Catherine Gracey

Living Life, One Misadventure At A Time.

Our New Garden

Last month we moved to a new house. It was a daunting proposition with a 3 year old and a 2 month old, but somehow we managed it (even if I haven’t unpacked all of my clothes yet). Shroomi is very pleased with her new digs, and Puggle just seems a bit confused about the whole thing, so I’m willing to call it a success.

In our new home we now have an abundance of space; we’ve gone from a granny flat to a full house with gardens. I didn’t imagine this would be possible a year ago before we got our finances under control and paid off all of our debts, so now we are reaping the rewards of what was realistically not much hard work at all. There are obviously some adjustment pains along the way (“Scissors! What happened to the scissors?”) but overall everyone in our family is calmer and happier here.

The next thing that we plan to reap is our first crop from our new vegetable garden. One thing I have missed over the past few years is a connection to the land. There is something soothing about working the earth, nurturing plants, and finally killing them so I can eat them. We are experimenting with home schooling, so hauling Shroomi out into the garden with me has been an important lesson for us both. The first thing we learned is that we don’t haul Puggle out there with us, but I think she’ll come around in a few months.

Until I started teaching my daughter how to work in the garden, I had no idea how many distinct skills are involved. She now knows how to walk carefully in a garden bed so that she doesn’t stand on anything important, she can distinguish between weeds and plants that we want to keep, she can plant things and repot them, she can shovel dirt and identify debris that shouldn’t be in the garden beds, and now she is working on identifying the differences between seeds and how to space them while planting them. We’re even having some success watering things with the hose without squirting interesting things such as Mummy or the washing.

Our first lettuces are a week or two away from harvesting, and Shroomi is gleefully looking forward to eating the seedlings that she patted into the soil with declarations of “I love you, baby plant”. She understands the connection between the garden and the table, and that she will take her harvests to her father so that they can continue the skill development in the kitchen with home grown instead of shop bought.

When I first took Shroomi out with me, I wasn’t hoping for much beyond keeping her out of mischief and perhaps entertaining her at the same time. What I didn’t expect was the increase in pride and self confidence that she would experience. She is now an active participant in the creation of her new home, and she happily chatters about her work and success. Eating freshly grown produce is rewarding, but watching my daughter flourish is the greater reward.

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Kicking Off Our Financial Shoes

For Christmas I was given a copy of Scott Pape’s recent book, the Barefoot Investor, and we decided to try and implement the financial plan that he outlines. There were a lot of suggestions in the book that aren’t particularly new – eliminate credit card debt, automate your financial plan, etc. – and we had already implemented a lot of them. What differed were the particular ratios and details in the approach.

Our family’s financial situation is currently experiencing a lot of change, so it seemed like a good time to set new, positive habits before the passage of time adds a layer of difficulty that we don’t particularly need. We began by breaking down our income and dividing it according to the guidelines in the book:

  • 10% goes to a splurge account. A new haircut, beer with friends, or that morning coffee that makes life worthwhile? The money for that comes from this account.
  • 10% goes to a smile account. A new car, going on holiday, or whatever bigger goal makes you giddy with anticipation? This is the account where you watch that dream come closer with every pay period.
  • 20% goes to a fire extinguisher account. Paying off credit card debt, saving to buy a house, or putting out some other sort of financial fire? This is the account where you hose down your financial problems.
  • 60% goes to a daily expenses account. Think rent, food, and other items that are really boring until you suddenly can’t afford them.
  • There is an additional account, mojo, which is a savings account at another bank that you never look at. This is where any unexpected windfalls or bonuses go. For us that will be overtime payments, tax returns, or the money from selling things we no longer want or need.

I contemplated this account structure for a few days, and thought about the ways we have made financial mistakes in the past. We tend to cruise along well week to week, but then a big bill comes in that we have forgotten is due and suddenly we’re scrambling to cover the cost. To solve this problem, we changed our structure to the following:

  • 10% goes to the splurge account.
  • 10% goes to the smile account.
  • 20% goes to the fire extinguisher account.
  • 50% goes to our daily expenses account (down from 60%).
  • 10% goes to a big bills account. This will be for things such as annual insurance payments, car registration and repairs, or surprise medical bills.
  • Bonus income still goes to the mojo account.

