June 27, 2023

7: Jamie Villarreal – Taylor Swift, Masterful Effectiveness, and Asking the Question

Jamie Villarreal, Production and Reservoir Manager - Equatorial Guinea, at Marathon Oil, dives right into her love for concerts (even divulges the fact that she's a Swifty) and building a life outside of work. In the episode, she discusses the importance of having mentors and sponsors, both in and outside of your career, and the benefits of asking for help and advice. Jamie also emphasizes the value of building a support team around you and identifying the strengths of your team members to achieve success.

In this episode

[00:00:00] Preview

[00:00:23] Transportation powers of live music

[00:07:58] Podcast Introduction

[00:09:03] Jamie’s backstory 

[00:12:01] Navigating new jobs

[00:17:26] Questioning everything

[00:20:48] Balancing confidence and humility

[00:28:39] Leaning into ambiguity

[00:36:11] Setting boundaries at work

[00:41:59] Jamie’s non-negotiables at work

[00:51:51] Cultivating clarity of thought

[00:56:01] Alternative outlets to show up better at work

[01:03:12] The importance of good mentors

[01:15:59] Last bits of advice

[01:16:43] Where to connect with Jamie

Links & Resources

Jamie Villarreal's LinkedIn: ⁠https://www.linkedin.com/in/jamie-villarreal-5a641858/ ⁠

Jamie Villarreal's email: jamiellen.villarreal@gmail.com 

Matt’s Twitter: ⁠⁠https://twitter.com/MattMHarriman⁠⁠ 

Matt’s LinkedIn: ⁠⁠https://www.linkedin.com/in/mattharriman/ 

Matt’s book, Integrated Upstream Planning: ⁠⁠https://amzn.to/3n9Obvl⁠⁠ 

Pod2 website: ⁠⁠https://pod2.co/⁠⁠ Pod2 YouTube: ⁠⁠https://www.youtube.com/@pod_2

Transcript

Jamie Villarreal: Even though I'm ahead of schedule, we should still plan for the presentation to be two weeks from now. If we're really off track, I may contact the admin beforehand and ask if there's any flexibility to push the presentation back a week. It's important to step back and break down a project into multiple pieces.

Matt Harriman: Yeah, it was a good talk. I love how interested and passionate you are about concerts. What is it about concerts that you like so much?

Jamie Villarreal: For me, concerts transport me back to a time when I had fewer responsibilities and less stress in my life. Plus, hearing live music helps me block out the craziness in my mind. Instead of worrying about laundry or work, I can just be in the moment and enjoy the music.

Matt Harriman: I've heard people compare it to drugs—it just strips away anxiety and allows you to be present.

Jamie Villarreal: Going to concerts is one of the few things that can help me decompress and calm my mind. I recently saw Taylor Swift, and even though it was intense, it blew me away. She's a great role model who promotes good ideologies.

Matt Harriman: I will say that when you have half a billion dollars, you have the freedom to say what you want and stand up for what you believe in. That's awesome. I should probably introduce you. Anybody that's listening, this is the Taylor Swift episode of the Achieve and Enjoy podcast.

Jamie Villarreal: I'm Taylor. No, just kidding.

Matt Harriman: This is episode seven, I think. The purpose of this podcast is to explore the relationship between work and happiness, achievement and joy, and success and contentment. This is gonna be a pretty candid and relaxed conversation—we'll see where it goes. Today we've got Jamie, and you've heard about her love for Taylor Swift so far.

Jamie: Also Mars Volta— I need to get some street credit for the cool band. I have a full spectrum, Matt.

Matt Harriman: Somebody might be okay with Mars Volta on Reddit. Who are you and what do you do for work— to frame it for people? And then I'd love to hear your story. When I say “story,’’ I mean story, not resume or work history or shit like that. How did you get here? What's important to you?

Jamie Villarreal: Let’s see, who am I? I think, like all of us, I wear many hats. My first hat, I would say, is my family hat. I have a beautiful nine-year-old daughter who is currently at summer camp and just got a new phone. She was texting me right before this. She wants to come home, and I said, "Too bad, so sad, cuz Mom was a celebrity and recording a podcast."

