What Matters to Me

(Note: First and foremost, this post is likely not about you or for you. In fact, it’s definitely not for you. It is for me. And it’s for those I love and cherish most who have shown me time and time again by their actions and love that they matter MOST to me. If it is remotely for anybody else, then my hope is that it helps you in some way to define and refine what and who uniquely matters most for you as well. For everybody else, I would politely ask that you go away.)

This year has been one of the hardest of my life. Scratch that. It’s been the hardest.

I won’t go into details, but suffice to say …. the tough times have helped me appreciate the people who love me (and vice versa) and the things that matter most to me.

(Although some may disagree that I enjoy being a private person, I am. But I have to say … Twitter and blogging through posts like this are great therapy for me.)

Throughout this year, I’ve gotten some excellent advice from the friends and family I cherish. I’ve hung onto their counsel and words of wisdom.

One of the best pieces of advice I got this year was from my friend, Lisa Sabin-Wilson.

She said simply:

“Ignore the noise.”

In my weakness, I have often added: “Stupid people don’t matter anyway.”

(I hope you laughed, as I did.)

But kidding aside, I’ve tried hard to do just that:

Ignore everything and everyone that doesn’t matter and that which just adds noise, frustration, anger and other negative things to my life … and focus on who and what really does matter to me.

So with that …. here’s the GOLD I treasure in my life (aka what matters to me) … most everything outside of this is just loud static noise:

MY FAMILY

This year, I have leaned more on my family than I ever have in my life. To my family, I have always wanted to be and have been “the rock.”

This year, they were my rock.

Having to rely on anyone but myself has been the ultimate humbling experience of my life (and prideful self). With my face on the ground and my life in shambles, I was forced to rely on them.

My father and mother have, at times, carried me. Consistently, they reaffirmed my value in their lives and to the world.

They simply walked with me, and said gently when I was at my worst, “I love you.”

Through my personal struggles, in the last 6 months I have grown closer to my father than the other 33-ish years of my life combined.

At the lowest point in my life, he gave me the biggest compliment of my life in a text message …. one I have treasured. He said:

“I want you to know I’m proud of the man you’ve become, and the son you’ve been. I will always be there if you need me.”

I said back to him … that I could win every award in life, I could make more money than I ever needed, I could be admired by most. But nothing was more confirming or worth more than having your father, the man you respect most, say that.

I would take that over anything else, any day of the week.

My mother has been equally as amazing. She’s always been an incredible mother, in fact, an inspiring and supportive mom, to me. She’s also one of my very best (and I would add, annoying) friends in the world. 🙂

We have laughed so much together through my life … and yes, mostly at each other’s expense. (Chop, Char!)

This year, she’s literally rushed to my side and helped me patch together the pieces. She’s seen me at my worst and my weakest … and loved me despite all of it.

My brothers, sister-in-laws, cousins and other family members have been like wings to me. They have come alongside me and given flight to my soul when it was crashing.

In my lowest moments they rescued me. Pointed me upward and onward.

Sometimes they just sat in silence with me. Sometimes they cried with me. They got mad with me. Then they helped calm me down or pick me up. Often, they just hugged me.

They drove hours to be with me in the middle of the night. They were there to see the bile of life thrown at me. And to see me at my lowest.

They were simply there for me when I needed it most.

My nephew Hunter and my niece Rainey have been blissful reminders of the joy in life.

The moments I have spent with them have been physically exhausting (they are 2 and 5) …. but some of the most refreshing, joyful, fulfilling moments of my life.

They lift my spirit with just their little smiles.

In August, when I got to spend some time with my “RainBear,” as we were swinging on a porch swing, she just leaned over to me and said, “Uncle Coco, I love you.”

(Yes – they call me Uncle Coco and I love it.)

With those sweet words, I felt life and joy pour back into me.

With five words, she recharged my soul.

I have no children of my own. So, long ago, I decided to pour all my ‘daddy love’ into them as I had opportunity.

This year though, I made a little mental switch and emphasis as well with them … I determined that no matter what, I would attend as many of their dance recitals, little league games, and “special moments” as I could.

