How I got from there to here

So … a quick recap …

2010 and 2011 were not my finest years. I had created a life for myself that was high on stress and busyness and low on passion. I was juggling motherhood and running a household with a growing  graphic and web design business that employed three staff and serviced a client base of 200. Similar to many people who start businesses, I was doing little of the stuff I loved and a lot of the stuff I loathed. In fact one day I broke down crying to my husband and told him “I hate my job. I hate it so much.” The irony was that I was the one who had created my ‘job’.

The more unhappy I got with my life, the more stuff I took on. I thought that the more pies I had my fingers in, the more chance I would have of finding one that was the ‘answer’ to all my problems. All I did though was create more stress for myself. By August 2011 I was mentally crippled not just by the stress, but also its good mates anxiety and depression. I’d had three miscarriages in the previous 15 months and while I didn’t know it at the time, I was about to have another one. I was in a seriously bad way.

So in August 2011 my husband took over running my business and I spent the next three months at home indulging in the gentle art of self-sabotage.

Then I had this epiphany. And today I pick up the story from there …


So what I got from my epiphany was this:

I wanted to spend my work hours writing and designing and the rest of my time relaxing and spending time with my family.

I spent the rest of 2011 fulfilling all the stress inducing obligations I had committed to so I could start 2012 with a clean slate.

In January 2012 I choose one word that would define my year and that word was ‘No’. Sounds a little negative but I have always had a passing relationship with the word ‘No’ … it’s just not a word I’ve ever been able to say! I also wrote a little mantra for 2012:

Just because you can, does not mean you should.

This mantra became the filter that I ran everything opportunity and request presented to me through. In the past my only criteria for whether I should say ‘yes’ to something was “can I do it”. In 2012 I switched that around to “should I do this”? I asked myself if the opportunity was furthering my goals to reduce stress, work from home writing and designing, and most of all, leave time in the day to have time for myself and enjoy my family. 90% of the time the answer was no.

And I can tell you that saying no to certain things was really freaking hard. All the ramifications of saying no screamed at me “You’re letting this person down”, “Who else is going to do it if you don’t?”, “This is a great opportunity they are offering you”. It was really hard to silence that chatter in my head but if I got weak, I would take myself back to my lowest point in 2011 – that horrible split second where I actually considered taking my life.

So I said no a lot while channelling my energy towards getting my writing out into the world (after 10 years as a graphic designer, I already had all the design work I needed.) The amazing and generous Al Tait shared some very precious advice and guidance and one of the things she said was ‘be choosy who you gift your words to’. Because when you’re trying to get established as a writer, you need to build a resume of published work and some of that work will be unpaid. So I was careful who I gifted my words to.

Another thing I addressed was my daily energy levels. In the past I have fought have against the fact that I am a textbook introvert, which means that being around people drains my energy. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the company of others, but spending all day in a busy office surrounded by people, doing one-on-one client work and consulting, going to conferences and networking … this was all exhausting and stressful. So I resisted all requests for me to spend time in the Swish Design office. I stopped doing marketing consults with clients. I restricted networking to the online world as much as possible. I kept meetings to an absolute minimum.

This by itself has had a huge impact on my happiness. I love being at home by myself in my study all day. It energises me and makes me happy. When my husband and child come home in the afternoon I don’t have to spend two hours coming down from a stress high and needing space like I used to … I am already chilled and happy and ready to hang out with them.

The final thing I did to get to this nice point in my life was to put myself out there. I let people know what kind of work I was looking for. I have seen this work well for people time and again. Let people know what kind of work you are looking for.

You don’t have to take on everything that is offered to you. I didn’t. I was fussy and careful about what I said yes to. Anything that I saw as highly stress inducing, I stayed away from because I have learned over the years that no amount of money cancels out the effect stress has on my wellbeing.

So to summarise how I got here:

  1. I identified exactly what I wanted to spend my days doing. This gave me laser like focus when it came to assessing ‘opportunities’ that came my way.
  2. I was ruthless with saying no to the opportunities that were not quite right for me, no matter how amazing they were and how much it broke my heart to say no.
  3. I channelled all my energy in three directions; writing, design and family; and resisted the temptation to add more things into the mix (usually I’d be adding a marathon or something in at this point ;)
  4. Speaking of energy, I discovered what I needed to do to maximise my daily energy levels (give myself a tonne of quiet time and space) and made that a priority.
  5. Finally, I told people what I wanted to be doing. This lead to opportunities being presented to me that fit perfectly with where I wanted to be.

