I went to a funeral last weekend. At 87, my Bubbe — my mom’s mom — died suddenly. Two days later, I found myself in her old house, surrounded by loved ones as we mourned. I’ve been in that house hundreds of times, but I’d rarely gone downstairs.
And walking around downstairs, I stumbled into a room I’d never paid much attention to. It was my grandfather’s office, and it was filled with diplomas and awards and pictures.
This one photo especially caught my eye:
It’s a photo from 1939. It’s from my Great-uncle Leon’s bachelor party. (Leon’s the big guy front and center.)
Look at that photo for a second. That’s not a wedding — that’s a bachelor party.
I write a lot on this blog about the importance of having great people in your life. They’re the people who will support your work, who will be there for the low moments and the high. It is almost impossible to do the work without those people.
But sometimes it’s tough to visualize how many people it takes to support someone doing great work.
So here’s your visualization. That’s the support system it took to help Leon Gordon do his work. (He was a scientists.) That’s one man, and one body of work. They were there when he needed pushing, and when it was time to celebrate, well, they were certainly there for that, too.
That’s Uncle Leon. What will it take to make your work happen?
I will confess that I once believed that I was madly in love because of something I saw on TV.
There are a lot of shows out there featuring tall men — some of whom were even Jewish! — falling in love with attractive blondes and attractive brunettes. If you watch enough of them (and I did), and if you’re in a vulnerable enough place (and I was), you can start to believe that the romance you see on TV is the romance you deserve in your life.
You can fall for the story, and fall for the belief that what you saw on screen is what will soon happen to you.
I will confess that I have fallen for this.
And I will confess that it’s not just TV romances that I’ve fallen for. I’ve fallen for tech stories about the next great company. I’ve fallen for TED talks about the life I could lead. I’ve fallen for ads and myths and resolutions, and every story imaginable.
But I’ve also lived through enough to know what can really be mine — and what’s on screen isn’t it.
When you’re doing the work, you have to believe in yourself — and your skills, and your team. You have to believe in the story you’re trying to tell.
When you’re doing the work, other people’s stories become distractions. They’re there to inspire you, and to get you excited about what could be. But the minute you start believing that their story is your story, too, you’re screwed.
Nothing is gifted to you. Nothing is scripted.
This is your story and your journey, and it starts as soon as you commit to the work.
That lovely photo at top comes via.
When I really started writing this version of the blog, in the winter of 2012, I had one rule: I had to write a certain number of times per week. At the time, I wrote three posts per week, and I stuck to it — 3 posts every week, for an entire year. I wrote Monday/Wednesday/Friday. If I missed a day, I made it up as soon as I could — but I rarely missed a day.
And back then, I really needed the schedule. The schedule held me accountable at a time when I wasn’t strong enough to hold myself accountable. Without the schedule, I would’ve quit within days. Instead, I blogged that entire year. And then into 2013. And now into 2014.
On Thursday, I missed a day for the first time in a while. I was busy — seeing people, doing work. I wanted to blog, but I ran out of time.
I thought about writing an extra post this week to make up for it. I thought about how I would deal with missing a post so early into the year.
But I’ve decided to do something instead: Give myself permission to move off of the schedule.
I still want to write a few things per week. I want to write a lot here, and share the things I’ve learned.
But I don’t need the schedule anymore — I can hold myself accountable. That’s something I’ve learned over the 2+ years of blogging here.
And it’s okay to miss a day, at least if it’s for the right reasons. I’ve always said: You put people you love and the things you love first. And if they get in the way of a post, that’s alright. Sometimes, the work just has to take a backseat.
I saw something last week that I have never seen before, and will probably never see again.
I was in Park City, Utah, for the holidays. Mom had heard on the radio that Robert Randolph & The Family Band would be playing a free show at the base of Park City. We got off the slopes early and headed to the show.
I’ve seen Robert Randolph play a half-dozen times now, and he does a fun thing during some of his shows. During an extended jam, he’ll pick up a guitar and extend it toward the crowd. He’ll give the crowd a look: Anyone out there play?
A few years ago, in Kansas City, I saw a kid — no more than 15, I think — come up and cover “Purple Haze” with the band. If you’ve never seen a teenager jam with a guy on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarist lists, you really should.
Anyway, Robert picked up a guitar midway through the Park City set. A college-aged kid with a big fro came up first, played a few licks. Robert shook his head and sent him back into the crowd.
A second guy — maybe in his early 30s, still wearing his ski clothes — came up, and Robert let him play for two or three seconds before sending him back, too.
Then a third guy came up. Robert’s guitar tech came over with the guitar, and the guitarist whispered something in his ear. The tech brought over a chair, and the guitarist sat down.
Then he took off his right arm.
And then with the stump of his right arm, he began to play.
And Robert smiled. Because right away, you could tell: The dude with one arm could really play.
Robert jammed with him on a song. And then another. And then another.
When Robert finally said it was time to go, the crowd went insane. A one-armed guitarist holding his own with a dude considered one of the greatest guitarists ever — even a week later, I keep asking myself, Did I really see that?
I walked up afterward to congratulate the guitarist. His name’s Jeremiah Maxey, and he plays in a few Park City bands, including one called — and I couldn’t believe it when he told me — the Right Hand Band.
So here’s to you, Jeremiah. I’ll see a lot of shows in my life, but I don’t think I’ll ever see something quite like the three songs you played with Robert Randolph. Thanks for having the guts to walk up on stage — and for the reminder that people can be pretty amazing, sometimes.
