Smarter not Harder

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bring your daughter to work
The first time my daughter came to visit me at work

I didn’t quit my job to blog full-time so I could become a millionaire. I did it to get my life back.

My husband and I had a child at the beginning of 2009. Between the two of us, I had the job with a better salary and better benefits so I continued to work full-time outside the home while my husband quit his job to be a stay at home parent. The first year I took conference calls while hooked up to an electric pump, Xerox paper on the glass door of my office for privacy. I raced home to be with my family and when the baby (and therefore Daddy) slept, I blogged.

In 2010 I decided that if my blog was going to take time away from my family, it had to be worth it financially. While working hard at my day job, getting promotions and increased responsibility, I also worked hard at my blog. In less than four years I was making as much from my blog as I was in my managerial role as a government contractor at a respected thinktank. By 2016 I was making more from the blog than my job. It was thrilling, and it was exhausting. As I’ve shared in the past, I felt as though I was living life in a Plexiglass box, separated from the world, my view getting cloudier and cloudier with scratches to the exterior. Something had to give, and I just couldn’t not try making a career from what just a decade ago was a fun little hobby.

I quit at the beginning of November 2017, which gave me the holidays to recalibrate my life, find my new normal, and make 2018 goals. And the #1 goal was financial. My husband was still a stay at home parent, we were relying on my income to survive. I needed to make this work. I focused on ways to make more money. I read the books and took the courses. I pitched to brands and prayed to the SEO gods to get more traffic. I tried all the hacks and tricks I learned to grow on Instagram and do well on Pinterest. I made some bad decisions, but I was too scared of failing to say no to anything that may make me income.

And I did well. I didn’t achieve my reach goal, but I did so well that I didn’t go into debt, paid all our bills on time, and even put a little money into our IRAs and our child’s college fund. When 2019 arrived, my goal was to make more than I did in 2018. I was older and wiser as a blogger, content creator, and influencer. I was going to CRUSH 2019’s financial goals.

I didn’t. If I didn’t take my summer vacation and was paid by all the brands I worked with, I would have performed better, but 2019 ended making more than 2018, but not by much. However, I ended up far richer at the end of this past year than the year before because I remembered why I chose this job in the first place.

Time Rich in 2019

Canoeing with my daughter in Vermont

In 2019 I chaperoned overnight field trips for my daughter’s Girl Scout troop and volunteered at her school. I put her to bed almost every night and helped her with her S.T.E.M. fair project, and for the first time participated in Career Day.

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One of the photos from my Monday Instagram Stories sharing my current weight and that day's gym routine

In 2019 I hit the gym almost every weekday morning and almost every weekend went on a hike or trike ride. I went to bed when I was tired, got in a few sessions of meditation, and took off when I was too sick to think properly. I washed my face before bed every single day of 2019, filled two journals with thoughts, and read twice as many books as I did the year prior.

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In the Coachella Valley on a trip with the clothing brand Chico's

In 2019 I traveled. I took a jeep trip through the Coachella valley and swam in the Gulf of Mexico. I attended my first music festival in years and had a blast. I went on a two-week family road trip, visiting Philadelphia, New York, and Boston and ending it with a weeklong stay at a cabin in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. I took off to New York again, this time with my sister and daughter to see our favorite band play one of the very few concerts they held that year.

today show mom influencers wardrobe oxygen
A still from my segment on The Today Show

In 2019 I got outside my comfort zone with a lot of exciting events that took some planning and time away from the home office. I spoke at the Rebelle Con in Richmond, Virginia about working in a creative field and was on a panel at cabi’s mid-season conference in Pasadena, California discussing how to create community through social media. I was on the Today Show discussing fashion and motherhood and modeled current trends and was asked to be a guest for the DC stop on the Bad on Paper podcast live tour. I flew to Los Angeles to do a photo and video shoot with cabi (details to come) and spoke to MBA students at both The University of Maryland and Howard University about being a full-time influencer.

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Me and my guy <3

In 2019 I fell even more in love with my husband. We went to yoga together, we took romantic getaways, and he got more involved with the business, looking for ways to help with the schedule and the direction of photography. We watched TV series together, went for hikes and trike rides together, took naps together, and remembered what we knew before the decade of busy-ness: that the more time we are together the better we are as a team.

