The last time I saw Bruce, he was bent over an old truck engine, taking a turn at a rusted lug nut. The garage was as cold as a meat locker, but that didn't stop the guys. They had a refuge from the dinner party, a mechanical project, country music, and a case of beer. By the time I got out there, half of the beer was gone, and most of the guys had worked up enough sweat to shed their coats.
Bruce cranked on the lug nut hard enough to cause the truck to move. His grip slipped, the wrench fell to the floor with a clang, and he came up with chunks of his knuckles freshly removed. Despite his best attempts, the engine won that night. With blood running down his hand, Bruce grabbed a fresh beer, opened it up, and took a swig while staring down his foe.
He surrendered the battle as he told his son-in-law that he'd have to take the truck into a garage with a lift where they could get to the problematic part directly. The truck hood was closed, and tools put away. We stayed out there a bit longer and talked about life and family in "these parts," near the border of Kansas and Missouri. Not much longer we had to say our goodbyes and return home.
For most of his life, Bruce drove a truck around the country. In the beginning, he worked for himself with his company name on the side of his rig. Towards the end of his career, his truck was adorned with a familiar big box store logo. I always enjoyed talking to Bruce about his job because talking to him was like taking several road trips. He was a living Rand McNally and knew every Interstate and highway for eight-hundred miles in every direction. Exit numbers were as familiar to him as stars are to an astronomer.
Just a few months ago, within the same week of losing a daughter to a decades-long battle with cancer, Bruce learned that he was inflicted with the same poison. Stage four, inoperable and maybe, but not likely, treatable, he was told that his time was limiteda year, maybe longer.
Unfortunately, Bruce didn't make it that far. It was one of the few, if not the only trip he did not complete. Sometime in the night Bruce Voigts (father, brother, uncle, grandfather, and great-grandfather) found his last exit and turned the wheel to the right. While I am sad that I will not be able to hear another story about his time on the road, I am glad that Bruce did not suffer for very long.
My longer-than-expected, un-intended, un-paid, dumb "sabbatical" is finally at an end. The last nine months have been exhilarating, fun, stressful, depressing, eventful, and then non-eventful. I spent more time talking to cats than any grown man should. I'm glad it's over.
I traveled more than I thought I would which led to making new friends and reconnecting with a few people I haven't talked to in years. I also got to spend more time with family than I have in a while. Looking back, things were not as horrible as they felt at the time, and I'm incredibly lucky to have had those opportunities.
Airbag signed two clients in 2015, which means I'll be able to celebrate the company's ten-year anniversary (soon and in full-on Storey Style). Boy, talk about your highs-and-lows...I don't think I'll bother putting together a Keynote deck for that party. I intend to write more about this, but for now, let's get to some great news.
Next week I will begin a new chapter in my career.
I have accepted an amazing position at IBM Design in Austin. A few years back IBM initiated a massive design program dedicated to a big, bold vision for the future. Today there are four hundred designers in the program, and hundreds more to come. IBM Design itself is bigger than any place I have worked before, yet it is tiny when you consider there are four hundred and twenty-five thousand employees around the world. As a Design Practice Manager, I will step into a new position on a new team that will work across all of IBM's business divisions. From what little I know about my role, I'm in for an incredibly crazy ride.
Thank you to everyone who went the extra mile for me in the last nine months, I won't forget it. To the Austin digital community-at-large, thank you as well for your support and selfish desire to have me stay in Austin. I'm not going anywhere.
Recently I caught a few episodes of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. If you haven't seen it yet, the show is just as the title says, comedians talking about their profession and life while drinking coffee and driving around (in amazing vehicles). Last season ended with a two-part episode featuring Jerry Seinfeld and Jimmy Fallon. While funny throughout, there was this exchange that caught my attention:
Given their success and how long they have been in business it seems unfathomable that Jimmy and Jerry have these thoughts, but they're human, so it makes sense. Anyone who steps forward and takes a risk, at some point, will feel they are in the wrong placeIt's just a matter of time. Continue to take risks and the feelings are bound to return.
I have had these feelings of self-doubt several times in the last twenty years. Moments when I felt I had no business being where I was. Usually around times when I dared to take a leap into the unknown. It's comforting to know that despite the level of success, everyone suffers through self-doubt from time-to-time.
This is all a good reminder that as long as I keep pushing myself, my job title may change, but the role will remain the same, Imposter.
"Are you a movie star?" he asked without waiting for an answer, "You're a star, I know it." That is the greeting I received walking into Burns Tobacconist in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee. We arrived at 11AM as the store was preparing for afternoon customers. A clerk tended to some bookkeeping while another restocked inventory. In the back corner stood a large man, next to his shoe shine stand, seemingly eager for conversation.
