Monthly Archives: July 2008

The Start-up Widow

This is the second of my posts relating to Randy Pausche’s wonderful Last Lecture. He said that while it’s great to achieve your own childhood dreams, it’s wonderful to help others achieve their own childhood dreams.

For the last eight years I’ve been a start-up widow. You’ve heard of golf widows? Well, I’m a start-up widow.

Jed started itechne eight years ago here in Sydney. Today the company has over 150 clients across the nation and we’re about to move to Colorado to launch the company and its core products in the US market. So Jed’s not getting much downtime.

In fact, we sat down together for a cup of tea yesterday and he said to me (jokingly) “Hi, who are you?”

I’m glad that these days I can laugh with him over that, instead of resenting it. I think there’s a special maturity in realising that supporting your spouse in achieving a childhood dream doesn’t detract from your own ability to achieve. Or your own worth or value in the relationship.

After eight years of being the start-up widow, I now wake him up in the morning with a cup of tea and the words, “Get up! Multi-nationals don’t run themselves.” (That’s sort of a joke… sort of.) I no longer monitor the dinners he misses or times he gets up at 4am to catch a plane interstate that I know nothing about. It’s all part of the reality of being a start-up widow. I wish I’d have known what to expect in the beginning.

Being a start-up widow has been lonely a lot of the time. There are no start-up widow clubs, forums or chat rooms. No flylady for start-up widows. My mother thinks I should be sainted. I think my friends believe I’m superwoman. But that’s not the case at all. For the first four years I spent a lot of time really upset and resentful. There’s still a mark on the wall from an apple I threw at Jed’s head one day. (He deserved it.)

There are numerous ways of dealing with the reality of being a start-up widow. Now I think I’ve found it. I have found my own areas of success. I went back to Uni and completed my Bachelors degree as well as a Grad Dip in VET. I’m a great teacher and student, and pretty darned fine mum.

Recognising my own strengths is something I would never have done without being a start-up widow. It’s pretty hard to be married to a guy who is achieving a childhood dream without wanting to realise some of your own. So while I have had very little involvement in the hands-on creation of itechne other than signing on the dotted line, making tea, etc, I’m holding it all together at home and being inspired by what Jed’s accomplishing. I’m inspired to do even better at something I knew I’d be okay at.

My first Graduation

My first Graduation

I am fulfilled in seeing him working every single day on something I know he loves, has commitment to, and passion for. It doesn’t matter if the destination is reached or even guaranteed – if you get to have a spouse who is doing something every day they have a passion for, then that’s better than anything. And it rubs off. It makes you want to achieve more. It challenges you, in a positive way, to aim higher.

Awkward and ironic thing is, that makes the spouse want to aim higher too.

So now I’m packing up our house, and looking at selling it. I’ve taken leave without pay from the best job I’ve ever had, and I’m leaving some kids and dogs behind in Australia while we go launch ourselves on the USA. (Don’t worry, the kids are staying with family here. I’m not just letting them run wild.)

Bec and Max are staying in Australia

Bec and Max are staying in Australia

Maturity in being a start-up widow means I’m prepared for what this move involves. I’ve got my own plans for the US – and I have no expectations of Jed other than he’ll work his butt off. When being the start-up widow means I get to share some of that passion, then I’m a pig in mud.

I’m “Hung on a cliff, in search of something big.” (Thanks Neil Finn, for writing the best lyrics ever.) Even I don’t know what the ‘something big’ is. And to all those people who are telling me how “lucky” I am to be doing this, I say “well, what’s stopping you?”

Advertisements

Vale Randy Pausch: Decide if You’re Tigger or Eeyore

After the passing of an inspirational man, Professor Randy Pausch, I’ve decided to write a number of posts on what struck me in his Last Lecture. If you haven’t seen this lecture, I wholeheartedly recommend getting a cup of tea, and taking an hour to watch it. Then watch it again a week later. There are myriad messages in it.

The thing that teared me up with this lecture was this statement: Decide if You’re Tigger or Eeyore. How do you go through life? Randy says he has fun. The Dean at the university asked him to ensure he told people to have fun, and he says it was like asking a fish to talk about water. He knew no other way.

I found real resonance with that. Just like Randy, if you meet me IRL you kinda know which way I lean – I’m Tigger.

As I discovered last semester, for some stuff I simply don’t know how to be anything other than Tigger. My personal relationships, my work and teaching – for the most part I’m Tigger. Joy of Life, that’s me.

