Control the Controllable
As cliche as it is to say, the roller coaster of emotions is quite real. One day you may be all smiles pumping landing a new partner dreaming big and the next week your decision maker at the brand happens to leave. Start the weeks of selling, evangelism and rapport making all over again..
The thing I’ve found best to combat the daily grind is to try and control what I directly impact..that being my mental, physical and “social” health. I consistently have long (and hopefully impactful) days with work being the core focus of my day..it’s what I derive most enjoyment (and pressure) from.
Going to the gym at least once a day, checking in with a friend, following a particular diet and clearing my mind with some light reading are all strict habits now. Each obviously has a great list of benefits associated with it but the most important common theme is that it gives you a sense as well as actual control of your day. Whether things are going well or downhill for a variety of reasons with BL that may be even outside my actions, I know I can influence my fitness routine, mindfulness and happiness to a large extent.
Too many young folks in this industry believe they need to strap every aspect of their life onto a high turbulent ride. Sacrifice is key, just invest in the right areas.
Get fit, get fitted.
Happy to discuss and learn more - @ryandawidjan
It’s Not What You’re Leaving, It’s What You’re Leaving For
[Originally composed May 28th, 2013…guess I’ve been busy]
Now in Chicago launching our offline presence, hiring a team, and ensuring more gents can receive a remarkable menswear experience.
"But there is also something to finishing something you started." - Fred Wilson, sharing his personal perspective on his daughter’s well earned college graduation.
I adamantly believe this statement to be largely true and that’s why a few months ago I mentioned that I had firmly attached myself to the focus on true impact. "Intense Focus on Results"
The long story short though: I won’t be finishing school.
April was a month of considerable change. Within a few weeks, I had been in a car accident, gotten out of a relationship, ended my college lacrosse career, moved to a new spot in Cambridge, help execute Blank Label’s largest BD deal to date and take a leave of absence from school.
A mentor of mine gave me this bit of perspective as I was considering leaving school to work full time at BL. “It’s not what you’re leaving, it’s what you’re leaving for.” While at the time it seemed like general high level advice, it actually was quite important in helping me frame the trade off I’ve decided to make. Regardless of the structure/path, you should opt for the one with greater personal and professional upside.
Personally, I had felt for a longtime that the “check boxes” of college had been marked off. learn to live independently, find an area of interest, learn how to network, experience the social life, connect with professors, find about your drive/wants/needs in life, be exposed to a lot of interesting people and places, etc.
Having largely done all that within high school and the first year of college, I was open to exploring non-traditional paths to satisfy my professional interests. The “problem” was, I didn’t have an opportunity that was meaningful enough at the time to pursue. The summer before school I had done a lot of thinking about taking a gap year, even sounding it out with Seth Godin and Ben Casnocha. Then, the summer of my freshmen year I had considered taking time off to learn under Brent Grinna and the small crew at EverTrue who are now on a roll.
All in all though, these weren’t the right opportunities that were right for a significant (2-4yrs) time commitment. It was a bit early to making that call and I didn’t think I could find a high impact role for the organization. I’ve now found one and I’m more than excited to execute on it.
I will be continuing to lead up our national partnership and offline showroom efforts as we raise money and grow as a team in different cities across the country trying to make custom the new standard for the urban professional.
My friendship with Fan goes back at least three years now. I first tweeted with him when I was in high school in January of 2010 with an idea for the then just launched Blank Label. That summer when he was in Shanghai setting up manufacturing we had a skype call about a community manager position.
Fast forward three years and we’ve been good friends that bond over basketball, menswear and trying to learn from the best in business. For the past year I’ve been working part time at BL while trying to balance four classes, lacrosse and Rough Draft involvement. Let’s just say between physical/mental drain from context switching, it’s incredibly frustrating not to be able to focus 100% when that one thing you really want is in from of you.
I will join now a few close friends that have stopped their traditional path to higher education to try and become meaningfully different. There a few common themes from all our decisions but here are mine personally.
- Optimize for the rate of learning. Yes, in almost any context you will be learning something (classroom, apprenticeship, internship, etc) but you should focus on finding that path that excites you the most because you’re being challenged, potentially failing and accelerating your rate of development. For the most part, doing entrepreneurial things > studying entrepreneurship.
- Surround yourself with smart and driven people…whether it’s roommates or colleagues.
