Making Critical Mistakes and the Road to Recovery

Foggy dark tree line

To all of you fellow perfectionists, friends who have experienced imposter-syndrome, business professionals, creatives, entrepreneurs and basically any human being over the age of 5 (maybe 12 is more realistic), this one is dedicated to you.

I’ve been known to take challenges head on, sometimes to my detriment. If you are like me, this is most likely a place where you will make some mistakes. Some people may think it’s admirable to face your challenges with confidence and without any regard for fear or concern. This is partly true, but there’s definitely a fine line between confidence and arrogance. I find that when I’ve slipped into arrogance, I tend to force steps or ideas to solve my challenge. Of course, I don’t always know I’m doing it and it’s not until I’ve had time to reflect upon it that I see so clearly. And yes, there are times where mistakes are simply just mistakes. Though I have argued to myself…it’s probably rooted in some sort of pressure I’ve added to the situation or something I’ve tried to force. No matter how or why a mistake is made, recovering from them can be tough and sometimes downright exhausting. I’m talking about those critical ones that have a lasting impact on you. Critical in the eyes of you, maybe not necessarily for everyone.

I’ve realized the single most important thing for me is to allow myself grace

It’s important to point out, working through the recovery of these mistakes has taught me a great deal about myself and has contributed to my experiential learning. The recovery process is not always the same and some take longer than others, but I’ve realized the single most important thing for me is to allow myself grace throughout. This can be really, really hard at times.

So we all know I’ve never made any big mistakes. Riggggghhhhhhhtttttt… I’ve made my fair share of seemingly big mistakes, more than I care to admit. A professor of human development and culture at the University of Texas said it best, “we’re still afraid to admit when we’ve been wrong—it feels like an indictment of our self-worth.”. Oh, how this is so true! If you are a professional, odds are you’ve made mistakes that have impacted your career. I imagine some more critical than others. I’m here to tell you these mistakes, or failures, have led to greater innovation and success in my life. What I’m continuing to learn and hopefully able to offer some useful guidance on, is not only how to acknowledge and recover, but doing it gracefully. Let me start by sharing some insights I’ve learned on how to acknowledge the mistake.

Perseverance or Pressure

Like I mentioned before, there’s a line between arrogance and confidence. I believe the same is true for pressure and perseverance. In fact, I would say they really go hand-in-hand. For whatever reason, call it stubbornness, determination or whatever, it’s harder for me to see when I’m being arrogant versus confident. But when I ask myself am I adding pressure to the situation it’s a lot easier to say “yes”, “no” or “maybe”. If “no”, then I let grit kick in and continue with humbled confidence. If “yes” or “maybe”, well then I’m probably overlooking something or too naive and my arrogance is blocking me from seeing it. Generally speaking, a “maybe” has more often been a thinly-veiled “yes” (or whatever response would be seemingly negative). Simply put, if I’m questioning it, then odds are I’m doing it.

The more pressure I add, the more short-sided I become…

When I add pressure to things I make mistakes A LOT. I even try to push it onto others at times, which I’m not proud of. And as ironic as it may be, this is typically the first mistake that leads to a more critical mistake. When I add pressure to situations my fuse is much shorter and my emotions can very easily take over. Consider a pressure cooker. It’s a sealed chamber that traps the steam generated, heating the contents. As the steam increases, pressure builds, eventually driving the boiling point of water past 212 degrees. In the case of mistakes it’s the same. I am the pressure cooker in this analogy, or at least my mind is. The more pressure I add, the more short-sided I become and the more mistakes I make and eventually I can push myself past the point of recovery, at least in the immediate sense. I call this the “boiling point”. And usually when I’ve passed the boiling point, those are what I consider to be the “critical mistakes”. The ones I pushed so far I’m now trying to justify my actions. The ones I try to resolve with quick fixes that prolong the inevitable. The ones I’ve forced too far past the point of immediate resolve.

Trust a Friend

I can certainly be prideful at times. I try to keep this in check, but I am human. I’m naturally a pretty optimistic fella. I think sometimes when this optimism mashes up with my confidence I can become a bit overconfident and prideful. But doggonit if I hover the line just before crossing over I can really show you some perseverance! This is true, however this statement alone, some would say is already pretty prideful, haha. Learning to be humble is key and man I have been humbled over the years, thus I call it “humbled confidence”.

I pride myself on being highly diligent and detailed when it comes to handling our personal finances. I’m by no means wealthy and honestly I feel a bit behind on long term planning, but when it comes to budgeting and choosing when and where to spend money I feel like I put in the work necessary to feel good about our decisions. Nevertheless, pride can also get in the way of admitting to yourself you’ve made a mistake or you’re about to. If you can relate, one thing that I’ve found to be very useful is to have vulnerable conversations and ask questions of a trusted friend. I try to make this a regular occurrence or even routine, so I can’t hide from myself. There’s a couple of ways you can do this. Either by talking about some decisions you’ve made recently that caused question or pause in your mind or by having some go-to gut-check questions. I might ask questions like these:

  • Have I done anything strange lately that stood out to you?
  • Have you noticed any recent behaviors that have felt “bossy”, forced or pushy?
  • Have I offended you recently?

Otherwise, I’m typically forthcoming with things on my mind and when I’ve unpacked them with a trusted friend they’re typically able to act as a mirror for me. I walk away feeling affirmed in my decision or see a potential issue, gap or mistake in my decision. This has been very key for me, because critical thinking is hard to do by yourself at times, especially when pride is involved.

Reframe Your Mindset

No matter how diligent I am at times or how hard I try to strive for perfection I still fall down. I still make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. Accept that it’s part of being human. You never know, it could lead to your next big success or a new way of solving a problem or approaching a challenge.

To learn to succeed, you must learn to fail.
I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.

