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2015 – The year I became the full version of me

The following can be summarized like this:

You don’t know what you’re fully capable of until your back is against the wall.

My back was against the wall this year, and what I’m capable of is beyond anything that I could’ve imagined.

Chasing dreams deferred

I started the year having committed in December to chasing a 10-year-old dream that I didn’t want to defer for another ten years: starting my own web agency.

It was my reaction to my not-yet-ex-wife’s life-threatening health scare that she had. That was enough of a signal to me that life really is short.

The plan was: sell our house in Pennsylvania, move into an apartment while the house was on the market, and then move to Florida. I would quit my job and jump into full-time freelancing while we lived on her paycheck for a while.

I read The Art of Work by Jeff Goins, and one thing that it said was that if you take steps towards your calling, then the universe has a way of making it happen for you.

I was willing to test that theory out. I started taking steps. Let’s find out what happened.

Finding the Your Turn Challenge tribe

I’m a big fan of Seth Godin. He put out a blogging challenge, complete with hashtag, promoting his new book in January. It was called the Your Turn Challenge, and it was all about taking your turn.

The first thing I did was, for the first time in my life, write a blog post that really resonated with fellow Seth Godin fans and got lots of exposure. I then started a Facebook group for fellow challenge participants to congregate and give each other encouragement.

It was the most active Facebook group I’ve ever seen. There were over 100 members, and it had a high, regular participation rate.

I got my first taste of tribe membership, and I still check in with them every now and then. They’re still blogging and encouraging each other.

My first WordCamp

I attended my first WordCamp ever in February when I went to WordCamp Lancaster. I had attended a Genesis meetup at WordCamp Vegas the December before, but I didn’t formally attend that WordCamp.

I learned a lot and had an overall great experience. I also met, for the first time, my local Genesis friends Matt Ryan, John Lauber, and Sal Ferrarello. They were my formal initiation into the local community.

I also saw a session with a speaker by the name of Liam Dempsey. Never seen him before, but I would get to know him quite well once I started becoming a regular at his meetups in April.

Shooting for the stars by registering for CaboPress

I was turned on to an opportunity to register for CaboPress. It’s a WordPress mastermind retreat hosted by Chris Lema. I figured if I wanted to be taken seriously as a WordPress entrepreneur, I may as well learn from, and rub shoulders with, the heavyweights in the game.

So, I filled out an application and was accepted. September was going to be an awesome month.

Health and fitness becoming a priority

I figured if I was going to chase after my dreams, that I would need to be at my best. So, I quit smoking back in December and then started meditating and walking each morning. I would get up extra early so that I could do these things as well as blog as often as I could. Or at least regularly read the blogs of super smart people.

I had no idea that my meditation and walking practice would wind up saving my life and making it fundamentally better than it has ever been. More on that later.

We moved at the end of the March

The ex and I moved into our new apartment closer to my work at the end of March. The cats eventually settled in after much resistance. All we had to do was put our house on the market, and then we would be that much closer to living in sunny paradise.

My first WordPress meetup and presentation

I went to my first burbsWP meetup in April. They were still looking for a speaker for one of the five minute slots. I had recently won a free license of the Conductor Plugin in a contest on Office Hours FM, so I volunteered to give a talk on it.

It was well received, and it was great to formally meet Liam and see John and Matt again.

All was going great….and then she walked out

Everything was chugging along, and things were going to plan.

Then I came home from work one day, and my ex told me that she was moving back into the house and leaving me in the apartment.

“So, wait…..you’re leaving me?”

“Yes.”

The look of pure sadness in her eyes was heartbreaking. I can’t imagine the sadness she went through as she cleared everything of hers out of the apartment and our shared storage unit.

The explanations she gave me didn’t make any sense to me. The only one that did was “we’re not on the same page anymore.”

I knew that to be true. We had grown far apart. I thought we could work through it. She didn’t think so.

In the immediate aftermath of her leaving, I became angry. I thought I was being treated unfairly and that I didn’t deserve to have that happen to me. I was living my life for us and our future.

I was never bad to her a day in my life.

I didn’t want to be alone that weekend, so I retreated to my aunt and uncle’s house, where they welcomed me in as they always do. Then, the very next morning:

Death of a dear friend

I was looking around on Facebook while barely awake that morning. I found a post that said that my dear friend Sarah had 27 postings to her wall. The first post I read said “Sarah, I can’t believe you’re gone.”

I’m sorry…..WHAT???????