- Work intensely on the things that you enjoy and couldn’t care less if you didn’t get paid or public recognition for.
- Be confident that your story you can tell in two years after failure or four years after a success will be much more interesting, rich and relevant to where you want to go.
- Acknowledge the fact that the individuals I want to mentor/be mentored by or hire/be hired by will not be ones putting much weight into the fact that I didn’t jump through small hoops for four consecutive years to get a high cost ($$, opportunity cost) piece of paper.
- Be in a city with a peer group that will allow you to fully enjoy life, explore new activities and be an interesting person.
Finishing is certainly a hard thing to do and I do think for the vast majority of folks, it’s still the right decision. I just know that for an ever increasing number of young intelligent and driven people who want to have an impact, it’s a harder but necessary decision to find and continue down the unique path that allows them to level up with their own ambitions.
Summer and life has begun. Get fit and get fitted,
I Had a Craving..
I had a craving to buy something. A tie, pair of socks, new leather belt…something. A menswear piece that I truly liked and would wear this fall.
After a long few weeks of grinding here in Chicago, I thought it would a nice personal treat.
I never did end up fulfilling that craving which came earlier this week. It was only as a result of not finding something that stuck - a piece that would have to be interesting enough to rationalize an impulse buy.
In a stupid and irrational kind of way, I sort of felt frustrated…my mind and wallet were ready to pull the trigger but I couldn’t satisfy it. Well, this feeling of consumerism didn’t last long and rightfully shouldn’t have.
This morning after an early morning workout I headed to the local coffee shop to read. And there I found a man who also a had a craving but his craving was much different from mine.
It was for spare change..a snack..a drink. A homeless gentleman sitting on a black milk crate holding a sign leaning against a light post. His craving just few feet from me but a whole world away.
There in that moment our two bubbles collided, forcing me to mentally slap myself in the face.
I hope the man enjoyed his grande blonde with two squeezes of hazelnut and vanilla that I grabbed for him as much as I enjoyed forgetting about my previous 1st world problem.
Finding excellent new team members is a hard task and it’s one Fan and I are currently focused on for our city expansions. We can find these folks online and have really started to learn what to look for. The more challenging part is having the opportunity to meaningfully engage with them and then at that point when you do get coffee, selling them on the mission and future of BL.
These latter parts can’t be learned in a blog post nor by listening to a successful serial entrepreneur. Sure, you can read material to try and reduce the stuff you don’t know you don’t know. Ultimately though, you’ve got to hone in on it yourself and do it with dozens if not hundreds of times with real candidates. You may slip up even with a really qualified applicant sitting across from you. The problem for us is that our first 100 times comes in our first venture…we’re learning on our own dime.
Earn the Right to Invest Yourself
A large part of self improvement is taking the time, energy and money to better your health, quality of life, confidence, etc.
The journey towards being fit, well dressed, funny, well spoken, (insert positive skill) is almost always a long one. It requires hard work and sacrifice for results that usually aren’t apparent in the immediate future.
I think the area most people could improve on in respect to beginning and following that interest is really gauging if they truly do want what they’re going after. Ie Am I working out for purely vanity, will I show up to workout even if I can’t attend a group class, does everyone have to know I’ve been hitting the gym (check ins..), do I push myself when I’m there?
I believe once you 100% know in your own mind that you will go and do this thing whether no one knew or even it was a challenge, then you’ve earned the right to double down and invest in yourself. #thisiswhywecanhavenicethings
Committed to exercising 5x/week no matter the family, work, or personal challenges? Great. Go to a nicer gym that has more relevant classes or nicer amenities.
Taken and edited hundreds of iPhone photos, read a few books, gotten feedback from folks more talented? Cool. Now you may be ready for a DSLR and a nice minimalist tumblr page.
Read about brands and product reviews, took hours to finding “your look” and planning your wardrobe. Nice. Treat yourself and invest in some quality (maybe more expensive) casual and work wear.
I now spend $130/mo on a gym in Chicago. I have absolutely no second thoughts about it despite the fact most people at first glance would gasp at that. It’s convenient to work, has a lot of great networking and most importantly, I’m there 8x/week for basketball, lifting and classes.
I happen to bike there every morning. I ride on a 15yr old road bike from a yard sale. I know in my heart I don’t deserve nor enjoy biking enough to actually ride something with smooth gears and good brakes.
