Introspective Candor - 2021 Edition
An annual assessment of my personal and professional journey
This is now the seventh iteration of this annual blog, where I attempt to use this space and platform to reflect on the previous year while looking to the upcoming one. In every edition, I’ve shared my struggle to find my true self - something I believe we are all in search of in one form or another. This annual exercise has become a significant part of my year as I strive to be a better person.
Sometimes, however, it’s challenging to be so open, raw, honest, and candid with myself - not to mention sharing that with a much wider audience. It’s challenging because you open yourself up to the opinions of others as it relates to your journey - and sometimes those opinions are pointed. For example, two days after I posted the 2020 edition of this blog, I received the following unsolicited text:
“From me directly to you, your blog is very unoriginal and unprofessional. I personally use it as a reminder of what not to do. Thank you for continuing to be you.”
As you can imagine, both the tone and content of the text were arresting - especially considering I hadn’t communicated with this person for quite some time. Even so, I tried to open up a dialog to understand what was so offensive in the blog to no avail, as they simply weren’t interested in having a conversation - adult or otherwise - as to why a post about my personal journey was so offensive.
Even without understanding of the context, the text did give me pause to think about my reasons for putting out this blog every year. The bottom line is that I do it for me and me alone. If my candid thoughts help or inspire others, that’s a fabulous byproduct. But, in the end, this is a selfish exercise and one I intend to continue regardless of a random text.
As I say every year, I always aspire to be authentically me. From my perspective, that means I’m consistently the same person whether I’m writing this blog, working at brandivate with my partner, Kelsey Cunningham, or sitting at a bar with my college friends. Of course, a considerable part of that authenticity comes from being as candid and transparent as possible as I answer these questions. So, let’s get to it.
Professionally, where was I this time last year?
brandivate was about six months old, and we had a very challenging fall of 2020. As you can imagine, starting a business at the onset of a global pandemic presents many challenges. However, as the calendar turned from 2020 to 2021, we had finally landed “the client.” For those of you who work for yourselves, you already know precisely what “the client’ means: they are the one that legitimizes your business, creates a steady income stream and has made a choice to partner with you. Looking back, it was when Kelsey and I realized that this was going to do more than work; it would be successful.
Did I accomplish my goals for 2021 - why or why not?
Yes, no, sort of, and maybe.
Goals I accomplished
Have brandivate be at an annual run rate of $350,000 - truthfully, this is in the “sort of” category as we hit this benchmark twice in 2021. However, due to the project-based nature of brandivate, we were unable to sustain it as long as we would have liked
Add five new clients with one outside the promotional products industry - I’m very proud of this one as we’ve been fortunate to work with so many different types of clients. The fact that we have branched outside the promotional products industry underscores the value we provide to our customers.
Continue intermittent fasting - candidly, this one has been easy as it’s just become part of my lifestyle.
Goals I didn’t accomplish
Create one new piece of relevant, thoughtful, consumable content - while I had a few starts and stops, the bottom line is that I didn’t get it done. I have an excellent idea for a piece of content that I believe will genuinely be helpful and beneficial to others, but I need to MAKE time for it. The fact is, I’ve allowed “being busy” to stagnate this initiative.
Have a meal - outside the confines of Stately Petrie Manor - with each of my sons once a month - came close on this one, but with so many work schedules, college orientations, and moving into the dorms, we missed a couple along the way. However, we did create other moments that are burned into my heart and soul. This is probably much more of an accomplished goal than not, but the numbers don’t lie.
Work out (30 minutes on the elliptical plus a 20-minute weightlifting rotation) five times a week - honestly, I was doing very well on this until we moved the boys into their respective colleges. While I didn’t make a big deal out of it on social media, I ended up with a hernia and had surgery to repair it in September. Surgery on your core is no joke, people.
Put my phone down for at least one hour a night after work - I’m terrible at this and need to be a lot better about it. Sure, I’ll do it once or twice a week, but that wasn’t the goal.
Celebrate the good on a continual and intentional basis - of all the goals I didn’t accomplish, this is the one I’m most disappointed about. I can be very snarky, pointed, sarcastic, and even unpleasant. As I grew up, I realized that being joyful was a choice, and I wasn’t choosing it often enough. This year, I did a pretty good job of it most of the time, but there were far too many times I would find the cloud in the silver lining rather than the other way around. I will be better about that in 2022.
What are my motivations, and how have they changed in the past year?
After the “transition year” of 2020, my motivations - my “whys” haven’t changed much from last year:
Provide for my family
Do work that truly matters at brandivate
Continue growing brandivate with my partner, Kelsey Cunningham
Give back to an industry that has always supported me
What do I need to do more of in 2022?
I need to build upon some of the things I did in 2021 - chief of which is knowing when to walk away from work. While I don’t mind working from home, the fact that it’s always “there” challenges me as there is always something that needs to be done. For my mental health, I need to keep work and home separate. If I expect people to respect I’m at work when the office doors are shut, I need to appreciate that the office is closed when I’m done for the day (unless there is an emergency). This is something I worked very hard on this year, and I am proud that I accomplished more balance in my life because it’s not only made me more focused and creative but also a better human to be around.