A Culture of Busy-ness

I haven’t wanted to admit this, that in 2019 I was rich with quality time. I’ve seen how that has gone for other people in my field. I see the threads on Reddit and other message boards about “lazy” influencers who do nothing but go to Starbucks and Target and rake in the dough. I know other influencers felt this need to look like they were working hard as in 2019 it became popular for us to share our schedules and “day in the life” on Instagram Stories to prove we were earning our income. I received criticism in 2018 for leaving my day job; long-time readers felt I was no longer relatable.

Even though I was producing just as much content and at a much higher level of quality than before, I still felt I had to prove I was busy.

It's a societal expectation for us to be busy adults. Even in my early 20s I recall discussing my hectic schedule and lack of time and sleep with friends while chugging Miller Lites in a bar with a sticky floor and a ‘90s cover band on the stage. Especially as women, we pride ourselves on how much we can accomplish, how hard we work, that we’re stellar multitaskers.

I can rub and scrub til this old house is shinin' like a dime
Feed the baby, grease the car, and powder my face at the same time
Get all dressed up, go out and swing 'til four A.M. and then
Lay down at five, jump up at six, and start all over again
‘Cause I'm a woman! W-O-M-A-N, I'll say it again.
From “I’m a Woman,” originally performed by Peggy Lee, 1963

I'd feel guilty when I finished my work for the day early, or planned things so well I could take a long weekend. Days that were light I'd steer clear from Instagram Stories so no one would know about the free time I had.  I had to justify the income I was making, right?  It seemed fine to share my financial successes but not my scheduling successes.  We can admire hard work that results in money, but hard work that results in free time? Notsomuch.

Working Smarter, not Harder

The phrase, “work smarter not harder” was coined in the 1930s but seemed to become the phrase of middle management in the early 2000s. I think all of us had a supervisor at some time who barked this phrase to us.  I had those supervisors, and I became one of those supervisors.

I’m not lazy. I don’t think anyone, even my husband who picks up socks and coffee mugs after me would ever use that term to describe me. I’ve had a job since I was 12 years old and most of my adult life I’ve had at least two jobs simultaneously. How do I do it? I do it by working smarter, not harder. I sometimes feel what my mom feels and calls “Protestant guilt” and look for ways to fill in spare time with busy-ness. But if I’ve not only done my job but done it damn well, why should I put in more hours?

I’ve worked smarter not harder since I was a kid looking for ways to stay on honor roll but get more time to play outside or watch TV. I truly mastered it at my last job, one I had for a decade. The smarter I got at my job, the more time I had to blog. I’d create more systems. I’d collaborate more with my team and connect with colleagues in other departments. I’d research trends so I could keep our product relevant. I'd hire great people and teach them how to also work smarter not harder. And I learned how to do all of this and more from someone who was my manager for most of the time at my last job. He lived by the work smarter not harder ethos. He was a wise teacher, an inspiring coach and mentor, an expert negotiator, an award-winning project manager who rose up the ranks yet still had time to go fishing, dine at the best restaurants, travel, and have season tickets for his favorite sports teams.

If he could be a hero when I worked in Corporate America, why can’t we give props to those who may not have a McMansion or a pair of Louboutins but instead at 7 pm on a weekday can take a bath and listen to Maggie Rogers while reading a book? Because when I was just out of college I wanted that badass apartment with that kitchen and that closet and that bathroom and that view. But now? Now, now the idea of a bath and a book and no responsibilities for the rest of the evening is heaven to me.

I may not be financially wealthy but I’m rich with what I desire.

Can we as women stop giving women shit for not working hard enough? Go ahead and give women shit for doing a shitty job, that’s what we hold men to. Women work so hard, no matter our jobs, our lives, our priorities. We face more challenges on a daily basis than men in the same role do in a week, let alone a month. We deserve our rest, and we need our rest so we can fight. If we can figure out how to work smarter not harder why shouldn’t we?

Money is important. Money is necessary. Money gives us easier lives… if we have the time to enjoy what money can provide to us. I quit my job with the goal to get my life back and in 2019 I achieved that goal.  

