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You can design a life you love.

by Meagan Francis on October 7, 2013

you can design a life you love

Since I’ve been writing a lot lately about my current work-at-home lifestyle, I thought I’d share a glimpse at what my life was like a decade ago, when I was a broke, struggling, and not-very-happy single mom. Hopefully it will encourage those of you who feel stuck and want to create a different life, but can’t quite visualize it yet.

For a couple of years while my oldest sons were small – and before Jon and I reconciled and remarried – my morning routine looked like this: get up around 6:00, eat breakfast, get dressed. Oops! Remember that today is “nature share day” at the boys’ Montessori preschool/daycare. Run out to the grassy area behind our apartment building to hastily pick up a stick or rock to “share”. Find misplaced shoes (again), head out to the car, get on the road.

It was a 20-minute commute to the school, a 15-minute or so drop-off process, and then another 10 – 15 minute drive to my administrative job.

Of course, there were the days I’d realize, as we were pulling up to the school, that I’d forgotten the boys’ lunches. The school/daycare didn’t offer a hot lunch program, so I’d have to tear over to the closest supermarket and try to piece together a meal that didn’t include any throw-away packaging, per the school’s “guidelines”; bring it back and drop it off in the main office, and then tear out of the parking lot and just hope I’d hit green lights all the way.

Since I was the token “poor” mom on childcare assistance, the only one dropping my kids off in a rusty, ten-year-old Saturn, you can imagine how much more awesome I felt when I screwed up one of the school’s many rules.

At night I’d leave my job sometime between 5:00 and 5:30 and go pick up my boys, five and three, from daycare. We’d get home around 6:00, and I’d try to figure out what to do about dinner. Shoot, I’d meant to get something in the slow cooker, but had forgotten…again. So I’d throw something together, do the dishes and pick up, and then realize it was almost time for the kids’ baths and I’d barely even seen them.

I constantly felt like a loser, like I was just hanging on by a string. But I couldn’t seem to get all the pieces of my life to work together. I didn’t mind being at my job, and liked the people there; but I wasn’t particularly inspired by the work I was doing and absolutely hated being in the car for more than an hour every day. I never felt like I was doing enough for or with my boys, but I felt so beaten down by our circumstances that I couldn’t find the energy.

I also never felt like the 8-5 work day made the best use of my energy cycles. I’d get an incredible amount done in an hour, then spend the next two hours dying to escape the office. Yet, I knew I wasn’t doing my job well, and that bothered me, too.

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And as horrible as I’d feel walking away from my kids some mornings, I grew to dread 5 PM: sure, I wanted to see the boys, but I just didn’t want to deal with the drive, the pick-up process, the stressful evening and then getting up the next day and doing it all over.

I remember very clearly one morning, crying in frustration over my steering wheel and thinking, “I do not love my life.”

That was a wake-up call for me. I wanted to love my life. I wanted to feel good about the way I was spending my time, and to feel like there was enough time, too; for working and playing and parenting and preparing meals and, yes, puttering, and all the other satisfying things that begin with P.

So I made some changes. We moved to a small town ten minutes from my job, with a good public school (for Jacob) that had an on-site daycare (for Isaac) and bussing (for me!) And suddenly, life was more manageable.

But then I realized that I didn’t want just “manageable.” I wanted to love my life.

I spent a lot of time thinking about what my ideal circumstances might look like, and came up with this outline:

  • I’d want to work less; more like 25 – 30 hours a week instead of 40, but I’d want to earn more money. A lot more money.
  • I’d want to spend very little time driving.
  • I’d want to be home when the kids got home from school, and with any future kids, I’d want to spend a lot of time with them when they were babies.
  • I’d want to have time to cook good meals, keep my house in decent shape, and sew on the occasional button.
  • And I’d want to do work I loved and felt inspired by.

I’ve always been entrepreneurial, so it became clear that starting some kind of home business was probably the way to go. I considered a few options: childbirth educator, postpartum doula, after-school child care? I had no college degree (still don’t) so my options seemed limited.

But I kept coming back to writing. I’d always loved to write, and I knew I was good at it. I’d even been published, once, in Brain, Child magazine. And from hanging around freelancer message boards I knew that regular people, sort of like me, were the ones whose stories filled those glossy newsstand magazines. They were making a real living doing something that I would have done all day for free anyway.

wine and magazines

So I took a chance and sent out my first query, to Good Housekeeping magazine. In hindsight, it was laughably bad, and I got my first rejection (via postal mail!) a few weeks later. In the meantime, though, I’d sent more and more query letters, to dozens of magazines and websites. Before long I got my first bite from a national magazine: Parenting. And the rest is history.

