Being Social- Personal Focus

(us trying to find someone to facetime with midday yesterday but no one answered!)

During my separation and following an annulment from my first husband, I liked to spend a lot of time alone.

I have always been a fairly social being...outgoing, talkative, I like people...but after the storm I had gone through, quiet is what I craved. I needed a lot of time to think and heal and ignore and just be however I needed to be. I couldn't "act" like I was feeling something I wasn't...and frankly I didn't want to. I was fine being alone. It felt good.

I think this worried some people. They wondered if I was OK, or really struggling...I was living alone too which was great for me but so many friends and family that loved me wanted to help take care of me in closer proximity...but honestly I just didn't feel like I needed it.

Then one day something changed.

I was having a phone conversation with one of my dearest friends, Nick. He must have been asking why I was so holed up and I am sure I explained how great it felt to just be on my own with calm and peace in my home. I didn't really think I needed to be with anyone. His response was imprinted on my brain:

"Rachel, you may not think you need other people right now, but other people need you".

What?! Could it be? What in the world could I give anyone in the state I was in? I was an 80yr old trapped in a 24yr old body. I was grieving, I was sad, I was a wreck. I had permanant bags under my eyes that held a store of tears. Someone needed me? I thought on that long and hard.

Slowly but surely I felt strong enough to show myself more and more and actually GIVE of myself again. I guess I felt like so much had been taken from me that maybe I was a just a shell....I was wrong.

Here I am, 11yrs later, living in a drastically different scenerio but truthfully sometimes it is still hard to find the balance between alone time and social time. Now the issue isn't about whether I WANT to socialize but how to find time...and how to prioritize between family, work, new friends and old friends.

I am sure other self employed/working from home people can relate. I have no co-workers. My husband doesn't either. I have moved about once a year for the past 10yrs. My work schedule involves a lot of travel and weekends away....and to top it off I am a new mom. I have a toddler and newborn on the way.

So I find myself at the ripe ole age of 34 trying to find my happy medium with making new friends and keeping up with the ones I have. I need to find my village to help raise my family and so many of my village members seems to live far far away from me. Sometimes this stinks and sometimes I am too busy to even think about it.

So I don't have anything groundbreaking to impart...I just wanted to say out loud that this issue has been on my mind in hopes that others can relate.

In an effort to help in this one area we are trying to reach out more to friends even if it means keeping plans simple. Meeting at the park, ordering take-out instead of cooking an elaborate meal.

We are also trying to priortize going out a couple times a month with friends on our own..going to a movie with girlfriends or Grant sufing it up with some pals.

I find that making plans with friends at least once a week fills the void and if it happens more than that (without making me feel like i'm being pulled too thin) even better.

Any of you have any advice or suggestions on the best way you have balanced your personal life and social life? I know this is so subjective but I would love to hear how you all feel about making new friends as a young family. How much time with others is enough time? Do you let it happen organically or do you have to really try?

And before you all think I have NO social life (although at times it can feel like it) I have AMAZING top of the tier friends. Lots of them live far away...which is what happens as you grow older and your world expands. I also feel like I have amazing support with online friends. Sounds kind of weird but instagram and all the other social newtworking sites really do help me feel more connected at times. Maybe I have been alone all day with a baby and just need to say it outloud/online. I post a photo and someone else says "me too". Feels good.

I guess what I am trying to say is thank you to friends who are navigating this phase of life with me...and new ones that might get roped along for the journey.

Managing Time- Photo Focus

(Love this old photo of Nova and I when she was 6 days old)

Time is the one thing I always wish I had more of.

Maybe in the moment I don't realize it so much...but looking back I almost always wish I could have had a little bit more time. More time to look at something pretty. More time to spend with someone. More time to finish projects.

Now that I am a parent and a business owner time has taken on a whole new meaning.

I use to pride myself on being spontaneous. Waking up and working on or doing whatever felt right. Unless I had an appointment or a shoot I was generally "free" to do as I saw fit. Eat when I want, spend a whole day on the computer...or even sleep in!

Not so much anymore. And truthfully I need the consistency and order just as much as my daughter or husband does...maybe even more.

With photography screaming for my attention and my husband and daughter making puppy dog eyes at me from the office door...I knew some predictability and order was what we needed and fast.

Grant and I have discussed all of our time management issues in depth, I am sure numerous times. All of you who are self-employed know your business is a family business. It would not work for me to do what I do if I didn't have the support of my husband or kid(s). It just wouldn't. I don't have set hours. I might stop working but thoughts of work are harder to let go of. My brain is constantly on, thinking of ideas, things I need to doesn't turn off at 5pm.