– Michael Jordan

Otherwise, I tend to build a case around why I should feel bad or feel like I’ve let someone down. The more I do this, the harder I am on myself. The harder I am on myself, the more complicated things get and generally the bigger the mistake becomes. If I don’t have tricks or ways to snap myself out of it, then I continue building the case and eventually I feel stuck. So, I made an agreement with myself that when I finally realize and/or accept I’ve made a critical mistake, I begin the process of seeking out the positive. For me this helps with a couple crucial things. First, it allows me to start the recovery process right then and second it keeps me from slipping into the victim mindset. Yes, there are times I can’t seem to shake the feeling like nothing is working out. Nothing is going my way. Why does this keep happening to me? To top it off, there’s this thing psychologists call “negativity bias”. To quote an article:

“It’s [negativity bias] when these errors tend to take center stage in our consciousness. Our minds are highly attuned to focus on what we’ve done wrong, not what we’ve done right. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense; for our hunting-and-gathering ancestors, messing up was often a matter of life or death. Though modern-day mistakes don’t mean we’re going to end up being mauled by a saber-toothed tiger, we may still respond with the same urge to flee. But that response leaves us ill equipped to fix the kinds of errors we make these days, which usually require logical, methodical problem solving.”

If I’m able to keep myself from falling into the victim mindset or “negativity bias”, while seeking out the positive, it allows me to start asking questions like, “What am I supposed to learn from this?” or “What change or impact will this have on future situations like this?”.

Failure Stories

As I mentioned early, I’ve made a lot of mistakes, not only professionally, but personally as well. Some of them have had greater repercussions than others, some have led to success stories in my life, but all of them have taught me something.

He was like, look you messed up and it was a big mistake

In my professional life, I once made a critical spelling mistake on a printed piece to serve as a “thank you” that was being distributed to all of the employees of where I worked at the time. There were easily over 500 employees. It was a pretty embarrassing spelling mistake and I was the final check before it went to print. To top it off, nobody else saw it before it was distributed to the staff even after it had been produced and delivered. I thought for sure I was going to get fired. I didn’t, but I definitely got a stern talking to from my boss. I learned two things from that experience right then, always triple check words OR have another pair of eyes read over everything. And also, I learned humility. My boss at the time was really amazing at being able to communicate his concerns in a way that didn’t make me feel like a complete failure. He was like, look you messed up and it was a big mistake, but these things can happen, so let’s look at ways to improve going forward. Through the process, I was learning to be humble. Later in my career, I realized this mistake was a defining turning point for me. I started to become more aware of myself and how naturally I’m not the most detailed person. It burned in my mind that when you make a mistake, you acknowledge it, reflect on it and learn from it. And do it in a positive way. Ultimately continue forward.

Another example, from my personal life, I remember in my first year of being self-employed. I did not perform the due-diligence I needed to when it came to preparing for my taxes. I remember being in the tax meeting and when my tax accountant shared the total number I would owe, my face literally turned white and my stomach dropped. I thought, “he didn’t say that right, right?!? He accidentally added a zero to the end of that number…right!?”. Fortunately for me, I had bought a house that tax year and we were able to take advantage of the “first time home buyer’s credit”. You know the good one that you didn’t have to repay. It all but wiped out what we were going to owe that year. Ever since then, I vowed to never be in a situation like that again. When it came to our personal (and business) finances, I was on a mission to track at an absurd level of detail. Over the years I have tapered back some, but the core attention to detail and new patterns I had developed did create success for my family and for CreativeFuse. Flash forward to today and I’m considered by some of my peers to be the most detailed on our team. I’m definitely proof that even though your natural tendencies may be one way, with practice and new habits formed over time you can become more aware of yourself and actually thrive on the other side.

Let’s talk about our company CreativeFuse for a moment. Business owners I’m sure can relate with this, but I tried starting five or six other companies / entrepreneurial ideas before CreativeFuse came into the picture. In fact, of those previous attempts a few of them were with my current co-founder and best friend, Casey Telger. We failed multiple times before we were successful. And even when CreativeFuse first started we still had our challenges and we still made mistakes. However, roughly 14 years later, here we are. No matter what happens going forward, I definitely consider CreativeFuse a beautiful success. Something else you must know about me, is that I was seriously concerned earlier in my career that I was going to be unable to work in the same place or doing the same thing for more than a couple of years at a time. CreativeFuse became something of an enigma to me at about year three. I started realizing the potential for change, balance of challenge, variance and growth not only in the company and my role, but also in my day-to-day behaviors. Eventually, I found building relationships with creatives and clients became a driving motivation. And to this day, it provides that same great avenue for me and I haven’t looked back (well until now, haha).

The Slippery Slope

One more personal example. One that was/is more recent. A little over a year ago, my family and I moved six states away from basically where I lived within a 20 mile radius my entire life. We have two young daughters (now 10 and 7) and we were moving away from all of our friends and family. The idea itself was a huge leap for us and even a bigger journey to ultimately begin taking steps towards moving. I won’t go into all of the details of the impact this move has had on my family, my friends and myself. Some good, some not and some is still being sorted out. This may have to be another journal entry or a candid conversation over a cold one. If you were to have asked me five years ago, would I move to another state, I would have said “heck no”. If you were to ask me five years from now will I still be here? I would say “I have no idea”. What I do know is that I’m right where I’m supposed to be. And with each day that goes by, I’ve started to discover more and more why that is. Ok, so the MISTAKE amidst all of this. Well. You see. I’m what you call a “real go-getter”. Someone who “gets after it” when it comes to tackling a home renovation or crawling all over a project at work or knocking off a task list. I have a tendency to dive deep and fast. If I’m not careful I can be destructive, kind of like a huge boulder rolling down a hill, taking out plants, small trees and creating ruts along the way. Hopefully not hurting animals. You get the idea. The deep focus “can” be used for good and I have, but in this case it was to my detriment. If we were going to move across states, we wanted not only to buy the right house for us, but also do the things that were needed to make it our own. I’m not sure if I ever said this out loud to my wife, but in my mind, I was like it all needs to be done in the first year. At least the major ones. Not only that, but somewhere along the way, I had created this idea in my head that without completing these efforts my family wasn’t going to be comfortable. This was the first mistake that led to more and ultimately one that was much bigger.

I don’t know about you, but when you move your family away from everything they’ve known to a new place without knowing anyone or anything around you, it is a lot. This idea that my family wasn’t going to be comfortable in this strange new place until I was able to create the right environment had embedded itself so deeply into my psyche. So much so, that it was causing me to take on way more than I could handle and bulldoze my way around our property, literally. I added pressure. Also, it’s important to note, that I tried not taking it on all by myself and I figured I’d pay the professionals. We had our budget all in order and we had more than luck on our side with the sale of our house and lining up a loan officer. I had done our due-diligence in setting aside cash for projects, we secured a great interest rate and we negotiated well on the purchase of our new house. I even put in some calls to contractors to schedule things in advance after finalizing the sale of the new home in the same weekend. I was off to a wonderful start. Then the unforeseen, the hard-to-plan-for, unknown variables started surfacing.