I'm married to a wonderful guy, Josh. We are celebrating our 15th wedding anniversary this year! I'm actually doing a cool photo shoot where I'm gonna wear my mom's wedding dress from the seventies, and we're gonna do a retro wedding album. And then, the work hat obviously takes up a big portion of my day-to-day. Luckily, it's something that I really, really enjoy. I work for a company called Marathon Oil —I'm sure many of you have heard of it. Believe it or not, I've only worked at Marathon. I interned for many companies, but Marathon has been tried and true for the last 15 years. I'll probably get into that a little bit more, but I've run the gamut in terms of what topics I've pursued at Marathon. My most current role is as the production and reservoir manager for our EG asset, which is located in Equatorial Ghana, Africa. I started in late March— I'm still getting up to speed on what that job's gonna look like, but it's gonna be something completely different than what I've done before.

I’m excited. There's a lot I can bring to the table in terms of past experiences, but there's a lot I'm gonna get to learn as well. A little bit more about me, I love concerts. I'm a foodie. I'm down to try anything new. I love to go to new restaurants. I live in Houston, in the Heights (represent the Interloop). I have not given up hope and moved out to the burbs, but never say never. 

I would say those are kind of my big things. In terms of what drives me, it comes down to, what's gonna make me and my family happy? As I've gotten older, I've changed the definition or even realized I needed to define that because you can say happiness and kind of take the surface level, but obviously, that depends on who you are, what you are, what kind of frame of life you're in. Matt, did I miss anything? Did I disappoint? 

Matt Harriman: No, that's awesome. Okay, so I do wanna pick on one thing that you said. So you took the role that you're in now in March, and you're figuring out what that job is. Can you say more about what that looks like for you? How do you figure out what a job is?

Jamie Villarreal: Yeah, absolutely. That's such an interesting point. I'm gonna rewind, and then I'll circle back to that. I am a type-A control freak. I plan to the 11th hour—not only in my work life but also in my private life. When we go on a trip, I have an itinerary that covers everything from when we wake up, to when we eat every day. I like structure. I like to know what to expect. I like to know that I can deliver on things. 

Matt Harriman: That's why I asked because the one time that we met, I pegged you as the type of person that would have had a 90-day plan and all this stuff, 90 days before you started the job. 

Jamie Villarreal: Oh yeah, a hundred percent. And that was really how my life, in terms of my career, had been up until let's say year 10. In the past three or four years, I've probably had seven or eight different jobs (all within Marathon). Ranging from like six months to one year, to 18 months to two years. And if you had asked me a few years ago, I would have been like, that's my worst nightmare, Matt. I don't like having to start over. You're having to meet new people, you're having to reintroduce yourself, reprove yourself.

But because I've had to go through that and, knock on wood, have actually been relatively successful, it has now stripped the fear of the unknown. I’m excited about it cause I'm like, “Dude, I've done this like three or four times. I've changed a job. I'm going into something that I don't know, I've done it. Let's just get excited that you're on a new journey.” So I would say in terms of getting my feet wet into something brand new, there are a couple of things that I like to do. Obviously, get to know the people that you're gonna be working with on a personal and professional level. I wanna know, do you have kids? Do you like cats? Do you like concerts? I wanna know you as a person. What you're doing on the weekends—which I think is just as important as like, what are you doing on the weekdays? You can't separate the two. Get to know your team, and then get to know what's important on that team. What has the team done well in the past?

That's not something that you necessarily need to spend a lot of time on. You just need to make sure that that boat kind of keeps moving. I like to do this once I feel like I have a good understanding. My take is always, “Well what can I do to improve the team?” What have been some items that maybe the team just hasn't been structured to work on? Or maybe it's stuff that they've done but they haven't been able to successfully do. And I see if that lines up with any of the strengths that I'm bringing from previous roles. So I would say, you know, get to know the people and get to know the processes. Those are kind of the two biggest things.

