Unexpected Gains for our Girls

It’s easy to look at the two years of the start up and wonder what good came from it, particularly for our girls.  As parents we want so much to provide a safe, comfortable world for them to grow up in.  Our time with the start up was never that.  Instead, our life was full of chaos, frustration, and the constant pressure of the next thing that HAD to be done.  What could our kids possibly gain from this?

Astonishingly much.  I’m not going to say I could see it at the time and the only goal we were focused on for their future was financial.  What they got was so much more.  (Because the reality is there haven’t been any financial benefits from the start up, yet.)

An easy benefit to see, maybe you’ve guessed already, is how to start a business.  Neither T nor I were ever interested in this.  My parents had started a business, but it wasn’t something that needed funding or a board.  At this point, if the girls want to start something, we know who to talk to and what’s involved.  We would have never guessed at any of this.

The act of starting a business and gaining funding involves a LOT of handshaking with a whole new group of people.  The girls didn’t shake any of these hands, but their dad did.  Because their dad was an honest, friendly, hardworking person, he built new relationships with people who run business.  Business the girls might want to work at one day.

What else?  They learned A LOT about conflict resolution.  As we screwed things up, we learned.  As we learned, we taught them and they got to learn at the age of 12 instead of figuring it out as adults, like we had to.  Being able to handle and resolve conflict will open doors for your future more than just about anything.  As much as it hurt to be broken people around our girls, they got to see that broken is only bad if you quit.

The girls also gained some incredible memories with their grandparents.  We weren’t able to be the parents we wanted to be.  We just didn’t have a lot left to give, but my parents did.  It was their opportunity to build solid relationships with their grandkids.  That’s a real gift.  To both of them.  Lots of kids and grandparents just don’t get that these days.

Most importantly, they gained confidence.  There’s a lot less “can’t” in their life.  When I was their age, I would never have imagined I could start a business.  That was something other people did.  Not them.  About this time they developed a plan for opening a cupcake shop.  They had it all planned out.  Or at least the start of a plan.  They’ve both moved on, but that door is wide open.  If they want to step thru, it’s there.  Because we put the pain and labor into building it.

New doors opened for us, too.  Kind of like a Choose Your Own Adventure book.  Which one did we take and how did we get there?  Yeah, you guessed it.  Next post.

The Start Up

 

The start up was hard for everyone.  There wasn’t a person connected to us that it didn’t touch.  My parents really stepped up in a way I didn’t expect.  They’ve always loved me/us, but they aren’t always supportive and reliable. However, like with the choices to homeschool and freelance, they were all in on our move to the start up.  They offered to help me with anything around the house I needed and were willing to take some of the burden of parenting as I was doing most of it on my own.

This was a huge help.  I never really needed their help around the house, but I absolutely needed a haven for the girls to get out of the crazy.  While I know the girls felt the disappointment of having exhausted, unavailable parents, the time they spent with their grandparents created invaluable memories and helped give them more normalcy during a really chaotic time.

And we were so exhausted and unavailable.  T was working so hard to meet his commitment to the start up and to keep the bills paid with contract work.  There simply were not enough hours in the day.  By the time all the have to’s were covered, we were just exhausted.  Add to that the constant struggle to live on tightly stretched means and there was just nothing left.

There I found myself:  exhausted, unavailable husband, never enough time, never enough money, solely responsible for the welfare and education of two kids.  I just couldn’t keep the fear and doubts at bay.  And the fear and doubts just sucked the hope right out of me.

The communication problems I mentioned before really started to compound.  I reached a spot where I felt like I was standing in the middle of a hurricane constantly ducking debris.  I began to cringe every time I heard the phrase “oh, didn’t I tell you” and eventually I started to cry.

It seemed that every single day something changed, broke, was yelled about, or demanded.  I heard about all of the problems and frustrations and very little positive feedback or excitement over fixed problems.  The CEO demanded and insisted.  In the end, we weren’t the partners I was assured we would be, but were instead employees expected to perform without question.  The CEO was young and single and couldn’t understand why we weren’t as singularly focused as he was.

I was always willing to be flexible.  The start up wasn’t my choice, but if we were doing it I was going to do all I could to be supportive and make it a success.  I knew it was going to be hard.  All I asked was for the occasional break.  If you work a chunk of days in a row, then take a few days off to give us a break.  But that never happened.  Finish one urgent thing and the next thing became urgent.  All that mattered was doing and accomplishing.  And we did it.

