You Are Not Your Work
My friend Gary said this to me the other day in an email. He wasn’t talking about me but he could have beeen. Last night I went to bed thinking about my work, dreamt about my work, and woke up thinking about my work. It’s been that way for me since I started Flatiron in the mid 90s. To some extent it’s been that way for me since college. Fortunately I have the Gotham Gal and three awesome kids to keep me from going fully into the fire. I spent the past four days skiing wtih my family and some new friends and enjoyed it immensely. If anything I am letting my work sit idle in my brain more these days than I have in a long time.
What Gary was talking about when he wrote those words to me was failure. And when you are your work, your failure at work is personal. Deeply personal. When Flatiron melted down after four great years and one awful one, it was painful. I went to see a therapist for the first time in my life. It was the best thing I could have done. I had been to see coaches but I had not taken the deeper dive into what was driving me. A few years later I was energized and Brad and I started USV.
Failure can sow the seeds of success. It did for me. It did for Mark Pincus when he turned the failure of Tribe into the success of Zynga. It has done the same for countless others. But to get through failure, you need to be able to separate who you are and what your work is.
One of my favorite lines from an entrepreneur came from Rob Kalin. I am sure I’ve shared it here a few times. He said “I am an artist. Making websites is my medium right now” That’s a helpful way for entrepreneurs to think about their work. They are the painter. Some paintings will hang in the MOMA and others will sit gathering dust in a storage room. Not every thing you create will be brilliant. But you can be brilliant while still making work that isn’t, particularly if you understand why the work that wasn’t great wasn’t great.
Jerry ended his amazing post with the observation that “I have to understand this viscerally if I’m going to be of service to my clients”. When your work is servicing entrepreneurs, it is actually pretty easy to “understand this viscerally”. Their failure is your failure. Their success is your success. Their work is your work. But it is not you.
This post instantly reminded me of this great article: http://www.inc.com/magazine…
yeah, that is a great article
This is the reason why I’m always annoyed when somebody I just met asks “what do you do for a living?”. Answers range from: “I wake up!” to “Spy”, based on my mood 🙂
That is one of the things that surprised me the most when I started to spend time in the US and have friends there. Now that I’m used to it I need to refrain myself when in Europe to avoid pissing off people I just met in non-professional events.
Amen brother. Part of the work I’ve been doing these last two weeks is speaking about fear, failure and the entrepreneurial journey. One of the biggest challenges with the inevitable and necessary failures in creating new business is learning how to separate yourself from your work. If you can’t do that, then you’re condemning yourself to ride the worst roller-coaster imaginable. Add to that the inevitable lack of resiliency that marks most folks in their work, and you have a prescription for depression and pain and suffering. I often make people laugh at my workshops when I note that at dinner parties we often introduce ourselves or inquire about the other by asking “And what do you do?” when, really, we’re asking, “Who are you? What do you believe about the world? And how’s your heart doing?”As naive as I am, I still hope to have a world where instead of asking each other about our jobs (or the weather or the damn knicks) we ask after each others’ lives.If we do that, then maybe–just maybe–there’ll be a little less suffering in the world…at least the kind of existential suffering that plagues so many.
the gotham gal has riffed on this a lot on her blog. she used to get so upset when someone would ask her what she did and she would stumble to answer it. eventually she said “i am a superhero”
Our wives are superheroes. Not much more to add to that.
Hey look, its 1956 ;-)Very few spouses that I know (esp. ones like me, who are married to Fortune 500 execs running multi-billion $ business units), would aspire to this title.Its a grandiose way of implying subservience rather than partnership with your spouse’s time eating but meaningful career.No thanks for me at least.
My wife is my best friend. She has put up with a lot. As a trader that traded my own money, somedays she could shop at Hermes, and somedays Walmart. We never, ever had reliable income. Every vacation cost us a lot more than we ever spent on it because when I was gone, I didn’t make money.If I went on vacation and had a position, I was never away. Try having a pantload of interest rate spreads on in August of 1990 when Saddam decided to invade Kuwait and there was no phone within 20 miles of where we were……My wife chose to stay home with our kids-sacrificed a lot. Prior to having a family, she was one of the top salespeople in her division of Johnson and Johnson. She could have been a top exec.We have been through several trials by fire, both personal and professional. She is forged steel.
Well put. I feel the exact same way.
Now you are talking.Superhero is condescending to a lot of stay at home spouses.My Mother was in the first medical school class that graduated women (1949) from a prestigious CDN university. She retired early in her working life to tend the home fires and support my Father’s mostly all consuming legal practise.I don’t think she would go for superhero either, but it may just be a personality preference thing.
What the heck is wrong with motherhood?”The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”.A ‘career’ and ‘equality’ for women would bea big step down.For nearly all men, about the best they everdo is just bring home money enough to pay the bills. The money is just one of themeans. The best ends are in the home.
