This spring I will be moving back to Chicago after spending the last year in my home state of California. It’s exciting to get back to Chicago and I wanted to share a little bit about the decision to come back.
Why I left Chicago in the First Place
When I was growing up in Southern California, my friend Jason used to call me the Family Guy because whenever he asked if I wanted to go out I was always busy doing something with my family. For me, family is and always has been priority numero uno. So when my uncle passed away a few years back and my grandma Elsie was living by herself in Massachusetts, we decided it was time for her to move back to California where she had had lived for the previous 30 years of her life. After months of trying to convince a 93-year-old woman to move across country, she finally said, “Ethan, I’ll move back when you move back.” I said, “Sold!” And that was that. We moved back to California towards the end of 2011 and I have spent the last year and change living in the state where I spent the first 18 years of my life.
My time in California has been wonderful and I am very grateful for it. Living closer to my family, I was able to do things I hadn’t done in years. I visited my sister on her birthday for the first time in a decade. I was able to surprise my best friend Ned for his 30th birthday and later attend his engagement party. I even got to celebrate Hannukah this year with my family for the first time since probably high school. Most importantly, I got to visit my Grandma Elsie 15-20 times in the past year and was even able to make this biography about her. She’s in hospice now and we’re not sure how much longer she’ll be with us, so I’m insanely grateful for the time I’ve been able to spend with her and the rest of my family. It’s truly been a gift.
As Much as I love being close to my family and friends, I’ve decided it’s more important for me right now to be back in Chicago.
First and foremost, I’ve come to the conclusion that my decision to live in California was hurting my business partner, Desiree. During my time away, we went from a six person team to a 20+ person company. While this growth is exciting and mucho, mucho awesome, in this same period, we had our merchant account fire us as customers, we moved offices twice, we had an employee go AWOL for a week, and we had to lay off folks that felt like family. None of these things are fun. All of them are difficult and stressful and emotionally taxing. My being out of the office has meant that Desiree has had to shoulder way more of the crud that partners are supposed to share together. And that just sucks. I don’t want to make her do that anymore.
Second, it dawned on me recently that there is a big distinction between managing and leading. My being in California hasn’t necessarily hurt us from a revenue standpoint (we tripled our revenue in 2012), but it is starting to hurt us from a leadership standpoint. As we begin to scale our company and develop a culture and identity, founders need to be leaders, not managers. And while I’ve found that managing from afar is difficult yet doable. Leading from afar is nearly impossible.
Third, I have been blessed with an opportunity at GiveForward to work with an incredibly passionate and inspiring team of people doing something we believe is going to change the world. Opportunities like this don’t often come around twice in a lifetime, so I don’t want to take this one for granted. I’ve heard stories from so many entrepreneurs who after getting lucky with their first venture, spent the rest of their lives trying to recreate that magic only to find that the stars never aligned again in just the right way. When you have something that you truly believe can make a dent in the universe, and you’ve been lucky enough to catch all the right breaks along the way, you need to grab on tight with both hands, go after it with all your heart and remove any hurdles that can hold you back from achieving what you know is possible.
Lastly, it’s always about family. Most people are lucky if they have one, loving and supportive family. I am lucky enough to have two. I get to work at a company where co-workers genuinely care about each other and feel more like family than cubicle mates. So while saying goodbye to my California family is really hard to do, it’s a lot easier knowing that when I return to Chicago, my GiveForward family will be there to welcome me back.