‘Write a book with your son! Are you mad?’, was the common reaction of friends and also my parents, when I told them this was what I intended. My younger son Cato, (then in his 20s), and I had signed up with a publisher to write his first-person account of creating an entrepreneurial lifestyle. Alongside this there would be ideas, information, and case studies to inspire others. Though in truth I had not thought through what the reality might be, or the emotional implications.
His dad Olly and I had certainly been through the usual upheavals, stand-offs and misunderstandings through Cato’s years of growing up. But by the time he completed his biology degree and MSc in science communication, he and I had evolved an easy-going, caring relationship, and when we did hit heads-on over something we both reached for emotional intelligence tools and worked it out.
He also seemed set fair for a science career and Olly and I sighed with relief that he was likely to be well employed. We had not reckoned with our son going on an extended visit to Spain to do a TEFL course during a holiday break, and falling in love with a beautiful Sevillian woman. We grew very fond of the spirited Carolina when she came to stay and hoped she might come over to be with Cato, but no. Her teaching job comes with civil service privileges and a pension. She declared love for our son but she was not about to give up a hugely coveted job. A sound feminist she argued that she and Cato could split and she would have lost her livelihood.
So Cato decided he would up-sticks and move to Spain. Which meant abandoning his science career, with nothing obvious to replace it. Until he announced his intention to become an entrepreneur, and follow an ambition to compose music which had always been there, though put aside as science was so obviously more sensible. He was also experienced at making websites and began picking up work to take to Spain.
I won’t pretend his dad and I were overjoyed. We saw a load of pitfalls, and throwing up all for love was rather overblown romanticism wasn’t it? Oh yes, we panicked and sat Cato down, asking how realistic this radical ‘jumping ship’ really was. Nor was there much chance of a decent job in Spain, a country struggling with unemployment. But he was adamant he could create an entrepreneurial lifestyle, and that frankly this might be best as he was distinctly ill-fitted to structured office life. So it wasn’t a case of his dad and I instantly patting him on the back and saying ‘go forth young man’, and we upped our evening wine-consumption for the first anxious weeks after Cato had left home.
But in truth I did understand. I had pursued a way of life, in my youth, following dreams rather than common sense, very often. Like taking a job on an unreliable contract with a distinctly shifty bunch running a news agency because I thought the owners looked like the kind of journos you found in entertainment like ‘Deadline Midnight’. Giving up a solid job as a court reporter to do so. Or turning down the offer of a newsroom contract with the BBC when the offer of a job in Amsterdam came up, that sounded much more fun if less of a sound career move.
Fast forward seven years and Cato was settled in Seville with his girlfriend – now wife – and had built a successful life as an entrepreneur with three enterprises – scoring films and selling albums of the music he writes, constructing websites, and recording voiceovers for a huge range of clients. Having several income streams is the key to making this way of life succeed, he says, so if one ‘earning stream’ goes quiet the others, hopefully, will keep going. It is a modus operandi that works for Cato and he earns more in a year than I have ever done. He has developed a sharp business edge and shapes his substantial work hours around spending quality time with his wife Carolina and he is the happiest we have seen him. He is inclined to quote Milton Berle: ‘If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.’
On one of the fairly frequent work visits he made to London, we were discussing the direction he had taken his working life one day, and I asked if it had been the right thing to do. (With an uneasy feeling he had probably lost the chance of the career he had before, should he want it again). But no. Cato gave me the biggest smile and said hard work and insecure it might be, but he earned enough, had infinite variety and was in charge of who he worked for and what he did. No less important he could design the shape of his working life to spend a rewarding amount of time with his wife – and now there is a baby daughter too – and if it meant working into the night to compensate sometimes, so be it. ‘I am,’ he informed me very firmly, ‘…a Lifestyle Entrepreneur.’ Suddenly Cato’s way not only made sense but struck me as being very much a way of working for the future. A millennial‘s way to take charge of working life, at a time when there seemed less and less chance of that within traditional work.
Which is how I came to set about writing a book with Cato on how to be a lifestyle entrepreneur. Our enthusiastic publisher produced a contract which we signed, without pausing to think what it would mean to operate as co-authors. Not mother and son, with all the learned behaviour that relationship brings ie the hierarchy where I was the one whose life experience gave me (I assumed) the superiority I had through his growing years – right down to jokingly referring to myself as Mother Superior.
The first intimation that we would not be harmonious co-authors came with a meeting in the office and recording studio Cato has in the family home. I arrived with a box file overflowing documents, print-offs from the computer, article cuttings relating to the do-it-yourself way of earning and living, which I thought we could pore over, discussing and highlighting interesting bits. Cato looked horrified, recognising in that moment how very different our approaches would be. He summoned me to his computer and showed me a mind map he had constructed with our thesis as the centre point and coming off this a series of arms labelled with ideas for themes and chapters. There was clearly an implicit criticism. My Boy did not get that I find scribbled bits of paper piled around me, along with pens, books and post-its, stimulates creative thinking.
Cato has always been known as an easy going chap and he and I have had a largely laid-back relationship. But all that fell apart as we hit tensions, a couple of explosive rows and the panicky feeling that we might not get the book done. His voice became less than affectionate when I failed to grasp the technological stuff that is vital in the digital age, or understand it when he wrote about… SEO, landing pages, liquid layout, nesting. He was angry in a way I thought only parents were permitted to be to their young, when I screwed up on Dropbox and managed to wreck a document he had posted. A new one appeared marked ANGIE DO NOT TOUCH.
As I have spent long years interviewing people as a journalist I did a series of case studies, talking to people working as entrepreneurs in very different ways. Tensions ran higher as we struggled to get Cato’s voice, which is the essence of the book, correct. I found his writing too formal, he found my interventions a bit slick. We started off writing the first chapter together, then editing each others’
versions. A couple of fiery rows erupted (and Cato, an Aries, is stubborn by nature). There were a few ‘locked horns’ moments, but we worked out a system. Cato worked on the practical information – building online communities and markets, ways to get funding, the psychological issues you may encounter. And as Cato and I got into our stride something lovely happened. Our relationship really did move from the hierarchy of mother and son, into a co-operative partnership.
I now see that when Cato jumped ship from his employed job he had actually picked up the zeitgeist. Being a Lifestyle Entrepreneur, using your initiative to set up an enterprise based on your own interests, shaping work and family life as you choose, and being in charge of work decisions, is something an ever-increasing number of people are looking towards, at a time when the conventional workplace becomes ever less hospitable.
We delivered our manuscript as co-authors with an extra layer of emotional good stuff added to our relationship. And as I write this Olly and I are visiting Cato, Carolina and their baby daughter. Once he has finished the tune he is composing in the recording studio he has set up in his Spanish home, we will all go out for tapas. And never mind that just about everyone else will be back in their offices.
(Gibson Square) by Cato Hoeben and Angela Neustatter.
The authors will launch a website on being an entrepreneur later in the year. Anyone interested in receiving this please contact firstname.lastname@example.org