Carl Smith

Carl Smith is an irreverent ditcher of the nine-to-five and mortal enemy of the overworked lifestyle. Owner and founder of nGen Works, Carl’s role is that of an advisor, to nGen and other companies, on how to create self-sustaining teams that perform at the highest levels. Carl has made a name for himself by creating a new framework for how we get things done, and by enabling us to realign our creative communities. When he’s not conducting business experiments with companies around the world, he’s busy sculpting a new face for the world of work… and play.

You can find Carl on Twitter at @CarlSmith.

Published Thoughts

Improving The Client Experience

If you work in a web shop, then you work with clients. It can be easy to blame them when things go wrong. But I’ll let you in on a little secret. No client gives your company a big wad of cash and then plots how to undermine the team. They want you to win because it means they win!

With that in mind, here is a slew of tips from 25 years of client service.

Must Win Versus Checklist Clients
Choose who you work with carefully. A client who needs your service to succeed in business is much easier to work with than one who just has an assignment.

Start With A Clean Slate
Don’t bring any baggage with you into the new relationship.

Understand Your Strengths And Weaknesses
What mistakes do you constantly make? Where do you excel? Make sure and have a plan to keep you on top of your game.

Know Your Team
What motivates them? What do they do great? What bogs them down?

Know Your Client
Ask about previous projects. Ask what their fears are. Why did they select you? What do they have to accomplish for this to be a success?

Common Pitfalls
If there are things that go wrong frequently, talk with your clients about them up front. Together you can work to avoid the problems.

Clarity Over Comfort
Always be extremely clear in what a client should expect. Never avoid the tough discussions.

Be On The Same Team
Managing a project is like a game of frisbee, everyone is working together to keep things from hitting the ground.

Establish Trust
Learn who your clients are and what they like. Understand their knowledge level of the work you’ll be doing together. Avoid terminology they don’t understand. Take the time to explain things clearly.

Be Honest And Nice
Always share the truth in a clear manner. Being honest is not the opposite of being nice, but too often people feel that they should sugarcoat or position the truth. Don’t. Just say it with a smile.

Address Issues Early
Unexpected things will happen during your project. Once you know the details and have a plan for correcting the issue, share it with your client immediately.

Keep All Commitments Or Renegotiate Them
Everything is a commitment. From being on time to a meeting to replying to an email in a timely manner. If you can’t keep a commitment, renegotiate immediately.

Don't Overcommit
Always give yourself time to understand a commitment before making it.

Tell Stories
Use your experiences to educate clients about how the project will flow and how to keep things on track.

Don't Rush
Take the time you need to do great work. Manage expectations around schedules early and often.

Have A Rationale For Everything
There is always a reason you do something a certain way or make a specific recommendation. Take the time to explain it. It will build confidence with the client and keep things running smoothly.

Silence Is The Enemy
Clients fill silence with concern. Update them frequently, even if it’s just to tell them things are on schedule.

Manage Scope Creep With A Smile
Don’t shut down a client idea without listening to it and understanding its impact on the timeline and budget. Listen and share the impact of implementing the idea. Let the client make the decision on how to proceed.

Separate The Client From The Problem
When things go wrong, work together with the client to correct the situation. Don’t blame them.

Ask Why
Rationales are key on both sides. Clients who request a change should explain the benefit of their recommendation.

Be Firm But Fair
The client won’t always be right, but they are always important.

Don't Be A Buzzer Beater
Client’s don’t expect you to have all the answers. Leverage the knowledge from the team or conduct research when more information is needed to make a good decision.

Reply Now, Answer Later
When a client sends an important message, don’t ignore it. Reply back that you’ve received it and need some time to think about the best response.

Never Email When You Should Call
If you ask someone to read a message before you send it, delete that message and pick up the phone. Being able to hear someone’s voice and being able to respond in real time is critical for tough conversations.

Own Your Mistakes
When things go wrong, and they will, don’t blame anyone. Own the mistake and the resolution.

