If I knew then what I know now ... I'd have taken a minute to breathe
Dagger's Mike Popowski explains how a sneeze changed his life
Dagger CEO Mike Popowski explains how a sneeze changed his life.
If I knew then what I know now is a weekly series of bylines from small agency executives about lessons learned in building their shops.
In March 2015, I returned to Atlanta from New York to become CEO of a four-person shop on the brink of shuttering. Despite how that sounds, I was of sound mind and body at the time.
I joined Dagger with the most ambitious and driven sense of self I’ve ever had in my life, as did the rest of our tiny team. Those first two years contained had nearly all the clichéd startup moments. Paychecks were skipped. Late nights gave way to early mornings. There were pitch blunders and cash flow issues. Personal space was a luxury our cramped office slash conference room could not afford. We indulged more than a few borderline abusive clients.
In spite of all of it, we kept moving and forged ahead. Every time. Failure was simply not an option. This “never stop, never quit” attitude was something I wore like a badge of honor. I sacrificed time spent with my friends and family and the comforts of a normal job.
Then I sneezed.
In the summer of 2017, long-neglected back issues forced me to have surgery. While recovering at home, I hopped on a conference call when suddenly...I sneezed. Mind you, this wasn’t one of those sitcom-y, wind up, ah-ah-AH CHOO-type sneezes. This was a pedestrian “ah-choo.” However, the sudden, jerky movement was so painful that I fell to the floor and was unable to move.
The setback forced me to have yet another surgery. I spent the fall of that year heavily medicated and the start of 2018 feeling depressed. Aside from the ice packs and wince-inducing stretches, the experience gave me a much-needed wake-up call.
Fast forwarding a bit, my mindset has shifted for the healthier. My body has followed. I’ve traded in the proverbial Superman cape for a routine that allows me to stay focused and fit to lead. This includes a renewed commitment to staying hydrated, and religiously attending a deep stretch yoga class every Sunday. But the best weapon I’ve found to defend against the perpetual pressures? A few deep breaths in a quiet place. That might sound overly simplistic, but as my “epic” sneeze taught me, little things that can make a big difference.
And while it might seem trite to talk about agency values, shamelessly printed on branded stock and shared with new hires, which, I’ll admit, we’ve also done, mindfully integrating health has become one of Dagger’s four key pillars. I didn’t want anyone on our now-50 person team to ignore any mental or physical warning signs in pursuit of great work.
Stress, as you know, is ubiquitous in our industry, but it doesn’t have to own you. Whether you’re growing a business, completely pivoting your business model, having to say “no” to a client, or experiencing a nagging pain in your back, don’t forget to consciously breathe. Your future self will thank you.
Ticket sales are now open for Ad Age's tenth annual Small Agency Conference & Awards, to be held July 30-31 in New Orleans. Get your tickets here.