2012 was a fantastic year for Blind Five Year Old. I met most of my goals, came to a few epiphanies but often found it difficult to juggle everything at once. In all, this is what I learned.
There are a number of 'names' in the SEO community and there's a growing trend to share your journey - to open the kimono so to speak. (Sort of like what I'm doing here which is going to be strange given my next statement.) The odd thing about this transparency is that it puts a bit of pressure on others. Or maybe that's just me.
I had a chance to sit and chat with Wil Reynolds. I talked with Rhea Drysdale. They were generous with their time and gave a lot of excellent advice. Yet for a brief while those conversations also made me feel pretty lousy.
I started wondering. Was I doing enough to build my company? Was I falling behind? After establishing myself and building my brand was I frittering it away? Would I just be a 'lifestyle business'? Shouldn't I get bigger and build an agency? Are they so much better at this stuff than me?
I came to realize that I wasn't enjoying my success. And that sucked, particularly because I was doing really well. So I decided to stop comparing my journey to those of others.
I am not Wil or Rhea or Rand. They all provide amazing advice based on their journey and personal situations. Mine will be different because I'm different. Hopefully I'll learn from their insight and experiences but I'm sure I'll make some of the same mistakes they made as well as others as I find my way. And that's okay.
One of my goals was to speak at two conferences in 2012. Mind you, I'd never spoken at a conference before and while I've done plenty of trainings in front of large groups this would definitely be out of my comfort zone. I'm still an introvert at heart.
I snagged a spot at SMX West 2012 to speak about Authorship. I worked on that deck for ages. I obsessed over it. Then I found out that the presenter notes wouldn't be available. Yikes! I was incredibly nervous but there were people like Aaron Friedman and Nick Roshon who were eager to see me present and gave me encouragement.
I was up there on stage with Dennis Goedegebuure. He's done a lot of speaking and seemed ... unflappable. "Do you still get nervous?" I asked him. "Oh yeah, every time" he replied. That made me feel better and helped me more than he probably realized. The presentation was ... okay. I think I read a bit too much, had slide problems and went long, which meant Vanessa was about ready to shove me off the stage.
It was done. It had gone well enough. People didn't heckle me and there weren't any Tweets about how much I sucked. The world kept spinning. I needed that experience because the next time I presented was at MozCon 2012 in front of about 800 or so people. Crazy! I'm not sure Rand knew this would only be my second presentation or not but I'm very thankful for the opportunity he provided.
With the help of some amazing advice I was able to build a much better deck this time. I was a total and complete wreck before I presented. So if you met me there before my slot I might have seemed a bit preoccupied. (A thank you to Mackenzie Fogelson, Pete Meyers and Cyrus Shepard for distracting me with interesting conversations.)
I think I did well. It felt ... good, which was an odd sensation for me. And the feedback and score I received validated my effort.
I've always taken risks throughout my career and that has to continue if I'm going to grow.
I've had a crisis of confidence a few times in the past, mostly brought on by my own harsh criticism. That didn't happen this year but between comparing myself to others and working myself up into a lather about presenting, I may have had a few doubts here and there.
But you have to kick those gremlins out of your head. Confidence is so important. Don't confuse that with being a cocky douchebag. Confidence simply means that you know you've done everything you can do and that you're comfortable with what you're putting out there. It's also acknowledging that you're not always going to be right. That's life so get used to it and move on.
This piece from Todd Mintz was brave and worth reading. Todd's a smart and talented guy but he gets smarter and more skilled as time goes by. The post shows that we can only be confident about where we are at any given point in time. Will we make errors? Sure. But we learn from them and get better. Don't look back and let mistakes sap your confidence, let it fuel it instead.
In this industry you simply must keep learning. My definition of SEO is quite broad, which means that I need to know a little bit about everything.
Everything is a lot! Some of it you're not going to understand at first but you have to keep pushing. Ask questions, even dumb ones. Just keep picking up new skills and experimenting. I can not stress enough how beneficial experiential learning is in this business. Don't just take my word or some expert's word on how something works, try it yourself.
Because we're in a post modern SEO era.
Postmodern SEO develop strategies and tactics based on individual context, not on preconceived “Best Practices,” or some blogger’s interpretation of “standards.” Instead we consider things like business goals, risk, longevity, audience and others to build individual strategies.
