Decisions, p. 2

Last week, after I wrote my blog post on decision-making, I went to yoga. There were other things pulling at me - playing outside with my daughter, eating dinner with family, work (always). But I knew I wouldn't be showing up as my best self if I didn't get on my mat.

In the yoga studio, everything is stripped away. Very little about each individual's identity matters. We are all there to work as hard as we can at the same thing, and that's all that matters. Couple that with the fact that the physical practice is so difficult that it's impossible to think about anything other than the asana you are currently engaged with, and yoga becomes a powerful way to clear one's mind. 

After a rigorous Ashtanga practice, I am often able to see clearly through a situation that was previously baffling. 

And I'm not the only one. Our friend and landlord at nido sent me this article last week. It details how practicing meditation can aid decision-making. The research shows that meditation causes the practitioner to focus only on the present situation, and to let go of emotions tied to past events that might be affecting the decision at hand. The researchers looked at the sunk-cost bias - how previous emotional or financial investment in a project can cloud one's judgement, causing the individual to continue in the same direction even when it is not the right decision. 

I imagine a lot of people can relate to the sunk-cost bias. For myself, it affected my decision to continue taking piano lessons even after it was clear that they were adding no value to my life (all of those years of practice!). Later, it was to blame for my decision to finish out certain sequences of coursework during college, even though they no longer served my goals. It can cause people to stay in jobs that have long out-lived their fruitfulness, or stay in unfulfilling relationships simply because of the time invested. At work, it can cause business owners to continue down the same path with a product or service, even when it isn't working out.

A lot of what goes into the sunk-cost bias is emotional. We hate to lose things. We would rather not have something at all than to have it then lose it. The idea that we have put time and effort into something that needs to be abandoned hurts. 

That's where meditation comes in. Meditation alters our thinking and gives us perspective. More often than not, this lifts our mood. If we make decisions without the negative emotions in play, we make better decisions. As the study author Sigal Barsade says, "Everyone always says ‘stop being emotional’ when they discuss decision-making, but in essence that’s the wrong thing to say. Just don’t let the wrong emotions cloud the decision-making process."

Lucky for us, this study shows that even a short period of meditation can help. So, the next time you're facing a difficult and complicated decision, take 10 minutes to breathe deeply and clear your head and emotions. Your future self will thank you. 

Decisions

Happiness comes from good decisions, good relationships, and good work. - Merlin Mann

Lately, it seems like it's mostly the decisions.

I am amazed, but not completely surprised, by how much of our time at nido is spent making decisions. It started with some pretty huge decisions: should we start a business? where should it be located? what does our membership structure look like? But it hasn't stopped. 

There are days when I wonder what I did at work. When I think back on it, there are often concrete accomplishments that I can feel good about, but there is also a ton of time and energy devoted to making decisions. Now, it is the smaller decisions - who should be the caregiver in the infant room today? what should we do for a child that won't nap? when should we order more coffee?

And even though these decisions may be small compared to the larger ones we were making a few months ago, they are just as important. These are the decisions that determine whether or not our members and their children are happy, and whether or not we are meeting our mission. 

How do we quantify this? One decision we're currently facing is determining the best use of our time on any given day. We are finding that we are spending so much time on the day-to-day logistics and providing childcare ourselves, that we are low on the brainpower needed to grow our business in other ways and to make good, thorough decisions.

But when you look at the dollars and cents and try to quantify the value of any given activity, how do you quantify decision-making? For me, I know that some of my best work and best decisions come when there is a lull. When there is space and time. When I'm not actively engaged in solving a problem that's right in front of me. That's when I have ideas that could be valuable. Of course, the ideas and decisions are meaningless if they are not seen through to fruition, so where exactly is the value coming from? The decision, or carrying it through?

It's easy to find a lot of research online about quantifying the decision-making process for specific decisions (i.e., what factors affect decision-making), but there seems to be less on how to quantify the time and energy that goes into decision-making. It must be out there; please share ideas/sources in the comments if you have any.

In the meantime, I'm going to do my best to focus on what's important....or at least figure out what that is. 