And then, a third, don't be afraid to ask questions—regardless of your job, regardless of your life. A game-changer for me because I know anytime I ask, I know there are like six other people that are just too intimidated to ask. I'll raise my hand and be like, “Hey, I know you said two plus two is four, but can we like walk through that one more time? I thought it was three, can we walk through this?” There may be a couple of people that are like, come on girl, but I know that Joe in the back was checking his email and he missed it and he wants to know too. When starting a new job or project, it's important to recognize that you don't know everything. It's okay to ask questions and seek clarification. This attitude has helped me with transitions in the past. I've learned to put my ego aside and ask for help when needed. It's helped me gain confidence and be more adaptable.

Matt Harriman: That sounds like confidence to me. You don't know what it is, but you're confident in your ability to sort things out; figure out what you need to do. Asking questions can also save you money and time. Yesterday, I questioned a contractor's bill and found out they had charged us for something they didn't do. We're trying to do the same thing with our kids—we want them to be critical thinkers. We want them to question everything. But when you're the parent and they question you every now and then, it's like, "Oh, okay. I didn't like that." But yeah, that was a good thing that you did. 

Jamie Villarreal: It's good though. Sometimes she'll ask me something and I'm like, "I have absolutely no idea." And I think it's showing, "Yeah, just because you're an adult, you don't know everything." And I think there's that stigma, especially with kids that, just because you're an adult, they know everything. I'm not gonna try to pretend like I do. We'll figure it out together. Or we'll ask Alexa 'cause Alexa knows everything. I think, yeah, just ask questions. It's so simple. But I think it's just an ego thing. If you can put your ego aside and you're not scared to ask questions two, three, four, five, six, seven times. 

When I'm training somebody new or I have somebody new on my team, I really try to show them that I'm doing that and encourage them. It makes the communication so much better because if they're stuck on something and they don't wanna ask, and then they spend two days working on something that they thought, or, you know, were too scared to get clarification on and it's wrong, it's like, "Hey, nobody's winning from that.” I always just try to be open and say like, “There are no dumb questions 'cause I ask a hundred dumb questions all the time,' and, you know, that's just part of life and just, you gotta own it." 

Matt Harriman: I feel like there are dumb questions, but I don't care about them. I think a question is bad if it's not useful—if it's intended to, I don't know, show somebody up or be a “gotcha.” That's a thing with asking questions, especially in a work setting, I feel like it depends on the culture a lot. 

Jamie: A hundred percent. Obviously, it's gonna vary from team to team, so I'm stepping into my new role and it's a conventional team versus an unconventional one. It's these senior technical geniuses (for lack of a better word), who have been on the team for 10-plus years. I was very open and honest when I came to the team about my conventional and unconventional experiences. I'm not walking in thinking I can do y'all's job, nor do I want to. I'm here to figure out how can we make things more efficient. How can we maybe get some stuff off your plate that maybe we don't need to? How can I make your job easier? Because I can't do your job. I'm just here to help y'all in whatever kind of appropriate capacity that means. There's always gonna be someone smarter in the room, own it. That's okay. Everyone is bringing different strengths and different topics to the room—find your strength and advertise them. We're all on the same team. If you can own that and recognize it, it's not a competitive environment, then I think the questions are gonna come and you're just gonna get a better work product because those egos have then been put aside because you're not in an arm wrestling competition from who's the best.

Matt Harriman: What you're talking about sounds to me like a really strong balance of what we talked about earlier, like confidence and humility—being both confident and humble in the right way at the same time. I feel like that's something that, especially early career managers, like when you get your first manager job, you're like, "I need to look confident," so you're afraid to not know stuff or ask questions. Did you go through anything like that? If so, how did you find this balance of confidence and humility? 