More than anything else, I want them to look back fondly on their lives and along with their parents and grandparents … to see me there with them for every big milestone of their life.

I want them to know I loved them. That I was there for them. It is the one lasting legacy I want to leave them. And I will do all that I can to fulfill it for them.

To my family, thank you for being my rock. I love you.

When I doubted myself or my value to the world … you rushed in to offer the most kind words that I have etched onto my heart to remember forever … and to strive to continue to live up to always.

MY TEAM

Next month marks my three-year anniversary of starting iThemes.

I can safely say, it’s been the hardest job I’ve ever had … but the most fun and fulfilling.

My favorite song — my life song — “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd says, “Be something you can love and understand.”

Along this journey, I have always felt I was living that lyric. I loved what I was doing and understood how it factored into life and the world and it gave me purpose.

But honestly, at times this year, I have wanted to quit it all. Leave. Be done. Hang it up and go dig ditches.

I didn’t … because I was always reminded of all the people involved in our business (to date around 15 people).

The thing that matters MOST to me about our business is our team. They have committed their working lives to our shared vision that we call iThemes.

I consider them my extended family.

I feel a special responsibility and bond to them.

I love and care about them deeply. I work FOR them. And ultimately, as every leader should, I serve them (sometimes poorly).

I do seek as many opportunities as possible to give them the just limelight they deserve. And this year in particular they have shown their love and dedication to the life we’re building together at our fledgling startup.

(My theory has always been that you spend the most time around the people you work with … so why not enjoy them?!)

(Also, by the way …. being family doesn’t mean everything is perfect. Think about your dysfunctional family — yeah, we all have one — for a second and you will see the light. Being a family means we fight, we disagree, sometimes we can’t stand each other … but at the end of the day, we’re still family. We might not always like each other but we are building this thing together.)

This year in particular we have had a lot of distractions, challenges, frustrations and obstacles. Some outside. Some inside. Some because of me.

The first part of the year in fact we were consumed with people and elements outside of our control. Sometimes admittedly it’s bled into the second half.

As I said, sometimes it was me, personally, that was the problem … and I had to apologize, move on and earn your forgiveness through my actions.

But a couple months ago at our retreat, I echoed what we had all agreed together to do but never really spoken it:

  • Ignore the noise.
  • And focus on what really matters.
  • And what matters is each other, and our community.

We have to always ask ourselves often two primary questions:

  • Are we having fun?
  • Is our community supportive of us? (meaning are we taking care of them)

If we can’t answer those honestly and with conviction, something has to change and we need to seek out what must change and change it.

Yes, I have asked our team (and every new person we add to our team) to be committed to each other and our community.

There are no exceptions. And we’ve gotten better at holding everyone, including me, to this standard.

That doesn’t mean forsaking family (I have never asked anyone to do so, nor will I ever do so, including asking them to put the team above their families) or working 100 hours a week (our team works well beyond 40 hours a week but not because I ask or demand them to. Loving what you do and being a part of something bigger than yourself can often produce such results).

(By the way, when others who have spent time around our team see this, I find extreme validation and confidence in making such bold statements.)

I’ve simply asked our team to be focused on what we’re doing while they are at work … do it to the best of your ability (give each other your all) …. and have a blast doing it.

I feel like if we do those things, we’ll be successful, and our community will continue to support us.

My hope is that they will see the results of having a great culture, awesome workplace, and passionate work can produce.

But I said this to them in person, and now share it here ….. they have been amazing this year to me personally. I could not have done it without them.

There have been (and probably will be more) moments where I have to “check out” to attend to other matters.

Each time I’ve had to do so, they have said, “Go. We got this.”

Few people in the world know about that. Few people realize how special that trust and commitment is to me.

But when I had to check out of the business, the team we have assembled, who are responsible for creating the culture and the amazing business (and products, training and support) we have at iThemes (yes, I’m damn proud of what we’ve built together – no apologies, take it or leave it), have thrown their lives into building, maintaining, preserving and protecting what we do and the life we’ve built together.

