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My Four Kids

“There are two kinds of people in this world — those whose inclination is to say “yes,” and are rewarded by adventure, and those who tend to say “no,” and are rewarded by safety.”

That quote, which is paraphrased from Keith Johnstone’s book, Impro, strikes me as being very true. While I don’t think there’s a preferable type, I do know which of the two I am. 

I assume the best. I bet that the employee is up to the task. I think everything is going to be better tomorrow than it was today, and I try my best to live my life in a manner that will help to ensure that’s true. 

I tend to say yes, and I typically have just about all the adventure I can handle. Presently, though, safety sounds a whole lot more attractive.

This morning, as I walked past her station on the way into the hospital room to visit my wife and baby, the nurse said, “I hope you have a great vacation!” It was the most unkind thing she could have possibly said.

Right now, I’m supposed to be on a plane to Hawaii, where I’ll be staying at a spectacular resort. I’m supposed to speak to a group of 40 agencies who are part of the Magnet Agency Network, a group I’ve wanted to speak to for years. I’m one of only two speakers; the other is a Senior Editor at Wired. My expenses are covered, I’m getting paid well in addition, and I’m willing to bet that this is going to have a considerable impact on Newfangled’s business over the course of the next three years. 

This sounds like a dream scenario, and two weeks ago it was. Now, though, I’ve got a 10-week-old baby in the hospital who’s been there for eight days and counting. 

About fifteen hours ago, I got back from a two-day business trip to New York City. I love to travel, but I hate being away from my family. It’s quite hard on me and on them, and that’s when everything is running smoothly. Even knowing that, I severely underestimated how hard it was going to be under these circumstances. When I was in the taxi heading into Manhattan earlier this week, I felt like there was a giant rubber band wrapped around me, dragging me back to hospital room 8C05 as the taxi pulled me forward to my first meeting of the day. It was actually physically difficult.

Now, the next morning, I’m supposed to go right back to the airport and leave again. 

I have to make a choice. I’m caught between a business opportunity of a lifetime on one side and a hospitalized baby on the other. In the hospital with her is my shockingly strong, beautiful wife, who has barely left that tiny little room in 8 days. Then there are our two other children, who haven’t seen their mom in over a week because they aren’t allowed in the ward, and with these back-to-back trips they won’t see me for five straight days. 

What would you do? Really, I want to know. The answer may seem obvious — family first — but as a business owner, it’s not always quite so cut and dried.

In working through the decision, I realized that I truly do have four children, and Newfangled is one of them. That’s the kind of thing you hear small business owners say jokingly, and it’s kind of a dumb cliché, but I see now how true it is. You realize the value of something when you have to choose between it and something that is invaluable. 

There are twenty people in the immediate Newfangled family. Between us all there are 24 children. Almost all of us are the primary earners in our households. We’re a small business, and every single new client we take on comes through me. If I don’t do my job, none of us has a job. I think quite often about the 38 total people — husbands, wives, and children — who would suffer if I don’t do my job as best as I possibly can. The beautiful thing about Newfangled is that I think everyone holds themselves to this level of accountability.

When a new site goes live at Newfangled, the Project Manager usually sends out an internal company-wide email talking about the project and thanking all of the different people inside of Newfangled who helped make the project a success. I’ve never been thanked or mentioned in any of those emails, and I consider that to be one of my greatest successes. 

Newfangled has been blessed with such a consistent flow of new business for so long that no one seems to ever worry about it or consider it — the fact that new work comes in is just a given. That innocent and, indeed, child-like trust that things are going to be OK is the greatest compliment I could ever receive. A parent’s job is to create a safe, happy, and healthy environment in which the people they love can thrive. 

But, it’s also a parent’s job to worry. I’m constantly concerned about our pipeline. Maybe, given the facts mentioned above, I could and should ease up, relax a little. But I just can’t. I’ve tried, and I’m pretty sure it’s impossible. To me, everything rides on the next talk, the next web meeting, the next opportunity. We’re a strong company, and I’ll admit I may have a slight dose of paranoia, but I think it serves us well. While we’ve never suffered from too much opportunity, we have made remarkable gains in the types of projects we’re able to do thanks to the strength of our amazing staff. There are both quantity and quality considerations in business development. 

One thing I’ve observed recently in Newfangled is that everything matters. Every email that’s sent, every client conversation, every thought we publish. It feels like high stakes, and it is. What I’ve noticed is that it doesn’t matter if you’re struggling to stay in business or if your business is the envy of your peers–you have to work hard as hell either way. When you’re at work, there is no letup, there are no breaks. 

If, this morning while lying in the hospital bed with my sweet little baby, I choose to say “no,” choose not to go to Hawaii and do this talk, the event organizer would understand. My employees, friends, and family would tell me it was the right thing to do, and the consultant who put his neck on the line to set this gig up for me would tell me there’d be other opportunities like it down the road. 

No one would fault me for saying no and staying home. On the other hand, if I say no, I’m setting off a vast and complicated series of slowly magnifying side effects that will negatively affect Newfangled for years to come. If I say yes, I will set off a vast and complicated series of slowly magnifying side effects that will positively affect the livelihoods of everyone at Newfangled for years to come.

And then, of course, there’s my sweet, sweet family. How much more will they benefit — short term and long term — if I stay or if I go? 

It’s a viable option — to say no, to choose the safe route, to stay home. But I tend to say yes.

The author wishes to thank his wife, mother-in-law, and battalion of ridiculously amazing friends and coworkers for making this possible.

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