Tell me a bit about yourself and your family. Is it true you are a real life rocket scientist?
Yes! I have two degrees in Aerospace Engineering, one of which is from MIT. I worked as a spacecraft systems architect for 10 years designing and flying all different kinds of spacecraft.
These days, though, I’m an entrepreneurship coach, speaker, and vision architect. I take the same structured principles and approaches that I used in my engineering work and I apply them to business development. I help entrepreneurs craft cohesive, big-picture visions for their business and life so they can feel clear, focused, and confident about how to move forward next. Then I help them create unstoppable momentum using an iterative implementation process, so they have a solid, stuctured plan, but also the freedom to go with the flow.
I’m also married to a fellow entrepreneur and nerd (he started his renewable energy consultancy this fall), and together we have three kids, aged almost-6, 4, and 1. We live in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. We homeschool and travel the world together as a family. This year we’ll be heading to Morocco for my oldest son’s sixth birthday. He’ll have spent each of his birthdays on a different continent!
Tell me about your coaching program
My coaching program is called Spiral Business Development and is based on proven engineering design practice. The general idea is that business development (and any good design, really) is not a linear, step-by-step process. Business development is an iterative process. Instead of feeling like you have to have the perfect answer the first time, we start with what you know, do a little bit of implementation, do a little bit of testing with real clients, and then reevaluate. Once we reevaluate, there’s an opportunity to refine the concept and spiral in deeper or to leave it for now and start the process on a different offering.
I start all my clients out by crafting a cohesive vision for their business and life. This allows them to take in the entire scope of what they want to create and see how it all fits together. A good vision provides the context for your path forward — it’s like a map. You can see all of the features around you, even if they aren’t on your current path, so you can make flexible decisions as you go. The vision provides the starting place for the iterative development process. I definitely do this work with private clients, but I also have it available in a course format, called Architect Your Business.
Once the initial vision is crafted, we move forward into implementing that vision with confidence and structure using the Spiral Development process, which still allows a lot of flexibility for exploration, refinement, and play.
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How did you make the switch from rocket scientist to vision architect?
About ten years into my career, after coming back from my second maternity leave, a perfect storm happened. I got super frustrated with the corporate environment, realizing that I had already accomplished most of the goals I had set out to achieve in engineering and that the work wasn’t lighting me on fire like it used to. I had several highly discouraging conversations with management at my company about growth and promotion and was feeling like there had to be something better out there.
At the same time as that loss of love and inspiration at work, I simultaneously discovered the world of entrepreneurship and my love and gifts for coaching. Discovering entrepreneurship showed me that, yes, there was something else out there besides the prescriptive corporate ladder path I had been following, and I could make my own choices! Infinite possibilities seemed to open up! A friend mentioned to me in an offhand comment that I would make a good coach, and unbeknownst to her, this lit me on fire. My entire life flashed before my eyes to moments where I should have seen these skills and talents, but I was so focused on my spaceflight dreams that I just blew them off. But no longer. I started my coaching practice (along with a few other ventures jointly with my husband) and haven’t looked back.
How do you create balance in your life?
Well, first of all, I kind of hate the word “balance.” Balance implies that there is this elusive state that you can achieve if only you pay attention well enough in which every part of your life is getting the attention it needs. Instead of “balance,” I try to make sure that I have a clear picture of the life I want (the vision!) and I make decisions that support that vision.
Being able to make those decisions means knowing myself really well — what I need and what I want. I am fairly religiously dedicated to both self-care and self-exploration. I’m a big believer in putting my own oxygen mask on first. I’m a much better mom, wife, and coach when my needs are getting met.
You assert that SMART goals are actually dumb, can you expand on that?
Let’s review what a SMART goal is: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. For years we’ve all been told that our goals should be SMART or don’t bother having them. What did this cause us to do? It caused us to arbitrarily choose numbers and deadlines to force the goals to be SMART, but what it actually did was make the goal pretty meaningless. What’s the difference if you lose 28 pounds vs. 30 pounds? And what’s the difference if you did it by February 18 instead of January 1?
