Or…Some Lessons Are More Expensive Than Others
[This blog first appeared September 27, 2015]
If you have been following along the past few months, you know we have been winding down operations at the office suite we’ve occupied for the past year. In a few days, our business operations will be run from our dual home office. Janet’s recording studio is upstairs. My coaching (and writing) office is downstairs.
To say it has been a “learning experience” kind of doesn’t even get close to it. “Failure” does.
Many times over the past 12 months we have wondered what we were thinking. Many times we’ve looked at the decision to lease an office as a failure in judgment. A catastrophic failure. An expensive daily reminder of misplaced trust. A failure to bean-count enough. Be skeptical enough.
In some ways, placing our signatures on that lease absolutely was all of those things. To be clear…it was my failure in judgment. Not Janet’s.
And yet, many times over the past 12 months, we’ve worked on projects in our own office and simply loved it! No pets to interrupt our work. The freedom to plan big. Gather great minds together to solve even greater problems.
Ta dah! Here is our mind-blowing list of things we’ve learned along the way, some of which might surprise you.
11 Things We Learned From Failure
- Say hello to legitimacy. Even when your business is primarily internet-based, having an actual space you can meet local people at brings a certain level of authority.
- Be ready for pressure. This one is probably obvious. Besides the lease payment, you have a major uptick in insurance costs, business phone, and internet service. Gratefully we had a significant amount of furnishings to make the office look and feel awesome. But we still needed to drop more than a dozen C-notes on conference tables and chairs, lobby chairs, kitchen table, etc.
- Hug your brain. You also end up fretting about your office. Is it in a safe neighborhood? What happens if people have trouble finding us? Will adjacent businesses be nice or noisy? Should we have an alarm system?
- Collaboration has its limits. We committed to a one-year lease because we were leaning into a collaborative partnership. Joel had been conducting well-received workshops for writers with two other people. Growth was expected. Enthusiasm burbled freely. “Go big or go home!” was treated as if it was a law of nature.
- Promises are cheap. Those two people were tight on cash but liberal with promises of sweat equity. Our collective workshop messaging had consistently been about the importance of taking risks, seizing the day and having expectations of abundance. But only our signatures (Joel’s and Janet’s) went on the lease. Soon after, Janet wrote down this insight:
Before trusting in a person’s talk, it’s best to wait and watch a person’s walk.
- Embrace contracts, #1. At the first hint of difficulty, the first of our three amigos fled for the hills. Well, not really. She lives just a few miles away. She simply bailed out when a minor pinch point came up. In her departing email, she fervently declared her certainty that God would take care of us. Which, of course, he had and still does. But since there was zero actual delivery of her just-as-fervently promised sweat equity, her strong words of faith on our behalf rang hollow. They still do. Because they were.
- Embrace contracts, #2. The second amigo fled out of state. And then out of mind. The out of state departure was for a 3-4 week work assignment. Since we were by then, with only two of us on the team, conducting at best a monthly workshop, his being gone for a month posed a huge problem. But he shared that he also had difficult personal matters to deal with. So we supported him publicly and privately. Then he stopped communicating. He refused to return our office keys. Not long after he returned to town—which we learned through social media—we got a report of someone trying to break into our office. We had to change the lock. Etc. Janet pointed at her post-it note quote:
Before trusting in a person’s talk, it’s best to wait and watch a person’s walk.
- When all else fails, hang tough. There are only so many things you can nail down before launching an entrepreneurial enterprise. We got most of them right. And we got one of them totally wrong. Even if we had gotten formal and contractual promises, we still would have faced many business struggles. It is the nature of building a business. As it turned out for us, because of our willingness to trust in promises and handshakes, rather than in hard-bitten legal contracts, we had more reasons to hang tough. But from those struggles, we’ve learned as a family that we have loads of grit and determination.
- When hanging tough, grab something else. At this point, one year later, we are at the cusp of taking a very exciting coaching opportunity national. Had things worked out with the three amigos as promised, it is doubtful this new venture would be happening. When the second amigo vanished, we had an immediate and absolute need to pivot our business focus. We redirected all of our energy to developing a robust coaching platform. While this had always been a focus, it hadn’t been the focus. Since March it has been. With that deepened focus, things began to happen. Really cool things.
- Collaboration can really rock. With legs growing like a centipede under our coaching business development, we happily see the positive side of collaboration. In part, because we implemented Janet’s wisdom about watching a person’s walk. Joel is collaborating with 4 other veterans of the financial services world. Between the 5 of us, we have over 120 years of tested-in-the-trenches business experience. We’ve spent a tremendous amount of time preparing for launch. We understand the value of contracts. And our commitment’s aren’t just based on “sweat equity.” They’re built on the three pillars of integrity of character, clarity of vision and resolute belief in a positive outcome.
- There’s always lemonade. We made the most of our office while it lasted. We got a lot of compliments on the vibe and culture we created there. We’ll carry that forward, of course (you can see it in our website’s format and feel). We developed many lasting friendships there. We hosted career-enhancing workshops and countless high-powered business meetings. More kids have nurtured their love of guitar there because of Janet’s amazingly fun, engaging teaching. It was easy to plan things or just say “Yes!” to other’s who wanted to rent our space. And having a big conference room made it easy for us to organize many important celebrations: Jessica’s inaugural book signing (as fantasy novelist, Taylor Hunter, with NeverSeen); a festive holiday party with business friends and spouses; Jessica’s graduation festivities.
And We’d Do It Again
So, there you go. On the whole, it was pretty cool having an office.
Despite the heavy financial drain.
Despite the hard, hard lesson that without skin in the game, it’s too easy for some people to abandon their spoken commitment.
Despite the stress of working ferociously for months to make it pay for itself.
Because we never completely lost our own commitment to expecting abundance instead of scarcity.
Because we persevered, seeking opportunities to work creatively and collaboratively with others.
Because we didn’t give up on making things happen.
Because we kept the faith.
Would it we do it again? Yep! Wiser, though. A bit jaded, perhaps. Was it a failure? Yep. But we’re not defeated.
Living On Purpose
Living a life of purpose exposes us to risk. We can get burned by others. Nothing is guaranteed. A lot can go wrong.
But think of this way…what would it have cost to get a business degree, and how long would it have taken? More than a year and way more money than we actually invested in our office. Ultimately, we benefited the most from this failure. Those we had intended to partner with lost out on a wonderful opportunity. In fact, a whole bunch of opportunities.
Remember, when we prepare for rain we actively expect our parched fields to receive nourishing, life-giving water. When we prepare for rain we anticipate good things. We go out in faith and plow the fields, even when no clouds are on the horizon. Otherwise, we all naturally suffer from a scarcity mindset. We don’t learn from our mistakes. We blame situations. We surrender to negativity and walk away from our commitments. We don’t live into our purpose. We abandon our dreams and our calling.
And who wants that?
Thanks so much for your support. You lift us up. We hope we do the same for you.
#prepareforrain #liveyourcalling #carpediem
Engage here. What’s your story? How have you dealt with failure in your life?