 

Normal

Last Thursday evening, I went to a yoga class. Not everyone had the privilege to do something so ordinary, so normal, after the act of terror in Charleston the night before. I felt a pang of guilt. I should be doing something else. I let myself rationalize it - I had already arranged for a babysitter to watch Ada. I was exhausted and in need of alone time after a week with my husband out of town. Maybe it would give me some space to start working through the emotions of that day.

And the truth is, I wanted to do something normal. I wanted to pretend that something terrible hadn't happened. I had come home early from nido that day, 1. because I had a cold and a headache that wouldn't go away, and 2. I needed to grieve. I couldn't think straight, and I couldn't get anything done at nido. I came home, put my daughter down for her nap, sat down with my lunch, and started sobbing.

I was sitting at our living room coffee table. Ada's favorite book, Llama Llama Red Pajama, was lying next to me. I was eating something completely ordinary, wearing clothes I can't remember now. It looked so normal. And yet, everything had changed.  

I am aware that the struggle for civil rights for Black people is alive and strong. Everyday racism, institutional racism - these are terrifyingly huge issues for our country. It didn't begin with the terrorist act in Charleston. But it does seem that something has changed. We don't know yet if this will jolt our country into action, or if it will be just another tragedy. But I do know, or at least hope, that things will never be the same.

So I'm left wondering what the new normal is. How do we do normal, ordinary things like cook dinner and clean our house after something so terrible has happened? How do we pretend like life is the same? How do we not talk about it? How do we not grieve? These things seem impossible, as they should. I find myself craving normal. I find myself wondering when the day will come that I won't be thinking about Charleston every minute. I shamefully long to reach that point. 

I want to know how to carve out a new way of being in the world that holds tragedy and allows it to inform our actions and conversations. We can't pretend that these things don't happen and we can't pretend that our country is not sickened by racism. And at the same time, we still have to put clothes on, we have to get our children dressed for school, we have to go to work. 

What is our new normal? What is a normal that honors tragedy and yet still manages to live life? I feel completely unmoored after Charleston; I cannot even begin to imagine what it must feel like to be Black right now, or any day. I hope for peace. I hope for a new, better way of life. I hope for change. And most of all, I hope I can find a way to channel grief and emotion in a way that brings us closer to a better way of living and treating one another. Suggestions are welcomed. 

 

 

Opening Day

June 15. It's here.

And just like that, nido is open.

Since we've been inching toward this point for months now (and, really, nearly 2 years for me), I guess it's inevitable that we'd get here. But it's strange to see it happen. 

It's what all the productivity gurus say - do a little bit, every day. Good habits. Incremental progress. That's what matters. It's never going to happen all at once. For some reason, I didn't fully understand that. 

Now I see that the ribbon-cutting is just a formality. Once you're at that point, everything has been done already. There is no last minute big hurrah. It just happens. You open. You're in business. 

And on the flip side, not everything is done. At nido, there is still art to be hung, more soundproofing measures to be taken, some plants that need planting. But this inch-by-inch process has helped me get comfortable with that. It's never perfect. It's always improving. But at some point, you just have to open. 

And we're definitely glad to be open. 

 

Partner

Now that I've started a business (whether or not it is successful is yet to be seen), I have found myself in the strange position of giving advice. 

I recommend two things:

1. Find mentors.

2. Find a partner.

I put mentors before finding a partner, simply because I think it's good for everyone to have a reality check before they drag someone else into something possibly disastrous, possibly wonderful (but definitely, in all cases, something all-consuming). 

I started working with mentors almost a full year before opening this business (I found mentors through SCORE). They scrutinized my numbers, told me I needed to pay myself more, told me point-blank that the likelihood of finding outside investment was next to none. These were all very useful things to hear. 

I can't remember if they told me to find a partner. 

But I knew I needed one. 

Benefits of having a partner:

1. Accountability. Accountability. Accountability. You said you were going to do that thing you didn't do, and she knows.

2. Support. Everyone needs to be reminded that what they're doing is good and worthwhile. Starting a business is scary at times. There is a lot of risk, financial, emotional, and otherwise. It's good to have someone in your corner fighting with you.

3. Sharing the emotional burden. There are so, so, so many decisions you are going to have to make. Your brain will get tired. You won't know if you're making the right choice. If you have a partner, you share that strain, and you have someone to question your judgement when it needs to be questioned. 

