring surely 6.5 days of every seven would be enough to get everything done. That lasted until mid-February, I think, at which point I went back to working all the time. OK, so come 2014’s rethinking of things, I decided to try taking a whole day off every other week. I think I did that twice. This year I’ve wised up and realized I’m not going to stick to anything much past the end of first quarter at absolute best, so instead of trying for a whole-year resolution, I turned first quarter itself into a sort of extended partial vacation. Which does not mean I haven’t been working all year! Indeed not – I’ve rolled out two new product lines, revised the core soap lineup, designed some fun new soaps for spring and summer (some of them are on the curing racks, and some are already available!), set up and run my annual clearance sale (ending Friday!) and have shipped several crates of product to Amazon’s warehouses as well as over 100 orders directly to customers (thank you all!). I’ve just been doing it while only working between 25-50 hours per week, instead of my more usual 60-80. And I haven’t been stressing myself to push harder and do more and stretch my limits, as I so often do.
The busy time will come around soon enough, and I’ll be ramping back up into my more normal work patterns around the time temperatures climb back into the above-freezing levels to stay. But I’ll be doing it well-rested, and with a refreshed mind and spirit. I’m even starting to look forward to being busy again, whereas if you’d asked me two months ago I’d’ve sworn I needed to sleep for at least a year.
I’m not going to claim I’ve found the one true way – after all, not only is everyone different, but I don’t even really know if this is going to work for me in the long run. I do know, though, that while I haven’t stopped being a workaholic (and haven’t lost my addiction to creating beautiful things), I have enjoyed this long semi-vacation more than I would ever have thought – and more than I’ve ever been able to enjoy a “real” vacation that keeps me away from work entirely. So for now, I’ll take it!