work/life balance

‘…life is about balance.  The good and the bad.  The highs and the lows.  The pina and the colada.’ – Ellen DeGeneres

 

I haven’t worked since December 1st.  It’s about time to get back at it!  Honestly, I’ve done a couple of things to earn money since then, but for the most part…I’ve been doing other things…things that don’t make me money…things that simply make me feel happy, content…fulfilled.  And while the term ‘work/life balance’ has become overused and perhaps stigmatized, I still pay heavy attention to it, and feel that you should too!

For most of us, it’s simply expected that work at a job will take up the most amount of time in our lives…more than most of the other things we do.  I came to realize that it’s highly beneficial to enjoy the work I’m doing, considering all of the time it takes up.  I also figured out that self-employment can lead me to a place where I can work when I want to, and work how much I want to.

My previous career was teaching English, in which I worked a 190 per year schedule.  I enjoyed the vacation weeks, and the summers off, but it always felt that the job was pulling, looming over me, causing me to still think and stress about it even when I wasn’t there.  I had nightmares about lesson plans (this was early on in my career), and I felt this incredible guilt if I was ever too sick to work a day.  I could never shut it off.  This wasn’t the only reason I quit.  There were many more, and you can read about some of it here.

Before leaving though, I had started a landscaping business called East Concord Grass Roots.  It began as a way to make some more money in the summers after my daughter was born.  But I began to enjoy the freedom and autonomy associated with running my own thing.  I could choose the days I wanted to work.  I could say, ‘no thank you’ to jobs I didn’t want to do.  I could work an extra long day when it fit.

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What I eventually created though, was a schedule in which I was able to stay home with my daughter on Mondays and Wednesdays.  I managed to get my work done on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.  3 days per week!  Once in a while, I’ll work a weekend day, but it’s not that often.  So from about April 1 to December 1 (which is 34 weeks), at 3 days per week on average…that’s 102 days per year.  I’m really surprised with that!  I just did the math for the first time right now…and can’t believe it!

Within those (let’s call it) 100 days per year, I’ve been able to make more money than when I was teaching.  That was also a huge surprise to me, as I realized it soon after starting the business.  Now, I certainly don’t make a lot of money, and live quite modestly.  I have a small, old house.  I drive an old car with 220,000 miles on it.  But this is all part of the balance…the decisions…the work and the life.  Taking both into heavy consideration, I’ve found a sweet spot for myself.

Early on in parenthood, I made the decision that I’d put in as much effort (quality and quantity time) as possible…especially in the younger, foundational years.  I’m so happy and proud that I’ve been able to do that.  And as I’ve aged, I’ve come to understand that I love to spend a lot time at home…reading, writing, cooking, creating, working on the house, etc.  These last two winters have really proven to give me plenty of that.  This previous winter was the first that I gave up snow plowing, as it was generally a source of stress and anxiety for me.  I did have to make sacrifices to live more frugally through those months.  But it was a deliberate decision, related to work/life balance, that I made in order to stay happier.  I was able to read and write more than I ever have during that time, and now I truly feel ready to attack another Spring season.

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Work and leisure and family are all so particular depending on who I talk to.  I’m not naive, thinking that anyone reading this should quit their job and start their own business.  I will say though, that I don’t believe that most people give this idea the attention it deserves.  I will also say that I see most people highly stressed by their job, and wonder if they consider the long term and far reaching effects of that…on their own body, life span…and on their children.  I will ask if you’ve given thought to this question:  Can you make enough money in 100 days per year as opposed to 260 days that most people work?  Can you be happier doing so?

Many of us follow the routine, structure, and norms of the current society…and then find ourselves in situations where we ask how we got there.  Maybe we find that we don’t enjoy being there.  We want something else.  I’m just writing this to let you know that if that’s you wondering…there are ways to figure it out.  It’s worth your exploration.  The variables of time and money will certainly run the gamut, depending on your family and the field you work in.  But it’s easy to see, this at-bat that we have in life…this one chance that we get…isn’t about chasing a paycheck or ‘burning the wick at both ends’ because that’s what we’re ‘supposed’ to do.  It’s about trying to achieve a rich and fulfilling period of time based on what it is that you want.

