One simple question

In this very moment, do you know why you’re doing what you’re doing?

Do you have some idea, no matter how vague, of where it fits in with your future plans?

If I had to guess, the answer is probably no.

I don’t mean to make assumptions here - you very well could have your life mapped out.

For the rest of us, we don’t take the time to sit down and actually think about our future.

Unfortunately, life isn't like college where we’re assigned an advisor that’s in charge of helping us make a five to ten-year plan.

We’re on our own.

Sure, you could hire a life coach, but that takes money you might not have. You could retreat to a cabin in the woods to think about what would truly make you happy, but that takes time you probably don't have.

Like most things, it doesn’t have to be as hard as we make it.

You can start with one “simple” question:

What might my life look like in one year from now? Three years? Five years?

You don’t have to figure everything out at once. In fact, most people don’t. It takes time to make a thoughtful plan and the willingness to update that plan when life gets in the way.

Just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s also easy.

Start now and you’ll figure out the rest as you go.

The calm before the storm

I’ve only been at my new job for one week and I have already learned so much.

Some might attribute this to the fact that I haven’t had my official orientation yet, which means this past week onsite was filled with new introductions, onboarding materials, and online courses.

In other words, many would call this the calm before the storm.

Once I begin working with clients onsite, the rubber will actually meet the road and I will know what it’s like to be a consultant in the real world, or so I’ve heard.

Without knowing what I’m fully getting into, I’m excited about this. After all, I’ve always prided myself on my ability to thrive amongst uncertainty and organize chaos.

At the same time, I am trying to make the most out of the breathing room I have now, soaking up everything I can before I’m expected to apply it in a setting where things are very much at stake.

The more I think about it, the more I realize most of us have trouble using this time to our advantage. It’s easy to let our guard down when there isn’t an immediate threat or an overwhelming problem directly in front of us.

In reality, we should be making the most of the calm before the storm.

I didn't go to school for this

I’m looking out the kitchen window of Slalom’s office, thinking about how lucky I really am.

I didn’t go to school for any of this. I don’t have an MBA from a top university. Hell, I’ve never really had a full-time job until now.

What I do have (and what I think Slalom saw in me) is ambition, the willingness to learn, and the ability to solve problems with critical thinking (i.e. figuring stuff out on the fly).

I’ll admit, when I was a freshman in college, I never thought I would end up consulting. 19-year-old me was ready to “stick it to the man” and create my own path on my own terms.

I’d like to think 30-year-old me is a little smarter, wiser, and more open-minded. I’ve realize there is more than one way to create your own path, especially while working with another company.

In fact, I would say the best companies encourage you to follow that path while acting as a resource along the way.

From what I’ve seen so far, I’m right where I’m supposed to be.

You're in the wrong room

By this point, we’ve all heard the saying:

“If you’re the smartest person in a room, then you’re in the wrong room.”

Now, I have never been the smartest person in a room, but a lot of the time, I have felt like the most ambitious, and it’s not always a badge of honor. Sometimes, being overly ambitious can be a curse because you constantly fall short of your own expectations.

After accepting my new job, I confidently say this is no longer true. I now work with a diverse group of insanely smart people who seem naturally ambitious and, honestly, I couldn’t be happier.

I have been looking for this opportunity for years, trying my best to proactively find these people on my own. Now, all I have to do is walk into the office and and say, “Hi!”

Here’s to making every room the right one.

Connecting the dots

A new mentor of mine recently told me that, when thinking about my new job, I should ask myself two questions:

  1. What does the city of St. Louis need from me?

  2. How can I use the company as a resource in providing this?

As someone who has worked for myself in the past, I have had plenty of time to think about question number one. If you ask me, St. Louis is a city of dots and I want to help connect them using shared ideas as a vehicle.

When it comes to question number two, I’ll be honest, I’m stumped.

Sure, this is only my third day in this new position, but I never thought I would get to work with a company that positions itself as a resource, both for learning and for taking action.

Moving forward, I get to consider these questions each day as a I learn and grow.

I can’t think of anything that excites me more.

Growing pains

After only one day in my new full-time position, I can tell I’m going to learn A LOT in a very short amount of time.

This is one of the main reasons I decided to take this opportunity in the first place. In all honesty, I felt like I was plateauing as a freelancer, worrying more about finding work than pushing myself to learn more and become better.

I can already feel the mental growing pains that come whenever you have a ton of information thrown at you all at once and, honestly, I love it.

I’ve always welcomed uncertainty in past - you have to when you choose to work for yourself.

Now, since learning is built into the company culture, the only uncertainty is exactly how much I will learn each day and, like most adult things, this is completely up to me.

Growing pains are inevitable when you actively push yourself to learn and grow. Much like after working out for the first time, you experience a certain mental hypertrophy that eventually levels out with practice.

If you ask me, I would much rather feel the discomfort that comes with change than live with the atrophy that comes with apathy. 

Lower your expectations

I’ll be the first to admit - I have unreasonably high expectations for myself.

So much so that I often find myself coming up short.

Usually, when you find yourself disappointed, there are two things you can do:

  1. Rise to the occasion and align your actions with your expectations

  2. Lower your expectations

Depending on whom you talk to, this can be a slippery slope.

