There is a unique word that popped up in my news feed twice this week: The word was Joy. It appeared as a key reason that 2 high profile Americans quit their jobs. What was even more unique is that both of these Americans played a game for a living. And if anyone should be experiencing on-the-job-joy it should be people playing a game for money.
Work Takes A Toll
But Andrew Luck, the recently retired 29-year-old quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts of the National Football League, and 30-year-old tight end Rob ‘Gronk’ Gronkowski, who recently retired from the New England Patriots, the best football team in the history of history, both stated this week that their jobs had actually taken their joy from them.
If you had heard that Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble quit their jobs because it was stealing their joy you would understand. After all, those dudes worked in a rock mine, operating dinosaurs. So if they told you they didn’t want to yabba-dabba-do it any more you would get it.
Money Isn’t Everything
But we are talking about 2 guys whose jobs have brought them fortune and fame. Luck earned over $100 million dollars. Gronkowski made $53 million by the time he turned 30, while winning 3 Super Bowls.
Yet the work robbed them of their joy. The pain, the grind, the mental and physical fatigue, the injuries, surgeries and stress that came with it all negated the benefits of the handsome compensation.
This is a reminder to that money and fame are no fair trade for our joy. Because without joy, a delicious cocktail of pleasure and happiness, it’s hard to find value in our work and our careers.
This raises an important question for us all.
Is your work adding joy to your life or taking it from you?
For some people that answer is easy. A quick check of the ole joy-meter may show that your joy is at maximum levels. Others will find their work is more or less joy-neutral. Which is fine. But just fine. However, if your work is exporting your joy like Art Vandelay, you need a new job. Or a new career.
A little self evaluation will tell you whether you need a new environment, new boss, new challenge, or new career. This may be the right time to focus on an old life goal that has gathered dust, moss or rust. Because by making a career change or launching a new business you may experience a flood of joy and excitement that will make you wonder why you didn’t do it earlier. That’s exactly what happened to me when I started my entrepreneurial adventure. And 3 years after starting my own company I am shocked that more people don’t do it.
If your work is depleting your personal joy you have to make a change. Life is too short not to enjoy your work and the people you work with. Money is not the most important contributor to a joyful life. So make sure you are not trading money for happiness. Make joy your number one goal. And everything else will fall into place.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
I’m not a huge fan of rules. Creative people as a species are naturally averse to them. But if you want to develop a business with a strong culture and a rock solid, repeatable process you need some rules to guide you.
Prior to starting my own ad agency I had been part a fun, feisty and progressive agency called Engauge. We had offices in Atlanta, Austin, Columbus, Pittsburgh and Orlando. And we worked with some of America’s best brands, including Coca Cola, Wells Fargo, UPS, Nike, Chick-Fil-A, Nationwide, Walgreens, and Cisco. We had a lot of very talented people. And we had a great company culture. #weness But it didn’t happen by accident.
Rules That Free Us
When I joined Engauge’s restructured executive leadership team in 2011 our first order of business was to create some simple rules to govern the organization. Because we believed that a great organization is made of great people who enjoy working together, the first rule we unanimously agreed on was the ‘No A-holes’ rule. For those unfamiliar with the rule, or the obviousness of the phrase, it means that your organization will not tolerate people who act like A-holes.
Preventing the A-holes from joining your team isn’t easy. Because they are on their absolute best behavior in interviews. Sometimes we sniff them out (yeah, I said it). But often they sneak past our filters. So as much as we try to prevent an A-hole from getting into our organizations in the first place, they get in. So now what?
You just get rid of them, right? After all, no one likes an A-hole. Unfortunately, it’s typically not that simple. Because let’s face it, there are a lot of talented A-holes. The drive, intelligence, confidence and will of a typical A-hole help makes things happen. It’s common for them to make a quick impact and create immediate wins.
But that upside comes with an equally significant downside. Because A-holes are uncomfortable to be around, they drain morale and sap energy. The unfortunate reality is that when you retain an A-hole, (which means you are A-hole retentive) it sends a terrible message about your values to your most valued employees. You’ll watch them drop like flies. Among the employees you will retain you’ll lose untold dollars in productivity as co-workers gather to talk about what an A-hole the A-hole is.
