2014 was a transitional year for me. I quit my job, started a business, and shifted my whole identity toward balance & moderation. I made a sincere effort to approach my life with less fear, and sketched out a plan to shape the year. Of those 30 things I completed 20 of them, which seems pretty good since some of them were fairly ambitious (for me).
Some crappy things happened in 2014, most of which did not appear on the blog. Sometimes I wished fervently for a counselor of some sort, not a therapist per se because I don’t think I need the ongoing support — just someone who can walk me through occasional dilemmas and challenges with an objective eye. At one point this year I fully intended to find a counselor for a particular issue, the money be damned, but in the end it didn’t happen, I suppose for the usual reasons.
I intended to create another list for this year, maybe not 30 things but a few. Instead I decided to focus on just one thing*, which is to put myself first more often. I know this sounds terribly selfish, but let me explain.
Starting a small business is generally accepted to be a horrible idea. Money is lost, talent is wasted, time is gobbled up, stress skyrockets, and in the end most businesses fail. Like most people I knew these things only intellectually and believed that my situation would be different because I would do things correctly. And I must give myself some credit that I did handle some things well. I started small, with just a few hundred dollars of my own money to invest. I did not advertise but allowed my business to grow organically based on referrals from happy clients. Though I set the goal of one year, I reached my baseline net income after just two months, and I point to these choices as the source of that small success.
However, I made a lot of mistakes as well. I set my initial prices way too low. I underestimated how much physical space I would require, and didn’t anticipate how quickly my kitchen devices would crumble (or explode) under the pressure of heavy daily use. I didn’t expect that delivery would be more of a complication and limitation on my business than the food itself. I didn’t know that even a business as small as mine still needs a “public face.” Or how scary it would be in general to sell my product, to stand behind my work and say that it deserves to cost something, that I should be able to make a living doing something anyone could do.
Perhaps most of all, I didn’t realize how my life would be eaten up by my business. I thought I could fit it neatly between the hours of 8am and 4pm with perhaps an hour or two on the weekend. Instead the work bleeds way into the rest of my life, not only the actual work but the mental energy required to maintain it.
I quit my desk job because the worst fear of my (admittedly privileged) life was coming true: I sat on my ass under fluorescent lights doing meaningless work on a computer all day, then came home to stare at the TV all night. I had nothing left for the real work of my life. I didn’t read, write, create, think, grow, move, play, meditate, or connect. My lunches often came from the taco truck, and I downed eight to ten cups of coffee a day, suppressed anger and resentment with the glow from various screens.
More than anything else, I desire to be fully present for my life, and I found that goal incompatible with uncreative office work. I started this small business with a plan to shape my work around my life and not the other way around. I see now that this is a naive expectation and that it’s wiser to find a middle way through the two, because sadly I do require actual cash money to do all those meaningful things, though I suppose homelessness is always an option.
Last week, while visiting family in Utah for the holidays, relieved to be mostly free of cooking requirements, I stumbled upon this article. Although problematic from a HAES perspective, I must say that it strongly resonated. In particular, “Seven steps to guarantee that you will gain weight while building your company (or your career). Additionally, these are great for eliminating healthfulness, happiness, and joy from your life.” These steps include…
1. Put yourself dead last. “…[D]o not — I repeat do not — carve out time for your health, any outside-of-work interests, sleep, or proper and consistent nutrition.”
2. Do not prioritize sleep. “Wear this ‘superhuman power’ like a badge of honor, and make sure to let people know that you will ‘sleep when you are dead’ and that ‘sleep is for quitters.'”
3. Stop any personal care activities. “This includes, but is not limited to: showering only when absolutely necessary (working from home does not constitute necessity); don’t drink enough water, keep your stress levels high, and don’t get enough sleep (#2 above) so your skin goes to hell; miss haircuts for months, years even… wear sweats (if you even elect to put pants on), and stay “focused” (a.k.a. sedentary) for as many hours as you can; and do not, I repeat DO NOT participate in any sort of physical activity.”
4. Do not exercise. “If you think you can get in a workout at some point, start checking and responding to email so that this urge passes. Remember: there will always be one more thing you can do that can keep you from the gym, a run, or a pickup game of soccer with friends.”
5. Do not make uninterrupted time for friends, family, or loved ones. “Be so busy that you aren’t there for them when they need you. When you do happen to get to get together or talk on the phone, make sure you are multitasking so as not to miss a beat with your work… incessantly checking / being on your phone; taking calls that interrupt your time with them; thinking about your work while they are talking; and talking about your work issues in a one-sided way.”
6. Be too busy to eat. “…[R]each for some sort of caffeinated beverage before any water or food. This will ensure that you surprise your appetite, throw off your metabolism, and delay hunger for a few hours. If you do in fact get hungry again in the morning or early afternoon, just go for more caffeine… [B]y the time you head into the afternoon / early evening, you will start to notice symptoms of hunger that can range from drawing a blank when trying to think or recall, to being irritable or “hangry”…. Finally, once the food is delivered, consume it by inhalation and avoid chewing too much. Also when you start to feel full, keep going. Who knows when you will eat again?!”
7. Cease all extracurricular activities. “This includes, but is not limited to: reading books… learning about non-work-related things that interest you, reading the news, keeping up any hobbies like writing or knitting or playing an instrument, meditation…”
Though operating on a MUCH smaller scale than Leslie Bradshaw, I’m still guilty of all seven of these. I haven’t gained weight (small miracle considering I’m literally surrounded by food all day), but my family connections, friendships, extracurricular activities, sleep habits, creativity, meditation, exercise routine, and moderation regarding caffeine intake have all taken a major hit. I read all the small business warnings so I knew to expect this. What concerns me right now, in facing the year ahead, is that there’s no end in sight, because I’ve done nothing to shift the dynamics of my work-life balance.
Leslie Bradshaw dipped into hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue to hire an executive coach, personal trainer, nutritionist, and meal delivery service to take control of her life. None of those are an option for me, and I no longer believe in meticulously controlling my diet as a proxy for the rest of my life. But I still intend to take her suggestions to heart because after all, this is not only my life. In placing my needs first — putting on the oxygen mask of exercise, water, regular meals, meditation, enough sleep, and creative pursuits — I expect everyone in my life to benefit, including my clients.
From time to time I will share the exact process by which I bring about this shift. If you have any habits you hope to build in the new year, please share!
*Oh, did I really say just one thing? Of course I have more.
Replace my broken prime lens and return to using my DSLR at least occasionally. Last year I switched to using a high-quality camera phone for most of my photography, for several reasons but first and foremost because I was tired of lugging around my Canon with its huge zoom lens. Intrigued by this post, I spent some time paging through old photographs recently and the difference in quality between that expensive zoom and the cheap kit lens that broke a few years ago is rather stark. The fixed lens took beautiful photos by comparison, and I can get a new one for around $100.
Cook with my children at least once a month. My kids love to cook, but I vacillate between a) cooking for my clients (so they can’t participate) and b) cooking for my family under exhausted duress (so I don’t want them to participate). It’s important to me that my children both know how to cook and enjoy cooking, so it’s a constant source of guilt for me that I rarely allow them to help. I plan to find at least one cooking project a month for us to do together.
Kayak through the caves off the Mendocino coast. This was on my 30 Things list in 2014, but we didn’t make it. Let’s give it another try!
Learn to hunt for wild mushrooms. Inspired, obviously, by this.
Be a better blogger. D’awwwww. No but seriously.