About a year ago, a friend approached Scott and me about buying his organic lawn care business. We were a little wary. What we knew about organic lawn care amounted to…almost nothing. We knew something about organic gardening. A tiny bit. We knew a lot about organic eating and green living and we were absolute believers in the value of organics in lawn and yard care. We were enthusiastic about the idea of running a small business (especially one that makes the world a better place) but also afraid to commit to something that we knew we didn’t totally understand. So we came to an agreement that we’d take over all aspects of the business from January until the end of the lawn season, late September, and then we’d have an option to purchase the business.
By mid-July, I was certain that I didn’t want to own the business, but I didn’t view the time I’d put in as wasted time nor the money we put in as wasted money (somehow we ended up only about $400 in the hole). I called it tuition. I learned something. I learned a lot, actually. Not just about running a business. Not just about organic lawn care (ask me anything…seriously…I studied my ass off in preparation for working on customers’ lawns). I learned about myself. I learned about what makes me tick and what drives me crazy. I learned about Scott and about our marriage and about how well (or poorly) we would work together should we ever decide to take on a business as a couple.
I also learned to request payment up front, or you might not get paid. I learned what a fan belt is, what it sounds like when it’s about to bust, and I learned how to drive a truck without one (very carefully). I learned how to use a pipe clamp and how to fix a busted hose. I learned how to use and maintain a small engine, how to compute ratios that include very large numbers, and I improved my spreadsheet and graphic design skills. Also? I learned that if a plumber can charge $60 just to show up at my house, I should charge people at least that much for an hour of my time, no matter what I’m doing for them.
But the most important lesson I learned was this: my time is valuable.
Maybe you are familiar with the scene in Good Will Hunting where Robin Williams is repeating to Matt Damon, “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.” At first Matt says he knows that it’s not his fault, but you can tell he’s not really internalizing the message. Eventually, Matt Damon breaks down and you know he believes what Robin Williams is saying. That’s how this season has felt for me. It’s as if someone I trust took me by the shoulders, stared unblinkingly into my eyes and repeated, “Your time is valuable,” over and over again until I finally broke down in ugly tears and believed that my time is, indeed, worth something.
I think that as stay at home moms, we sometimes give lip service to the idea that our time is valuable. Without a monetary value to attach to our time, it can be difficult to believe that our time is valuable. It’s not quantifiable and, especially when your kids are in school full time like mine are, it can be difficult to justify (both to the world and to ourselves) how we spend our time.
Running a business took time from my family. It took energy. Even though I wasn’t doing it full time, when I was working on it, it took “my first and my best,” a phrase my pastor uses when talking about what we should be offering to God. It stole me from my family at a time when I had a choice whether to pursue work outside of my family.
Does that make sense?
Here’s the thing. Scott and I and our kids live in an inexpensive part of the country. Scott and I manage our money carefully. We are not big spenders by nature and we are blessed by Scott’s job, which is flexible and pays enough to cover our family’s lifestyle and save for retirement. To be clear, I realize what a privilege this is. That part is not lost on me. I also know that if we had different spending habits or lived in a different part of the country or in a more expensive neighborhood or had some financial tragedy befall us, my current living situation would be nothing more than a dream. But here it is: through a combination of blessing, hard work, good choices, and probably luck, I don’t have to earn money to keep my family financially afloat. Would I turn down extra cash? Of course not. Do we have tight months? Of course we do. We’re in the midst of one right now, and it’s uncomfortable but I know we’ll be okay. Will I eventually monetize this blog so that I can take advantage of the traffic coming through it? I’d be stupid not to. It won’t make much but a little extra never hurt.
Because of our situation, I’ve been given this incredible gift of choice. I don’t have intense financial pressure bearing down on me so I get to choose how to spend my time. I get to budget my time almost as if it were fun money, spending it where I will get the best return and spending it on the things that I care about. I care about my kids. I care about my husband. I care about my animals and my health and my home. I care about making the world a better place.
That “making the world a better place” part? That’s where I saw our lawn care business fitting in. When we agreed to take over the business, it was because we saw it as an avenue for teaching our neighbors how to care for their yards without damaging the environment. And a business like that is a valuable tool for education and change. It is a valuable tool for making the world a better place. But it wasn’t the right tool for me.
This is the point in my journey where I have the privilege of testing and figuring out what is the right tool for me. Is it this blog? Is it a different blog? Is it raising kids who know their gifts and understand their power to go out into the world and improve it? And there has to be a balance that I am comfortable with, between making the world a better place and keeping my house picked up and feeding my family and taking care of myself. There has to be a way to do those things and work toward my goal for this chapter of my life: to enjoy my children while they are here. In fact, those other things need to work toward the goal of enjoying my children. If the goal of enjoying my children is lost, then all of those other things end up being a waste.
Brynn is turning twelve this week. That means I have six, maybe seven, years left with her. Thinking about this makes me feel anxious; I know how fast the past twelve years have gone. And, harder still, I know that I haven’t enjoyed all twelve of those years. Having babies and toddlers is hard. Taking care of pre-schoolers is draining — at least for me. That was not my favorite time in life. I was not at my best. My kids were difficult for me to manage even though they were easy kids compared to some. And I was young. I was 25 when Brynn was born. Being a kid and having a kid is not easy, although I know that others have had it far worse.
I know now that this is the age that I enjoy — when my kids aren’t just kids, they are young women. I will not let this time fly by unnoticed or unexamined. I know that my time is valuable, that this time is valuable. I know that I have been blessed by choice. I know that I am unimaginably lucky, to get to choose how to spend my time, and I will not waste this gift.
It seems funny to me that I could go into this year knowing that I’d be running a business and expecting to learn something about biology, about business, about landscaping, and come out of it not only with those lessons learned but also with a better understanding of who I am and what matters to me. That lesson, that my time is valuable, is one I would not have picked out as the thing I would learn from running a small business. But as it turns out, it’s that lesson which has left the deepest impression and caused the most reflection.