Most First Responder parents are bored.Same places, same faces & relatively the same issues. Not for days or weeks, but months or years.Just because it is important, does not mean it is interesting.
it really isn’t. I know a lot of people in that position. It is really depressing to admit that a good chunk of the women I went to high school with have lost more of their personality since graduating, instead of growing more fully into theirs.(all my of my cousins and cousin in laws on my mother side who are women did this, and you actually see the contraction from before and after the marriage, down to the way they hold themselves in pictures. It is really depressing)
Betty Friedan told them that their lives wereawful, and they believed it. One of the slickestpieces of Communist propaganda to shoot theUS in the gut ever. Wrecked millions of USfamilies.Partly the standard message to US girls wasbe good in hair, face, figure, and clothes andthen get Mr. Right and live happily ever after –bummer. Time for another E. Fromm quote –productivity is important for happiness.The girls are told, if only by omission, to bemostly empty between their ears. The STEMfields are not just for making money but arealso darned interesting, enthralling, for anyonewith much curiosity.Better: In the family deli, the kids also work,and the wife is behind the cash register. I assume that there still are examples.If my business gets going, I will wish mywife were still around so that after meetings she could tell me what theother people were really feeling. Whenwe were doing consulting, she wasjust terrific getting the customers torespect and trust her; she was magicat ‘customer relations’. To generalize,for the wife, and children, to help in thefamily business looks like an importantfeature of the future. E.g., my momdropped out of high school at 14, tooka job selling dresses in the basementof a shop in a poor neighborhood, andwalked home after 9 PM through thered light district. Finally at 15 Lazarusoffered her a job and at 16 offered to sendher to buyer’s school in NYC — her grand mom said no. But she kept workingand kept her younger sisters in schooland finished high school in night schoolwhere she got really good at typing,shorthand, spelling, letter writing, filing,office procedure and etiquette, etc.As my brother and I grew, she did wellas a secretary in the Episcopal church,one university president, and a big shotat IDA (think tank for the Joint Chiefs).My father’s father and step father wereboth successful merchants; if my fatherhad run a family business, then my momcould have been a great aid — CFO, COO,HR, etc. Her insight into people andpersonality was astounding although shewas never much interested in teachingme.I’ve seen a lot of what you describe. It’s sad.If women can’t find something worth doing,then their fathers, brothers, husbands should.A big deal, somewhat better than the worstpossible, is that she devotes herself to savingthe world, typically poor babies half way aroundthe planet, or the whales, the ozone, the climate,the top soil, the rivers, etc. Hollywood got thejoke in ‘Jurassic Park II’: “80% women, Greenpeace.”.
It is not condescending when you are the one calling yourself a superhero. It can be a freeing thought to actually acknowledge that what you are doing goes above and beyond.GG is sort of a wonder and I just see her from a far distance. And I imagine that she would be this way in anything she did.I don’t think that every stay-at-home-mom or -dad is a superhero, although I think the work is noble. But some take it to a different level.I think that the reason a lot of men see their wives as superheroes is that it is an acknowledgement that they could not fulfill that same role. The same way men see their wives as goddesses after childbirth. And maybe an acknowledgement that they would not want to and it amazes them that someone actually does! I experience this as a woman who is not inclined to be a stay-at-home-mom. For that reason, I am often amazed at those who love it and excel at it, and I’m just a bit envious.It is not condescending when it is said with a sense of wonder.
Thanks for posting, that adds a lot.Its just not for me, on a bunch of levels.
James you have always brought a unique voice to AVC and I appreciate that.
Thanks – nice of you to say so.The female voices here – you, GG, Anne Libby, panterosa, Shana, Leigh & more – and some much needed diversity in PoV.Big part of the value.
If we ‘crowd source’ ‘Girls 101 for Dummies — Boys’,write a chapter on how the heck you found, selected,courted, and got along with her.Put that next to a chapter maybe Fred will writeon GG.
I made sure I showed up for class.–>we met in college
The closest I got to such trading was whenI was a B-school prof in Ohio and sometimesvisited Sandusky and the Lind-W office there.Interesting experiences.
Too bad you couldn’t come on the floor. Most competitive environment known to mankind. If you think the dude from Seattle after the game was brash, you haven’t heard anything. When you walked on the floor, it sounded like a freight train. There was a distinct smell-cigarettes, and sweat. But not like sports work out sweat-the smell of nervous sweat. Dried. It hung in the air.Go on the floor today and it’s boring. The Geeks won.
I heard stories of guys long or short 100cars of bellies. Would make good TV!Saw some real characters, too strangefor fiction.The guy I knew killed 5000 hogs a day soalso traded meats. Before some USDA orsome such report came out, he called allthe workers he knew at freezers and askedwhat the belly inventory was and then tooka position. Once on vacation he saw an opportunity, ignored the vacation, stayed onthe phone, and bought every frozen ham he could find.He did try to close out his positions eachFriday afternoon. A day when he lost$1 million was not a pleasant family dinner.When he did really well, it was buy anotheryacht 50% longer than the last one.I wanted to be a ‘geek’ and do it withmath, small time James Simons, butI didn’t have much money, and the people who did trusted their techniquesand not my math.Now it’s my business: I picked thebusiness so that my math is an advantage, and, if I can trust my math,then I can have quite a lot of trustin my business. We will see.
Are you trading? I knew a bunch of guys in the belly pit. That was the wild west. There are some crazy stories out of that pit. One time, my friend’s father was in the belly whse with the USDA, told them they “couldn’t count the bellies that were on this side of the line”. (He was long) Belly count came in less than expected, market goes limit up. He sells, goes to the warehouse, moves the bellies to the other side of the line and then releases new information into the market. Market goes limit down.Once I came in short 150 hogs. Market was 150 lower. Went to get out and got out 125 higher on the day. Man was I pissed. (was after the mkt moved from pit to screen, so the HFT bots all front ran me).Lots of stories from that place. Lots of them. Some not always pleasant-and some you just wouldn’t believe. But, they are true.I need to partner with my friend and write a movie script.
I’ve never traded. I was a long wayfrom the center of the action yet stillheard some amazing stories and sawsome wild characters. I can believeplaying games with the bellies in thewarehouses! At one time I had atape of CME belly data and programmeda computer to draw a lot of graphs.To heck with the efficient market hypothesis!
