Viewing entries tagged
entrepreneurship

Insidious little voice

I’ve noticed that over the past few months, I’ve lost some steam when it comes to sharing my writing online.

After taking time for some good ‘ol fashioned introspection, I’ve realized that it’s probably because I’m afraid that I am no longer doing something worth hearing about.

I know deep down inside this isn’t necessarily true, but it’s still a valid concern nevertheless.

Back when I was freelancing full-time, I was doing something that was out of the ordinary.

Now that I’ve been working a 9-to-5 while also working for myself, I’m experiencing a relative amount of stability for the first time.

Because of this, a small part of my feels that my insight may not be as unique as it once was or that it’s not as valuable to others.

If I drown out all of the other noise, I know this is simply that insidious little voice inside my head.

Even though I’m no longer working for myself full-time, I’ve still created my own professional path and this is something I imagine others might find valuable.

The hardest part is breaking everything down in a way that makes sense and is interesting enough for others.

When it comes to creating something for someone else, quieting this voice is nearly impossible.

In fact, the more experience you gain, the quicker you realize it’s not about silencing this voice at all.

Being a professional means learning to ignore it while moving forward anyway.

All-in is all wrong

As someone who was recently on a panel that gave feedback to entrepreneurs, I was asked, “Why are entrepreneurs taking advice from full-time employees?”

The first thing that comes to mind when I hear this is the “all-or-nothing” mindset that continues to permeate entrepreneurship.

Sure, there is no shortage of stories that tout a “rags-to-riches” rise to success for entrepreneurs all over the world, but that is exactly what they are - stories.

Over the past decade of full-time freelancing and entrepreneurship, I learned that living life in the extremes is usually a dangerous place to operate. If you’re not prepared, it can be lonely, stressful, and even lead to harmful thoughts of self-worthlessness.

I’ve always been a trial-by-fire kind of person who does better when there isn’t a safety net, but I’ve gone all-in before and honestly, it doesn’t always have to be this way.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that there are countless ways to create your own path.

Going back to the above question, I truly believe that you can always learn something from the person in front of you, no matter how different they may appear to be.

Why are entrepreneurs taking advice from full-time employees? Because many employees have experience with budgets, timelines, product validation, scalable (and unscalable) business models, bringing products to market, and simply talking to other people.

Just because they choose to work for someone else doesn’t mean that they don’t have relative experience to share. In fact, they may have the missing piece to the puzzle you’re trying to solve as an entrepreneur.

The sooner we can dial down the extremism of entrepreneurship, the better off we’ll all be.

Organizing the chaos

I’ve learned over the years that organizing the chaos of everyday life is one of the hardest parts of being a functioning adult.

Whether you work for yourself or within a larger company, distilling conversations, meetings, and opportunities down into tangible action steps is an art that, unfortunately, isn’t taught in school.

We’re taught how to “think critically” about writing and literature, but not about how we turn long-term priorities into short-term steps.

That’s why if I could create the curriculum for one course taught all over the country, it would be “Organizing the Chaos 101.”

It would be an intro course that presents frameworks, tools, and resources for creating your own accountability system. It might even explore various people and how they approach accountability.

I’m not usually a fan of looking backwards, but I can’t even imagine how much more I would have accomplished by now if I had created my own task management process sooner.

At this point, I’ve meshed my personal and professional lives together by mapping out long-term priorities like getting married or writing a book and breaking them down into smaller, more actionable goals, like booking a venue or finishing the first draft one chapter at a time (all using one Trello board).

As always, I’m constantly tweaking and updating as I come across other processes that work.

How do you manage your long-term priorities and short-term goals? How long did it take to get to this point?

Altruism and profit

Last night, I had the opportunity to be a panelist at a pitching event where local entrepreneurs present their businesses and ask for feedback around one specific question.

When it came to the final pitch, an interesting conversation popped up.

The entrepreneur mentioned they were including an altruistic component to their business model and one of the other panelists responded by saying, “You can focus on being altruistic once you scale up. As a startup, you need to focus on making mountains and mountains of big, ugly money.”

Maybe I’m just naive, but I couldn’t agree less.

Sure, if you want to eventually become a fully-sustainable company, you have to (eventually) have revenue coming in, but the idea that altruism and profit are mutually exclusive is ludicrous.

One of the smartest things you can do when starting a company is to focus on growing a community around your company.

Can you guess one thing people care about when it comes to the brands they support and the products/services they purchase?

A cause.

In today’s world, it’s becoming harder and harder to differentiate based on product alone. You have to plant your flag and stand for something when others may not.

If you ask me, doing good will always be good for business.

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?

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.

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!

Money can't buy happiness

We've all heard this age-old adage.

As someone who has never been motivated by money, I have always agreed with this - until now.

Sure, money and the material possessions you can buy with it won't ever make you truly happy, but it can help you buy something that will:

Time.

We can use this time to explore what really makes us happy.

For many people, money can buy peace of mind in the form of paying off medical bills, enjoying new experiences through travel, or simply staying out of survival mode.

If you ask me, time and peace of mind are the perfect ingredients for thriving.

After all, that's all any of us want - to live an intentional life in which we can thrive.

Money isn't the destination - it's simply a tool to help us find it.