Introspective Candor - 2020 Edition
Updated: Jan 3, 2022
An annual assessment of my personal and professional journey
I started this annual tradition in 2014 under the name “New Year’s Reflections,” where I asked myself questions – some of them challenging – as I reflected on the end of that year. In the past six editions of this blog, I’ve shared the struggle to find my true self, which is something we are all in search of. While I find sitting down to write this annual reflection to be initially daunting, I’ve also realized it’s a critical component as I strive to be a better person – especially when it’s honest, raw, and candid. Reader beware: that means anyone who reads this particular blog can get an authentic peek into the deep inner workings of my Bill brain.
I always aspire to be authentic. To my way of thinking, that means I am the same person whether I’m writing this blog, recording the Promo UPFront Podcast with my pal Kirby Hasseman, working here at brandivate with my partner Kelsey Cunningham, or having a socially-distant happy hour with my college friends. A considerable part of authenticity is to be transparent as I answer these questions. Frankly, that’s going to be a little more challenging this year as I’ve made a massive career shift. Even so, it’s important to share my introspective candor to hold myself accountable.
Professionally, where was I this time last year?
Well, last year at this time, I was President of PromoCorner and was approaching my third anniversary with the company. For the first time in PromoCorner’s history, we reached $1M in revenue, which was an enormous milestone and represented over 37% growth from the time I joined in March of 2017. The growth goals – both revenue and profitability – were aggressive for 2020, and I was very bullish on accomplishing them with the great team I had assembled since joining the company.
Did I accomplish my goals for 2020 – why or why not?
In a word, nope. As I look back on my list of goals I set out for 2020, I missed on just about every one – both personally and professionally. Yes, it’s super easy – and somewhat accurate – to blame things out of my control like the pandemic, but that wouldn’t be an accurate picture, would it? There were plenty of things within my power, and, frankly, I didn’t seize upon them in a timely fashion. Having written all of that, here were my goals for 2020:
Goals I Accomplished
Work out (30 minutes on the treadmill/elliptical plus a weightlifting rotation) five times a week – I’m giving myself a bit of a pass here as I’ve done this religiously the second half of the year.
Mentor two people in the promotional products industry – I have always felt VERY strongly about giving back to an industry that has given me so much. Many people have graciously given me their time to help me, and it would feel very selfish and very wrong not to reciprocate that. If you’re interested in becoming a mentor (or being mentored), check out PromoKitchen’s mentoring program.
That’s it. Of all the goals I made for myself last year, I hit one and sort of hit another. As Pete Campbell from Mad Men might say, “Not great, Bob!”
Goals I Did Not Accomplish
This might be the most difficult part of the blog to share. For purposes of this section, I’m going to group the PromoCorner goals into one area for this reason: I left PromoCorner on June 5th.
Increase PromoCorner revenue by 20%
Increase PromoCorner profitability by 20%
Find two additional revenue streams for PromoCorner
Be a better communicator with my team at PromoCorner
To be clear, I’m not going to write a lot about the fact that I left - or even why I left - PromoCorner. The fact is, we were not on track to hit the financial goals when I left in June, and I know I wasn’t a great communicator with the team once the pandemic hit. As stated earlier, I could blame many factors as things were strange, roles shifted, and the corporate culture was no longer defined by the work we were doing. However, as the organization leader, I could have and should have done a better job communicating with the team.
I’m immensely proud of the work I did there and wish the group remaining nothing but the best as they move forward. I know people don’t believe the separation was amicable, but it was. It was simply time for me to chart a different path, and I’ve always held true to the fact that fortune favors the bold.
Other goals I did not achieve:
Have lunch with my sons once a month – just the two of us – I HATE that I didn’t make this happen more. Certainly, pandemic lockdown played a large part in this not happening, but sometimes I allowed “busy” to get in the way as well. I was able to take some trips with the boys to visit potential colleges, and I’d like to think the memories we created made up for the lack of lunch dates.