T worked hard, but he also got “things”.  He went on trips, met with interesting people, learned new technology, grew his career, and enjoyed having a family available to him when he had time.  I began to feel like staff.  He spent time with me when he didn’t have anything else he had to do.  I washed the laundry, cleaned the house, and managed the girls, the oldest of whom was sailing into the “delightful” age of 12.  As a person, I began to feel irrelevant.  He told me how important I was and how glad he was that I was there, but all I could see was how happy he was to not have to do the menial tasks of life.

The fear grew.  I was giving up things left and right while watching him gain.  The only career I seemed to be developing was how to be a better housekeeper and I was making parenting and schooling decisions on my own all the while hoping that I wasn’t destroying my children’s lives.  And when I tried to talk to Topher, it just got worse.

Bad communication, particularly about work, took it’s toll.  I had reached a spot where it was hard to trust T anymore.  There were so many things that I thought I was told would be one way and ended up different.  Often he would say he’d be right there and I’d have to go track him down because he didn’t realize how much time had lapsed.  I was so scared and so frustrated.  The exhaustion and the emotion lead to a lot of yelling and our kids were there.  It’s a small house, where would they go.  But no matter what we worked to find a solution.  To end in a happy place.  We might be fighting, but we were fighting FOR our marriage, not to hurt each other.

Much like it began, the start up ended.  The CEO decided it was time for a technology shift and we no longer fit.  Six months earlier than we had planned and completely out of the blue we learned we would be out of a job at the end of the month.  And the CEO thought we would be thrilled.  Now we could go back to freelancing like we wanted.

He was right.  That is what we wanted.  We had already been making plans for what we would do when it was done.   In six months.  Not in three weeks.  It takes more time than that to set up contracts and have some money saved for the gap.  We did use contracts to help stay afloat, but in the end we decided to look into agency work.  This ending was so great for T.  He was free.  It really was all that we had wanted.

Sadly, I couldn’t see it that way.  I was already so overwhelmed with fear and hopelessness, that all I could see was us being thrown away.  Past experiences had created some deep insecurities regarding rejection and this brought them all to the surface.  I had to fight hard to avoid hate and I lapsed into a time of despair and mourning and self-doubt.  At the moment, it seemed that no matter how hard we worked and how logical our choices were, we were simply meant to fail.  Others could make the same choices and thrive, but not us.  We just weren’t good enough.  Add to that my deepest concern, what had we done to our children?

 

From Freelancing to Start Up

Much of what we lost while freelancing can largely be attributed to the short time we did it.   It takes time to build a business and 18 months just isn’t very long.  Sure, our venture started with rosy illusions of what would be.  We had reasonable goals based on the research we had done, but other people’s facts only take you so far.  Once we started applying them to our particular situation, we needed to tailor the facts to meet our particular needs.  Those needs didn’t really become apparent until about 18 months in and at 18 months, we went full time with The Start Up.

The Start Up was a client.  There were two guys (a just-finishing his Masters single guy set on being the next Fortune 500 CEO and a married father with a day job he didn’t want to quit designer) who came to us with a broken website.  It was a simple contract project.  Fix it and walk away, like most of our jobs.  Then they realized they needed more long term help.  Time to bring on a technology guy.

However, The Start Up was just in it’s infancy living on it’s original round of funding, no money to hire anyone.  Topher was offered investment in exchange for hours with the likelihood of full time work when the next round of funding occurred.  I said sure.  If that’s wanted he wanted to do with a few hours of his free time, then he should.  Nothing seemed like it would take away from our freelancing goals and, really, who get the kind of money they were looking for.

They did.  The funding came thru.  The CEO couldn’t imagine moving forward without bringing on Topher full time for a two year commitment as the CTO, a decision making partner.  Of course, they couldn’t pay us quite what we needed, but, hey, we were part of building something, earning our investment.  This is just part of the process.

Christmas 2011 was spent “discussing” which direction to go:  do we join The Start Up full time or do we break away and continue freelancing (which, of course, was starting to flourish).  “Discussing” works if you define it as a WWF match where three factors (wants, needs, and what direction is best for the family) fought it out with no possible way to determine a clear victor.  None of the answers were tangible.  Neither of us could see the future.  Add to the mix a current project we were behind on that could have been managed better (tho that might have only been visible with hindsight) and the stress level was high.

I voted no.  I wanted to be our own boss.  I wanted to continue to grow our freelancing business.  I wanted to stay as far away from the corporate world as we could possibly get and I saw the signs for what life under the CEO was going to be.  I’d already been there for about 6 months and I didn’t like it.  I wanted a lot, but like most situations when dealing with what’s best for everyone, what one person wants can only matter so much.

