I’m a parent, husband, friend, entrepreneur, boss, vendor, and follower of Jesus.
Each of those have a metric for defining success. But in reality we need to define failure in order to truly define success. It’s my belief that there is a significant space between success and failure that we spend most of our time in. This space can both help us and harm us.
Using the illustration above, we can chart our actions and inactions on a spectrum of success and failure. I’d argue that most people are wired to look at this as black and white, the arrows on each side, not the line between. Either I lost 50 pounds or I didn’t. Achieving a goal is success, anything short of that is failure.
This is what I’m currently struggling with right now.
I want to be the father I never had. My goals include specifically: not abusing my kids, caring for them, encouraging them, and more. When I loose my cool and give them a harsh consequence, or yell at them I feel and tell myself I’m a failure. Because I didn’t achieve the goal. However if I were to define failure first: something like abusing my kids. Then even when I don’t attain the perfect father behaviors I’m still not failing.
Defining the land between Success and Failure
So what do we call this land between?
It’s not success and it’s not failure. Life is not black and white.
I don’t know, but I can give a couple more illustrations.
My service/consulting business took a 90% hit in revenue this summer. I’d call that aspect alone a failure. But is the business a failure? Am I a failure?
I’ve run a great business which has employed various people for 4 years. I’ve helped others experiment and live dreams they never thought they could. I did too for 6 months. I’ve been able to work from home, coach my kids’ soccer teams and experiment with new business ventures along the way. Frankly I built a cool business that afforded me the luxury of not working 80 hours every week, some weeks I barely worked 20 hours.
So that’d be a huge success in those aspects.
But I failed in bringing in enough new clients to handle the natural churn in the industry I’m in.
Failures Define Success
One cannot have success without failure. And like the yin and yang, there is a spec of failure in our successes and a spec of success in our failure. To illustrate this I’ll dig into the startup scenes current philosophy of failure. Basically they’re cool with experiments (businesses) failing as long as there is some learning happening. The spec of success in the failure of a business is the learning that happened. So Dodgeball sold to Google and later the founder Dennis Crowley left Google to found Foursquare. Dodgeball was a success in that it was acquired, but a failure in that Google killed it. The learning that Dennis acquired is partially not to sell your dream to Google, but more importantly he wanted to not sell at all. I’m certain there were significantly more learnings that were acquired during his time watching dodgeball fizzle at Google, but the lesson is that Dennis felt a sense of success and failure at the same time.
So in startup world failures can be successes as long as you harness the learning to propel you to a new success in the more traditional view of the word.
There’s no In-Between
Is this possible? Could everything that’s not achieving success be a failure to achieve that goal? The phrase that surfaces: “you’re either growing or you’re dying”. Could it instead be like the largest organ of the body, the skin. It’s both dying and growing at the same time. The skin’s goal is to keep a semi-permeable separation from the inside to the outside, sometimes it lets the wrong stuff in (radiation), or the wrong stuff out (hernia). Would we consider the skin a failure for 99.999% of the time keeping stuff out?
But in other conversations, a 0.001% failure is unacceptable. (That’s 5-6 minutes of downtime per year).
Life is too complex to be that black and white. the middle, the grey, the in-between is where we find ourselves most days. My faith heritage refers to this as working out your salvation, the belief is that we’re saved not based on what we do, but we need to improve while still here on earth.
So are we called to live in a constant state of discontent? Of not-quite-failing, but not-quite-achieving? It’s not directionless, we’re always trying to hit the mark of success but will we ever hit it?
We cannot call this part of the spectrum failure can we, are their degrees of failure? If so then there are degrees of success. I’ve failed to maintain a location independent sales funnel, but I have succeeded in providing value for my clients while location independent.
Has Zuckerberg hit his mark of success? Sure he’s a billionaire, but I doubt his goal was to become a billionaire. Very few people ever have the satisfaction of success especially in the entrepreneur camp. We seem to always be striving for something, some problem to solve. With Facebook as a public company Mark’s success could be wrapped in the current stock price, but that’s a fickle measure of success. If your business made it… if you IPO’ed and made a multi billion cash out. Would you cash in, call it a success and walk away? (plenty have) Or is there something more to achieve?
Success is a moving target
I once defined career success as making $50k in a year. This was way better than what my family grew up with, I figured that’d set my family up for future success and a life of living fine. However other factors come into play, and it’s not just inflation. And $50k is no longer enough to define success.
Lifestyle matters, and I’m not looking to own a boat and a fleet of cars, no I enjoy living and immersing myself in different cultures. Career success is now defined as can I live the lifestyle I want?
Yet it’s constantly a moving target. If success if defined by achieving goals and each time you achieve a goal you set a new one success while attained will never be obtained.
We define success by defining goals, achievable or not. these goals become the measure of success and conversely the measure of failure. So whatever word we use to define the middle it must have a directional element to it, not just an aimless middle. A moving, a growing, a heading. We need a word that describes the motivation, the struggle, the push, the drive.