One time the big traders all had huge positions one way. They didn’t trust each other. So they made a pact they would rent rooms at the Ambassador West and watch each other. No one could make a move without the other (Sort of like the Byzantine General Problem). Before they checked in, one guy told his clerk, if you see my window shade halfway down, SELL. They all holed up there-no access to phones or communication. Watched soap operas, played cards and drank. They would call the pit periodically to get updates to make sure the market was headed in the right direction. After a day or so, they called: huge selling pressure. Guess where it came from? They all rushed to the exits to get out and the market was lock limit down for days……snakes in that pit.
Saw a few nice fist fights. Saw some incredible eating games that would make tv shows blush. Saw a guy make a $`1M in one minute on Black Tuesday. And the gallows humor with quick witted lines. Comedians going after hecklers aren’t as fast. Incredible.
yes, yes you do.
At what university in Ohio were you a professor?
Ohio State University in Columbus,B-school.
I actually know a current professor there
That’s a fantastic tribute, Jeff. You are a fortunate man, and your wife is fortunate to have this sort of appreciation.I have often been the one in your shoes. My husband puts up with a lot. It is hard being married to someone who is an entrepreneur at heart. Our income has often been unreliable because I have been self-employed or commission based for most of our marriage. For a few years, he was a stay-at-home-dad. He now has a career that I fully support even though it will never pay enough to support our lifestyle — well, that is, as long as we live in Southern California and send our kids to private school and to college. But it is rich, meaningful work that he excels at and it makes me very happy that he is doing it.Where I’m going with this is that I have never had the luxury even when my husband was a stay-at-home dad of not having two fulltime jobs. Even if I am not the one doing the laundry or driving kids to school, the amount of time spent planning, scheming, managing and envisioning to provide a life for my kids is significant. I manage their lives and even though I have a wonderful and involved husband who helps with execution, I am still the mastermind where our kids and home are concerned. I do not know one single married man who has as much responsibility for caring for a family while also building a business, or even just doing a job.I owe my kids some vacations where mom does not bring her computer and spend half the time closing a deal. Starting this year.I have never ever thought of myself as a superhero. But I think I understand where GG is coming from.
You’re a legend, super heroes got nothing on ya.
What a charming thing to say. Thank you, Mark. (Which is my husband’s name BTW).Wait…are you saying I’m old? 😉
You’re the first guy to come out of that closet. It must be super interesting to see how that has affected your life journey and political thoughts.I mean seriously, we’re in a crisis of what it means to be a man more so than at other points in recent history. And you get to in part, see how that is going to be written. What is that like?(sorry, just genuinely curious)
I am not sure I agree with you.We currently live in a smaller city, with a strong industrial component. Lots of marriages between high end blue collar operators and, say, nurses / teachers. You see a lot of domestic load sharing in the city.There are 2 very strong women on my wife’s leadership team, who are married to really interesting guys (both American, if that’s of interest). Same thing there.If you mean that I am in the vanguard of being married to a female executive who has children, I might bite (I am a little bit older than the two guys I just mentioned).Early in our marriage, my wife used to report to me that other executives who met me were not sure what to make of me: I am an extrovert, I hold strong opinions / will state & defend them and it is obvious that I have been outdoors in the last 24 months, etc.Apparently the stereotype for female execs (esp. in her industry) was bookworm introvert spouse and no kids.I am not sure that my marriage has changed my views. I am a deeper, broader version of myself because of my commitments as husband and father. But I am the same person.
If you mean that I am in the vanguard of being married to a female executive who has children, I might bite (I am a little bit older than the two guys I just mentioned).I do mean this. It is still unusual for all of the above to happen.
Maybe I could make a career out of speaking @ Women in Business conferences!
+1. Lisa particularly so. 😉
I remember her line. It’s brilliant.
Not a fan of that line of thinking.COO of Wilson Family works better for me.
I guess I’ll take the other side of that trade and say, you know what annoys me more? When someone totally ignores my wife and asks only me what I do for a living.My wife chose to be the full time CEO of our household. It’s a tough, demanding 24/7/365 job and I love being her partner.At least that person had the respect to assume that she did something. Being a superhero certainly does nail it.
Yes, that is very 1956.I get that superhero works for Joanne, but for a lot of people, it has a ‘patting on the head’ feel – a grand way of saying ‘this person does all the little stuff that is important but not something I would do.’If its important, give it a title that reflects its importance. Superhero is not that title for me.When people talk about kids, I say I am the ‘First Responder’. I have heard people say Primary Parent. Ummm, my wife is waaaaaay more important to our kids than what that label implies.I am in the same boat as Joanne, in that my answer isn’t ‘accountant’ or ‘pipe fitter’.I finally settled on ‘I help entrepreneurs take new products to market’, which usually leads to a discussion about how innovation or startups has actually turned into a semi-respectable career (I was a totally a flake when I went down that path 20 years ago).Labels matter (but they aren’t life or death) just because it matters to do anything properly.
That happens to her even more often. She gets pissssssssssed
I can understand how that bothers her obviously.But it’s not like everything is rosy in a man’s world either.I would like to be taller (like Matt Myers) and have hair like you do.I make the best of what I have and don’t take it the wrong way when people will stereotype.In fact I’ve used that to my advantage. Because people inevitably have their guard down. Because they totally underestimate based on appearance and or stature. Isn’t there a sports analogy for this? Underestimating your opponent and losing the game?