Instead we focused on what was best for the future.  Were we willing to suffer some pain to build a better tomorrow?  Was it worth making more sacrifices now to provide more opportunities in the future?

(Are you missing the pain, the bleakness, I promised?  Stick with me.  It’s all so much uglier from here.)

 

 

Freedom, Freelancing, and Things I Never Thought We’d Lose

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.  Those great words from Janice Joplin (Me and Bobby McGee) run thru my head anytime freelancing comes to mind.  There’s an air of negativity to that line, but also a measure of truth.  If you’re clinging tightly to something you’re not willing to lose, then you’re not really free.

So here we are.  Five years into our life as WordPress pioneers.  Not so much pioneers in that we were first in the field.  More along the line of being willing to throw all our stuff in a wagon being hauled by an ox and head off into the great unknown.  We took stock of our life.  Decided what was a need and what we could get rid off.  Then we spent 4 hard months working full time corporate job and full time contracting.  We saved all we could to have a cushion and lined up our “ducks” to have work planned in the future.  April 1, 2010 we climbed into our loaded down ox-driven wagon and left the corporate world behind.

Oh?  You remember that from my previous post?  Good.  You were paying attention.  Do you also remember this post is about what we lost?  Well here it is.

To start with, we lost the corporate job we’d had for 10 years.  The job started as a family environment and had been going downhill for years.  The thinking became more and more corporate and the respect and pay decreased.  Family boundaries were irrelevant, demands became unreasonable, and it was impossible to take vacation.  For all that we were also losing insurance and retirement contribution, this was no longer a healthy place for our family.  This was a good thing to lose.

What’s next?  We lost our nest egg.  We’d worked hard and sacrificed thru a long cold winter to save up for the unexpected.  The “unexpected” ended up being a new water heater and 4 new tires for the all-wheel drive vehicle the week we quit our steady job.  Sure, we should have kept better watch on the tires, but the hot water heater attacked out of the blue.  We were glad to have the savings, but so sorry to see it go so early in this new adventure.

Savings gone, but work still lined up, we set off into the great unknown and freelanced for about 18 months.  We had a plan.  A good plan.  A well thought out plan.  And nothing had the outcome we hoped for.  So what else did we lose?

We lost the grand idea that we worked for ourselves.  This was a lie.  You do not work for yourself.  You work for the client and you work for MANY clients.  They are all now your new boss.  UNLESS you set up good boundaries.  Clients are people too (kinda like children, really).  You can, and should, establish and communicate good boundaries that give you space while meeting the clients needs.  Clients should respect reasonable boundaries and if they don’t you need to decide if they should be your clients.  Great stuff.  Wish we’d known it then.

We lost a lot of family time.  We had hoped that freelancing would lead to short work days and more family fun.  Instead, it felt like T worked constantly and the work was never ending.  If time isn’t managed well, it is so easy to waste.  Boundaries inside family life are just as necessary as boundaries with clients.  They help establish good expectations, but also make sure that you’re spending your time the way you really want to be spending it.  Fortunately for us, our girls were at an age where they were less concerned with spending time with us.  Friends, family, and particularly grandma and grandpa were a good substitute.

We lost our marriage or at least the marriage we had.  Neither of us wanted a divorce, but the marriage that seemed like it was working before freelancing was actually a broken mess.  The stress of running a business and a family exposed cracks and flaws that had to be addressed.  There were a lot of feelings created by misunderstanding, poor expectations, and perceived disregard for the others needs that had to be addressed.  In the end, we scrapped what was and started on something new.  After nearly four years, it’s stronger and better,  but also hard won and no one came out unscathed.

This last thing was the most unexpected:  we lost the direction we were headed.  Our path was to create a successful freelance business, to live a life where we were free.  Instead, we joined a start up.  Importantly, someone else’s start up.  For all that freelancing wasn’t going as planned, we did still make our own decisions.  This was one of my dreams:  to be able to create our own schedule, to live our life on our own terms.  Christmas 2011 the start up that had been a former client and a project Topher tinkered with got it’s first big round of funding.  With it, T joined on full time and this last dream was gone.

And with that our full time freelancing career ended and the Dark Ages of start up hell began.  What?  Too dramatic?  Read what comes next and decide for your self.

