By Meggan Harvgrave, CTSP
It’s 6 a.m. My husband, Matt, and I stand comatose at the coffee pot in our kitchen. In a sleep-deprived fog, we wait for the beep to pierce the sleepy silence signaling the coffee is ready and we can start our day.
Another alarm sounds – BINGBONG. And again – BINGBONG. A motion alarm at the end of our drive announces when cars, deer or errant Canada geese enter the compound. Today is Tuesday, and the employees are arriving. No rest for the weary; our day has begun.
My desk in our recently converted joint office, formerly a den, looks the same as it did when I went to bed less than three hours ago. Covered in paper and files. I recently felt the need to institute a “no Postit Note” directive in my office, as I continually found sticky notes in my hair hours after leaving the office. My computer is on, with 35 internet tabs open and two unfinished email windows on the screen. We look around at our organized chaos, take a cleansing breath together and do our customary, “Let’s do this!” chest bump into a high-five routine. Ha! We do not really do this, and if you know Matt, he is not a high-fiver … or a morning person.
Matt jets out the back door to head down to the shop. I finish up my email, grab my 20-ounce white mug of hot, liquid personality and go greet our team to make sure everything is in readiness for the day.
Moments later the office is buzzing. A new day. Everything is ready! There really is palpable morning enthusiasm. It’s my favorite part of the day – until it isn’t. Text message received: “Sorry. Can’t make it in today. My car won’t start.” Fantastic. He is a driver on that crew, and Timmy Millennial doesn’t know how to drive a stick shift. Back to the board and switch crews up. No problem. Crisis averted.
Then, the front office announces that “Mrs. Smithers, whose trimming you have scheduled today, just emailed and said the dog trainer pulled a groin muscle and can’t move the car, so we will have to reschedule.” As the morning rapidly progresses, a chipper is jackknifed, a hydraulic line blows and Joe Veteran Tree Guy announces he’s “not going to keep babysitting all these newbies who can’t find their (butt) from a hole in the ground.” Around this time, my 3 year old runs into the office, sans clothing, and announces that she can’t find her pink sparkly skirt. Apparently my daughters are awake, and Dellaney, my oldest, is standing at the office desk in her jammies with every color highlighter spread out over Ms. Melissa’s desk.
A pretty typical day in our home/office. Did I mention that our home and office are one and the same?
We walk out of our kitchen down three stairs into our office. Down two more stairs, and you find yourself in the heart of Metropolitan Forestry Services, Inc. We have the perfect test-case scenario for the “how to separate work life and home life” conundrum, but more on that later. We continue to put out fires throughout the morning and the rest of the day. In actuality, every morning is some version of this one. Waking up on too little sleep, and, regardless of how solid the plans are when we go to bed, something changes and we have to adjust. This life and profession we have chosen is hectic and dynamic every day. What changes in our situation is the employee who calls in, the customer who reschedules or which one of the children runs naked into our office. Plan. Schedule. Adjust. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Such is life in the tree care industry. I thrive on the chaos and fast-paced living, but I have been in this industry for most of my life. Matt is constantly reminding me that, as an extrovert, I am recharged and fulfilled by those human interactions and chaos. As an introvert, he is drained by people and social interaction. He needs quiet, calm and solitude to recharge, and there is not much “recharge time” since he made the switch into the tree care profession. This is just one of the many challenges we face as a couple working together, and something we have to be sensitive to.
My husband is either a saint or a lunatic. He has chosen to work with not only his wife but his father-in-law, all while learning this crazy, complex industry. Marriage is difficult enough when you don’t spend every waking moment together. Life decisions are hard enough to make when both incomes are not dependent on a fickle and chaotic industry. Matt and I don’t have surefire advice on working with your spouse successfully, and we certainly haven’t figured all of it out. We have found the most success in talking with other couples who work together and taking advice in any form that it may come. Many agree there are both advantages and drawbacks to working with your spouse.
• Having a trusted partner in the trenches. Having someone you know is as engaged in the mission as you are and implicitly trusting them makes the stress of work a bit less than if you were working alone.
• A partner to share your day and experiences who really gets it. You both see what it takes to get a job done and can share the responsibilities.
• Relationship growth in working together to achieve great things and celebrating the wins together.
• Having a second set of eyes on the business is helpful for safety, security, recognition, etc.
- The stress that is injected into every aspect of work and life due to the hazardous nature of the work we do. When your better half is climbing, operating a chain saw or any of the other potentially dangerous parts of this job, it can exacerbate an already stressful situation.
- Even on a particularly challenging/tiring/stressful day, the responsibilities to children, pets and the home do not go away or even lessen.
- Losing personal identity; you begin to eat, sleep and breathe tree care.
- Working all the time.
- Taking time off is difficult when you both work in the business.
How can you separate work and life when your work is your life, and vice versa? Work issues will spill over into home life and home into work. It just happens.