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Move to the big city

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I hate to admit this, but it’s true.

One of the best things you can do for your career is to move to the big city. Nothing less than New York, Los Angeles, London, Mumbai, Hong Kong, or Silicon Valley. (Paris, Seoul, or Tokyo only count if you’re limiting yourself to those markets.)

It’s the place where everything happens. Where the biggest media companies in the world are based. Where the money is flowing. Where the most successful agents, producers, and executives live and work. Where the most ambitious people go.

It has a serious energy, because the stakes are high. It’s not casual. It’s not a place for a comfortable work/life balance. It’s fueled by ambition. People go go go.

I’ve lived a bunch of places now, but when I look back at my career, it’s obvious that the biggest breakthroughs happened because I was living in — not just visiting — the heart of the music industry in New York and Los Angeles.

It shows that you’re in the game. It shows you’re serious. And it’s got a healthy competition, knowing that today’s biggest stars and legends are there with you, too. It challenges you to push your skills to the best of the best, instead of just the best in your home town.

Once you’re famous, and the media is carrying your reputation more than your physical presence, you can move away if you want. But even then you’ll be a little out of the game. You can make the choice if that’s OK with you.

I lived in New York City for nine years, and Los Angeles for seven years. I met so many wonderful kindreds — other ambitious people like me that had moved there from around the world to get successful.

So why do I hate to admit this?

Because I love how the internet has made it possible for anyone to get successful anywhere. I love the idea of living in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nature, yet being connected to the world.

But still, when I look at the facts, it’s impossible to deny. Actually living in the big city, and being in the middle of where everything is happening, will help your career the most. Being elsewhere won’t hurt you, but it won’t help.

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brendan
951 days ago
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Seattle, WA
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"Where did you go to school?"

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An interesting question, perhaps, but irrelevant to a job interview.

The campus you spent four years on thirty years ago makes very little contribution to the job you're going to do. Here's what matters: The way you approach your work.

What have you built? What have you led? How do you make decisions? What's your reserve of emotional labor like? How do you act when no one is looking?

You are not your resume. You are the trail you've left behind, the people you've influenced, the work you've done.

       
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brendan
960 days ago
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Seattle, WA
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A professional stumbler

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Leo's working hard to do something he's never done before. He's just turned one, and he doesn't know how to walk (yet).

There are no really useful books or videos on how to walk. It's something he has to figure out on his own. But instead of waiting on the couch until the day he's ready to proudly strut across the room, he's there, on the floor, every day, trying it out.

He's already discovered a hundred ways that don't work, and stumbled countless times.

But he persists.

I don't know about you, but this is precisely the way I learned how to walk as well.

In fact, it's the way I learned how to do just about everything important. By doing it.

       
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brendan
1189 days ago
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Seattle, WA
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A question I ask new entrepreneurs

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I’m not an investor, although I have put some money into a few friend’s businesses. What I try to be instead is a helper — an advisor with no strings attached.

If someone wants to give me some equity I may take it, but I don’t ask for it and I generally don’t want it.

If someone asks me to help, and I like them, and I think I can help them, then that’s what I’ll do. Getting anything in return turns it into a deal and an obligation. I don’t want deals or obligations— I just want to help.

If I’m considering helping a new entrepreneur I’ll often ask them if they’ve ever worked retail. In a shoe store, a grocery store, a clothing shop, front of the house in a restaurant, etc. I want to know if they’ve had to work with the public. Sell to the public. Improvise with the public on the spot.

I want to know if they’ve ever had to make someone a customer. Or watched one walk away.

No retail experience doesn’t disqualify them, but it’s a bit of a red flag for me. I like people who’ve had to sell before. I like people who’ve worked retail. There’s no better lesson in business than the experience of dealing with the public in person.

If you think presenting to an investor is hard, try convincing a 70 year old to switch shoe brands or buy a different kind of peanut butter. Or trying to explain the subtle difference between two tennis rackets to a mother who has a 2 year old melting down at her feet and tugging aggressively on her purse. Or trying to explain why your shirts are worth $10 more than the exact same ones online.

