Gimme Some Oven

10 Things I’ve Learned: Jeff

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I've Learned: Jeff -- A series where people where 10 things they have learned in life |

Many of you may not recognize that guy up there, but if you’ve visited this blog, you’ve seen a glimpse of his many (many) talents. That’s right, today I’m happy to be introducing you to Jeff — the guy who designed this blog and has been my faithful web designer (and tech-support-with-the-patience-of-a-saint) for the past 4 years.

He also happens to be my brother-in-law. But since I only have a sister (his lovely wife), I happily claim him as my bro. ;)

Jeff and Sarah met and married when they were college students here in Kansas City, but moved afterwards for grad school (where Jeff earned a degree in interaction design) and now make their home in a cool neighborhood in urban Chicago. Jeff landed a dream job with a super-cool design consultancy there, where he works on all sorts of fascinating, creative, and (I think) brilliant projects. And by nature of being in the tech industry, he is pretty much always studying to keep the pulse on a wide array of new info and trends.

The “student” in Jeff extends far beyond his work, though. Whether it’s mastering the art of home-brewing, planning epic travels, recipe testing (and testing again) to find the perfect curry or Thanksgiving turkey or spicy wings recipe, creating memorable nights with friends, finding new ways to amuse their crazy cat, Penny, or even — you know — figuring out how to set up a website for his sis-in-law in his “spare time”, Jeff is one of those guys who works and studies hard, and thus accomplishes amazing things. You might never know it, because so much of what he does is behind the scenes. But anyone who gets to meet Jeff quickly learns that he’s pretty much one of the kindest, most humble, gracious, hilarious and awesome guys you’ll ever meet. I happen to think he’s pretty darn great.

So I’m honored to bring him out “in front” of the scenes today, and have him share with you 10 things he has learned. Enjoy!

I’ve Learned…

1. Be nice

It sounds straightforward, but it’s easy to forget. Have empathy for others. It’s amazing how far you can get just by being nice. Take a second to try and understand the context someone is coming from and react appropriately. It goes a long way, especially when working with someone new. That phone operator? She’s probably been on the phone for the past 7 hours with frustrated, disagreeable people. Being nice makes her day a little better, and (selfishly) buys a little extra leeway to get that great discount. Niceness pays dividends. I don’t have to agree with everything, but at the very least I can be nice about it and not make everyone’s day more miserable.

2. Make an effort

Even if something isn’t particularly interesting or enjoyable, I make an effort. Trying hard teaches me more about myself and my capabilities, even if it’s a menial task. It also forces me to think about how the process works and find either ways to improve it or takeaways for later use. Making an effort also encourages others to share more, and more often. Even if I’m not as good as someone else, hard work gets my foot in the door, earns trust, and teaches me something in the process.

3. Be the first to admit your weaknesses

It’s hard, and it’s something that I’m still actively working on. But when sincere, I’ve found it one of the best ways to grow. It demonstrates self-awareness and earnestness. When I’m in a team setting, it relieves frustration and anxiety when collaborating and encourages others to share more. Most importantly, it’s been an avenue to finding mentors who can teach me how to improve. It takes serious effort to then go out and take action, but it’s changed me for the better.

4. Disconnect from technology

I make judicious use of the “Do Not Disturb” function on my phone. It’s incredibly hard to switch off sometimes, but it’s always worth the effort. Constant tethering to the digital world becomes a crutch, and leaning on that crutch–say, during a dinner–shows that A) I don’t care and B) I’m a poor conversationalist. Can’t remember that actor’s name? Make an educated guess and say you’re probably wrong, don’t look to Google. That last email notification likely wasn’t a huge priority. And even if it was, it can probably still wait until I’m done eating. Try disconnecting for a week and see what you miss. (Spoiler alert: not much!)

