Success is a product of planning, preparation, commitment, and consistent work over time. So make a plan, work the plan, and don't give up.
I live in a regular track home, in a suburban neighborhood where homes are squished together and backyards are small. Luckily, my home is fairly large and my backyard is pretty amazing.
It’s easy to see pictures of our yard and say, “Gee, it must be nice.” And I can confirm they’re right. It’s more than nice. It’s fantastic.
It’s easy to see what other people have and think, “Lucky ducks.” Or, “How do I get that for myself?” Or, “I’ll never be able to afford that!”
It’s easy to see someone else’s success and assume that they had it easy or that they had something that you don’t have or knew something that you don’t know.
It’s easy to get frustrated with where you’re at when you don’t have all of the information.
That’s why I want to tell you a story…
Everyone Starts Somewhere
In 1999, Brian and I got married the day after I turned 20 and moved into a nasty apartment. The people below us had 10 people living there and they piled trash everywhere. We had so many cockroaches that I never turned off the lights… ever.
Desperate to get out of that place, we spent every free moment looking at houses.
When I mentioned wanting to live in the city I grew up in, friends laughed at me. Our budget range was so low, it was a joke.
Eventually, we did find a house in my city.
It was at the high end of our budget and the owner had several offers above asking price. But we had met the nice old woman that spent nearly her entire adult life in that house and she chose us as the next owners of her home because she liked the fact that as her story was ending, ours was just beginning.
Now, to be clear: It was a gross mess.
When I told some family that we bought a house in Rocklin, they couldn’t believe it. When they saw the house, they asked if it was too late to get our money back.
It was in such bad shape, Brian and his dad did repairs on the house for free just to get it to a point where it would pass the inspection so it could be sold!
But we saw potential and were confident in what it could become. We could turn it into something beautiful.
From December 1999 to February 2004, we ripped it apart and replaced everything from the sewer pipes, plumbing, and electrical to the roof, walls, flooring, counters, hardscape, and landscaping. And we did nearly everything ourselves leveraging the knowledge and experience of my father-in-law, who built their family home.
Blood, sweat, tears, an ER trip, and every free moment and dollar made went into fixing up that house. It was finally finished the week we moved out and it sold for more than double what we paid for it.
We spent a couple of years looking for our next home. Not a single one checked every box on our list until we found the one we live in now. But it was a big, beautiful, new house and we couldn’t afford the down payment.
At the time, Brian was a firefighter.
He was sent on a strike team to help fight the massive 2003 wildfire burning in San Diego and spent a week near Julian, sleeping on the ground and eating meals gifted to their crew from residents. His overtime check from that strike team was exactly the amount we needed for the downpayment.
We went all-in and in late 2003, secured one of the last two homes in the neighborhood nearly a year after we found it.
Change Is Hard
It took everything we had to get into our house.
We were so house-poor it wasn’t even funny. We had this fancy house and it was basically empty because we couldn’t afford furniture. Our television sat on the floor, our backyard remained dirt for years, and we had no extra money for anything.
What we did have was a vision for the future of our family and the willingness to do the work to make it a reality. We also had a lot of patience and embraced the notion of short-term sacrifice, long-term gain.
Planning, Testing, And Course Correcting
We got the keys to our home on February 20, 2004, but didn’t begin our backyard until the spring of 2007. For three years, our backyard was nothing but dirt. And for three years we dreamed, planned, prepared, and saved.
We spent our time…
- Moving plastic chairs around the yard, discovering sightlines from our neighbors’ second-story windows, and figuring out where privacy trees and shrubs needed to be planted.
- Sitting in the dirt at different times of the day to watch how the sun tracked across the yard and figuring out where we needed to introduce shade and where we could take advantage of natural shade.
- Spray painting landscaping plans in the dirt and sitting on the future patio. Then raking the dirt clean, making changes, and spray painting it again.
- Hiring architects to draw up official blueprints for our pool, the cabana, and the landscaping from Brian’s scale drawings to secure the proper permits and identify the best plants for our year-round privacy goals.
We Tested And Planned Every Detail
Brian took everything he learned from the construction for our little house and poured it into our backyard. He designed and subcontracted the pool himself, he built the cabana, he did the plumbing and electrical work, and he planted every single plant.
While it was a dream, the whole yard never actually got finished…
Things Don’t Always Go According To The Plan
There was supposed to be a built-in fireplace in one area of the yard, but we saw the housing crash coming and nixed that feature to reign in our spending.
Eventually, we covered that area with bark and plants, but it never felt quite right. Later, we ripped it out, built a huge, gorgeous raised garden bed, and grew our own veggies.
The first few years of the garden were great, but then we ran into problems:
- As our income increased, we began to vacation a whole lot more and we weren’t home enough to properly tend a garden.
- Racoons were eating everything. In 2019, we harvested nothing from the garden.
That section of the yard also still didn’t feel quite right — it needed height.
So we demolished the garden and let it sit once again as dirt for a year, while we planned and debated what to do next.
The final decision was a raised patio and built-in shade cover to not only create more shady places to relax but provide a stage (with electricity) for parties and barbecues.
