Career Q&A with Dan Jimenez, Chatbooks COO

With the new year, I’m kicking off a series of Career Q&As with successful leaders. The goal is to provide insightful lessons and practical advice you can leverage to further your career. The first one is with Dan Jimenez, who I first met in business school. There are a lot of gems in the interview. I particularly love his advice on career risk, how to think about the different decades of your life, and how he bounced back from an early career setback. Enjoy!

Dan Jimenez is the Chief Operating Officer of Chatbooks, a company that creates photo books right from your phone. Since joining Chatbooks in early 2015, Dan has helped the D2C business scale revenue 30x while growing the team to over 130 and fulfilling orders to 45 countries worldwide. Prior to his current role as COO, Dan led the raise of $25M+ of venture financing as Chatbooks’ CFO. Previously, he was an associate at Peterson Partners, a Utah-based Private Equity & Venture Capital fund, as well as a strategy consultant at Accenture. Prior to earning an MBA at the BYU Marriott School, Dan was a vehicle dynamics engineer at Ford Racing where he was part of winning two NASCAR championships and 33 race wins, including the 2012 Daytona 500. Dan is a frequent guest lecturer at universities on topics of entrepreneurship and strategy. You can find him on Twitter at @TheDanJimenez.

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1) What’s a book that has influenced your career or life, and why?

Zero to One by Peter Thiel. I happened to be reading it at the time I was faced with the decision of either sticking with going into strategy consulting after completing my MBA, or instead take a risk and join Chatbooks, a tiny Utah-based consumer tech startup. There’s a segment of the book where Peter describes in painful detail how an MBA teaches many otherwise smart and talented individuals to become risk-averse optionality-seekers — and that choosing the consulting path was the ultimate move of optimizing for career optionality that an MBA grad could make. I knew at that moment that I had to take risks early in my career if I wanted to accomplish something special. I knew that every year I waited to take that career risk, it would make it less and less likely that it would ever happen. Zero to One has been a book I’ve read and reread, as it has principles that I think apply well beyond business into life.

Was there an experience you had before age 21 that shaped who you are? What was it?

When I was 21 I worked my first internship as a mechanical engineer at a small NASCAR racing team in North Carolina. I was young, inexperienced, and very intimidated by the very smart and talented professionals around me. I didn’t grow up “wrenching” on race cars, I was an engineering and design nerd who thought race cars were cool. But I felt like the ultimate imposter, to the point I went into work each day sick to my stomach that I’d do something embarrassing. That summer taught me the importance of portraying confidence and not being afraid to ask questions when you don’t know the answers. I figured out what I could uniquely contribute to the team and focused on providing value where I could, and ignored what I didn’t know yet.

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?

I worked the last 18 months of my undergrad program as an engineer at an oil & gas services business. I enjoyed the job and liked the people I worked with and hoped it would be a place I could spend the first phase of my career. I assumed things were going well enough that a full-time offer after graduation was a lock. A few weeks before graduation I found out I wouldn’t be getting the offer to join full-time. I had apparently done and said some things that rubbed my boss the wrong way. I was in a state of disbelief, but with graduation a few weeks away (and now without a job) I didn’t have time to sulk. I walked out of that office with a chip on my shoulder that I’d prove to them that they were wrong about me. I’d become a kick-ass engineer and grow well beyond what that company could have ever provided for me. I know it sounds quite egotistical, but that experience has been a constant motivator for me to work hard and prove that old boss wrong 🙂

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?

One of the best pieces of career advice I ever received was from a Managing Director at Accenture during my MBA internship. He said (paraphrasing) “In your 20’s get as many diverse experiences as you can. In your 30’s specialize. In your 40’s make your money. And in your 50’s start to give back and mentor others. If your focus is right in your 20s and 30s, then you’ll make all the money you need to in your 40s and after”. I liked this because it put into perspective how long careers are and that you need to approach it in phases. It’s also helped me to not worry about money so much in my 20s and 30s. Optimize for the right experiences right now, and the money will take care of itself later.

What are the bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

I think there can be too much emphasis put on “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”. I got the chance to work in my “dream job”, as a vehicle dynamics engineer for a professional auto racing team. After the honeymoon period wore off, it kind of started to suck. It was a hard job, and “success” was dependant on so many variables outside of my control. The sport I used to love had become the job I was growing to dislike. Compare that to what I do now, operating a consumer tech company that helps consumers get photos off their phone and into their home. I wouldn’t say I’m naturally passionate about printing photos. But I do greatly enjoy the challenges of operating a business. The substance of the product or service at Chatbooks could (and will) change, and I’d still be just as happy because being an “operator” is at the core of what I enjoy doing. 

If you could go back in time to when you were entering the workforce and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

Ask more questions. Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know.

What’s one of your proudest professional accomplishments? (while this can include an obvious accomplishment, feel free to include a more personal one)

Growing Chatbooks into a business that serves millions of happy customers, employs 130+ extremely talented professionals with a culture that makes it a joy to come into work. 

Since entering the workforce, how have you changed or transformed?

I’ve learned that the greatest value you end up providing is determined by how you interact with your teammates. Are you a “Multiplier” (to steal a term from Liz Wiseman), or are you a “Diminisher”? I believe the engineering training I got gave me a lot of diminishing tendencies (i.e. not trusting others to do the analysis, etc.) But as a leader, I’ve learned that I need to let go of the reins, and trust others to do the job I believe I would do. Once you progress in your career a bit, it’s much less about what you can individually contribute and much more about how you enable others to be successful and provide multiples of value to your company.

