BLOGNAME: LOUDER THAN WORDSAn informal, stream-of-consciousness reflection on business ideas, events and issues in modern business, modern life and with some specifics to the web-software industry by Paul Tomori, Internet Entrepreneur
|My September 10th Hat|
Life as it ought to be...
By Paul Tomori
Sunday, September 11, 2011 at 15:09:12 (EDT)
The year 2001 started off with a the most self-indulgent New Year's bash I had ever been to. It felt good to be alive and to shed some of the stress of having dealt with the dot-com bubble of 2000. Everyone in my business was glad to put that year to rest and we were all excited for the possibilities that would emerge. That night, I had a great spontaneous time with a girl I had met a few years earlier and had been dating occasionally. I woke up the next day mostly sober and ready to face the year.
However after just a few months, I could see that my business and partnership were not recovering well from the precipitous loss of business that came when clients stopped calling us for website work. I was sure it was just temporary, but was it going to be one year temporary or two years temporary? My partners started dabbling in other things and I was getting antsy to make some big changes. I was getting the itch to forge out on my own.
In April of 2001, I took a flight to California, rented a car and drove up Highway 1 from L.A. to San Francisco and back. I figured that getting physically away from the business and Niagara, I would have a clearer head. As well, a two week trip would give me the time I needed to be sure of what I thought I needed to do. On my return, I announced to my partners that I thought our visions were diverging and that we should split our customer base and head off on our own. The timing was propitious as they had already been making steps in that direction anyway. Without even one call to a lawyer, we settled ourselves financially, divied up our client base and employees, closed our office, and off I went home to Welland to start fresh operating from a spare bedroom in my semi-detached home.
That was July 1, 2001. The relief I felt was enormous. The sense of liberation was profound. For the first 3 weeks, I slept 15 hours a day (to try to counter-balance the 4 previous years of working 15 hour days). I commissioned a customized building plan from an architect friend and built a huge shed in the backyard with my brother. I knew that physical work was an excellent catharsis for me during transition times in my life. I tended to my client base at a bare minimum trying to keep them happy, but taking advantage of the fact that most were on summer vacation anyway. Winding down the business gave me some extra cash from having cut our overhead and I remember feeling that I was making 3 times the money for 1/3 the work I had previously been doing.
Heading into August, I prepared a trip to Scotland with my Mom who was wheelchair-bound with M.S.. It was quite an undertaking, but we had done it the summer before and we had a good plan in place with Air Canada. The two weeks abroad gave me even more sense of liberty and emotional contentment. I will never forget the plane ride home. As we neared Pearson International in Toronto, I ventured up to the front of the plane. I didn't need the washroom, but I saw there was a lineup and also that the cockpit door was wide open. I just wanted to stand up there and not look out of place. I have always loved and been fascinated by all the knobs and buttons and screens and controls in a passenger jet. I remember looking past the pilots and out the cockpit window at the blue sky as they prepared their checklists for the start of descent. It gave me confidence to see them go through their motions, but I remember feeling their vulnerability too. Little did I know what would be happening just 2 weeks later over the skies of America.
In the final days of August, I went to Chapters and spent $400 on server administration manuals. For a week, I pored over these absorbing everything I needed to know about BIND, HTTPD, and SENDMAIL.
And just a couple days later, in early September, I launched my own server (singular) - back then, the concept of having a backup system was foreign to me (though now I run 15 servers across 3 different locations). It was the first time I could claim to be a system administrator. I was as proud as a peacock.
For a week, I worked through little glitches as I ported all of my clients onto this new platform. It was exhilarating, challenging and very satisfying to solve each new problem as it arose. I felt like I had been reborn and that life was about to get VERY good for me.
On September 10, 2001, I ventured up to Toronto to meet with a Fortune 500 company who had hired me to audit their website for $5,000. It was BIG money for something I felt I was an expert at. It was big money for a guy from Welland working from a spare bedroom in his semi-detached home. Having survived my server launch, and on the heels of this contract win, I decided to take the rest of the day off, eat like a king, head to the island, do some shopping, and meet up with my New Year's eve girlfriend.
