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It’s Always Day 1 of Your Relationships
A proven way to build lasting relationships
This is how Jeff Bezos famously opened his 1997 Letter to Shareholders, the year of their IPO:
To our shareholders:
Amazon.com passed many milestones in 1997: by year-end, we had served more than 1.5 million customers, yielding 838% revenue growth to $147.8 million, and extended our market leadership despite aggressive competitive entry.
But this is Day 1 for the Internet and, if we execute well, for Amazon.com.
25 years later, Amazon credits much of its success to this Day 1 mentality. I love this idea for building a business, but I love it even more for building relationships.
My wife and I met in our early twenties in Manhattan. We had both moved from California, and we quickly became enamored with the city and each other. Sweaty dance parties at Webster Hall and PS1. Treks to Flushing for Peking duck buns and to Harlem for jazz at Bill’s Place. 2 am slices and 2 pm bagels. That time in our lives was magical and wild and indulgent and more than we could ever ask for.
It was also hard. We were on the express train to spend the rest of our lives together, and navigating that decision as young kids. How could we know this early in our lives that we wanted to spend forever together?
Then one day, Emily said something that flipped how I look at life-long commitment and suddenly made it much easier to imagine it: “Neither of us is going to stay in something that isn’t working and one of us could walk away any time. All that matters is that you want to be here today. We’ll deal with tomorrow when it comes.”
Damn. How piercing and how true. Could we really know this early? The answer, we decided together, was that we couldn’t. And more importantly, we didn’t need to. It was at this moment that I realized the most important thing about our relationship:
It’s always Day 1.
Adopting a Day 1 mentality about our relationship changed the questions we asked ourselves. Instead of asking “Do I want to spend the rest of my life with this person?” The question became, “Do I want to spend more time with her today than I did yesterday?” The answer has been “Yes” for over eleven years and that’s how we’ve made it work. Day by day.
It’s a work in progress, but this approach has made me a better husband, a better friend, and a better business partner. Here’s what I’ve learned about treating my relationships like it’s Day 1.
Obsess over today
Alleviating the pressure of forever makes it easier to visualize and build a healthy relationship. Whether you’re building a family or a business together, the path to future success starts today.
Take the first step
A Day 1 mindset recognizes that partnership is not about speeding toward a long-term commitment right away. We can move things forward day by day. Share a meal. Collaborate on a problem. Make a sales call. Instead of worrying about the future prospects of a new relationship, we can take the first steps, move forward together, and decide to stick with it (or not) as we go.
The business world has learned this and we see it throughout the tech ecosystem. Just look at vesting. It adds legal structure to a business relationship so that employees, co-founders, and investing partners literally earn their economics in steps. Vesting is there so that when the time comes to make the commitment and sign on the dotted line, you can still encourage Day 1 behavior throughout the relationship.
Sweat the little things
A relationship is the summation of all the big and small steps taken together, but closeness and trust are earned in the little moments. A text message saying “you got this” on the day of a big meeting. A quick email sharing a compliment from a customer. A phone call to check in when there’s nothing to ask for in return. These moments add up and they show how much you care.
Showing up for the big things matters, but doing that is the bare minimum. And when the big moments involve hard decisions or opposing perspectives, they test the strength of the relationship. They expose why trust is needed. Showing up in little ways is how trust is built.
Earn the right to be there every day
The best way to erode a relationship is to behave like you’ll have it forever. A shared intention (or even commitment) does not endow couples or co-founders with a lifetime of happiness and success. These intentions come with the shared responsibility to earn the right to be in our relationships every day.
I think about this a lot as an investor. I fight like hell to earn the right to partner with great companies, but winning a seat at the table is just the beginning. It’s not enough to passively support the company and show up to quarterly meetings. To be among the best, I need to find ways to proactively add value after the check is written, between meetings, and at any other time. In this role, it’s truly always Day 1.
Obsessing about today is about showing up and making an effort. To fully adopt a Day 1 mentality, it’s also important to consider how you show up and what you do with that effort.
“Attention, intention, interest, and curiosity will make all the difference in your relationships.”
A Day 1 approach cultivates curiosity from the deepest to the newest relationships. When we first meet people, it’s natural to realize we don’t know anything about them and that they have a whole life for us to learn about. Curiosity is the default.
But as time goes on, we settle into grooves in our relationships, especially the ones we’ve had for a while. There’s a comfort that comes from familiarity, and it’s a double-edged sword. Stagnation sets in if we’re too relaxed.
You may notice this with your parents or siblings. When was the last time you asked a truly curious question of a family member? They are growing too, but it’s easy to reduce them to just our parents, brothers, or sisters and miss opportunities to ask them questions that deepen our relationships with them.
When I first started working with a coach, I marveled at how he could unleash a flood of ideas with a perfectly placed question. Even after months of working together, and knowing me through deep conversations, he would approach every new conversation with a beginner’s mind. He asked questions like he didn’t know me at all and assumed nothing as we unpacked the topic at hand. Then he sat back and listened as all my thoughts flowed out.
He was essentially acting as if every session was Day 1. After training with coaches, I’ve learned that setting aside assumptions and defaulting to inquiry is one of their main tools to maintain curiosity and hold space for their clients.
Today, I dedicate time like this every week to do the same for my own coaching clients. I regularly practice assuming less and asking more. It takes a small amount of my time, but this routine has been a powerful multiplier on my effectiveness in business and in life. It helps me focus on being more interested than interesting, and my relationships have improved because of it.
“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won't come in.”
– Alan Alda
Creating time for coaching has become an intentional way for me to stay curious. In her interview with Shane Parrish, executive Kat Cole explains a different approach.
Describing her priority to be a great partner to her husband, she highlights the value of a monthly check-in to improve their relationship. Born of “a desire to go deep and a challenge to the other person if they’re being on the surface,” these meetings have become a forcing function for introducing deep curiosity into their partnership.
Their monthly check-ins involve questions that were inspired by the one-on-ones she had in her business:
“What’s been the best part about the last 30 days?”
“What’s been the worst?”
“What has worried you the most about our relationship?”
“What are you most proud of?”
The questions say it all. They are curious. They are meaningful. According to Kat, these conversations “[have] been an incredible enabler to [her] relationship” and they’ve even improved her business relationships as well. “My one-on-ones with my team got better as my check-ins with my husband became more refined and consistent,” she says.
A Day 1 mentality is about taking action. It’s about showing up every day and being curious and intentional. Because just like having purpose or passion, being soulmates or brothers from another mother isn’t worth anything without effort. It’s the choice to do the work and the dedication to the process that makes things real.
A Day 1 mentality also recognizes that a relationship is always a work in progress. That we are always a work in progress. Complacency is human and comfort in relationships can be beautiful. But if we strive to treat all of our relationships like it’s Day 1, we may stack enough days to look back proudly on the long journeys we’ve taken together.
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