Empowered To Make A Change

The good part; When writing this, I am working with the top companies in the WooCommerce ecosystem, partnering with creative minds, making things happen that can make a massive difference to many users, or even an essential lifeline to their business survival due to a lockdown. As a partnership manager at YITH, I also had* the privilege of traveling worldwide and attended various WordCamps and WordPress events. I’ve co-organized WordCamps, Meetups, and with 28 WooCommerce London Meetups in 2020 alone.
* We are still in a local lock down due to covid at the time of writing this.

The rubbish part; Okay, nine years ago, life was not great, my daughter passed away, and I was stuck as a restaurant owner, working hard and not making much money, plus soon after, I started a court case against my landlord. Maybe this was the year I lost most of my hair, and it also caused my flare-up of UC… so hopefully, you get it, it was not a good time of my life, and I probably had every reason to find ‘the bottle’ more attractive.

From The Rubbish To The Good Part

When bad things happen to people, some will hide and go downhill, whereas others use this negative energy into something positive. I can’t say, I fall in either camp, but having been influenced by the right people around me, decisions I made, and by chance, I was being drawn towards the latter one.

Soon after our daughter died, my wife, Nihan enrolled in the open university to finish her Computer Science degree. I have massive admiration for Nihan’s strong determination, and I wholeheartedly supported her in this decision. We managed to finance this with an adult learning grant and working as a chef in various local pubs.

My wife’s coursework interested me a lot, and very soon, we started following the lectures together, plus extra course work I was practicing myself too.

Then came the idea of affiliate commission earnings through blogging, which I started out using Joomla as a CMS platform. Creating websites was slowly becoming a passion for me, and in these first few years, I enjoyed every part of the steep learning curb tackling the basics to more advanced coding and designs.

Diving Into The Web

After reducing hours as a chef, I followed various online courses in coding and e-commerce, SEO, and online marketing. One of the training courses I signed up for was a lifetime deal for OSTraining. The lessons came in particularly useful when I applied for a job as a WordPress designer. Please note that at this time, I had heard of WordPress and used it as a blogging platform but not played with it as a designer. One of the tutors on OSTraining became my absolute savior in the next two weeks before my interview for a new WordPress job. His name is Topher, also well-known for being the founder of HeroPress.

Having binge-watched various WP development topics and getting familiar with the structures, I was rather lucky to have been given the job. Still, this was only the beginning of my journey into the world of WordPress.

A year later, my boss asked me whether I would consider taking over the business and clients. Together with my wife, we started a new brand and company that we then build up over the years. This path naturally leads us into a niche of working with WooCommerce in combination with Online marketing.

As I often say to people, WordPress is just one of the tools in my box, just like a carpenter can’t do without a hammer.

The skill in using it efficiently comes over time and even then, there are different techniques. We all look back at projects and think: “ouch, why did I do it that way?” I often hear the term ‘imposter syndrome.’ I don’t believe in this, as I think whoever progresses and explores is eager to learn and wants to improve. It is frankly in human nature to drive ourselves forward. WordPress has evolved in so many branches that require different skills, and thank goodness for that, or we’d all be in competition. Instead, there are 100’s of areas of expertise, roles, and jobs that complement WordPress to make it what it is. A big part of that is each person’s personal background complements their skillsets. Think about it, who you are and what you do is influenced by what you have done and learned. Cherishing this, adding your culture, language, and experience and you suddenly find yourself more than qualified. And often these are not skills or certificates you list on a CV as they might be good and also bad experiences.

Joining A Business

The next part of this chapter was my dealings with YITH. As a long-term customer and having met some of the team at WordCamp London, I got into discussions to represent them at events held in the UK. This soon went global with me attending WordCamps in 3 other countries… and this was the moment I realized I could do much more with my connections and create meaningful partnerships. Within a few weeks, I crafted my dream job and sent a proposal to Nando, the CEO of YITH.

It is not easy to pitch yourself with an idea hoping that someone, I never met or spoken, understands this vision.

The doubts went through my head; “do I give up my business and work for the benefit of another company? What if I don’t get on? After all, I met 2 out of a team of 40 only three years ago… What do I do with my customers? Thinking of which, they have been demanding and not paying us on time. Plus, they annoy me when I want to be on holiday, not just that, they cause arguments between my wife and me. Because what is more important, family time or a site down and a business that is not earning enough money? Okay, this could work out, and I will try it for a year; if not, I can pick up my business again while my wife continues running it.” That was my thought process every day for months…

Then we agreed, and I was not sure if I should be happy or not. A year later, I can only say that working for Nando at YITH has been the best choice. He has been my mentor, supporter, devil’s advocate, and friend, but not a ‘boss.’ He has never told me what to do, but instead, asked questions to make me realize what is achievable, or even better, simply suggests me to read a book and come to my conclusions. YITH is an organization without hierarchy based on a holacratic structure.

The Yith Team
The Yith Team

Looking Back

I often think back to the moment my daughter passed away. She only lived for a few days, but ask any bereaved parent; it is often the thought of: ‘what could have been.’ It will have been nine years, and every day, I wonder how events would have unfolded if she had survived. So, maybe her memory lives on in every decision I make and the paths I decide to take. But did I make the right decisions? I would have said yes, though only last week, my wife suggested she never really processed the events nine years ago. The path ahead will not always be straight, but whatever the next turning is, I hope I can nudge it in the right direction. After all, I have big and exciting plans ahead!

Is this story helpful to someone? Maybe it is for one of two reasons.

If you struggle to change your career, you can do this, though it might take a couple of years of a transitional period.

Only looking back do I realize that each small step slowly made a difference in my life. I am no guru or dare-devil entrepreneur that will tell you how to do things. No, I am an ordinary person with dreams and aspirations, just like there are so many in the world. But as I write this, it was WordPress that made this world smaller and empowered me to make a change. Learning from someone on the other side of the world and even getting work and customers from companies and people I never met before. Feeling welcomed into the WordPress community through Meetups and WordCamps added this human dimension and confidence that I can do ‘this’ too.

For those who had a personal tragedy, I hope that I can give you hope and strength to try and put your energy into something else that can lead to more significant changes in your life. Our minds are mighty and the tiny small decisions of: ‘if I do this then that, and if this then that’ – you see life is like a game of chess and you can influence the outcome a lot… I accept, not always, but take it as one positive decision at a time.

Ronald Gijsel and his family

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