BL&T No. 091: 16 Years & Goldfish

Company Culture

This post originally appeared in my newsletter, Borrowed, Learned, & Thought. BL&T is sent weekly on Mondays. In every edition, I share lessons learned in agency leadership, life, and e-commerce. This post does not include all the details shared in the newsletter sent via email. Subscribe here.


"Lifestyle is about here and now, and is something that one can change of one’s own volition. The life of the past that looks like a straight line appears that way to you only as a result of your making ceaseless resolutions to not change. The life that lies ahead of you is a completely blank page, and there are no tracks that have been laid for you to follow. There is no story there."

From "The Courage to Be Disliked" by Ichiro Kishimi, Fumitake Koga [Book]


Last Wednesday, June 1, marked Barrel's 16 (sweet) years as an agency. We didn't do anything to celebrate, but that didn't make it any less of a milestone. As I woke up and prepared for the day, my routine morning dialogue with the partners began.

See - every morning during the week, one of the partners, often Sei-Wook, will send a note in our group chat. Regardless of the sender, the message is always something like "LET'S GO!!!" or "New day! We got this." At this point, it's become a tradition, so I don't think much about it, but last week's milestone made me pause and reflect on our journey, noticing what our morning repertoire symbolizes.

Next month, July, will be nine years since I joined Barrel as a freelance designer. While I can't speak to how it feels to be on the ride for all 16, there's no doubt that 16 years is a long time. For the many who look at agency years like dog years, it can feel that much longer. However, for two people who have been there from the start, the time doesn't weigh on our co-founders, Peter and Sei-Wook; it drives them.

Sometime last week, I finally started watching the Apple TV+ series, Ted Lasso. The series is full of great leadership takeaways, but one that's stayed on my mind is a "be a goldfish." Inspired by the species' alleged short-term memory, Coach Lasso uses the phrase to encourage the team to make peace with the present and look forward, not back, especially in moments of disappointment.

Peter and Sei-Wook have never asked anyone to be goldfish, but in many ways, I can't think of a better way to describe how they've led our agency. Our morning messages are a taste of that energy. No matter what's happening, no matter what we're going through, we show up, ready to conquer the day and start anew.

In 16 years, Barrel has seen it all; moments of pure joy contrasted with moments where it feels like nothing is going right. Sometimes within hours! Through it all, I've always been inspired by Peter and Wook's drive to keep going; to find the lesson; to weather through; to discover the path forward. They don't always see eye to eye at first, but I believe it's a good tension that keeps Barrel in balance and has kept Peter and Wook together for so long.

I'm grateful for the last nine years working alongside Peter, Wook, and Wes (our CTO/Partner). It's hard to express how much I've learned about life, people, work, and myself through our experiences together. When I look back, I see laughter, lessons learned, new experiences, and a younger version of myself that is learning he can't predict what's ahead, so he might as well make the best of the ride. I'm grateful I've gotten to be on this one with the partners. Here's to Barrel 16.

Check out my LinkedIn post for some specific team shoutouts last Wednesday.

There was a lot of action last week, so I tried to narrow it down to a couple of highlights:

Thought Starter

How might acting like a goldfish unlock my growth?

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