I care. I care that my clients get the best service possible from me, on the water, by email, phone or message, and in person. I care that I work hard, and that I do my best to keep developing, keep learning, and stay passionate. I care that, as a friend recently put it (thanks Nat...), I present the very best version of me that I possibly can.
And therein lies the rub.
As the vast majority of people who read this will know, I am a Sea Kayak Coach & Guide, and a trainee Personal Trainer. I'm self employed, and almost by accident I now run my own (very) small business; I'm a one-woman band.
Mental health and the pros & cons of self employment have occupied my thoughts a lot recently. I also care very deeply that I set an example, that I do as I would like to be done by, which is why, unusual as it may seem, I wanted to share some thoughts on the subject. Now, in no way are any of these thoughts a complaint. I'm not looking for sympathy, simply to gather my thoughts and perhaps make others think too. I love my job: I've had several different careers, and this is by far the most captivating and rewarding of all of them. Days on the water with clients who are learning and expanding their capabilities and confidence just can't be beaten; and as I'm now learning, helping people to improve their physical capability & confidence both in the gym, and in life as a result... Well, that's a special experience.
It's Friday afternoon, and I should be preparing for work tomorrow, packing my kit, printing maps & paperwork, communicating the plan, putting together all the gear & decisions I need for a weekend on the water with clients. Instead, I'm sitting at the kitchen table, tears rolling down my face.
"...I'm so tired..."
Mark, my long suffering and ever-patient partner, is doing his best to deal with a me that is rather less than the best version.
It's Sunday now, and I've taken the weekend off, (luckily I have a fantastically understanding close colleague who was ok with me pulling out) and perhaps I'm a little under the weather physically, as well as mentally. A walk on the beach with the dog, time away from emails, and a large hot chocolate have gone just a little way to making me feel better about the world. It's also given me a little time to begin to reflect on how I can make some changes.
In these days of 24-hour-tech, rolling news & newsfeeds, same-day delivery and instant responses, we want everything now. We don't want to wait, or be patient. Emails sent warrant an instant response, and when we don't get one we go elsewhere. But what of the respondent? That person who has a pile of emails already in their inbox, work to do, family to spend time with, a dog to walk, and their own health to take care of? It means they are glued to their phone or laptop, always connected, never able to switch off. I'm as guilty as anyone else - I've done just that, gone to one 'company' because they responded faster than another. But that company may well have been a sole trader, a single person... who lost out because of my impatience.
Winter is a tough time of year for me. I struggle with the short days up here in the north of Scotland, feeling significantly lower and more vulnerable than in the longer days of summer. Financially it can be a challenge, with far less money coming in, and coaching days are challenging in cold conditions. It can also be a time of year to rest & recharge though, to prepare for the year ahead. Unless you're me, and take on far too much, keep pushing yourself to improve fitness & move on your own learning, plan too much into that short few months. Mmm, perhaps next winter should be different...
In order to be the best I can be at my job, it has to be a passion. And this is the disadvantage of turning your passion into your job: you want to do it all the time. But for me, that doesn't just mean paddling. That means training in the gym so that I can be as strong and resilient as I need to be to paddle well, to carry boats, to travel, to remain injury-free. It means reading and watching others, keeping up with developments- these days often via social media. It means eating well (though often at a slight calorie deficit) to maintain or reduce my weight and feel fit. It is all-pervading, from the moment I wake up in the morning, to the moment I fall asleep at night.
So how is this all related to my mental health? Well, the less I manage to keep up with that 'to do list', the emails unanswered, the gym sessions not completed, the repair jobs not yet done, the more I feel like I'm failing. The more I feel like I'm failing, the less productive I am. And so the spiral continues. My confidence - never exactly rock solid to begin with - suffers, and I doubt myself more and more. The result: exhaustion, tears, and a disproportionate feeling of inadequacy.
So I guess that brings me to what I'm going to do about all of this? Well, I'm not entirely sure, yet. What I do know, is that things need to change. I need to set up systems that mean I can put down my phone or laptop some evenings, have some days off- from training, from tech, from everything. My 'business' has evolved from simply freelancing for other people after taking voluntary redundancy just 5 years ago, into one that now provides over 60% of my meagre income, but the fight to keep up with the 'to do list' means I have never taken the time to set it up so that it works efficiently. Perhaps now is the time.
More than anything, I need to learn to be kind to myself.
Final thoughts? I can't be alone in this. More and more people are becoming self-employed, whether through entrepreneurial spirit, or through necessity. It's awesome, but it's also tough. If you have any thoughts, ideas or reflections you'd like to share with me - perhaps you have some ideas I could use- please do get in touch.