Jamie Villarreal: I would say in my first manager role (let's just fake a number), five or six years ago, it was very intimidating on multiple levels. I had been a reservoir engineer for 10 years, and they had a manager role open in our asset planning division. For people that don't know what that is, you're basically the human calculator, if you will— you're doing cash flow projections, you're doing production projections; operating extension projections. It's a very important role because that ultimately gets rolled up and you're looking at the health of the enterprise. I was asked to do not to manage people for the first time, but also to manage something like I had never done before. I think because I'm a realist, I was like, "I can't come in and act like I know everything." I remember I had a one-on-one with everybody and I said, "Here are the strengths that I'm gonna be bringing to the team. Here are the stuff that I'm gonna need your help with. I hear, Matt, you're really good at X, Y, Z. You're gonna be my guy on that. I'm gonna be going to you for this. If that's not true, let me know, but I'm gonna be relying on you to help support me with this." 

I try to do it for every role. In a way, I kind of like stalked everybody to know what they were good at. Matt's good at this. Jenny's good at this, Tara's good at this. And I really kind of had a one-on-one with him and be like, "Hey, I'm gonna be open and honest with you, Matt. I'm not good at Project A, but Project A is really important. So, you're gonna be my guy and I wanna help you with whatever I can. So, help me help you. What can I do to make sure Project A gets done?" I think it never even crossed my mind to come in all hot and heavy because I would've fallen spot on my face—I was just too realistic. I wasn't sure how to be the best manager. I wasn't really sure what the job even was. I mean, I actually had to interview for two replacements my first weekend. They needed two new team members that were going to report to me. Full disclosure, I had two really incredible candidates. Their kind of execution was top-notch. One of them just seemed maybe a little bit kinder, more humble. I was like, "I'm gonna go with you 'cause it's gonna build a better team environment." He's gone on to flourish—I'm so proud of him. He kind of had come from an IT background, and it was gonna be a lot of learning for him. I think just kind of being humble and nice, Matt, is for whatever reason, frowned upon because you need to have a big chest and you need to be like, "I'm the best of the best." And I'm just like, "I don't know. I'd rather just like be nice and all work together. I think that's gonna get a better product. 

For me, that's work—just being like, 'I'm good at this, you're good at this, Sally's good at this. Let's all do it together.' Instead of just being like, 'I'm gonna do it all guys because I got it.' Don't be afraid to be like, 'Hey, I'm really good at this.' And this is where I can excel, but in the same breath, be like, 'Hey, I have no idea what I'm doing with X, Y, Z. I'm gonna need some help on that.' I think just getting to know the team and the dynamic is the best day-one thing you can do. It will set you up for success.

I worked for a company called Lubrizol, located in Deer Park. I was wearing FRCs and a hard hat, getting my hands dirty every day. At first, I was hesitant because I like my nails, hair, and manicure. However, one of my best friends had interned at Marathon and I fell in love with the oil and gas industry because it's a little bit more creative. In chemical engineering, which I studied, everything was very black and white. It's like one plus one equals two—there was no debating that. However, in the petroleum world, there is a little bit of artistic value. There are ranges that you can put into inputs that ultimately affect the outputs. I like the idea of being creative and not always having a right or wrong path. So, I interned at Marathon and then I was hired by them right out of school. I remember all my friends running around campus sweating in their black suits, trying to hustle to the next meeting, and I'm just sitting at the pool drinking a Diet Coke. I showed up at Marathon in 2008 and it has been an incredible journey. I just hit my 15-year work anniversary and wedding anniversary. It's crazy how time has flown and I'm really proud of the career that I've had.

Matt Harriman: 2008 must have been a big year for you.

Jamie Villarreal: It was a big year. I just wanted to get it all done— start a job, get married, and all that good stuff. I was a planner and did it all on purpose. 

Matt Harriman: You said some very interesting stuff. The first one is that you like the idea of oil and gas because of the aspect of creativity and that there's not always a right or wrong answer. How does that ambiguity and uncertainty give you energy?

