At the start of the year, I had a revenue goal in mind for Inbox Collective. Revenue isn’t the only metric that matters to me, but it’s certainly an important measuring stick for a consultancy like mine.
This week, I broke my revenue goal for 2020 — with two months to go in the year.
But I’ve still had this odd feeling all week. Work is good, I’m as busy as ever, and thrilled about the clients I’m working with. I just hit a big goal, despite all of the obstacles that 2020’s thrown my way!
And yet, there’s this nagging fear: What if this all goes away? What if the business hits a rough patch?What if my clients leave?
What I’m recognizing is this sense of paranoia that I’ve seen in several founders I look up to. It’s a sense that you can’t get complacent, even when business is good. I know I have to keep learning and keep creating new ways to help my community. I know I need to think about new revenue streams. I know I have to start thinking about big choices for 2021 — where I might expand my work, and ways for me to better serve the clients I have.
I feel like I can see around the corner to what’s coming next, and I’m excited about what lies ahead. But I’m still nervous. None of this is guaranteed, and I know I have to keep working to move this business forward. I still have a lot more to learn.
I keep having this conversation over and over with friends.
They’ll tell me:
I’m frustrated with the way things are going at work.
I’m frustrated with the state of the world.
I’m frustrated with the way things are in my community.
To which I’ll say: We all get frustrated, and that’s OK. But the real challenge is finding a way to turn those frustrations into fuel, to turn angst into action.
So you’re frustrated by work. What’s the next step here? You could try to build stronger relationships with key players in your office, launch new projects, or take initiative to try to slowly make your office a better, more productive place.
So you’re frustrated by the state of the world. What do you plan to do next? You could donate your time or money to causes you care about. You could read or learn more about actions you could take to make a dent in the universe. You could rally your friends and family to get involved, too.
So you’re frustrated by things happening on your block. How do you want to get involved? Volunteer, or run for something in your community. Find the people or the organizations making change, and join them.
It’s normal to be frustrated, but don’t get stuck in your frustrations. Take a step back and ask yourself: What am I going to do about it?
And then get to work.
As always, the stock footage at top — this, of the gorgeous Boca do Inferno cliffs in Portugal — come via Unsplash and photographer Rodrigo Kugnharski.
We’re living through a moment that’s reminded all of us of the urgency of now. This year’s been a reminder that plans aren’t set in stone, and our lives can change quickly. So if you have the chance to do something — and can do it safely, of course — go for it.
Unless you’re a die-hard baseball fan — or deeply care about the Boston Red Sox — the name Doug Mirabelli probably doesn’t mean much to you.
Mirabelli was best known as the personal catcher for Tim Wakefield, a Red Sox pitcher who threw a knuckleball. Most major league pitchers are capable of throwing multiple pitches at high speeds, often north of 90 miles per hour. Wakefield threw his pitches at about 60 miles per hour, but he made it in the majors because his knuckleballs were famous for moving in unexpected directions. Even Wakefield didn’t really know where the ball was going. (He struck out more than 2,000 batters in his career, but is also 7th all-time in hit batsmen.) That meant that the Red Sox needed a catcher who was capable of catching Wakefield’s fluttery pitches:
He wasn’t an exceptional baseball player in any way. His career batting average — .231 — is below what a normal major leaguer would hit. In 12 seasons, only once did he hit more than 10 home runs. His OPS+ — a way to compare hitters to one another — was 87, a full 13 points below league average.
But Mirabelli was exceptional at catching Wakefield’s knuckleball. He was so good that Boston once traded him away to San Diego, then realized months later that they’d made a mistake and traded back for him. The Red Sox famously even arranged for a police escort to make sure he made it to the ballpark to catch that night’s game vs. the Yankees.
I hadn’t thought about Mirabelli in well over a decade until this song popped up on YouTube — a cover of a Gillian Welch tune, allegedly inspired by Mirabelli, called “Knuckleball Catcher.”
Now a bricklayer can be an all-time player, too
But a knuckleball catcher only gets one job to do
Some days, we all feel a little like knuckleball catchers. We work hard, but start to become specialists in the things we do. We start to wonder: Is this all people think I can do? Does anyone realize there’s a lot more I’m capable of?
It’s why we all have to continue to push ourselves out of our comfort zones. Side projects can be great ways to prove what else you can do. Keep learning, keep asking questions, keep trying new things. You’re more than a knuckleball catcher — you’ve got plenty of room to grow.
This is the week between the Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, so I’ve spent much of the week thinking about the year just passed, and the year ahead of us. There’s lots I want to do in the year ahead, and lots that I know I could do better.
So I sat down to write a post on that idea — that there’s always the chance to do a little better — and thought, “Haven’t I said this before on the blog?”
We can all do better in the new year. But when it comes to this particular blog post, I’ve said it a handful of times already. I don’t think I need to do better on this topic — I think I’ve already said enough!
The longer this pandemic goes on, the more I’m realizing that, maybe for the first time in my life, I’m truly living in the moment.