Calculating the amount of money to funnel into each account was easy, and setting up the automatic transfers only took a few minutes. The money moves before we see it in our main account, so there is no risk that we will spend it on the wrong things without thought. Our plan essentially implements itself, so all we have to do is keep each account to its intended purpose and it will work.

For me the most fascinating element of the new plan has been the emotional response from my partner and me. I think the new plan is great, because I can see how we will eventually meet our goals if we just stick to it. All those questions about “how will we do x?” come with a simple answer: we wait. I don’t have to ask if I can afford to do something small and fun, because I can just look at the balance of our splurge account and compare it to the cost of what I want to do. There is no longer a trade off in my mind between eating at a restaurant and paying the phone bill. It is the ultimate in financial freedom.

My partner, however, is not riding the same emotional high that I am experiencing. We have a lot of years behind us where we have enjoyed the alternative freedom of consolidated revenue. Until now we have worked towards one goal at a time, so achieving the next goal felt much easier and was faster. Waiting for things that were once satisfied immediately can chafe and feel restrictive.

It will take time for us to see how the financial structure plays out both mathematically and emotionally. Will we stick to it, or will our old habits push us away from this new approach? No matter how perfect a plan seems to be on paper, there are human factors that are difficult to account for. Unlike past plans this one isn’t asking us to cut out hot chocolate, new shoes or evenings at the movies, which I think gives it a higher chance of working. It will be fascinating to see if our perception of ourselves as mathematical, logical people wins out over our impulsive and frequently irrational selves.

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Testing a New Approach

Last month I had my first in-person interview for a programming job. I had almost a week to prepare for it, so I decided to spend the time looking into a few of the tools and JavaScript libraries that I’ve always meant to look into but have never made the time for. It was an intense few days where I picked up a lot of new skills and mentally kicked myself for not doing it earlier.

My favourite new skill is testing. I worked through a course on Mocha.js and Chai.js. Mocha is a test framework and Chai is an assertion library, and together they tie in very nicely with behavioural driven development. In English, that means that when I plan to write a section of my program, I can tell the tests what it should do and then the tests will tell me if my program succeeds or not. This might sound like doing double the coding work for no additional functionality, and in a way it is, but it means that every time I want to test my code I can just type a single command and the program will check itself. If I write my tests sensibly, it means that I can make changes without worrying about breaking something else that I don’t realise is connected to the part of the program I’m working on. If something does break, my tests will tell me what and where it is broken, so I don’t have to spend hours trying to hunt down the problem. It’s pretty neat.

Adding tests to my sandbox websites was simple. Writing the test and the code to go with it was straight forward when I wrote the tests first. My structure just worked naturally, and I was thrilled to see that test driven development was considerably faster for me than manually testing as I went, even with the additional coding required.

After a few weeks of practicing in the sandbox websites, it was time to try adding tests to languagelearning.ninja. This was a very daunting proposition, because I have spent months coding this particular project. It is the most complex thing I have ever attempted, and in the process of writing it I’ve come up with quite a few little work-arounds that I’m not particularly keen to revisit. I did not structure the site with testing in mind, which is painfully obvious in almost every file that I open.

I decided to begin small, with the library module. My first tests just checked if the test suite could access the library files and if the correct languages were present. I expanded the tests to check if each language had entries in each genre that I plan to include. Within the first day I had already written hundreds of tests and refactored my code considerably. As I wrote each new test, I was conscious that these tests would have to handle future developments to the site. This is where I am learning how to scale.

Nine days of intense coding later, and Mocha reports that I have written well over 1000 tests. To come that far has meant restructuring most of the website, and I have barely started drilling into specific modules. So much has been broken down, modularised, and reassembled in a way that is much more predictable. Theories and methods that I have encountered over the past year and never found a use for seem vital now. Business level decisions that I have struggled with for years suddenly became obvious in the test environment. I stopped asking “how can I keep track of this?” and started asking “how can the computer track this for me?” Most importantly, I can now see how other people could work on the project without disrupting my own work. I don’t have to keep everything in my head any more, and it’s giving me the space to finally think again.

