Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Adapt, Adapt, Adapt

It's freezing cold in Asheville and it's only going to get colder in the upcoming days. My office area is located in a sun room surrounded by windows, which is a pleasant place to be most of the year, but not when it's cloudy and 23° and the wind is beating on the walls at 25 knots, exploiting every crack and crevasse to gain entry to the room and ensuring that my shoulders and toes remain frosty.

I could choose to shiver and complain about this problem, but that would do me no good. Instead, I have chosen to adapt to the situation so I can be more comfortable while I work. I  put a space heater at my toes, put on a heavy sweater and thicker socks. If that doesn't do the trick, I'll turn up the thermostat and put on the comfy fingerless gloves that Beth knitted for me. In short, I have chosen to adapt to the situation.

However, when I look at my business, I have to face the sad fact that I have chosen the "shiver and complain" non-solution.

Today, I discovered a new blog by Jonathan Fields called "Awake@The Wheel - Tips, strategies and conversations at the crossroads of work, life, entrepreneurship & play". Hey, with a title like that, it sounds like Jonathan is writing his blog just for me!

I read a few of Jonathan's astute posts, but the one that resonated for me today is titled "If Your Business Sucks, Don't Blame The Market." I immediately began comparing Jonathan's story to my business.

During the recession of the 1990s, my graphic design business was located in Los Angeles. It continued to thrive, not so much due to adjustments I made, but because other potential clients adapted their businesses: they fired their high-overhead advertising agencies and gravitated toward smaller, boutique design houses like mine. Lucky me, (in the short-term, at least)! However, that experience lead me to embrace the faulty belief that my business was recession-proof, a misconception which is plaguing me today.

That's not to say that I didn't adapt to marketplace and technological trends during the '80s and '90s. As When I graduated college, I was armed with all the old-school, analog graphic design skills. Less than a year after graduating, I sat in front of a Macintosh for the first time. I knew immediately that the computer would revolutionize the way I did my work, so I taught myself how to use the new digital tools. When the internet grew in popularity, I jumped on that bandwagon, teaching myself HTML, image optimization, and all the web-development skills that kept my business marketable as the more people embraced this technology.

In recent years, however, I feel like I have lost that willingness to learn new technological skills. My rationalization has been that, "I signed up to be a graphic designer, not a programmer!" The technology changes so rapidly, and many of the latest web advancements are more akin to programming. I often tell myself I don't want to wake up some morning to discover that I've become more of a programmer than a designer. So instead, I let these excuses stop my forward momentum, and for the past few years, I have done little to change the way I do business, and my business has suffered as a result.

I've tried partnering with a few web developers. I've lost money on a few partnership projects, and haven't found the right fit yet, so I'm currently unsure if that is the way I wish to proceed. I bought a big fat book about CSS programming that is staring me in the face. I know I need to adapt, but I'm not sure if plunging into CSS is the best way to invest my time and energy.

Or maybe it's time for a more radical shift, one that requires the pursuit of a completely different career? I have been assessing my talents and skills, but have yet to find a new direction I wish to pursue. Many of the career counseling books I've read steer me right back to graphic design and marketing, but I have the niggling intuition that there might be another career I'm better suited for - one that will help me better serve my community.

I have been searching for an answer for the past few years, and meanwhile, business continues to slow and options seem to narrow. I feel blocked by confusion and the limits I have imposed upon myself.

It's hard to resist the temptation to blame the current financial problems for contributing at least partially to my personal problems. But that relegates me to the role of victim, and I firmly believe that the path to success requires taking responsibility for all my actions (and inaction, as the case may be).

I realize that there is another way I need to adapt. I have been clinging to the belief that since this is my problem, I have to figure it out for myself. But I have to confess that I have been doing a poor job of solving this problem on my own.

Yes, I am responsible for making the final decisions about how to proceed from this crossroads. But I have to admit that right now, I need help. I know myself - once I find the right solution, I'll do the work. That's where I shine.

In Jonathan Fields' post, he offers some very viable business solutions to his optometrist. I need help to find the solutions that I am currently incapable of seeing. And I pledge to be open to right solution when it lands in my lap.

When I started this blog, I reminded myself that if it was to offer value, it would begin with the admission that I don't have all the answers, and become more valuable through the recounting of my journey from the crossroads where I now stand to choosing a new course in my life that will lead to increased happiness, fulfillment and prosperity.

So starting here and now, I'm asking for help. Your advice is welcome - I am soliciting it! Please send me your ideas, referrals, links to articles, book recommendations, suggestions, comments and insights. I promise graciously accept your generous input and seriously consider each and every tidbit you have to offer.

I'm done shivering and complaining, and I'm ready to come in out of the cold.

Thanks in advance for your wisdom, your support and your help!

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