My Definition of Success

I saw this post on my favourite Facebook pages ever.  It struck a chord with me because I’m pursuing an unstructured life.

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I often think about what drives me to do the work I do.

Once upon a time I use to think it was ‘being successful’.  Like the ability or potential to run a financially successful business, which would then potentially free me up to do other things and not suffer being ‘financially poor’.  I use to think in terms of business plans, graphs and bank balances.  The pursuit of so called ‘success’ is what initially sparked my imagination to create and do stuff.  I knew I longed for something different than a standard day job.

I use to think that if only I had the money, then I could do this, or that.  However, this is a trap that too many of us fall into.  I’ll just do this one last contract. Or pay off my mortgage. Or work a couple more years.  THEN I’ll be able to be free enough to do what I really want to do.

The idea of success is what may have driven me in the early days, but it’s not what drives me now.  Or maybe it is, but my definition of success has completely changed.

The old way I looked at success was about being someone big or important.  Having big responsibility, assets and commitments.  However, the reality, where I am now is that I don’t really want much of that.  I’m introverted. Avoid being the centre of attention whenever possible, often choosing a strategy to put others in the limelight.  I’ve also become averse to commitment (apart from my marriage!).  I’ve increasingly avoided most long term business type commitments as all too often they turn into stressful and painful situations.

My newer way of looking at success is by the degree of how much freedom I have.  I make regular and conscious choices in my life to give me freedom.  I find freedom brings me the unstructured life that I love, even if the results have not come as quickly as I often would have liked.  The patience required for this has made me feel incredibly grateful for the freedom I have now.

Here are some examples of the freedoms I have compared to my life in the past:

My Freedom Now In My Distant Past
I am able to turn work away.I value the opportunity to do work I enjoy doing.  We don’t live month to month and feel comfortable turning away work that compromises our happiness and lifestyle. I never had much choice in my work.I was too worried about money to make decisions that would effect my income.
I am able to focus on work I love.I choose who I work with and intentionally avoid people who bring negativity and stress into my life. Whilst I enjoyed the work I did, I often didn’t enjoy the environment I worked in.  I often felt unhappy and stressed.
I am able to spend time with my family.When I plan my work and the things I want to do I ensure they are compatible with my growing family’s needs.  Otherwise I say no. Work dictated my life.  It was 9-5. Not seeing much of my family. Juggling childcare and all the hassles that come with a busy working life.
I am able to spend time on myself.  It’s taken me a while to not feel guilty about this and it’s only the past year or two that I’ve started doing things for me.  Taking time out when I need it. Doing stuff I want to do.  Deciding that certain things have to happen to keep me balanced and happy. Between work, kids and housework – I felt too stressed and tired to even think about doing things for me.  My health slipped.  My exercise was non-existent.
I have the choice in how to structure my day to day activities.I’ve developed my own way of working. It’s carefully placed between everything that goes on in my life. It works for me and is snug as a bug.  Sometimes I stay up late.  I often have naps to catch up on missed sleep.  I only wake up early when I have no choice (this usually means the kids wake me up). Pretty much no choice in how I structured my days.I had to commute often. Be at work at certain times. Be home for the kids. Etc.  There was no flexibility.
I am able to take time off to relax when I feel I need it.We’ve been lucky enough in the past couple of years to have the flexibility to just take time off or go on extended worklidays as a family.  This is partly because we can mostly do work from anywhere, but it’s also because our kids are not tied to the school system (as we are unschoolers). Like above.  There was little say when I could take time off.
I limit my number of hours of ‘actual work’ to 4 hours per day (on average).Some weeks are busier than others, however overall I try to limit my actual work time to 4 hours a day.  Often they are 4 intense and productive hours.  I’ve grown quite accustomed to it and I feel it is the right balance for me and the other life duties I manage. My work days were at least 8 hours, often more.  Plus commute time.There wasn’t much choice.  Even when ‘there was nothing to do’ I often felt like I had to pretend to be productive.  This is wasteful and full of stupidity!

Perhaps ‘freedom’ and ‘unstructure’ sound simplistic enough to disregard as unimportant.  However, like the woman in the picture above, it is underestimated.

Freedom gives me the more obvious things like deciding when to work. How to work. And what to work on. The ability to prioritise my family life. The ability to choose what projects to work on. Choose the food that I eat (because it’s easier when I don’t rush about). When to travel and go on holiday with my kids.  And simply do things when we feel like it, not when others feel we should.