So what is that?

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Fictional Case Study (julie’s jelly)

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When we do more than we think (more actions with less pondering), we create the paths that we choose to walk down.  We make our own life happen, the way we want it to…the way that is most tailored for who we are deep down to the core.  We live, and die on our own sword.  

Take this fictional story as an example:  33 year old mom of two boys, Julie…wants to start her own jelly business.  She’s passionate about the strawberry jelly she makes at home. Her family loves it. She wants to start selling it online, to get it to as many folks as possible, and to create another stream of income for the family.  Her job as an elementary school teacher doesn’t provide her with the income that she really desires.

Julie tells her coworker (John) about her business idea at lunch break.  John says, ‘yeah that sounds fun, but I don’t think I’d ever buy jelly over the internet.’  

Julie then tells her boss Stacey (the principal at her school), who she is really friendly with. Stacey says, ‘It’s a good idea, but I tried selling candles online….and it didn’t really amount to much.  It’s harder than it looks.’

I hope you can identify with Julie.  She is really passionate and interested in her idea, but the two people that she thought would encourage her the most to go do it…actually shot her idea down.  Now, if Julie is thick-skinned, and loves a ‘chip on her shoulder’ attitude, she can use it to motivate her even more so. But most of us would start second guessing our idea, thinking, ‘maybe it is too hard to sell online…I’m not sure people will buy my jelly after all’.  Before you know it, Julie has put the recipe, canning jars, and label maker in the back of the cabinet.  

John and Stacey aren’t to blame for this.  If we went back and told them how Julie felt after speaking to them, they’d probably say that they didn’t mean to deter her at all…she probably caught them at a tough time during the day…and they actually really believe in Julie’s business idea…of course she should do it!  They were telling stories that they thought would be valuable to Julie, knowing what to expect when she does do it.  

This story illustrates the fact that we often put our hopes and dreams in the hands of others.  And we often choose people who aren’t necessarily ready to accept, and then motivate us in a way that’s tailor made for us.  We’re actually expecting too much from others when we do that. We look to others (who aren’t even aware by the way) to inspire and motivate us…to encourage our ideas.  That’s just a losing mentality.

I understand wanting to tell people what your up to.  It’s realistic that we’re going to socialize and share what’s top of mind.  But we need to be totally cognizant of what’s going on, in order to not get discouraged about our own ideas.  We need to be the one in control.

If Julie is like most people, when her husband asks her about that business she wanted to start, she’ll now have excuses and blame to be placed…both of which have nothing to do with her own self.  She may even start complaining more about her co-workers, and the fact that she doesn’t have enough money, and that the government makes it too hard to start businesses where she lives, and that learning to be tech savvy, and to figure out social media branding takes way too long and isn’t worth it.  

Because of what someone else said, and how they seemed to feel about it, she now isn’t going to follow up on her idea.  So sad! Do you see how Julie isn’t truly in control of her own life? She’s now dying on John and Stacey’s sword!

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What Julie could have done, had she considered doing more than thinking, is create an Etsy and Pinterest account and start tinkering with the sites, realizing which would be best for her.  After a couple of hours, she’d be savvy enough to post simple pictures and text.

She could have brainstormed a simple and catchy business name, and created an interesting logo for her brand.

She might have researched prices and locations for strawberries and sugar, and jars and labels, in order to find the most affordable way of getting a jar totally ready for the market.  

She could have created a Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat account for her jelly, so that she’d be able to get the attention of others with her brand.  

She may have called 15 local food, garden, and furniture stores, asking if her jelly could be sold there.  

She even could have started her own podcast…recording episodes mostly focused on everything jelly!

By the way, with today’s technology and opportunity, she could have done all of this on her laptop or phone while lying in bed wearing pajamas!  

