Let me first say how honored I am to be asked to participate in this.
And, at the same time, terrified.
“What I learned this year” is a pretty clear-cut question. While one could easily fluff a response to “What inspired me this year” or “What I enjoyed about this year,” there’s virtually no ambiguity to a summary of personal and professional growth over the last 12 months.
I firmly believe that we never stop learning form one another. And I wanted to do this right. I wanted to really look back and share some of the things that expanded my universe this year. As I looked back at previous entries from the Denver Egotist, I saw a pretty wide variety of contributions. A lot of lists of “things that inspire me.” Some chuckles. A few rather heavy personal stories. But the entries to “What I learned this year” that I found most intriguing weren’t the ones designed for entertainment, but the ones where people shared their mistakes, and the invaluable lessons learned from them. They showed me that there are countless other people out there, just like us, building and growing and adapting within this crazy creative business of ours. And they have the same problems, and concerns, and fears we all do.
So my list is short. No, this isn’t everything I learned this year. I’m still relatively young, and that list is too damn long. These are a just few of the key things this year has taught me as a human, a business leader, and as a teammate. Stumbles I’ve made, and revelations I’ve reached – sometimes painfully. Because I also believe good judgment comes from experience, which comes from bad judgment.
1. First find love, then find balance.
This was, by far, the easiest thing to learn once I had the life experiences to appreciate it. Wiser people have told me for years how important it is to find balance between our work, our families, and our personal passions. In my arrogant youth, I wrote much of this off. I mean, some (certainly not all) of the most creative individuals in our history, artists, inventors, teachers, live (or lived) miserable existences. And at one point early in my career, I rationalized being unhappy for the sake of being better. In hindsight, I realize how pathetic that logic was.
This year, my super-amazing wife and I made our second (and theoretically final) installment to our young family. Within a span of 20 months, I went from grew-up-in-a-family-of-boys Ross, to lives-with-three-girls Ross. Now all the things that stressed me out about running a creative business seem trivial in comparison to the open ocean of parenthood.
At first, I tried to fit my family life around my work life. I quickly learned that this wasn’t fair to either my family or my teammates, that it was making me unhappy, and that my work performance was suffering as a result.
So what changed? A couple of things. First, I quickly gained a whole new level of respect for the members of my 2e family that have successfully balanced beautiful families with solid careers for years. Folks like Lynda, John, Matt and Amy. I’ve learned to listen more to those, like Larry, Melanie, and of course, my partner Joe, who are much further along in this journey. These people are amazing, creative folks, and I’m continually inspired by their ability to find harmony.
I’ve also learned to trust others to do their job well. This doesn’t mean I’ve learned to “let go.” I still care about the work we do. It’s my job. But I think I’ve started getting better at setting expectations, then stepping out of the way of my more-than-capable teammates.
And finally, I’ve started putting my family, and the families of those around me, first. It’s okay to step out for my daughter’s preschool sing-along. The company will still be here when I get back.
2. There is true good in the work we do.
I had a bit of a career crisis over the last couple years, most likely triggered by the birth of my first daughter. I had taken a moment from years of head-down focus on the business to come up for air and ask myself what we were working toward. My business partner, Joe, has occasionally challenged me with that very question over the years, but I hadn’t really paid it the respectful attention it deserved. Probably because I didn’t truly understand the question.
But then my brother and sister-in-law joined the Peace Corps. Right now, they’re in Peru directly impacting the lives and communities of thousands of people. They’re two brilliant, beautiful, kind people who are making a difference, and I’m incredibly proud of them. This caused me to ask, what do I do? As much as I love the creative process, and enjoy working in an environment where I’m surrounded by creative individuals, the fact is in the creative business, we don’t actually make anything. We don’t build bridges, or produce widgets, or give people homes. Our most tangible output is ideas and the tools used to communicate them.
But what we do is so fascinating. We actually create products of the mind –
brands, ideas, strategies – out of nothing. It’s a daily cycle of invention. So how do we find passion in the brands we’re so adept at creating?
We shared that question with the team here at 2e Creative. We took a deep, long look at the clients we were most passionate about. Which ones we most enjoyed working with, and what characteristics they had in common. We quickly realized that our favorite brands were those that sought to make a real difference in the world. Brands that challenged us with their complexities, and that saw true value in our ability to help them tell their story.
At 2e Creative, we help drive change for brands that want to change the world. Coming to that realization has helped our team unite behind a common purpose. It has provided guidance in our pursuit of new business. It’s reignited my passion, not just in what we do, but in who we’re working with.
I look forward to revisiting that question with my teammates every day for years to come.
3. We’re made better by the brilliant people around us.
We should all take our heads out of the dreadful mechanics of business to catch a breath of air and remember that companies are communities, not machines.
There was, not long ago, a period in my career at 2e when I was in problem-solving mode. The creative industry was (and still is) in the midst of great evolution, and I had focused all of my energies on how our little company would survive, thrive and prosper. For whatever reason, I made the mistake of thinking it was my job alone to worry about, and ultimately find solutions to, these challenges.
I’d lost touch with the wealth of intelligent, creative brainpower that surrounds me. It took some subtle (and a few flagrant) nudges from my teammates to realize what was happening, but I was astounded at how quickly and readily this incredible team of ours stepped up to help. Brilliant creatives like Simon and Brandon. Solid strategists like Bridget. And tenured believers like Steve and Teresa.
The last 12 months have represented a gradual – but inspiring – community effort to reimagine our agency’s future. We still have a lot of work ahead, but I know it’s going to be an incredible journey.
The net result? I’ve found peace in loving what I do, and more importantly, the brilliant, passionate people I work with.