Do you, any of you, have social anxiety? That weird thing that makes you dread something that’s supposed to be a great time, even though you know intellectually you’ll probably have fun and forget about yourself once the shindig actually starts? The perverse instinct to cancel and run and hide with some ice cream and TV even though everybody thinks you’re outgoing?
That’s what I had going into the ten-year-anniversary party. Not to mention that it was a hell of a lot of work to put on. As someone who’s never planned a wedding (bridesmaid five times, though, thank you very much), I really had no idea. It’s a party. In a space. With people and food and drinks and decorations. What, Trish? What’s that you say? You think we need a party planner? Pshaw.
Trish was right. (She usually is.) It was such a big project that, as the day approached, I was not only dreading it irrationally and agoraphobically, I and the party team quite understandably couldn’t wait for the post-work relief that would set in once the heavy lifting was over.
But you know what?
IT WAS A MAGICAL NIGHT.
Social anxiety be gone. Work be worth it. People be incredible. Evening be beautiful. Triumph be palpable. Party be rock star.
In general, gratitude—at least the self-help modality version of it—bugs the shit out of me. “Blessings,” people say. “In gratitude.” Yeah? I mock your Prius bull-hockey with my namaste hands. So imagine my surprise when I noticed myself feeling GRATEFUL. Tear-in-the-eye grateful. Non-mocking-namaste-hands grateful. Therapist-would-be-proud-of-me grateful. Pocket-full-of-sixpence grateful.
Because of this, right now, for one time and one time only, I’m going to do what I’d vowed never to do—make a gratitude list. The kind that Oprah says will make me a better person if I do it every day. But that’s not why I’m doing it—I’m doing it because I really, truly, and uncharacteristically want to count my and Knock Knock’s blessings. And I’m going to make it eleven just for the hell of it, and because ten years is actually sort of eleven years when you count them on your hands.
- A kick-ass ten-year-anniversary party that truly felt culminative and triumphant and symbolic, filled with Knock Knockers past and present (and who knows, maybe future?), trusted and relied-upon vendors and consultants, friends of Knock Knock (shout out to August Friend of the month, Ariana, who came and surprised us from San Bernardino and made my night!), friends of Knock Knockers, up-and-coming young product designers and their creations, neighbors, and even a very small smattering of (other people’s) family. A party that looked as good as it felt, that went off flawlessly, that included mixed drinks called the High Five and the Pep Talk, that offered cheeses with unpronounceable names from local shepherds served by delightful individuals in orange silk bowties. A party filled with art and music. A party at which all attendees actually looked like they wanted to be there.
An amazing Knock Knock team. Really and truly and unforgettably. A more dedicated, skilled, hard-working team you will not find—because we get shit DONE. Shout-outs here to Jim and Craig and Trish, who manage the whole enterprise with me; Mia and Miguel and Aimée in design; Patricia in product development; Shane and Will in production; Erin and Jamie and Kate and Dayna in editorial; Melanie in marketing and Sara in web; Elyse and Chelsea in manufacturing; Gil and Paul in ops and customer service; Jazzlyn and Lena and Paul in customer service; Travis and Lonnie in sales; and Odi in accounting. And all of our sales reps all around the country. And our distributors all around the world. And our PR agency and lawyers and IT consultants and accounting firms. But not Jesus. I’m sorry. I’m just not going to be thanking Jesus here.
- Getting to make creative, fun, interesting stuff we believe in. Yes, there are the craven marketplace bestsellers like all the WTF products, all of which seem to sell no matter how little creativity we put into them, but we work at a company where we brainstorm about reasons to have sex, write books about drunken toasting, and design snow globes. Right? Right? And a creative corollary here: I’m grateful for a workplace in which we can swear and talk about untoward things and not have to dress up.
- Having people buy creative, fun, interesting stuff we believe in. Oh, you retailers and buyers and friends, how wonderful are you to allow us to do what we do? If you didn’t buy it, we wouldn’t be able to keep making it. If you didn’t interact with us on social media and in stores and at tradeshows, we would feel alone and blue. You get it, we get it, let’s get it together! We’ve got it together, friends, you and Knock Knock. And might I just add that I am also thankful for 2012 being one of the best sales years we’ve ever had, with incredible opportunities popping up left and right. It’ll all combine to be our most profitable year, too, and if you’ve been following the year-by-year history of Knock Knock on this blog (see postscript below), you know how important that is for us!
