One of my favorite photo of Steve Jobs is where, late in his career and toward the end of his life, he is sitting at his desk (it looks as though he is in his home office), with an iMac Pro in front of him. He is leaning back in his chair. The view is his back, balding head, a slight profile of his trademark face adorned with wire rim glasses. Contemplative is the word that comes to mind when I see this image.
I've seen this image before, of other entrepreneurs, innovators, inventors. Walt Disney - who too, left us due to cancer in the early 60's, is famously captured in such an image, from behind, head turned in profile, as he walks through Disneyland, his Magic Kingdom.
Perhaps it is that everyone becomes more contemplative during their mid-life years. Behind knowing, laugh-lined eyes, rests a sort of "second adulthood" that appears for many of us of a certain age, at a certain unannounced point. For an entrepreneur who has wrought the path of his or her life from the fog of imagination to concrete reality, there is a certain spirit that resides behind the eyes. This spirit comes from the fact that behind our eyes lies someone who has dreamed, imagined, invented, created, and watched a discernible form emerge from what was once dust. For many of us, the form which emerges differs substantially from what we originally imagined- sometimes for the worse, sometimes for the better. It is rare that even the brightest, luckiest and most successful among us live out the lives we imagined when we were in our 20s as we approach our 60s.
This is not a bad thing. It is just life. Even Steve and Walt could not predict the future. Even Mickey mouse started in Disney's mind as Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. What the happiest and most successful people have found (depending on your definition of success), is a way to find a WOW moment, even in the midst of a lot of woes.
There is a scene in the movie "The Theory of Everything" where the character, Steven Hawking, looks to his former wife in the gardens of Buckingham Palace - having just turned down the Queen for his offer of Knighthood. He sees his children running playfully around the fountain. "Look what we made" he says, referencing his children with more than pride he ever conveyed when describing his scientific discoveries, or amazing life of determination. This is the cinematic image of a WOW moment. The writer who chose those words captured the essence of what I have seen, felt, and feel today as I write.
Imagination is something everyone has. Determination and the will to survive is in all of us too. Implementation happens at some level, starting with getting up out of bed everyday. But, true persistence, the ability to endure the kicks and punches of life, and the emotional and mental stress of starting a dream and finding a nightmare of complexity, is a certain sort of achievement. This achievement, this persistence, cannot be acquired without the ability to find WOW moments, no matter what else is going on.
When, after five years of a pending application, one of my patents was approved a few months back, I felt that WOW creep up. It was somewhat like the WOW when my son told me he'd gotten into an Ivy League school for his Ph.D.. When my daughter walked across the stage of the most prestigious school in Canada to accept her honors degree(s). It was like those Hawking words "look what we made" - sort of. But different.
Different because, this was WOW was a patent - it wasn't just a dream - it was actually something different, something new, something that, at least, one institution, the US Patent Office, couldn't find that had ever been done before. And then, I remembered the fog. The early beginnings, the early mornings, the late nights. The endless ways this could have turned out. And the concrete reality before me, the myriad ways my technology had actually been implemented, and used over this 15 year journey.
I understood that picture of Jobs, that walk of Disney, the "wow" of the dream behind the eyes.
Our technology has touched four million people across the globe. Hundreds of thousands of those people are people who had medical conditions, that we helped treat or alleviate or at least address in some way. Hundreds of thousands of those people are investors who have helped fund real estate and financial products. My technology helped all these people. It wasn't just a dream. It wasn't just brutally hard work, trying every day to please everyone. It wasn't just bugs and inconceivable technical challenges hitting me and my team right in the face. It wasn't just stress and lost sleep the money ran out, the bank pulled the line of credit and calls to say you have ten days to pay up or get out. I took the tough calls - and the bludgeoning from clients who really didn't care if these technical challenges were keeping teams up around the clock - they just saw the dollars of cost and the web page they log into.
These things all happened, but they're not what really matters at the end of the day. Ultimately, it was all a brilliant part of the journey, from the fog of the imagination we realized inventions that have and continue to change the world.
I have never been fortunate enough to know what it is like to be a Mark Zuckerberg, to hit th eball out of the park on the first swing. Or to be Steve Jobs who, as a genius and insightful man, created such an impact in the world. There are geniuses in the world that eclipse our understanding, certainly mine, of how they did it - and the fates that played in their favor.
But even for those geniuses, there were struggles and doubts. Walt Disney once said to an interviewer who asked, "would you do it all again?" - "let's hope I don't have to ...".
When I was able to sit back, watch the users on my platform run their companies, serve their customers after 15 years, when I received the call that my patent had been approved, when I still, every day, get on and use this platform to run a company that is as global and virtual from Canada to the US to India and even China, I'm proud and satisfied- despite what it has taken. It is a rare and special privilege to feel this kind of contentment. It is a special gift forged from life's lessons to understand the journey for what it is rather than what it has been.
My heart and hat is off to all of those who have helped me get to this point in my life. The hundreds of staff who have played a part, come and gone, provided contributions of spirit, talent, time. I thank even those who didn't really "care" about the vision, but needed the job.
Throughout every stage in my life I have found a lesson, a choice to make, forward or backward - a challenge to overcome. Yet without these challenges, these 'bugs', these hiccups, the reality that I see before me could not be. Sure, it's not the life I imagined in my 20s, but a lot has changed since then. I never saw in my imagination this specific patent, this particular platform, yet at the end of the day I still stare at and say WOW.
Had I not struggled in my life, I would have never learned the lessons I needed to in order to envision the platform I have today. As a lifelong entrepreneur, my experiences have been invaluable in shaping my understanding of how businesses run, and what practices can help set small enterprises up for success.
I would like to issue my personal heart felt love and thanks to my very special friends .. James Grant - the most courageous and positive, brilliant human being I know. And Rod Olafson, whose life has meant the world to me, and whose genius has been unmatched in gathering the ideas, concepts and complexities, and setting a foundation that, well, "worked" behind the scenes that the world never sees (or much thinks about).
There is not award ceremony for a patent. There are few awards for growing up, and growing old - after one has the chance to walk across the stage to get a degree perhaps. But there is still those WOW moments - the wonder at life is still there, perhaps more so, after a long journey and life lived. May everyone have at least one WOW in their lives - I feel very grateful to have had mine.