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.
I am writing this from a bus on the New Jersey Turnpike, headed south for Thanksgiving. I wrote this post for the first time two years ago. I was 24, and in a major period of transition in my life. I wrote it last year from D.C., in transition to my life in New York.
And now I’m 26, and so much has changed. I’m settled in New York. I’ve got a job I love, and I’m lucky to have a lot of amazing people in my life. I met a girl. Things are really different this year — and really great.
Over the past year, there certain things I’ve come to believe hold true. I know that my beliefs will continue to change. I know that I will change.
I am 26, and this is what I believe:
You can tell a lot about a person by the quality of his/her friends. Great people always surround themselves with the best. Always.
The good stuff is worth sharing.
Know the difference between what you want and what you need. Ask for the latter.
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.
Jealousy just isn’t worth the time. Ever.
Deal with things as they come. Shit happens — but it’s far easier to deal with it now than to let a lot of things pile up and overwhelm you.
Be skeptical. Especially when it comes to things you read on the internet.
There isn’t a skyline that makes me as happy as the one over Washington, D.C. But New York City’s is getting pretty close.
Everyone is asking themselves, What the hell am I doing? It’s not just you.
I don’t always know that I’m on the right track. But people keep coming to me for advice and help, and it makes me think that I must be doing something right.
You get there when you get there. Work hard, but don’t rush.
Have something to show for your work. An end product. A lesson. Something.
And one more thing, and I mean this in the sappiest, Lifetime-movie-of-the-week-iest way: Until you know, you don’t really know what you’ve been missing out on all along.
Ask me what my favorite college basketball team of all time was, and I’ll tell you: The 2011-12 Missouri Tigers. I loved that team. They could pass. They could shoot. They were insanely entertaining.
With a few weeks left in the season, I remember a conversation I had with a buddy of mine, a fellow Mizzou fan. Our Tigers had only lost 1 or 2 games all year. They were ranked as one of the four or five best teams in America.
We were watching a truly great team playing in a special season. The only question left was:
When it was all over, what would they have to show for it?
Success in a sport like college basketball is a pretty strange thing. Only one team gets to win the championship, but even winning three or four games in the NCAA Tournament is considered a pretty big accomplishment. Our Tigers didn’t have to win it all — to be considered one of the great teams, just making it to the Elite 8 or Final 4 would do.
Then Mizzou lost its first game, a monumental upset at the hands of Norfolk State. And that’s what fans remember about that team. Not the huge highs. Not the Big 12 Championship.
Two years later, fans remember what Mizzou had to show for it: A big “L” when it mattered.
Because this is how it goes. You have to find the right people. You have to put in the work. You have to put in a lot of it.
But at some point, you need to go out there and show the world what you’ve got. The end product matters — it’s what they remember about you.
So when you’ve put in the work, you have to ask yourself: What do you have to show for it?
Better make it count.
As this Thanksgiving comes around, I’ll say this:
I’m thankful for the chance to do the work. To have the chance to work with these people. To have the chance to build something awesome.
I’m thankful for all that. And for the year ahead. I’m thankful for the chance to make it something great.
That photo at top comes via.
A week ago, I was looking through my calendar when I realized that I hadn’t been to the gym in a month. Hadn’t run. Hadn’t gotten out for 20 minutes on the elliptical.
And this was after a breakthrough year for me in 2012 where I’d gotten out and really gotten excited about getting in shape. What happened to me this year?
So I got out of bed first thing on Monday and went to the gym. It felt good.
I got out of bed on Tuesday and went again. Back-to-back days. Really good.
And then Wednesday night, after work, I went again. And then the next morning.
Back-to-back-to-back-to-back. Suddenly, I felt like I had momentum. I went out of town for the weekend, and I brought my running shoes. Of course I was going to go running — I’d gotten going again, and I didn’t want to quit.
But it was more than just momentum. By Tuesday, just by going to the gym two days in a row, I was pumped. I’d gotten a little victory, and I was really happy about it.
