Under 40 and Just Getting Started
The honor of being recognized in the business community is an understandably coveted accolade, especially among the growing population of young, growth-minded mavericks that have have an unquenchable thirst for doing big things – perhaps even bigger than the predecessors that achieved greatness before them. High school superlatives don't really mean much to this set, likely because they aren't tripping over themselves to win the favor and respect of anyone in particular, other than proving perhaps to just themselves that ambition, drive, and execution are far more powerful and influential than talent alone. They do the things they do with a self-starter mentality, not to impress or meet the expectations of others, but rather because their inner cadence is dictated by the love of the hustle.
Young folks love to work. We always have. But when we find the appropriate causes to work for and surround ourselves with others who also embrace the hustle, that's when special things happen. That's when leaders are born, such as our very own Elyssa Barksdale.
This week we received word that Dallas Business Journal is inducting Elyssa into the 2019 class of the 40 Under 40 honorees list, an honor reserved for those making waves in our local business community. We sat down with her to get an idea of what this award means to her, how she views entrepreneurship, and how she stays inspired to keep dreaming big.
True leadership isn't about a pursuit to enrich yourself, but rather about lifting up, promoting, and encouraging others.
This is your first award recognizing your personal achievements within the business community. How are you feeling about that?
Elyssa: It's a huge honor. I didn't really set out to impress anyone or have my name embossed on some award, but it's nonetheless a huge source of validation. This is my first piece of recognition as a businesswoman and entrepreneur outside of what we've achieved as a team for design competitions and the like. I know there are hundreds of other individuals in our age group around the metroplex that have achieved incredible things as well, so I'm deeply humbled to have made the cut.
What drives you?
I've always wanted to own my own business. I've been taught to never expect handouts in life and that I need to go out and earn everything. I am my one and only hindrance to achieving the things in life that I want to achieve. I believe that when other people figure that out and stop blaming others for their own shortcomings, they discover a freedom that is seldom experienced outside of a true entrepreneurial mindset. I don't know how to look at life any other way.
Who influences you?
My mom, dad, and grandfather instilled that self-starter vibe I describe above. But it's never from a stance of impressing peers or meeting the expectations others have made for me ... I've largely ignored those things, thanks to the encouragement from those people. I strive to honor and reflect God in everything I do, and a big part of that is making sure that I don't get tripped up in making my leadership role about vanity. I think a lot of people, entrepreneurs especially, wrap themselves in an embellished image of what they want to be, rather than be comfortable in their own skin; comfortable enough to be okay with letting your flaws be visible in the process of growing. The people you surround yourself with are keenly observant of how you regard yourself as a leader – and my family made it crystal clear that true leadership is not about enriching yourself, but rather about lifting up, promoting, and encouraging others.
In the next ten years, what do you want to achieve?
We want to grow this company to be outrageously successful and innovative within the design space. In a way, Thiel & Thiel already reflects that achievement within certain circles, but it should go beyond how design firms typically operate.
My dream would be for this firm to become an employee-owned business, where everyone feels like they have a stake in the game and their efforts are rewarded beyond a salary. Beyond that, my goal is to continually grow this company using the same elements that already make it great: a safe place to practice and refine our talents, an encouraging family of creative thinkers that create a GREAT product together, and a restless culture that serves clients and project partners with uncommon excellence.
What is your workspace like?
I actually gave up my office about six months ago. Beth Thiel and I will occasionally share desk time in a private office when we need some headspace for focus and tactical efforts, but I'm largely floating with my laptop out in our design studio and office kitchen. It was initially a jarring change, but I love that I'm no longer chained to a desk, which also is helpful when encouraging each of us to break up the monotony of a 9-to-5 workday. I don't think we were meant to live life that way, let alone work.
I actually gave up my office about six months ago. It was initially a jarring change, but I love that I'm no longer chained to a desk.
What are you reading currently?
It took me years to get around to Stephen Covey's 7 Habits, and I'm kicking myself over it. I'm finding that it's a lot of what my parents and mentors have taught me over the years, but put into words that give me handles for application and continual improvement.
I'm also reading Hal Elrod's The Miracle Morning. I've been needing to be much more intentional about how I start my day, and this is a widely celebrated primer for setting your days up for success. I highly recommend it to everyone I talk to.
Are you watching anything right now?
The West Wing is currently one of my favorite shows to binge watch. I think it's an easy foray from House of Cards since that's been so popular recently, and now us younger folks are discovering this brilliant series we barely remember from our childhood days.
Vikings is my obsession right now, and it's largely because of the women portrayed in Viking culture. I love the women in this show. They're not segregated from any division of culture, and by extension they're positioned to be incredible leaders and power brokers.
Find ways to harvest healthy validation, self confidence, and true accountability – and you'll be unstoppable.
If you could, what would you tell the younger you?
There's actually a high likelihood that I'll come across an Elyssa way younger than me one day. They could be a teen-aged intern here or a business student or an employee getting their first start. In any case, I'd give them the same advice my dad and grandfather gave me my entire life: there's nobody out there that can keep you from the dreams you want to make reality. You and you alone are the only person that could ever hold you back. Find your uniqueness and keep yourself as open as possible to learn new skills and dive into new experiences ... keeping yourself flexible will put you in a position to align your uniqueness with incredible opportunity. And once that happens, surround yourself with others that continually lift up one another, chasing a common cause and goals that seem like moonshots. Find ways to harvest healthy validation, self confidence, and true accountability – and you'll be unstoppable.
Press Inquiries: Miki@thielandthiel.com
Images + Words: Stephen Selzler