The subsequent messages said the same thing. I was hoping it was some mistake. Then I saw confirmation from her brother that it was true.

Fuck.

She had just given birth to a baby girl the day before. She and her husband now had a daughter, and their son had a sister.

The next day, she was taken from us due to complications of childbirth.

Sarah and I had been friends for almost 20 years, since our days of Internet chatting when we were teenagers. We had gotten together in person many many many times. She was a wonderful friend. I loved her.

And now, she’s gone. How did I lose my marriage and a dear friend within a day of each other???

The start of becoming Andy again

I had lived my married life in northern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Now, I was back in the Philly suburbs, closer to my friends and civilization. My social calendar exploded. I was going out with different people every night.

I don’t believe I did that to avoid the pain. I couldn’t avoid it. I believe I did it because I felt cooped up in Amish country for five and a half years, and now I could play with my friends again.

The ex gave me a final “no” when I offered marriage counseling as a last ditch, and so the divorce process began.

My second WordCamp in North Canton

I took a road trip to Ohio to attend WordCamp North Canton. I was having a bad weekend emotionally, but I went anyway. I just didn’t talk much to anyone.

The coolest part of the weekend: getting to drum on stage with fellow attendees and Elec Simon, a former cast member of the show Stomp. I really needed to let out that energy on the drums.

I took an awesome road trip back through eastern Ohio, West Virginia, western PA, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, and eastern PA. I love crossing borders, and I crossed them several times.

The next day, I was excited to go to my second burbsWP meetup. I walked in and started talking with an attendee I had met previously. I then got a phone call. It said “Mom” on the caller ID. I went outside to pick it up.

That’s when everything changed. Again. For the third fucking time in a month.

“They asked him if he wants to see a chaplain”

Dad had been fighting to live in the 17 years since he had quadruple bypass surgery. His diabetes left him with multiple conditions and several health scares. He took it all in stride and kept himself healthy enough to be upright, which many times was no small feat.

Most recently he was put on dialysis, and he was responding well to it. Until he stopped.

He was in the hospital for two weeks, and they ran every test in the book on him to figure out what was wrong.

When Ma called me, they still hadn’t figured it out, but his odds of survival were grim. They used the word “chaplain”, and that’s never a good thing. I would be on a plane out to Honolulu where they lived two days later.

I went back into the meetup, resumed my conversation, and then didn’t hear or register a word anyone said during the presentations.

The diagnosis is in, and he won’t get better

The diagnosis was CLL, a rare and incurable form of leukemia. Of all the health problems it could’ve been, no one saw that coming.

So, we took him home from the hospital to give him hospice care.

I journaled the entire last three weeks of his life that I spent with him. I can’t adequately express what a completely awful experience it is to watch a loved one die right before your eyes.

At the same time, I can’t adequately express what an honor and privilege it was for me to be able to take care of him.

Everything from running out to get him what ended up being his last meal, to giving him morphine through a dropper so he would be comfortable, to just being there with him, to giving him dialysis until all three of us decided that it was time to stop it.

Once we stopped his dialysis, as the doctor predicted, it took him a week to go.

We buried him, and 75 of his closest friends attended a celebration of life party a day after the funeral. He was loved. I think he was also pissed off that 75 people congregated in one place to make him the center of attention 🙂 Totally not his style.

The day I wondered: what’s next?

I flew back home the day after the celebration of life party. My buddy picked me up from the airport, took me to breakfast, made sure I was ok once at my apartment, and then left.

I looked around at the apartment:

  • No ex, no cats
  • All rented furniture, none of it mine
  • A closet full of my clothes and a couple of TV’s
  • A new bookcase my cousin bought me to help make it feel more like home
  • A pile of divorce papers from Legal Zoom on the landing at the bottom of the stairs

I looked around and thought to myself: “what the fuck am I gonna do now???”

I already knew what I was going to do. I just couldn’t believe that this was now my life. And no Dad to boot.

So, I started my formal recovery process. I recommend it for anyone recovering from trauma, or even just on an every day basis. I call it:

Relentless self-love

I was going to show myself love, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness every single day. I was going to continue to meditate and take my walks. I was going to feel my emotions fully whenever they popped up and lean into them.

I was going to trust my instincts at every step in the process.

The next two months started with me reconnecting with family and friends. I also got back into the swing of things at work, and I’m thankful to my colleagues for keeping the place running while I was either working half-days remotely or taking time off for bereavement.