Be Thoughtful
Always look at things from the client’s perspective. If you just screwed something up, it’s probably not a great time to send an invoice.

And … exhale. That’s a lot of tips to try to incorporate, but you know the ones that will help you the most. Always remember that the client wants you to succeed and you’ll be surprised how much smoother your projects go.

Passion Projects

We work in an industry that gives us the ability to make a difference. A difference in our lives and the lives of others. Whether it’s providing content on an important topic in an easy to understand manner or breaking the monotony of the day with a fun game for your smartphone.

But mixed with exciting work are projects that suck the life out of us. Let’s face it, there is a lot of boring work to do. Much of that work is profitable, and we all have expenses.

But what if every project could be a passion project? Wait, hear me out. This isn’t a “follow your heart” post. It’s a “what if we think different” post.

The number of freelance producers working in the web industry is growing rapidly. They choose freedom and flexibility over perceived security. Combine this with the thousands of small shops seeking independence but finding comfort with a trusted team. There is a growing army of awesome to select from for your project team.

Companies like nGen Works and SuperFriendly have taken a fresh approach to the concept of a traditional web shop. Assembling independent teams based on the needs of a project versus availability. Normally this is done based on the skills and expertise needed to create a great solution. But what if we add the concept of passion for the project’s goals?

Obviously it makes sense to have people who care about a project work on it. But I’m saying we go further. Find the people who are already actively engaged in the subject matter of a project.

A craft brewery site built by a digital team of homebrewers. An airline app designed by a web team of flight enthusiasts. A Crossfit training site developed by the fittest geeks you’ve ever seen.

Ok, even I call bullshit on this idea. The time it would take to assemble passion based teams would be ridiculous. But… what if we could have one person on each team who was that passionate champion. Not a project manager but someone who fought for the user because they are the user.

We can do this, but we have to start thinking differently.

Let’s start sharing what we care about, not just what we can accomplish in terms of our capabilities. Let’s take the old music industry concept of liner notes and start tracking and giving thanks to digital producers we’ve worked with and highlight their contributions and passions.

We don’t need an elaborate plan to make this happen. We already have the ability to find needles in haystacks courtesy of Google and other technologies. We just need to start dropping the needles.

When you’re updating the content or your website, changing your bio on social media or publishing a blog post on a recent project, make sure and include your passions and hobbies as well as your skills.

Then be purposeful when you find new team mates. Don't just look for the best content strategist, find one that is crazy about hot sauce. You'll be surprised what a difference a little passion makes.

You Are A Special Snowflake!

In Guy Kawasaki’s book Art of the Start, he says it’s pointless to have a business plan when you start your company. The reason being that you don’t know what people will buy from you. I have found this to be amazingly true in all of my business ventures. Especially nGen Works.

When we started nGen, we were four people who wanted to try something new. Two designers, one designer/dev and a usability specialist. We never really thought about positioning ourselves. We only wanted to let everyone know that we were here and we were doing fun, innovative things on the web. The work we shared attracted our first wave of clients. Life was good.

As we became successful, we thought we needed to be a grown-up company. That led to a “business plan” and the beginning of some trouble. Not because we were trying to do things on purpose, but because we were basing our plans on what we saw others doing. What we perceived to be successful. As I’ve gotten to know many of the companies we admired in those days, I’ve found that a perception was exactly what we saw. Many of those companies were basing their plans on other companies they admired. None of us knew exactly what we were doing.

Over the 12 years nGen has existed, it’s been five different companies. Each reinvention wasn’t based on market changes or heightened awareness or landing a big client but on changes in the team. Sometimes it was as small as adding one person with a completely different idea of who we should be. Other times it was a slow shift to a new group who had skills and passions that changed what we could offer.

But I could never see the real reasons for the changes as much as feel we made good business decisions. That’s human nature, though. When something good happens we look in the mirror and say, “haven’t I done well!” And when things go to hell we look out a window and say, “look at what they did, those incompetent bastards!”

