I had a conversation with a friend recently about going back to work. We are both in a similar situation in that our kids are going to be off to school full time in the fall, and that will leave us both with a mostly free day, and leaves us both wondering if it's time.
It's not the actual work itself that gives me pause (although teaching has certainly changed since I was in a classroom seven years ago and I might need to learn some stuff), but the idea of giving up the ability to be there for our kids when we want to that is niggling at both of us. I like to know that I can pick my kids up if they're sick, and I can take them to appointments when they need to go. I like being able to have the time to take them to activities after school and not have to coordinate a carpool or other care. I like the flexibility of my daily routine and not being forced into a rigid schedule.
On the other hand, it would be nice to pay down the mortgage so maybe we could go on a nice vacation together, or eat out more often, or visit places with admission fees we don't want to pay. Even just a smaller extra salary could put a dent in those payments. It would be nice to find a job that would allow me to work from say, 9-2 each day while the kids are in school. But...then there is the inevitable summer vacation where they would be home, and they aren't yet old enough to stay home by themselves, so some kind of care would have to be arranged. Ideally I would find a job in the kids' school, but again, it's commitment to something I'm not sure I'm ready for. In seven years I have gone from someone who has always worked to someone who has no idea what I'm going to be when I grow up.
But, at least I know it's not just me and that others are struggling in the same situation that I am. That gives me a little bit of comfort that I am not just being lazy when it comes to hesitating returning to work, but really thinking about if it's time to upend the routine and balance we've got going on right now. Luckily for us it's not a dire situation and I will have time to decide what's right for us, and hopefully a clear path will appear at the right time.
I don't know if anyone even remembers this because it (seems like it) was eons ago, but in the middle of June last year, two friends and I took on a lease for a small office space that we were planned to use as a studio, with occasional market nights and perhaps a small retail space. And for a variety of reasons - some I understand and some are just unbeknownst to me, it just didn't end up working the way we envisioned. The three of us met this past April and decided that it wasn't in anyone's interest to keep the space open, so we decide to close up shop and we were lucky to tag sale off all of our fixtures almost as easily as we acquired them. One day we were in this space and the next day we weren't. Funny how things can happen.
So what did (or didn't) happen? Here's some things I know for sure:
1. The space we took was not a traditional retail space - we were in an office area down a short hallway - so that made it harder for people to find us by randomly walking by. We had no "curb appeal" so to speak, even with a sign out by our main door. This taught us that if we really want to do retail in the future, a more obvious space would be better. It seems obvious, but you think that if you let people know where you are, they will find you, but it doesn't work that way.
2. For me, for it to really work, I would have had to move my entire operation to that space, or had a completely duplicate setup. I found that I had to plan what I was going to bring and work on each time I went - I couldn't just willy-nilly work on whatever I felt like. I had to make sure I had all the fabric, tools, and right color thread (learned that one the hard way) that I needed for the day's projects. And I didn't want to leave anything there in case I needed it at home (learned that one the hard way, too). It was so much work to get things done.
3. Even with a somewhat steady base of local followers, people did not know what to make of us. When we explained what we were doing, the first thing most people asked were what our hours were. Steady hours were one thing we did not have because it was a working studio and three busy moms do not always have time for crafty work. We'd get, "Oh, so it's a shop?" or "Oh, I can't wait to see?" There wasn't quite an understanding of what the space was.
What I don't understand, and continually do not understand, is what makes one place work and another not. Two things that are so similar and one takes off and one plods along hoping for a break. What is that magic element? Why do some people always seem to be in the right place at the right time, and others don't? Why does one struggle while the other one makes gainful strides? This is probably the most frustrating thing for me since there seemed to be some of that in play. I feel perpetually in the wrong place at the wrong time, even though I know that with a little bit of that magic I could totally rock it.
A few things I think I've come to understand: first is that a lot of people get a shop when they have outgrown their space at home and need a place bigger than what they've got. I didn't have that need, but was hoping that having the space would drive more business to my business and make it bigger. Maybe that's a backwards way to think about it and I should be working on strategies to make my current business in its current state in my current space work better. Second is that a business really needs to fill a need in a niche area where it is lacking. Does what I do fill a hole? Is it important and worthwhile? A little big of research is in order on that one.
All in all it was a good ride and it really gave me some insight into what I'm doing and what I need, and is really making me think about direction, all of which are good things. It's an experience that I'm so glad I had because otherwise I would still have that notion in my head that an external space was the answer and that it would be awesome for business, and it really was a learning experience, as cliche as that sounds. But if anyone out there has a clue on that magic, let me know because I would really like to put some of it to good use.
This past weekend I decided to take myself offline. For the past several weeks I've been feeling worn out, frustrated, and bogged down with all things social media. It's hard to put yourself out there continually and see little in the way of results, so I decided to take a short break. I also realized that I was getting really angsty whenever I'd see someone I know having some awesome success with their business. Not jealous or angry, because I know that I am not putting in the effort I need for those successes, but each triumphant post gave me a little nervous twitter in my chest that I should be doing those things, and if I did those things, I too could have the awesome successes. The weight of both were starting to build on me. So other than a couple quick searches, one scroll through Instagram, and one quick check of my emails which yielded nothing but junk mail, I spent the whole weekend with the computer closed and the iPad in another room, which hasn't happened in a very, very long time.
While I can't say that I was super-productive while not being attached to my devices - as I figured I would be, I did realize a few things about my habits: I found that I use the Internet as a placeholder throughout the day when I'm not sure what I want to do next, as a diversion from getting other things done. When I'd finish something like laundry, I'd go wander over to the kitchen where the computer usually sits and where I'd stand and check my feeds. Not having it sitting there made me realize just how much I do that, and how much I could be going from one productive activity to another instead. Just in writing this post I've had a hard time not clicking over to another tab and focusing on finishing this.
I've previously thought about keeping the computer in my office so that it's not sitting in the main space all the time, and this experiment has totally cemented my feelings that that might be a good idea. I also think that, at least for the summer months, I'm going to set myself a schedule for when I can look at certain platforms, so that I am not constant checking feeds. If I've learned anything this weekend, it's that my immediate response is not necessary or possibly even appreciated, so I'm not going to make myself so completely available. I'm going to respond to things in my own time, and I'm going to put some of my own work first. I need to realign what I do and how I do it and this might be the best first step.