A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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  1. It’s at once hard to believe and completely unsurprising that people have criticized you for not working hard enough. It’s complete and utter BS. Why is it that we aren’t “working hard” unless we sacrifice all other parts of our lives to our paid work? Why is it that we aren’t “working hard” until we are on the road to total burnout bc of all the early mornings, late nights, jammed calendars, stress, anxiety, skipped workouts, skipped meals, skipped family events, sleeplessness, “multitasking,” and total inability to be present with our loved ones and ourselves? I call BS on all of it, and I’m speaking as one who did all of the above in my practice of law. I fortunately was able to step off the treadmill to practice differently. I applaud you for being able to make a living in a different way, in a way that allows you to take a bath, have dinner with your husband, put your daughter to bed, have a non work related thought in your head, etc. And, you’re pursuing your paid work in a way that is ethical, honest, and helpful to so many woman. In my opinion, you’re a freaking unsung hero. I hope 2020 brings you more joy, more awesome partnerships, more margin.

  2. Enjoying the comments almost as much as the post.I’m single with no kids but can still relate. The conversation is making me think of this book which is a quick and great read: https://www.amazon.com/How-Will-Measure-Your-Life/dp/0062102419 I think you can also watch the graduation speech that inspired it on YouTube. When I am torn between priorities, I often ask myself “at the end of my life, will I wish I chose X or Y? It often helps me put things in perspective.

  3. Amen to this! When my daughter was born five years ago my husband and I made a conscious decision to focus our time and energy on our family. I moved from 50+ hours of work weeks to 25 hours, and he chose to limit the growth of his business so he could be home by 4:30 every day. It is by far the best decision we ever made.

    Also, grocery shopping at 10am on a weekday is amazing! 😉

  4. This is awesome. Congratulations! And thank you for writing it — this perspective needs to be shouted from the rooftops.

  5. Go Alison! This is one of the most real, heartfelt posts yet. Good for you that you’ve figured out what’s really most important.

  6. I’ve been working smarter for almost 40 years, way before working from home was a “thing”. No day job can compete with the riches we have. You got this hands down!

  7. Wow. Just wow, Alison! You shine ever brighter in your work, truly. Thank you for being an inspiration for those of us who want to learn to make balance happen in our lives.

    I worked damn hard in my career in education, passionately devoted to my students and their families. I didn’t even really have summers off, especially the last five years when I was an administrator. Now, having retired at the end of last school year, I am still trying to figure out how you “work” and play smarter, not harder, in retirement. I put so many personal projects on hold while I was working, that I find myself overwhelmed with how to approach them all now! But I bet the “work smarter, not harder” mantra will serve me now too. Just have to figure out how to apply it in this situation.

  8. It’s great to read this and know how you & your family are benefiting from your full time blogging. And by “benefiting,” I mean getting true enjoyment out of your lives. Isn’t that just the best?! It’s so easy for many of us to fall into the “busy” trap, where we are constantly trying to one-up each other with how busy we are. I have done it myself, even though I know it’s petty. When I stop to reflect, I know that I love the life I have with my husband and son & am so thankful for the time we have to be together. We’re all sitting at home tonight, doing nothing exciting—just taking it easy & it’s just what we needed. This post really resonated with me. Thank you.

  9. Congratulations and thank you for being honest about it. We all have different goals and priorities and we all make choices that, hopefully, help that goal. But for some reason we then go and judge ourselves against others not using that criteria, we forget about the trade offs. I’m so glad that you’ve found a good balance for you and your family that makes you happy and healthy. Thanks for sharing that.

  10. I love you specially because of this kind of articles. So true, food for the mind.
    Silvia Rodriguez (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

    Sorry for my inglish

  11. I loved the honesty in this post! You are an inspiration to me because you are living real work-life balance. I lost my job in April 2019, and it took 6 months to find another. I was a freelance writer who had. F/T job, too. For 5 years, I worked nights and weekends plus 40 hours at my job. My new job is in Silicon Valley, but I make enough writing in my new job that I no longer have to work nights and weekends. I feel such freedom! I hadn’t really realized the stress I was under always doing 2 jobs. Work/life balance is different for everyone. The lesson I learned from you is to take a leap of faith to completely change things when given the chance. Your happiness is contagious.