And I have a funny feeling that if she had done all of this, and then went and told her co-workers, it would be a totally different conversation and outcome.  And even if the conversation was similar, the confidence and self-esteem Julie built up through her work, would allow her to smirk at the otherwise discouraging words said by John and Stacey.  

This Julie isn’t complaining or blaming.  She’s using all of her time and energy to do more.  She’s putting it all into her jelly business.  And guess who’s sword she’s living and dying on now?  Her own sword.

As much as I don’t want her to die, let’s look at how that actually is a possibility:

If we have to guts to live a life on our own terms, we must consider the fact that we will die that way too.  I respect and believe in that meritocracy all the way. We can’t have it one way, and not the other.

Look, Julie’s jelly might actually suck.  Maybe her family is spitting it out, or passing it to the dog under the table, and they’re too nice to be honest with her about it.  Julie could do all of this doing on the back of a crap product…and after the first round of sales, she’d die.  

Or, maybe Julie isn’t kind.  She doesn’t bring any value to the store owners that are carrying her product, she’s very hard to communicate with, and she doesn’t engage with any of her audience on the social media platforms.  She’s going to die.

While the doing should be the baseline…the norm…other variables like quality, consistency, kindness, value, etc. will certainly play their part.   

But remember, it feels so much better to die on your own sword than someone else’s.  As you can see, all of the blaming and responsibility come back to you when you put this into practice.  If your product didn’t work out how you anticipated that it would, it’s because of your own actions, or lack thereof.  This shouldering of all of the responsibility is actually liberating, though it seems more like pressure. Again, along with the control or autonomy you desire to have your own business or live your own life…you must accept the meritocracy…and the fact that it all comes back to you, good or bad.  Ultimate responsibility…ultimate freedom.

Now, if Julie’s jelly really does suck…all of that doing, experimenting, executing that she did, provided her with a foundation of data to sit on. All of the confidence and self-esteem and pride she has built up through the work, allows her a framework to adjust from.  Look, businesses mostly don’t get it right the first time. Great businesses listen to the market, and adjust accordingly. Julie may need to change the recipe, the label, the jar. She may need to adjust her attitude, her kindness level, her methods of communication. This is where we either fail and we’re done (we die on our own sword)…or we fail, learn, adjust, try (wield our sword again), and then win!   

To Do more than you think, means that you’re the one in control of your own destiny. You’re wielding your own sword. Your life isn’t happening to you…YOU are making your own life happen!

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Now, sharpen up that sword…and get out there!

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how to pan for gold…in books though

‘I’m wondering what to read next,’ Matilda said.  ‘I’ve finished all the children’s books.’ – Roald Dahl

Music:  I found this artist, Jose Gonzalez, while watching the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  This song fit into the film so nicely.  It would be so cool to choose songs for a movie.  Who gets to do that?  Anyway, I highly recommend the movie and Jose’s music!  Click here to listen while you read. 

As I mentioned on my Reading List, there are some books that I just know…I don’t need the whole thing.  I just want the small bits of gold that apply to me.  I only use this technique for non-fiction works.  Obviously, I want the entire story within a novel and don’t recommend ‘panning’ a piece of fiction.  


In much of what I’ve found within non-fiction, an author does some great, focused research related to what they want to write.  They then present it in a way that works for them.  They also have to tell somewhat of a story with it…present it in a way that flows nicely for the reader…and usually attach some case studies (anecdotes about people applying the book’s theories).  Sometimes, I can tell that I love everything about the idea and everything related.  In that case, I take it all in.  

What is she thinking?  Where is she traveling?

On the other hand…and actually most of the time…I don’t want all the extra fluff.  I take the author’s unspoken word that their idea works for the case studies presented.  Just be careful with this, because they’re obviously not going to tell you stories when their information is arbitrary or ineffective.  That would be counter-intuitive.  I rely on myself though, to find the valuable nuggets of information, the ones that apply to me, and discern as to whether or not I agree or disagree with them.  This usually takes me 10-15 minutes, which means I can ‘pan’ one book a day!  Here’s what I do:


1.  The first thing I do is read the title and author.  Duh!


2.  Then, I go in the back sleeve and find ‘about the author’.  I like knowing the background information of the architect here.  They might have been fed from a silver spoon…might have 5 kids…or none…might have run some marathons…might enjoy their gun collection…or live off the grid.  What I also find here are websites related to their cause, or that they recommend.  


