12 Reflections from the Last Year (Happy 39th Birthday to Me!)

I realize most people save reflection like this for end-of-year. But, here I am turning 39 today and feeling compelled to take time for this as I sit at Foxtail Coffee in my hometown of Winter Park, Florida.

My sugar intake around Christmas messes with my writing skills, anyway.

Image above: Reflection like this requires a trendy coffee shop, right?

So, how’d it go Eric? Good question.

The 12 months from ages 38 to 39 were pretty diverse in experiences and emotions. Ask anyone trying to balance a marriage, family with small kids, small business (that’s went through ridiculous change), fitness (thank you CrossFit), friendships, personal growth — and all the other stuff that makes up a messy life — and I’m sure you’ll get a similar answer.

Oh, and there’s that Jesus person that should always come first (and hasn’t).

There are certainly times I’ve leaned back and said to myself, “Yes, it’s time to smile.” But, to be honest, I feel like I run from one thing to the next, and there’s little to zero margin. My wife says it’s fleeting, but I’ve come to really appreciate the old saying:

“The days are long, but the years are short.”

Here are the moments/events/things that stand out to me the most from the last 365 (sometimes very long) days.

1. My previous birthday (turning 38) was truly epic — so I throttled my expectations this year

On my birthday last year (literally the day of my birthday) these things happened:

  1. My wife and I closed on our very first home
  2. The NFL Draft was broadcasted (the Bears moved up to select our franchise QB, Mitchell (“biscuit”) Trubisky — which in hindsight seems to be a brilliant move)
  3. There were deadlifts (my favorite!) in my CrossFit workout

I mean, come on. How do you top that?

2. Marriage

Let’s start with my most important relationship. I mean, Julia will be reading this so I have to lead with this. :)

Seriously though, when her and I are “on the same page” (I hate using that, but it works here) in the mornings my day feels 100x better.

As with any marriage, we have conflict, and there have been plenty of times I’ve left the house with an uneasy feeling that distracts me the rest of the day. So, yea, ensuring “we’re good” is both challenging and at times infuriating (because it takes real work to get back to ground zero).

Ya’ll think I’m joking when I say my life is a bit like the movie Family Man (but I’m not!)

I know Julia and I have all kinds of things to work on. Any marriage pushing through the raising of small kids (Hazel is almost 3 1/2, Roman turns 2 in another four months), their own junk they’ve brought into the marriage, knows what I’m talking about. I’m still trying to understand how to function with less than 8 hours of sleep and little to zero down time. No doubt that’s impacted my ability to give her my best. I struggle with having time to myself to think, read, reflect (like this!), learn, grow, and sip on my bourbon without having a front seat to Lord of the Flies. Kids are cray cray.

So, this marriage thing. It’s hard. It pushes me. I sometimes question whether I should be married (seriously). And I say that because the movie Family Man describes this sway of [Family Life vs. Single Successful Bachelor Business Man] in a way that can only describe how my mind messes with me.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my wife more and more every day. My kids are a HUGE blessing and with all the crazy comes the most adorable moments that stops me in my tracks and makes my heart melt. I don’t want to be single. But, the struggle can be very real.

The last 12 months have certainly squeezed our relationship, but I’ve learned more about her in the last 12 months than I have in the previous few years combined. Hoping for more of that in the next year before I celebrate (gasp) 4-0.

3. New house! And Pool. Waaaaaaaat!

I was starting to resent Florida. The heat in the Summer. The sweating (when I shouldn’t be sweating). I was over it.

So when Julia and I started looking to buy our first home after renting for 4 years, I had one demand: Pool. Everything else came second to that.

We are still astonished to this day that we get to call this home our own. Sure, it needs some improvement but we still love it. Our neighbors are amazing. It’s close to both of our offices. It gives us space to grow into. It’s perfect.

4. Hazel started talking (and now she doesn’t stop — and it’s the cutest)

In early 2017, Hazel was diagnosed with Apraxia.

I’ll save you the research, it’s basically a disconnect in the brain that prevented her from talking. It wasn’t a delayed speech. It was truly a condition that had us all worried. Her mumbling and talking sounds were adorable, but Julia had the keen sense to recognize that something was off in this development. This fear was justified with the multiple opinions we received from medical professionals.

Then, she started talking. It was truly a miracle, there’s no other way to explain it. Apraxia doesn’t just “fix itself” — but in Hazel’s case it did. Something clicked.

