Moving On – What Will I Do Next

What does it look like to let go of the past and “move on” into the future? Free from the entanglements of what is behind you… free from past relationships… free from past experiences… free from past failures and successes… to simply let it all go and “move on?” That’s what’s on my mind this morning… not as something I”m dwelling on, but something I’m curious about.

I have a friend who’s had everything “fall apart” on him. His wife left him. His kids went with her. His career dreams blew up in his face. He got sick – not just sick like I don’t feel well but sick as in they have to remove a portion of my organs so that I’ll survie sick. Other jobs crashed and burned. His kids are growing up around him. He couldn’t afford a place to live.

And he says he feels like everyone is telling him to just “move on.”

I asked him, one day, who this “everyone” is that is telling him this. Who is it that’s telling him that he needs to just forget about all this stuff in his life, leave his baggage at the door, and walk into a new life. I asked him if there was a single person that he knew that cared about him that said that. And of course, no, there wasn’t. No one that cared enough about him believed you could just leave those things behind. While they need not define you, they are part of you., and your past. They’ve had a hand in making you who you are.

I have a job – a business, in fact – that had a client that occupied a huge portion of our Profit and Loss statement. Without them, we wouldn’t have been able to do what we did for a living. And they sold the business. “What now,” I asked. I’ve come to be so dependent upon this monster of a customer that I don’t know how, or if, I can “move on.”

I have a relationship – well, I had one – that didn’t pan out as it’s “supposed to.” Things didn’t work out between me and this older man the way you expect it to when you’re a kid, or when you’re a grown man. Sometimes things go from ok to decent, and some times they go from bad to worse. Lately, there’s just been this sense of confirmation that I need to let go, let God, and “move on.”

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My business seems so “trivial” compared to matters of life like family, health, and self esteem. And it is. But it seems that there’s a common thread here – the feeling that to move into the future we have to just ditch the past, to completely remove ourselves from it, in a way that it can no longer affect or hurt us.

I don’t feel that’s the way it has to be anymore. Frankly, I don’t feel that’s the way it SHOULD be, or CAN be. In fact, I guess if I’m honest, I believe that mindset will not free us from the past, but instead chain us to it,. because we refuse to accept what is part of our story.

My past – my friend’s past – does not define who we will become. But it has a hand in who we are right now. I have a quote – actually, I guess perhaps it’s not a quote, but it comes from a plaque that Rudy Giulliani had hanging on his wall on 9/11/01. “I am responsible,” it said. I took that, with the help of a friend and coach in my life, and turned it into this:

“I cannot change what has brought me to today, but I take responsibility for what happens tomorow.”

I can’t do anything about my client selling out. My friend can’t go back and fix something so that he won’t get sick. He can’t even go back and fix something to salvage his marriage. Until someone discovers time travel, and even then I don’t know how it would work, we simply can’t change the events that have brought us to be who we are.

And that’s ok. In fact, if we believe what we say when we say “God uses all things…” then we have to admit that it was somehow part of God’s plan for our life, and that makes it something that’s not terrible, but acceptable.

I no longer want to just “move on.” I don’t want to just replace my client with 5 other smaller clients that I do the same thing for. I want to take what I’ve learned, through success AND failure, and learn from it… apply it… use it… to become all that I can be. I want my friend to be free to look ahead in life for once. To dream again. To gain a perspective of how where he is now might STILL fit into the dreams and ideals he thought God had for him. Not “despite” what’s happened, but “in light” of it. I want to step forward from where I am in this broken relationship, not shunning it or embracing it, but accepting it for what it is.

Our past does not define us. Our past does not make us who we will become. But it does have a hand in who we are right here. For some, that’s terrifying. For others, it’s something they’re proud of. But in neither situation does the past say what you will do next.

What. Will. I. Do. Next.

THAT is the question.