Who is one person, dead or alive, who you admire? Why do you admire them? 

Ok, this one may be fed by recency-bias, but Taysom Hill. Taysom had 4 season-ending injuries in college but still put in the work to make a run at the NFL draft. Despite having a super impressive combine he didn’t get drafted but made every opportunity count in his first preseason with the Packers. He still got cut, but was picked up by the Saints. He then made himself into whatever the Saints and Coach Sean Payton needed him to be. He didn’t sit back and say “No I’m only a QB and I can’t risk getting hurt”. He did whatever he could to provide value, and he’s subsequently become one of the most talked-about players in the NFL, playing virtually every position on the field. For me, Taysom is an example of the value a great “generalist” can provide, which I see all the time in startups. He’s also shown an incredible amount of grit and determination to never let his dream die after so many setbacks. 

What habit or practice helps you manage stress? (the more specific you can be, the better)

You have got to keep your whole life in balance. You have to eat right. You have to exercise. You have to talk about your worries, anxieties, fears with someone — they can’t only live in your head. Proactively manage your mental health like you would your physical health. A few things I’ve done that have helped me manage my stress are: 1) I found a stress release through playing the piano. I suck at it, but it works a part of my brain that relieves the pressure I feel elsewhere. 2) I’ve worked with my doctors to get all my hormone levels tested and corrected. We figured out what was out of balance, and after some simple treatments, I feel like a new human being. Actually, I feel like myself again. 3) Talk openly about your stresses. Find someone you can confide in, whether that’s a significant other, a mental health professional, or even your boss. I’m lucky to have a boss who cares deeply about my mental state and has made it part of our regular 1-on-1’s to check up on me. In summary, you’ve got to manage your mental and emotional stress, or it will manage you.

6 Ways to Keep the Savior in Our Everyday Lives

One unique thing about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that there is no paid clergy and the members are often invited to speak to the congregation. My wife and I spoke to our congregation yesterday for about 15 minutes each. Here’s the text from my talk.

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Today I’ll be focusing on today is How to Keep the Savior In Our Everyday Lives. While there are countless ways to draw nearer to the Savior, I’ll be focusing on 6 practices that will help us keep Him in our everyday lives: 

  1. Pray to Heavenly Father
  2. Study the scriptures
  3. Serve others
  4. Express gratitude 
  5. Make and keep covenants, and
  6. Wait on the Lord

As I share these practices, I invite you to reflect on your life and ask yourself what you can do–or stop doing–to draw nearer to the Savior. 

 

1) Pray to Heavenly Father 

I quote from True to the Faith:

“Your Heavenly Father loves you and knows your needs, and He wants you to communicate with Him through prayer. As you make a habit of approaching God in prayer, you will come to know Him and draw ever nearer to Him. Your desires will become more like His. You will be able to secure for yourself, and for others, blessings that He is ready to give if you will but ask in faith.”

Doctrine and Covenants 8:2 teaches us how we receive answers to prayers. “Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.” 

When I was in grad school I was debating between two job offers, one in the Bay Area, where we’d lived before grad school, and one in the Midwest. We prayed and prayed to know what we should do. They were both great opportunities but I agonized over the decision, wanting to do what was right. Being the overanalytical person that I am, I made countless pros and cons lists. As the decision deadline drew near, we were no closer to making the decision. 

Finally, a few days before the deadline, the answer came. I had a powerful feeling, deep in my heart that we should take the job in the Bay Area. The undeniable answer trumped any list of pros and cons, and the answer to that prayer gave me the confidence to push forward. I’m grateful for the power of prayer. 

 

2) Study the scriptures

I’ll touch lighter on this one because my wife Whitney did a great job explaining how the scriptures–particularly the Book of Mormon–can bring us closer to the Savior. 

A few months back I felt a desire to become more charitable. I went to Moroni 7 where there are several scriptures on this topic. Verse 45 stood out. It gives a list of what charity is: “And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” 

I then dedicated my scripture study to each definition of charity: one day I studied how charity suffereth long, or is patient. Another day I studied how charity is kind. Diving deep into the topic of charity — which is the pure love of Christ — filled me with the Spirit and gave me an increased desire to be more like the Savior. 

Daily, meaningful scripture study will help us be receptive to the whisperings of the Holy Ghost. It builds our faith, fortifies us against temptation, and helps us draw near to our Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son.

 

3) Serve others

While studying the scriptures is a critical step to drawing nearer to the Savior, it’s equally important to serve others. Knowing isn’t enough, we must take action. We must do. 

I mentioned earlier that in my scripture study I was seeking to learn how to be more charitable. In the middle of this period, our family moved to Walnut Creek. Anyone who’s moved recently knows how much effort goes into a move. For weeks we organized, cleaned, made numerous trips to the DI trailer and packed and taped boxes. Finally, the day of the move came. I pulled up to our new house at around 3:30pm and started unloading the moving van. 

I hoped to make some progress before the Elders Quorum from this ward was scheduled to arrive at 6. At 4pm, two hours early, a man arrived. He was not the youngest of men, but he strapped on a weight belt and started unloading boxes. His pace was relentless. Several times I told him he could take off as he’d done more than his fair share, but he insisted on staying. By the time 6pm rolled around we had unloaded almost 2/3rds of the truck. Not only was he the first one to arrive, but he was also the last one to leave, staying late to help assemble one of the beds. The acts of kindness from the ward, particularly the kindness of this man, was so appreciated in our time of need. 