In theory, option one is ideal because it forces us to grow and allows us to take action without compromising. However, as someone who has tried this over and over again, I can say it’s much harder in practice.

I’m learning that lowering my expectations in small doses can be okay, especially since they are astronomically high.

When done carefully, lowering our expectations can allow us to still make progress without burning out or being constantly disappointed.

We just need to make sure that it doesn’t become our default setting when things get hard. 

 

Look around

I’m sitting in what I could only describe as my own personal hell on earth: 

Waiting in a St. Louis Bread Co. at the mall for an appointment at the Apple store in order to fix the display on my laptop. 

At this point in the day, I would usually be head down, full-swing into freelance clientwork. 

Needless to stay, my current predicament has forced me to stop and take a look around.  

As I sit tethered to the nearest outlet from my table, I hear children pleading for their mom to buy them a cookie. I see people meandering about, hopping from store to store. I notice one of the employees is busting his ass, making sure each and every table is clear.

These things may seem mundane and unimportant, but they’re part of everyday life.

At this moment, I’m more present than I’ve been in months.

The sad thing is, it wasn’t by choice. It took a pretty drastic (and hopefully fixable) situation in order for me to slow down and look around. 

It’s hard to create these moments for ourselves without help from an inconvenient stick in our spokes.

I’m going to keep this in mind whenever I have a few moments to look around. 

Now let’s just hope I’ll be I’ll be writing tomorrow’s thought from my laptop...

 

 

Critical thinking

In my ripe old age of 30, I’ve learned that there is one skill that is severely underrated:

Critical thinking.

Here’s the official definition - the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.

The key words here are objective and judgment.

Looking back to my foggy college days, one of my favorite classes was Writing as Critical Thinking, or WACT as we called it.

It was my first intentional look at what it means to think for yourself while developing the ability to effectively communicate my thoughts and opinions to others.

If you ask me, this is what’s missing in today’s world.

When a friend asks, “Did you hear what happened in the news?” usually what follows is a recounting of a specific event.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s extremely important to be well-informed, but what is the point if all you’re doing is regurgitating information you hear on a podcast or read in a newsletter?

What I want to know is:

  1. How did that event make you feel and why?

  2. So what? Why does it matter?

If we applied critical thinking to most facets of our lives (especially politics), we would be much better off.

But hey, don’t take my word for it - try thinking for yourself.


Getting started

Over the years, I’ve learned that most people face the same challenge while working on creative projects:

Getting started.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Thanks to the Internet, we now have access to a million and one ways to tackle pretty much anything we come across.

With all of this information comes the inevitable paralysis-by-analysis.

As much as I tend to overthink things, I always come back to the same piece of advice: keep things simple.

Do you want to start writing that book you’ve been sitting on for years? Take out your phone and write the introduction using your Notes app.

Do you have an idea for an illustration series? Draw the first one and upload that sucker to Instagram.

Do you want to start your own clothing line? Lay out one t-shirt in Photoshop and share it with others.

I know I’m making the first step sound easy, but that’s because it really is. As always, we tend to overcomplicate things in theory.

At the end of the day, most things in life are just a series of steps.

All you have to do is figure out how to take the first one.


Early to bed...

Today, I was reminded of Ben Franklin's age-old adage:

"Early to bed and early to rise, makes a (wo)man healthy, wealthy, and wise."

Depending on whom you talk to, these words either make perfect sense or, they represent a close-minded mindset when it comes to productivity.

As someone who has been self-employed throughout my professional career, I have (almost) always been in charge of my own time. Thanks to this flexibility, I haven't ever had a set schedule.

You might be wondering, "Then how the hell do you get anything done?"

Just because I don't have a set schedule doesn't mean I don't have a routine.

What exactly is the difference?

In my mind, a schedule is based on time - you do certain tasks at specific times. On the other hand, a routine is a rigid set of tasks that can be completed whenever necessary.

Even though I aim to I complete my routine in the morning, there are still some days where I don't start until the afternoon. To me, it doesn't matter, just as long as I finish what matters.

In other words, it doesn't matter when you go to bed or wake up. If you tackle the things that mean the most to you (and take care of yourself along the way), you're already healthy, wealthy, and wise.


Personal day

Today, I'm taking a personal day.

I am staying home to drink tea, write, take care of a few chores, and maybe even play video games (Spider-Man for PS4 anyone?)

Why am I telling you this?

It seems as if people only take personal days once it's too late. They wait until they're exhausted, stressed out, sleep deprived, overworked, and sick.

Instead, why not be proactive and give yourself the chance to take a breath once in a while?

After all, we're only human and, no matter whom you work for, you won't be of any use to them if you're unhappy and sick.

Consider taking a personal day before you need it.

A little self-care can go a long way.


Growth hacks

I absolutely hate the term "growth hack."

In case you aren't familiar, this catch-all phrase lumps together marketing, engineering, and data analysis. In theory, it supposedly requires a deep understanding of each discipline.

Unfortunately, in practice, it's usually a quick fix or a marketing cheat code that focuses on a short-term problem.

