Did you ever take time to reflect on the journey that you have taken to get you where you are today? This thought has been on my mind for a couple of months now and I thought I would write a blog post about it.
I believe that you have different stages/era's in your life. What do I mean by that? For example, when you are in High School, that is my High School era, college, well you guessed it is the college era. But other's era's and stages can be different based on your life choices. I was married at a very early age and my wife and I had children very early in our marriage. While some have single life era without kids, I never had that. Others get married and don't have children for 5 or 10 years, I did not get to experience that either.
After my high school and college era, I had the married with children era. Getting married at a young age and then having children was very difficult. If you look a society today, the odds were against my wife and I making it. (We have beaten the odds thus far). I have lot's of good memories from that era and some not so good. I was very in-mature during that era, but having children taught me patience and made me much less selfish.
During that era, I was also starting my career. I was living in Illinois as the time working for a company that resold Compaq computers and they started to get into Windows Server networks and also installing Exchange servers. (I have been installing/supporting Exchange since the Exchange 5.0 days). After I married my wife and we found out she was pregnant with my oldest daughter, we decided to move back to Wisconsin.
The company I was working for had an office in Brookfield, Wisconsin and I interviewed and I was offered a job. I was also interviewing at IKON Office Solutions, but they had a very long interview process (I had three in-person interviews) and was getting restless. Fortunately, I told one of the people I was interviewing I was flustered and he told me to hold out, I was going to get an offer, it was just a bit delayed. He was right, I did get a job offer and I went to work for IKON Office Solutions. That ended another ERA for me, living in Illinois. I grew up in Northern Wisconsin and moved to Illinois to go to college. For a small town boy, it was an awesome experience and I had a lot of fun.
Do you ever have one of those times that you could pick two paths and the outcome of where you are at today could be affected by the path you took? The job decision between IKON and the company I worked for Entree PCS was one of those times. Hindsight being 20/20 the Entree had financial issues and had to sell to a competitor, I would have been downsized. They also did not have a great team in place in Wisconsin. IKON on the other hand had a great team and to this day is the best collection of people I have ever worked with. I learned a ton on consulting with customers and working with Firewalls/routers/switches and many other technologies. I do have to thank two people for assisting me in getting the job at IKON Todd Thorson and Randy Thoele. Randy recommended that I interview with IKON and told Todd to hire me. Todd was smart enough to listen and also told me to wait for the job offer.
I have many more people to thank and I am going to include one more, Bill Koch. Bill is a brilliant man and has probably forgotten more about IT Security and IT networking than some people know. Bill was a mentor and helped get my start in IT Security and IT Networking. I would not be where I am at today without Bill's help. Todd has also been a good mentor over the years and I would not be where I am today without his help. Had I not taken the IKON job, I would have missed out on working with two great mentors and it would not have led to my next adventure.
For those of you who were in the work force at the time, the time before Y2k was a boom time, everyone was updating computers and networks due to the feared Y2k bug, which it turns out was oversold as an issue. After Y2k, the tragic event of 9/11 happened. IKON had an interesting strategy on buying IT Companies, they bought successful companies in different markets and all of the business models were vastly different. This made it difficult to impossible to streamline operations and after the two events mentioned above, they were bleeding money. What I discovered later was IKON was interested in getting copiers connected to the network and thought buying IT companies would give them an advantage. Without a cohesive strategy, it was destined to fail and it did. IKON had three rounds of layoffs and I was one of the last ones to close the doors and turn out the lights on the IT business. IKON did get into the document management business, but that is another story for another time.
I was told I was being downsized when I returned from Thanksgiving vacation. (Actually, I knew before hand, but that is yet another story for another time). At that time, my wife and I had two children ages 3 and 6 months and we had just purchased a house a year before, so yes it was a stressful time. That ended an ERA that was probably one of the best working experiences I had and the best team I have ever seen. If you put that team back together, it would beat a lot of the other consulting companies in the area.
That lead to my another crossroads in my life. I had always wanted to start a business. The method IKON choice to close the business, I did not have to worry about a non-compete. I also had three months of severance to support my family until I had my business established. I also interviewed with various consulting companies in the area. I had an interview that stood out. I had an owner of a consulting company that is no longer in business ask what my client list was, I told him he would see it when I was hired, it was clearly agitated. It was then I realized that the consulting companies at the time were only after my client list. I decided I would go into business and start a company. It was exciting and scary at the same time.
Once I committed, I started calling the clients I worked with at IKON to see if they would continue to work with me and I had enough to start a business (JSO Technology LLC) and support my family. I had to learn how to sell, invoice, work with vendors, get lines of credit and make sure I payed the bills and paid the taxes. I also had to learn out to market and develop process. It was baptism by fire. I also decided that I was not going to wait until January 1st to contact clients, I did it right away and I got a head start on others who also started there own businesses. My wife and I were very frugal that first year and were very careful with our expenses due to concern about what our tax bill would be. That allowed for a nice cushion in the business and also allowed me to contribute to a SEP-IRA. It was around that time I got some very good advice from a client. He told me I was be making some good money, make sure I saved some of it for retirement. I took his advice and always contributed the max amount to my retirement account I could. Had I took the consulting company and some would say safe path, I have no idea if I what my life would look like and if I would have met all of the interesting people I met while running a business.
