Working For Yourself: Month Nine (Balance)

{Me, on vacation, with the text of The New Yorker all over me}

This month I spent half of it halfway around the world on a mostly-unplugged two week vacation. I spent the other half of it back in San Francisco, hard at work. And I’m typing this from a runway in Seattle, on a delayed flight to come back home after moderating the Offbeat Empire panel at Geek Girl Con this weekend. That sort of sums up this month: wonderful and nuts. Or as I like to think about it, finding balance between two extremes.

Self employed small business owners are always telling me how they can’t take vacations, and I’m always arguing that as a small business owner you can’t afford not take vacations. Yes, most of the time self employed vacations are not going to involve international trips (though the more of those we can pull off the better), but if you can’t take time to totally unplug, to stop answering emails, to get out of the office (by which I mean your house), and to just STOP, you’re not going to get a chance to see the big picture of what your business needs, and what you need. The first half of the month I spent time staring into space and napping, lying by the pool and reading the New Yorker (see above), but I also did a lot of on paper journaling. I’d stare into space and think about what wasn’t working in my life and business, and then stare at my journal and write lists, ideas, thoughts. And by the end of the two weeks I had a far better idea of what I wanted my next steps to be, what my big picture goals were for self employment, and what I needed to change right this second. And what I needed to change right this second was fixing my business infrastructure and working smarter. I needed to spend more time doing big picture stuff, and less time focusing on tiny details.

When I got home to San Francisco, within a few short days I’d handed in my final edits on the APW book (It was funny: when I saw the index for the first time, it finally hit me. I’d written a real life book with a real life index, holy shit what was that). And just like that, for the first time since I started working for myself full time in January, I didn’t have a book to write. And the amount of extra time and breathing space that gives you is intense.

So I did common sense things. I talked to my staff to get their feedback about what was working and what wasn’t. We made some invisible to you but huge to us editorial changes (hint: edit flow and editorial calendar plug ins). I had a long meeting with my accountant where I finally handed day-to-day book keeping over to him, so I could keep track of what I was making on a month-to-month level, instead of only doing the books in a flurry of stress once a quarter. (Hint: just because you can do it yourself—and I’m good at Quickbooks—does not mean you should.) I worked on my 2011 budget. I made the first steps on building a foundation for new, post-book projects. And I even took an afternoon off now and then, to enjoy the finally-emerged-after-an-awful-foggy-summer San Francisco sun. I started a needlepoint project, so I could calm my mind after a busy day of working online. I spent a little more time with my husband.  And for the first time this year things felt a little bit easier. I had a little more time for gratitude. I had time to think about how this blog has grown since my full time leap in January, and how amazing all of you guys are (even the quiet ones).

And then this weekend I dashed up to Seattle to Moderate the Offbeat Empire Panel at Geek Girl Con. I’d never been to Seattle, which is very pretty. But mostly it was amazing to spend the weekend with the Offbeat Empire team. Ariel and I kept cheerily introducing each other as, “This is my closest competitor,” which is totally true. But it’s great to live in a world where I can hang out with my closest business competiors, and we can trade advice, and try to help each other create more awesome. And my roomates the two different nights, Megan Finley, Managing Editor of Offbeat Bride, and Cat Rocketship, Managing Editor at Offbeat Home, are awesome, hilarious, smart ladies. And that was even better.

So onwards and upwards. I hope to close out the last of this year with more balance, more breathing, and more sharing of ideas. And oh yeah, a book I wrote. Because that’s totally happening too.

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  • I’m still hung up on the fact that you and Cat just hung out. She was so kind to me and I really enjoy reading her posts. She’s a witty writer and her paintings are awwwwwesome.

    My jealousy could only be flamed higher if you said you went long boarding together. (insert wink)

  • Nicole

    I really, really appreciate your wisdom and your willingness to share the experiences you have of working for yourself.

  • Harriet

    Love this post. I’m a grad student, working on my dissertation, so not quite “working for myself,” but close enough that I find your insights incredibly helpful. I totally agree about how important it is to take time off and look at the big picture–it’s so hard not to feel guilty about not just plugging away every second, but taking that step back is crucial for doing work I’m proud of.

    • Amanda

      My thoughts exactly.

  • I heart you Meg. I really do. Everytime I need a little encouragement or a reminder that quitting your day job to do something you love is not a terrible idea, there you go being living proof.

  • Cass

    I think “balance” should be today’s motto.With more balance, perhaps we could all become a bit more successful. I think everyone could try to practice it a bit more.

  • Meg, you really are inspiring. Thanks for writing this. The part about stopping, and thinking about the big picture, what you need, and what you want, really struck me. Cheers to you !

  • Meg, your posts about working for yourself are so inspiring. You’re living the dream, but you don’t pretend it’s always easy.

    And I for one love both APW and OBB. Knowing that you and Ariel hang out together makes me happy :)

  • “And for the first time this year things felt a little bit easier.” Then you must be doing things right!*

  • Class of 1980

    You and Ariel may be competitors, but you’re complimentary competitors. That’s got to help.

    Anyway … as a self-employed person, I CAN’T go on vacation yet because I’m still striving for world domination and unbridled greed … in my pajamas.

    (kidding) (I think) ;)

    • Totally agree with you about APW and OBB being “complimentary competitors.” I read them both, for totally different reasons. The philosophies definitely overlap but the aesthetics are often quite different. It’s awesome to see everyone hanging out together!

  • “Ariel and I kept cheerily introducing each other as, “This is my closest competitor,” which is totally true. But it’s great to live in a world where I can hang out with my closest business competiors, and we can trade advice, and try to help each other create more awesome.”

    I’ve been thinking about women in business a lot lately, and why the women I’ve met behave the way they do as professionals, and what I like, and what I don’t like. And IMO you’ve totally nailed everything that is right in business, and what (I think) is lost on some women who are trying to get ahead: by lifting each other up to get ahead, we all win. Just as so many of us read *both* APW and OBB, there’s room in business for both of you, and I think sometimes one’s biggest ally can also be one’s biggest competitor. I could go on and on, but wow–it’s just so wonderful to hear about women in business helping each other instead of cutting each other down. I think you should take out the “but” in the phrase I quoted up there. And I think everyone should treat their business associations the way you and Ariel treat each other. Thanks.

    • I totally agree. It makes me so happy to see OBB and APW in support of each other, as well as the other, smaller, wedding bloggers who are trying to do something different. I’m glad to be planning a wedding with their model, not to mention more optimistic for the future.

      They are like Amy Poehler and Tina Fey! :)

  • Josephine

    Please can you post a UK Amazon link so we can pre-order the book on the other side of the pond?

  • SimplyMEM

    We all need balance. As a graduate student who works part time (and is planning a wedding), I NEED balance. Although these posts are comments on your personal experience of running your own business, Meg, I really think that the application of your thoughts goes much farther than small business owners, and that your words of advice are good reminders for all of us. Thank you for sharing your personal reflections.

  • Anne

    Meg — I love your monthly updates on being self-employeed. I feel like I have a girlfriend cheering in my corner. It’s amazing how rejuvenating it can be to leave the office and unplug from daily routines. Yet, one of my challenges of being self-employeed is that I’m so worried about making enough, it’s almost terrifying to turn away income and spend money on a vacation.

    • meg

      Do it. Seriously, you come back sane and then think, “What took me so long to do this, again?”

  • Late to the party, but feeling warm and fuzzy!!

  • Ok, I just downloaded editorial calendar, and I think it has already changed MY LIFE.