Jamie Villarreal: It allows me to take risks without actually taking risks—it's a controlled environment. The risks aren't going to have huge implications if your porosity is 10% or 11%. I like the idea that it doesn't have to be 10% or 11%. You can turn some knobs and there's a huge impact. You can go back and turn it down a little bit. I liked the idea that you could get to the answer in multiple ways. It made it a little bit more like a detective. In contrast, chemical engineering was a lot of memorization for me. It was fun and challenging, and it helped me become a solid problem solver, but, I was looking for something a little bit more romantic. There's a formula you need to follow, but there's some gray to it and some flexibility.

My dad worked at the post office. He was working with his hands, organizing, and moving stuff from bin to bin. He started college but was paying for it by himself and just felt like that wasn't something that he was going to be able to continue to do. So, he dropped out and went straight to the post office, where he worked for 40 years. He retired at a relatively young age— late fifties or early sixties— and is now living a really nice life on a government pension. He definitely worked hard. I remember holidays where he would get double overtime and he would take it. He always had such a good time. He would tell me about his friends and how they always had music playing. He loved 97.9 The Box, which is a radio station that's still around. As hard as he worked, he still found fun in it. He set the example of working hard but finding the good in it. I think that's always kind of been the bar that I've set going forward.

Matt Harriman: Let's talk about boundaries around work. You've obviously done very well in your career. You've made it to positions where most people that I've met that are in positions at your level are workaholics. How do you think about boundaries? How do you think about effort versus work-life balance?

Jamie Villarreal: It's imperative to be clear on what your boss values as important—not everything is important. Just because someone asked you to do something doesn't mean it's a priority. Understanding what management's expectations are for the projects and making sure that you're focusing on what's important has really helped me set up the week for success. I have a 7:30 check-in with my boss every Monday. I go over what I'm going to be focusing on, what my team is going to be focusing on, and I openly acknowledge what we're not doing right now. It's probably a little bit of work upfront, but it has really helped in getting to leave on time. 

Matt Harriman: “Do you still need this?” This is one of the most time-saving questions that people should ask, especially in big companies.

Jamie Villarreal: Yeah, and it's easy. It's a yes or no question. For example, we need product A, and I could say, "Hey, we have a version that was done six months ago and is 80% of the answer," or "We can give you a new A, but it's going to take X number of man-hours and this is going to get delayed." I don't have the answer, but I'm going to give that to my boss, and based on what she's going to be using it for, she can help guide me.

I think it's just getting clear expectations on the priority of the project, definitions around the project, and absolute deadlines. Part of that is saying no, and "Hey, can I get this?" And it may not be a flat-out no because I hate it when people are like, "Just say no because it doesn't work that way." It's just "not right now." Like, "Yeah, Matt, I can get you that report, but it's going to be Wednesday after lunch because I have a doctor's appointment in the morning." They're like, "Okay." Or they're going to be like, "No, absolutely." And I'll be like, "Okay, well let me call Sharon and see if she can get it for you."

Matt Harriman: I'm hearing a lot of people talk about prioritization and confirming with your boss what order you need to do things. But I think what you're talking about is a little different in that you've gone so far as to define what is enough. You know what's critical and what's nice to have— I think that's the piece that people miss. They don't know when to stop.

Jamie Villarreal: I think it's spending a little bit of time at the beginning of the week and really scheduling it out— prioritizing. I have a little calendar that I send out to my team every Monday with the two-week forecast, and I'm like, "Hey guys, let me know if this stuff's moving around because it's kind of a knock-on effect." I think taking that kind of time on Monday to reflect and get organized helps— in the office and even when you're working from home. Then that helps by default, on work-life balance, because at the end of the day, I didn't get maybe number eight done, but I talked to my boss on Monday, and that wasn't a burning mission of hers. I’ll work on it next week because it’s four o'clock and my daughter has gymnastics, I'm going to go, and I'm not going to feel bad.

Matt Harriman: You mentioned your daughter's gymnastics, are there other boundaries that you've put up that are non-negotiable?

