A few years ago, I came to a strange point with Stry.us. I had been working on the project for a while, and the initial giddiness of working on something new had worn off. Suddenly, I felt overwhelmed with it all. There was so much I didn’t know, and it felt to me like I was the only one who didn’t know what he was really talking about.
I didn’t quite know how to explain it back then, but I can now. (Funny how much a few years of perspective helps.) What I was experiencing was twofold:
1) I was challenging myself, and realizing that to succeed in my new role, I was going to have to learn a lot.
2) I was struggling to remember that even though I had a lot to learn, I also still knew a lot.
That didn’t make sense to me when I first went through it. I honestly believed that I couldn’t be smart AND have lots to learn at the same time. I thought it was either one or the other.
But the more people I talk to about my experience, the more I realize that I wasn’t alone in this. A lot of people struggle with that mentality when they take on a big new role.
So when you find yourself in that situation — when you feel overwhelmed with what you still have to learn — these two things can help:
1) Be honest with others about what you know. When you know the answer, speak up! Chances are, you know a lot more about your work than you’d give yourself credit for.
2) Be willing to say, “I don’t know.” It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s not a sign of failure. When you say those words, you’re making a promise to yourself to go out and find the answers. And often, you’re making a promise to get help from others.
You can be stubborn, and pretend to know it all, or you can grow as you go. I’d take the second path if I were you.
Right now, I can tell you that one of these four teams is almost certainly going to win the NCAA Tournament, which begins in a few hours: Florida, Wichita State, Louisville, or Villanova. That’s what the stats suggest, and that’s what I believe.
But I’m still going to watch the games. They’ll play 63 games in the next three weeks, and I’ll watch at least part of almost every single one. Even the 1-vs-16 match-ups. Even the blowouts.
Even the games that involve Kansas.
Because moments will happen. Because upsets from out-of-nowhere schools like Florida Gulf Coast will happen. Because buzzer beaters will happen. Because heartbreak will happen.
And because the ride matters. We’re always so focused on the end result — that’s what this post is really about, but hang with me for a moment — but it’s the road there that we really care about. Everyone fills out a bracket and projects a final score, but does anyone really remember what the score of last year’s title game was? Or the year before that?
The end result is just that — a result. It’s a number, and it’s a fact for future edition of Trivial Pursuit.
But it’s the road there that we remember. It’s those experiences that shape everything we’ll see these next few weeks.
There’s a funny thing about this tournament, and about work in general: You’ve always got your eyes on the next step, but your thoughts on the final destination. Focus too much on one or the other, and you lose your way.
Anyway, back to basketball: Florida, Wichita State, Louisville, or Villanova is going to win this — I believe that. But there’s no need to skip ahead to the ending.
The Road To The Final Four is what I care about the most.
I know this is the kind of thing people usually save for an awards speech or a published book. But I just finished a good book yesterday, and then I watched the Oscars, and now I’m in the mood for saying “Thanks.”
Who says I can’t offer a few acknowledgements just because?
So to start:
Thanks to the people who believed at the start: Myron, Don C., the Drake, Steve M., Bill and everyone at the Star, Dan and Howie, too. To Richard for the Redskins gig. And Uncle Donald for telling me to send that email to Ted Leonsis. Funny how that all worked out.
To the guys at the Rocky — thanks for a great summer. Sorry again about almost getting deported.
To Jan and Greg at KENS, for that first shot. And for standing up for me too many times to count.
To the 2k5ers, who always gave me a place to come home to. Especially those who always made time to listen: Gerf, Lizzy, Ani, Emma, and all the boys — Jason, LK, Tom, Dinner, Shoe, Kurt — I owe you for that.
Thanks to everyone at Mizzou who believed. Most of all, to Keith, Amy, Randy, Dave, David, Jen, Dorothy, and Paul. To the NewsFoo guys, who opened doors for me, and let me tell that story about Mrs. Claus.
And of course, to the Tigers who told me to keep going: Ryan, Dan, Beth, Sarah, KVo (and fam!), Teresa & Luke. Won’t soon be forgotten.
To Jordan and the Stry.us team, who came along on an absolutely crazy ride and made it unforgettable. (Still so proud of you guys.) And to everyone in Springfield who pitched in — especially the amazing team at the library.