That day I learned more about charity than I did the entire month I had studied the topic. For several days I couldn’t think about his act of kindness, his act of charity, without getting teary-eyed. 

There are countless opportunities to serve others, many of them in our ward and stake. These planned acts of service are essential and needed. In addition to these scheduled opportunities, I encourage us to look for ways we can serve in our day to day life. Acts of service don’t have to be large. They can include: smiling at someone who looks sad, giving someone your seat on BART, letting a fellow driver merge into your lane, or putting away a neighbor’s trash can. Simply giving someone your full attention and genuinely listening is an act of service. These little things have a big impact. 

I love the parable of the Good Samaritan and it’s worth a refresher on how it starts and ends. “A certain lawyer stood up, and tempted Jesus, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? The Savior replies that he should love God and love his neighbor. To which, the lawyer asks, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus proceeds to tell him the story of the Good Samaritan. How a man traveling to Jericho was severely beaten and left for dead. After a Levite and Priest passed by him, it was a Samaritan who stopped to help. The Samaritan had compassion on him, bound up his wounds, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.

Following his telling of the Good Samaritan, the Savior turned to the lawyer and asked: Which now of these three was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

The Samaritan didn’t set out that day to be a hero. He saw someone in need and he took action. We would do well to follow the Savior’s counsel: Go, and do thou likewise.

 

4) Express gratitude 

Alma 34:38 teaches us that we should “live in thanksgiving daily, for the many mercies and blessings which he doth bestow upon you.” The Lord has promised, “He who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious” (Doctrine and Covenants 78:19). 

Several years ago I had a particularly bad day. I’m still not sure why. Things at work were good, and everyone in my family was doing well. There was nothing tangibly wrong, but something was nagging at me.

The next day, I continued reading a book called The Happiness Equation. The author discussed how expressing gratitude consistently leads to greater happiness. Later that day I listened to several general conference talks centered on finding greater peace and happiness, and the practice of giving thanks was referenced in each. The message hit me loud and clear—I need to be more grateful for all I have.

A few days later I kicked off what I dubbed the 30-Day Gratitude Challenge. Every single day, for 30 days, I would write a blog post sharing something I was grateful for. Here are four lessons I learned while completing the challenge.

A) Consistently giving thanks leads to increased happiness. Yes, the experiment worked. The simple act of writing down something I was grateful for made me happier and giving thanks on a daily basis left me constantly reflecting on the good in my life, even when I’d already written my blog post for the day.

B) Writing about gratitude made me more likely to thank others. Halfway through the experiment, I did something I probably don’t do enough. I sent an email to a colleague, outlining why I thought she was great at her job and how I appreciated her work. My email couldn’t have been more than five sentences in total. She followed up with a much longer message, explaining some challenges she was facing and how my note was the highlight of her week. Writing down what I was grateful for helped me be happier, which made me more likely to express gratitude to others.

C). There’s a silver lining in almost everything. When I did the 30-day challenge, I had a longer commute than anyone in my circle of friends. It came up a lot in conversation as people wanted to know how I was handling it. While reflecting one night, I thought about the positive aspects of the long commute. Commuting by train had given me time to read, reflect, and get a head start on the day’s work. By the time I walked into the office, I was in a better mindset and prepared to face challenges head-on.

D) Expressing gratitude can help, even when you feel you have nothing to be grateful for. A few weeks into the experiment I had a pretty bad day. I didn’t want to write about anything. It took a little time to find something I was genuinely grateful for, but I did it anyway. My day didn’t instantly turn around, but I did notice a difference.

The benefits of this gratitude challenge were so powerful that after the 30 days ended I made a commitment to continue the habit of writing down one thing each day that I’m grateful for. It’s now been almost three years since I kicked off the experiment (I’m on day 1,012) and this habit continues to enrich my life. As we take time to remember our blessings, we will recognize how much our Heavenly Father has done for us.

 

5) Make and keep covenants. 

The topic of making and keeping covenants has been front and center for the leaders of our church. In fact, during the October 2019 general conference, three apostles–Elders Renlund, Gong and Rasband–focused their talks on covenants. 

In his talk, Elder Rasband taught what a covenant is: 

“A covenant is a two-way promise between us and the Lord. As members of the Church, we covenant at baptism to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ, to live as He lived. Like those baptized at the Waters of Mormon, we covenant to become His people, “to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; … to mourn with those that mourn; … comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places.” 

When we partake of the sacrament, we renew our baptismal covenants. We not only make covenants at baptism but also in the temple. Temple worship allows us to regularly renew these covenants. 

Societal trends may not jibe with living a life of commitment and covenant-keeping, but such a life is central to keeping the Savior with us always. President Nelson has taught: “We increase the Savior’s power in our lives when we make sacred covenants and keep those covenants with precision. Our covenants bind us to Him and give us godly power.”

 

6) Wait on the Lord 

The final practice for keeping the Savior in our everyday lives is to wait on the Lord. 

But what does it mean to wait upon the Lord? In the scriptures, the word “wait” means to hope, to anticipate, and to trust. To hope and trust in the Lord requires faith, patience, humility, meekness, long-suffering, keeping the commandments, and enduring to the end.