So the question was, what now?

First things first we needed to set some basic hours for work and our personal lives. This will really be different for everyone. Our situation is unique because we both work from home...we also both have busier and slower times of the year for work, so we have to really be adaptible based on the current tide.

Before we could figure out what was a good schedule for us, some of my basic questions had to be answered:

  • Making a plan but knowing when to be flexible- this I have to be OK taking as it comes. If my baby is sick I change a work day around etc..
  • How much time is "enough" time for Nova or Grant or work?- Quality matters but so does quantity. I know I want to spend as much time as I can with my kids and my husband and NOT feel guilty about not working. I am still working on figuring this one out...
  • What about ME time?- Must be a priority. Doesn't have to be much. Sometimes a shower does the trick, but one alone activity out of the house a week is a must.
  • What is most important to work on if my time is limited?- prioritize deadlines once a week so I actually know...and always make customer service #1. Getting back to clients, answering emails...
  • Am I a bad mom beccuase I want to spend time working?- Somedays it might feel like it but NO! That's like asking if I am am a bad mom for being me? NO. If I try to be something I am not I will only hurt my family and myself. Working and neglecting my responsibilities as a parents are two different things. I work FOR my family. But I am learning how much I want and need to work. It's a gut feeling I am learning to listen to and not ignore.
  • What do I need to feel content?- Is a creative person ever content? I can be happy and positive but I have come to accept there will always be more that I want and need. It keeps me moving forward.
  • How much time away is too much time away from my family?- I have done and can do two nights away for work. This feels like a good number to me right now. Anything more than that and I would rather have them with me...luckily they are able to come with me most of the time!!!
  • Is it worth the money?- Some things are and some things are not. I really think most people understand the need to make family a priority. My time away from them is worth a lot! This is a balance of figuring out cost, desire, and sacrifice. Every work opportunity does offer different benefits. Some are purely creative, which matter! Some are purely money makers, which matter! I wish I had an easy answer for this but it takes years of working and a new baby in your arms to help you sort it out.
  • Will I ever get caught up?- No. Sad but true. Unless my ideas and the photography market stop changing (never will). It's OK. Some things need time to cook.
  • Everybody else has way more time than me and is way more productive.- How can I ever know? Everyone has different skill sets. This is where I need to ignore appearances and concentrate on my own situation. Maybe some people are better at filing paperwork, maybe I am better at hiding in closets with Nova to scare Grant. How can you compare those two?
  • It is distracting to have work days at home!- It sure is. Would be amazing to have a detached office again, but until that is a possibility, I need to shut the door, Grant and Nova need to plan activities and stay busy. A few hours alone working in the house every week is really amazing.
  • I am pregnant and's hard to work at nights.- Then I don't have to! Really I am way more productive during the morning daylight hours. Factor this in.
  • What do I really want or expect from my business- I want to feel like I am creating and improving. I want to make money, yes...but way more than that I want to feel like I am making a difference. I want my time spent working to be meaningful.
  • When I die what will I wish I spent my time doing?- EASY. I'll wish I spent more time with the people I love. Canned answer but true!!!! My family comes first and then work. I think my clients value this and it makes me a better photographer.

I know this is a super long post...stay with me.

So after all of the thinking and analyzing some scheduling musts for us are:

  • I work 2, sometimes 3days a week in the AM (from home..unless I have a shoot)
  • Weekends are for shooting and traveling OR family time if I am not working.
  • My off days I am wholly focused on Nova and Grant. We plan outings and I get to cook! Separation of work days and family days are key for me. I don't do well splitting my attention everyday for an hour there, an hour here...
  • Outsourcing. I am allowed. Any part of my business I can have others help with, I do (or should).
  • When Nova is napping or sleeping, I am allowed to as well (this might just be a pregnancy must).
  • At least one out of the house activity a week alone, that isn't work related.
  • Grant and I go on a date each week!!!!!! (another focus post coming on this).

I had a mother of one of my dear friends tell us once that she tried to always light up when she saw one of her kids, no matter what she was doing. I really really love that. I may not be able to always stop working when I want because life is full of deadlines BUT I can light up every time I see my sweet Nova or Grant. I try really hard to always be mindful of this. I will be sitting at my desk and she will come back from an errand with Dad and open the front door yelling "HOME!" and then I hear her little feet running down the hallway towards me. I greet her with a huge smile, like it's been years since I've seen her, wrap my arms around her and tell her how much I missed her and love her. Then we talk about all the adventures she had while she was gone. When I can do this I feel so much better about the time away, and I know she does too.

