The Year in Review – 2020

As I was walking up the stairs to my home office, I fell. Not a little slip. A serious, everyone-in-the-house-freaked-out, fall. My arm, which I used to try and stabilize myself, felt pulled out of the socket and like I re-injured a shoulder that's been troubling me for the last few months.

Everyone came to check on me. I was ok. My wife helped to clean up the spilt drink I was carrying upstairs. My daughter asked if I needed medicine. And my son went right to work helping his mom clean up whatever mess I made. All while I got off the floor, went to a chair, and sat down.

Then I stood up and walked up the stairs, sat down and started writing the year in review.

In short, that experience was a parable for the whole year.

On several occasions I started with a plan. Fell down. Had those close by reach out. Had people in my home help me out. And each time I had to made the decision to get back up and try again.

I'm guessing I don't have to explain it that much, because I'm guessing your year was similar to mine.

Everything was the Same / Everything was Different

I've been working from my home office for years. More than two decades. Because of that, when I returned from my last conference in February and everyone started limiting travel, canceling conferences and we all were working from home – nothing was all that different from my normal experience.

I'm blessed to have a private office, great gear, and have been using Zoom for years. Again, nothing felt dramatically different.

Nine weeks later, I was struggling. Not because my context had changed. But because the relational glue that traveling and conferences deliver was missing. I never thought I would miss airports and airplanes, but it hit me hard. And like anyone who speaks at conferences regularly, it's not the talk from the stage that means the most – it's the hallway conversations. And all of that was gone. Even when I spoke at a virtual conference, it wasn't the same.

Seven Things I Learned in 2020

1. It's easy to focus on my own frustrations and forget to check in with my friends. More than once I would see a tweet from a friend, or a Facebook post, and react with surprise. They were hurting. Or frustrated. And I didn't know anything about it. And that's when I realized weeks had gone by without chatting. I didn't know because I hadn't been in touch. Why? Because I was dealing with my own frustrations, fatigue and fear. As I start the next year, I'll be putting regular calls on the books to make sure I don't get caught navel-gazing too much.

2. Pushing hard can have negative team consequences. In the first weeks of the pandemic, I pushed myself harder than ever. After all, no travel. More time available to get things done. I worked hard and was on the computer all day and most evenings. What that does for those who are watching, or working alongside you, is quietly whisper that they need to do the same thing. But that can quickly become demotivating. Everyone was dealing with their own circumstances – spouses getting let go, people working from home with kids at home for the first time, etc. In this context, team members can shift to being spectators or giving up if they feel like they can't meet the “standard” (even if it isn't actually a standard).

3. Complex products are tough and require a lot of attention. At work we were trying to release a free trial solution for hosting. Initially, you think, it's simply a solution that doesn't collect credit cards up front. Then you realize that means your fraud detection doesn't work because it needs billing info. And when you get that solved, you realize that the new fraud detection requires manual intervention, which hasn't been assigned to anyone. And then you think you have a spec to build out, but there's more to solve – like which features will and won't be limited during the trial. And when every answer is done, you're not launching in Feb. Instead it was May. And then you realize reporting isn't accurate (my fault!) and you have to fix things so that people can see if it's working or not (it was!), but then you realize you have a lot of UX work to do to make it easier. In January we will release the newly updated Free Trial program, but man, that was a year of work – not two months. Whew!

4. Timing the selling of one house and buying another is work. We sold our house in San Diego in June. We bought a house in Sugar Land, Texas in July. And let me tell you, it was great selling in a seller's market and buying in a buyer's market. My wife had a specific deadline – to be in the house by Aug 1st. We did it. But it was stressful. And there was so much we didn't know because we were moving to a completely different state with different rules about real estate. It's also the first house I bought that we didn't build (new construction) and instead was old (built in 1993). That will deliver some unexpected fixes. But so far we've loved the home, the neighborhood, the schools and our friends that already lived here.

5. When deciding where to live, my highest value is on friendship. We looked at a lot of places over the last few years when we started thinking about moving out of California. We made spreadsheets and weighed out all the factors. And while no state income tax is nice, and low priced homes are awesome, it's not what drove the decision. I have friends that live in San Diego, Huntington Beach, Sacramento, Brentwood, Marshfield, West Palm, Oklahoma City, and more. But the single largest group of friends that I see several times a year, vacation with once a year (at least), and keep a long-running text group with, all live around Houston. And that counted more than anything else for me.

6. Buying companies is a constant and iterative process. One of my roles at Liquid Web is to be part of the team that sources, evaluates, and does due diligence on companies we're looking to buy. Not every company. But the companies that are in the Magento, WooCommerce and WordPress space. This year we acquired Restrict Content Pro, WPComplete, and another that you'll hear about soon. But the bigger learning was on some of the ones that fell thru. They were big and took a lot of work. And I would tell myself to just push thru (one set of potential targets had me working over 4 weekends in a row). But when they didn't happen, the next ones would show up. And you suddenly realize, yes, it's important to do the work, but you can't burn yourself out because there's another one right behind the one you're working on right now.

7.  More sleep & getting on the scale regularly really helps. At my highest, 20 years ago, I weight 495. This year I got under 295. Three things helped – a constant breakfast shake by Shakeology, getting more than 6 hours of sleep a night, and getting on a scale regularly. Twenty years ago I would sleep 4-5 hours a night. It's taken years to get up to 6, and I'm happy to say that a side effect of not traveling meant that I finally got my average up to 7 hours of nightly sleep. My breakfast shakes are awesome. But the final new addition was getting on the scale every other day. It's a tiny piece of feedback but helped me stay motivated.

I'm sure I could keep going on the things I learned, but I tried to focus on the top 7.

The TL;DR:

  • Your health is important.
  • Work will be there, right behind more work. So pace yourself.
  • Relationships are the most important thing in my life.
  • Lead with empathy, knowing that even your best intentions can create sub-optimal results.
  • Happy wife, happy life.
  • Look up. Perspective helps. It will highlight how blessed you are.

I hope 2021 is an incredible year for you and yours.