This newest iteration of nGen has grown based on the work that was coming in. Mostly design work with some dev needs. As the work needs grew, we built a team to support it based on individual character and skills. Like any company experiencing growth, there were challenges. Everyone had different backgrounds and different experiences. In many ways, the process was being developed as the team was being on-boarded and the projects were kicked off. The whole time more work was lining up.

With so many moving parts, it can be tough to figure out how to make adjustments. Recently we found that, with the best of intentions, we were becoming a culture of effort vs. a culture of delivering. The team was engaged and working hard, sometimes too hard. But we didn’t have traction. Some simple process shifts, specifically making and keeping good commitments, have already had a positive impact. As I watched the process of talented individuals learning to work together, I had a realization. We are building a team around our idea of what our company should be. What if we build a company around the idea of what our team could be?

What if this time we do it on purpose. Boil down what each team member is the absolute best at and put those capabilities on a list. Then see what, collectively, the team can be the best at when we add all the ingredients together.

*BEGIN SPORTSBALL ANALOGY*

Joe Gibbs is one of the most successful coaches in NFL history. What makes him a legend wasn’t that he won three Superbowls. It was that he did it with three different quarterbacks. Not just different in terms of their names, but in terms of the way they played the game. A huge reason for his success was he never put together a plan and then assembled a team to execute it. He assembled a team and then put together a plan based on their unique capabilities.

*END SPORTSBALL ANALOGY*

Jim Collins shares this idea in his book Good To Great when he says it’s more important to get the right people on the bus and then decide where you’re going.

So I challenge everyone reading this to take the next hour and ask yourself, what can I do better than anyone? Is that what I’m doing every day? Then ask what the individuals on my team are better at that anyone? Are they doing that?

We have to break out of this cookie cutter idea of what we offer as digital agencies. Just scroll down any one of our websites and you’ll see a variation on the same cool icons describing very similar processes.

Originality starts by focusing on what makes each of us different. So let’s embrace our quirky differences and let that uniqueness take the web back to a place of discovery and exploration.

Tweet, tweet, tweet. Blog, blog, blog. Buffer, buffer, buffer.

This year I have been filling nGen’s Twitter stream with retweets of Harvard Business Review articles because that shit is awesome. I was writing blog posts that seem to resonate with clients, prospects and the industry. And when it comes to creating some catchy headlines in the social department, ain’t nobody like me.

And so it went until one day I saw a big brand with a promoted tweet that said "Help us get to a million followers." WTAF?

A voice in my head screamed, “What the hell are you doing?" I had turned into some click bait marketing monster. But this is the way it works, right?

Nope. All of our solid new business leads came in through email and phone calls. Word of mouth still rules the day. I decided to submit my resignation as social media manager active immediately.

For the next two weeks, I didn’t tweet as nGen or post anything except for an episode of Friendly Fire, our podcast. And guess what. We got damned close to the exact same visitors on the same damned days. What I had been doing didn’t seem to matter at all. Why? I have no idea. But I was done.

The next day I told my business partner that I was an idiot. I had fallen into the trap of thinking that effort would equal success. If we want people to be interested in us, we need to be interesting. Not fake or clever or tricky, but real and engaging. That starts with finding something we love to do that other people want.

For me, it's having great conversations with people like Simon Sinek, Jason Fried and Daniel Pink. The chance to ask them about their lives has been an amazing gift.

So now it was time to put my money where my mind was. Earlier this year I had an idea for a new podcast that focused on the origin stories of successful brands. How did they get where they are? How are they different? Why are they loved? I had recorded the first episode, an interview with Aarron Walter, who leads the UX team at MailChimp. That afternoon we put the interview live on the nGen blog. It felt great! Finally some real content that people could get excited about and use to gain insights into their businesses.

