Mulligan: What I’d Tell Myself If I Could Go Back to Day One

Captain Cuddles

Last week I answered this question by saying, because of Star Trek’s temporal prime directive, I’d tell myself nothing if I could go back in time to my first day in business. When I wrote it, my answer was absolutely true, but like others, you might have thought I had dodged the question.

James T. Kirk never let a little thing like the temporal prime directive get in his way. He was the only person to beat the Kobayashi Maru “no-win scenario” test… because he cheated. Come to think of it, I’ve never been a fan of stupid rules, either. My first post? Consider that my report to the Admiralty. As for this post…

Well, I started in on my new answer – and that’s when my friend and former client, Chris, died. His appendix ruptured. He was in his late 30’s and left behind 3 kids and a wife.

I couldn’t believe it, it just felt wrong. And as I thought about it, so did my answer.

I can still remember my conversations with Chris. Our meetings were a thing of beauty. Thanks to Chris, I learned to appreciate craft, handmade quality, and old-school artistry. I like to think I taught him a lot about marketing and websites. Chris was inspiring, to say the least. Not only was he wicked good at what he did, he invited you into that world and made you feel like an insider, too. He’d tirelessly explain things in a way you could get it.

When it came to business, he and I had a falling out. We worked together on his website. He was never quite ready to launch and I got tired of spinning my wheels (as the change requests became more intensive over time). So we parted. The website I’d built, rebuilt, and modified countless times at his request never got launched.

Two years later, Chris is dead and the site still sits under construction.

I realize how incredibly callous that sounds – my friend is dead and I’m lamenting about his website. I promise you it’s not callous. I mean, if you had seen how hard he worked over getting every little detail right… it was so important to him. And it’ll probably never see the light of day now.

Because of how he died, I couldn’t help but think back to when I first started my business – and realize two things:

The first thing I realized: I’m incredibly fucking lucky. Not only am I alive, but I am alive after a very stupid series of choices in 2009 when my appendix almost burst.

I’d waited 8 hours to go to the hospital, believing I only had the world’s worst stomach ache. To this day, I have never seen a doctor more worried than the surgeon who – 15 minutes after I’d arrived at the hospital – hovered over my bed to explain my procedure and asked, “Are you ready?”

One week before my appendix decided to mutiny, I’d filed my resignation from my 11th job in protest; I had been written up for being overly direct. I was on my last two days of that job ready to start my 12th, the one I thought would mean redemption for my flailing programming career.

I lasted all of three weeks at that new, glorious opportunity before unceremoniously being tossed out on my ass. Turns out, you can’t program while high on Vicodin and fresh out of surgery.

No company in the world will hire a shuffling mess, confined to sweatpants until the appendectomy scar heals, who’d just been fired from his 12th job in two years. I made a decision, right then and there, that I would never work for anyone else.

With $10,000 in medical debt and a paltry 401K, I pulled it all. It was enough to pay for a month of groceries and rent and a few bills.

I was surfing on Twitter for web design clients and saw a promotion for Ignite Fort Collins. They were looking for speakers and I signed up, thinking it might be a good way to get a few leads. Ron and Laurie (the Curators) made sure I wasn’t going to pitch from the stage, and I gave this talk about what I knew:

(if you can’t see the video, click here)

Ignite turned out to be the thing which made me well known and notorious in my community as a thought leader. It’s the reason I am here and not flipping burgers or living out of a cardboard box or worse. Laurie became my first client. I had two more follow and I was able to eat and pay rent all thanks to a 5 minute talk.

Like I said, incredibly lucky.

The second thing I realized: someday, somehow my luck may run out. Whether by another series of stupid choices or the twists and turns of fate, my tenacity may not be enough. My time may run out. But that day isn’t today. And until that day comes, I’m going to do my damndest to make a difference and help as many people as I can.

Speaking of which, I still owe you a better answer, right?

You want to know what I’d tell myself if I could go back to that day I was sitting on my couch, resolute and broke, determined to make it big with WTF Marketing or die trying? Here it is (to hell with the temporal prime directive):

The bigger you want your life’s impact to be, the more work you’ll need to launch. Prioritize the projects that will get you the kind of impact you want.

I don’t mean that as an indictment of Chris. He was busy doing other things that mattered – most of them family and community related. A website in the long-run is totally insignificant in comparison to the personal impact he had on me and so many others.

I know he was gearing up again last month to try to launch it, he hinted at it in his last email to me. Now it never will and that haunts me as a small business owner precisely because I was there and saw first-hand how important it was to him. If you have a project you’re just waiting to launch, waiting for more information or inspiration, waiting for the right time, waiting… I bet it haunts you too.

I just have to wonder about that unfinished website and the missed opportunities it represents. I know how hard he worked towards getting it perfect. It was perpetually in a state of “almost done”, waiting for the next minor change or bit of content or new product. He never felt ready to launch it. We were always tinkering, he was never confident enough in the copy or if the brand was speaking to the right target audience or if the design needed some subtle shift. I’d make his requested tweaks again and again, hopeful we could launch each time.

If you aren’t where we want to be, know that you have the power right now to get there. You need only do two things:

  • Do the work. Aim for done, not perfect.
  • Stop waiting and launch it.

You wanna be the Captain? You have to give the order. At some point, you won’t have the privilege of waiting anymore.