  12. This reminds me of the series of posts I published on IG right at Christmas time. Everyone thinks because we are “retired” that we must be rich. Yet our richness comes from the opportunities to spend time together (with my mom too) and being about to enjoy the activities and area around us.
    As for busyness….I think we need to remember that all of the great inventors have to sit around and think, imagine and dream. How else do we come up with new stuff??

  13. Alison, “We all have two lives, the second one begins when we realize we only have one” – Confucius.
    Your post is awesome. Enjoy your life. I am enjoying the blog. I started reading for the beauty and fashion years ago but I am also loving your stories from the gym, on your diet, about your trips and your family. Your life is richer in so many ways and it inspires us to live richly also. Happy Friday!

  14. Love this post – and I echo what everyone else has already said!! I’ve been reading your blog since way before Emerson was born (think I found you on a search for white shirts! lol), and I have loved following you on your journey… 🙂

  15. Congratulations, Alison! I’ve been a devoted reader for many years and am so happy to read that you feel you achieved your goal. FWIW, while I miss your capsule wardrobe posts, I’ve found your content since you went FT blogging to be really high quality and useful. Thank you for keeping it up!

  16. This is a great post. I think our culure pays a lot of lip service to redefining success, but you are walking the walk.
    I quit drinking alcohol about 2 years ago and one of the things that has resonated for me is the idea that living sober means creating a life you don’t feel the need to escape from. It sounds like that’s what you are doing , too. Good on ya.

  17. I love this. I find myself unsubscribing from “influencers” as their content becomes either so perfect or forced or just a list of affiliate links, but I’m here for the honesty. (Although I’m sort of useless to you financially, because I am trying not to buy much these days unless it’s sustainable, and even then as little as possible.)

  18. Being busy is our current national obsession. Another word for working smarter not harder is productive. Being productive is much more important than busy and that you have nailed. I hope things continue to grow for you this year and into the future.

  19. Cannot love this post more. I had no doubt of this outcome when you made this move and I can’t tell you how happy I am for you and what an inspiration you re to me. xoxxoo

  20. Love this post! Especially the part about the challenges women face. We for the most part just attack and conquer them without much fanfare. But the SWHTF (an acronym I picked up from the book I’m reading) if we don’t do our jobs. And don’t get me started on pay equality for women! I hope the ERA can finally by ratified soon by the number of states it takes to get it made law, and that we as women can be rewarded in the workplace for what we’re truly worth.
    Please keep up the good work! I don’t always agree totally with you, but the “commenters” who commented before I did have voiced some of my thoughts about appreciating your blog; it’s not necessary to reiterate. Enjoy your life–you (as well as ALL of us) deserve the very best!

  21. Oh Alison Brava!!!!!! You inspire me in so many ways!!! I ❤️ being rich in time and quality. It took 3 fights with cancer and finally bring in disability for me to truly walk away from valuing busy-ness over being rich in time and quality of life. Thank you for encouraging all of us to figure all of this out!!! See you next time you are in LA!

  22. Bravo! I think you are living the best life you could possibly have. Free time is important and I think it’s ridiculous that the money we make is so often the measure of success. Life is too short to not take the time to enjoy your family, and do things that you enjoy. Your values are perfect!

    I love hearing about your travels. My husband is not a road trip kind of guy, but I love them and may even do a solo trip some day.

    Enjoy your life

  23. Allison, you are such an inspiration for me. I am now (at age 72) learning what you in your wisdom share through your blog. True, I have little interest in fashion or make-up, but your real life sharing and honesty and knowing what is important in life — that’s why I read, and follow, you.
    Your fans are everywhere, yesterday at my Thursday volunteer day at a local thrift shop, a teacher came in and began talking about you and your blog and how you influenced her.
    Your blog should be required reading for my too-busy friends!

  24. Great post! We can all use a reminder to figure out what is important to us and then create a life that reflects that, which is hard in this culture.

  25. Thanks so much for sharing this with such candor! I understand what it is to feel guilty about not working all. the. time. Quality of life is so important to me and my hubby so we work hard to get it done and then enjoy our time.

    Your blog is successful whether or not you make tons of money. Yours is the first blog I really have followed long-term because, as others have said, you are so relatable. You really are a shining example of do what you love and the money will follow.