A few months ago I met a guy who was running a pop-up tea shop here in Chicago. I’m a tea guy so I dropped in to check the place out. We had a great conversation — I think I spent a couple hours there. We kept in touch.

Recently we caught up again to talk tea and business. He’s going all-in — opening up his own tea shop here in town. Not too far from where I live, thankfully. I’ll be a happy customer.

He asked me if I’d get involved. I told him I’d help. I liked him, I think he’s got a good idea, and it’s a business I’d like to see open up. He’s got something. Very tough business, it’s going to be very hard to make the economics work — and he knows that — but he’s the guy to try.

But what really impressed me was the way he was planning on using his time over the next few months before his place was ready to open. He was planning on getting part time jobs at local tea and coffee spots to sharpen his feel for how customers buy these products. Not how the shops work, but how the customers work. How the public behaves.

I like that. A guy who’s going to get a part time job as research to start a business. Part of building his business is to go to work for someone else.

I’ve met a boatload of entrepreneurs, and I can tell you many of them would see that as beneath them. Part time jobs, or working for someone else, were things they used to do. Why do that again?

I see it differently. I see humility. I see a student. I see someone devoted to learning, observing patterns, honing his senses, and sharpening his mind until it’s go time. It’s a great way for him to spend his time.

He’s the kind of guy I like to help.


A question I ask new entrepreneurs was originally published in Signal v. Noise on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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brendan
1371 days ago
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Seattle, WA
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Work ethic

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You’ll often hear people say someone has good “work ethic” if they’re putting in long hours.

But 60, 70, 80 hours a week doesn’t equal work ethic. 60, 70, 80+ hours a week simply equals 60, 70, 80+ hours a week.

Work ethic is about showing up, being on time, being reliable, doing what you say you’re going to do, being trustworthy, putting in a fair day’s work, respecting the work, respecting the customer, respecting the organization, respecting co-workers, not wasting time, not making work hard for other people, not creating unnecessary work for other people, not being a bottleneck, not faking work. Work ethic is about being a fundamentally good person that others can count on and enjoy working with.

Works a lot has good work ethic.


Work ethic was originally published in Signal v. Noise on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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brendan
1377 days ago
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Seattle, WA
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Tilting my mirror (motivation is delicate)

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Motivation is delicate.

When you notice your motivation dying, you have to seek out the subtle cause.

Then a simple tweak can make all the difference between achieving something or not.

An hour outside my city, there’s a little mountain range. It’s gorgeous on the other side.

But the road that crosses the mountains is very twisted, with sharp turns every few seconds. The first two times I drove across it, my kid threw up in the back seat.

It’s also stressful. I’m surrounded by gorgeous mountain scenery, but I can’t take my eyes off the winding road.

Though I drive at a normal speed, the other cars follow impatiently on my tail, because many of them drive this road every day.

It’s only a half hour to cross, but I always arrive pretty drained. The stress was affecting my motivation enough that I wanted to stop visiting.

So one day I tried a new approach. I drove really slowly.

Now the turns didn’t make my kid sick. Now I could afford to take a few seconds to glance sideways and appreciate the scenery.

Now it wasn’t stressful, except for one thing: the impatient queue of cars behind me. I care (perhaps too much) about other people, so just seeing them in my mirror made me go back to driving faster than I wanted, which brought back all the original problems.

So I made one simple tweak:

I tilted my rear view mirror up towards the ceiling, so I couldn’t see anything behind me.

Ahhh... Instantly relaxed.

Now it feels like I’m almost alone on this gorgeous mountain drive. Going at my own pace, not influenced or stressed by anyone else.

There’s a passing lane every few minutes, so when it comes, the other cars whiz by me. For 30 minutes, they’re not my problem. When I get to the other side, I put my mirror back.

Now I go visit all the time, no stress at all.


You know I’m going for the metaphor here.

  • social media comments
  • distracting environments
  • discouraging family
  • your email inbox

Even the toughest of us have delicate motivations.

When you notice something is affecting your drive, find a way to adjust your environment. Even if it’s a little inconvenient to others.

Photo by efilpera.
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brendan
1377 days ago
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Seattle, WA
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