However, it’s the things that are harder to see that almost make me feel enlightened by the whole experience.  I have time to think. To feel. To listen. To take time to properly decide things at my own pace.  Choices without huge pressure.  It’s a wonderful thing.

I am not financially rich.  Nor am I financially poor.  Money is important to give us a certain amount of freedom, but it is not our over arching focus.  We are working towards minimalism as a family.  We want to spend less money. Have less possessions.  Have more time for ourselves and each other doing things that we want to do.

I think about and appreciate the freedom I have every single day.  I am thankful.  I feel I am succeeding because every time I think of life without the freedom I have – then that is when I know that a life without freedom would be a unsuccessful life for me.

Kids Change Everything And Focusing On The Feel Good Factor

Life completely changed for me once I had kids.  Though I didn’t realise it straight away.

You can never be fully prepared for what the reality of it means. You can read all you like. Ask all the questions. Go on any parenting course. But when life brings you that child or children, everything changes.

As a mother, I naively thought that I could continue living my life as I had done. Maintain that job. Build my career. I thought it shouldn’t be much different than life before kids. Oh, how wrong I was. Perhaps some people can do this, but I couldn’t and can’t!

I don’t believe it was my fault that I thought it would all stay the same – society now expects and somewhat brainwashes us parents that we can carry on living the same way as before.

There is this process and treadmill we are expected to follow, almost without question.

It took me a while before I realised I had to stick my finger up to the ‘societal expectations’. The pressure of working too damn hard, not making enough money, spending too much money on child care and not spending the time I needed with my boys was too much. Oh, there’s the stress and unhappiness of it all too.

I didn’t want to handle it. It felt wrong.  In my heart I felt that there had to be a better way.

In the early days I tried going back to full time work and failed. Not only could I not bear the emotional side of being away from my kids, but the practicalities of full time work did not did not match up to the family life that we wanted and needed. It ended up with me working to mostly just cover my work and childcare expenses, not seeing much of my boys and generally living a life without the focus we needed.

Perhaps I would have felt differently if I was in a job that I truly loved, respected and given the flexibility that I needed. At that time I wasn’t. I felt confused and unsure where I was heading.

This partly made me feel like a failure when I decided not to pursue a full time job. I had no clear vision of where I wanted to be. I felt like I was missing out. Getting behind in my career. Not contributing as much as I wanted to financially. Something really felt strange about the fact that as a society we are expected to work consistently and constantly.  When we can’t we all too often feel inadequate.

My kids changed everything for me. They’ve made me think and re-think everything I do. I have learned to focus my energy and time on work that I am passionate about and what makes me feel good. Anything else is not good enough for me, and consequently my family.

My family is a reflection of who I am, what I do and how I feel.  I think the ‘feeling‘ part is often overlooked and considered a low priority by society.  Yet how we feel radiates in a positive or negative way to all those around us.

This focus on feeling good, being happy, doing positive things and things that I enjoy has become a part of who I am.  I turn down things that don’t align with this ‘feel good’ factor. I try things out and evaluate whether they make me feel good.  Sometimes I think they will, but they don’t.  The ability to stop is equally as important.

Isn’t this feel good factor important in the one life we get to live?

Of course, it’s not all a bed of rosie’s :)  Life is not perfect. And living this way brings it’s own set of challenges and sacrifices.  However, they are challenges I am willing and happy to fight to for.

 

 

Willing To Lead

I so identify with this.  Watch the video.

“A leader is someone who is not just willing to own the result, but the process (as well).”

It’s something that time and time again I’ve experienced and seen in the world around me.  People are happy to talk the talk, but walking the walk is a whole different story.

I see this in my professional life.

I see it in my personal life.

And ‘I Am Willing’ in the sense that I’m making change that I feel I am capable of.  I’m not taking on the world.  I’m doing things that are important to me and that are within my reach *now*.

I don’t have the time, energy or passion to change the education system.  So instead I (and my husband) own the process of unschooling my boys.  We will also own and take responsibility of the results of their learning.

I own the my work.  I *try* to lead in the world of software testing. In my way. In a way that I am capable and responsible for.  I know that if I stop now, then my work will quickly fail and I will stop leading the way. I am happy to own the results.  Of course I dream that the results will be positive, but whether or not they are, then at least I’ve tried and I will be proud of what I have done.

