Career Q&A with Ann Hiatt, Leadership Consultant and Former Executive Business Partner to Jeff Bezos and Eric Schmidt (#5)

I recently kicked off a series of Career Q&As with successful leaders. The goal is to provide practical advice and insightful lessons you can leverage to further your career. Next up is Ann Hiatt, a leadership consultant, and the former Executive Business Partner to Jeff Bezos and Eric Schmidt. Ann offers great advice on taking career risks, trusting your intuition, and effectively managing stress.

Ann Hiatt received her initial business training during 15 years as the Executive Business Partner to Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon) and Eric Schmidt (CEO and Executive Chairman at Google/Alphabet). Ann now consults with executives of Fortune 500 companies as well as European and Silicon Valley startups and is on several advisory boards. Ann has recently relocated from Silicon Valley to Europe and brings with her a unique perspective on what it takes to succeed in business today and how to apply that to any organization. She is also a sought-after international speaker having spoken at conferences across five continents.

Ann is a native of Seattle and studied International Studies at the University of Washington before moving to California to begin a Ph.D. at UC Berkeley. She speaks Swedish fluently and Spanish conversationally among other European languages. In her elusive free time, Ann enjoys running, scuba diving and traveling.

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

I love anything written by Adam Grant. His book, Originals, is a favorite of mine since I’ve spent 15 years of my career surrounded by and collaborating with truly original thinkers and am fascinated by them. His insights and research really ring true for me. Also, he’s a spectacular human being. If you’re not already following him, you should!

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

My first job ever was at a startup in Redmond, Washington in 1995 (back before anyone knew what a startup was). I learned from the entrepreneur founders (who were also brothers) what it’s like to start your own company, land your first clients and grow your first team. I had no idea how much that job was preparing me for my future career at Amazon and Google and beyond. 

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

I almost killed Jeff Bezos two months after being hired at Amazon in 2002. Seriously. Luckily that isn’t the end of the story or my career.  While it was the worst day of my professional life, it taught me that no matter how spectacularly you fail you always learn something. When the helicopter that I hired for Jeff Bezos crashed with him inside I learned that I am really good under pressure and with crisis management.  I just hope to never need to use that skill in that way again!  

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

I would say to take big risks early on. Don’t be afraid to ask the “dumb” questions or to show lots of ambition.  You will never ever receive anything if you don’t ask, so be bold! I wish I had learned that lesson 10 years earlier than I did.  Oh, and max out your 401k savings contributions every year—especially in those early years. Compound interest is your best friend! 

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

I have been lucky to work in very innovative companies and teams. With that said, there have been times when even those people told me no when I wanted advancement. I had to trust my gut, rather than listening to advice to be happy with what I had, and push harder to find creative ways to accomplish my growth goals. Eventually, that meant taking the scary step of starting my own venture.

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?

Be bold! Aim much, much higher than you can currently imagine. 

What’s one of your proudest professional accomplishments? 

Most of my proudest moments involve creating success within impossible circumstances. At the moment that means building a 6-figure consulting business in less than a year after leaving Google—all while in a new country, language and network.  I love helping global entrepreneurs thrive!

What’s something unexpected that has happened in your career, and how have you responded?

My very first job out of university was working for Jeff Bezos at Amazon. That came very unexpectedly and literally changed the course of my life. I learned not to fear failure, to be bold, and to trust my instincts. 

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

When I started at Amazon in 2002 I was timid and deferential. That didn’t last long!  In order to survive in that environment, you have to be daring and confident. Those lessons served me well when I left Amazon to start a Ph.D. at UC Berkeley and then in my 12-year career at Google as the Chief-of-Staff to the CEO. Now as an independent consultant I use those skills and experiences every day with my CEO clients. I am so blessed to have learned to be proud and confident whether I’m on stage, coaching a CEO or in a one-on-one mentoring session. I still have moments of doubt and imposter syndrome, like most high performing people, but I’ve learned how to combat.

When have you felt stuck in your career? How did you break out of it or push forward?

