The Learning Log #2 – How do you grade yourself?

We all grade ourselves by different measures:

  • For some people, it’s as simple as how much money they make. When their net worth is going up, they know they’re doing well.
  • For others, it’s how much money they give.
  • For some people, it’s how many people’s lives they can influence for the better.
  • For others, it’s how deeply they can influence just a few people’s lives.

– from pg 30 of “Anything You Want” by Derek Silvers, Founder of CD Baby

I’d never thought of it that way before. Maybe that’s why some of us are in a flux of constantly doing things, and yet constantly feeling like we haven’t accomplished much in life. When we raise our grades in one measure, we find ourselves looking at the other measures and going “well, but I haven’t done X.”

Maybe that’s why some of us struggle with our parents. We’d write home happily about the lives we’d touched in the community, only to be given the failing grade by them because we weren’t already making the big fat paycheck they’d hoped their college educated child would be making.

So how do you grade yourself? Are you measuring your success by your standards, or someone else’s?

The Learning Log is a reflection of the lessons I pick up while reading my books. I hope the points picked out will inspire you as much as they’ve impacted me.

The Learning Log #1 – Delivering Happiness – your universe

“Envision, create, and believe in your own universe, and the universe will form around you.”
Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh (page 85)

From the book

At this point in Tony’s account, he’d just organized the millennium countdown party of a lifetime in a penthouse he’d bought just to create a place for him and his friends to gather and meet new people. (Kinda like Central Perk in Friends) Because of his love for the rave culture that included values like Peace, Love, Unity and Respect, he went all out to re-create everything he loved about warehouse rave parties he’d attended outside, in his loft. Fog machines, colored lights, lasers, disco balls, black lights… he bought them all.

The party was going smashingly well with several hundred people lost in the music and strobe lights, until he noticed a shrill alarm sounding. The fog machines had set off the smoke alarms for his entire building. It was 3am. Two fire trucks came rushing to the building with their lights flashing only to discover it was a false alarm. But all was fine, the firemen burst out laughing and wished them a happy new year.

As Tony leaned out one of the open windows to watch the firemen return to their trucks below, he stared at the lights on the fire trucks that were still flashing. Then out of nowhere, he heard a female voice. “Isn’t this amazing? You created all of this… You could have done anything you wanted, and you chose to create an experience that people will remember forever.”

The Story

Anyone who’s read about the Zappos story would know that they’re all about company culture. “A service company that happens to sell shoes,” was how Tony put it. Through the process of growing his company, he stayed true to a list of core values. A list that he was willing to base all hiring and firing of staff off, regardless of job performance. Visit their website now and you’ll find a cool music video they’d put together for fun, and a ton of pictures of all the good times they have in the office. To encourage learning and self-development, they’ve got a library of highly recommended books that all employees and visitors are free to take.

Zappos was born just over a decade ago. I look around and I see too many of us dragging our feet in the morning, reluctant to head to the office. How was Zappos able to build a place that every one of their employees loved, and I mean really loved, being in? We’re talking about a place that will pay their new employees $2,000 to quit at the end of their training, to ensure that they’re there for the love of the job and not the money. Wow.

That, to me, is a universe that was almost unheard of in the past. A universe that had to be envisioned and created by those who were daring enough to take the path that wasn’t already laid out for them. Tony knew what it was like to be working in a place he had to drag himself reluctantly to, and was determined to create a universe of his own to change that.

The Lesson

Looking back, when I think about the places to which I’d felt the most loyalty towards, and the most willingness to go the extra mile for, they were all places with particularly strong supportive cultures, a shared sense of pride, and a high level of respect for everyone, regardless of seniority. A shining example: Kartemquin Films.

Why do I still speak of my internship at Kartemquin as my best internship experience ever? Maybe it’s the special weekly 3-hour workshops organized just for interns to learn from each staff member. Maybe it’s their great willingness to teach, all we had to do was ask. Maybe it’s the level of respect we were shown, where they actually took the time to get to know us as people. Us coming back on weekends and off days to help at events was always optional, never assumed or forced (which probably served as even more motivation to go the extra mile to help). My internship may have ended 5 months ago, but i’m still getting work through Kartemquin referrals.

Those who pass through the doors never really leave. And you’ll notice that the sense of KTQ pride never really goes away. People may not always remember what you say or do, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel.

I sometimes ask myself why I never jetted straight off to Los Angeles or New York after film school just like the majority. I hate to cast blanket stereotypes, but something about the stories I heard of the dog-eat-dog world out there has created a sense of inertia. Why keep myself surrounded by people whose attitudes and work ethics I do not agree with, and be miserable, when I can architect one of my own where it’s both a happy and positive place to grow?

Thank you, Tony. I really look forward to exercising my universe-creating powers. :)

The Learning Log is a bi-weekly reflection of the lessons I pick up while reading my books. I hope the points picked out will inspire you as much as they’ve impacted me.

The Learning Log – an introduction

Picture by Zitona

I’m subscribed to newsletters and blog feeds from at least 10 different sources – Seth Godin’s blog, SmartBrief on Social Media, Reel Chicago,, SGEntrepreneurs, Daily Worth and PSFK are just some of them. I love the process of learning and discovery, and often wish I could spare the time to read them all, but I sometimes find myself overwhelmed with the battle to keep a somewhat organized inbox.

Maybe it’s my insatiable hunger for more knowledge, or maybe it’s that sense of satisfaction from knowing I just did something to better my life. Either way, I see the same pattern emerge when it comes to books. A peek on my shelf will reveal a good mix of marketing, social behavior, entrepreneurship and green books, half of which I’ve not read. (it’s like that queue that just keeps growing)

I’m a slow reader. No wait, scratch that. I read at an average speed, but my mind wanders every time a line in the book sparks an idea or gives me inspiration. I often find myself trying to imagine a way to apply that brilliant last line I’d just read to my life, and get carried away. And even though I wouldn’t call that a bad thing, it’s the difficulty I face trying to recall that great lesson I learned the day before that irks me. I think idea journals were made for people with very adventurous minds but short-term memories, like me.

And then I thought… why not share these crazy thoughts in my head? Pen them down, so I don’t forget, and share them. They might serve as a catalyst for even more ideas! (Oh, the power of collaboration.) And so I’ve decided to start The Learning Log, a weekly reflection on something I learned through reading newsletters/blogs/books.

I’m hoping these will touch something within you, and maybe even send your mind running wild too! We’ll share and discuss, and laugh and learn. Oh, what fun there is to come! Stay tuned. :)