I am writing this post as a reply to my friend Tyler Durbin‘s fears and concerns about the uncertainty of his future in a video he posted after being fired recently. The video is a testament to Tyler’s character. It is as real and as raw as you can get and the reason he will be fine not only because the community he has built for himself has responded in droves (outside of comments to the post), but as a learning lesson that he will someday look back and laugh.
Ok. Here goes. I was fired in 2009 when the economy was going down hill and I had been looking for new opportunities to work closer to Columbus. At the time I was working for a subcontractor to the National Highway Traffic Highway Administration in Marysville on Honda property.
When I started in 2001 I had left a great gig and my first job after graduating from Ohio University as a production assistant for WSYX ABC 6 & WTTE FOX 28. The only reason I say great gig was because I loved what I did and was passionate about. I was doing what I loved which included working with an Emmy Award winning lighting director to completely redo the lighting design for the nightly news studio, spending long hours on pre-production for remote shoots like the Jerry Lewis Marathon and the rest of the day behind a camera, running through a foot of water during a thunderstorm with an ENG camera to setup a live shot of the 18th hole fearing of electrocution a split second before it was on air. The job also taught me how not to be start stuck because when celebrities and sports I realized they were just people who worked hard and as my dad put it, “put their pants on one leg at a time like everybody else.” My dad coming from a blue collar family in Marion, Ohio where his dad had dropped out of school with a 7th grade education to work in construction to help his sick mother and provide for his future son, taught me about the importance of work ethic. The only celebrity I might have been excited to see was John Glenn. One because I had seen him in the hallways of a congressional building when interning at CSPAN and two because he was that rare breed of national hero for risking his life in the space flight program to answer JFK’s challenge to be the first nation to put a man on the moon.
At the time money wasn’t the motivating factor because I was single with no kids. However, not soon after I was engaged to my college sweetheart and we moved from my cousins bedroom in Obetz to a two bedroom apartment off of Brice Road. Then things started getting real. We were getting married soon and as natural progression goes were on track for doing the whole nine yards with getting a house with white picket fence 2.5 plus kids. Money started to become more important to the long term necessity to fulfill this plan to create a happy home and a nuclear family. I was working 35 hours a week and still being considered part-time making $7.50 an hour with no health insurance. I had to start looking because there wasn’t a lot of room for upward mobility at the station with old timers content in their positions in the control room. This was even after showing my superiors I wanted to move up the ladder by learning new things like becoming a technical director or running the audio board. However, things became routine and weren’t moving fast enough.
When I first started the job search for a full time job that paid more and offer health insurance I sent out a bunch of resumes, but found out not too many people were hiring because there wasn’t much need for video production help in Columbus as it is a fairly small community of productions houses doing a majority of the work. It had been months and while I was starting to give up hope I got a call from a company I had forgotten about and mentally moved on from. After going through the interview process, being offered the job, and considering the pros and cons I accepted the job. The first year I was adapting to my new surroundings, learning the ropes and idiosyncrasies of my job responsibilities. It was a fulfilling job at first knowing the high speed video work I was doing was helping save lives when it was presented in reports to congressional lawmakers for making decisions relating to safety regulations for automakers to adhere too.
After awhile thought it became routine and I was trying to find ways to improve production quality because a lot of my counterparts in Washington, D.C. were behind the times with fundamentals like what the best video compression was. One of the biggest frustrations that started to develop was when the director in charge of operations for NHTSA in Marysville came into our office an asked if we could update the organizational charts for the building my coworker gave the simple answer of, “I don’t know” and left it at that. Raised in the DC Metro area and being taught by my progressive parents, it was this kind of complacency and small town manufacturing mentality that drove me nuts. Being the person I am of always wanting to do more, be challenged more, expand my skill set and show I was a valuable employee I seized the opportunity by catching up with him outside of our office where told him that we don’t currently have the tools or the skill set, but that I would be willing to learn and give it a shot. He was appreciative of that and said go for it. The only problem was the original photos or files for the organizational charts were nowhere to be found and I had to start from scratch. I organized a building wide photo shoot, edited the pictures, designed the layout which gave me an opportunity to learn Adobe InDesign and get the prints ordered from a local printer. Aside from the photo shoot I had never used InDesign before except for a tri-fold brochure mockup. It was a great learning experience and something I could add to the portfolio. It was after this experience that I decided to write a proposal to update our version of Avid Video Editing software and in the process get training for it through the Wexner Center for The Arts. Unfortunately the proposal was denied because it was par for the course for federal employees to wait until the end of the fiscal year to “use it or lose it” which often caused hoarding rather that having a productive operation throughout it.
These Chips Are Stale
However, not too soon after I started to see the writing on the wall. There were two photographers on the payroll and not enough work to go around. As time went on, routine became the norm and once again I started to think about my future and wanted to back to grad school. I did the research and found that Franklin University had a satellite campus in Dublin where I could get a Degree in Marketing. After writing the proposal my employer said they wouldn’t help pay for a marketing degree, but they would help pay for my Master of Business Administration degree. I jumped at the chance because in my eyes it was just as good if not better. It was also perfect timing because my wife and I had a one year old baby and were thinking about having another one when our first one was three.
