Is the idea of work-life balance redundant if you love your job? We ask three women who turned a passion into a career

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Amy Lewis

Unless you’ve had the good fortune of a lottery win, work is simply a part of life. But while the topic of work-life balance is both a hotly debated and pursued concept, does it still factor as an issue if you really love what you do?

When the lines between your passion and job blur, does that effectively erase the very need for a balanced work-life ratio?

Suspecting that it’s a little more complex an answer than simply yes or no, we put these questions to three women who have turned their passions into their income.

Here's their take on the need for balance – and what it means to them.

Stella Baggott, 39, runs her own ceramics studio, Atelier Stella, in Brighton. Though her work is her passion, she believes there’s still a need to strive for balance.

I have always been interested in ceramics, even at school. I took my first ceramic evening class about 15 years ago, but then moved to London and started working as a children's book illustrator for a publishing company. I guess my passion grew, but I was slow to turn my hobby into a career as I actually really loved my job. But gradually, it dawned on me that I could be working for myself and having way more control over what I did. So I finally took the plunge.

Even though I love my job and it really is my passion, I do still see overtime as a burden of sorts. I am a bit of a workaholic, so used to do a lot of extra hours. As I started to work more on my ceramics, I felt increased pressure to fit everything in – it’s like having two jobs whilst also trying to make time for a social life, which I think did suffer a bit. I would come straight home for work most days and work on ceramics until 11pm and often all weekend too.

I don’t think loving your job erases the need for balance between work and your personal life. It’s still really important to separate the two. When you love what you do it can be easy to just do it all the time, but that's not healthy. I used to have a ceramic studio in my spare room, but found that I just worked at any spare moment and couldn't switch off. I found it frustrating being surrounded by my own mess too – the dining table was covered in boxes for packing, it was quite chaotic. Now that I’ve set up a ceramic studio elsewhere, I can better separate the two. I feel much more in control and my home is much tidier.

I have set times and days that I work in the studio and try really hard not to work every day. I try and have at least one full day off a week. When it comes to establishing a balance, the studio has made the biggest difference. It has let me reclaim my home, and now I try to use any spare time I get for time catching up with DIY and cooking, rather than trying to make ‘just one more’ pot!

Rhiannon Southwell, 36, is a freelance textile designer who also runs her own business, Blossom & Brush, creating ornate window films. She says she counts herself lucky to able to do something she loves to keep her family afloat.

I've always loved prints and patterns. I studied textiles and feel very lucky to have designed prints my whole career. The new window film business, however, came about almost by accident after a fruitless search for net curtains to fill the bay window in our Victorian terraced house. I gave up trying to find anything I liked and decided to put my experience designing prints and patterns to work by hand-painting straight onto the glass. The designs generated so much interest among neighbours and passers-by that I now offer a range of designs on made-to-measure vinyl, and ship them directly to my customers. I stumbled across a niche and it's going from strength to strength.

I believe that you have to love your own product if it's going to work. I love my windows and each and every order is redesigned to fit my customers' windows, so they do take time. Customer satisfaction is really important to me as many of my orders come from word-of-mouth recommendations, so I'll often work evenings and weekends to make sure that each design is perfect. For that reason I don't tend to see needing to do ‘overtime’ as a burden. It's so rewarding to see my windows popping up all over the country.

I hear so many friends complaining about work, worrying about what Monday morning will bring and putting in overtime for seemingly no reward. So I count myself very lucky to be in the position where my passion can keep both myself and my family afloat.

That said, when you’re self-employed it is very easy to forget to schedule any personal time. Though I do work most evenings and some weekends, I don't work when my children are with me. My husband and I plan ahead to make sure we have time together, and when we do, we make a point of going on a date or doing something special.

Lucia Schweigert, 28, is a dancer and choreographer who co-produces the Kaleidoscopic Arts Platform, running contemporary dance events and providing professional development opportunities for emerging female choreographers. She says that while intense periods of overtime can be draining, her love for what she does means that it comes without resentment.

I didn’t struggle with the choice to make dance my job because it was a need – the passion came first. I regard dance and all my work in this field as my profession and true calling, even if that does sound very cheesy.

When my overtime falls into the eight to 10 hours bracket, I don’t see it as a burden at all. But when it’s regularly more than 10 hours a day, and also lots of weekend work, then it does start to feel that way. It’s rarely a negative or resentful feeling, it’s just that it gets draining and is exhausting both physically and emotionally.

When you make your hobby or passion your work, it does become in nearly every aspect like a ‘normal’ job. You have to earn enough money with it, which for many artists means sometimes taking on non-artistic work on top of everything else. And you have to do it extremely well against a lot of competition in a tough job market. It is stressful. Therefore you do need balance just as much as everyone else to stay fit and healthy. Loving what I do means I’m happy to push through any difficulties, not that it’s less tough on me as a person.

I try everything I hear about ‘switching off’, but it’s not something I ever really do. For instance, I attend a lot of dance events, but even if I'm there for a night out I can't help wondering whether someone I might meet could collaborate with me on a project, or if they might want to support Kaleidscopic Arts in some way, amongst many other things. But I have learnt to think differently during work time and off-work time, to have a different mindset and approach.

What works best for me is to plan my time well, to set strict schedules which include time away from my work environment, and then try to stick to them. This has become easier with time.

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Amy Lewis

Amy Lewis is a freelance writer and editor, a lover of strong tea, equally strong eyebrows, a collector of facial oils and a cat meme enthusiast. She covers everything from beauty and fashion to feminism and travel.