For me, waiting on the Lord may be the hardest of the 6 practices discussed. I like things to happen in my time. When I pray, I want an answer right now. When there’s a challenge in my life, I want it to be fixed immediately. But we’ve been taught that “tribulation worketh patience” (Romans 5:3) and we must learn to “continue in patience until [we] are perfected” (D&C 67:13). Waiting on the Lord requires an attitude of “Thy will be done, O Lord, and not ours.”

I’d like to share a personal story of a time I learned to wait on the Lord. 

Shortly after graduating college, I took a job with Lehman Brothers, a Wall Street investment bank. I had worked like crazy to get the job and was crushed when the firm went bankrupt just a few weeks after I joined. Lehman’s bankruptcy was the largest in US history and fueled the 2008 financial crisis. Companies worldwide were cutting costs by laying off employees, and the job market was awful. Now, just a few months after completing my undergrad, I was out of work. Despite the odds, I was optimistic, but soon reality kicked in. Weeks went by. Months went by. And despite my best efforts, I couldn’t find a job. 

I was doing everything I had been taught to do when you need the Lord’s help. I was praying. I was reading my scriptures. I was going to the temple. I was striving to serve others. But it didn’t seem to be working. I felt forgotten. I felt alone. 

My wife and I went to church one Sunday like we did every week. I was particularly depressed that day and couldn’t be around others. I went home after Sacrament. I sat alone in our apartment before getting on my knees and praying. I felt prompted to turn on a movie, Finding Faith in Christ. As I watched the Savior heal, as I watched him serve, as I watched Him suffer for my sins in the Garden of Gethsemane and overcome death through His resurrection, I felt deeply of the love he had for me.  

I knew that everything would work out. There wasn’t an immediate solve, but in time I found a job and bounced back. In hindsight, those setbacks were not only valuable but essential to my career growth and spiritual growth. I am grateful I had to wait on the Lord. 

There are times in our lives where we are all tested. Times where we may feel a lessening of the Spirit for a season. We may feel like we’re doing everything we should be doing but don’t feel like our prayers are being answered. It’s critical that we trust in the Lord and keep pressing forward. 

In the words of Elder Holland, “Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come.” The Lord is bound when we do what he says but we must wait on Him.

 

Conclusion

To recap, we can keep the Savior in our everyday lives by:

  1. Praying to Heavenly Father
  2. Studying the scriptures
  3. Serving others
  4. Expressing gratitude 
  5. Making and keeping covenants, and
  6. Waiting on the Lord

As you reflect on these six practices, I invite you to set a goal, one goal, for how you can keep the Savior in your everyday life. Maybe it’s being more diligent in your prayers, making more time for scripture study or striving to express gratitude for all you’ve been blessed us with. 

I want to close with my testimony. I know that we have a loving Heavenly Father. I know that his son, Jesus Christ, lived a perfect life and atoned for our sins. I promise that as we seek the Lord, we will find him. He stands at the door knocking. All we need to do is let him in. We can have His power with us every single day. 

The Powerful Lesson I Finally Learned from the Tenth Leper

At church a few weeks back, one of the speakers gave a talk on the subject of gratitude. She included the story of Jesus and the 10 lepers as found in Luke 17:

11 And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee.

12 And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off:

13 And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.

14 And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.

15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God,

16 And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.

17 And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?

18 There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.

19 And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.

Throughout my life, I’ve probably heard this story dozens of times. The lesson I took each time was either, “It’s really important to show gratitude” or “You don’t want to be like the other nine lepers.”

For whatever reason, this time around I was solely focused on the tenth leper and what his life was like thereafter. I couldn’t help but think that his expression of gratitude wasn’t just a nice thing to do for Jesus, it was something that transformed the leper. He had already been cleansed. Expressing gratitude made him whole.

Thanksgiving is a beautiful time to reflect on what we’re grateful for. But the blessings of gratitude don’t need to be confined to the end of November. We can enjoy them year-round.

I challenge all of us to make a regular commitment to expressing thanks. As we do so we’ll have a greater appreciation for all we’ve been given. Our life will be more joyful and bounteous. Like the 10th leper, we will be whole.

The Five Lessons I Learned from Not Doing a Triathlon

A few weeks back my brothers and I descended on beautiful Malibu, California to participate in the Nautica Malibu Triathlon.

My younger brother and I are pretty competitive, and we’d competed together in five triathlons prior to this. I had three wins to his two, and I was hoping to extend my lead. More importantly, we’d been able to persuade our older brother to join us. For the first time, all three Tanner boys would be in the same triathlon. I was so pumped. 

We typically do sprints but opted for the Olympic distance. I knew the one-mile swim, 25-mile bike ride and 6.2-mile run would be a stretch so I started training immediately after signing up back in March. 

With four kids, a busy job, and everything else going on, finding time to work out was tough. I woke up early to get in runs. I snuck in swims during lunchtime or on Saturdays when we were at the pool. I bought a spin bike so I could ride at night after the kids fell asleep. (I think I watched the entire season of Stranger Things 3 from the bike saddle. So good! I still miss Smirnoff… but I digress.)   

The training was going well. Really well, in fact. As we got into July and August, I started seeing legit improvements in my swimming, cycling, and running times. The consistent training was paying off. My brothers and I were texting and calling almost daily, sharing workouts and comparing times. I felt confident that I’d be triumphant this year. More importantly, I was confident I’d be able to beat my time from 2014, the last time I did an Olympic-distance. I was feeling good. 

