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If I knew then what I know now ... I'd listen more to my mom

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Nature cloudscape with blue sky and white cloud with rainbow - Stock image
Nature cloudscape with blue sky and white cloud with rainbow - Stock image Credit: PongMoji/iStock

If I knew then... is a weekly series of columns from small agency founders and executives talking about their experiences building their shops.

My mom was in town this past weekend. Does anything make you reflect on life choices like a visit from Mom? I don't think so.

My mom is incredible: whip-smart, thoughtful, and endlessly supportive. And she's genuinely interested in the business side of my life. So every opportunity I get, I share our agency's stories with her – our successes, our failures, and pretty much everything in between.

On this particular visit, I shared a bit about the state of our business. There was a lot I wanted to download, and Mom was my perfect audience. For a long time she just listened. And then finally, after rambling for a good 10 minutes, I paused long enough for her to get a word in edgewise. She didn't say a lot. She just smiled and said "It sounds like you guys are doing some things right."

Which was exactly what I needed to hear.

It's funny. When you start a business, it's second nature to plan for worst-case scenarios. We're taught to live by Murphy's Law: whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. So we worry about every single thing. Are we finding the best possible people? Are we doing amazing work? Are we writing enough Ad Age op-ed pieces? Are we overpaying for pamplemousse flavored water?

It's as if the plan is…to worry.

But there's something most of us don't plan for: namely, what to do when things are going right.

Few people know this, but the name of our LLC is actually Optimism. We chose Optimism because of our very real belief, five years ago, in our future.

Patrick Kelly
Patrick Kelly Credit: courtesy

If I could retrace our steps, I'd take that name even more to heart.

I'd plan for things to go right.

I'd worry less and wing it more.

I'd hire more great people when we first met them, not just when we desperately needed them.

I'd look at all the little bumps along the way for what they are. Little bumps.

And of course, I'd invest in an industrial-sized carpet cleaner to keep up with all the new dogs in the office. Particularly Lola.

Planning for things to go right. Wearing rose-colored glasses. Seeing the glass as half, or what the heck, even two-thirds full. Choose the lamest, most tired positive cliché you can think of. That's the advice I'd give myself if I could go back to the start. And that's our plan going forward, too. More bullish behavior. More betting on ourselves. More preparing for the good stuff to come.

And hopefully, if everything breaks our way, more stuff to tell my mom to try and impress her.

Patrick Kelly is founder and managing director of BarrettSF

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