Meal prep my lunches every week when not traveling – Does opening a can of Sour Cream and Onion Pringle’s count as “meal prep?” No? Well, then I didn’t follow through on this one either. Moving back to working from home has been a real challenge for me. Not because I haven’t done it before, but because I haven’t done it before with an 85-pound puppy, two kids on remote learning, and a spouse who was forced to ply her trade from the shrinking confines of Stately Petrie Manor. So, no, I didn’t meal prep once the pandemic hit.
Be present in the moment with people I love – After I put this goal as one I missed in 2020, I sat and stared at my keyboard for a good four minutes. I could write a book on how I failed here as a friend, as a husband, and as a father, but I don’t have it in me to do that; admitting that publicly is enough for me. The first few months of the pandemic hit me hard – harder than most realize – and I didn’t handle it well. I drank too much, I ate too much, I hid in my office desperately trying to find a way to bring additional revenue to PromoCorner, and I would find way too many excuses to just be “busy.” I stopped doing that around the time I left PromoCorner in June, but I know I failed many people around me for months. Maybe just as important, I disappointed myself. I learned a lot during that time and have resolved never to allow that to happen again.
Allow the joyful moments to linger and not just move forward to the next task – I could have put this in the “I sort of accomplished this goal” category, but it will remain here as I didn’t do enough of this in 2020. To be sure, there were many joyful moments, and I did allow them to linger, but not until later in the year. I have to rewire my brain to do this, which means it’s something I have to think about consciously – not one of my favorite qualities. Over time, though, I am improving on this.
What are my motivations, and how have they changed in the past year?
Again, 2020 was a year of transition for me, and I could write a book on this. Yes, my motivations have changed (save for the first one), but they excite me as we march into 2021:
Providing for my family
Do work that truly matters at brandivate
Building brandivate with Kelsey Cunningham
Developing the next generation of industry leaders
Leave the past where it belongs – in the past
What do I need to do more of in 2021?
It’s hard for me to write this, but I need to carve out more time to enjoy life. While I’m not a workaholic, I am wired to continually “do,” and I find myself struggling when I’m not doing…something brandivate related. I know this is something that drives both my business partner and my family nuts. Even more, it causes my stress level to rise. I hope to rewire myself a bit to take time to truly walk away from brandivate more often as I know it will result in better work - and a better Bill - in the long run. I also need to relish the work victories as they happen rather than acknowledge them in passing before heading off to the next task.
I need to continue building on a more healthy lifestyle I established later in 2020: intermittent fasting, working out five days a week, and making smarter choices with the type and volume of food I consume. I need to be better about making time – dedicated time – for family and friends who love and support me. I fear I’ve unintentionally neglected far too many relationships, and that stops right now. I need to spend more quality time with Drew and Mitch before they head off to college, even if it’s challenging to create that time due to their schedules. The time they will be living in our house is fast approaching an end, and I want to soak up each moment as they evolve into the men they are becoming.
What do I need to do less of in 2021?
More than anything, I need to stop getting in my own way. If you know me, then you know my brain rarely, if ever, shuts off. Because of this, I tend to overthink just about everything, which leads to questioning my confidence. I know I have good instincts – personally and professionally – and my gut never, ever lies to me. So, in 2021, I need to get out of my way, live life, and trust myself more.
I don't like to admit it, but I need to spend a lot less time worrying and thinking about things outside of my control. Part of it is how I’m wired, part of it is feeling so disconnected from people in 2020, but all of it is plain dumb. I need to take my own advice, breathe, and focus on the things I can control. I did much more of that during the last few months of 2020, but that trend needs to continue.
What am I grateful for in 2020?