To my bosses at BuzzFeed: Ben, Scott, Doree, Dao, and Erica, for believing in all of this, and to my co-workers who do work that impresses/inspires/wows me every single day. To Allison, too, for convincing me that New York would be fun. (You were right. It is.)
To everyone who let me tell their story: Thank you. Biloxi and Springfield, thanks for letting me share your stories, too.
To my parents: Thanks for teaching me to always do the work.
To Ellen and Sam: Thanks for always being there to kick my ass when I needed my ass kicked.
And to Sally, the queen of superlatives. You are The Silliest, and The Best, and The Most Wonderful. You make this all work. Love you.
I get annoyed when I read a story about someone who — rather publicly — makes a really dumb decision. When they’ve got an opportunity to do something amazing and instead do something… stupid.
I pointed this out to a friend last week, and she told me something perfect: “People have the right to be stupid.”
As in: People have the right to spend their money the wrong way.
As in: People have the right to hang out with the wrong crowds, or to waste time on the wrong projects.
As in: People don’t just have the right to — they’re going to. You can’t always stop these stupid decisions. Sometimes, you just have to stand there and watch stupid happen.
Now here’s the thing you have to remind yourself: It is not your job to stop other people’s stupid. Sometimes, in the course of doing the work, people get so wrapped up in the work that they make decisions that seem smart to them — but obviously stupid to everyone else.
I keep reminding myself: It’s not your job to stop other people from making those mistakes. You can offer advice, and you can reach out to help — but mistakes will be made.
Stupid just happens. It’s frustrating, but it happens.
There are times when I look around at myself and the life I have — 26, working at a rapidly-growing company, building cool stuff with a really awesome team — and I manage to convince myself that I am absolutely nowhere.
And then I ask myself question that everyone asks at some point: What should I do with my life?
It is a big, scary question.
I’d like to think that my grandparents asked themselves that question. One grandpa became a doctor, and the other became a pharmacist, and that was their life’s work. They picked a life and stuck with it.
But thanks to a few factors — for me, it’s hard work, a bit of luck, the comfort of a few dollars in the bank, and the way the internet has changed everything about how people make and share things — I don’t see one path. I don’t see one life.
I see many paths, and many lives.
There is a wonderful anecdote in the autobiography of Katharine Graham, the longtime Washington Post publisher. She talks about her father, Eugene Meyer. He started out as a businessman. Then he transitioned to a life in government — he served as the chairman of the Fed, and later the first president of the World Bank. Then he bought the Post. Then he got into community service. And finally, towards retirement, he pushed himself into family life.
Graham writes about these stages as the arcs of Meyer’s life. He had the arc as a private businessman, and the arc as public servant. He had arcs as a champion of certain causes, and an arc devoted to family. Some arcs lasted a decade. Some lasted longer. But his life wasn’t one continuous thread — just a series of strands that he wove together into something impressive.
That idea of arcs has stuck with me. There are a lot of things I’d like to do with my life. There’s an overarching theme, certainly: I’d like to keep making awesome things with great people, and I want those things to serve and to entertain others.
But I know that things will come into my life that will make me change my plans. I know how much the internet has changed things already, and it’s going to keep changing things. I’m going to leave New York at some point, and that’ll change things.
Family will change things — in a wonderful way, I hope.
And I love that idea of arcs. I love the idea that as things change, so can I.
There is not a thing I want to do with my life. There are a lot of things.
A decade ago, I first started working as a reporter. In a way, I see that arc slowly winding down. I’ve been transitioning into a new arc — as someone who makes stuff — and that’s really exciting.
I do not know what the next arc is. But I know this:
When I think about the question of What I should do with my life?, I feel stuck, and scared.
When I think about the arcs, and the chance to keep learning and growing and doing new things — even if that means big change along the way — I feel excited, and nervous.
It is a wonderful feeling, and I want to keep chasing it.
That’s a photo of me stuck in the mud in New York. I took it.
When I talk to people who want to work at my company, this comes up a lot: It seems like it’d be fun to work there! Everyone I talk to wants to work at a fun office.
