When I was 24 I found myself in grad school. My two-year stint as a junior high English teacher had run its course and I figured going back to school to find a new career would be a good next step.
To help pay my tuition, I took a Teaching Assistantship where I taught Freshman Composition. My Assistantship awarded me unlimited classes, so for some reason I felt inspired to sign up for a ballet class in the CSU Dance Department. I had danced recreationally when I was a kid, but I certainly wasn’t in any kind of shape to be standing at a barre, in a black leotard and pink tights, next to those 18-year-olds who’d been dancing their whole lives. I realized pretty quickly that I needed to level up if I had any chance of avoiding pure and total humiliation.
Picking up a ballet class turned into a full-blown obsession and within two years I had earned myself a spot on the local ballet company. For the next six years, I trained relentlessly. I took five to six classes a week. I rehearsed for and performed in three shows each season. All while freelancing as a web designer to pay the rent. I was newly married to Jon and I didn’t have Ryan, Easton, or Mack Web, so all I did was ballet.
With ballet, there’s always something more to achieve. Your extension can always be higher. Your technique can always be cleaner. Your feet can always be faster. Your stage presence can always be more captivating. Your stamina can always be greater. Even the most talented ballerinas in the world never quite reach perfection. There will always be more to work on and improve. And that’s what keeps you coming back, even when you’re physically bruised and utterly exhausted.
I danced all through my pregnancies and went back to the company after Ry was born, but once I had Easton, I couldn’t justify the level of commitment to maintain my status in the company, so I decided to move on. Looking back on it now, I can see how seamlessly my passion and drive with ballet shifted right into growing Mack Web.
There’s eight of us now. And we move fast around here. Lately, every month seems like a new chapter. We continue to stumble, but at the same time, we’re winning. Every day I’m re-learning that people are what makes all of this so great and, at the same time, so incredibly challenging. I’m seeing the significance of culture in motion. And I’m getting better at making decisions apart from emotion.
In the last three months we’ve figured out a lot of shit about who we are and why we’re here. We continue to pull through the tough stuff and now I can see that we’ve passed through a gateway and into the next big phase of the company.
For more than two years, I’ve been assuming many more roles than I would like. In addition to my spirit breaking and my personal balance slipping, I wasn’t doing a whole lot of justice to all the stuff I was taking on. I knew that I was holding the company back.
I recruited over many, many months for someone who I could trust to scale the business with. Our new Director of Client Strategy has been a colleague and friend who I’ve respected for several years. He has strengths where I fall short. He’s been teaching me to listen and ask questions rather than react and be the one responsible for finding the solution. He has years of experience leading a team and he gets that managing people means empowering each of them to be leaders in their own way. He’s slowly working on earning the trust of the team and we’re strategically plotting world domination.
It’s a wonderful feeling that I’m not the only one responsible for the direction of our clients or this company. I now have someone who can help me carry the load. I’m slowly starting to feel the weight lifting and I’m ecstatic about the promise that I will very soon return to things in the company that I really love to do and that drive my passion. This also means big things for Mack Web as this can only help our growth.
We’ve been quietly observing the rapid change in this industry over the last few years and slowly working our way onto the scene. It took a little while for the pieces to fall into place, but now I can see our opening and that this is our time to move. I don’t know how else to explain it other than we’ve become more brave. Really, we’ve had this courage all along, but finally I feel like we’re saying, Fuck it. Let’s go!
So we’re not going to do marketing like everyone else is doing it. We’re going to change the way it’s measured. And we’re going to change the way companies build their brands. We’re going to prove that the stuff that really works is the shit that doesn’t scale and isn’t easy to measure, and we’re going to make that accessible so that companies can build better businesses.
Every few months I gather the team in our tiny little excuse for a conference room and I give them little pep talks. I hang a bunch of colorful, oversized post-its on the wall with motivational sayings.
And even though they’ve heard me say it before, I tell them again how contrast breeds clarity. That in order to win we need to get comfortable walking through adversity and conflict. Not that I always want things to be hard, but when we find ourselves up against contrast over and over (especially in our individual relationships on the team), it sheds light on what’s important for us to change and motivates us to handle it quickly so that we can move ahead. Doing what we’re doing isn’t easy. But this shit should be hard; we’re paving a path and the first guy through the wall always gets bloody.
I continue to tell the team that we will never get it wrong and we will never get it done. None of us will ever have the answers, so we need to continually embrace a culture of experimentation. We’ve got to fail to find the path. And once we get there, there will be somewhere else to go. There will always be more work to do, so we’ve got to work on what’s important and find the meaning and purpose in everything we do.
And after I’ve told them all of that, I tell them how we’re actually going to do all of these things to change the face of marketing. I tell them that we’re already doing it and that we’ve already come so far. I get all excited and energetic and worked up. I say the F word a lot. When I finish my talk they look up at me from their chairs like I’m crazy (even though they always clap at the end). But then they show up the next day. And so far, every day after that. Because they believe it, too.
I remember when we would rehearse for a corps piece like Snow during Nutcracker season. That’s basically the equivalent of running a sprint, as hard as you can go, for eight minutes straight. During one rehearsal we may run that same piece four times. I wasn’t the most talented dancer on the company, but I had the drive, strength, and endurance to outlast the 14-year-olds. I always knew I could make it just a little farther. Just 30 seconds more. And then I’d get up the next day and push that hard again.
I’ve got that in me. And the team has it, too. And that’s why we’re here now. We’re not there yet, but we’re well on our way. We’ve got something more to achieve.