At the end of the week, I logged into analytics and was amazed to find… we got the same damned number of visitors on the same damned days. But there was one exception. Two friends who I hadn’t heard from in awhile reached out to let me know they listened and loved the interview. One of them asked if we had any capacity to handle new work, the other I invited to be an upcoming guest.

As the author of the record-breaking blog post 250 Buzzwords We Love to Hate, I’m qualified to tell you vanity metrics are the biggest distraction in web marketing. So break the pattern and stop trying to follow a formula or a rigid schedule for your self-promotion. Instead, keep your eyes and ears open for things that consume your interest. Then type your fingers to the bone sharing your passion.

The Pause Clause

If you’re in the creative services industry you’ve experienced it. After busting ass to deliver on time the client disappears. Unlike many industries, what we offer is time and expertise. If one client stalls out we either suffer financially or find another project. Inevitably that client waits in the shadows until we start a new project and then announce there is an emergency and work must begin immediately!

In the early days of nGen, this was a chronic problem. So we took a step to change this behavior before it ever started with new clients. We introduced the Pause Clause, and I’ll be damned if it didn’t work. Here is the current version of the Pause Clause:

If a client deliverable — such as input, approvals, or payment — is late more than 10 business days the project will be considered “on hold.” Once the deliverable is received and the project is re-activated it will be rescheduled based on nGen Works’ current workload and availability. Just to say it loud and clear, it could be weeks to get you back in the system if the project is put on hold.

When I’ve explained the Pause Clause to people in our industry, many companies implement it. Occasionally, I’ll get some pushback. Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. Our clients would never agree to that.

    Hmm … so, your clients think that they should come and go as they please, and you should be at their beck and call? You have bigger issues, mainly that your clients don’t respect you and never will. Not until you respect yourself. Your business will suffer from cashflow issues and your personal health will suffer as you stress about every project.

  2. We love our clients.

    Hey now! We love our clients, too. In fact, the Pause Clause protects good clients and keeps their projects moving and on time. It only impacts the clients who can’t make decisions or get things done in a timely manner.

  3. Sometimes our clients can't control approvals.

    WHAT? Okay, again you have bigger issues. Mainly, you’re not plugged in at the right level.

In all these years I don’t remember a client ever asking us to remove it, but I always take the time to explain why it’s there. The conversation usually goes like this:

Client: We’ll stay up to speed on all of our deliverables, no problem there.

Me: That’s great to hear. Sometimes it’s beyond your control, like legal reviews or content from another source.

Client: Would that cause us to miss our deadline?

Me: Only if those deliverables are late. But, now that you know, you can start preparing for those potential delays.

Client: Sigh. Okay, thanks.

The Pause Clause is beneficial for both the shop and the client. It sets expectations and starts a conversation about staying on schedule. Plus, you’ll rarely have to use it. Normally an email with the subject line “Pause Clause” is enough to keep things moving. Depending on the nature of the delays, you can be sympathetic and waive the clause or let them know you have to enact it but will do everything you can to minimize the delay.

Three Simple Ways To Turn a Good Client Bad

Before I talk about clients, let’s remember that those of us in the web industry are building the future. In the history of cool jobs, we win. We get to create and leverage the coolest technologies to connect people with things they love.

And yet … we love to bitch about how horrible it is being us.

The focal point of our complaints is almost always clients. But why? It’s simple. Clients refuse to embrace our superiority when they should exalt us in the highest! Or … could it be bad communication on our part?

Are there bad clients? Sure. We’ve known about them for decades. They are easy to spot, and if we let them in that’s on us. Here are some of the red flags we’re all familiar with:

  • Short deadline with no real rationale
  • Unreasonable budget
  • No time for research
  • Doesn’t understand their own business or customers
  • Goes dark frequently but shows up unexpectedly needing you to drop everything
  • No authority to give approval, but won’t connect you with decision-maker(s)
  • Disrespectful

If you take on a client who meets the above characteristics then that’s on you. Write your negative tweets and nasty blog posts, but you chose this. Proper scoping and the right questions will avoid all this pain. Fear of no other work or being greedy will lock you in this dungeon of despair.

