Content with being content

I was lucky enough this weekend to grab coffee with a friend who was in town for a wedding.

Whenever we get together, we have great conversation that leads to more questions than answers and enough ideas to fill a notebook.

Our conversation was based around my friend leaving St. Louis and his realizations since then.

He shared how even though he was looking for a professional change, he missed how his days were filled with things and people he cared about.

In other words, he wasn’t content with being content.

This is something a lot of us deal with, especially in our professional lives.

We feel pressure to “do more” and “be better” all while searching for something that fulfills us.

It’s no wonder social media can be a blessing and a curse.

It allows us to share our story and stay connected with the people we care about, but it also sets unrealistic expectations.

Not everyone has to travel the world, vlog every second of their life, or share an endless stream of filtered selfies. We don’t always have to strive for perfection.

In fact, I’m learning that being imperfect is far more interesting.

In a world where anyone can be anything, the people that stand out are one thing above all else - themselves.

Luckily, I have friends who help remind me of this.

Pleasantly surprised

We’re only five days into the new year and I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised.

Usually, it takes a few weeks to really feel the effects of a new year: the high you get from working out, the sense of accomplishment from creating a morning routine, the wicked hangover you get after celebrating a little too late the night before.

In this case, things are already taking off.

If I had to pinpoint one reason, it would probably be thanks to last year’s decisions.

Instead of focusing on quick actions that provided short-term results, I did my best to look further ahead and prioritize things that would have a better long-term effect (all while dealing with a cornucopia of shit).

Now, I’m not saying everything is falling into place - far from it.

In fact, I have yet to draw out my priorities for the new year.

I’m just noticing that for the first time in my life, I am actually OK with where I am.

I’m not complacent or apathetic - I’m simply content for the time being.

For all of you out there who are your own harshest critics (like me), take a moment and think back to the last time you felt this way.

I’m assuming these moments are few and far between.

When they do pop up, bask in them because, as you can probably guess, they tend to be fleeting.

Dragging my feet

It’s January 2nd and I don’t have any of my priorities written down for 2019.

Normally, I would be kicking myself in the ass for dragging my feet, but this year, I’m trying this new thing where I give myself more of a break.

I’m not exactly sure why, but I tend to have unusually high self expectations.

I know what you’re thinking: “Great, just what the internet needs! Yet another (bearded) white dude bragging about how he is special.”

I promise it’s not like that. In fact, instead of a badge of honor, it’s more of a curse.

With me, I’m either productive or lazy. Happy or sad. Driven or complacent. There really isn’t much gray area.

In the past, I’ve found myself frustrated and disappointed far too many times simply because I wasn’t able to meet every single goal I put in place.

This year, I still want to set goals, I just want to create them within larger priorities and make them more realistic and sustainable.

With this combination, I’m hoping this year will be less frustrating and even more impactful than 2018.

The highest of highs...

It’s the last day of the year and, like many people all over the world, I’m reflecting on 2018 while also thinking ahead to 2019.

After doing some thinking, I can’t deny that 2018 was the most defining year of my life (so far):

Highs: Traveling abroad with my girlfriend for the first time, proposing to her in Ireland, surviving my first year in business with Viabl, getting Dobby (our little fur baby), taking my first full-time position with Slalom Consulting, and finally reaching some amount of financial stability.

Lows: Financial issues due to higher freelance taxes than expected, multiple hospital visits while in Ireland, prolonged health issues likely due to stress, the failure to manage that stress because of an inability to consistently work out (thanks to the health issues), and losing some part of my old identity.

As you can probably guess, this year was filled with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.

One of the most impactful lessons I learned was that health affects every aspect of life. When your health is in jeopardy, you also lose the peace of mind that allows you to think and live intentionally.

Now that I’ve reached a point of relative stability, my focus for 2019 is on helping others not only reach this point but to also thrive.

I’m still figuring out what this looks like, but all I know is that as hard as this past year was, it forced me to take a good, hard look at myself and make some hard realizations.

I lost my identity as someone who was freelancing full-time but found another one as someone who is piecing together their own path in their way.

I’m not sure what 2019 has in store, but I know that whatever it is, I’ll be ready.

Choose your battles

As someone who sets unrealistically high expectations for myself, I'm realizing something important:

It's OK to stop take a breath, even if that breath turns into a break.

Sure, I'm no published author (yet), but I do care about sharing stories and connecting with others through writing.

The thing is, I sometimes lack followthrough, so establishing a routine is important to me.

At the same time, I'm a pretty extreme person - I'm either hot or cold, happy or sad, super productive or super lazy. There's not a whole lot of gray area with me.

This is why I'm hard on myself. Otherwise, complacency creeps in.

Usually, I fight it tooth and nail. But you know what?

Today, I choose not to fight. 