It was a little early to shop for a cigar, but we were there to get a photographeverything else that was about to happen was a bonus round.
As we asked for permission to take photos in the store, the man in the back continued to bellow, "You're a star, I know it! Go on, get your cigar, and come see me." I was more than happy to oblige. After a quick review of the inventory, I purchased an Oliva Serie V Double Torro. Cut and torched, I took a few good draws and headed straight for the stand.
Sherman put his newspaper down and prepped the stand for service. I climbed, sat down, took a quick puff, and he immediately went to work. While he cleaned the shoes, I tried to tell the man that I was not a star, but it's not clear that he understood or cared. Though I doubt many people walk into the shop with a photographer in tow, my guess is that he treats everyone with the same positive gustoa constant salesman.
Through the shine, Sherman gave me his take on life, especially pertaining to the pursuit of dating women. "The first thing women do is look at your shoesthis is what I try to tell these men (motioning around the office buildings surrounding us)if you don't take care of your shoes; women ain't interested." He continued, "When you go to the church picnic, the first thing they look at is your shoes. And if they like your shoes, next thing they ask is what kind of car you drive. And if they like your car, next they ask what you got in your pocket. And if you say, I have money in my pocket, then they say, okay, I'll let you take me out for a chicken and steak dinner."
These tidbits of wisdom were offered several times, in different configurations. It was clear to me that three things mattered the most in Sherman's world: well-shined shoes, women, and chicken and steak dinners (in that order).
As he preached, Sherman repeated a process which included polishing, buffing with a rag, buffing with a machine, more polishing, drying with heat, and more buffing. He did these things three times. Meanwhile, Chloe took photos from every angle possible, and I enjoyed every bit of the Oliva. This scene went on for twenty minutes. I wasn't a star when I walked into the shop, but I was starting to feel like one.
Unfortunately, the shoe shine came to an end. Sherman rolled my pant cuffs down and put things away. Chloe packed her camera. My time in the smoky limelight finished. We came into the store to find a final backdrop for a photoshoot, but got a lot more. Unintentionally, my world had grown richer; I made a new acquaintance, andyegods!my loafers looked better than new. I was ready for my chicken and steak dinner.
You can see the photo, and read my interview, in the May 2015 issue (the "Money Issue") of Net magazine.
I'm often asked how I'm doing. I do my best to put on a good face, but the truth is that some days my mental state is all over the place. The hardest part of this transition is the solitude. She Who Saves the Planet from Exploding Refineries is traveling more than she's supposed to which means that more days than not the only words I hear are my own. And that's only when I start talking to the cats.
Last fall I went from years of office chatter, Slack channels (previously Campfire) full of banter and animated GIFs, lunch dates, Skype meetings, phone calls, and the occasional happy hour to a twice daily scrum with cats. On an average day, my inbox received anywhere from 150-200 messages. Now, it's quiet. God help you if we talk by phone or Skype. I'll talk your ear off like an AARP member who calls QVC to chat about air purification systems, because the kids have stopped visiting, and Matlock isn't on for another hour.
If I've learned anything about myself in the last couple of months, it's that I would make a horrible cast away. At least I've got cats.
Grandma Storey once asked me what I thought hell was. Her question was pretty deep for a twelve-year-old. I hadn't given it much thought beyond the fire and lava pits depicted in Sunday school. In response, she told me that her idea of hell was to be "truly alone." Now that I think about it, she may have been reflecting on her situation at the time. Earlier in the year she had lost her husband leaving only his grandfather clock to fill the house with sound--not nearly enough to replace his booming personality. That said, I thought my version of hell, with the fire and the lava, was much more frightening.
Back to the present time, honestly, I'm in a good place. I am grateful to have the opportunity to take time to figure out exactly what I want to do next and with whom. Each week brings new ideas, introductions, and potential. It has been great to talk to so many people about possibilities, conversations that otherwise would likely have not taken place.
I look forward to being a part of a team again, having a Slack account, Inbox 200, non-QVC phone calls, meetings, reviews, and happy hoursthough sooner than later. If this "solace" continues much longer, I might have to get a fern and that, Grandma, would be hell to me.
News of GigaOm's demise hits hard this evening.
In the search for words in response of my own, I came across Wren's, and she puts it so well, "The web I fell in love with is disappearing into Nothingness. No doubt we get the web that we deserve. Now get off my damn lawn." It's true. Slowly but surely it feels like everything we built from 2000-2010 is fading fast or already gone forever.
Back in 2005, the boys at 9rules were on fire, creating some of the hottest properties on the Internet at the time. They were one of the first groups to recognize the blog format's commercial potential. Amidst the group, Mike Rundle, helped to elevate the experience of a blog through his design. Mike's work attracted a lot of attention because of the influence 9rules had on content site design at the time.