There isn’t, other than just flat out underestimating your opponent.Walk quietly and carry a big stick works, although that’s not sports, per se.One of my favourites comes from Harvey Penick, legendary teaching professional in Austin (@JLM anywhere?). In his Little Red Book, there is a story that goes something like:- you have a match against someone- his swing is ugly- he does not hit it very far- & he hits it all over the place- but he is a magician from anywhere <100 yds from the flag- you pound it long & straight, hit your irons high & with shape- you lose 72 to 69- that’s no accident
.Pro at Austin Country Club, dead now. Taught Tom Kite and Ben Crenshaw.JLM.
No stories?Assumed he taught you that low draw.Or that you helped him refine some theories.Or were there when he first said Take Dead Aim.Or………………………………………………………. 😉
I can only imagine
My wife chose to be the full time CEO of our household. It’s a tough, demanding 24/7/365 job and I love being her partner.It’s not a contest though. And some jobs are harder in different ways than others. (Psychologically because of course nobody cares about what goes on in the mind of the person doing the work).Working in the fields (like a Mexican does) is hard work.But it’s not the same type of hard work that a brain surgeon does or an executive who stands to lose their job if they fuck up.Some guy is going to operate on a relative of mine in the next week in a very difficult delicate operation that could result in death. I hope his wife isn’t hocking him about staying up late to do “his share” of the household duties. I hope he gets his sleep. I hope he married a woman who understands this. If things go wrong I’m not going say “oh I understand no problem”.Or say you have a big customers and a job that needs to get done and you have to get that job done all on your own. And if you don’t you lose the big customer you worked two years to get. You are screwed.  This is much different than the type of pressure in the household.I wish people would stop whining about everything in life being equal (goes along with “two sides to the story”) when there are definite differences in the jobs that different people do. I worked for someone else for +-2 years after I sold my company. First day I went out all expense paid in a rental car and had to drive then fly somewhere. It was like a vacation to me. No pressure at all compared to the business before it. Virtually no downside risk. Couldn’t believe I was getting paid to do it.
Your surgeon example is excellent. I prefer surgeons to have a serious God complex & the bedside manners of Richard Sherman right after the NFC Championship game (what a farce that is), although Richard’s a little humble for what I am looking for in a ‘life or death in my hands’ type.Your definition of pressure is way off, however. If you are married to someone who owns their own business, you feel the pressure just as much (or you should). That big customer feeds your family……..
Old school most men don’t and know not to cry on their wife’s shoulders. Reason? Well I say this is the reason (teleology wise). I’ve given much thought to this. This is my thinking and theory not something I read somewhere (like almost everything I say.)a) Woman wants man who brings home a meal and provides shelter.b) Woman doesn’t want to hear that another man got to the animal first. And that they will not eat that night. “Oh great you did the other cave man a solid! I’m glad I’m married to a nice guy. I will just suppress my hunger”c) Woman doesn’t know about weaknesses in other men because that happens behind closed doors. So she thinks they are more perfect than they are.Man on the other hand wants a woman who, like mommy, will allow him to cry on her shoulder when he skins his knee. So from the man’s perspective he’d love to cry on her shoulder every single day when things don’t go the right way. And perhaps she even let’s him. But at a certain point all she will think about is all the other men that are feeding their family and that she is not eating. And “loser” she will cry. Then he starts drinking. What a mess. You get the picture. And I’ve never found a woman that wanted to hear about her husbands problems (they exist but I’ve never had one for sure). I mean here and there ok. But not on any extended basis.
Its a question of degree.Friends don’t want you crying to them every time you skin your knee; friends don’t want to think that you only value them as an audience for your achievements (l’ook, me kill TRex’).Friends who are confident and successful want you to be confident and successful. And they want to share in some of the ups & downs.Best friend marriages are hard to find and manage – they have more than 1 scorecard.
friends don’t want to think that you only value them as an audience for your achievementsOh yeah that is another thing I have always found to be true. You can have an unlimited amount of friends if you are just willing to pull a Dale Carnegie and listen to the other person, compliment them, help them, and be their shoulder to cry on. People love when it’s all about them and satisfying their needs. (Kind of like the kid in high school with the pimples that helps the pretty girl with her homework..)People will totally want to be around you for that (and that goes for both successful people who want to brag and for people with problems who want a shoulder to cry on).That ranks up there in terms of getting people to be your friend if you let them use your vacation home. Or throw nice parties.
I know I’ve told you before, but I really get a kick of how you put footnotes in your comments. Seriously. I like it!
This happens in two career relationships, too. #Gah
When I get asked “what do you do”, sometimes I answer “As much as I can.”
I almost always answer “As little as possible”.Must be a Liverpool thing.
It is courious how this question pisses much more to non Americans. My answer when I don’t want to answer is “ballet dancer”.
Good answer too!
Reminds me of a quotation attributed to Bill Gates, “I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.”
Great post and comment. It’s so easy to lose perspective and work all the time.That’s why in interviews I ask people these three questions:”How do you measure your life?””Will your answer be different when you’re 80?””Do you consider yourself lucky?”I think that gets to whether they’ll be a good employee and whether I’ll want to work with them, more than us spending all the time talking about their resume.
Wise.Rear view mirror @ 80 is my wife’s tool for major decisions.
and you may ask yourself… well… how did i get here?(as a new englander, i feel compelled to ask – what you got against talking ’bout the weather?)
Same as it ever was.
well, around these parts is fluffy snow…
In the Spanish-speaking world, people often pose the question, “To what do you dedicate yourself?” Sometimes I try that variation on the “What do you do?” question in English. I find it helps people think a little differently and opens up dialogue in a new way.