Where I want to get to with my business

I spent the last 90 minutes out on my deck… first doing some reading, and then doing some pacing, talking out loud, and the occasional pullup as I talked through some real stuff. And I realized some things:

5 years from now, I don’t want to be doing what I’m doing right now. In fact, I’d rather not be doing what I’m doing right now, RIGHT NOW. But as I think this through, I believe this is a transition period, not just for the sake of income, but for the sake of transitioning my company to what I want it to be, and to do.

It all seemed to start with some “I want to” and “I don’t want to” statements, such as:

  • I want to care for my own products, not someone elses. 
  • I don’t want to be fixing servers, repairing firewalls, or rebuilding spyware infected computers as part of my business.
  • I want to create “core” solutions and customize them to different markets/niches, and then maintain them. Not administer them. Maintain them. Take care of the customers, and the product.
  • I don’t want to be doing service calls, help desk calls, or “whatever you need IT” calls for products not related to the core of my business.

My initial thought is, well, that’s changing most of what I do each week! YES! I spend so much time each week chasing problems and developing quick little fixes that I don’t have the time or the energy to focus on the solutions I can provide to solve the bigger problems I know about, but simply can’t develop effective solutions to.

As I thought this, I came up with some more.

  • I don’t want to just be a software development company either.
  • I see several core products – 2-3 for starters, maybe 4-6 in the future – that I want to build, “niche-ify,” and then provide (sell/market/network) to various areas.
  • I want to develop a network of support that can support these products, both by recommending hardware and other IT services that don’t “fit” into what we do.

So what are these core products? These core “concepts” I’d like to develop? Here’s what’s on the list right now. One of these is brans spanking new from over the past few weeks, but especially today:

  • A ticket management solution for fleet and home-service focused businesses.
  • A knowledge management solution for connecting churches to public schools.
  • A goal management solution to provide electronic goal planning and organization, calendaring, task management, delegation.

Each of these “ideas” fits into the bullseye of what I want my company to do. Develop a core product, that can then be customized to various industries. I also notice that each one ends in “management solution.” This seems important. It’s the core of what we do, I think. We take “pieces” that the customer already has and help them organize, manage, and take care of them. Each of these solutions can further be focused to specific industries as we develop them. For instance, I have a client interested in a ticket management system for their contracting company that would be rather basic, but still specific to that industry in terms of work flow, billing, etc. I also have a specific geographical area interested in the knowledge management solution, a “way” the information would flow, and specific pieces we would build into it and then who we’d “market it” to.

And the goal management solution? This is one of the coolest. It’s something I think I need for myself on one level. I am making up all these goals and seeing others that need to be made, but simply putting them on a “list” one page after another doesn’t work for me very well. I need what I’m starting to call a list of “goal dependencies” for each goal, so I can see what it depends on, and what depends on it. I also need it to integrate into my calendar, my task list, and several other areas so that I can actually integrate my goals into the way my daily life works. I see this product as being marketable not only to goal-minded individuals, but also to business/life coaches, planning committees, high school sports coaches, corporations, and to anyone who wants to look at the big picture, break it down into bite size pieces, and then see what’s necessary to accomplish those bite size pieces, and so on and so forth.

As I look at these, I see an already-successful side of my business, that while not a huge portion of the business, is quite significant. I am the “IT Consultant” for a nationwide association of franchises of a large corporation, and I provide them a backoffice management solution that takes data “available” to them from the corporation and turns it into useful reports, tools, and other stuff they can actually use to run their business. This data is not easily available to them because of it’s format and where you have to go to get it, but I’ve developed a system that automates the capture and processing of that data, and then makes it very easy for them to get – to the point of it showing up in their mailbox every morning! This established line of business already brings in over $50,000 per year, and while it’s market is limited (even shrinking), it is a success story that I have accomplished in this line of work. It is very low maintenance on the daily side, solves numerous specific problems for our clients, and is well worth any money they spend on it.

