A Failure Isn’t Always A Failure

A couple of months ago I wrote an article about how it was time for a change. In fact, the article was titled, "It's Time For A Change". Clever, I know.

In that article I talked about how, after five years of being a solo entrepreneur, I felt like it was, well, time for a change. I had been given an opportunity to join the amazing team at Lift UX as Director of Product. My role was going to be leading the charge on a new family of products related to the the company’s acquisition of Churchthemes.net.

There were a number of terms to the deal, including the acquisition of some of my products and a partnership in the company. Since we had been attempting to build very similar products in our spare time, I decided, along with Chris Wallace and Brad Miller (the co-founders and owners of Lift), that it made a lot of sense for us to join forces.

However, after a short two months together, we have decided to end our official relationship. I still respect the hell out of Chris and Brad and the team at Lift. They are doing some amazing things and I hope I was able to help start what Churchthemes will eventually become.

Nevertheless, it became clear to me over the past few weeks that my vision for Churchthemes and my role in that vision differed in some significant ways from Chris’s and Brad’s. There are no hard feeling between us and we parted ways amicably.

However, I’m still tempted to look at this experience as a failure, even though it wasn’t. And it has taken several days of clearing my head and writing down my thoughts to figure out why. My hope is that sharing this with you may be of some benefit as you examine your own experiences and decision-making-process in regard to employment, freelancing, entrepreneurship, etc.

So here goes…

I realized very quickly that there was a reason I have been self-employed for so long. I LOVE working for myself. I just do. It’s in my blood. The freedom and flexibility that comes with self-employment is something I knew I valued, but didn’t realize just how much I valued until I didn’t have it anymore.

Sure, there are myriad stressors involved with self-employment:

  • Work/life balance is hard to achieve.
  • You have to wear many hats and be good at a lot of things besides your main craft.
  • An often irregular income can be very hard to deal with and lead to mountains of stress.
  • You must have a high tolerance for risk and the ability to stay calm and productive in the face of lots of uncertainty.

But, the truth is, I never minded those pressures. At times, like any normal human being, they would get to me and I would find myself overwhelmed. However, those “risks” are also part of the thrill. There’s a thrill to waking up every morning and knowing you are the master of your domain. You can make this day anything you want it to be. The possibilities are endless.

If you can’t tell by now, I’m a wide-eyed, whole-hearted dreamer. And I’m ok with that. I embrace it as part of who I am and find no shame it.

In addition to the control over my schedule, I love being able to choose the projects and/or products I work on. And I found that losing that freedom took a greater toll on my well-being and general happiness than any of the stresses of being self-employed.

You may not agree. Maybe for you, a steady paycheck and the sense of security that a job and a regular schedule brings is where you thrive. And that’s completely fine. We’re all different.

But for me, I found the wind quickly drained from my sails. I realized that the job I thought I’d been hired for and the job I actually ended up doing weren’t exactly the same and my path to partnership in the company was not as clear as it had appeared.

Again, this is not a criticism of Chris and Brad. If I were to choose to be employed at any time again in the future, it would be with those guys. They are some of the nicest people I’ve had the pleasure of working for.

But that’s just it. I don’t want to work for anyone. As I said above, I just plain love working for myself. And that isn’t something on which I can put a price tag.

So, why wasn’t this experience a failure? After all, it would be easy to look at that way, since it only lasted for two months before I decided to move on.

First, I learned a lot about working with a team. It was a huge struggle for me, but I now have a much greater understanding of exactly what it takes to run a successful team.

Second, I learned a lot about myself. I discovered the things that are truly important to me in my work. When I agreed to take the position, I viewed is as an experiment. An experiment that I hoped would be successful, but an experiment nonetheless. I had never been employed in the web industry other than a short stint with an agency when I first started out that I don’t think was a good representation of a modern web shop. So I had no idea what it would be like. There was a chance that I would love it. It was something new. But, as I’ve been saying in the last 900 words or so, I discovered that it just wasn’t for me. I am happiest and at my best when I am working for myself.

Third, I learned that decisions (even big ones) aren’t irreversible. I’m a baptized, grade-A over-thinker. I tend to obsess over even the tiniest decision as if my entire future depended on making the right choice. But this simply isn’t true. And this kind of over-thinking often leads to doing nothing out out fear of making the wrong choice. I have missed out on many opportunities because of this fear. But I hope this experience has helped me see the error of my ways, at least a little. I tried something and found that it wasn’t for me. There’s nothing wrong with that. I hope I will now have an easier time trying new things, knowing that if I change my mind, the world will not collapse around me.

So What Now

As of this week, I’m back to my freelancing ways. I have five or six products that I really want to launch, as well as some client work to wrap up. In addition, I’m looking for new projects, so if you know of anything, I would appreciate any referrals you send my way. My focus is on WordPress design and development, custom WordPress themes and responsive website builds.

I plan to take a small sabbatical to plan out the next six months and the paths to version 1 releases of several new products. In addition, I am doing lots of podcasting and have several new shows in the works (one of which is being prepped for public radio distribution through PRX, which I am beyond excited about). Another of my new show ideas is about relaunching a freelance career and all the sweat and thought and strategy that goes into that. I have a lot of plans to do things differently this time around. If you think you’d be interested in a podcast like that, please let me know. If I get enough interest, I will definitely make that show a reality.

A few things to keep an eye on:

I am super excited about my immediate future. I feel like I’ve rediscovered, in some ways, who I am and what I truly value. I don’t know what the next few months hold or where exactly the work will come from, but I’m going to be doing the work I want and in the way I want. A blessing for which I’m truly thankful.