I love that. I’m stealing it and using it in my next talk. 😉
That reminds me of the short talk “What do you desire” by Alan Watts: http://youtu.be/qLD0P372xxQ
Jerry, so many people love what you do. You seem like a swell guy and we have agreed on a lot of topics.But the fact of the matter is: if you are so wrapped up in yourself that you cannot get clear of the idea that your success @ work /= your success as a human being, you have no business leading people & someone else should immediately be put in charge of your company (even though this condition is so common that you are swamped with work).I ought to know, I’ve been there.Similarly, you are a total clown if you walk around thinking that you have had an impact because you think you had an impact or you set out to do something you felt was noble (this has to be the greatest failing of every liberal who is not actually a governing politician – think of the scene in Field of Dreams where they cause a ruckus at a school meeting and delight in the ruckus, rather than the complete lack of impact they had on the result).There would be a lot less existential angst in the world if people actually thought about what is required before they set out to do it (esp. if its ‘change the world’) & if they honestly reflected on the results of their work (rather than endlessly pumping their own tires in denial).Its delusional narcissism on a high level (kind of like 98% of social media or reality TV).Loving what you do is a great goal; one which I aspire to achieve all the time. But it takes a lot of self knowledge and a lot of knowledge of life / how the world works.People like Fred are lucky to have hit on a career that fits that bill, in their 20’s (most people do not have the instincts nor the opportunity to do so nor the ability to do so that young).Loving your work generates all kinds of social good. If you love something that is all consuming, then at least be upfront about it before people invest in you on a personal level. And be upfront with yourself that it is a little bit narcissistic, but that the positives outweigh the negatives.
Hey James…I agree with you. The problem though isn’t an aspect of loving your work. As I often suggest, it remind me of the Buddhist concept of non-attachment.Attachment is a problem (and this is especially so for narcissists who have trouble seeing anything beyond the sphere of their own existence) when we tie our self-esteem to the thing…in this case…the job (or, even more, an unrealistic expectation of the job).But detachment isn’t the answer either. NOT caring doesn’t really work (and in many ways is the philosophical equivalent of attachment–but that’s another essay).The answer seems to me to be non-attachment…That is, caring, holding onto the goal, loving the work and even the belief in the goal, but not investing your total sense of identity. Every wisdom tradition I’ve ever encountered suggests that basing self-worth on extrinsic operands leads to suffering. Self-worth and self-identity (and by that I mean a realistic self-knowledge–what I often refer to as radical self-inquiry) based on intrinsic values leads to equanimity. It makes the roller-coaster stop.But heck…what do I know?
You know some obscure adjectives and nouns, that’s for sure – haven’t had anyone lay ‘extrinsic operands’ on me lately!And, you clearly know a little about applying life wisdom to startup CEOs. I envy you for what I imagine is a near continuous gratitude filled feedback loop from your clients.When it comes to knowing who / why (optional) / what / how of living your life, it is sad that there is a lot of hokum out there.It should be the bedrock education of a successful life.While you are focused on self-worth here, I think it is important that the metric be internal, but the measurement still has to be external: are you actually having the impact you desire?Golf is a great arena for this issue. From Caddyshack (‘be the ball’), to Harvey Penick (‘Take Dead Aim) to Dr Bob Rotella (no one real quote rom the original Mental Coach) to Shivas Irons (True Gravity) in Golf in the Kingdom, there are a lot of people who have thought long and hard about golf, only to come to the conclusion that focusing on the doing of golf, while not stressing over the scoring / winning, produces the greatest internal & external results.Or, as Genie Bouchard, 19 year old CDN semi-finalist at the Aussie Open said yesterday, ‘I have confidence in my skills, so I just keep trying to make my shots.’#wisdom
“I still hope to have a world where instead of asking each other about our jobs (or the weather or the damn knicks) we ask after each others’ lives.” That happens in other parts of the world. Work is secondary to health, family, and living in the society you’re part of.
Sitting here in Berlin, having spent the last ten days in Slovenia, Croatia, and Italy, I’ve come to realize that, perhaps I’m really a European after all.
It’s so US habit to ask what people do at a dinner, in UK was considered faux pas, as well as very personal subjects including health. The idea of a dinner was to have fun people talk about what they enjoyed, light-hearted and joyous yet passionate. I can see you enjoying that!
Curious if there is a relationship to socialism in there somewhere?
I don’t think so 🙂
I think this is changing.Not that the world is becoming american but the maker revolution which is exactly what the growth of entrepreneurism is about, is a global drive.Everyone overworks and over focuses on achievement within their own cultural limits but overwork and overfocus they do from Sweden to Portugal. Sure, they take blocks of time off that we don’t, but sweat the details they do.
I agree. In most of Europe it wasn’t that common to ask “what do you do?” in social gatherings, but it is changing fast.
We are all turning into parts of each other.
Maybe. But there’s a cultural thing. When nobody around you works 12 hrs/day, you start to wonder if you should.
I’m doing a bad job articulating.Are there core legacy cultural differences. Certainly.But there is a huge substantial startup culture in London, Paris, throughout Germany, Lisbon, Milan and Rome. At least.Are you saying that these startups don’t work as hard as we do?Of course they do?The clash is between old and new and new will only drive change.
The one place that is likely not true – China.Hmmmmmm.