3.  Find the Table of Contents, look over it quickly to see what stands out to you, then dog ear the page.  You might be returning to this page a bunch.  


4.  Get a blank piece of paper, or notebook, or journal…and a writing utensil.  #2 Ticonderoga pencil is my go-to.  That was a joke.


5.  Here is where you start panning for gold!  First, check the end of chapter 1 for a ‘review’ or ‘summary’ or ‘wrap up’.  Some authors use this for each chapter, and it’s so helpful for us as gold panners.  If so, simply jump to each one of these, and write anything down you feel you need.  Here’s an example of a quick review from How to Talk to Anyone, by Leil Lowndes:


Since all of the gold had a grey background in this book, it was easy to spot. All the other writing was a longer hand version of this…and stories of when her friends tried this. Unnecessary! 


You may find a piece of information that you want more of in that summary.  If you do, just go back through the chapter quickly, looking for the terms that apply, and just take what you need.


If the chapters don’t have the summaries, you’ll have to work a little harder.  But all you have to do is rotate your pan in the water, sifting and scanning for information relative to you.  Most of the time there are bold letters, or headings that will help in your search.  


Always use the dog-eared Table of Contents to keep you guided throughout, and as a reference for what to find… and where.  


You may write down a lot.  You may just write down 2 bullets of information…2 nuggets of gold.  You may have a photographic memory and not have to write anything down.  It’s up to you.  Since my own memory is more bronze than gold, I do have to write something down.  I also enjoy having a folder in my drawer where I keep my ‘sheets of gold’.  I know that I can quickly go back and find what I wrote down…access the inspiring notes to keep me practicing a new habit…or find that author I liked to help me find that other book he or she wrote.  Here is an example of one of my sheets of gold (from the book Raising a Self-Reliant Child by Alanna Levine):






I simply write the title and author on top, and then some notes below.  My handwriting should tell you that I’m doing this fast.  Hopefully, I can read it when I go back to it!


Here’s another one with less notes.  It’s from the book 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans, by Karl Pillemer:





That’s it!  Again, this takes 10-15 minutes, and you can pan a book a day! You’ll be rich before you know it.  Think of all of the great research you can access…the great authors and innovative thinkers…the people who have failed and then found the most effective ways to succeed…the parents who know what works.  You can use all of their blueprints.  It’s very handy.  By the way…I’ve spent a lot of money on education up to this point.  I’m very happy I did, and I’ll probably continue to do more.  However, all of this gold panning I’ve been doing…all of the ‘acquisition of knowledge’…has been totally free, from my public library!   A guy I play basketball with told me, ‘that works just as good…all the greatest minds in history are right there on the shelf.’  Nicely put right?  Thanks Matt!

This is your pass to free gold!


One last note…often I email the author, thanking them, and letting them know that their information was helpful.  Sometimes their email address is in the ‘About the Author’ section.  If not, some quick Googling can usually find it.  I think they deserve the gratitude.  I also see it as networking, and connecting with these folks I have a lot of respect for.  You can consider them mentors in absentia…and think of them as part of your own Circle of Elephants that I mentioned in another blog post.


I’ve been surprised at the emails I get in return.  Most of the time it’s a secretary or publicist that writes me back, telling me they’ll forward my message on.  Sometimes though, the author writes back, happy to hear from a reader.  And now you have a specialist in your contact list!  Last week, I was happily exchanging emails with Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric.  Someday, I might want to ask him a business question…and it’s fun to know that he might actually respond!  I’m still waiting to hear from Warren Buffett.


Good luck in your journey finding and becoming gold!

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All love!