Instead, I choose to invest my time in other ways - relaxing with people I care about, slowing down long enough to breathe, pausing to think ahead.

No matter who you are or what you do for a living, don't forget to pick and choose your battles. 

We all have the same amount of time each day. 

The hardest part is choosing when to fill it and when to not.

Living intentionally

We’re close to wrapping up 2018 and, like most Decembers, things are slowing down (at least when it comes to the business world).

This is usually when I start to think retrospectively about the year coming to an end.

In all honesty, this year hit me with the highest highs (traveling to Ireland, proposing to my fiancé, joining Slalom Consulting) and lowest lows (health issues, financial issues, the inability to deal with multiple points of stress) and everything in between.

The more I think about it, I can’t help but admit this was one of the most defining years for me as an adult.

Maybe it’s because I grew out of my twenties, but I felt a tangible shift from pretending to be an adult to actually becoming one.

Since reaching relatively stable ground towards the end of this year, I’ve discovered the privilege that comes from being able to think about life with intentionality.

Sure, I’m still putting out individual fires as they pop up, but now, I actually have the attention to look further ahead to see what’s actually causing the fires in the first place.

It’s not easy to live an intentional life. If it was, the self-help book industry would cease to exist.

People don’t always have the time to slow down and think about taking purposeful steps towards a life that would make them happy.

If you do happen to have a little time over the rest of the year, I can’t think of a better way to spend it.

Support and discovery

Last week, I had a client call that didn’t go so well.

We were in the middle of our discovery phase for the project and there were some concerns about where things were heading.

The thing is, I wasn’t worried because, deep down inside, I knew everything was going to be OK.

How exactly did I know this?

Simple - I had/have the support of a solid team behind me.

At Slalom, everyone really does look out for each other, especially while solving complex problems for our clients.

You better believe I went back and reviewed what happened in order to avoid making the same mistakes in the future, but overall, my team reminded me that this is part of almost any discovery process.

Organizing chaos and understanding uncertainty is never going to be neat and tidy, but as long as you can communicate learning and progress while trusting everyone around you, everything will be just fine.

Closed mouths don't get fed

As an adult, I think it’s obvious that you don’t get what you don’t ask for.

When I freelanced full-time, my survival depended upon whether or not I spoke up and shared how I could be of value to someone else.

Now that I work with Slalom, this idea means something a little different to me.

It means that, even though I consider myself to be fairly proactive, I still need to ask for help when I need something.

In this type of setting, I don’t always know if there is a mechanism already in place in order to accomplish the thing I want to do.

I would assume this is pretty common with a lot of companies in hyper-growth mode, but the thing about Slalom St. Louis is that I have the ability to help create those mechanisms.

Basically, if I need to accomplish something and I don’t see a good process or system in place, I have the autonomy to help create one.

I’m learning to speak up when I see room for improvement and connect the dots when the opportunity arises.

Emerging strategy

It blows my mind that I get to be a part of a company that is actively involving everyone while creating an emerging strategy for the future.

Yesterday, I participated in one of the many small group discussions meant to gather insight from all of the consultants here at Slalom.

We explored questions like:

• What might the future landscape look like?
• What do we want to preserve and grow?
• What do we want to modify?
• What do we want to eliminate?
• What do we want to prioritize?

Think about this for a moment.

How often does management ask you to give feedback on questions like these at your company? How often do you feel as if you have any say in the direction your company is heading?

The beautiful thing was that Slalom’s management didn’t mandate this initiative from the top-down. A group of consultants got together, used our “Request for Comments” forum, and started sharing this from the bottom-up.

Since everyone is encouraged to participate, we have insight from people who have been here for a few days all the way to a few years.

Is this process perfect? Of course not. But the fact that we’re being intentional about it speaks volumes about where we’re heading in the future.

And that is a future I want to be a part of.

Problems with success

For the first time in my life, I’m working with a company that is facing the right kind of problems, the kind of problems that naturally come with success.

For the most part, successful growth means more revenue, more people, and more impact thanks to more audacious goals.

Much like when a child hits a growth spurt, a successful company experiences growing pains when this growth happens a little too quickly.

What do these growing pains look like day-to-day?

When a company grows too quickly, there can be overall ambiguity for people, both at the management level and for those with boots planted firmly on the ground.

Where does this ambiguity come from? During this period of hyper-growth, key processes and systems fall by the wayside which, ironically, are needed for future scaling.

No matter how hard people try to avoid these growing pains, it’s almost inevitable. That is, unless intentional growth is made a priority from the beginning.

I haven’t been at Slalom from the beginning, but I have had the pleasure of seeing what hyper growth looks like firsthand and I can confidently say, this team is different.

It’s exciting to be part of team of people that is willing to slow down and put people first while turning hyper growth into intentional growth.

