Around October of last year my normal zeal for my blog was starting to fade. I wasn’t making the income I had hoped I would make, and yet I was still pouring about 30 hours a week into it.
I began to wonder why.
I didn’t feel like I wanted to quit, but maybe? I wasn’t sure. Either way, I felt like I needed a break. Like, a real break. Not just a 2-week thing where I played catch up on my posts or worked on finally designing a new sewing pattern, but an extended time doing my own things I enjoyed.
In mid-February as I was contemplating how I would spend the Lenten season, I knew what I needed to do.
I decided to take a sabbatical from my business.
Six weeks of doing nothing but being there for my family, sewing, and preparing for an already planned trip to Florida (Alone! No kids or husband! Visiting cousins and doing outdoor activities and leaving winter behind!).
The first two weeks were kind of emotional. I kept a diary. I went back and forth about possibly quitting. I flopped around about potential career options. For a few days I was seriously considering applying to law school again (I was accepted into two law schools many years ago and didn’t go). For a short time I thought about going back to school for informatics and programming. I thought about locking myself in my studio (well, if it had a door) and writing a detective novel. I thought about teaching Zumba and yoga for a living. I – not so seriously – thought about chucking it all and moving to the Bahamas to simply scoop ice cream at a small tourist stand.
Ever been there?
I rejected most of those ideas (though when I’m filled with endorphins I still think about teaching Zumba for *extra* money…and who wouldn’t want to chuck it all and move to the Bahamas, right?).
Overall I came to terms with the fact that flip-flopping around is just part of the self-reflection process.
But in the end I came back to work with a new focus, a renewed conviction about where I want to be 5 years from now, and a (mostly) rested soul.
Though my first post back after my sabbatical was about 4 signs that it’s time to quit your creative business, I thought it was important to talk about why we need more breaks than we give ourselves as small business women and men.
Because we don’t always want to quit, right? Even if we flirt with the idea a little. We often just want to breathe for awhile.
So here are 5 signs it’s time to take a break from your creative business. Recognize any of these?
1. Your children (or grandchildren, or puppies) are suddenly 3 inches taller and you don’t know when that happened.
Hayley Crouse of Welcome to the Mouse House started her blog 7 years ago as a journal for family and friends. Her son, Ethan, was about to be diagnosed with autism. Over time she started writing about sewing and opened an Etsy shop for her finished designs, and about 1 1/2 years ago she started selling sewing patterns that became instantly popular.
During the past year she’s had a whirlwind of successes – she’s been on a sewing reality show (that didn’t end up being “picked up” but was still exciting), designed fabric for Michael Miller, and collaborated with friends for a new PDF pattern design company, Willow and Co. She also designed a ready-to-wear collection.
Got all that? 🙂 Whew!
Hayley said she realized she needs to take a real break soon, after she wraps up some dangling commitments. She had been missing weekends and special activities with her family because she “had” to get work done. Although she’s profoundly grateful for her successes, she feels like she’s just treading water.
“My turning point was when I realized that my kids are getting older… like really old. Why on earth am I doing this to myself and my family? My kids are almost 8 and 6? When did that happen?” Hayley asked. “I am sure everyone that is a parent can relate to that. When my first was born, people always said to me ‘Love those littles because time is precious and it will flash before your eyes.’ I used to laugh that notion off, but oh my goodness, they are correct.”
Like me – and maybe like you – Hayley works best with a set of deadlines, but all of her commitments and deadlines have started taking a toll.
“My family life was suffering… not just my husband and kids were affected, but my own mother and mother in law were being called in to help out,” she said. “I was recognizing this, but didn’t know what else to do. I had essentially caused the entire family to revolve around my needs and wants.”
I’m so guilty of this myself. And in the United States, many of us are. We love our families, but it’s so easy to put family life in second place when work looms.
According to this article in the Washington Post, Swedish law requires that every worker take 5 weeks of paid vacation a year, which includes the option to take 4 consecutive weeks off in the summer.
“It’s like there’s this national agreement that it’s vacation time, and work will be left aside,” Terry Hartig, an environmental psychologist at Uppsala University in Sweden, told the Washington Post reporter. “So instead of working and being distracted and busy, people get outside. They do things they like and enjoy. They see friends, play with their children, visit their aging parents, or finally have time for that cup of tea with a friend who’s been blue.”
Now that might not jive with the political environment in the United States, but let’s face it – wouldn’t it be nice to watch as your children grew 3 inches taller rather than wake up one morning from a work-related coma and see it then?
Yes, indeed. Missing your family? Time to take a break.