Years from now, I won’t look back on 2020 as this horrific year that was bad on every level. Just like any year, there was both bad and good – even though it seems much easier to focus on the negative. I’m grateful for my business partner, Kelsey Cunningham, who boldly and bravely decided to start a business with me in the middle of a pandemic. The respect and admiration I have for her – both as a professional and a human – are without measure. Her courage emboldens mine, and I’m proud of the work we are doing for our clients. I’m grateful for my bride, Sandy, and Kelsey’s groom, Aaron, as they not only gave Kelsey and me the “okay” to start brandivate but have enthusiastically supported us at every step. I’m grateful for the investor who not only believed in our vision for brandivate but believed in both of us as creative individuals. I’m thankful to work in an industry that embraces new ideas and bold action. The support and love Kelsey and I received from every corner of the promotional products industry during our launch is something I will never forget.
I’m also grateful for the weirdness of 2020 – the virtual happy hours, weekly get-togethers with my college roommates via zoom, deciding to get an 85 pound, high maintenance puppy weeks before the pandemic hit, creating a magical outside space on the back 40, having cocktails with neighbors as we stood in our individual driveways and a million other things that continue to bring a smile to my face.
I’m thankful for anyone who has read something I’ve written, listened to a podcast I appeared on, reached out to me for advice, or simply expressed their support. Like anyone ambitious, I have an ego. However, that ego can be more fragile than people realize, and those texts, notes, messages, and words of encouragement mean more to me than most people realize.
Last and most importantly, I’m forever grateful because I’m an enormously fortunate human because I have a group of people – friends and family alike – that love, encourage and accept me for who I am despite my many shortcomings. As I write this, my eyes are getting misty because the circle of people I surround myself with does more than tell me they love, encourage, and accept me – they show me. They tell me when I’m right but, more notably, they tell me when I’m wrong. There isn’t a better feeling than carrying that type of love around without fear of losing it.
How did I serve others in 2020?
2020 was my last year on the Regional Association Council (RAC) board, and it was my honor to serve as immediate past-president as the board navigated a challenging year. As I mentioned above, I continued to mentor people through the fantastic PromoKitchen mentorship program. I’ve also taken the time to encourage others as they navigated career shifts this past year. 2020 wreaked so much havoc on people’s livelihoods, the least I could do was lend an ear, reach out to give support, or help them in any way possible.
What are my goals for 2021?
Have brandivate be at a run-rate of $350,000
Create one new piece of relevant, thoughtful, consumable content
Add five new clients – one out of the promotional products industry
Have a meal – outside the confines of Stately Petrie Manor – with each of my sons once a month
Continue intermittent fasting
Work out (30 minutes on the elliptical plus a 20-minute weightlifting rotation) five times a week
Put my phone down for at least one hour a night after work
Celebrate the good on a continual and intentional basis
Am I who I want to be?
I’m not too fond that I put this question on the initial writing back in 2014 because it’s so tough to answer if done so honestly. However, to grow, I have to be honest and hold myself accountable. In short, no, I’m not. I took great strides in 2019, but I feel like I took a step or three backward in 2020. While it’s easy to blame the pandemic, my actions are mine and mine alone, so I refuse to shift responsibility to COVID-19 and the resulting forced lifestyle changes for my behavior. I drank way too much between March and June as I helplessly watched things I worked so hard for at PromoCorner crumble. I was often short and curt with people who only love and care about me and forgot how it’s always easiest to hurt the ones who love you most. At times, I simply crawled into my personal cave of misery and didn’t consider how difficult things were for my sons. Feeling sorry for oneself isn’t an excellent strategy for a well-lived life.
Like anyone, I’m a work in progress. Although I took some steps backward in 2020 as a person, I did “pull it together” in the second half of the year – at least I believe I did. I’ll never 100% be the person I aspire to be because there is always room to grow as a human. I will continue to strive to be a better father, husband, business partner, marketer, writer, podcaster, mentor, industry advocate, and human. In 365 days, I’ll be close to the person I want to be – I guarantee it.
This annual exercise is cleansing to me. It’s my way of closing the chapter that was the previous year, and I feel renewed as I prepare the tackle the new one. While I could simply write and not share this, I publicly post this as I sincerely hope it will encourage you to take a hard look in the mirror to candidly assess where you are in your personal and professional life journey.
Finally, I wish each of you the best 2021 has to offer. Make it the year YOU want it to be.