Of course the worst problem of all occurs when an A-hole develops a close relationship with a client. Because then the business has to decide whether they want to lose the valuable contributions of the A-hole and irritate or lose a client.
There is a proven 2-step process to handling such problem employees. First, ask a handful of cross functional team members if they think the co-worker in question is an A-hole. Second, if the consensus is yes, you put on your scrubs and perform an Assholectomy.
There simply is no room for the distraction, the division and the drama caused by A-holes. Accepting them tells the rest of the organization that It’s okay to be an A. That can’t happen. Because eventually enough people will leave, or threaten to leave that you have no choice but to get rid of the A-hole A-nyway.
After implementing the A-hole rule in the past, I’m proud to say we purged several very talented but very difficult people. By dropping those stinky sphincters, the culture, vibe, productivity and overall love for the organization improved.
When I launched my own advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, in 2016, the first rule we implemented was the No A-Holes Rule. But we didn’t just make it a rule. We baked this non-negotiable into the center of our brand identity. You’re probably wondering how we did this.
See the A in the middle of the word Weaponry? Notice that it has no A-hole? That’s because there are no A-holes at The Weaponry. #TrueStory #BakedInFromTheStart
By establishing this rule from the beginning we have had no A-hole problems at The Weaponry over the past 3 years. None. Not even a whiff of a personality problem. #snickering All of our full-time and part-time team members have been exceptional people who work great with others.
If you want to create a great work environment, team and culture you have to invite the right people in and keep the wrong people out. There simply is no room for A-holes. Even really talented A-holes. Because you will be cleaning up their crap until the day they leave. So create a policy and a process to prevent them from getting into your organization, and for removing them if they sneak in. By eliminating A-holes you will have avoided the negative distractions that kill both productivity and culture. Which means you and your team can focus on building a great business. And building great, long lasting relationship with each other.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message (like someone dealing with an A-hole) please share it with them.
I love complimenting others. It is one of my favorite things to do. I love recognizing a job well done. I like pointing out strengths. I love celebrating significant accomplishments. And I like telling people they look nice. I am like the Franks RedHot Lady. I put compliments on everything.
Go Big & Go Small
I compliment the big obvious performances. But I really like to highlight the small things that would typically fly under the radar. I love to show people that I noticed the details, the extra effort and the small sacrifices that were not likely to draw much attention.
Thinking Of Going Pro
If I could be a professional complementer I would. It’s one of the few professions that I would enjoy even more than my current role as an entrepreneur. It feels good to offer compliments. It calls more attention to the good things in life. Which in turn helps create a more positive world. Because complimenting is like carrying around a giant highlighter and marking a bright yellow swipe of sunshine on all the good things you find.
If I could change one thing.
As much as I love to give a compliment it often generates one of my greatest pet peeves. I really dislike it when people don’t know how to receive a compliment. You may think that denying a compliment makes you appear humble or modest. But it doesn’t. Because when you deny a compliment you are telling the complimenter that they are wrong. Which is rude. Unintentionally rude. But rude nonetheless. #3wordsin1
The Rudeness of Rejection
When you reject a compliment from someone you are telling them that they:
Have bad taste.
Don’t know what they are talking about.
Are too easily impressed.
Don’t know as much as you do.
Do This Instead
Even if you don’t feel worthy of praise you should gracefully accept it. There are many ways to properly accept a compliment. Here are just a few examples:
18 Acceptable Responses To A Compliment
Thank you. (this one works really well)
I appreciate that.
Thanks for noticing.
That is nice to hear.
You made my day.
You are so sweet (works better for ladies)
I’m just doing my job.
I’m thrilled you think so.
You would know.
That means a lot coming from you.
Do you really think so? (this allows them to heap more praise and offer more details)
I got lucky.
I am humbled.
It was a team effort.
That saying about blind squirrels.
Can you follow me around everyday?
Tell me more.
Can you write my Tinder profile? (I don’t know if there is such a thing.)
If you want to live in a world with more praise than criticism you have to learn how to accept a compliment. Because if you can’t take a compliment eventually there will be no compliments to deny. Don’t let that happen. Let’s encourage others to recognize the good they see.
Accept compliments with gratitude. Remember them. Write them down. And read them again whenever you need a confidence boost.