Worse yet, arbitrarily choosing specific, measurable, time-bound outcomes sets your brain up for a failure mindset where there is actually no failure. It gives your internal voice of Resistance an opening to say “See? You *can’t* really do it. You can’t really be successful.” And letting Resistance or Fear have even the slightest possibility of convincing you of these limiting beliefs can hold you back from all kinds of awesomeness.
So do you set goals in your life?
I craft a vision. What do I want? What do I need to thrive? How am I living my purpose? How can I make the world a better place?
I paint in pretty broad strokes at first, but then I spiral into the details. (See what I did there? It’s a spiral — an iterative process.) Once I get down into the details of my vision, it eventually starts to look a lot like goals, especially at the monthly and weekly resolution. And the goals break down into a to-do list. As in, “What do I need to do today/this week to make my vision reality?”
But I am very careful that if I put numbers or deadlines next to goals or to-do items, there’s a really good reason for it.
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What advice would you give a mother who feels stuck in her business or life?
Start with yourself. Deep dive into the core of yourself first and ask what it is you need to thrive? What is it that you want to bring into the world, into your clients’ experience, into your family? So much stuck-ness is around not having clarity of vision. Sometimes it’s because we assume that what we need is the same thing we needed 10 years ago, and we’ve never allowed that to be updated for ourselves. Sometimes it’s because we’ve gotten caught up in implementing something someone else said we should have in our business or life, but it’s not authentic to us. Sometimes it’s because we’ve lost that sense of experimentation and play.
If you start with yourself, it forms the foundation of clarity that can help you start to move forward in your other relationships and activities.
What does self care look like for you?
I’m an introvert, so time by myself is paramount. This takes various forms: being able to step outside for a few minutes to walk and breath, massage once or twice a month, taking myself out for lunch, making the time to meditate or read. These are all on my menu of self-care practices.
We’ve created a real team environment with the family. We do the best we can to make sure that everyone’s needs are met and the work is getting done. My husband takes the kids a bunch (benefits of being a two-entrepreneur family with time flexibility) and we have a nanny come in once a week. The kids are starting to understand (in their kid way) what being an entrepreneur means, and they do their best to pitch in. We call ourselves Team Simpkins.
I’m also in the process of losing baby weight from my third pregnancy, and I’m dedicated to muscle tearing exercise every day and eating paleo. I know that these two elements are what work best for me. It’s hard to make that commitment in the midst of family and work chaos, but it pays dividends in increased energy levels, agility for playing with my kids, and just feeling comfortable in my own skin.
Who are your business or motherhood inspirations?
I am inspired by stories of mamas who are doing their own thing, pursuing dreams, propelling themselves forward, and living in the messiness of real life too. Recently, I got inspired by this family who is going to hike the Appalachian Trail with their baby. I also have parent friends in real life who are breaking out of the box and living dreams of adventure and freedom… and taking their kids right along with them. Nothing lights me up more than to see other people lit up and Doing It.
In terms of business, here are my gurus:
1) It was the books of Seth Godin that blew my mind wide open to realize that maybe being a corporate drone wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. That maybe I could be more.
2) I deeply adore business coach/artist/Australian hippie Leonie Dawson for her authenticity, her healthy boundaries, her deep rooted generosity, and her crazypants.
3) My own coach Farnoosh Brock has been and continues to be my boots-on-the-ground, tactical inspiration for the day-to-day business execution and for helping me hold my own business vision.
Allow yourself, your vision, your work to be iterative. Humans aren’t meant to step robotically up a staircase toward some standard definition of success. We are messy, organic, beautiful creatures. Our development is cyclical, and if you can harness that power and put it to work for you instead of trying to fight against it, magic will happen.
Amy Simpkins is a speaker, entrepreneurship coach, and vision architect. As an MIT-trained engineer, she architected complex missions to outer space. Now she’s applying that proven technical knowledge and big-picture mindset to help you shift your business from POSSIBLE to PROFITABLE. She helps her clients craft clear, big-picture visions and then use an iterative implementation approach to make those visions reality, creating revenue and unstoppable momentum along the way. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.