The happiest people in the world don’t necessarily have the best of things, they make the best of things.
I’ve been reflecting on that much more in this whole pandemic.
The virus and its health impact are one thing. But the side effects of it are a whole other beast …. two things in particular are the financial impact (those out of work, businesses teetering on bankruptcy) and to our mental health (being in isolation, the fear and worry of the financial, etc).
So I’ve been rehearsing this mindset again …. over and over and over.
And something came to mind … if I am to make the best of things, I must see the best in things.
I must have open eyes. I must be looking for the good — for hope and opportunity.
Therefore, my new daily mantra is this:
Every day, I see the best in my situation.
What am I meant to learn from it?
What has these constraints forced me to see, or do, or learn?
What are the unintended consequences of this and how can I lean into them?
How is this experience shaping my life, my character?
Where can I use and apply this? For myself? For others?
The #1 question people ask me after leaving the company I started (and sold last year) currently is:
What are you doing next?
The best answer I have so far is:
I don’t know, yet, but I’m following a path to know better.
It’s not one that most appreciate or want to hear. We crave certainty in an ofte uncertain world. Heck, I do too!
I think maybe most want to hear about new cool startup or idea I’m working on, which I’m taking as optimism and belief in who I am and that’s really affirming to me.
But I’m becoming more and more at peace with my answer … because I’m more confident in the simple path I’m following to “get lucky” again, which is:
Connect or reconnect with good people — this can’t be understated or undervalued, so I put it first. But just talking to talented, passionate people is inspiring. My calendar has been booked up, almost to the point of desiring to slow it down, but worth it. Today, I had lunch with Dr. Robert Baron. I read about his work on Opportunity Recognition [PDF] in the The Creative Curve, which I posted about on Read Strategically. He’s incredibly funny, self-deprecating and loaded with insights after 50 years of research and teaching. And he’s one of a handful of fantastic conversations I’ve had with good people in the last week!
Be open, curious, learn and experiment — with eyes wide open and alert (one of Dr. Baron’s keys to opportunity recognition). One new thing I’ve learned is although I’ve neglected and ignored LinkedIn, there seems to be a significant platform there. In fact, I started this as a LinkedIn post before it got too long. I’m doing this to discover and unearth themes that could become something more significant down the road.
Push in on themes of interest — probably the toughest struggle so far … figuring out what I want to do. The question I asked myself today was: “What would I want to invest and commit the next 5 years of my professional life to?” I know in time it will emerge. And as the fog continues to for the future, I am seeing them more clearly as I go.
Click Publish — The idea here is to put my thoughts, ideas and perspectives into the world to see what resonates. I got out of the rhythm of publishing personally. I found myself locked in some nasty perfectionist tendencies but I’m slowing working myself out of it. One of the first steps I’ve taken very small steps in is a 1-2 minute podcast using Anchor called Rough Drafts.
My hope is in all this I start to hone a repeatable process for navigating change and transition. Oh and yes, a better, more sexy answer to tell people!
So back to you now … how do you navigate the conversations for which your real answer is: “I don’t know yet”? Or rather, how do you deal with the fog?
I started writing this post almost two weeks ago. But it’s been lingering in my heart for a while.
I kept this post in draft with just a few words, more like musings on a napkin instead of an actual outline.
Part of me wanted to get it done and out. Part of me wanted to procrastinate and delay.
Last night after reviewing it, my lovely wife Lindsey said, “It’s not Cory Miller.” (Yeah, she calls me that even at home.)
If you know me, you’ll likely know why. But I’ve tried, as she said, to “lean into” me.
So here goes …
After 11 years leading iThemes, the WordPress software company I started in 2008 in my home and which was acquired in January 2018, I officially turned in my notice earlier this month and will be departing Jan. 30, 2019.
One of the first questions I know I’ll get, particularly from our amazing customer community, is:“What’s next for iThemes?”I wrote a post on the iThemes blog to help answer that from my perspective and how the future is good and bright for the team, customers and products.
