I’ve been doing a yearly retrospective for a long, long time but it’s only been the last few years where I’ve actually shared those things publicly via my blog.
As I began writing this one I took a look back at my 2012 and 2013 years and I marvel at how far I’ve come as a person, as a professional, as a husband, as a father, and as a citizen (netizen) of our world.
The theme of both 2012 & 2013 were the same: Entrepreneurship. I didn’t plan for that to happen but it just so happened that the years revolved heavily around creating and growing a business. Entrepreneurship in both years were experienced differently, though, and my understanding of what that really meant evolved and matured.
2014 was not much different, on the surface-level, because I entertained some serious projects clearly leveraging my entrepreneurship experience and resolve. But, I would not characterize 2014 thematically as being one of entrepreneurship. Instead, there is really only one word that comes most-strongly to mind (among many great candidates) and that is Family.
I had a handful of goals for 2014 and a couple of them centered around my spouse and my two girls. I simply wanted to invest more of my time with them in 2014 than I had ever done in the past.
My oldest turned 8 and she’s getting so close to being an adult. I can have full conversations with her and it’s spooky. My youngest will be 4 next week and she’s a fireball of energy and attitude. Becoming an involved and fully present father is more important than it has ever been and I want to be available at all times.
Roenne has not forgotten my failures to be at some of the more special events in her life. In fact, she reminded me last week that I had promised never again to miss her birthday, something that I did a few years ago after promising that I would actually be there. I broke a promise and it changed her life, her perspective on me as her father, and how we relate to one another.
So, this year I wanted to not just be there for the birthdays and holidays, I wanted to invest even more time with her. Consequently, I decided to try volunteering as her U-8 soccer coach. I went one step farther and even got my “G” License. Getting to spend time with her (and her friends) made us very close this year.
This investment (and continued investment – spring season is coming!) is going to last me a lifetime. This was one of the best decisions of my 2014 year and although my time as coach has been challenging it’s been rewarding beyond what I had imagined I would receive.
Investing in my youngest was just as rewarding as I began to take Arden out on dates. I started this practice with Roenne when she was about the same age and it was time that Arden and I had some more consistent 1-on-1 time. At this point in time it’s just me watching her eat mostly and we chat about “stuff” but the goal is to show her that I do in fact desire special time with her.
She also began preschool this past year and she’s enjoying her time learning new things, meeting new people, and making new friends. I can walk her to school, which is a beautiful thing, and we can have light chats about… well… “stuff” I suppose. Arden is so different than her older sister and yet, at the very same time, very similar. If you’re a parent then you can probably follow this logic a bit.
On the topic of school… one of the largest decisions and my wife and I made this year was our decision to pull Roenne out of public school and to begin our journey into homeschooling. I’m so excited about this next stage of our family dynamic and I know that we’re going to totally screw it up before we even get close to getting it “right.”
Finally, my wife booted up a pretty big project this year called Project120, a residency program for students who are attending The Iron Yard here in Atlanta. It’s the first major project that she’s started in a long time and I’m so excited to be helping her make it a reality. One of my goals this past year was to support her more in her own creative decisions and projects and I’m glad I’ve been able to make good on that goal. I more than owe it to her big-time.
In fact, my wife is really the big hero for this year. We celebrated our 9th anniversary and it was this year where I really got to see the character and quality of the person that I decided to marry.
She was the rock for our family as we navigated a cataclysmically bad startup venture where we sold our car and our house and most of what we owned to recover financially. We moved into a small apartment that is actually smaller than the one that we moved into when we first got married. Her resiliency is other-worldly and she’s made an incredible home of this small place for me and our two girls.
She also approved of a really big “Yes” as I joined another young venture @ The Iron Yard and spent a ton of time traveling around the country to scale the company 10X. Even though we were recovering from a massive failure (or my massive failure) from another venture she was willing to risk it all again so that I could work with some great people on a mission worth pursuing. Unbelievable.
She has also been my #1 fan as I’ve worked on a small development project that has done some pretty neat things this past year. Desk, which first started as a personal side-project, has won some neat awards this past year for which has humbled me to no end. But without my wife believing in me and giving me the time to work on it I would never have shipped it publicly (you can thank her via Twitter).
Everything that I did this year was strictly a family-affair and that’s really significant. Why? Because historically I’ve made some pretty big mistakes and have really “forced” my position upon my family (and my spouse) instead of making it a collaborative decision. In essence, I’ve been getting “my way” for most of my married life and my wife has patient and accommodating, considering my needs and my dreams before her own.
Collectively, we have no regrets but we are not fooling anyone when we look back and realize that the last decade of our relationship has been really tough; back-breaking at times. Discussions of divorce during the darkest and hardest of times happened and by the grace of God we’ve walked through these periods and recovered. Counseling, therapy, and our shared faith kept hope alive.