I am really lucky that my eventual business partner sort of came to me. Lis joined nido when it was in its infancy. She showed up at my door, full of energy and excitement, ready to get started. Every interaction I had with Lis was positive and left me feeling uplifted and motivated. I knew pretty quickly that she would be instrumental to nido's success in some way. Then I pondered for awhile if I should ask her to go in with me as a partner. After all, I'd only known her for a couple of months.

But I knew two things: 1. I knew we were mission-aligned, and 2. I knew she was willing to work hard. I know we could have done an in-depth analysis of our strengths and weaknesses, but I honestly think those two things are more important than anything else. 

I am so glad I asked her, nervously, over a glass of wine, if she would join me hand-in-hand in this crazy endeavor. And I'm glad she agreed to do so. There is no way nido would be where it's at today if Lis and I weren't working together on it.

 

Calm before the storm

nido opens in 9 days, and Lis and I spent much of this week wondering what we should be doing.

The last 2 months, we have been moving at break-neck speed. As soon as we found our location (902 Broad Street), we had no choice but to jump several steps ahead in our timeline. Our landlord wanted us in the space asap, and we didn't want to risk losing the space, so our August opening date became a June opening date. 

We spent much of April prepping and getting our numbers sorted out (as much as is possible when you don't really know what you're doing). May was a whirlwind of thrift store shopping and a marathon Ikea trip to get our space furnished. Add on to that several trial days for potential members to try nido and scrambling to get as much social media attention as possible.

To say the least, May flew by. 

And here we are in June, little more than a week away from our opening date, and we don't know what to do. 

We have email, enrollment meetings, communicating with the company that's making our sign, and a few last minute pieces of furniture to find, but it's really nothing compared to the workload we'd become accustomed to. I know I am about to enter the busiest summer of my life, but there's not much else I can do to prepare for it. So I'm using this extra time to tend more closely to my daughter's needs, spend time with my husband, and make sure my mind is in the right place to receive the upcoming increased demands on my time and energy.

I know I just need to be thankful for this calm, but it's so unusual that it makes me a little nervous. 

Asking for help

Everyone has a history with money.

Mine was not terribly complicated. There was always money for food, vacations, new clothes. My dad never told me what he made, and my mom didn't work outside the home. When it was time for college, they said to go anywhere and to not worry about the cost. I was hugely blessed. 

I also internalized a strong belief that I should work hard, be frugal, and not ask for help. That's what I saw my dad doing. He would help others, but I was under the impression that he would never put himself in a position to ask for help. I'm older and have a more evolved view of the American Dream - I know now that hard work alone does not necessarily lead to rewards. I know that my dad benefited from privilege and that I do, as well. I would never look down upon someone else for asking for financial help. 

In fact, when I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband was in London awaiting his final visa interview. We had just moved back to the United States. I was uninsured, working a low-paying part-time online job, and my husband would not even be eligible for work for another 2 months. We had just spent all of our savings on immigration proceedings. During my pregnancy and for the first year of my daughter's life, we received Medicaid. If it weren't for that, we would have been in dire straits financially. 

And yet, I still have trouble asking for help. 

Last week, I was about to put in my resignation for my job in order to go full-time on nido. Before I sent my letter, I did our taxes. I knew we would owe some money, and I wanted to be sure there weren't any huge surprises. Well, there were. About $5000 worth of surprises. Everything in our savings - the savings that were meant to support us over the next 6 months until I can receive a paycheck from nido - will be gone on April 15. I didn't sent my letter. 

Over the next week, I deliberated. I had two choices:

1. Keep working and postpone or compromise my dreams for nido. The workload at this point for nido is greater than what I can do while continuing to work in my editorial job, so I knew that I may not be able to see nido to its fullest potential. 

or,

2. Ask for help.

I was nervous, but last week, I called my dad. I explained the situation. I braced myself for the internalized messages of my youth - work hard, wake up earlier, stay up late. Never stop. But this is what he said: 

"I'm proud of you. Of course, I'll help. I'm happy to."

Relief. Gratitude. Peace. 