Then things went sideways. With roughly two weeks left until race day, I jumped on my spin bike to log a 90-minute spin session while watching the BYU vs Utah football game. 25 minutes in, I started feeling a dull pain just below my knee cap. The pain grew steadily until I decided not to push it anymore. The combo of knee pain and losing to Utah for the ninth straight time made for a brutal night. 

Many years before (but still during the losing streak to Utah), I’d felt similar pain. The recovery had been about two weeks, so while I was disappointed, I was optimistic I’d be fine on race day. I kept swimming but didn’t run or bike the next week. With one week until the tri, I tested my knee with several short runs on the treadmill. The pain came right back so I completely shut things down. I decided I’d give my knee one final test just before Saturday’s race.  

It all came down to Thursday night. My plan was to cycle for 15 minutes, then run one mile. If I could get through that workout with limited pain then maybe, just maybe, I’d be good to run 6.2 miles and bike 25 miles a day and a half later. 

Thursday night came and I put the kids to bed before heading to the gym. I felt minor pain during the last five minutes of the bike portion. Nothing I couldn’t push through. But when I jumped on the treadmill, the pain was immediate. I continued running at a slow, steady pace but the pain got worse with each step. I couldn’t even get through a half-mile.

The answer I’d been searching for the last 2+ weeks had finally arrived. It was a somber drive home. 

When I write, I typically share lessons learned from doing something. From taking action and from executing. This time around I’ll share lessons I learned from NOT doing something. Here are five. 

1) The joy is in the journey, not the destination

When it hit me that I couldn’t do the triathlon I was crushed. I told myself that all that time spent running, biking, and swimming was for nothing. It was all a waste. But that was totally false. I loved the training process. I felt pure exhilaration when I’d hit a new PR or enjoy a beautiful morning run. A training session would sometimes be the highlight of my day, a reprieve from the stresses of life. With this injury, I wouldn’t reach my initially targeted destination, but I had found fulfillment throughout the journey.  

2) Less is often more

While I’m fairly certain the knee pain stemmed from a misaligned seat on my spin bike, it was exacerbated by overtraining. Until that point, I’d seen a direct correlation between inputs and outputs. The more I trained, the faster I got. So I kicked my training up a notch, exercising six days a week instead of five. And that’s when I got in trouble.  

I’ve found that sometimes in life, the harder you push to for something, the less likely you are to achieve it. This can be especially true in our careers. Many years ago, there was a job I wanted more than anything. I prepared, and prepared, and prepared for the interview. The night before the final round I couldn’t sleep. I was so fixated on crushing the interview that I couldn’t think of anything else. I showed up to the interview frazzled. I wasn’t my best self. I didn’t get the job. Well-intended action, when taken to the extreme, can be our undoing. More is not always more.

3) Everyone needs a cheerleader

I’ve participated in many triathlons, but this was my first as a spectator. I opted to participate in the swim portion then sit out the rest. This gave me a front-row seat in the transition area where I could see every athlete as they transitioned from swim to bike and bike to run. I cheered for my brothers throughout, taking dozens of pictures and videos. I was there for them at the end, screaming their names as they crossed the finish line. Making the day special for them made it special for me. 

4) The most important thing in life is family

I hate to go all Vin Diesel from Fast and the Furious on you, but it’s true. Once I realized I wouldn’t compete, I thought about canceling my flight but my wife encouraged me to go anyway. I’m so grateful I did as I had an incredible weekend with my brothers. By not stressing about my tri performance, I was able to be more present. We were together just 36 hours but I spent more quality time with them during that stretch than I had all year. Nothing beats spending meaningful time with the people you love. 

5) Come what may and love it

The day after my injury, I thought of this talk from Joseph B. Wirthlin. In it, he shares that when something bad happened to him or when he faced a challenge, his mother would remind him to “come what may and love it.” In his words: 

“I don’t think my mother was suggesting that we suppress discouragement or deny the reality of pain. I don’t think she was suggesting that we smother unpleasant truths beneath a cloak of pretended happiness. But I do believe that the way we react to adversity can be a major factor in how happy and successful we can be in life. If we approach adversities wisely, our hardest times can be times of greatest growth, which in turn can lead toward times of greatest happiness.”

While I’m disappointed I couldn’t do the triathlon, I’m grateful for what this experience has taught me. I’m mindful that this “adversity” pales in comparison to the true adversity many of us face on a daily basis. But I do believe that if we’re willing to look for it, if we’re willing to be taught, we can find a lesson in everything.  

My knee will heal. Another triathlon awaits. Life goes on. Come what may and love it.

Five Lessons I’ve Learned from Church Service

A little context before I jump in.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has many unique things about it, but a notable one is that there is no paid clergy. The local congregations, which we call wards, are run entirely on a volunteer basis. The leader of the ward is called “bishop” and members of the ward are asked to serve in callings, which are assignments to serve in a specific area. These callings range from teaching Sunday School to counting attendance at worship services.

Last Sunday I was released from my calling to serve as a counselor to our bishop, a calling I held for almost three and a half years. The leader who made the release invited me to share a few words with the congregation. I decided to share five lessons that I learned from serving in the church.

1) Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about

While serving, I spent a lot of time with people I had previously admired from a distance. They had good jobs, good marriages, a beautiful family, etc. I looked at these individuals and their families and assumed everything in their life was perfect.

