My Origin Story

After writing a post about how businesses need to share their origin stories and some discussion through social media and comments last week, I realized that I had not shared my own story on this website. I have an About page that quickly covers who I am and what I do, but I haven't really gone into what got me here. As a quick aside, writing my own story was an incredibly helpful exercise in understanding what I'm asking of small businesses. It feels incredibly awkward to write about myself in a business context, but I hope it will give you a quick view on my perspective.

When I was a kid, I decided that I was going to be a professional musician when I grew up. I didn't want to be one of those studio musicians who avoid the limelight. I was going to be up front and getting the crowd stoked up.

As I got into high school and college, I decided to apply this love for music and the arts towards working with churches. After graduating, my wife and I (yeah, we were young, young newlyweds) moved 400 miles to work with a church plant (for business folks, think “start-up” — pretty similar concept).

I worked in churches on and off for the next few years, playing music on a regular basis in churches, coffee shops, and bars.

Ultimately, I figured out that I didn't want to be a professional musician, and I didn't want to work for a church. (I still play music on a regular basis, but I don't want to play the same songs every night and spend all of my time on the road.)

Enter the Conflict

After working with churches, doing some customer service gigs, and playing music, I was officially unemployed.

And I stayed unemployed for several months.

I picked little bits of work here and there, but I was getting really nervous. My wife and I already had our first child by this point, and I wasn't sure how to keep going. We had a little bit of cash, but we had nearly spent it all.

We had family support, but neither of our families could pay our way.

We had to come up with something quickly.

I finally landed a job that I thought could possibly work. It didn't seem like much fun, but there was the possibility of promotion. We really needed stability at that point, and I was willing to stick with some boring employment to help us get through.

It was a terrible job. Absolutely terrible. It's funny because that period of my life seemed as if it would never end, but I was only employed there for 3 months.

Very early on, I realized that this job was not going to work out. Seriously, it's the only place I've ever been where everyone hated their job. Maybe not everyone, but you certainly couldn't tell by their facial expressions. Everyone looked miserable, whether they were or not.

I decided that I was either going to start doing something with web design / development or some sort of translation services for Spanish and English. I realize that not everyone who reads this will consider themselves “religious” (for whatever that term is worth), but I feel it important to say that I spent a lot of time in prayer over this decision. I knew I needed a skill set that I could market to businesses, and I knew that either one would take quite a bit of work in order to become proficient.

I chose web design / development, and I spent 2 to 3 hours each day studying and practicing. I worked on learning HTML and CSS in the early morning or in the late evening, and I spent my days working at what I soon learned was a very high-turnover job.

Three months after starting, I saw a part-time job opening on Craigslist for a web designer for a small company. I didn't know how I was going to find a way to set up an interview during business hours, but I sent off my resume anyway. During this same period, the company I worked for informed us that we would be required to take a day off without pay in order to save the company money. What could have been a negative situation actually turned out incredibly well for me as I was able to schedule my interview for my forced day off.

I got to the interview knowing that I had a slim chance of landing the gig. I had no experience. I'd been working hard on my studies, but I wasn't sure if it would be enough.

Sure enough, it wasn't. The people interviewing me let me know of all these big ideas they had for what their website could potentially do. Mind you, these big ideas weren't mentioned in the Craigslist ad. The ad only mentioned introductory-level kind of design and maintenance tasks.

I wasn't confident enough in my abilities to try to bluff my way through, so I was honest. “I'm sorry,” I said. “ I'm not able to do all of that at this point, so I won't waste your time.”

And you know what? I got the job.

I got the job because I was honest enough to admit that I didn't know how to do something.

I've never had another job interview go that way, and I certainly don't recommend listing off all the things you can't do during your initial conversation with a potential employer. But that time it worked. Apparently, the company had been burned by working with people who promised way too much and then started blaming everyone else when the relationship went south. So, giving an honest assessment was exactly what they needed.

That interview was a turning point for me in more ways than just gaining new employment. I'd always lacked confidence to a certain degree in my work, but I realized a newfound direction. We were talking about my willingness to continue to learn if I were to work with this company, and I assured them that I was.

I said, “Web development is where I'm going. Whether I get this job or not, I will be working in this field soon.”

These words weren't false bravado. I'd been studying hard. I knew I was building the skills to land a job at some point within the next year — even if I wasn't quite ready to take on a job in that field quite yet.

But it worked.

After the week of my forced day off, I put in my resignation notice the following Monday.

That first web job wasn't perfect, but it was an incredible opportunity to get hands-on experience and learn. I crashed websites, and I learned how to put them back together. I learned that I'm not a designer.

I learned that I love the process of online marketing. It gives me the chance to still express creativity, to create meaningful connections with people, and to explore the writing process even more.

Origin Story Thoughts for the Road

Why does this matter to you? Well, hopefully you get a better sense of who I am, and there a few lessons that might be meaningful to you out of all of this.

  1. Don't oversell. Don't lead off with all of the things you or your product can't do, but don't over-inflate the value of your product. People know when you're trying to feed them a line.
  2. Be confident in what you are selling. Whether the product is right for that customer may or may not be true, but you need to know that you're actually helping people with what you have to offer.

Have an origin story to share?

Is your story online? I'd love to read it. Shoot me a link in the comment section below.

StoriesMichael Roberts