Every Friday or Saturday night, I would take a nice long walk around my neighborhood. I called it my victory lap. I celebrated the fact that I made it through another week, ok and unharmed.

The little things become so important to you when you feel like you’ve lost almost everything that mattered to you.

The start of my running journey and podcast

I eventually got tired of just walking for fitness. I wanted to level up my game. One night during one of my victory laps, the music got me so amped up that my legs simply started running on their own.

I took that as a sign.

I asked around if anyone knew of a 5K that I could train for. A friend from work pointed me towards a 5K mud run. It was a fundraiser for leukemia, which is what killed Dad.

I was in. My friend and her husband wound up running the race with me.

I chronicled my training on a podcast I called Running for Dad.

It was an incredible experience. It was also a great conversation piece that I used when I attended the Podcast Movement conference in Fort Worth, Texas the first weekend in August. My fellow podcasters thought it was a great idea.

At that conference, I got to tell Shawn Stevenson in person that his podcast inspired me to get started on my health and fitness journey. His smile was so big, I think it made his whole month.

So, I kept running and started seeing a boxing trainer for cross-training. I had been eyeballing him for about a year but never pulled the trigger on contacting him. I love boxing, and it looked like a great workout.

I still train with him to this day and should be in good enough shape to start sparring in early spring.

Still not deferring those dreams

I was in no condition to formally start my web agency yet, but I still wanted to take steps towards it. I recruited my good friend Jean to help me with business development and sales. I still attended burbsWP meetups. I even still volunteered at WordCamp Philly, one week after Dad died.

I wanted to make sure I was staying the course with whatever small steps I was capable of taking.

The start of the depression

August 20th is her birthday, August 22nd was our wedding anniversary, and August 29th is my birthday. It was around this time that I fell into a depression and couldn’t shake it until mid-October.

I was completely functional during this time; just terribly depressed. I’m so glad I was training for my 5K run during this time. Most days, it was the only thing that got me out of bed in the morning.

Run completed, then off to Mexico

I’m really glad I did a combination of running and strength-training. The 5K mud run had some real kick-your-ass obstacles, including climbing up rope walls which required every ounce of upper body strength I had.

If I had not trained for it, there’s no way I would’ve finished it.

Because of all the obstacles, and plenty of crawling through the mud, it didn’t matter what my time was. My only goal was to finish. Plus, I raised over $600 for leukemia research.

I felt amazing.

The day after the race, I hopped on a plane to San Francisco, and then another plane to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Showing up, even when you’re in pain

I didn’t want to be at CaboPress. I was still in my depression. I was still in pain. I didn’t want to bother anyone with it, because I didn’t want to ruin their good time.

However, this was a step that I needed to take towards my dreams. My flights and accommodations and everything else were already booked. I’d rather be unhappy there than regretful at home.

So, I went and did the best I could. I barely said a word during the group discussions. I had better luck in the one-on-one conversations. When a group of us went to a bar in town where they had 90’s hip-hop “name that tune”, my table wiped the floor with all the other tables because I was there yelling out the correct answers.

I could name tunes within 2-3 notes.

When we went on a sunset pirate cruise, I couldn’t help dancing and singing to “Jump Around” and “Baby Got Back”. I don’t care what kind of bad shape I’m in. Music does that to me.

Despite my lack of engagement, people still showed me kindness and engaged with me. They have become friends in the community. I’m grateful to them.

When I got back, I presented at the burbsWP meetup on lessons that I learned at CaboPress.

Finding the support that I needed

In mid-October, I finally kicked my depression by going to a support group for divorced people. I realized that I needed to be around like-minded people who had been through this absolutely gut-wrenching experience. That provided a huge sense of relief, and I felt ok again.

More 5K races

I ran two regular, non-mud run 5K races in November. One was a fundraiser for cancer, and the other was a fundraiser for my boxing trainer’s church. I didn’t anticipate running the latter, but he offered to pay for my registration, so how could I turn that down?

I wound up finishing both in under half an hour. I was proud.

WordCamp US and finding my tribe

I recently wrote about finding my tribe at WordCamp US. It was an amazing experience. My investment in the community over the past year has been incredibly worth it.

What am I up to now?

