Created by Kyle Null
Published / 05.22.2018
Last Updated / 12.05.2018
Our first challenge is to figure out why we were put on this earth.
Some of us were lucky enough to know from a young age, while others take many years of reinventing themselves to find it.
This awesome little dude turned out to be the muse for my reason.
That’s me at around 5 years old. I imagine if I have a son someday he may turn out to be this silly.
I spent a lot of time pretending. That was my thing. Every day I’d become the ultimate super hero adapting perfectly to my surroundings. I’d dream up wave after wave of ever-evolving bad guys that would get creatively countered and taken down. This would continually be my approach to all things.
When I played hockey, I was Wayne Gretzky weaving assists between the legs of my opponents. In basketball, I would humbly become Scottie Pippen (because my old brother was always Michael Jordan). In baseball I’d smoothly one hand home runs as Ken Griffey Jr. When flipping my imaginary coat tales over the piano bench I’d became the intensely passionate Beethoven, or the ever-diligent Schroeder from Charlie Brown. When I started teaching myself the electric guitar, I became Stevie Ray Vaughan because he looked like he could be a guitar sensei in a guitar themed kung fu movie. Then when I saved up money to buy my first acoustic guitar I became the unplugged version of Eric Clapton…because he’s Eric Clapton.
We all idolize our heroes and do our best to emulate them. It’s a beautiful thing.
What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?
I hated this question we’re all asked at different stages in our lives. When you’re young, you dream up the coolest person you’ve ever seen: “Fireman!”, “Astronaut!”, “Pterodactyl!”
Whenever I was asked, I never quite knew the right answer. I of course knew the answers the person asking wanted to hear like, “Baseball Player!”, but as I got older it started becoming this void – a missing link. I wanted to be all kinds of things. I didn’t want to limit myself by publicly committing to one career or profession. I wanted to be and do everything that I thought was fun and interesting. That question was like someone asking me to only choose one food to eat for the rest of my life while I was holding a giant empty plate in a buffet line. On a side note, don’t eat at Golden Corral — not if you respect your digestive system.
Anyway, I grew conflicted with this systematic approach in life that was being force fed to me and all of my peers. After I fell in love with the computer and realized that I could learn anything the Internet had to offer, I really started to feel out of place. Having daily access to the Internet (when many kids my age didn’t) would lead to me learning more interesting stuff at home by myself, than at school. A pattern that I continue to see in students to this day that are given freedom to explore online.
I began learning and absorbing everything there was to find online. I grew as the Internet grew. It was an amazing thing to be a part of because the changes always felt so organic and natural along the way. I think this is one of the more unique things about being an older Millennial is that you got to grow up with and without the Internet so you can visible see the bridge that older and younger generations can’t.
Growth of the Internet (I had daily access starting in 1998).
To me this is the biggest opportunity my generation have over others. I feel like we can easily be digitally native bridges between what the world was like before the Internet, and after. However, it’s important to note that it wasn’t normal in 1998, at 12 years old during the Dot Com bubble, to have your own computer connected to the Internet in your bedroom. So I also don’t want to imply that this is a shared capability we all have, as not everyone had the same level of access as I did.
Boring Piano Lessons Led Me Down the Path I’m On
I came up with my own system to figure out how to teach myself to play the guitar through guitar tabs and videos downloaded through Napster and later, Limewire (because YouTube didn’t exist yet). I remember it’d take about a week of continuous downloading to acquire a 30 minute video and it’d take a few hours to gather one 3 minute pop song. I’d set it and forget it leaving our phone line busy for the majority of the day and come back to having enough tracks to turn into a mix, then listen to and practice with whenever I wanted. This was an insane convenience back then. Yeah, I know grandpa millennial is here to tell you about what it was like before the YouTubes existed on the interwebs. But hey, It was either that, buy a cd at the mall with mom, or wait until the radio decided to play your favorite song and then try to rip cleanly with a tape player while hoping the DJ didn’t cut the track short.
I started taking piano lessons at around 6. My older brother Adam was showing off on the piano on the regular, and as his professional shadow I of course wanted to join his exclusive cool kid club. So I begged my Mom to let me go too and she agreed. I’m sure it was all her idea in the first place. The only problem was is I had my ears tainted with rock n’ roll, catchy Disney songs, Stevie Wonder, and Aerosmith (because they did Dude Looks like a Lady from Mrs. Doubtfire: RIP Robin Williams).
Now, you can imagine my disappointment when I go into my first set of piano lessons and I’m hearing this lecture over and over again from the local church lady.
“Now, I know you want to play the blues & rock n’ roll Kyle, but how about we try one of these hymns or a classical piece that I’m more comfortable teaching you?” – Piano Church Lady Person
This resulted in me developing a love / hate relationship with the piano that I’ve now been playing for over 28 years. My fingers play it beautifully with spite.
If classical music and hymns are your cup of tea, then more power to ya, but I grew up listening to Motown, the Beatles, and The Rolling Stones while bopping about in the car seat with my pacifier — so church hymns were the last thing on my cool-things-radar.
