9 Years of Barrel, Advice for Myself

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A couple weeks ago, Barrel turned 9. In 2006, Sei-Wook and I decided to incorporate our business and made the commitment to build a company together.

Over the years, we’ve experienced our fair share of exciting wins and crushing disappointments. There are many things we’re both proud of and also things we ruefully wish we had handled better.

For me personally, the past 9 years have been an incredible learning experience, and the opportunity to grow a company has been both fulfilling and rewarding on so many levels. Whenever I reflect like this, I often wonder what kind of advice I would pass along to my younger self. When I think through how that conversation might go, I end up shaking my head knowing that my younger self, motivated by different priorities and perhaps too immature and arrogant to see the benefits, may not see the value in my advice. So rather than advice for my younger self, I’d like to jot down some thoughts for my future self, so that he may look back and see if what I value today has held up, or if new lessons and experiences have opened his eyes to a different set of behaviors and values.

Here are lessons, behaviors, commandments, or whatever you might want to call them, that I find particularly valuable 9 years into running Barrel:

Taking Care of the Body
I’ve learned to treat work as a performance. I show up, I do my best to add value and contribute to the team, and I crave results. To this end, I’ve found it incredibly important to take care of my body. When I am well-rested, energetic, and free from physical discomforts, I find that I am a better performer. I can concentrate on my work, I have stamina for back-to-back-to-back meetings, and I have a clear head when it comes to making decisions. Taking care of the body requires work. It means watching what I eat, getting quality exercise, and going to bed at a reasonable time. There are moments when I’ll get derailed, especially when I have a big deadline or I’m traveling, but I quickly work to detox and get back into a healthy routine. I’m also motivated by the fact that taking care of the body today will have immeasurable benefits for me in future years as I get older.

Learning by Reading Books
I am always guilting myself about not reading enough, but I cannot overstate the impact that reading books has had on my learning. While there are some blogs out there that I’ve learned a great deal from, I strongly believe that putting in the time to read full-length books has done me wonders. In recent years, I’ve read various books on leadership, company operations, strategy, design, pricing, investing, history, psychology, and science, and each book has added a new dimension to my thinking while expanding my ability to articulate my ideas. While not ideal, I rely on audio books to get through a good number of titles. Whereas in the past, I used to juggle 4-5 books at a time while hardly finishing any of them, I’ve gotten better at going through one book at a time, which has helped me to retain knowledge. Just like taking care of my body is an investment in my future self, I believe that reading books is a valuable investment in how my future self will think and see the world.

Keeping a Cool Head
No matter the situation, no matter the emotions, I’ve learned that treating others with respect and avoiding any words or actions that may cause embarrassment or hurt can be a powerful way to behave. Too many times in my life, I’ve succumbed to a negative emotion or overwhelming stress only to blurt out mean, petty, or hurtful comments at others. This is conduct unbecoming of a leader, and it only serves to undermine my own credibility. While I still struggle at times, I’ve learned to be better at receiving bad news and to respond in a manner that is less vindictive (“who messed up??”) and more productive (“how can we fix this?”).

For me, keeping a cool head is not so much about being steely cold and rational, but more about showing compassion and respect for others. It’s understanding that in a grander perspective, it’s not worthwhile to engage in unnecessary squabbles or to stew in anger at a perceived slight. There are better ways to spend the time—new things to learn, cool things to build, and fun moments to live with loved ones—that being consumed by resentment or discontent starts to look like a big waste of time.

This book by blogger Leo Babauta has been quite influential in my thinking and behavior.

Conclusion
The lessons above are general, and purposefully so. In reflecting on the many things I’ve learned in the past 9 years, the overarching lesson has been that the things I do on a daily basis have great, compounding effects over time. Every day, I am confronted by choices that allow me to live these commandments. Will I take care of body? Will I read a book? Will I keep a cool head? By making the right choices day in and day out, I believe I’m putting myself on a path towards something worthwhile.

3 Comments

  1. Ulrike says

    Thanks for the thoughtful post – really enjoyed reading it. Are there any books you would particularly recommend?

    • Peter Kang says

      Thanks Ulrike. I’ve found a lot of great lessons in Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive, and keep going back to it. I’ve also enjoyed reading the collection of Berkshire Hathaway’s annual letter to shareholders by Warren Buffet. And last year, I wrote about some themes on my mind along with book recommendations that I found helpful: http://dev-peterkang.pantheonsite.io/themes-on-my-mind/

      • Ulrike says

        Excellent, many thanks – I will look into your suggestions.

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