I was nervous after they said yes because I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into. Franklin has the reputation for being one of the top business schools in the state aside from Ohio State. I thought all of the students were going to be smarter and more prepared than I was being that I had been out of school for awhile and other crazy “what ifs” going through my head. So started the 4:30 am wakeup in order to be at work by 6 am to work my four ten hour shifts and then once a week be in Dublin for three hours before making it home to Delaware by 10 pm to get back up again at 4:30. I quickly found that I was as smart as the other students in my cohort and started learning like the rest of them. A lot of the stress and anxiety was for nothing. Here I was sitting in a class with VPs of some well-known local businesses.
Then came the tough news. My wife was pregnant with our second child when I was three quarters way through the MBA program. I knew I was going to have to take a quarter off to be their for the birth of our second child. When I was on my break the company I worked for had an internal posting for a marketing assistant position. Without thinking about it I applied and had an interview with the VP of Marketing. We talked about where he wanted to go with the position and I thought the interview went well because I had previous experience and skill set for the position with an opportunity to grow. After a couple weeks of not hearing anything he let me know that he had decided to work with an outside company for creating marketing collateral and would not be filling the position. I was a little torn up about it because it was something that I was passionate about and they were paying for my continuing education and as far as I was concerned it was a no brainer. Later, I found out that they spent $4000 on a website I could have done for them for half the cost.
The Perfect Storm
While on break from finishing my graduate degree my wife gave birth to our second child. It was a new addition and an exciting time in our lives and everything seemed to being going right and as planned. Then as I was finishing up my degree my supervisor and another supervisor scheduled a meeting with me in the conference room, but didn’t say what it was regarding. When I sit down my supervisor tells me in so many words that if I don’t accept a new position with the company that they are going to have to “let me go.” I had no words. I was stunned to say the least. Here I thought I was doing everything I was supposed to be doing and asked to do and more comparatively to my coworker who had been written up for the “appearance of sleeping” and in my opinion was getting paid to do very little as I was always the first one to work on projects. I think I went through all the emotions one can go through and it seemed that I landed on the rational one by thinking to myself well I have two kids and a wife to provide for and I can add the experience to my resume. I was young and thought, “what other choice do I have?” Turns out I had lots of choices.
I tried to make it work for almost two years after that day, but it wasn’t the same. I was supposed to be trained on specialized software by fellow employees who had their own responsibilities and agendas rather than any formal training that should’ve have been offered. I even tried to find tutorials online as I had taught myself graphic design and web development in much the same way. The only thing that made me know realize I had done a good job previously was that a lot of my coworkers were still coming to me for my work as a photographer instead of my coworker that apparently was saved by the tenure based mentality versus performance based one. In any event I had basically been reduced to a data cruncher and secretary. It wasn’t exactly what I had pictured my life to be when I had spent years as a young teenager doing what I loved and was passionate about especially since I had just graduated from Franklin University with a Masters in Business Administration and a 3.9 GPA.
At the same time this was going on my parents were going through a separation calling my sister and I to complain and pit us against each other whether they realized they were doing it or not. The news was a shock in its own right. No matter how old you are it is still a painful experience to go through with two people you look up to and love. I became deeply depressed and stressed to the point where it started affect my physical health. I was in good shape and had been exercising regularly so I was having trouble putting two and two together. The combination of all of the above brought me to my breaking point were subconsciously I didn’t care about coming to work on time or take pride in my work like I once had.
I just knew I needed help when it all seemed to be crashing down and it was just a matter of time when my immediate supervisor called me into his office with the VP of Marketing rather than HR. They talked to me about coming into work late. I told them I had no excuses mostly because I was to the point where I didn’t care anymore. I should have known something was up earlier when I was required to take a “random” drug test a couple weeks earlier. I’m sure they were a little shocked when they didn’t find anything, but then again this was their thought process. At the end of the meeting I was put on indefinite suspension. Then exactly two weeks after my indefinite suspension my immediate boss who help create the situation to begin with called my to say I was fired. While I knew it was a probability like most people in the back of your head you can never prepare yourself. Here I was trying to do all the right things by working hard and applying myself the way my parents and others had taught me throughout my life to this point. What hurt the most is that I had let my wife, two children down, and my parents. My pride was hurt because I took so much pride in the work that I did do and was passionate about I felt that my reputation had been permanently ruined. I got to the point of hysterics that I thought nobody would ever wat to hire me again as I was damaged goods. Part of this was a continuation of the depression and self-doubt/self-worth.
The question then became how long would it take to get past this experience and move on? How would I explain the situation to potential employers? How long would it be before I got an interview? How long should I wait before giving up career ambitions to provide for my family? … and so on and so on.
Get Over Yourself and Prove Them Wrong
At some point, probably after I had gone through all the cycle of emotions one could go through I landed on the last one. Determination to prove everybody wrong. After all there was nowhere to go, but up and like I had done many times before in the past, using my favorite quality about myself, I used determination and will power to prove everybody wrong and that they had made a big mistake. Armed with a new attitude and feeling better than I had in a few years I started building my portfolio for Sigma Creative. In hindsight it made perfect sense because when I was finishing up my classes at Franklin I sought the advice of my professor on what to do my thesis project on and he said, “Work on something you are passionate about.” I already had a ready to go business plan all I had to do was start implementing it. When I thought about it is I should have done it earlier. The only question then becomes, “What is your exit strategy?”