It’s a bittersweet moment for me, professionally and personally, and my family. I’ve had, essentially, one job (Founder/CEO then General Manager) for 11 years and it’s been the most incredible roller coaster ride I couldn’t have imagined.
I only threw up a dozen times, but I’d ride it again.
Personally, I’ve met and worked with some of the most gifted, passionate, caring, loving, committed, quality people in my life through iThemes, whom I luckily call friends. Even as I type this, I’m trying to postpone my sadness about not getting to talk to, see them and work with them every day as I have for so long.
That is and will be the hardest part about leaving. These are men and women who I’ve spent a large part of my life with. We’ve traveled together (like our flying fishing trip in the photo). We’ve opened our home to them like family (and our hangouts were the few times I stayed up past 2 a.m.). Most of our Oklahoma City office team were at the hospital when my children were born and held them before much of my family.
We’ve shared laughs and tears … and life … together. We’ve fought together and stuck together through crisis and change and transition. But also been able to celebrate with high five so many times. (There’s still an SOP on how to give a proper high five somewhere.)
I’ve seen so many of our team bloom and blossom in front of my eyes to become true rockstars but they always played as a band. They’ve made me better and I’ve worked to help them reach their highest potential.
I couldn’t have done anything close (and I get too much credit) for the accomplishments of iThemes without this team.
In business and life, it’s people who make the difference. Our people were the real true and lasting reward and I hope to continue being a part of their personal lives.
Even though I’m only saying goodbye to my role at iThemes, I’ll savor and be forever thankful for these friendships and the time and love they have given me. And just ot be a part of their lives.
At the same time, I’m also very, very excited for them, particularly for Matt Danner as he captains the ship, and I will be cheering for the team from the sidelines. I’m confident we’ve worked to put the team and iThemes in the best place and position to continue to do well … the sky’s the limit for them and I can’t wait to see what they do next.
Additionally, my first lady, Lindsey, will be continuing her good work in WordPress at Liquid Web as Partner Manager too. So the team still has one Miller around!
Professionally, I never thought I’d be in any “job” for 11 years. But as I reflect back, I’m immensely proud, honored and thankful of the body of work I can put a label on and call iThemes. I don’t know if that’s fully sunk in yet though.
In a couple of days, I’ll leave this gig forever. And when the last day comes and the door shuts behind me, I have peace knowing I made an impact in other people’s lives.
I’m sure I’ll ugly cry as I wave goodbye.
What’s Next For Me?
As I hope you’ve come to expect from me … I am going to lay it all out.
And to be honest, I’m 80% thrilled and 20% scared to start my next chapter …. that percentage changes day to day.
I have a few things figured out … and much more not figured out. Those who say they have it all figured out are likely just as clueless and as lost as I’ve felt.
But the one thing I do know is that on Jan. 31, 2019, I’m going solo again.
To start, I’m incredibly excited to offer business coaching and consulting services. Looking back it’s something I’ve done rather informally over the years as I’ve helped others but also what’s given me great fulfillment and something that comes naturally to me.
I wanted to formalize and refine the skills I’ve used over the last decade building and growing a team at iThemes and helping others think about and achieve their goals. So back in August, I started an Executive Coaching program at the University of Texas Dallas under the renowned Jindel School of Management.
Through coaching, I want to support entrepreneurs, leaders and their teams go far together. That much I know.
I want to be the person I sought out and desperately needed as I walked the entrepreneurial and leadership journey since 2008. It’s one more way I can say, “You’re not alone.”
Last fall I hired a personal coach. Her name is Kelly and she’s been fantastic in helping me with clarity and progress. I’ll be sharing here about my work with her and how our work together has developed. But it’s been truly profound and helpful for me to get clarity, to talk through things and most importantly, make progress on my hopes, dreams and goals. (Thanks, Kelly!)
Through consulting, I want to offer my expertise as an entrepreneur, leader, marketer, product developer whether it’s helping with key initiatives or projects from marketing, new product development, strategy, recruiting, hiring and training.