It’s taken me a solid year to get from there to here. This is not how I do things usually. When I want to enact a change in my life I want that change to happen NOW. And because changes don’t happen overnight, usually I get discouraged and quickly fall back to old behaviour patterns. It’s taken a huge amount of hard work, discipline and TIME to achieve the life less frantic I have been looking for and it’s going to take a lot more hard work and discipline to stay here. But I feel like I have the right systems in place now to make sure I don’t go back.

In closing I want to share this wonderful post from Megan Blandford as I feel it beautifully sums up how she simplified her life. This paragraph in her post really resonated with me:

My existence is not complicated by its nature: I live in a peaceful place, with a generous and undemanding family and supportive friends. I have very few pressures on me. My life gets complicated only when I make it so.

My life only gets complicated when I make it so.

That sums up my life in a nutshell. Things only got complicated when I made them so. Once I stepped back from that natural predilection of mine to make things complicated, I started to enjoy my life a whole lot more :)


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  1. says

    Possibly one of the best posts I have read Kelly. So honest and simple. I think that so many of us feel stressed and under pressure but just don’t know how to change things, it becomes ‘too hard basket’.

    It is obvious how happy you are since making these changes, it shines through in your blogging and writing. I am glad to have crossed paths with you, I think we are very similar in many ways and although I am not entirely where you are, I am focusing on getting to my ‘simple place’. It has been a longer journey, but all worthwhile and I have learned so much about myself along the way.

    Off to read Megan’s post now :)

  2. says

    Oh My Goodness! I so need you in my life right now.
    Speechless. You are in my head and I adore your words.

    Brilliant writing and thank you so much for being honest and sharing your journey.

    A priceless gift to me right now. Much love xx

    • says

      Oh thank goodness!! Honestly I wrote this post, read it back and thought to myself ‘really? Do you really think people will want to read this?’ I only published it because I said in my Tuesday post that I would!

    • says

      Well I reckon you’re doing the hardest thing going around – studying + being a mum. Your situation may be one of those ‘I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but the end of the tunnel is a little way away yet’ :)

  3. says

    I love reading this post Kelly because I blogged only yesterday how I’m really not coping well with the juggle. You’ve given me some real food for thought. I’m also thrilled that you’re living the change and are in a happier place. It’s inspirational, really. X

  4. says

    This resonates hugely with me, too, Kelly. No surprises there. Your posts always seem to do that to me! I mean, even right down to the graphic design/web business… I can only say I am thankful I never took on more than I alone (and no employees) could undertake, because I just knew it would consume me. My existence is simple too and Megan has imparted an absolute pearler there in one easy sentence.

    Good luck with your book!

    • says

      You are smart staying solo Kirrily!! I sometimes look back and wish I had stayed that way … but Swish is a really good little business, and actually now a much more profitable business with me out of it and hubby running things!!

  5. says

    I love the way you can deconstruct the challenging phases of your life, reconstruct them into something that works better for you, and then share it with us so eloquently, so we all get to learn from your journey! Thank you for your clarity, your candor, and your generosity.

    Especially your generosity. (All through the post I was thinking, “Oh my god, I’m soooooo fortunate and happy she didn’t say ‘no’ to me. So happy!”)


  6. says

    I do love reading about someone who actually listened to that quiet, small voice in their head. Such encouragement to do the same!

  7. says

    Such a heartwarming and honest post, Kelly. I read from beginning to end and loved every word. Thanks for sharing your journey and pointing out that it is ok to define what we want, that self sabotage is not ok and that it’s ok to be alone if that’s what it takes to refuel. Struck quite a few chords with me, and I’m sure this will go on to be an ‘evergreen’ post.

    • says

      Thank you so much Jo. ’twas the longest post I have written so I am pleased it was still an easy read – and one you think is an evergreen one at that!

  8. says

    This post grabbed my attention right from the start. I am currently working out how to (or whether to) extricate myself from my business that I have built up over 10 years. I used to love it, it was my passion, yet I now feel sick when I think about it. I need to decide whether the constant stress is worth the benefits. In my heart I know the answer, but, like you, I worry about letting others down. You post has really clarified things for me. I loved reading about how you got from there to here. Thank-you! Xx

    • says

      Oh Stephanie – I actually still feel a bit sick when I think about my business – I know EXACTLY what you mean about wondering whether the stress was worth it! Last year I decided it definitely was not and was all ready to sell up but my hubby said ‘no, it is a good business, let me try running it before you try selling it’. And you know what, it is going so much better now with him at the helm! Can someone else run yours for you? Freeing you up to do more of the stuff you’re passionate about?

