2014 was a year full of change, newness and exploration for me. I looked back over my posts on this site as well as my social media updates for the last 12 months, and here are some of the highlights:
I spent 25% of the year away from my home in the midwestern U.S., traveling ~50,000 miles around the world. Some of it was for my work and related conferences, some of it to visit friends and family, and some of it just to see new places for fun and education. Trips included:
I think that's the most travel I've done in a single year, ever. I wouldn't have previously included "world traveler" in how I identify myself so it's still a little strange to realize I'm doing it, but I'm enjoying it (and the perspective and knowledge it brings) greatly. I feel fortunate to have had these opportunities, and look forward to more of them in 2015.
One of the main reasons I get excited about Internet technologies is that they amplify the power of the written word and other kinds of creative publishing. Modern online tools enable bloggers, software developers, poets, journalists, novelists, chefs, filmmakers, marketers, photographers, artists, scientists, organizers and many other kinds of people to bring their creations to the world, at a constantly decreasing cost. And even through all of the cultural transformations we've seen spurred on by the Internet, the power of the written word remains - publishing can still change minds, start movements, spark connections, capture beauty, reshape lives.
Next week I'm joining Automattic, Inc., the company that makes WordPress, runs WordPress.com, and provides a bunch of other publishing-related tools and services. I'm joining the WordPress.com VIP team as a full-time VIP Wrangler, where I'll be helping to provide support, hosting, training, and other services to some of the biggest and best WordPress sites on the web (NY Times, TED, CNN, Time and more).
There are many reasons I'm excited about this, including:
In December 2013, I completed the transitions of staffing that I talked about in the previous post, such that I became the sole remaining person at the company. I was grateful that my now former co-workers were all able to find new job opportunities throughout that transition.
I took a quick trip to Asheville, North Carolina this past weekend to visit some friends and wander around the area. It's one of my favorite parts of the country, having spent a fair amount of time there as a kid, with my grandparents when they lived in Swannanoa and attending a summer camp for several years in Black Mountain.
Continuing in the theme of last week's post on how I became a computer geek, I thought I'd also share some thoughts on how I learned to run a business.
I get asked now and then what path led me to the world of business ownership/management, and I think the short answer is that I've always just learned what I needed to know to support my other interests and passions, and in one particular long-running case, that meant learning the world of business. I've never set out to run a business for the sake of running a business, and I don't have any formal educational training in that skill set.
I'm not sure that my story should be any kind of model for others; I don't claim that I've always learned to run a business well, and I'm sure that there are many things I could and should have done better over the years. But by at least a few traditional measures of my company Summersault's performance from 1997-2013 - profitability, financial stability and customer satisfaction - I think I can claim some success along the way.
Occasionally people ask me how I got started working in the world of computers and Internet technology. There were a lot of different factors - from my own curiosity to the learning and discovering my parents and teachers encouraged to the timing of what tools/tech became available as I grew up. I don't think I can hold one particular decision or moment up over another as key, but I thought I'd try to hit some of the highlights.
As a kid I was apparently very, very curious about how things worked, especially appliances and other mechanical things. I would take them apart to understand the innards, and then try to put them back together again more or less in the same working order. I was fortunate to have parents who let me do this exploring, and where they might have had good reason to be exasperated by having household fixtures disassembled and strewn about, they instead were supportive.
2013 has been a year of change for me in my professional life and at my company, Summersault. The changes were set in motion by a combination of intentional planning and dealing with the unexpected, and navigating them has been challenging and stressful, but I think ultimately worthwhile.
The company has been around since 1997, and so we have a number of supporters and interested observers who we've connected with over the years, locally here in Richmond, among our clients and vendors, and of course among our friends and families. As I get questions from them about "what's happening with Summersault?" and "what's happening with you?" I know I haven't always been clear in my responses, in part because the answers (or how to talk about them) haven't always been clear to me.
As I've built Summersault with care and attention to the complex interactions between business needs and human needs, so I've also wanted to give that same care and attention to times of transition and restructuring. It was - and still is - a challenge to share publicly about professional changes that have many layers of complexity. It's a challenge to answer questions about what these changes might mean for individual employees while honoring their privacy. It's a challenge to talk about new directions while acknowledging the interests and concerns of our clients and the services we might still provide to them. It's a challenge to speak about areas where we have encountered difficulty with our local economy, talent pool and business climate without seeming to disparage the good work of people trying to improve the same. It's a challenge to share about the specific difficulties, frustrations, opportunities and realizations that have led to these changes while maintaining harmonious relationships with coworkers, clients and supporters who might have their own and different narratives about Summersault's history and evolution. It's a challenge to distill the feelings, hopes, disappointments, anxiety and messiness that go with owning and running a business with a history and identity in a community I care about, let alone making big changes in that identity. So, when people ask me "what's going on at Summersault?" and I find myself speaking in vague or jargony terms about it, it's clear that I've not done a good enough job of meeting all of the above challenges!
Here, then, is an attempt at answering those questions more clearly, based on what I know and can say now.
(This article originally appeared in the August 16, 2013 edition of The Earlham Word, printed for new students beginning their first year at the college.)
Like many of you are doing now, I arrived as a new student on this campus not so many years ago, ready to see what college would be about. With too much luggage and an anxious but supportive parent in tow, I experienced the enthusiastic welcome as we drove up the main drive, the surveying of my dorm room, the slightly awkward and then quickly enjoyable meeting of my roommate, checking out the cafeteria, figuring out my mailbox, and breathing in the sights and sounds of the new place I would call home for a while.
These are moments and traditions that you'll all experience differently, but they're just a few in the many pieces of a journey that, across space and time, you're sharing with thousands of other Earlhamites who have also called this place home.
The adventure of that journey will almost certainly contain deep joy and exceptional challenges. There will almost certainly be love and loss, shocking moments of new perspective, and changes in course that you'd swear today could never happen to you. You will be changed by this place in ways you may not fully notice until months or years later, and you will change those around you both with your big ideas and with the quiet moments of understanding or kindness that you show them. You will undoubtedly screw up, maybe in a big and public way, maybe in a small way that only you feel, but you'll also learn new kinds of humility and forgiveness that will serve you well.
If I have regrets about my own time at Earlham, there are three worth holding up here in case they're helpful to you:
I'm pleased to note that I'm joining the Palladium-Item's community editorial advisory board. This comes after a number of conversations with the paper's staff about the role of the editorial page and its advisory board in prompting and shaping community dialog; I'm excited that I will get to contribute to those efforts in this new way.
The board is a volunteer group of community members who meet regularly with the paper's editorial staff to discuss issues facing our area, and to help ensure that the viewpoints expressed by the paper are the result of careful consideration and broad consultation. In the end, it's the Palladium-Item staff (and not the advisory board members) who craft the resulting columns, but Dale McConnaughay and others responsible for that task rely on the input received (and strong disagreements aired) through the board's private conversations. They also regularly invite community leaders to meet with the board for updates and discussion about projects underway.