Last month I gave myself 10 days off from work. I write it that way because it really did feel like a gift to myself. Ten whole days to focus on other things in my life other than work. I made plans to see friends I rarely have time to see, projects around my house, to finish up a current weaving project, and I carved out lots and lots of down-time, with nothing scheduled and nothing planned. I decided, a few months ago when I was laying out my game plan as to how-in-the-heck I was going to take 10 days off from work, that it would be a “stay-cation.” That was for many reasons: Over the previous three months I had gone on about 7 or 8 short trips that were either work related or family related and I was missing being at home, like really being able to sink into that good-cozy-wearing-my-slippers-around-the-house-feeling. I also had a bunch of regular ‘ole life stuff to catch up on that kept getting back-burnered because Tangleweeds in general keeps me very busy most of the time. So a stay-cation sounded divine!
I feel like I can probably guess what you must be thinking “Oh, isn’t that nice. She runs a handmade business AND she can afford to take 10 days off from work and just laze about her house? Great, but I just can’t relate!” And I understand! I’ve been running Tangleweeds for almost nine years at this point (THIS month is actually Tangleweeds’ 9-year anniversary!) and for most of those nine years taking any amount of time off felt next to impossible. I would even say that during the years of my biggest growth with Tangleweeds that it quite frankly was impossible. And not because the business would have ground to a halt or the money would have just all evaporated overnight, but because I just couldn’t get my head around the thought of stepping away from my business for 10 whole days. Getting to a place where I could take this time off was as much about changing my frame of mind as it was the logistics of how to keep Tangleweeds running smoothly while I stepped away.
This isn’t intended to be a blog post about how to take time off from your handmade business if you’re a solopreneur as I am. I write this more to share my experience and to encourage you to do the same for yourself if and when you can. Especially if you’re feeling burned out or exhausted all of the time.
It’s funny how the way we define success for ourselves changes as we live our lives, grow older, and gain more real-life-lived experiences. Some of the ways I define success for myself are more elusive - “I want to feel relaxed and calm as I move about my day”, but then others are more concrete. For the longest time, honestly, since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to live a life that allowed me to take ONE WHOLE MONTH off from work every summer. Crazy, right? (Well, it wouldn’t be crazy in some other countries. . . or if I was a teacher. . . ) Summer is my favorite season of the year. Swimming in lakes and rivers, eating fruit picked right off a tree, lying riverside with a book and a beverage, soaking up as much sun as possible (safely!) - these are the things that this Aries’s dreams are made of. And for the last four or five years of running Tangleweeds it has felt like I blinked and summer was gone.
Shortly before I made this commitment to myself to take these 10 days off from Tangleweeds I had a conversation within my small business group (Creative Pursuit Collective) about how we define success for ourselves. I mentioned this dream of mine to take one whole month off in the summer and one of my fellow CPC’rs, Kyla, piped up and suggested that why don’t I start with at least a week? It was an obvious statement, but somehow I’d never considered it that way before. The idea to slowly build up to it - a whole month off in the summer - just never crossed my mind.
From that day the seed was planted and I began to make plans to make 10 days off in the summer happen. I started planning for this time off about a month and a half before I was going to actually take the days off, and I have to say it felt crazy and rushed. But the thought of ten whole days off started to just sound too delicious to pass up - even if it was a kind of crazy thing to consider.
My timing (to be exact, I took August 27th to September 5th off from work) felt insane. As the summer starts to come to an end I am usually still gearing up for a couple of my biggest fairs of the year: one in September and one in October. I’m also starting to create and refine my game plan for surviving the holiday season. (I really wanted to put the word “thriving” in there in place of “surviving” but that just wouldn’t be truthful or even close to my reality around the holidays.) I was also finishing up the final touches on my collection for fall/winter and I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get the collection out as soon as I liked if I took this time off. But I was VERY focused on this goal of mine: take 10 days off while it’s still the summer. Make few plans. Use the time as I like to see family and friends and work on creative projects and home projects unrelated to Tangleweeds.
