How my late father’s simple lesson in lawn care planted the seeds of identity for KC’s latest web design company.
Whether its starting a business, having a child, or giving your first car a more personal identity, picking the perfect name can be a difficult process to go through for even the most decisive person. The thought of choosing a word which will forever be associated with an object or person that means so much to you can be enough to keep you up at night.
Going through this process when naming my new web design company was no different. Ironic, because most of my professional career had been spent making important decisions for established companies that often affected many employees. But this was different. As they say, “it was a whole new ball game”.
The options were endless, and with that came several furious bouts of option-paralysis. How could this be so hard? We’re talking about a simple name here! Eventually I would have a creative “breakthrough”, which would trigger an emotional celebration centered around the belief that I had finally discovered the perfect name.
Unfortunately, the ever-critical part of my mind always squashed my excitement, and tore my ideas to shreds with comments like: “That sounds too 90’s”, “not professional enough”, “who would remember that?”, and, of course, “that’s just stupid”.
I realized that for me to stand confidently behind a name for the life of my company, I needed to pick something that was truly personal
After I had gone back to the drawing board for the umpteenth time, I came to the realization that my strategy needed to change. Focusing on choices that sounded “catchy” or “trendy” was doomed to fail, because phrases or words that are catchy and trendy inevitably lose their edge and grow stale. No, I realized that for me to stand confidently behind a name for the life of my company, I needed to pick something that was truly personal, and of timeless importance (at least to me).
Now, “Straight Line Web Solutions” may not sound very personal, but once you understand the story behind the name, I’m certain your opinion will change.
Meet the McClellans
Growing up the middle child in a family of five very boisterous and opinionated kids was eventful to say the least. Even if one us was being quiet enough to qualify any moment as “dull”, one of the other siblings was undoubtedly up to no good.
Mom and Dad did their best to manage the chaos while also being self-employed, owning a residential construction business in our hometown of Wichita, KS.
My dad spent most days out at the job site, ensuring that the houses he had been contracted to build were being completed on time, and without flaw. Mom’s time was occupied by not only taking care of us, but also handling the paperwork and accounting for the family business.
We were taught that most things in life are almost always earned, and that we were responsible for our own successes, even when it didn’t seem fair
The construction industry is a demanding one, and my father was never shy about including us in the work that needed to be done. As soon as we were old enough to operate a shovel or a broom, Dad did a thorough job of passing on his expertise to us, though we may not have always been receptive to his good intentions.
As we grew older, my parents continued to instill a strong work ethic in all of us. We were taught that most things in life are always earned, and that we were responsible for our own successes, even when it didn’t seem fair. High expectations were standard in both our academic performance and our work quality.
But despite all the hard work, we were also given ample time to play. We took part in sports, had sleepovers, rode ATVs, and certainly got into our fair share of trouble (which was routinely met with a memorable punishment).
Needless to say, my childhood was full of many valuable, difficult, and rewarding lessons. Little did I realize that those lessons would play such a huge part in my becoming a business owner one day, and also lay the foundation for my choosing that all important business name!
Continuous Lawn Improvement
I can think of no place where my dad’s high expectations were on better display than in our yard.
To say that we had a strict lawn maintenance regimen would be grossly inaccurate, as Dad didn’t believe in lawn “maintenance”. The McClellan household followed the CLI strategy — Continuous Lawn Improvement.
Not only were the two acres of grass surrounding our home managed meticulously, the shrubs, trees, fencing, and driveway were kept in pristine condition, and expanded upon whenever possible.
Any rotting posts or dying bushes were immediately removed as to not disrupt overall presentation.
Fresh oil spots detected on the driveway often led to a lifelong exile of your vehicle from the premises.
Walking on the grass was strictly forbidden (other than when mowing), and God have pity on the poor soul who became distracted enough to leave a tire track in the yard.
Of all the outdoor chores that had to be completed as part of our CLI regimen, none was more important than that of mowing. How hard can it be, right? Just flip on the mower, run through the yard and buzz things down to a reasonable level. That’s it.
First, this was no ordinary mower. This machine was a green and yellow beast, from which no grass blade could escape (not to mention children and small animals).
Think John Deere meets Charles Manson. 48” of ruthless grass chopping blade power was positioned at the front of this fearless fescue consuming monster. You didn’t “run the mower”. It ran you.
Dad’s standards for executing straight mower rows in the yard were unmatched, unwavering, and (as I regularly informed him) unattainable
As if the intimidation of operating this mechanical member of our family weren’t enough, Dad’s standards for executing straight mower rows in the yard were unmatched, unwavering, and (as I regularly informed him) unattainable.
I distinctly remember mowing one very hot summer afternoon when I was a teenager. I was listening to my headphones as I did my slow death march behind the aforementioned lawn monster.
Out of the corner of my eye I could see Dad watching me from a distance. As I snapped out of my musical trance, I looked over at my partially completed work with disgust. At some point, several rows back, I had started to curve the mower outwards. This mistake had become more exaggerated with each row, and I could tell he had noticed.
He walked up to me, and instructed me to start over from where my mistake began, and to “get my lines straight”. With my predictably terrible teenager attitude, I marched back to where I had started, cursing his name every step of the way.
He walked up to me, and instructed me to start over from where my mistake began, and to “get my lines straight”.
I couldn’t get over how unnecessary it seemed to redo work that had already been done. Sure, I could have done better, but it was good enough.
Straight lines? What a waste of my time.
An Abrupt Farewell
After that hot summer day in the yard I still managed to weave my way through adolescence, picking up several more lessons from Mom and Dad until I moved away from home when I was 20 years old.
As I continued to advance my professional career and take on new roles, I increasingly recognized why my parents had made such strong efforts to mold me into the man I had become. I started to feel genuinely grateful for my childhood.
My appreciation for their efforts reached an entirely new level when, on September 17, 2013, Dad unexpectedly passed away.
As is typical after losing a family member, I went through many changes and struggled through the various stages of grief. As I worked to process the reality of his death, I felt my life priorities start to shift, and my overall perspective widen. The lessons he had taught me in childhood had now taken on an even greater meaning, and for the first time I was able to look back on memories like that hot day out in the yard with a smile.
An Appreciation for Straight Lines
Dad has been gone for over three years now, but for any of you who have experienced loss, you can attest to the fact that time passes in strange ways afterwards.
On one hand, it feels like it was only yesterday that he was riding his motorcycle around the streets of Wichita. But on the other, it feels like it was so long ago when I was last able to talk to him in person.
Despite his absence, however, I still feel his impact on my life every day, sometimes in the most subtle ways.
I often think of the advice he would offer me if he were still here, which continues to carry a lot of weight when I find myself in situations that are tough to navigate.
So, when I finally realized that picking the perfect name for my new business was going to require the inclusion of something more personal, “straight lines” instantly popped into my head.
Sure, I could’ve picked a name that was more descriptive, or edgy, or cool. But the benefits that come with my final choice are much more rewarding.
Every time I answer someone when they ask, “What’s your company name?”, several thoughts race through my brain for that small fraction of a second when I answer: “Straight Line Web Solutions”.
First, I’m reminded of my dad, including his funny quirks, his amusingly stubborn attitude, and his love for old country music and cherry chocolates.
Even more importantly, I’m reminded of the principles that he helped me form when I was growing up. Principles like working hard to earn what I want in life, not making excuses even when everyone else is doing so, and making every effort to do things correctly regardless of what it costs you.
So, what’s in a name?
Probably more than you think.