Sadly, it’s taken me this long to realize that marriage is truly a team sport and one that I’ve warmed up to big-time. It’s much easier too and the opportunity for better results, more happiness and joy have seemed more accessible and within reach than ever before. I can’t believe it took that long – what a road less traveled…
As I walk into 2015 the theme of family is still very much part of the game plan. In fact, it is now at the very top of the list of priorities and in the past I wouldn’t have been able to look you in the eye and tell you that it was.
Now, I think I can.
A Few Other Things from 2014
There are a few other things that I want to capture here so that I can review them for future reflection. I don’t want to miss these as they were also large themes that I encountered and to pass over them would be more harmful than good.
Failure was a big theme for me this year and it is something that I’m still wrestling with. I failed big-time on many levels with a project that took over my life (and my family’s life) for the end of 2012 through 2013.
I should have shut it down near the end of 2013 but I kept it alive another 9 months before finally pulling the plug. The damage was done and I essentially reset my family’s financial situation completely.
Beyond humbling I wanted to see how far I could go and unfortunately it didn’t work out. I have thought often on this quote via T.S. Eliot:
Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.
It’s a bit funny to read my Year in Review post for 2013 and see that I wrote this:
… we were quite literally ready to mortgage the home for the venture to make it happen. I’ve read stories about how other entrepreneurs had done that and I have often thought “Pshhhhhhhh, yeah… right…!” but we got really close this year; like, really close.
I would have never guessed that six months later I’d be that guy. Who would have thought.
Resetting my finances is one thing as that’s generally easy to recover; money is replaceable and I can always make more if I really have to. But resetting my family’s security (or sense of security) and removing ourselves from our beautiful one-of-a-kind 1918 Craftsman-style home was nothing short of heartbreaking. That was my fault and I own that completely.
I also felt like I lost part of my soul as a product that I put so much into was a complete dud. I worked on it for 2 solid years. I raised nearly $300,000. The app earned just north of $1,300 and I didn’t pay myself for those two years a single penny. All gone. Vanished. The internet was not kind (I’m not sure why I expected anything less than pure vitriol) and I spiraled into depression many, many times. Suicide was something I considered at one point and thankfully nothing came of those wicked thoughts.
Grief is tough to work through and the stages of grief are real. I walked through it heavily for that project and I’m still not entirely through. The one thing that has kept me sane is that I’ve stayed busy. I’ve gotten back to work and the road to recovery has been made more smooth because I’ve been blessed with good and honorable work – things that are worth committing to.
I thank God for that.
I turned 32 this past year and for the first time I feel like I’m not making a complete mess of myself. Feeling comfortable in my own skin is something I think we’re all shooting for but I fear that I will never completely get there, if that makes any sense.
But, I’m the closest I’ve ever been and I feel like the convergence of many of my interests, experiences, and skills has been made a reality. The Iron Yard, for instance, is a near-inexplicable combination of my passion for education (and an explicit use for my Masters in Education degree), software development, and entrepreneurship. I’m not sure I could have come up with this opportunity on my own and certainly wouldn’t have been able to pull it off myself.
My role is unique and my responsibilities align superbly with the mandates that I’ve been given. I have found success and, more importantly, I have found satisfaction. That combination alone is priceless. And my partners actually like me, despite my sometimes odd behavior. They are the very best.
Have I “landed”? Probably not, but that’s because I’m not entirely sure what “landed” really means or how that really happens. What I have learned this past year is that it is quite possible to be me, fully, and create value for myself and for others. I am happy that things progressed as they did and the pace at which I have learned more about myself.
You see, essentially 2014 was the first full calendar year where I was able to put all of this in practice and so, in many ways, I feel like I started with a blank slate at a tender 32 years old – I’ve just scratched the surface of what it’s like to live fully and actually like it. Is it entirely comfortable? No, but I don’t dislike who I am. Acceptance, principally, is key.
32 years and I’ve found some sure footing. Took a while, didn’t it? Oh, and I wrote my 22-year old self a letter that’s worth reviewing a couple times a week.
Speaking engagements were a huge part of the 2014 year. I spoke over 40 times this year and gave my public communication credentials a serious boost. Most of these opportunities to publicly share my thoughts would be rated mediocre, at best. There were a few gems littered here and there but overall I got a better sense of my own communication style and how I not only perform but prepare.
What’s fascinating is that I, for the first time in a very long time, have zero speaking engagements lined up as I walk into this new year. Historically I have had up to a dozen already committed to and have baked my calendar around these events. For whatever reason I have none and this is after the biggest speaking year that I’ve ever had.
I find that curious but I also rejoice because I burned out big-time on public communication. It’s not my gift and nor am I necessarily interested in working at it in a serious way. I want to become better at it, as many people do, but I am not interested in investing in it like I invest in my writing and my software development skills.
Instead, I want to invest in it without having to walk on a stage. I’m not entirely sure how this will happen or what that looks like but it means that I will have to get creative.
I also did something that I’ve never done before and I gave a keynote presentation with the expressed intent of doing it only one time. It was my presentation on failure and my story of my previous failed venture. It was therapeutic and something that my therapist and medical professionals have suggested that I do more of but it still was painful and I am not at all interested in doing it ever again.
