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The Sweet Smell of Failure … and Five Other Things I Learned in Five Months at Mack Web

By September 3, 2013Miscellany

What do you do when you’ve been invited to work for one of the smartest women you’ve ever met, alongside some of the brightest professionals in the industry, at one of the most progressive digital marketing companies around, located mere blocks from your house in the heart of the town you love?

If you’re me: you accept. You hang around just long enough to start to get the hang of things. You attend MozCon, the Holy Grail of SEO conferences in Seattle, alongside said stellar boss, who is speaking there in front of more than a thousand of those aforementioned industry professionals. You are appropriately dazzled and humbled and thrilled and inspired. You come home.

And then you quit.

What the What?

Before I talk about why I’m leaving Mack Web, I’d like to explain a little bit about how I landed here in the first place.

I have been a business owner and entrepreneur for nearly a decade, having worked before that as a telecommuter for a startup. I was, to say the least, accustomed to independence. When I accepted a job at Mack Web back in March, I did so because I was attracted to something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. (<<Yes, I just ended that sentence with a preposition; that’s for Courtney, whom I shall taunt a second time, even after I go away. If not with Monty Python quotes, then with various writing heresies like unclear antecedents, mixed metaphors and a refusal to use Oxford commas).

One of the questions posed sometime during my quite rigorous Mack Web interview extravaganza was something along the lines of “It seems like you have a pretty good thing going with your own business. Why would you want to work here?” The answer, it turned out, was Mack. I will try to explain why here, though perhaps without putting my finger on her. Because she’s been pretty damned amazing about my impending departure thus far, but I’d hate to push my luck.

Screen Shot 2013-09-03 at 12.24.30 PMMack Web Lesson #1: Push Your Luck

As I’m writing this post, I already know one of the things that’s going to bug Mack about it is the fact that I even hint at using the label “failure” to describe my stint here. In fact, one of the things that came out of her mouth as I was telling her I was leaving was “this isn’t a failure — it’s an experiment that you tried, and this is just the outcome. Now you try something else.” It’s this kind of attitude that makes innovation and creativity part of the fabric of life at Mack Web. It also takes practice, and it’s not terribly comfortable. But it’s critical in getting past “meh” and transforming into the kind of company that takes action in order to accelerate learning. Around here, the culture favors bold forward motion over hesitation and reticence, as nothing succeeds like failure.

Screen Shot 2013-09-03 at 12.27.42 PMMack Web Lesson #2: Cut the Crap

Authenticity, humility and honesty go a long way, and Mack is the queen of the straight shooters. She tells it like it is, and she isn’t afraid to call out people who don’t. Like many of the leaders I have admired over the years, Mack makes sure her team understands how inefficient (and unnecessary) ass-covering is. This low tolerance for b.s. is part of the reason that I felt compelled to be frank with her now rather than lingering, and it’s also what has enabled me to make the decision to walk away with no regrets and no big “buts”. Powerful stuff, the crap cutting.

e24d819a850a12cad696dcdf7e23671fMack Web Lesson #3: Work Really F*&^ing Hard

I’ve known some hard workers in my life. I come from a family of them and at Mack Web, I landed once again right in the middle of a sea of diligent dilettantes. Here, there are handymen and Hufflepuffs among us. Still, I nearly passed out when I got a glimpse into the amount of thought that Mack put into her SearchLove presentation in Boston (and she’s getting ready to speak again at SearchLove next week in San Diego, so brace yourselves — I’ve seen a sneak preview and it’s pretty epic). I am regularly awed by my teammates’ tendency to advocate for doing things the inspired way vs. the easy way. If nothing else, I’ll leave Mack Web with my resolve to do good work fortified by the lessons I’ve learned here about finishing what you’ve started. Because these people know how to follow through, and they do it because it’s the right thing to do AND because hard work gets results.

85372e187eb1d9fd3482f3c9da083435Mack Web Lesson #4: Ask for Help

Hard work is one thing, banging your head against the wall senselessly is another.

One of the smartest things about The Mack Web Way is the cultural convention that if you’re trying to figure something out, the first thing you do is ASK. Ask the person sitting next to you. Ask Mack. Ask someone in the community. Ask someone in the industry. Ask your “competition”. Ask your mentor (seeking mentorship is another expectation here, with Mack herself setting the example by meeting regularly with her mentors << yes, plural).

