Plenty of Bread

Ever since I took the grand leap into full-time self employment my life has felt completely out of control.

More than one person has said I’m ‘living the dream’. Some days that’s true. But I’ve also been through some of the darkest days I’ve ever experienced.

Recently I discovered joy in reading through the book of Proverbs with a keen eye for business-applicable wisdom to help me approach my daily challenges with fresh eyes.

One mistake I made early in our move to Watseka was to put time and money into new ideas when we needed to be investing and improving in our core areas of business. I still struggle with this.

One of the Proverbs I found has helped me to be able to filter my pursuits a bit better. Check this out:

Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty. A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished. (Proverbs 28:19, 20 ESV)

It’s so easy to think that a new idea is going to be the golden ticket or silver bullet that solves all my problems. I’ve found though that our best times happen when I’m focused and working steadily rather than chasing rabbits in every direction.

I Failed the Boat Builder

Failure.

Not a fun word. Something we want to avoid in our lives. Something that doesn’t go on our resume or on our Facebook page. We run from failure, pretend it didn’t happen.

But often, failure is exactly what we need to build our character and prepare us for the next step forward.

I remember one of my first paid video projects. It came through a friend of a friend, and it was to create a video telling the story of a lovingly restored sailboat.

It should have been a very easy thing to do, looking at it now. But I made a mistake. I didn’t get the whole picture, and I didn’t hustle.

I spent a long time trying to get everything set up perfectly inside the sailboat to shoot it. I didn’t want to do any handheld shooting, because I was a little naive, so I had the guy build me a custom guide-wire through the boat for a walkthrough, and it didn’t work at all. We ended up wasting hours on that and did a handheld walkthrough in the end after all in about 30 minutes or less.

Then, I didn’t focus on the details he was hoping that I would. I didn’t pay enough attention to what he wanted and shot things that weren’t flattering.

He had a ton of photos of the construction, and wanted a slideshow with voice-over telling the story. I wasted so much time getting the boat footage that we never got to the photos.

Eventually I lost the job to a professional video company in the area. I was too slow, didn’t listen, and botched it.

I never saw it coming. I thought I was awesome. The truth is, I was a college student working for cheap with borrowed equipment and no experience, and had no idea what my client was actually looking for. He thought he was getting a great deal at first, and I didn’t deliver.

That was one of the best failures I’ve ever had. I tasted just enough of the thrill of contract work that I wanted more, and paid just enough attention that I could learn from my mistakes. I was told by yet another production person that I had no future in the business of video, which spurred me on to keep trying and to prove them wrong.

And, it knocked my pride down a few notches, which was helpful in showing me how much I still needed to learn.

Business Matters.

The perfect mixture of family + business.

I remember my very first business venture.  I partnered with my older brother.  We had a red flyer wagon, and once a week we walked up and down our block collecting recycling bottles and cans from our neighbors.  Then we’d load up the van and cash in at the recycling center for a little spending cash.

When I was a little older I ran a paper route once a day, which gave me at least a solid hour of daydreaming (I may have missed a house once in a while).  I had a dream of opening up a Lego toy store.  I knew I would outgrow the toys someday, and that was the only solution I could come up with to keep playing with Legos as I got older.

I didn’t plan to be a business owner but when I graduated from college, I started freelancing here and there on evenings and weekends. Eventually my dreams became Center Street Productions, which was a solid side gig until my wife and I jumped into full-time self-employment in 2009.

Like starting a family, I had a lot of romantic ideas.  I ran into harsh realities pretty fast, but God’s been faithful despite my mistakes and shortcomings.

Surviving as a self-employed freelance videographer is a challenge. It takes a lot of focus and a lot of faith. I hope I can continue to do it well!

Focus, Phil!

I have three main areas of influence in my life right now.

1) My family

2) My church

3) My business

I’ve spent my adult life trying to figure out how those three areas fit together. It’s been a challenge. It’s a little crazy sometimes.

Then sometimes I’ll forget all three of those things and try something completely different that doesn’t fit anywhere.

‘Focus, Phil!’ is a challenge to myself to remember the important things and focus on what really matters in life.

Facing the Challenge of Growth

I have terrible troubleshooting skills. I think I’m missing a logic receptor in my brain somewhere. My tendency, when trouble brews, is to want to go back to the beginning, scratch everything, and start over with something completely different. Sometimes that’s a good idea, but I’ve begun to realize that if I can push through the initial challenge, often I can find a solution.

It’s been a process. I started thinking about this concept when I worked for Mark at ATS Acoustics. I had the unique perspective of seeing his acoustic panel business grow from nothing to the successful operation that it is today.

I remember an early challenge we ran into was a question of whether our burlap-covered acoustical panels would meet construction fire codes. We had some churches that wanted to use our products but we couldn’t guarantee they would be fire resistant.

If it was me, I think I would have given up. We didn’t have an answer. But I watched Mark work through the problem, against many challenges, eventually building a computerized machine that solved the issue completely.

As someone who probably would have given up after the first challenge or two, I can respect that.

One of the challenges we have as a business is that we are almost completely a service business. We’ve been blessed to have the work we’ve had, but our ability to grow as a business is hampered unless we can grow and stabilize our service business to the point where 1) we have enough work to hire other people to work with us, or 2) create and market a product, or 3) Refine our business to the point where it works more or less as is, or 4) Something I haven’t thought of yet.

I think the biggest thing holding me back is confidence in my ability to solve this problem. I have a growing trail of things I’ve given up on. I don’t know if any of those things would have worked given the appropriate resources or time, and don’t know if I should have dropped them. So I steadily lose confidence as I leave behind more and more projects that I’ve tried and have been unable to bring to completion.

Mark solved his fire-rating problem. I should be able to figure this one out too.

Short or Long?

My 6 year old daughter has been learning the concept of time. “How long will it take to get there?” she’ll ask. My answer, “Oh about thirty minutes.” “Daddy, is that short or long?”

I never know how to answer that. Depending on what you’re doing, that’s a really short time or a really long time. 30 minutes is a long time to sit at a stop light, but a really short time to pay a mortgage. For a 6 year old stuck in a car seat, it can be really long.

One thing we encourage our girls to do when we’re driving is to enjoy the scenery. Right now is harvest time, and they love checking out the big tractors and talking about corn and soybeans, or animals that they see, or whatever. Sometimes that passes the time for them.

Like our car rides, the summer of 2011 lasted forever for me. We were behind on our bills, business was slow, and we were having trouble with our day-to-day obligations. It was a slow, painful ride that I don’t want to do again anytime soon.

One particularly difficult weekend that summer, a friend brought us some food to help us out. I had found a forgotten box of pancake mix in the cupboard, and she just happened to slip some fresh blueberries in with the rest of the groceries.

As we ate our blueberry pancakes that night, I had a chance to stop and enjoy the scenery. And we made it through the summer.

Who do you follow?

When I was a kid I always looked up to the ‘old guys’ at my childhood church.  I respected the bone crushing handshakes, and later the guys who knew what they stood for and could stand their ground in a tough situation.

There’s always been someone in my life that I was close to and respected without question.  My youth group leaders, then my parents’ pastor, then the pastor of my college church, then my boss at my day job, among others.

Recently I’ve found myself in a place where the leaders all around me are getting closer and closer to my age.  I have kids.  I own a business.  I don’t always agree with the people around me. Life is a little less black and white and a bit more colorful.  Instead of just following people around me, I’m learning that I have to make many of my own decisions.

Maybe someday I’ll be the cool old guy with the tough handshake, and some kid will be looking up to me. I hope I know where I’m going by then.