No matter how it eventually all looks professionally though … I want to apply my experiences and expertise and my strengths to “Make People’s Lives Awesome” again.
And in the coming weeks and months I’ll be sharing more about that, but in the meantime, if you want to work with me, let’s talk.
The Next Frontier
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
This is simply my first step. Like a lot of my life, I don’t have a detailed map, with exact coordinates and turns.
What comes next is a bit of a mystery to me. And that excites me.
I never imagined the wild ride I have had for the last 11 years or the path I would walk on … but I love it. And it was all mostly surprise.
I took a step.
I followed the trail.
And it led me here.
As I realized this adventure was over, building inside of me has been an overwhelming desire to go bigger, better, bolder.
Not to take anything away from what has happened … I simply know I just went way higher than this kid from Lone Grove, Oklahoma, ever thought he could go.
I got to punch all my dream tickets and then some.
Ever since I stumbled onto this Albert Schweitzer quote in high school, I’ve been driven by it:
“The tragedy of life is what dies inside a man while he lives.”
I realize I have more to give and offer and to do. I don’t want to leave any of it on the table.
As I’ve reached mid-life, and struggled with it, deeply, I’ve been renewed by a sense of meaning and purpose. And I want to make the most out of what time and talent I have. To squeeze out of this life, this place, this opportunity all I can out of it. And that means making impact on people’s lives with my own, starting with my family.
This time, this move, is all about being open to what possibilities are out there …. again. But now I stand from a different perspective. I’ve done things. I’ve been stretched and pushed and tested. I see differently now.
I want to dream wildly.
I want to explore with child-like curiosity.
I want to experiment.
And I want to see what doors will open.
All for impact and purpose.
That simple formula got me here and I know it will lead to the next adventure.
As I told my former partner last week, I’ve had one focus professionally for over a decade …. and now … I’m a free agent again. And I want to repeat that simple formula.
Even if I don’t know exactly what this next chapter looks like (I sure didn’t 12 years ago), I’m ready to begin what my friend Carrie Dils recently described her own next path as: an “Untitled Chapter.”
It’s an opportunity for Reinvention and Recalibration, professionally and personally, that I’m looking forward to.
Recurring Themes of Purpose
One more thing I know but not in extreme detail is …. I want to do impactful work.
What continually stirs in my heart are two key themes that drive me and could be mixed and matched in the next chapter:
If you follow anything I do, you know this is a recurring theme for me. But it has become a core mission and purpose in my life since I opened up at WordCamp Denver in 2015 about divorce and depression and subsequently the Iceberg of Life.
Every time I open up and share my struggles and story with others, I get this incredible reverb of others being able to take steps to healing and health.
I want to explore how I can do more both personally and professionally in that arena. I can’t shake it. I don’t want to shake it. I’m moved and driven by it.
I see so much hidden hurt in the world …. those suffering in solitude. And then changes and disruptions looming off the horizon that’ll affect all of us. And I’m not sure we’re ready for it.
I’m particularly interested and curious about the place of work and the opportunities it holds to improve our mental health, not further damage it.
Again, don’t know how it looks yet … but I’m driven to continue to push in and see what I can offer.
I want to get back to my roots that started this whole thing and start publishing content regularly and consistently again.
But in the next chapter I’m hoping to broaden and expand my skills into podcasting (which I’m already doing with Lindsey at This Ridiculous Life) and video. I want to learn and grow and teach and share.
I want to publish. Put myself out there. And see what happens.
Keep Building Epic Relationships
My story and I think life and success and impact is all about relationships with great people. Every “success” I’ve had or amazing journey I’ve been on has been because of great relationships with incredible people. I want to continue to build my existing relationships and be open to finding even more.
I’m a Collaborator.
This is a fairly recent return and renewed focus for me.
I can create. I’ve done it and for this first step, I’ll be doing it again.
