WARNING: This blog post is text heavy, visual light! A few weeks ago, my tech guy Terry Bower, died unexpectedly. For a week plus, I was in shock. I was scared, I felt vulnerable, I was angry. I was also grieving for this man who had not only been helping with techy things for almost a year but also had been evolving into a friend. This blog is going to be a bit different. It’s about the lessons learnt from this man’s death.
FIRST, SOME CONTEXT
I met Terry last August almost by accident. The timing was perfect. I was ready to launch my first online course, but there is so much tech stuff to deal with around this project. When I spoke with Terry that first time, he could understand what I wanted to do with HowToPastel and we connected instantly. I couldn’t believe my good luck.
We came to an agreement and he helped me to launch my course, Pastel Painting En Plein Air, last October. Not only did he help me with my launch, he also ‘fixed’ my website which had been hacked and was redirecting visitors to some other pages (not porn thank heavens!).
Now instead of dealing with all the digital tech world on my own, I had someone beside me who knew about such things. Can you imagine my relief and happiness?
We met almost weekly on Sundays by Zoom (Skype-like) to report on our individual progresses around my business. (He was also working for my partner Cam too.) We were planning new websites for me – a fresh new look for HowToPastel as well as my GailSibley.com site.
I tell you all this to show how valuable he was to me. I saw Terry in person on my last visit to Ontario (to teach at the ICAN Pastel Conference). We dove deep into website design and were both excited about working on a whole new look for HowToPastel. We also began talking about the launch of my new pastel online course for beginners. He seemed fine. Next thing I knew, he was emailing to say he was in hospital for tests.
A couple weeks later, we had a Zoom session on Sunday. He was gaunt (where was the big robust man I knew?) and explained he had colon cancer but was wanting to keep working until his surgery in July.
A few days later I texted him.
And again I texted.
A week later, a mutual acquaintance informed me Terry had gone into hospital Thursday and died Saturday. That was 2nd July. I still can’t believe he’s gone.
I’d like to share some thoughts, some lessons learnt from this loss of my warm-hearted and helping tech guy Terry.
1. Change is Inevitable
You can count on the constancy of change. Nothing stays the same. We all know that rationally but we tend not to live that belief emotionally. Losing Terry after coming to depend on him was a huge change. Now I feel alone and vulnerable in my business. But I need to face the reality and move on, make a new plan and re-adjust the path. Out of this change, I have found a new strength, a determination to learn more, and the belief that there is another tech person out there who will understand my needs the way Terry did.
Lesson: Be open to change. Change, even a painful one, can be beneficial. Out of loss comes growth and strength. The loss itself will be painful but you will be surprised at what strength you have to make it through the change. Be prepared to let go of what may have been your original plan.
2. Stay on Top of Things
Part of the difficulty with Terry’s sudden death is that he had created new bits and pieces for my website to which only he knew the passwords. He was doing the work and there was no (apparent!) need for me to know these things. Much of the work was on platforms to which he had a commercial license. Of course I couldn’t have the passwords to these platforms as any password would open up access to his other client’s work. Still, there should have been some process in place for life changes. I still need to work out how to access these things.
Also, I was keen to develop a new and expanded functionality and look for HowToPastel.com, a website I’d started with only a basic knowledge of WordPress. Terry and I had started talking about the new website from the start but it wasn’t until I saw him in June that we really entered fully and committed into the project. A couple of weeks after his death, a month after this meeting, I was angry at myself for not being on top of this, for not getting this project going way earlier.
Lesson: Have safeguards in place. Ask, ‘What if…’ questions and have the answers in place before a crisis occurs. Stay on top of things. Don’t put off projects or let them slip saying, ‘I’ll get to that next month’. Prioritizing will help with this. Be in control of your business.
3. Listen to Your Intuition
One of the things Terry and I had discussed over and over was setting up a membership site on the platform he had a license to use. (Subscribers would pay a monthly or annual fee and get something in return behind ‘closed doors’.) We’d talked but never followed through. We also talked about changing the location of my online course videos to one that again, he had a commercial license to use. We never got to that change. And now I’m glad. That would have been even more of a nightmare to untangle.
Lesson: Sometimes it’s okay that things slip through the cracks. In this case it certainly was. I think deep down, we have an intuition about things. I hadn’t yet been convinced to make the changes Terry was suggesting so I believe unconsciously I had the brakes on. And this can be a good thing. Listen to your gut.
4. The Value of a Tribe
I remember at an internet conference I went to, the encouragement to build a tribe around you. Your tribe consists of people who help you in all different ways with your business – your accountant, your lawyer, your tech person, your designer, your social media manager, your marketing person. When I met Terry, I was at the beginning of that journey to acquire team members. I had been told a long time ago by Jo Barnes, not to let the tech stuff get in my way, to hand it over to someone who knew there stuff. Terry was that person for me. Like I said, I couldn’t believe my luck. We had the makings of a great team. Sadly, that wasn’t to be. But my time with Terry gave me a taste of what it’s like to be relieved of tech duty. And with that, I am now more willing to put in the effort to find someone else.
Lesson: Having people around you to share the workload, to help deal with the stresses of running a business, to have your back, and to help build your business is a necessity. Whether your tribe members are friends and family members who support you emotionally and even financially, and/or hired members like Terry who help with the things that aren’t your forté, like tech stuff, like accounting stuff, like legal stuff, it’s worth the time and effort and money as you grow to invest in creating this tribe. You will be better off for it. I am learning this the slow way. Thank you Terry!
5. Death is at Your Shoulder
Always. And it’s final. You never know when death is going to tap your shoulder and say, It’s time. The death of someone, especially someone you know, is a reminder, to live fully. That’s hard to remember day in, day out, through the routines and habits of our daily lives. I think as artists, we have a head start in this department. Every time we are brought up short by some scene, by some small corner of colour, or the pattern of a shadow, or the quality of light that just makes us want to paint it, these are moments of being truly alive.
Lesson: As cliché as it is – Breathe. Laugh. Be grateful for each day. Tell those around you that you love them. Try not to take anything for granted because all can change in a flash and death is around the corner. Help others see the way you do as an artist, appreciating every visual nuance in the life around us.
“We meet but briefly in life, if we touch each other with stardust, that is everything.” ~ Unknown
I miss you Terry.
Do any of these lessons learnt resonate with you?
What are not staying on top of that’s vulnerable to sudden change?
Let me know by leaving a comment.
Next week, it’s monthly pick time!!