Re-Imagining Life by Jeff Schilling
This presentation was given by our founder, Jeff Schilling, at the 2019 F2FEC Conference. Below is a transcript of the video.
I’m here to talk about my life in the past 20 years or so. I’m grateful for having the opportunity to speak here in front of you guys. It hasn’t been easy, the road that I’ve taken, but I’m blessed with several partners, customers and a lot of friends in this room over time.
In the next 20 minutes or so, I want to impart the last 20 years or so of my life. So I’m going to talk pretty quick, but I also want to talk about something that’s really hit home, a question that I haven’t really shared to any great degree until this moment. I’ve got some notes that I’m going to try to follow as they go along because what I’m going to say, I think is pretty important; not only to what’s happening in my life, but what can happen in yours.
So I’d like to start off with a question if I could. One that you may have heard of before. What moment in your life made you rethink or first think to evaluate your purpose, your why, and really awaken your heart and understand your path forward?
Perhaps this question is one that you had yet to define. Perhaps it’s one that you’ve already defined. Maybe there’s something along the way that has caused you to rethink this at some point or another. Maybe it’s still very fluid like it has been for me. But whatever it is, I would argue that it’s one of the most important questions, not only to answer, but to continually refine.
Because nothing is more important in life than living it in a way that brings fulfillment.
So for me, this question is something that became a reality and very crystal. You see, in my younger years, I thought that for some reason, that the future would mean more than the present. That if I toiled and paid my dues through working basically all the time, I’d somehow reap the rewards of a life that was fulfilled. But I’ve got to tell you I was wrong; and to a big degree.
As I look back to all of those years, I find that there’s a thread that has ran throughout my life and that is fear. Does anyone experience this? Does anyone fight this? Does anyone give into this? It’s one of the strongest forces that can shackle us.
And in many ways, my business became a prison.
All of us here understand that building a business is a huge commitment with long hours, stress, worrying and the feeling of uncertainty at times. It’s a labor of love that can easily steal our time, upset our balance and blind us if we’re not careful.
You see, growing up, I didn’t really have certainty or security. My family always struggled financially and for me that stuck with me for a very long time. But, in another sense it drove my hunger and thirst to succeed. So, in one case I’m blessed, but in another case I’m not.
The root was fear. Fear that I wasn’t going to measure up. Fear that I wasn’t going to be in control. Fear that I couldn’t make it or sustain it. Or fear that I would end up struggling financially like my parents did.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my business and how we transform lives by what we do. As a matter of fact, it was in the late 90s, when I started my company. It was in my senior year of college and I became a marketing person for a laser tag center to fulfill my business credits; my internship. Back then I went to Butler University in Indiana. While there, I had talked to the owner about expanding the operations and opening additional stores.
We also talked about him imparting ownership to me and even being able to buy in over time. So, needless to say, as a young entrepreneur, I was pumped in that I was wrapping up my last semester of school and I had a career, a job, a future.
But about two weeks prior to my graduation life interrupted. I got a call from the owner and he had sold the store’s assets to a group in the south. So he was getting out of the business. He was opening up a medical clinic, and that was it. The last thing he told me on the phone was that you’re still young and you’ll find another job.
Can you imagine what I was thinking at that time? I mean, what was going through my head. Without notice I felt like the rug literally was grabbed and pulled from underneath me. I lost my opportunity that I was so excited about in college and I also lost my paycheck.
So, there I was; 317 bucks in the bank two weeks before graduation. I just signed an apartment lease. I don’t have a job. I have no prospects of getting a job. Not a great day, but I’ll tell you what, it was a pivotal one because it forced me to kind of push myself outside that box that I put myself in and step up.
A few days later, I remember I was with my grandpa on his porch and was telling him about the story and what happened. And then he shared some of the stories about his father, my great grandfather, who immigrated here back in the 1800s when he was 16 from Germany.
He talked about his life growing up and some of the challenges he had as a cabinet maker and a craftsman. But more importantly what he talked about that really sank with me, what really sat well, was the lessons he learned. The one that really stuck with me was this: He said,
“With each disappointment would come an opportunity, but only if you kept your life in balance and your perspectives in check.”
So he got back up. He went inside. He came back out with a couple of glasses of ice tea and with this right here: a level. It was one of the few remaining pieces in my grandfather’s toolbox. He then handed it to me as a reminder to move beyond the week before and pursue my life ahead with a different outlook.