I took on a small “grading project”. Well, I had a contractor do it, but with all of the logistics and ultimately having to fix the issues of what this person had done was more than a few projects in and of itself. The project was to create a couple of usable flat spaces for the girls to run around a bit and have a place for a playset and some other activities. Ultimately, it was the one project that became one giant series of mistakes. What’s even worse, is I had indicators along the way that I ignored, but because I saw it as a “challenge” I was dead-set on getting it done. Ignoring those indicators added up to the list of mistakes. I added pressure. This same contractor had completed another project for us and it was done well, so I had no reason to believe they couldn’t lead our grading project. Especially since this contractor also mentioned they had over 10 years of grading experience prior to becoming a general contractor. What I quickly realized is he did not have any experience determining how much fill dirt was needed, so the cost of our project kept increasing. Like 3 or 4 times. I also started noticing this contractor was not really attentive to details like what to watch out for (or look for) before you start rolling around with a machine. Uh-huh… things like drainage pipes and septic lines. I also didn’t account for rain, lots and lots of rain during the project and after. Rain during the project postponed it quite a bit. Rain ruined it after because the contractor didn’t secure the new grading well enough. I was watching dollar bills roll, slide and fall down the hill. Entire sections dropping out completely. I frantically rushed to use any sort of sense I had, spent gobs of time and money trying to hold it in place myself to ultimately bring in another contractor who was actually qualified to fix it. I added pressure. When I saw what they did, I began to see clearly what a mess I had created. This new contractor came recommended by a friend I met here locally. Oh there are so many other things that happened along the way I could go on and on, but the biggest takeaways…

Don’t rely on other people to ask the questions that may need to be asked.

When you move to a new state, don’t trust every contractor you meet. Especially where contract work like this was plentiful and when good general contractors are hard to come by in the state you move to. Yeah, I should have known better. On the bright side, we did end up developing solid relationships with contractors that we still have today.

Don’t rely on other people to ask the questions that may need to be asked. As I mentioned, I’m not naturally detailed, but over the years I’ve trained myself to leave no stone unturned. I had questions, ones I should have said aloud to the contractor. But I let my optimism, my unrealistic commitment to making my family “feel” comfortable, my pride and sheer stubbornness veer me from my process. I added pressure.

When you are given time (like due to rain delays outside of your control), this is most certainly the time to reflect before you start “doing” anything else. Honestly, looking back, I believe THIS is where I made my biggest mistake in this journey. I was seeing it as a negative that we were having rain delays, when really I was being thrown a “life raft”. I ignored the indicators I had and had I given myself a chance to breathe and reflect, I would have been able to circumvent “an issue” much sooner (and easier) and saved myself quite a bit of money.

In the end, I learned that acknowledging mistakes as early in the process is always best. I fought and fought against my better judgement. As a result, I did add pressure all along the way, I did fall victim to the “victim mindset” and I made many more mistakes trying to force it because I was hellbent on completing the challenge. I felt I had good cause to stay the course and keep grinding, but it’s easy to see how it all went sideways now. It took me forever to reframe what was going on in my head, and it wasn’t until I finally was reminded to slow down and allow myself grace that things began to change and create real meaningful resolve. That said, I’m still wrestling with one issue today as a result, but my mindset has completely transformed and I’m humbly confident everything will come together in the end.

Graceful Recovery

So the first step is to acknowledge the mistake. Second, start the recovery process as quickly as possible. As part of acknowledging we talked about ways to do this like asking yourself questions about whether or not you are adding pressure. Also, things like getting vulnerable with a trusted friend and looking at ways to reframe your mindset before you slip deep into the negativity bias or victim mentality. With regards to the recovery process and how to come back from mistakes, there’s tons and tons of ideas out there. I’ve shared some in my examples above, however I will sum these up with a few “dos and don’ts”. These have worked and continue to for me.

no – Don’t hold your breath. I actually do this more than I think. Like physically.

yes – Do give yourself a chance to calm down and take a deep breath. Then breathe naturally and sometimes focus on it moving in and out for a moment. You’d be surprised at the space this gives in allowing your better judgement to catch up with your mind. We can all be reminded of this simple action.

no – Don’t force steps. Doing this typically results in making things worse, breaking things or hurting people.

yes – Do take time to reflect. It’s better to stand firm on this over any other steps you may try to force.

no – Don’t beat yourself up for making the mistake(s). Stop holding yourself to unrealistic standards.

yes – Do allow yourself grace and practice self-compassion. Be patient and understanding with yourself as you would with others. You are a human too, not a perfectly crafted robot. We can all use a little reminder of what Ellen once responded with to a question, “Does that mean I’m perfect? No. I’m not. I’m a multi-layered person, and I try to be the best person I can be and I try to learn from my mistakes.”.

no – Don’t let shame or pride hold you back from making amends with people who were impacted by the mistake(s), including yourself.

yes – Do make time for an apology and sometimes how you communicate it, the simpler the better. And yes you can apologize to yourself. THIS IS IMPORTANT.

no – Don’t be so quick (or candid) to apologize that you skip steps that may be needed as part of the healing or recovery process for all parties involved. How else are you to learn from the mistake if you don’t put in any actionable effort beyond speaking words.

yes – Do make a recovery plan when it’s called for and do it swiftly. Being honest with yourself and apologizing are important steps, but the difference between saying these things and actually doing them is taking the time to prepare a recovery plan. This might mean writing down your thoughts on paper or it could be demonstrating proactive steps. In the professional world, people will typically understand you are human and make mistakes, but what they really appreciate is seeing steps already mapped out to resolve or rectify the mistake. Keep showing up! Amy Leneker said it best, “After a disastrous mistake, it can be easy to hide out (hello shame and blame!), but that won’t help. Continue to show up and take action. People need to see your behavior, not just hear your words. It reminds me of Stephen Covey’s quote, ‘You can’t talk your way out of a problem you behaved yourself into.’”.