But I’m much better and more satisfied and impactful when I collaborate with others. And in the next chapter, I’m looking to collaborate more with good people, especially on the first (publishing) and with the second (people).
I’ve already started discussions with a few key people. And hope to share those mashups and collaborations very soon.
So many times I’ve tried to plan it all out exactly and yes, perfectly. But I’ve found that simply sticking to my values and who I am and putting myself out there, chasing purpose and passion, and always, always, always connecting with good people …. the next chapter will be so much better than I can imagine!
I can’t help but me reminded of another quote … one by Teddy Roosevelt titled by many as “The Man in the Arena,” which I wrote about 6 years ago, but stands as an inspiration and bold challenge to me as I take my next steps:
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.” –Teddy Roosevelt
For whatever comes next, I want to spend myself “for a worthy cause,” and if I fail, I want to only fail because I have “dared greatly.”
Over the weekend, I had the honor to be the keynote speaker for WordCamp Baltimore. (My theme was “Living Life as an Iceberg or a Ship,” which should be on WordPress.tv shortly and hope to share online very soon.)
But I want to share a little experiment I tried on Saturday.
As I walked to the venue for the first day of camp, I was seeking to steep my soul on my topic and the stories I would share later that day. And as I got my badge, I resolved to myself: “Everyone I see today, all day, who looks up or at me, as I pass them in the halls or see them at the coffee bar, I’ll just give them a simple smile.”
That’s it. That’s all. Just a little smile.
I knew I couldn’t connect deeply with every single person. But the one simple thing I could do all day — to show I was cared — that I thought might be impactful was to give others there a simple smile.
A gesture of recognition and warmth, just to say without words:
“I see you. And you matter.”
In my talk, I challenged them that: “Smile are free.” I told them about my day-long experiment. And said although I could make up statistics about it, scientifically I had read over and over how smiles have a profound effect on us — to ourselves and others.
And as I looked over the audience, I started seeing several people smiling back at me. And then more. And more.
I could feel the warmth, the acceptance, the recognition back to me. Little pings from one human to another. And it felt … good. Really good. The light of others humans signaling to me and a resonating glow turned on inside of me.
I am human.
I am seen by and acknowledged by other humans.
And I am accepted by them.
Other than one or two people mentioning it shortly afterward (I missed the next day of camp as I flew home to my family), I don’t know the effects on the dozens of others I got to smile at during the day.
Did one smile provide a little light for someone struggling with something?
Did one smile remind someone of their importance and existence on this earth?
Did one smile inspire another, and another?
But I do know … smiles are a free yet priceless and powerful message to the human soul.
Last weekend, I went on a quick but epic roadtrip with my youngest brother, Matt. On short notice I needed (and let’s be honest, wanted) someone to go with me to our New Mexico cabin (about a 9-hour drive each way) starting on Friday night and getting back on Sunday night.
Matt and I are seven years apart in age. He’s a police officer and I type for a living. We didn’t grow up in the same home, but we’ve always had a brother bond that even if we didn’t see each other for months, we would start where we left off.
So for 18+ hours on the road and all the in-between time when we weren’t sleeping (barely), there wasn’t 5 minutes of quiet between us. We talked about everything from children, marriage to politics and career … and of course our hopes and dreams and thoughts about the future. We toasted and drank some excellent Balvenie. We grilled veggies and steaks. And yes, there were plenty of pranks, shenanigans and laughs.
After the trip, although we were both exhausted I could not wipe the grin from my face if I wanted to.
Yes, I have an incredible, supportive wife who is my best friend and amazing children that give me so much meaning and purpose and joy and love. Yes, I have a lot of close friends. But because of the busyness of life — career (running a business) and family (chasing two kiddos around and prioritizing my marriage), I see it’s truth.
In fact, I think you can walk the halls of many nursing homes and see this truth:
Here’s a couple of quotes that stuck out to me from the article:
“Loneliness has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke and the progression of Alzheimer’s.”