That conversation was basically the spark that ignited my passion within me to start my business in the midst of my uncertainty. Soon after, Creative Works was born on my kitchen table. I got my first client and became a real entrepreneur, kind of shadowing in the footsteps of my great grandfather.
So me, myself and I, along with three other friends of mine, spent four months working at a client’s location. And I remember sleeping there a handful of times in one of the fiberglass caves that we built. It was nonstop. Every credit card I had maxed out. But when we were finished, it was epic.
And now some 20 years later, I stand before you never imagining that the phone call that I had back when I was in college would turn into something like this.
But up until a few years ago, I had forgotten about my grandfather’s comment regarding balance and let the conditioning of my youth – the fear – affect my adult years. Rather than keeping that bubble in the middle, I lost track of things while building my business.
What I realized much later in life was that I had to stop fearing and let others in. To stop micromanaging. To allow others space, creativity, and most importantly an opportunity to grow with me and make a difference so I can have a bigger impact on my business and those around me. Noticing that and taking action helped me to put a focus on surrounding myself with talent. To take my business to another level, redefine our values, cultivate our team, partner with our customers, rebuild our infrastructure and enhance our product line.
Life Interrupted Again
Unfortunately though, it wasn’t quite even a year after I started that movement when life interrupted again. And this time around I kept having pains that became increasingly frequent. And in October of 2016, I ended up having a colonoscopy to check my plumbing. When I awoke, my wife, my bride was by my side holding my hand with tears in her eyes. And I knew it was bad.
She said that the doctor had found cancer.
What the hell? How did this happen? Why? there was disbelief, distress, depression, fear, uncertainty, and doubt. I mean, no one is ever prepared for such news. It’s frightening based on the statistics.
About a month later in November I went into surgery followed by intense chemo through May of 2017. It sucked like no other, but in the midst of that mayhem something amazing happened: My team rallied as I found myself needing to step away from the business.
It was tough to release control as a control freak. But what I found was that through that process, my team took the reigns and expanded upon our business to create something more that I could ever have done by myself. And by doing so, the fear that drove me early in my life disappeared. And I felt a sense of freedom like never before because the strengths of my team rose. And in that moment, what I learned was priceless.
I learned that success is best is best when shared.
When I look back, what that did is allow me to be the ability to refocus my life, put the attention on building my body, rebuilding it, and working behind the scenes of the company. And although I’m not through the storm yet, I’m appreciative of the time and the lessons I’ve learned while going through it.
For me now it’s about going through what I’m growing through. Because when you face fear, whatever it might be, you grow. Sometimes like tests, it pushes us in an effort to uncover our limits. To expand our eyes and see what waits just beyond our fingertips.
Burn The Boats
Julius Caesar, the Roman Emperor who set out to conquer England 2000 years ago, declared that if you want to take the island you need to burn the boats. You see, when he landed at the coast, his soldiers knew that they were out numbered. And so he actually burned the boats. By doing so, there was no hope unless his team – his soldiers – basically conquered England.
So today I believe we’ve got to stop negotiating with our minds. We’ve got to be unshakable in what we do. We’ve got to see ourselves in a different light. Helen Keller said,
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”
Rekindling the passion in the things that had taken a back seat in your life are worthy of your time as they’ve been for me: your marriage, your body, your health, your spirituality, your dreams, your hobbies, your bucket list, and everything in between.
A New Lens
Through my journey, I’ve learned to see the world through a different lens that now empowers me versus traps.
For me, that lens represents my new mindset, my new attitude, my new focus and how I look at different situations around and within me. Only when the darkness surrounded me did I see the light again, and really learned the value of how precious time is.
No one can see the future of what tomorrow is going to bring. But this journey that I took has taught me to turn my “shoulds” into musts. To be impactful in what I do and what I say out of love and respect. And most importantly make my moments count because life, for me, will never be the same again.
One last thought that I wanted to share, and is perhaps the biggest realization that I ended up coming to as I’ve been re-imagining in my life through all of this. I am convinced that gratitude is the antidote to fear, anger, worry, depression, disappointment, rejection, failure, humiliation, guilt, and so much more that we hold inside of us day in and day out.
When you have gratitude and appreciation, much can be done, much can be gained, and much can be shared.