Well, I sure hope you found some nuggets in here. If nothing else, I’ve cherished the opportunity to journal all of this for myself. Doing so continues to teach me new ways to look at things and finesse my steps. Whatever tools you may use, I hope that at the end of the day, when mistakes are made, you are giving yourself the same amount of patience and grace as you would extend to others. The ironic thing is the less patient and understanding you are with yourself the less you are with others. Let that sit in for a second. Cheers!

MISTAKES ARE JUS' THE BEGINNING

I would love to hear from your experience.

It’s the Small Things That Count

Two little girls with their backpacks and hiking sticks walking on a trail.

You've Heard it All Before...

  • It’s the little things that count.
  • It’s all about the details.
  • Big things often have small beginnings.
  • The difference between good and great is attention to detail.

All of these quotes (or similar) have more than likely impacted you over the years. One of the greatest challenges I’ve seen in myself and in the world around me is how to embed this thinking into daily life. It’s easy enough to say it out loud and it’s not a very hard concept to understand, so why is it so hard to practice each day?

Microwave Mentality

At a very early age we begin to develop an understanding for the pace of life. As a child, there were times it took me half a day just to clean my room. As an adult the thought of it taking me several hours to clean my room, let alone the entire house, seemed outrageous. And I’m not talking about things like dusting and vacuuming. I’m simply talking about picking up items and putting them where they belong, making the bed, that sort of thing. Of course you might think, “Well, as a child you make bigger messes.” Though that is true, I have two little mess makers myself and a few hours still seems like a lot of time to be cleaning up. Regardless, I think this further cements a conclusion I’ve come to. We live in a very fast-paced world. More and more, I’ve noticed that people are developing “microwave mentality” at rates that are impossible to meet. What are things in your life you expect to work or happen without hesitation? The internet, a hot shower, cell signal… It only seems to get amplified the older you get. Work as fast as you can, so you can have as much time as possible with your family or whatever else you want to be up to. Professionally, we’re driven and encouraged to think about being efficient and how we can increase our rate of efficiency year-over-year, whether we’re running a business or growing as an employee within a company. Become the most efficient version of yourself, so you can save all that energy for the things that matter most…

It doesn’t help that we also are programmed to go to school, get a job, work 8+ hours five days a week, sometimes seven days a week until you’re 65 and then you can start slowing down. On top of all of this, we are now being told you must choose one thing, become a master at it and continuously learn and grow in this one practice basically indefinitely until you get to the point of retirement. Oh and you are also supposed to be 100% fully invested and passionate about this one thing you do for a living for basically a great majority of your life. So you better choose that one thing wisely before you go into college. At the age of 18. Riiiiiight… I’ve watched this play out first hand with family and friends. There are many reasons this bothers me on a core level, however I’ve had to accept it in order to move with it at a pace I’ve intentionally set forth for myself.

It seems to me that “microwave mentality” continues to breed and wrap itself around our thoughts whether we like it or not. The pace of the world is outpacing its inhabitants. Technology is one of those conductors. Technology is not bad at all and in fact, I feel like it has played an integral role in all of our lives, whether it be in our day-to-day workflow, communication with loved ones afar, saving the life of a close friend or improving our abilities to connect with the world around us. But with anything, recognizing how to participate with it in a nurturing way is what I feel is very important to understand. Why is it when you talk to someone older and wiser they often say something like, they wished they took things slower while they were younger and enjoyed the little things along the way?

When I Get Older

When I get older, I’ll spend more time doing the things I want to do. I’ll travel more. I’ll slow down and appreciate life.

Why when you get older?

I’ll have more money. I’ll have earned it. I’ll have paid my dues.

I know this whole thought-process is changing with younger generations. They get a front row seat to watch the result of this way of thinking with their parents and grandparents. I remember going into an interview at the age of 22 and being asked the question where do you want to be when you are 30. You know, that question. Well, it was the first time I was asked. I sat back in my chair, thought for a moment and responded with saying, “I’d like to be retired by the age of 30”. The two gentlemen interviewing me were definitely amused by this and chuckled a bit under their breath. I don’t think they were expecting that answer. It was after that interview I asked myself two questions:

  1. Why was that so far fetched for them to imagine as a possibility?
  2. Why did I say that?

The answer to the first question came sooner than the second. I realized what I had been learning, sponging and witnessing all these years was only encouraging us to work in the system. Whether you believe it was created by the government or some economic ploy to get us all in line, it was still fostered by us, the people. So here we are living constantly in the middle of a highway traveling at speeds that have never been seen before today. It’s not the fault of technology. It’s not because of money. Though both of these can be conductors. At the root of it, you’ll find we were (and still are) responsible. So if we are responsible for it, then we could be responsible for changing it. It was then I also realized that the change was going to start small with one person, me. That was my only goal.

Later in life, I came upon what I believe was the answer for the second question, “Why did I say that?” Deep down I believe I knew there had to be a different way to approach the pace of life and I wanted to understand this on a very core level. At the age of 22, I just didn’t really know how to articulate what I was beginning to see around me. Furthermore, if what I was hearing and watching from folks older than me was true than I’m sitting here thinking, “Well, why can’t I enjoy those things today? Why can’t I look for moments to take things slower today?” As a person in their twenties you’ll find all the ways to trip up on explaining your thoughts. Trust me, it happens. But that didn’t stop me from trying. Especially, because my wife and I were starting to talk about having a family. I was 28 then and I was being told cherish every moment with your kids or it will all pass you by.

Identify the Triggers

I wanted to take what I had observed about microwave mentality and the advice from those older than me and begin exploring what this could look like for me. Again, the idea seemed simple and reasonable, but of course it’s not that easy. I needed to identify triggers in my life that caused me to move too fast or distract me from appreciating the small moments in between the big ones. I’m more of a free spirit and tend to wander in my own head, so if you are anything like me it’s good to take time to jot down your thoughts and even make a list. Otherwise, I find it difficult to distill my thoughts down into anything meaningful. This was no simple task. It was something I had to exercise over time and before I knew it, I found myself at the center of planning projects, tracking budgets and writing creative briefs. I also like to use good ol’ fashioned pens and paper. I’ll digitize them when needed and place it where it goes.