I’ll never forget the day I recognized her speech started to change for the better. I was picking her and Roman up from school (I get the kids Tuesday & Thursday at 5pm as Julia sees clients till 6) and as I walked into the room she stopped me. Pointed at the TV. Turned her head towards me and said:


Sure enough, there was a chicken on the TV. And she was proud. It was almost like she was trying to tell me that she figured out this talking thing. Unbelievable.

Hazel has made incredible strides since then and now we don’t even worry about it. Julia and I don’t thank Jesus enough for this miracle, but we need to.

Of course it was important to ensure she started practicing this below.

GO ????!!!

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Go Bears! ????

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5. ProtoFuse has unprecedented year, so I took some profit to re-position & target B2B (Business-to-Business) Technology Companies

This deserves it’s own write-up, but long story short 2017 was an INCREDIBLE  year from both a total revenue and profit perspective. It was crazy good. All the hardwork over the years to get this right paid of.

So, what did I do with those profits? I made a decision to BETTER the company and embrace vertical positioning. So, instead of saying:

  • Hello, everyone. We can help you with your inbound marketing (including website) if you have $x amount budgeted for your project.

We’re now saying:

  • Hello, B2B companies that have a technology-focused product or service, we can help you with your overall digital marketing (which includes website + many more marketing channels)

The decision was made because of these 4 reasons:

  1. I was tired of not focusing on a specific niche (and getting dominant at it!)
  2. I wasn’t happy with our speed of new client acquisitions
  3. I felt like we didn’t have a plan for #2
  4. I opened up myself to being heavily influenced by David C. Baker ‘s consulting, his “New Business Audit” conference in Nashville in January 2018, and new book, Expertise (all validated my long-term concerns and inspired me to take immediate action)
Sitting in the very front of David’s Nashville conference, soaking it up!

We’re deep in the middle of this re-positioning, and it’s BIG move that impacts everything (marketing, sales, offering, pricing, etc.) — but it was long overdue.

We also created this video in the Fall thanks to the very talented Brian Hogan, a friend from church (which now needs heavy revising because of our positioning change):

6. Lots of fun travel

The last 12 months have brought some super fun trips for the Sharp family!

Cinnamon Beach, FL (Summer Beach trip with kids!)

Now it’s vacation.

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Sesser, IL (Family Reunion with my side of family)

New Jersey (Thanksgiving with Julia’s side of family)

Disney – Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom (during Christmas break for Hazel’s birthday present)

7. Purchased (finally!) EricSharp.com

Nobody wants a DASH in their domain name.

Before I could set up a digital footprint for myself personally, I needed a domain. EricSharp.com was not available when I started my search in 2002 (damn you Eric Sharp from another mother living somewhere in the United States!) So, I had no other option to choose Eric(dash)Sharp.com because:

  1. .com and .net were really the only TLDs (Top Level Domain) available at the time — and I really wanted (.com)
  2. I wanted to stick with my name (rather than something corny like ThoughtsWithEric.com, IamEric.com, EricSharp79.com)

For many years Eric-Sharp.com was active. I wrote my first blog in August of 2003 and the website went through multiple versions.

Then, I started ProtoFuse full-time in 2005 and my “personal brand” became an afterthought. I just hid everything on the domain until I figured out what I wanted to do outside of ProtoFuse.

I purchased and explored these domains:

  1. ESExpressions.com
  2. SharpUX.com
  3. TheSMBNerd.com
  4. WebsiteYield.com

Nothing stuck. And I was STILL wanting EricSharp.com year after year. I even checked on the domain as it neared expiration annually hoping I could snag it (by chance they forgot to renew), but the owner did absolutely nothing with it — which was hopeful but also discouraging! MAN I wanted it!

Then, in late 2017, I noticed the domain was for sale by a third-party service. What? WHAT?? I quickly inquired, and after some negotiation I purchased.

15 years of waiting. No big deal. :)

Bye bye Eric-Sharp.com, hello non-dashed version!

8. I participated in my first OPEN CrossFit Workout

Every year in February CrossFit releases 5 workouts over 5 weeks. It’s a big deal to the CrossFit community. After doing CrossFit for 3 years, I decided my time was now.

Why didn’t I participate before? Probably a combo of fear (“What if I don’t do well?”, “People will judge me for my scores”, “Could I see proof that I’m not in as great of shape as I thought?”)