And again, we planned and tested:
- Driving stakes into the ground and running a string line to outline the would-be patio.
- Researching shade cover materials, options, and measurements, and ripping out the stakes to adjust the patio positioning to ensure none of the columns blocked window views from the inside the house.
- Sinking tall posts into the ground to simulate the height of the patio cover and see where we needed to cut back trees.
- Moving patio furniture into the dirt and “onto the patio” to test the size and shape.
Finally, 14 years after beginning our backyard project, the new patio cover was installed, its height brought balance to the yard, and everything feels just right.
The Truth About Making Dreams A Reality
I love my relaxing, resort-like backyard oasis. It brilliantly uses the small space we have and provides privacy in sea of two-story homes.
Again, it’s easy to:
- Say, “Gee, it must be nice.” Or think, “How do I get that for myself?” Or, “I’ll never be able to afford that!”
- Assume it came easy or that there’s some magic trick you don’t know about.
- Judge others and get frustrated with yourself.
It’s a lot harder to look past the glossy surface and see the focus, commitment, time, energy, effort, focus, money, patience, and work that went into creating what you see.
There Is No Magic Bullet Or Secret Sauce
Finding success in my business wasn’t magic. I’ve been in this industry since 1998 and have owned my company since 2005. Its success came from hard work, failing a lot, getting back up, trying again, learning as I went, and building strong relationships.
Finding success in my personal life — in my marriage, family, home, or finances — also wasn’t magic. It too came from hard work, failing a lot, getting back up, trying again, learning as I went, and building strong relationships.
Here’s what I know for sure:
- You Need A Vision: A clear vision of the future drove every decision made. If it aligned with our vision, it was a yes. If it didn’t, it was a no. If it was unclear, we evaluated the potential, asking, “Could it fit our vision with some elbow grease and investment?”
- Relationships Matter: Meeting the homeowner, sharing our story, and being friendly won us our first home. It’s proof that relationships and who you know play a big role in your trajectory.
- Hard Work Pays Off: Working our tails off, making sacrifices, asking for help, and learning new skills is what increased the value of our first home.
- Preparation Creates Luck: Going on a strike team was optional. If Brian hadn’t signed up to be available, he would have never gone and we wouldn’t have had the money to buy our home. Similarly, if we hadn’t worked so hard to remodel our little house, we wouldn’t have been ready to sell it at just the right time.
- Testing Provides Confidence: In web design language, we basically wireframed our backyard and each individual feature. We created prototypes with stakes and string and spraypaint and performed user testing before taking action.
- Patience Pays Off: All good things come to those who wait. We have never regretted a decision that was made slowly. We also never settle for anything other than exactly what we want, even if it means waiting a little longer.
- Mistakes Happen: Every decision isn’t going to be a great one. We’ve never been afraid to rip out and demolish what isn’t working to try something new and replace it with something better. And then do it again, if that also didn’t work. Trying new things, fixing problems, and trying again is how we learn and improve.
- Help Is Required: You’re going to need help and you need to get comfortable asking for it. There is no way we could have remodeled our little house without my father-in-law’s help and help from our friends.
While my story focuses on my home and backyard, all of these “truths” apply to business.
There isn’t a magic bullet or secret sauce you don’t know about.
The Best Things In Life Take Time
Today, I have a backyard I love and a business that gives me the freedom to be choosy with who I work with and only say yes to projects that light me up.
Reaching this point didn’t happen overnight.
- I’ve been in my house for 17 years.
- This year my creative agency celebrated its 16 year anniversary.
The best things in life with the biggest rewards take time and while you may be impatient and antsy, you have to earn them.
My backyard took 14 years to reach this point. Getting here meant creating and demolishing multiple times until we found the right solution and we’re not even fully done! We still need to finish the rock, add more plants and colorful pots, and get some furniture for that new patio!
If you’re feeling frustrated because everything you want and hope for seems far away and it feels like it’s taking too long to become your reality, give yourself some grace and give your dreams some time.
You have everything you need to have everything you want. You just need to see the potential, believe in yourself, and go all-in.
- Define a crystal clear vision for the future and know exactly what you want.
- Grow your network and build strong relationships.
- Ask questions, ask for advice, ask for help, and ask for feedback.
- Prepare for success and set yourself up to take advantage of every “on-route” opportunity that comes your way.
- Clarify goals, commit to making them a reality, and work hard to make them happen.
- Take action every day — it doesn’t matter if you’re taking baby steps or giant leaps.
- Be patient and understand that things take time. Sometimes what feels like a “no” is really a “not right now,” a “not just yet,” or a “not without a few tweaks.”
- Try new things, test new ideas, make mistakes, learn lessons, and do it again. Don’t let the fear of falling get in the way of your dreams.
And know that if you stay focused, stay on your path, resist distractions (no matter how shiny they are), and keep taking action every day — even baby steps — you’ll create change and turn your goals and dreams into your everyday reality. And, with the right information, tools, and support, you can accelerate the process and get there even faster.
You’ve got this and I believe in you.