The next part got really exciting and fun, but was also hard work. I began networking with people I met on Twitter in person. Facebook at the time wasn’t as big a player as it is now. I started following people locally. One of the first people I met in person offline was Alexandra Copley. She wanted to meet with me to discuss possibly redesigning her website after I designed her Twitter background for free. A perfect example of why I am so passionate about the power of social media today and Chris Anderson‘s implementation of the freemium business model that was emerging alongside the explosive popularity of social media. Then as quickly as she had connected with me she quickly connected me with people in her network. She said she had a friend who was looking to have his website redone. I gave her my contact information and he emailed me a couple days later. Initially I told him I didn’t have the time because I had was still dealing with administrative work due to the life changing event.
A month or two past and I emailed the potential lead to see if he still wanted to have work done. He said yes and we met at his place of business which at the time was called Sandbox Columbus run by now good friend and serial entrepreneur David Hunegnaw, savvy real estate agent, Tina Goodman, and silent, in name only, partner, Ryan Bauer. Alexandra’s friend turned out to be Lewis Howes. At the time he was just starting to build his empire as it is known today. He had just written a book, LinkedWorking and needed to update the look and functionality of his current site. Not soon after Lewis became Sigma Creative’s first paying client. In the process I got to meet his business partner and incredibly smart businessman in his own right, Barry Chandler. I was really starting to like meeting new people and new business development. It was unavoidable at a place like Sandbox. You could feel the electricity in the air between the ideas on the whiteboard or the entrepreneurial collaboration that was taking place on a daily basis.
As weeks went on I finished up Lewis’ site and he was referring big name clients to me like Brian Cuban and other well established book authors who he had networked with. Locally I started meeting other people that had either been in a similar situation or left on their own accord. One of my earliest network connections, up and coming star in his own right was, Nate Riggs. He had just left a marketing firm in Columbus because they didn’t see the potential in Social Media that he did and that I already experienced. It was great to get to talk about Nate about our bright future. He talked about the decentralized digital agency in a Web 2.0 and API rich world. When I was first out of college and working at the TV station I knew that is what I wanted Sigma Creative to be I just didn’t know it at the time, but technology has come a long way since then to make it more of a reality.
Now in telling my story I want to tell you that it is a happy ending, but the truth of the matter is having kids and a house payment I had to go back to work. I was starting to gain traction with Sigma Creative, but the credit card bills had been mounting and if I was to ever have a real chance at making Sigma Creative work in the long run I was going to have look at the long term goals. Life is hard, but the one thing I can say is I will never have the fear of being fired or leaving a job that I no longer cared about again, because I had already been there, done that, and made it out to the other side. People get fired or quit their job more than one would think, but they live to tell their stories of overcoming adversity. Two people I look up to a lot recently posted of their personal experiences with similar stories (Jacob Stoops and Dr. Erika Pryor) I still have side projects that I work on for Sigma Creative and am always adding more hats to the coat rack with new ventures and collaborations. While it is a lot of work and I don’t get much sleep these days I am doing what I love and love what I am doing. As long as you have a great support system in your immediate family and network there is nothing keeping you from bouncing back and achieving more than you dreamed possible. You are not alone.
Many successful people fail early, fail often, and learn to adapt. Thomas Edison is quoted as saying, “I failed my way to success.” There is a great movie called Art & Copy. While it is geared towards creativity fans the subject matter and theories are applicable to anybody in any industry regarding failure and moving on. My favorite part of the documentary is when David Kennedy of Wieden + Kennedy (famous ad agency that created the extremely viral and extremely successful Old Spice marketing campaign as well as other well-known campaigns) talks about failure and how he has a wall dedicated to the idea. When I started taking formal photography classes in Junior High School I never thought it would progress to online interactive development and marketing. I always thought I was going to be in video production in one way or another. I am thankful that I decided to adapt because a lot of my former coworkers at the TV station found themselves out of jobs due to the shift from traditional media to new media. There is never a straight path to where you see yourself in life when it comes to achieving your goals. While I am not a fan of organized religion I do believe that God/Buddha/Mohammed has a plan for all of us. That is why I only live by one rule and that is to treat others as you would like to be treated aka The Golden Rule. I let karma do the rest. This is the beauty of life lessons. Do I make mistakes now and will I in the future? Undoubtedly, yes. They are called cliches for a reason and that is that they have stood the test of time. “What doesn’t kill you..” It makes you are smarter, stronger, more well rounded person that will do just fine. You will look back at this years later and laugh. I promise.
Update: Tyler is now a Marketing Manager for GSW Worldwide’s Innovation Lab IQ.
Failure is all around us. It is those who get back up, dust themselves off, and learn from past mistakes to beat insurmountable odds stacked against their favor and ultimately succeed. If you want to learn more about how to change your current situation I highly recommend a book that was just published and aptly named, Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance by Jonathan Fields