For example, if your goal is to gain more followers on a social media platform, growth hacks make this process easier by casting a broad net and essentially spamming people.

The biggest issue I have with this concept is the word "hack". It implies a silver bullet that will take the work out of marketing.

Instead of wasting time on growth hacks, marketers should be spending time on the only activity that actually matters - growing a community by providing value.

You can keep your growth hacks. I'd rather put in the time to create meaningful connections.


Questions I often ask myself

  • What problem, if I solve now, will have the biggest impact on the rest of my life?
  • How can I set myself up for success tomorrow?
  • What is the most important thing I can accomplish today?
  • How can I live a more intentional life?
  • Are my short-term actions aligning with my long-term goals?
  • How can I do things that compound into the future?
  • Will my ambition get the best of me?
  • How can I create a routine around this goal?
  • Is this the best use of my time?
  • How can I help others create their own paths?
  • What is one step I can take to make this idea happen?
  • How can I avoid making the same mistakes?
  • Will I ever be satisfied?
  • How can I connect existing dots instead of creating more?
  • Will anyone find this valuable?

Change is coming

As someone who thrives amongst the chaos of everyday life, I tend to welcome change.

In my mind, it allows us to grow and adapt while learning more about ourselves in a shorter period of time.

At this point, I'm ready for a significant change, a new chapter in which I can reshape my story.

It's not that I'm unhappy, I just have veered a little off course and I would like to get back on track.

In an ideal world, I could make a change like this on my own. However, I'm self-aware enough to know that I am more externally motivated than anything else.

Put me in an environment in which others are thriving and succeeding, and I will rise to the occasion. Ask me to do the same on my own, and admittedly, it will take me much longer.

I look forward to the discomfort that inevitably comes with change. This sort of friction is productive, much like the pressure needed to turn carbon into a diamond. There isn't anything necessarily wrong with carbon but, if you ask me, I would much rather be a diamond.


Coffee and tea

This morning was like any other.

I woke up and groggily stumbled into the kitchen to make coffee.

However, instead of grinding coffee grounds, I decided to try something different: I chose to make a cup of tea.

It's funny how coffee and tea are essentially the same - grounds or leaves steeped in hot water, but we look at them in very different ways.

We hear famous phrases like, "Coffee is for closers!" or "Never trust anyone who doesn't drink coffee" implying that coffee is meant for those who want to be awake and productive.

On the flip side, tea is seen as a way to relax or a soothing drink when we're sick with a sore throat.

With this in mind, I realized I should probably drink more tea. I'm always constantly thinking about what I need to do next and how I can be more productive. What I should be doing is finding ways to relax and be more present.

Regardless of whether or not I drink more tea or coffee, I think it's safe to say that either one is better than having another beer...


Compromise

Whether we realize it or not, compromise is part of everyday life.

From navigating workplace politics to finding common ground in a relationship, playing well with others is key when it comes to future success. 

Just because this is true doesn't make it any easier.

I have to admit, as someone who can be very stubborn, I sometimes have a hard time with compromise. I'd like to think that when it comes to major decisions, I can go 50/50 on almost anything.

However, my stubbornness tends to come out with smaller, more frequent choices.

You know, the "Where do you want to eat?" kind or the "What do you want to watch?" variety.

Regardless of the kind of compromise you're making, I think the most important part is paying attention to long-term trends.

Are you unwilling to compromise nines times out of ten? Do you always have your way when it comes to one specific type of decision?

If you ask me, these trends say a lot more than a one-off decision.


Decisions

I'll be the first to admit - I'm not the most decisive person.

Like plenty of others, I have defaulted far too many times to the nefarious decision by indecision.

Decisions like choosing a movie on Netflix or finding a place to eat don't really require that much effort. After all, we're not talking about life and death here.

However, when an important decision comes along, we can't help but fall back on our habits.

Do you have a new job opportunity? Are you deciding where to travel for vacation? As you can tell, these decisions impact our lives way more than other, more trivial things.

We've all heard practice makes perfect, right? Why not apply this mantra to the way in which we make decisions. Use the smaller choices to practice being decisive and, when the larger ones pop up, they won't be as paralyzing.


I'm tired

I'm tired.

I'm tired of being complacent.

I'm tired of not being challenged.

I'm tired of working in isolation most days.

I'm tired of simply surviving instead of thriving.

I'm tired of being the most ambitious person in the room.

I'm tired of not being able to invest in myself and others I care about.

I'm tired of not being in love with my life and not doing anything to fix it.


Friction can be good

I would describe myself as nonconfrontational.

Growing up, I was a huge people-pleaser who always tried to talk my way out of uncomfortable disagreements.

At this point in my life, I've realized how important friction actually is when it comes to tackling important problems.

When you put a bunch of ambitious, passionate people in the same room and task them with solving a problem, friction is inevitable. In fact, in this sort of environment, friction is healthy.

It shows that intelligent people are working together in order to find the best solution.

Notice how I didn't say easiest or quickest solution - I said best.

Ask any high-achieving, innovative team how they work, and I guarantee friction will be part of their process, whether it's accounted for or not.

Sure, I still might be nonconfrontational, but when I need to, I can accept and embrace productive friction.

Can you?