To Grow, You Must Get Out Of The Way.

Each year around New Year’s Eve as well as my birthday, I do a lot of reflecting on things gone right and things gone wrong over the past 365.25 days or so. To me, my birthday represents my own little personal New Year’s Day. Last week was no different. Actually, if anything, it was much more intense than years past. Turning 40 has brought out a lot of unexpected questions and creepy old-guy panic; mainly along the line of thinking that looks a bit like “Do I have enough speed and gas in the tank to keep from crashing into that mountain I see right in front of me?”

While at my office last Monday, I kicked off my “new year” by giving the 2014 New Year’s resolution a quick review. “Take time to celebrate the positive moments, the small accomplishments and just let BE”. I completely stink at doing this. My approach is more along the lines of “Ok… you did it, but you’re miles behind where you should be on the next goal.” All the while, I realize how stupid it is to stay motivated going into the next project when you already feel like you’re way behind where you should be. Truth is, I could easily list off WAY more failures in my 39th year than I could accomplishments. Don’t judge… I’m working on it.

Anyway… as I searched for the self-fulfilling “atah boys” that I intended on giving myself, I challenged myself to look back at the last 10 years and recall an accomplishment that is still alive and kicking today. The most obvious subjects were my two beautiful daughters, Mady & Katelyn. In an attempt to challenge myself a bit more, I spent some time brainstorming ideas using the parameters of “fun” and “sustainable”. Besides, those who know me know that I frequently use the phrase “It’s hard to kill a kid”. Let’s just say that choosing my kids in my reflective kudos… that would have been the easy way out, hence the mental search onward.

Using the parameters “fun” and “sustainable”, the first accomplishment to come to mind was an outdoor music festival that I founded 10 years ago this summer called the “Greenstock Music Festival”. Although the original name and concept was a little different than what it has become today, Greenstock still continues to bring quality entertainment, camping, music, outdoor sports and innovation to hundreds of event-goers each year; with an eco-friendly and environmentally “off the grid” twist. This high-quality annual event still thrives today in the backwoods of Brown Country, Indiana – bigger and better than it ever could if I were still at the helm. August 8-9, 2014 marks its official 10th anniversary.

The smartest thing I did for Greenstock – the most important step in this accomplishment – was to get out of the way. To grow, personally or professionally, you need to have an exit plan.

I will never forget the bittersweet moment on my last Saturday evening of the festival in mid-August 2009. I love this little festival. My baby. However, trying to run a music festival that you live 700 miles from is something I wouldn’t recommend to anyone. At that time, then my second year visiting the festival, traveling all the way from Charleston, I knew this was either the last night of a 5-year festival or the moment I needed to trust my baby in the hands of others. I hated to see the festival, and all of that work that dozens of us had put into it each year, come to an end simply because I had moved. On the other hand, my ego had trouble processing the thought of someone else successfully raising my baby. What if they fail and blame it on me? What if the new parents are better at raising my baby than I am? What if I’m not even missed? What if they succeed and forget about all of the blisters, backaches and late-nights that had paved the way?

After much thought, and a greater interest in the festival living on rather than dying at the hands of my own ego, I introduced my partner (the Proprietor of the festival grounds) to the next generation. The next family to raise my baby was a team of band members, management and their huge entourage. I knew, without a doubt, that this new tribe would take my baby to the next level, and probably beyond what I could envision on my own. At the moment of making the introduction from one party to the next, I realized two things. First, my real passion in life is not only putting things together that make people’s lives better, but putting people together in an organic and completely unselfish way. I absolutely love making connections. I’m a matchmaker, no doubt about it. The second realization was the feeling I had after making the connection. It was much more like breaking up with a girlfriend, introducing her to the new kid in town, and then sitting back while they make out for the first time. Damn that was hard!

Today, I not only remember that moment like it was yesterday, but I also recalled that I had taken a picture of the very moment. I may have seen that photo one other time, but it was sitting there waiting for me today. Until today, I haven’t shared this very emotional moment with anyone. Looking at that picture, remembering that very moment, once again brought intense feelings that can only be described as bittersweet.

So what did all of this teach me today? And how is this story relevant to my new year, my new decade or my profession as an entrepreneur? To me, this moment is a reminder that to grow – either personally or as an organization – you need to have an exit plan. You need to continue to work yourself out of a job. You need to understand when to get the hell out of the way. Regardless of how important you think your skills or knowledge might be, if you’re not moving forward then you’re likely moving backwards. The fuel continues to burn. The mountain gets closer. Whether your responsibilities are with managing and promoting a festival, climbing the corporate ladder or working your way through academia, you need to ask yourself, “How long do you really want to repeat the same day over and over again?”

In this new year, and in the words of the great Kenny Rogers, I pledge to improve myself, my company and others around me by knowing when to hold ‘em and knowing when to fold ‘em. Although Kenny was here fir, as an entrepreneur I feel compelled to lend more credence to lessons that are accompanied by acronyms (that’s a whole other blog). One of the simplest principles I’ve learned in my professional career is known as “The A.C.E. Principle”. In order to improve effectively, you must remember A, C and E or “ADD, CHANGE and ELIMINATE”. I challenge you to focus on the “E”. In order to realize the true value of your contributions, you must ask yourself to step aside in order to evaluate the true quality of your work. As you take your vision and apply it within your entrepreneurial ventures, what can you create that is both fun and sustainable? What can you create, pass along to the world and watch grow now that you’re out of the way?
Jim Thompson; founder and President of Concentric in Charleston, SC