Micah Baldwin is CEO and chief community caretaker of Graphicly, a startup providing an immersive social experience and marketplace around digital comics and associated merchandise. He bares his soul when he shares. There is no pretense. This was the case two years ago, when he shared at Big Omaha, but he went all in this time around.

There are many things I appreciate about Micah, but one is how he lets everyone in on where he is at on his personal journey. There were a few things he shared where I understood the heart of what he was saying, but the wording he used I didn’t like. I tweeted about it, and Micah responded back later. He didn’t make excuses and said he probably could’ve phrased it better. He’s a humble dude. It’s not easy to get up in front of a room of people you don’t know and share your journey out of drug addiction and how it has affected your life and work today.

Micah and I exchanged some tweets, and later on we exchanged some emails. He’s cool and a good guy. While I want his companies to succeed, I hope his sharing of beating drug addiction and staying sober inspires people to get help with their own self-destructive habits.

Here are my notes from Micah’s talk. After the notes, I’ll discuss a bit of the conversation Micah and I had Friday evening.

  • “It’s a story I’ve never told.”
  • Most entrepreneurs start at 9 years old. I think about the entrepreneurial journey. There’s a point where it’s like hitting a hockey stick in life. You go up drastically.
  • Two years ago I was on stage here and I dind’t know people, lots of people and I wanted to do good.
  • Failure happens. Losing sucks. Losing is an end.
  • Someone asked about our biggest failures, and I froze. I didn’t really answer. Biggest personal failure was I was a drug addict. An addict for 5 years. Now I’m sober for 5 years. (crowd applause) Applaud the fact that I’m a normal person!
  • I thought about how important it was for me to say that.
  • I’d go to the strip clubs, then you drink, then you get party favors, then get weed, then coke. I got caught up in it. I was partying 7 days a week. The clients I was taking to party were only partying 1 day a week.
  • Then I thought I wanted to be a good person. What consititues a good peson? I thought a good person is forgiving.
  • My house was a drug den. I had a cleaning service, but was cleaning up before they came. Why do you clean before the cleaning service?
  • Time doesn’t matter when you are doing drugs.
  • I had a friend who I started forgiving. He was stealing from me, and each time I’d forgive him. The stealing got worse and worse. He wasn’t a bad person. We’re all bad people. He was doing what he needed to do.
  • He was going to move to California and asked me to help him move. Told me he had a new job and was getting a $20,000 bonus and would give it to me to pay me back. Did the trip. A drugged up trip with my friend.
  • Was there for a few days, but he never got me the bonus check. A few days later he gives me a one-way plane ticket back home. I also realize I don’t have my credit cards with me anymore. They’re gone.
  • I get home, and I get the mail. Sit at kitchen table with my computer, stack of mail, and plate of drugs. Open up first letter, and it’s my credit card bill. There is an expense for the airplane ticket he bought me. He stole my credit card. I think, “That motherf—–. That dude is my friend, my brother. I went through stuff with him, his divorce. What the hell? He stole my credit card…do I take the drugs or hang out with this dude screwing me over?” I stopped taking drugs. 
  • Forgiveness is not good or great. It’s enabling. What you’re doing is telling them what they did is right. The act of forgiveness is forgetting. Forget and move on.
  • Haven’t done cocaine since then. It took me 8 months to stop smoking cigarettes, which was the hardest. I had drugs everywhere in my house stashed. It took a long time to clean up my house from all of it. The first time I cleaned up my house after making the decision to go clean I probably cleaned up and threw away $20,000 worth of drugs around my house.
  • There’s a moment where you start a company and you think, “F—, can I really do this?” Believe in yourself.
  • I lived in a world of lies. The drug world. Now you see it in the tech world and entrepreneurs. They lie. I decided I will always be honest. If you ask, I’ll be honest. Imagine a business where all you do is tell the truth.
  • Be excited that your competitors are doing well. Because it means your industry is doing well. Google has gotten better because of Bing.
  • Do the right thing, even when it’s not the right thing for you. May not always be easy to talk about things that hurt, but do it.
  • My choices were between right or fun, I chose fun. I didn’t think longer than a minute ahead. Everyone’s right thing is different.
  • The other bad thing about forgiving is you are not a giver. True giving has no expectation. Not expecting something in return. That’s being a good person. Forgiving is about taking. Taking power from someone.