Determine the things that will bring you the greatest ongoing daily joy. Gauge your commitment. Double down when you’ve internalized the path ahead. Have fun.
What’s After Dinner?
Living in a new city is an incredibly fun challenge both personally and professionally. I’m only two weeks into Chicago but I’ve got a lot of thoughts brewing on actionable steps one can take for a more seamless integration. It’s been a necessary but worthwhile endeavor on how to be close to friends from back home without proximity and at the same time try to start having a social presence starting from scratch. It’s also been really fun to use foursquare every single day to explore the areas around work and home.
This will continue to be top of mind everyday for the next 3-4 months until I ship out to the next city. Hopefully I’ll have a few tried and true tactical tips for folks entering into a similar position.
Workout at 7:30am / coffee shop work till 6pm / chipotle - marianos dinner / 7pm [crickets]
Context Switching #5sentences
One thing I’ve started to become increasingly mindful of is how quickly context can change in an interaction between friendly co-workers. At the early stages it’s the familial like bond you have with your co-workers that often helps you get into the trenches together and overcome challenges. Not only is that critical for the business but it leads to strong personal bonds that extend far past working hours.
The one potential dilemma with this dynamic is that hard conversations about the business can immediately follow recaps from last night’s activities. A 180* context switch happens when you go from talking about the wine selection to how we shouldn’t continue with a partnership they’ve worked so hard to build. If the colleague isn’t used to this close work/play environment, it can catch them off guard and your constructive criticism is perceived as a personal slight.
Even though the same foundational personal respect and rapport was always there, it wasn’t apparent to the other person (sometimes to no fault of their own). I can and appreciate switching contexts quickly, as it’s primarily the product of my personality and the fact that Fan and I as good friends had to grind alongside each other in a small office.
Something to keep on top of mind for folks working in small but growing businesses, I know I’ll be working on buffering these types of transitions.
Happy to continue the feedback and conversation - @ryandawidjan
August 7th, 5 Sentences
I notice an increasing number of young folks in startups/tech/digital wanting “to be known”. That is, a CEO or community leader knows of them and could probably the recognize them at an event.
This is largely a good thing and the first step of connecting and building a brand. Most kids will never be meaningfully on twitter or linkedin to start this.
However, I think there should be a very defined grace period for this type of “get on top of people’s mind” with a coffee invitation, value added tweet recommendation or blog re-share.
It’s time for driven young folks to start graduating from “wanting to be known” to, lets myself be “known for something”. It could be a particular skillset (coding, marketing, writing) or passion (photography, interviewing, etc). The point is to not get comfortable thinking you’re on the right track because a local tech founder knows your name. No. He should know your name because he wants to recruit you, mentor you or get your perspective over a beer.
Start carving out a meaningful piece in someone’s top of mind by executing, working hard and creating something..not just ra ra-ing from the sidelines.
@Bwats writing exercise
Every morning attempt to write 5 sentences of a thought, observation or idea.
It’s fascinating to be mindful of how you perceive time. The past 3 years have been a whirlwind for me but I can’t quiet tell if that’s a good thing. Thinking back just about this past spring or winter is hard and remembering specific moments even harder. I’ve internalized the notion that time is always passing and I’d like to make the most of my limited time, energy and focus.
This often leads to a very “never sit still” kind of way, consistently thinking about how to make a day full and engaging. When I sit back on Sundays and think that week was chock full of great stuff, it’s scares me to envision another whole year with Blank Label, my interests and network…imagine what could happen.
This intense focus on making the most of time is with me in every decision I make. I don’t want to engage with uninteresting, negative people..just like I don’t want to spend 70% of my waking hours in a job role that I don’t like. It’s funny though how critical of time we can be for ourselves but with the timeline of others it’s often funny how we quickly we could skip right past someone’s longtime engagements.
Example: I spend a lot of time on LinkedIn browsing for new team members and researching partners. I like to look into someone’s past and see what they’ve been up to. It’s just funny for me to glance at a quick role description for a particular company and see they worked there for close to two years…and in 3 seconds, I attempt to distill what that person has done, was doing and was supposed to do. Obviously I’d dig deeper in an interview but the point holds is that their two years worth of potential sacrifice, success, failures and memories are encapsulated in my bias, high level perspective. I just hope for them and for myself when I look back into my own time at Blank Label, I’ll be able to dig a bit deeper.