Borrowed, Learned, & Thought (or BL&T) is a weekly newsletter sent on Mondays. In every edition, I share weekly themes and progress in running an agency business/team and doing my best to live a good life. Published posts do not include all details shared via email to subscribers. Subscribe here.
"When calm starts early, calm becomes the habit. But if you start crazy, it’ll define you. You have to keep asking yourself if the way you’re working today is the way you’d want to work in 10, 20, or 30 years. If not, now is the time to make a change, not “later.”"
From "It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work" by Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson [Book]
Last week was a good reminder that "fires" (aka situations that don't go as planned) aren't worth stressing out about, whether at work or home. Any energy spent worrying, complaining, or rejecting reality is much better put to use finding a way forward. It's taken me some time to adopt this perspective, and I'd be lying if I said there weren't still times when I've forgotten.
"There are no good days or bad days — just days." is a phrase that the Barrel partners and I like to remind each other to embrace. It doesn't mean we don't celebrate the wins and learn from the setbacks, but to me, it means that every day is full of moments. We can find reasons to label the day however we want and make ourselves feel good or fall into a slump and feel bad for ourselves. Neither approach changes the past.
Instead, when we look at every day as just that, a day, we remember that we can get through whatever is in front of us because we know there's another day ahead of us. We can change the future.
So, despite a week where it seemed like a new challenge was around every corner, I'm proud that I could find pause, move on, and make progress.
In this spirit, I thought it would be fun to change up this week's newsletter and share a few bite-size highlights from the week. Not a good or bad week. Just a week full of progress, swings, challenges, and lessons learned.
Here are my top five:
- I held my Upward Feedback session with my direct reports on Monday. Over the last month or so, I attended Upward Feedback sessions with their teams, so I was excited to do the same with them. I appreciated the candid discussion about my role as their manager and CXO. I was happy to learn that they feel I bring calm to tense situations and help unite the team. On the flip side, there's an opportunity to be more curious in our one-on-ones and unpack relevant context before jumping to solutions. I'll follow up with them on my key takeaways this week and look forward to making more progress over the next six months. If you're interested in the origin of Upward Feedback at Barrel, read this essay.
- Earlier this year, we rolled out an updated process for project debriefs focused on making sure they happen and getting the team more exposure to the insights. While they've created a lot of great discussions, I saw an opportunity to enhance them and pitched a revised approach to the partners. After some back and forth with Barrel CEO Peter, we had a new system. Looking ahead, we'll use one weekly Tuesday Meetup per month to share a synthesis of five takeaways and three ways we'll approach similar projects differently in the future. Last week I ran the first one, and it seemed to go over well. I'll report back in future months!
- What do you do when you land an exciting, fast-paced project, but the team is not free? You shuffle tasks as much as possible and bring on a freelancer to fill any gaps. What happens when that freelancer quits just days before the work is due? You find a way to get it done! Unfortunately, that's what happened on Tuesday. On Wednesday, I jumped in and tag-teamed design work with our Design Director, Christine, and Senior Designer, Isaac. We got it done, and the client couldn't be happier, commenting on aspects of the work created post-freelancer. At the end of the week, I told Christine that maybe everything happened exactly how it should have. Who knows?
- On Wednesday evening, I was out to see my younger brother Justin dance with a local jazz band when I received an email from a stressed-out client questioning the website approach we had agreed upon months ago — less than one week from launch. There was a time when I would have stepped out to make several phone calls and even lost sleep. Instead, I wrote back and got on a call the next day. Having been involved in the website approach, I was confident it was a misunderstanding. On the call, I didn't want to get into anyone trying to prove their case because I knew that wouldn't change whether or not the website approach would work for the client. I assured them we wouldn't launch a new website that didn't meet their needs and guided the conversation to unpacking the approach. Sure enough, it was a misunderstanding. We did get some feedback, though, that I'll be looking to incorporate into future projects.
- Last week, one of my newer direct reports came to our one-on-one without the progress they had committed to making in our previous meeting. Knowing this person has had a lot on their plate and has been getting pulled in different directions, it would have been easy to say: "No problem. Let's aim for next week." Then, be disappointed if it happened again next week. So, I took the opportunity to explain how broken commitments will erode the trust we've built so far. We spent most of our time digging into why they didn't do what they said they would do. We dug deeper and deeper until, in the end, we had a new agreement and a plan that would help achieve similar outcomes of the previous commitments. On Friday, they came through with that plan. When I asked how it felt, they said, "pretty damn good." Sometimes, we think we have to take giant leaps, so we say yes, but we never make the jump. Well, I find it's much better to agree to small steps that we can take. Enough of those, and you'll go pretty far.
Am I searching for another good day or living each day with the same momentum?