I have another project right now I’m bidding on that is a customer and job-based image management solution. This one will take the “problem” of thousands and thousands of pictures taken on high-res cameras and automatically resize, store, and secure them so both the company and it’s clients can access their data when and where they need it. Again… they do their job, and we take care of the storing, managing, and presenting of that information back to them. They don’t have to worry about filing, resizing, organizing, or “taking care” of all that data.

These ideas motivate me! They drive me! Why? Because they fit into what I want to do with my life. I want to be free to take 2 weeks of vacation without worrying that one of the 20 servers I “maintain” will go down. I want to have systems in place that take care of themselves, and yes, while they’ll need maintenance and continual development, they don’t need babysat. That’s what I feel I’ve turned in to, and it explains both why it’s hard for me to justify raising rates to levels I’d like to across the board, and why I’m not satisfied. I’m tied down, I’m primarily doing maintenance and fix-it work instead of core solution development and then niche-ifying it.

So these are big-level goals for the company. There is a transition piece to it all, i’m sure, but that transition has to fit into the big picture, both for the company, and beyond that, for my life and those involved. I want to provide meaningful, useful, and ongoing products that are both self-maintaining and profitable, and that can be continaually added to to provide additional value to my clients and added markets to my company. I also want to keep things focused enough that they don’t become so generic that aren’t specific enough for specific applications. That’s why I like the idea of a “core product” that can then be further developed for specific industries or niches. It creates not only additional opportunities for us to reach specific “groups” beyond single user accounts, but also allows us to build onto what already exists for better pricing for future products.

That’s it for now. Had to get these thoughts down. The goal planning system is especially interesting to me right now, because I need some sort of scaled down version of it for my own life, and I want to integrate it with my blog, with my calendar, with the tasks I do each day, and with the relationships I build.

A Hope and a Future

Jeremiah 29:11. An often used verse of hope for the future:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

How nice. Plans for a future. Hope in the future. But what about today? It wasn’t until I read the book Run With The Horses by Eugene Peterson that I saw this verse in it’s context.

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Yes, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the LORD.

This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

Jeremiah 11:4-15

So often we use these verses as a “put your hope in the future.” We wind up in a situation or stage of life we can’t bear to live in, so we close our eyes to it and “look ahead.” But that seems to be the exact opposite of what God was telling the people to do, and the place at which this verse finds its home. These Israelites being written to are in exile. They’ve been taken from their home that God gave them, and are now living in a pagan land, surrounded by pagan people, pagan idols, and a pagan way of life. And what does God tell them to do?

  • Build houses and settle down
  • Plant gardens and eat what they produce
  • Marry, have kids, so that you can have grandkids
  • Pray for the prosperity of those who’ve taken you into exile

Every one of these seems counter-intuitive. You’d think that if you were in a place you didn’t want to be and hoped to get out of soon, you wouldn’t settle down or take the time to plant a crop of tomatoes. You’d do everything you can to prepare for your return. You’d live in seclusion, trying to separate yourself from the world around you. But God warns the people to not even listen to the prophets that tell the people what they want to hear (that they’ll be headed home soon). This exile thing is serious. It’s going to span multiple generations. BUT, says God, it’s not the end. I have plans for you. This is for your good. All of this pain, is for your good.

Over and over again, even in these few verses, God reminds them of the long term promise: I will bring you back. You may not even be alive when I bring you back in 70 years, but I will do it. Live like you want your family to be alive and ready when that time comes. Live like you believe in me. That’s where this “hope and a future” concept comes from… not simply hoping tomorrow will get here sooner, but hoping and realizing that today is part of the path God has for me to get there.

This understanding of the context of Jeremiah 29:11 has both helped me see the bigger picture of the hope God wanted for the Israelites, and has also opened my eyes to the world around me. The hard things I go through – whether they are learning new skills, parenting an infant, dealing with my own faults, living in an imperfect family… these things need not determine my future, but they are part of it. The future 5 years from now depends somewhat on what I do today, tomorrow, and next week. God’s promises will be fulfilled, but that doesn’t mean I should (or can) sit idley by and let him do all the hard work.