2015 Year in Review

23 December 2015 | 9 Comments


I’ve enjoyed reading a few of my colleague’s “year in review” blog posts recently, so I decided to spend a rare quiet afternoon writing my own. It’s a great exercise for reflection, before setting new year goals (a process I’ve resisted for a long time, but now I see the value in it). Note – this is fairly long and navel-gazing and all me-me-me. If that makes you want to barf, don’t click “read more” below. Consider yourself warned.

2015 was a kick-ass year.

I accomplished a lot in 2015. I grew Camp Tech across the country, delivering over 250 workshops and more than doubling revenue from 2014; put 5 new websites out into the world and fixed the code/consulted/gave mini makeovers for about 20 other sites; taught 3 consecutive semesters at Ryerson University and fall semester at Humber College; and co-founded and co-hosted a conference. I also attended and spoke at some fantastic events. But most importantly, I had fun and challenged and enjoyed myself pretty much every day. A lot of that comes from the amazing teams of people I surround myself with personally and professionally.

Best moments.

Attending the first Owner Summit.

The timing was perfect – a few days in Austin in early January to kick off the year, learning from the best owners and managers in the digital agency world. I made great friends (waving at you, Warren) and better understood where I fit in this industry. Watching Carl and Greg execute Owner Summit and create an environment for honest sharing and connection to take place–encouraging people to leave their egos at the door and just be real–was amazing. I tried my best to emulate that when planning Gather North (more on that below). I’ll be at Owner Summit 2016 in Atlanta in February – if you’ll be there too, please say hello!


A week to escape.

Ian and I took our annual winter trip to Mexico in February to relax. I did something kooky – I put an out-of-office reply on my email that didn’t just say I was away. It said that I was away and didn’t want to return to a pile of email, so all messages not marked urgent would be deleted. A bit harsh? Maybe. But it worked. No, I didn’t really delete the messages. I set up a Gmail filter to send them to a folder instead of my inbox. And yes, I did check it once or twice. But more than any other time before, I escaped the drudgery of email, unplugged from work and had a great trip with Ian.


Hiring Tara.

While I was in Mexico, Tara started working full-time at Camp Tech.  Yes, that was bad timing that I was away during her first week as an official employee, but that’s just the way it worked out. Hiring Tara to be Camp Tech’s Admin Manager was hands-down the best decision of the year. There’s no way Camp Tech could grow without her.


I turned 35 in April.

I *love* being in my 30s. I have more confidence in what I’m doing and my place in the world. I have less tolerance for bullshit. I am nicer, more considerate, and value politeness in others more. I’m comfortable with who I am and know what I want to achieve. I’ve heard that a lot of women say they hit their stride in their mid or late 30s, and that’s certainly been true for me. My wonderful business coaches say it’s the time to put on your big girl pants.


Expanding Camp Tech to Vancouver.

It was serendipitous timing. I was thinking about growing Camp Tech to a new city. My friend Laura, who had experience running a local chapter of a workshop company, had recently moved Vancouver and had some time on her hands. I jumped on a plane in April and headed west (Ian came along too, for fun). After spending two days with Laura and meeting with potential supporters, it just felt right. We all worked and schemed and planned through the spring and summer, and Camp Tech Vancouver launched in September.


Launching the Buddies site.

My web design colleague and friend Linn and I designed, developed and launched a new website for Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in the first half of 2015. We’re quite proud of the website and some of its technical features, but I’m most proud of the process we developed for getting a website off the ground.

After working together for years, Linn and I have a shorthand and have fine-tuned our optimal way of working together. I research, strategize and design. She writes code and does all the building. We both work alongside the client to get things just right, and we bring the client in to work on the website much earlier than others in our industry do. Our process worked so well on the Buddies website, and we’ve done a few websites since using the same methodology. We even gave a presentation about it, and you can watch the video of our talk online (but the first 5 minutes or so are missing, which is too bad).



Summertime in the city.

I love city life, especially in summer. Ian and I had the best time at the Field Trip music festival at Fort York in June (tip: the VIP tickets are totally worth the extra money). I puttered in my little city garden, and spent pretty much every weekday evening back there, reading magazines and drinking white wine. In August, our friends Melissa and Johnathan were married in the best wedding I’ve ever attended (other than my own, of course). They had a street party outside their house with dinner and dancing (complete with craft beer and food stations by Caplansky’s and Poutini’s). There was a massive downpour in the middle of the reception, but no one cared. Kids ran around, we all got soaked, and we danced and danced. If I had to choose one specific moment, I’d say this one was my absolute favourite from all of 2015.



And escaping the city.

We took Clara camping for the first time (a success!), and I had a weekend getaway with my closest pals at Blue Mountain resort. In August, Ian and I headed to Kinnon’s gorgeous cottage in Quebec for a week of good food and drink, swimming in the lake, and reading in the hammock. Pure bliss.


Welcome to the world, Cameron.