Ok, so for the list of my biggest triggers for moving too fast and getting distracted. Yours may be variations of these or entirely different, which is totally fine. The important thing is to take the time to identify them.

My biggest triggers:

  • Technology
  • Work
  • People
  • Fear

 

The Digital World

This for some reason feels like a touchy subject, especially right now with the state of the world. Rather than to spend time talking about all the good and all the bad that can come from technology, I want to focus on the things I consider when interacting with it. For me, I’ve had to understand that first technology is a tool and a damn good one at that. I use technology all of the time from the moment I wake up until I lay my head down on my pillow. Even then technology is working while I’ll sleep. Without it, I would not be able to do the things I do professionally and I would not be able to enjoy some of what life has to offer in ways that are truly revolutionary. When I’m interacting with technology, I have to ask myself questions like these:

  • Is it a tool? Does this tool (e.g. smart device, app, game, latest gadget, etc.) support me at work or bring joy to my family and I? Or is it consuming me by overcomplicating simple steps or keeping me from spending time (even 5 minutes) with my daughters? There are different ways to ask this question, but ultimately if the technology is not a “tool” in my life then I should probably question the use of it or at least the way I’ve been using it thus far. Otherwise, I’ll risk becoming a tool for the technology. Ever seen Black Mirror? It’s extreme and pretty messed up at times, but it paints a fabulous picture of how the consumption of technology can impact us and how it takes over the mind. And I will say some of the episodes are not too far fetched.

  • Do I miss small details? This may seem like an obvious thing, but I like to gut-check myself at work with this one. Does the technology I’m interacting with move at a pace that encourages me to miss small details. There are some apps out there that actually encourage you to make light of small details as if they don’t matter in the grand scheme of the project, your workflow or worse yet your life. There are others that over complicate very simple steps/actions. I’m not going to name any, but pay attention to whether the technology is causing you to miss, overlook, complicate or lessen the importance of the small details.

  • Am I making excuses for time spent? This one is like the ultimate check for me. It’s hard to admit at times, but I’m thankful for a loving wife and an amazing business partner. People like this in your life can help expose this to you when it’s happening. I’ve come to appreciate and rely on it. I know that I can only see so much of myself and that others can help fill in the gaps or areas my conscience shuts off or can’t see. If I start to make excuses for where my time is being spent and find myself justifying it then I typically need to take a step back and think about the sources of technology that I’ve been interacting with and how I’m using it. 90% of the time I can trace it back to the use of technology, not every time, but most of the time.

It really is great to be living in this digital age and I appreciate and enjoy the things it can do in our lives. I just know for myself, I have to ask these questions or I will get sucked in and miss the small moments of gratitude. The one detail that made the project into a big success. The funny little face my daughter makes when she is overfilled with excitement about the scene she just created with her toys. The feeling I have just by focusing a moment on my wife’s character and beauty.

 

Work Work Work Work Work

Computer desk with screen saver that says "DO MORE.".

I’ll admit, even though I told the company I wanted to be retired by the age 30, it still took experiential learning to appropriately participate with work. A lot of people would tell me you need to figure out how to balance work and life. That struck me a little odd. I mean I understand why, but separating the two into their own little worlds seemed strange. Isn’t it all a part of living life? Your hobbies, your work, your family, your home, your friends, your community. I’ve even had some people swear by keeping them all separated in order to be able to walk away from work when it’s time or causing emotional fallouts with friends or family you may attempt to work with. While I certainly resonate with the reasoning behind it, it just didn’t seem to “work” for me. I feel we’re called to live life in a way that is meaningful and intentional every second of every day. Whether I’m working, playing, learning, etc. This thinking is not meant to add pressure, but really meant to recognize that all I have is the present moment. Yes, planning is good and reflecting on the past definitely has its importance, but truly living in the moment allowed me to better recognize how and where I was spending my time and energy. As a result, I actually found myself finishing up work when I needed to, enjoying quality experiences with friends and family and still having time to myself. It was a strange phenomenon, but definitely a rewarding one.

Is it causing pressure on me or my family?

By living my life moment-to-moment, it actually provided a focus that naturally balanced out all aspects of my life. Because I was paying attention to the small moments along the way I could better change course or pivot when needed. It felt freeing and effortless in a way. Otherwise, I found myself building up these expectations of what a day was supposed to be, how the next year would look or where I’d be in twenty years. Changing my mindset in this way came in very handy when unexpected things would come up. It sorta provided the reassurance I needed to know and trust that everything was in its place and who am I to argue that. So, move with it and do it boldly at times and gently other times.

This line of thinking is very personal to me, so depending on your personality, background and influences around you, it may be that some variation of this or something else entirely different will work for you. Nonetheless, these are some questions I ask myself to help with participating with work:

  • Is it causing pressure on me or my family?
  • Is it encouraging me to move at a pace where I’m missing quality time with family, friends or myself?
  • Am I losing track of time?

The first two questions go hand-in-hand. Typically, when I’m feeling the pressure it’s largely due to lack of time or the speed of things. Which ends up causing me to miss details, make mistakes, limit time with family and become more focused on me, not in a good way. I tend to get way more fidgety and complete thoughts become more difficult. This for me is a definite indicator to take a step back, acknowledge the pressure, reevaluate my pace and move with it.

The last of those questions, “Am I losing track of time?” is one that I’ve learned more recently. You might think well if I’m losing track of time, I’m probably having fun or enjoying it. Though this is true, I do enjoy what I do, I’ve noticed that my intense focus is intimidating and unapproachable for others. I also tend to forget to do simple things like eat, get a glass of water and even go to the bathroom at a healthy time. This was kinda a joke around the office or when I worked from home, but in retrospect I saw how inappropriate it was. Not only am I setting an unrealistic example for our team, but it was causing me to overlook simple healthy habits. Not to mention, I could easily overlook how people around me were feeling, my co-workers, business partners and even family. So, yes, at work if I feel like I’m losing track of time or time is flying by, I need to step away for a moment and take in what’s happening around me.

