This past weekend I drove down to Nashville to attend WordCamp US. I drove because I’m not a fan of flying, though driving through a snowstorm there and through freezing rain on the way home wasn’t much better.
No matter the risk, the reward was worth it—I spent four wonderful days amidst old friends and making new ones.
Without a doubt, this was my favorite WordCamp that I have attended. Aside from being with co-workers—my team is lit, by the way—I was able to spend most of my time with folks from the Genesis Community.
Among those were individuals who traveled a long distance—some more than 10,000 miles—to attend the conference. The United Kingdom, Australia, and of course, locals from within the United States represented.
One of the hats I wear at StudioPress is “community evangelist”—no surprise there, right? It is my job to bring people together and help them build their businesses.
This looks many ways, from sharing work/content on social media, connecting those looking for a website with designers and developers, and providing a way for some to sell their themes on StudioPress.
I love my job. Plain and simple.
This past weekend, on three separate occasions, I was told: “Thank you, Brian, you changed my life.”
It feels really good when you hear those words—like I’m a magician or some kind of miracle worker—and my ego goes through the roof.
This definitely wasn’t the first time I had heard them, and probably won’t be the last. Over the years, it has happened many, many times.
Meet Lee Anthony, a talented designer who, along with his fiancée Jade, traveled from Perth, Australia to be with us. Lee owns SEO Themes, a collection of beautiful themes—many of which we sell on StudioPress.
Yesterday, Lee tweeted this:
“Meeting the man that literally changed my life. @bgardner”
On my way home, in between dodging patches of black ice and skidding out, I came to this conclusion: Lee is wrong.
In fact, everyone who says that I changed their life is wrong.
. . .
In 2006, I was working for an architectural firm as a project manager. I had a good job, but it wasn’t a great job. There was no path within that company which would have made me happy.
Before I started blogging, a friend recommended that I check out WordPress. Very quickly, I fell in love and enjoyed the community that came with it. I downloaded a free theme, hacked away, and customized my blog.
Over the next few months, I started writing about my experiences with WordPress—building an audience around folks who were interested in what I had learned. Plus, they were downloading themes that I designed.
I began moonlighting as a “freelancer” by customizing the themes I had freely available to download on my blog. A few hundred bucks a week was good spending cash, so I was living the dream. Meh, not really.
While it was great to have some extra money for vacations, what I wanted was to be one of those “internet people” I saw working from coffee shops.
Life was going alright until I landed a gig with a real estate agent from Boston. I worked up a beautiful design for him—one that I was particularly proud of—because it was more than just a “blog” theme.
I sent it off for him to look at, and after a few days, he got back to me. Rejected.
Ironically, it wasn’t the design he didn’t approve of; it was the fact that I had created a custom homepage for him—something that resembled more of a full website look, rather than just a blog.
So I went back to the drawing board and came up with something more straightforward, which he approved of, paid for, and used happily.
I was left with something I thought was amazing, and was borderline depressed. I thought I was going to be stuck with this “masterpiece” I had created, but then I had an idea: ask if my audience would be interested in buying it.
A couple of days went by before I had the time to do it, but I finally penned the blog post that would forever change my life—“How Much Would You Pay for a Premium WordPress Theme?”
I took the rejected design I did for the Boston realtor and turned it into the Revolution theme for WordPress. I made $10,000, $20,000, $40,000, and $80,000 respectively the first four months. I was in shock and told my wife Shelly that it was “financially irresponsible” for me to stay at my day job.
Some days I feel as though it was pure happenstance—that it was merely a stroke of luck and I was in the right place at the right time. Other days, I embrace the fact that I was smart enough to seize the opportunity which presented itself in front of me.
Either way, I strongly believe that neither Matt Mullenweg nor WordPress changed my life. Yes, they were instrumental tools, but in and of themselves, they were not solely responsible for what happened.
. . .
I fully understand the sentiment that Lee was getting at when he spoke those words—and trust me, they mean the world to me.
As I was driving on I-65 in the middle of nowhere Indiana, my response—and idea for this post—became crystal clear. I didn’t want to let it escape me, so I pulled over and responded.
It took me a few minutes to decide whether I wanted to reply to his tweet or retweet it. I didn’t want to be accused of #humblebraging, but I felt my response needed context. Here is what I said:
“You changed your life. I just helped.”
I am not a healer. I am not a miracle worker. And I certainly don’t have—nor claim to—the power to transform lives.
What I do have is the power to help people transform their lives.
I love what Susan Ramsey tweeted in response:
“Words of wisdom right there. You have to be the change you want to see; others can help you along the way, but it’s your hard work that changes your life!”
My experience this past weekend was another illustration of something that I believe with all of my heart—we are better together.
Here’s to paying it forward, friends. It is so worth it. Here’s to that moment, a few years from now, when someone comes up to you at a conference and says the same thing Lee said to me.
Here’s to you saying: “You changed your life. I just helped.”