Tag Archives: people matter

No.

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about 10 things that will save you time at the office. But there’s one more I didn’t write about in that post, and I want to touch on it now:

It’s the word “no.”

I haven’t always been good at saying that word. I really like saying “yes.” I like being helpful to other teams at work, I like offering my time when I can, and I like working on new projects. I try to say “yes” to things as much as possible.

But I’ve also learned that “yes” can lead to trouble — if you say it one time too many.

There are three resources at my disposal that other people want: My time, my skills, and my team. As a manager, my job is manage those resources and make sure my team doesn’t overextend itself. So that means that more and more, I’m saying “no” to projects.

Don’t get me wrong: I want to be able to say “yes” to everything. I love helping people, and I’m lucky to be a position where I can help others do better work. But I’ve learned that there are times when you have to say “no.”

I’m still not great at saying that word, but I’ve learned a few things that have helped me say it better:

1) Be direct — I wrote it in that earlier post, and I’ll say it again: Being direct will save you time in the long run. Most co-workers initially request help via email, and that’s a place where you can be straight with people. I send a lot of these types of emails: “No, I can’t help right now. Sorry!” You’re not a jerk for saying that — you’re just being up front with people.

2) Saying “yes” when you don’t have the resources is even worse than a “no” — If you can’t actually help the person but say “yes” anyway, you’re making things worse for everyone. You’ll end up holding up their work, and on top that, it’s just plain rude. Don’t say “yes” if you can’t commit.

3) Try to find another way to help — If I can’t say “yes,” I’ll often meet with the person anyway just to listen and see if I can offer some advice. At the very least, maybe I can point them towards someone who can help.

I still don’t like saying “no,” but I’m learning how important it is to prioritize my three big resources: Time, skills, and team. Sometimes, you have to say “no” to keep those a priority.

———

That photo of a closed door comes via Buzac Marius for Unsplash.

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.

Wait, How Does Everyone Else Know What The Hell Is Going On?

Jason Mraz

I spent the first six months of 2008 studying abroad in a little seaside town in Spain called Alicante, “studying” being a very loose term for what was actually going on. The last few weeks, some Americans came out to visit, and I kept asking them the same question: What did we miss while we were away?

For the most part, I’d stayed pretty current on what was happening in the States. I was reading the news every day, and I’d watched the Super Bowl, and I was even up-to-date on the latest episodes of “Lost.”

But there was other stuff I knew we’d missed: The ad campaign that everyone in America knew by heart, or the catchphrase everyone had heard, or the hit song that kept playing on the radio. I was so scared of coming back to the U.S. and feeling like I’d been on a different planet.

But everyone kept telling me: You really haven’t missed anything.

So fast-forward to the fall. I’m back at school, at I go to the piano bar on a Wednesday night. It’s acoustic guitar night, and it’s mostly the same old stuff: Garth Brooks, Journey, Elton John.

And then the musicians break into a song I’ve never heard before, and everyone — and I remember it being literally every person in the bar — starts screaming out the lyrics.

I looked at my friends and asked them what the hell was going on. What was this song, and how did everyone know it?

This song, Dan? This is that Jason Mraz song that blew up last spring. It’s called “I’m Yours.”

Everyone in the world had heard that song at that point…. unless, of course, you had been living in Alicante, Spain, where the radio was still mostly playing 2007’s hits (with a healthy bit of Tupac thrown in). Nobody had mentioned that Jason Mraz had a no. 1 hit. I was the only person at that bar who hadn’t heard that song 50 times.

If you’ve never been in that boat — if you’ve never had a moment where you realize that you’re the only person in the room who doesn’t know what the hell is going on — know this: It’s a terrifying experience. All you want is to be in the loop as quickly as possible.

I wish I could say that the Jason Mraz song was my one experience with that feeling, but it wasn’t.

It’s also how I felt for first three months of my job at BuzzFeed.

You have to understand: When BuzzFeed hired me to build out an email program, I didn’t really know much about email. I had launched two small newsletters, yes, but otherwise, I was in way over my head. BuzzFeed knew that, too — but neither of us realized how truly clueless I was about email and publishing and BuzzFeed and pretty much everything on the internet.

I was working with Dao, who is now our publisher, and Dao knows everything about everything. She’d throw out basic acronyms and I would jot them down in a notebook to Google later. She’d start talking about spreadsheets, and I’d run home at night to learn how to use Excel.

Everything was brand new. Everything. And it felt like I was the only one in the room who could say that.

There were days where I truly felt like a fool, and many more where I wondered when I would ever feel like I had a grasp on my job.

Luckily, I asked a lot of questions. Luckily, the team I was working with answered them, and taught me so much in the process. Luckily, I really did want to get good at this job, and worked like crazy until I got there. (These days, it’s entirely possible that I know too much about email! So it goes.) But that’s the only way to do it: Find people who can really help you, ask as many questions as you can, and work your ass off to get to where you need to be.

The only other option is feeling like a fool. And that’s not much of an option at all.

———

That photo of Jason Mraz comes via Flickr’s @gueamu.

United, We Stand.

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This is something I’ve written about before — waiting for permission, as opposed to just going out and doing stuff — but I had a funny moment last week that made me think of it again:

I went to a show at Lincoln Center here in NYC. It was a free show, and one of my favorite New York bands, the Lone Bellow, was playing.

And everyone there — EVERYONE — was seated.

No matter what the band did, they couldn’t get the crowd to stand up. They asked, and they implored, and they stomped around and played. They never got mad about it, but having been to a Lone Bellow show before, I’m pretty sure they would have been happier had everyone stood up and danced.

And then with three songs left, a few people walked up to the front of the stage and started to dance. Ushers let them stay. And then more people walked up. And then from the back, I could see people pointing and gesturing: “Hey, let’s go up there, too!”

By the end of the show, there were a few hundred people in front of the stage, dancing.

I’m not sure why people didn’t go up earlier. I’m not sure what they were waiting for.

But beyond the matter of permission, there was another thing: When these fans were all seated and spread out, it was tough to tell how many true fans there were at the show. But when they all got together in front, it was obvious: The band had a big following.

Just the act of bringing those people together — a few groups of friends here and there joining to make a pretty big crowd — made a huge difference in the way the rest of the audience reacted to the show. Others started dancing. And when the show ended, the band got a standing ovation.

All those people coming together to enjoy the show made a huge, huge difference.

When you’re putting fans behind a piece of work, I think there’s a lot to learn here. Get those fans organized. Give them something to get excited about. And let them be visible — together is always better than alone.

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.

A Funny Thing I Learned Along The Way.

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.

Acknowledgements.

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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.

A Photo On The Wall.

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:

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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?

Hurry Up And Wait.

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.

Jealousy Is A Really Lousy Color.

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.