Right now, I’m on a big road trip west. It’s the last road trip I expect I’ll take this year. There’s a lot of big work coming up, but nothing huge to look forward to. Usually, I’m too busy thinking about what’s next to focus on what’s happening right now.
But all that’s changed.
Here in September 2020, I’m trying to make the most of the moment, thinking about what I want to do today or tomorrow, but not much further than that. Usually, this is the time of the year when we’d be making big winter plans. We aren’t — anything beyond Oct. 1 feels too far away to plan.
Instead, I’m thinking about what books I want to read this week, what podcasts to listen to, what friends I might like to see (from a distance). I’m trying not to look too far ahead. This fall and winter, I expect, will be a little surreal. I’m going to be do my best to take it day by day.
I’ve been playing a lot of golf lately. That’s not a sentence I expected to type in 2020. I played some as a kid, but stopped after college. Since I moved to New York, I think I’ve picked up a golf club twice in eight years.
But earlier this summer, a friend — who also happens to be pretty tall — asked if I wanted his old set of clubs.
So I started playing again.
Golf’s a frustrating sport, even for experienced, talented players. (And I am not one of those.) The first few times I played this year, I realized that I’d forgotten how lousy I was at the sport to begin with. I suppose I’d been hoping that watching The Masters every year had magically made me into a talented golfer.
But I’m trying to get better. I know certain skills (like hitting a driver) might take years to master. So I’m starting with a big question for 2020: What are the basics I need to get right? Every time I’m on the driving range or playing 18 holes, I’m coming into it with something I need to learn. How can I best hit that shot from 60 yards out? How can I improve the way I chip around the greens? Am I putting the right way? It’s the same strategy I use when I’m working on a project: Start with the big questions, and then drill into the specific tactics to optimize and improve.
Some days, it feels great. Most days, I walk away thinking about how much work I still have to do. I’m never going to be a pro, and never going to be guy who regularly shoots par. If I could break 90 most rounds, I’d be thrilled. But I’m trying to get a little smarter every time I play. I like playing golf, it turns out, and I know that I suck at it for now, but I don’t want to suck at it forever.
So I’m going to keep asking questions, and keep testing. Over time, I should — I hope! — get a little better.
That’s Mere Creek Golf Course, in Brunswick, Maine. I played there a few weeks ago.
To succeed in business in 2020 takes a great team, a strong mission, and more than a little bit of luck. But it also takes a willingness to focus on the basics — and do them well.
So let’s take news organizations for a moment, because it’s the business I know best. A few years ago, several newsrooms took part in the Knight-Temple Table Stakes project to lay out the seven basic things all news organizations needed to do to make change. To simplify things for the sake of this blog post, it all really comes down to a few key principles:
• Serve your readers • Build relationships • Establish trust • Listen, learn, and engage • Drive loyalty and habit • Grow revenue • Keep trying new things
The newsrooms that are doing well today do all seven things incredibly well. Some aren’t doing as well — and to get onto the right track, it requires an entire news organization working together to get these basics right.
You’ll note from the list above that the categories are broad, and intentionally so. It’s up to every part of an operation to figure out how the table stakes fit into their roles. A newsletter editor might see that list and say, “Let’s build a daily newsletter that serves readers, drives a daily reading habit, and then converts those readers to paying subscribers.” A copy editor might say, “Let’s just focus on establishing trust — how should we be transparent with our readers when we make a mistake?”
When you’re seeking to transform a business, first identify the basics. What are the things we need to be doing to be successful? Where are the areas we need to invest in? And how will each part of our operation implement these basics into their daily routine? Build from there.
When you’re working for a big corporation, that pressure often comes in the form of frustration. You’re frustrated that your company isn’t working on the things you want them to. You’re frustrated by the pace of work. You’re frustrated with the way the company is structured, by the pay, by your colleagues or bosses. Big corporate jobs are frustrating for all sorts of reasons, but they usually stem back to one thing: The lack of control you have over the work you do and the people you do it with.
When you’re working for yourself or a startup, the pressure comes in the form of stress. You’re working on the things you want to work on, but you’re stressed about doing the work well. You’re stressed about keeping things moving forward — are we still going to be able to do this work in six months? In a year? You’re stressed about money, about bringing the next client in or making the next sale. You’re stressed because there are no guarantees, no roadmap forward except the one you make — and you’re never quite sure that the path you’re on is the right one.
Every job comes with pressure. The question is: Which type of pressure will you choose?
That photo of employees working in an office building comes via Chuttersnap, a photographer who published their work on Unsplash.
I left The New Yorker a year ago today. Leaving a place as special as that to start a consulting business is a true leap, and I’m lucky to have had so many amazing people supporting me on this journey.
To everyone who offered words of encouragement, advice, introductions; to everyone who shared my Google Doc with their friends; to every client who believed in me and decided to take a chance to work with a one-man newsletter operation:
And, of course, to Sally, for encouraging me to take the leap. I could not have done this without her.
Here’s to an amazing, unexpected, unforgettable first year. And here’s to wherever the road leads next.
Thanks again toWesley Verhoeve, who took the headshots on my site. They’ve been republished here with his permission.