Apologies for the super long post, but I started writing and had to get it all out. Your post about Leaving your options open sets you back  really resonated with me and I recognise that that’s where I am but at the same time seem utterly incapacitated to do anything about it.

So I am a classic case of having a well progressing career that is suddenly turned upside-down by having kids. Back when I had the career coaching with you was when I was first trying to make sense of what to do. As a result of that I tried new things like the start-up with Claudia, where we failed fast and I learnt a ton. Then exploring options with the tech camps which looked more promising but then (with your coaching advice) I was able to evaluate that the marketing & PR wasn’t all I thought it was cracked up to be. In between doing this I think I was taking every class of yours I could afford:dream job, freelancing, blogging, negotiating, etc.

So with money becoming an issue again, I went back to focussing on my main work which is running an open-source software consultancy with my (INTJ) husband. With what I had learnt I was able to see that we needed to do more marketing. So I started blogging, albeit still sporadically. And I started going to the industry conferences, and I think I shared with you how the blogging course helped me write a great article which I turned into a talk which got early-bird acceptance at two of the conferences I submitted it too. And then like magic, companies, big big companies doing really interesting work started coming up to me to ask us to do work for them.

So now we have our choice of great work coming in, working side-by-side with great people at big & small companies, operating as freelancers where we can notionally control how much we do and still balance out with spending time with the kids. And it’s absurd that it sounds so perfect on paper, and it should be, but it isn’t in reality.

I have been killing myself over the last year to be a good mother, figure out my parenting style, take my business to new heights and deal with medical emergencies and deaths in the family. More recently I’ve had to add couples therapy to the list because the marriage part has been one of the parts that has suffered. So now I know I need to cut back but already seem too exhausted and don’t trust I have the perspective to make the right decisions. My husband who I normally rely on for helping make these decisions and is much more a black & white thinker like you is fed up with my inability to give things up and say no to people. I have been slowly and painfully getting better at saying no and getting rid of some clients/projects, but still have too many.

I was hoping you might have some clarity on the situation and see the bigger picture to help me focus on one goal. So far this is the list.

1. Focus on clients in the embedded space – this is our original speciality and where are backgrounds are perfect for but when the work seemed to dry up 5 years ago we lucked into the science sector. With the renewed marketing we are picking up 2-3 big new clients who are happy to pay us well for consulting. Also with the promise of the ‘internet of things’ this seems like an attractive space (although noisy) space to stay in. I want to grow and hire some people, but my husband thinks it is not worthwhile in the short term. It feels like a chicken&egg.

2. Focus on Science – we have been working for 5yrs with a big scientific facility in this space and now things are growing. We decided to become founding members of an open source science working group and have a bit of technology we wrote for the science company which they are happy for us to package and sell services to other companies. Ironically with that technology we are attracting companies in embedded space. We don’t have the phd credentials for the science space but I do have a friend who does who I might be able to bring on board. The work is very cool and looks like it will have added bonuses of getting to visit some great facilities.

3. Hardware product – then I have a good friend who came up with a little bit of hardware, ran a couple of kickstarters and got it initially funded. The product is great, with some fanastic usps but he completely lacks any marketing or a business plan. I am the one-eyed leading the blind but I feel like it has massive potential either in the education space or even as part of a low-power solution for industry. I feel like a product will always have more potential than consulting – is this even true and does it matter? I do talks about the technology and have set up a project at a school next year to get it in front of kids to try it out, but again haven’t made any progress because I am not committing. I like this option when I imagine it works well in the future for spending time with my son who is such an engineer already.

4. Other?? Focus on a personal brand – so if you ask me what I really love to do it is problem solving and personal development.

If I try to imagine what I want in 5 years I could see it being something like heading up an open source foundation or some random foundation. And then I think well if I want to do that I need to build a brand and I should be spending time blogging to build that up. And ever since I did your How to Write About Your Life course I have been haunted by the idea of writing a personal dev blog disguised as a tech blog. So then I spend time here and there trying to write stories.

OK so now writing this all down I don’t feel I’ve done it justice – I see so many little nuances and things to over-explain. I feel like I don’t know what’s involved for each path and how it will fit in with my family life so how can I decide. So do you think a coaching call would be the right way to go, or is the answer blindingly obvious to you? BTW, I am enjoying the pitching seminar (just watched day 1 so far) but I can’t help but feel it is another thing I am doing that I should not be because I haven’t made any proper commitments and so I am stressed, anxious and exhausted while I have to force myself daily to meet the commitments I have already made.

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4 replies
  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    I think you have three problems:
    1. work
    2. kids
    3. marriage

    You need to roughly spend equal time taking care of each or the whole house of cards falls apart, right?

    So what you do for work doesn’t really matter as long as you leave time and energy for kids and marriage.

    In my own life, I found that I spent tons of time hemming and hawing about my work choices but it’s only because it’s way easier for me to think about than kids and marriage.

    So split your energy roughly equally between the three. Then you will have to say no to a lot at work, right? It will be almost a non-issue which you say no to because there is so little time to say yes relative to how many opportunities you have.

    The reality for you (and me!) is that there is not a lot of time for work. I have spent many years being totally delusional about how much work I can actually do in a day. Once I started admitting that I have only a small amount of time for work, things started falling into place for me.

    Which is why I think you need to stop thinking so big and so hard about work. Do whatever is fast and easy because you need to earn money in 1/3 of the time other people earn their money. Evaluate opportunities in terms of which can you do effectively and still leave lots of time and energy for your marriage and your kids.

    I’m sorry to sound like a 1950s throwback, but it simply does not work to value kids and a marriage but not make enough time for kids and a marriage. And you have just gone to marriage counseling to get your marriage back on track, so it’s going to take time and energy to keep it on track.

    At this point in life, I have cut out very small slices of work that I can do (for me it’s writing and coaching – for you it’ll probably be something else, but equally as narrow relative to the opportunities you have). I say no to just about everything now. I am saying no to $15K speeches. I’m saying no to free trips to Turkey with my family.

    The amount we have to say no to to keep a marriage together and earn money at the same time is mind blowing. But once we get in the habit of saying no to everything, the rare yes becomes very clear because it’s so special.

    And, the best news for you in all this? The process of learning to say no is very hard-core personal development, which is what you say you want most.

    You have to know yourself so well to say no with self-confidence – you need to know what you’re good at, what you value most, who needs you most, and what you need most. Those are tough things to know, and only the most evolved people can make those decisions without pause. It’s a lifelong challenge, but you’ll like that – you’ll like that personal development never ends, the questions just get better and better.


  2. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    Oh wow. Well you sound exhausted! Reading that was exhausting.

    Step back and start prioritizing what you want in 30 years- a good relationship with your husband and then grown kids. Do now what will make that happen. You can always start another income source in the future.

  3. T.S. Phillips
    T.S. Phillips says:

    Prioritizing your time is the only way to get the job done in this situation. Expressing your unique selling proposition and brand, that differentiates you from others is crucial.

    Best of success to you, T.S.

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