As an individual, do not wait or depend on your employer to conduct an annual review. Spend a day or two reflecting on your accomplishments of the previous year and write them down, share them and be proud of them. These are things that you will have forgotten in the years ahead. Do you have a personal mission, vision and values? Take time to write these down as well. They will provide a decision framework for your life.
For many years I’ve written a year in review email to the 200-400 people in my company providing insights into highlights, lowlights and big takeaways for the year. This year is a bit different.
This year started like many others, keeping a mid-sized professional services company running and planning for the year ahead from a corporate perspective. In January I took a moment to step back and think about my own future rather than that of the company. It had been 8 years of making payroll, solving client problems and dealing with internal operational issues – carrying more than my share of the load, taking on the obligations of an owner yet without potential for rewards. I had become so focused on the company to the exclusion of my personal life and needs that I was no longer happy. In April I ripped the Band-Aid off and tendered my resignation. The company had completed its recapitalization after a year of very hard work by the CEO and things seemed to be moving in the right direction, but I was exhausted.
Less a mid-life crisis and more a mid-life re-evaluation of my world, I gave 8 weeks of notice and spent some of it packing all of my belongings up with an offer to sell my house in hand. On June 1st I left on a two month road trip across the country including stops in Yellowstone, Duluth, Owensboro, Washington, DC, Key West, New Orleans, Big Bend, Moab, Morro Bay, Bandon and many places in-between. The objective of the trip was to see and stay off the beaten path, not to focus on decompression as I had managed to do that prior to departure. It was not about planning or dreaming of the next big thing but to be present and appreciate much of what America has to offer. The radio wasn’t even turned on for at least the first two weeks. It was about being able to stop along the side of the road and appreciate (and photograph) the beauty of America. By mid-summer I had achieved joblessness and homelessness, something you only want to do intentionally.
If you can, make drives along The Beartooth Highway in Montana, The River Road in Texas and the Pacific Coast Highway in California. They are both jaw dropping and fun to drive – these are twisty, driving roads and not for the faint of heart.
Every 10 years you should make your way to Washington, DC. It had been 30 years since my last real visit, and especially living on the west coast, I had lost touch with the history of America. Spending two days on the National Mall and a third in the DC area allowed me to re-connect and appreciate those who gave their lives so that I may enjoy life. In addition to the memorials, the National Gallery of Art, National Archives and Smithsonian are must-see’s.
One realization I had is that I love living in the Pacific Northwest. The moderate temperatures are wonderful (though as I write it is below freezing out) and the ability to access such a diverse set of geography and climates within a two hour drive is hard, if not impossible, to match.
Upon my return I had to find a place to live. I spent two weeks searching for an apartment that would fit the majority of my belongings. Moving out of a house and into an apartment is challenging as not only do you have lots of furniture, it tends to be larger than apartments are designed to hold. I found a great place on Capitol Hill that I chose less for location and more for layout and square footage. It turns out that the neighborhood is spectacular both in the variety of shops and restaurants, its walkability and access to downtown as well as its proximity to Seattle University. I have always regarded education as paramount.
With housing squared away, I spent September contemplating what to do next. I had started meeting up with former colleagues and friends as soon as I returned, averaging one a day for 8 weeks. The decision was between becoming a COO of a $20-50M company and striking out on my own doing independent consulting. After each meeting I could tell where my heart was. It was to strike out on my own. It was a tough decision, leaving dependable income and benefits for the autonomy of self-employment. The first week of October I made my decision and formed Copilot Consulting LLC. I then proceeded to come up with a name, brand, logo and positioning.
My core values still stand. I love helping people learn and learning at the same time. If I can make a living doing those things, I will be pretty happy. The company name speaks to being a copilot. Clients bring their passion for business or life and I bring experience and energy to the equation. I can pivot my company to support different types of clients, whether individuals or businesses.
As it turns out, my first paying client was being a career copilot for individuals looking to change positions or companies. I met with each person for several hours, extracting their accomplishments and drafting a new resume for them. Afterwards we collaborated via email and came up with a polished result. The most rewarding part of this experience was seeing the smile on my clients’ faces when they stepped back and realized all that they had accomplished in the past 15-20 years.
Next came the opportunity to publish a cookbook for friends. For coming up with the idea, and managing the process and finances we agreed to split the profits. The book is selling well on Amazon and in a local store. Again, the clients are ecstatic that they are able to leave a legacy at the same time as making some money.
I finish the year with two opportunities waiting to close. One to sell a medical clinic and another to take a professional services firm to the next level. These both will help clients achieve their goals.
On the marketing front I have assembled a good one-pager that speaks to how Copilot can help businesses achieve their goals by systematically introducing feedback loops with their customers, vendors and employees. These feedback loops provide measurable and actionable feedback allowing business owners to increase sustainable profitability.
In all it has been a very good year. It is easy to say “embrace change” but actually embracing it can be tough. After leaving my previous employer I was able to reduce my cash burn, feel better about myself and be healthier. In retrospect I wasn’t ripping off a Band-Aid but giving myself first aid.
CEO, Copilot Consulting LLC