The Importance of Balance
“No skill is a bad skill Kyle.” – Dad
In high school, I loved to read books, excessively watch movies, film stupid skits with my friends (again no YouTube), and listen to, write & record music. Those were my only cares. However, I was told by everyone around me that these things weren’t the correct path. What is the correct path? Is there one? Why is there only one? There was an ever-present societal effort to beat the creativity out of me so that I could have better odds to succeed. Who came up with this metric for success? Many countries have this same problem, and have it bad.
No one emphasized that literally any subject matter could lead to a prospering career. It’s particularly easy when you pair the subject matter with technology — Informatics. Why do we need to learn algebra? Well let’s show them how to program a video game (something they’re interested in) and then let them know that if they love doing this they can have a very prosperous life. The word, “design” was never iterated once by any of my teachers. The concept of doing revisions didn’t even come until I took a creative writing class in college. My computer class at 16 consisted of demonstrating that I could type 125wpm to the teacher and he gave me an automatic A+ for the year. I spent the class playing Yahoo’s billiard game with one of my friends. Great. Thanks.
Teachers didn’t (and still struggle with) teaching relevant life lessons through their subject matter. All students are wanting to know, “How does this topic apply to my life?” and, “What would my life look like if I pursued it?”
I would imagine that all of those people that yelled at their kids for “wasting time playing video games” are now having their minds blown with the realization that people live streaming video games 12 hours a day are now pulling in over $20 million a year.
Many likely have felt similar things (regardless of generation). Some of them may continue the tradition, while others may try to over-correct things, and this is why it’s critical that we maintain a balance. It’s logical to go, “Hey, if you study business, law, or medicine you’re very likely to have a successful life filled with wealth, job security, and fancy vacations.”
However, it’s also just as logical to say, “Hey, it’s ok to love what you do, and if you love it enough you’ll figure out a way to sustain the kind of lifestyle you want while doing it.” Let’s help guide the iterations of people’s existence, not force them to do the thing for society’s sake.
Creating Nullen, meaning “To Nourish”
I realized as soon as I let go of all of the society pressures of what was expected of me that it could free my mind and heart to follow the exact path I wanted to follow. And for me, it wasn’t about one path, it was about multiple paths. I believed that with the Internet I could do more than one type of job. That if I wanted to teach people to be the best version of themselves I could. If I wanted to make a song for a YouTube video I could easily lead that effort. If the job called for a professional interview with a grumpy person that refused to talk about themselves — sign me up…website design, SEO, social media management, PR statements, design thinking processes in a nonprofit environment, teaching foster kids how to do cool stuff, teaching adults how to do cool stuff, giving presentations to seniors on why young people are motivated to be transparent, or raising $100,000 of donations by breaking the status quo.
Beyond boasting a bit, the point is I didn’t want to get bogged down doing one thing for one company. I wanted to spread awesomeness and excellence in ways that the situation was calling for. I wanted to remain perfectly adaptable to the needs of the organization that I felt loyalty towards.
As a result, I’ve found that at the core of every successful outcome and opportunity that’s come my way is persistence, adaptability, and my child like sense of wonder. I wanted to fully embrace that and nourish it.
For me, I believe this approach can translate into succeeding in anything: life, business, and hobbies.
As a business in the digital age we’re living in, the primary goal is to generate advocacy in all you do. This comes in many forms: reviews, likes, retweets, shares, e-mails, and even word of mouth — as we rely on the opinions of our networks for ideas of what we should eat, where we should sleep, what shoes to buy, what shows and movies to watch, and what music to listen to.
So as a business or a professional developing your own personal brand, if you can manage to retain every bit of goodness of who you are in the work you do and display online you’ll see progress. This authenticity becomes paramount to generating #advocacy because people can see through the charade of insincerity that was once the cornerstone of traditional marketing approaches.
The only way for me to channel everything I am was to start my own business and go all in on developing a brand. Even before I fully grasped what it was I wanted to do, it felt like the right course of action. I knew I wanted to help people grow. I wanted to educate passionate humans to be better. I wanted to make the world a better place by helping good causes do more.
This didn’t begin as a consulting agency, it evolved into it through massive iterative efforts. I now only bring in people I trust to do business with (friends & family). I only give an all out effort to help good causes that also have the capacity to see the value in what I’m trying to do — and believe me I’ve had my fair share of nightmare clients. In sticking to these principles and my mission to nourish the hearts and minds of everyone as a business, its resulted in having tremendous relationships that generate incredible fulfillment for everyone involved.
All of this came from one realization that came about when I opened an old picture box my mom handed to me. It was fully inspired by my 5 year old self that you saw at the beginning of this post. I realized that I never wanted to disappoint that little guy. I wanted all of my choices to be filled with hilarity, wonder, creativity, and a monumental amount of optimistic hope for the future for every person I encountered. To me, this is what a “logical” hero was…and I felt I could only do that by running my own business.
Only then could I be a hero to somebody.
After years of confusion and frustration I have found my reason.
And with that I began developing a personal mission statement that is a compilation of many things over the years. I believe Patton Oswald’s book, Zombie Spaceship Wasteland can be credited with the majority of it — because he’s awesome.
With child-like wonder, I want to experience as many different tastes, sights, sounds, music, emotions, conflicts, and cultures as possible; so that I can expand the canvas of my memory, enrich who I am, and pleasantly surprise everyone I encounter.
I write this ever-evolving statement at the beginning of every new hand written journal.
It’s a continual reminder of who I am, just in case I lose track of myself.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.