Although I’d let them talk for themselves, I believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are in 100% agreement with the above statement.

We’re proud of what we do, the products, services we offer, and, most of all — of each other. We are a team. There are no rockstars at iThemes.

Most of the people who know of our little team do not know 99% of what actually goes on just in our Oklahoma City office from day to day.

They have no clue about the lunches we share together. The inside jokes we create. How we meet tight deadlines and rally around each other. Or how often they pick fun at my expense.

OR … how immensely hard each of our team works FOR our community (often well before 8 and after 6 and yes, into the weekends!) … to make sure we’re helping our customers get what we promised them when they purchased our products.

In the highs and lows we experience together, we are there for each other.

I love my team. I cherish my team. I hope I honor them with my life, my work and my heart.

And they have shown their love for me — of which, again, I am humbled and so thankful for.

They could probably make more money and have more personal fame elsewhere. But I’m so thankful they continue to choose our business and each other.

It makes life so much more fun.

That’s why when people attack our business, I take it personally. I probably always will. (Again, no apologies.)

Attack me and I’ll gladly defend myself.

But if you attack our business and the team who works their butts off each and every week for it and our community, then … YOU have a problem.

Then … I stop ignoring the noise and decide to mute it.

My team is my family.

Some come and go.

For those who have embraced the culture, philosophies and values we espouse (all for one and one for all), to them alone, I am most proud.

I count you as true friends who I do anything for – night or day.

Lastly, I am so appreciative of my business partners. You do not care for or want the limelight, so I will merely mention you generally but as I have said many times to you and others …. you have been and are the best partners I could ever have asked for.

Without you, this little startup could never have happened. You free me to do what I do best. And at the heart of it, before being even my business partners, you have been true friends to me.

To my team and my partners, I say:

Thank you for being just who you are — some of the most amazing, talented, supportive people on earth, who I am honored to call, my team and my friends.

In many years to come, I can’t wait to look back with you on the months and years we’ve spent with each other and see what we have done …. TOGETHER.

I leave you with this African proverb gleaned from a recent workshop I attended which says it all (and yes, we need a shirt for it):

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Let’s go even farther together in 2001, together. #BOOM

MY FRIENDS

Yes, I just said my team and partners are my friends and my family. But there are others who are not a part of our business or my immediate family who mean the world to me.

Through personal adversity, these friends have rallied to my support …. often, when I didn’t ask.

My father passed on some advice about “true friends” he heard recently …. (paraphrasing) he said that if you can count on one hand the number of solid-to-the-core, TRUE friends you’ve had at the end of your life that would do anything for you and that you can count on anytime, then you’ve lived a blessed one.

I know I have lost some “friends” this year. In retrospect, I know it was healthy for me (and maybe for them too). It was burning off the chaff in my life.

At the risk of irking some, I’m going to go ahead and mention the ones who have been there for me, and proved by their actions they are a part of my cherished “inner circle” of true friends.

First, Jeremy Stowe …. one of the funniest, most authentic pastors I know. But really, just a true, lifelong friend.

StoweBucks, you’ve spoken truth into me when I didn’t want to hear it, listened to me when I was irrational, and then told me bluntly I was plain stupid.

You’ve also just “showed up” at the right time so many times I can’t keep count.

You are truly “my brother’s keeper.”

I will ride shotgun for you anytime, my brother.

The others are in the category of what I call “business friends.” But truly, deeply, I realized earlier this year that some of the best friendships I’ve ever made in life have been “business friends.” And honestly, I hate that term, but it’s the best I have right now. (Or maybe it’s “true friends I’ve met through business.”)

In this category, I have these great friends to mention specifically …. Lisa Sabin-Wilson, Grant Griffiths and Jason Schuller.

LSW — thank you for being my friend. For investing your time, energy and wisdom into our business and more importantly, our team. For personally, calming me down, helping me get perspective and sobering me up to reality. And thank you for making this “our year.” You are the best! And some time in 2011, we’ll share a book byline together.

