What’s in a culture?

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I read somewhere recently that the best company culture is still a work in progress. What I’ve come to believe is that company culture, on a fundamental level, is simply about relationships. The relationships that employees have to their jobs and to the mission of the company. Relationships that exist within the organizational structure, between managers and associates, between members of the leadership team. And of course, the bonds and friendships that exist between coworkers. Without those relationships there is only work from 8:30AM to 6PM, Monday through Friday, 261 days a year (give or a take a few evenings and weekends thrown in).

Like any other relationship then, the relationships which make up company culture require continual investment and maintenance. A good (married) friend of mine once told me that the thing about marriage is that every day you wake up and you choose to be in your marriage. Every day you wake up and you choose the person you married to be your partner and your friend. In the same vein, I believe that growing a great company culture means choosing to be the culture you wish to see, so to speak, every day. Fostering community and happiness, trust and positivity, I believe culture is the key to a successful company.

With the requisite amount of Kombucha and yogurt jokes, of course.

Creating and Finding Joy in Unexpected Places

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I recently designed a really colorful backpack at the TImbuk2 store in Hayes Valley. It’s exceptionally badass if I do say so myself. I got a voicemail when it was ready to be picked up, and when I went in the girl working there told me if I hadn’t shown she would have kept it for herself. But that’s beside the point. Because my colorful backpack isn’t really about having a cool thing, it’s about seizing on an opportunity to inject joy into my life.

Yeah, I know how that sounds, but I’m serious. This is a philosophy that I’ve learned to run with over the years. I’m all about finding little ways to make myself happy. For me, that often involves integrating more color into my life. (I had to stop watching Game of Thrones because there was too much grey and I just got bored of it). I don’t shy away from dressing in somewhat ridiculous color schemes that one might find at Gymboree. (I often find myself envious of children’s outfits. Seriously, we had it right in ’95). And I usually receive the most compliments from strangers when I do so. I have a cotton dress from Nooworks that looks like it would fit right in on the Magical Mystery Tour album cover. It never fails to bring smiles (and sometimes bewilderment) to those around me. I love that. Another gem that never fails to make me happy is this water bottle.

It’s all about finding joy in the details.

Death Cab, Cutie, and Me

Ben Gibbard at Union Chapel

Ben Gibbard at Union Chapel

The first time I listened to Death Cab for Cutie I was 12. The O.C. Mix 1 began my musical education with the kind of indie bands that spoke ever so lovingly to the isolating feelings of entering teenagerhood. I took my pink iPod mini with me everywhere the summer I turned 13, and for the first time gave my life a soundtrack. This was only the beginning.

It was around 16 when I first saw a Coachella lineup. Death Cab was listed, along with most of the other bands I was listening to at the time. I didn’t know much about California beyond the wonders of Sea World, but I knew they were getting something right if something existed where you could see all the music you loved in one place. And I wanted to be there. My live music experience in Upstate New York was limited to a few outdoor amphitheater Dave Matthews shows, and one 18+ John Browns Body show for which I strategically convinced a stranger to vouch as my mother so I could get in. I knew I couldn’t stay somewhere with such limited access to music.

I was 21 when I first saw Ben Gibbard play live. He played an all-acoustic set in a beautiful church venue called Union Chapel in Islington. None of my friends had been excited by the idea, so for the first time I went to a show alone. I got there early and sat in the second row, listening to an episode of This American Life about what happened to military Dogs after WWII (or was it WWI?) until the show started. I started weeping with joy as soon as he started playing, and I knew the words to every song he played. It was magical.

I went on to see The Postal Service play that April at Coachella. I sat behind the Greek in Berkeley with friends to listen to them play for free a few months later. When Death Cab came to town last August, Lina and I saw them play at The Independent. We saw them again the following day at Outside Lands. We’re flying down to see them play their new album at the Hollywood Bowl this July. Ben Gibbard really never gets old.