On Depression, Burnout and Finding What’s Important

This is going to be super raw. Honestly, I'm nervous about sharing some of what follows because it's so personal. But I know from the emails I receive that many of you reading this will identify with it. And I hope by sharing this that you will be helped in some way.

I’m not a super positive guy. I tend to be pretty cynical about life and the human condition. For as long as I can remember I’ve fought with “depression”. I put that in quotes, because I’ve never thought of myself as depressed, despite my cynical nature.

But about 10 months ago I entered a phase of life in which I can’t deny that I was truly depressed. I would get out of bed and just wander around the house because I was bored out of my mind, despite the fact that I had mountains of work to get done. The excitement was gone. The feeling of endless possibility that many of us chase just wasn’t there anymore. Forcing myself to work didn’t help. Neither did taking a break. I felt aimless, purposeless.

This continued for months. I missed deadlines. I damaged personal and professional relationships. It was terrible.

It reached the point that I finally saw a doctor about it. We started with weekly therapy and eventually tried various medications.

I can say without a doubt that the therapy has helped. It’s great to have someone to whom you can pour out your heart and who is trained to be a good listener.

I’m telling you all this, because I don’t think I am alone in my experience. Since January, I’ve talked to many friends in the web industry about what I was going through and almost all of them have experienced something like it.

Part of my depressive tendencies are genetic. My dad was this way when he was alive. He lived his life under a cloud of regret for past mistakes. I remember as a kid always wishing I could make him feel what I felt for him. That he wasn’t a failure. That he was a great dad. And that he was loved.

Another part has to do with expectations. And this is the part I hope is of some help to you if you identify with what I’m saying.

I put so much pressure on myself to be successful. To be somebody. And because of that I tend to overcommit and load myself down with so many responsibilities I couldn’t possibly deliver on all of them. I’m so overwhelmed and stressed that I miss the little moments that add up to a balanced life.

And it really is all about balance.

Yesterday I spent a few hours on the couch with my family playing the new Mario Kart. All four of us, my wife on one end, me in the middle, with my girls snuggled up on either side.

I felt truly happy in that moment. And I realized that these were the moments I was missing. For five years, I’ve been so consumed with work that I haven’t had time for anything else.

I’ve had this picture in my mind of what my life is supposed to be like and I’ve been chasing it at all costs. But life has a way of not working out according to my plans. I’m 34 and can honestly say my life looks nothing like I thought it would when I was 24. In some ways it’s a lot better. It some ways it’s worse.

It’s the expectation of perfection or “success” that I think lies at the root of much of this.

But here’s the great thing: just because I feel like a failure doesn’t mean I am one. Just like my dad, there are people around me that need me and value me. Sometimes you have to force yourself to slow down and take notice.

If you feel this way, there is hope. You, too, have people around you that need you. Try letting go of whatever “success” means to you and focus on them. Slow down and really experience the little moments of your life.

During the past three months, I’ve completely changed my routine and reorganized how I work. Being thought of as a success in the eyes of my peers doesn’t mean quite as much to me as it used to. Don’t get me wrong, I still think about it. A lot. But I’m learning to let go.

It’s not a silver bullet, but at the very least, it’s worth a try.

It’s Time For A Change

When I first decided to pursue a career in the web, it was because I wanted to build my own businesses and make my own things and experience the freedom of controlling my own destiny.

The web industry is a wonderful place for the entrepreneurally-minded and I definitely found those opportunities within its borders. I’ve been a freelancer now for almost five years. I built a web design and development shop from the ground up that has supported me well. I’ve had the opportunity to work with (and for) my friends, which has been truly delightful. I’ve started lots of side projects, some of which have actually turned into their own businesses (Lift Themes, WP Theory, Goodstuff), and killed even more before they ever made it out the door.

I’ve really enjoyed my time doing client work and making websites for people. But I’ve come to the realization that if I want to accomplish the things about which I’m most passionate, I can’t do it alone. And I don’t really want to, if I’m honest. The time has come to take the next step.

I’m excited to announce that, as of today, I will be joining the folks at Lift UX and UpThemes as Director of Product, which is a fancy way of saying that I’m going to be spending a lot of time doing the things I love most–brainstorming, strategizing, storytelling, breaking, fixing, building… You get the idea.

I connected with Chris Wallace and Brad Miller (the founders of Lift) over a common vision for a family of products that we’ve all been working on in various forms for some time. We’ve spent a lot of time brainstorming and sharing our ideas with each other. In the end, we decided that it made a lot more sense to join forces and make something truly great, than to go it alone.

So, what exactly is this product we’re going to build? I’m glad you asked. Coinciding with my move to Lift is the acquisition of ChurchThemes.net, the first church-specific WordPress theme shop on the internet. Up until now, ChurchThemes has primarily been a provider of free and premium WordPress themes built specifically for churches. The company has seen nearly 45,000 downloads of its products in the three short years since it opened shop.

We’ve got big plans for ChurchThemes and my primary role will be overseeing and leading the charge on those plans. The long-term strategy for ChurchThemes involves a marketplace where theme sellers can offer their own church WordPress themes. The marketplace will also hook into a new hosted website solution specifically for churches. ((There are number of hosted solutions out there, but we’ve got some cards up our sleeves we’re not ready to share just yet. Think HappyTables or WordPress.com, but blow-your-mind-awesome!))

We’ll be releasing more information in the near future about this new venture and what we hope to accomplish with it. In the meantime, you can whet your appetite here. If you want to be among the first to see what we’re up to, get yourself on that email list.

Building a product is hard. Building a great product that changes people’s live is downright magical. But if anyone can pull it off, it’s the Lift team. They’re a group of people who really believe they can change things. And as Steve Jobs is famous for saying, it’s the people who really believe they can change the world, that actually do.