  26. All the yes. Trust me, seeing you make this transition, and this year spending so much time with your family is major goals.
    I’m not a plus size woman, but I’ve always enjoyed reading your blog (and following you on social) because you keep it real. Keep up the amazing work, and I can’t wait to see what you can do working smarter, not harder in 2020.

  27. Loved this post! Congratulations on finding a way for it to work for you. I’d love to read some work-smarter posts – it’s easy to get caught up in the cult of busyness.

  28. Congratulations on achieving your goal. Time is fleeting. Being able to participate in your family’s life is priceless. I am about to send my third child to college in the fall and I never believed anyone that said “time flies” until I experienced it first hand. When children are little the minutes and hours seem to tick by slowly.

    You are so brave and I throughly enjoy reading your content. Thank you!

  29. I LOVE this post! I retired from a career in law enforcement just over two years ago and moved to Florida. Like most LE officers I worked extra hours and jobs to provide for my family over my 27 year career. Since moving to another state and starting a new career in Real Estate, I am trying to prioritize work-life balance. I want to enjoy life but I still need to build a new career and make some money. I need to be responsible for my clients and their needs. It can be tricky. Thanks for your posts. Love them!

  30. I loved this post. I hate the competition to see who is busiest all the time. I work hard when I work, but I have no desire to work all the time. Seeing family, caring for health, having hobbies are important. I think if we just live our lives with intention and stop talking about needing specific times to “reset” and “unwind,” we will be happier for it.

  31. Alison, I just love your blog. Writing about working smarter and not harder touches on so many areas. It is obvious you have tremendous gratitude for your family and a real appreciation of how valuable time is. You can earn more money, but you can’t earn more time. Keep doing what you are doing and enjoy life!

  32. Though our careers were different, your journey is SO similar to mine. You ROCKED 2019. Work to live, don’t live to work!

  33. Alison, I don’t follow you because you are proving you are a financially successful influencer, but because you are real and relatable. Resting and listening to our minds and bodies can stimulate creativity and increase quality of work, which is evident in your blog. Besides which, you need less time to put on make up to hide the ravages of exhaustion! Keep doing you and honouring yourself with balance.

  34. Congratulations to you and your family. You all benefit from more time. Living the life we want to is so much more important than living a life tied to the idea of what we should do.

  35. LOVE THIS POST. Agree with another commenter, more posts on this theme would be great. Was journaling and having a conversation with my husband on just this topic, and also the related one of choosing the less prestigious/financially rewarding one for the one that feels right for you – hard to do sometimes but one I’ve always been glad when I followed my heart rather than what I thought would impress other people.

  36. If you ever want to devote more posts to how you’re working smarter not harder, I will be all eyes (and ears.) 🙂 But seriously – this resonates with me and I hope to achieve this in 2020. Also – it is so inspiring to see how you’ve devoted time to wellness over the past year, whether it’s mental wellness or physical wellness. I’ve only been reading you for about a year and a half, but I’ve appreciated your content, your “realness” and your willingness to take us along on your journey. Here’s to a fabulous 2020 where you/me/we crush goals!

  37. Alison – this post is so honest – thank you. Enjoy making your life work for you…as a reader I am thrilled when you can take time for yourself – it keeps you fresh and relevant.

  38. Congratulations! That’s what I call a life well lived. At the end of our lives, we won’t wish we’d spent more time at work. We will wish for more time with our family.

    1. I’ve said it many times, but I’ll say it again…I began following you after finding you doing Google searches for Ann Taylor clothing. I admired your honesty and style and decided to started following you for your detailed and spot on wardrobe suggestions. I watched Emerson grow from a toddler into a young lady. My admiration for you has only grown over the years as I’ve become a regular and check in to see what you’re up to lately. I’m wishing you continued success and all the best with your blog, your career, raising your Emerson and sharing it all with Karl by your side through 2020 and beyond.

  39. Alison, you rock! More relatable than ever, honest, transparent. I’ve been a faithful reader for many years, and I well remember some of your earlier struggles to get thin (!) and balance your life. Now I look forward to the coming years in which you will continue to develop your life and and the blog, stay well-dressed, and most of all do what you do so very well–keep it real.

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