A First Principles Anecdote — How I Avoided Burnout at Amazon
No one starts their careers knowing what they’re doing. We all learn from our mistakes. It’s our growth from those mistakes which turns us into the leaders we eventually become.
I have found it hard sometimes to look at those leaders I admire, and remember that not terribly long ago, they were making bumbling mistakes like the rest of us. When they confidently say “You should never ever do X, it’s a terrible idea”, there is a good chance they actually did X at one point. It’s quite possibly how they know that it is a bad idea.
As you get older, it’s strange how being young feels like it was just yesterday. My kids go to do something stupid, and I can distinctly remember doing that stupid thing. I’m sure you can remember your own personal stories of growing up, and how there were moments that stuck in your mind as a life lesson. Sometimes they’re small things, sometimes bigger things. Regardless, it’s those brief moments in time which stick with us.
I can remember like it was yesterday when I started my first job after college. I remember becoming a manager for the first time, and realizing that there wasn’t an instruction book. I remember making mistakes over the years, which made an impression on me.
I remember one particular situation clearly. It was towards the beginning of my time at Amazon, when it become clear that more time, more effort, and more focus would not allow me to continue to scale.
The time when things got busy
I was in my fourth year at Amazon. From Thanksgiving to mid-December things were crazy for teams related to the retail website. There was a date in mid-December each year which was the last day you could order with super saver shipping to get your items by Christmas. After that date, traffic would drastically drop.