Lessons from 2015

Lessons from 2015

In taking some time to look back through my 2015 calendar and flip back through all of my posts for the year, I tried to sort things into two piles – things that went well, and things that didn’t go well.

Broadly, in my own life, I’m trying to focus more on things that are created, that move from the world of the mental into the world of the actual. I’ve tried to keep my went-well and didn’t-go-well piles limited only to that sort of thing, since it’s hard to say whether an idea “went well” if it did not result in any type of action or tangible outcome.

This Post is going to be just the things that I think could have gone better, or things that served more as lessons than as ongoing projects. I’ll also do a wrap up of things that I thought went well – but it seems appropriate to start with the lessons.

The DIY MBA Project

At the end of 2014, for some reason, I had it in my simonoudervc81am0a1-e1416486854386head that my path to success was in the direction of an MBA – not an actual MBA, but a sort of tech-industry, all-online, minimum-cash-output MBA. I started a blog, attended NYU’s Corporate Finance MOOC, and really stuck to it for a few months. I had a logo designed, a domain and everything.

I learned quite a lot, about myself, about the real value of MBA programs, and of course about finance. I learned, much to my astonishment, that I liked big mathematical ideas (the ones that border on philosophy?) more than I really liked the idea of working in finance. Thinking about what risk is, what it means, and how it should impact our behavior? Totally interesting to me. Determining Coca Cola’s overseas companies’ risk over T-bond rates? Not so much.

In diving into the business school type of thinking, it also became really clear to me that approaching an MBA as a do-it-yourself exercise, as a pure piece of education, knowledge-building type of thing, sort of missed the point. I think traditional MBA programs provide value to their students primarily via social capital, between members of the class, between members of the class and alumni, and in the inherent value of the business school’s name.

When it became clear that pursuing a DIY MBA was a cool educational venture but not going to provide the kind of value I was looking for, I pulled the plug. I feel like this was not a failure – I jumped in with both feet, I pursued it with hustle and tenacity, when I had new information that lead me to reconsider the value of the project, I re-evaluated and changed course accordingly.

Google Analytics Consulting

Did you know I’m a certified Google Analytics… uh… Analyst? Well, I am!

Google Analytics is a really amazing tool, and I still believe it can add a ton of value for any company pursuing revenue or leads on their website. I put together a volunteer project for a science nonprofit’s Google Analytics in 2015, as a way to dip a toe into the possibility of leveraging my skillset into a side business.

The volunteer gig was such a success,  in retrospect I should have put more hustle into pursuing this idea. I half-heartedly approached some friends who work in web design, to see if maybe I could create a relationship as a post-production value-add for their commercial customers, but that never panned out.

At the time it seemed like offering Analytics setup by itself wasn’t much of an offer – folks who didn’t know how to set it up by and large weren’t prepared to utilize even an established set of dashboards. Analytics seemed like it was a small piece of a bigger package that I’d need to offer.

In retrospect, this is clearly not true. Science from Scientists (the nonprofit mentioned above) found great value from the dashboards and automated reporting that I created for them. I think this was a failure primarily due to lack of commitment and hustle on my part. I was being a bit of a Peter Pan.

ConsiderBernie.com

This is more of a traditional make-stuff-on-the-internet thing. I was inspired by a similar type of web site that was floating around for then-nominee Obama. ConsiderBernie.com was a web site that, on refresh, would provide another reason for you to consider Bernie Sanders as the democratic nominee for President of the United States. 

This is maybe not a failure, since there is still time for Bernie, and for the site, too, but it was for sure a big learning experience. Growing a site like this is hard, and requires a lot of legwork to gain momentum. I have pretty much let it go on autopilot for the last few months, and it still gets more daily traffic than this blog does, so there is still some inertia there.

In my mind it was the sort of thing that could really grow, but I did not really take the time to attend to the needs of a growing baby website. Again, that’s my fault, not the fault of the site or the community or anything.

Speaking

I really like public speaking, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. I sort of have traditionally had in my mind the idea that all speaking engagements were equally valuable as far as advancing me toward my goals.

This is, of course, nonsense. The first problem is that I did not have any clear goals, so naturally, there was no way for me to choose speaking engagements that would move me toward those goals. Second, I was choosing or accepting speaking engagements that were time consuming and added little value to me – Mobile Readiness Checklist at a Wine Blogging Conference? I still shake my head.

It was a great conference for the attendees, and I’m sure added tons of value for them, but for me, the best part of that conference was getting tacos with Sheri.

Rugby

This one is a bit of a different flavor, but still stands out in my mind as something from 2015 that was troubling, and has impacted my journey. At a rugby tournament during an Irish festival this summer, I sustained a pretty serious knock to the head. It wasn’t even what you’d consider a big hit or a serious play, just a tackle and an unfortunate angle and then bright light.

It was bad enough to leave me seeing stars, and feeling impaired for an hour or two. A gallon of water, a can of Coke, and a greasy fairground Philly Cheesesteak had me feeling good enough to drive home, but the experience fundamentally changed the way I think about fitness and my own athleticism.

My brain is important – at that moment, sitting shaken and profoundly distressed, I realized I was alone, I had a half hour drive to pick up my daughter at my parents’, and then another two hours in the car to get us both home to my wife. I was scared, and I felt irresponsible – I hadn’t played dangerously, and my opponent wasn’t taking cheap shots, it was a natural if low-base-rate occurrence of a sport I’d played for over a decade.

So, after 12 years of play, I’m not playing rugby any more. It feels like something is missing, and has changed the way I think about my own body, and my own fitness, in really unexpected ways. Rugby is why I went to the gym. I’m not sure why I go now, but I’m figuring it out.

Button It Up Ouderkirk

In this summary of my missteps, you can see the seeds of my broad goals for 2016. I think the Analytics piece will play a role in the side income. I think the scattered way I approached speaking is part of what makes me want to be more focused, both on this platform and in my work more generally.

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