‘I Am Willing’ and to lead the way, in what matters in my life.  I often avoid and don’t talk about all the stuff I do, normally opting for just doing stuff.  One thing, one day at a time.

And what many people don’t realise, is that if they are truly interested in something, then they too can become leaders of what matters to them.

Quantity Over Quality

There’s that saying that ‘quality time’ is important. We must spend quality time with the kids, partners, husband, wife, mother, father, friends…etc.

Quality is associated with being ‘important’ and of ‘value’. As a society we are obsessed with quality time – perhaps the one or two holidays over the year are our quality time together to relax. I question if this is enough and I can’t help but think that quantity time is more important that quality time.

There are situations where quantity should outstrip quality.

In the context of family life for example, I’d rather spend lots of time with my kids without the focus on it all being about quality time. Instead of not spending much time with them and feeling that the little time we do have needs to be compressed full of quality.

I spend alot of quantity time with my kids by:

  • being around most of the time
  • giving them space and freedom
  • hanging out in the same room
  • answering on the spur of the moment questions
  • working from home
  • finding compatibilities in our interests and activities
  • taking part in their interests
  • and simply designing my life around theirs

However, I feel society often pushes and focuses on quality time. With so much work commitments, we are spending less and less time together and are then pressured to focus on the little quality time that is left. We are encouraged to do special things in our quality time. Spend money. Go on holidays. Buy things.

Is this what we really need? Does it make us happy?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t go on holidays. I go on holidays (often mixing them with work opportunities to make them more affordable). But having it as the main time we can chill out together as a family just feels wrong.

The more quantity time I spend with my family the more strongly I feel about this and the better our relationships are becoming.

There’s No Business Like Slow Business

Society is obsessed with ‘Quick’

We want a quick fix diet.

A quick route to being fit and healthy.

Fast (but good) food.

A well paying job, now.

With big rewards in the near future.

That big house, now.

An overnight business success.

How many ads and books do you see trying to sell you a quick solution?

But what about the process?

Why are we forgetting the value of the process? It’s the journey that matters, yet we often seem to focus on getting to the end as quickly as possible – thinking that the end is success and the success at the end is what will make us happy.

We glorify success. Everywhere. Ads. Movies. Magazines. Articles. Society pushes us to strive for success, trying to make us believe it is the holy grail. That we are lesser people if we do not make it.

The process of trying to create or be involved in something important is what makes me happy, what about you?

The value of slow business

I think about the business I run a lot. It would be unwise not to! It’s been a slow journey. 7 years in the making, yet only the past 3 years has seen ‘good’ growth. And even this ‘good’ growth is my own measurement, not someone else’s opinion.

I don’t have a proper office. I don’t have ‘permanent employees’. My forecast is not to make millions. I have no debts either. Nor do I ever spend more than I have.

The business I run could not happen overnight. It takes years to build a community and even more years and trials and errors to figure out how to turn it into a profitable business.

For me it’s not all about the profits, it’s also about enjoying and believing in what I do whilst maintaining a healthy work life balance. It takes time and consistent ongoing effort to figure this stuff out. Most people don’t stick with it, you’re many steps ahead if you can. And even more steps ahead if you are able to adapt at any given point.

It’s slow business, but the best bit is that it is sustainable business. My growth chart is a steady upwards curve, it’s not rapid, it’s steady. Steady is good! I can build confidently upon steady and predictable business. I fail. I succeed. I fail. I succeed. I do this all in small amounts. Small failures and successes are easy to cope with. Big failures can be overwhelming, stressful and complete ‘doomdom’!

I focus on the work that I want to do. I don’t let others put me under unnecessary commitments or pressures. I am clear in my mind and goals of where my business is heading. Lots of little steps makes it slow. However, it so clearly feels so right. I have the time to observe the work that I’m doing. Not only to ensure that it is viable as a business, but also to ensure that this is something that I personally feel happy doing.

Fast Business

The flipside is fast business – which often bring in lots of pressure. Fast and often wrong decisions. Hiring employees. Office space. Investors. Loans. Stress. Big failure.

These are all attempts at getting to the goal faster, often too fast. People will say that fast business means more and better rewards. This speak is normally in reference to money and status. The reality is that striving for these so called rewards brings many additional problems to our world.

