From the outside looking in – or, if you prefer, from the appearance of the ubiquitous glossy Instagram account – running your own business is the dream.
‘That elusive work/life balance will be mine for the taking!’ I told myself when I set up Flock. Commuting replaced with morning yoga. Picking my daughter up from school. Meeting interesting people in interesting places and talking about – yes, you’ve guessed it! – interesting things. Cooking. A daily run. I had visions of me, ethereally dressed head-to-toe in ivory (merino, obviously) being thoughtful and creative and productive. I saw Maslow’s hierarchy of needs displayed on my home office wall with a big, fat, smug tick next to each one. Imagine!
No more deadlines. No more critical, insensitive bosses. An inherent sense of worth and value.
Of course, the reality is different. You see, it turns out that I’m the harshest, toughest boss I’ve ever had. And I’m not sure where I thought the deadlines would go – it seems that, if anything, I feel deadlines even more acutely when they’re self-imposed. The phrase ‘my business’ is incentive enough to work harder than I’ve ever done before; and when I’m not working, I worry that I should be. And the enterprise that I value so much? Well, what if no one else values it? Cue more internal panic. A girl has to eat, after all.
‘The Dream’ is not, after all, an overnight happening. If you’re a fellow independent business type, I’m sure you’re nodding your head enthusiastically as you read these words. And if you’re not – if you work 9-5, or long shifts, or you’re actively seeking work/more work thinking ‘Pfft, you insufferable whinge!’ – please don’t think I’m ungrateful. I’m so aware and so thankful for this opportunity – to have found the right time, the inspiration and the support to create Flock – but I also don’t want to present my work and life as a shiny fairytale because – well, it isn’t.
Business Plan vs Life Plan
The biggest hitch I faced in the early days was realising that the term Business Plan was a bit of a misnomer – in fact, I’d planned such a dramatic reinvention of myself, my work and my day-to-day that I actually needed a Life Plan instead. I suddenly saw that viewing life as a completely separate entity to work made it too easy to push the ‘life stuff’ down the list of priorities, especially with no kindly colleague on hand to express concern or playfully tell me to shove off home and spend some time with my loved ones.
A core value of my revised Life Plan is gentleness. Gentleness to self is too often overlooked; even in the context of wellbeing, the broad application of gentleness is rarely discussed. What do I mean by gentleness? I suppose the best definition is ‘being kind to you in any scenario’. Can I justify an hour switching off to take it easy with my daughter, just ‘because’? Yes. It super-charges the battery and my light shines brighter. I’m lucky that my new boss – err, that would be me – values productivity and creativity as measurable outputs rather than hours spent staring vacantly at a laptop screen.
So I suppose my intention in this post is to encourage you to ask yourself, wherever or however you live and work – employed, unemployed, self-employed, freelance tapdancer, whatever – “Have I been gentle to myself today”? If the answer is ‘No’, the best bit about gentleness is total permission to forgive yourself. Did you mean to take time out but something came up and you couldn’t? Well, no worries. Tomorrow is another day. Just be conscious of it for tomorrow and find a way that fits your life – a fifteen minute lie-in, an early morning pastry to make the commute more bearable, a proper lunch break getting outdoors and away from your desk – to make amends. Getting the Plan roughly right rather than perfectly wrong is where I’m at.
Gentleness fosters strength. Remember: you are your own (and your business’s, if you’re an indy retailer) most precious and powerful resource. Look after yourself.