Life was a little dull. I’d been in the same company (although not the same job) for 14 years and married for the same period. I was enjoying my role as a Sales Manager for an international training company, and had a great team around me. Life seemed quite relaxed – get up, go to work, come home/go out, bed, etc. Weekends were pretty packed (my wife and I are both musicians in our spare time) and although we didn’t have a lot of genuine free time together, it was fine because the busy lifestyle suited us. Although a lot of our spare time was spent playing music, we did it together so spent a lot of time with each other. Then, in 2015, our daughter arrived and life suddenly seemed a lot more complicated. This began a three-year journey towards achieving the holy grail of work-life balance.
Our daughter was born in February 2015. After such a long time with my employer, I was a little surprised to get only the bare minimum of 2 weeks’ paternity leave. I was slightly more surprised that I was expected to attend a conference call just 2 days after the birth. That really annoyed me, and although I didn’t ultimately take part as it coincided with our being discharged from hospital, I felt bad that I’d not been on the call. I think it’s the male mindset – I’m there to take care of my (brand new) family and missing something for work caused a real conflict in my mind. Although they shouldn’t have asked me, of course. And the feedback afterwards was that I wasn’t needed anyway. Well, thanks for the stress there then…
Anyway, 2 weeks’ semi-paternity leave plus a couple more weeks unpaid, which I took off to support my wife as she’d had a caesarian, then it was back to the grindstone. Despite this little incident with the conference call, I was in a comfortable position – I worked 4 days a week, started at 8 (and as a new dad, I was awake way before that anyway!) and finished at 4:30, with a 50-minute commute. For a while, things worked well, and I had a good dose of daddy-and-daughter time most evenings. However, I was stuck in the job I’d had for 14 years – there was no realistic option to leave, as it would involve working 9-5:30, 5 days a week, as most jobs do. And an extra 20-30 minutes’ commute. In the kind of role I’d have been looking for, there’d have been expectations of overtime.
However, things changed, and we realised that without two salaries, we weren’t earning enough for us to move house, which was a medium-term goal. It was decision time – do I get a new job and lose my family time, or do I do something different. After a few job interviews, I realised that any full-time employment would mean I’d only really see our daughter at weekends, so I took the leap and became a self-employed sales and leadership trainer for my own company, Navanter. It was a risky thing to do with my wife not working, but I made sure I had a couple of customers in place before I quit my job.
The first year was chaos. I had a little more family time, but my stress levels shot through the roof as well. As quite a risk-averse person, I found myself saying “yes” to any work that was offered to me, whether it was local or at the other end of the country, fun or stressful, and whether I had time to prepare or not. The result was a comfortable first year financially, which I’m thankful for, but delivering training most days and preparing training materials in the evenings, which took me away from my wife a lot. I spent a little more time than I had previously with our daughter, but found that I had so much going round my head that I wasn’t really enjoying that time as much as I could have done. A particular low point was staying up until 2am a couple of nights when we were on holiday in order to prepare for a training course the first day back.
Things have now calmed down a bit. I’ve learnt to say “no”, and also that I don’t need to be online 24/7 in order to run my own business. The first year taught me a lot about work-life balance, and I’m beginning to get to a good place with this. I’ve learnt that as a self-employed person, I really can fit work around my family. I’m away more than I used to be, sometimes abroad or at the other end of the country. I speak to my daughter every day on Skype when I’m not there, which is good. And although I might go a week barely seeing her, I have the flexibility to be together at other times. I take her to a play group each week if I’m at home; we eat breakfast and lunch together every day when I’m around, and it’s not unusual for me to take a day-or-two off in a week for us to have some proper daddy-and-daughter time, going into central London, seeing some children’s theatre, or just playing in the house.
When I started this journey, I didn’t quite know where it would end. It’s been a bit of a roller-coaster at times, but I’ve learnt some good lessons:
1. I don’t need to be there all the time – going away on business is fine.
2. But if I am away, I need to make up for it at other times.
3. Children need our undivided attention, and having half my mind on work when we’re together isn’t good.
4. Earning money isn’t the most important thing in the world, and trading some income for more family time if you can pays dividends for you and the child.