Jamie Villarreal: With my new role, I sent a note out to everyone and said, "Hey, I get to work early (6:30 AM and I don't see Julia before she wakes up) and I want to leave at 4 or 4:30—I do nine times out of ten. That doesn't always mean that a couple of times a week I'm not logging on and checking something. I just wanted to be very clear that when it's 4 or 4:30 and there's not a fire, I'm not going to sit there just to show that I'm there— I think Covid helped with that. I think knowing and proving to the greater good that you don't have to be in your office chair to be getting stuff done is more palatable. I said these are my hours. I work from home on these days. Here's my cell phone number. When it's 4 or 4:30, I'm out, but I'm responsive. If it's something that's urgent, don't hesitate to call me. And I think being transparent with that and stating it upfront instead of maybe for the first couple of months staying late just to show off, only to have to tear off the bandaid later, is the easier way for everyone.

Matt Harriman: COVID screwed things up, especially for middle managers, because it showed how poorly they do in understanding the work product and the output of their teams—they really relied on physical presence and hours in the office to hope that things were getting done. I do think that it's happening already, but the future of work is about output and not time spent. 

Jamie Villarreal: One thing that we talked about was working smarter and not harder. Obviously, prioritization is a huge part of that, leveraging your team, knowing what you're good at versus what other people are good at, and organizing that properly is a big part of it. And I think that also allows my team to know that I value their time away from the office. I want them to be gone, and I don't want to call them. I want them to enjoy it because I want to do the same. I think that part has been helpful too—the overarching project management piece.

Matt Harriman: That's such a good example of how doing a good job at work can allow you to be happy and experience a vacation without stress or other distractions. It's all linked.  I think there's even more to it than what we've been discussing. There's a clarity of thought that goes into prioritizing and defining what things are, project management, cause and effect, deadlines, and how all these pieces interact and sorting them out. I think that clarity of thought is something that you notice when it's not there—especially when you talk to a leader of a team or a company and they're all over the place. We all go through times like that, where we don't have our act together—that's just the way it goes. What do you think drives that ability for you? How do you think that skill is built or cultivated to think clearly, understand what's going on, and make good decisions?

Jamie Villarreal: I think it goes all the way back to college, where you learn how to solve problems, elementary style. Being a chemical engineering major, you're solving really complex organic chemistry problems, which I think helped me realize that I'm good at problem-solving. And then, I think it was a skill that I probably didn't even know I was lacking until I got into this planning world, where I went through a budget cycle. It's like three months, and you're working on a lot of stuff; at the end of the three months, this is due. I just kind of thought, oh yeah, this is probably all going to come together. And I ended up missing one of Julia's Disney on Ice shows because of the deadline. I was up at three o'clock in the morning trying to balance reserves, despite knowing about this deadline six months ago. That was a big wake-up call. Why not break it into smaller projects? 

My system came out of a need to survive. Those first couple of months I was so burnt out. After I implemented project management and broke things into bite-size pieces with wiggle room, it went from a job that I was like, “Ugh,” to, “Oh my God, this is like one of the most amazing jobs in the world.” I finally had time to sit back and really think. I definitely didn't get it right the first time, but after each cycle, I would always sit down with my immediate team and say what worked, and what didn't. And then every cycle got better to the point where I was in planning and working a 40-hour week—practically unheard of. 

Matt Harriman: All that pain is self-inflicted by the company, right? Reserves is the perfect example—the deadline's the same and you know it for years. Just when I do my taxes, if I'm stressed out the week before my taxes are due, that's my fault.

Jamie: A hundred percent.

Matt Harriman: The government didn't move the deadline up or anything.

Jamie Villarreal: Same time every year, I totally agree. It's just knowing that you need to, without going overboard, iron out the details and give some flexibility. If you do that, it should come together more smoothly. I've taken that mindset with me to all of my management roles, and it’s really helped. I'm kind of nicknamed the calendar girl, but I really think it's just because people are jealous because I'm organized and whatnot. I don't go anywhere without my calendar. 

Matt Harriman: I think there's definitely the skill of planning and project management and problem-solving, but also the energy that you have to have to do it every day. To be thinking clearly about the whole concept and everything. I know that you hate journaling.

Jamie Villarreal: Don’t tell all my secrets, Matt.