“In 2015, a huge study out of Brigham Young University, using data from 3.5 million people collected over 35 years, found that those who fall into the categories of loneliness, isolation, or even simply living on their own see their risk of premature death rise 26 to 32 percent.”
As I read further in the article, I saw more truths:
“Men need an activity together to make and keep a bond.”
“That’s why Schwartz and others say the best way for men to forge and maintain friendships is through built-in regularity — something that is always on the schedule.”
The key takeaway from the article hit home with me: We, men, need a regularly scheduled activity, especially in mid-life.
So it got me thinking about how I’ve tried to find that male bonding time …. and here are my thoughts.
My Goals for Guy Time
Just replacing on the activities with other friends, here are the most valuable values I have for those relationships that maximize those times:
Go deeper — the older I get the less I care about small talk. I want to get to the deeper issues of life. My best friendships are the ones where we skip the surface and talk about the iceberg of life — both the struggles and successes.
Be more open — my most valued friendships are the ones where I don’t have to wear a mask or a costume. I’m just me, being me. And vice versa. This is all about trust and respect. And no judgment. We all have skeletons in the closet. The most incredible experiences I’ve had is two humans being human together. Recognizing we all have emotions and feelings, hopes and dreams, whether they seem trivial to us or not. I’ve found I’m my worst critic and whenever I’ve been more human and open, I get open and human back.
Make lifetime memories — have fun and enjoy each other’s company. The best times are when we’re doing something fun, whether it’s white water rafting in Idaho (or New Mexico) or simply enjoying a drink while telling stories that become our legends. Life is so much about the moments you share.
Some Ways I’ve Found That Bonding
Here are a couple of ways I’ve found that CONSISTENT and ongoing time with my dude friends:
Monthly Mastermind Meeting — although it’s not a mastermind (and we have females in the group), for the last 5+ years, I’ve been meeting with a group of 8-9 Oklahoma City entrepreneurs (via Entrepreneurs Organization) every month for three hours. They’ve been my lifeline of sanity as well as success. It’s been so incredibly impactful on my success and sanity that I’ve also started another forum group in the past, and am in the process of seeding another one this year. I’ve found nothing like it in the world. Like-minded people, in similar stages of life, with the same values and goals, setting aside a block of time each month to work on our icebergs and share our lives with each other. The other one I’ve been a part of like this is one with five other WordPress peeps, but is mainly focused on work/career accountability.
Once a Year Retreat — Our Entrepreneurs Organization Forum group also does a retreat once a year for 3-4 days, typically in the summer around June. We’ve done some fun stuff together like fly fishing in Montana to flying jets in Vegas, but it’s always the times around the campfire that mean the most to me. I also look at PressNomics and CaboPress (conferences I try not to miss) as times for bonding with my business friendships. I shouldn’t even label them as ‘business,’ they are friends I’ve made through business.
Team Sports — I just recently returned to indoor volleyball, a sport I’ve loved since college, after the urging and push from my wife. In the past, Lindsey and I have also played softball and relished those new friendships and times. Although the team was co-ed, I enjoyed the camaraderie and bonding and looking to playing volleyball again in the summer season.
Filling in the Gaps with One-Off, Somewhat Random Opportunities
Roadtrips — my brother Matt and I are already planning our next roadtrip over the weekend. Watch out Moab, we’re coming for you in Jeeps! In August, we’ll be joining our dad and other brother and friends to go hunting in New Mexico. (I don’t hunt or like to hunt, but I won’t miss another trip with these awesome men.)
Lema/Miller Slumber Parties — my buddy Chris flew to Dallas to hangout with me for a couple of days and because we’re kids like this, we said it was our Slumber Party. We talked until way too early in the morning and had to force ourselves to go to sleep as it was so much fun. Slumber Party Party Deux is in a couple of weeks. I know, we’re geeks, but proud of it!
