One Word of Encouragement Can Change a Life TrajectoryFebruary 18, 2014
Jeffrey Zeldman had no idea what his quick email response would do for me. Sometimes, it only takes a word to change the trajectory of someone's life.
In 2001, I wasn't sure what I was going to do with myself. I think I was working at a pre-press service bureau at the time (if you even know what that is, you might be at least as old as me!). I had been back in Michigan for a while after having gone broke living in New York for a couple years. I remember sitting at the beach, staring out at Lake Michigan and reading Taking Your Talent to the Web.
The book spoke to me enough that I emailed Mr. Zeldman to tell him. The following is still my favorite email communication, from way back in 2001. I roll my eyes at this now, but I think I was just trying to be funny. I'd never written to anyone "Internet-famous", and I'm sure I didn't expect a response:
Jeffrey was kind enough to respond and humor me. The email wasn't much, but it was pivotal to me. I'm a "good designer"? Holy sh*t! I knew I was going to do my best to work in web design and development from that point forward.
These days I manage a successful web development business. I'm fortunate to have a talented team around me. We problem solve for some great clients, and we build our own products. I've had the pleasure to speak to Jeffrey at a couple web conferences.
I keep Jeffrey's email in mind when people email me to introduce themselves or to ask for advice. I also keep in mind a recent tweet by Jason Fried:
Before you dismiss a beginner's work, remember how much you sucked when you started. You probably sucked worse, actually.— Jason Fried (@jasonfried) February 6, 2014
This is true. I usually try to respond to every email, and I keep it positive even if the person's work isn't all that great. When I wrote to Mr. Zeldman, I sucked, but that didn't stop him from being encouraging. Many years of hard work later, things have turned out pretty well for me: when I visit that same beach where I was reading that book so long ago, it's with my wife and kids, and only a short walk from a little beach house we like to rent for a week in the summer.
An acknowledgement doesn't have to be much - a "thanks for saying 'hi', keep it up!" can suffice, but this simple response might be enough to make a difference for someone else who is in the same position I was in.
Thanks again, Jeffrey.
Ryan Masuga (@masuga) owns Masuga Design, a web development studio based in Grand Rapids, MI. Our latest project is lamplighter.io, a service for centralized CMS monitoring. Other projects include devot:ee and placeIMG.