Remember, praise is one of the most meaningful gifts we can offer one another. So if you want to see more praise in circulation, make sure not to deny it when it comes your way.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this story please share it with them.
Monday night I had dinner with my friend Greg Rozycki at his home in Emeryville, California. Zyck and I grew up together in Norwich, Vermont. We went to high school together at Hanover High School in Hanover, New Hampshire. Which is just across the Connecticut River from Norwich.
Fun Fact: Our school district was the first interstate school district in the United States. It took a bill signed by JFK to be approved. And it was the last thing JFK signed before he was assassinated (so maybe he shouldn’t have signed it… hmm…).
Zyck and I have known each other since we were 12-years old. We played football together. Zyck was a star athlete. Not only did he make the All-State football team, he was an All-American lacrosse player in high school. He went on to have an outstanding college lacrosse career at Brown University. Then he went to medical school at Dartmouth. Today he is Dr. Rozycki, a Pediatrician in the San Francisco Bay Area. He’s a pretty amazing dude.
Before Monday night Zyck and I hadn’t seen each other in person in 8 years. When I arrived at his home he re-introduced me to his two children, Sanam (13) and Sachin (11). Then he said something really interesting to his kids:
‘Of all of my friends Adam is the one who has the most perfect career for him.’ – Dr. Greg Rozycki
Since I first started my career as an advertising creative I have heard this same sentiment many, many times. My great childhood friend Marcus Chioffi says this every time I see him. My Uncle Rod says he is glad that I am finally able to put my unique thinking to good use.
Finding Your Perfect Fit
I always laugh at these comments. But they are true. I have found a career that is perfectly suited to my strongest and most natural skills and abilities. I love the work I do and I think it shows. When I launched my own advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I found the hard work of starting a new business as enjoyable as anything I have ever done. Because I love what I do.
The Big Questions
Would your closest friends and family say you are doing exactly what you should be doing with your career?
If not, what should you be doing?
What are you really great at?
What do you love to do that you are not doing right now?
How can you make money doing that?
Why aren’t you doing it?
Finding work that you love to do is one of greatest discoveries in life. It makes it exciting to get out of bed on a Monday morning. It makes it easy to put in the extra effort that will make you extra successful. It gives you special energy that makes long hours not seem so long. Best of all, you don’t spend any time thinking about the career you wish you had. Thanks for the reminder Zyck.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.
I don’t believe in a work-life balance. It implies that our work and our lives are two separate entities. Which they are not. Those hours you spend at work each day comprise a gigantic chunk of your life. If you are not happy at work, you are not only wasting your career, you are wasting your life. Those are just the facts.
The notion of a work-life balance implies a teeter-totter or seesaw life construct. It requires our work to sit on one side of our personal fulcrum, and our lives to sit on the other. The two sides are separate, but equal, and balanced. Other than in fairy tales, outer space, and 1960’s TV programs, you are never going to find the two of equal weight. Which is why I am a registered Work-Life Balance Atheist. (Although I still believe in God, Jesus, and Sampson.)
I believe in work-life integration. We need to construct our lives as a system in which all the parts work together to provide a natural flow. When our personal lives need to step forward and take the lead, they naturally do, even during the work day. And when work needs to be addressed while we are at home or on vacation, we can naturally allow for that to happen.
My perspective could be skewed because I am a business owner, and my life and my work are inextricably linked. But you are no different. And the sooner you and your employer (or employees) accept that, the sooner you can create a happier, more satisfied coexistence of the two.
Work-Life Integration At A Macro Level
This work-life integration is the reason that my family relocated our home base from Atlanta to Milwaukee 2-years ago. For Non-Americans, this is a move of 800 miles, mostly north. And there is a story.
In the summer of 2015 I began serious plans to start my own advertising agency. It was an exciting time in my career, as visions and logistics danced through my head. But at the same time a major storm was brewing in my personal life.
On an ordinary August evening in Wausau, Wisconsin, my Mother-In-Law, Cynthia Zabel, coughed up blood. Fortunately she has more sense than Jim Henson, so she called her doctor and saw him the next day. He ordered an MRI, which revealed a small spot on her lung. He decided to do a biopsy to investigate. The biopsy revealed a benign tumor, that the doctors decided to remove.
