When was the last time you felt the sand between your toes?
“I want my staff to work hard. But I also want them to play hard!”
This was what an awesome businessman once told me when he was discussing how he runs his clinic. He’s an Occupational Therapist – like me – and he employs about a dozen other OTs. He wants them to work hard, but he sets shorter working hours and is super-strict on his employees taking leave. Because he also wants them to have balance. Time for family. For rest. For recreation. For adventure. Time for life.
I like his thinking, because I know that far too often those of us who have families and mortgages can repeatedly put off doing those very things that can bring us balance.
To succeed in life we have to work hard. To make more money we have to work longer hours. More hard work equals more money and more reward. That’s how the story goes.
And it’s true. To a point.
But what’s also true is that we frequently fall into the old trap of working more, doing more, trying to be more. We drown out the little voice in our head that starts telling us to pull back, that we’re taking on too much, that we can’t possibly maintain the pace we’re setting for ourselves. That we haven’t taken a break in nearly two years. That we’re working such long hours some days that we barely get home in time to tuck the kids into bed.
But it’s okay, we counter – it’s just for now, just until the end of the financial year, just until we get through this round of bills, just until the kids go back to school. I’ll put in the hard yards now, and I’ll take a little break sometime soon.
It’s easy to understand why we do this. We all have goals, we want our careers and businesses to prosper, to create an ideal future for ourselves and our families. So we convince ourselves that the sacrifices we make now will pay dividends in due time. It’s the rule we’ve always been taught – delayed gratification at its darndest.
But the problem arises when that planned break gets continually pushed back. And back, and back. When we live our life constantly forging ahead, but never retreating.
Retreat is all about giving yourself space. Emotional, physical and social space. It’s important because space is where we bloom – both personally and professionally. It’s where and when we develop amazing experiences and memories with our partners and children. And experiences are more valuable to them than any gadget you’re planning to buy with your next paycheque.
I know it seems counter-intuitive. That to push your life forward you should step back for a bit. But it’s absolutely the truth. The challenge is knowing how and when to make that retreat – how to balance your work and personal commitments. This takes practice, and the ability to read your own personal signals as to your stress and energy levels. For some, it may mean enlisting a health or business mentor to help you learn how to do this.
My advice to my clients is to schedule your retreats. Plan your calendar well ahead of time and build space into your life on a daily, weekly, quarterly and yearly basis.
It doesn’t have to be oodles of space. Just enough to make sure that you (and your family) get the best version of you in the present, without sacrificing your future wellbeing.
So embrace your space. Value the importance of retreat. By allowing yourself the space to breathe deeply, you’ll breathe more life into your life.
Are you a working Mum? As in, are you a Mum who also has a paid job that you go to regularly? Yep. Me too. And I love it.
I love being a Mum, but I also love working. And if I’m perfectly honest – some days I love working more than I love being a Mum. Some days, when the girls are abso-freaking-lutely doing my head in, I’d much rather be at work. Why wouldn’t I prefer to be in my lovely quiet office, with a hot cup of tea and a caseload full of clients who probably aren’t going to pee, poo or vomit on me, nor call me an “old bogan”, cry incessantly for 6 hours for no apparent reason, slam doors in my face, or try to force-feed me their half chewed piece of cucumber?
Being a Mum is a tough gig, and some days, the payoffs just don’t seem to show up. I was talking to another lovely Mumma on Saturday night about how much we “give” of ourselves as Mums. Every single day – give. give. give. And kids are pretty amazing at take. take. take. It’s a rare day when the give:take ratio ends up in Mum’s favour. So here’s how I see parenting – it’s a long term investment really. The hard work you put into your kids every single day is like compound interest. That $0.05 per day doesn’t seem like much, but in 18 years you’re going to reap the rewards!
But back to working mums. Perhaps the reason I some days prefer work to “mummy duties” is because that give:take ratio is much more in my favour when I’m at work. I work just as hard at work as I do at home, but at work I get great feedback from my clients. I get a verbal confirmation that what I’m doing on that particular day is incredibly valuable and appreciated. I also get a great sense of pride that I’m using my brain and intellect and making the most of those several years of post-high school study. Plus I get paid real money, which is generally society’s way of evening out the give:take ratio.
Now please don’t get cranky, because I’m simply being honest here. Over my almost four years as a Mum one thing I know for certain is that there isn’t nearly enough brutal honesty amongst the general “Mama” community out there. So it’s my mission to #keepitrealmama
I’m writing this post for all of you amazing Mums out there who do go out to work, who love it and who are sick of being told that it makes them somehow less of a Mum, or that they’re doing their kids a disservice.
I think it’s about time we working Mums stopped apologising for everything we think and feel, and started being honest with ourselves about why we work and how we feel about it.
