Tis The Season

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Tis the season for Pumpkin Spice Peanut Butter and rainy weekends spent at Costco sampling. It’s dark at 5:30pm and cold enough for a jacket.

I realized lately that I am really proud to be myself in this season of my life right now. I’ve been challenged every day but I am experiencing the best kinds of challenges. There is very little emotional turmoil and just a lot of external company stuff coming my way. It’s mentally taxing but totally fun. I’m not wrestling with personal stress or family/health problems or any kind of major life changes. Just a lot of new professional challenges, which I love dealing with because every step is an opportunity to learn and grow my abilities.

When I am faced with these kinds of professional challenges, I love to get outside my brain and listen to podcasts. Though I listen to podcasts daily regardless of my stress levels, when I am in an exceptional state of exhaustion or overwhelm, it is like I am uniquely primed for some kind of breakthrough. At these moments, my protective and naturally cynical layers are thin and something someone says on a podcast can really hit me just right. Once an idea or a thought is in my head like that, it can shake around in my brain for weeks.

This happened recently on an episode of The Tim Ferris Podcast interviewing Youtuber Casey Neistat. He emphasized how hard and yet worthwhile it is to practice being a positive-minded person. I’ve always felt that way personally, but hearing him say it out loud made it feel like a challenge I could respond and step up to. I’ve been thinking about action steps to keep negativity out of my mind and out of my reactions.

It’s an exciting stage we are entering at Wild Friends and I feel like doors are opening everywhere we look. Very exciting for Wild Friends and so fulfilling for me after four years of trying to figure out what is even going on in this crazy business world. I am still completely confused at the bottom of a tall mountain but at least I am slowly figuring out which way is up.

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Forgetting

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I’ve heard it said about Ironman triathlons and childbirth and lots of other (extremely) uncomfortable things: it hurts very badly while it’s happening, and it’s very, very hard, but somehow the power of the human brain makes you forget.

Apparently (I say apparently because I haven’t done either of these two things) you look back and all you see is crossing the finish line or your brand new baby – the hours of pain and struggle somehow faded away into a distant corner of memory.

There’s a parallel, I think (I hope) in this business of building a business. I find that my memories of the struggle in the early days of farmers markets and street fairs are fading even now into a blend of relaxed fun that I look back on now and think “simple times”.

Of course, this isn’t true. There was, for example, the time in late August 2011, when I sat sobbing on my friend Lily’s back stoop, on the phone with my dad, as I realized sadly and suddenly that I really had no idea what a “valuation” was, with only a matter of days left until we were to be filmed for national television to entertain the american public by arguing about – among other things – our valuation.

Shortly thereafter, there were the lonely months spent living in my parent’s house, back after just two short years of college liberation, with 10,000 jars of peanut butter in the garage, one equally homebound co-founder, our shared and borrowed car, and hours upon hours of time. We spent most of this time sampling our products in stores, staying until the very last potential customer (potential customer = human being) had pushed the very last grocery cart into a darkening parking lot, and disappeared.

Perhaps most dark of all were the months after getting served on the basis of our company name trademark – attempting to fight back, then conceding, then wrapping our minds around a company name change. Conflict abounding – coming to a head in frequent, contentious meetings at the local Starbucks. One barista saw Erika and I meeting with my parents there so much, often under such duress, that she thought we were the subject of some suburban parental intervention.

“Simple times” these were not. Each month of Wild Friends has been a miniature dramatic performance of ups and downs, each day ending with a hand to the forehead and a cry of “so much going on!”.

It is probably good that I don’t always remember all of this minute detail – that each day of struggle somehow feels fresh and new and I face them as if each stage prior was easier, just a warm-up for what is happening now. I really need all the optimism that I can get.

And yet the pain of forgetting on almost a daily basis that running a business is really hard, and remembering again the next day, over and over – that’s the part that can really suck.

Enough “Crazy” Talk

Each week, I get a phone call from our external accounting contractor. (This is essentially a fancy way of saying that I am finally paying someone smarter than me to manage our Quickbooks so I can quit messing it up).

The woman I speak with each week is amazing – great at her job, good sense of humor, and generally makes my life much easier. So, when we start our phone calls, I like to be considerate, ask her how she’s doing and engage in a bit of small talk.

This morning’s small talk started like this:
Me: “Hi, how’s it going?:”
Her: “Great, how are you?”
Me: “Good – happy it’s Friday! It’s been a crazy week.”
Her: “Wow, it seems like it’s always a crazy week for you guys.”

At this point, I immediately felt sheepish and felt like backpedaling. Now that she’d mentioned it, I realized how on pretty much every weekly call that’s the phrasing I use:

“Crazy.”

Sure, every week at WF is eventful, but not truly crazy. I’m not any busier than anybody else with a modern job. Besides, I really don’t want to be the person walking around complain-bragging about how “crazy” my week is or how “busy” I am.

If you say it enough, it becomes true. And I’d hate for a key descriptor of my life to be “crazy”.

How to Eat a Whale

I read a NY Times piece this morning on Jim Dolce, the CEO of Lookout, a mobile security company. He had an excellent quote on managing lots of things at once — a necessity when running a fast-growing company.

You can’t get things to change as fast as you would like them to change. You can’t work serially; you have to work in parallel. You have to attempt to work multiple changes at the same time and then, over time, you’ll begin to see the results, and things will begin to converge.

When you’re impatient, you attempt to get something done so that you can then, in serial fashion, go to the next thing. Instead, you have to go wide and work multiple issues at the same time and be patient on each of them. Sooner or later, they will converge.

This reminded me of a more simplified version of this idea, from one of my favorite authors.

