It is November 2013. There is a pile of rocks fourteen feet high strewn about in the land behind my house. In fact, there are three giant piles of material, strategically placed in opposite corners of the land. One pile is landfill, made up of large rock, rusted mufflers, tree stumps and rail posts. The second pile is fine clay. The third pile is loom, or dirt. There is a rented Bobcat machine sitting between the piles, like a small mouse cornered by three cats. My plan is to build a backyard over downward-sloping land that was previously brush and trees. I plan to spread the piles out over three days and then spread grass seed over the new soil. The grass seed will be the fun part, I tell myself. I have a loose plan, a pile of rocks, a pile of clay and a pile of dirt. Despite the daunting work that lies ahead, I’m energized to begin.
On the first day, I wake up at 5:30 to get an early start and the temperature is frigid. To make matters worse, it downpours for most of the morning. I also quickly realize that learning a Bobcat is no easy task. By lunch, I’ve made virtually no progress. To make matters worse, when I look back at the house, my twin toddler daughters and their babysitter are watching me from the window and laughing at my misadventures. I laugh too. In the afternoon, I start to get the hang of the Bobcat and work into the night. By the end of the first day, I have a loose plan, a pile of clay and a pile of dirt.
On the second day, my mother-in-law comes by in the morning and mountainous piles still sit unmoved. She asks me if I know what I am doing. I laugh and assure her that I do (I don’t). I keep to the plan and spread the clay evenly across the land, once again working into the late evening hours. While I don’t know exactly what I am doing, I have a decent plan and a pile of dirt.
On the third day, I get some help from family. My helpers are itching to use the bobcat so I train them on the machine. The help (as well as having company) is appreciated. I am unsure if I’ll be able to finish by the end of the day. However, much like the land, my plan is starting to solidify. I continue to spread the grass seed in the night guided by a single spotlight from the house. It’s just enough light to ensure the land is covered. After the last lap with the spreader, I’m done.
Today, I find myself in a similar situation but instead of building a backyard, I’m building a software product that will help people engage with customers in a much better way. This journey, much like the backyard project, will likely include the same twists and turns: bad luck, generous help, diligent learning, doubt, optimism, etc. But, once again, I’m willing to sacrifice early mornings and late nights. I also have a pile of rocks and a loose plan. I’m convinced that’s all one needs.