Torrey Dawley

Better to learn from their mistakes than your own.

Published 3 months ago • 3 min read

Learn nonstop with no excuses.

I started my career with a job at a Design Agency right out of college. I was the only person in my graduating class who secured a job prior to graduation. I was determined to make the most of my opportunity and soak up everything there was to learn.

As an artist and designer, I was already comfortable with keeping notebooks. I had filled dozens by the time I started my job.

So, the week before my first day at the agency, I bought a shiny new Moleskine notebook and wrote these words on the inside cover:


I wanted to keep a record of everything I learned each day.

After the first week, I had a couple useful items.

The next few weeks? Several more items.

Then, something happened.

I started to notice that there were lots of things about the agency that didn't seem right to me. I was new, so I didn't want to be young kid with the know-it-all attitude.

But, my experience at a couple other design agencies in the prior summers led me to start seeing some red flags.

In fact, I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the agency as time went on. I would talk to my fellow designer friends, and it was clear that there were some massive issues with the agency I worked at.

One day, as I was organizing my desk, I knocked the notebook to the floor. I hadn't written anything in it for over a month.

I felt a pang of frustration.

Then, I got an idea.

I opened up the book and wrote the word "NOT" on the inside cover.

The title of my notebook was now "WHAT NOT TO DO."

Right away, I started filling the pages with the things that had frustrated me. The obvious stupid mistakes that I noticed everywhere. The apathy. The lack of quality. The complete disinterest in solving the client's actual problem.

I must have made 30 entries in that moment.

From that point forward, I made a decision:

If this place could rarely teach me what to do, it could at least teach me what not to do.

I tried to make my experience there work for nearly another year. During that time, I filled almost the entire book with observations of what not to do. I even starting keeping track of the mistakes I made. Let me tell you: It's not easy to be that open with yourself.

And do you know what?

My WHAT NOT TO DO notebook turned out to be one the most valuable assets I had when I would later start my business.

I was able to save myself so much trouble by distilling down the core lessons and making sure that I didn't make those same mistakes when it was my ass on the line.

As you navigate through your business journey, you're going to learn plenty of WHAT TO DO items that you can act on.

You'll probably learn even more WHAT NOT TO DO items.

And they're equally useful.

Here are some action items for you:

  1. Create a WHAT TO DO notebook or document or whatever. When you learn valuable lessons, log them here. Review them frequently.
  2. Create the same thing and call it WHAT NOT TO DO. Whenever you see people making obvious mistakes, sharing stories of their errors, or growing frustrated with something... Log it all down.

There's one key that I found with the WHAT NOT TO DO approach:

  • When you log an item that you know is wrong, take a moment to write down exactly why it's wrong and what you would do instead.

There's something about finishing this thought that turns these snippets into pure gold that you can act upon.

No matter what you do, make it a habit to learn every day. There's no room for standing still in business. You're either growing or you're falling behind.

Even when things are all wrong around you, you can choose to grow.

– Torrey

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Torrey Dawley

Lukewarm Is Death™

I upset conventional business thinkers. Branding & business for creative founders in the New Economy. Lessons from my experience operating Sandpaper Studio since 2006.

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