I used to tell my co-workers that I was on top of my shit.
I was good at my job, and I was proud of it. I would take on more projects, projects that were increasingly complex, and just kept working harder and harder. I told myself I was dedicated, that I could do it. This is just how you have to be, to be the best. That’s hustle.
I handled it all and stayed motivated by devouring podcasts, newsletters, and the hottest new Medium article, scouring headlines for buzzwords on product management tactics and design hacks to get the job done better and faster. I was constantly trying to optimize.
I would joke to my roommates that I was losing it, that I didn’t have it together. And it was true – I was becoming a terrible friend – ducking out on dinner and bailing on plans left and right. I started to feel incompetent at work, letting things slip through the cracks and having difficulty with my follow through. I felt like I was letting everyone down, and it was a terrible feeling.
Eventually I found myself in the hole – a place I’m sure you’re familiar with. It’s a sinking feeling, when you’re resigned into this metaphorical hole, where sleep, exercise, and diet cease to matter. Here, in this hole, I exhaustedly subsisted on pizza while searching for the ladder that would get me out.
I didn’t realize I was in this darkness for a while – I existed with the sadness, pressing on as I always had. I hid behind inspirational hustle culture “wisdom”, like the now common mantra on this water cooler. It was just part of my identity.
I stayed in this hole until, one day, I was in a 1:1 with a co-worker. This co-worker looked at me and pointedly said, “Brian, you need to chill!” It was a wake up call. A wake up call to examine what I was doing wrong, and when I think about this time in my life, I think about my dad.
Two years ago, my dad gave a commencement speech at the Mass Maritime Academy to the Class of 2017. I didn’t attend, but I found the video afterwards and watched it through. I grew up with this guy, so I wasn’t expecting to learn to much from him in this speech. I was wrong.
In his speech, he laid out 5 lessons. The first one really resonated with me and is a constant reminder to live life in the way that works for me:
1. Don’t forget the basics
Get enough sleep.
The more strenuous and stressful work is, and the less time you think you have, the more important these things become.
Now, as a founder of a wellness company, I’m faced with the same challenge everyday. My co-founder and I experience constant tension between working harder, working longer, and also maintaining a balanced and healthy lifestyle. If I fail (which is often), I feel like a hypocrite and can fall into a guilt-ridden spiral.
At the end of the day, I do it to myself. No one is forcing me to work this way. No one is pushing me back into the hole. I remember a chat with one of our lead investors, Shripriya Mahesh, where we explicitly talked about our path as a company and that the only way to achieve success would be by building a sustainable company culture. That was really impactful for me, especially coming from someone who had been through the process of building many companies herself.
Looking back on my dad’s words, I realize that they were really illuminating the root cause of these periods of imbalance in my life. If I need a change, these words help trigger it. The advice goes beyond remembering your basic “self-care” needs. To me, it’s a call to focus on the obvious and even the mundane. It’s a call to forget about the endless pursuit of the absolute best and just chill out.
Instead, I now strive to master the basics: master my morning routine, master my calendar, master simple prioritization. Throw out my ridiculous prioritization spreadsheet and just have an open conversation about the Must Haves.
At first, I found this approach boring. It was less sexy, but possibly, more romantic – simple. I took a moment to pause and began to appreciate the nuance – the tiny pleasures in the everyday and moving our team to the right outcome using clear, basic techniques.
In doing this, I started to enjoy my work again. I started focusing on getting out of the hole, and staying out. I started to have more fun. And I started to really perform.