BL&T No. 145: Lessons from My Creative Journey

Personal Growth

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.


"Unless people have done something radical to alter their course, the future they are living into is their default future. By default future we don't mean the inevitable future—such as aging and eventually dying—but rather what is going to happen in our experience, whether we give it much thought or not."

From "The Three Laws of Performance: Rewriting the Future of Your Organization and Your Life" by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan [Book]


My wife Dana and I had the opportunity to speak at a local high school last week. Sean, a fellow Tyler School of Art alum, is an art teacher and invited us to talk to his students as part of a summer program geared toward the various creative careers one can pursue

Putting together the presentation was a lot of fun, more than I imagined it would be. It's nice to take a trip down memory lane every once in a while, and I went pretty deep, resurfacing old projects and drawings from my High School art class days.

During our talk, Dana and I recounted what led us to where we are today. We shared how we met at Tyler, majored in Graphic & Interactive Design, but ultimately pursued different career paths. Toward the end of our presentation, we offered advice for the students to consider.

As we compiled our list of advice, I remember starting with something like "LinkedIn is your friend!" before realizing how far removed I am from what it's like to be in high school. I took a step back and tried to channel the mindset of my younger self.

I've never loved the question, "What advice would you give to your younger self?" because the person we are today is a direct result of our past decisions and lesson learned, including all the mistakes and victories. We wouldn't be able to answer the question if we hadn't lived and learned. It's an exercise in looking back (sometimes, with regret) rather than ahead at where we want to go and achieve next.

Rather than stand in front of the students and say, "This is what I wish we had known!" as if there's some golden key to success, I thought about some of the broad themes of lessons I've been grateful to learn in my career thus far. We didn't share all of these but below are a bunch that stood out to me upon further reflection.

  1. Prioritize health and wellness: When I first started working in NYC, there were many nights when I'd come home from work, eat, and continue working, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning. I've come to appreciate the importance of balance. It's not worth sacrificing my well-being for an unnecessary late night. Work isn't everything. Spending time with friends and family, pursuing hobbies, and engaging in other activities has taught me so many valuable lessons, not to mention helping me rejuvenate and come to work feeling energized.
  2. Challenge limiting beliefs: I've always been determined to go after what I wanted. But for many years, I created an unconscious barrier around my life based on stereotypes, family norms, and the like, holding me back from unlocking new territory to explore. Acknowledging and challenging these beliefs has helped me find joy and satisfaction in ways I never thought possible. This has come through in many ways in my life and career, from competing in powerlifting competitions to taking on new responsibilities at Barrel.
  3. Nothing is the end of the world, and every setback is an opportunity: There have been countless moments where it felt like everything was falling apart. And then, I found a way forward. Eventually, I learned that nothing is ever the end of the world, and if I treated it as such, it would only get worse. Whether it's a client firing us or a series of unfortunate events at home, it's been helpful to keep this top of mind and take it slow. As I've grown into leadership roles at Barrel, this has been even more important in guiding the team forward without creating a culture of chaos and stress.
  4. Feedback is everything: Receiving critical feedback is never easy. I can remember feedback that's been painful to receive, especially in college. We'd spend hours on a design project, and pay for a high-quality printout, only for it to be drawn all over by the teacher. But in the end, the work got better and better. Seeing feedback as a gift has been a game-changer for my personal growth and seeking it out has been critical for my development as a husband, manager, friend, and so on.
  5. Every experience is an experience you create: During our work with the executive coaching firm Novus Global, they introduced the concept: Every experience you are having is an experience you are creating. I remember how hard this hit me when I heard it. It's easy to point fingers at everything around us when we're not where we want to be. I remember feeling this way, often looking at others' success, criticizing them, or making excuses for why I haven't had the same "luck." This got me nowhere. Learning to take ownership of my life has come in different forms. It's helped me turn challenging situations around at Barrel; choose how I respond to situations vs. simply reacting, prioritize where I spend my time in and out of work; and be more vulnerable, and as a result, deepen my relationships; to name a few.
  6. Embrace the power of compounding:  I remember aspects of my life where I would look at what I wanted to achieve and feel discouraged by what it would take to get there. I expected immediate results. If I didn't get them, I'd lose steam. Reading the book Atomic Habits by James Clear was when it all clicked. I learned to find joy in the journey and continue putting in the work. Whether in finance, developing skills, or building a company culture, the results will eventually pay off. When I'm feeling frustrated with a situation, too tired to exercise, or too busy to read a book, this concept helps me push forward. I continue to design and redesign my life so that the small inputs each day are building the me I'm after.
  7. No path follows a straight line: In the early stages of my career, I had a blueprint in my mind of the future I wanted to create. However, my journey took unexpected turns. I remember a pivotal moment when I almost gave up a great opportunity because it wasn't in my "plan." Through this experience, I learned to embrace the opportunities that presented themselves. I no longer have a pre-determined series of steps I want to take. Instead, I focus on who I want to become and the life I aspire to lead, ensuring each opportunity I pursue and step I take aligns with that vision. Living with this flexibility and adaptability has been essential for finding happiness and making good decisions.


What is the one belief or assumption that I've held onto for years, and how might challenging it open up new possibilities for my leadership and personal growth?


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