Creative discontent

You are probably more likely to find a unicorn than a creative person who is content to do the same thing forever. The problem with being truly creative is that the biggest part of that word is create.

We love to create. To build. To make.

For me it started as design. I loved print design. Design evolved in to sales. Turns out that can be creative too. Then it was writing. Then photography. Then to business building and leadership. Currently I’m teaching myself to cook. I’m sitting here writing this while pondering how to start a business that makes high-end reclaimed wooden furniture.

I love to create, no matter what form that takes.

One of my favorite examples is my friend Allan, who built this, and also builds the most amazing desk lamps. To me the creativity is the same, whether you are building a web app or a lamp, the skill set is just different.

I guess my question is, is there ever a moment of creative contentment where you don’t feel the need to make new things? Is that moment the end of it all?

I wish I was a cop

Processed with Moldiv

Growing up, I loved CHiPs. Before I could even tell time, I knew when CHiPs was coming on. Somewhere there’s a photo of me in the early 80s riding my tricycle with a police helmet, sunglasses, and a pistol.

Needless to say I’ve always loved the idea of being a cop. Sadly I never took that route. But, one of my best friends did. Despite being way, way too old for such shenanigans, he decided to become a cop. We helped design the logo for his class at the police academy.

Today I opened my mail box and found an unexpected box. Inside was this hat, with the logo, class motto, class number, and my name. This hat is probably the closest I’ll ever get to the police academy, and it’s also one of my most prized possession.

David, I’m proud of you, brother.

Living the dream.

Money, time, and sweat

I’ve seen statistics that always seem frighteningly high about the number of Christians who don’t actively share their faith with others. Part of the issue is opportunity. In our daily lives we might not have a conversation or relationship with anyone that leads down the road to faith.

I came across this verse today.

[8] So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.

(1 Thessalonians 2:8 ESV)

Reading that I wonder how many more opportunities to share faith are opened up when we give of ourselves. Our time, money, and effort are all incredibly valuable. When we give those up for the love of someone else, it creates a conversation.

“Why would you help me?”

“Because someone else loved me and helped me.”

So the question is, do we love others enough to give up our money, time, and sweat? If not, I’m guessing those opportunities to share life with others will be limited.

A huge job change

I started my company in 2005. It has changed and evolved over that time but the truth is my job has always been the same: finding clients and serving them.

After nine years of doing this, I have a huge job change ahead of me.

We’ve been very blessed to grow over the last few years, and this year I’ve taken a leap of faith and begun hiring people. So far we’ve added three new team members. What I’m discovering is as we hire and grow, my day is now divided differently. Instead of spending all day dealing with clients, I now spend much of the day teaching and leading our team.

I’m imparting the vision of why we do what we do.

I’m equipping them to find new clients and care for them.

I’m making sure they are fulfilled in what they are doing.

I’m focused on company structure and marketing to make sure we can afford to care for our team.

The biggest thing I’m seeing is that I have to be much more intentional about my schedule. I need a lot more focus. The idea is to divide out my time and completely focus on whatever is in front of me.

If there is an hour blocked off for design work, I have to turn off my phone and e-mail to focus.

We have an hour every morning for calls with my team and an hour in the afternoon. During that time, they need my focus.

I have to start scheduling meetings only on certain days and at certain times.

This is a big change but for the sake of my health, the happiness of my team, and the future of the company, I have to become more intentional.

The transition from doing to leading is a tough one, but I’m looking forward to learning.

No one cares that you’re busy

“How are you doing today?”

“Busy, man, really busy.”

How many times have we had that exchange? What I’ve come to realize is that no one cares. Somehow we’ve come to equate “busy” with success. If I’m busy doing things, they are good things, and you should envy me.

The reason no one cares is that we’re all busy. Successful or not, we never stop. I can remember days when our business wasn’t what I would call a success. I was both busy and stressed out about the amount of things that had to be done.

Busy does not equal successful.

How much of our busyness comes from just not managing our time well? How much of it comes from not being able to say no? In reality, we should probably be ashamed of most of our busyness, not proud of it.

The busy answer also allows us to avoid deeper conversations. What do we usually say to “We’re really busy right now?” We answer, “Yeah, we are too,” and that’s about as far as the conversation progresses.

So what if our answers were honest? What if they started with “I’m having a great week,” or “It’s been a hard week.”? These answers invite more conversation. “Why has it been a great week?” “What happened, can I help?”

