Tag Archives: lessons learned

Before You Take A Leap, Find Your Anchor.

an actual anchor

It can be scary when you make a big life change, like starting a new job or moving to a new city. When you change something so central to your life, sometimes you struggle to find stable ground to stand on. The changes can feel overwhelming.

But I think there are ways to make a big life change without getting overwhelmed. The secret is having an anchor.

An anchor is any source of stability in your life — a constant that stays with you even as you undergo a big life event. It’s a bridge from one stage of your life to another. An anchor could be something like:

A stable relationship with a S.O.

A job you really like.

Strong personal friendships.

Strong relationships with your family.

It could even be a hobby or activity. If you’ve go to regular yoga classes or volunteer on a weekly basis, that could be a strong anchor for you.

The more anchors you have in your life, the less intimidating a big life change will be. The anchors are there to keep you grounded and make sure you feel connected to your true self, even as you make these life changes.

I’ll use myself as an example here.(1) I have a few anchors in my life:

I’m in a wonderful relationship with my S.O.

I have great friends here in New York.

I have several close family members in the city.

I have a really good job.

So let’s say I decided to make a huge life change and move tomorrow to work at BuzzFeed’s Los Angeles office.(2) I’d still have two strong anchors: The relationship with my S.O., and my job. A lot would be changing: I’d be leaving New York, and the relationships with family and friends I have here. But I’d still have two huge constants to help me throughout the move.

Making huge life changes without those anchors is so hard. I did it when I moved to San Antonio. I was single, I was starting a new job in a new field, and I didn’t have friends or family in the city. And looking back, I was so overwhelmed by the move. It was too much to take on all at once. There wasn’t anything that felt familiar to me, and it affected my day-to-day life.

The next time, a big life change will be easier for me. And it can be less stressful for you, too! If you can find an anchor to keep you grounded throughout the change, it makes a world of difference. It might be the difference between you surviving and thriving through the change, or not.

———

That photo of a boat dropping anchor comes via photographer Woodrow Walden and Unsplash.

  1. I’m not planning anything big! I’m just an example, I promise.
  2. Again, I’m not! It’s just a hypothetical!

The Job I Didn’t Get In New York.

Dan Oshinsky, Director of Newsletters - BuzzFeed

Four years ago, I took a job at BuzzFeed. I didn’t know BuzzFeed would grow into the company it is today. I didn’t know I’d get to do the work I’ve done, or get to work with the team I have. I took a risk in taking the job, and it paid off.

This isn’t the story of how I got the job at BuzzFeed.

It’s the story of the job I nearly got three months earlier — one that would have been a total disaster.

It’s August 2012, and I’m living in Springfield, Missouri. It’s the final month for the Stry.us team in the Ozarks. At the end of the month, we’re all about to be unemployed. I have no idea what I’m doing next, but I know I’m done with Stry.us.

I start applying to jobs. I want to go to New York. I think it’s the next big step for me.

And that’s when I see this story on the Nieman Lab blog about a news organization that owns a dozen papers around the country. They’re opening up an office in NYC that’ll be the central hub for all those papers. It’ll be the news desk coordinating national stories for all their properties, and they need a senior editor who can work with all these papers — and occasionally parachute in with a team to run point on big, national stories.

It’s the job I’ve been training for this entire time.

I apply, and I get an email back four hours later from the editor-in-chief: Let’s talk.

I interview with her, and I nail it. I do a second phone interview, and I nail that, too. I do a third, with a senior advisor to the company. He loves me.

They offer to fly me out to New York to meet in person. It seems like a formality at this point: I’m going to get this job.

I don’t get the job.

I bomb the interview. I don’t know why, but I’m a trainwreck that day. I’m evasive and vague in my answers. They ask me some personal questions that I don’t know how to answer. The interview gets uncomfortable, and then more uncomfortable. And worst of all: The trip home takes forever. It’s a three-hour flight to St. Louis, and then a three-hour drive back to Springfield. For 6+ hours, all I can think about is how I’ve blown the chance at my dream job.

I never hear from the newspaper company in New York again.

And then… three months later, I get the job at BuzzFeed. I don’t know at the time that it’ll change my life, but it does. And two months after that, the newspaper company files for bankruptcy. They close their New York office soon after that. Everyone gets fired.

The day I bombed that interview, I thought I’d blown it. I thought I’d missed my one big change.

I had no idea that I’d just experienced one of the luckiest days of my life.

