What Happens When You Add Up All The Work.


That’s a photo of me in 7th grade. I’m in the center, wearing the fireman’s hat. I was shorter then. When I went for a checkup in 8th grade, the doctor said I’d probably top out at 6′.

Then I grew 6 inches in a year. And kept growing.

But a funny thing about that: No one really noticed. Not my family. Or my friends.

Growing 6 inches in a year is a lot, but it happens incrementally. A quarter of an inch here, a half an inch there. The change happens so gradually that you don’t notice what it’s all adding up to.

So we didn’t notice anything — until some cousins from out of town visited, and noticed that I had obviously grown a lot. The news came as a shock to everyone I knew. (Even me, kind of — I had spent the winter complaining about how my entire body hurt all the time, but I wasn’t quite sure why.)

We go through these changes all the time. Little things and alterations that add up, tiny changes in the way we work and the types of work we do. Eventually, they add up to something big.

But when we wake up in the morning, we don’t feel like we’re making big changes. We don’t notice what’s happening all around us. We look at the little picture, and never the big.

Often, it takes an outside force for us to take stock of what’s been going on.

But if you’ve been doing great work, and you’ve been putting in a lot of work, you start to notice what you’ve been building all along. It could be something really great.

It’s So Great To Be The Dumb Guy In The Room.

I am writing this on a plane, about 30 minutes from landing in London. I’m headed there for a conference. I’m speaking. While I’m there, I’m also going to write a few things for the site, and I’m really excited about that, too.

And I’m realizing now: This is the first time I’ve been really, REALLY excited about a work-related thing a little while.

Here’s the thing: I love my job. I love the people I work with, and I’m fascinated by the little world that I work in.

But this week, I’m stepping outside my normal routine. I’m giving this talk, which should be a blast. I’m going to learn a lot at this conference that I can bring back to work. I’m going to do some writing, which always makes me happy.

But above everything else: I’m going to be spending time talking to new people — new people also happen to be a lot smarter than me. That’s hugely exciting. I’m stepping into a room this week that is a few notches above my head, and I’m going to have to be on my game. It’s going to be a good place for me to be.

And it reminds me, again, how important it is for me — for all of us — to surround ourselves with amazing people. They challenge us, they push us forward, and that’s how we learn to do better work ourselves.

Thanks for the reminder, London.

Celebrating The Big Moments.

I saw a show at Carnegie Hall on Friday. The band was The Lone Bellow, a really exciting group in the Mumford & Sons/Lumineers vein that’s just starting to get some national attention. The Carnegie Hall show was one of their biggest ever.

The band invited their family to the show. During a break between songs, they told the crowd that the first four or five rows were all family. The mandolin player, Kanene Pipkin, had her dad front and center, and he spent most of the set dancing and waving his arms and cheering.

The best moment of the show came during the encore. After the band had finished a song, the room went dead silent. And then we all heard the voice of Pipkin’s dad, turning around and loudly asking for one of his relatives.

“Dad,” Pipkin said, embarrassed, “we’re trying to play an encore here.”

It was one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen at a concert.

And it was also a really amazing reminder: Getting to a stage like that isn’t easy. The Lone Bellow began as a side project. They played shows to tiny crowds, and a few years into their existence, they still haven’t broken through to a huge audience.

But on the night they played Carnegie Hall, they chose to share the evening with the people who’d supported them and believed in them all along. We don’t always take time to celebrate the big moments and breakthroughs, but it was pretty amazing to see the band do just that on Friday night.

They’re a heck of a band. Here’s to many more big nights for you and yours.

The Words You Need.

A few years ago, I saw Florence & the Machine in concert. I was getting over this girl, and I really wanted to hear Florence sing this song of hers, “You’ve Got The Love.” I wanted to hear her sing:

Sometimes it seems that the going is just too rough
And things go wrong no matter what I do
Now and then it seems that life is just too much
But you’ve got the love I need to see me through

I wanted to hear it, and know that maybe the door hadn’t closed on that relationship after all.

Instead, Florence closed with a new song, “No Light, No Light,” which went:

A revelation in the light of day
You can’t choose what stays and what fades away

Which was something I needed to hear. I didn’t want to hear it, but somebody had to say it.

