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Entrepreneurship

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.

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?

Asking for permission

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been somewhat of a people pleaser.

Growing up, I would do whatever it took not to make people like me. I couldn’t stand it if someone had even a tiny issue with something I was doing. Sometimes, I would even refrain from sharing my ideas just to avoid stepping on the toes of others.

As an adult (some would argue this), I can confidently say this is no way to live your life.

In fact, I respect others more when they aren’t afraid to share who they truly are with me.

Part of shedding this unhelpful mindset is giving up the need to ask permission.

Luckily, Slalom (my new job) is helping me with this. When someone has an idea or suggestion here, they don’t ask for permission. They ask for feedback.

There is a huge difference between the two. When you ask someone for permission, there is a good chance you’re asking the wrong person. Sure, maybe you need some funding and your boss is the gatekeeper, but ultimately, you are the only person getting in your own way.

Instead, when you develop a comprehensive plan and ask for feedback, you’re taking action. You are showing instead of telling, which communicates that you’re serious.

This isn’t easy. When you share your ideas, there will always be naysayers who jump at the chance to shoot down the ideas of others. That’s usually because they’re too afraid or insecure to share their own.

The more I think about this, the more I’m reminded by a small piece of advice my dad gave me a long time ago:

“It’s always easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission.”

My role model

My dad has always been my role model.

Not just for his intelligence or sense of humor, but for his uncanny ability to combine both in order to make things more accessible to others.

I could not have been more proud to see him demonstrate this last night as he accepted the Washington University in St. Louis 2018 Chancellor’s Award for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Watching him recap his past 40 years of research (with a hilarious violin accompaniment) really did put things in perspective.

Creating a lasting, positive impact takes patience and help from others who are willing to be in it for the long haul. It also takes a seemingly impossible skill of balancing uncertainty while focusing on a single, clear goal.

Cheers to him and everyone else who has helped build and grow Arch Oncology and YourBevCo from the beginning!

A list of good questions

I’ve always prided myself on asking good questions.

If I had to guess, I would attribute this to my natural curiosity and drive to understand others.

This is probably one of the reasons I recently took a consulting job with Slalom.

At the end of the day, a good consultant has the ability learn about their client and their client’s problems and needs by asking good questions.

A good question isn’t hard simply for the sake of stumping others.

It does one thing above all else: it forces the person answering to think differently.

Here is a list of good questions I’ve been pondering recently:

• What does my future look like in five years?
• What is one action I can take today to live a more intentional life?
• When was the last time I applied critical thinking to my life?
• What are my core values and how am I living them day-to-day?
• What does success mean to me today? Tomorrow? A year from now?
• Why do I still practice unhealthy habits? How can I reprogram them?
• If I had an ∞ in my bank account, what would I do differently? The same?
• How can I help others with my unique skills and abilities?
• How can I make the world a little smaller?

What does my future look like?

I came to a pretty tough realization this morning:

As much as I think about the future, I don’t turn those thoughts into concrete plans nearly enough.

It’s not that I’m oblivious - I have an (almost) daily reminder in my journal to answer the same, elusive question:

What does my future look like?

This question has become a little more complicated since I started my new job at Slalom.

Not only does a full-time job force you to make the most of your extra time, a job with this company means you also get to play an active role in piecing together your own career.

As amazing as this is, it doesn’t make clarifying my future an easier.

If I had to guess, I’m suffering from the same problem a lot of people do. Planning for the future is hard, time-consuming, and doesn’t provide any instant gratification.

In other words, it goes again human nature. Most of us are hyper-focused on the here and now and don’t prioritize actions that have delayed results.

Unfortunately, it usually takes something extreme or jarring to drive the point home.

I don’t want to wait for something to make me change my ways. I want to play an active role in creating my own path and shaping my future.

Now all I have to do is sit down, shut up, and answer this question…

Biting off more than I can chew

I’ve always had a hard time saying, “No” to new opportunities.

You could say I’m addicted to the rush that comes with a new project or idea.

However, as many of us learn (the hard way), saying, “Yes” to everything is one of the quickest ways to welcome disappointment.

Personally, I thought I could handle my new job, freelance work, new projects with my company Viabl, and writing while somehow still balancing my relationship with my fiancé.

As I’ve quickly found out, I’m not doing as well as I thought.

I received my first email from a client mentioning the timeframe built into our contract.

As someone who prides myself one helping others take their ideas from zero to one quicker than anyone else, reading this was both a gut punch and a reality check.

I’ve always focused on successfully managing the expectations of the people I help. When I fail to meet a certain expectation I set, it communicates a lack of professionalism.

Now that I have less time each day, I have to be even more realistic with my commitments.

That’s why, once I finish my outstanding freelance work, I’ll be taking a small break to reevaluate where I want to go and, more importantly, how much I can take.

For all of you who have never worked with your own clients, I can’t stress enough the importance of managing expectations (and clear communication).

It can make or break your career.

First day of October

It’s the first day of October.

That means sweater weather, pumpkin ale, and bonfires with friends.

For those of you in the corporate world, it also means the beginning of the fourth quarter.

You know, the time of year when, thanks to the holidays, your office is either in total chaos or a barren ghost town.

Usually around this time, I find myself revisiting my final goals for the year.

When you work for yourself, this is one of the most important things you can do in order to ensure a smooth transition into the next year.

The thing is, with my new job comes a newfound sense of calmness.

For the first time in my life, I don’t have to necessarily worry about where my next paycheck is coming from.

Instead, I can focus on growing my relationships, both inside and outside of the office.

This means more quality time with friends and family - the kind where you lose track of the hours thanks to sharing stories and laughing so hard your stomach hurts.

At the same time, I’m nowhere near finished creating my own path. In fact, thanks to this peace of mind, I’ll be able to make the most of my time instead of spinning my wheels.

I’ll finally have the mental bandwidth to set clear, realistic goals instead of living with the constant pressure of exceeding my own unrealistic expectations.

What does the first day of October mean for you?

Not another lazy Sunday

I’m sitting in a coffee shop with a much clearer mind than usual.

During a “normal” Sunday morning, there’s a good chance I would still be in bed, avoiding the constant nagging of my phone alarm.

I would probably feel groggy from a late night of drinking with friends, unmotivated to do anything but curb a stubborn hangover.

My morning routine would be in shambles as I haphazardly figure out what to make for breakfast.

Instead, I’m almost finished with my routine, checking things off my to-do list as I make my way to freelance work that I’ve been neglecting over the past few weeks.

Today, I truly understand why I don’t always need that extra drink or just one more hour out with friends. Sure, it might feel good in the moment, but it’s almost never worth it in the long run.

It’s morning like these that remind me what it means to set yourself up for success.

I’m grateful for a Sunday morning that isn’t so lazy.

The people around me

I’ve been at Slalom for two weeks now and I’ve already found something that I felt like was missing.

Each day, I’ve had engaging, thoughtful conversations with other consultants, and they weren’t even during meetings. From passing by someone in the kitchen to intentionally setting aside time for lunch, I’m really getting to know the people around me.

We’re not talking about water cooler chit chat.

We’ve gone from high-level topics like sharing our hopes, dreams, passions to actionable ways in which we can make the world a better place.

I hoped this would be a part of my everyday life in this new job, but I didn’t anticipate it happening so fast.

Since one of Slalom’s core values is being your authentic self, people where seem much more willing to share who they really are instead of the outer facade we’re taught to cultivate.

Sure, I’m eager to solve interesting problems for various clients, but if I’m being honest, I’m much more excited to share stories, form deep bonds, and get to know the people around me.

After all, each and every single one of us is here for a reason.

I can’t wait to figure out what that is.

Widening the cirlce

As part of my new job, I took my first diversity and inclusion course last night and, honestly, it opened my eyes more than I thought.

As a white, cisgendered male, my identity is not something that is usually challenged in society.

I’ve never feared for my life when getting pulled over by the police, I’ve never had to question whether or not I was being fairly compensated for my work, and I can’t think of the last time I felt out of place somewhere.

That is, until now.

In only two short weeks at Slalom, I’ve met some of the smartest, most ambitious people St. Louis has to offer, and they come from all walks of life. Each day, I am surrounded by intelligent people who solve complex, technical problems and it would be very easy for them to make me feel out of place.

After all, I’m not coming from a corporate or technical background which means, I find myself asking a lot of “simple” questions just to keep up.

Since this is technically my first full-time job, I am definitely in the minority.

The thing is, people here aren’t reinforcing this truth.

Instead of making me feel stupid, they’re helping me realize that asking clarifying questions is a big part of being a good consultant.

During the course last night, I got to hear from others who might fall within more “traditional” minority groups and it really helped to put things in perspective.

At the end of the day, we’re all human which means, we all share a need to be loved, recognized, and respected for who we are and the ideas we share.

If you ask me, acknowledging this is the first step in widening the circle and making everyone feel included.

Living with uncertainty

After only one week into my new job, I’m learning to live with uncertainty.

Let me rephrase that: I’m learning how to quickly turn uncertainty into certainty.

By no means has this come easy. As someone who has been self-employed for almost a decade, I’ve always been fairly comfortable with uncertainty, but that’s only because I’ve always had time to let it sink in and then figure out next steps.

In my new position as a consultant, turning uncertainty into certainty as quickly as possible will be one of the most valuable skills I can grow.

How exactly does one practice this?

1) Ask questions
2) Become a lot more proactive with Google.

I wish there was a more “refined” way to go about this, but these two things have already saved my butt several times over the past week and a half.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a or word or acronym and then Googled it in real-time only to then use it in a (relatively) sensical sentence minutes after.

Some might call this “faking it until you make it” - I call it learning on the fly.

The best kind of regret

Last night, I had the chance to talk with a friend who recently moved to another city for a new job.

After catching up, he admitted that he wasn’t sure he made the right choice.

While living in St. Louis, he felt like his job wasn’t aligned with his core values. So, he did something not many people do - he made a change.

After being gone for about a month, he now feels as if he left behind some meaningful relationships that weren’t initially apparent to him.

Sure, hindsight is always 20/20, but you don’t get hindsight without making a decision.

In this case, he made a bold decision that many people probably wouldn’t have the guts to make.

If you ask me, it’s almost impossible to life a life without regrets, no matter how hard you try. We’re human, which means we’re messy and imperfect.

When I look back on my life, I would much rather regret the things I did instead of dwelling on the things I didn’t do.

You may not be thinking about moving across the country, but I’d bet there’s something else you’ve been wanting to do fo a while.

What are you waiting for?

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.