Bringing people together

This past Friday, I had the chance to come together with all of the other experience design consultants from Slalom for an all-day offsite get together.

We reviewed where we’ve been, what we’re doing now, and where we want to head in 2019.

Not only was it productive in the sense that we all got to express and align our ideas together, but we also got to know each other a little better.

With many jobs, you work in the same office with the same people and the culture organically grows around you.

With consulting, many people are offsite with clients, which means you may not get to meet everyone until an all-hands meeting or a quarterly get together.

Because of this, it’s much more important to spend the time we have together intentionally because, whether we realize it or not, we’re setting the tone for how things will be in the future.

I am truly grateful for a company like Slalom that invests not only in their people but in the time those people spend together.

Screw my ego

Something strange happened a few days ago: I felt a little twinge of resentment.

In the moment, I was frustrated with my own inability to take ownership over a new project.

However, after taking a few moments to look inward, I realized I was projecting my own insecurity onto someone else.

As someone who worked for myself for almost a decade, I got used to taking 100% ownership over any project I started.

As great as this may sound, this isn’t how things happen in corporate America.

People work in teams and those team members are collectively responsible for the overall success of the project.

Unfortunately, people tend to forget (like I did) that everyone on that team has something to learn from everyone else, whether it’s directly related to the project or not.

Like most people in a professional setting, I feel a need to prove my value.

However, I care way more about creating successful outcomes than I do about stroking my own ego.

At the end of the day, I’m part of team which means sometimes taking a back seat and learning from others.

Make less commitments

At this age, I take commitments very seriously.

When I give someone my word, I try to do whatever it takes to back up that word with action.

Sure, there are times when things get in the way. After all, part of being human is being imperfect, which means we take on too many commitments, set unrealistic expectations for ourselves and others, and we let our optimism get the best of us.

As long as this is the exception and not the rule, I’d say this is just fine. We should strive to either keep all of our promises or focus on the quality of our commitments instead of the quantity while knowing full well that we will sometimes fail.

No matter how much we learn, no one actually enjoys failing. It’s messy, uncomfortable, and it forces us to admit we were wrong.

The thing is, it’s OK to make mistakes because that’s when we learn the most.

Most people would probably agree that the one thing we shouldn’t do is to continue making the same mistakes. Not only is this disappointing, it means we aren’t learning.

Moving forward, I’m doing my best to make fewer promises while also making new mistakes. This way, I can devote my time and attention to fewer commitments and learn from the past.

Taking a break

I’m sitting at my kitchen counter, thinking about this long Thanksgiving weekend, and I can’t help but notice a huge difference.

In the past, each day of this break has felt the same. When I was freelancing full-time, I was never able to fully appreciate each of these days with loved ones - I always felt as if I should be working or making progress towards something bigger.

This year, I’m thankful for stability. It has always been an abstract idea that I strived towards, but I never really knew what it looked like until now.

It means the peace of mind to spend quality time with the people you care about. It means not letting stress infect every part of your life. It even means being able to show the people you love how much you care about them.

I will always strive for something greater, but during this long weekend, I am able to pause and give thanks for the fact that the people I care about are safe, happy, and healthy.

I can’t think of a better way to take a break.

A significant shift

There has been a tangible shift over the past few years.

As I catch up with friends who live in different cities, I’m noticing that more and more of them are dipping their toes into the worlds of freelancing and entrepreneurship.

I’m hearing origin stories that include turning a previous employer into a first client, partnering with a significant other, and even catching a big break after sharing some work online.

I don’t really believe in blanket statements, but if you think this is simply a fad, you’re dead wrong.

At this point, over 43% of the U.S. workforce is subcontracting and that number is only getting larger.

Sure, the gig economy plays a large part in all of this, but there is also a huge shift in mindset.

People are tired of working their asses off for companies that don’t appreciate the value they bring to the table.

I’ll admit - I was extremely lucky to find a progressive company like Slalom Consulting that embraces everyone’s individuality while working towards a collective goal.

I feel like this sort of progressive mindset is rare, especially in the Midwest.

Whether you’re working for yourself or looking to align with a company, think about the things that matter most to you in the long-run.

Otherwise, you’ll probably remain unsatisfied and uninspired, no matter where you work.

Coffee and consulting

Whenever I get stuck in a rut with my online writing, I sometimes ask myself:

“Why the hell am I still doing this?”

I was reminded why earlier this week over coffee.

I sat down with an independent creative director who came across some of my writing on LinkedIn and she wanted to hear more about my transition from full-time freelance to joining Slalom Consulting.

She was curious to hear more about my background and why this was my first full-time opportunity.

What started as a review of my first three months at Slalom turned into a full-blown conversation around working for yourself as an independent creative professional in St. Louis.

