The past three years have been weird.
Before I continue, I want you to know that I’ve been staring at that last sentence for three weeks, unsure of how or why to illustrate that statement further.
The short version is that I ventured off to start my own design and development consulting business, I got busy, and kind of fell off the edge of the Earth so to speak.
Over those years, the same things happened that happen to anyone starting a new business: I had some successes. I made some mistakes. The combination created a rollercoaster ride that, at times, made me wonder why the hell I thought this was a good idea. And, then, I’d get to experience a moment that I’d never have been able to if I were employed elsewhere. Then I’d remember why I did this. Somewhere, in the middle, I forgot to attend an AAF-KC event, write a blog post or record a podcast episode.
The long version is, well, more complicated than that.
I think that somewhere over the past year and a half I purposely withdrew from the community that I had been part of for over two decades. I’m still trying to figure out exactly why I did that. But, I got some clues this weekend when I rewatched The Last Jedi with my family.
The legacy of The Jedi is failure, hypocrisy, hubris.
I think I withdrew from both my online and local communities because I felt my hubris had come to roost and that I didn’t deserve a place there anymore. After a successful first year in business, I had a very unsuccessful second year. Here I was, this person that was supposed to be talented at what he does, who had worked on large web projects for national brands. A person who some have called a creative dynamo. Yet, I was barely making ends meet for my family. In the midst of it all, I felt like a complete failure. And failure doesn’t pay the bills.
In the lens of hindsight, I realize that this was because I was letting hubris cloud my path forward. I was trying to go after business that was too big for me to handle alone at this point in my business’s history. I was thinking that small projects were beneath me1. Or, at the very least, I wasn’t going to make a name for my business if I wasn’t working on the largest projects I could find.
As I wallowed in self-pity and fear of the future, I closed myself off. I didn’t want people to know I was failing. Sounds kind of like a certain old Jedi Master we all know, doesn’t it?
Returning to the Resistance.
So, here I am. A web designer hermit that has hidden himself away on a proverbial island because he’s embarassed that he wasn’t an immediate success on his own. But, even though no wide-eyed pupil has come to discover me and my throngs of super cute bird bear creatures, I’ve decided that it’s time to return to the fight to lend whatever wisdom I have to those who might need it. Honestly, I think the person who needs the wisdom the most is me.
While the past three years have been weird, the past three months have been a long slog of trying to shore up what I’ve been through so that the next three years and beyond are sustainable and enjoyable. I’ve gotten enough of a taste of the self-employed life that I’ll do whatever it takes to protect what I’ve got. I feel like I’ve got a plan, even if I don’t have all the pieces in place right now.
The three lessons.
Just like Luke promised to teach Rey three lessons in the way of the Jedi, I have three lessons that I’ve taken away from the rollercoaster of the past three years that might be of use to you2:
- The opportunity to do your best work isn’t dependent on the size of the project. In fact, the smaller projects usually give more opportunity for creative ideas to shine.
- The rollercoaster effect is part of being a business owner. The freedom you have is a benefit that largely outweighs the instability that you encounter.
- Get out of your own way, but don’t get out of everyone else’s. Solitude does nothing toward helping any depression or anxiety that you might face.
I don’t know if I’ll write any more about this. Part of me feels good for getting this off my chest. Part of me feels a little silly for spending so much time writing something that may only have value to me. Another part feels anxious that I’ve exposed too much and that I should only be putting forth the most confident, expert version of myself. I think that it’s that last part that I need to overcome the most. It’s what created the need to write any of this in the first place.
I do know this: we’ve got a world to save with better ideas and smarter design decisions. Let’s all work to support each other so we can use our powers for good.
I’d love to think that I wasn’t so conceited as to think this. But, I have to admit that I was. ↩
Sorry that it took so long to get to the lessons. Sometimes I just have to work things out on my own. And, as you may know, half of what makes many creative endeavors what they are is revealing the process that went into making that thing happen. If you didn’t know that, consider it a bonus fourth lesson. ↩
Categories: Design, Personal