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Starting Over Isn’t Giving Up

In retrospect, I should’ve known better.

In the south, especially where I grew up in Central Texas, holiday food is sacred.

All traditions revolve around food. What you eat, how you eat it, when you eat, and the football game you watch before or after you eat it — that’s the fabric of your family legacy.

(Apparently, legacy tastes a lot like mashed potatoes).  

I developed strong opinions about the age-old stuffing vs. dressing debate by the ripe old age of seven. We were not a green bean casserole family, and our gravy always included hard-boiled eggs for some unknown reason that probably did not involve increased protein. We ate the same salad, with the same dressing, with the stems meticulously torn off of each piece of spinach, every holiday without fail. And every year, I wondered at the system that allowed me to eat brown sugar-soaked sweet potatoes studded with roasted marshmallows and call it a vegetable?

It was all magical, delicious, and totally predictable.

So eight years ago, when I, full of the audacity of youth, returned home for Thanksgiving (with my husband, Aaron) and suggested we forego our traditional pre-ordered smoked turkey that year and instead grill it (as I had several years in a row to great acclaim for our Friendsgiving), I should’ve considered the true weight of that proposition.

I wasn’t bringing about welcome change, trying something a little different, and freeing up oven space. I was marshaling an entire departure from generations of Carden family holiday celebrations. It was a dramatic break with tradition. It was total turkey anarchy.

“I’ve made this turkey for the last three years,” I assured them, airily. “It’s the best turkey you’ve ever had… AND it means all of the oven space is free for side dishes and pies. WIN WIN WIN!”

My mom, Jeanie (who is extremely kind and encouraging but also values predictability, planning ahead, and controlled environments…. and dislikes change, spinach stems, and conflict), cautiously agreed to my plan — I think there was talk of a backup turkey? — and I confidently set out to prove departures from tradition could mean massive improvements. Because sometimes traditions just… aren’t that great? And the traditional turkey is a little dry and it’s weird to have hard-boiled eggs in gravy? Right? Right.


Thanksgiving Day, I stood in the kitchen, injecting the turkey with copious amounts of butter and Tony Chachere’s Cajun Seasoning (if you know, you know) as Mom alternately prayed and detached spinach stems and my older brother Jason hovered nearby offering helpful commentary.

“Wait, you’re putting it on the grill upside down? That’s going to look weird. Is it covered in foil? Are you sure you want this much seasoning? That’s going to be too spicy for Grandmomma, Jen. I really don’t think this is going to work — Mom’s grill is really unpredictable. Wait, you’re adding MORE Tony’s?” (Jason is 8 years older than me and is an excellent, seasoned cook himself with somewhat inflexible opinions perhaps even stronger than mine — shocking, but true… also, once a little sister, always a little sister.)

“Jas. I promise, I’ve got this,” I assured him with perfect confidence. “This isn’t spicy seasoning at all and grilling upside down means the breast stays juicy and then you flip it. It’s a thing! Seriously, I’ve done this like 6 times and it’s been awesome every time. TRUST ME.”

“Fine. But seriously, that’s way too much seasoning,” Jason replied.

The support was almost overwhelming.

As the tension rose in the room, I could sense that my family standing rested on the breast of this turkey.

Hours passed. I basted, monitored all of my desserts (bourbon pumpkin cheesecake, bourbon chocolate pecan pie, bourbon vanilla salted caramel sauce… act like you’re surprised?), checked on the Cowboy game… it was all going fine! Everything was fine! It was going to be fine. MOM, SERIOUSLY, IT’S GOING TO BE FINE.

And then… it was definitely, unequivocally not fine.

When I mentioned I was writing this piece, my brother Josh gleefully offered up photographic evidence, which he provided within seconds.
Yes, my entire fam was gathered around documenting this event. Don’t know what I love more — the fact that my little brother Jon snapped this photo or the fact that he carefully applied the very 2012 Instagram sepia-toned photo frame to properly set it off. Also, notice the artful high contrast and intense saturation.) y

My brother Jonathan’s sweet new girlfriend, Joanna, looked out the window and uttered five and a half words that would change the landscape of our family forever. “Uh, I think the turkey is on fire?”

Armed with fear and a spatula, I ran to the grill to find my turkey engulfed in flames  well over a foot tall. It was clearly a grease fire (all that butter!), so water would be useless. A fire extinguisher was the only option. I watched, devastated, as the turkey — along with all my dreams of delicious Thanksgiving vindication — literally went up in chemical-laced grey powder smoke.

The reactions were hilariously predictable. My mom was clearly disappointed, but also indicated that she maybe kind of thought this might happen all along (which was infuriating!)… nonetheless, she tried to make me feel better in that special way moms do. “You didn’t ruin ALL of Thanksgiving, Jen. You have other great qualities! Maybe turkey just isn’t your thing?! At least you tried!”*

(*Not what she actually said, but definitely what I remember. Haha.)

My little brother Jonathan found the entire situation hilarious and was busy documenting it with sepia image frames. Jason was hangry, furious that we’d all ignored his warnings to stick with tradition, and convinced I’d just set the entire day, not just the turkey, on fire. My oldest brother Josh, to our collective horror, was trying to salvage a portion of the charred, powder-crusted turkey remains (and probably also my feelings). “I don’t think fire extinguisher residue is even that toxic, guys, and if we just clean this part off…”

It was too late to order our traditional smoked turkey. My mom hadn’t followed through with the backup. The side dishes were in process. I’d already used all the bourbon… We could either go without turkey or….

