Discover more from Kevan Lee
415. Why we work 🍧
Reflections on my relationship with work and what I've learned
Hi there 👋
This week’s newsletter is a bit more philosophical than tactical, so in lieu of an essay on tactics, I thought I’d share a link filled with tactics: this super-useful repository of AI tools (thanks to Greg Isenberg of Late Checkout for compiling the list). If you want or need an AI tool for pretty much any marketing job, this list will have you covered.
Wishing you a great week ahead,
Say hi anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you.
Why we work
I have spent a fair amount of time with career coaches and professional mentors over the years. These sessions are quite cathartic — I ramble and emote and overshare, and they listen. Many times, with many different coaches, we would arrive at the same conclusion:
Why am I doing this startup marketing thing?
Unlike many others, I don’t get excited about climbing a corporate ladder.
I am not motivated by the grind.
To put it simply, I kind of just like having my own space where I can create awesome things that positively impact tons of people, and I can do all this on my own terms and with people I love and admire.
This is certainly something I can find in startup marketing. There are plenty of companies that need someone to come in and build an awesome marketing machine with huge growth and scale. I’ve been fortunate to land at a few of these companies. But very quickly, and especially in tech, an opportunity can turn from a pure, joyful work experience into an all-consuming, blood-sweat-and-tears work identity.
It’s hard to draw the line.
Thankfully, through coaching and mentorship and some real-world work experiences, I have a better understanding of where my line is.
“What is my relationship with work?”
I have questioned my work identity a lot the past few months.
Why do I work?
Why do I work as hard as I do and as passionately as I do?
What does work represent for me? Is work a means to an end? Is it a calling? Is it my whole identity?
My work experience at Oyster ended earlier this year; I transitioned from a full-time role as SVP of Marketing at Oyster into a part-time advisory role, helping the company make its own transition in strategy and go-to-market design.
And what did I do with this newfound flexibility and blue sky?
Spoiler alert: I am not sitting on a beach, writing this newsletter. 🏖️
And I’m thrilled!
And wondering … What would my career coaches say to me now?
They would probably ask me what I learned from my past job experiences that I will take with me into the future. They would probably ask what was so wrong with sitting on a beach, writing newsletters and watching TikTok videos. I would imagine the topics of boundaries and balance would come up.
These things have been on my mind, too. In all honesty, beach life scares me. I have fear around never finding another full-time job again as long as I live. I fear losing everything. And yes, I know these fears are irrational.
I’ve learned a lot from reading other people’s reflections on work, even on addiction. Two of my favorites are Kelly Watkins, former VP Marketing at Slack and CEO at Abstract:
and author Holly Whitaker:
In reading the experiences of others, I’m able to see myself from new perspectives — in all my admirable, destructive, inspiring, wearisome contradictions.
I was Buffer, I was Oyster, and I lived and died by the fortunes of these companies.
At times, it was exhilarating. At times, it was exhausting. And in both cases, my proximity to the job made it incredibly emotional, difficult, and (dare I say) devastating to leave. There’s certainly something to be said about being fully committed and bought in to your work — and this commitment will always be true for me wherever I go. But when it reaches the point of identity, I’ve learned to take a different approach.
My identity is bigger than a role and a title and a place. My identity is — and has always been — about the impact I am able to make and the way that I live my life. As marketers, this is an especially important distinction to remember since our work is so public; it can be hard to tell where a company ends and the person begins.
This perspective has helped re-shape my career from one where I am chasing the next title or filling a LinkedIn gap. I choose work because I love making an impact, and I choose where to work based on the opportunity and the people.
This perspective also allows me to reframe my identity. Who am I if I am not, say, the VP Marketing at Buffer?
How about … I am a startup marketing executive who helps young companies grow.
Or … I am a marketing leader for brands on the rise.
Or … I am a creative business leader and team-builder.
Or … I am a kind and generous person, and I want my impact to be about giving back.
(Clearly, I have some workshopping to do.)
But what is true about all of these so-called new identities is that they can exist and thrive within so many different environments — new job, fun conversation, loving friendships, Substack articles. You name it.
It seems like so many marketers I know are in a season of searching — either actual job-searching or existential soul-searching, eager to learn more about themselves and discover what’s next. From my experience, the mere act of searching is the most important step because it helps you learn what matters to you and solidifies your identity, first and foremost, as an individual person with wholly unique passions and interests and skills and impact.
This is the identity that matters most.
For me, this identity is why I work.
About this newsletter …
Hi, I’m Kevan, a marketing exec based in Boise, Idaho, who specializes in startup marketing and brand-building. I previously built brands at Oyster, Buffer, Vox, and Polly. Each week, I share playbooks, case studies, stories, and links from inside the startup marketing world. Not yet subscribed? No worries. You can check out the archive, or sign up below:
Thank you for being here! 🙇♂️
I’m lucky to count folks from great brands like these (and many more) as part of this newsletter community.