I sent my letter of resignation the following morning. I accepted the help. Because I know that his help will enable me to create something that will be far greater than what I could do without his help. And that is totally worth it. 

 

Messages

I've been receiving strange messages from some people in my life. Not the kind that arrive in an envelope with five orange pips, but the kind that are snuck into conversations when I don't expect it. The kind that make me hesitant to show my true self. 

"Just focus on your daughter."

"You don't have to grow bigger."

"It's great what you've created already, why worry about anything else?"

Nido is on it's way to greatness. I know it, I believe it. It will help many parents have another option for working with their children nearby. It will support entrepreneurial women. It will send positive signals that it is okay to want to work even if, especially if, you are a mom. But I find myself shrinking in the face of these messages of smallness. 

These messages are coming from people that I admire and respect - people that care about community and are contributing positively. I don't want to disappoint, yet I cannot change who I am or what I'm doing. 

Am I being too ambitious? Capitalistic? Narcissistic? Arrogant? I don't want to be these things, and I don't want people in my life to believe I am these things. 

I was talking to my husband about these messages last night. Even he has been guilty of urging me to stay small. He thinks it comes from fear - fear of falling, fear of getting so big that you lose sight of principles, fear of creating something you never meant to create. I have to agree. Fear is the thing that will hold me back, if I let it. And right now it is fear - fear of what people will think. 

The reality is, I am doing something big. Not Walmart big. Not hedge fund big. But it's big for me. Currently, we're serving 5 families. We'll soon move to a location where we will serve 20-30 families to start and could grow to serve nearly 50. If it takes off, we will open another location. I am writing and documenting the process. I want to help other people do this, too. I believe in it, and I think it can change the work/life equation for many, many women (and men). And when you do something big, there will always be people that will think you should be small. 

For now, I am letting these message roll off my back. It's hard to know when to listen and when to let them go, but right now I'm pushing forward. Nido is founded on principles, and I have no intention of letting those principles escape me. It's not easy, but I'm stepping into myself and into the person I want to be. I hope that I'm able to show up as my true self in all contexts soon, and to not shrink. I've never been one to fit in a box, and now is not the time to start. 

Barriers

I've resolved to be transparent.

I wouldn't say that I've been secretive, necessarily. But I like to put my best foot forward. 

Sometimes this manifests itself after a flurry of cleaning and working on the classroom, which can leave me exhausted and drained. No matter how I feel, I accept as my responsibility to be upbeat, positive, energetic. 

And I do believe that in that case, the answer is to sweep it under the rug. When it's for the sake of creating a warm and inviting environment for our members and their children, I happily push my needs to the back of my mind. They'll inevitably resurface.

But even though I'm happy to embrace this trait of mine when I believe the situation warrants it, I see the value in being real. In showing who I really am, flaws and all. I believe this is the path to deeper, more authentic relationships. Nobody wants to feel like they are performing, and I definitely don't want to make anyone feel like they need to perform simply because that's what I have been doing.

And - it takes the pressure off me. If I am meeting all of my self-imposed expectations 4 out of 5 days of the week, what happens on that fifth day when I truly can't muster it? I feel like a failure. And in fact, I'm the one that's set myself up for failure.

So, with that in mind, you're going to be seeing some real stuff on this blog. In my quest to be transparent, I may occasionally overstep the line. I may share too much. Forgive me. I'm still learning. 

A pause

The house was quiet today, and it will be quiet tomorrow The babies that are normally here are home sick with a stomach bug. My own baby is doing fine, but even all of the sounds she can make do not compare to the ruckus of five toddlers.

Two full days of strange quiet – it makes it feel like nido isn't even real. As if it existed in this magical 3-week span of time during which we all loved each other and each others kids and were all trying to do our best. Then poof! Gone.

It's not really gone, but we have lost a couple of families recently, and these 2 days of quiet have given me a pause to reflect on how things have been going. It's quiet moments like this that the doubt can creep in – questions, negative thoughts, wondering if I'm doing the right thing. Did those two families pull out because of me? What could I have done better?

I'll admit that it's tough to keep my head down and keep pushing forward. Even though I can brush off 'failure' pretty easily, at some point I wonder if I'm wrong for brushing off failure – maybe these failures mean that I shouldn't move forward. And that I especially shouldn't be trying to grow this project.