“And what do you do?” when, really, we’re asking, “Who are you? What do you believe about the world? And how’s your heart doing?”What do you do is just short hand for “are you important enough that I should care about you?”.Or “is there something about you that I will find interesting?”.Or “can you do something for me?”.It’s not totally a money thing (although it could be). It could just be a halo that floats your boat. Or it could be a way to elevate yourself with people you care about “I sat next to the producer for SNL on the plane!!!!!”As naive as I am, I still hope to have a world where instead of asking each other about our jobs (or the weather or the damn knicks) we ask after each others’ lives.I love solving people’s problems. Consequently hearing about someone’s life is interesting to me. Because that way I can offer advice and I like to do that it works on my brains pleasure areas. Not a money thing.My self I have conversations with all sorts of people but they are generally in a setting which I control and I can stop at the point at which I am bored or no longer entertained and/or learning. A party setting or other typical place is not the best for that at least for me. Some union guy working outside on the power lines is a good example of someone that I will strike up a conversation with and learn that even though he is getting paid a shitload of money when there are storms in other parts of the country (gets put up in a hotel, makes ridiculous “sick” amounts of overtime) he really would rather be at home watching the game on Sunday and drinking beer. To me things like that are fascinating. Or the deli guy who takes pleasure in knowing the right way to cut the lox (I’m serious about this.)
I am sure that 90% of readers will find this post cynical, but you are 100% right on the mark.I also love that you like to control the situations, ‘in case you get bored’. Refreshingly candid.
“will find this post cynical”If they are cynical it’s because they don’t fully understand even their own true motivations as far as why they do what they do.They think that because they want to help someone, it’s because it’s all about the other person. And they are a good person for doing so. (And they don’t realize that is the currency.)Anyway it’s not about the other person. It’s about them feeling good about themselves or avoiding a negative. I talked about this in the chapter about “why you tip the bellhop you will never see again”.
After hearing a superb talk from Jerry yesterday I tweeted with the hashtag #KeepOutOfTheKiln.I hope it trends some day because everyone should know about the potter who was so absorbed in his work he — literally — became his work.
Fascinating…something I’ve been facing for 6 months or so. I left my all-consuming (and rewarding) consulting gig in DC to move to Columbus Ohio. I found myself identifying too closely with what I did for a living. As a father of a young one (and soon to be another), that scared me. So I left. Moved closer to family, without another job in hand, precisely to face head on my insecurities, and forcing myself to identify more closely as a husband and father — a process that has proved to be a roller coaster in its own right, but a far more rewarding one in the end.
This is awesome. I’m going to start asking people that: “Who are you? What do you believe about the world? And how’s your heart doing?”
just don’t do it on the subway 😉
This seems to be a very American and very Upper Middle Class western concept. I don’t get asked that in other places. It also has gotten worse as I have gotten olderI sometimes think it means we’re failing as a society to provide other definitions of human value beyond labor. Else we wouldn’t need this question.
The US is a bit low of ‘social capital’.Men in the US are supposed to ignore emotions,both their own and those of others. So, noempathy, sympathy, understanding of the otherperson, etc. Or boys are taught “your feelingsdon’t count.”. Can cause a lot of trouble.
It’s a huge problem in Manhattan where everyone is trying to figure out who’s richer and/or has more power.
I call it the escalator – it’s binary.You get on. Choose a speed which the minutia level you choose (down to which designer bag you got before everyone else, or free from the designer!)ORYou don’t get on.No middle exists of only half caring, or pretending to be too cool for most of it. That’s a massive self-deception.
I recently rewatched a TWiST episode where you talk about mistakes founders make. This post reminded me immediately of “confusing yourself with what you do.” My son plans to start a business of his own after finishing school in May. He and I spent quite a bit of time talking about this pitfall, which I think is especially dangerous in his line of work, at lunch the other day.Invaluable advice. Thanks!
You know, Jerry, I think this will also happen when we approach encounters with the thought “what do I have to give here” vs. “what does this person (or situation) have to offer me.”I am grieving the loss of an 89 year old friend, Daphne, who died last week, someone whom we adopted into our family. People keep talking about how good we were to this woman and how much we did for her. I suppose we did, but all we ever thought about was what an amazing person she was and what a joy it was to spend time with her. Perhaps, it is because she was at a stage of life where she had nothing to give in return other than herself that we received the most from her.
So true Fred.I agree and practice what you are preaching.But I still take the downs personally though as it’s my nature.But I bounce up and move on with a lot more perk in my step a lot faster as time goes on.
age and experience at work.
Speaking of age, @awaldstein:disqus has a birthday any day now!
I wish we had time to go for a long walk when you are in Boulder this week. I love working with you, but more importantly, I love just hanging out and talking to you. Soon…And remember the famous analogous Jeff Bezos’ quote – “you are not your stock price.” I remind all my public company friends to put that one up on their wall.
Fred, Brad and Jerry should go for a walk in the hills of Boulder. I don’t think we’ve ever done that and it’d be good for the three of us.
I’d love to do that!
are you in boulder this thursday?
I wish. I’m in Berlin this week.
doing my work for me 🙂
Just doing what we always did well…tag-teaming it. 😉
But let’s make it happen. Or at least be in the same city all at once.
well we can do it on thursday morning. the meeting isn’t until 8am. i am up at 6am. can you walk in the hills at 6am?