I didn’t end up getting that programming job, but I’m not disappointed; there are still a few questions the interviewer asked that I didn’t have good answers for, and if they turn out to be as helpful as testing has been, I will be too busy learning to work for anyone else for quite some time.

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Starting Again

No matter how nostalgic I might feel for an earlier time in my life, it is impossible for me to pick up where I left off; my financial situation is different, my family situation is different, my attitude is different, even my body is different. Over the past year I have tormented myself with comparisons between where I am now and where I used to be. I constantly feel as if the me of today falls short compared to the me of yesterday.

There are obvious problems with nostalgic comparisons. I have conveniently forgotten all of the nights when I was unable to sleep because I was plagued with worries and doubts. Time seems to compress, so that problems it took me a year to solve feel as if I overcame them in the space of a week. My memory is faulty, and it captures the moment of triumph as I worked out a solution, but omits many pertinent details about how I struggled to get there. I can make as many comparisons as I like but, unless I am brutally honest with myself, they are never fair.

I am not often kind to myself. When I am confronted with an obstacle, I tend to talk to myself in a way that I would never dream of speaking to another person. All of the toxic thoughts that I have edited out of my memories have simply been supplanted into my present, causing havoc where there is already a sufficient amount of difficulty to work with.

In April I took Shroomi for a month of traipsing around Europe. It was just the two of us and our luggage, so I had a lot to contend with. She is two and a half, and at the start of that trip I had never spent an entire day alone with her before. Two days into the trip and I had a spectacular case of bronchitis. One week into the trip I pulled a muscle in my back. Somewhere in France I partially ruptured the posterior cruciate ligament in my knee.

There are a lot of things I learned when it was just my daughter and I, and a lot more when it was just the two of us and a fairly debilitating injury, but one of the main lessons was that it’s time to start being nice to myself. Doing things in the hardest possible way doesn’t make me a badass, especially when no one is around to see me do it. Achieving my goals is the important thing, not how much I suffer in the process. Pain is a warning, not a measure of success.

Many of my current goals focus on reclaiming things that have been lost to me. I have the expectation that if I could do it once I can do it again, but this is an unreasonable and unkind way to view it. The first time I achieved my goals I had no idea if I could succeed or not. I wasn’t burdened by flawed memories of what it was like, so I had a green field to build on. Every solution was equally valid until I had tested them.

By clinging to the past I am clinging to old methods, but my context is different and no amount of wishful thinking will change that. The kindest thing to do is to give myself permission to start again, to find new solutions to things that I will deliberately view as new problems. This way, when I succeed and get what I want, I can get it with a sense of pride in my accomplishments and not just a sense of relief that I repaired the damage and salvaged the situation.

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Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is

I have spent a lot of time over the last few years working on my business idea. Progress has been sporadic as I have raced through development work for a few weeks and then slammed hard into technical challenges that I didn’t have the skills to overcome at the time. Starting a business feels like one exhausting episode of manic depression, and it tends to follow this pattern:

Monday morning: I am full of creative ideas, for I am a creative goddess! I will write code, and it will be beautiful. When my child has her afternoon nap I will harness these thoughts and I shall type like the wind.

Monday afternoon: I was going to do something about fixing a bug in my crossword. Oh god, what was the bug I was going to fix? I can’t bear to do another crossword right now to see how it is running; I need more words in my database. Maybe I’ll add a few more now, then I can test if they work while I do the crossword. That will be a bit more fun, and I can kill two birds with one stone. God I’m efficient.

Tuesday morning: Right, my child is at crèche, so I have a few hours to get everything done. Oh ugh, I’m only half way through translating those words from yesterday. Translating words into languages that I don’t know is so time consuming, even if it is a great way to learn. Maybe I should get a translator to do it for me, and then randomly check the accuracy of a few? Maybe I should get a second translator to do the checking?

Tuesday afternoon: My database is broken. How can I get other people to help with this when I can’t even stop myself from breaking it? Why is my database broken? Maybe it hates me. My child is refusing to have her nap. Does she hate me too? Probably. Everyone hates me. I hate me. I suck at coding and I need to get a real job.

Wednesday morning: I forgot to close a string. Ha ha. Funny. I am a debugging goddess! Look at all this great code I have written today.

