Try Weird Stuff.

I’ve written before about my love of the morning paper — the physical edition that shows up on my doorstep every morning. You never know when you’ll flip through the pages and find something unexpected.

For instance: the obituaries. I’d never go looking for them online, but in the paper, I try to make a few minutes for them. If these people made it to the New York Times print edition, they must have left some sort of mark.

Here’s one from this week that caught my eye:

“Ethel Stein, a weaver who created countless intricate textile artworks and one particularly influential sock puppet, died on Friday in Cortlandt, N.Y. She was 100.”

A particularly influential sock puppet? Go on…

“A more lighthearted part of her legacy came from a side business that grew out of her penchant for repurposing things that others might have discarded. She turned old socks into puppets, first for her son’s nursery school, then for a growing body of fans.

“She began selling them at a booth in a department store in Manhattan; a monograph published by her representative, Browngrotta Arts, says she sold 10,000. One wound up in, or on, the hands of a young puppeteer named Shari Lewis, who by 1953 was making a name for herself in children’s television in the New York market. Ms. Stein, the monograph says, designed several puppets for Ms. Lewis, who would later in the 1950s achieve national fame with Lamb Chop, Charlie Horse and the rest of her puppet pals.”

How incredible is that? An artist’s side project accidentally helped launch one of the most influential children’s TV shows in the country.

Reading about Ms. Stein, her side project reminded me so much of my old co-workers at BuzzFeed. Everyone there had something they did just for fun: a podcast, a newsletter, a weird Tumblr. Some people did physical crafts. Some people were in bands or choirs. Everyone did something.

Try something yourself: something fun, something weird. Make a new thing. You never know where it might lead.


That photo is by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.

Everything Will Go Wrong.

Watch this video of Stevie Ray Vaughan, the legendary guitarist, on “Austin City Limits” back in 1989. You’re about to see something extraordinary: About 30 seconds in, one of Stevie Ray’s guitar strings is going to break. He’s playing live, in the middle of a guitar solo. He’s recording for TV.

And he doesn’t miss a note:

Somehow, he plays through it, signals to his guitar tech for a new guitar, switches to the new instrument, and continues playing — like it’s no big deal.

Maybe because to a guitarist like Stevie Ray — someone with decades of experience on stage and in front of the cameras — it simply wasn’t.

All those hours of practice, all those hours on stage — they’re not just about helping you gain experience. They’re also preparation for all of the tricky situations that inevitably arise along the way.

There’s really only way to learn how to make things work when things go wrong: By screwing up, over and over again. The more things break in key situations, the more you learn how to handle it, and how to prepare for the next time.

That video of Stevie Ray? That wasn’t the first time — or probably even the hundredth — that he’d broken a string on stage. He’d been through it before, and so had his crew. They knew their roles.

Things will go wrong. Have you put in the work to learn what to do when it does?

Make Sure Someone Holds You Accountable.

I’ve only ever lost weight once — from 2012 to 2013, when I decided to compete against my Dad in a $1,000, winner-takes-all competition we called The Belly Challenge. It worked for a few reasons:

1) I didn’t want to lose to my Dad, and I definitely didn’t want to write him a check.

2) I moved into a building with a gym on the ground floor, so I never had the excuse that it was too cold outside to go to the gym, or too far away.

3) I was living in Columbia, Mo., and Springfield, Mo., working a ton, and too busy to drink much.

But mostly, one thing changed that helped me lose the weight: Other people started holding me accountable for my actions.

That was the year I started working out a few times a month with a personal trainer. Having someone there to push me and encourage me really helped — I was willing to try workouts that I would never have tried without a workout partner. I also tried harder knowing that someone was watching (and judging!) me. With someone else there for my workouts, I couldn’t be lazy, and I couldn’t quit.

The other thing that helped: Dad and I held each other accountable. I’d text him after my workouts, and he’d text me after mine. If I found out that Dad had gone for a long bike ride or a swim, I knew I needed to make time for the gym, too. One of us couldn’t let up if the other one was still working hard.

Accountability is what I love most about working with a team — your colleagues are the ones who hold you accountable and make sure you’re performing at the level you’re capable of. They can encourage you when you need help, and help push you to do better work. They can be honest with you when your work is holding the team back.