I loved every minute of working at Google but eventually decided to leave in year 12 because there weren’t opportunities for me to grow there. I had hit a ceiling that felt arbitrary and I wanted a bigger challenge. I realized that that kind of challenge would only come if I took a leap of faith in myself and started my own company. It’s been both terrifying and very satisfying.

Who is one person you admire? Why do you admire them? 

The notorious RBG! Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a pioneer who has broken glass ceilings for so many people. She is brilliant, clever, quirky and unapologetically herself. 

What habit or practice helps you manage stress? 

I had a full-on midlife crisis a few years ago and found that exercise is my very best form of therapy. (Although I did talk therapy as well!) I find now, even when life is happy and calm again, that I need protected time every single day to move my energy out of my head and into my body.  I need the sunshine and fresh air and relentless pace to keep me grounded so that I can then do my best mental work. In true Silicon Valley form, several years ago I signed up to run a half marathon to raise money for charity before I had ever even run a 5K. I am happy to say that I completed that goal (several times over now) and felt very strong and proud at the end—which was exactly what I needed at that moment in my life. I have continued these physical challenges to myself which helps my drive and confidence in all areas of my life.

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Career Q&A with Scott Smith, CEO of CloudApp (#4)

I recently kicked off a series of Career Q&As with successful leaders. The goal is to provide practical advice and insightful lessons you can leverage to further your career. Next up is Scott Smith, CEO of CloudApp. He has a lot of good nuggets throughout and I particularly like his advice on spending as much time as possible feeling uncomfortable, how he balances work and family life, and the power that comes from assuming positive intent.

Scott Smith is CEO of CloudApp, whose mission is to enable instant business communication through quick shareable videos and images for its 3 million users. Before CloudApp, Scott spent three years at Facebook developing and launching the ‘Workplace’ collaboration tool. He joined Facebook through an $85m acquisition of Parse, a YC-backed developer tools platform. Before that, he spent three years at Dyn building its sales and partnership channels. Dyn would eventually be acquired by Oracle for $600m. He’s a dad of three of his own, and foster dad too. You can find him on Twitter at @scotcha1.

Scott Smith headshot

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

“The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz. In the book, Ben tells a story about when he joined a brand new startup. His daughter had just been diagnosed with an illness, and he was extraordinarily busy and stressed. He spent a lot of his time thinking about his job, and himself. One day his father came over to visit, and as they sat and talked, his father said: “Ben, do you know what’s cheap?”. Ben replied, no, and his dad said flowers. He then said “Ben, do you know what’s expensive? Divorce.” 

His father was reminding him to refocus on what was most important — his family and their well being. This idea of family as a focal point in life has always been important to me. The idea that “No other success can compensate for failure in the home” is something that motivates me, and Ben’s book really resonated with this on a very practical level. 

My family keeps me grounded and focused. But frankly, the idea of family is often understated or shied away from in Silicon Valley. Most of us here are desperate to win, succeed, or to gain some level of notoriety. I loved the honesty and vulnerability that Ben showed in sharing that story. And it’s helped me throughout my 10+ years of marriage to always be reminded of how I got to where I am, and what’s most important.

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

When I was 19 I left the United States for 2-years to do a service mission in Birmingham England and Cardiff Wales. I can still remember my very first day as a full-time volunteer. I was picked up from our training center and I was immediately taken to the Birmingham City Center “Bull Ring”. The ‘Bull Ring’, was a popular shopping center booming with tens of thousands of people walking around. My leader said “Okay, go find someone to talk to” and he quickly disappeared. I looked around shocked, and very concerned, but made the decision to say “Hi” to the next person who walked by. From the moment I entered the UK, I was perpetually in a place of discomfort being asked to do hard things. And while it was hard, this experience allowed me to learn to embrace discomfort and try things that made me uncomfortable.

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

At the age of 11, I tried out for the 11 & 12-year-old Milburn All-Star baseball team. For years I had been a well recognized, and fairly successful pitcher throughout our local little league, but when the list came out showing who had made the team — my name was notably absent. That team went on to play in the Regional Championships just shy of the Little League World Series. The team traveled all over the Northeast Region, stayed in hotels, were featured on TV, and they played against some of the best teams in the nation. 