2. Every month you say that “next month” you’ll have a lighter work load, and when “next month” comes, it’s the same grind (and it’s partially fueled by constantly checking in on social media).
Maybe this isn’t you, but it really has been me. I’d take an assignment or two and then claim the next month I wouldn’t take an additional assignment. But then something really cool would come up and I’d raise my hand to participate, or fire off an email to do yet another tutorial or article for my blog or for a sponsor. It became a never-ending cycle.
The blogging and crafting community online is packed with opportunities. I developed Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). If I don’t do *this,* then I’ll be obsolete. If I don’t do *that*, someone else might get an opportunity that I’d like to have. If I don’t keep up with social media, my site can’t grow….I won’t catch the eye of that publisher…I might not get in on that blog tour. If I don’t learn this skill, my blog will be left in the dust.
FOMO is almost an addiction, folks.
It’s more closely associated with issues surrounding the use (and overuse) of social media, according to this article on Psych Central. While not a real addiction, always worrying you’re missing out on something – either socially or with your online business – really does zap your energy.
Because who can focus on being your true self or following your true business passion if you’re always trying to catch a ride on every train?
Amy Norris of brownie-goose patterns knows how to take small breaks to help keep her sanity. She doesn’t love social media (in fact she used the phrase “detests it”), so she unplugs when she’s able. I think this is great, because if I did this more often, I would fall away from my FOMO tendency.
Other than posting photos on my Instagram account during my sabbatical, I stepped away from all other business social media and realized it was so much easier to focus on my own personal and business development. Not seeing every opportunity that comes up helped me figure out what important opportunities I’d rather pursue.
“Becoming unplugged for a week or so is sometimes the most wonderful feeling,” Amy said. “And when I return from my ‘real breaks’ I am ready to go. Again, I am refreshed and ready to tackle the creative monster again. So, all in all, for me, breaks are a must-have.”
Do you have FOMO? Please tell me I’m not alone! If so…
Yep. Time to take a break.
3. You actually ask your dermatologist if she can work some magic to permanently remove dark circles from your eyes.
Yes, I actually asked this.
And I don’t have the buckets of money to do it.
Dark circles are a symptom of being ill or tired, and in my case that’s compounded by deep-set eyes, an underlying Italian and Hungarian complexion that’s trying to make its darkness known only through my lower eye sockets (but nowhere else), and a tendency toward allergies.
But if the latter three things aren’t specific to you…I bet you’ve had dark circles from being tired or ill, and that it’s been caused by working too long and too hard and spreading yourself too thin.
I do eat fairly well and I make exercise a priority. However, a little more sleep could do me some good. I regularly get about 6 1/2 hours a sleep a night, but I really need an hour more. But when I take that hour more on weekends, I feel guilty. It’s silly.
I always feel I need to squeeze in that one more hour of work.
In the Washington Post article about taking vacations, reporter Brigid Schulte wrote, “Europeans, with their 20 and 30 days of paid vacation every year, live longer and spend less on health care than Americans.”
Well, I’d like to live longer and spend less on health care, right? Wouldn’t you?
Taking a meaningful break from your business could really launch you into some better habits, but it’s hard to stop working to take a break when you’re on a roll, like Hayley has been.
Hayley has a disability (she describes it on her blog) and finds that she hasn’t been able to take care of her health while she’s been working so hard the past couple of years. She plans to focus on her health during her planned, upcoming break.
“I have been needing to get to the gym to work on muscle strength. Yet, I haven’t had the time. I want to take water aerobics and yoga and get myself healthy,” she said. “One big thing with blogging and pattern design is that you often find yourself in front of a computer all day. Not exactly a lifestyle that is good for your health. I have been so busy that I haven’t had time to eat properly or cook a good meal.”
Let’s all take a brief break, hit the gym, eat some spinach, and go to bed early. If I can do all three on one day this week, it will be a major accomplishment. How about you?
4. You don’t remember how to relax….or maybe you’re always going full-steam, 120 percent ahead.
My husband tells me I don’t know how to relax, and he’s right.
And Amy knows about this problem far too well.
“I am one of those creative types that is all or nothing. I am ALL in, all hours of the day until I work out what I have created in my head, or nothing. For my business, that is awesome, but for myself and my family, not so much,” she said.
Since she started brownie-goose in 2008, Amy has struggled with balance.
“I get a little overwhelmed by life as my housework is 2 weeks behind, I haven’t answered emails other than business in 2 weeks, my laundry piles are at an all-time high and my sewing room no longer has a clean surface area. These are the times I can feel my heart racing, my head aching, the irritability set it and my inability to focus is at an all-time high,” she said.