But what about good clients? What makes them so hard to work with? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not them.

Using Bad Language

Several years ago I remember watching Cameron Moll explain to a room of conference goers how he estimates a project. It was as if everything went into slow motion after he double-clicked that rancid green “E” icon. As the Excel logo lit up the main conference screen, a collective group of moans and shrieks filled the room. And then he said something that changed my view of clients forever. “You guys don’t like Excel? Your clients use it. Why wouldn’t you use something they are familiar with?”

Familiar! This is one of the most important parts of establishing trust. Make sure the person feels comfortable and in control. If you keep things familiar it can be worth big bucks, just ask Gateway.

In the late ’90s Gateway had invested millions in creating a system that allowed a user to specify every possible component of their computer. They launched to the sound of crickets. Literally tens of thousands of dollars trickled in. After talking with customers, they found that they didn’t understand what they were being asked to do. It was confusing as hell. So instead of asking people to pick a processor, they changed it to say “Fast, Faster or Fastest?” They replaced complex choices with simple questions throughout the site. Cha-ching! Millions in sales.

As an industry, we love to come up with our own language that confuses not only the client, but often ourselves. And if the client knows what we’re talking about we call them “savvy.” The word “responsive” is a great example. Obviously we have to call this best practice something, but we can’t expect clients to know what these terms mean.

Ask your client how familiar they are with web practices. If you use the word responsive and they look confused they may not admit it, but they already feel lost. And that is not a winning relationship. Instead, use descriptive terms like “multi-device." Abbreviations like UX are just as confusing. Just say you want to make sure it’s easy to use.

For fun, here are some common industry terms that make many clients scratch their heads:

  • Responsive or Adaptive
  • Content Strategy
  • UX or UI or Usability
  • Accessibility

Setting Bad Expectations

You’re on a call with a new prospect who was referred to you from a great client. You feel really positive about this opportunity. She asks if your team has experience integrating with P.O.S. systems. Your heart sinks and you say, “All of that is figured out in the Discovery Phase.” She says "Great!", because what she heard was “YES WE CAN!”

You tell the team about the new opportunity. Questions get asked about budget and scope and you assure everyone it will be great. You didn’t get all the info, but the prospect knows that there will be a paid Discovery Phase. You did mention to her that she would pay for the discovery, right?

Sitting down for a nice lunch with the team when the phone rings, it’s the new prospect. She’s excited and has a bunch of ideas she’d like to share with you. She’s drawn them up and just wants to know how to share them. The last thing you want to do is kill her enthusiasm, but you don’t want to let her get set in her ideas before the discovery. So you tell her the ideas are a good starting point for discussion and you need to get a call with the team scheduled. She gets off the call thrilled that you like her ideas.

Eventually you are going to tell the prospect that they have to pay for the discovery. During the discovery the team is going to have concerns over the clients ideas. And then comes the moment when the client hears the P.O.S. system is a huge deal.

Your prospect wants you to be a real business. Act like one. Follow a good procedure or don’t be surprised when they go from excited to concerned.

Avoid Talking About Money

Unless you want your client to pay you in hours or story points, explain where the project is in dollars. Sure they can do the math and figure out 20 hours is $4,000. But they can also think you said you needed 20 more hours to do that and not expect the need for more money. Tell them it’s going to cost $4,000 though, and there is no mistaking what needs to happen.

The concept of buying story points has caused more heartburn, fights and potential lawsuits than any other miscommunication I’ve heard of. It feels like buying tokens at Chuck E. Cheese. You put in $75,000 and get out 14 story points. WHAT? But then story points aren’t always the same weight, it depends on the velocity. Just for fun, if a client asks how much a story point costs, share this equation … and no I didn’t make this up:

Average RSPC per product = ∑ RSPC¹, RSPC²……..RSPCⁿ / N

RSPC? Release Story Point Cost.

