Discover more from The New Fatherhood
Life is long, if you know how to use it
On purpose, passion, and the trade-offs we make.
Fun fact: The New Fatherhood is not my full-time job. Since leaving the corporate world behind I have divided my time between various endeavours, defining my own meaning of success, and building what Harvard Business Review recently termed a “career portfolio.”
The main documents stashed inside my portfolio are this newsletter (as well as the various escapades within its orbit), my work consulting for brands and startups and coaching dads (and non-dads) through career and life transitions.
That balance is mostly harmonious and I do a lot of work to ensure it stays that way. But occasionally things are thrown entirely out of whack. And, dear reader, this week you find me smack bang in the middle of one of those moments. In lieu of a new essay, I’m sharing what was previously a subscriber-only issue.1 (The irony that this is happening the week after an issue on burnout is not lost on me.)
This essay was written as TNF was approaching its first birthday and reflected on a (short) career shift that didn’t go as planned. Reading it back today is a reminder to keep focused on what I know is most important. Without further ado, let’s Wayne’s World dissolve back to December 2021 …
When considering a new project or opportunity, one of the first questions to ask is “How do I want to spend my days?” Many opportunities seem exciting but actually give you less of the life you want.
A few weeks ago, I was asked to become a co-founder with a startup working on a big, bold idea. Something with the potential to help a lot of people—and the planet. Startups are obsessed with "making a dent in the universe", the Jobs-ism first reported in a 1985 issue of Playboy.
But we humans? We've made far too many dents already. This idea had the potential to fix some of them. So I said yes. But I hadn’t considered the crater it would leave in the world I’d created.
The opportunity came through a new friend in the city. A best friend of a best friend: can a recommendation come any higher? We'd met a few times and hit it off. We didn't talk about work for a while—one of my favourite things about living in Barcelona—but when we did, on maybe our fifth plaza hang, he told me he was celebrating handing in his machine learning thesis and looking to turn his research project into a startup.
Based on what I knew about the world he was heading into, I pointed out a few issues he would face. He was surprised at how I could immediately outline problems he’d spent months uncovering. “What do you actually do then?” he asked. After talking to his co-founder they invited me to join them. I was reluctant. “I have a family,” I told them, knowing they did not. I shared my current life stage, my career journey, and the fact I'm done killing myself for a company, even if it was my own. They understood it all. And still wanted me to be part of it.
But the warning signs were there. The idea wasn't completely original, with no shortage of companies who had tried it before. "Google wasn't the first search engine," I reminded myself. But when we started talking about exit strategies, fundraising, roles and responsibilities, and equity splits, red flags were waving. These are important subjects that startups face every day, and discussions best had upfront. But I like my CEO battles contained to one hour (and one fictional sociopathic family) of TV a week, not popping up as Slack notifications on my phone every 15 minutes.
My life feels in balance right now. The kids are going to school and they're happy. Thanks to a regular meditation practice, my family and friends, and days filled with work and non-work things I love, I am finding joy in my life regularly—times where I can luxuriate in the Kairos of life as it is. This balance was in imminent danger. So, after two months of being a co-founder, I had bad news for them.
"I'm exhausted,” I told them. “Already. And we haven't even started. Being sick hasn't helped. But even before, it’s been a lot. I can already see things that I hold sacred falling by the wayside: missing school pickups, three days late with my newsletter—ironically one on the importance of saying no. Our time is limited. And when you’ve got kids? Even more so. Every hour on this is an hour taken away from something else I hold dear. So I need to step away."
In 2018, we made a monumental life decision to forge a new path, to close one chapter of our lives and start another. I’d long been exposed to the trade-offs between the professional and personal, having to sacrifice time with those I loved for potential successes at work. I’d finally made it through the looking glass to a place where it all worked. So why would I invite that stress and anxiety, even tangentially, back into my life?
I've spent the last few weeks thinking about payoffs. Not in terms of money, or the idea of a "quick exit" but as a way of measuring the impact of my efforts. Is what I'm working on worth it? And how important is that to me? There’s an acute payoff problem in the sustainability space: it's hard for humans to focus on a long-term problem when there are short-term ones staring us down. The issues I deal with today aren't life-threatening—but they're immediate, and happening to people very close to me. Would it be right to choose to "potentially help a lot of people sometime in the future" instead of "certainly help a smaller number of people I know right now?"
Starting The New Fatherhood—and the discussions I’ve had with many of you since—has opened my eyes to the opportunity we have here. The potential to help one another, to break intergenerational curses, and become the parents we want our kids to remember … it’s something I’ve been searching for since I became a dad. It's brought a disparate group of us, spread across the world, together—a community of dads looking out for one another. It’s the antithesis of the never-ending doomscroll. It's a bunch of like-minded people, in your pocket, whenever you need them. It might be tonight. It might be next week. But they're always there. And they're happy to talk—about their ups, their downs, their feelings too.
These discussions happen in the community. But they also pop up in my inbox. One dad emailed, just as I was writing this essay, with a powerful reminder of how important this space is becoming—both to me and to many of you:
Thank you for creating such an amazing community of emotionally intelligent, sensitive men, who discuss these issues so openly and eloquently. I know you probably have grander plans for growing TNF, but I hope you know how much of an effect you’ve already had on so many of us with all that you’ve done so far.
Star Wars wipe to present day … And we’re back. It’s been a while since I read that email. I can only really share that paragraph here, but the entire thing still hits as hard today as it did two years ago.
I didn’t know what those “grander plans” might hold, but always had dreams for what TNF might become. Next week will mark the first anniversary of the Therapy Fund—our collective community effort to help dads get access to therapy, regardless of where they are, what healthcare plan they're on, or how much money they make. I’m working on a proper update on how it’s been going next week. But in the meantime, I wanted to let you all know that I will (once again) be donating all the proceeds from the newsletter throughout October to the fund. I’ve learned a lot over the last year, and have built up a great network of counsellors and therapists already helping dads across the world.
If you'd like to contribute to the Therapy Fund, you can do so by becoming a paid subscriber. This month, your entire subscription fee will go towards helping a dad in need. For those folks whose annual subscription renews this month, you’ll be donating your subscription fee to the fund once again. Alternatively (and if you’d rather donate directly, eliminating Substack’s 10% cut) you can cover the cost of one hour of therapy or five sessions for one dad. And if you feel that you—or someone you love—might benefit from the support you can find out how to access the fund here.
More to come next week.
How did you like this week’s issue? Your feedback helps me make this great.
Branding by Selman Design. Illustration by Tony Johnson. Survey by Sprig. And Therapy Fund made possible by so many of you wonderful, beautiful people. Did I tell you how great you’re looking today? And have you been working out?
Apologies to the 0.1% of you who’ve already read this one. I’ll make it up.