But I’m not sure that’s where we should put the emphasis. Yes, it’s great to work at a fun office. But I’d rather work at a place that challenges me, and that gives me the chance to work with great people who I can learn from.
I’m not at BuzzFeed because it’s fun — I’m there because of the challenge, and because of the opportunity to learn.
Is it fun? is a nice question to ask, but it should not be THE question.
I know I’m lucky to work at a place that offers me that AND is a lot of fun. But if I had to choose just one, I’d choose the place that pushes me. In the long run, that’s going to open up the most doors for me.
A week ago today, I sat in a room and listened to Jerry Seinfeld speak. It was seven days ago.
It feels like months ago.
One of the things about working on the internet is that time moves in incredibly bizarre ways. News that blows up in the morning is forgotten by the afternoon. Things move fast.
And it messes with your sense of time. It makes the weeks difficult to track — there’s just so much you’ll come into contact with in the course of five days.
That’s why I’ve found it’s so important to set goals at the start of the week, and to spend some time on Fridays looking back at what’s actually been accomplished. I’ve discovered that on internet time, I’m capable of wasting lots of time. And if I’m not diligent about tracking my goals/accomplishments, I’ll get to Friday and discover that I’ve spent a week feeling busy, but really going nowhere.
I got to see Jerry Seinfeld get interviewed on Monday night. This quote from the interview really struck me:
“If you really want to make money, never make a decision based on money. If you chase money, you’re going to get less of it. If you chase a thing that you love that’s interesting, only because you love that thing, you’ll make more money.”
I love that. It’s something I’ve been thinking about (and writing about here) for a long time. I’m in my 20s, and it’s far too early for me to say where my career is going or what might even happen next. But I’ve tried to put great people and great projects first, and to focus on doing the work as best I can. Decisions — like the one to start Stry.us — came from a desire to make something great, not to make money.
Do I hope to make money some day? Sure! Better yet: I expect to.
But right now, I’m focused on making great things that people love to share, and I’m learning how to get better at it every day. These are decisions you make for the long run. Hopefully, in time, Jerry’s right, and the money follows.
I was listening to this interview with Chris Rock earlier this week. I recommend the whole thing, but one part stuck out to me:
It comes about 3 minutes into this interview with Alec Baldwin. Now here are two men who’ve done everything you can do in the world of acting. Rock’s one of the most successful stand-up comedians ever. He’s been an “SNL” cast member. He’s been in more movies and TV shows than you can count.
And Alec Baldwin’s resume is just as impressive — movies, TV, theater, radio. The works.
Anyway, Baldwin interviewed Rock in 2011, when Rock was doing a Broadway play. It was the first play Rock had ever done.
Baldwin asked what Rock was struggling with, and here’s what came next:
Rock: “Rehearsal’s the hardest thing I’ve gone through in my life.”
Baldwin: “I always tell people, it’s like having the Empire State Building shoved up your ass one brick at a time to learn the play.”
Rock: “Yeah. And you can’t believe there’s ever going to be a day when you’ll know these lines.”
A fairly graphic Alec Baldwin line aside, I love that. I love the idea that these two veteran actors still struggle with the day-to-day work of putting on a play. I love that it’s still a challenge for them — even though they’re hugely successful (and experienced) actors.
Earlier this month, I started looking ahead to all the things I want to accomplish at BuzzFeed in 2014. And it’s a lot. This will be a year filled with launches and A/B tests and speaking engagements. It’s going to be a busy year.
And looking at it from a distance, it was kind of overwhelming. I started asking myself: How the hell am I going to get all of this done in 2014 — especially when I’ve got so much on my plate each day already?
So here’s the idea I’ve come up with: I created a Google Doc, and labeled it 100 Big Things. That’s my goal for 2014: Knock 100 big picture things off my to-list in 2014.
And then I started labeling each week of the year, and under that, I added a 1) and a 2).
To get to 100, I’ll just need to do two big things every week. (And I’m subtracting the two weeks of vacation I get a year, which takes me down to 50 weeks and 100 things.)
That seems manageable, right? I don’t need to do it all this week, or next week. Just two things a week, and that’ll add up to something really big by the end of the year.
I still have my day-to-day stuff. But my Two Big Things are the things that are going to take me and my team to the next level by year’s end.