It can be hard to take on big tasks on your own — but with a team, a shared set of goals, and a sense of accountability, you can really do great work.


That’s me and Dad, back in 2011 before we started The Belly Challenge.

How To Pick a College.

I remember the first time I visited Mizzou. It was towards the end of the winter — maybe late February or early March. There weren’t flights to Columbia back then, so you had to fly to St. Louis, and then take the MoX shuttle to town. (Meet near the mural of astronauts at baggage claim, grab your complementary 8 oz. bottle of water when you board the van, two hours to Columbia. I’d eventually learn that ride by heart.)

I was riding in the back row of the MoX, sitting next to a man in his 50s. We struck up a conversation. He’d gone to Mizzou, and he loved the place — loved the teachers, loved the school spirit, loved Columbia. If Mizzou had sat me down next to Truman the Tiger and played the fight song for two hours, they wouldn’t have found a better cheerleader for the university.

I went into the weekend curious about Mizzou — but not sold on it. I had always wanted to go to school in a college town. I loved schools with school spirit, and with big sports programs. I wanted to go to a place with a great J-school, and I wanted a place that was a little different than the D.C. suburbs.

Columbia, Mo., was certainly all that.

But I didn’t really know what I liked about Mizzou until I started talking to the people who knew it best.

It was that guy in the back of the MoX, telling me why he loved Mizzou. It was the reporter who took time while traveling on assignment to call and tell me what the J-school had done for him. It was the friend of a friend who made sure I knew about the lifelong friendships he’d made at school.

They helped reveal something special about the culture at Mizzou — and it’s only through hearing the stories of the people who’d been there that I knew where I wanted to go to college.

If you’re reading this and you’re picking a college, here’s my best advice: No matter where you go, your experience at school will be shaped by the people around you. Even at the biggest schools, you start to break down a campus into smaller communities: Clubs, teams, classes.

It always ends up being about the people.

So when you’re picking a school — or for that matter, a job, or a place to live — talk to the people who’ve been there. They’ll reveal far more about the place than any college guidebook or tour will.

One more story: I remember when my little brother was visiting colleges. He was down to two final schools: Michigan and Southern Cal. He visited Michigan in the dead of winter — early February, temps far below freezing. He visited USC a few weeks later — I don’t believe the temperature went below 72 or above 75 degrees all weekend.

We were sure he was going to pick USC.

And then he told us he was going to Michigan.

Why? Because, he said, he’d thought a lot about the types of kids he knew who were at Michigan, or who’d gone to Michigan. They were the kind of kids he wanted to be: Passionate, hard-working, humble, smart.

And if kids like that belonged at Michigan, then he did, too.

Look to the people, listen to their stories. They’ll guide you to a place that’s right for you.


I took that photo back in 2007 at a Mizzou baseball game.

You Can Quit When You Have A Good Day.

On Saturday, I was in midtown for a Cycle for Survival ride.(1) I heard some incredible speeches that day — including one from Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Nastia Liukin.

She told this great story. She said that when she was a kid, she’d come home after a bad day and try to quit gymnastics, but her mom wouldn’t let her. “You can quit,” her mom would say, “but you can’t quit until after you’ve had a good day.”(2)

So she’d go back to the gym day after day, until she finally had a good day. And on that good day, she’d come home, and her mom would see the smile on her face. ”OK,” her mom would ask her. “Do you still want to quit now?”

Of course, Liukin wouldn’t — and she went on to become one of the most decorated Olympians in U.S. gymnastics history.

I listened to that story and nodded along the whole time. You’ve probably experienced it, too: Things are never as quite bad as they seem on your worst days, and never quite as good as they feel on your best days. But sometimes, when you’re in a lull, you find little ways to dig yourself out and get back to a better place. It’s easy to want to give up when things are bad. It’s much harder to be resilient enough to keep pushing through with the work you need to do.


That very shaky GIF was the view from my bike at last week’s Cycle ride.

  1. If you’ve got the chance to be a part of one, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It was SO inspiring.
  2. Both of her parents were gymnasts, so they may have known a thing or two about tough days at the gym.

