Year in Review 2023

So long, 2023: Good riddance, with a dose of gratitude

As we approach the finish line of this year, it can be hard to remember what happened over the past 12 months and why we should celebrate it. After some forced reflection, a few lessons jump out at me.

The best growth doesn’t follow a straight line

Many people I’ve talked with over the past week have agreed this year was a slog. A big contributor was uncertainty. For us, one of our biggest clients went through a major restructuring that dramatically scaled back our work. For a good five to six months, we kept our ear to the ground, compared notes, and made alternative projections for the year. When the pipeline finally picked up this fall, we threw things back into high gear.

However, the lull gave us time to focus on areas that had fallen down the list of priorities when we were sprinting to catch up with demand. We redoubled our efforts on business development, client relationship management, operations, and internal processes, among other things. We mobilized our colleagues to identify opportunities and figure out how to pursue them. As a result, we end the year a more resilient company, with a raft of new clients and a far better view of company performance.

It’s not the path we thought we would take, but I’m proud of how our team responded.

The job is never over

Back when we were a shop of three people, I talked to a friend whose dad had built a company. I asked him when the organization got big enough for his dad to push away. His answer: “Never.” I didn’t get it at the time, but it’s burned into my brain now. Every step forward presents a new challenge to address; every new client project forces our team to adapt to different expectations; every new team member has the potential to render obsolete a formerly solid system or structure.

In those times, you realize the issues and opportunities have multiplied beyond your power to solve them on your own. When you look around, you’d better have capable colleagues. We are fortunate to have hired some amazingly talented, ambitious people. And it makes me confident that even if the job is never over, it will get done—and, often, better than I could have imagined.

Do what you love as often as you can

On a Friday afternoon in January, I found myself on a sidewalk in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago. I had just left the house of a friend, Andy, who had been diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer only five and a half months before. His wife had called me to say that afternoon was the time to say goodbye. I sat with him as he labored to breathe, surrounded by a detail of firefighter colleagues who had kept vigil at his bedside for the previous week. Once I left, I found myself crushed by the weight of all that perspective and wondered why I should even consider heading back to work. (A bar would have been far more appropriate.) The subsequent rituals—visitation, funeral, and reception—reminded me of the power of community and shared experience. There’s a good reason we drape ourselves in them during troubling times.

Over the course of the year, I thought a lot about Andy and how he lived. His one dream was to be a firefighter, and he served as one for 25 years. If he had known the time on the job might dramatically shorten his life, I believe he still would have followed the same path. In his leisure time, he played music, collected an astonishing number of vintage keyboards, traveled the world, and enjoyed fine wines. His was a life well lived.

There are lessons here (and not the treacly “Live like you were dying” bullshit we tend to get served): we all have choices, so spend as much of your time as you can doing what you love, at work and outside of it. Community is vital to making the highs higher and the lows more bearable. And when we’re not feeling inspired, a sense of purpose can give us enough of a reason to throw ourselves back into the fray again.

Wishing all of you a joyous holiday season and happy new year.

Scott Leff

Scott is the founder of Leff. He's spent his career helping executives and subject matter experts tell their story in a compelling way. In the process, he's had the opportunity to work with C-suite executives, politicians, academics, and Olympians, not to mention dozens of talented writers, editors, and designers in the business world. Scott developed the concept of “lean content creation” as a cost-effective way to support comprehensive, integrated communication strategies.

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