Let’s just assume everyone is busy and skip that step. Maybe we’ll have deeper relationships if people really know how we are doing.

And let’s stop being so proud of being busy.

What do you want to do when you grow up?

The idea of growing up and having to figure out what to “do” seems to be coming up more often around our house. For so many years it was focusing on the basics, like using the toilet instead of pants.

Those basics are easy things. Success is well defined.

Now we are turning to much more unsure ground. The thing that really scares me is I look around and see so many people that are absolutely miserable with what they do for a living. As a society, we don’t have this problem figured out.

So how can we guide our kids to a life that is full of purpose and joy?

College obviously isn’t the answer. I think it can be an answer, but not the answer. There you can learn some things you love and other things you don’t love. Through all the courses that you’ll probably never use in life, you can discover a passion for something.

Starting a business isn’t the answer. It can be an answer, but not the answer. While it’s great to feel ownership over one’s future, so much of running a business has nothing to do with finding passion.

Passion has to be discovered. We’re designed by God to have certain passions and drives. I was very blessed. I had an idea of the career field I wanted to go into by the time I was in my early teens.

What’s funny is that career field has taken me to a place I never expected. I wanted to do design and marketing. And while I do that every day, I’ve come to a place where my focus is on helping people. I get so excited every day to work. It has nothing to do with money either. It’s entirely about changing lives. When we help a small business with marketing, those are people who have put their dreams into their business idea. We can help realize those dreams and make sure they endure. A business that keeps going and prospers can have a huge impact on the course of someone’s life.

It took me a lot of years to get here, and I have an odd feeling my life will look even more different and even more people-focused a decade from now.

So how do I help my kids get to that place? I want to send them out into the world with lots of creativity, a monster work ethic, and a drive to help others. I want them to try things, sometimes fail, pick themselves up and start over again. I want our family to always be a safe platform they can launch from when they get new ideas.

I’m not satisfied with kids who just make a good living, and I’m certainly not satisfied with them being miserable while doing it.

I want kids who will make a difference.

How do we do that?

A vicious cycle

For people looking at starting a business, I thought I’d give you a rundown of how my brain works when it comes to taking time off, 9 years into this thing.

“You really need to take a day off,” my brain said to me early Saturday morning.

“I don’t have time to take a day off,” I responded, “Do you not see the mountain of things we have to accomplish?”

My hand flew up out of nowhere and slapped me in the face.

“What was that?” I yelled.

“That was me,” my brain said, “I can control things like that. And I’m going to keep doing it until I get a day to rest.”

“Look, I don’t…”

My other hand flew to my cheek, stinging it.

“Stop it!” I said.

“Nope, you give me a day off or this continues.”

“Fine, I will give you a day off, but let me just get this one last…”

Slap.

“That’s getting really old. Stop it. Fine. Day off. Starting now.”

An awkward silence ensues for 10 minutes.

“So what if I just do this one small…”

Slap.

“Listen, stop being unreasonable, I can’t just go cold turkey. What if I do a little bit today, and less tomorrow, and then you’ve had most of a weekend off. Then by next weekend I’ll be okay with literally doing no work?”

Slap.

“Why would that not work?”

“Because you won’t take next weekend off. If history tells us anything it’s that my next real day off will be in the next 90 days, not seven.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“But there’s this one thing that will only take 10 minutes.”

Slap.

“It’s going to be like this all day, isn’t it?”

Slap.

Do what’s best for the client, even when they don’t want it

“I’m not interested in your creative input. Design what I tell you.”

It’s not often I hear this, but I can still remember a few years ago when I had a new client tell me this. She wanted me to take her ideas, which weren’t great, and give her exactly what she wanted. The problem was I have a deep conviction about always doing what’s best for the client, even when they don’t want it.

Typically when a client wants me to do something that will hurt their brand (usually through bad design or poor strategic decisions), I’ll gently let them know why it’s a bad idea and offer creative alternatives. So what happens when they insist on bad ideas? What happens when I can’t talk them out of it?

At that point I have a decision to make. Continue to serve the client by doing what they ask, or politely let them know we aren’t a good fit. If the client is just belligerent in their disregard for what we do, I’ll end the relationship. However, if there’s hope there, I’ll often forge on.

Are you a teacher?