Things Change Quickly.

I’m just old enough to remember the artifacts of the recent past. I remember computers with MS-DOS and floppy disks. I remember the first time I saw an iMac in my elementary school’s computer lab. I remember the dial-up sound. I remember when the librarians at my middle school showed us how to use Google. I remember my first iPod (2005), my first Kindle (2008), my first iPad (2010), and my first iPhone (2018 — I was a little late to the game). I remember standing on a street corner in Pittsburgh in 2016 and seeing one of Uber’s driverless cars drive past.

Of course, I also remember where I was in 2004, the last time Justin Timberlake played the Super Bowl halftime show: at home, watching with a group of friends on the couch. I remember that only two of us actually noticed the famous moment with Timberlake and Janet Jackson: My friend, Ani, and my mother, both of whom immediately said, “Did anyone else just see her nipple?” (I completely missed it.)

And here’s the thing about 2004: We didn’t have a DVR or a TiVo at the Oshinsky house. (I don’t think we had a DVD player yet, tbh.) There was no social media to confirm what we’d seen. There was no YouTube — watching video on the internet was still a pretty rare thing. There were no TV replays, obviously, of the moment, and it would have been a while before any news organization had a story online about the moment. (Also, fun fact: This particular halftime show was sponsored by AOL!)  I remember was my mother calling her friends on the phone, asking if they’d seen what she had seen, and then reading about it in the paper the next morning, and then watching “PTI” the next night, knowing that they’d probably be the only place that would be talking about the moment and showing (highly censored) video of it.

That was 14 years ago. Why does it feel like forever ago?

I wrote about that phenomenon last year, in a post about smartphones and Shazam:

“If you would have told me in 2005 that one day, there would be a magical, mobile device that could listen to and identify songs on the radio, I would have been amazed. That was something that could only happen… in the future!

The future, it turns out, is happening right now. In the dozen years since I couldn’t remember the name of a ZZ Top song, nearly everything that exists in our day-to-day lives has changed. The technology, the tools, the resources — it’s all changed.

In just a dozen years.

And I cannot imagine what we’ll have at our fingertips in the year 2029. The changes, I’m sure, will astound all of us.”

If the “wardrobe malfunction” had happened today, we would have known immediately. We would have replayed it on our TV. We would have gone on Twitter to see GIFs of the moment. We would have read nearly instantaneous reactions and commentary on the web. By the time the game was over, we would have logged onto Instagram to see memes of the moment — and targeted ads selling T-shirts about it, or his-and-her Halloween costumes featuring Janet and Justin.

I have no idea what will happen tonight, but I’m sure of this: Whatever does happen, a decade from now, we’ll look back on it the way we look back on 2004, and wonder: Was that really how things were back then? What happens in 2018 will soon feel like forever ago, too.

Make The Hockey Assist.

Here’s something I love about team sports: Credit’s given not just to the person who scores, but also the players who set up the score. In basketball, an assist is only given to the player who makes the pass that leads to a basket. But in hockey, there’s also a secondary assist, given to the player who makes the pass that leads to the pass that leads to the goal.

Here’s what it looks like in action, as illustrated by my Washington Capitals:

The whole play is set up by #19, Nick Backstrom. He draws two defenders to the center of the ice, then makes the pass to #8, Alex Ovechkin. But because Backstrom’s already drawn the defense in, the goalie and defense have to be extra aggressive in defending against a shot from Ovechkin. Instead, Ovi surprises everyone by passing back to the middle of the ice, where #2, Matt Niskanen has a tap-in at the empty net.

It’s a beautiful goal — but none of it is possible without the play from Backstrom. The pass that led to the pass set up an easy goal.

I love the hockey assist. It’s a reminder that the big play often isn’t possible without a lot work first to set things up.

When you’re a manager, a lot of your job is making hockey assists, and trying to set up the conditions for success. That might mean getting your team the resources — technology, money, additional team members — do to work. It might mean setting the goals or giving your team the training so that they can do their work. It might mean figuring out a way to divvy up tasks so that your team can focus on doing something big.

You might not get the credit for your team’s win, but that’s OK. Being a manager isn’t about getting credit — it’s about putting your team in position to do its best work.