Grant — I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know you more and more. You’re a cranky old fart, but I love all of you! 🙂 You were one of the first people to simply ask, “How are YOU doing, really?” I won’t forget that. You show up regularly on our weekly show just to hang out together (sometimes in our office, always at conferences) and we love you for it. Your friendship and loyalty to me personally has been #massive. 🙂

Jason — and really I should add his awesome firecracker of a wife, Christine, too. You are the definition of sincerity and authenticity. You are the real deal. I appreciate that at your core you are a great human being …. simply doing the work that makes you happy and fully content in that and continuing to put people first. You are a great example and model for me. Thank you.

There are more to mention here … but for those not mentioned you know what you mean to me because I tell you and hopefully more purposefully, show you. Just like you’ve done for me so many times over and over.

OUR COMMUNITY

Throughout everything, I am, each and every day, thankful for the customers who makes up the community at iThemes, PluginBuddy and WebDesign.com.

As with everything in life, there will always be naysayers and people who oppose what we do and how we do it, who aren’t happy, and who willfully seek out our demise.

Those people are noise (and lighter fluid to our motivation and drive to be and do better for those who support us – you).

We’re not a “fit” for everybody and that’s simply ok with me and us.

Our true community supports us with your hard-earned money, allowing us to do what we love, as we support you.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart for that.

If it was simply about money, I’d given up a long time ago. Yes, I’ve profited from our business. I don’t apologize for that though because I’ve personally worked harder in the last 3 years of this startup than any previous job combined. But money has never, nor will it ever, rule me or what I do. It is simply a means to an end. (The people that truly matter know this already, so I’m merely preaching to the choir here.)

If it was simply about fame and my own glory, I wouldn’t seek you out personally at WordCamps and other venues to get to know you and what you do, chat with you on our webinars, respond to as many emails personally as I can, or do our weekly iThemesTV to let you meet our awesome team and to give credit where credit is rightly deserved. If it were about me, my partners — yes, I’m a minority business owner in iThemes — and my team would gladly kick me out of it and I hope they would. (My team and my partners are my counsel of elders so to speak. They keep me accountable. They keep me on the right track and have helped me not to make some miserable mistakes. On many occasions they’ve confronted me, to my dismay and despite my initial unhappy reactions to it, but I’ve been better for it. So has our company.)

What drives me is … living my passion and dream (I created the ideal job for myself, one that changes every day with new and harder challenges at every turn) … recruiting, developing and being around an incredible team of truly inspiring people … and seeing how high and how far we can climb together … for a community of awesome people who supports, loves and wants what we offer them.

I know we have to earn the trust of our community, each and every day. I know we have to keep innovating, keep providing great products and services and keep improving FOR YOU.

That has always been our pledge and our promise at iThemes.

But please understand … we won’t always be perfect. We have never promised that. You might doubt some decisions or even disagree with ones we or even I make. You could in fact get so mad at our business model or pricing structure or at a dropped ball in what we do and decide to leave us.

That’s OK.

We will apologize when we’re wrong and seek to correct it. But we’re not for everyone.

I do hope you give us the opportunity to either make it right … or let us explain our position … before you leave.

So often, your input and constructive feedback is like cold water on our faces.

We need to hear from you. We want to hear from you. We might not always like it. We might not always agree with it. But nonetheless, I readily invite you to give it!

(We did our first-ever town hall this fall to get more of it and on daily and weekly occasion through iThemesTV chat, email and in the forum allow you to constructively offer your feedback — and I hope you feel we welcome it.)

But please hear me on this next point ….

At the root of what we do is the realization that if we don’t provide great solutions to our community’s problem and keep consistently improving, our customers will vote for our continued existence with their pocketbooks. Or not.

I do hope you will allow us the privilege of communicating our position first and directly. Or at least reserving judgment until you’ve heard our side of the story.

Like any startup, we’ve faced our share of competition, challenges and adversity ….

I compare entrepreneurship to a roller coaster. There are the highest of highs (like this month when you voted with your pocketbook to make this our best month in our history, or our inaugural launch day in Jan. 2008) and low lows (some of which I thought were the end of us or me) … but in the end …. it is you who makes all this possible.