Mike's work on the redesign of GigaOm had an impact on all digital design in the day. The site became a destination for what was considered "great design" and was referenced often by Airbag clients back then. PaidContent, in particular, wanted/needed an experience that was on par with Rundle's work on GigaOm, a direct competitor. It was a tough gig to follow because Mike's minimalist work on GigaOm left little room to differentiate visually, and I was damned if I was going to deliver a carbon copy of someone else's work. Especially that of a good friend.
I was never a big GigaOm reader, but it was always a cornerstone of the Internet that I knew and love. And now, like a handful of other pieces from another era, it is gone. I'm all for the "new" taking over the "old," but, tonight this news...well, this just sucks.
A few weeks ago my niece completely lost it. If there was a Richter scale for child meltdowns I would put it somewhere around 8.4. She was screaming at concert grade decibel levels and there were a few times when no sounds came out at all, but you could hear it all the same. Although she's not old enough to form sentences, she was very aware that in a short while she'd have to head home. With the van all packed her mother asked her to say goodbye. She replied with a quick and defiant, "No!"
Nobody could blame her, we didn't want to say goodbye either. Our family had just enjoyed a glorious, long weekend together for the first time in many years. It was a moment that none of us wanted to end.
When you're a part of something great, it's the last thing that you want to ever have to do, but often circumstances, whatever they may be, necessitate saying goodbye.
In the last ten years, I have been a part of something great, really great. In the early days it was called Airbag which later merged with Happy Cog. It started eleven years ago at a lunch with Jeffrey Zeldman. During a meal of Thai food, Jeffrey strongly encouraged me to leave my job and start freelancing. Eventually I did, and turned a one man operation into a ten person company. Later, I met Greg Hoy, who had partnered with Jeffrey. He had established his own office and turned Happy Cog on its head with impressive success. Later, Greg and I decided to stop competing against each other and turned our friendship into family.
I'll never forget that Friday night during 2008 SXSW Interactive when Greg and I went over to the Cedar Door after dinner. We purposefully went to a corner of downtown Austin that was opposite to all of the big parties. The large back patio was empty and easy to claim as our own for the night. Hoy launched some newly minted Twitter app and posted our location. Moments later our friends and "family" started appearing, seemingly out of the wood-work. It didn't take too long for the fifty or so seats to be completely packed and remain that way into the early morning hours.
From that night forward, The Greg's were formed and we have had amazing times ever since. In addition to his business acumen and entrepreneurial knack, Hoy has a spirit for travel and traveling well. No matter where we had to go for business, Greg made sure that we were staying, eating, and imbibing at smart, swanky, and eclectic placessometimes all three. It also helped that we both enjoy dead grapes and dead cow, especially when one is paired with the other. When Airbag merged with Happy Cog, I didn't end up with just a business partner, I gained a friend, a mentor, and a brother.
As much as Greg and the rest of Happy Cog made it a joy to come into work every day, the services business has been grinding away at me. I have found myself more and more distracted by the realities that come with the peaks and valleys of the services business model. And this stupid year certainly did nothing to help relax that anxiety. More importantly, I miss being able to stick with a project or a property to see things through. The relationship between the service provider and the client feels more and more surrogate than nurturing in nature.
Several weeks ago, Greg and I were faced with making difficult, but necessary changes to the company. We ran through several scenarios and all the while, the voice inside my head and my heart screamed, "No!" I knew there was a better option, but I did not want to say it (hell, I don't even like writing about it now). At a quiet point during the discussion, shaking and crying on the inside, I stepped forward, suggested a different future, and said goodbye to my family.
Sitting across from Zeldman on that fateful winter afternoon in 2003, I would have never imagined the future that was before me. I have had so many wonderful experiences. If not for Jeffrey I might still be stuck at that dead end job, but instead he opened a door with a lot of opportunity. Greg came along and kicked that door wide open in a way that set the bar very high. We have had an extraordinary ride and that is going to be difficult to replace, if that's even possible.
I am sincerely grateful to the people I had the opportunity to work with at Airbag and Happy Cog. I'm thankful to my clients without whom, I would never be in a position to write this post. Thank you to my family who were there to give me the push I both wanted and needed in the beginning and the support at the end.
The great thing about saying goodbye to family is that often it's relatively short lived. Soon I'll get to visit with my niece again. We'll pick back up where we left off, reading about mermaids and playing with blocks. Though it's only been a few weeks, I already miss Greg and my Happy Cog family dearly. I look forward to the time when we'll see each other again, pick up where we left off, and have many laughs.