Tag Archives: good things start with action

Don’t Forget To Enjoy The Ride.

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There are days at BuzzFeed when I have to stop to remind myself: Can you believe you’ve been a part of this thing?

We’ve grown so much and we’ve grown so fast — from 30 million unique visitors to more than 200 million, and more than a billion page views per month. I’d argue that we’re one of the most successful media startups ever. And somehow, I ended up with a seat on this insane ride.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get to work at a place like BuzzFeed again. How many times can you step onto a rocket ship just before it takes off? I’ve been lucky to work with smart, curious, and talented people. I’ve gotten to work with leaders who’ve been able to see what’s around the corner in media just a bit faster than everyone else. I can’t even believe how much I’ve grown in my 4+ years here.

Which is why I have to remind myself to enjoy it. There are days when I get bogged down in work or politics. There are days when I don’t feel the joy of coming to the office. There are days when it’s just another job.

And those are the days when I have to remind myself: Dan, you’re working at one of the most remarkable places in media. You’ve been a part of growing this thing into the company it is today. And who knows if you’ll ever get to be a part of something like this ever again?

So: Enjoy it. Pitch big ideas. Work with people you may never get to work with again. Ask for what you want.

Enjoy it, because the ride will end one day — and you don’t want to look back and wonder if you left something undone.

Everyone Has Ideas.

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I have a lot of ideas. They’re not always good ideas — but I always have ideas.

I wrote about my approach to ideas back in 2012:

“The challenge, it turns out, isn’t coming up with good ideas. It’s deciding which of them is worth pursuing and working on.”

In that same post, I laid out 25 ideas I had. A few were pretty good. Some were ideas that I never actually expected to try out, like this one:

TV Dinners That Were On TV — A website featuring recipes that you saw your favorite characters make on TV. Kevin’s mom on ‘The Wonder Years’ and Betty on ‘The Flintstones’ always seemed to be cooking up awesome dishes, and here, we’d try to figure out how to make them.”

Fast forward five years, and I’m scrolling through my feed when this headline pops up:

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This guy on YouTube had the same idea — but executed on it so much better than I ever could have. His videos are simple in concept, but produced in a way that’s almost hypnotic. They’re really fun to watch.

I’ll confess: The first few times I saw someone launch an idea that I’d also had, it was maddening. Why didn’t I make that? I’d ask myself. Why wasn’t I first?

But as I get older, I realize that what I wrote back in 2012 is still true: The challenge with ideas is deciding which ones to build or produce. As I wrote back then: “Ideas are only worth so much. Execution’s really what matters.”

You can’t make everything. But it is fun to see someone else turn a weird idea into something so fantastic. I’m adding “Binging with Babish” to my YouTube subscriptions — I hope he’ll be cooking up one of those “Flintstones” brontosaurus ribs soon.

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The day after I published this post, Animal Planet announced that another one of the ideas from that 2012 blog post — a weight loss show for pets — was becoming a reality, too. (These things come in threes, so if someone launches the I’m On Dayquil Gmail plugin next week, please let me know.)

You Don’t Need Permission To Do The Best Things In Life.

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You don’t need permission to call someone you care about just to say hi.

You don’t need permission to send a kind email to a friend.

You don’t need permission to take a long run in the park.

You don’t need permission to learn something new.

You don’t need permission to try a recipe you really want to cook, or to listen to a band you love.

You don’t need permission to share a secret with someone, or a story.

You don’t need permission to do something nice for someone else.

You don’t need permission to stay up all night to write, or to read, or to talk.

You don’t need permission to sing in the shower.

You don’t need permission to treat yourself to that thing you always wanted.

You don’t need permission to go on an adventure, and you don’t need permission to get lost.

Sometimes, you have to remind yourself: You don’t have to wait for the things that matter most to you in life. Those things are always there, waiting for you, whenever you decide to start.

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That photo comes via Unsplash and photographer Saksham Gangwar.

Do It For The Story.

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A buddy of mine from college got married last weekend. We went to Chicago to celebrate him and his new bride, and to toast good times. We told all of our favorite stories for the thousandth time, and we laughed until the wee hours.

And one phrase of ours from college kept coming up again and again:

“Do it for the story.”

Do it for the story was something we said when we needed a push to try something we knew was going to be hard.

Do it for the story was the motivation to be courageous, even when the odds were long.

Do it for the story was a reason to go for it, just because.