Today? I love my life. It’s not perfect (neither am I), but it reflects all the things I wanted for myself and my family all those years ago.

But what if, on that fateful day when my head was on the freezing-cold steering wheel in my rusty old Saturn, I had thought “I don’t love my life”…and then had just gone about business as usual?

Nothing ever would have changed.

That first series of small changes (the move, the new school) opened my eyes to what happens when you take action. It showed me that I was more in control of my circumstances than I’d ever dared to dream.

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My work-at-home life isn’t the solution everyone. The things that made my “dream life” list above might not be priorities of yours. If you have, and want to keep, a traditional out-of-the-home job, then the life you love – and how you get there – is going to look very different from my journey.

But I believe that everybody deserves to have enough time to sleep, to play, to be with the people they love. I think everyone deserves to do the things that matter to them. And I think that sometimes, you have to be brave enough to make changes – sometimes big ones – to design a life you love. 

Yes, I make this statement from a privileged position. But I know what it’s like to be on the other side, too. (Remember the whole broke, uneducated, single mom thing?)

“It’s not that easy…” Nope. It’s absolutely not easy. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s worth it.

Let’s face it, anyone who’s able to read these words from a personal Internet connection is, by global standards, privileged. We all have access to more power and possibility than we might think. And while we can hope and push for systemic changes, the only thing we really have control over is ourselves, and the way we set our own lives up for happiness.

So if you aren’t happy – if you have this nagging feeling that there is something else you’re supposed to be doing, that you don’t have time for the things that matter – dare to dream. Figure out what you really want and stop worrying about what doesn’t really matter to you. Take a small step toward that life you love, then another, and another, until you see it materializing before your eyes.

You only get one shot at this life. So design a life you love. 

What have you got to lose?

meagan on boat

 

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Marjorie October 7, 2013 at 7:30 am

I love this post. One big change I made was to seek out a job where I can work from home. It is still a corporate full-time job, and we still have to use day care for my son. We are fortunate to have a great daycare 5 minutes from our house that we use. I made these two choices very intentionally to try and make life a little easier and help me juggle responsibilities on the home front. Life isn’t perfect, but I am so thankful that I don’ t have to wear suits everyday and drive 45 minutes in traffic (each way).

I did not know that about you and your husband splitting up and reconciling. I am so glad you were able to work things out.

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C October 7, 2013 at 8:41 am

That was very inspirational. I am in a similar situation. I am the breadwinner in my household. I have a federal job taking claims from the disabled. The commute, drop off, pick up, dinner decisions, feeling like I have no time for kids or myself, house not as tidy as I would like because I spend weekends doing family stuff and not always cleaning. The problem for me is figuring out the next step. I have tried brainstorming. But I am always pushed back in my place. I make decent income and could never make what I earn if I left. Just hard. The nagging feeling you mentioned is so true. Loved your story. Thanks for sharing.

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Meagan Francis October 7, 2013 at 1:43 pm

Hi C. Certainly you wouldn’t earn as much right away…but in the long run, you never know. Women build hugely successful businesses from home all the time. Or maybe there is some middle ground for you (a job that eats up less of your time combined with a small business doing something you love; a shorter commute, more delegation to your spouse or others, etc) that can help you deal with that nagging feeling?

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Joyce Day October 7, 2013 at 8:42 am

Hi Meagan,

Another great post! This one made me cry…My husband and I have made some changes (moved closer to work, etc.). Now I’m looking to make more and I’m grateful to hear from others who have walked the path that I hoping to walk. I just went through the “I’m a bad mom” guilt trip last night and again this morning. It scares my husband a little I think that I’m talking about changing things – we rely on both of our incomes. But I have to believe that I don’t have to sacrifice my whole life to make ends meet. I have to believe that it doesn’t have to be this hard. Because it is exhausting. And it is only force of will that gets me through each week to do my job, spend time with my kids, and still try to accomplish the other things in my life that are important. I don’t want to just survive and get through another week. I was just doubting myself again last night so thanks for giving me another shot of hope that I can find another way!

Joyce

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Meagan Francis October 7, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Joyce, I actually think it was a blessing that I had this epiphany while I was broke…it would be much, much harder to shake things up if I was feeling this way now, well into my 30s with an established middle-class life. But, change is hard no matter how old you are or how stable your life seems, and it requires sacrifice either way…the good news is that a better life is waiting on the other side. Best of luck to you.

