“He works for us”

May 1, 2024

c.2016 above the pizza place in the alley feat. Polygon Rhino (intern)
c.2016 above the pizza place in the alley feat. Polygon Rhino (intern)

Mid- ‘ double the company days’ as a Mobster, I realized in a dark moment during one or more of my work travel nightmares that I was burning myself out. I ended up in Phoenixville, ER.

While in the ER on New Year’s Eve (pre-COVID), I was having a scan with some dye, and it felt like I was peeing. I wasn’t, but I lay in this hospital scan thing and had the realization.


I was alone, recently divorced, lost my dad, mom was sick(recurrent metastatic b cancer), and no one was coming; I was burnt out completely and had a runaway inflection (Parotitis? Salivary glands infected, immune system compromised. ), and nearly choked to death on a horse pill sized Tylenol the previous night in my apartment. Side note: the nurses were seasoned shot callers and were amazing nurse ratchets. ❤️🙏🏻💯

I had a team, sure, but they had no idea what was going down(the toll all the hustle takes, ‘no one cares, work harder’). Sure, I loved my job, but the travel for work was not something I loved. But it created opportunities for my teammates to do excellent work we liked and got better at the more we did. They were who I did all this for, me also, but primarily storytelling led to some work we all thought was good. Worth doing. Honing any talent requires sacrifices; duh, everyone knows this.

team is everything

Clients can be horrifyingly callous, ignorant, passive-aggressive, ego maniacally driven to not give a sht about you or your team. The meanest, fear-based of them seemed to relish trying to crush my spirits. That part sucked and made pitching & delivering hard. Nothing personal, right? You develop an immunity to this exposure, but sometimes you absorb a little too much poison. You can’t telegraph it back to the team; only the sales folks understand this dark part of doing my job. Hence, seafood towers were invented. 😉

‘Just make it happen’ was a statement my cousin and her husband told me when we spent time together. They made a point of reminding me to ‘make it happen’ even when I doubted myself. Could I? It has a positive vibe, but at the time, I struggled mentally with it. At what cost? More on this in a later entry.

Sometime later. Someone told me, too, “Get back on the road, Mike.”

time to get back on the road mike

One call after this ER visit, I introduced myself on a call and said almost instinctively, “Hi, I’m Mike, and I’m the CCO and work for the design team.” I realized the first burnout hospital visit burned in my refreshed point of view. Working for them crystallized my mission. If I’m burnt, I can’t help my teammates out. But if I need help, they are literally down for whatever. Since then, many changes have occurred, but the team will always be down. Like that meme with Ben Affleck, “…what car we drivin’…”

As I quietly sneak out of the company this week, the team made me into a leader almost without trying. Eleven years, 19,558 hours, millions of miles on plains trains and automobiles, 2000+ pitches, 100s of stories, a lifetime career-making group of teammates. That didn’t F it up. I’m not crying; you’re crying. It’s so dusty in here. ❤️


Moving on, I got waylaid. (Scott)

To this day, my team reminds me, clients, and prospects that ‘he works for us.’ True story: There are plenty of reasons to respect your teammates, but when you go to the pitch, terrified and nervous, and back-sweat your way through… that purpose mediates it. Yes, I do this work for myself and my kids. But the added purpose makes the burnout way less likely. (Britt, Kara, Andrew et al)


A team is an immune system against problems.

You do for them and feel more confident and careful about representing them and the work. A couple of other concepts worth mentioning:

#DFIU – Andrew C. Every day before a pitch or trip, I would say, ‘DFIU Chief,’ let that ring around your brain case for a 6-hour flight to somewhere you need to be ready. (Andrew, Scott, Gollatz )


Get Sh*t Done #gsd — The whole team understood that if we were going to be successful in any form, it was only when we, all of us, got sh*t done. This is a mindset and execution bias. You get some work from a client, hard pitch, we win, the team you will get sh*t done; you can’t raise your hand. The rest of the team is the net. (9 OGs et al.)

How can I help? You can’t cut it; we’ll rally at the problem, and that teammate gets it done 90 percent of the time. The GSD changes teammates. Ask them, and they will say so; a team is everything by yourself. You won’t get there. Team sh*t is the secret nonsecret weapon/superpower. I am living proof that it’s true.


‘We got this’ is nothing in any form of that statement; we, you, they #dontcare. It’s not a thing in the world of getting sh*t done. Never say that, even in your head. A teammate once said that to me on call when preparing to present and pitch a new client. Nope, fail. We had to smoke-jump that and pull defeat from the hurt-locker. That sucked. (Anonymous)

Speaking of smoke jumping, here’s another mental model for helping: The team presents, things don’t look right, or the story is wobbly. I’m reading this prep as an oh sht moment, and they will faceplant. Not today, team; recovering the mission is less Nick Burns’s “Move!” And more team, let’s look at this: You want to consider some questions if you get in the room with the client…

Teaching in that moment is hard; designers marry their work too early and take a defensive posture. There’s no time; almost let me fail… You don’t know things, but I had to fight the instinct to pull rank. Deep breaths, then a set of questions, a set of whys, then a here’s how we get through this safely.

Bradzilla #culture

#culture — troll yourselves and your team and find humor as a tool to poke fun at yourself. My team did liberally. But never, ever put yourself in front of them. They get the wins, and you take the sht. You will find ‘sharing wins’ is bullshit; taking losses for them or shtty feedback from clients is how you earn it, whatever it is. Those unwilling to take on the team’s failures, struggles, and setbacks are never fit to lead anything. (Brad)

#dontcare — When team protection is a safety issue, tell your teams. Do we need to care about this? My team will accidentally care about people’s feedback; my job is to ring-fence them and then sit-rep that feedback or situation and ask first, “Y’all, do we need to respond? Slot that in the category of who cares, people have opinions and don’t care at first. Clients say things, so what? That’s why we have SOWs and contracts. Measured responses, more questions back at feedback, couching RACIs for humans is part of the job. I’m not successful because I accepted weird, odd missives from clients. Just the opposite, I got better at saying no, the most powerful sentence in the world. (Me for them)

RIP Daniel Cohen, one of the best colleagues ever.

#keepmoving — Lastly, as far as mindsets go, this is my most cherished one. My dad told me this once (a long story you #dontcare about). Suffice it to say that his point was well taken, and I incorporated it into my life, and it even became the name of the company I started.


Remember that you work for the team.

Now, get back to work.

Thanks for being my team, team. ❤️💯🙏🏻

Ps. Your results may vary. These were/are mine.

And if you got through all that and think you’ve got one of me working for you and the team. You’re doing all right. If you don’t, #keepmoving. Good luck. 👍