Wednesday afternoon: The back end of my website is beautiful. I wish people could see some of this hidden functionality. What a pity the front end looks like arse. Maybe I should get a designer to make it a bit prettier?

A screenshot of languagelearning.ninja as of March 2016

This design may look like arse…

Thursday morning: I can’t believe how much time I wasted yesterday looking for a designer. That was prime coding time! What was I thinking? It might look like arse, but compared to my first version it’s pretty sexy. I’m getting better at design; I just need to spend a bit more time practicing. Designers are expensive. Translators are expensive. If I do it myself I can save a lot of money, and then I can spend the money I have on something a bit more important for the project.

Screenshot of languagelearning.ninja from March 2015.

…but this older version looks like fat, hairy ass.

Thursday afternoon: Why did I try to go out and do some photography for the website with a 2 year old? Thank god the camera isn’t broken. I hope the camera bag dries before her father gets home.

Friday morning: Oh, right, child isn’t going to crèche today. Bummer, I forgot about that. I wonder if I can look up designers and translators on my phone while I take her to the park. There just isn’t enough time to get everything finished, but I’m such a control freak that it’s difficult for me to let go.

Friday afternoon: I am exhausted. Damn it, that bug is still in my crossword. Next week. I’ll fix it next week.

Yesterday I decided that it was time to stop messing around and to get some help. I took my credit card out of storage, went over to 99 designs, and launched my first contest. It was terrifying. It was symbolic.

Working through the form (which I closed no less than 4 times before I just got on with it and finished) forced me to face a few truths that I didn’t particularly feel like facing:

  • Time is more important than money, and I need to quit wasting it.
  • I am not good enough to finish this project by myself, and I never will be. This is ok, because it would take me so much time to get good enough at everything that I would always be playing catch-up with new technologies and ideas and the project would never finish.
  • My sense of money is skewed, because in the past 6 months I have easily spent that much money on miscellaneous rubbish that I’ll never use (if not more). I can spend that much money in a single month on chiropractic and massage without thinking twice about it.
  • It’s ok to tell other people what I think of their work when they are working for me.

I eventually submitted the design contest, paid the money, and remarkably I didn’t die immediately. It was a great start to the process. Designs are already coming in, and if you’re interested you can check them out here. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a great idea for some code that I need to write before my child gets home from crèche; after all, I am a coding goddess.

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Good Things Happen Too

The past month has taught me something about myself: I struggle to share the positive things in my life. There are a lot of toxic people around me, the sort of people who twist my words and use them to hurt me, and to protect myself I keep a lot of secrets. This habit spills into most of my relationships, but instead of feeling safe I just feel isolated and lonely.

I need to work on this.

In the spirit of getting started, I wanted to share some of the good stuff that has been going on.

Shroomi turned two a few months ago. She’s big, strong and healthy. She can count to 20 in both English and German, and read the corresponding numbers. We’re struggling a bit with the alphabet, but that’s mostly because she doesn’t understand why some of the capital letters don’t look anything like the lower case letters. She is turning into a charming, polite, thoughtful little girl, and I’m absurdly proud of her.

I finally got around to learning French. Once I found a method that worked for me things became much simpler. There is still a lot of work to do with vocabulary, and my pronunciation is probably terrible, but I feel confident to try talking with the natives.

The website that I’ve been building for more than a year is online at www.languagelearning.ninja/. There is an incredible amount of work that still needs to be done on it, but I faced my fear and put part of it up. Users can register, play some of the games, and work with 6 different languages. Originally I was going to work on the language and content side of the project while a programmer I know did the code, and we were talking about bringing a designer on. Working with other people fell through for various reasons, but I still managed to launch by the original date, and with more languages than we originally discussed.

Following on from the previous point, 18 months ago I only knew how to write basic HTML and CSS. Now I can program in multiple languages and I do full stack development on an almost daily basis. I’ve nearly finished two IT units through Open Universities Australia, and for my programming unit I’m currently sitting on a 100% mark. A bit of external validation was just what I needed.

I found a great physiotherapist who specialises in women’s health. Thanks to her I can now go a full week without needing to see a chiropractor for intense pain, and that’s a week full of activity including running, jumping, climbing and baby wearing. My strength is improving daily, and I don’t have to be careful every time I want to do a basic movement. The relief from constant pain has been exhilarating.