We were a pretty grounded group of guys back in college. 95 percent of the time, we did the reasonable thing.

But there was the 5 percent of us that was a little bit crazy, that was willing to try something maybe that shouldn’t be tried. It was the wild card in each of us, and you never knew when it might come out and make one of us try something unexpected. That 5 percent is the reason I ended up in China covering the Olympics, and the reason I ended up in Biloxi in 2012. It’s the 5 percent that — to quote the immortal words of “Risky Business” — made you say, “What the fuck.”

It’s good to be unreasonable. It’s good to push yourself to do crazy things. When you grow up, you learn that it’s so easy to get caught behind walls of your own design. Sometimes, you need to force yourself outside of your day-to-day and do something big, even if you’re not quite sure why you’re doing it in the first place.

So try something crazy. Do something you’re not supposed to do.

Do it for the story.

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That photo of skydivers taking the leap comes via a Creative Commons license and Flickr user Laura Hadden.

Shit Happens.

The work never goes like you want it to.

Oh, you had big plans? Shit happens.

Oh, you had goals/ambitions/dreams? Shit happens.

Oh, things were supposed to go a certain way? Yeah… shit happens.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t make plans — you should! It’s good to anticipate problems, and to try to get ahead of the work. But the work always gets weird along the way. You learn that something can’t work a certain way, or should actually work a completely different way. Your team takes a hit. Something breaks.

Things always go wrong. It’s just the way it goes.

So are you willing to push through it? Are you willing to keep working, even when things suck?

The best don’t use those bad breaks as an excuse. They find a way to get the work done anyway.

Good luck. Keep doing the work.

The Window Is Open.

When I was about 3 years old, I used to walk around my house pretending to play guitar on this red plastic pan. By middle school, I’d walk around school breaking into occasional air guitar. By high school, family friends would grab my mom and ask, “Why doesn’t Dan actually take guitar lessons?” And she never had a good answer for them.

When I got to college, though, I had this realization: If there was ever a time to learn to play guitar, it was right then. My freshman year, I made friends with a guy on my floor who played. He needed roommates for the next semester. I agreed to move into his place under one condition: He teach me how to play.

College happened to be an amazing time to learn a new skill.  I had a LOT of free time, and I spent much of it the next 3 years learning how to play. It was just a matter of recognizing that the moment was right to learn a brand new skill — and then putting in a ton of work to learn that skill.

The same thing happened when I realized that I was ready to start Stry.us. The same thing happened when I realized that I was ready to move to New York. I recognized that the window of opportunity was opening, and I had to have the guts to go ahead and take my chance before the window closed.

There are ways to know when the window is opening for you. Sometimes it’ll be obvious: a friend will extend an invitation to do something, and you’ll recognize that you’ve got a chance to do something special right now. Sometimes, it opens when you’re frustrated with what you’re working on, or when an idea nags at you for weeks. Sometimes, there’s no sign — you just know.

But if the window opens, take your shot. It doesn’t always stay open very long.

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That photo has nothing to do with the window of opportunity — I just like it :-) It comes from Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash.

So What Do You Want To Ask?

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I’ve been lucky to meet some exceptional people in my life, and there’s something interesting that I’ve noticed about almost all of them. They have a lot of the common traits you’d expect — they work hard; they surround themselves with good people; they’re highly skilled; you get the idea. But there’s something else:

Almost every one I’ve met has asked excellent questions.

I think anyone can come up with an answer to life’s weirdest questions. But it takes a different kind of person to ask a good question. To ask a good question, you have to be curious, and you have to be genuinely invested in asking that question. (Anyone can tell when they’re being asked a question by someone who doesn’t really care about the answer.) I find that people who ask good questions tend to be detail-oriented.

To put it simply: A person who asks great questions is someone who actually wants to understand how and why the world works, instead of just taking it all at face value.

And I don’t just see it in the journalism world! Open up a biography about Warren Buffett or Sam Walton and you’ll find countless stories of men who were constantly asking questions, always probing beyond the surface for answers. (Walton’s biography, in particular, is full of stories about him going to Wal-Marts with his tape recorder in hand, spending hours asking his employees questions about the way they really worked.) Doctors, artists, bankers, coaches — I’ve met all sorts who know how to dig for answers.

I think it’s everyone could get better at — myself included! I think we’d find that there’s a lot more to learn about the people in our lives, if only we’d learn to ask.