When I got to Mack Web, I was super-excited to discover that it was populated with people who were far smarter than I, who read as much — maybe more — than I did, in a company where accumulating knowledge is not just expected, it was exalted. What I came to discover quite quickly was that learning is not to be done in a vacuum. Not knowing is OK. Not soliciting help because you’re afraid of feeling stupid is … stupid. Asking is faster. See Lesson #2, above. Oh, and P.S. — guess who I’ve asked to be my mentor, now that I’m not going to see her every day? Yup. Didn’t even faze me to be so brazen. I got smarter here.

Screen Shot 2013-09-03 at 1.32.48 PMMack Web Lesson #5: Focus on What Matters

Finally, the thing I most wanted to learn from Mack, the thing that made me say yes to working alongside her and the team all the way back in March was this: how does she manage to get done what she gets done, given all the distractions and the demands and the possibilities and the lack of practicalities that come with being a human on this planet (especially an entrepreneurial human with a penchant for connecting to community)? How does she tune out the noise, keep this thing from going off the rails and keep herself from going of the deep end in the process?

Well, I learned it, all right. The answer, it turns out, is that Mack actually pays attention to that voice inside. Not the one that says “run away” but the one that says “run toward”. She, and the team of people she hires, are very, very good at discerning what matters, at understanding the why, at determining goals and sticking to convictions.

Some of it is practice, and maybe some is stubbornness — but I think it’s more likely about passion and commitment to the things that feel true and right and real. And for better or for worse, watching Mack in action at MozCon showed me what that looked like, up close, dialed up to 11.

And I recognized it because it’s exactly how I feel when I’m working on the projects I love … most notably the ones that have to do with supporting our local music community here in Fort Collins. None of which deliver the same stability or undeniable sensibility that my Mack Web job provided, mind you, but all of which make perfect sense to my heart. You make no mistakes, not really, when you pay attention to that — and what seems like a whiff of failure to some is actually a breath of fresh air. That’s a Mack fact.

I plan to keep learning. I plan to keep in touch (I’ve got to meet with my mentor, after all, and I can’t wait to see where the path leads next for the Mack Web team and their community, of which I’ll always be a part. Oh hey, have you met Ayelet yet? Try saying that 5 times fast). And while my staff bio will come off the site, I’ll pull just a little piece of it — the answer to the “favorite quote” question — into this blog post for perpetuity, because it seems pretty fitting and I like T.S. as my P.S.:

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice
And to make an end is to make a beginning.

Love and lessons,

Julie

 

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Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • Ronell Smith says:

    Julie,

    What a beautiful piece. Thanks for being so genuine, honest and transparent.

    I, too, attended MozCon 2013, an event I was looking forward to but was frightened out of my mind about. I was eager as could be to sit in a room full of bright, aspiring, inspiring marketers, SEOs and content folks.

    I was just as excited, though, to meet Mack, who, as luck would have it, sat right in front of my that first day.

    Upon meeting her, I was elated to find she was as beautiful a person inside as she is on the outside. She has a kind soul and a giving spirit that oozes through her pores.

    We’re all lucky to have such a fantastic mentor/sponsor. All the best in whatever lies ahead, Julie.

    RS

  • In awe of the sentence beginning “Yes, I just ended that sentence with a preposition” and dedicating the end of the week this week to read and scribe ceaselessly until I can write a taunt as rulebreakingly effortless.

    I’ve been there, Julie. It’s a rough go; once you get a taste for the Captain’s chair, it’s really difficult to pry yourself away from it. Nice speedwork taking only 5 months to figure it out, though – took me 9.

    Mack is a solid mentor and entrepreneur. Can’t wait to see what you both do next.

  • Well, I’m guessing I’m the “startup” – 24 years down the road. Thanks for sharing this Julie. One thing I learned from you was to never stop trying to be funny. You know you and your amazing wit have a permanent home in my heart.

    We would not be who we are without you and I’m sure you left a mark at Mack Web. Mack sounds like my kind of gal – you know you are. Tomorrow I speak before a few hundred people. I couldn’t have picked a better time to read this because it affirms for me the fact that I cannot fail.

    Thanks Jules.

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