Thursday, April 26, 2012

Don't Bug Me; I'm On Sabbatical

So, have you noticed that I haven't posted about my interior design business lately?  I wrapped up the last of the client projects I was committed to in January, and was feeling incredibly burnt out and uninspired after several years of working long, crazy hours and trying to "do it all."  It got to the point that, when my office phone rang, I felt annoyed, yet I still felt obligated to meet with every prospective new client -- after all, that's why I was investing in marketing, right?  To get prospective new clients to call me!  However, I found that I wasn't able to get excited about these new clients' projects like I used to, and I found reasons to turn down each of the new clients, with mixed emotions.  First and foremost, I feel that each and every client deserves enthusiasm, creative energy, and fresh ideas from their designer, and I have no business taking on anyone's project if I'm feeling uninspired, unmotivated, or even resentful about it.  But at the same time, I felt guilty about actively advertising for new business, and then turning away (rejecting?) people when they sought out my services.  So I temporarily postponed my direct mailings to give myself a little breather.

Then in February, I was sifting through the hundreds of emails in my in-box in an attempt to figure out what I was supposed to send to school for each of my sons' Valentine's Day parties, and I realized that I had only been getting emails about a party for my third grader, Anders.  I sent Lars's fifth grade teacher an email to see if I'd inadvertenly been left off the email list, and was shocked when she replied that they don't do Valentine's Day parties any more after fourth grade.  This was a punched-in-the-stomach, wind-knocked-out-of-me moment.  There have been so many parties I didn't attend or field trips I didn't chaperone because "now isn't a good time for Mommy; I'm too busy with work right now."  Yes, elementary school parties are all the same: snacks, crafts, and a few photo ops, with more scowls of embarrassment each year, but I had no idea, when I chose work over Lars's fourth-grade Valentine's Day party, that it was my last chance.  I went back through all of the pictures on my computer, trying to figure out when was the last time I went to a Valentine's Day party for Lars, and realized that I had missed every one of them since 2008:

Valentine's Day 2008, Lars is Back Row, 2nd from the Right

The painted rock in this photo reads "1st graders Love Mrs. Steadman."  The last time I showed up for Lars's Valentine's Day party was in first grade.  I missed second, third, and fourth, and now there aren't any more.  My February photos for 2009, 2010, and 2011 are all of other people's draperies and sofas and kitchen cabinets instead of pictures of my kid and his buddies making Valentine's Day doily crafts with pink frosting smeared all over their faces.  Robert Brault has been credited with saying "Enjoy the little things in life.  One day, you may look back and realize they were the big things."  At the time, the tedious classroom Valentine's Day parties seemed like such little things compared to the "important" work piled up on my desk, but now that it's gone and I can't get it back, it feels like a really big deal.

Around this time, I began taking a hard look at our financial situation: what was coming in, and where it was all being spent.  I talked it over with my husband (over and over and over again) and decided that we could get by without my income if I curtailed some of my extravagant spending habits.  Last month, I finally took the plunge and disconnected my business line and took down my web site.  My favorite existing clients can still reach me on my cell phone if they need me (you special people know who you are!), but I'm pretty much on sabbatical this year.  Many businesses offer their employees the option of taking an unpaid sabbatical leave once every seven years.  I've been in business by myself for over a decade, working seven days a week with very few vacations, so I'm way past due for my sabbatical!

I never decided what I wanted to be when I grow up, you know.  It's not as though I deliberately planned a career in interior design -- I just sort of fell into it, to justify the purchase of an expensive sewing machine (a long story for another day).  It worked out well in the beginning when the kids were little, because at first it was something I was only doing part time, occasionally, while the boys were in preschool.  This was supposed to be something temporary, while I was home with small children, and I was going to figure out what I REALLY wanted to do professionally at some distant time in the far-off future.  I have learned a lot (mostly the hard way, through expensive mistakes) over the past decade about the principles of interior design, about marketing and running a business, and I have had the opportunity to meet and work with so many wonderful people in this industry whom I otherwise would not have known.  I have enjoyed the challenge, the creative outlet, and the satisfaction of seeing my designs come to fruition, and have been blessed to work with the best clients imaginable who appreciated and valued everything I did for them.  However, I never in a million years would have deliberately chosen to be an interior designer.  I studied voice performance, secondary education, and majored in history in college.  I'm going to be 39 next month.  I think it's time for me to figure out what I really want to be when I grow up, don't you?  Right now, I just want to be Lars's and Anders' mom and Bernie's wife, go to the grocery store without makeup on, read a couple of novels, and finish that quilt!

I don't know how long my sabbatical will last, or what my next move will be professionally.  Maybe I'll start something new in a year or two that builds on my prior design experience, or maybe I'll strike out in a completely different direction.  Meanwhile, I'm exercizing, practicing piano, and signing up for quilting classes.  I have time to help Anders with Suzuki violin practice in the afternoon, and I have time to make Lars's favorite egg salad sandwiches for his lunch box.  My kids are both doing much better in school since I pulled the plug on my business and am able to take a more active role in homework supervision and communicating with their teachers.  Most importantly, I'm not constantly stressed-out and sleep-deprived anymore from working all night long after the kids go to bed, so I'm much more patient and deliberate in my parenting.  As Bernie likes to point out, "If Momma ain't happy, ain't NOBODY happy!" 

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have just enough time to make myself a latte before it's time to pick my boys up from play rehearsal. 


Fred and/or Marlies said...

What a wonderful posting. Life is short.
Your second dad

Pigtown*Design said...

good for you!