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Adii Pienaar

Now working on Receiptful. Co-Founder & ex-CEO of WooThemes. Author of Brandiing. New Dad. Ex-Rockstar.

The 5 Things That Changed My Life In 2015

Not another Buzzfeed listicle.<...> But an important list to compile for me myself nonetheless.

Since about mid-December I've been thinking about my year in 2015 and I have one clear conclusion: it was definitely one of my best ever and the one in which I grew the most. The one thing that I've not been clear enough about though is why it was such a great year for me.

The truth is that there's so many things (some small, some major) that contributed to my experience and assessment of the past year. But instead of creating a list of 99 things, I've challenged myself to be more deliberate in narrowing the list down the things that made the biggest difference.

Below is the five things that I believe ha had the biggest impact on my 2015...

1. EO Unlimited, Amanda Lindhout & Acknowledging Bad Stuff

June 2015 was a turning point for me. Both in terms of 2015 as a calendar year, but also in my life. I can't quantify that, but attending EO Unlimited was a transitional experience for me.

I've never been at a conference where I was this inspired or where I left really feeling that a change was underway in myself. And it wasn't about anything I necessarily learnt or tactics that I thought I could implement in my life / work. It felt like fundamental stuff within me were changing.

The standout experience was hearing Amanda Lindhout's story for the first time. It had such a profound effect on me and I've re-read my notes on her talk and book often in the months since.

I think that in the past I've always tried to avoid bad things and I've been exceptional at avoiding conflict and confrontation at times. One of the things that this experience changed for me though, was in acknowledging that it's always never possible to have any good without the bad. Just like any bad experience can be followed by a great one.

2. Everyone's Always Doing Their Best

I read Brene Brown's Rising Strong in December after I found her "Manifesto of the Brave & Brokenhearted" and it really resonated with me.

Having watched her TED talks on vulnerability before, I was already invested in her perspective and I was most definitely not disappointed with Rising Strong, which ended up being one of the best books I've read.

There was one takeaway that has made a remarkable impact on my life though. Brene tells a story of how she was challenged to believe that everyone was always doing their best (even when they were offensive or when she didn't agree). Here's my favourite quote from the book:

"All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgement and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be."

This made a lasting impact on my mindset about life and essentially freed me to not take so much responsibility for the things that happened around me. Because I now don't necessarily try to make sense of the reasons why people do things, I can just use the actual interaction as the starting point of the conversation which in turn means that I can just deal with what I see (instead of battling the unknown).

3. Mating in Captivity

On the topic of books that has had a profound effect on my life, I can highly recommend Esther Perel's Mating in Captivity.

I was first introduced to two of her TED talks. The talks were unique and sparked a lot of reflection and curiosity for me, so much so that I simply had to read the book.

Whilst most of the concepts relates to intimacy (and thus within the construct of a marriage), the book has changed the way I view my closest relationships and friendships. There was one particular line in the book that has had the most wide-reaching impact on me:

"In order to be one, you must first be two."

This was a good reminder that the best I can do for any relationship and friendship that I'd like to pursue, is to always be myself. Unique & imperfect.

I've too often tried to be less imperfect or at least hide imperfections in certain situations, whereas I now know that those things are probably why these relationships exist. If we were all just another version of each other, we just wouldn't find each other very interesting at all and would not need relationships and friendships.

I also read Mating in Captivity just before Rising Strong and the interplay between vulnerability and the risks attached to that was a good reminder of how much courage we need to make the most of our lives.

4. Getting Lucky (Again)

In October, I added two members to the Receiptful team to head up our Customer Success (and Support) function.

What was significant about these hires where how I rushed my normal process which wasn't my go-to strategy in the past...

I only interviewed for the position on 29 September and immediately made two job offers on the 30th. Normally I would've suggested that we kick off the engagement in mid-October or even 1 November, which would've given me more time to get things set up. This was even more significant at the time, because I was exclusively responsible for our Customer Support function, which meant that there was a lot that I needed to put into words to be able to delegate the work.

At the time, there was no real rush either. No external factors that required pushing this through so quickly.

What ended up happening was that I impulsively decided to book a trip to the UK with my dad (to go to the Rugby World Cup), which was followed by a family trip in November (which we had already booked in February last year). This influenced my normal work routine significantly, which meant that without Aleana & Julia's help on Customer Success & Support, I would not have coped.

The thing is that I got completely lucky in my timing with this decision. When I made the decision, I didn't even know that I was gonna book a 10-day trip impulsively. So there's no way that I can take credit for making a good decision here.

I've written about luck before (here & here) and this was just a good reminder that sometimes we all need a little bit of luck to stay ahead of the curve.

5. Freeing Myself

During the latter stages of my WooThemes journey and especially once I had left, I had one burning question for myself that I constantly demanded be answered: Can I build another successful business? Or am I just a one-hit wonder?

This was made especially difficult when I failed at my first attempt with PublicBeta.

Last year I got my groove back and I there was a couple of things that shifted the momentum for me:

  • The first was persisting with Receiptful in the first couple of months when there was very little guarantee that it would pay off.
  • We subsequently released our first paid product in June last year and revenue started to grow; slowly initially and then very nicely towards the end of the year (so much so, that we should reach profitability in the next month).
  • Late last year, I made the decision not to pursue another round of funding which was a decision optimised for myself. Along with the impending profitability, Receiptful is independent (and free) of outside considerations.

The significance for me in this was that I realised that I'm most happy building stuff and even when the odds were against us initially, I loved the creation.

Things ultimately started to shift not when we started generating revenue or now that we're close to profitability, but when I realised that we managed to build something that's used by thousands of people (and we had to acquire their attention to do that).

Once I realised that, I re-defined my definition of success and I could emphatically answer my question about being a one-hit wonder with: "Fuck, no!". And after that, (material) success has just seemed inevitable...

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