I heard the voice of my mother today while waiting in line at JFK to get through security. I’d hurried through work, and then hurried my way over to the train, and then hurried through check-in, and then… I waited. I waited for 20 minutes at airport security, because that’s how it works.
My mother has a saying for that: It’s the hurry up and wait.
When we were kids, she’d always point out how strange it was to watch people rush to be first in line for something. We’d be on a ferry, and people would rush to their cars. We’d wait on the top deck, holding onto the view as long as we could. What are those people rushing for? she’d always point out. It’s not like they can drive off until the boat docks anyway.
As I get to work with bigger teams on more ambitious projects, I find that the hurry up and wait rule applies there, too. Sometimes, you push and push on a project, only to find that the rest of your team isn’t ready to take the next step. Or that a key piece of technology or code isn’t ready. In the end, you’ve rushed through your work for nothing.
It’s certainly great when you can get your work done efficiently. But the people around you matter — especially the pace at which they do their work. If you’re not all moving together, you’re just hurrying up to wait.
And what good is that?
That photo of airport security comes via Flickr’s Karl Baron.
I’ll admit that I didn’t always understand the smartphone. I had a flip phone, and it did pretty much everything I wanted a phone to do. I was happy with it.
And in the first few months of owning a smartphone, I didn’t really change my opinion. It helped me keep track of my calendar, and it helped me find a building or two, but it wasn’t essential.
But then I moved to New York, and I started spending a lot of time on the train. Suddenly, I had these 10- and 15-minute chunks of time to kill.
That’s when it clicked.
I had downloaded this app called Pocket, which lets me save stories to read later — or offline. And it really changed things for me.
I needed something to do on those subway rides, so I started saving stories to read on Pocket when I was on the train. And then I had a little epiphany: I should just stop reading things at work entirely, and save them for the train rides — when I’ll have the time to focus on reading.
Now I’m reading as much as ever — it’s just a matter of changing when I read. And as a result, I’m more focused at work. Before, a new profile or an essay would come across Twitter and distract me, and it’d take an hour just to get back on track. Now I save those for later and keep on going with my tasks.
A little change, but it’s been a big help in keeping me productive at work. And I’ve got my smartphone to thank for that.
Two weeks ago, while I was writing out my annual “What I Believe” post, I had a small epiphany, and jotted this down:
If you can show it in a spreadsheet, you can sell it. And if you can pair that data with a great story, you’ve really got something.
In my job at BuzzFeed, I report to two people: Dao, our director of traffic; and Erica, our managing editor. With Dao, it’s all about numbers. Show her that the numbers are trending upward, and she’ll listen.
With Erica — and any of the other editors at BuzzFeed — it’s all about the story. If you can tell a great story, they’ll listen.
When you pair those together, that’s when the magic really happens. I wrote that when you put them together, “you’ve really got something.” Which is true.
But what I really meant to say is: When you pair them together, you’ve really earned respect. In your work, you’ll have to sell your ideas to others. One of the secrets to sales is being able to pair data and a great story. Get those two elements together, and they’ll not only listen — they’ll follow you where you want to go.
That’s a photo of two shibas, because, you know, BuzzFeed. It comes via Taro the Shiba Inu on Flickr.
Sometimes I write long on this blog, and sometimes I write short. And sometimes I read a story like this, and simply want to say: Read this. Read this, and remember: Opportunity is there for those who put in the work, and who let others help.
A wonderful thing happened on Wednesday:
I had a busy day at work. A ton going on. Lots of new projects and things that I was trying to get done.
And then I left work to head to a dinner party. The whole way there, my mind was still on work — what needed to be finished on Thursday, what I had to focus on first.
And when I got to the door, I took a minute. I promised myself: While I was inside, work was off limits. No thinking about the tasks ahead. No planning out the next work day.
I needed those two hours, to be around friends and to recharge. Work wears on you. I haven’t always been great at making time for life outside of work. But after a few hours with friends, just making time for them, I came back on Thursday really excited and ready to get at my to-do list.
There is a time for work, and a time for play, and after all these years, I feel like I’m finally starting to learn which is which.
That photo at top comes via.
One of my favorite stories of the college football season came from the University of Southern California. The Trojans had an awful start to the year. They fired their head coach a month into the season. They replaced him with Ed Orgeron — an assistant coach who had previous served as head coach at Ole Miss.
And had lost — often — at Ole Miss.
When he got the new job at USC, he was asked about his time at Ole Miss:
“I was given a good shot, and I was really discouraged that I didn’t make it,” Orgeron said. “I had to look at myself.”
So what happened this time around? He looked at what he’d done at Ole Miss, and he did the opposite. Literally:
Every decision from team meals to whether music played at practice, Orgeron reversed. Fifteen times a day, he says, Orgeron thinks about how he would have done something at Ole Miss and then stops and goes the opposite direction.
Suddenly, a Southern Cal program that was languishing in tension and self-pity has started winning again, having fun again
Under Orgeron, USC finished the year 6-2. And the lesson here is so great: We don’t always do the work the right way the first time. We make mistake in the way we treat people, and the way we try to get things done.
Sometimes, it requires you to make little fixes. Sometimes, you have to make huge changes.
But you can’t be stubborn. If it’s not working — and if the results aren’t there — you have to be willing to be flexible. Change can be a powerful thing.