I like how Jammer Hunt breaks failure down into 6 failures:
This is the really dark one. It marks you and you may not ever fully recover from it. People lose their lives, jobs, respect, or livelihoods. Examples: British Petroleum’s Gulf oil spill; mortgage-backed securities.
It cuts — deeply — but it doesn’t permanently cripple your identity or enterprise. Examples: Apple iPhone 4’s antenna; Windows Vista.
Going out in a botched but beautiful blaze of glory — catastrophic but exhilarating. Example: Jamaican bobsled team.
Everyday instances of screwing up that are not too difficult to recover from. The apology was invented for this category. Examples: oversleeping and missing a meeting at work; forgetting to pick up your kids from school; overcooking the tuna.
Small failures that lead to incremental but meaningful improvements over time. Examples: Linux operating system; evolution.
Failure as an essential part of a process that allows you to see what it is you really need to do more clearly because of the shortcomings. Example: the prototype — only by creating imperfect early versions of it can you learn what’s necessary to refine it.
So what if we put descriptors on Success as well? Eugene Eric Kim started that here.
The bare minimum indicators of a successful project.
I also call this “stretch,” because these scenarios should be hard, but attainable. These are the scenarios for which you aim. They should have about a 40-70 percent likelihood of happening if you do your work diligently.
Success beyond your wildest imagination. You are not expecting any of these to happen, but they are within the realm of possibility, and you are overjoyed if they do.
So is there room between Minimum Success and Common Failure?
In the illustration of my business, the Minimum Success would be to pay myself a wage that allows us to live at our minimum budget. the Common Failure would be to not have a location independent sales method in place. I could argue that it is more of a Structural Failure. But I still think the middle is where we spend most of our days, avoiding Structural Failures and fixing them when they occur. Dealing with Common Failures as par for the course and all at the same time achieving minimum success.
I nominate that we use the term insistent middle. Insistent Definition: “earnest or emphatic in dwelling upon, maintaining, or demanding something; persistent; pertinacious.”
I live in the insistent middle. I demand success, movement. I am persistent. I am earnest in this.
My success is never giving into failure as the end.
Chimp Jail, for those Mailchimp Banned users
I’m not an Affiliate Marketer.
But I must be a spammer.
Or I’m just a human making mistakes trying to skirt around the rules of the system.
I made some mistakes and I knew I was playing in a risky place.
And I got burned.
I love WordPress, and I love Mailchimp. Best part? They play so well together.
However I put all my personal projects, experiments, and my business through one mailchimp account. That’s a mistake. and the fatal error I made. When one list has issues mailchimp puts your whole account in “chimp jail.”
I should have had multiple accounts, one for testing (spamming?), one for business, and one for personal blogs like this one and our family travel blog. However having multiple accounts is also against Mailchimp’s Terms.
So a while back I wanted to tell my friends about our new travel blog. Since Gmail has a 500 emails (a day) limit and I wanted to email around 2,000 people I knew I should turn to a service.
I instantly went to Mailchimp.
And wouldn’t you know it I had a ton of old email addresses in my Rolodex (Google Contacts) and they bounced worse than kids with cotton candy in a bounce house.
So my account was suspended. I begged for the Chimp’s mercy (aka explained I won’t do this again) and they re-instated my account.
We’ve been blogging and using the Auto Chimp plugin which sends a new campaign for each blog post. Super simple and works really well to keep our list informed of what was going on with our family.
Then time moved on, I changed continents, twice.
And I forgot my lessons.
However when some cool stuff happened in the business and I started a new email list I wanted to invite my connections that I’ve made over the years. Let them know about the new activity and see if we can add them to the list.
So I turned to Mailchimp, and let ’em fly.
This time I used a service to clean up the bad emails and it worked really well.
However I was being cheeky with my audience and the subject line was “Invitation to Unsubscribe!” I had multiple calls to action within the email asking them to unsubscribe.
I was not the only one who thought it was great, I received over a dozen responses with most people saying they read it top to bottom just because it was so well written and they rarely read marketing messages.
But the unsubscribe rate was high, incredibly high. And the bounce rate was up there too.
So they put my account under review. And once again I groveled to the Chimp and explained that I wouldn’t do it again. They made me remove that list before I could send our normal blog post updates again.
They informed me that I need to email these people from gmail inviting them to subscribe through a double opt in.
Ug, that’s not fun. And at 500 a day that’s take a while (I send ~100 emails a day as it is)
So forget it, I still had my family’s blog hooked up to the account, and I was out of “chimp jail” since I removed the bad list(s) so we were good.
But what I didn’t realize was in the 7 days that the above was going on my family blog had been targeted with a bunch of spam form completions. And yes I had it set to single opt in, meaning someone completing the form would not have to click on a link in an email to be subscribed (thus verifying their email address)
I’ve had this set this way for almost 6 months.
Never had a single spam sign up.