I sure can. Are you staying at the St. Julien? If so, I can meet you there, we can go for a hike over Red Rocks, and then I can take you to the board meeting.I have in my head that Matt has you staying in the hotel near his office, which is far away from me and anything interesting.So – switch to the St. Julien if you can and we’ll make a morning of it.
i will see if i can get into the st julien. will take this off blog comments and into email
Yeah, really guys, get a room. 😉 cc @bfeld
not that there is anything wrong with that
“You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your f*&^ing khakis. You are all singing, all dancing crap of the world.” – Fight Club
Had the same thought.http://www.youtube.com/watc…
Seems introspection is in the air.”Success at work. Failure at home” – weekend post by Scott Weiss, Partner at Andreessen Horowitz.http://scott.a16z.com/2014/…
thanks for the link. i’ve worked with Scott and he is an amazing person. going to read that now.
It’s a great post. I wish he’d written it before I’d written Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur – http://startuprev.com/lifebook – I would have included it in the book.
something very deep in Kalin’s ‘I’m an artist……software, design, coding, company building, entrepreneurship are my mediums…’- incredibly freeing, almost transcendental. can feel the weight lifting off your shoulders….’HELLO, MY NAME IS LIAD AND I AM AN ARTIST…’
he had just finished singing me a song with his acoustic guitar. i can remember the moment like it was yesterday
Disagree. For the typical job you take at least 1 hour to get organised in the morning, 1 hour driving, 8-10 hours work, 1 hour back. 5 days, maybe more that’s typically near 50% of your waking time: can’t say that what takes so much time is not you.
it’s your work, maybe your life’s work. but it can’t be “you”
I find the notion that 50% of your time is not you dangerous. IMHO better to reckon it’s you, and very seriously consider what job is it, and what “you” it will make. Failure happens either way, but at least you learn and make progress in the right direction for **you**.
Can’t you have many yous. I find work in a lot of places a performance
Good point. Naturally I can, but nothing is fully separated from work or “job”. Took me too long get that. The distinction is common, but misleading.
This is the toughest skill, and I have not mastered it. I could use a coach, but have tried two and they were both frauds. Extremely hard to find a good coach-and hard to vet them. No one wants to admit they ever went to one.I traded my own money for 25 yrs and you get totally invested in your P+L. (no different than an entrepreneur heading into the kiln-but happens a lot faster) Somedays I made 1g, somedays 100g. Lost the same too. A few rare occasions I have made and lost in the mid to high six figures in less time it takes you to get up from the couch and pour another cup of coffee. It’s hard to keep your head. Especially when you are in your twenties or thirties.I have had friends kill themselves over money. My friend with three young girls sat in front of a train after the flash crash in May of 2010 because he was long S+P’s when it happened. Poorly structured marketplaces have real consequences, and that’s one of the reasons I blog.I totally love working with entrepreneurs helping them achieve and live through their vision. Initially working on all the rudimentary parts of the business is fun, but maybe the most fun is working with their mental state after they get pointed in the right direction.Anyone in any occupation that plays at a high level will tell you that 90% of it is between the ears. Not innate intelligence, but knowing how to manage your emotions, your emotional response to stimuli, and knowing what you can and can’t control. When it spins out of control it’s fearful, and heartbreaking. Sometimes physically debilitating.Been there, done that. Don’t really want to go there again.
that’s why i can’t play golf well. i take it too personally when i miss a put i should make or snap hook a drive out of bounds. it haunts me for three or four holes. i often shoot even par for three or four holes, then 12 over for three or four holes, then back to even par. it kills me. i hate the fucking sport but can’t quit it
I once got to a 10 handicap in golf. Two of my friends are scratch. Took a lot of work. Now I suck because I don’t play as much. Part of the mental discipline comes from when I played hoop. I used to shoot by myself for hours at a time. I bike a lot now, but don’t get the same satisfaction. I think it has to do with the immediacy of effort–>result that you get with shooting or making a golf shot. At least in golf, I can say “if I played a lot more, I’d be a lot better” and make an excuse for myself.I play golf now for the social aspect, and to be outside. The score and driving the ball is secondary.
“I once got to a 10 handicap in golf. Two of my friends are scratch.”An uneducated relative, when hearing that his childhood friend, a college professor, just got “a chair” said to me “as soon as I understand what that is I’m going to be impressed”.Only way I can figure that I should be impressed by that is by the next sentence “now I suck”.Not that I should be impressed with something that I don’t personally do of course!I learned to hover a gas powered helicopters that I built from scratch (came in parts in other words) all by my self in the 80’s. Nobody saw it and nobody cared about helis and didn’t know how difficult that was to do. Not my wife, friends or parents cared.  Which goes to show if you care about what others think and need their praise you definitely have to try and do something that other people understand and will acknowledge is impressive. Even my dad who is all into things mechanical didn’t give a shit about it he saw it as a toy (+-$2000 in 80’s dollars).
I’ve heard that about golf and i’ve been told (by people who know me) that I shouldn’t play bc it will drive me fucking mad. (or madder than i already am 🙂
Meh, can also be relaxing. Being out, in the sun, with friends. Look at the landscape, can be fun. Just don’t bet money…..
Off topic of post but on topic of golf. Crazy read by Grantland last week on “Dr. V’s Magical Putter”. Original article at http://grantland.com/featur… . It got a huge amount of backlash and a “What was wrong with the post” update was put out at http://grantland.com/featur…. Lastly, the editor (Bill Simmons) wrote and apology about how the article came to be and the approval process (http://grantland.com/featur… ). It has put a light on a lot of issues and generating very impassioned conversation.
Actually, the more I think about it, that entire story (Dr. V) may be the most extreme example of “You are your work” that I have ever read. Everything comes full circle on AVC.
.Golf is not about how good your good shots are, it is about how good your BAD shots are.Oh, the stories I could tell you.JLM.