I ran that business for about 4 years and then I added a business partner. That ended the ERA of working on my own. During that time my wife and I had another child and moved to a bigger house in a better school district. That also ended the era of having all of my children at home, my oldest daughter had started Kindergarten.
By adding a business partner, we grew the business from the two of us into 11 people and grew revenues. This time was stressful as growing a business hiring people and still attempting to have a life at home was challenging. In growing the business we added a lot of great clients and I figured out how to market and work with vendors to grow the business. We also joined business groups and hired coaching. (Including a coach we both thought was high when giving business advice, that is an interesting story in and of itself). My wife also got involved and was extremely helpful keeping the books and started to help run the office as we had moved into a office and the employees needed someone to manage them.
I was still a bit immature and did not listen/compromise like I should have and that led to a crack in our partnership. (Other events happened that caused that riff and stress). Right around June of 2011, I sold the business to my business partner and we entered a time were we did not speak to each other very much. It was also around that time we had all three children in school and my wife and I were running constantly to different events and my oldest decided to play in select basketball, which was a lot of weekend running for 5 months out of the year. If I could do it over again, I would not have her join select basketball. While she enjoyed it, it took away from family time with the other children and let me tell you, the time you have with your children goes by fast. That was the end of an ERA with a business partner and we were entering an ERA with our children I call the running era. We were always running somewhere, that along with running a business left little time for much else.
That lead to my next ERA which was starting yet another business, but a more focused business. I started out with about 4 clients. It was much less stressful and I found my happiness again. I also think this probably saved my marriage. Looking back on it, I was ignoring my wife and my children and resentment was building. I was such an ass at the end of running JSO Technology I was difficult to be around. With the start of TBJ, my wife helped with billing marketing and with vendors. It was during this time I rebuild the relationship with my wife and kids. Had I not sold JSO Technology, I have no idea what my life would look like today, but probably divorced and unhappy. At the time I was not happy about selling it as I thought we were close to taking it to the next level. In reality, we were all close to burning out and losing everything.
I learned from past mistakes of taking on to0 much and started writing processes and handing it off to her. But I have such a desire to build/learn and my wife tells me I have a hard time saying no, that I started to build my new business TBJ Consulting LLC. While it never reached the size of JSO Technology, I did add a bunch of clients and some very good vendors. Around 2015, the cloud was becoming more a topic and the services I was offering at the time were going to be needed less and less. I also had never worked in-house IT, I had always been a consultant. I was debating if I should grow the business or become more hyper-focused on IT-Security.
During that thought process, a change happened at my current employer were the Director of Security and Network Services opened up. After much thought and discussion with my wife, we both agreed it was time to make a change. Since I seem to learn lessons the hard way, I had build TBJ Consulting up to the point of being stressful again. I also had children either in high school or entering high school and I wanted a change with a more predictable pace. I decided to take the job and I gave my consulting clients to my old business partner. It was also during that time that he and I got over old wounds and started to hang out again. He was my best friend and it was difficult not having a relationship or reaching out to talk to him about certain issues. This end my ERA as business owner and was starting the ERA with teenage children.
Six years later I am still the Director of Security and Network services. While I do miss meeting new people and some of the challenges as a consultant, I don't miss the crazy hours I use to put in. It was challenging transitioning to in-house IT after being your own boss for 15 years. I learned how to compromise and work with others. The days were I could just demand something or do whatever I wanted was over. I have also developed much better listening skills. Overall, this experience has rounded me and while initially I struggled in the role, I do an effective job today. Like I said it is difficult to go from being your own boss to have others to answer to. I was always on the revenue side of a business, being on the cost side is also a different experience. It was during this time my business partner from JSO Technology and I became good friends again. I have valued the time I have spend with my children. Two of them our out of the house and I was have missed out on a lot of experiences with them had I not decided to take this job. I am also entering into a time with my wife were it feels like we are dating again. We got married fast and had kids right away, we never really had time to date. Due to all of the needs and activities the children have, many couples grow apart. I feel had I not taken this job, that wold have happened to us. She is truly a great partner in life and marrying her is one of the best decisions of my life. I am also entering a time were retirement is 15 to 20 years in the future.
In writing this it is interesting to think what would have happened if I made a different choice in my life, would I be married? Had I handled things different, would I be running a 50 million dollar consulting business with my business partner. If I did not listen to Randy's advice, would have started and run a business? Would I be in my current position, or would I be a network administer. Would I have had the great experience and mentorship I found at IKON had I worked at Entree? Would I have the relationships I have with my adult children today?
Now that I am looking at retirement in the next 15 to 20 years, I wonder what my next phase/ERA is going to look like? Am I going to get back into consulting in the future ? When do I retire? What does retirement look like? What I am going to do in retirement? Am I going to see a team like I saw at IKON again? If it is anything like the past 25 years, it will be an interesting, flustering and stressful at times. It will also be interesting to see what the next cross-roads looks what and what that decision will lead to?
I believe you can learn something about reflecting, You can learn about the mistakes you made and how to avoid them in the future. You can also look at who helped you get were you are today and thank them. Finally, you should give your wife or life partner a hug/kiss for putting up with all of your bullshit and continuing to support you. You should also thank you children for having to deal with you when your are grumpy and short with them when all they want to do is play.