Archive for the ‘career’ Category

Earning our Keep

As long as we’ve had the dream of moving to a small acreage and creating a homestead, making a living off the farm has never been part of that dream. The truth is, trying to support a family on a farm’s products is labour-intensive, highly competitive, and not all that lucrative. If we weren’t blessed with careers that can be molded to fit our circumstances perhaps we’d be entertaining thoughts of being farmers. But we’re middle-aged, not cut out for heavy work over long hours, and are able to earn a good living doing other things that take up far less time and allow us to get outside whenever possible, not to mention being with our homeschooled children. There’s lots to do in order to turn this place into a homestead, but it’s about providing good food for our family, a healthy environment around us, and a connection to the land. It’s not about earning a living.

For the last several years I’ve been running a small consulting business out of my home. It’s very part-time, the hours are flexible, I enjoy the work very much, and it pays well. About a year ago Husband found a job that fit him perfectly, too. He and his sole partner get along very well, he works almost entirely from home, and his hours are mostly flexible. His partner had already established the business some years before and there’s a steady influx of clients for the foreseeable future. And the pay is good, so he doesn’t need to work long hours to provide an income that keeps us quite comfortable. We’re both very proud of what we’ve built for ourselves, and although we recognize that the socioeconomic situations we were born into certainly helped get us where we are today, we’ve definitely chosen a road less travelled when it comes to the direction in which we took our careers. Husband could be earning a lot more money with a big firm, but he’d also be in an environment he loathes (big business), working long hours, and with little control over his future. We also would not be living here, in this smallish town. We’d be on the outskirts of a major city centre, with a long commute every day and a whole lot less land for a whole lot more money. For me, were I to seek out full employment I’d be earning ten times what I make now, but I too would be working long hours, would have missed out on the vast majority of my children’s lives, and also would not be living in this town. For us, maximizing our earning potential is not part of The Dream. We’ve pared back and chosen a more simple lifestyle, and we haven’t regretted it for one minute.

I’m writing this post because there are two things going on for us right now related to work and income, both of which I’m quite excited about. I’m in the process of re-branding my company. The name I started with is rather generic, as I wasn’t really sure what it would all look like once I got going. As with many entrepreneurial journeys, I found out along the way that there were niches I could fill, ones I didn’t know existed, and the focus of my work shifted and moved until I found my groove. I’m ready to move my business to the next level and work on promoting myself more. Virtually all my business comes via the Internet, so I’m having my website revamped and reworked to up my search engine rankings and include a way to promote those services in which I specialize. I’ve spent countless hours trying to come up with a new name, and I don’t go anywhere now without my scrap paper lists and a pen –  you never know when inspiration will hit you! I’ve found a wonderful woman to work on my website – she’s an old friend from my university and club-hopping days whom I recently reconnected with. Now she’s a stay-home mum with a home-based business and her work demonstrates that she is very talented and creative. It’s not my intention for this to become a full-time job, but I do have room for an increased caseload and I’m hoping this process will result in some more new clients.

The other thing going on is that Husband has begun working on a long-standing dream of his to produce artisan spirits. He spent his teen and young adult years on his family’s winery learning the art and science of distillation, but never really thought anything would come of it professionally. Fast-forward a couple of decades and things have really changed. On a whim he recently looked into the idea again and found that the trend in local eating and artisan food products has cleared the way for artisan distillers. While putting together a business plan we discovered that we can house the facility on our property (gotta love rural zoning) and have planned to build a small barn-style structure for this purpose (we picked the plans out of a book; it’s gorgeous and rustic and exactly what you’d expect on a homestead). What’s so great about it is there are no waste products other than water (which, as the product of distillation, is as pure as it gets) and mash (which the pigs will love). We finalized the incorporation process a few weeks ago and are now making plans to clear some of the property (which we’d planned to do anyway) and put up the barn (using the lumber we recently had milled*) this spring. We’ll be spending the first several months trying out different recipes and working to develop a unique formula and process using locally-sourced ingredients (of course!). Our goal is to produce small batches of a quality artisan product that reflects the unique flavours of our region (which is a haven for locavores). Because of the flexibility of our work schedules (and the fact that our kids are quite independent at home now) we have the time to devote to this side-business. While neither one of us is giving up our “day jobs”, who knows where this might take us? In the meantime, the cash layout is relatively small and we’re sure to have lots of fun along the way.

What’s so funny is that I don’t even drink hard liquor (I’m a lightweight when it comes to alcohol). But what I’ve learned so far is that making spirits is the perfect blend of art and science. Husband excels at the art aspect of things and the scientist in me is rather excited about taking on some lab work again. Although the setting will be much different than the labs I used to work in, such tasks as performing batch experiments and keeping pristine notes of all processes and variables is right up my alley (they don’t call me the Spreadsheet Queen for nothing). Mostly it just all sounds like a good deal of fun, something Hubby and I can bond over (like having kids isn’t enough), not to mention the source of some fabulous homeschool experiments for the kids. I’m very excited about what lies ahead for us, and immensely grateful and happy that we have managed to craft such a good life for ourselves.

* in searching for a link here I discovered I never posted about our milled lumber; pictures coming soon, I promise!

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Crazy, Busy, but Good

I want to apologize for not keeping up with the blog much lately. And I’ve barely had time to visit all my favorite blogs, too. So I’m sorry if I seem to have disappeared!

There have been some big changes around our household lately. My husband got laid off; but it was a Good Thing. He got a nice severance package which made up for the fact that he wasn’t planning on leaving until January of next year: we ended up with the same amount of savings but sooner, and without him having to slave away at a job he didn’t like for six more months! The best part is that he ended up getting a new job with the guy he was hoping to work with next year, so he’s very happy.