Had I nailed the interview, I would’ve gotten that job. And five months later, I would’ve been out of work.

Instead, I landed at BuzzFeed, and I got the chance to be a part of building something amazing.

I’m lucky to be lucky, I guess.

———

That photo was taken by Anthony Lindsey, and graciously re-used here with permission of Campaign Monitor.

What’s Your Name Again?

Hello, by Travis Wise

A few weeks ago, I read a Q&A with Walt Bettinger, the CEO of Charles Schwab, and I keep coming back to something he said:

Q: What about lessons you learned in college?

A: A business strategy course in my senior year stands out. I had maintained a 4.0 average all the way through, and I wanted to graduate with a perfect average. It came down to the final exam, and I had spent many hours studying and memorizing formulas to do calculations for the case studies.

The teacher handed out the final exam, and it was on one piece of paper, which really surprised me because I figured it would be longer than that. Once everyone had their paper, he said, “Go ahead and turn it over.” Both sides were blank.

And the professor said, “I’ve taught you everything I can teach you about business in the last 10 weeks, but the most important message, the most important question, is this: What’s the name of the lady who cleans this building?”

And that had a powerful impact. It was the only test I ever failed, and I got the B I deserved. Her name was Dottie, and I didn’t know Dottie. I’d seen her, but I’d never taken the time to ask her name. I’ve tried to know every Dottie I’ve worked with ever since.

It was just a great reminder of what really matters in life, and that you should never lose sight of people who do the real work.

I love this so much. For one, it’s a wonderful message about being decent to the people you work with. There are a LOT of Dotties in my life, and I need to learn more of their names.

But another thing: Learning these names (and a little about these people) is also good for your career! When I was first working as a stringer covering D.C. sports a decade ago, I noticed something about the best beat reporters: They were usually there a long time before the game, casually chatting up everyone. It wasn’t just the players and coaches — it was the equipment managers, the trainers, the ushers, the elevator guy. They knew everyone’s name. They built relationships with everyone, because they never knew who might open a door for them one day.

We could all be a little friendlier to the Dotties around us.

———

That photo was taken by Travis Wise and is used here thanks to a Creative Commons license.

Little Things You Can Do To Be A Better Team Player.

Office life, Vladimir Kudinov

I got coffee the other day with a friend who’s maybe a year out of college, and we were talking about how her work was going.

You know, she said, I just didn’t understand how hard it would be to adjust to working at an office.

And that’s a common sentiment! I know didn’t understand it either when I started my first job. Working at an office is a little different than working a service job or in education. At an office, you have to learn how to operate within a team and what kind of etiquette is required in the workplace.

Here are seven things I’ve learned over the years about being a good co-worker:

Be on time. — Everyone has the one co-worker who shows up 10 minutes late for everything. Don’t be that co-worker. Being on time means showing up at the assigned time if you’re meeting someone in your office, and 5-10 minutes early if you’re meeting someone outside your office.(1) And if you’re late — make sure to send the email 5-10 minutes before apologizing for your lateness.

Prepare people before the meeting. — Nobody should show up for a meeting and not understand what they’re meeting about. Make sure everyone’s on the same page — and has the necessary documents — before they walk into the meeting. And follow up with actionable next steps after the meeting, too!

Respond to emails/calls within 24 hours. —
If someone writes in asking you to take a specific action, you’ve got 24 hours to respond. After that window, I find that emails sit in the inbox for days and days, and projects stall. Respond quickly, and you’ll become someone co-workers actually want to work with because you have a track record of getting things done quickly.

Deliver on deadline. — This goes hand-in-hand with responding quickly. Be a “get shit done” kind of person, and be someone who sticks to deadlines. When you find out that a co-worker doesn’t finish their work on time, you might be less willing to work with them in the future.

Send friendly emails. — The occasional “Congrats!” email goes a long, long way towards setting a tone for your work. Send those friendly emails!

Ask great questions. — I love working with people who are curious and ask great questions. They’re people who think critically about issues and can push work in interesting and unexpected directions. I always try to work with people who love to ask “Why?” and “How?”

Be honest. — You can earn my respect by doing the work every day. But you can earn my trust by sitting down to have the tough conversations. If you do both, I’ll run through walls for you. Being honest with someone — even if you’re saying “I don’t know” when you don’t have the right answer — is the first step towards building that trust.

———

That photo of an office — as viewed from the outside — comes via Unsplash and photographer Vladimir Kudinov.