So make the  hockey assist — and set your team up for success.

5 Tips For Anyone Graduating From College This Year.

So you’re graduating in May, and you’re not ready for it. I remember the feeling — I wasn’t ready when I graduated from Mizzou in 2009. I wasn’t even sure what I was looking for in a first job!

But now I’m on the other side of the table. I’ve hired entry-level employees at both BuzzFeed and — young reporters and editors just like you. Here’s what I’ve learned that might help you get that very first job:

1) Buy your own domain name — When someone gets your resume, the first thing they’re going to do is Google your name. And if you’re pitching an organization on your digital skills, you need something better than Go to and search for your name. If you can buy, do it. If that’s taken, try something that fits your career aspirations:,,, etc. Build a website that showcases your reporting, and make it easy for someone to contact you. (You wouldn’t believe how many people build websites with no contact information!)

2) Launch something — Whatever you’re passionate about, build something around it. It doesn’t matter if it’s good — in fact, whatever you try probably won’t be very good at first — but that’s OK! Create an Instagram around your original photography. Partner with a friend and launch a podcast. Create a TinyLetter around stories you’re reading, and send it every week to your family and friends. Just make something.

3) Make sure your resume doesn’t suck — If you’ve got a skills section, go ahead and get rid of it. (Otherwise, I’m going to ask you about your expertise in the Microsoft Office suite, and you better have a mind-blowing PowerPoint presentation you can send me on the spot.) Instead, go build those skills into every bullet on your list. I want you to tell me about the stuff you’ve done and the stories you’ve told. I want to see numbers: The number of stories you published at a particular outlet, the impact you had an organization. “Handled social media” is an OK line on a resume; “Helped grow our Twitter presence by 10,000 followers” is far better.

4) Start scheduling some 15-minute coffees — When you’re in a city with reporters, editors, producers, or leaders you respect, send them a quick note. ( is a great tool for finding professional email addresses.) Tell them you’re a college student, you’re going to be in their city, you’re a big fan of their work, and you’d like to bring coffee to their desk and ask them 3-4 questions. (Make sure you have really good questions!) You’d be surprised how often people will say yes when they know that, A) Their time won’t be wasted, and B) They don’t have to leave their office.

5) Buy stationery, and send thank you notes — When you’re done with a coffee, send that person a written thank you note. Not an email, not a DM — a thank you note. It’s a small gesture, but it’ll be noticed.

Good luck, soon-to-be grads. You’re graduating into a strong job market, with so many new tools that can be used to tell stories. You’re going to have some incredible opportunities ahead of you. It’s up to you to do something with it.


Thanks to Cole Keister for making that graduation photo available on Unsplash.

How To Do Better Work, Faster.

Here’s something I’ve been told: You can do work well, or you can do work quickly — but you can’t do both.

I don’t think that’s true.

I believe you can learn how to do quality work with speed. The way to get there is through process.

If routines are the habits that individuals use to get through their day efficiently, then processes are the series of routines that a team uses to accomplish a goal quickly. Think of those processes as an assembly line of tasks — each member of the team has a specific set of responsibilities within that process. The goal is handle those tasks as quickly as possible, and move things along to the next person to handle their role. If everyone does their job, good work gets done quickly.

When you’re building out a team, you’re doing more than just hiring. You’re actually building out the processes for that team to do its work. And every time those processes get put into action, you start to see the gaps — what isn’t covered, what needs refining. There are always holes to plug, and always ways to move through the tasks more efficiently.

When things go wrong, sit down with your team and talk about your setbacks: What happened last time? What got lost in the process? What do we need to do better? Who can own those new tasks?

Over time, by creating these processes and putting them into practice, and by tweaking the processes when things go wrong, you start to accomplish quality work quickly.

Here’s what I believe: You can’t go fast when you’re working alone, and you can’t go fast when you’re working with a group but not truly working together.

But when you build out those series of steps to work together, you can do quality work, and you can do it with speed. That’s the power of process.


That photo of a crew team — each with a key role in the process to make their boat move as fast as possible — was taken by Matteo Vistocco on Unsplash,

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