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 400. 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
Update: If the above post resonated with you (and it seemed to resonate with a lot of people), you might be interested in the ‘long story’ which I am currently releasing in book form, one chapter a month. You can read the book intro here