Our Jump to Freelancing

Our life has been anything but typical.  Our choices have been the right ones, but occasionally I find myself jealous of those that lead typical lives.  There’s so much comfort and security in a predictable life.  When your paycheck comes from your employer every week, you know the bills will get paid.  When your kids go to school like all the others, you know their headed in a predictable direction.  Sure, there are no guarantees, but there are safe choices that make life “easier,” normal.

In 2010, we jumped off the safe and comfortable track and ended up places we didn’t even know existed.  2010 was the big recession where people were clinging tightly to what ever job they could get.  We made the decision to let go of ours and free fall into working for ourselves.  With the downfall of big business comes the rise of small business and all of the recently unemployed people and those with small businesses were clamoring for the help the internet could give them.

My husband, T, has always taken contract work to supplement his day job.  There were a lot of reasons, but primarily so I could stay home with our kids.  His contract work reached the sweet spot where we had to choose between his day job and contract work.  Conditions at his day job had been getting worse over the previous five years and we really should have left two years earlier, but what family just walks away from good insurance and a regular paycheck.

We did.  But we didn’t do it lightly.  We did our research.  We talked to friends who had made the same choice.  T read books on successfully freelancing.  Most importantly, though, we figured out what we were willing to lose.  We cut our bills to the bare minimum.  We looked at everything that was non-essential and let it go.  For four months, my husband worked full time for his day job and full time freelancing to build up a nest egg and to make sure the work was available.

But that wasn’t all.  Most small businesses fail.  Our final consideration was what were we going to do if we lost our house.  We knew that the path ahead was iffy.  We’d had friends who were freelancers that had ended up eating at soup kitchens.  Life happens and how were we going to take care of our kids if it did?

This is where my parents came in.  Our best option was to move back to my family farm.  My parents love me, but they can be very chaotic.  I had no idea if they were going to be supportive of this venture.  But they were behind it 100%.  In fact, both they and the girls occasionally wished it WOULD fail so we’d end up closer together (but only for that reason).

Interestingly enough,  we did end up losing or almost losing a number of things, but the house wasn’t one of them.  Money was occasionally tight and freelancing never made us rich, but every month the bills were paid.

So what did we lose?  Find out in the next blog post.

 

Naked on the Internet

A little sensationalists, and yet, absolutely true.  As I was writing the first pieces for my site, I had to think through just how personal I wanted to and, let’s face it, was willing to get.  Sharing your feelings is risky.  Feelings and responses are so easy to judge.

But this journey is personal.  It’s ABOUT my feelings and responses to what happens.  I can’t do any of this without being honest.  Really I’m not an exhibitionist, but recording this adventure without being transparent would be dishonest and pointless.  And really transparent is just a different word for naked.

We’re people.  People struggle.  The people in our life help us struggle.  Some times they even help us THROUGH the struggle.  We’re all running around naked, just some times we hide reality behind our clothes.

Differently Unemployed

Like a lot of people at different times in their lives, I find myself facing my own version of “unemployment.”  The job I’ve been doing for the last 15 years is coming to an end.  I’m unlikely to quit being a wife and mother, but my responsibilities are drastically changing.  For the first time, I get to be selfish.  I can look at life and focus on just what I want.  And it doesn’t hurt the people around me.  Mostly, they’re done with me.

My husband’s been a developer since before we met.  (I like to say before the internet had pictures.)  In 2010, he found that WordPress was a good niche for him.  A comfortable home that fit his skills and his clients needs.  Now that I’m looking for a job, I’m starting inside the WordPress community.

It’s an interesting choice for me.  I’m not technical.  I always thought I would very happily live in a world without computers, but then a couple of things caused my perspective to shift.

First, I got on Twitter.  There I developed a community of friends.  Friends were really missing from my life.  Being home, and homeschooling, I ended up developing a lifestyle of isolation.  Twitter helped me meet new and interesting people that weren’t as different from me as the early computer folk were.

Secondly, I realized I had an opportunity to achieve a dream.  I have always loved to write, but never saw it as a logical career path.  WordPress was designed for writers.  I could write and publish with abandon.  It’s cheap.  It’s easy.  My voice is available to those who find it.  It was an amazing possibility.  It was so freeing to realize that I could just do it.  I was the only thing holding me back.

So I decided to start here.  I’m going to blog this job change experience that so many other people face.   As I learn things, I’ll be recording them.  And as I fail?  I’ll be recording that, too.  Who knows, maybe I’ll help someone else who might be looking at WordPress as part of their life change.  Or maybe I’ll decide WordPress isn’t for me.  Who knows.  Well, you will.  If you come back for more.