Designing a Life
I started posting this picture of my garage/office just because it looked lovely last night, in the crisp clear evening, with some strange and rare snow here in Vancouver…
Then I thought – yeah, this is my commute. I’ve enjoyed a few weeks of blissful “quiet” after a rip-roaring non-stop 6 months of working 24/7. I realized recently my little interior design consulting company turns 25 this year. How did that happen?
However it happened, and how it evolved, wasn’t really a grand plan. It was one step at a time. I hung out my shingle because I was unhappy and felt stifled in the firm I worked for as a young 30-something designer. I had an opportunity to teach design at a college for international students, and this gave me an out: I could teach a bit to pay the bills and then start my own consulting firm and build it up, without the immediate day to day worry of money.
As my client base grew, I tapered off the teaching. I juggled both for a few years, then had enough work to stop teaching. I was fortunate to get a lot of work from a health authority, and recall thinking: Boy! What will I do if I don’t have their work? It’s 90% of my billings… Now that client’s billings represent less than 10% of my work. The industry has changed and project types and sizes have also changed. P3’s (public private partnerships) for health care have been a game changer. I’m involved in many larger, more comprehensive projects for consortiums and care home providers, rather than many smaller projects with local hospitals. Never anticipated that evolution.
In terms of work-life balance, the office has usually been in a spare bedroom or the basement. In this house it’s out back in the garage by the lane. It’s always kept me close to home and my son. When I became a single mom 15 years ago, it did require a bit of creativity! Thankfully I found I had the discipline to be able to work and flip back and forth to do chores, run errands, have a bit of time out, and still get the work done. I’m grateful for that, and the time in-between when I could explore and evolve as an artist.
Taking time for my son, booking off Pro-D days and days when he was sick, and being able to go on some of his field trips, gave me such flexibility in being a mom and raising him. When he was a wee baby I only worked about 10 hours a week; when he was in school my work day was 9am-3pm. Now that he’s a very independent young adult I have more leeway to work the long days and travel that the work requires currently. I must say that was the key benefit to doing consulting work on a project by project basis. I imagine it would be impossible to be bank manager part-time. I was able to temper the work load by the number of projects I took on: whether it was 1 project, or 14, they were all of the same caliber – and I could fill the role as the senior/principal designer.
Through my working life I’ve always followed some simple rules: creating solid long lasting relationships, getting involved in my association, living “marketing” every day, never burning bridges, trying to give everyone as much respect as I would want to get. That has also paid off for me.
I will have no pension, but I have lived in freedom for 25 years, scary… but work always came in. One of my key clients wanted to discuss “the future” recently. I was worried they would want me to come work for them full time. I love them, but I realized after 25 years of being on my own, I just couldn’t adapt to a full time in-the-office schedule.
I suppose there have been sacrifices along the way, the absence of benefits and holiday pay, insecurity…but I look back and can’t really think of a “bad” time. I wouldn’t change a thing.
All that, from a photo in the snow.