Can I tell you a story? I’m going to tell you a story.
Once upon a time, there was a family. This family decided to quit the steady job with a 401k to go back to school because they had a young daughter and wanted a better life for her. Soon after making this decision they discovered another child was on the way, and so he joined the military, something he had already thought of doing, but now needed to because they had no healthcare. It meant he wouldn’t be there for the birth of his son, but that was ok, they’d make it. And they did. After that both parents were going happily to school and working various part-time jobs. There wasn’t any extra money but there wasn’t any time to think about that, they had grades to keep up. But then his financial aid ran out. And she saw a promotion opportunity at her workplace. So they decided he would finish his degree first, but really it was her decision, had to be, because getting a degree was her dream. But he would be able to make more, so she stopped her classes and took the promotion. He took on more odd jobs, and a different kind of loan, and they saw a way forward. For two years he held three different jobs while pursuing an engineering degree, and she worked full-time in a physically demanding job while homeschooling their two young children. They had help, her parents had moved nearer to watch the kids while they were working or at school, but even with that it took all of their willpower and fortitude to finish. But finish they did, exhausted, limping, barely believing they had reached the finish line. And they held a party, and it was an excellent party. The end.
I tell that story to people, all of it or bits of it, and they get this amazed look on their face. “How did you do that? I could never do that!” And I tell them the following: you have to make a plan, and then you have to stick to the plan. Since this is a blog post, and I can neatly organize my thoughts, I’m going to break that down into the following: Prioritize, Plan, Execute. (I looked for a word that meant execute but started with a “p” so it could be the three p’s but I couldn’t think of one. Sadface.)
- Prioritize: For Himself the priority was school and the military. Jobs, family time, fun time was more of an optional thing, something we fit in around everything else. For me it was my job, then homeschooling, then trying to keep everyone fed. Our house was not clean, and we had no social life, nor much of anything that looked like fun.
- Plan: We kept our schedules meticulously detailed. We’ve only ever owned one car, so we coordinated with my parents to get everyone where they needed to be with the minimum of fuss or bother. I wrote down lesson plans for the kids, which my mom helped to execute. We ate pretty much the same thing every day, so my shopping list never varied. Himself had a study schedule worked out ahead of time so he could fit in hours at the various jobs he held.
- Execute: All of the prioritizing and planning would not have done any good if we hadn’t had the discipline to follow through. We failed some days, even weeks, but eventually we’d get back to our schedules.
Nowadays I have to apply this strategy to the various artistic endeavors I’m pursuing, because we’ve got three kids that I’m homeschooling (well, two, our youngest is too young), a bigger house, and we like to have some variety to our diet. So I took some time to figure out my current priorities: kids (which includes homeschooling), art/business/artistic classes, food, house.
My plan is not as set in stone as it once was, but in general we start the morning by taking a walk and talking about history, then chores, then I go to my studio until lunchtime while they read independently or watch educational shows (like Wild Kratts), which is followed by a quiet time (during which they constructively play). During quiet time I work on my various stores and this website. After quiet time we start our “school day” and that usually fills the rest of the afternoon and sometimes the evenings, depending on assignments (if you notice that our “school day” is shorter than the average public school day you’re right, it is, but I only have two kids to wrangle;)
Execution? That’s a tough one. It was easier when I had other people depending on me in my workplace, or professors expecting homework to be turned in. I’ve found that not taking a summer break is best for us, because if I skip a day or week (or December, like this past year) it doesn’t matter, we’ll still get through the curriculum, and then I can spend most of my day catching up on whatever work/art business I need to without going nuts.
And so that’s how I balance work with all the myriad responsibilities that come with being an adult and a parent. It is my hope that you will find encouragement and inspiration to also pursue your dreams, whatever they may be.