As of this writing, this is where I’m at in life:

  • I am 30 pounds lighter than I was in late July, still boxing, and I’m registered for a half marathon which I will run with my WP running club partner Angelina. (UPDATE 4/14/2016: I finished the race in 2:16 and loved every minute of it). I also plan on doing the Broad Street Run.
  • I am doing portfolio projects under my Deliberate Media Solutions banner and fleshing out my service offerings. Since WordCamp US, people have approached me about working with them.
  • I am looking for a full-time job at an established WordPress agency so I can learn the business and contribute to growing someone else’s business while building my own. UPDATE 4/14/2016: I have decided that there’s no point in deferring my dream any further and that I’m really ready to go out on my own full-time. I’m working hard to get my ducks in a row paperwork-wise and get client work in the door, so if you happen to know any good sources for Genesis work, I’d love to hear from you.
  • I am a volunteer project manager for three different non-profit website projects for Philly GiveCamp.
  • I just built and launched a new resource called the WP Podcast Report for people to easily find the latest episodes of the best WordPress podcasts all in one place.
  • My divorce was finalized in November, so it’s nice to think that I can hop back into the dating pool without any rush to get serious with anyone.

How meditation and walking saved my life

Or at least made it significantly easier to deal with life.

Meditation, when done consistently over time, allows you to recognize your emotions without being swept away by them. It allows you to recognize more quickly when you are lost in thoughts.

Meditation basically strengthens your mind. This is crucial, because your mind has incredible power over how you feel physically.

The basic tenet that meditation and mindfulness teaches us is that “everything is temporary”. Instead of thinking that your sadness will last forever, you can simply acknowledge that it’s there, feel it for as long as you need to, and know that it will go away.

Being more aware of what was going on allowed me to function better. It allowed me to explore concepts of self-love and treating myself better than anyone else is capable of treating me. Part of that was my walking practice, which turned into my running practice, which turned into a complete dedication to health and fitness.

2015 has been an amazing year

You don’t know what you’re fully capable of until your back is against the wall.

You are stronger, smarter, and more resilient than you think. It’s really amazing what you can accomplish.

I found that out firsthand this year.

2015 did its very best to kick my ass ten ways to Sunday. It really tried.

2015 wound up being the most amazing year of my life. Because I made it that way.

My life is fundamentally better than it has ever been. Because I made it that way.

What you read on my blog? That’s all me. What you see when you meet me in person and talk about whatever topics? That’s all me. Unfiltered. Unadulterated. Pure me.

Thank you for joining me on my journey. Thank you for showing me kindness this year.

Stick around. There’s a lot more awesomeness to come.

 

 

 

10 Comments

  1. Carrie on December 17, 2015 at 6:32 pm

    Hey Andy,
    I’m glad we’ve crossed paths. You’re a badass.

    Looking forward to seeing how 2016 unfolds for you!

    Carrie

    • Andy Stitt on December 17, 2015 at 6:44 pm

      Carrie, coming from a fellow badass, that means a lot! I appreciate your support.

      Andy

  2. Patte Shetler on December 17, 2015 at 7:59 pm

    Hey Andy! I don’t know you, but The 10 mile Broad Street run is a blast!
    Hang in there.
    I will look for you at WordCamp US Next year.
    Patte

    • Andy Stitt on December 17, 2015 at 8:17 pm

      Patte, thanks for your comment! Are you running Broad Street next year?

      Andy

      • Patte on April 13, 2016 at 5:10 pm

        Andy,
        I just read this article again. I hope you are doing well and running Broad Street.
        May 1st is the Pittsburgh Marathon and my daughter is running the half.

        If you are still running Broad Street post your times. Have a blast. This run is the perfect distance and a blast!

  3. Shelly Peacock on December 18, 2015 at 11:17 am

    I wish we could have met at WCUS- I am dealing with 1/3 of what you had to face.. you are so inspirational. Dude- backs against the wall- we got this!

    • Andy Stitt on December 18, 2015 at 11:27 am

      Shelly, thanks so much! I appreciate that. Whatever you’re going through right now….yeah, you definitely got this!

  4. Craig on April 12, 2016 at 3:13 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing your story. It is so encouraging to hear from other people and their honest journey through life. Glad to meet you yesterday and looking forward to getting to know you through the Philly ‘burbs WP meetup and reading your blog as well.

    • Andy Stitt on April 12, 2016 at 7:59 pm

      Craig, pleasure to meet you as well. The burbsWP group is a great one. Looking forward to sharing more drinks and meals with you!

  5. Patte on April 13, 2016 at 5:12 pm

    Andy,
    I just read this post again. I hope you are still in your personal recovery.
    May 1st is the Pittsburgh Marathon and my daughter is running the half.
    If you are running Broad Street have fun! It is the perfect distance run.

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