I was really discouraged and disappointed to have not made that team. It was one of the first times in my life where I really felt the weight of what a future could look like where you might not be good enough despite your best efforts. While I can’t say that moment was the catalyst that led me to be the greatest pitcher in MLB history, that memory and moment has left an indelible mark in my mind and life of a feeling I just hate to experience. Failure is important, and it helps us grow, but I absolutely hated the feeling of coming up short, and ever since then it’s motivated me to work harder.

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

My advice would be to spend as much time as possible feeling uncomfortable. Stretching yourself to try new things, and to say yes to things you might not have all of the information for.  One of my favorite moments as a very new sales rep at Dyn (my first full-time job after college) was when they invited me to work at their booth at a conference in Santa Clara, California. I had only just recently joined the company several weeks earlier, knew almost nothing about the product, and the first person I spoke to at the booth was a high ranking technology officer at Cisco (I’m pretty sure it was the CTO!). 

As I looked around me, hoping to receive help, no other team member was jumping in to help me, and I realized I was all alone. I stretched the knowledge I had about the product as far as I possibly could, and surprised myself when we ended the conversation several minutes later. Reflecting back on this experience, it all started from saying ‘Yes’, when my VP Sales, Kyle York, asked if I’d be willing to attend this conference last minute and fly across the country.

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

I hear bad recommendations all the time. But I also have a career behind me full of perspective. I think the worst kinds of recommendations are given without any context. These are recommendations that someone you are meeting with tells you before they understand your situation. Silicon Valley is full of thought leaders and ‘yogis’ who tell you their way is THE way. 

I think rather than providing a list of bad recommendations, and the ones to avoid, I’ve always tried to follow a relatively simple process that my dad suggested to me years ago when I started playing little league baseball. While I was young, every year I had at least one new coach. Each coach had different suggestions. Some would tell me to throw curveballs, others would tell me to carefully avoid them because they would hurt my arm. Other coaches would recommend I change my batting stance (move forward, or backward, change my hand grip). All of the suggestions came from a place of good intent, but if I changed my approach to the game as quickly as I was asked to, I wouldn’t have been able to keep up and it would have severely affected my game. 

In the professional world, any time I hear what seems like a great idea that might require me to change, I write it down, think through it for a few days, and consider how it could fit into my current approach. I also always tend to be a Googler of new ideas. I love to find other people who might have tried out the approach and to hear their experience. But what I’ve found to be the most compelling and powerful, is to, over time, build a group of people I respect and trust, who I can ask and solicit feedback from. So my recommendation is basically to take recommendations carefully and thoughtfully but to always be open to them.

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?

Always assume positive intent. This is a philosophy that I now live by, that has largely changed my work experience. By positive intent, I simply mean, when someone does or says something, choose to believe that they are acting with the intent of good. That they are trying to provide good feedback, or they are trying to help improve your product. Never choose to be a victim. Rather than spending time or energy believing that the person hasn’t put in their best, or that they are trying to do something that is hurtful to you, spend your energy and time believing that they have your or your companies best interests in mind.

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

On April 25, 2013 Parse was acquired by Facebook for $85m. This felt like a significant event for me because it demonstrated that we, as a small 20-person team, had built something so incredible that one of the largest companies in the market wanted us to join them. We even received an email from Mark Zuckerberg welcoming us to Facebook, expressing his desire to include us in his larger vision for the future of their developer business. But, maybe even cooler, and on a personal level, was that Parse was mentioned during a segment of Facebook’s quarterly earnings call. On that day, I received a call from my father in law who had mentioned that it was ‘pretty cool to hear about your company in the Wall Street Journal today’. 

What’s something unexpected that has happened in your career, and how have you responded?