As I spent time with these individuals, sometimes serving alongside them, sometimes serving them directly, I learned that no one is invincible. Everyone has challenges. Those challenges may not be apparent on the surface, but they are there, they are real, and quite often they are severe.

It’s been said that everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. I’ve found through experience that this is spot on.

2) Assume good intentions

It’s easy to look at imperfect people and fixate on what they’re doing wrong and how they can do better. While correction has a place, so does kindness and support. In our church, service is 100% voluntary. No one gets paid to serve. Everyone is trying their best. Replacing criticism with a helping hand can go a long way. Assuming good intentions should apply to all, not just those serving.

3) Talents are magnified when serving others

Somehow, someway, when we use our talents to help others, those talents are enlarged.

4) Service is not always convenient

The first Sunday of May 2016 will always be a memorable one. I took our two older kids to church while my wife stayed home with our newborn daughter, who was three weeks old at the time. After the first hour of church (we met for three hours then but have since moved to two), one of the leaders pulled me into a room. He asked me if I would serve as a counselor to our bishop, a calling that would require a substantial commitment of time and energy.

With three young children and a busy job, I thought of several reasons why the timing wasn’t right. However, I felt strongly that accepting the invitation to serve was the right thing to do and my wife was fully supportive. Sundays were no longer a day to sleep in. I had 6:30 AM meetings and didn’t get home until after lunch. Every Sunday my wife got the kids ready and took them to church on her own.

Six months later I accepted an offer to join DoorDash. It would prove to be an even more demanding job than my prior one and required a commute to San Francisco. Once again, I questioned whether we’d be able to make it all work. And life certainly didn’t get any simpler when we welcomed our fourth child earlier this year.

Over the last 3+ years there were a lot of balls to juggle and I thought church service may need to be the one I let drop. My wife, on more than one occasion, helped me see things from a long-term perspective and we were able to keep moving forward.

5) Serving others may bless your life more than those you’re serving

I won’t detail them here, but I’m in awe of how many blessings our family has had over the last 3+ years. While I hope that I’ve been able to help others, my life has likely been blessed even moreso.

In Matthew 16:25 Jesus said, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”

This has to be the most counterintuitive advice out there, but it’s true. Are you overwhelmed by all that’s going on in your life? Pause what you’re doing and go help someone. Doing so will both bless your life and put things into perspective.

I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to serve. While these lessons have come from serving in a formal capacity, I’ve learned that you don’t need to wait for someone to tap you on the shoulder. The opportunities are endless and the blessings of service come to all who are willing to extend a helping hand.

The Unanticipated Benefit of Having a Small House (Day 728)

My wife and I have mostly lived in Silicon Valley the last 11 years. I say mostly because there was a two-year stretch where we lived outside of California. The desire to change careers took us out of state for grad school. We ultimately found ourselves with a big decision: Should we move back to the Bay Area, where the high cost of living would limit our housing options, or should we find a new place to call home?

Most of my classmates chose the latter, moving to lower cost areas where they purchased large homes on large plots of land. The career opportunities, weather, and friendships we’d built over the years were enough for us to select the Bay Area. Our home would be much smaller than the one we lived in during grad school, but that was a sacrifice we had to make, or so I thought.  

We quickly noticed a few benefits of having a smaller home. Less square footage = lower utility bill. Smaller yard = less yard work. Smaller home = less space clean. (Fun fact: you can almost vacuum our entire house without having to change electrical outlets.)  

But there was one blessing we didn’t expect. Being close physically helped us grow closer in other ways. Let me explain.

Family prayer and scripture study has always been important and our goal is to do both daily. In grad school, we had a two-story home. Corralling kids was always a challenge and we often missed our goal. The seemingly small change of living on a single floor reduced a minor barrier and made it easier to gather as a family. We are now much more consistent at reaching our daily goal and it’s made a difference.

Living in close proximity has also strengthened our kids’ relationships. Our 8-year-old and 6-year-old share a room and are in constant interaction. They butt heads all the time, but there’s little space for them to be separated. While in the moment this can be painful for all involved (especially mom and dad). Our kids can’t run to their separate rooms or ignore the other. They are forced to work things out.

That constant interaction has fostered a special relationship. One recent night, after putting them to bed, we noticed it was unusually quiet in their room. One had climbed from the top bunk into the other’s bed and they were found laughing and sharing stories. A treasured moment for all.  

To be clear, I’m not arguing that small homes are somehow better than larger ones, and the day will come (I hope) when we have more space. But this experience has served as a reminder that sometimes those things in our lives that look or feel inferior turn out to be unanticipated blessings.  

Living in a smaller home has brought us closer. Not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. And for that, I’m grateful.

 

In April 2017 I kicked off a gratitude challenge where I wrote a daily blog post for 30 days (more on my learnings here). When the challenge ended I decided to continue the habit. Today is day 728.

The 5 Best Books I Reread in 2018

At the beginning of 2018, I made a goal to re-read several of my favorite books. I figured that if they were good enough the first time around, they were worth revisiting. Here are my top five.

 

The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

As the subtitle states, Holiday’s book outlines how you can turn setbacks into successes. Holiday’s advice is largely inspired by stoics, with Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius being the most influential. Here are three of my favorite passages:

  • “Focusing exclusively on what is in our power magnifies and enhances our power. But every ounce of energy directed at things we can’t actually influence is wasted…So much power…is frittered away in this manner.”
  • “It’s supposed to be hard. Your first attempts aren’t going to work. It’s goings to take a lot out of you—but energy is an asset we can always find more of. It’s a renewable resource.”
  • “See things for what they are. Do what we can. Endure and bear what we must. What blocked the path now is a path. What once impeded action advances action. The Obstacle is the Way.”

