by Liz Proctor When you were an 8 year old, if someone had asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, what would you have told them? How close are you to having that thing in your life and business now? OK, so being an astronaut, professional Lego builder or the World’s…
It’s 8:45 am. I’m at my desk, fresh cup of tea to hand and fingers at the ready. But I’m 45 minutes too early.
The boy had to be at school early this morning, so our morning routine was brought forward by 45 minutes and that gave me this gift of extra working time. But it’s also a glimpse into the future. Come September, the boy will be on a bus at 8am without me even needing to get dressed, let alone leave the house.
And so things will change again. A working day of 8am to 4pm starts to line up with the ‘normal’ routine of the outside world. l don’t want to sleepwalk into this change and, without thinking about it, find myself working (almost) nine to five. (As a wise woman once sang, “What a way to make a living!“)
I came into this live and work at home life so that I could build work around life instead of the other way round, so I could be present for my family and have time for myself. Until now, my work time has been boundaried by someone else’s needs (nap time was the only work time for a good while) and by the outside world (school hours, clubs and activities). That’s not going to end completely, but slowly the potential work time is increasing and I need to make some conscious decisions about how much work I can take on and still be true to myself.
I chose this live and work at home life. I choose it again now. I choose to mix work and home, work and play, responsibilities and freedom. The challenge is in finding a new way to make it work, for everyone.
There’s a moment every spring when I think I’ve cracked it. All the spring seeds are sown. The beds are neat, and the weeds so small that I can kid myself I’ve pulled them all out. I’ve even emptied the compost bins of their ‘black gold’ and there’s room to dispose of our veg peelings in them again.
And then it happens.
There’s an explosion of growth and the weeds are suddenly towering over my previous seedlings. Or a mysterious mildew appears in the greenhouse, or a late frost destroys the lush new leaves of the potato crop. There’s always something. You’d think that I’d have learned this much earlier but now, after many years of repeated lessons, I finally realise that gardening is never finished, not even temporarily.
Neither is a business, or a way of life. There’s always something. We suddenly have more work than we can cope with – or none. A new opportunity or idea raises its head and we’re thrown into a crisis of indecision or a whirl of frantic activity. The family routine changes and everything must adjust to follow suit – or the work routine changes and the family has to somehow fall into line. (This always happens the day after you find yourself thinking, “Now we’ve got the balance just right.”)
But here, in this moment of stillness as I look over the vegetable beds, I find a moment of clarity. Change is constant. We never find balance and stay there. Like riding a bike, we make constant tiny adjustments in order to stay upright.
So I’ll enjoy this time of looking over my almost-tidy, spring-poised garden, knowing it won’t last. If it did, there would be no flowers and no harvest.
I’m a grown woman. How can doing something new still make me squirm like a four year old with a full bladder?
There’s a thing I’ve been thinking about doing for most of a year. A new strand of work that will get me out of the house during the day sometimes and into the company of – gasp – other people. For most of a year, I’ve thought about it, even talked about it a bit, and thought about it some more. I even knew the first step: a simple phone call to arrange a venue. That would commit me and I’d have to follow through.
And I did nothing. For all that time.
Then yesterday I was suddenly heartily sick of going around and around the same mental loop. Plus, I need work. Those two things together made me sit down and reach for the phone.
I didn’t actually pick it up and dial, though. Oh no. I explored the website of the organisation I was about to call. I made tea. I jotted down some more notes about my ideas. I got toys out for the baby who was coming to visit that afternoon. In short, I did everything I could to put it off.
Yes, I was nervous. Of a simple phone call. What if I was wrong? What if they said no? (Even more anxiety-inducing, what if they said yes?) What if my idea was stupid?
Butterflies in the tummy, shallow breathing – surely I can’t be the only person who appears not to have grown out of the fear of putting my hand up in class only to be laughed at for getting the answer wrong?
Actually, I know I’m not. In the past I’ve worked with some very competent people, respected and very knowledgeable. Two of them, leaders of unconnected organisations, stand out in particular because they both confessed to me that they still had a little gremlin on their shoulder whispering, “one day they’ll find you out…” I’d like to think that even they, with all their wisdom and experience, have sat in front of a phone that seemed to glower at them, trying to get over the fear of picking it up and making that call. I’d like to think that because it makes me feel less like a nervous kid who doesn’t know what to say!
In the end I did it because I was fed up and I ran out of procrastination ideas and I was expecting a friend (and baby) to arrive in a few minutes.
Of course it was a piece of cake. I know how to hold a conversation, I knew what I was asking, and I know how to run my business. And they said yes. Provisionally, at least. I have to make another phone call today but now the first one’s out of the way that doesn’t matter at all.
If there’s something you’re putting off, I hope you’ll take heart from this and just do it. Even if it doesn’t work out how you hoped, at least you’ll have done it and you can move on and do the next thing. And even if your hand continues to hover over the phone and you can’t bring yourself to take the plunge, at least you know you’re not the only one!
Or is it just me?
“What’s a jobsworth, Daddy?” The boy had lost interest in the question (and the answer) by the time we managed an explanation, but Daddy’s advice (as always) was worth repeating:
A jobsworth is someone who doesn’t think flexibly, who blindly follows the rules, and does things “the way we’ve always done it” even if that’s not the best way.
The best career advice I can give you is this: everything changes. Accept that, change with it, and you’ll be fine.
The boy’s response: “Can I have pudding now?”
Maybe we’ll repeat the sage advice when he’s nearly 19 instead of nearly 9. In the meantime I hope you find it a useful reminder today!
I think I must be a mushroom. Autumn gives me a new burst of energy and enthusiasm, like the funghi popping up in the woods. Maybe it’s the cooler temperature or the glorious golden sunshine, or even the industrious example of the spiders busily spinning the webs that festoon the garden. (And my hair, every time I poke my head into the greenhouse, which the spiders seem to have adopted and fortified as their own.)
Actually, maybe I’m not a mushroom. Maybe I’m a spider, creating a life one strand at a time.
A web begins as a single strand and looks like a thin, wispy, inconsequential nothing. But slowly, an inch or two at a time, the strands come together to make a beautiful, sparkling whole.
In the middle of the process a new web looks wrong. Lopsided. Incomplete. There’s no pattern, no order. But I don’t suppose the spider stops to question itself: “Am I doing this right?” “Shouldn’t it look more like Cecil’s web over there?” “What on earth will the other spiders think?” The spider just does the work.
Autumn is a great time for new beginnings. New season, new school year. Whether the return to school affects you or not, I think the ‘newness’ of September is buried in all our psyches). We even begin to wear different clothes.
But, like that first day when you squeeze your summer-liberated feet into shoes, or even boots, new beginnings aren’t always comfortable! There’s always something to learn, and we’re used to knowing how things work without having to learn, or create, a new system. There are new experiences, and they can make us feel nervous and uncomfortable. The next step isn’t obvious, and isn’t familiar, and may feel hard to do.
Growing and creating something new often feels like a mess and a muddle in the middle, but if we can resist tidying everything up and going back to the old regime, eventually we will find glittering strands of silk among the rubble, polish them up, and weave them together to create our new way of being. Like the spider, we need to just do the work, as Stephen Pressfield would have it, and get comfortable in the creative muddle.