Never thought about it again.
Then on Thursday when my wife posted a Throw Back Thursday blog post, we had a 50% bounce rate and the account was put in “chimp jail” again.
I begged for forgiveness… asked them to look at all of the bounces and realize that these addresses all signed up within the last 7 days and were obviously spam (Louis Vuitton Purse is NO ONE’s last name!)
The Mailchimp Abuse team did look deeper, they looked at my account track record and realized I have been an “abuser” and thus they asked me to use another Email service provider.
And that, kids, is how I got
Banned from Mailchimp!
Is that even possible? Would Mailchimp ban one of their fans who yes wears their t-shirts?
So what’s a digital marketer to do?
Yes I could create more mailchimp accounts (I have) and yes I will continue to use mailchimp.
But I wanted to be free from their tyranny.
And so yeah I could have done aweber or constant contact but for too long I’ve been singing the praises of Mailchimp for me to be happy with one of those services.
Instead I’m using a wordpress plugin called Mailpoet, mixed with Amazon’s SES platform for deliverability. I finally feel in control of my lists again.
Oh and the best part? Mailpoet has some sweet templates, and lets you control the design of the automatic newsletter, whereas AutoChimp did not have a way to pick a design.
So in the end, Thanks Mailchimp, the banning hurt for a couple of weeks but I’m back in a better spot now!
What about you? Have you been mailchimp banned? Have you found a better solution than Mailchimp?
I gave up.
Or better stated I quit.
And this isn’t my first time quitting!
On one hand we are told never to give up, that persistence pays off. Shoot, Angry Birds was Rovio’s 52nd attempt at making a game.
Yet on the other hand we’re told to say no to things that distract from the priority, from the goal.
The really insidious things are those goals/priorities that we don’t know we’re signed up for.
I quit those things. Er, I quit two of those things.
- Keeping up with the Jones’ and
- The American Dream
We have 4 kids, and we homeschool them. This effectively makes our family a location independent family.
I run a digital marketing strategy agency. I’ve been running that agency for 4 years since I quit the best job I ever had working with the great people at ddm. But the whole time I was building that agency I was working from my basement in Newaygo county. Quite literally from the woods of Michigan.
I was struggling with some of the decisions we had made, and frankly as an entrepreneur who loves to start things I was unable to keep up with some of the commitments we were making. For example, we committed to being a one car family and with 4 kids we drove a minivan.
Driving a minivan as a parent is no big deal. But using the minivan to meet with clients? I mean we were running a quarter million in annual revenue for four years why was I driving around in a minivan?
But I struggled with that, why do I need to keep up with the Jones’? Why do I need to feel bad when others show up to meetings in BMWs?
The dream for me is not to own a certain car. These things perish. And I know that if I work harder while my kids are young I could afford that BMW… but what am I sacrificing?
And then there was the farm, the weeds, the fencing needed to get a couple horses, the hay, the cows, the fruit trees we planted that didn’t get enough attention. We had a sweet little hobby farm but as a starter and not a finisher I was unable to keep up with it all.
And it was sucking the lifeblood out of me.
And doing damage to our family.
Selling it all
So we did what anyone with 4 kids would do.
We sold our house and 90% of our belongings.
We become homeless.
Yeah okay maybe not anyone with 4 kids.
But seriously, I espoused that stuff is not important, yet somehow I was stuck in the middle ground of having stuff and needing to maintain the stuff we had while not wanting more and better things.
If you say your stuff doesn’t own you… I challenge you to sell it all. Could you part with 90% of your stuff and life continue on as normal? The obvious answer is yes, but yet we don’t do it.
Because stuff brings us some strange level of comfort.
We left: Begin the Digital Nomad, Travel as a Lifestyle
After selling everything we had (and before some of it sold!) we left. We started out vagabonding in the Philippines and various other Southeast Asian countries.
For now we’re committed to 9 months of travel as a lifestyle. Of being homeless by choice.
From the woods in Michigan to the Beach in Bali.
We’re 1/3 of the way through our initial commitment. having visited and lived in 8 cities in 4 countries we’ve been on quite the journey so far.
and now I’m inviting you to join us.
Kortmans at Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur
Here’s the simple ways to join us. Feel free to pick one or all of them :)
Recently I celebrated with a few other contractors my first official year of being a freelance digital marketer. It’s been over a year and I’ve seen some crazy things happen. The largest one being that I intended to be a freelancer, and now I’m running a virtual digital agency. (Connex pays/represents 5 contractors, I happen to be the salesman, account manager and one of the contractors :)
I try to live my life with no regrets, and I do not regret leaving the best job I’ve ever had, however the road, the journey this first year has not proved to be easy. I’ve made many mistakes and my failures have become brighter, louder and more annoying to me.
So if you want some background on me quitting my job last year or the second company I started in the past year check those posts out, or the inspiration for this post, but if you want to know a fraction of the lessons I’ve learned in my first year read on. (more…)