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#TheProof: This Burned-Out Entrepreneur Went From 3am Panic Wakeups to “Mornings That Feel Like a Spa”

October 4, 2022

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#TheProof is a series that celebrates the success of our community. We can’t be what we can’t see, which is why we proudly feature our students from across the globe who’ve made their dreams a reality.

Melissa Haffeman left her job in education to open The Islander Bookshop on Kodiak Island — right before the pandemic and the death of her beloved father. Then she co-founded a candle business with her best friend, all while homeschooling her two kids. If anyone has the right to be overwhelmed, it’s Melissa. But in this inspiring interview, Melissa shares how she pulled herself from the brink of burnout and altered the course of her family story.

Read on to learn how Melissa:

  • Went from 3am panic wakeups to a morning that feels like she’s “at the spa.”
  • Expanded her business by tripling her square footage — while working LESS.
  • Healed a legacy of overwork to give her kids more than “Zombie Mommy.”

What prompted you to leave your 17-year career in education to open a bookstore?

I stepped away from my career to take care of my father. In 2019 my dad was diagnosed with stage four cancer. I had two little kiddos at home, we were building our house, and I was traveling all the time for work. I knew my priorities needed to change.

My dad and I shared the dream of opening a business. He was able to see The Islander Bookshop open on November 23rd, just before he passed away that winter.

That must have been so hard.

Then the pandemic hit! And all of a sudden I was running this new business, starting another business making candles, learning how to homeschool my two kids, and taking every small business course I could find.

That’s a lot to juggle, how did you manage it all?

I felt behind the moment I woke up. Every morning I woke up with a jolt at 3am and again at 6am with racing thoughts of everything I needed to, should have done, or wanted to do regarding my businesses. 

I've always been good at planning, but I never expected when I became an entrepreneur that I would push myself harder than any person I've ever worked for. It was unrelenting. I wouldn't give myself breaks.


I had to work around the clock to make ends meet and take care of everyone I loved. I became so burnt out that I called myself "Zombie Mommy" because by 6pm I didn't have one more ounce of energy left to cook dinner or play with my kiddos in the backyard. 

Why do you think it got this bad?

I thought hitting that point of exhaustion was a sign that I was doing everything I could to provide for my family. If I was exhausted at the end of the day, that meant I had done my all.

I was beginning to accept that I would always be overwhelmed, rushing out the door five minutes late, hair barely dry, wrangling the kids into the car, frazzled, and in a constant state of overwhelm. I thought, Maybe this is just what it takes to be in small business. Maybe I will just run on exhaustion until I get to my sixties or seventies and can retire. 

What prompted you to make a change?

When my kids said, “Mommy, you can bring your work to the park.” Or when they asked for help getting dressed they said, “Mommy, you can bring your work to my bedroom so I can get dressed.” That shook me up. My life had gotten so far off the rails that I had become a poor role model for my kids.

My marriage had lost all of the fun spark. The date nights, the hikes, the laughing in the evening over dinner — we lost all of that.

I didn't want to miss out on my family's life.

Is that when you heard about Time Genius?

Yes, I remember the moment I asked the universe, “I want to learn how to take care of myself like I take care of others.” About a week later I watched Marie’s video about Time Genius, and signed up before the hour was up.

How did you feel after the two weeks were up? Did your day-to-day life change?

My changes start at 3am — because I’m still sleeping! I’m not waking up with a stress-inducing litany of thoughts about my businesses! At 5:30am, I wake up and start my morning routine of tea, yoga, journaling, and meditation. I feel like I’m at a spa (I know that sounds ridiculous) because of the soul-restoring self-care and self-prioritization with which I start my day.

And how are your businesses doing?

Our businesses are growing! Prior to Time Genius, I didn't know if I had the capacity to lean in and grow my businesses. I thought I could just maintain them.

But I just signed a lease for our bookstore that will triple our square footage. Our candle business is expanding. We've got about 17 retailers and we're gonna make a big push this holiday season. We’re securing a U.S.-based tin manufacturer before making a larger push to expand into more wholesale opportunities. Our goal candle line will launch in early 2023. I could go on and on.

How did you stop spinning your wheels all the time?

I reverse engineered my big goals! I also created standard operating procedures for my bookstore. I have four new staff members and by investing the time in these SOPs I took care of Future Me by reducing the amount of texts, calls, and emergency drives to the bookstore during the day to solve an issue.

Way to go! 

I’m really proud of that one.

And something incredibly moving happened with your husband right after Time Genius. Can you share that with us?

My husband looks at me with profound relief. I watched him as he was telling a friend about the changes he has noticed in me (and Mike isn’t an emotional man) and he struggled for words to capture the change he has seen in me. As I watched him, underneath the words I saw that what he was expressing was wonder, celebration, and happiness that I had emerged from under a self-imposed boulder of over-working. The me that he fell in love with — the girl who would hop on a four wheeler on this Alaskan island and go fishing or camping, the girl who surfed her kayak in big swells, the goofy girl who could always crack him up, and the girl who used to experiment with all sorts of creative work in his print studio he owned when we were dating — she was back.

It makes me tear up. Not because I’m sad that I had been lost, but that I am so grateful for Time Genius that I was able to find my way through decades of overwork and blossom again.

That’s so beautiful. And your kids?

My two kids (Alden, 8, and Sophia, 6) are the people, besides my husband and myself who benefit the most. They would have inherited the story of, “Work till you drop.” “Get up and do it all again.” 

They aren’t saying to bring my work with me any more. We have been playing in the evening because I’m not Zombie Mom by 6pm. The pure delight on my daughter’s face is all the reinforcement I need to know that I am never going back to the land of Time Stress.

Wow! Anything else you want to tell folks who are considering joining this round of Time Genius?

There aren’t words to adequately capture how much this program changed my life. Time Genius has altered the course of our family story. My kids will not inherit the culture of overworking that has been handed down to me. I am more grateful than you know.

We’re crying! Thank you so much Melissa, you’re our hero.

What did you notice from Melissa’s story? Any ahas you can apply to your own life and business? Let us know in the comments below.

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