BL&T No. 149: Celebrating 10 Years at Barrel

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.


"I had not quite realized that the interruptions were the journey."

From "Jupiter's Travels: Four Years Around the World on a Triumph" by Ted Simon [Book]


It's just after 6 pm on Saturday. Dana and I are in Center City for her friend's surprise birthday dinner. Philly isn't a far drive, but we hit traffic and torrential rain on the way, and now we're behind schedule. We quickly decide against street parking. Two hours won't be enough, and we can already see the Philadelphia Parking Authority scouring the streets for their next victim.

We pull up to the restaurant and see a parking lot down the street. We drive there and wait a few minutes in a line of cars. I try to make out what the attendant is saying as he leans into the window of a beat-up bumper-less car. "We're full!" I can see Dana getting frustrated. She starts directing me to a nearby garage. On our way, I recognize a garage we used in the past and suggest we go there. We pull in.

As we drive up the ramp, I cringe at the thought of our Honda Pilot's roof clipping the low, protruding concrete ceiling. We emerge on the second floor. Another SUV is attempting to go to the third floor, while another is heading straight at its side. We all pause and let each other go. We follow the SUV, assuming there's no parking left on that floor. There aren't any spots on the next floor either. We go to the roof and watch the SUV grab the last. parking. spot.

"What do we do!?" Dana exclaims. "Go down and hope someone pulls out?" I shrug.

We head back down the ramp. My mind wanders to memories of playing with Hot Wheels as a kid. We had a track that felt like this garage. Round and round. Up and down. My brothers and I would play for hours.

"There's a spot! There's a spot!" Dana sounds like she just won the lottery.

I decide to back the car in, which takes some maneuvering. I plan to have a glass of wine or two at dinner, which means Dana will drive home. I figure backing it will make it much easier for her to navigate out of this sardine can of a parking garage later.

We're about to head down to the street when I realize it may rain again later. I picture ourselves running through torrential rain back to the car.

"Dana, I should go get the umbrella." Dana is not happy.

I sprint back to the car and grab the umbrella. I can't understand Dana is in such a rush. I figured we missed the surprise at this point, and there's not much more we can do.

We hustle to the restaurant, trying not to work up a sweat in the swamp-like Summer heat. We turn into an alley and find ourselves walking through what appears to be a street fair with lots of colors, glitter, and, oh — we're walking "on stage" behind a performer getting ready to sing. Sorry!

We're a minute away from the restaurant when Dana informs me everyone is getting cocktails. I'm confused, but a cocktail sounds refreshing. We walk up to an unassuming brick building and go inside. The receptionist welcomes us and encourages me to leave my umbrella at the front door; I ask if I can take it with me, remembering the last time I left my umbrella and never saw it again. "We're just here for drinks, we'll be quick," I tell him. He obliges. "I think your friends are right upstairs."

We get to the top, and... I'm shocked. Amazed. Completely confused.

My parents and brother Justin are standing alongside my fellow Barrel partners, Peter, Sei-Wook, and Wes. Behind them are my good friend and former co-worker, Max, with a designer I hired seven years ago, Isaac.

The surprise party isn't for Dana's friends. It's for me. This place isn't a cocktail bar; it's one of Philadelphia's finest restaurants, Vetri Cucina.

I turn around and see extra large gold balloons in the shape of the number 10. Everyone is here to celebrate my 10-year Barrel-versary.

"Good job, Dana!" Everyone starts to chime in. I learn she's been working with Peter to make this a success for weeks.

We all sit at a long bar in an intimate open kitchen, watching Chef Casey prepare the meal. For the pasta, he rolls the dough out right in front of us, assembling each scarpinocc and pappardelle pasta with precision.

It's a special night full of delicious food, wine, and more importantly, good company. The best gift anyone could have given me.

10 Years

Dana and I sometimes joke about the many people we've dated throughout our almost 12 years together. There are, of course, no other people, but we've experienced so many versions of each other that it sure feels that way. We've seen one another evolve and grow through different milestones, each enriching our relationship. We've learned valuable lessons that have made us stronger and more connected.

I feel the same when I look back on my time at Barrel.

A decade ago, a year or so out of college, I eagerly joined as a freelance designer. I had been tinkering with websites since I was a kid and now couldn't wait to create them for real clients. At the time, Dana and I were still in the early stages of our relationship, with her about to graduate.

Fast forward ten years, and I find myself in new, yet familiar, place. No longer a designer, I now work across every team, collaborating with the other partners on where to take Barrel next. Dana and I are married, own a home together, and expecting a baby boy next month.

A lot changes in a decade! But like Dana, my relationship with Barrel has been a constant. This weekend may have marked ten years at Barrel, but if you ask me, I've had many jobs at many agencies, and they've all taught me so much.

However, it's not just the work that has shaped me—it's being on this journey alongside the other Barrel partners who have each contributed to my growth in their own ways.

Peter has been a source of inspiration from day one through his leadership and a pillar of support. As a mentor and coach, he has guided me through countless challenges and opportunities, in life and at work. He never shies away from acknowledging success or giving me feedback to make me better. His trust in my abilities has been invaluable, instilling confidence in me to take on new responsibilities and push my limits.

Sei-Wook has a way of keeping us all grounded, even during the most chaotic times. He brings a sense of calm and rationality to our discussions and decision-making. His ability to maintain composure under pressure inspires me to approach every situation with the same poise.

Wes is a constant source of inspiration through his work ethic and determination. Observing his dedication to his craft and team has motivated me to give my best in everything I do, pushing me to keep improving and striving for excellence.

I could go on and on about the many other folks I've been grateful to work with and who have had me better collaborate, manager, and leader.

The surprise celebration on Saturday was a welcome reminder of how far we've come and how bright the future looks. I'm still beaming.


What significant moments have defined my personal and professional growth? Who has been a key mentor, coach, or guide in my journey?


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