Want to get better at asking questions? I’d recommend this quick guide to asking questions by a former investigative reporter.

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That photo of someone searching for something — higher meaning, or probably just a bird in the woods — comes via Unsplash and photographer Caleb George.

The Worst Piece Of Advice You Can Give.

Here’s a piece of advice you’ve certainly heard before: Not where you want to be? That’s OK.

Just fake it ‘till you make it.

I really hate those words. I think it’s a very dangerous piece of advice — especially for young people who are still trying to find their way.

And here’s what I want to say instead:

Don’t pretend to be someone you aren’t. When you’re young, there are days when you feel like you know everything — but far more when you’re convinced you know absolutely nothing. And on those days, it’s easy to pretend to be the expert you aren’t just yet. Some people make a short-term (and shortsighted) choice to fake it.

But there’s never a need to fake your expertise. Never.

So don’t fake anything. And anytime you feel like you’re becoming a person you aren’t, here’s all you need to remember:

Be confident in who you are and what you know. You probably know more than you give yourself credit for!

Be honest with people about who you really are.

And when someone asks you for something and you don’t have the answer, it’s OK to say, “I don’t know.”

But there’s a catch: The minute you say it, you have to start working towards actually finding the answer. That means realizing that you’re smart enough to build the support system around you to get the right answers, and understanding that you’re going to have to work hard to keep learning.

That’s the harder way — but it’s also the one that’s going to earn you trust and pay dividends in the long run.

What It Feels Like To Quit.

There was a story that blew up on BuzzFeed this week about people who’ve quit their jobs in spectacular fashion. It makes sense why that story was so popular: A lot of people hate their jobs, and a lot of people dream of one day quitting their jobs in a way that lets everyone know just how much they hate it. It’s easy to see yourself as one of the people in that post.

I get it. I thought about it once, too.

It was my first job out of college, and I felt stuck. I started to have this fantasy of quitting in huge fashion. I’d bring in a marching band to the office, and they’d play as I walked right out the door forever. Maybe I’d hide a secret camera in the office and put the footage on YouTube.

But I didn’t do that. Instead, I started to listen to the voice inside me. I wanted to figure out what it was actually trying to tell me.

When I look back now, I remember a lot about that first job. I remember that I worked with some really talented people. I remember that I really liked and respected my bosses, which I knew was important.

I also remember realizing that what I was doing wasn’t enough for me. Not even close.

And I remember being afraid that if I didn’t quit, I was going to end up doing that job — or something like it — forever. That’s what my inner voice was telling me: I needed to go out and do something bold for myself. Even if it was the reckless move, I knew I couldn’t wait for the right chance to just come along. I was going to have to make it happen, and at that stage of my life — single and young — I was mobile enough to give it a try.

Was I scared to quit and do something on my own? Absolutely. But the idea of being stuck at a desk job I didn’t love was even scarier. It was the fear that motivated me — just not the type of fear you’d expect.

That photo at top comes via Flickr’s Kate Haskell.

Four Things To Ask Yourself Before You Start.

Before you start the work, you’ve got to ask yourself:

Are you willing to struggle? Because you’re going to struggle with this. The work is going to kick your ass, and just when you think you’ve made a breakthrough, it’s going to kick your ass again. You are going to ride that struggle bus for a long, long time.

Are you willing to feel stupid? Because you’re not going to know everything — not by a long shot. You’ve got so much to learn, and it’s going to get to a point where you feel like you don’t know ANYTHING. It’s actually a good thing. It means you’re growing your skill set and pushing yourself into brand new areas. But it’s also really, really hard to cope with the fact that at times, you feel pretty dumb.

Are you willing to find the best people? Because you’re not going to get anywhere without the best people. You’re going to have to find people you love to collaborate with, and people who will push your work into brand new areas, and also people you wouldn’t mind getting stuck with in a room at 2 a.m. (Because, btw, you probably will be stuck in a room with them at 2 a.m. at some point. It happens.)

Are you willing to keep going? Because after all this, you have to be willing to push on and keep doing the work. You have to be willing to launch stuff that isn’t quite perfect, and then go back and make that work better. Above all else, you have to be willing to keep stepping out there and pushing your work into the world, because it’s the only way to do it.

So are you willing to do all that? Because if you’re not, you’re not quite ready to start.

That photo of a state fair comes via Flickr’s Omar Bárcena.