Default to people
By Tracey Wallace
Through my mid-20s, I was an incredibly strong individual contributor. I could write content really fast, and capture a brand’s voice near instantly––in any format (even video!). I was scrappy, but the scrap I turned out was polished, and opinionated, and took a brand’s voice from an internal document to a larger audience.
But I was skeptical. I had started college accepted into the business school, and then dropped out after 2 weeks in my Excel class because I couldn’t stomach it. My dad had been a salesman, and he and my mom had a messy divorce. I associated business travel with a broken relationship and talk about growing other peoples’ companies as so boring it could make you incapable of talking about absolutely anything else (which honestly, this one might be true…).
I, like most red-blooded college kids, didn’t want to be like my parents. So, I let the pendulum swing as far as I could, and became an English major, which meant I read books and wrote research papers for 4 years.
It was one of the best decisions of my life.
But for so long, I had a bad taste in my mouth about “business.” And I was skeptical of anyone who was good at it. This was true still when I left journalism and started working at tech companies, where I was surrounded by people who were good at business.
I kept my head down as a result––and didn’t expand my curiosity beyond my immediate role or function for a few years (until I had a really great boss who helped me see the light).
Today, that’s not the case. Some of my best friends are experts in the SaaS industry: CMOs, SEO consultants, Founders, Directors of Content or Growth or Performance or Demand Gen or Developer Marketing or Partner Marketing.
When we hang out, we inevitably talk about work––and how to solve specific problems related to it. Whether we need help with a deck, a new strategy we’re proposing, how to navigate a tricky social situation, and so much more.
It’s changed my career. When I started befriending, truly befriending, those in the industry that had similar interests and ambitions as me––my world opened up in ways “skeptical Tracey” couldn’t have predicted.
- I get to hear about and strategize on how to solve problems I haven’t actually experienced yet, but probably will (because very little is new under the sun).
Agencies literally bank on this. They sell their bucketed knowledge about what works across clients to close new clients––who naturally believe that simply more exposure to success strategies at a variety of places increases the ability that you can deliver a custom, successful strategy for them.
Building friendships in the industry based very much on your mutual curiosity about the industry, and transparency about growth and problem solving, buckets knowledge for you on the types of situations that arise at different workplaces, how to potentially manage them in effective ways, and more forward to conquer the next challenge.
Of course, the flip side of this is:
- I get trusted, crowdsourced feedback on how to approach challenging situations.
Anytime I feel uncomfortable or anxious because of work, I try to reframe it as an opportunity for growth. Pushing the boundaries of your immediate capabilities and knowledge never feels great in the moment, but it’s necessary, and reframing how your brain thinks about it helps to reduce the anxiety and put you more in that coveted “growth” mindset.
But we are creatures of community, and building deep friendships with colleagues throughout your career gives you a deep community of expertise to pull from. Not everyone will be able to help in every situation, but you’ll often find that many others have been where you are, either did something that worked or didn’t, and can help you hone your thinking for your specific problem and approach.
Building these friendships takes time, honesty, vulnerability, and showing up––just like any other relationship you have. It’s been these friends who have made me feel less alone in a remote working world, who have encouraged me to take leaps I wouldn’t have otherwise considered, who recommend books (almost always ones about philosophy) they think can help, and who laugh with me at the absurdity in which we spend our days (at a computer, talking to people on screens) and the luck and hard work behind how we found ourselves here.
You, too, need a community of these people. I swear, I wish it was common for former colleagues to have reunions regularly. This would be such a goldmine of learning and camaraderie, a way to make us all feel seen and heard, and give us valuable takeaways for any other role in our lives.
Individual contributor or manager, find your people. Help them, and ask them for help, too. It’s how you survive hard times like these, and it’s with whom you’ll continue to grow your skills, even when things get good again.
Always default to people. Make time for them, those conversations and quick calls. Invest in these relationships as much as you invest in the job. Your success in the latter is vastly improved by the former.