J is off this morning to a business meeting with a regional media-oriented non-profit. It had originally been planned that I would go as well, but yesterday I backed out. I’m feeling a little conflicted about that. Mostly I backed out because I couldn’t visualize my role in this meeting. “Hi Wally, nice to meet you, I’m J and this is my wife Stephanie, she’s my …. what? advisor? Website designer? marketing strategist?” Just why did I need to be there? I’d probably end up correcting J in the meeting, or muddling the whole affair. But I also want to support J, and help him succeed.
J and I have been self-employed since we were married, roughly, and for several years we worked together, building a business and making a living. For over five years now my role in our self-employment has been behind-the-scenes, helping with shipping, records, money management—nothing big or terribly time-consuming, just doing little helpful things. Then just over a year ago J started work on building another business, while still doing the other, of course. His first ideas were a little…off-kilter, out of balance with his values. So we bounced around ideas and came up with something we both REALLY liked—a VOIP telephone company that donates 10% of its customer’s bill to the non-profit of their choice. That 10% is our marketing budget, basically. It’s a symbiotic sort of thing. Non-profits can help us sell our phone service, and we help them earn some more money for their causes, while selling a great service at the same time. I’m not conflicted with that, I know it’s a good idea, and I know it’s the shift he’s been looking for—away from electronic engineering and into something that does some good for the world. But I also know that he needs my advice and perspective, my support and creativity to make this work.
So there’s this push-pull between us about how much energy I’m willing to put into this company. This morning before he left I suddenly felt like we needed to create some limits on any deal he works out with this particular non-profit. Whatever he works out with them will probably be the plan we offer to every non-profit—aside from that 10% there’s a sign-up fee that covers the cost of adding a new customer plus a little bit of profit, and J was talking about giving away all that capital to the non-profit, when we are already losing money on the equipment customers buy from us at start-up, and when that extra capital could be used for printed materials of which we are in dire need. He has a tendency to give away too much. I was trying to balance out that tendency with some more practical advice. Then he made a little quip about asking me for help with the pricing a year ago. I guess it’s this little quip that’s eating at me.
He has asked me for my help, and I have given it to him, not fully and without reservation, but still, it has been given. I busted my ass back in October making the website look nice—maybe not perfect, but certainly a lot better than it was looking. I think I sat on the sofa for an entire week with my laptop figuring out how to make that website work. I’ve designed ads, which is not my forte, but we didn’t have the money to pay anyone to do it, so I did it. I came up with all the blurbs and wordage on the website, which were also helpful in honing our business strategy. And aside from that I’ve also been helping out a lot with our other business.
But honestly I don’t want to do any of it. And that would be the main reason I didn’t go today. I want him to succeed, I want him to feel good about his work and about himself, I want him to be happy. But from the get-go, I’ve been very clear about wanting to have a very limited role in this new business (my ideal was no role at all). Because it’s not my thing, it’s not what I want to be doing. I want to succeed in MY work, I want to feel good about MY work, and I want to be happy in that regard. This is the source of our pushing and pulling. His little quip is saying to me, “you haven’t given enough,” and I feel that it’s quite possible I could never give enough, certainly not to a start-up business like this one. And where does my obligation lie? To what brings in the money? To what has the potential to bring in money? Or to what my heart yearns to do?
The answer seems so simple on the page, doesn’t it? But it isn’t. Not even close.