MELINDA MAE
by Shel Silverstein
Have you heard of tiny Melinda Mae,
Who ate a monstrous whale?
She thought she could,
She said she would,
So she started in right at the tail.
And everyone said, “You’re much too small,”
But that didn’t bother Melinda at all.
She took little bites and she chewed very slow,
Just like a good girl should…
…And in eighty-nine years she ate that whale
Because she said she would!

Both excellent reminders that to eat a whale, you have to take lots of tiny bites.

Book Report: The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing

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I read this book in one sitting while getting my hair cut.

Is that really strange and anti-social? I like to think it’s a relief for the hairdresser when I bring a book – she doesn’t have to ask me what I do for work or what I’m doing this weekend or what celebrity I wish I could trade hair with. I’m just reading. She’s trimming and blow drying. We’re coexisting. Either way, a book sure beats flipping through US magazine and small-talking for an hour or two.

The fact that I read this book in one sitting means two things:

  1. This book was really good
  2. I am now awash with emotions

I love reading a really good book in one sitting because the rapid overload of experience fills me with BIG BIG FEELINGS. I am currently steeped in deep personal thoughts (and, as an important aside, my hair looks really good).

The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing is a fiction novel that reads in sections, following different phases of the protagonist Jane’s life. Starting adolescence and traveling through adulthood, we follow Jane through different jobs and romances, in a series of vignettes. Ultimately, though the book is more tuned into her inner life than relationships and careers — a refreshingly funny, touching and meandering, yet not plotless, exploration of growing up.

I often feel that good books come to me at the perfect time. This novel brought questions already hovering in the back of my mind to the forefront. I can tell that I’ll be thinking about The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing for a while (or at least until my next haircut).

I Remember

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PHOTO TAKEN SUMMER 2011. Sparked a few memories from that summer to say the least…

I remember when… We lived in Eugene, Oregon in an apartment on 18th and Hilyard over our sophomore year summer, not taking classes, just working on the business.
I remember when… Our company was named “Flying Squirrel Peanut Butter”.
I remember when… Erika worked at Vero Coffeehouse in Eugene (to make actual money). All our friends and I would go hang out while she worked. (Free iced coffee = the most caffeinated period in my life, before or since).
I remember when… We kept our farmers market cash in a cashbox that we deposited weekly at Selco Community Credit Union.
I remember when… We would literally run out of work to do mid-afternoon and spend the rest of the time marathon-training/having fun.
I remember when… I checked my voicemail and found a message from a producer at Shark Tank (!)
I remember when… We spent a hard-earned $100 on our first 15 printed blue unisex t-shirts and we guarded them with our lives. I remember our internal debates about if a certain farmers market volunteer friend had put in the hours to earn one of our precious t-shirts!
I remember when… We had a weekend routine of waking up early to go for a run, then packing fried eggs and green juice (made in our Goodwill-find juicer) so we could eat breakfast on the way to the Farmer’s Market.
I remember when… A knock on our door could mean a delivery of USPS empty boxes, a neighbor coming by to buy some peanut butter, a various friend stopping by to pick up a few jars…
I remember when… My relationship with my older brother was deeply strained by our constant need to borrow his car for ingredient gathering missions at Winco.
I remember when… Writing a formal business plan sounded like the most daunting task I could imagine.

Funny to look back and see what has changed and what has stayed the same.

Modifying

NoPo Thursday

Push-ups are a simple, but difficult exercise.

Using just your arms, you lower your entire body weight to hover very slightly above the ground, then push your entire body weight back up. Excellent push-up technique dictates that your entire body remain flat (like plank position) engaging your core, looking slightly forward, spine straight.

This is HARD!

Because this is such a challenging exercise, it’s very common to see push-ups being done with knees on the ground. This is a great way to start doing push-ups, as it’s easier to maintain good technique and do more reps.

What’s important though, is to continue to challenge. To un-modify. Maybe try to do one excellent complete push-up, before transitioning to modified knee push-ups for the remaining reps. The next week, do two.

I see too many people limiting themselves, in exercise and in life, because they are basing today’s abilities on what they could do yesterday.

The purpose of modifying, of making something easier in the beginning, is to perfect technique and build confidence – then move forward slowly and boldly into the next phase.

Photo Credit: @nopothursdays, the best local workout group in PDX

Building Teams vs. Building Individuals

Building a team means…
Hiring amazing people.
Learning from and teaching the amazing people.
Making sure everyone feels ownership.
Investing in work relationships on a personal level.
Looking at a problem through someone else’s eyes.
Being empathetic.
Being communicative.
Listening as much as possible.
Collaborating and delegating, even when it often sounds easier to do it alone.

Building individuals means…
Making sure everyone knows their own role and responsibilities.
Empowering team members to take ownership of tasks and decision-making.
Encouraging team members to pursue passion projects.
Listening to concerns and complaints, rewarding feedback rather than punishing it.
Learning how to provide constructive feedback and making sure others are thinking critically too.
Ensuring team members not only take on tasks that take advantage of their existing skills, but also challenge them to step up in areas that they struggle in.
Supporting any team member’s interest in expanding his or her skill set.

I want to be a leader that builds a team of individuals.

You’re Good at It

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“I could say: “Follow your heart,” but I never did that. I worked my ass off instead.

Your life is yours, and it’s going to suck sometimes and be great sometimes. It’s going to hurt so bad that you want to turn around and crawl into a hole. It’s going to be so high and wonderful that you will wonder how to keep it there (and you’ll fail at that).

You’ll make mistakes, but you won’t ever give up—not because someone gave you that advice, but because it’s way more fun that way. And you’re good at it.”

– Jeni Britton Bauer, founder of Jeni’s Ice Cream, via Food and Wine