In the last two years, I’ve held five different jobs and worked on building two companies. I realize that this is more employers than many people have in decades or an entire lifetime, and that’s ok. I don’t attach any special meaning to this fact because I weighed the potential risks and opportunities of each situation before making the decision.
In my nascent industry of digital marketing, change is a daily reality. In some of my core specialty areas like search engine marketing, and especially paid search, these products have only existed for twenty years now. I’ve also spent approximately 90% of my career in agencies which usually have a lot of variety of work and clients by default.
Based on my past experiences and approach, I feel confident accepting some risk in order to explore and learn things, build things, or build relationships. For years now, I’ve focused a lot of attention on learning mental models and developing meta skills to make me a better adapter, and therefore competitor, in my industry. I borrowed some of these ideas from Tim Ferriss originally through his works like The Four Hour Chef.
Part of showing up in a new job is dealing with change and re-tooling your approach to the given needs of the new team and clients you’re working with. Most recently, I find myself heading up search marketing generally, and I’ve reflected a lot on what experiences I have in this area, where my strengths are, and where I’m weak.
What’s been helpful for me to deal with reality and quickly understand where I can operate freely and where I need to learn and grow is the “experience versus fitness” paradigm. Let’s take SEO, for instance. I started my career doing eCommerce SEO and content marketing:
- I spent a lot of time learning SEO from Joe Chura, Danny Dover, and others
- I was taking Market Motive courses, absorbing every piece of content from Moz and Distilled and other well-known shops and “influencers”
- I was optimizing and publishing hundreds of blogs per month for on-page ranking factors
- I built data feeds from scratch for use in Google Shopping and Amazon to optimize for organic rankings
After I left ldm, I was in several other agencies for a handful of years where I observed a couple of really good SEOs who built process, did strategy and implementation at scale and consistently got good results. Eventually, I got clear about some of the durable SEO principles through observations, conversations, and my own research.
By collaborating with these SEO leaders and their teams, and later by testing the concepts on my own projects and for clients of my own, I’ve picked up many useful and current tactics.
However, the rate of change has been accelerating since the jump, and in the last 3-5 years it’s become far greater. When I’ve been able to choose, I’ve generally chosen to stick to my core discipline of paid media and either go deep in an adjacent channel, or to push deeper toward mastery in existing channels like Google Ads, Facebook Ads, and so on.
That is a necessary trade-off. I believe that in life, you can “level up” in basically any area that you commit to. However, you can’t level up all areas simultaneously. In addition, there is a “decay” principle, and the more novice you are in a given area the more rapidly your skill will deteriorate.
So in that sense, I came into my current role with a lot of principles, concepts, and some tactics. I’ve got some experience in search engine optimization, and some real results, but there are some gaps in my tactical SEO knowledge for 2021.
Therefore, I think it’s fair to say that I’m experienced, but I’m not fit. Fitness is the ability to carry something out and achieve a desired result–now.
So how do I respond to that?
I “work out”. Hard. And… as smart as I can.
The deepest wells of knowledge (Ray Dalio calls this the “believability” of a person) are those who are, and who have been, operating in the area at a high level for an extended period of time. So generally, I go there first, especially biasing toward people I’m connected to in some way and can have conversations with. I need to test my own thinking against theirs and quickly learn “what I don’t know” (like: “I don’t know what I don’t know).
After that point, I consume the highest-quality and most believable content from the most respected and highly trusted sources I can possibly access.
Usually, once I reach this point, I’ve formed some ideas about how I could operate and what I could test. From there, it all comes down to action and feedback. It’s an iterative cycle, and the faster I can learn the better.
What are your experiences, and what are you fittest in today? What does your current reality demand?