 

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon

I love this book and wish I would have read it before writing my first book. I now keep a copy on my desk for reference. Chock-full of simple yet elegant insights, Steal Like an Artist is a short, wonderful read for anyone seeking to be more creative.

What is creativity? To me, it’s the ability to imagine, to generate new ideas, to create, and to build something original. I’ve never considered myself creative, but over the last few years, I’ve been trying to build this muscle. Even if you don’t consider yourself a creative type (most of us don’t), I think you’ll enjoy this book and find application for whatever you’re pursuing.

 

John Adams by David McCullough

I’m a huge fan of biographies and John Adams is one of my favorites. Adams was a polarizing figure throughout the American Revolution and held vicious grudges with several of the Founding Fathers. Despite his many flaws, Adams provided consistent leadership and played a critical role during the founding of the United States.

Biographies help me gain insights into how successful people handle crises, solve complex problems, and pursue interesting careers. Other favorite historical biographies include Truman (also by McCullough), Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (by Walter Isaacson) and Alexander Hamilton (by Ron Chernow).

 

Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

Holiday convincingly argues that ego is the main thing holding us back from reaching our full potential. Early in our careers, ego can prevent us from developing our talents, and when we taste success, it can blind us to our own faults. Holiday shares anecdotes from the lives of historical figures who reached high levels of power and success by con­quering their own egos, as well as those who let ego conquer them. These stories drive home lessons that we all can apply.

My biggest takeaway? Don’t focus on what your neighbors, your co-workers, or your classmates are doing. Focus on what you can control. Keep your own scorecard.

 

The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) by Seth Godin

I first read this book in 2015 and found it so insightful I decided to read it again. Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi is known for saying, “Winners never quit and quitters never win.” It makes for a great quote, but it’s completely false. Winners quit all the time, they’re just good at quitting at the right things. Free market systems reward the exceptional, and those who are best in the world at something get compensated 10x more than those who are merely good. Godin argues that we can all be the best in the world at something. To become exceptional, we first need to make sure we’re on the right path, then be willing to push past the point where most people give up.

Five years ago I left the finance world, largely because I didn’t feel I had the talent or desire to be exceptional in that field. I made the decision to forgo two years of income to pursue an MBA and completely switch careers. Several years in it’s clear to me I made the right choice. Knowing when to quit and when to stick isn’t easy, but this book provides a good framework to help with the decision.

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2018

Five years ago I was challenged to read 30 books in a year. I accepted that challenge and wrote about what I learned at the end of the year. I’ve since made it a point to read at least 30 books a year and my life has been greatly enriched by doing so.

I read a lot of great books in 2018. In no particular order, here are my 10 favorites.

10) When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Dan Pink

This is the fourth book I’ve read from Dan Pink, which goes to show how highly I think of his work. There are a lot of “how-to” books out there, but as the title suggests, this is a “when-to” book. Pink explores the science of timing and answers many questions including:

  • How can we use the hidden patterns of the day to build the ideal schedule?
  • Why do certain breaks dramatically improve student test scores?
  • Why should we avoid going to the hospital in the afternoon?
  • Why is singing in time with other people as good for you as exercise?
  • What is the ideal time to quit a job, switch careers, or get married?

Regarding the last question, Pink found that people who change jobs frequently early in career end up making more money than those who don’t. Why? As it turns out, the likelihood that you’re going to start your career in a job that you’re good at AND enjoy is relatively low. Changing jobs early in career gives you more chances to find the right match. He also shared that one of the main reasons starting your career during a recession can be so damaging is that it limits your ability to change jobs and you end up staying somewhere that’s not a good fit.

9. Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator by Ryan Holiday

Ryan Holiday is one of my favorite writers. While most of his books focus on stoicism, his first book details how easy it is to manipulate the media. I knew this book would expose the underbelly of media organizations but I was still shocked to learn how it all works today.

8. Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke

We read Thinking in Bets for our DoorDash book club earlier this year and I initially wasn’t interested in it. It looked like a book about poker, a subject I don’t particularly care about. But I quickly learned it’s really a book about getting comfortable with uncertainty and making better decisions.

My biggest insight was realizing how often I base the quality of a decision on whether there’s a positive or negative outcome. Good outcome and I deserve a pat on the back. Bad outcome and I’m kicking myself. But in reality, decisions should be evaluated on information that’s available at the time, not on how things play out. When making decisions we often have limited information and an even more limited understanding of the risks. The more we can quantify those factors, the more we’ll end up making good choices.

Whether you read the book or not, think back to the worst decision you’ve made over the last year. If you’re like me, you immediately thought of a decision that led to a bad outcome, even if the decision itself may have been completely sound. Focusing on decision making process over outcome is the right way to do it and will yield to more good decisions in the long haul.

7. Dream Teams: Working Together Without Falling Apart by Shane Snow

Shane Snow is an amazing storyteller and weaves in clever anecdotes and thorough research to convey how we can build strong and impactful teams.

6. The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath

Fantastic book on how to use defining moments to transform your life and business.