One student challenged me to be “normal” for just one class. She believed it wasn’t possible. She was right. Why? Because I don’t know what “normal” is! I really tried, too!

Even the (very quiet, sedate) dentist commented last week “You are always so enthusiastic, it’s really catching.” Then this week when we saw him again, he was almost bouncy himself. (Admittedly, that was a little scary.)

I figure hey, why be gloomy or even just emotionless and methodical in anything you do? If you find the fun in stuff, then doesn’t that rub off? Even if it’s not inherently a fun activity? For example, there’s nothing more fun than squashing the recycling with my 8-year-old to try and fit it in the bin.

But sometimes I have put conditions on my enthusiasm. And that sucks.

When we first launched our startup in Australia, I was the fish-wife. I complained every step. Eight years later, it has (touch wood) been doing great here, but I really didn’t help it along. I lacked the vision and the faith, and instead felt the fear.

There is security in fear. It’s calm and reliable being Eeyore. 

Now we’re going to the US, I’m exactly the opposite. And there are many reasons for that, which another post will explore. But it’s not because I feel a greater sense of security. With a start-up you can do everything right – in fact, better than right – and still have it fail.

I’m positive about it because I’m finding my security elsewhere and choosing to not be fearful. I’m not Eeyore. It’s a choice, just as Randy said, “Decide if you’re Tigger or Eeyore.”

It’s when you let go of fear that you get the vision. Tigger has vision.

Goodbye to Sydney!

Say Goodbye to Jed and Jo, Harry and Charlie!

We’re off to live in Boulder, Colorado USA for a while, so we’d love an opportunity to see all our friends for a great big BBQ/picnic before we go.

When: Sunday August 10, 2008

Where: Bicentennial Park Homebush Bay. We will be setting up around the shelter and BBQ area near parking area P10g, off Homebush Bay Drive.

Time: We’re intending to get there by 12pm, and will stay until the sun sets – so turn up any time around then. Early arrivals can stake their claim!

Bring: All your stuff for a picnic/BBQ and great day out in the park! All are welcome.

Extra info:

·         For those using public transport, it’s closest to Concord West station. There is a walking map from the station on the Olympic Park site link below.

·         Visit the Olympic Park site for extra info on public transport, maps of the area, etc. http://www.sydneyolympicpark.com.au/Visiting/maps

 

A visa you can’t buy stuff with

Yesterday was a big day. I was approved for the F-1 student visa, which will give me 3 years in the USA. Please note a visa in your passport doesn’t guarantee entry to the USA, that decision is made by immigration when you enter the country. But without the visa there’s no way you can get in for business or tourism beyond the 90 days which the current Waiver Programme appreciates. (In January 09 this changes again.)

The process for getting a visa has been covered by @bck in the past on his Pantsland blog, and I read that a couple of times as part of my own preparation. As we both note, none of what we say is necessarily going to be relevant to everyone – you need to do your own research to ensure you have the right documentation etc for your own visa and situation. That all said, here’s what I went through.

Step 1: Get your documentation right

There are numerous forms and fees to go through to get a student visa. Everyone needs a DS-156 which is the general entry form, and you have to attach to that form a passport pic taken within the last 6 months, as well as pay (in cash or money order only) the $AUD150-odd fee for the non-immigrant visa at Australia Post. When you go to Aust. Post, ensure you know exactly how much you have to pay for the non-immigrant visa because they will not have any idea, but will happily take your money as long as it’s cash. Then you need to staple the receipt for that to the front of the D-156. Men will also need to fill out a DS-157 (I don’t know what is in that form because last time I checked, I am not a man). I also had to complete a DS-158 (which is like a resume).

Because I was after the F-1 visa, I needed to pay the SEVIS fee ($100) which is standard for all students entering the USA. As for all these fees, it’s non-refundable, so if you don’t get approved for a visa you can wave bye-bye to the cash. The SEVIS fee is payable online with a credit card.

Finally, I also had to be able to prove I had access to plentiful funds to support myself in the US (in my case, $US40, 200) as well as hold an Form I-20 which had been sent to me by the University, saying I’d been offered a place. Luckily for me (and key for me obtaining this visa), the University of Colorado saw fit to give me a full teacher assistantship appointment, which basically waived my need to demonstrate the $40,200.

I also took along to the appointment the actual letter of offer from the University and my academic credentials just in case.

