It’s not bleeding enough: why 2017 is taking me away from the things that keep me safe

If it bleeds, it leads.

In journalism, what’s most important goes first—on the front page, in the first words of a headline, in the first sentences of a paragraph. Find what will hook the reader and then let the information fan out through the story, all the way down to the least impactful (but still relevant) information.

The last two years, after looking at pages of manuscripts, I’ve told my fair share of established and budding authors: It’s not bleeding enough. 

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At the intersection of professional passion and utility

In 2007, we were first hearing the echoes of "follow your passion" in career circles. At the time, to my peers it sounded like a great idea, if only because following our passions meant that we weren't suffering quite so much in our current jobs. Senior leadership was, admittedly, a little cautious about encouraging young employees to chase their passions because it was a little far fetched. 

How do we find the balance between having fulfilled employees and growing a business? Here are some things to consider:

1. Passion matters, but it should only be a data point.

"Following your passion" sets everyone up for some serious disappointment. I've never found a good answer to the brazen young man who only wants to eat pizza and play video games all day.

"I'm following my passion," he could say.

And he could stump me, if I only ever advocated everyone being happy all the time in their job. By telling people to only follow their passions, we also empower them to have a me-centric world view. "Following your passion" turns employees into anything but team players and also feeds contempt of management when they're asked to perform jobs outside of their "passions."

2. The guiding compass of your professional career should be utility.

When I meet young employees, I tell them, "I want you to be fulfilled in your work here, and I need you to be useful to our team." If someone is passionate about mathematics, it's only logical that I won't put them in a designer role. But if someone is passionate about typography but actually possesses thorough editing skills, I'll probably assign him a manuscript to proofread and later give him a chance to edit the book's layout alongside a senior editor. In this instance, his passions carved a new opportunity for him by employing his skills and being immediately useful to the whole team.

3. When passion and utility intersect, that's when we see things grow.

As a business owner, I set myself up to fail if I make my employee's happiness my highest priority. Happiness is fleeting, but fulfillment is not. Together, if we can find a way to employ someone's passions and skills for the greater utility of a business objective, then we've found our sweet spot.

In this context, the sweet spot is being a creative agency that attracts top talent because people are (1) challenged in their skillset; (2) held accountable for their outputs and contributions to the team; and (3) prioritized as an integral part of business growth.

6 sweat rings on a shirt and why I care about business

It would be an understatement to say that Texas summers are brutal. They are merciless and unending. I know because I've been living in them since I was 2. Around age 9 I realized that the state of Texas breaths a collective sigh of relief around the second week of October--that's when the temperatures typically cool down "for good." 

Growing up, my parents had pretty normal jobs. My mom worked for a while at American Airlines, then was a stay-at-home mom and then worked for a daycare. My dad was fortunate to be introduced to the fiber-optic world long before coaxial cables were a thing -- before CAT4 turned into CAT5 and so on. I remember watching him place CDs into the CD-rom drive of the family computer, and teaching himself about fibers, cables, etc., in hopes that he could work outside in the field for GTE (now Verizon). This was in the mid-90s, and at the time we were grateful he had a full-time job in the customer care center. However, working 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shifts is tough on any family man. Sitting at a desk was torture defined for my dad. When he passed the tests and got the job to be the "GTE cable guy," he was so relieved. No more sitting at a desk!

Texas summers without air conditioning

I remember the day he drove home the clunkity GTE company van. This van was old. It looked old, it smelled old, it sounded old. The doors creaked when you opened them. And worst of all? There was no air conditioning. It was an expense GTE (now Verizon) couldn't spare. At any point during the year, my dad could have a job that required him to climb a phone pole or crawl through an attic. Putting cable into people's homes is necessarily physical work. It was especially exhausting during the summer time. One day he came home and I counted six distinctive sweat rings draped along his back.

Most summer evenings, my dad would come home and immediately take an ice cold shower. Afterward, he would talk about how nice a swimming pool would be on these hot summer evenings. One day he came home and said there was good news -- the company had decided to buy one new van that had air conditioning. I was elated! I asked if he would get to drive it. He said no, that they offered it to his friend with the most seniority, Marvin. But Marvin refused it, too. My dad explained that Marvin felt it was unfair for one guy to have an air conditioned van while all the other guys had to endure the summer heat for 9+ hours every day. Until there was an air conditioned van for everyone, Marvin wouldn't take it.

Fair treatment in the workplace

Three years ago I began building a virtual content department. The first thing I researched was fair pay for blogging (I was astounded to see some folks paying $10 per 500-word blog!), fair content deadlines, robust training and clear expectations and timely pay. I'm not perfect and neither is my system. Sometimes I overlook a client request; sometimes I mess up. But I can say with 100 percent confidence that no one pays them faster or more fairly -- everyone on my team knows I put their best interests first at every possible turn. Because the culture at Verizon where my dad worked missed a big, big lesson: without employees, there are no leaders. Without my designers, there are no e-books. Without writers, there are no blogs. 

My uncomfortable relationship with business and entrepreneurship

To be honest, I don't live and breathe for business or the next sale. I live and breathe for creating opportunity. I don't love entrepreneurship. I love people. When I get down in the dumps and sleep all day in my pajamas and avoid my email, the single thing that gets me moving again is knowing that good people trust me -- and they need me to be working at the top so they have paychecks coming in.

I want to be a place where people do good work for good people and are treated with the dignity they deserve. In traditional entrepreneurship, I've learned this is particularly difficult. Most people start cutting corners by cutting off their employees. I can't do this, which is probably why I'll never be a traditionally successful entrepreneur. But I will be one who sleeps well at night, and who maybe has a story to tell down the road.

I'm in business because of the sweat rings on my dad's back that Verizon didn't care about. I'm in business because someone has to care, and it might as well be me.