“A very embarrassing and humiliating high. These are my signs and symptoms that I need to take a few steps away.”
According to this article in Psychology Today, the inability to relax is pretty common among a lot of high-energy people. But it’s not good for us.
It’s all about the desire for mastery, says Daniel Pink, author of several books on motivation, the Psychology Today article points out.
“So even though a desire to rest seems logical, it seems that when we stop pushing so hard, we don’t feel as though we are mastering anything,” Pink told Psychology Today.
“So then we feel uncomfortable. When we feel guilty about relaxing, we often mean that we have made so many plans for ourselves that we cannot possibly accomplish them all,” the article states. “Most of us do not read the classic novels or clean up the messy file drawers or take the French lessons that we set as goals for the summer. We get back to work without having lost 5 pounds or run every day or written all of the thank you notes due from our baby’s birth last year.”
Or we push ourselves so hard to the point of exhaustion.
In the creative fields many of us want to learn it all – Photography! Graphics! Advanced sewing or printing techniques! When we just “exist,” we’re not learning it all, and we’re just as stressed as when we work.
Not relaxing? Take a real break and see how you feel. It helps!
5. The reason you’ve started your business is the reason you keep going – and going, and going – but it’s interfering with the reason you started your business in the first place.
This is where I’ll get a even a little more personal here…buried 2,000 words down in this post.
I actually liked working full-time, even with kids.
However, while I worked full time (and even before and after), one of my family members was suffering from severe mental health issues. Thinking about the 6-year period when the problem was the most severe – we’re talking about so bad that the person had to spend more than a week in a mental health facility – is so heartbreaking.
It makes me cry. The days were dark and lonely.
I may have relied on Ambien to sleep each night for a couple of months until the pharmacy told me my insurance company wouldn’t pay for another refill…and that was a wake-up call, all puns aside.
I know, right?
Anyway, I knew I had to leave the full-time workforce and try to make it on my own, from home, to be “there” for this person and to nurture my own mental and physical health.
But sometimes I get so wrapped up in my own business from home now that I don’t always have time to nurture this family member (and myself) like I need to. I get irritable and less tolerant and annoyed.
And then I know I have to step back a little.
Hayley’s son, Ethan, is going to be requiring more of her attention soon, because public school simply wasn’t working for him. Much of Hayley’s energy has gone into meetings at school and research for other educational options.
“It is crazy…..because I started this all because of Ethan,” she said. “I found that the blog was a place to go to have my own ‘thing’ many years ago. When you have a child with special needs (or any child for that matter), it is SO important to keep something of your own. Clearly, I take it to a new level though, ha!!! I think there is a good balance. You don’t want your life to revolve 100% around your children… but you also need to maintain some semblance of priorities.
“I simply tried to take on too much and I am realizing that now.”
She’s still coping with life with a child with autism, because, as she said, “it isn’t what I pictured for my life. Who would?”
I completely understand. I didn’t know how hard it would be to care for someone with mental illness, and do it with compassion. It’s tough stuff.
Why did you start your own creative business? And are you now taking into the account the reasons you did it in the first place?
A few more thoughts…
How to take that break, if that’s what you’ve decided to do?
Well, that’s up to you.
When I took my sabbatical, I kept up on Instagram to let people know I was still around. I did activities that would eventually move my business forward but I didn’t stress about them. I can’t just sit around, but I was generally able to control my need for meeting deadlines.
Amy of brownie-goose understand the need for these breaks, and says she can’t function as a business owner without them.
“Usually at the beginning of my breaks I toy with the idea of not coming back at all,” Amy said. “Just giving it all up. But I find each and every time that absence always makes the heart fonder and I remember, with a clear head, why I do what I do and why I love it so. I just have to be far removed to see it.”
Hayley is still deciding how she will handle her upcoming sabbatical.
“This is a tough one and I struggle with this,” she said. “I am obviously a very motivated person. I am not one to sit still or just lay around all day. But I want to try that. I want to try being lazy all day and have absolutely no plans.
“I have been dreaming of that for months. I want to tell my kids that we can do anything…. anything at all that day. I am sure they would be shocked. Sure, that won’t last because let’s face it, that isn’t realistic, but I want to try it… just to see how it feels.”
Deanna McCool writes for sewmccool.com. If you enjoyed this post, you’ll enjoy I’ve copied. And I bet you have, too. To make sure you don’t miss a post, please follow SewMcCool by e-mail (the link is at the top of the right-hand column) or join me on BlogLovin’ – the button is just below the e-mail feed box! 🙂