This is the story of the walk that changed my life.
One year ago today I stood on the Stanley Park Seawall and took the above photo looking back at Downtown Vancouver.
I took a long introspective walk that day, completing half of the 22km seawall in just under 4 hours. I woke up that morning feeling the crippling weight of depression, and as I always do when I’m feeling down I grabbed my camera and headed to my favourite spot in the city: Looking towards the North Shore Mountains from the 2010 Olympic Cauldron.
I started to reflect on my life thus far, the choices I’ve made, and where I was as a person, and I started walking, and before I knew it I was already making my way around Stanley Park. I stopped walking, raised my camera, and snapped the photo that’s at the top of this post. And as I took in the beauty of the park behind me, and the city in front of me, I realized that I was far from happy.
I guess it all started when I graduated high school. I never considered myself a good student. I found high school incredibly boring and this led to me skipping more classes in a week than most people miss in a semester. As you can imagine, my grades suffered substantially, to the point where I almost didn’t graduate high school. In fact, the only reason I did end up graduating is because our vice principal at the time pulled some strings for me. I haven’t seen him since then, and being a young and dumb teenager at the time I never properly thanked him. But Mr. Stickley, if by some chance you see this post, thank you. You’ll never understand how much I appreciate what you did for me.
During the lead up to graduation I started applying to colleges. I really wanted to take a program in either photography or design. I truthfully had no idea what I wanted to do with my life but of everything I did during high school it was photography and web design that I enjoyed the most. Thanks to my habit of skipping class and faltering grades none of the schools I applied to jumped at the chance to accept me. There was just one college that did. Langara College. I was incredibly excited that they said yes, especially considering I really didn’t expect any school to let me in.
And then I graduated high school. And a week later I was working full time. I still don’t know what happened during that week, all I know is that at some point my desire shifted from going to school to working full time. It wasn’t a glamorous job by any stretch of the imagination. I was doing administrative work for the family business. I could go into detail about this but I’ll fast forward as most of this time is a blur to me anyway.
I worked there for 3 years without even an itch of desire to return to school, and by the end of those 3 years I dreaded heading into the office. This wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life, and yet here I was putting in 10 hour days of office administration. I know there’s a few people who may read this that may take offense of be upset by this. Don’t get me wrong, I learned a lot while I was there. Invaluable life and business lessons that I took with me and still use every day, and I’m thankful for everything I learned while I was there. But I really did not enjoy that job.
So it’s September 2012, it’s been 3 years since I’ve graduated high school and I’ve not made it any further in life. I’m still living with my parents, working for the family business, and hating getting up in the morning and heading into the office. And then everything changed. My parents sold the house, the business, everything they owned, and packed into an RV with the intent of heading through the United States and into Mexico, where they were building their dream house in the jungle of Tulum. I was two weeks away from leaving with them, on a journey that would no doubt have profoundly changed my life. But I chickened out. I didn’t want to leave everyone and everything I know behind. There was just one problem: I was now unemployed. My mother, stepfather, and little brother were about to leave the country, possibly for good. The depression started to set in. I decided I’d move in with my dad and my sister, who both had no plans of leaving.
Before they left, I asked my stepfather for his help. He was, and still is, a very savvy businessman. I wanted to start a company rather than going to work for someone else doing another job that I didn’t enjoy. So I did it. I started a company with my friend Nicolas, and we were going to design and build iOS and Mac apps. I wrote about it a bit at the time.
The company lasted a solid 10 months before I came to realize that I didn’t know the first thing about running a business. Nicolas had returned to school and I had started to run out of savings. I was once again broke and suffering from depression.
I spent the next couple of months, barely moving, hardly leaving the house, mustering up every ounce of energy and good will I had left just to get out of bed in the morning and sit at the computer, for the most part doing nothing. I tried to hide it as much as possible but I’m sure people noticed that I wasn’t doing too well.
So here we are, back in July 2013, and I’m walking around the Seawall with my camera. I spent the walk thinking about everything above, everything that lead me to that moment, and I realized that I wasn’t happy with myself. To make matters worse, I was quickly going broke. I needed to make a change and I needed to make it fast. I had to take control and get myself on the right track.
I decided then and there, in that moment, that I’d power through the depression and get to where I want to be. I knew that school wasn’t an option at this point. I needed to start making some money. I went home that night and immediately got back to work. I started designing again, I started building a portfolio, and I started sending out resumes and job applications. It was a long process, filled with lots of “no” and “sorry” from companies I interviewed with. I won’t lie to you, it hurt, and I was close to giving up on what I felt I wanted to do: design. Around the same time as this, a new Apple Store was opening not too far from my house. I sent in a resume and a few days later I received an email saying that I was invited to an open house group interview. I’m glad I decided not to go to that interview, because I couple of days after it passed I saw a job opening on Twitter.
Pat Dryburgh, a designer I’ve long followed and admired, was leaving his position and heading back east to be with his family. I immediately sent in my resume, my portfolio, my Dribbble profile, everything I had that was even possibly related to design, I made sure to include it.
I received an email from Pat later that day:
Would you be available this week to come in for a chat? I’ve taken a look at your portfolio and like what I see, and would like to have the opportunity to chat about your work and aspirations.
Two days later I went in for an interview, and the next day I was hired.
It’s been almost a full year since I’ve started at Perch, and what a year it’s been! We spent the better part of 7 months building version 4.0 of Perch, which we’ve just pushed live in the App Store. And that’s just the beginning, we’ve got a long road ahead of us before Perch is everything we’d like it to be, but I’m excited for what lies ahead.
It’s crazy to think back to what lead me here. There’s no doubt that the walk I decided to take exactly one year ago today has changed my life for the better.
I’m happy again.