I needed not one, not two, but three big wake up calls before I really understood that I had to prioritise taking care of myself above what seemed to be more urgent business needs.
For years I bounced between being an employee and being self-employed.
I loved the freedom of being my own boss, but missed the reliability of a regular pay cheque. Although my first (offline) business was successful, I worked myself into the ground and never took any time off – and I knew that being on site for meetings and events wouldn’t work once I had my baby.
In my second business (which was online), I was much more intentional with my time - I had to be, since I started off only able to work during my baby’s nap times. In this online editing and writing mentoring business, I was able to fit in work around her needs. I set up an agency structure by recruiting friends who were writers or literary agents to take on any work that I didn’t have the time to do myself. I did most of my own work by email, avoiding needing to be in meetings at particular times (which is difficult when nap-time is a constantly moving target!).
I was managing my time really effectively - and given the limitations of major sleep deprivation, doing a surprisingly good job of maintaining my focus. However, I was shockingly bad at managing my energy, and as my daughter grew into an energetic toddler, I became chronically exhausted. Crying in the middle of the day at the thought of how long it was until bedtime exhausted.
This is when the first of my three wake up calls hit.
When my daughter was three, I ended up in hospital, literally collapsing with exhaustion. It’s been a long, slow road to learning how to get better - but it’s given me a completely different perspective on how I work with my clients and their challenges around time, focus and energy. Now I know the benefit not just of truly thinking through my time use and having strategies in place to increase my profitability and streamline my systems - for me, these strategies really helped, but the absolutely crucial difference came from combining this strategic thinking with actually prioritising my own self-care. Napping in the middle of the day is a higher business priority for me now than almost anything else, since it enables me to do everything else better.
When my daughter reached primary school age, I was tempted back into working part-time for a literacy charity whose mission really inspired me, working in a very deprived area of my local city, Edinburgh.
I loved many aspects of the job, particularly working directly with the kids and the authors involved in the children’s book festival I ran. But I also faced up, once and for all, to the fact that I just hate being told what to do. By anyone. Including the members of my very experienced and all-round lovely Board of Directors. This is when it started to dawn on me that there was really no alternative - for me - to being my own boss.
At this point, just to reinforce this thinking, I got my second big wake up call.
Along with my husband and then-five year old daughter, I was involved in a serious car crash. I started re-evaluating everything. I decided that I wanted to give running my own business one final go, and this time I was ready to really focus on having the freedom I wanted whilst making a difference in other people’s lives.
Over time, I recovered from the car accident and handed in my notice at work. I was back to being a full-time entrepreneur.
Then I got the third wake up call.
I discovered I have a chronic illness which affects my energy levels, so it became crucial to take my already well-honed time management skills up to the next level, so that I could take care of myself, my clients AND my family without driving myself into a second round of burnout.
I became an expert in managing my energy and tapping into my ability to prioritise and focus, so that I could still achieve what I needed to, even on days when I was feeling quite wiped out.
I started digging deeper into understanding how to feel more clarity, ease and flow in my work, whatever the circumstances of my health. And gradually I began to see that what worked best for me was to ‘join up’ practical strategic thinking about profitability, simplifying my business model and streamlining my systems with a much more intuitive approach to tying my work in with my deeper sense of purpose. And, even more importantly, my highest priority was to free up my time during the working day for rest, rejuvenation and time spent in nature or with creative pursuits, to refill the well. Without that, nothing else works.
Your health situation may be less extreme (I hope it is!) but the same principle holds.
You CAN have a business which supports you, rather than one which you spend all your time and energy in supporting. And you can achieve more by making sure you put on your own oxygen mask on first.
Once I really saw the benefits of my new approach to running my business, I started working with other creative, values-driven business owners, first as a sideline but gradually as my main business. I help my clients apply all that I’ve learned about how to simplify my business strategy with living the life I really wanted to live.