To our community … I THANK YOU. We thank you.

You are amazing. Keep pushing us to be and do better … for you. Keep supporting us with your pocketbook and we promise to overdeliver as often and much as we possibly can.

If we don’t, please tell us how we can fix it.

GETTING TO THE END …

There are so many and so much I have left out. I had to hit the high notes. And again, this is about me and those who have been there for me this year.

Again, I refer back to what my friend LSW said ….

  • Ignore the noise.
  • Focus on what matters.
  • And all of you …. are what truly matters to me.

Merry Christmas (belated), Happy Holidays and here is cheers to walking with you in 2011.

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8 thoughts on “What Matters to Me”

  1. I appreciate this post a great deal, Cory…the entire post (not just the parts about me haha). Knowing everything you’ve been through in the past year – its really good to read all of this. I’m very happy that you have supportive family and friends that surround you to help you through such times. I know you’re proud and that you usually are other people’s “rock” – – but I think you’ve learned, first-hand, what it means to be a friend…what it means to be family….others want to help and support just as much as you want to do the same for them. Let them (as you have) and your life, and theirs, will be richer for it.

    As for you and I….wow. I think about our friendship and how its developed over such a short period of time. This time last year, I didn’t have you in my life as a friend, as I do today. I’m grateful for that.

    In the WordPress world, you and I have always been in each others periphery for several years – – but it wasn’t until this year that we forged our friendship. I like to think there was a reason for that….and as this year’s events unfolded, I’m convinced there was. What else would have empowered me to say what I said that evening at dinner the first night I met you and your team in Austin (CSP!)?? In hindsight, and in reality, we barely knew each other at that moment … but it opened a door that I am grateful for today.

    Thank you for keeping that door open, esp. during a few shaky moments. Thank you, also, for so warmly welcoming me into your life, and your team – with whom I’ve also developed friendships that I cherish today.

    I am looking forward to ignoring the noise with you in 2011, and beyond. Happy New Year, Cory!

    All good things lie ahead.

  2. Cory, I admire your courage to post this. I know how writing can be very therapeutic, but sharing your innermost thoughts with the world is very hard to do. I know your family, friends and team will cherish your words for some time to come.

    As a fellow midwest boy with a startup, you bring up many points that I can relate to. Thanks for reminding me to always remember what’s important, focus on what matters and ignore the noise.

    Here’s to an outstanding 2011 for all of us!

  3. It takes quite a bit to lay it all out there like you have in this post, and I admire you for being able to share your thoughts. It’s easy to get knocked down (this has happened to all of us)… the hard part is getting back up and making ourselves stronger by learning from our experiences. Your life is (just my opinion) very much what you make of it. Along those lines, happiness and success in life can be measured in many different ways despite what society teaches us. All I can say is that I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to share 2010 with people like you (the good and the bad) and I look forward to what 2011 has to offer. Cheers to a happy new year.

  4. Cory this is the most amazing post I’ve read in a long time. You have been through a lot this year, and are coming out on top. Posts like this are a reminder of what’s really important, and that healthy, valuable relationships and pride in yourself and what you do is more important than money can ever be. I’ve said many times that you have an amazing team at iThemes. You are as fortunate to work with them as they are to work with you. You know you’re one of my favorite people in the community, and I cherish your friendship greatly.

  5. This is an amazing journey you have shared. Clearly more goes on than the customers know (speaking as a clueless client, LOL!).

    And as one of the first to always ‘jump off any cliff’ (or on board any membership) that the iThemes team tell me to… I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    My business (as well as I have) greatly benefited from my affiliation, training, and contacts I have made being part of the iThemes community. It definitely came along at the right time for me and I plan to move and grow with the changes in the new year.

    As I take inventory this year and thank God for my many blessings, I thank you and the iThemes team as well. My business is the better for your vision–and it can only get better right?

  6. You know we will always love you, and be here for you through thick, and thin (hey, I want to make sure you will listen to my gripes and whines as well…;)And I feel honored to be able to give you the witty neice that can always make even the hardcore pessimist smile! I love you!

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