5. Tiger Woods by Jeff Benedict

There’s an argument that Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer of all time. There’s no argument that he revolutionized the sport and dramatically increased its popularity since first winning the Masters in 1997. Tiger was lethal in his prime, winning over 30% of the tournaments he entered during a 12-year stretch. He dominated the competition. (Here are his 40 most impressive feats.)

Much of the credit for Tiger’s greatness can be attributed to his father, Earl, who pushed him relentlessly. I knew his dad was intense, but this book opened my eyes to the extreme ways Earl pushed his son. It also opened my eyes as to how hard Woods pushed himself to be the best, and how, in his quest for greatness, he ultimately destroyed his family and frayed many close relationships. The book is outstanding and the Bill Simmons Podcast interview with Chuck Klosterman covers the most riveting parts.

For me, Woods’ rise to greatness stands as a cautionary tale. He accomplished so much, but at what cost? Climbing to the top of your field, whether it’s sports, business, or anything else, requires an almost myopic focus. Before we begin our climb, it’s worth asking ourselves, today, what is the ultimate goal we’re trying to accomplish? Or as Harvard professor Clayton Christensen asks, how will you measure your life?

4. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

A leadership fable that teaches how teams can overcome obstacles to achieve success. I really enjoyed Lencioni’s writing style and was engaged throughout the book.

3. The Courage to be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi, Fumitake Koga

Earlier this year my friend tweeted, “Marc Andreessen thinks everyone should read this book right now: Adlerian psychology meets Stoic philosophy in Socratic dialogue. Compelling from front to back. Highly recommend.” So I bought it, and, and I’m glad I did. Written as dialog between a philosopher and a young man, The Courage to be Disliked was only recently published in English, but apparently sold over 3.5 million copies across Asia.

I drew a lot of insights, but my favorite lesson is connected to the book’s title. “Real freedom is the courage to be disliked. You’ll never be truly free unless you are willing to be disliked by others. The courage to be happy and the courage to be disliked go hand in hand.”

Amazon shows only 5-star and 1-star reviews, and I can see why. Some principles are simple and obvious, while others (past trauma has no impact on your ability to be happy) are much harder to swallow.  I don’t agree with everything taught, but it gave me a lot to think about. To me, that’s the sign of a great book.

I listened to the Audible version but it’s likely just as good in print. For a more thorough overview, check out this article.

2. Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

I loved this book. Might be the best I’ve read all year. There’s no business angle to Educated but I thought I’d share given that I literally couldn’t put it down.

1. Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility by Patty McCord

From DVDs to streaming to original content, Netflix has reinvented itself several times. These reinventions were made possible by a unique culture that differs wildly from its Silicon Valley contemporaries. Netflix’s former HR leader shares the secrets of what makes that culture so effective.

When Looks are Deceiving

Provo-based Qualtrics was in the news a few weeks back when the company announced they were being acquired by SAP for a whopping $8 billion. It’s the second largest SaaS acquisition ever and a huge win for the state of Utah. Having gone to college in Provo, I closely followed the details of the acquisition.

I couldn’t take my focus off Bill McDermott, the CEO of SAP. Each picture and video clip showed him wearing sunglasses. I kept thinking, Why on earth does this guy wear sunglasses indoors? Who does this guy think he is?  

Well, eventually I took the incredibly difficult step of entering “SAP CEO Sunglasses” into the Google machine. It turns out there’s a very good reason for those sunglasses. In July 2015 McDermott was walking down the stairs at his brother’s house, holding a glass of water. He slipped and fell, shattering the glass, and a shard went through his left eye. He was in surgery for over nine hours the night of the accident and had more than 10 surgeries in total. Eventually he lost the eye.

McDermott actually said that losing his eye changed his life for the better. “You fall down stairs and get knocked unconscious and the glass hits all the wrong parts. You’ve got to find a way to get up. So I don’t get rattled by the chaos. I get inspired by beating it back and finding out how gorgeous it is on the other side.”

Immediately upon reading the article, my view of McDermott was flipped upside down. I went from thinking he was probably an egomaniac to being totally impressed by how he’s coped with a serious setback.

I saw him do something I thought was odd (wearing sunglasses inside) and judged him for it. My judgment was way off. The experience was a needed reminder that when we see others act in a way that is peculiar, or somehow different from what we expect, we need to give them the benefit of the doubt. First impressions are often wrong.

This Simple Tool Will Help You Immediately Neutralize Someone’s Anger

I recently had a meeting with an employee that I was dreading. I’ll spare the details, but he was frustrated about his compensation and felt like he had been wronged. He had spoken about this with his manager and HR partner on multiple occasions. Still not satisfied, he reached out to me over Slack. I walked him through the situation, the various factors at play, why we made the decision we did, and that we wouldn’t be revisiting that decision. Undeterred, he asked if we could meet in person.

Given that I had little to lose in this meeting (he was likely going to be angry at me regardless of what I said), I tried a tactic I learned while reading Chris Voss’ book, Never Split the Difference. Voss taught that you can neutralize angry people by identifying the worst things the other party could say about you and say them before the other person can. These accusations often sound exaggerated when said aloud, so speaking them will encourage the other person to claim that quite the opposite is true.

The employee was already in the conference room when I arrived. Before he could say anything I blurted out, “Listen, I know you’re pissed off about the situation and must think I’m a total jerk.” The employee responded by saying he wasn’t really that mad, he just wanted to understand why I’d made the decision. His anger was diffused, and after I walked through the rationale for our decision, the conversation came to an amicable close.