Six months ago, I was working in a role that had quickly begun to demand too much from me. After 18 months at the best job I’d ever had, my boss bought a large retail bookstore chain and began a new startup venture that suddenly demanded all my time. Like a ravenous beast, it engorged itself on my time and energy, and the family time I coveted so much took the hit.
With the foot on the corporate gas pedal and with no signs of letting up or slowing down, I prayed much and consulted with Godly mentors and friends. Then I made what I felt was both God’s will and the best decision for my family: I chose my family over a salary, insurance, and security. I gave my notice, and walked away.
In the middle of that transition, I got a couple of job offers. One of them was from the web development firm who had helped me build the website for my now-previous employer. It was too good to pass up, and I became the newest member of their team on May 1st, 2013, the day after I left my old job.
The last six months have had ups and downs, but has been an incredibly educational and worthwhile experience. I’d do it all over again tomorrow because of what I’ve learned. I’ve come to view this time as God giving me a mini boot camp as I was on my way (as He knew the case to be) to something better.
Six months feels like a lifetime ago, and in some ways it was. I’ve learned so much, but here are 10 of the most salient principles and personal revelations I’ve learned on this ride.
10. Ship It Now
This one comes directly out of the Seth Godin playbook. We tend to take an idea and sit on it. Or, we take an idea, work on it, then tweak until we think it is perfect before we release it. This creates two problems:
- It propagates the fallacious belief that anything can ever be “perfect.”
- It prevents many good ideas from ever seeing the light of day because we’re too afraid to ship them.
The last six months have taught me to err on the side of shipping as opposed to endless tweaking. Mind you, this doesn’t give anyone permission to put crap out there. Rather, this principle means that you set a goal and then focus fully on accomplishing it. You get an idea, validate it, set a timeline, rally your team, and then go and make that idea a reality by shipping a minimum viable product. You can iterate later on what you shipped to bring it closer to the finished vision.
I am committed to being a shipper.
9. Readers Lead and Leaders Read
I have often said that I am not a big reader. What I mean is that I don’t like to read. I just have a hard time enjoying books, and that is to my shame. I love reading articles and blog posts that interest me, but I have a difficult time committing to a book.
In the last six months, I’ve been surrounded by prolific readers, and it has shown me that “readers lead and leaders read.” I’ve read a couple of books during the last six months, and it reminded me that every time I read, I learn an incredible amount of new things that really sticks with me and shapes my thinking.
My wife’s grandfather, now in his mid-90′s, took college classes in his 80′s. He’s stressed to my wife over the years about how important it is to never stop learning, even if it is informal. My experience over the past 6 months has backed that wisdom up.
8. Iterate, Iterate, Iterate (Then, Iterate Some More)
I once had a boss who was a serial tweaker. She didn’t understand the value of iteration and errantly (or arrogantly) assumed that what she released on launch day would be so great as to never need further work. It was amazing in all the wrong ways.
The result was that as I was leaving a year and a half later, they were still working on the project they began when I first arrived. It was an exercise in frustration. Ultimately, she was scorned for inefficiency and the project was abandoned.
In the last six months, I have learned that as I approach a project, I must discover what the minimum viable product release is, then focus on shipping that. Then, the journey of iteration can begin to work its magic. Iteration is as much a part of the process as the building, itself. I have always believed in iteration––not just for products, but even for my personal development––but now, I am completely sold on it.
7. That Working From Home is Powerful
I’ve done the office cubicle thing, and now I’ve done the work from home thing. Not everyone is good working from home because it takes a lot of discipline and focus. I, however, have found that I excel when working from home for three reasons.
- There’s none of the office distractions that so often affected my productivity.
- There’s none of the politics or drama that so often affected my productivity.
- There’s no commute to suck down 1 to 2 hours of each day of my life.
With the freedom of working from home, I can focus like a laser on getting things done. I can work from where I’m most creative and most productive, and I can work whenever I feel inspired, which is rarely in an 8-9 hour straight spurt. I type these words at 1am.
Working remotely has been an incredible experience that I plan to keep up.
6. That I Can Sell Stuff
I once had a college friend, with all sincerity, say this line from Tommy Boy to me: “Hayden, you could sell a ketchup popsicle to a girl in white gloves.” He saw something in me that I hadn’t yet. Amazingly, it would take another 13 years or so before I figured out what he saw in me.
When I accepted the job offer six months ago, I couldn’t have been more unsure about my ability to convince people that the websites we built were good enough to trade money for. Mind you, it wasn’t the product I doubted––it was myself.
I had sales goals. I even had a personal goal: I told my team I wanted to bring them enough business that it caused a panic. I met my goal and they met mine. They even had to hire some temporary help to handle the work I brought in. It was a sales boom that validated my friend’s comments years earlier and made me realize that I had found a Happy Gilmore skill. Happy Gilmore was a longball driver disguised as a hockey player. I was a sales and people person disguised as a graphic designer.
My sales ability was probably the most surprising revelation, and it was an incredible boost of confidence. I began to realize that people weren’t buying our services as much as they were actually buying me. They were buying based on the trust they had in me.
I think that kind of success is something I can replicate in my next adventure. So I plan to––starting today.
You can read Part 2 of this post here.