 

We Humans

People are definitely a trigger for me. However, not really in a bad way. I’ve realized that I care deeply about relationships and it’s likely what gets me out of bed most mornings. It’s certainly a big part of why I feel I’ve been put here on this earth. Not necessarily in the large group gatherings, but in the one-on-ones and small group settings. I’ve been told time and time again that my ability to listen and relate during a conversation is very appreciated, supportive and extremely rare. I’d like to say it’s the way I’ve been wired, but honestly, part of it is because of what I’ve already mentioned practicing above. I wasn’t always this way. I was a hothead and very arrogant and sensitive about it. When I tell people about the person I was in my teens and young twenties they laugh and say something like, “I cannot see you like that.” Maybe it was buried deep in there somewhere even all those years, but I’m calling it my life’s “happy accident”. As a byproduct of practicing these new behaviours around pace of life, moments of gratitude and small breadcrumbs, I’ve become much more intentional about my conversations and moreover my relationships with people. At this point in my life, there is no question this has molded me into who I’ve become.

Ultimately, I’m really just trying to find those spaces in relationships where I can be most respectful to others as well as myself and family.

Because of this deep connection I now desired with the people next to me, I’ve also become way more influenced by their thoughts, feelings and opinions. I mean, I’ve always been influenced by them, but not like this. At first glance, it may seem innocent and “good.” I began to feel how much other people’s attitudes, behaviors and their way of life would influence me, even if it was just on a subconscious level. I think deep down inside I was always rooting for them and trying to learn and grow in new ways to support them. What I didn’t realize is that at times it would cause me to get too caught up in their lives. I would go down their rabbit holes and I would empathize with them on a level that would cause me to miss things going on right in front of me with my kids, with my wife, with my home. So, I started creating what I’m calling “respects” (aka “boundaries”). I guess I’m trying to restructure my original thinking and opposition to the word “boundaries” by calling them “respects.” Ultimately, I’m really just trying to find those spaces in relationships where I can be most respectful to others as well as myself and family. These respects obviously vary from one person to the other and also change based on the environment you’re in.

 

Fight or Flight

Fear is a nasty, gut-wrenching, relentless intruder. The way it impacts us in a matter of seconds is truly astonishing to me. We frequently don’t even know it until later. I’d say fear has been my biggest trigger. Largely due to wandering around in my thoughts far too long, traveling to dark places and chasing rabbits. As humans, we so badly want to understand. How do things work? Why is my body doing this? Why does that person feel that way? How can I fix this? How did the universe come into existence? These thoughts have encouraged people to do some pretty amazing things with their lives. And for some we become too fixated on these ideas and thoughts. Everybody’s fears and reactions to them are different, but one thing is common, fear exists. Fear can be paralyzing, it can cause a primal response and it can certainly move us into the feeling of “fight or flight.” Usually as a result of desperation.

I’ve had many conversations with friends about this feeling of “fight or flight.” You can see the benefits of it for sure. Like, what if we all had to figure out how to do our job remotely starting tomorrow? Good things can come from that. Or what if we were confronted with a virus that was highly contagious and spread faster than anything we’ve seen before? Well, good things can come from this, as well. However, in the moment, it’s much easier said than done. The fear sets in. Some people will remain paralyzed by it and unable to move in any direction let alone forward. Some will do their best to respond to it by changing course. And some will move into a state of “fight or flight.” I do think if pushed far enough, we all could move into “fight or flight” mode. Let me just say this response is neither good nor bad. I feel it definitely has its place and is appropriate depending on the circumstances, but I do feel too often people see this as their first response for almost every situation. That’s where I think it gets a little tricky. I also believe some of us desire to spend most of our time in this mindset. But that’s for another time.

No matter your beliefs, I think we can all agree there is something outside of ourselves that can and will influence our decisions. Fear is one of those manifestations. I’m not saying you shouldn’t let fear in. No, there are definitely times it’s important to respect. But there’s a fine line where fear transforms into worry, which then causes chronic stress and anxiety. Knowing how to acknowledge fear and when to stop it in its tracks is something I’ve really been working on lately.

 

Turning Worry into Reflection

Two people sitting on bench overlooking a look and talking.

As of right now, the number one question I ask myself is, “Am I worried?” If the fear has gotten to the point of worry then it’s time to shut it down. If you find that it is difficult, then acknowledging it is the first step. I would invite others closest to you, that you trust, into the dialogue. This has helped me tremendously as it does a couple of things. First, it allows me to unpack out loud and second, I don’t feel alone. This is very critical for me as I’m sure it is for others as well. But of course we can’t talk all day and night all of the time with others and some are just not wired to talk about it openly. I’ve also found that journaling and meditation can help as well. Taking intentional time for reflection. There comes a point during this period, where if it’s still causing me to worry, I “lay it on the ground.” Not really, but figuratively. I’ve finally realized and sometimes have known all along that it’s completely outside of my control. So I need to start the process of letting go, but recognizing it’s still there on the ground, right by my side. I think this visual helps me start the separation process or I like to call it “releasing,” which then can turn to reconciliation or healing and before you know it you’ve completely forgotten about the thing on the ground, the worry. The “releasing” process hardly ever happens overnight. It starts with understanding that it is a thing and it’s not going away at the snap of a finger. Every action you take and day you move through, the more your confidence begins to build back up. I realize that for some even at this point there are larger health-related things in play and I’m not making light of that. However, the thinking above has certainly allowed me to manage fear. All of this to say, that when fear sets in, I cannot think or see anything else let alone function as I know I’m capable of. Not only will I miss small things, but big things too.

I like to use this analogy sometimes when I’m reminding myself or talking to others. Imagine you have a niece or nephew or maybe it’s your son or daughter. Either way a child you are close to. You take them to a carnival one day and you are having a truly amazing time. As you begin to walk to the next silly game you hear the scream of your niece. You turn around to find that they’ve dropped their lollipop in the dirt and gravel. You know, the big colorful spiral lollipops. The kid is losing it, I mean losing it. It is the end of the world as you know it for them. In that moment, you have a choice. You can relate with them and acknowledge their fear. What if I lost my job? What if I wrecked my parents car? Worse yet, what if someone I’m very close to passed away? How would you feel in those moments? It may be the end of the world to you as well. So how would you want someone to respond to you? We can all relate to fear, so know you are not alone.