I might say that Death Cab is to me what the Beatles were to my dad, but the Beatles are arguably the other greatest musical influence in my life. Death Cab has been there for me in my most formative years, and grown with me on my journey towards adulthood. This NPR article hits the nail on the head describing the impact Death Cab has had on a generation, and I encourage you to read it.

I suggest taking a listen to their new album. You never know what might strike a chord with you, wherever in your journey you may be.

7AM Saturday, In Transit

This may be a drug reference...

I’ve been finding a lot more art now that I’m walking to and from work.

When I remember to see the good in myself, it helps me to see the good in other people, and to appreciate the beauty of my surroundings. I get excited about the little things- like street art, or designing an extremely colorful backpack. I remember that that is how I want to live my life, seeing the beauty in each moment, feeling almost recklessly silly, loving the people around me and experiencing the kind of giggling that bubbles up from deep inside my soul. Some would probably call that joy. I call it my optimal state of existence.

I’ve spoken to a few friends recently who said they read one post or another of my blog that resonated with them so much they made an active change to their daily routine. Hearing that made me feel so good. I like to think one of the most valuable thing we can do with our experiences is share them, and learn from each other- whether that means learning from others’ mistakes, or simply feeling less alone. The power of writing, and the power of words, continues to astound me- and I hope I never lose that.

MUNI Musings

you are a teeny tiny fish...on a bus

DSF perfectly captures the MUNI experience

My journey home today felt like the ultimate San Francisco melting pot, in more glorious, uncomfortable ways than one. I had gotten on at the first stop of the 22 bus’ route- which leaves from the Dogpatch and makes its way, slowly but surely, to the Marina. I was taking that particular route home because I’d stopped by the Move Loot warehouse to pick up this baby.

So I start out on a relatively empty bus, holding two pieces to a bizarre looking coat rack (which I conveniently enough hung my tote bag off of- genius I know). As the bus moved through Potrero Hill the 4:30 school crowd got on, bringing with them the chaos and havoc of being 15. Their sweatshirts were emblazoned with the numbers 2018 in large block font. Jesus. 2018? That shit cray.

At some point an older gentleman got on the bus and began rambling what sounded like a mix between unstable rants and poetry. His cries ranged from “I’m. Not. Gay. Not gay, okay? You say? Okay.” to “PBS, PBS, Channel 9… these kids don’t even know what I’m talking about do they? Streets! Sesame Streets! Oscar, that grouch… do you kids even know? Even know?” He hooted and hollered at those around him, adding something almost delightful to the atmosphere. I should mention this was a 70 degree March 5th San Francisco day, so that atmosphere filled with people and noise and chaos, also had a true element of heat- that heat that turned the bus into the melting pot I’d mentioned above.

At 16th and Mission the first mass exodus left the bus, and the girl sitting next to me took out a large, bound, paper workbook. It was an instruction manual on becoming a yoga instructor. Ah yes, a fellow gentrifier. I almost told her I liked her yoga pants, but I was too hot, too distracted by the absurd item I was balancing- to interact with any part of the situation around me.

At Haight and Fillmore the second exodus left the bus, and I prepared to exit , taking care not to deck anyone with what could only be described as a blunt object. My disembarkment was surprising easy, and I reveled in being off the overly warm bus. I had survived another MUNI journey and lived to write about it.

And now we have a coat rack.

The Joys of Planning

By this point it’s a pretty well known fact among my friends that I love to plan. And when I say I love to plan, I mean I fucking love to plan. It really doesn’t matter how hard I try to fight it, how frequently I tell myself “I’m not going to make any post-work plans this week”, I will inevitably end up making dinner with friends three out of the four nights of the week. There is just no feeling like the feeling of carrying out a well-orchestrated plan. It’s something akin to basking in the glory of accomplishing a military victory, (I imagine).

My love of planning definitely started at an early age. During days of complete freedom in the summertime (when I wasn’t at day camp) I would regularly schedule out my free time. Starting at age 7. My days looked something like this:

9:00-10:30 Breakfast
10:30-12 Barbies
12:00-1:00 Lunch
1:00-2:00 Digimon
2:00-3:00 American Girl Dolls
3:00 Snack

…and so it went.

