Viewing entries in
Professional Development

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?

Leadership and vulnerability

I went to a panel discussion based around design leadership this morning for St. Louis Design Week and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised.

Most of the time, a panel discussion seems to devolve into each panelist sharing a prepped series of answers that may or may not be helpful to the audience.

If you ask me, most of the value of a panel discussion comes through during the Q&A.

At the end of today’s panel, I noticed none of the leaders addressed vulnerability as a leader. So, I decided to ask the following question:

“Since vulnerability is an important part of design leadership, or any leadership for that matter, can you share what single part of your specific business today will put you out of business in the future?”

It was pretty apparent the panelists weren’t prepared for this healthy dose of vulnerability before 9 AM this morning.

What followed were a range of answers, including:

“Not adapting to the future quickly enough.”

“Not capturing some of our processes better.”

“Being based in St. Louis.”

This last one created a collective gasp from the room.

Hey, when someone is vulnerable and honest, it isn’t always easy to hear what they have to say.

I just wish more leaders (from any industry) were more vulnerable, especially in public settings. Whether they realize it or not (and they should), leaders influence others even when they aren’t actively leading.

When vulnerability is shared from the top down, it becomes a strength for everyone else.

So, here’s to the next generation of vulnerable leaders.

Learn to Say "No"

Over the past few months, I’ve learned the importance of saying, “No.”

Growing up as a people-pleaser, this was one of the toughest things to wrap my head around. After all, how was I supposed to let someone down without them hating me?

As we get older, we learn how to not take things so personally. Saying, “No” has nothing to do with them and everything to do with us. We want to protect our time for the things that truly matter to us.

Since everyone has (or should have) their own set of priorities, it’s impossible to align ours with everyone else 100% of the time.

That’s why learning to say, “No” with finesse can be one of the most useful skills as an adult.

Whether it’s turning down another freelance project to make more time at home or passing on a volunteer opportunity to find the one that aligns with a cause you are more passionate about, there is always a way to pass on an opportunity without burning bridges.

I’ve realized the more I do say, “No” to the things that don’t align with my priorities, the happier I am when the right opportunity comes along.

As always, it’s hard to reach this point. It takes practice to unlearn past behaviors that don’t get us to where we want to go.

What matters most is deciding which opportunities wall into which categories.

Otherwise, you’ll find yourself saying, “Yes” to everything.

Priorities

My priorities have been out of whack recently.

In fact, they’ve been mismanaged for a while now.

About six months ago, I went through what I would call a “series of unfortunate events” that impacted pretty much every facet of my life. From my health to my finances to my relationships, not a single thing was left untouched.

Because of this, I developed a series of habits that seem to creep in whenever someone is in “survival mode.” One of these is deprioritizing my relationships for the sake of taking more freelance work.

Now that I’ve finally reached a more stable place, I am taking a second look at my list of priorities and in hopes of recommitting to the things that truly matter.

For me, this means reinvesting in my relationships by carving out more quality time.

Time where I listen with the intention of understanding. Time where I cope with the inevitable stress that comes with living life. Time where I follow through, show up, and match my actions with the words I say.

This need to change is apparent now, but it won’t always be. Life will get in the way again and stress will inevitably come knocking.

That’s OK. Next time, I’ll be ready.

Space for creativity

It seems like the older we get, the less space we create for creativity.

That is, unless you work for a company like Pixar or IDEO.

These organizations not only promote creativity, they rely on its application in order make a living. They’ve learned what it takes in order to successfully apply creativity year after year, project after project.

If these select groups can embrace child-like curiosity and create the space needed to foster creativity, why can’t other lesser known companies? After all, the results speak for themselves.

Like most things in business, I think it all comes down to ego.

People are so focused on appearing professional or that they already have all of the answers that they’re afraid to acknowledge more abstract concepts like creativity or vulnerability.

If you ask me, these things make business even more human, They remind us that business isn’t just B2B or B2C - its P2P, or people to people.

Since most companies still don’t recognize this truth, the ones that do have a competitive advantage.

Which type of company sounds more appealing to you?

Investing in process

When you work for yourself, investing in processes is one of the most valuable ways in which you can spend your time.

Clients and users come and go. Results eventually fade. However, the processes you create for you and your business will stay with you over time.

Unfortunately, most don’t pay attention to processes that scale until it’s too late. You can file this under the “important” category that most people ignore because it doesn’t seem that urgent.

Do you know what else falls under this category? Health, fitness, financial saving, relationships, and other long-term considerations that we don’t think about until it’s too late.

We don’t pay attention to these until something catastrophic happens, like a heart attack or the death of a loved one. Only then do we stop and think about what we’re doing and where we’re going.

With entrepreneurship, it doesn’t have to be something this drastic - any number of smaller, less obvious issues can eventually sink your company.

When you focus on creating processes that scale, you’re ultimately giving you and your business the competitive advantage of time. This is why so many startups are able to “out-innovate” larger, more established companies with greater resources - they make the most of their time.

Your company doesn’t just create a product - it is a product. When you adopt this mindset, investing in processes just makes more sense. Both for your own sanity and for the long-term success of your business.

Drifting

Do you ever feel like you’re drifting?

As adults, we’re surrounded by this invisible pressure to have all of our shit together when, in reality, our lives resemble organized chaos more than anything else.

I’'ll be honest - in this moment, I feel a little lost.

Since making a pretty big shift from freelance to full-time employment, I’ve made a tough realization: I didn’t know what I was doing.

The more I think about it, I wasn’t being guided by anything concrete.

Like many freelancers, I was making enough to get by month-to-month while fumbling through the process. This uncertainty inevitably carried over into my new professional life, hence the feeling of drifting.

Now that I have a sense of stability, I need to shift focus to where I’m going and why I’m going there.

Otherwise, I will never feel grounded.

This goes for anyone. If you have the luxury of stability, you owe it to yourself to look forward and figure out how you can eventually help others in doing the same.

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.