Why you should have an excite hustle.

College is an exciting time. You get to pick a major that inspires you. Suddenly, it becomes fun to study and learn. You develop a vision of what your career will be like. And that vision provides motivation throughout your college experience.

More than 2 decades after graduation from the University of Wisconsin-Madison I can say that I have used the knowledge I gained while studying for my degrees in psychology and journalism every day of my advertising career.

The Great Compromise

But I noticed when I graduated that many of my classmates didn’t hold out for the jobs they really wanted. College debt, life expenses, nagging parents and a desire to simply get busy cause many, if not most college grads to take the first decent job to come along. Regardless of whether the job fit their original vision, major, or life plan.

This means that many of us end up in jobs or careers that don’t align with our greatest interests and deepest passions. That is okay. There are many good reasons we do this. But if you are not inspired or fulfilled by your day job, you should take on another project in your free time that fires you up like AC/DC in a high school weight room.

Excite Hustles

People often refer to these kind of side activities as side hustles. But I think of them as excite hustles. Because the best reason to take them on is that they give you something exciting to work on. They enable you to tap into your greatest interests, passions, and your desire for adventure, or self reliance.

Excite hustles can feel thrilling and dangerous because you feel like you are cheating on your day job. Because you are having a career affair with work that excites you more than your steady job. That is a great thing.

An excite hustle will wake you up early and keep you up late. It will call your name over the lunch hour, and during your commute. (I’m just kidding. No one commutes any more.)

An excite hustle provides even more reasons to look forward to the weekends. (Not The Weeknd. #ICantFeelMyFace) It will prevent you from filling your free time digitally grazing on your mobile device. It will prevent you from resenting your career, and going postal. (Can you still go postal if we don’t have post offices?)

An excite hustle is full of potential. It provides an outlet for your energy. It fans your flames. When you find your calling it creates a gravitational force that keeps drawing you forward to do more, create more and explore more. Like Roger Moore, Michael Moore, or Benjamin Moore.

My Excite Hustle

When I decided to launch my own advertising agency I created my ultimate excite hustle. I already loved my career, I just wanted an even greater challenge. And I found one. Today, as the Founder of The Weaponry, I couldn’t feel more excited about the work I do. I can’t wait to get to it each day. I approach each work challenge with enthusiasm. And at the end of each day I don’t feel spent. I feel invested and fulfilled.

Key Takeaway

If your day job doesn’t tap into your passions it’s time to find your excite hustle. Fill your free time with work that motivates you. That keeps you looking forward to more. And that makes you feel as if you are living into your vision for your life.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

What happened after I had my This-Can’t-Be-My-Life moment.

The summer after I graduated from the University of Wisconsin I didn’t have a job. No full-time job. No part-time job. I was living in Madison, lightly looking for an entry-level position in advertising. But not looking in a way that gets the job done. In fact, I still hadn’t set foot in an ad agency.

The Ricki Lake Show

On a hot afternoon that July, when real grown-ups were at work, I found myself lying on my couch in the middle of the day watching The Ricki Lake Show. And suddenly the reality of my situation hit me like a Miley Cyrus wrecking ball. 

I was a good student. I went to a great school. I now had degrees in both Journalism and Psychology. I had ambition. And goals. And pride. And bills to pay. And here I was in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, plopped on my couch, watching a crappy talk show, because I had nothing more important to do with my time. I thought, WTF? (even though WTF hadn’t been invented yet), This can’t be my life.

In that moment, my life changed. I rose from the couch, an unemployed man on a mission. I bounded up the staircase to my bedroom. I grabbed a scrap of paper on my desk that my Profesor Roger Rathke had handed me weeks earlier. On the paper was written Paul Counsell and a phone number.

Paul Counsell was a college buddy of Profesor Rathke’s, and the CEO of Cramer Krasselt, one of America’s great advertising agencies. He was someone I was told I should call. But I hadn’t.

I plucked my corded 1990’s phone from the wall, punched in the phone number, and was introducing myself to Mr. Counsell less than a minute after dumping Ms. Lake. And things started changing.

From that phone call I got an informational interview. Then a job offer as a copywriter. Then I started my real job, with a salary and benefits, and opportunities for growth and travel. All doing what I always wanted to do. I met my wife Dawn at that job. And I met a client there who years later would call me out of the blue, just like I called Paul Counsell, and encourage me to start my own advertising agency. Which I did.

Today I am the Founder and CEO of the advertising and idea agency The Weaponry. Over the past two decades I have worked with some of the best brands in the world. And the best people. My career has taken me to Argentina, Iceland and India. My wife Dawn and I will celebrate the 20th anniversary of our first date tomorrow with our 3 kids. This is my life. Because I got off the couch and made it happen.

Is this your life?

Are you living the life you imagined?  The life you thought you would have when you graduated from high school or college? Or did you fall behind, veer off course, or never get started? Have the recent health and economic crises spun you around and left you wondering what’s next for you?

If you are not living the life you imagined, I hope you have your own This can’t be my life moment. Because that moment can change everything. It can motivate you to take the actions needed to get you where you always wanted to go. There are on-ramps everywhere. So take one. Make that call. Or make a thousand. Change jobs. Change careers. Start your own business. Get back to work. Get away from toxic people. Get near sunshine people. And can-do people. And finally, do what you always knew you could.

Key Takeaway

This-Can’t-Be-My-Life moments are a gift. They are the push you need to get to the place you are supposed to be. The first half of 2020 was full of challenges and setbacks. But it also created opportunities. Take advantage of them. Get off the couch. And make your life happen.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.

How to evaluate your career and your life with one simple question.

I love a good rule of thumb. While other people collect stamps, art or sports memorabilia, I collect rules of thumb. In fact I have far more rules of thumb than I have thumbs. Which, upon further reflection, is not saying much. But I love a good, simple lens through which to view complex issues.

The Search

A few years ago when I was looking to hire an Executive Creative Director in Atlanta, I found  many interesting candidates. While discussing their various merits, Michael Palma, my headhunter, dropped an interesting rule of thumb into the conversation. He said,

‘I think you always have to ask yourself, is the candidate’s best 5 years in front of them, or behind them.’

Evaluating The Path

person holding chart and bar graph

I found this to be a startlingly simple way to evaluate a job candidate. Because it boils a career down to trajectory. Is the candidate growing and learning and becoming more capable, more energetic, more inspired, more influential, more well-connected and more wise? Or have they peaked?  Have they begun coasting? Have they begun living off of past successes? Are they still seeking out bigger challenges? Are they still hungry and feisty? Are they still showering on a regular basis?

Self Evaluation

person on a bridge near a lake

Palma’s rule of thumb isn’t just useful when evaluating job candidates. Its real power is that it is a great way to think about our own careers. And our own lives. I have sought out and surrounded myself with people who maintain an upward trajectory. I am inspired by people who continue to grow and challenge themselves to do, learn and be more.

I started my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, as part of a personal growth plan. I knew it was the next challenge I needed to maintain my trajectory of growth, passion and impact. As the business continues to grow and expand, it is clear to me that the best 5 years of my career are still ahead.

Key Takeaway

Take a moment today to look at your own big picture. Are you getting better? Are you pushing yourself? Are you taking on challenges that scare you? Are you maintaining a commitment to life-long learning and self-improvement? Are your interpersonal skills, maturity and accountability improving? If not, it is time for you to spend more time working on you.