My beloved sister had her first child in August – a sweet little boy named Cameron. He is full of smiles and giggles and I adore spending time with him. He doesn’t sleep much though.


Gather North.

It’s hard to quickly summarize Gather North, the event I co-hosted in November (with my friend Sarah) for women who make the web. I wrote an extensive piece about it, which you can read here. The one thing I can say here about Gather North (that I don’t think I said in the longer piece) is that it really helped me feel my potential. Not just see it, but really *feel* the impact I can have on people. Expect a lot more of that from me in 2016.


Worst moments.

Getting fired.

I got fired on a client project due to mismanagement within their organization. Obviously I can’t talk about the details, but it was painful. I have spent a lot of time going over it in my head and trying to see where things went off the rails, and I’ve picked up a few pieces of valuable information. Now it’s time to let it go.

Being away.

I over-committed and over-scheduled hard in the fall. Clara had a rough few weeks adjusted to kindergarten, and I wasn’t there as much as I wanted to be. Mommy guilt reared its ugly head while I was on business trips, teaching in the evening, and attending industry events. Lesson learned here. September is often the busiest time of the year for both of my businesses, but I *must* be around for my girl. No business trips in September 2016, I promise.


Lessons learned

Leave space for things.

This isn’t a new lesson, but it’s one I have to keep learning over and over again. When you leave a bit of room in your schedule, in your workload, in your plans, you leave room for spontaneity and for fun. I *love* doing things just because I want to, “for funsies.” In 2015, that was Gather North. There’s no way I could have committed to that project if I didn’t have any room.

If it’s not scary, you’re not growing.

A platitude for sure. But a true one. Launching Camp Tech in Vancouver scared the crap out of me. Would it work? How could I create a Camp Tech in a city on the other side of the continent? How would it run without me being there every day?

I honestly had no idea. I had plans, sure… and a trusted team. But it was still terrifying. Ultimately I asked myself, if I didn’t go for it, what else was I going to do? Keep running a small, comfortable little business in Toronto with no risk and no growth? Sure, that works for some. But not for me. I’d get bored. The only way forward was to take the leap.

Get out of my own way.

Often, when something’s not moving quickly enough, I’m the bottleneck. I need to get out of my own damn way! Fear, procrastination, and not delegating enough to my teams often sets me back. And then when I do get out of my way and push something through, I think, WOW what took me so long?!?!

What I want to do more of.

Throughout my crazy career path (theatre administrator, graphic designer, web designer, entrepreneur, teacher), there’s been one core skill that I use over and over again. I’m a communicator. Someone told me that my super-power is that I’m bilingual – I can speak “tech” and “normal”. I can explain and interpret information to people in a way that they’ll actually understand. This is the “unfair competitive advantage” that I bring to Camp Tech. It’s why interacting with clients is my favourite part of web design work. It’s why I love teaching and speaking. And it’s what I need to do much more of in 2016.

I’m also a leader. I have natural leadership instincts, but they only get me so far. I’d like to devote so time and effort to intentionally developing better leadership skills.

What I want to do less of.

It’s a clunky term, but the concept of “opportunity expense” is all too true. There are not enough hours in the day to do everything. When you say yes to something, you’re potentially not leaving room for something else that you will have to say no to. This is a huge struggle for me. I want to do everything. Not because I have to, but because I honestly want to. I enjoy doing so much!

There are some things that are easy to remove from the task list, and there are some that aren’t. But ultimately, I know what has to go. I have to prioritize and be ruthless in my pruning, so I leave time for the *really* important things.

So I don’t write code any more. Or at least, I don’t build whole websites myself. That’s what Linn’s for. 😉 I also don’t teach at Ryerson any more. It wasn’t my best subject, so it had to go. I’ve kept Humber because it’s my absolute favourite topic (I’m teaching the business side of interactive media). I transitioned my role with one client so I’m doing more consulting and strategy work, and no more production work.

In 2016, I want to be even more sensitive about “opportunity expense” and being selective about what I take on. Just because I can do something doesn’t necessarily mean I should.

Looking ahead to 2016.

I know some people who choose a word for their year, and I think that’s a pretty lovely idea. I’ve been thinking about this a fair bit, and I’ve settled on my word for 2016. Amplify. I have things to say, both personally and professionally. And I want to say them louder, and to a larger audience, in 2016. Now I just have to figure out the roadmap to get me there… 😉


9 Responses on “2015 Year in Review”

  1. fm swartz says:

    Nice job Ave…very thoughtful, insightful, inspirational and genuine!

  2. avery says:

    aw, thanks Dad! xo

  3. Adawson says:

    Cammy is the best. but seriously, good job ave! Very proud of you!

  4. avery says:

    Thanks Swaz! xo

  5. j. says:

    Great read Ave! Thanks for being so honest…and all around awesome. xx

  6. avery says:

    It’s the only way I know how to be! 😉


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