I continued throwing myself birthday parties long after it was necessary, or socially acceptable. I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to plan. I remember this book really adding fuel to the fire from a young age. And hey, if you think I’m strange for having a bouncey-bounce at my 16th birthday party, then we probably shouldn’t be friends anyway.

I’ve tried to fight my natural urge to plan, misled, nay- seduced, by the romance of being spontaneous. It never really works out though, because as soon as a little bit of a plan gets formed I hold onto it for dear life and struggle with it being changed- a bit like trying to wrangle a life preserver from someone floating in the middle of an ocean of indecision.

As I become slightly more of a young adult I’ve begun finding that the best way to structure my time is somewhere in the middle of very structured and entirely unstructured. On weekends I try to pick a gym class and plan just a few hours of the day for an adventure or coffee with friends. This leaves me with enough free hours to relax, and make it to my happy place. For certain, the best plans can only be enjoyed with contrast to time spent doing nothing- or whatever it is you feel like doing.

Unfortunately for this blog, I find writing to be something I can never plan to do- only something I can do when inspiration strikes. It’s all very spontaneous.

Working Towards Balance

I never imagined how difficult it would be to learn how to take care of myself. Having spent most of my time between ages 18 and 22 in a relationship distracted me from figuring out exactly how to make myself happy on my own. Finally single again at 23, I’ve embarked on the wildly difficult journey towards life balance. I’m a planner by nature. An organizer and someone who thrives where structure is laid before me. Thus the realization that life in the post-college world has about as little structure as play-doh came as a bit of a shock. Life balance used to be summed up fairly well by this diagram:

College life, like youth, is utterly wasted on the ignorant. Real life becomes a rabbit hole of paying bills, negotiating salaries, filling taxes (thanks Dad), not to mention balancing the few hours you have outside work to see friends, exercise, eat healthy, get enough sleep, and spend time with significant others. That triangle of college choices has morphed into some sort of crazy shape that has infinite corners.

My greatest challenge has been forming good habits. At certain points during college I kick ass habits in place. I was exercising almost every day, eating right, seeing friends, studying, and getting enough sleep. I should probably mention that I only had class three days a week. Ah, academia.

In the real world it has taken me about a year and a half to settle into startup life (now working at my second startup) and figure out how to make everything else happen at the same time. I read The Power of Habit earlier this year, and would highly recommend it to anyone looking to make changes in their life. The first habit I worked on changing was when I would exercise. I switched from trying to convince myself to work out at the end of the day, to getting up at 5:45AM four days a week to go to 7AM fitness classes at my gym. What I realized was that doing this was analogous to achieving bonus hours in the day. Besides that, it has allowed me to start each workday feeling empowered, lead to healthier food choices, and increased productivity. If you are not a morning person and see no way that you could get up at 5:45AM and do something like this, I suggest you offer yourself the following deal: try it one time and see if you like it. If you don’t, you never have to do it again. I’ve been applying this to a lot of things in life, and it works great. It’s also important to note that when I do get up at 5:45AM I’ve gone to bed by 10PM at the latest. I love to sleep :)

One of my favorite new habits is my Monday morning 7AM yoga class. This I would really recommend for starting out your week feeling calm and collected. Pro-tip, never drink coffee before yoga if you can manage it. I also pack my lunch for work every day, and have switched from a large lunch, to small snacks throughout the day. This has kept me feeling full and keep my blood sugar up, enabling me to turn a blind eye to the racks of free candy and snacks my office kitchen contains.

So I’m beginning to have a handle on eating right, exercising, and getting enough sleep. I make time to see my friends by having / attending dinner parties, or hanging out with people on the weekends. This is all working pretty well. I’m working on drinking less alcohol because I’ve never been a big fan, but unfortunately the work happy hour is a standard socializing ritual in most places.

My real goal is to keep a handle on all of this life balance stuff (and keep improving at it) so whenever I do end up in another relationship I’ll be able to keep myself happy, my life in check, AND work on the next terrifying life beast that they don’t warn you about: communication. More on that next time.