5. Create traditions, and stick to them.

After finishing college, my wife and I and a group of our friends decided that we didn’t have enough “family” time, so we started a weekly dinner. Every Tuesday, 6 to 9 of our closest friends gathered at our favorite Mexican spot just a stone’s throw away from our apartment to share, vent, and celebrate. It was our bonding time, a way to unwind, spawned countless other activities and get-togethers, and even helped introduce a couple who are now happily married.

Family traditions, friend get-togethers, OCD routines, any old tradition will do. Collect something from everywhere you travel. Create annual competitions and make-believe holidays. It doesn’t really matter what it is. Traditions create new ways of looking forward and provide healthy avenues for reflection.

6. Always assume I’m wrong

When I encounter someone new, something new, or a new situation I assume my understanding about it is somehow incorrect. Assuming the way I’ve been taught something—or worse, heard something—is correct is the best way to act a fool and alienate other people. I find that I rarely know the whole story. People change. Most stuff I learn is out of date in a year. Anything I think I know I assume is incorrect until proven otherwise. I find it best to gain perspective and do my due diligence, or try it and give it a concerted effort, then make a decision.

7. Barbecue is good for the soul

There’s nothing like cooking an entire meal over an open flame and sharing it with friends and family. Who cares if there are microscopic amounts of carcinogens in smoke or the meat is fatty. It smells great, it tastes great, and it creates an excuse to share great conversations.

8. Always be experimenting

No matter how hard I try to nail it down, my life, friends, tastes, opinions, technology, worldviews, and surroundings are all constantly shifting. Constantly trying new, different and weird things has been, for me, serendipitous and taught me much about myself. I homebrew, but never the same recipe twice. Restaurants? Never the same dish two visits in a row. My tastes change, and so do chefs’. When designing something for work, if possible I switch up the tools and styles I use between projects.

I run a slightly different route every time I leave the house. Through “adventure running” I accidentally improved what used to be a truly awful sense of direction. It’s forced me to discover more about the cities I live in with little added effort, and motivates me to leave the house and go farther each time I lace up. Once, I went 6 months without using any shampoo or soap. Granted, a strange example! However, my face didn’t break out a single time during the entire experiment. Trying stuff just for the sake of it will teach you a lot and surprise you in a good way.

8. Travel

After studying abroad in Tokyo, I caught the travel bug, bad. It was one of the formative experiences in my life. Ever since, travel has been the one thing above all else that can re-energize and re-excite me. For me, it’s not the thrill of going somewhere notable or famous that’s exciting. Quite the opposite. Most touristy places have tended to be less exciting than just hanging out in my own city. It’s the thrill and excitement of being somewhere completely new and unfamiliar, where every turn is a learning opportunity and a new experience to take in. Travel, real travel, is a catalyst to change people’s perspectives for the better.

9. Make time to relax

Relaxation time is golden. I know people who are motivated by creating more, doing more, completing more. I enjoy all those things, but I’m not that person. I find myself to be more motivated by investing myself heavily into a task, but then needing the relaxation time to reflect and be distracted so I can reapproach it at full steam the next day. My mind races and wanders all day, so shutting off and finding distraction is the one way to literally have some peace of mind. I’ve found that not forcing myself to disconnect makes me overly-absorbed in whatever I’m working on and causes my work to suffer.

10. Don’t sweat the small stuff

Like the fact that #10 here feels neglected. Not every tiny detail is significant. You say you spent hours perfecting that one little thing? Most people won’t even notice. People have their own concerns. Making something memorable is significantly more important than making sure all the tiny pieces are just right.

Full disclosure: I know I haven’t mastered all of these, but I’m trying my best.

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5 comments on “10 Things I’ve Learned: Jeff”

  1. Damn, those were all really good! Well written and insightful! What a great post!

  2. Agree with Holly, really great list! Very well written and inspiring to do better! Truly a fantastic series!

  3. proud to call me my son-in-law! Great post, Jeff!

  4. I love #5 and actually, all of these. Great post, and obviously a very talented guy!