“Let me try again,” I said.

(You can imagine Jason’s face.)

“No, really. It only takes a few hours to cook — we can go get another turkey right now, so long as it’s already defrosted, I can throw it on, and we can just eat a little later. I can do this, guys. We just had it up too high!”

I think a door was slammed at this point, but… everyone agreed because they had little choice. My husband Aaron was a hero, totally backed me up, and braved the grocery store on Thanksgiving to acquire a thawed turkey (miracle!). I started over, spent the next three hours watching the grill + turkey like a hawk (weird bird metaphor), and…

To me, it was perfect. Actually, to everyone, it was perfect. It was the best damn turkey ever, made exponentially more delicious because we were all absolutely starving by the time it was ready. (As my mom always says, the difference between a good meal and a great meal? Thirty minutes…. or in this case, one charred turkey carcass and three hours.)

My family’s faith in me was restored. My honor was only slightly singed. I would live to cook another day. Truly, it was a day of thanksgiving.

Wondering (as per usual) how this relates to websites? Well, here’s what we learned today:

Starting over isn’t giving up.

I repeat: starting over isn’t giving up. Sometimes, when we’ve invested a lot into something, we cling to it waaayyy past the point when we should just admit that it — much like my turkey — is burnt to a crisp and move on.

Let’s take your website, for a relevant example. Maybe you worked with a designer on a $$$ custom site, but you weren’t thrilled with the outcome (or now you can’t edit any of it yourself). Maybe you bought a template that wasn’t quite right for you that you’ve never felt great about, but it’s kind of limping along, you know, existing. It’s better than nothing… maybe? You KNOW it’s not a great situation, but the thought of starting allllll the way over again seems like taking a loss. All of that effort! Down the drain! You can live with it a little longer… Maybe the fire extinguisher powder isn’t that toxic!

This mindset is called the “sunk cost fallacy,” which the article I just linked describes as “our tendency to follow through on an endeavor if we have already invested time, effort, or money into it, whether or not the current costs outweigh the benefits.”  

That last part is the key. You’ve GOT to evaluate the cost of staying where you are against the benefits of starting over.

What is it costing you not to have a website you feel confident in… that’s been designed to convert, that will drive your sales up, show your brand at its best, and speak directly to your dream clients? What is it costing you to be trapped in a site that doesn’t allow you to move as fast or pivot as quickly as you need to, that you can’t easily edit and update yourself to ensure you’re always conveying your vision online?

What would it benefit you to have a website you KNEW would open doors, create opportunities you can’t even imagine right now, reach the kind of clients you want to book over and over again, immediately return your investment… a place online where you were PROUD to send people, and that you knew would help you stand out in the crowd of tabs even on that first click from Insta?

Our client Emily is a GREAT example. Emily had invested over $50k in a fully custom, all-the-bells-and-whistles website less than a year before she found TONIC. Her site looked fine (it wasn’t a burnt turkey!), but her business had changed and she couldn’t edit anything herself, plus her designer would charge an exorbitant amount of money for even the smallest change. When she looked at the costs… she was limited by her website. She couldn’t grow or pivot the way she needed to. Sure, she’d invested a lot, but now it was costing her money, time, frustration, and endless headache. She bought a TONIC site and less than 48 hours later, she’d totally customized it to fit the business and the brand she needed to represent RIGHT THEN, not the one she’d had 12 months ago. And it was STUNNING. Her business has grown and changed so much since, and thanks to her TONIC template and vision, her site is ALWAYS a reflection of where it business is going, not where it’s been… not to mention the doors it’s opened up over time.

Seriously. We’ve heard this story over and over again!

“My site has been live for a little over a month, and last week I just booked a dream partnership/client I wouldn’t have dreamed of booking even a few short months ago.” — Rachael

“It’s our ‘we’ve arrived’ moment! We’ve had editors from NYT and Forbes on the site, and the professionalism of our website is helping me land meetings I wouldn’t have a shot at before.” — Kathryn

“I can easily make updates by myself, immediate edits, and get things going quickly! I don’t need to wait for someone to do the work for me or take on the added expense of someone else working on my site. All it takes is a few pushes of a button, or a few minutes designing something, and it’s published instantly!” — Lindsay

“The results were almost instant. Our investment paid itself off within months and we began attracting our ideal client over and over again. The best part was the level of confidence our clients had in us before we even met with them!” — Erica & Jon

Listen… clearly, I’ve been there. I had a great idea, tried my best, and well, the first turkey didn’t turn out (understatement of the year).

But I also know that sometimes, you’ve just got to call it for what it is — admit the turkey isn’t going to work, start over, and move on to make room for the very BEST.

If you’re in that place today, feeling like you need to begin again… well, great news: this is the perfect time for that realization.

Yes, it sucks when the turkey goes up in flames. But what if this is the opportunity you didn’t know you needed to go after the website of your dreams (and all that might mean for you)?

I think it might be. And I’m standing by with the fire extinguisher if you need it.

Your favorite Thanksgiving turkey destroyer,

– Jen

Do not delte - Ryan
Do not delte - Ryan

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