  9. Ink Paper Pen says

    I love your clarity, Kelly. You have given me a lot to think about with your recent posts. I think, maybe, that today I took my first tiny step forward. It was a tiny step but with direction. Thanks for sharing your journey with us.

  10. says

    Sitting here a hot mess of tears and I found your latest post. Oh. My. God did I need to hear this today!

    I’m a *new* mum (when do you stop calling yourself a new mum? Because it feels like I still have oodles to learn to qualify as an actual mum) to a gorgeous 14 month old kiddo who is the light of my life. Wife to a wonderful if largely absent emergency doctor-in-training husband who simply isn’t around to help out, well… ever.

    I feel like I am absolutely swamped trying to do everything – keep house, cook dinner, be the most fun and amazing mum ever (then feeling guilty if I’m not ‘on’ all the time), while launching a freelance writing/design business that basically caters to everyone and everything. Oh, and also trying to run a charity in Kenya. I feel like everyone’s expectations are sky high, and I keep landing somewhere among the bushes.

    After mildly disappointing some of my lovely clients while catering to the demanding whims of another (doing work I really don’t like) I’d come to the conclusion that something had to change but had no idea where to start. Thank you Kelly for figuring it all out for me!

    Gosh, I hope it only takes me 12 months to get my life sorted like you have. I adore your writing and your updates and while I can’t remember how I found your site I’m soooooo glad I did! xo

    • says

      Oh Verity that is TOUGH with a capital T! My brother in law and also hubby’s best friend are doctors so I know just how hard it is to be a doctor’s wife – you are essentially a single parent. I also know how horrible it is to disappoint clients because I felt like that’s all I did last year when I was so horribly overextended!

      And I hope it takes you LESS than a year to get everything sorted! All the best and it makes me happy to hear this post is helping people.

  11. says

    A great post Kelly which has obviously resonated with a lot of people. I feel I am about ten minutes behind you. Just learning to say no this year too. It’s very empowering and helps keep things simple. Thank you – I’ll be bookmarking your post and reading it a few times over I suspect.

  12. says

    Oh Kelly, full plaudits to you, my friend. I am so delighted to hear how you nutted it all out. You’ve made me realise what real changes I need to make to my life. Thankyou so much for the inspiration. J x

  13. says

    Wow Kelly, thank you for sharing your story. I could relate so much. The five points in your summary are gold. I have been applying a few of them myself. Changes are so necessary – as painful as they can be – if we are to get from here to there. Inspiring as ever, Kelly. xx

  14. says

    Hi Kelly,

    Great post reminding us to remember what is most important to us, particularly when it comes to lifestyle design and running a business from home :)

    Looking forward to meeting you at ProBlogger!

  15. says

    Kelly, I’ve been wanting to read this post properly since briefly skimming through it a few days ago.
    It’s been close to 2 years now that I’ve been struggling with doing so much of what I don’t want to be doing and not having either the time or energy to put into the work I love. I’m really aware at the moment that I’m paying for it both emotionally and physically – and that things are going to have to change.
    Finding this post (and so many other amazing posts that you’ve shared, including your book intro) was timely for me. When I had to leave the Problogger event yesterday, not too long after getting there, it was a bit of a wakeup call really. I would so much rather be doing the things I love, that energise me. Maybe then I’d have more energy to deal with my current pain. Or maybe I’d even find that as the stress goes, a whole lot of the pain does too.
    I especially love your point #1, that you identified exactly what you wanted to spend your days doing. That’s not necessarily easy to do, but really gets to the heart of what changes need to be made. It’s a huge help for me, and I’m trying to apply it to my own life now.
    Thanks so much for sharing this post. Am very grateful (and obviously not the only one, going by the number of comments!) that you did publish this.
    I’m sorry not to have had a chance to meet you at the PB Event. Hopefully next year!

    • says

      Brigid you are absolutely right that identifying what you want to spend your days doing is really hard to do!! And it might take some trial and error … but once you’ve got it, you will know it deep in your heart … and then you can go after it :)

      And yes! Next year’s Pro Blogger!

  16. says

    Hi Kelly,

    Glad you got that sorted out. Why do we let ourselves hit rock bottom before we fix things? It’s so common.

    Wishing you all the best in your creative endeavours and with the new baby. I am following your progress from Noosa and sending you positive thoughts :)