When Micah got done, the crowd gave him a standing ovation. For him to be so open about his own personal failures is not an easy thing to do. The issue I had was his interpretation of forgiveness. Early on in his talk he said, “A good person forgives.” I thought that was great, but when he started explaining how he was continually forgiving someone who was taking advantage of him I got concerned. I was thinking, “That’s not forgiveness.” I then felt bad how he was trying to do the right thing, but was getting taken advantage of by someone who he thought was his friend. When Micah explained how he stopped his version of forgiving, I was glad, but he then said forgiveness is bad.

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of misconceptions about forgiveness, especially in the church. What sucks is people are listening. People hear the weak/wrong interpretations of forgiveness, and employ those because they are earnestly trying to be better people. But then they get burned.

I know I’ve been burned in the past by those wrong definitions of forgiveness. I had to learn the hard way about it, but I also studied on my own what it meant to truly forgive. In dealing with my owns sins and self-destructive choices over the years, in growing up and dealing with a dysfunctional family that had all sorts destructive behaviors, in counseling others when it comes to their own sins and self-destructive choices, my definition of forgiveness has been refined.

Forgiveness is key in beating addictions, it’s a part of twelve-step programs, but how it is done is key.*

*I like this post from Mark Driscoll about what forgiveness is not.

I think some of what Micah said about it in the end does line up with forgiving, but he didn’t call it that because of his previous experience with it. I tweeted this out near the end of his talk here, partly because early on I had tweeted out his line about a good person forgivesMicah responded to the tweets and said, “a good person is honest and understanding. That’s probably what I shoulda said.”

I appreciated and respected Micah clarifying his remarks and keeping the conversation going. As well, that clarification made more sense to me. It was in line with what I thought was at the heart of his story. When sharing such a personal story, and it’s the first time doing so to over 500 people, it is completely understandable that you may not say things exactly as you’d like.* I tweeted back that I believed I understood the heart of his message.

*Cue Melody McCloskey’s presentation from Big Omaha 2010.

I then tweeted Micah about being a fan of comics and that I was on Graphicly’s beta site. He responded back for me to email him with my account info. I emailed Micah and shared a bit more of my story with him, how it related to his, and how I appreciated him sharing to such a big room.

I gave my Graphicly account info, and then I talked about how I took my family to Free Comic Book Day recently. I told him how my boys had fun and want to read comics now. I also sent along a photo of Liam, at Krypton Comics, decked out in his Thor helmet while holding a Star Wars gun. Micah got a kick out of it. He then said he’d set me up with some comics that I could read to my boys. Awesome.

Micah is a good guy. I appreciated his honesty and vulnerability. I like his selflessness and lack of pretense. He shares where he is on his journey through life. He may not have all the answers, and doesn’t pretend to, but he’ll tell you what he has learned so you can better yourself and not make the mistakes he has. Plus, he’s a fan of comics. You’re never too old for them.

As I said earlier, I hope he has more success with inspiring people to beat their own addictions than he does with his companies. He expressed some surprise that people clapped when he said he was sober for five years. He thought it was no big deal, that he was being normal. The thing is, so many people have addictions and vices that they keep hidden. They are dark secrets they carry around and probably want to break free form desperately. I think there were a number of people that were thinking of their own addiction/vice/sin that they needed to deal with when they heard Micah sharing his story. If one person even broke free from their addiction, because of Micah’s story, that would be phenomenal. I’m guessing Micah would take that over some of the other success he has had.

I’m glad he returned to Big Omaha. Hope he comes again.

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