Just because you work, and love to work and are quite happy (ie, not guilty at all) about dropping your kids off to childcare – doesn’t make you a bad Mum. It doesn’t mean you love your child any less than a Mum who doesn’t work, or who does work but chooses not to use childcare, or whatever. It just means that your values are different to those people. It’s not better or worse. It’s just different. Embrace that. Be true to who you are. Be honest with yourself and with others. Because by living your truth, and releasing yourself from the “guilt” society says all working Mums have to face, you’ll be doing the best thing ever for your health and wellbeing.
I’m not a fan of “mummy guilt”. Never have been, never will be. It’s a particularly useless emotion. I understand that guilt, in its purest form, is essential in our society. If you maliciously hurt someone, then hell yeah, I want you to feel guilty. But don’t feel guilty for going back to the job that you love. For continuing in a career you’ve spent years and thousands of dollars studying, for doing work which makes a difference in the world, for earning an income to be able to feed your family, or to be able to buy yourself a new pair of designer sunnies without feeling like you have to ask “permission” from your husband. And most definitely don’t feel guilty for being an amazing female role model for your children (your daughters AND your sons) – for demonstrating the truth that women can do, be and have anything they want to be – including being a Mum who also works – or a worker who’s also a Mum. Don’t feel guilty about that.
Feel proud. Feel alive. Feel like you’re contributing to your family, to society, to your own personal fulfilment.
Feel happy and confident to be you. Because that’s all you need to be.
Cheers, Sarah xx
Do you have a mentor? What about a business advisor? Health coach? Life coach? Think you don’t need one?
That’s what I thought too. But I’d urge you to think again.
For the first 14 and a half of my 15 years as an Occupational Therapist I didn’t have a mentor. For most of that time I worked as the sole OT in rural locations, so I made do with remote supervision from higher level OTs several hundred kilometers away. It was a tough slog, especially in the early years, constantly trying to figure out on my own what and how I should be doing day to day. But really, I was doing “just fine”. I was getting good feedback from bosses and clients, and would always somehow stumble upon a solution or the exact resource I needed at the last minute. We OTs like to pride ourselves on our resourcefulness (rightly or wrongly!).
So mentorship was never something I considered.
I’ve always been a fiercely independent woman. Which is probably because, as the daughter of a fiercely independent single Mum, I grew up with the notion that it’s best to be capable and resourceful and not be reliant on anyone else. So I never sought out a mentor. “Pfft, I don’t need anyone to tell me what to do,” I told myself.
Until about six months ago. When I decided it was beyond time to open my own private practice. All of a sudden I had a ridiculously steep learning curve ahead of me. As fellow SASS sisters, I know you understand what I’m talking about! Running a business is a huge undertaking. There were so many things to be done and all of a sudden I wasn’t just an OT. I was also an accountant, marketing manager, administration officer, business planner, saleswoman and PR agent all rolled into one. I was also the mother of two little girls and wife to a husband I hardly had any time for anymore.
In short, I was swamped. I was trying to do it all myself with no support or guidance – except what I got from Mr Google.
So here I was, about to create an entire future around a business where I support and mentor women towards their health goals, when it hit me – like the proverbial tonne of bricks.
“Sarah – your new business is all about encouraging women to get professional support, advice and guidance – yet you seek none of this yourself!”
All of a sudden, it became crystal clear to me how much I wasn’t following my own advice. I didn’t know anything about running a business – it was ludicrous to try and do it on my own. That’s when I knew I needed to seek out professional business support.
Fast forward six months and I now have two clinical mentors, a business coach, an accountant, a graphic and web designer, 15 peer mentors from three in-person masterminds, dozens more from another online mastermind – and of course, the amazing Sass ladies.
It has made the world of difference – not just to my business, but to my entire life. Hand on heart, pinky swear.
I’ve learnt how to do the business stuff faster and smarter, what to prioritise, what to do myself and what to outsource. It means I don’t waste valuable hours on tasks I hate and/or simply can’t do in an appropriate amount of time (hello website development!). It has freed my time to provide more value to my clients, to create more programs, and most importantly, spend more quality time with my family.
I look back now on those 14 and a half years I worked without a mentor and wonder how much more I could have achieved if I’d have had the amount of guidance and support I have now. I’d probably have my own talk show.
So I urge you, whatever your big challenges are right now – whether it be starting a business, overhauling your health, overcoming emotional demons – to seek support. You don’t need to do it on your own. You don’t need to do the hard slog day in, day out, hoping to stumble on the right resource, like I did for so long. Reach out to someone who can guide the way for you – hire a health coach, a business coach, a personal trainer, whatever. If your budget doesn’t stretch that far, seek out free resources, start your own mastermind.
You won’t regret it. I know I haven’t.
Until next time – be well!
(ps. This post first appeared as a guest post over at the fabulous The Sass – a networking, co-working and support group for women in business. Check their website out here.)