And every subsequent trip felt like a little win. Running on the treadmill for the first time in a few weeks, making some time to actually stretch…. it all felt really good.
It’s not easy to keep going. But when you’re starting the work, a little win here or there gets you excited. It gives you a reason to believe that you’re on the right path.
Ultimately, you’re working toward bigger wins and bigger goals, but at the start, just feeling like you’re taking a positive first step is huge.
Photo at top comes via.
I’ve had a lot of trouble with Time Warner this year. They service internet at my apartment, and — somehow — they’re the only provider who offers internet on my block.
Which is a problem, because, 1) I work on the internet, and 2) Time Warner’s internet is wildly unreliable. I’ve had seven visits from Time Warner this year to fix my internet. SEVEN! And it still goes out every two weeks.
But what I find interesting is what the repair staff for Time Warner has told me about why the service is so unreliable. The fault, they say, lies almost entirely with a bad infrastructure of cables that was first laid out in New York. The repair team can make little fixes, but ultimately, the infrastructure needs to be redone, and until it’s fixed, Time Warner is going to remain unreliable.
So here’s where I bring this back around to the work we all do.
There are times when you discover that small fixes are enough to get the job done. When a few changes can make a difference.
But there are other times when the infrastructure of a project or a team is fundamentally broken. You can’t just duct tape things together in those cases. You have to tear it down and build it all over again.
The difference between those who get the work done and those who don’t is often understanding where you stand. Does this require a little fix? Or is this a total do-over?
It’s hard to the work if the thing you’re working from is broken. Time Warner is proof of that.
That photo of a router comes via.
I love routine. When it comes to getting work done, I’m fanatical about sticking to a good routine.
Of course, there’s also something to be said for switching things up every once in a while.
It’s why I’ll sometimes come to the office really early, just to get a change of scenery. It’s the reason why I love writing on planes and trains — different spaces and sounds tend to crack open new doors in my work. Sometimes, just a little change is enough to spark something.
So here’s a challenge for the week: What change in time or place can you make to mix things up?
A thought about power and money and jealousy, and what it all means for your work:
Here in New York, there are two types of power I see: Power from money, and power from crowds. The first is obvious: You see a friend or big name making it big, and it’s easy to wonder, Why them? Why not me?
The second is all about influence, especially when it comes to the social web. How many followers do I have? How many likes did this get? Why does so and so have so much more power than I do?
This kind of mentality — looking around and wondering what other people have and why you don’t have it, too — it’s pretty destructive. It doesn’t move you forward; it only defines limits that you think are good enough, and keeps you inside them.
What gets you and your work moving? By paying attention to others, sure — but even more by listening to them and asking lots of questions. Information is a powerful thing. So are relationships with people who want to help lift you up.
Pay attention to what the successful are doing, sure — but don’t let what they do define you. Go out, listen, learn, and do your thing.
That is a truly powerful thing.
Every Sunday night, I try to take a few minutes to think about the week ahead. I think about what I want to accomplish, and the people I need to talk to in order to make those things happens.
And then I take a minute to think about the first step. Where do I start to get all of that done?
Because once I know the first step – and as long as I’m starting my work in the right place — I can usually figure out where to go from there.
The big picture matters. But knowing where to start helps get me in place to get the work done during the week ahead.
That photo of a first step comes via.
There is a zone where I do my best work, and it usually involves one thing: A lack of time.
If I’ve got deadlines that can’t be broken, that’s when I usually do great work. Take Wednesday, for instance. I had a flight home at 3pm. I had a few work assignments, and I needed to go on location to do some reporting for a story.
Just having those constraints made me insanely productive. Usually, my days are filled with a fair amount of time wasting on Twitter or YouTube. And there’s a time for that, a time to find awesome things to read or cool things to watch, and to get inspired.
But then there’s the place where I do my best work: When I’m focused, when I’ve got to get things done or else. I do amazing work in that space.
Everyone has that place where the great work gets done. Where’s yours?