Matt Harriman: No, but what habits do you have personally that help you have energy and the mental clarity required for focus and like that clarity of thought?

Jamie Villarreal: If I allowed my mind to do what it wanted, I would think about work all the time— not a pleasant thought. What I've worked to try to find are things that, don’t distract me, but take change my focus. Kind of like concerts. Another thing that I like to do that's not cool, but I like reading. I'm not reading anything smart like Atomic Habits or whatever. I'm reading murder mysteries where people get killed and there's blood. It allows me to be somewhere different and rejuvenates me. I measure my vacations by how many books I get to read. If it's like three, it was an amazing vacation. It's allowing my work side to take a little nap. 

And then I think exercise, I probably don't do it as much as I should, but I jazzercise—not just for 60-year-old ladies. I think getting out there, and not thinking about anything else. It’s just anything that can kind of take my brain and shift it to fully focus on something that's uplifting, rejuvenating, or exciting. I think that's kind of where I get my joy from. Or like last night, my daughter and I did Lego flowers—quality time with my daughter without screens. We're working on Legos and she's telling me about her day. I can show up and be 100% focused on her. Another one is kind of like a date night with my husband or a girl's night out at dinner where we're just kind of letting loose and airing our grievances, airing what's good with the world, airing a new book or a new wine we had—you're just completely yourself, there are no expectations of you. What about you, Matt? I know you like journaling. What else do you do to kind of recoup and recharge?

Matt Harriman: I'll answer that in a minute, but I wanna get back to yours. For the last one, spending time with friends, your body language changed a little bit, and your shoulders dropped. It seems almost like an opening up, similar to what I get out of meditation and journaling. It's open-ended. It's free. The shit in my mind has a place to go. Time with friends for you is like writing for me—open-ended time and space where I could be. It could be a little story for my kids or even poetry.

But then there's the other side of it: what you said, where it's something where I cannot focus on anything else. I have to focus on that one thing. Golf is one for me, where it's a little bit of both. Golf is cool because if you're not 100% focused on the shot you're taking at the time, you'll mess it up. I like it because your shot gives you immediate feedback on your mental state. If you're over-focused on the wrong detail or thinking too much when you're swinging, you'll mess up. If you're just in the right amount of space where you've planned everything, you've noticed the wind, the distance, the slope, the lie, the ball, the weather, like all of that stuff, you just have to hit the shot that you've planned out—it's all decided. It’s like flow. And then, if you have to wait 15 minutes because the group in front of you is slow or something, then it's open-ended and you're sitting outside enjoying nature. 

Matt Harriman: It's funny that you mentioned jazzercise because I don’t do it, but I run my own business and have flexible hours, so I'll go do yoga classes during the week. The yoga classes are super, super slow, and stretchy. The other people that really like those are senior citizens. So it'll be me and people that are double my age. I love it.

Jamie Villarreal: They get it though. Part of the reason I love that is I've made friendships with people that I would never, out of the normal kind of mode of operations, come in contact with. I'm talking to them so I'm not thinking about what I have to turn in on Tuesday or are my groceries up to date in my fridge and all that kind of stuff. It's good just to kind of meet new people and talk about new things.

Matt Harriman: What role have mentors played in your life?

Jamie Villarreal: I attribute not all of my success, but a significant portion, to the sponsors and mentors I've had—in and out of Marathon. I've been lucky enough to have Marathon-assigned sponsors that are assigned on a more formal basis. I think from a surface level that's very great and tangible. I've never wanted to shy away from, “Hey, I've really liked what you've done with your career. Can we have coffee once a month?” Those are organic to some degree, even though I'm actively seeking them out.

I have enough people that I can rely on and talk through and, hey, how should I approach this problem? What would you do? Am I thinking about this? Having sounding boards of people you respect, who have achieved success and are good leaders, can help when facing new challenges. They can provide perspective, advice, and help build confidence. 