We’ve decided to do a bit more travelling. Shroomi and I will spend a month travelling together through Europe before her father joins us for a few more weeks. This trip is going to be a blending of all the success I currently have in my life: my relationship with my beautiful little girl, my increasing health, my passion for language and finding ways to work remotely.

We pay for the tickets tomorrow.

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Change Your Questions

A few weeks ago I woke up in the morning and my mind wasn’t hammering me with a thousand thoughts at once. There was a blessed internal silence that mirrored the peace around me. I was surprised but I enjoyed the moment, because I knew that it might not last.

For years I have put off making hundreds of decisions. Big, small, or somewhere in between, every day a few new decisions have been added to the list. Normally I am a decisive person, so watching myself drown in indecision has been bewildering. I tried every psychological trick I could think of to improve my motivation. I’ve promised myself rewards for getting certain things done. I’ve threatened myself with punishments for failing to sort things out. I’ve written lists, experimented with clothing, and bought new office furniture.

None of the tricks helped beyond the novelty wearing off, but they did leave me wondering if I am not as capable as I believed I am. Could I just be a flake? Maybe I don’t have myself sorted out. Perhaps I am failing as an adult. Or is it simply that I’m lazy, irresponsible, and drifting through life waiting for someone else to bail me out?

No matter how negative my self-talk became, I wasn’t prepared to decide that the insidious questions were correct. The people around me were complaining about how hard I was working, so I couldn’t be lazy. I’ve spent years working on the same project with obsessive determination, so I can’t be a flake. I’ve learned too much in the pursuit of my goals to even pretend that I’m waiting for other people to bail me out.

So what was the underlying problem?

That question changed everything, because it led me to better questions. The problem was that I wasn’t making decisions. Why wasn’t I making decisions? Because I felt as if I didn’t have enough information to make good decisions, and that any decisions I made would be terrible and unchangeable. I realised that I expected to fail, to fail often, and that I wouldn’t be able to correct my mistakes once I saw them for what they were. At that point I stopped asking myself what the best possible decision would be, and how I would fix any mistakes that I had made.

The interesting thing about learning how to fix a mistake is that it is based on a few criteria. Firstly, you have to know exactly what the mistake is that you made. Mistakes are very specific, but success is often nebulous and difficult to define. Secondly, knowing what your mistake was implies that you now have a better plan, so acting on it will make your position stronger. Thirdly, learning how to fix a mistake usually teaches you how to take action in the first place. Asking how to change your appointment time is much easier than asking what the perfect appointment time would be, and you’ll learn how to book appointments in the first place.

Now when I catch myself procrastinating I take a five minute time out. I walk away from what I am doing and find a task that keeps my hands busy while my mind is free. Getting something finished breaks me out of the feeling that I’ve been wasting my time, and it gives me a chance to ask myself what the problem is. Usually I am doing one of two things; either I am focusing on the big picture instead of the small, for instance trying to work out how an entire software library works instead of starting with just the functions that I need to call, or I am fixated on the small picture instead of the big, such as worrying about stationery that costs $10 and ignoring expenses where I could potentially save $1000.

I still have a lot to sort out, but many things that have dragged on for years are now resolved. Dreams have become goals, opportunities have been created, and I can look at my achievements with satisfaction again.

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Don’t Mess With Mum

One month ago I started a new job. This is the first time in almost five years that I have been employed by someone else, and it represented a massive step for me. Returning to full time paid employment meant leaving Shroomi for most of the day. It meant putting her into crèche for a few hours each week. It meant restricting the amount of time we could spend breastfeeding together. It meant completely redefining the roles in my family. And it meant seeing if my body could handle the demands of a normal office.

The past month has been intense. Not only did I learn that there are tiny muscles between the vertebrae, I learned that they can become swollen. Yes, it is as painful as it sounds. I learned that Shroomi wasn’t delighted to have her day time feeds restricted to my half hour lunch break. My partner learned that being at home all day with a toddler is fairly exhausting. I could have told him that, but it was funnier to watch him learn it for himself.

