Sunday nights at our house are dinner with me, the kids, the Farmer and the Ex. They are always fun dinners, and I always feel very lucky for that.
My six-year-old talked about his new baby cousin, Eva (who is pictured, in utero, above). “She has a terrible name,” he said, “for Pig Latin. Its Vaeay. It doesn’t work.”
We all do the vowel arranging in our heads and agree, Eva is not a good Pig Latin name.
“Mom has a great name! It’s Enelopepay.”
The Farmer says, “It sounds like it could be the name of her next company.”
The Ex says, “Yeah, emphasis on the pay.”
The three adults laugh.
And then I get nervous. About what I’m going to do next. If you have had three companies, people assume you will have a fourth. So I assume that, too. Which makes me nervous.
When I was in the doctor’s office with my son, he was playing his DS and I was looking for something to read to distract myself from the urge to rein in his video game time (I decided that parents who limit video games are delusional.) And I saw this pamphlet that looked like a food pyramid so I grabbed it to get some insight into how to use the food pyramid to make myself not want to eat and lose weight overnight.
What I thought was a food pyramid pamphlet was actually a mental health pamphlet. It was a pyramid that had taking care of life goals and meaning of life stuff on the bottom, and the middle part was daily routine mental health stuff like exercise and talking to friends—the stuff you already know you should do every day. And the top was the immediate stuff. Ways to calm yourself down in the moment. For the most part, the top part was positive self-talk.
I am good at the first two, but the immediate stuff I’m not good at. In fact, I eat when I am anxious. I found, actually, that drinking is more calming when I’m anxious, but eating is more socially acceptable. Xanax is always good, but only if I can sleep the rest of the day. And really, if I have a day where I can sleep then I’m probably not anxious. Not that I would ever know. Because I haven’t had a day where I can sleep the whole day since I became a mother.
Anyway, I am trying to find good ways to calm myself down when I’m nervous. And I took the pamphlet home to make myself more conscious of what I do in the moment when anxiety arises. Mostly this means that I’ve started to tell myself, “Oh, look. I must be upset becacause I’m eating.” But in this moment, at the dining room table, while the kids talked to the dads, I went into the kitchen to calm myself down. And I didn’t eat. I practiced positive self-talk.
I had rehearsed it before, which is how to prepare for the moment of huge self-doubt. Here are the five points I’ve come up with:
1. Stay confident that I am making good choices based on good data.
When I started having kids I dropped out of the software industry and the startup world.
The moment was similar to me deciding that homeschooling is a non-negotiable. Everyone told me not to drop out and that I was crazy.
But I had read a lot about attachment theory—that kids need one, single primary caregiver for the first two years. I realized that it’s common knowledge among child development experts that kids need a single caregiver for the first two years, but no one wants to be the bearer of this bad news. Because daycare means there are two primary caregivers, at least, which jeopardizes a baby’s ability to attach. So sending a kid to daycare was out of the question for me.
And that’s how I feel now, about homeschooling. Even though it’s wreaking havoc on my career.
2. Remember the times I felt like a failure when it was not true at all.
This research made me intensely committed to finding work I could do from home to support the family. Which lead to temporary financial ruin. And I felt like a failure.
All my friends in the software industry disappeared because we had nothing to talk about. The writers I met earned so little money that I worried hanging out with them was bad for my career.
After a few years, I launched this blog. It got big enough that people who make a lot of money started paying attention to me again. And I didn't feel like a failure anymore.
If I could go back to that time, I’d tell myself to stop worrying about failure. The worry just makes the change harder, and no one is a failure in the middle of a big change. You can’t fail if you’re moving toward something. You fail only if you stop.
3. During big transitions, be clear on priorities.
I have a startup right now. I started pitching some top-tier VCs I’d like to work with and they said the business idea would not grow big enough. So I showed how I can win at the whole online food business because the barrier to entry for selling meat and cheese online is huge and I have a way to get around that.
Everyone loved my marketing plan. Except that the business was too small to be funded. There would not be a big enough exit and I can't get great business partners if I don't have huge exit potential.
That’s a problem because I want to work only with hotshots. I don't want to work with moms who want jobs on the side. Please God do not strike me down for saying this, but as a mom who is trying to have a really exciting career, I don't want to work with other moms. I want to work with twenty-something men who have no kids and have endless time to address their endless curiosity.
So I worked with an angel investor to craft a business plan that moves quickly from online food to online everything. I talk about the future of shopping . It used to be that shopping was exciting because you could find different stuff in different cities. Discovery and exploration are part of shopping. But online, everything is a commodity. People want discovery and they want to feel that what they are buying is special.
I say all this to show how my online food business will transform the consumer experience. You need to say that kind of stuff to get A-list partners and A-list funding.
4. Getting what you want means deciding what you’ll give up.
So last month I got a great developer to agree to move forward with me. Last week there was no barrier to me launching my goat cheese business as step one to transforming the American consumer experience.
Except that I don't think I can handle talking like this every day for five years. Which is what a startup is: talking like a manic dreamer with crazy ambitions that no one thinks you can really pull off, but some people will take a wild bet on. That's what it would be.
So I have this business I'm not doing. And I’m banking on the advice I tell other people, that admitting what won’t work to do right now is a step toward figure out what will work to do right now.
5. Keep moving forward and believe you’ll go somewhere good.
I am at an in-between stage, and I've been here before, so I am going to have faith that I'll come out okay. I am going to have faith that I am not going to wither away and lose my ability to earn a lot of money. I am going to have faith that when I am done with my current identity crisis there will be top-performers all around me.
I coach so many people in their 20s who are lost, and they are worried that their feeling lost will never end. And I tell them to just keep trying jobs until one sticks. Have patience and believe that you’ll figure things out. This is true for me, too. Right now. The more times you live through that feeling of being lost, the more faith you have that you’ll keep moving forward and come out fine.
You know what makes me happy right now? My sister-in-law had a baby after losing her first one. I’m really happy for her. And my small, odd family has fun dinners together. And focusing on the stuff that definitely feels good gives me faith to trust that eventually I can put the pay in Enelopepay.