On reaching my sales goal & tearing it all down

Painted on my chest. Lovely lettering by @missviv.

5pm on Sunday. Tomorrow, R.T. starts a full-time day job with the company he worked for when we first started dating. He left that job two years ago to move with me to Michigan and help run my business. We’ve been through a lot together in that time.

It’s hard for me to write this without a really obvious tone of sadness. I’m feeling the weight of this change a lot more than I expected I would. I’ve loved having him here with me all day — looking over mockups, putting together to-do lists, pausing for lunch breaks or a long walk. He’s been a driving force in making my business what it is today — My income has increased almost 150% in the last two years with him by my side.

So, that’s the thing. I reached my 2013 sales goal in early October. Last December, when I settled on that target, it felt really bold — like the psychological act of reaching for that number was, by itself, very dangerous. Still, I hit that goal with almost three full months to spare.

But I didn’t feel successful. I didn’t feel relieved. I just felt tired.

I’ve never wanted to build an empire. I never wanted to 4-hour-work-week my way to wealth. I just want to show up every day and do work that matters. I want to build relationships. I want to build a meaningful web. I want to help creative small business owners show the world their true colors.

I’ve never shied away from a little hard work.

But let me tell you: it’s been really, really hard. Running a small business is difficult and full of risks and just plain exhausting. Being my household’s sole income provider has felt wonderful at times and oppressive, terrifying, reckless at others. Some months we make well into 5-figures, and some months (well, okay, one month last year) we lived mostly off of my savings account. Some weeks I get to spend Thursday afternoon hiking in the mountains, and some weeks I don’t leave the apartment for days on end because deadlines have started to play bumper cars (and I am loath to miss a deadline). I have worked through entire vacations, missed concerts I’d purchased tickets for months in advance, and lost friendships to too many “It turns out I have to work” last minute cancelations. It goes with the territory — just about any other small business owner will tell you the same thing.

When I hit this year’s sales goal, I finally paused to take a good look at the situation. I wanted to feel something. Pride? Excitement? Instead, the only thought in my mind was, What’s next? Can I double this next year? Is that goal big enough?

I built this business to be a lifestyle business. I choose this work over building a career with fancy titles like Creative Director or Senior Designer or Lead Developer so that I can travel regularly to Michigan to spend time with my family, so that I can spend our short and fleeting New England summers at the beach, so that I can make my own rules.

Instead, I got caught up in that corporate mantra: if you’re not growing, you’re dying.

But what if it’s not always about the hustle? In fact, what if I take growth out of the picture all together? What if I scale backwards and work with fewer people? What if I just let it be easy?

The truth is, I define my worth in numbers. I do this in all areas of my life: the number on the scale, the number of emails in my inbox, the number on the bottom line.

I don’t want to live by the numbers anymore.

When R.T. and I talk about our future, it doesn’t involve very much that wealth can buy — we’re not interested mansions or lavish vacations. We’re more interested in simpler joys — really, we just want to be able to turn off our computers and enjoy one another’s company on a regular basis. Maybe play a little music and make a little art. We do want to have less debt (no easy feat for two poor kids who took out loans to put themselves through college), and buy a house in this area, where even starter homes average around $400k. I won’t suggest that we want to live a meager, starving artist lifestyle. Certainly not. But we don’t want to hustle our lives away, either.

Ease is the word that keeps coming up for me. I want a life more filled with ease. I want more time to rest, more time to create, more time to stretch, more time to learn, and more time to do my best work with my best clients.

So, R.T. is going back to a full-time day job as an act of encouragement, as the start of a lifestyle renovation. His stable salary gives me room to breathe, permission to take a step back. I’m working with my beloved life coach on letting go of the drive to always be serving, on not being such a workaholic, and on finding new ways to express and define myself. I feel very grateful for a partner who is mature enough to have made this decision for us, who is selfless enough to take on more so that I can take on less. (As an aside, we recognize that we’re very privileged to be able to consider all of this optional — we are grateful for that every day.)

All of that said, it’s the end of an era, and I’m mourning that. I’ve spent a lot of time crying this weekend, staring down the barrel of much lonelier workdays & more separate lives. I know that it’s ultimately the right thing for us — for me. The optimism and the relief will come, I am certain.

But, as it turns out, moving into ease is really difficult. That’s where I am right now.

10 thoughts on “On reaching my sales goal & tearing it all down”

  1. Kudos to you for scaling back and realizing it’s the best thing for you to do. I’m certain you’ll find that perfect place you need to be, what’s right for you AND R.T. As an aside, an extra kudos for meeting your 2013 goal and even though you didn’t feel anything when you met it, in a way, you really did — you felt the need to re-incorporate EASE into your life again. 🙂

  2. The key word is balance. When work/life balance is off, your whole life is off. Harmony comes from perspective, and perspective comes from experience. You’re doing great, and it’s great that you have a partner to keep you centered.

  3. I can relate to this, my husband quit his job in July which made me sole provider. I loved your comment about if you aren’t growing you are dying. I feel like with dis-proportionaate growth OTHER areas of my life die, to be honest. It sounds like you are moving in right direction. We are all here (not the same) but reach out if you are feeling like you need to connect during the day 🙂

  4. I love you. You are kind and smart and wise. Godspeed on the brambly, ongoing path (if it’s anything like mine) of being kind to yourself.

  5. Rereading this because I loved it so much, and I just had to tell you.. I love this photo so much. Grace?! Right. To. The. Heart. Of. It.

  6. First of all, kudos to you for being so honest, here in this space, and even more so, to yourself. Finding clarity around how you define success is HUGE and something most people never get clear on. You are so on the right path, just keep following it and that ease will come. Slowly perhaps, but it will.

  7. Leah,
    It’s a journey being a creative being and then actually making a living. I often threaten to go bartend. I appreciate your work, your honesty and your ability to share it here.

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