Until last week I owned a small business. Five Spa + Store was a multi therapist massage practice and locally sourced retail store. I loved it. I started the business as a sole proprietor, renting a single room in the building. I remember those first several months, just hoping to have two clients a week to cover the cost of daycare. I spent hours daydreaming about when I would finally be busy.

"Busy" being the ultimate sign of success.

I closed the business last week. Not “closed for now,” not “closed until further notice.” Closed for good. We were busy. I’d built a team of five massage therapists, two receptionists and an office manager. Curated a retail line featuring a multitude of Iowa artists and makers. Boasted a client list in the thousands. We were open six days a week and took appointments 24 hours a day. We were busy right up until we weren’t.

And then we were closed.

Many small businesses will make it through COVID-19. Some have the resources to keep going part time, to survive an extended closure, to hold out until federal and state financial resources are available. Ours did not. If you’ve attended a She Is, Women’s Conference, you know our story. You know that over the past year I’ve had to redefine success as my business experienced a massive cash flow crisis and began the slow climb to recovery. We were busy, but we weren’t recovered yet.

This isn’t a sob story though, and I don’t want the last ten years chalked up as a sad statistic, another economic fatality of the COVID-19 epidemic.

The last two weeks have been an emotional rollercoaster. I’ll continue to grieve the dispersion of our team, our relationships with clients, customers, and makers. For everything I’ve put into the business over the past decade, I’ve received so much more from it. The relationships, opportunities, and personal and professional growth I’ve experienced are gifts I’ll always hold close.

But like many of us, social distancing has given me much needed time to reconsider my priorities. It’s been a full decade since I decided that busy would be my benchmark for success. It made sense at the time, a busy schedule at the office equaled a fulfilling career and financial security for our growing family.

And if “busy” was the ultimate sign of success, then we were killing it. My husband and I had two businesses, a full time job, a side hustle and three busy kids involved in multiple activities. We were on community boards and activity boards and volunteered regularly.

We were busy right up until we weren’t.

The past two weeks have given me the gift of seeing the flip side of busy. They’ve given me time to truly engage with my family, connect with friends, to write and to dream of what might be next. That’s the paradox of life I guess, if you don’t play it right, you can become so busy you don’t realize you’re chasing the wrong dream.

And while I have no idea of what the next several months will bring, I do know it won’t be defined by how busy I am, but how connected I am to this amazing life and the people it holds.

Kelly Bay is the author of Beer and Junk, Adventures in Parenting, available on Kindle, Kindle Unlimited and paperback. Bay is the facilitator of Rise Business Consulting, a speaker and serial entreprenuer. In her spare time she enjoys not cleaning her house and showing unwilling participants photos of her two dogs.

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