When Parse was acquired by Facebook, we were all very surprised. We were brought together at a small all-hands meeting, and our CEO, Ilya Sukhar, excitedly (and a little anxiously), described that we would be joining Facebook. The team instantly had a million questions. Would we need to move our office from SF to Menlo Park? Would Facebook shut us down, like so many companies before it? Did we all have jobs still? The questions were many that day, and even after our CEO patiently answered many of them, our team was unclear about our future, and you could sense a general feeling of discomfort. 

After joining Facebook, it became very clear that there were some incredible opportunities in different and adjacent parts of their business. Facebook, for example, had a larger, and more mature, developer partnerships team. Rather than trying to go about everything alone at Parse, developing relationships and partnering with that team seemed like an obvious way to continue to grow Parse within Facebook. 

While on a developer relations trip in Europe, I had dinner with a Facebook director named Julien Codorniou. He was charismatic, energetic, and I felt like he had a great grasp of Facebook and its future. After meeting him, I reached out over email, and we developed a relationship that led to me joining his team. While my initial experience going through the Facebook acquisition was unexpected, I was able to leverage Facebook’s strengths to provide myself and Parse with a larger platform.

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

When I was in high school and college, I tended to frequently just ‘show up’ at classes, and tests. By ‘show up’ I mean to say that I either did little or no preparation. Looking back now, I’m not sure why. But I wouldn’t be caught dead doing that today. One of the biggest changes for me has been to realize that doing your best work takes an immense amount of effort and preparation. The workforce is a grind. You commonly hear the phrase, “Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I don’t agree at all with that phrase. Work is a grind, and you need to be ready to grind. While I regularly get to experience the excitement and love for my work, I also regularly have to experience the deep troughs of failure, regret, and discouragement, and I still need to press on, prepare, and deliver what’s expected of me.

When have you felt stuck in your career? How did you break out of it or push forward?

9 years ago, I moved from the Manchester New Hampshire Dyn office, out to San Francisco to open a small west coast branch. I had, in large part, moved from the East Coast to the West Coast to be closer to family. My dad recently had back surgery and I wanted to be closer to support him in his advancing Parkinson’s Disease. 

Dyn provided a wonderful experience for me, but when I moved out West, I admittedly had underappreciated how hard it can be for a small branch to feel important to a primary headquarters. Not to mention the fact that I found it incredibly hard to transition from an incredibly beautiful 20k+ square foot office in Manchester to a literal 15×15 foot room with white walls and no windows. Just a small box for me to work in. My team and leadership were now remote to me, and it was a challenge to feel included, and supported. 

I pretty quickly felt like I was on an island, and I felt like over time there would be few opportunities for advancement given the low interest in growing that office by Dyn. As I started to go on more local sales calls, I frequently heard from the CEOs that were my customers that they would be interested in hiring me. I was admittedly a little surprised to hear this, but I started to become open to the idea of finding something better suited for my career track and interests. 

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

For the entirety of my 10+ years of marriage, my wife and I have gone on a date night nearly every single Friday. The date night is pretty simple, and it usually follows some kind of template: whether it’s dinner and a movie, games and dinner, visiting a bookstore, or occasionally knocking off a few high priority to-dos at Home Depot. 

The main ingredient that I feel that is critical, and honestly the priority of the night, is the personal, devoted, and focused time spent building a relationship with my wife. We have 4 kids all under 8, and life can sometimes be pretty wild at home after work and there are few opportunities for quiet and peace. Quite literally, they seem to try and interrupt any and every conversation we try to have. 

The date night allows me to end the week, put down my phone and computer, and to begin to release and put down some of the stress I’ve been carrying. It helps me connect with a person that provides me with so much love and support, and it helps us put the week into perspective, and go into the weekend a little more slowly. Plus, and I think this is most important, it gives you time to find out how your spouse is doing, to find opportunities to do things with them that they love, and to remind them that even if you’ve been distracted a bit earlier this week, that this time is just for them, and you can show them how important they are to you.

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Career Q&A with Eric Hass, Analytics Leader at Amazon (#3)

I recently kicked 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 next interview is with Eric Hass, an Analytics Leader at Amazon. I love his advice on taking action without asking permission, avoiding the law of averages, and habits for managing stress.