My wife, Dawn, decided to fly home to Wausau, from Atlanta, to be with her Mom during her surgery. Everything was calm and routine. Until the doctor emerged from the operating room to talk to Dawn following the operation. He said,
‘Well, that didn’t go as planned. We didn’t see the tumor we were expecting to see. Instead, one of your mother’s lungs was completely encased in a tumor. I only had two options. I could leave everything exactly as it was and we would take our chances. Or I could remove the entire lung. And that is what I did.’
So Dawn’s mom, now 78-years old, had only one lung, and, as the new biopsy would reveal, two forms of non-smoking related lung cancer. She would soon be preparing for aggressive chemotherapy and radiation in order to give her every chance of survival.
Our Tribe quickly rallied around us. Including our close friend and Atlanta neighbor, Dr. Crain Garrot, who is an Oncologist. He became our cancer translator and counselor throughout the process. My uncle, Allan Sprau used his connections to get us an immediate appointment with a specialist at the Mayo Clinic.
However, Cynthia felt she was in good hands with her local doctors. And with good reason. She had battled cancer with the same team before, and won. In fact, in 2015 she was a 14-year breast cancer survivor. And she trusted her doctors to help her navigate through the new and more daunting challenge.
Life Impacting Work
Cynthia’s cancer diagnoses had a major impact on our family’s life plans. Since Dawn and I were going to start our own business, we believed the business could be located anywhere. With the cancer battle ramping up, and my parents reaching retirement age, it was time to make proximity to our parents a priority.
We considered relocating to 4 great cities. Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison and Minneapolis. After visiting each of the cities, and a thorough evaluation (worthy of a separate post), we decided on Milwaukee. This great city on a great lake, put us right between Cynthia in Wausau, Wisconsin, and my parents in Lafayette, Indiana.
One year after Cynthia first coughed up blood, we moved to Milwaukee’s northern suburb of Mequon for the excellent schools and quality of life for our family of 5. We found a nice home on a 1-acre lot, on a pond. The Weaponry, the advertising and idea agency I initially founded in Atlanta, moved headquarters to Milwaukee without missing a beat. And just like that, Atlanta had paid back Milwaukee for taking the Braves in 1966.
Yesterday, April 6, 2019 was a great day. In fact, two great things happened. My mother in-law turned 82 years old and is doing great. But even better, we live close enough that we were able to drive to surprise her at a restaurant in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, enjoy several hours together on her birthday, and then drive home again. It was exactly what we envisioned when we decided to integrate our work and personal needs, and be closer to our parents during this chapter of our lives.
Integrate your career and life plans into one beautiful, fully functioning design. Don’t force the two to fight against each other. And don’t settle for less. We didn’t. As a result, Dawn and I have been able to spend quality time with both of our parents in the last few weeks alone, here in Wisconsin. Which makes me feel like I am winning at life.
If you are having health problems see a doctor right away. Take it from Cynthia Zabel, it could save your life.
*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.
I grew up in Vermont. If you’ve ever met me you know I am very proud of this fact. Vermont was a wonderful place to be a kid. It was beautiful, safe and quiet. There were various career options available to Vermonters. We had a lot of maple syrup farmers, stone fence stackers, and a couple of world-class ice cream makers. But I didn’t know a single advertising professional.
I left Vermont for college and went to the University of Wisconsin. When I graduated and wanted to find a job as a copywriter for an advertising agency, I didn’t know anyone who could help me prepare for my job search.
A Friend of a Friend of a Friend.
However, I did have friends. My college friend Gina Wagner (now Gina Zanik of Salt Lake City) told me that a friend of her Mom’s might know someone who could help. A few calls were made, and through a friend-chain I was put in touch with a man named Paul Zukowski.
Paul, a grown man with a real advertising career, then did something remarkable. He took time out of his day to meet with me, a total stranger, on a Saturday, to offer advice on how to best present my work, to maximize the chances of landing a job as an advertising creative.
Paul not only owed me nothing, he was likely to get nothing in return for helping this penniless, jobless, cotton headed ninny muggins. Yet Paul offered me some of his valuable time and gave me some really great, if not unconventional advice. Advice that ultimately helped me land my first job in advertising. And this blog post, written 23 years later, is all he got for his effort. (Although, upon his death he may receive eternal consciousness. Which is nice.)