Simply Put

I’m now 35 years old. The idea of retirement for me has transformed into more about having choices. It started back when I was 22 in that one interview. The things that I was told over and over again from folks who were retired, nearing retirement or looking forward to retirement have all found their way to impacting my daily life. These seemingly insignificant observations brought about small changes that have completely changed how I approach life. And life includes all aspects of work, family, community, spiritual, etc. all working together in harmony with one another. Ten years later, for all intents and purposes, I “feel” retired, not in the traditional sense, but in that I’m making deliberate choices to focus my time where I feel is important and needed. I work with amazing people with bad-ass clients on projects I enjoy at a pace that is healthy for my current stage of life. I’m able to work virtually anywhere I’d like and spend quality time with my family and friends. Of course as I get older things will continue to slow down more and more. But I’m doing what I want to do with my time. I’m being intentional about the things in my life. I’m enjoying and choosing where to focus at any given point in the day. I’m deliberately trying to live moment-to-moment to enjoy the small things along the way. There is not an abundance of money, but that was never going to be the answer. Life is still hard at times and will continue to throw us curveballs, but getting older or being retired doesn’t keep that from happening. I’m doing the best I can with what has been given and remaining grateful for the opportunities and new experiences that come up along our path. I’m not going to try and pretend I know where I’ll be in 5 years, but I still have goals and aspirations. I’ll let myself sit and think about what life may be like in 5 years, however I don’t get hung up on it, turning it into an expectation. When I do, I lose sight of what’s important, the small things.

There are many opportunities in this world to distract us from slowing down when we need (or want) to pay more attention. Things like acknowledging your significant other when the dishes are done or record a small detail in a big project. I can’t tell you how many times this thinking, in our business, has altered the direction of a project and ultimately the success of our clients. And with the ones closest to you (shoot! relationships as a whole), noticing or remembering the small details do matter most, period. I encourage you to think about the triggers in your daily life that distract you or cause you to be sucked into the fast pace of the world. I’d love to learn new ways to manage them. If you ever want to talk, hit me up below!

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When Should I Create My Website?

An image of a desktop computer with a watch illustrated over top of it

Want vs. Need

I’ll start out by saying, over the last ten years, our company has gone through three iterations of splash pages – and as I’m writing this, we still don’t have a “full” website. TEN YEARS, wtf, right?! Well, just wait before your mind wanders too far. There’s a story behind the reason why, and yes, it has taken us some time to tell it. In our case, the absence of a website is a direct reflection of who we were then and who we are today. We will finally have a more robust website this year and for the first time, our team, united, recognizes the “need” for it.

…know the difference between “wanting” and “needing” a website.

Before I jump in, if there is one thing I hope you walk away with, it’s this: you know (and are able to identify) the difference between “wanting” and “needing” a website. Thus, making it obvious to know when creating a website is right for you.

Who Are You

A giphy of Ron Burgundy questing his name

In the beginning, we were questioning who we were… I mean really. We’ve learned a ton since the inception of the company. The journey has definitely had its challenges and one of the biggest, which has played a role in the story of our website (or lack thereof), was figuring out who we are. Even after a few years, we were still learning about ourselves, our goals, and our mission. If you’re interested in the full backstory, check out what Casey Telger had to say about “The Journey Thus Far.” In short, most would say we made it incredibly hard on ourselves. We threw all the chips up in the air – I mean ALL of them. We didn’t make any assumptions about the way a business should or should not function. We were intent on being creative in all aspects of what we were doing. We didn’t have any real structure, basically zero hierarchy and we strived to not compete for work against our local friends in the field. Oh, and also, life happened… Bill Murray once said, “Be available for life to happen.” Pretty great reminder.

Fast forward to today and a lot has changed. We’ve finally curated our core values, brand positioning, and design principles. We’ve honed in our focus, allowed for genuine relationships with clients to grow that we dearly love and appreciate, and most significantly, we’ve established a close network of partners and contractors; people that I can call some of my best friends. Without each and every one of them (including partners, such as Indigo Life, and people, like Joe Harrison), I am absolutely certain we would not be where we are today.

Even local companies in our industry have been willing to impart their knowledge and experience upon us throughout our journey. We’ve had the pleasure of talking to Ben Callahan from Sparkbox a couple of times, and their Build Right: Maker Series has been dynamite! Through these workshops, we’ve become big fans of Dan Mall (check him out!). Our friends at The Scenery have been there for us several different times and throughout the years, have inspired us to make decisions that have impacted where we are today. And let’s be honest, their Gusto recommendation for payroll was dynamite!

I remember some years ago, Andy Rossi, from The Scenery, said to Casey and I, “One of you is going to need to dive into it [web development] …” At the time, our backgrounds were mostly in high-level design execution, creative direction, marketing and brand development. I did dabble with some code and even worked at a digital agency as a front-end designer creating basic HTML and CSS, however, it was still somewhat foreign to me. At some point, a year or two later, we finally took Mr. Rossi’s advice. I took the deep dive into the big, ever-expanding “web of things.” I leaned heavily on Treehouse, an online training tool for learning about the web, coding and design. And I cannot say enough about the “A Book Apart” collection and how helpful it has been.

…the first step in creating a website is making sure you know who you are as a company.

Though it has taken us years to get to this point, and has admittedly taken others much less time, I would not change anything about the path we took. For me, it has so much to do with the relationships that we are intentionally growing every day. It’s been an incredible ride and after all that has happened, I can’t help but feel like every single one of us is connected by some sort of universal thread.

All that backstory is a roundabout way of saying, regardless of how long it takes, the first step in creating a website is making sure you know who you are as a company. There are practical steps to get there and depending on your priorities and goals, the pace at which you do it is entirely up to you! Below is a list of items to work through as you begin diving deeper into discovering who you are as a company:

  • Research Industry & Competitors
  • Identify Target Audience
  • Create Core Values (checkout the book “Traction” by Gino Wickman — the first few chapters help a ton and simplify this task)
  • Create Client (aka Buyer or Customer) & Brand Personas
  • Determine Brand Positioning
  • Perform Keyword Analysis
  • Create Company Name
  • Determine Primary Messaging

We love collaborating with companies through these early stages. It’s actually preferred. Regardless, if you come to the table with these items, we’ll know it’s time to create a web presence for you.