Methodology is cool. Confusion is not.

Remember, clients want you to win. They don't give you a lot of money and hope you screw everything up. It's easy to keep them feeling great. Use familiar language, set good expectations and always make sure they know the costs involved. Oh, and create something amazing. That always helps.

Eight of us were sitting there staring at each other. The projections were total shit. There was no way we would make payroll for the foreseeable future

As part of the “leadership team”, I was the oddball. I was in my late 20s while they were in their mid-40s. I was single while they were all married. Nobody was depending on me while they all had families.

“How many people do we need to let go?” seemed to be the popular question. Everyone was looking at the work we had and trying to decide if we could get it done with three or five or 10 fewer people. A few names started to circulate. We all started to protect certain people. These weren’t properties in Monopoly, they were friends. Choosing who had to go sucked.

Then I said it. I didn’t mean to be cold. It just felt like a logical question. But for those in the room something changed when those words came out of my mouth.

“Are we asking the right question? Shouldn’t we be asking who needs to stay?” Yes, you want to try and save people. But if the company is no longer able to sustain the employees, you have to make a difficult decision quickly. Figuring out how many people had to go felt like a naive question. If we don’t know how bad the situation is then we may have to do this again. Nobody wants that… so let’s figure out how many people we need to do the work we have.

The decision was made to let six people go. We thought that would be enough to steady the ship. Only it wasn’t so we let a few more go months later. And then again for a third time. The result of that decision was a company of people constantly waiting for the next layoff. Team morale and quality of work suffered tremendously.

I left that company a few years later to start nGen Works. I swore to myself if we ever faced a grim picture like I had experienced that we would handle it differently. It finally happened in 2008, a year that took a lot of web shops down a notch.

There were seven of us and we had been running a little low in the bank account. A big project we were counting on didn’t come in and the slow summer months were staring us in the face. I couldn't see how we would make it through. The day I realized we were screwed I took the afternoon off to figure out the best way to proceed. I was the single owner with no leadership team. This was on me, the big mouth who seemed to have all the answers when it was someone else’s company.

I decided the best thing to do was call the company together and talk about it openly. What I realized was this wasn’t anyone’s fault, it was a situation. Hell, if it was anyone’s fault it was mine. I was the one that was responsible for getting the work.

So we sat around our little conference table and I told everybody what they already knew. We didn’t have enough work coming in the keep the team intact. Then it happened. Someone said, “could we all take temporary pay cuts until the work comes back?” I was more than cool with that, but it was really up to everyone. Before I could ask for a vote everyone had agreed. We would all take pay cuts until the storm was over. It turned out the storm ended a few hours after the meeting. We landed a huge contract with a video game company, nobody had to take a pay cut.

I have never been so proud of a group of people. The idea of everyone sacrificing a little so no one sacrificed a lot was amazing.

We stayed on an upward trend until the bottom fell out in the summer of 2014. This time it wouldn’t be a false alarm. We were 14 people and it was doubtful we would all make it through the drought. Faced with a similar situation a second time, there was no doubt how we would handle it. It would be discussed openly.

After talking with the team, we made a decision to try and make it through with all of us intact. Letting half the team go to protect the other half felt cowardly and wrong. Again, nobody had done anything to bring this situation on. Also everyone was doing great work. To choose who would stay or go would be flipping a coin. So I asked everyone to take a temporary pay cut until we made it through. Only two people decided to leave, and it was for good reasons. They wanted to help the team and thought leaving was a better choice for them.

Things didn’t get better. We ended up setting a date that would determine who stayed and who left. If you didn’t have client facing work by September 5th, you were gone. We all worked harder than we ever had before, but we couldn’t land the work. As of September 6th, there were three of us left. While it was a painful experience, what happened next was remarkable. Almost everybody ended up with a good job in a few weeks.