WordCamps — the Hallway Track is my favorite, especially at WordCamp US. It’s hard to get 5 feet before you’re talking and catching up with some awesome WordPress community friends. Some of my favorite memories are hanging out (and getting lost on subways) with guys like Michael Torbert way back at WordCamp Boston, or sharing one-on-one time with guys like Karim Marucchi over a good meal.
Portugal Pals — one way my COO and buddy Matt Danner and I stay close and in sync is through regular trips together. There’s something about flights and hotel rooms without much distractions that are always a blast. We just returned from a once-in-a-lifetime, epic trip to Portugal. #pals
Dad Dates — my buddy Jesse and I have children the same age AND gender. He graciously went with me to see the latest Star Wars movie recently. I also had dinner and got to see the OKC Thunder play (courtside, holy cow!) recently with my buddy Jeff. It’s awesome when you are in parallel life stages, and going through similar things.
Coffees and Lunches — I enjoy catching up with my buddies and making new ones (like I did recently when John reached out to me as he was traveling to OKC for a wedding).
Traveling — on our personal trips, Lindsey and I have a motto and mission: Make friends everywhere. And we have. I love making new friendships with those in new cultures and around the globe. It’s entirely changed the way I do traveling now. My goal isn’t just to see new places, but to meet new people. It’s so mind expanding and special. Our friend Marco and his family, on Father’s Day, took us on a full-day tour of Lisbon, Portugal. So much fun memories — made even more special when his mother gave us tiles that goes on her house (a very cool Portuguese tradition).
Partner Pals — some of my best memories of my business partners, Scott and Jay, have been on our trips, whether it was to visit the campus of Google and Yahoo or the White House. I want for more trips with these awesome men and role models.
Skype, Slack, iMessage chats, Facebook — it’s never a substitute for face to face, or elbow to elbow bonding times. But the article says men aren’t great at talking on the phone (I hate it) yet throughout the year my buddies and I seem to stay in touch via these text chats. My friend Jason is great at keeping up like this.
Reunions — after 20 years of not going to my high school reunion, I went a couple years ago and thoroughly enjoyed catching up with old friendships, although I have not kept in touch beyond liking their posts on Facebook.
Ideas for More Consistent Hang Out Times:
Once a Month In-Person Coffee or Breaking Bread — like every third Wednesday. It’s way easier for me to do lunches or daytime meetings than nighttimes with kids.
Once-a-Quarter Weekend Trips — very short roadtrips that get us away from the distractions of life with a focused activity — like watching a football game, or
Once-a-Year Retreats — as I mentioned I already do this with my Forum group … but another in a year would be super nice, like 2-3 days away.
Movie Night — whenever a new movie comes out, we go see it on Thursday night — if we can stay up that late!
Additional Thoughts and Caveats:
Spousal/significant other support is essential — My wife is my top relationship priority. Without the support of my wife, I wouldn’t do the things I already do, but thankfully she sees the value for my life, health and happiness, and I do for her retreats as well. We try to do regular checkins to communicate and see how we’re doing, one of the many reasons I’ve tried to winnow my business travel down drastically this year.
Too much time away — I realize with all these ideas, at some point, you can spend WAY too much time away from your family, which ain’t good. It’s all about time budgeting and again talking it through with your spouse and family. It’s interesting to note that Lindsey and I try to do these kinds of spousal retreats and getaways as often as possible. She comes first, always and forever.
Getting overscheduled — I try to have as few regularly scheduled meetings in my professional life as I can (let alone personal), and if I were to add too many things above, I’d get way too booked up, which would mean less time for family and family travel.
Prioritizing relationships — I realize there’s a limit to how many close relationships one person can build. Proximity is often the prioritizing factor just because it’s easier. Lema talks about how he approaches that here.
Gal Pals are just as awesome — over the years I’ve had so many special relationships with some awesome, wickedly smart, incredibly supportive ladies. I’ve found just as much joy with my gal pals and don’t want to leave them out in any way. In fact, looking over my Instagram feed for pics showed me how much time I have spent with these awesome awesome women.