Looking Back At 31
In an effort to be more creative about posts, today I’m going a different route. Being introspective can offer you a lot of insight if you’re willing to face it all (the good and the ugly). I blame the writer in me, I blame the philosopher in me, and I blame poet in me for having to do this. In the end, if you can’t be honest with yourself, life will present itself as a lie. To that end, I think it’s time to write a letter to my bygone one-year-older self. It’s an art that’s dying in a byte-sized playground where quips and snark become the constitution of communication.
It seems we’ve found ourselves in the same spot for the last two years: at a crossroads. Because where we go from here, the direction Tony at 32 chooses, the u-turns are farther apart and they’re harder to make. It’s been another year to be thankful for to be sure; the birth of my third daughter Mia, the connections made that blossomed into friendships, creating some real movement with Silver Arc Search, and celebrating another year with my wife. This year was about the little things. This year was about digging deep and being thankful for small moments of astonishment and joy.
I know 31. At the time, it felt like you were living on your knees. It was excruciating to have to be thankful for a dinner, thankful that we have a place to call home, that Natalie is learning to use sentences when she talks, or that Madison is learning to read. They seem automatic. But when life starts to tear away at the edges, when the dark of things beyond your control threaten to fold in on you, these are the things you have to hold onto to make to tomorrow. You did a great job 31 of finding those glimmers, without which we may have given up hope.
Right. Direction. And u-turns. I’m faced with some hard choices right now. There’s a lot riding on the decisions I’m going to have to make in the near-future, as you well know 31. It seems that’s your gift to me; the opportunity to choose and the opportunity to fail. There’s no doubt it seems like a burden right now, and I’m sure I’ll be second-guessing myself in the days to come. I keeping coming back to this idea that I’m still young enough to fail spectacularly and recover. When I do a 360 perimeter check, I know it just isn’t true. Failure has consequences. Failure on multiple levels just isn’t an option.
Then I think, maybe I’ll fail-forward. Into the next great adventure. Maybe, unbeknownst to me, I’ve been living a charmed existence all these years and that it will take risking it all to see it. I do know one thing 31, we are going to kick opportunity in the teeth and ride it to the hilt. If we do fail, it’ll be something for the record books and a teachable moment to anyone who would care to look. Maybe we’ll never look back, ride off like John Wayne into those western sunsets, onto the next town that needs a hero to clean up the town.
This year we learned a lot about how not to manage a business: through crisis points. Like crisis politics, crisis business management is no plan at all. Moving from one fire to the next is the surest way to set the whole structure on fire. You can’t continually serve those who are screaming the loudest because everyone is screaming. All crisis business management serves to do is add layers of complex over-process to deal with a specific case here and a unique case over there. In the end, all you ever do is re-invent the wheel through by masking its simplicity through mundane, over-thought process.
This year we learned a lot about growing a business responsibly. That biting off more than you can chew when you’re making money is an easy thing to do. Because we never want the good times to end, and when the business is on a roll, the general feeling is that they never will. I equate to a sprinter that runs so hard and so fast that their lung collapses. Theoretically, I knew it was possible, but never thought I would see it happen. To expand so fast that you collapse, like watching a balloon deflate.
Of course we both pinned this on greed, the Gordon Gecko mentality, the super-sizing of everything mentality: if some is good, a lot is better. It’s that attitude that causes collapse for small and mid-sized businesses. And Rhea’s post on the ROI of No, is really about calculating the risk of temptation to kill yourself by gorging yourself. We learned this year that satisfaction is about being able to live comfortably. Not overextending. Not “keeping up with The Jones’”. Because The Jones’ is an illusion; they’re trying to keep up with someone else too.
I think we both know 31, that 32 is going to be a year of real newness. I’ll save us both from quoting Robert Frost here, because whatever we do now is, ultimately, a road less traveled by many. And we both know that through whatever trials and tribulations we’ll go through this year, we’re blessed to have led such an exciting existence, to be where we have been, to know who we know, and to know that the familial blood we carry in us carries us. That includes my SEM family too. Our bonds of picking each other by the bootstraps, that there is no quit in us.
I hope this letter finds you well 31. Let 29 and 30 know we’re just fine, I know they were worried about us. I think you should quote Shawshank for them: “Andy Dufresne, who crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side [...] I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright and when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice [...]” They’ll understand.