You must also take your current passport, any prior passports of yours if you have them, a self-addressed platinum Australia Post courier satchel for the return of your documents, and other supporting documents in case they ask you for them. Ensure you’ve booked your appointment through the online VisaPoint system. To book an appointment you need a PIN Number, which costs another $14 (ka-ching) payable with a credit card. Even though the appointments are booked in half-hour increments, you’re advised to block out 4 hours (I took 2.45hrs from beginning to end).

Step 2: Turn up on time

The Sydney consulate is in the MLC Building. While the consulate is on the 59th floor, you first report to the 10th floor and go through a security checkpoint. Prepare to take off your shoes! You have to leave all electronics at this point. The security guard will then allow you to go in the lift up to the actual consulate, where you go through another checkpoint (shoes off again), and take a ticket like you’re in the motor registry. That’s when the real waiting begins.

Step 3: Talk to people

When you’re called for the first window, you hand over all the basic forms and receipts from what you prepared prior to the interview. You’re then told to take a seat and wait to be called again. When you’re called the 2nd time, you need to do the fingerprint thing on the scanner – both hands. Then you take another seat and wait to be called the 3rd time.

Step 4: The interview

This stage is the final part of what was a lengthy process. Rather than take you to a cubicle or something, you simply get called to a teller window and all the people behind you can hear what you discuss with the interviewer (the guy who had a record for posession of marijuana who went before me was most interesting :)). The interview itself only went for a couple of minutes and seemed more of a checking process of what was in the documentation I’d already supplied. I had more supporting evidence, but the man didn’t ask for it, and he was a very polite nice person to talk with.

Step five: Paying the final fee

When I was approved for a visa I was informed I needed to pay the final fee of about $120 at the cashier. Once again this had to be in cash (no EFTPOS and even though the consulate website actually says they take credit cards). They hold on to your documentation and send it back to you in the platinum bag you supply.

And that’s it! I was surprised they didn’t ask me why my husband and children weren’t on the same visa, or indeed what their plans were. (They plan to travel under the E-3 visa. I needed my own student visa because of the TA appointment and needing to work as soon as I arrive. As a spouse under the E-3 it takes about 2-3mths for an Employment Authorisation Document to be processed, which would have prevented me taking up my TA in the Fall semester.) While the interview itself only took a couple of minutes, I’m sure that if anything ‘hinkey’ in my application cropped up in the earlier stages then it would have been flagged before I approached for my actual interview. So I don’t believe I was completely judged from beginning to end in that two minutes – I spoke with about 8 consular staff in the day, and any one of them would have been able to ‘flag’ my documents if necessary.

Essentials:

Go to the loo before going in. There is no bathroom beyond the 10th floor reception.

Take a magazine or book. It’s B.o.r.i.n.g.

Wear shoes that are easy to get on and off.

Wear your best smile, and dress as if going for a job interview. Many people don’t dress in business attire, but I’m old school and believe you might as well do all the easy things to make a good impression.

Finally, don’t take your kids. You don’t need to have them with you. Beg borrow or steal a babysitter for the day. It was not fun watching a couple of parents with little tykes struggling to keep them under control, and even less fun for the parents themselves.

Blogs offer no scope for the serious writer?

In preparation for our move to the USA I’ve been cleaning out my books.

I’ve come across one I picked up years ago in a second-hand bookstore for the bargain price of $2.50, called ‘Writing for Television’ by Arthur Swinson. The book was published in London in 1955 – yep, when TV was but a babe.

Published 1955

Published 1955

The first paragraph of the book’s Foreward features the sentence, “…so far, in this country, no book has been written to my knowledge, seriously attempting to analyse [television’s] nature or to assess its impact. No full-length investigation has been carried out on the question of whether it is merely a new method of disseminating information or, in some aspects, a new artistic medium.”

Parallels? I thought. And yes, there were lots.

Certainly, there’s a parallel between this take on television and traditional media’s embracing of online around the year 2000 – repurposing content from print formats for the web, in the same way radio and theatre scriptwriters wrote for television consumption in the 1950s.

A true medium for the serious writer?

A true medium for the serious writer?

An even more familiar resonance, however, is explored in Chapter 1: ‘The Nature of Television: Is it a True Medium for the Writer?’ Here Swinson considers whether television is a “cold, mechanical medium” (p.2) because it lacked a live audience. Swinson reveals his television writing colleagues believed television wasn’t as good a medium because there was no feedback, no response. There was “no thrill” compared with live theatre. 