At the end of the day I see myself as a teacher more than a service provider. I want to educate my clients about great design, interesting marketing, and innovative thinking. Just like educating a child, sometimes that takes a few tries. Sometimes I’ve done work for clients that I wasn’t proud of. That usually leads to the next project and we have the same discussion again. “Why don’t you try this, it would be better for your business.” They might still say no.

But the next time, they might say yes.

The next time they might take the spec design I did, to demonstrate our thinking, and run with it. They might begin to learn the things I’m teaching. Eventually you can transform someone who doesn’t really know what they are doing, into a great client who values your thinking, and does interesting work. And at that point, you’ve enriched their businesses and lives, rather than just provided a service.

But none of that happens if you give up on the relationship the first time you’re asked to do bad work. Sometimes what’s best for the client is giving them what they ask for but continuing to push better ideas.

To me it’s the difference between a teacher and a service provider. I want to be known as a teacher.

The never-ending story

There are things I know I need to do more often. Things like writing, planning marketing for my business, and just taking time off.

These things are good for me, but I rarely take time for them. Usually it’s because there area a hundred other things I could be doing for my clients with that time. If I’m going to be doing something, it seems like it should be something to chip away at that never-ending pile of client tasks.

But, did you notice the key words in that last sentence?

Never ending.

Never. Ending.

The funny part is, I’m always busy. Even when I look back at times when this business wasn’t bringing in enough money to pay our bills, I was busy. I have always worked hard. I have always pushed myself and done more than I probably should have. Always.

And now that the business is taking care of us and growing at an insane pace. Nothing has changed. My days feel very much like the days when we weren’t making it. I get up, tackle as many things as I can throughout the day (and some of the night) and then go to bed exhausted, never pausing to do the things I need to do. Why is it that I’m the same amount of busy in a growing company versus a failing one? I don’t know. But what I do know, is I need to take time for things that are important, because there will never be a time when I feel caught up enough to do them.

Writing
I need to write more. I love it. I’m sure my high school journalism teacher would be happy/incredibly angry to see how much I enjoy writing now. It gets thoughts out of my head and on paper (screen). It allows me to think through problems and topics in ways that I don’t normally if I’m not trying to put them into words for the world to read.

Marketing
I own a marketing company, and sell good marketing ideas to companies every day. And, yet, I don’t take time to plan mine out. I still do it, but it tends to be in more of an “oh crap I need to get something done this month” manner, rather than a nicely calendared plan (which happens to be what I counsel all my clients to do).

Rest
I’ve never been good at this and probably won’t ever be. If you look back through this blog, you’ll see an awful lot of “I really need to take time off” posts. More and more, though, I can’t push myself to work 100 hours a week too often. I can work through the weekend, and sometimes have to, but when I do, I can see I’m much less productive the week after. Maybe someday I’ll figure this out.

The mountain of tasks staring me in the face today won’t all be accomplished today. I hope I’ve learned that that’s okay. The world keeps turning. Clients keep paying. We do a good job and we meet deadlines. I think I can keep doing that and take times for some small things that matter.

Memories

We sat around the table today in a pizzeria as I read random posts from my blog to the kids.

There were photos and videos. Stories of silly things the kids had said when they were younger.

It was like jumping in a time machine as a family. As we read, watched and laughed, I was reminded of why I used to write so much. I wanted my kids to have something they could look back on when they are my age. Something to spark memories but also to see the things I did, thought and felt as a young father.

I still do.

Just get it done

I’ve never been a believer in New Year’s resolutions. There is not a magical switch that flips from December 31st at 11:59 p.m. to January 1st at 12:00 a.m. that makes you a better person. You aren’t somehow better equipped to stop doing bad things or start doing good things.

Now don’t get me wrong I do believe in getting better every year, but I believe laying the groundwork for that begins way before January 1st. My one goal this year is to stop procrastinating and just get things done. I started working on this way before January 1st so I think there’s some small chance of success.

This last year was like every other year, full of challenges and joys. My business grew by just under 300%. I learned a lot, including that I can’t count on always being healthy while working 100 hours a week. I’ve made adjustments, including getting some help and following my new rule: just get it done.

It’s easy when the sky is blue and the sun is shining to procrastinate. Things are so nice, I’ll worry about this tomorrow. The problem is there’s no guarantee tomorrow won’t be stormy. I learned that in a rapidly growing business tomorrow always looks different than you expect. Always.