Fast or slow? You decided.

I vote for slow, conscious, happy business.

The Loneliness of Business

Sometimes running a business is hard.

Bootstrapping brings it’s own separate challenges – much of it is wanting to do so much but having very limited resources to make stuff happen.  This is often a blessing in disguise.

Whilst I network with testers and talk to the community about things, there are certain things I don’t always feel I can talk about.

What do you do when an idea fails?  That’s one of the most painful things.  It can be scary launching something that could fail. Or that could require lots of work for no return or potential loss of money and livelihood for my family.

What do you do when you don’t reach your goals?

What do you do when your community and customer base have this fluffy and inaccurate vision of how things are?

What about deciding to pull the plug on certain projects and potentially upsetting customers?

If I talk about failure will it be bad for the future of the business?

If I talk too much about success will it make me look arrogant?

Where do I draw the line of what to share?

I love openness in business, but where do I draw the line for mine?

There have been many things I have been doing to try to grow my company.  My work over the years has accumulated in ways that sometimes I don’t give myself or get credit for.  I am somehow succeeding where others have failed.

Increasingly I am having to say no.  It still feels weird and awkward sometimes. No I can’t do this. Or that. No I won’t sell that.  No, that’s not where we align our business.  No I can’t do for free what I normally charge for.

Increasingly people see success and want a free ride.

Sometimes it’s lonely. And frustrating. And hard.  Ultimately, where I am now, I am responsible for everything. I make the decisions. Things happen or not based on my actions.

How do I know if I’m making the right decisions?  What makes something ‘right’?

I thank my husband for being around and putting up with the challenges I face.  I thank my kids for being patient with me.

I’ve long felt like I couldn’t talk about the ins and out of my business until I went to BaconBiz last month.   It was a breath of fresh air to be able to speak to people openly about the challenges we are all facing in bootstrapping our businesses.  And to be honest, whilst the talks were certainly interesting and useful, talking to actual people and listening to their stories is what I found most valuable about the whole experience.

So thanks to BaconBiz and the ongoing discussions and friends that have been made, I don’t feel as lonely as I use to!

 

Bored guy makes a video. Cheap news websites flock. You won’t believe what happened next.

simpsonargh

Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.

I am so SICK of these cheap social news websites jumping on the back of ‘social content’ to provide cheap entertainment.

What happened next? Erm, this blog post?  Or I dunno. Nothing. Don’t care. Whatever.

The video I refer to is this one.  I’ve linked to the main video, however a ton of so called news sites have used it as a must read story.  Each article on each website basically saying the same thing in the hope of being shared and driving traffic to their website. But it applies to the hundreds and thousands of lame social content that is being shared on news-y type websites to drive traffic that add little value to our existence.

So bored of this.  Can we all move on from it?

in Web | 132 Words

You Should Be Proud Of Yourself

I tend not to big myself up.  I often prefer to keep my head down and just get on with stuff.

(And seriously, I’m not looking for compliments here.  It’s part of my story.)

My husband tells me I should be proud of what I’ve achieved.  And I am.  But I haven’t really shared this in public.  It is probably because I don’t Lean In enough.

Part of it is that I’m still finding my way.  I still feel like I need to find my sweet spot.  There are many things I want to do.  I have a big, big list on my unofficial bucketlist.

However, with my upcoming trip to the US and the chance to meet many other bootstrappers – I have been diving deeper into what other bootstrappers have been doing.

I then compare it to what I’ve done. And guess what?

I’ve been doing and succeeding at what they’ve been talking about.   Whilst living a life of relative freedom.  I work lots. But I also spend lots of time with my family. My husband and I are currently taking equal responsibility for our work. Our kids. And our household.

I work hard, but it doesn’t really feel like work.  I love what I’m creating. And the people I’m working with.  Work and life just rolls into one big ball of awesomeness.

There is something incredibly rewarding and enlightening about it.  I keep talking about it to friends. I feel like I need to pinch myself. I hope it is something that will last.  Where I am now is a very good place and I can’t help but feel that many more people should be in the place that I am in now.

On top of this I feel like I am able to invest in myself.  Something I should have been doing all along.  But life, as it does, often takes over.  And as a mother, I put everyone else in my family before myself.  Perhaps rightly, but probably in hindsight, that was the wrong thing to do.

