As many self-employed/small business people know, taking time away is a challenge, both logistically and practically. For most businesses though, there is a moment in the year when things quieten down sufficiently to allow a couple of weeks of R&R to be inked indelibly onto the calendar.
For us it is particularly difficult because we are producers, retailers and wholesalers. At A.S Apothecary, we grow, harvest, distil and make. We do all our own research and formulation. We also do our own bottling, labelling, packing and posting. We sell online, we have a shop of our own in Lewes and we wholesale to other shops and businesses across Europe and into Hong Kong. We do our own marketing and writing. We also have to tackle the mountain of bureaucracy involved in compliance, insurance and the day to day of running a small business. Added to this we have a second company Fierce Botanics where we make an Apothecary Tonic with exactly the same approach and ethos as A.S Apothecary (except the lovely Ed does our bottling).
We now have a team of 16 women who work amazingly hard to keep this rather marvelous ship afloat. Most work flexibly to suit their needs, taking on different roles within the company, each with a unique set of skills they bring to the business.
The beauty of being small is that everyone does a bit of everything and there is immense resilience amongst our team and a willingness to constantly learn new skills - this allows for a flexible approach to taking time off. Whoever is away is covered by the rest. In my case as the owner, the team as a whole make good decisions in my absence – they do so much more than holding the fort…
So just over a week ago, having just finished a grueling 3 day event at Olympia, I woke up and got ready to leave, picked up my bag and passport and walked out of the door. I was really tired, I had packed eclectically, my husband had booked a break away and I had no idea where we were going (it was a secret). I set up an ‘out of office’ email reply and headed off – my first proper break of the year.
If you own a business, the buck stops with you, it is a huge responsibility. The ultimate direction and ethos that prevail in the company are determined by you. The decisions both in terms of growth and finance are made by you. On top of that, you are responsible for every product that leaves the workshop. You broker the deals, you negotiate the fine print and you deal with every unexpected challenge, and there are many; from rabbits eating plants to summer drought, computer malfunctions to new regulations, couriers smashing products to defective plumbing. It is exhausting, exhilarating and requires time out to function well.
So, as I got on the train to the airport, I reflected that, although difficult to find a convenient time to have a holiday, I am so fortunate to have a team so capable that I can intermittently step away to recoup. I determined immediately to use the phone only as a camera and not a mobile work station, to leave the lap top at home and S T O P. I’m not going to lie, I did do some intermittent sneaky email reading but didn’t reply unless it was absolutely necessary and it felt good.
I walked, slept, read and became obsessed by finding the perfect pastel de nata (we were in Portugal – Lisbon and Porto). I was subjected to some truly terribly street music from my bedroom window. I chatted, laughed and relaxed. I felt all the stress seep away. I paddled in the sea (the Atlantic is freezing) and explored the cities. It was brilliant. In the space it created I had chance to really rest – a rarity indeed. And now having just got home I’m struck by how much better I feel. The tiredness has gone, my mind is clear and I’m ready for the next few months of full on work.
We often mistake the idea of a holiday as a luxury but actually I think it’s a necessity – it doesn’t need to be long or exotic, it just needs to be away from the daily workload, a change of pace, a mental rest. Working creatively is tiring, it needs time and clear thinking for ideas to form and develop, a short break refreshes the mind and feeds the soul refueling the creative process – and, just for reference, if you happen to be in Lisbon, the best pastel de nata can be found in Manteigaria, Rua do Loreto 2, 1200-108 – they have crispy, buttery pastry, creamy unctuous filling with just a dusting of icing sugar and cinnamon.