Building Upon Success Through the Domino Effect

I’ve been reading “The One Thing”, a book that preaches focusing on one thing at a time in order to achieve extraordinary results. By doing so, your success will build gradually, in a kind of domino effect.  I believe this has been the case for me and it inspired this post.

I’ve been reflecting recently on my life and career.  I’m all together not entirely satisfied, so naturally I’m working on fixing that.  I’ve realized that of all the people that I look up to, do I know how they got to be so influential/successful/interesting?  Whether it’s a mega celebrity or your company’s CEO, often we just know them from their biggest, most public achievements.

I really wish folks would share more about the key moments in life that shaped who they are, especially in regards to their careers.  Not only is it fun to hear about, lots of great lessons can come from it.  In the spirit of things, here’s mine:

Childhood: My parents sit my brother and I down to read books every night.  The first thing that set me up for success - instilling an appetite for knowledge and continual learning.  Mom stays at home with us then later goes back to school to become a fifth grade teacher.  Dad goes back to school while moving up the ranks at Sears Corporate.  Watching them, I learn the second thing: hard work, discipline, and sacrifice.  Through the ups and downs of Life, they always put their children first.  Thanks, Mom and Dad! 

Middle school: I struggle socially with shyness.  My parents push me to “spread my wings”.  I do but they later come to regret this when I reach early adulthood and become fiercely independent.  A small, tight knit group of friends is formed.

High school: I still struggle socially and am not athletic, a formula for disaster in high school. I’m not naturally smart (meaning concepts don’t connect without effort) so I focus entirely on schoolwork.  The hard work pays off when I’m accepted to Marquette University.  I solidify three best friends who stand up at my wedding over a decade later.  They mean the world to me.

College: I view it as an opportunity to redefine myself socially.  I talk to everyone I can opening weekend, meeting many friends that are with me to this day.  I struggle for two years academically but refuse to give up.  I dedicate myself fully to computer science in later years, living in the computer lab while others party.  I be sure to schedule time with friends on Friday/Saturday nights, becoming the guy that plans all the gatherings.  I eventually excel overall, opposed to students who were naturals in high school and had ACT scores in the 30’s struggle for the first time.  I become President of the Spanish Honor Society, study abroad in Mexico for 6 weeks, build a EMR system for a non-profit Milwaukee clinic, intern with Motorola, and meet my future wife.

Post College: I land a job with The SAVO Group in Chicago as a junior developer after almost 100 failed job applications.  Humbled, I gradually work my way up.  I move out of my parents house almost right away, having missed the freedom of living on my own.

First two years:  I code small projects while my manager handles client interactions.  I realize that I’m a terrible programmer and put effort in and outside of work to get better, going to conferences on Saturdays and studying to become Microsoft certified.  I am forever indebted to my manager, who teaches me the best lesson yet of my career: knowing how to program while understanding the why of business turns you into an unstoppable force.

Next two years: I become confident in my programming abilities and begin experimenting on my own with side projects.  I create a Kinect iTunes app and some small Chrome extensions.  I begin to see the vast opportunities in front of me as I feel the exhilaration of publishing work in my own name publicly.  I begin interacting with clients on small projects and get promoted to Developer.  A coworker pays me several hundred dollars to create an application; I reinvest the funds into a powerful desktop computer that helps me to this day on new projects.  I marry my best friend, throwing the best celebration party ever!

Final two years: I stand out among my peers by: becoming the rare client-facing “super developer”, breaking down internal silos where possible, building relationships with management, becoming a SME and “go-to” guy, and creating a top selling application after grasping the business space.  I try my hand at mobile development after getting my first smartphone, creating a really neat Netflix app.  I love my first taste of entrepreneurship and begin aggressively studying business & marketing. Continuing the theme of creating things based on product gaps that I personally want and therefore am invested in, I create a fitness app, Fitwatchr, in 2013.  Growth picks up in 2014 after 6 months in the App Store, and I team up with another SAVO coworker.  I blog about my mobile apps and lessons learned and get noticed by other companies that need help on their mobile strategies.  I face my fear of public speaking by giving a speech at a tech conference.  My wife and I move to Seattle to try a new city while we’re still young and without kids.  I’m miserable working remotely and realize I need a change.  I make the hardest decision of my career and quit via a Google Hangouts session.  I still miss my colleagues dearly but do my best to keep in touch.

Present: I am introduced to a company, Slalom Consulting, that values hard work while still maintaining work/life balance.  After 6 months of new challenges and struggles being away from home, I help launch an international coffee company’s largest technology initiative yet.  I hit the ground running, beginning to establish myself as a leader within the company, doing such things as: taking nightly leadership training classes, joining Toastmasters, and being a spokesman for better quality & process improvement at the client.  I leverage my mobile experience to land an opportunity to create developer training videos for Pluralsight.  Recognizing my blessings, I begin a renewed focus on family, friends, and giving back (volunteering, coaching friends on their careers, and randomly sending books that have shaped who I am to those I love).

May 2016:  I write this blog post and can’t wait to add more to it!  I’m at a crossroads in my career, not fully knowing what the next 5 to 10 years will bring.  I’ll certainly focus on improving my leadership and development skills, knowing that eventually the path forward will become clear!

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