BL&T No. 155: Embracing the Basics

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.


"To discern what is truly essential we need space to think, time to look and listen, permission to play, wisdom to sleep, and the discipline to apply highly selective criteria to the choices we make."

From "Essentialism"  by Greg McKeown [Book]


At the end of Mylo's first check-up, the pediatrician answered a few of our questions and offered some sage advice. She said there were only a handful of do's and don'ts to focus on over the next few months with Mylo; everything else was up to us, no matter what other parents were doing, friends and family told us, or we saw elsewhere. Dana is not the baby influencer follower type; neither am I, but I can only imagine the added pressure of this among an already overwhelming flood of information. Having only been home with Mylo for a day or so, hearing this was encouraging.

What I also appreciated about the pediatrician's advice is how well it applied to other areas of my life. Caring for a newborn, running an agency, pursuing a passion—it is so easy to overcomplicate things, compare ourselves to others, and worry we're not doing enough. Caught up in this mindset, we lose focus on the basics. When a situation doesn't go our way, we have nothing to fall back on—no systems, habits, or rituals—to reassure us we'll get through it.

When I first started writing and performing music regularly as a teenager, I remember struggling with this change in mindset. As comfortable as I was doing my own thing, I always had eyes on other bands and musicians. While the competition was healthy and motivating to a degree, there were times when it would consume me. Instead of improving my songwriting or performance, I'd get down in a rut, envying others I believed were further along. Spoiler alert—they were all dealing with challenges.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't fall into this trap in my journey at Barrel. Much like the music scene, the agency landscape is crowded. In the most challenging times, like extended periods of landing no new business or going through our first-ever layoffs, there's always an agency to compare ourselves to, fixating on what makes them "successful." This comparison can quickly become toxic. The truth is that they have their problems to deal with, and what's worked for them might not work for us. Time spent looking for some secret to success is time wasted.

Through enough of these difficult moments, we found our true north was in honing the basics and embracing ownership of our success. We started asking the right questions:

  • How do we elevate team performance?
  • Where do projects fall short, and how can we improve?
  • How do we foster lasting partnerships?
  • What strategies bring in our best leads, and how can we replicate their success?

This relentless pursuit of clarity has been inspiring, propelling us into new territory. Here are some examples:

  • Launching DTC Patterns to standardize our research practice and amplify marketing efforts
  • Building an ongoing feedback system so employees always have insight into their performance
  • Creating a network-nurturing Friends & Advisors newsletter
  • Forming a ritual around weekly client account check-ins to discuss status and financials, ensuring everything is on track
  • Embedding project debriefs into our process, using monthly team-wide meetings to share learnings
  • Inventing new ways to get work done at different project budgets without sacrificing margin
  • Creating standards around utilization, educating the team, and regularly checking in on how we're progressing

These changes didn't transform our business overnight, but they've helped us maintain consistency, improve as a team, and find our way through trying times. Every experience with Mylo is new and full of growth and discovery. We're learning together every day. It's been helpful to find grounding in the basics, what truly matters, as Dana and I develop our own habits and rituals to guide life with Mylo.


Looking back on a past event—how might the narrative change if I stripped away the layers of comparison and self-doubt, and instead, focused on improving on the fundamentals?


The E-Commerce Corner

Read here: Beyond Conversion Rate: Low-Hanging Fruit Opportunities

Join My Newsletter

Every Monday, I share weekly themes and progress in running an agency business/team and doing my best to live a good life. Details