  1. This is really hard to do, and I’m still trying to get better at it myself.

What Do You Want In A First Job?

Barcelona — Alexandre Perotto

My youngest brother graduated in December (congrats, Sam!), and he’s out searching for his first real job. We had a nice talk about it last weekend. He wanted to know: What should I be looking for in a first job?

I think the list of things is pretty short:

1) A great boss
2) A great team to work with
3) The opportunity to take on real responsibility

That’s it.

Great bosses often turn into great mentors. Great teams provide you with the structure to learn how to do great work. And, of course, any opportunity to own a task/project is a wonderful thing for a new hire.

How do you know if you’re coming into a situation with a great boss or a great team? You can always look at their previous output of work. I also think it’s important to ask questions that can reveal how the boss/team will use you. Questions like:

-How does the team work together?
-What types of personalities do you work best with?
-What projects need help right now that I could work on?
-What kind of opportunities for growth do you see for me in this job?

Almost as important as the answers is this: Does your future boss seem invested in you? Do they make lots of time for you during the interview process? Do you get to meet 1-on-1 with the team? How do they describe the opportunities available there? You’re looking for interest, engagement, and positivity. An interview’s like a first date: If the chemistry isn’t there, or if something’s off, you’ll sense it.

It’s funny: Looking back, I wasn’t thinking about any of this when I took my first job. Instead, I was thinking about whether or not the money was any good. (It wasn’t, but I didn’t care — unless I took a job as an investment banker, the money was always going to be lousy.) I was thinking about whether or not it had great benefits. (My first job offered two weeks of vacation. Media companies don’t offer much in the way of vacation because… well, they don’t have to. It’s part of the deal.) I was thinking about whether or not it was the “perfect” job for me. (At the time, I was obsessed with the idea of Google’s 20% time when I really should have been obsessed with working hard and proving that I was capable of taking on bigger projects.)

By accident, I stumbled into a few really good bosses who gave me lots of opportunity. I got lucky. My first job was pretty much exactly what I needed it to be. But I didn’t realize that at the time.

Sam (and others!): Be smarter than I was. Don’t worry about finding the perfect job. Just find the best bosses and the best team you can. It’s the best decision you can make at this stage in your career.

———

That photo of a courtyard in Barcelona has nothing to do with this post, but it is pretty! And it was taken by Alexandre Perotto for Unsplash.

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.

What I’d Tell Myself If I Was Starting College Today.

me-at-18

I started classes at the University of Missouri eight years ago this month. Which got my me thinking: If I was starting college this year, what advice would 26-year-old me give my 18-year-old counterpart?

 
So, 18-year-old Dan, here’s the thing:

College is 100% about experiences. You should do stuff because you CAN.

Go to concerts on Tuesday nights because you can. Join that campus improv group because you can. Take that all-night road trip because you can.

And yes, do stuff even when your friends don’t want to. You’ll meet new people along the way.

College is a time to try stuff you’d otherwise never try. You’re never going to have more free time to learn something new.

Basically, you’re going to go to 15 hours of class a week, and spend another 10-15 hours (maybe) doing work for those classes, which leaves you with an insane amount of free time to do whatever the hell you want.

Like, now is the time to learn an instrument. Or learn to take photos. Or learn to make awesome stuff.

No, your GPA doesn’t matter. As soon as you leave college, it’s as relevant as your SAT score.

So shoot for GPA that starts with a 3, but don’t worry too much about grades. Or your major. Most of your friends will end up doing something entirely unrelated to their majors.

Take classes that challenge you. Take classes with professors you like.

And take advantage of office hours. Just go in and talk to the professor for a few minutes each month. They’re smart people, and you’ll actually enjoy the conversation. (Yes, really.)

There aren’t a lot of things you shouldn’t do at college, but here are two: Don’t sleep so much — there is no human reason to sleep as much as you’re going to want to. And don’t be so messy — make your damn bed. Nobody wants to hang out at a messy apartment.

And that’s about it. Everything else is on the table. (Well, don’t do anything horribly illegal, but you already knew that.)

Experiences matter, and people matter, and that’s it. The rest of the stuff they tell you about os mostly rules that you don’t need to pay much attention to. The people you’ll come to admire don’t really care about the rules.

Go and find good people. The people you meet in college are going to be around for a long time. You are going to want good people in your life.

Good people will make your college experience better. They will make your life better. They will make you happy. Find lots and lots of time for these people.