So, yea, lots of fear but also a feeling that “I’m not ready, maybe next year when I’m getting regular healthy sleep and training consistently 3-4 times a week.”

Years ago I read Derek Shivers Whatever scares you, go do it and a few times a years I lean on the concept to make bold decisions.

Here’s a snippet:

Legendary psychologist Abraham Maslow said it well: “Life is an ongoing process of choosing between safety (out of fear and need for defense) and risk (for the sake of progress and growth). Make the growth choice a dozen times a day.”

The OPEN was an incredible experience and was truly fun. All those fears were, in fact, just fears. The entire 5-week event also jumpstarted a few healthy habits (like reducing my gluten and sugar intake).

Here’s a shortened and condensed version of me doing workout 18.5 below.

9. We went from “We’ll never buy a van” to “We’re all in baby!”

Our family vehicle for the last 2 years was a 2002 Toyota Highlander we purchased from Julia’s Mom. Before that, we had a 2004 Toyota Corolla. We like used cars. :)

After the transmission started acting up in the Highlander this past Summer, we kinda knew the end of road was near. This final tow below was the last straw. Also, our massive kids kept growing (imagine that) so more space seemed super appealing. We decided it was time to upgrade.

So, we bought a used 2014 Toyota Odyssey Minivan and we LOVE IT.

I never thought I’d say this, but economical and convenience significantly outweighed this whole “No way am I driving a minivan!”

“We’re NEVER buying a van.” – Eric & Julia Sharp 5 years ago.

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10. 20 Year High School Reunion

In August I left the family behind (we had just returned from Sesser trip) and flew up North to my hometown of Sterling, Illinois for my 2o year High School reunion.

It was everything my soul wanted and needed.

I feel lucky to have a small group of high school buddies I still stay in touch with. Sure, we don’t talk every week. Or month. But, an ongoing text thread + Facebook/Instagram gives us a platform to keep being hoodlums. We’ve also set a goal to get together every year so that gives us all something to look forward to.

I realize there are some people that hated High School, but I’m not one of those people. My Senior year was FULL of  great memories from classroom antics, sports, and weekend mischief that created enough stories (that’s told over and over again) for a lifetime. These guys and our unique perspectives through it all makes me belly laugh like nothing else.

Even though I didn’t get hearty conversation with every single person who attended (30 some people showed), I loved seeing everyone’s face. We hugged. We drank beer together. We danced our asses off to 90’s music. We not only celebrated 20 years post-High School, but also that we made this formal get-together a priority in our busy lives.

One of the best weekends of the year.

11. Basketball Hoop inspires Old Man Dunk Contest

For Christmas this year, Julia pulled the trigger on a basketball hoop for our driveway that I was coveting for months. And not just any hoop, like a real-deal-dunk-all-day-professional-grade-hoop from Pro Dunk Hoops.

She delivered this very creative poem on Christmas Day:

We then had it professionally installed the week after. The curing process was a serious test of patience!

Part 1 of 2 ✔ for the ???? hoop install.

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And then a few months later the Old Man Dunk Contest was born.

What started as me just filming slow mo dunks, turned into a thing once I started weaving in Julia and the kids to these 60 second videos. Once family and friends starting cheering the whole thing on, I was committed to making it more of a thing.

There are a few more concrete reasons why I’m excited about this:

  1. I itch a creative storytelling itch (ProtoFuse doesn’t give me this type of creative outlet)
  2. Building a social media audience for the Old Man Dunk Contest is drastically different than what I do for my clients at ProtoFuse
  3. I’m learning new things (see #1 & #2)
  4. I’m making fun videos with my kids (that they hopefully will really enjoy someday)
  5. Some dunks (like Episode #3) are truly physically challenging (putting my CrossFit fitness to test!)

12. Honorable Mention

  1. Julia and I joined a small group with fellow Summit Church members. I wasn’t sure what to expect because I only knew one couple, but it’s been an incredible blessing and I’ve really enjoyed building a relationship with these people.
  2. There was a turnover in leadership at ProtoFuse, but the stressful change became a beautiful thing. I found the perfect replacement for our Director of Development (who also happens to be just a good likeable dude) and my good long-time friend (Dawn) went from part-time Project Manager to full-time late 2017. Both of them are killing it and giving me the needed space to focus on growing the company. And they’re both just fun people to be around.
  3. We stepped up our coffee game. We grind our beans now like we’re special or something.
  4. We survived our first hurricane as a family. Don’t ever bring up the generator story to Julia.