This article was first published on medium.
My clients needed me throughout the day yesterday — as much as any day. There were conference calls and emails galore and a hot project just for good measure. At the end of a jam-packed day, I picked up my son from daycare. I made dinner. I cleaned the kitchen. I went for a walk. I danced to songs from “Frozen” with my kiddo. I engaged in an extended 90-minute bedtime that included six books, two trips to the potty and — oh, I don’t know —a million utterances of, “Close your eyes.”
This is a pretty typical day. But yesterday was International Women’s Day, and as a proud feminist, it seemed like I should do more. Like I should be out there fighting for the cause. Because the cause is worth fighting for. I read the moving tributes to women. (I read a few insincere ones too.) I saw friends wear red or even take the day off in protest — many did something to honor women and our contributions in celebration of the day.
On Tuesday evening, my husband asked if I was going to go on strike the next day.
“Right!” I said with a laugh.
It was laughable because as a solopreneur and as a mother, there really are no days off. We pour ourselves into our businesses and our families. We give until we can’t give anymore.
For me, yesterday was no exception. It simply couldn’t be.
"But you’re a freelancer! You work for yourself! You can take the day off!"
The flexibility myth is one of the biggest misconceptions about working for yourself. See, I don’t work for myself. I work for clients. Instead of one boss, I have 10.
Do I set my own hours? Sure. Turn down projects I don’t want or can’t manage? Yes.
But here’s the thing: Every project I turn down and every hour I don’t work is lost revenue for me and the women I hire.
But you have to take time off. It’s not healthy to work all the time.
Indeed. But my time off — much like for those in Corporate America — is planned. When I take a family vacation, I let my clients know well in advance, I plan for the lost income, I arrange for back-up coverage (and yes, I still check in, because, hello, it’s MY business and I care).
Unexpected days off do happen. Things come up, family emergencies, sick days, the backyard is flooded, the power is out, etc. And things are more unpredictable when you have kids (good lord, how many times can one child be sick in a year?). Those days off are stressful, and they lead to working weekends instead of spending time with family or working late nights instead of sleeping.
Everything is a trade-off. Life is full of choices.
I would just be a day behind on my projects. I would have to work longer hours in the next several days to get back on track. Everything would still be there on Thursday. Meanwhile, at home, the dishes and the laundry would still be there too. (Though, to be fair, that might’ve happened anyway because I’m a terrible housekeeper.)
Life is full of choices, and I chose to proceed onward with all of my responsibilities. My sanity depended on it.
I know some women couldn’t afford to take yesterday off. Others feared being fired. Some, including teachers and doctors and nurses and first responders, felt a strong sense of responsibility to work. Many saw no point in the demonstration. Others saw it as an act of entitlement or otherwise knocked it.
For me, sitting it out yesterday had nothing to do with ripping on the movement. International Women’s Day organizers even acknowledged the imperfections of “A Day Without a Woman” and offered a variety of ways you could celebrate if opting out of work wasn’t for you.
For me, sitting it out yesterday was about facing the reality of solopreneurship (coupled with motherhood). Those of us trying to “do it all” (and hating that stupid phrase all the while) have more flexibility in some ways than our counterparts in Corporate America, but we also don’t have paid time off. No one steps in and picks up my projects if I take a day off. And quite frankly, I don’t want clients to experience a day without me … What if they realized they really can live without me?
I’m a proud feminist (which is why I’m over here trying to do some version of “it all”). I believe strongly in the need for gender equality. But as a woman supporting the cause, I simply couldn’t fully participate yesterday.
I guess I’m admitting to a certain amount of guilt over that. As women we wear a lot of hats, and I feel that “activist” (or even just “give-a-crap-about-the-world-ist”) is an important one. But it’s a hard one to figure out when you’re already giving everything you have to your work and your family.
So, to those who are standing up for women’s rights and civil rights at protests and marches, thank you. For now, I’m with you in spirit. And someday, I’ll find a way to be with you more fully.