I need to get back to the gym because, frankly, I haven’t been back since my hernia surgery on September 30. I need to slow down a bit as well. Even when I’m sitting still, my brain tends to be in constant motion - I need to stop that. I also need to make more dedicated time with my family and friends - things that break the routine like going to have a drink Saturday afternoon “just because” or spontaneously having friends over because I’m cooking a giant hunk of meat.
What do I need to do less of in 2022?
For years, I’ve answered this question by saying I need to worry less about things I cannot control. For once, I’m happy to share that I don’t need to worry less because I have come to a place where I only worry and get stressed about things where I can have direct influence. But, of course, I stub my toe here and there because old habits die hard.
I do, however, need to stop overthinking just about everything. Again, it’s a byproduct of an overactive brain, but it’s exhausting - and not just to me. At times, this overthinking has led to indecisiveness which I find abhorrent. Therefore, I’m going to place a primary focus on my tendency to overthink things immediately.
What am I grateful for in 2021?
For me, there was much to be grateful for in 2021. First and foremost, Sandy and I successfully transitioned to empty nesters after sending our boys to college. At first, it was as weird as you would imagine, but we fell into a rhythm, and it’s one we continue to evolve with and adjust to. I’m beyond grateful that both boys survived their first semesters in college as well as fraternity pledgeship - and did so with solid grades. I had a tough transition from high school to Texas A&M, so it truly gives me great pride from them to be as successful as they are.
I’m thankful for the support of my wife, Sandy. Her belief in me and the work I do at brandivate simply does not waver, and I couldn’t do what I do without her and this support. I’m grateful for my business partner, Kelsey Cunningham, because she is the straw that stirs the drink. She makes what we do at brandivate better because of her creative eye and fervent desire to do great work. I’m honored to work alongside someone who cares as much as she does. I’m also thankful for her husband, Aaron. Much like Sandy, he continues to support the work we are doing. It truly does take a village.
I’m thankful for people who read what I write, listen to me prattle on podcasts, speak at an event, or express their support of what I do. While I do have an ego, I don’t think people realize how fragile it can be at times. Those messages, notes, tweets, and words of encouragement mean more to me than anyone will ever know. I think we all want to feel like the work we do matters and makes a difference - it’s nice to see that tangibly.
Last, I am beyond fortunate to be surrounded by people - both family and friends - that genuinely love and accept me despite my countless shortcomings. If you want to see who a person really is, just look at the people they surround themselves with. I may not be financially the richest man in the world, but I measure wealth by relationships. So in that respect, I’m the wealthiest person ever.
How did I serve others in 2021?
2021 was the first time I didn’t sit on an industry board, committee, or anything else in over a decade, and, frankly, it was bizarre. While I’ve certainly continued to mentor people through the PromoKitchen mentorship program, I didn’t formally give back, which bothers me greatly. About halfway through 2021, I began having discussions with the leadership at PromoKitchen about coming back as a chef - I had a few ideas kicking around, and, candidly, I wanted to be able to give back more than just mentoring. I’m happy to report that I am back to being a full chef in PromoKitchen and can’t wait to share some of the things we are cooking up.
What are my goals for 2022?
I've got quite a few - and more definable than in the past:
Have brandivate be at a consistent run rate of $400,000 by 12/31/22
Create one new piece of relevant, thoughtful, and consumable content
Add ten new clients, with two being outside the promotional products industry
Work out five days a week
Deliver two pieces of educational content for PromoKitchen
Take one week off from work - 100% away, even if I stay home
Am I who I want to be?
No, I’m not, and I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I never will be. However, I think that’s okay. I’m a firm believer that we are all a work in progress and that it’s much more about continual improvement than an ultimate destination. Last year in this space, I wrote, “in 365 days, I’ll be closer to the person I want to be - I guarantee it.” I can honestly say this is true: I’m a better husband, father, friend, and business partner than I was at this time last year, and that’s a great feeling. Even so, I have many areas where I need to improve, and I hope that I can grow incrementally throughout 2022 - and that growth starts now.
At the beginning of this blog, I posted a message that I received last year - it was a harsh message that I’ve allowed to bother me. I don’t hold grudges, but I do tend to hold on to the past more than I care to admit - and I’ve held onto this message for a year for reasons I can’t even explain myself. So while I may never understand the reasons behind the missive (I can’t control that), it is time for me to let it go and realize that what I do won’t please - or even make sense - to everyone. Honestly, that’s just fine by me.
This little exercise is exceptionally cleansing and puts my mind right to begin the year. I hope it encourages you to look in the mirror and intentionally make the changes you want to make to become the best version of yourself. Last, I wish each of you the best 2022 has to offer, and I want to thank you for continuing to take the ride with me.