Despite the problems we all faced, I also learned that we are resilient and able to cope with a lot of obstacles. Towards the end of the fourth week I thought that we might have found our groove when things started working for everyone. Shroomi began to understand that she would see Mummy soon, my partner’s stamina improved, and I found a myotherapy schedule that was keeping the pain under control.

Friday is when things got…interesting.

I was alone on my lunch break when my female supervisor came into the break room. She had just spoken with our male manager, who wanted me to stop breastfeeding during my lunch break. He was giving me three weeks, at which point I had to wean Shroomi, who would no longer be allowed on the premises.

I heard myself resign before my fork hit my plate.

The conversation became fairly awkward at that point. She didn’t want to lose me, but she was at a loss to think of a solution that would work for me, my child and our manager. We discussed a few possibilities and agreed that none of them would work. She begged me to think about it over the weekend, which I agreed to do.

Boy, did I think about it over the weekend. Then I read some legislation. I read a lot of legislation.

I have to give it to Boss Man; he was smart. He didn’t say anything to me directly, which meant that he could claim that it was all Supervisor’s doing. Any formal protest that I might make has to include the conversation with Supervisor, and any allegations I want to make against Boss Man would be hearsay at best. He could defend himself by saying it was all a big misunderstanding, that he hadn’t expected her to say whatever I was upset about in particular, and that it was nothing to do with him.

His method for preventing me from breastfeeding Shroomi was also technically within the bounds of the law. As the person responsible for the safety of the site, he can prevent anyone from coming on site that he wants to.

Yesterday I gave him my resignation letter. He was surprised to receive it. He was so surprised that I found myself wondering if he’s never had an employee quit on principle before. Suddenly he was so keen to be friendly and accommodating. And I had guessed correctly: it was all a big misunderstanding. Fancy that. He hadn’t meant to upset me because he loves working through “problems” with his employees. He was sure we could come to some sort of arrangement that would work for everyone.

I sat there silent for long stretches of the conversation while he refused to respect me. The garbage he came out with left me so amazed that I lost my anger. At a few points I cut him off and said that we would have to agree to disagree, because he was hanging himself so badly that it was embarrassing to watch. There were, however, a few points that we were able to agree on:

  1. I am an excellent employee who has been punctual, diligent, and I have responded positively and respectfully to every criticism given to me during training.
  2. Breastfeeding Shroomi during my lunch breaks has not interfered in any way with my ability to do my job, and I have taken no extra time away from my work to feed her.
  3. Shroomi has not been disruptive while she was on site with me. After all, she and I have been do discreet that he didn’t even realise I was still feeding her until Friday when it was mentioned to him in passing by Supervisor. That passing comment was what triggered the whole fiasco.
  4. Resigning from a job is a big step that has implications on me, my family, my finances and the company that I work for.
  5. It’s difficult to hire people like me for positions like this one.

Since Boss Man said Work Safe would have an issue with my baby being on site if the company was ever audited, I decided to take a break from our discussion to go and chat with them. The guy at Work Safe said that yes, my boss is legally entitled to ban Shroomi from the site, but when I told him only a fraction of what had gone on he suggested that I ring the Human Rights Commission to get their opinion on sexual discrimination law. I don’t need to call them for their opinion, because I copied the relevant part of their website into my resignation letter.

There was no way I was going to let Boss Man talk me out of resigning so flippantly. He might have said the company is like his family, and how he wants all of his employees to be happy, but the truth of his actions is that he doesn’t want to have anyone disagree with him. I certainly don’t treat my family the way he treated me. He didn’t offer any apologies for his behaviour, and indirectly tried to explain why I should be the one to do the apologising. He actually thought it was reasonable to tell me that I’d have to come into his office every three weeks and tell him how the weaning process was going.

One does not leave for oneself, one leaves for the next person. Now he has to find someone to replace me, hire them, train them on a system that typically takes two months to learn (although I learned it in two weeks, so I’ve got no idea what he’s talking about there either), and pay for all the expenses involved in that. I could complain to the Human Rights Commission and see if they can force him to apologise to me, but for what? I don’t want to work with him, and I wouldn’t believe him even if he did say he was sorry.

As I walked out the door he told me that I am a strong woman. I had to smile at that. At least, in the end, we found another point that we could agree on.

