Life is short, right? The world is large, the opportunities are never-ending, so to make the most out of things, one must cram as much as possible into the finite number of years we are accorded. I suppose that must be the basic reasoning behind my urge to combine a 50-60 hour per week day-job with four children and a time-consuming – if utterly addictive – side-line as a writer of historical fiction. (Seriously: what was I thinking? That I was Superwoman? Err… yes)
I could have chosen to write romance – or fantasy. Instead, I went for historical, and as I am a thorough person, this means I have to spend a lot of time on research – and on visiting places that figure in my books. Which is why, of course, my family has seen enough castle ruins to last them a lifetime. And old abbeys. And museums. And… Well, you get the picture. Where I have gone, there have my children gone, standing patiently to the side as I have measured and catalogued, taken photos and lectured.
It’s not as if I had an 8-5 job either. No, my work-life has (and still does) involved a lot of travelling, a lot of odd hours, a lot of week-ends. That’s what you get when you work in Finance, and even more so when you end up as the CFO (or Financial Director) of a multinational Group. Strange as it may seem, I couple my love for words with a passion for numbers and spreadsheets. Yes, that does seem strange, doesn’t it?
In retrospect, I’m not quite sure how I managed all this at once. Holding down a full-time day job and being an involved parent is in itself something of an impossible time puzzle – as most modern day women and men know. I suppose one of the reasons why I am still relatively whole and together (and by now our kids are happily grown up) is that the writing provided a release, a bubble of escapism in which I could recharge my batteries, exchanging the world of numbers for one of love, romance and fast-paced action in accurate historical settings. Plus, of course, I am more than fortunate in my husband, a man who has always taken his share of the burden, both at home and with the children.
On a more serious note, one of the harsher lessons I learnt is that no one but me can take responsibility for my work/life balance. An employer will rarely tell the employee to work less – and if they do, chances are they’re paying lip-service to some central HR directive rather than genuinely mean it. So if you escalate your working hours from 40, through 50 to 60, up to 70 hours per week, don’t expect anyone else to pull the hand-brake. Do it yourself. And from one woman to all other women out there, STOP proving that you’re as good as the guys. Generally you’re not – you’re better. Trust me – I’ve done enough recruiting to know that is true.
At times, my work/life balance has been precarious. There have been black periods in my life where survival has depended on setting one foot before the other without expending too much energy on analysing WHY. Days in which the written word escaped me, when I could not string together a sentence (and I am an intensely verbal person). Weeks – even months – when the daily challenge was to get out of bed. Full stop. These are periods when my writing has been dormant, shoved into the “will-do-later” box. A most dangerous box, that one, as it often contains many of those things that enrich us and help us cope with the more hum-drum aspects of life.
Fortunately, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. At first, it was just a pinprick, but as my energy levels began returning to normal, so the light grew, and after a long hibernation came the day when I dared to step out into the sunlight again and return to my professional life, my creative endeavours and, most importantly, to being the mother I wanted my children to have – a strong, energetic and purposeful woman. Crashing is always a painful experience. Recovering and moving on is empowering.
These days, I will not compromise on my writing. I can skip cooking, baking, ironing – but not my writing. Sometimes, my near and dear ones grumble at this my prioritisation, but as they are all fully capable of reading a recipe, I suggest they do the baking instead. Another lesson learnt: your family is not incapable. Quite often, it proves itself extremely capable if you give them the chance to do so.
And as to all those field-trips, those long hikes through the rain to visit a disappointing heap of stones, all of this has resulted in two insights for my children: one, it is important to believe in your dreams, two, history is a very, very important subject, and your mother will not be happy if you come home with a failing grade. Happily I can report none of my four ever did. And as to dreams, well the fact that I’ve just published the sixth book in The Graham Saga – Revenge and Retribution – is proof that they can be attained – through perseverance, vision and a supportive family. Make that very supportive.
Anna Belfrage is the CFO of a multinational, listed Group based in Sweden. She is also a published writer and all Anna’s books are available on Amazon and wherever else good books are sold. If you’d like to know more about Anna Belfrage, why not visit her website, www.annabelfrage.com or her blog, http://annabelfrage.wordpress.com . And if you’d like a brief intro to The Graham Saga, why not watch the book trailer http://youtu.be/2Y4TmvHrTsM