So this year, instead of putting things off, I’ll try to force myself to get it done when I can. If that happens, then when the storms come I won’t feel the weight of so many unfinished tasks. I was sick for about two-and-a-half months straight during the late summer and early fall. Not one time during that stretch did I just get to take off and be sick. No time to heal. No time to rest. Granted we did as much business in August as we did in 6 months of 2012, but still. Had I known that was coming I probably would have buckled down more in June and July to prepare.

I’m not hoping for another 300% growth spurt. I’m not sure I could survive. But whatever God decides 2014 looks like, I’m going to try to just get it done and see where that leaves me on January 1st, 2015.

Scarcity

There’s something to be said for scarcity elevating something from just okay to “perfect”.

My bleary eyes stared at the screen for what seemed like the 24th straight hour.

Searching.

Scrolling.

Clicking.

More scrolling.

I need a new truck. Well not new, but new to me. I need to find that perfect combination of price, mileage and features that would make me want to drive it for the next decade.

Search.

Scroll.

Click.

“Hey!,” I exclaim, “This one looks great.”

I pick up the phone an call. “Hi, first question, does the truck have a clean title?” I ask.

“No, sir, it’s a salvage title.”

This is the fifth time tonight I’ve found “the perfect truck” and it’s turned out to be a salvage. I consider hurling my iPhone against the wall. The prospect of iPhone and truck shopping simultaneously stops me.

Search.

Scroll.

Click.

“This one isn’t bad. Nice truck. Great price. Low mileage. White isn’t my favorite color, but it could work. We’ll add it to the maybe list.”

I pick up the phone and dial the number.

Voicemail.

I leave a message. Seem interested, but not eager. There is, after all, still that age-old dance of negotiation to do.

An hour passes. No call back.

“Why hasn’t he called me back?”

Search.

Scroll.

Click.

“Seriously, this is 2013. Technology, man. Pick up the phone and CALL ME!”

Search.

Scroll.

Click.

“What if it’s sold? What if I missed out on the perfect truck by minutes?”

Search.

Scroll.

Click.

Okay, I need some sleep.

Eight hours later: “He still hasn’t called! I want this truck. I need it more than the air I breath! Why can’t I have it?”

Healthy

There’s always that moment in the middle of being sick when you think, “why am I not more thankful for my health when I have it?”.

I got sick the second week in August, then it stretched to the third week, then the fourth week, and then most of the way through September too. I don’t get sick often and I’m pretty sure I’ve never been that sick before. Throughout it I just kept hoping I’d get over it so I could wake up in the morning and just feel good again.

Well it finally happened and you know what, I’ve been much more thankful for health the past two weeks. I find my thoughts often going back to those weeks when I just felt terrible all the time. If nothing else, maybe having a more grateful heart is worth dealing with all that.

Six years makes all the difference

My 13-year-old walks into the room, iPod Touch in hand.

“Dad, I want to buy this game.”

“Well,” I respond, “I don’t.”

“It’s only $4,” he says.

“$4 is a lot of money.”

“No it isn’t, besides, you owe me from when I had some gift cards on iTunes that you spent.”

I grudgingly punch in the password to download the game and quickly send him away in annoyance. He walks out, smug sense of entitlement firmly in place.

The next day my seven-year-old walks into the same room, iPad in hand.

“Dad, can we download this game?” he asks.

I take the iPad from him and look at the screen. “Do you really need a $3 game?” I ask.

“No, I clicked the free version,” he says “It’s a really cool game and I just want it but you don’t have to pay for the nice one. We can play the free one.”

I quickly punch in my password and download the full version, paying the $3.

“Here you go,” I said, handing him the iPad back. “I bought you the full version.”

A huge grin spreads across his face and he jumps in my lap to hug me, almost dropping the iPad.

“Thank you so much, Dad!”

He quickly rushes out of my office and I can hear him all the way through the house.

“Conner! Dad bought us the full game!”

Best $3 I’ve ever spent.

The wrong mine

I watched the steam curl up from the fresh brewed cup of coffee.

“I’m off to the salt mines!” I yelled as I always do and began the 20-foot walk from the kitchen to my office.

“That’s the problem,” Rebecca said, “You always go to the salt mine. Maybe you need to try the diamond mine.”