But when you screw up, especially to them, apologize. And forgive them when they mess up. This matters more than you think.

One more don’t, actually: Don’t be a jerk. You’re young, and you think you know it all, and you’re going to be a jerk sometimes. Try not to be an asshole — it comes back around.

A few more things: Reach out to people you admire in “the real world” — people love helping college kids. They actually read your emails and take your calls.

And a quick follow up — especially a hand-written note — means far more than you can possibly imagine.

Create stuff. Build stuff. Even if it’s dumb.

The people who build stuff in college tend to go on to build stuff in the real world. This is not a coincidence.

And one finally little thing: This is not the best four years of your life. It isn’t. But if you do it right, it is the first four years of what can be an amazing life.

Know this: College is an wonderful place. You have so many resources around you, and so many amazing people around you. Everything you need to start something amazing — a project, a company, a life — is right here.

You will not come out of college fully formed, and that’s okay. In fact, it’s encouraged. You’re a work in progress. You’re there to learn and to try stuff. Try it all.

And don’t forget: You are never too young do something great. NEVER. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Welcome to college. Enjoy it. It goes by just as fast as they say.

It Doesn’t Have To Be This Hard.

I read this sentence this week, and it made me pause:

In 1931, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary had listed “Rube Goldberg” as an adjective, defining it as “accomplishing by complex means what seemingly could be done simply.”

And I started thinking about how much I love those Rube Goldberg machines. They really are fun to watch.

And then I started thinking about how complicated they are. They’re needlessly complicated, aren’t they?

And then I started thinking about my own day-to-day workflow, and the unnecessary steps I sometimes throw in when I’m trying to get from A to B on a task. Why do I do that?

And I ended up here: There are jobs where having a Rube Goldberg mind is a plus. Like storytelling. Storytellers have to be able to set those dominos up and then knock ’em down, and the ones who do it right often knock their stories out of the park.

But most of us don’t want to be Rube Goldbergs. We want to move quickly and efficiently. We want to get through the work and onto the next. And the more we set up for ourselves, the more we’re going to have to trudge through to get to the end result.

And it’s the end result that really counts, isn’t it?

Just Remarkable.

World Domination Summit 2013 - Portland, OR

“What’s amazing about a leap of faith is how everyone around you is so sure it’s gonna work out, when deep down, you are so sure it won’t.” — Tess Vigeland

 
Back in July, I went to Portland for a conference, and I saw this talk. I have been thinking about it a lot.

It’s the story of an NPR reporter who quit her job because she wanted more. She wanted something else. She wasn’t sure what the something else was, but she wanted it.

But listening to it, I don’t really hear her story.

I hear her words, but I remember mine.

Because I, too, have felt ambitious. Really ambitious.

And scared.

And confused.

And lost.

And hopelessly broke.

On that journey, I spent a lot of time, too, just asking myself: What the hell am I doing?

I look back now on that point in my life. Yes, I had faith in my ability to do something great, and enough desperation to want to do something that wouldn’t suck. But at the exact same time, I had this overwhelming sense of terror. I was so, so scared.

Doing what I did — and what many others have done, and what you’ll see Tess Vigeland talk about in a second — was insane. It was crazy. But also: It was a fantastic thing that changed me, and changed how I think about everything.

And to see it echoed back to me? I felt all of it all over again.

It’s gotten me thinking again. I’ve spent the last few weeks wondering if I’ll ever find the courage to do something that crazy once again.

I hope I will.

Anyway, for now, just watch:

That image of Tess at top comes via.

Get Ready. Get Going. Get Yours.

wds2013-0635-IMG_7672

“Life is a story, if you wouldn’t read the one you’re telling, write a different ending.” — Jonathan Fields

 
I went to the World Domination Summit last weekend. (1) And what I heard were a lot of great stories about how people do work:

I heard some people saying: Start! You have all you need to start right now!

I heard some people saying: Wait! Give yourself time to recover, to ripen, to grow.

I heard some people saying: Just tell me the secret thing that successful people do and I’l do it! Tell me! (There were, admittedly, a lot of these.)

And at the end of the weekend, here’s what I really heard: As long as you make time to listen, and make time for your community, you’re going to do just fine. The work follows people who are patient, persistent, and surround themselves with great people.

There is no right time for the work you want to do — just your time.

So get ready. Get going.

And get yours.

Ultimately, it’ll be there — something remarkable, something amazing — when you’re ready to put in the work.

  1. Strange name for a conference, but powerful stuff.