The thing about music is, it has a habit of doing just that. You’re in love, and every song is a love song. You’re heartbroken, and every song reminds you of how hard things can be. You’re in need, and there’s a song to help.

Sometimes, when I need to find that center, I pull out the iPod and go looking for the right song for the moment. Maybe it’s not always what I hoped to hear. But some of the answers are almost always there.

What One Thing Would Screw Up Everything?

So a question I like to ask myself:

Could one single thing screw up everything I’m doing?

If a key part fell through… if a plan didn’t work… if the modem at my office crashed: would that mess with everything?

Right now, I’m dealing with Day 5 of an unexpected internet outage at home. It crashed, and the internet company sent a guy, and he kinda fixed it, and then it crashed again 24 hours later.

Of course, I’m still writing this — because after years of watching the internet crash at inopportune times, I wisened up and bought a backup 4G card.

What I’m saying is this: Plans go to shit rather quickly. And if one little cog in the machine can cause everything to stop functioning, that’s a dangerous thing. Having a backup plan really matters when you’re doing the work.

There’s no excuse for being caught off-guard by a small failure. Have a plan, and then know what happens when that plan goes bad.

The Colbert Message.

me at colbert

I got to see a taping of “The Colbert Report” this week, and I’d never been to a taping quite like that. I’d been in studios for TV morning shows, and for high school quiz shows, but nothing like “Colbert.”

There’s something different about “Colbert.” When you’re waiting to get into the show, a woman comes out and tells you how important it is that you get excited and loud, because the crowd is the show’s soundtrack, and the show depends on you.

And then a guy comes out a few minutes later, and says the same thing.

And then they seat the audience, and a warm-up comic comes out and says the same thing.

And then the stage manager comes out and says the same thing.

And then Stephen Colbert himself comes out and says the same thing:

You are the soundtrack, and the show depends on you.

And then right before the show starts, just in case you weren’t sold on your role in this, Colbert looks out from behind the desk and shouts, “Have a great show, everyone!”

And after being reminded for 45 minutes straight that I needed to be loud and cheer like a maniac, what happened? I laughed really, really hard. I laughed like I was seeing “Colbert” perform for the very first time.

Yes, the show was very funny. But what was amazing to me was how well the show’s staff conveyed a simple message: You are the show’s soundtrack, so laugh your ass off, and then they spent a ton of time getting us into a great mood so we could do just that.

I was so impressed by how simple and direct the message was. They took an otherwise mundane thing — watching a guy read a teleprompter for 20 minutes — and turned it into a performance that we were excited to be part of. And it’s that simple message allows them to create a fantastic atmosphere for the show every single night.

Of course, I woke up the next day and watched the finished episode. I was looking for myself, sure. But more than that: I was listening for myself. Were we loud enough?

We were. And we really did make for a great soundtrack, and a really great show.

What Can Happen When You Put Things Out There.

So here’s what I love about that story, above, from the very talented Kishi Bashi:

Sometimes, you stumble into amazing things. Sometimes, you make a snippet of a thing, and people like it, and they ask for more. Sometimes, you unintentionally put something amazing into the universe.

Our world is full of happy accidents, of the times that you stumble onto something great. But the only way to get there is to put something out into the world first.

Go. Make. Share. It’s the only way to really know.

The Next 10.

Two nights ago, I saw Lorde, a 16-year-old singer from New Zealand, play a sold out show here in New York. Yesterday, her first single hit no. 1.

Lorde is very good, and very talented, and also — she’s a decade younger than me. Which makes my head hurt a little.

And all I could think about at the show Tuesday was this: What’s she going to do with the next decade? What choices will she make? What moves will she make? And will she be able to put the right people in her life to make some amazing music?

But it occurs to me, too: There are 36-year-olds out there who’d like at someone my age and ask the same questions. (Minus the music part.)

I don’t know what the next 10 years hold for me. I don’t know what happens next. But I’m trying to put the right people in place, and I’m trying to get into rooms where smart conversations are happening. With that and work, I’m optimistic that things will work out.

I wish the same for Lorde — and everyone else trying to do something amazing with the decade ahead.