I am glad she will get to grow up seeing her parents work hard for the family. I am grateful we are trying to find balance and order so her and her siblings can learn how to do the same.

And now I must must know, what are some of your secret tools for keeping and making schedules? What is the single most important thing that helps you feel order in your life?

Once I press publish on this blog post you all know the world will do a backflip and Grant and I will have to have another long talk...and figure this all out all over again. Not sure if the thought makes me want to laugh or cry.


Undivided - Family Focus

(Photo by the sweet, beautiful, talented Yan Photography)

This is the first post of a series I have made it a goal to post weekly through this year.

The purpose is to really help me focus on personal and work related subjects that I feel need to be talked about...and well..focused on.

Of course I want this series of blog posts to be for anyone and everyone but since I am a woman and a mom AND a business owner, I will be taking those spins when touching on different issues. It's what I know! This is not to say that if you are a full-time dad or a woman who spends 12hrs a day at an office that you won't be able to relate. I think we can all come together when trying to find balance and direction in our own lives.

More than anything I want to give the things and people that matter most to me the attention and focus they deserve. This is a must if I want to successfully navigate all these different roles I have.

On to the first topic I have been thinking a lot about: undivided attention.

Years ago, before we were married, Grant was passing time in a bookshop while I was shooting a wedding (Stephens and Jenn's!). He came across advice in one of the books he was browsing that stated something close to:

"People need at least 15mins of undivided attention a day from significant others in order to feel close and for the relationship to be strengthened.....for self esteem to blossom...." (was this the gist Grant?)

Grant and I discussed the idea and it really did make perfect sense. 15mins a day of giving the other person your complete undivided attention. Eye contact, active listening, NOT making it about yourself, responding and validating what they were saying...for just 15mins. We we tried it out. It was kind of like magic.

At times it seemed so extreme because we aren't all that use to having someone listen so completely. I would probably blush and look away but not surprisingly the words to share were not hard to come by. I did the same for Grant. Looking, listening, asking interested questions. It didn't even matter what the subject was. I could talk about my last shoot, what I was making for dinner, the sore on my foot, random thoughts I had during my drive......the point is not always what is being said, just that whatever you say matters.

Undivided has become something of a family motto for us. He even had it engraved on the inside of my wedding band.

We have not been perfect at it. Not even close...and I want to make an effort to come back to it and to focus on making it a priority.

I have Grant and Nova and my unborn baby boy who are all deserving of 15mins of undivided attention from me a day. My day is comprised of 24hrs. This would only take 45mins of my entire day. Of course as a parent it might feel on certain days that you are giving this level of attention for hours on end...and you might be! But I do find a difference between laying on the floor with Nova, letting my mind wander and laying on the floor with Nova focusing on her and nothing else. She notices too. When I do this for just a mere 15mins I feel like a way better Mother..and that Mom-guilt is greatly diminished. When Grant and I do this for each other it is amazing how much closer we feel.

I do think it takes practice and we still need a lot more of it, but I'm hopeful it will get easier and easier.

Another perk of giving undivided attention is it frees you up to give attention to other things as well. I know if I am showing Grant and Nova how much they mean to be through active listening, then I am helping to cement how important they are to me in their minds. Then the separation isn't as painful or confusing while I am working or away from them.  We are securing each other up. This makes a huge difference on me mentally as I try to be a good wife, mother AND photographer. 

I have found good times to give Nova undivided attention are during mealtimes (especially during busy days). We can eat together and chat. I can ask questions and she can tell me about what's on her mind. Another time that works well for us is the late afternoon after she wakes up from her nap and is sometimes needier. We can snuggle together on the couch and I can stroke her hair as she tells me about her naptime dreams and toddler concerns.

A good time for Grant and I to give undivided attention is definitely after she has gone to bed, whether during her nap or in the evening. Sometimes even a quick check-in while we pass each other in the kitchen can do wonders. Like a spontaneous hug with awkward eye contact and a "how is your day going so far?" While we are driving is another good time. I also really like going on family walks and being able to share and listen while she is content in a stroller.

I know this isn't new concept and you are probably all doing a much better job at this than I am...but what are your thoughts? Do you think undivided attention makes a difference? Do you pick certain times of the day to do it, or just whenever the time feels right?

So there you have it. Undivided. Try it out and tell me what you think.

AND if you need some and aren't getting it, let me know. I have 15mins for anyone.