Eric Hass is an Analytics leader at Amazon. He’s spent the past 10+ years in a mix of data and business roles, from leading teams to launch new products to driving growth in mature $100M+ businesses. He’s currently leading a cross-functional team (data science, software engineering, product management) to solve personalization and optimization challenges on Fire TV and Fire Tablets.

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

One of the challenges to get the internship / job you want early in your career is that you may not have relevant experience for it. It’s a chicken and egg problem. This problem can also manifest itself later in your career if you want to change functions/industry, etc. My approach has been to find an opportunity to just start doing what I want to do before seeking a new job. A few years ago, I decided I wanted to transition from product/business management into data science and tech leadership, but I didn’t have a formal educational background in the area. I took on a project in my current role to develop a machine learning based product plan and did some self-study to learn the basics. I was able to leverage that experience to get an individual contributor role working closely with one of the most senior data scientists at Amazon. I focused on learning as much as I could in that role, and after a year was given the opportunity to lead a cross-functional team over science, engineering, and product management…So, my advice is to not wait for anyone to give you permission to do what you want to do. Just find opportunities to start doing it, and doors will open.

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? 

I would have prioritized getting educated in data science and computer science while in school. Being able to work with and lead engineers enables you to create value for customers at great scale, even if you don’t end up becoming a scientist or engineer yourself. I’ve learned a lot of this on the job and self-study, but I wish I would have prioritized it earlier.

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

I focus on three things: 1) Sleep, 2) Exercise, and 3) Boundaries and focus.

Sleep – Through trial and error, I found that I get more accomplished by getting a full 8 hours of sleep, than by sleeping less and having reduced energy and mental capacity throughout the day. I know others who seem to be productive sleeping much less, but a lot of research is coming out on the short and long term benefits of sleeping a full 8 hours. The Circadian Code by Sachin Panda was eye-opening for me.  I recently attended a presentation by a sleep doctor about the topics in this book and was fascinated.

A few things have really improved the quality of my sleep. 1) Time-restricted eating – I try not to eat after 6-7pm. 2) I try not to do any difficult thinking after 7pm (or else it’s hard to turn my brain off). 3) I try to maintain mostly the same bedtime / wakeup times 7 days a week.

Exercise – I used to tell myself that I didn’t have time to exercise regularly. However, I’ve found that it’s the best investment of my time that I make in a day. Last year, I re-worked my schedule so that I could exercise every morning and have felt more energized throughout the day to be at my best.

Boundaries and focus – I try to be disciplined about when I’m working / not working and don’t check work email after I leave work (except on rare occasions). When I’m at work, I do my best to block off time every day to work on high impact projects without distractions.

*This is still a work in progress for me and I’m always experimenting with ideas to reduce stress and boost my productivity. I’d love to hear any practices that have worked for others!

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

7 Habits of Highly Successful People and How to Win Friends and Influence People were foundational for me. I think that by following the principles in these books you can be fairly successful in almost anything.

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

I think there is a tendency to focus too much on averages when making schooling/career decisions.  Common guidance I see is to pursue opportunities where the averages are favorable. What is the average starting salary of someone graduating from this program? What does the average career look like for someone in this industry? What is a typical career path in this company? However, this line of thinking misses the fact that there are often huge distributions of outcomes, and it doesn’t consider the opportunities you may have to be on the extreme positive end of the spectrum or how you could customize your experience. 

What makes this challenging is that understanding what your true opportunity looks like requires that you have several exploratory conversations with people in the school/industry/company you are considering to see what’s possible, do some soul searching on what you would want your path to look like, and then do some critical thinking to assess how realistic it is and what alternative options you might have if it doesn’t work out as you hoped. 

This was very real for me when I was deciding whether to get an MBA. I wanted to get an MBA, but the ROI wasn’t making sense when I was looking at averages in terms of future career prospects. However, after dozens of exploratory conversations, I developed a specific path of where I wanted to take my career, and the numbers totally changed. It ended up being a great decision for me. Since then, I’ve gone through this exploration exercise at least once every few years. 