So I sat down with my Tangleweeds day planner and just started outlining how I could make this goal a reality. I scrunched A LOT of work into the week before this time off, and I scooched a bunch of work into the couple of days when I would be back from work. I assessed my inventory on hand and realized I was pretty much set for my September event and that I would have plenty of time to prep for my October event when I was back. I also took a long hard look at any self-imposed deadlines. In doing that I decided to push back the launch date of my next collection. It’s now launching right around the fall equinox instead of the beginning of September as I originally intended.
Eventually my first day off rolled around and I have to admit, I spent the first two days off wondering how I was going to take SO MUCH time off. I am so conditioned at this point to work long days for Tangleweeds - sometimes even seven days a week (no exaggeration) that I think my muscles for relaxing and being lazy had atrophied. I made an agreement with myself that I could end the time off early if I decided I needed to. But the other half of the agreement was that I had to at least give this a try for a few days before anything was decided.
Slowly, I found it easier to have lazy days - or, my personal favorite, a half-lazy-half-creative-project-with-no-pressure day. I also think making lots of plans with friends and family helped too. Too much lazy time I think might have made me a bit crazy and ruined my little stay-cation experience. I checked out an exhibit at a local gallery, I saw a matinee at the local movie theatre ON A MONDAY. I did all the little things I often don’t have time for during my work week: I relaxed on my front steps in the evening with a glass of wine and enjoyed the stars, I curled up with a book in the sunshine in the middle of the day. I napped!
As I mentioned already though, at first it was hard to relax so much (yes, I realize the ludicrousness of that statement!). This is two fold: one, I am naturally a person who is happiest doing things. My natural state is one of taking action towards goals I have set for myself. But two: I am so conditioned at this point to work hard, and make the most out of a day, that I’ve almost forgotten how to rest, relax, lounge, etc. I had a conversation with my boyfriend recently about how the only time of the day I really am comfortable sitting down to read a book is in the evening, in bed, just before I go to sleep. Otherwise I’m generally so revved up going about my day it feels impossible to slow down that much and just sit and read.
Taking this time off really made me realize that if I want to savor all of life more I’m going to need to take the time to slow down more often. Not just once every nine years when I can squeeze in a little “stay-cation.” The whole experience of planning, taking and enjoying a “stay-cation” was one big experiment that I ultimately learned a lot from.
My biggest take-aways from it all were:
It’s hard to slow down when I’m used to a “go, go, go” lifestyle. But If I don’t take the time to slow down every now and then I’m not as able to enjoy the “go, go, go” part too.
Naturally coming out of the first conclusion: I need to incorporate periods of downtime into my life regularly. As in every single day. This is easier said than done, but as I continue to prioritize and streamline how I run Tangleweeds, it becomes more and more possible.
When I’m having trouble getting out of my own head and relaxing, getting out of the house, even if it’s just for a short walk, helps immensely.
Over the many years of running Tangleweeds I have conditioned myself to work long and busy hours. Just as I have conditioned myself to do this, so too can I condition myself to relax and take time off from work.
It took nearly the entire ten days of my stay-cation to actually start to feel like relaxing and slowing down really felt good. Rather than being an indicator that I shouldn’t be slowing down, I take this as an indicator that I am simply out of practice and need to re-learn how to slow down.
Accomplishing anything is easier when you break it up into smaller, more manageable steps. (As in, working towards my goal of taking a whole month off in the summer feels more like a possible dream after taking this little step towards that.)
If I do eventually take a whole month off, I will probably need to have someone hired by then who can do some of the work of shipping off orders, etc. The kind of work that can’t wait for a whole month. Unless, I decide to close my shops for the duration. . . Future thoughts/goals.
Overall I’m immensely glad I gave myself this time and learned a lot from it along the way. In the near-isn future my main goal is to work towards taking real weekends off as often as possible. In the past, with a craft-fair schedule that would make most folks lay down in exhaustion, taking weekends off was an impossibility. But as I move towards more of an online+wholesale model for me business, I am finding that weekends off are a valuable way to re-charge not just my worker-bee batteries, but my creative ones as well.
Have you ever taken a “stay-cation” while running a business? Or, for that matter, even if you don’t run a business! What were your biggest challenges and what did you get out of it? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts!