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Professional Development

Safe and connected

A few days ago, I started reading The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle and I’m surprised to see elements of this book already in action.

Within the first few chapters, Coyle shares that in order to create an effective culture, members on a team need to feel safe and connected.

After working at Slalom for a month, I can understand why so many consultants here read this book. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so safe and connected around a new group within such a short amount of time.

People here tend to go out of their way to create experiences that promote safety and connection. From conversations to courses to dinners, I’ve had the chance to be vulnerable with so many people in a safe setting.

Not everyone is this lucky.

When it comes to a company with this many high performers, I imagine it would be easy to let friction and ego get in the way while delivering value to clients.

Instead, people go out of their way to help even if it means a few lost minutes.

Thanks to this book and this company, I’ve learned that a rising tide really does lift all boats.

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. 

Values

I think about values a lot.

In fact, one could say it's part of my job.

When I started my career in freelance design, I choose to focus on branding.

As many "creatives" can tell you, everyone's process is different. As a professional, it's part of what makes you who you are.

For as long as I can remember, I've always started my branding process by identifying the values of the client, whether they are a company or an individual.

In my mind, a brand isn't successful unless the individual pieces reflect its values and beliefs. 

Naturally, this fascination with values has made its way into my personal life.

Even though people tend to connect over shared interests, joining fantasy sports leagues or book clubs, I've noticed deeper connections when I share values with someone else.

This doesn't mean we completely align - I would argue that this is unrealistic.

Usually, this connection follows one of the following trends:

  1. We share one or two of our most important values
  2. We share many values that aren't as crucial

If I had to guess, first-time conversations don't usually reach this level of depth. Some people may even find it off-putting in the beginning.

If you ask me, life is too short to spend it with people who don't share your values.


New journal

Today, I bought a new journal.

I'm saying goodbye to 4+ years of fluid thoughts, lofty goals, and tangible steps.

I might be overreacting but, in my mind, a new journal is a blank slate that allows me to redefine myself while starting anew.

Sure, no one else will probably ever read my journal, but that doesn't matter. I will.

Writing on a new page makes me feel as if anything is possible.

My new journal could very well hold what might be my the beginnings of my masterpiece. Or, it might simply help in removing myself as an obstacle.

Either way, it will play an important role in who I eventually become.

It will help me experiment with new ideas, capture new insight, and try new things.

As much as I hate to admit, I'm not as daring as I would like to be.

Moving forward, I want to be uncomfortable, learn from others who are different, and start pursuing the life I want.

Eventually, I want this new journal to be filled with reflections of a life well-lived instead of aspirations of what could be.


Hard work

I'm not afraid of a little hard work...as long as it has a point.

If I don't see a clear cause-and-effect relationship, there's a good chance I won't follow through with a given task.

I am always ready to welcome hard work with open arms as long as it brings me closer to my goals.

The thing is, I need to be more ruthless with these goals and how I determine what is important and what isn't. When you solidify something and write it down, it becomes real.

After all, this is the only way to create a litmus test for future priorities.

Otherwise, I will continue to fumble along without intention.


A fear of mediocracy

My mind is foggy and I'm scrolling through Twitter for ideas.

Why? Do I expect inspiration to jump out at me or is simply the path of least resistance?

I don't think anyone has ever found what they are looking for while scrolling unless it's a distraction from real life.

Instead, I should be turning inward and listening to my inner voice.

At this point, I'm afraid no one will be interested in the stories I have to tell. I'm afraid no one will find me funny or thought-provoking. I'm afraid I'll be seen as mediocre or average.

Honestly, this last one might be my biggest fear. I'm tired of fumbling from one thing to the next without having anything extraordinary to show for it.

Come to think of it, I'm sure others feel exactly the same way. I'm sure they would like to know they're not alone.

Maybe this is a perfect reason to share my writing with others.


My legacy

I think about the future a lot, but almost never in the context of what I want to leave behind.

When I think about my future legacy, I can't help but revisit my personal mission:

To create a smaller world connected by ideas.

This mission grew out of one fleeting moment of serendipity that I have tried to duplicate it ever since. I want others to benefit from using their ideas to connect with other like-minded people.

With this in mind, I would want my legacy to reflect the fact that I accomplished my mission while helping others along the way.

In other words, I will have helped as many people as possible in creating their own paths.


Small steps

Things are always a little more complicated than we realize.

I was reminded of this while writing the first draft of my first book. I figured it would be as "simple" as writing a draft, shopping it around to potential agents, and then eventually finding a publisher.

For those of you who have already gone through the submission process, I'm sure you're scoffing at my audacity. After all, you know there is much more to it than this.

While writing the first draft, I quickly learned that for nonfiction, writers usually submit a proposal before finishing the entire manuscript.

OK, no sweat. I'll just put together a proposal. 

While starting that process, I then learned that before the proposal, it's standard procedure to first send prospective agents a query letter. 

Hm, fine. It's time to start drafting a query letter.

Even the query letter has a few steps in order for it to be presentable to agents.

As you can tell, I'm not the "plan everything out" kind of guy. Instead, I usually dive in head first and tackle each step as it pops up.

In my mind, things don't have to be that complicated. Any big goal (writing a book, starting a company, etc.) can be broken down into a series of smaller steps. Some of these steps are obvious and some aren't.

None of us can control the number of steps. All we can do is focus on doing each one to the best of our ability and then move on to the next one.

If we stick with it, eventually we'll get to where we want to go.


People will support you

A funny thing happens when you put you and your work out there for everyone to see.

People start supporting you.

I'm talking about people you've never met in real life. They will comment on your writing, like your posts, and even buy your products.

Find enough people like this, and you might be able to make a living.

The thing is, this doesn't magically happen overnight. It takes days, weeks, months, and even years to grow a community around your work.

After fumbling through this process over the past decade, I've learned that it really comes down to two "simple" steps:

  1. Do good work. If you're not there yet, practice until you are. And then keep practicing.
  2. Share that work with people. In the beginning, you'll probably have no idea who your audience is. Just put your work out there and people will naturally gravitate towards it.

Be patient while repeating these two steps and, eventually, you'll have a community to call your own.


Don't be an asshole

It's no secret that people like working with nice people.

At the end of the day, business isn't B2B or B2C - it's P2P, or person to person.

Ego has no place in the workplace, regardless of how good you might be.

Imagine working with that one guy we all know. You know, the one who always has to brag or show off all of the time? He might be good at what he does, but he will get old real quick. It's pretty apparent that he doesn't know how to be vulnerable or relate to others.

That's why I try to treat my professional relationships the same way I treat those in my personal life - with respect and honesty.

After all, life is too short to work with people who are assholes.


Exploring is hard

Being complacent is easy.

Letting past actions dictate future outcomes takes little to no effort.

Do you know what's hard?

Breaking this day-to-day monotony by exploring.

Instead of going to the same coffee shop or watching the same thing on Netflix, try walking around your neighborhood or driving to a new part of town.

Thanks to societal pressure, exploring can feel like a waste of time.

I beg to differ.

After a weekend of exploring, I feel more rejuvenated than I have in a while.

What's stopping you from doing the same?

We all have distractions and responsibilities that compete for our time. As important as creating a routine is, it's just as important to know when to break it.

Make it easier on yourself by blocking out time in your weekly schedule.

After all, Netflix will be waiting when you get back.


Life is short

Life is short.

We spend too much time worrying about trivial things when, in the grand scheme of things, most of it won't even matter.

It's easy to forget this day-to-day thanks to an endless stream of distractions.

Sure, we all have to do things we don't want to do, but my guess is these things start outnumbering the moments in life that really matter.

The tough part is slowing down long enough to figure out what these moments are.

A conversation. Stealing a few minutes alone with someone you love. Becoming lost in something so deeply that time goes by without even realizing it.

Once we're able to identify these moments, we can start living intentionally by structuring each day around them.


Funny because it's true

Comedy is a funny thing.

Last night, I went to a stand-up comedy show with some friends and, during the night, one of the comedians said something that really stuck with me:

"Comedy is funny because it's relatable."

Take a second and really let that sink in.

If you ask me, I think this is a little counterintuitive.

When I think of entertainment, I think of escapism. I think of lives I will never live and worlds I will never see. After all, no one watches Game of Thrones because it's relatable (at least, I hope not).

Instead, comedy is more accessible. You don't need a multimillion-dollar budget or insane special effects.

All you need is an audience and a good story.


Creative constipation

I'm stuck.

Today is one of those days where my mind is a blank slate and, as hard as I try, I can't seem to get the gears turning.

Instead of sitting here feeling sorry for myself, I'm going to write through the block. After all, it's only writer's block if you let yourself remain blocked.

Come to think of it, a lot of problems are similar in that they are self-perpetuating. When we wallow in self-pity, we are only making the problem worse, adding to the preexisting clog.

Whenever I run into moments of creative constipation, I turn to what I know: writing.

For you, this might be talking with someone else or recording a video.

Regardless of the format, the main goal here is to share and explore your thoughts.

If you ask me, there's no better laxative than sharing your ideas with others.


Make things tangible

I think about the future a lot.

Personally, I want to help create a smaller world connected by ideas.

This might sound great, but if you ask me, it's still a little too nebulous.

How exactly am I going to create this world? Where am I going to start? Who is going to help me?

See? I may think about what my life looks like today and what it will look like 10 years from now, but what about everything in between?

The hardest part about changing the world is making things tangible.

Nothing amazing has ever happened without tangible steps. Don't believe me?

Do you think the airplane just randomly flew into existence? Did we all wake up one day with modern medicine? Were Pop Tarts created by magic?

I think you get my point. All life-changing inventions start with tangible steps.

Sure, there's a good chance these steps weren't even realized until after the inventor got started, but they were eventually captured or jotted down.

Do you want to change the world? Start with the first, tangible step.


"Organic" opportunities

I've noticed something funny over the years:

Opportunities tend to "organically" pop up whenever I put myself out there.

This might seem pretty obvious, but it's harder than you think.

As someone who has created my own path for a while now, asking for help doesn't always come second nature. I tend to beat my head against the wall until I find an answer on my own, usually by brute force.

Instead, whenever I'm going through a rough patch, my first instinct should be to reach out and ask for what I need.

I decided to try this recently while looking for a potential full-time gig and the amount of support I've seen is overwhelming.

People really are willing to help as long as you're willing to put yourself out there and ask.


One and done

I may be too ambitious for my own good.

Usually, my first task in the morning is to write in my journal for a few minutes. I do a quick brain dump and then jot down three important tasks for the day.

If I accomplish nothing else but these three tasks, I know it's a good day.

The thing is, no matter how hard I try, it's still pretty rare for me to knock out all three. There are always a few tasks that carry over from one day to the next, which is why I'm considering turning this list of three daily tasks into one.

It may not sound that revolutionary, but when you think about the long-term, this could free up a lot of mental bandwidth.

Instead of feeling pressured to create three "important" tasks, I can be much more intentional and paint a bullseye on one thing that will make the biggest difference.

After all, these actions don't live in a vacuum. Each thing we accomplish has the potential to impact other parts of our day.

That's why I want to focus more on choosing one task that will have the biggest domino effect on the rest of my day.


Type. Delete. Repeat.

I tend to overthink things.

When I first started writing, I used to suffer from extreme paralysis by analysis, constantly questioning what to write about. How could I share something revolutionary that others would want to read?

As writing topics became easier, my frustration came from editing my writing as I wrote, which as any experienced writer will tell you, is a huge no-no. Was I using the correct word? Was there a better one?

Today, my challenge is sticking with certain themes and topics long enough to build an audience around my writing. Like most, I struggle with creative ADD and I always find myself exploring new ideas and questions.

At the end of the day, writing isn't that complicated.

Sure, there are countless things to worry about like grammar, spelling, storytelling, character development, dialogue, tone, and voice, but these come with time.

In order to start writing, you only need three steps:

1. Type.
2. Delete.
3. Repeat.

And there you have it.

Don't fall into the same trap I did. Keep things simple and you will eventually get to where you want to go.