What a surprise. Writers who were used to writing for theatre and were now trying to write for television found the new medium unsatisfactory. They say “it offers no scope for the serious writer.” (p.4)

In his book, Swinson disagrees with them and believes television has promise of being an incredibly impactful medium becasuse of the sheer size of audience it can reach. However he still considers television only as being a new medium to deliver the same content already being produced (in radio or theatre), simply to a wider audience.

A format shift.

Of course we now know that television is a medium unlike any other. In it’s relatively short existence compared to other formats it’s had an unprecedented role in society. And what we see on our ‘boxes’ looks very different to what first appeared in the 1950s. Television grew up.

And that’s the same mistake many traditional media outlets are making with the ‘growing up’ of online. At first, re-purposing content for online was satisfying enough. But that was the infancy of online media. And it’s not what it looks like today.

Online media has opened the doors to all sorts of writers. Swinson quotes Hemingway in saying “there is all the difference in the world between a serious writer and a solemn writer – and a good many of the solemn category work under the delusion they belong to the serious.”

Could traditional media journalists, in their dismissive, “we’ve had a masthead for xx years and know what we’re doing” pouting attitude to non-masthead bloggers perhaps be reflective of the solemn rather than the serious?

I’ll invite you to consider Swinson’s words on page 6 (see, we didn’t have to read much of his book, did we?) to conclude:

Let us say that such a man is one who writes not only to entertain or tell a story, but because there is something definite he wants to say; who employs whatever medium he choses (sic) on the highest level his powers will allow him.

Swinson, a man before his time, could just have easily been writing about blogs.

 

Are Mommy Bloggers (Mummy Bloggers) dumb?

Today I had the good fortune of watching a few tiny pieces of BlogHer ’08 in its final formal day (there is an unconference over the next 24 hours, which no doubt I’d be more interested in). Now, I have just come from two very important Australian conferences. Firstly, PubCamp which was presented in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, by itechne (which I have connections to, and which I presented at) and then also the Future of Media Summit organised by Ross Dawson, which was a combined conference simulcast between San Francisco USA and Sydney, Australia.

Both of those conferences talked (heatedly at times) about the responsibility and accountability of media and journalists as they move online.

And then I hit BlogHer. As a Marketing and Events teacher at College level, and as someone who has admittedly only experienced a small portion of the event itself, I feel BlogHer 08 is making dollars by capitalising on the marketing potential of the target audience – both the target of the attendee and of the advertisers seeking that attendee’s ear.

The ‘Mommy Bloggers’ are ka-ching for so many marketers. This audience – the mums (yes, I say ‘mums’ rather than ‘moms’ because I’m an Aussie) – is one that is hard to convince through regular advertising channels. The best way of convincing mums to try their products is through word of mouth. I don’t need my academic credentials to tell me this, I know it. I’ve had four little darlings and I know the best recommendation on products for my child has come from other mums I trust.

And the mums that are trusted in the 21st Century are the Mummy Bloggers. Until now, mums have had very little interaction, relatively speaking, with other mums. Playgroup, pre-school, kindy etc were the places these women connected. But now there’s the internet. And it’s connecting all mums so they’re a power-buying force.

Guess what? The marketers know it, and are chucking free ‘schwag’ at the blogging Mummies in an attempt to inform and persuade them to use, review and talk about their products. They’d be stupid not to.

But guess what else? Mums are not stupid. They/we did not expel our brains at the same time as delivering our children. You want to give us free stuff? Great. We’ll take it. Thanks very much. If marketers think that giving stuff to a mum automatically means they’ll write something good about it on their blog, then they are the stupid ones.

Journalists in Australia have a code of ethics which compels them to produce content that meets a particular standard. It is supposed to guarantee accountability and responsibility. 

Bloggers, including mums, probably don’t need a code of ethics. Why? Because everything they write has their own personal name behind it – not some third person brand owned by a mogul. Therefore everything a mummy blogger writes has an underlying guarantee of accountability and responsibility. They are their own brands. Their reputations live and die by their own hand. If your toy sucks, then it sucks.

So you want to give Mummy Bloggers free stuff? Go ahead. From the sounds of the attendees at BlogHer 08 they got heaps and heaps of what they are calling ‘schwag’, ranging from a phone through to books, toys, massages… but if you make the mistake of thinking it will influence them to write something untrue, you’re a crap marketer. More fool you.

Oh, and I’ll be at Blog Her 09. And I’ll be taking a second suitcase that’s empty, just in case. 🙂