Career Q&A with Derek Pando, Head of International and Partner Marketing at Zoom (#2)

I recently kicked 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 second interview is with Derek Pando, Head of Int’l and Partner Marketing at Zoom. I love his advice on how to trust your instincts, seek out mentors, and be bold in sharing your career aspirations.

Derek Pando leads Partner and International Marketing at Zoom Video Communications. He has spent his career at high growth enterprise software companies including Salesforce and LinkedIn, where he helped launch LinkedIn Sales Navigator. He has held a variety of different marketing roles in his career. His expertise is in product marketing, international marketing, marketing strategy and social selling. He also writes and speaks on collaboration, technology, marketing, and professional relationships. He speaks Spanish fluently and can get by in Portuguese. If you a lot of time to kill, ask him about his vegetable garden. You can follow him on his personal blog (derekpando.com) or on Twitter (@djpando). 

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

This might sound strange, but the book that has influenced my career the most is the Alchemist. In it, the main character has to leave good situations in search of even better, often starting from scratch. Each time he encounters significant struggles but achieves greater success. I think many times in our careers we have to do the same to keep progressing to our full potential. Leaving a job that we like or where we are very comfortable can be very challenging, but thinking about the story and book has given me the courage to take a leap multiple times. 

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

After some encouragement from my dad, I started a lawn mowing business where I grew up in Texas at the age of 15. I quickly learned that if you showed up, did a good job and were respectful you would have plenty of customers and more money than a 15-year-old would know what to do with. Creating something, working hard and having it be successful left a lasting impact. That experience set a foundation for me to feel confident in my professional abilities. 

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

In college, I applied to my undergrad’s business school program. I was dead set on it. It was highly competitive and I got rejected. I was pretty devastated but tried to pick myself up as quickly as I could. I chose a different major, ended being the president of a club in the business program that I did not get in, got a scholarship and later returned to the same school to get an MBA. At the time, it felt like my clear path to success was destroyed, but things ended up working out better than I hoped. It was a good reminder that there are multiple paths to the same goal. 

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

After you are making $75k, don’t make any career moves based mostly on money. Ignore anyone who does not encourage you to save money in your 20’s.  

What’s one of your proudest professional accomplishments?

The most recent professional accomplishment that I’m most proud of is working on Zoom’s IPO. When I first joined Zoom, I asked our CMO that whenever an IPO happens, I want to be involved. She asked me to be on the IPO deal team when the time came, which was something I had never done before. I learned a whole lot and feel proud to have contributed a tiny piece to the most successful IPO of 2019. This was a good lesson to tell your bosses your goals and aspirations, they’ll often help you achieve it if they can. 

When have you felt stuck in your career? How did you break out of it or push forward?

Yes. Each time, I consulted with trusted mentors. One time they encouraged me to stay at a job where I felt stuck and just be more patient. At a later job, my mentors encouraged me to leave, both ended up being the right call at the time. 

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

Tyler Shultz, the Theranos whistleblower. That guy stuck to his guns and did what he felt was right against an unbelievable amount of pressure from very powerful people, including from his own family. It’s so hard to do the right thing in that situation, but he did.

What habit or practice helps you manage stress? 

Exercise. I managed the first two Zoomtopia events that had 500 and 1500 attendees respectively. It was a big project and very high stakes. As strange as this may sound, even though it was the busiest time of the year, I’d make sure to go running 1-2 times a week. Letting out some physical energy always seemed to help me not freak out. 

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?

Trust your instincts. Earlier in my career, it was so easy to default to the opinion of someone more experienced or older and not fight for my ideas or opinions. In hindsight, my instincts were better than I gave myself credit for at the time.

Thanks for reading. If you haven’t already, check out my Career Q&A with Dan Jimenez, Chatbooks COO.

 

Career Q&A with Dan Jimenez, Chatbooks COO (#1)

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.

——

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.