We covered everything from self-awareness to strategically positioning yourself and everything in-between. We even addressed how St. Louis-based businesses can balance outside opportunities while using the competitive advantages this city has to offer.

This was the kind of conversation that spanned over two and a half hours and two coffeeshops.

It was clear we both walked away feeling energized and ready to get to work on our own priorities.

I couldn’t help but feel validated in becoming a consultant because I realized a significant part of consulting is having these types of conversations, listening to understand, and then asking thoughtful questions that provide objective perspective.

It doesn’t matter if you’re talking to an individual or team from a multi-million dollar company - listening and asking the right question is valuable in any setting.

Finding balance

I’ve had a full-time job for seven weeks now and I’m finally learning what it means to have balance in my life.

From finding more stability to spending quality time with the people I care about, I’m practicing being more present each day.

Some small part of me will always be looking towards the future, but in the meantime, I can start to tackle my priorities one at a time as opposed to letting them overwhelm me all at once.

With balance comes clarity. I don’t feel the urge to quickly solve all of my problems.

Instead, I can identify root causes that impact multiple parts of my life and focus my energy on solving them, one-by-one.

It’s hard to truly appreciate this sort of balance until it becomes a part of your life, but like most things worth pursuing, it takes patience to figure out what it looks like to you.

What it means to be a team

It’s been one week since I started my first onsite client project with a team from Slalom and I can already tell we kicked things off on the right foot.

Like many first days onsite with a client, we went out for a team lunch to discuss the project ahead of us.

Sure, we anticipated some amount of chaos coming into another company’s culture in order to accomplish a specific goal, but we wanted to make sure we were aligned as a team.

It helped to go around the table and share our initial impressions, but there was one question that made all of the difference:

“What do each of us need in order to feel like a successful member of this team?”

When you stop and think about it, how often do individual team members get to voice their answer to this question, especially in the beginning?

Some people might see this as “touchy-feely” or inconsequential, but after sharing my answer (feeling connected to other team members through honesty and humor), I instantly felt heard and more connected than when we sat down for lunch.

It was a fairly simple question, but it made all of the difference moving forward. It laid a solid foundation that has already helped as we’ve tackled challenges as a team.

Whether you’re leading a team of your own or part of a newly formed team, consider posing this question and truly listen to the answers.

You might even learn what it means to be a team.

Me versus we

I met someone new for coffee last night and, as we both agreed, it wasn’t weird.

This might be an unusual way to look at it, but even as an extrovert, I sometimes feel uncomfortable meeting new people.

In this case, I met with someone who has also been in the St. Louis design/marketing industry for a while. We shared our stories, talked shop, and touched on some of the problems St. Louis is trying to solve.

One of his biggest questions right now is, as an independent professional, should he brand himself as a one-many army or an agency. In his words, he was debating on “me versus we.”

For many independent creatives, this is one of the toughest hurdles to overcome in the beginning. The thought of a potential client not taking you seriously because you’re on your own can be paralyzing.

I dealt with this same question when I was first starting my full-time freelance career.

Since radical transparency has always been a core value of mine, I decided to brand myself as the individual I am instead of “hiding” behind a brand that seemed bigger.

When tackling this question, the most important question to ask yourself is what matters most to me?

Is your goal to scale and work with others from the get go? Then maybe a bigger brand is right for you. Do you want to communicate a more person, one-on-one relationship with your clients? Then create a personal brand that reflects what matters most to you.

At the end of the day, there’s no silver bullet to any of this. You have to make your own decisions (and mistakes) and learn from them.

When it comes to solving the problems of others, it doesn’t matter if it’s “me” or “we.”

The focus should be on “us.”

MBA the hard way

There have already been so many opportunities for learning and growth at Slalom.

One of the newest is a series of talks called “MBA the Hard Way” where consultants share their entrepreneurial experience with other consultants.

Last night, we heard from someone who made the hard choice of leaving his start up in order to join Slalom. Like many of us who have worked for ourselves, he had to make a personal sacrifice in order to provide for his family.

I don’t have kids (except for a little fur baby), but I do know what it’s like to give up complete autonomy in hopes of a better life in the future.

Before I came to Slalom, I was a decade into a full-time freelance career and honestly, I wasn’t really sure why I was still doing what I was doing.

Thanks to a series of conversations, I realized I could still create my own path as a consultant, but I would be able do so in a more intentional way

This didn’t make the decision any easier.

As a freelancer or entrepreneur, it can be way too easy to attach your identity to your work or your company. When you have to give it up to do what’s best for you or your family, it can feel like a part of you is gone.

The hardest and probably most important realization is that you are not your work. You’re also not your company. These things are byproducts that come from your actions and efforts.

It’s important to remember things will always change and new opportunities will always come.

What one decision can you make now in order to impact your future the most?