Don’t get me wrong: I love working in journalism in New York. But the New York media world is pretty small. Go to events or conferences, and you see a lot of the same people. (And I’ve discovered that the world of New York people who do email stuff — my expertise at BuzzFeed — is even smaller.)
So once a year, I try to go to something that’s totally outside my little worlds.
In 2012, it meant a TEDx event in D.C. Last year, I went to Portland for a conference called the World Domination Summit.
And this year, I went to Fargo for MisfitCon — an impressive little conference for people who make stuff (both online and IRL).
I met all sorts of people this weekend in Fargo: actors, accountants, painters, writers… you get the idea. They’re people I don’t get to talk to that much. Which meant that I got to hear about stuff I don’t ever get to hear about — and now I’m coming back to New York with some good new ideas and energy.
I’m not saying you have to travel all the way to North Dakota to escape. But every few months, it’s worth getting outside your normal circles. You’d be surprised at what you might learn.
I took that photo at MisfitCon.
You can always — ALWAYS — make it better.
You can always go back and make that second edit, or fix that line or code.
You can always ask someone new for help to make the second version better than the first.
You can always try again.
It doesn’t have to be PERFECT the first time. Because it won’t be! Hardly anyone nails it on the first try, and that’s okay. Good work is meant to be built upon and improved. That first version is just a starting place.
So just launch it. Get it out there and see what people say.
You can always make it better.
That photo of a book being edited comes via Flickr’s Joanna Penn.
I got asked the other day about how you make it work as a one-man band — if you’re starting at a decently sized company, but you’re the only advocate for what you do.
And I told this person:
At BuzzFeed, when we launched email, I was the only staffer fully devoted to email. Every single newsletter that was sent in 2013 — and they numbered in the thousands — was written by me. (It was a lot. I wouldn’t recommend doing that.)
But now, we’ve three — and soon to be four — others helping write our newsletters, and the email team continues to grow.
So how’d we get from there to here?
-We set simple goals for the products we wanted to launch.
-We figured out the metrics that were more important, and worked hard to meet — and exceed — those numbers. But we didn’t obsess over those day-to-day numbers, especially if the overall feedback about the product was strong.
-We launched things quickly. Like I always write: When you build something with Good/Better/Done in mind, you’re able to get it out the door quickly, and then improve it as you go.
-We didn’t waste motion. After the first few weeks, we didn’t spend too much time talking about the What Ifs before a launch. We picked a target, we roped in the necessary people we needed for support, and we got the product out the door. Everything up until launch is an exercise in theory — so just get the thing launched.
I knew when I started at BuzzFeed that I was going to have to work like a crazy person to get email off the ground. But now it’s starting to take off. And as it has, my bosses have been hugely supportive of the project, and are helping give it the fuel it needs to grow.
I couldn’t have done this alone forever. But to start, I didn’t need a lot.
That photo of an actual one-man band comes via Flickr’s William Ward.
People have short memories.
I used to think that when I screwed up, people would remember forever. Or, at the very least, for an extremely long time. A long enough time that it might as well be forever.
But what I’ve found is just the opposite: When I’ve really messed up, I spend a little while kicking myself, and then a little while longer getting my ass kicked by others… and then things start to get better. Friends show up and offer support. Things get talked out.
And then more work comes along, and there’s another chance to get it right. If it’s a small mistake, it’s forgotten a day or two later. If it’s pretty big mistake, it lingers for a week.
But then it passes. People forgive. The biggest mistakes I’ve ever made — the biggest goofs — are things that friends and old co-workers now use as punch lines during happy hours. You remember that thing you did, Dan? Man, what a screw up!
Oh, the other part: You learn a lot about the people you work with when you screw up. Because what I’ve described is what happens when you screw up in the company of great people. They forgive you, and even help you move past your mistakes.
Not everybody is like that, though. There are workplaces that don’t forget mistakes — that punish you for them, that constantly remind you of them.
What I’m saying is: Screwing up is pretty good way to find out what kind of place you work at, and whether or not you want to be working with people who’ll punish you for screwing up.
That image of a small mistake comes via Flickr’s @tehlonz.
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.
That photo at top comes via Flickr’s Nick Meador.
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.
That photo at top comes via Instagram’s @papajm25.
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.
(But hopefully not to you.)
That photo of a truly stupid sign comes via Flickr’s Chris Ingrassia.
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.
I look around, and all I see are people going places, and I don’t see myself doing the same.
I feel stuck in the mud.
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.
I have a fun job. I really do. I get to make fun things on the internet that people like to share and play with and laugh about.
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.