Recycling presentations is a common practice among serious conference speakers and public communicators but this one, for me, was deeply personal.
I’m not entirely sure how the audience responded and I’m glad that it wasn’t a super-large group in attendance, but I hope that they were able to at least glean something valuable from it which I highlighted at the end via Maya Angelou:
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.
This was an untold story that I had to tell, if only to remove the agony from within. Unfortunately, the agony wasn’t fully removed just as if most, but not all, of a splinter has been removed from one’s flesh. I hope I won’t be given another opportunity to do this presentation again.
I suppose sharing it here publicly will help a tad.
Mentorship was a huge part of my year in 2014 and it was the year where I finally was able to crystalize what I call my own mentorship philosophy. It’s taken many, many years of refinement and practice (and failure) and I’m quite happy with what I’ve discovered about myself and the way in which I’ve encountered mentorship in a pragmatic way.
What I’ve discovered is that mentorship for me is best when I get to choose the person that I want to fully invest in. I’ve been asked to mentor many individuals over the years and I’ve never been successful when doing it that way.
Instead, it’s vastly better when I am able to make a very intentional decision about the person that I want to spend time with and how I best can serve and shepherd them well. This is the crucial element that was missing in the previous encounters and the attempts at doing mentorship well.
The rubric through which I determine who I will mentor and invest in is simply being able to answer this question: Will my efforts and investment in this person completely transform their personal and professional trajectory? If not, then I pass.
The thing is that I believe I can provide value to almost anyone. This isn’t hubris but rather fact as I believe most people who intentionally seek to invest in others can create value. The question is at what magnitude is that investment and created value? If I can push someone to be 1X or 2X better at something than that’s good. What’s vastly better is if I can push someone to be 10X, 100X, or even 1,000X.
In other words, I want to maximize not only my time with this person but the magnitude of the impact that I can create in that person’s life. If it’s not going to be big or great then it’s not worth either of our time. But if it’s going to be epic, well, then we can dance.
This year I chose 2 people to invest in, the first was a high school gal who I had mentored through a summer program and then decided to continue to invest in when they graduated the summer program and went back to California. The second was a student @ The Iron Yard who I pushed hard to be amazing, meeting with this person multiple times a week and coaching them to go above and beyond the required course load.
I loved this process thoroughly and the results have been phenomenal. In this way I was able to crystalize my mentorship philosophy and refine it to a point that was very comfortable with my given time commitments and dynamics. I’m excited to continue this trend and am actively on the lookout for people that I can mentor to great success.
After that last paragraph I feel like I’m obligated to say something like “It could be you!” but that’s not how it works. Hah.
Desk App has been an amazing part of my 2014 year and something that I have written about extensively on my developer’s blog for the project. I could go on for quite some time about it but the most important thing that Desk App has done for me is that it’s restored a piece of my soul that I felt like I had lost (or that was badly damaged) because of my last recent major development failure.
In the worst of times I felt like I had “lost” my touch and that I wasn’t worth enough to even whisper the word “developer” along with my name. I felt like quitting entirely and learning another trade. I had let so many people down and that was painful; why would I want to do that again?
The reception of Desk has been a salve to my very heart and soul. To say that I am not affected by the affections of men would be a lie. I’m frail, I’m human, I’m weak, and when something is deeply personal my soft tissue is immediately exposed. I’m vulnerable.
Is Desk App the finest Mac application ever created? God, no. Is it an embarrassment at times when I think of how much work still needs to get done? Sure.
But it’s about progress, not perfection. My work will never be done anyways. I just hope I can create as much value as I possibly can while I’ve still got some fingers and a brain that works well-enough to pump out lines.
I thank God for Desk. It’s given me hope that I still have a (small) clue about what I’m doing as a software developer.
Like all of you my year had a number of other highlights as well and things that I’d love to expound on but this post is already too long. Here are some other things I want to capture quickly for my own benefit:
- My grandfather’s morse code machine was handed down to me and I love it! I especially love it because I got a more permanent addition to my body via tattoo earlier in the year.
- Money is important so that you can eat and pay bills. But after the last few years of being an entrepreneur I’ve come to realize that beyond that there’s very little there to motivate. This post on startup salaries was an interesting one for me to walk through and the topic of money, earning, saving, spending and all that good jazz has been on my mind this entire year. Wealth generation isn’t even in the same ballpark as doing something meaningful with one’s life.
- I fell in love with newsletters, not because they are anything special in and of themselves but rather the medium allows me to write a bit differently. And they are / can be oh so powerful.
- I met more startup groupies this year than I ever have in my entire life. Disappointing.
- I became an indie developer. Not that I wasn’t this before but rather I owned the title. I like the title. It’s cool.
- I turned off comments for good on my blog here. I can’t imagine ever going back.
- On the topic of Twitter… I gave it up for a while. I think I’ll give it up for good this year.
- I got boring. I’m looking forward to getting more boring as I get older. This makes more sense to me now than it ever has been and I can’t wait for it all to end gloriously.
And that’s about that.