Are you adaptable?

The mission of this blog is simple: to share stories about how people adapt during periods of success and failure.

I’m not a success. I’m not sure a thing like that really exists. For me, both success and failure seem like fixed points on a graph. Their overall trend is really an indication of how people adapt during specific challenges. Their overall trend tells a story of how adaptable someone was in a given period of time. And focusing on those individual points requires understanding the circumstances that define those events, and the choices available to the individual.

The general trend of this may tell a story of overall success, or failure. But it’s really telling a story about the ability of one person to adapt.

In a perfect world, any of the blogs you read talking about success or failure would share stories of both people who have yet to achieve any critical mass, and people who have achieved it. Because I guarantee that the actual product of the successes or failures they’ve had can be drastically different. But the feeling of accomplishment for overcoming a challenge is nearly universal. And the types of challenges people face are relative to what they want to achieve.

Regardless of what you want to achieve, you have to invest yourself in the challenge.

So, here’s my story.

I once worked for an agency that built sites in WordPress. It was my first real job out of college. Having studied history, and having no background in technology, or computer science, WordPress was a phenomenal tool to propel me into that world. And living in Austin, it was the perfect way to hit the ground running in tech.

I learned a lot. But I wasn’t able to adapt. And when it was time for change my boss and I agreed I should move on. Over the next three years, I was faced with a similar challenge: it was time to adapt. The first thing I did was I tried to build sites for local businesses in Georgetown, TX, where I lived. I went to local coffee shops, emailed businesses, and called them up, but nothing seemed to work.

Then the Chamber of Commerce held an event at a local restaurant for its members, and everyone went around introducing themselves. I had been following a lot of tech entrepreneurs online, so I used a buzzword to introduce myself, “local growth hacker.” After everyone was done a local business owner came up to me to tell me he needed a new website.

This was big.

I looked at his website, and decided I could build something better using Twitter Bootstrap. Now, I couldn’t really code well, but with Bootstrap it was easy enough to copy and paste a bunch of code and edit the style to be unique so that’s what I opted to do. My design abilities were severely lacking but I focused on building a functional, results driven site, and even laid out a plan for how I could track results using forms, a Google Voice number, and Google Analytics.

If my client got business from my work, I’d be able to show it.

When he looked at it, he made a couple comments, a couple suggestions, and said he was interested. He paid me a portion up front for the design to get started and asked me how long it would take.

This was when I figured out I’d never be a coder. After days, and nights of coding, it took about two weeks for me to confidently build something simple and working. I even bought a separate domain and hosting account to put it up and see what happened. The whole process had taken a month, which felt like a long time to me.

The next thing I did was go all in. I posted the site on a live domain, and launched it. I hadn’t been able to get him on the phone because he was busy. So, I called him up a few times, and let him know “Your site’s live. I’ll leave it there for 2 weeks, so if you want to keep it up after that just pay me what you offered, and I’ll leave it up. If you don’t want to keep it, let me know, and I’ll take the site down.”

And he paid me. It was the first and only site I’ve ever built for anybody, but he moved onto a new developer within 6 months.

I learned a lesson. I could speak to business owners about what mattered to them. I could sell them what I committed to. I could point to results confidently, and develop a strategy around that. But I wasn’t cut out to code.

It was time to adapt again. To be continued.