No matter how they get resolved, layoffs suck. The very idea causes us to talk in hushed tones behind closed doors. Putting names on a board and weighing the value of friends and colleagues. But when you bring everyone into the process early on it keeps trust high. It allows everyone to make informed decisions. So if you find yourself staring at an unavoidable shortfall, believe in the people you’ve hired to be able to handle the truth of the situation. Showing honesty in a time of crisis not only empowers the people who may move on, it increases the confidence of those who stay.

On June 2, 2003 I took the biggest risk of my professional life. With a growing family, I jumped out of a corner office and abandoned a six-figure salary to start a new company.

This first two days I contacted everybody I knew about the new company. On the third day, somebody actually called me! As I answered the phone excited at the possibility of our first prospect, a shaky voice told me that she was a nurse and my dad was in the hospital with a possible heart attack. At that moment, everything in my world stopped moving. Then I realized something else was wrong. I asked, “Why didn’t my mother call to tell me?” The voice replied, “I’m so sorry. You’re mother is also in the hospital with a possible heart attack.”

It turned out neither had suffered a heart attack, but both had heart problems. For the next week I set up shop in the hospital. I did my best to launch a web company remotely while also being a dad, husband and most importantly a son.

That was the beginning of my new reality. I was the father of two little girls, the owner of a new company and the son of aging parents. In other words, I was an entrepreneur living in the Sandwich Generation.

This scene played out again and again over the years. Things would be fine for months and then one of my parents would have a problem. I would pack up and drive a few hours to the hospital to give whatever support I could. I rarely shared my situation publicly but instead managed the best that I could with whatever circumstances I faced.

In 2007 I found an apartment near my house and convinced my parents to move closer to me. I don’t know if things actually changed when they moved, but they seemed better. I’d go by once a week and notice little things that gave me hope. They were making friends, going to water aerobics and playing cards. My dad was training to compete in the Senior Olympics. They were happy.

Of course, there were other things I noticed too but I ignored. The number of prescriptions and medications was overwhelming. The mental difficulty they seemed to have doing basic things like making coffee. Conversations they would start where I couldn’t find the context.

At the same time, my company was finally growing. The first four years were tough because I didn’t understand how to run a business. But we were finally hitting our stride. People actually knew the name nGen and work was flowing in. Old problems went away and new ones arrived. The demands on time grew as did the need for me to travel. Mentally, I never left the office.

One of the main reasons I started my company was to have more time with my kids. If you’ve ever run a business you realize how ridiculous that sounds, but you also know that you can manage the madness when you’re in charge. Over the next five years my kids would start to have open houses, field trips, dance recitals, and plays. Occasionally a field trip would conflict with a parental health crisis. Sometimes a business emergency would interrupt a dance recital. Or my personal favorite, I would be boarding a plane as word of chest pain arrived via text.

I did my best to be a superman, but inside I was Jekyll & Hyde trying to balance the three things constantly fighting for my attention. My family, my parents and my company. No matter what choice I made, I felt like an ass.

On October 16, 2013 I officially burned out. It wasn’t an exciting explosion of emotion or a blaze of glory meltdown. I simply realized I didn’t care anymore. Obviously I still loved my family and my parents, but I felt like a complete failure. Everything was numb. Almost a year has past since that day and I can tell you things improved. I mean they are still ridiculous in terms of the conflicts that arise, but I’ve learned how to handle it a little better.

It was only a month ago that my dad had an emergency heart procedure while I was helping my company deal with a heavy business issue and I needed to spend time with my kids because I was getting ready to leave for Sweden for two weeks.

Instead of keeping everything to myself, I reached out to people to ask for help, advice, and just to talk. And guess what, everything turned out fine and everyone who loved me was glad to be of help.

I’m convinced this is how the world works. Things get good and we ignore the bad. Things get bad and we can’t see the good. But ultimately they are both there all the time. Just look to the bright side and lean on the people who care about you. Everything will be just fine. You still have to do the work to make things happen and get stuff done, but you don’t have to, and you shouldn’t, do it alone.