Part way through my wanders that day, I got a call from one of my most important clients. Their site was down! With no laptop (couldn't afford one!), I found the nearest internet cafe (remember those places?!) and I logged in remotely to my system, found the problem (it was serious, but fixable), and rectified it completely.
I was elated. I felt I had truly graduated from being a website designer to being a mostly competent system administrator.
Over the course of the day, I saw a suede outback hat at one of those middle aisle kiosks in the Eaton Centre. On impulse, I bought it. Truly, it was not my style at all, but I thought that life was simply too good and why not indulge a bit of frivolity. Stepping out on the street, my head held high with my silly Australian hat, I paraded down Yonge Street. Someone in a car obviously could see by my gait that I was on top of the world and they yelled at me about my hat: "Where'd ya get that hat, man? It's very cool!"
I smiled. Yes, it WAS cool. And, life was truly great. It is no exaggeration to reflect that September 10, 2001 was one of the happiest days of my life.
The night ended for me at about 2 a.m. and while I was a bit tired, I believed my elation would propel me homeward. Unfortunately, though on top of the world, the long day fatigued me and I knew better than to try to fight that feeling... So, rounding the curve after Burlington, I pulled into Stop 50 and slept in my car for a couple of hours. At about 6 a.m. I woke up and journeyed the rest of the way back home and immediately fell into bed exhausted, but tingly with the sense of my new modus operandi.
A couple hours later, my bladder awoke me and when I stepped out of the bedroom, my sister, with whom I shared the home, called up to me to come quick to the television. There it was. The first tower had been hit and there was mass confusion. Was it a bomb? A cessna? No one knew for sure, but it seemed serious. I knew the twin towers well, having been to NYC a few times in the prior years, so I knew what an important landmark they were. Watching in disbelief, I saw live on television as the 2nd plane hit the other tower. The announcer hadn't seen the plane and thought it was just an explosion, but it wasn't long after that the events were confirmed to be an attack. The rest of course is well-documented history.
For me, the polarizing emotional swing from the day of elation before to this day of horror on September 11 was profound. I remember looking at the hat I had purchased the day before... and thinking that everything was about to change direction from where I thought it was going to go. I was shell-shocked all day and my emails from that day reflect the disgust and dismay I and my friends felt. How dare anyone attack our beloved New York City where people from every country in the world live... and thrive. I felt tremendous pain for the losses that so many people experienced that day and I also remember distinctly feeling that I could easily have been one of the people in that tower... a young technology-driven guy in the prime of his life. I went to bed that night very sad for the state of the world.
The next day I woke up and watched more news, then I walked and walked and walked, wearing my outback hat. And, I got mad. I got mad at the people who were trying to rob our world of the kind of elation that a young person should be allowed to feel and pursue. In defiance, I dubbed that hat my "September 10th hat" and for the next couple of months, I wore it constantly. My friends thought I was a bit nuts, but I liked the comfort that it gave me and I liked how it reminded me that the reality of life is not always what we live for... sometimes we live for life as it ought to be.
It's hard to believe that today is the 10 year anniversary of the September 11 attacks on America. Ten years can go by too fast. All the more reason to embrace each day and do something useful with it... and to never lose site of how much better it is to be 6 feet above ground, than six feet under. We will all end up there one day, but for your time on this sometimes-sickly planet, seize the day, remember how good you really have it... and whether you can or can't see past the harshness of your current place in life, define precisely what your dreamlife would be. Make a very specific action-oriented plan to make that life happen. And, start living it, one small step at a time. Life is not meant to be tough. You weren't meant to be poor or sad. But, you won't likely get what you deserve til you first envision what you want and deserve. Here's a clue from a guy who has achieved many of his dreams, but who has many left to fulfill... Start by thinking of life as it ought to be. Then go to that in everything you do and think.
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