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Hands Free Mama October 7, 2013 at 9:17 am

Thank you. I loved being offered a glimpse at what inspired you to take that leap of faith and create a life you love. I find great inspiration in your words. I also feel more appreciative of my own life today. By reading both where you came from and where you are now, the positives in my own situation have been highlighted. Thank you, as always, for your wisdom.

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Erin October 7, 2013 at 9:19 am

Excellent post. Very interesting to read about your background. I love my life (even if it isn’t perfect – as you said, no one’s is!), and I find myself wanting everyone around me to love their life, too! So often people just grumble about their circumstances but they don’t DO anything to change the things they don’t love about their lives! Good for you for making those changes.

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Natalie October 7, 2013 at 9:27 am

You accomplish a difficult thing in this post. Your words are inspirational, but not judgmental; uplifting, but not overwhelming. Thank you Meagan!

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Jennifer Fink October 7, 2013 at 10:26 am

I love, love, love this post, and the photos only make it better.

I had no idea that we’d considered such similar career paths. I really considered childbirth educator and midwife (instead of doula, since I was already a RN) too!

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Meagan Francis October 7, 2013 at 1:40 pm

We’re secret wonder twins! :) I think I realized that being a doula was “out” for me when my sister called me in labor at 2 AM and I felt momentarily annoyed that she hadn’t “waited” until the morning. (hey, remember my comment about needing sleep!? LOL)

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Heather B October 7, 2013 at 10:39 am

Meagan, thank you for this wonderful post. It really spoke to me. I am so grateful to mom’s who share their stories with others. It makes us all feel so much less alone. You’re story is truly inspiring to those of us who yearn for a change but may be hesitant to take that first step.

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Rachael October 7, 2013 at 10:46 am

Thanks for sharing your story. I’ve been a WAHM for about five years now (and a freelancer for longer than that), but I’ve only just written an outline of my best circumstances — in the form of a business plan. My circumstances are already pretty good, but I’m still working on getting my schedule right and developing my client base and skills so that I can really focus on doing work that I love. Having such an outline really helps, because — as you say — even the life one loves is never going to be perfect. The outline is a way of reminding myself that my way of doing things, however unconventional it might be, is in line with my values and worth sticking with even when in the immediate situation, things seem to be going awry.

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Joyce Day October 7, 2013 at 11:01 am

Hi Rachael,

I would be interested in hearing more about what your outline looks like or what you included in it, if you don’t mind…. You can message me privately if you like. If not, no worries:)

Joyce

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Meagan Francis October 7, 2013 at 1:41 pm

This is awesome, Rachael, and I love the idea of creating an outline that’s based on your values and principles rather than just being blown about by the wind.

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Melissa October 9, 2013 at 8:15 am

Hello Megan your story was very inspiring and I am a single mom of four trying to make it on one income but I am taking a leap of faith to downsize my house and cut back on things to make life easier and life more enjoyable. I thank you so much for sharing your story it has help me to know I can accomplish anything and to never give up and to look at the big picture

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Reem October 10, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Hi Meagan,
I loved this post! I used to teach but am taking time off to be home with the little ones. I am using up my creativity in photographing an occasional client but what I crave is to write and publish children’s books! Crave with a capital C! To see how you toiled and then made it is awesome! I decided to give my manuscripts another try, so edited them today with the baby napping in the back and toddler sprinkling crumbs around me, but I’m happy to give my writing priority again/ I love blogging but my nagging feeling is that I need to work on my children’s books! Thanks for inspiring me- I can’t wait to mail out my manuscripts this week and to follow my dreams. It only takes one yes to make it as you showed! Been loving your blog btw:)!

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Kate @ Happy Simple Mine October 11, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Hi Meagan! I just listened to your podcast with Pat Flynn – LOVED it and look forward to following along on your blog as a new reader. :)

I read through this entire post nodding my head, YES! I do want more – and, from the sounds of it, have dreams very similar to yours. I have that nagging feeling that I’m meant for more every. single. morning. as I rush out the door with my kids. I look forward to learning from you and how you have created a life that you now love. Life is meant to be lived to the fullest. Thanks for giving me a kick in the pants to make it happen and for being a testimony to the fact that hard work yields results.

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Jennifer October 12, 2013 at 11:44 am

Hi! New reader here after finding your blog on Pinterest. I have been in a very similar situation…working full time, getting son to and from daycare, taking care of the house, etc. It’s hard. Now I am at home on bed rest due to some pregnancy complications (also difficult because I can’t do anything! I just keep telling myself it’ll be worth it!), and it is allowing me time to think and come up with a plan to start working from home, spending more time with my family, and just not have to go, go, go everyday. This post was very inspirational…I can’t wait to continue reading your blog!

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