In this monthly column, Brian Gardner explores the challenges of operating a WordPress-based business and shares insight into servicing and refueling the human soul.
While I was born in Southern California, I have lived in the Chicagoland area since I was six months old. Even though palm trees and sunny weather would have been enjoyable, life isn’t so bad in the Windy City.
Midwesterners understand the nostalgia and beauty that happens this time of year. Pumpkin Spice lattes, cool crisp air, and magnificent colors surround us for several weeks. Unfortunately, it never feels long enough to me, but as the French would say, c’est la vie.
For the past 15 years, I have had the pleasure of experiencing Autumn as someone self-employed. It’s been remarkable, but things are different this year: seasons have changed.
A New Season
In late September, I officially joined the Developer Relations team at WP Engine. My position is an excellent fit, as it allows me to spend my day immersed in three areas I love: design, WordPress, community.
I am assembling a team to help execute a simple mission: Accelerate innovation in WordPress and help the community transition to the block editor and Full Site Editing (né Gutenberg).
We want to cultivate an interactive and immersive community resource that serves as a treasure chest of knowledge and operates as a conduit between the project and its users.
It will be a destination for discovery and a comprehensive resource for designers, developers, and creators who wish to learn the fundamentals of building with WordPress and for WordPress.
Yes, this plan is ambitious. However, I’ve always valued innovation and curiosity, which often results in grand visions that take time to execute.
But given the season we are in, it feels appropriate to reflect on what brought me to this point. After all, I had the opportunity to join WP Engine three and a half years ago. More on that later.
An Important Announcement
Back in 2006, I left my job to enter the world of entrepreneurism. At the time, my premium WordPress theme business was generating five figures a month in revenue—which I’ll admit mitigated the risk and made it easy to make the leap of faith.
A few years later, I made things official by forming StudioPress, and alongside Nathan Rice, we created the Genesis Framework.
Genesis empowers users to quickly and easily build incredible websites with WordPress in a way we had never seen before. As a result, it became the #1 WordPress theme framework and currently powers hundreds of thousands of websites—something that, to this day, blows my mind.
Fast forward some, and WordPress introduces the Gutenberg block editor. This ambitious project would radically change how people created posts, pages, products, and just about everything else on a website.
While we certainly had the experience and knowledge to embrace what was coming, our management team agreed that it was in the best interest of Genesis and the community to find someone who could provide the investment and leadership necessary to evolve and grow our products.
In the summer of 2018, I made an important announcement: WP Engine acquired StudioPress.
For the past three and a half years, I have watched from the sidelines. I could have joined the StudioPress team at WP Engine but wanted some time and space to figure out what to do next.
I was tired, mentally and physically. The twelve-year run felt like a marathon, and to be perfectly honest, I needed a season to do absolutely nothing. I wasn’t sure how long it would be or where it would take me, but essentially, I needed to walk the proverbial wilderness.
So I did that very thing, metaphorically speaking. (Because those who know me well recognize that being a runner, I ran in said wilderness, a home that I now call Evermore Trail.)
But as I continued my journey, I began to experience a sense of isolation. At first, it felt natural, but it slowly grew to the point that it felt very unsettling. The deeper I traveled, the more pronounced it became.
I realized that the stigma of being (and feeling the need to remain) an entrepreneur was significantly weighing me down. The responsibility of generating income and repeating the success I experienced with StudioPress started to paralyze me.
It was evident that a shift in priorities was necessary, and what started as “What would I like to be doing?” became “What do I need to be doing?” A sense of clarity was forming, and there were three specific things I came to terms with:
- I wanted to be part of a team.
- I missed being active in the WordPress community.
- I gave myself permission to be hired.
The last item might seem odd, but I assure you it might have been the most important revelation I have had during those trail runs. After spending the past 15 years self-employed, there was a sense of expectation that it invariably had to be this way—and that was crippling.
But I chose to rely on relationships I had built over the years and reached out to my network of WordPress professionals. I figured what better way to find an opportunity than with those who know me and what I have done.
One of the emails I sent was to Heather Brunner, the CEO of WP Engine.
And I’m thankful I did, because eight weeks later, here I am, leading WordPress developer relations and serving a community that I love.
“Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” —John Lennon
As we head into the holiday season, I encourage introspection. It’s the perfect time of year to slow down and assess how things are going in your life—both personally and professionally.
Ask challenging questions, and don’t be afraid to be brutally honest with yourself. Then, stand in front of a mirror and make sure the person you see is a reflection of the person you want to be.
For whatever reason, if that’s not the case, figure out what needs to change and make a plan. It’s your life, and the wonderful thing is that you get to decide where it goes.
Heather often says, “Where there’s focus, there’s progress.” So choose focus. And make progress.
As for me, I am filled with gratitude and excited about moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things. Because in my world, there’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow.
See you real soon.
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