I Never Use the Term “Work-Life Balance.” Here’s Why
Many of the interior designers I work with are parents of young children, and that’s not a coincidence.
Becoming a designer has a lot of appeal for newer parents.
For one thing, being a parent gets us thinking more seriously about how we want to spend our time. It can push us to finally pursue long-held dreams. (Settling for a mediocre job that you don’t really love is easier to do when that job isn’t also keeping you away from your kids.)
Interior design also offers the ultimate schedule flexibility, which is very appealing to parents who want schedules that best suit their families.
But as great as interior design can be as a career for parents, it’s not an easy path, especially when you’re trying to do it on your own as a primary caregiver. I see many new parents struggle with frustration and disappointment as they try to get their new interior design businesses off the ground.
It doesn’t have to be that way. I believe that if designers are clear about their priorities and let go of the idea that they can balance everything perfectly, their businesses will succeed in time.
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The Problem with “Balance”
It makes sense that people tend to use the term “balance” to describe the act of pursuing parenting and a career at once. But I think the term is harmful. It implies that we can — or should — give parenting and our careers equal attention at all times, or throughout the course of a day or week. It also seems to imply that if we just get a certain number of factors right, we can do our best work both at parenting and in our careers.
However, in reality, we all have a limited amount of time and energy each day. If you’re committed to being with your kids for most of their waking hours, for example, that means you’ll be trying to run an interior design business on whatever is left. When it comes to winning your primary attention, someone or something will always win out.
Caring for babies and toddlers is often more time-consuming than we could have ever predicted. Their schedules are erratic. You can’t count on being able to sleep consistently. And especially once your kids start spending time with other kids, they’ll get sick frequently — and you will, too.
All of these things tend to throw wrench after wrench into the well-laid plans for our interior design work. Telling yourself you can somehow personally handle all of that and continue to take care of business at the same rate you did before you had kids isn’t realistic.
Being unrealistic about what you can get done in the time you have available each day can cause many problems, and the repercussions can haunt you well into the future.
Overscheduling also tends to lead to poor deliverables and missed deadlines, for one. And in general, over-committing leads to burnout, which comes with poor health and damaged personal relationships.
I’ve said many times that unrelenting confidence is of the utmost importance to a successful business, and it’s hard to have that when you’re constantly overscheduled and overwhelmed.
So let’s get as realistic as possible about what you can get done on your interior design business, and when.
Get Ruthlessly Honest About Your Priorities
As an business coach, I’m all about setting big goals and pushing my interior designer clients to reach them.
But big goals are only helpful if you have a realistic plan to make them happen.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of telling ourselves that we will be able to find the time to get certain tasks finished. But jobs that may have been simple before your kids may now take a Herculean effort. Time is much harder to find.
With that in mind, the most important thing for active parents interested in interior design to do is get very specific and honest with themselves about what they have the resources for, both as parents and as designers.
How much time do you want to spend on work outside of parenting right now, at this time? How can you make sure that you get the time you need to make that work possible? There’s no right or wrong answer as long as you’re honest.
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Once you have a clear understanding of exactly which hours you can reasonably work and what it will take to get those hours in, you can plan out what you may be able to accomplish in those hours.
Use the tactics described in my post on goal setting to make sure that you give yourself enough time.
Taking a more realistic view of how you want to spend your time might mean taking on fewer clients, taking smaller jobs, moving much of your work online, or even working as a virtual assistant to other designers so that you can keep your work hours to those times when your baby is asleep. But the key is to feel great about the work you’re doing, taking it on without feeling panicked or guilty.
When you start to be more conscious about these things, you will feel more focused and less scattered, and in result, will be more successful.
The word “balance” might cause us to think of a scale. We may picture ourselves adding and taking away time from each side until we reach a fabled equilibrium. Instead, I encourage you to picture yourself as a spotlight operator. You do your best work when the light is shining bright. If you try to spread the beam across too many subjects or pivoting back and forth constantly, you’re not doing it right. Focus on one thing at a time, relax in the knowledge that everything will get its turn eventually.
Keep the Long-Term in Mind
Even if you only have a few hours a day or week right now to realistically devote to design work, I’d encourage you to keep at it.
The progress might be slow, but progress is still being made. You’d be shocked at how much you can accomplish at the end of the month or year with just an hour or work each day.
Soon enough, your kids will be older and you’ll find that you have more time to dedicate to your design work. When you get to that point, you’ll be happy that you kept some room for design in your life. You’ll be much farther ahead than if you’d stopped completely, and it will be easier to get back into the game more fully. And, the next-level time management skills that you gained from becoming a parent will continue to serve you well.
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Reminding yourself of how different things might be in your life in three or five years will help you keep frustration at bay and remind you to appreciate the way you’re spending your time now.
The term “work-life balance” and the question of whether we can “have it all” will probably continue to get a lot of attention in the media. It provokes plenty of emotional responses from parents who are trying their best every day.
Just remember that it doesn’t help to feel guilt or remorse about what you’re missing out on. Choose to celebrate what you’re NOT missing out on.