As I’m investing in myself I am feeling my confidence increase dramatically.  I’m not spending money doing this, rather I am giving myself the time I deserve to do more of the things I should be doing.  Eating the right kind of food (a Paleo diet for me) and exercising plenty (running 3 times per week).

I now feel like WonderWoman and ready to push myself to new limits – in work, personal and family life.

USA Part 2

Last Autumn I went to California for a workliday.  It was awesome.

This time I’m off to Philadelphia for BaconBiz.  A small conference for peeps like me who bootstrap their business along the bumpy roads.  I will then head on down to North Carolina.

The big difference for me is that I’m travelling alone. No big deal you may say.  But for me it is.  Being a family person. Someone who has built their business to be able to spend more (or all!) time with my family.  Spending virtually all my days surrounded by the awesomeness of The Sherry Family. Unschooling.  It is a big deal, for me.

I actually think I haven’t spent more than 24 hours away from my whole family. I will now be faced with a whole 2 weeks to myself.

I AM NOT SURE WHAT I AM GOING TO DO WITH ALL THAT FREE TIME.

Perhaps if you are in Philadelphia or Chapel Hill, North Carolina then you can help me spend some of my time.  Just get in touch!

How Rosie Leans In

I was recently pointed towards the TedTalk and then Lean In book of Sheryl Sandberg.  She’s the COO of Facebook.  I had never heard of her until a few weeks ago.

My first reaction was, umm, pro-women-feminist-leadership. Yawn.  I’ve read enough about that.  The fact that her experience is at a very high level also made me weary of what she was trying to communicate.  I didn’t feel like anything she had to say about women and leadership would really make me think deeply enough about it to write this blog post.

I’m pretty sure, for example, that I don’t want represent a huge company to be a high flying exec, attending big meetings and travelling the world.  It’s just not how I rock ‘n’ roll.

In my time I’ve struggled with finding an employer who would be open to the work flexibility that I aspired to.  Perhaps I didn’t try hard enough. Perhaps I was too scared. Perhaps I felt the times that I tried to ask meant that I was knocked off the list. The fact that Sheryl requested as part of her job to be able to be home for dinner, whilst I understand is brave, is just not something that is good enough for me.  This working for someone else thing just doesn’t work for me.  I needed more than just getting home for dinner time.

However, like Sheryl says. We all want different things.  She’s gone after what she has wanted, whilst raising a family.  I’m doing the same, the Rosie way.

I recognise that I’ve stepped back in many ways, instead of leaning in.  I stopped working when I was pregnant.  I tried going back afterwards, but I couldn’t take it.  I didn’t love the work I was doing at the time enough to see through the high cost of childcare, huge pressure to juggle home & work whilst not seeing my kids.  I did the opposite of what Sheryl talks about – I leaned out instead of in.

However, over the years I’ve been defining my own life whilst discovering the things that I really enjoy doing.  Perhaps I leaned back in  areas, but I certainly leaned in and stayed focused in many other ways.

I don’t think I’ve let myself down. I’ve always had dreams to do things. I’ve always tried hard. I’ve never been happy just being a SAHM – I get bored very quickly.  This boredom meant that I was constantly playing around with project and business ideas.  Some have failed, however, others are now flourishing.  Flourishing in a way that I’ve somehow gotten myself into a leadership role of my own.

It feels weird.  And I find it hard to take credit for it.  (Which is exactly what Sheryl says that women don’t do enough of…and men take credit all too easily).  I’m still not quite sure if ‘the not taking credit for it’  is just who I am, or if maybe, just maybe I should claiming my recognition and shouting about it more.  For now, I’m quite happy pushing things along. Growing my business. Desigining my home and business life to accommodate my needs:

  • I run a successful business that is designed around my family.
  • I bloody love what I do.
  • I unschool my boys.
  • I spend alot of quantity and quality time with the family.
  • I have a supportive and now equal partner.
  • I am happy.

I’ve long been dissatisfied with the status quo.  I honestly don’t understand why so many things are the way they are.  My way of leaning in is to challenge them by creating and sharing my own reality.

“Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that the impact lasts in your absence” – Sheryl Sandberg

I believe I’m doing the above through my work at Software Testing Club and Ministry of Testing.  I’m working on other projects and discovering new passions which I hope will have a similar impact at some point in the future too!