BL&T No. 119: Putting in the Work

Fitness & Wellness

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.


"People who get hooked on reassurance might end up building an intimacy with the person who’s reassuring them all the time, but it is not helping them do better work, nor is it making them happier. The alternative is to say this might not work.

This thing I did, this thing I cared about might not work. Odds are it won’t, but I have a portfolio and then I’ll make the next thing because we don’t live on the savannah. This is not a matter of life or death most of the time. It is instead a matter of ego and self-esteem, and it’s not fatal. All of the worrying is worse than the rejection when it finally comes. Better I think to merely do the work, be generous with the work, and improve our skills so we can do it again."

From ”The Tim Ferriss Show: Seth Godin on The Game of Life, The Value of Hacks, and Overcoming Anxiety (#476)” [Podcast]


Taking up powerlifting several years ago taught me the "secret" to growth is putting in the work. There are no shortcuts. A lesson I’ve found useful in all aspects of my life, including leading an agency.

I had recently joined the Park Slope Crossfit Barbell Club when I signed up for my first powerlifting competition — it was right around the corner. I was nervous. I had no idea what to expect, so I eventually decided to put any expectations aside. I learned that you gain nothing by obsessing over the outcome and everything by consistently showing up. Through this process, I fell in love with the work, aka training.

Having a competition to work toward helped me focus my training, but I came to view competing as a milestone — an opportunity to push the limits of my potential and recalibrate my goals.

The structure of powerlifting competitions never changes. Each competitor chooses their weight for three attempts at the squat, bench press, and deadlift. My first competition was in April 2019. My third and final deadlift attempt that day was 330 lbs. Five months later, I competed again. My first deadlift attempt was 347 lbs; my final was 385 lbs — more than I had ever lifted before. Photo below. My coach gave the weight of my final attempt to the judges, so I didn't know what weight I had lifted until I got off the platform. In my mind, 370 lbs would have been a win. I was ecstatic.

USAPL Spring Classic Powerlifting Competition at South Brooklyn Weightlifting Club. 3rd Attempt Deadlift @ 385 lb.

Nothing about my training changed between these competitions. All I did was stay consistent, show up even when it was tough to make time, and gradually increase my weight.

Contrast this experience with my first Strongman competition last July. In Strongman, events are unique to the competition; each has a minimum or fixed weight (by weight class), so competitors have little choice. In addition to the weight lifted, competitors might compete on speed or reps.

While training for the competition, I became fixated on the event that made me most anxious: walking 75 feet with a 500 lb yoke on my back. I had never trained with a yoke (or any implement loaded with 500 lbs, for that matter). Before the competition, I was able to get in a few training sessions with a yoke but could not get anywhere close to lifting 500 lbs, or almost 3.5x my body weight. I started panicking.

I kept reminding myself I was doing the competition to have fun and learn more about the sport, but it was hard not to get in my head. I became more focused on looking for hacks than training. At one point, I considered backing out of the competition altogether, picturing myself failing the events. Ultimately, I decided to go through with competing and continued training. With the time remaining before the big day, I focused on movements that could positively impact my chances of lifting the yoke.

On the day of the competition, I remember telling the other lifters I wouldn't be able to move the yoke from its starting position as I stood in line for my turn to give it a go. They dismissed my doubt and encouraged me to push. I took a deep breath, reminded myself of my deadlift experience, and went for it. I not only got the 500 lb yoke off the ground, but I also walked 30 feet.

Growth is a never-ending pursuit. Goals are helpful guides for determining what actions will deliver results, but after that, nothing can replace taking consistent action and being disciplined. Becoming obsessed with the 500 lb yoke walk distracted me from what mattered most: training. I started doubting myself and looking for hacks, losing time when I could have done more sessions with the yoke and trained in other movements that would help build strength in the right places.

Looking back on the year, I see parallels between what it means to put in the work and many practices we adopted as an agency:

  • Account Reviews: Reviewing the status of all client accounts every week has helped maintain client satisfaction, issue Change Orders for departures from the scope of work, and get ahead of potential project challenges. More here.
  • Client Tracker: Creating a tracker for Account Leads to plan monthly initiatives and share weekly burn reports with retainer clients has helped clients feel more in-tune with our work and open to increasing hours as needed.
  • Team Lead Stand-Ups: Daily check-ins among myself and our Team Leads have helped close gaps in communication, remove blockers, and cross-pollinate knowledge across projects.
  • Quarterly Debriefs: This is not new, but we evolved the practice this year. Quarterly debriefs across every team have inspired reflection and learning, reduced blindspots, generated feedback, and provided insight into where to focus in the coming quarter. More here.
  • Project Debriefs: Monthly "Closing the Gap" team-wide meetings have been a helpful ritual for sharing project takeaways and lessons learned across the agency. More here.
  • 3-2-1 Growth: Monthly "3-2-1 Growth" sessions have created a dialogue around common challenges we encounter when working as a team and with clients on projects. More here.

Next year, I'm looking forward to building upon these practices while introducing new ones. Here are two I'll be working on next quarter:

  • Client Performance Dashboards: We could be better at proactively sharing opportunities with current clients. We don't consistently look at how our website updates perform, so advising on further enhancements is a hit-or-miss. Designing a client dashboard to share monthly reports on performance metrics will be a way to inspire new ideas regularly. We hope this can help our clients succeed while also growing our relationship.
  • Monthly Feedback: This quarter, we piloted a more casual way of providing feedback between peers and were pleased with the results. Doing this monthly will give managers a more real-time, well-rounded view of their team while giving members of the team more regular insight into how they can improve. We see this inspiring more candid conversations among the team over time while creating more efficient collaboration by building trust and raising our performance standards overall.

Some of these practices connect with competition-like milestones that help us align on actions and then make us step back and recalibrate before we move forward. However, there is potential to explore this further and see how designing designated milestones might help us continually raise the bar. For instance, we're currently discussing what it would look like to tie team performance to financial performance metrics, such as revenue and profitability. Practices such as Client Performance Dashboards and Monthly Feedback would support the team in hitting their targets.

As an individual, "the work" we choose to put in (or not put in) is what defines us. There's no way around this. The beauty of committing to the work is that no matter what happens around us, we can always choose to uphold the actions we know will drive results. In an agency-setting, this is no different. Our actions define our culture. Our success comes from our ability to select the appropriate actions and put in the work, even if the going gets tough.

Related: BL&T No. 117: Going Beyond Surface Actions

Thought Starter

Where am I trying to rush toward the outcome vs. committing to the work?


The E-Commerce Corner

For beauty and skincare brands, there's more to increasing AOV (average order value) than adding upsells and cross-sells. Customers will be more inclined to add more products to the cart if they understand how products work together. Brands can achieve this by adding content about product systems on key pages like the product detail or as supplemental text on up-sells and cross-sell across the website, such as in the cart and checkout.

Examples from The Outset and Peach & Lily:

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