I would say to anybody, find yourself a mentor. Find yourself a sponsor. Don't wait for it to fall in your lap—it's not going to. You would be surprised, just how willing and open most people are to hook up once a month or once a quarter or whatever is appropriate and just catch up. Having mentors in the form of former bosses, colleagues, and even in different aspects of life like jazzer-size mentors, can provide a wide spectrum of support. Reflecting on previous bosses and noting qualities you enjoyed and did not enjoy can help in growing as a leader and human. Finding role models with some traits that you admire can be helpful. It is also important to recognize that not everyone will be a perfect mentor and that it is okay to outgrow them and even have anti-role models. It is important to have people in your life who inspire you to be the best version of yourself, whether that is through their positive qualities or by showing you what not to do.

Matt Harriman: It's kinda similar to having guardrails or baselines. Another interesting point you mentioned was asking for mentors and advice— an underutilized resource. I'm doing a project with a big company on career development. One of the first things we did was talk to everyone and make it clear that if they want something, they have permission to ask for it. We had a 30-minute meeting where we showed some stuff, and after that meeting, several people raised their hands and said, "Hey, I'm interested in this career track over here." Cool. So they were connected with someone who could mentor them and tell them more about it. It's such a small thing, but as a company, if you give people a little nudge and permission to say, "Hey, if you're interested in something different than what you're doing now, you can ask and that's okay."

Jamie Villarreal: I put it back on the person. I've never waited for someone to say it's okay to ask. What's the harm in asking? I've tried new things because I asked for them. No one said, "Oh, you can ask." I was like, "Well, I'm gonna ask because what's the worst thing that can happen? They'll say no." I would almost always rather ask and find out that's not an option than for someone to wait to tell me that. I'm just a very proactive person. 

Matt Harriman: Yeah. And I've always been the same way. I think most jobs I got when I was working for other companies were because I asked for them.

Jamie Villarreal: A hundred percent, but I get that when you're new or younger in your career, you're probably intimidated to voice those questions and concerns. But the sooner people can get comfortable asking and knowing that there's no harm in asking, the better. You're not saying you hate what you're doing right now. You're just saying that down the line, this may also look good to me. That's just never going to hurt you. Once you rip the band-aid off, the world's your oyster. All they can do is say “No, not right now,” or, “No, that's the craziest thing I've ever heard of.”

Matt Harriman: I've found that as a leader, it's helpful to share this same advice with your people. You should be asking for stuff a hundred percent. Some people are just different personality types and need that extra push.

Jamie Villarreal: Yeah, I know they need that extra push.

Matt Harriman: I think building a team around you for the things that you care about is super useful. We all have different areas of our life that we're trying to balance and improve. I met a guy at the gym who's a bodybuilder, and although we don't talk a ton, I go to him when I need some accountability or motivation for the gym.

Jamie Villarreal: I think that's applicable, even in marriage. My husband and I know each other's strengths, and we function well because of that. We identify what we're good at, but if I need to step in and do something, I will, but it's not gonna be as good as if he did it. And so I think a lot of these success strategies can translate to multiple branches of your life.

Matt Harriman: Right? Awesome. I think this has been super fun. Is there any last advice you would give someone?

Jamie Villarreal: I've already said it, but just ask the questions: ask for help, ask for a mentor, ask the tough questions. Ask to leave early to take your kid to gymnastics. There's no harm in asking. And once you get used to that mentality, it only gets better from there. I know it's intimidating, especially if you're young in your career, but the more comfortable you get with asking questions like "Why does this work this way?" or "Can I have this job?" or "Can I leave early because my dog's sick?", the better. That's my motto.

Matt Harriman: Awesome. Well, this has been great, Jamie. Thank you for coming on.

Jamie Villarreal:  Thanks for having me. If people want to connect with me or reach out, my email address, which is jamiellen.villarreal@gmail.com. I'm also on LinkedIn.

Matt Harriman: Awesome. Well, this has been another episode of the Achieve and Enjoy podcast. Thank you, Jamie, for coming on. Anyone listening can watch the video on Pod2's YouTube channel, follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, or visit our pod2.co/podcast for transcription, show notes, and more. Enjoy your work this week!


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