This new job has him working mostly from home and setting his own hours (this is why we thought it would be a good job to have when we move – it doesn’t require us to stay in the city). There will be busy periods interspersed between slow periods and that works out perfectly for us. My business has suddenly picked up speed so we find ourselves in the happy position of sharing child care and work duties pretty equally. It was what we’d wanted all along but we didn’t expect it to happen this soon. We’re still shaking our heads and smiling at the way it just sort of landed in our laps!

So, with two case deadlines looming I’ve been spending a lot of time working and not much time on my blog. Things will slow down a little bit after those cases are done, and I plan to get back into more regular blogging then. I hope you’ll bear with me through these adjustments, as Husband and I try to settle on a schedule of housework, cooking, and grocery shopping. It’s great having him home, but we need to completely rework our routine and that part is challenging!

the Not-So-Simple week

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve had a very busy week.

On Monday I had a La Leche League meeting, which I hosted myself because my co-leader’s middle child was sick. I ended up leaving my kids at her place to entertain the older one (who is Daughter’s age) – they all know each other well. The risk of them picking up the middle one’s bug was less frightening to me than trying to run a meeting with my kids there (a four hour stint when setup and cleanup is factored in).

On Tuesday I worked out of the home for a client at the local University. Kids were with an on-call Nanny who turned out to be wonderful (with one grandma out of the country and the other just having a pacemaker put in I was suddenly way short of child care). On Thursday I was away for a half-day teaching a lecture (my co-leader again babysat) and then on Friday I was working all day (Husband had the day off) and then went straight from work to see The Business of Being Born (awesome film, by the way).

I have *really* missed my children! I am so not cut out to be a full-time working mother. By Thursday morning I was not wanting to leave for work and by the weekend I was ready to quit everything. But…I do like my work when it’s only occasional (this was one of those everything-came-up-at-once weeks) and my usual six days per month is plenty for me.

Tomorrow I’m off for another full day of work and my heart isn’t in it. I still miss my kids from last week. Son came down with a cold today and was just wanting to snuggle with his mama. If he’s that sick tomorrow I can’t leave him with a Nanny. Not just because it wouldn’t be fair to her, but mostly because sick kids want their mama and I want to be there for him! If I send her home it’s $54 out of my pocket. I’m hoping Son will be perky in the morning and I’ll just come home from work a bit early when the afternoon blahs set in. I also have one more lecture this Thursday morning and then I’m done until September.

I won’t deny that the extra money is nice. But it’s weeks like these that confirm in my mind that being home with my children is a Gift and I’ve made my choices wisely. It also reaffirms my commitment to Living Simply – the rat race is not for me!

The path not taken

I teach occasionally at my Alma Mater and the other day I received an email announcement from the Department congratulating a former graduate student on a big promotion in his job with a major pharmaceutical company. This guy was in grad school with me and got his PhD around the same time as I did. He’s a great guy and I share in the pride of our department at his accomplishments. As the email said, we like to see our graduates do well in the world.

But in reading this announcement I couldn’t help but wonder if my career constituted something the department could be proud of. I thought about where I would be now if I hadn’t left my career path to be a stay-home mother. Despite the fact that I don’t regret my choices one bit, I am conscious of the fact that my choices don’t make me appear “successful” in the way our society usually defines it.

In the book Simple Living: one couple’s search for a better life, Frank Levering describes how he felt a few years after he left Hollywood with his wife to run the family orchard business in rural Virginia, and would hear through the grapevine of old colleagues working their way up the career ladder:

“Though he had voluntarily traded wingtips for workboots, asphalt for black soil, the mind does not so easily substitute new patterns of thinking for old ones. There was keen envy when a close friend in Los Angeles called to announce his new job as a film executive at Disney. There were Frank’s older siblings, among them three Ph.D’s with academic careers whose visits never failed to evoke his parents’ pride and approval.”

I really related to this sentiment, although in comparison to Frank I’d already achieved a few milestones of success before leaving my career. I’d gotten that PhD and completed a successful post-doctoral fellowship under a highly respected and admired mentor. There was little doubt in anybody’s mind that, at the time I left, the only direction ahead for my career was upwards. Yet still I’m aware that, in the world of academia, success is defined in terms of promotions, grants, and tenure. I left all that for the humble role of Mother, and I think there are some who wonder what to make of me for that. While I know my old teachers are pleased with me (and grateful for my teaching assistance), my accomplishments don’t lend themselves as readily to celebratory annoucements as those of my big pharma colleague.

The sad truth is that Western society defines success in terms of profession, income, and possessions. I’ve got enough of these under my belt that I can dodge the issue of whether what I’m doing with my life now counts as “success”. I can speak the proper code words and leave one with the impression that I’ve achieved success in Western terms. But I say these things with a trace of irony because, while I’m proud of my accomplishments, I realize now how little they mean in terms of true success. Simple living is about recognizing the fallacy of these variables as any indicator of happiness, satisfaction, or contentment with one’s life.

For example, as a parent I’m repeatedly reminded that the ultimate goal for my children should apparently be sending them to college. I can’t tell you the number of people who ask if I’m saving for their education, as if no parent in their right mind would not place this high on their list of desires for their children. Me, I want my children to be happy and fulfilled, with solid  healthy relationships around them. I could care less if they are a doctor or if they quit college to become a woodworker, so long as they are truly happy. To me, the ultimate gift I can give my children is not a college fund (though, admittedly, they’ll have one thanks to my father) but instead the gift of freedom – to be who they want to be and to find happiness on their own paths. If they can do that, then I’ll have truly succeeded in my career.