Focus on Your Priorities

Some of you may be wondering, “Ok, so like, why don’t y’all have a website today?” In ten years of being in existence, I can honestly look back and say, “It wasn’t time.” Our priorities as a company were shifting too much and too fast. It wasn’t until 2013, when we met Gerrad Wise, an amazing design lead, whom begin to pave the way for other designers. He brought focus in a way we couldn’t at the time. This continued on when we met our good friend, Chris Hahn, in 2016. His tenacity and unwavering ability to keep dreaming was the fuse we needed in order to take our digital focus to the next level. And across the last five years in business, we begin to attract truly amazing people such as Savannah Rank, whom started working with us as a UX Designer and then moved into a Strategy Lead role. I cannot stress enough how important is to stay connected to your community and continue to find the right people to collaborate with! You will always need to keep a pulse on these things.

…start simple with your online presence.

So, remember those iterations of splash pages I talked about early on? Well, it wasn’t because we didn’t “want” a website. Let’s be clear about something, I am not saying a splash page or a one-pager isn’t a website, but as a digital branding agency, it’s hard to look across the table at a potential client and say we build websites and not have an intentionally thought-out website ourselves, right? It didn’t seem to matter to most people at the time. We, surprisingly, kept getting work. This was either because it wasn’t time for us to have a full website and we were still able to build trust with people or well, we were the luckiest people on earth. No, we didn’t win the lottery and no, we didn’t have an investor or financial support. Sometimes it pays off to just start simple with your online presence.

The point to remember here is that no matter what industry you’re in, building your team may be a higher priority at first, than building your website. As you’re ramping up, it’s ok to start small with a splash page or simple one-page website. Our experience and relationships proved this to be true for us.

A collection of three splash page screenshots

Notable Reflections

Two things come to mind in thinking about our journey with creating our website: you will always be busy and be sure to practice what you teach. The latter may not seem as applicable to you if you’re not a creative agency, but it’s insightful. Let’s unpack these for a brief moment.

If it’s a priority, then you’ll make it a priority, no matter what is going on

As a business owner, technical lead, marketing manager, CEO or a contractor, let’s agree to not fool ourselves: WE WILL ALWAYS BE BUSY. I believe it’s in our nature; the desire to remain busy (that’s a conversation over coffee). That said, it truly comes down to how intent you are on paying attention to your priorities. If I have an employee who needs to talk about a time-sensitive issue they are having, but I had the whole day scheduled out. What will I do? Just because we are fortunate to have all of this work, what if we aren’t taking time to work on personal growth or marketing for ourselves? What does this mean? The thing to remember here is, we can always justify and seek out reasons for why we are too busy to do something. If it’s a priority, then you’ll make it a priority, no matter what is going on. Bottom-line, ask yourself the question, am I making this an excuse to avoid something or is it because I’m currently being asked to remain steadfast in what I’m focused on? There’s a fine line, but only you will know the honest answer to that question when you ask it. For us, it was clear we needed to remain focused and even though we desperately wanted a “full” website, we were doing just fine with a splash page. Note, if you are a product or software company it’s more likely you will need to create a website (or at least tie into some kind of digital presence) much sooner than say a service or consultancy company who could start with a one-pager.

The second of these two things, practice what you teach, is not a foreign concept for most and yet, it’s still so easy to forget. I’m very proud of our team and the time we’ve spent ironing out our ability to create a kick-ass website these days! Our process, from start-to-finish, has truly worked for our clients and we will continue to polish and refine, I’m sure. New things will come along and we will be asked to adapt. It’s unavoidable when working in the digital space. Yes, it has taken us a while to find ourselves needing a website, but in doing so, we’ve actually been following the steps we take in every website project. Yes, each project is unique and we end up finding the path right for the client. BUT! It’s important to have a guide to getting started, whether you are creating a completely new website, refactoring your current site, adding a new feature or rebranding.

So to summarize, recognize that you will always be busy and establish a trusted creative resource or partner early in the process that will help guide you along the way as your company grows.

Now and Later (No, Not the Candy)

The truest answer for when it’s the right time for you to create your website is “now and later”. Meaning, you need to seriously consider having some form of a digital presence online immediately upon forming your company and understanding who you are. Whether it’s a templated site through Squarespace, a simple one-pager or at the very minimum, a company Facebook page, take advantage of the tools around you to get a digital presence up now. Again, understanding who you are as a company is one of the very first things you (and your website partner) will need to know. This will impact what platforms and tools you use in the very beginning of establishing an online presence for your company. There’s no reason to stress about this. If you need some help, just let us know! It’s very unlikely we will know as much as you do about your service or product, however, we can ask the right questions at the right time and guide you along the way.

I say “later”, because at some point, you’ll know when it’s time for a “full” website and ideally you’ll have a creative partner able to guide you along. The number one reason why it’s finally time for us to have a more established website is because it’s time for us to grow again. Personally, I’m ready for this next chapter. As a company, it’s being asked of us, both internally because of our goals and externally in showcasing our credibility to trusted partners and clients. And as a team, we are finally prepared.

…we will not assume you need a website even if you ask for it.

Just remember, things like doing the research, planning and creating a business strategy should all come before you even finalize a name, much less choose a domain and create a website. Without these items you can be certain you are not ready for a website. This may seem counterintuitive coming from a guy who creates websites for a living. Some will jump at the opportunity to build the biggest, raddest website they can right out of the gate, but we’ve learned this can lead to a major waste of time and energy. Ultimately, we are much more interested in impacting our client’s business success and supporting their marketing goals. We want to grow with the companies we work with. So, yes, we will not assume you need a website even if you ask for it. You’re reaching out to us as the expert in our industry. You wouldn’t tell an auto mechanic or a doctor what to do, right? There have been times we’ve recommended that companies don’t spend their money on a full-blown website out of the gate. It’s not uncommon for us to start with things like brand positioning and messaging if these are not already prepared.

Want to find out if you are ready for a website? Take a peek at this quick checklist. If you have all of these completed and are ready to start, or are ready to enhance or rebrand your existing site, let’s talk! I do like me a good local beer. Seriously though, if you have any questions, don’t ever hesitate to reach out. That’s why we’re here.

YOU READY TO START YOUR WEBSITE?

Let's dig in together and discuss the best path forward.