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Schrodinger’s Start-up

Not all start-up businesses are destined for success. Those that fail do so for a range of similar reasons that are infinitely variable in the details. It might be that the product is bad, it could be a great product that is just marketed to the wrong people, or perhaps it is marketed to the right people but there aren’t enough of them. There could be a lack of resources, either knowledge, funding or time, or simply the lack of an adequate plan to turn the vision into reality. Regardless of why the business fails, it is usually easy to find the problems in hindsight.

Estimates for the number that will succeed are as variable as definitions for success. One estimate that I came across recently is that 50% of start-ups will fail. In this instance failure was defined as the business folding and the owners walking away from it. Failure was not the opposite of success, but rather one of several alternative possibilities. Despite understanding this rationally, my optimistic side has taken it to mean that there is a 50% chance of an idea working.

For the past year I have been obsessively working on my own start-up idea, which is an iteration of previous versions of the idea that I abandoned. I know that there is a potential market, I don’t have a financial barrier to realising my goals, and I know how to close the skill gaps that could stop me from launching the business.

My idea ticks all of the boxes in theory. In practice, I don’t know which boxes will actually be ticked, and I can’t know until I launch and test my business in reality. Until I launch, I am working on Schrodinger’s start-up; it has the potential to be successful and it might be destined to fail. I might be securing my financial future for the rest of my life, but I might also be wasting hundreds of hours that could better be spent playing with my daughter and reading books on my couch.

The emotional response is to hope that continuing to work on it will make it stronger, more robust, and give it a better chance of succeeding. Unfortunately the truth is that delaying a launch in hopes that I can be better prepared just makes my start-up more likely to die of starvation than the complicated Geiger counter Schrodinger’s cat had to put up with. If I want my start-up to live then I have to make sure I don’t let it die. It’s as simple as that, but I won’t know if it works until I open the metaphorical box. Pandora and Schrodinger clearly have a lot to discuss.

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The Crystal Ball of Hindsight

I firmly believe that hindsight is the most powerful teaching tool that we have. Paths and possibilities that are hard to see now become so obvious when they move to the unchangeable safety of the past. Decisions can be reassessed, playing what if becomes easier because so much more information is available, and what was known at the time is simpler to weigh up and properly measure.

The past year has been very educational. Not a day has gone by that I haven’t looked back and wanted to kick myself for what is obvious today that I didn’t do yesterday. Every time I let my thoughts drift to the past it shows me another strategy that I didn’t use. Time is blurring into a frustrating sequence of could have, would have, should have.

It would be easy to berate myself and get negative about this process, but I also understand that it is something I need to be doing. No matter how I view this time in my life one year from now, I will not regret the lessons I am drawing from my mistakes, some of which have been spectacular. This reflection has shown me options that are still available, options that I might otherwise have missed entirely. Life will be very different in another 12 months.

Today I had my first session with a German tutor. We discussed the problems I have with the language, the strategies that I tried in the past, and what my capabilities with the language are. At the end of the session she told me that she doesn’t often have students who are as motivated as I am, and that I am clearly prepared. In that moment I paused, reflected, and decided she was right. I am incredibly motivated, and I am incredibly prepared. Then I quipped that preparation doesn’t do much good if you never get past the preparing and into the doing.

Things derailed for me a long time ago, and I have spent years since then preparing to make things better. I put an incredible amount of effort into the preparation, and I burn out just before I would achieve what I set up. There is always a new problem, something more urgent to take care of, and I hope that the old things I have prepared for will sort themselves out. Sometimes they don’t, but they do with enough frequency that I never notice my pattern unfolding again. The only thing that is guaranteed as things are is a life cluttered with half-finished projects.

The solution to resolving the tension in my life is to follow the path that allows me to finally and consistently act. Progress inspires progress; it becomes a habit that is harder to break with each passing day. Progressing defines you as someone who can, rather than someone who wants. It soothes regret and erases bitterness.

I should take all of this wisdom and do something great with it. I could work through the grammar exercises that I have. I could finish the pair of pants I am making for my daughter. I could work on my coding project. There are dozens of paths available to me. They all look equally promising; they all look equally terrifying. I just need to start walking and remember what I’ve learned.

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