- Offices we love in a place we love. We are so fortunate to be in the Electric Avenue Studios, with our perch recently expanded into four units from three. It’s a creative, light-filled, open space within walking distance to great lunch places and even the beach (though nobody seems to go from work) in the land of eternal sunshine and the neighborhood of cool breezes, a place where we can walk and bike and generally flout the Los Angeles cars-only reputation.
- The fact that we made it ten years. Wow. Ten years. Lots of businesses don’t make it to five. When I started Knock Knock, a couple people in my life told me they first thought, “Well, that stuff is great, but what other things can they do?” Each time we brought out a new list, they thought, “Okay, surely they’ve exhausted the ideas now.” The fact that we made a ten-year-perservering company out of consistently innovative and fresh creativity—with major mistakes and missteps and disasters and meltdowns and injuries and teaching “opportunities” along the way—is something to be grateful for, no doubt about it.
- Other smart people. Early on, I determined that I wanted Knock Knock to function in part as a think tank in the following manner: really smart people coming together to grapple with and debate about interesting challenges and issues (one of the definitions of an interesting problem is one you haven’t had before). I like smart people. I like learning from others. I like it when other smart people constantly spur you to bring your A-game. I like it when there are people around you who are better at what they do than you are. Done, and done!
- Knowing how to do this thing we call business. It was so terrifying when I/we had no idea what we were doing or how to do it. Now I’m reasonably seasoned and not a bad businesswoman. For the most part, I truly know how to run Knock Knock, and I know how to do the critical thinking work to figure out the things I don’t yet know. And we’re big enough and functional enough to attract and compensate other people who know what they’re doing, people who’ve had prior experience doing things (vs. reinventing the wheel over and over again), people who can say things like “There might be a better way to do this” or “Let’s create a system or process for that” or “Jen, you’re full of shit.”
- Having the financial support we needed. We got help for about seven years, which culminated in our becoming debt-free in 2012. Knock Knock’s financial history is unique. It’s one of the areas in which we had an extremely lucky break, and we were able to get to where we are today without many of the financial struggles other growing companies have faced. Sometimes people feel that if others get help financially, what they’re doing isn’t worthwhile. It’s probably an envy thing, and to be sure, it isn’t fair whose endeavors get supported by easy money and whose don’t. But when you and the team work really, really goddamned hard to do something innovative that succeeds in the marketplace year after year (not easy to do, let me tell you), does the fact that you’ve had a couple legs up discount what you’ve done? I don’t think so.
- A return to a reasonable work-life balance. This is partly personal and partly across the company. That first six years of ninety-hour weeks and untold stress and chaos took a TOLL on me. I still haven’t gotten back to certain pre–Knock Knock standards of life and self (though of course in so many other areas, I’ve greatly surpassed where I was before Knock Knock), but at least there’s the possibility of doing it, and I’m working on it (why, oh why does life require so much work on oneself? it’s exhausting! will it ever end?). It’s also across the company. Knock Knock is so much more orderly and sane than it was in the early years, with most people working normal hours most of the time and knowing what they’re supposed to be doing when. (Yes, this last creative development season, the one that just ended, Spring 2013, was an anachronistic killer, but it’s now over, thank god.)
- Unending excitement at the prospect of new opportunities and the future. We have compiled a team that does not prefer complacency and status quo—in fact, people who drift in that direction don’t end up doing well at Knock Knock. But for those who love stimulation like I do? People who are easily bored and like to tackle new endeavors? People who are curious about almost everything and don’t say things like “That’s not my job”? It’s the best! On a strategy level, our planning is well into 2014. We’re thinking about things we’ve never thought about before, on scales that would previously have been nothing more than unachievable fantasy. This shit is FUN!
So. I end my gratitude list by saying thank you. Thank you to everybody who’s made this ten years possible. Thank you to everybody who’s survived difficult times with and for us and has the scars to prove it. Thank you to everybody who’s celebrated with us, near us, or on us. Because you must know—for a pessimistic, self-flagellating curmudgeon like me to feel so lucky even for a moment is no small thing.
See you at the twenty-year-anniversary party!
P.S. Even though the postscript is dead, I do feel it’s important to let you know that I am aware I only got up to 2007 in my year-by-year narration of Knock Knock’s history. That’s six posts out of the eleven required, a majority. I do still plan to finish this project, and who knows, maybe I’ll make a book out of it, and it will come with a CD of music to slit your wrists by—like Mazzy Star. And a book isn’t too far off—it turns out that the median length for all books is 64,000 words, and I’ve already written (not including this post) 29,138. Because, as we’ve said from the very beginning, why use fewer words when you could use more?