It's too easy to get caught up in thinking like this. The truth is, I believe in nido, and I believe in myself. I think that not too long ago I would have been angry when families dropped out. My reasoning is different now – I know that any idea worth having and worth doing is not going to be perfect for everyone. Yes, it has to be perfect for some people. But I'm still trying to figure out what perfect looks like for us and to find those people who can benefit the most from this project.  

What is nido?

My husband, daughter and I were driving back from visiting my parents in Tennessee. Ada was 3 months old and we had gone to Tennessee so that our extended family and friends could meet her. I was due to start back at work when we returned to North Carolina, and I was nervous. I was going to be working remotely all the time, but I would have Ada at home with me. It was fine for the time being – she mostly slept, and when she was awake I often snuggled her into the baby carrier – but I knew it would get harder.

“I bet there's a coworking space that has childcare. There has to be,” I said to my husband. A quick google search proved me wrong. Not only were there no coworking + childcare facilities where we lived in NC, but there were hardly any in the country. I resolved then and there that I would create one.

That was August of 2013. Now, nido is a coworking and childcare cooperative that meets every day of the working week at my house. We started in December 2014 and are currently a group of 8 parents and 12 children, everyone coming on a part-time basis. My dream remains to open in a commercial location in order to make this service available to more people, and I am relentlessly pursuing that dream while maintaining our little group's day-to-day needs. I'm finding that a lot of difficult questions come up in trying to envision how our in-home co-op will transition to a larger space with a paid teacher. I'll be exploring some of those questions on this blog, as well as my ongoing grapplings with being a leader and a parent.   

One hundred percent

Passion flower tincture - drop drop drop. Peppermint tea. Deep breaths.

It's the night before nido starts, and I'm nervous. As I've gotten older, I notice that my stomach reacts to nerves in a way it never did before, and it is certainly reacting now, tying itself up in frantic vibrating knots. 

I remind myself to reframe it - it's just two mothers and their lovely children coming over. And while that is sort of true, it's also not the full extent of it. This is the first time we will be trying out the idea I've been pouring my mind and heart into for the last 15 months. And even though I know that my expectations need to match reality, it is hard not to put a lot of stock in the success or failure of this day. 

So I go to sleep and sleep poorly. My daughter is awake much of the night, pushing her molars through her sore gums. I wake up tired and still nervous. I can't eat. My daughter is drowsy and grumpy.

And then, the first child arrives. And the second and third. We introduce ourselves, remove coats and shoes. There is much clinging to Mama and stock-still stares. Where are we? Who are these people? 

The first day is difficult. There is crying, of course. There are red faces and tender hearts. But at the end of the day, I am left with the thought that this just might work. 

But I am also aware of the possibility that it might not work. I realize that there are going to be even more hurdles than I expected, and that some great people might find that it is not a good fit for them. Surprisingly, I find that I am okay with this. At some point during or after this difficult first day, I arrived to a state of acceptance. 

I was thinking about this that night as I washed my face and got ready to fall into a deep, deep sleep. I remembered something my mother has said to me every time in my life when I have tried something new:

"You always give 110%. They will see that you are giving it your all."

While I appreciated the support, this comment has always made me uncomfortable, because I knew in my heart that I was not giving one hundred percent, and certainly not one hundred ten. Over and over, I have given my work something short of my whole self. I have been scared to take that leap - scared to give it my all, because I knew that if I gave it my all and failed, then I would have only myself to blame.  

Holding a warm cloth to my face and looking in the mirror, it occurred to me that I am now giving it everything I have. One hundred percent, one hundred ten, maybe even one hundred fifty. I have made what many people would call sacrifices to see nido come alive, and yet they have never seemed like sacrifices to me - each decision, each long night, each investment of time, money, sweat and tears was just the thing that had to be done. 

The thing that is so interesting to me about this is that the fear I expected  - the fear that if it fails now, that I will only have myself to blame - that fear is not there. Now, when I think about the possibility of failure, I never think of it as a personal failing. If nido fails, then yes, something wasn't right - the timing, the structure, the location, something. But I know that it won't fail from lack of effort. That part is certain. Because I am definitely giving one hundred percent.