Chris works at a standing desk in the office. Quite a few people do. The standing-while-working phenomena swept Paradowski in 2017. But Chris was the first. He didn’t do it to be trendy. He didn’t do it to attain some kind of weird power by literally looking down on the sitting people.
He did it because he doesn’t mind “standing out from the crowd.”
(And with that cringe-y pun, we begin the story of Chris Schmitz.)
Next to his standing desk is a table of wires, robots and a small wooden chest with a sign that says, “If you’re a kid, take one!” full of 3D printed thingamabobs (at least 20). The other day, someone’s son was in the office and carefully plucked a little dinosaur from the chest, as if it were real treasure. Chris couldn’t contain how giddy this made him. “I love when this happens,” he whispered. “It makes me feel like I’m living up to my purpose.”
He shows me a light-up rainbow-LED jacket with sensors sewn in the front pockets he made for his little daughter, Lily. I mean… can you even imagine your dad making you a rainbow light-up jacket? I just tried imagining it, and <TEARS CRYING EMOJI, RAINBOW EMOJI, UNICORN EMOJI, ANOTHER 3 TEARS CRYING EMOJIIIIIIIISSSSS>
If Chris were a character in a movie, he’d be the guy that can wire up a gadget made only of an aluminum can, a hotdog and an old shoe. Or, no. Chris is Willy Wonka meets Geordi LaForge, without the chocolate river and banana clip eyes. Or... maybe Chris is Dr Who without the… I wanna say… phone booth?
I’m reaching to find a way to describe him, because it’s impossible to put him in a category. He’s… he’s…
He’s the guy that had the first standing desk in the office. He’s that guy.
Don’t look back.
There’s a lot of talk about living in the moment and being present. I was skeptical. But I learned from Chris that, apparently, this is a real thing and not just a rose gold script font on a coffee tumbler. While many of us get stuck in the the sparkly-sweet molasses of childhood nostalgia, Chris Schmitz doesn’t look back.
“It’s not up to other people who I am.”
“I don’t think it’s intentional, but it is how I live my life. Focusing on the now.” He doesn’t want to talk about his childhood or school. Even the thought of the past drives him to comment on the present. “I like me now, I like the things I know now. This is the chapter of my life where I am in control.”
Most of all, he rejects being categorized. “It’s not up to other people who I am,” he says.
(Uh oh. *Backspace, backspace, backspace.* *Delete entire bio.*)
In this way, Chris has built a life full of creativity and experiences that only someone disinterested in what the world expects of him could build. And he found his perfect collaborative partner: his wife, Ruthie.
Thank you, Mario Kart.
Sometimes in life, we need someone to give us a little push us beyond what we thought was possible. It turns on a light in your brain that changes the way you see the world. Chris found that in Ruthie. “She brought out a lot of creativity in me,” Chris says. “I didn’t even know how to patch drywall before I dated Ruthie,” he says, “And she was like ‘What do you mean? You just do it.’“
“And that blew my mind, I can do it!”
Chris and Ruthie met in the most wholesome way possible: through volunteering at a charity called B Works that helps underprivileged kids earn their own bicycle through taking bike safety and maintenance classes. “It gives them agency, to have a little bit of control of their lives.”
(You can see the theme, here.)
While they worked together at B Works, Chris, Ruthie, and their friend Patrick had an idea to put on racing events. In bars. With real bikes. Their Will Cycle for Charity series went like this: People came into bars and mounted their real, actual bikes onto locked training stations that were hooked up to projectors showing 3D computer riders. When the bar-cyclists would pedal their real bikes, the computer riders would move forward on the projected racing game.
It’s obvious these two were meant to be together, right?
“We were friends, period,” he insists when I ask if he and Ruthie fell in love immediately. “It was like 6 years. Then we were playing Mario Kart one night and… we started dating after that,” he says laughing.
And though I know he’s loathe to be defined, I’m gonna take another stab at it. He’s not just the guy who had the first standing desk in the office. He’s someone who gives others the confidence to try stuff they don’t know how to do. He does this by never telling anyone, “That’s impossible.” And it’s always ok if an idea’s not perfect to start.
“That’s what prototypes are for,” he says.
He’s that guy, too.
Know your audience.
Chris’ dad, Steve, is a lifelong ham radio hobbyist. He always had electronics around and liked tinkering with them. Apples and trees.
I was surprised, then, to learn Chris wasn’t particularly into electronics as a kid. “I’d walk in while he was doing morse code communication with people around the world. But I just didn’t really understand what he was doing,” he laments.
“Do you worry Lily won’t be interested in all this stuff in the same way you weren’t into your dad’s ham radio?” I asked.
“I’m so afraid of that!” He says laughing. But as it turns out, he’s planned for that possibility in true advertising agency fashion: by considering his audience.
Of course, he now realizes his dad’s ham radio hobby was pretty amazing. Chris wishes he’d seen that sooner, and seeks to right this wrong by funneling his ham radio-regret into a multi-channel campaign to show his daughter that the weird stuff her dad does is interesting.
“I think the big difference is that my dad did it in a more solitary way,” Chris says, noting that he may not have been as interested in his dad’s ham radio simply because it wasn’t focused on him.
Market Research: ✅
As a marketing professional, Chris acknowledges the inherent narcissism of all children, and responds accordingly. His creations, he says –especially those he does at home– are “aimed at Lily, specifically.”
Targeted Content: ✅
So basically, he’s tricking her into being interested in electronics and programming? Diabolical. And if this brilliant plan somehow doesn’t work, he says, “I just hope she feels agency in creating regardless.” Awww.
Makin’ shit happen.
His career journey from business major with a computer science minor to Development Team Lead at Paradowski has a continuous thread running throughout. Fearlessness. Specifically, of appearing vulnerable. “I had to get over the hump of being afraid of people seeing that I don’t know how to do something.”
To not be afraid of messing up in front of everyone. To be ok with not looking like the smartest, most informed person in the room. It leaves so much more mental space to learn that isn’t being taken up by ego. He transfers this thinking into teaching others, stating unequivocally, “If someone expects you to know how to do something just because they know how, that’s their flaw.”
“If someone expects you to know how to do something just because they know how, that’s their flaw.”
If you have an idea for a DIY invention, a robot, a light-up magic gemstone or any other hairbrained scheme – talk to Chris Schmitz. You’ll be amazed at what a person who refuses to be defined can figure out how to create.
He’s definitely –for sure– that guy.