Do. The. Work.
Watch The Clock
There are simply not enough hours in the day. Success has been great but it also means I'm juggling a lot more. I've got more clients. I've got a part-time writing gig at Marketing Land. I'm speaking at conferences. I'm keeping up on industry news. And the email just never stops.
I don't expect anyone to feel sorry for me. That would be ludicrous! These are good problems. But I haven't quite mastered how to balance everything yet. I've contemplated stopping my #ididnotwakeupin series. I've missed out on requests to contribute to articles. Sometimes things just fall through the cracks. And I hate that.
Through it all I have guarded my personal time. I'm still working more than I ever have, but I don't pull that many crazy hours. I take the time to build Legos with my daughter, play family games of Ticket To Ride, watch episodes of Nikita or just have an afternoon off with my wife.
Love Your Calendar
The primary way I began to take back control of my time was to rely on my calendar. I started to put everything in my Google Calendar, including all those 'tentative' meetings. Because the worst thing that can happen is you tell three people you're available on a certain day and within the span of a few hours they all try to book the same time.
Not only were there fewer missed connections but I was able to see the time I had available for other work. It became more and more clear that I had to book hours to do the work too.
I also made time to workout. I lost 30 pounds and kept it off by counting calories and working our regularly. I admit, part of this was driven by pure vanity. I didn't want to stand up in front of a lot of people and look bad.
Besides the obvious health benefits, the other reason was also selfish. Staying fit made me a better thinker. Working out let me clear my head and afterwards I was definitely sharper. I think of working out a little like being organized. It takes a bit of time each week but it makes me a lot more productive.
Ditch False Modesty
I ran into Marty Weintraub at both SMX West and MozCon. It was at the latter that he basically called me out. He complimented me on my presentation and I did the 'aw shucks, thank you, just trying my best' routine and he told me to stop with the false modesty and instead simply say thank you and accept the praise.
That doesn't come naturally to me but it was a turning point. I needed to embrace those who appreciated me. I mean, there are going to be plenty of folks who try to tear you down in life so when you're recognized as being good at something just run with it.
That image will give you a headache right? And that's the point I'm making here. Guilt is awful but I've got a lot of it.
I don't have much guilt about 'making it'. I worked hard and put in a lot of time and effort. But I recognize that I didn't do it alone. I was helped by many many people along the way. So I try to do the same. But that's not always easy. I despair when I don't get back to someone's email or Google+ post.
I even have some guilt about mentioning some people in this post but not others. How can I leave out people like Matt McGee, Anthony Pensabene, Jon Henshaw, Bill Sebald, Zeph Snapp, Max Minzer and Tadeusz Szewczyk.
And I'm leaving a ton of other people out here! I don't want to slight anyone. I want to acknowledge their contribution and worth. I value my Google+ community. I care. A lot. Yet it's nearly impossible for me to communicate that. So I'm letting go of that guilt little by little.
Yet, I doubt I'll get rid of all my guilt because I think it makes me a better person.
Am I a perfectionist? If you have to ask yourself that question I think you're likely closer to one than you might think. I have very high standards and I like to present things when I have pulled on every little thread and packaged it up into something that is appealing as well as informative.
This wreaks havoc with my time management and I try to live by the 'done is better than perfect' mantra. I nod my head when Jonathon Colman talks about it and often give this exact advice to others. Yet, I find it tough to follow in practice.
The reason why is that my quest for superior quality at all costs has netted me a really nice referral business. I know I should give myself a break but I fear the slippery slope of sloppy work.
Yet I'm beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel as I work on some other projects and collaborate in different ways. That said, don't expect this to become a high volume blog ... ever.
Embrace The Unknown
I remember when I would interview for a job and I'd get that 'where do you see yourself in 5 years' question. Based on my life experience I was usually honest in telling people I had no idea. Shit happened and you just never could know how things would turn out. You can only open the door right in front of you and see where it goes.
So I don't know how Blind Five Year Old will grow, though I think it will. I don't know what new things I'll be doing this year. Maybe I'll build a product. Maybe I'll do more writing. Maybe I'll write a book. I just don't know yet and I'm okay with that.
It's not that I'm not ambitious or that I don't have goals. I am and I do. It's just figuring out which direction to go and opening that door.