Thinking of Paul
I haven’t seen Paul since the day we met at Union South in Madison, back in 1996, But I have thought of Paul often. In fact, I think of him every time a college student contacts me asking for an informational interview. I think of him every time someone wants advice on launching their own business. I think of him every time someone who is looking for a new job wants to grab coffee. I think of him when an aspiring blogger wants to buy me a chocolate milk and learn how to get started. (You can learn most of what I know here.)
Paul Zukowski, a man I have seen once in my life, played an important role in my advertising career. When I was desperately trying to get my foot in the door, he showed me how to put my best foot forward. As a result I got a job as a copywriter. I then got promoted all the way to Chief Creative Officer, before launching my own advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry in 2016.
Paying It Forward
Today, I pay it forward and continue the goodwill that Paul started by helping others. This week I drove from Milwaukee to The Weaponry’s new office in Columbus, Ohio. During my drive I spent more than 3 hours talking to people who reached out to me because:
They were about to graduate from college.
They recently moved and were looking for a job and a network in a new city.
They had lost a job and needed to figure out their next chapter.
I don’t expect a thing from any of the people I try to help. Although I hope my willingness to help encourages them to help others down the road. Just like Paul helped me.
Sooner or later we all need a Paul Zukowski. We need someone who can help us chart a new course through a foreign land. While it’s great to find someone who will do that for you, it’s even better to be the Paul Zukowski. To be the one who offers help and guidance while expecting nothing in return. Because it sets off a chain reaction that can make a significant impact on a significant number of people for generations to come. Heck, it can even help a kid from rural Vermont (#redundant) start a career in advertising, launch a business, and launch a blog to share the story with the world.
Do you know what makes you special? In business disciplines like marketing, branding and sales, the key to success is knowing what sets you apart from everyone else. As a marketing strategist I am constantly analyzing my clients to discover and capitalize on their specialness. #SpecialPurpose #IsntThatSpecial.
Turning the Camera Around
Once you train yourself to find the special, unique and rare things in others, you naturally analyze yourself the same way. Many times I have considered what makes me special. And not to brag, but there are a few things that set me apart.
My feet are among the flattest on Earth. I quite literally have no arches. This was first pointed out to me by my childhood friend Danny Boyle, and confirmed scientifically at a Fleet Feet store during a scan that listed my arches as Not Applicable.
I have no reflexes in my knees. You know how doctors tap patients on the front of the knee and the patient then naturally kicks their leg forward? That doesn’t happen to me, despite the fact that some clinicians have worked up quite a lather trying to get a reaction out of my patellar region.
I was born without two adult teeth. On my upper jaw, my 5th teeth from the center on both sides showed up as baby teeth, with no mature adult teeth behind them. Today I am rocking 2 full-sized implants that more than make up for what mother nature didn’t give me.
However, none of these 3 points offer much of a competitive advantage. Thankfully my 4th and final uniqueness does.
4. I make friends as fast as anyone on Earth.
For a long time I didn’t know I was unique in this way. But I love meeting new people. So I waste no time converting strangers into lifelong friends.
I am fascinated by people, their stories, experiences, skills and quirks. I love human connections. I love discovering common ground. And I love to learn what you know that I don’t. I devour people the way others devour books.
I am also blessed with a good memory that retains what I have learned about the people I meet. Pro Tip: Friends seem to like it when you remember things about them. Retaining people knowledge also enables me to connect dots and recognize shared connections of people places and things. And ulitmately make more friends.
In business and in life, my ability to make friends quickly has been my most valuable asset. It helps me develop quick rapport, which ensures that I never feel alone. When I first launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I quickly recognized that I had done the most important work of entrepreneurship 20 to 30 years before launching my business. Because your personal network is critical to connecting the dots necessary to discovering and capitalizing on entrepreneurial opportunities.
Friends are the most valuable resources on Earth. Grab as many as you can as quickly as you can. They make everything on the planet better. Don’t be afraid to reach out and make new connections. I do it almost every day. Our friends provide the pathways to the most enjoyable experiences of our lives. They are gateways to opportunities. They provide our personal safety nets. And at the end of our days, our friends and family will be the only things we accumulated in our time on Earth that we will want to carry with us wherever we go next.