My bad shots are horrible
“i take it too personally when i miss a put i should make or snap hook a drive out of bounds. “Fascinating. That explains why I don’t play golf and have no interest at all. And the one time I was forced to try it I preferred to just drive the golf cart. The reason?I didn’t care if I made any shots or not. As we all have, I’ve gone bowling and so what?So I knock the pins down?What do I get for that?Who cares.Board games? Don’t do that either. So what if I win the game does nothing for me. Does not float my boat.  My point is the fact that it matters to you (by what you have said pain and pleasure) is why you play and care when you miss and the fact that it doesn’t matter to me is why I have no interest in playing. Any sport. (Not talking about skiing or swimming or running etc which I do love to do because it’s athletic and not a contest). Of course I do other things which I do care about. But they are almost all things that nobody else knows that I am doing and I’m not in some kind of contest. In other words I like making movies and taking pictures but not because they will win any awards. I don’t run so I can win a race. I shot an entire wedding as a favor even though they just wanted a video of the ceremony. And enjoyed editing it and even bought a vimeo hd account to display it with my own money.”i hate the fucking sport but can’t quit it”Intermittent reinforcement. That said if I needed to golf because it was a way for me to make money I would learn to love it long time.. Not a criticism of those who do this it’s just not me.
you’ll appreciate this then -> http://www.youtube.com/watc… #so_true #golf_is_fun_but_frustrating
it is for a reason that golf is ‘flog’ backwards. masochists 🙂
Wow, last night I had a conversation with my GF, we were looking at a photo of the sculpture of Athena dated 500 BC. She saw my eyes light up. I finally understood how to answer the question (at least internally) what do I do, “I am an artist”. We all are.
“Failure can sow the seeds of success.”For me, I think its the rather large chip on my shoulder. And a deep, deep fear of mediocrity. And there’s probably a little bit of vanity mixed in.So, basically being a complete basket case can (hopefully) sow the seeds of success!
It’s funny – I haven’t written that many posts on my new blog but i wrote one about failure and start up culture aptly named (i think) failure sucks. And I hope your also right about being a basket case can lead to success. 3rd time lucky i say!http://leighhimel.com/post/…
My thoughts on this…I’m not a believer that soft peddling the pain of failure is healthy. It stings to all. I closed down a project this past year and it hurt.I do think experience and age let’s you address things with more calm and poise.But–the more success you have, more that economic need doesn’t play into the pain of it…the easier it is.Remove need and replace it with want and the upside is equally as sweet but the downside much more palatable.
That is probably the best thing about age. As I said to my business partner (this is his first company and my third) — don’t get too excited about good news, and try not to jump off a cliff with the bad news.We had one day where literally we were up X, down Y and then back up again. If you don’t assume that will change again, it only leads to madness.
Works exactly the same with stock investments.
“I closed down a project this past year and it hurt.”So sorry.
‘The thing we call failure is not the falling down but the staying down.’Love that one. 🙂
What you’re calling being a complete basket case, I might call the human condition.
Disagree. That mix is not common.
The most important part of greatness is the need for greatness.Beware the costs – make sure you have done a personal accounting.
Nothing wrong with what you are describing. I agree. Was a theme in the movie “American Beauty” which was something like “nothing worse than being mediocre” (iirc). Best line “fuck me your majesty” said to the King of Real Estate.
“deep, deep fear of mediocrity.” I think this is more prevalent than we realize, but few people take the time to know oneself and name it like you did. In my case I recently discovered that the roots go deeper, the “deep fear of mediocrity” might be a symptom whose roots point to the real problem. “Fear of being unknown” and “fear of being forgotten” were suggested to me 🙂 For some of these fears, the trick might be to face them and embrace them instead of fight them. Not sure how to do that though 😉
i tend to think everyone has an area of mediocrity. Which we’re all afraid of
Everyone but us, Shana. 🙂
So much here I could comment on. Great heartfelt post.#MovingDay Disqus NYC is moving to a new office today. So I gotta run.
I saw pics. Looks great. Invite me to the opening party
I was once warned that, “If you are what you do, then when you don’t, you aren’t.”
fabulous and true post. yet another reason why AVC is a great daily read.
maybe the most beutiful post you’ve ever written. as for me, my “work” this week is babysitting my magnificent 3 year old granddaughter while her younger brother is born. the “other work” can wait…thanks fred
Mazel Tov Bob on the new arrival
Curious person: What do you do?Twain: I’m at Circus School. Today I’m Ring Master but yesterday I was doing the high wire and the day before I was a happy clown.Curious person (starts smiling): Oh? Really?!Twain: Uh-huh.Curious person: How did you get into Circus School? That’s so cool!That opens up the whole “Who are you? Are you your work?” conversations along some really interesting channels.People will share with you a bunch of their dreams beyond their standard 9-5.Then the penny drops naturally in them and they go, “Ah! You’re an entrepreneur!”And by then you’ve both laughed so much about how to train elephants that the labels of banker, lawyer etc no longer reflect who you both are.
One of your most personally meaningful and timely posts ever, Fred. Thanks for sharing.”The phoenix must burn to emerge”
This is a great post, and so important to remember. I am guilty of this as its hard not to put your entire self into work sometimes. When its a small team and you are spending more time with work people than your family, they in some ways become your family. This ultimately is great in the short term, and bad in the long term. The real balance comes from having successes/failures outside of work so that hopefully they balance each other out. I didn’t learn this lesson until recently, and yet still have to remind myself of it often.
As much as I agree with this, I have found this easier to do in tech and much, much harder to do in filmmaking. The stories you write, the whole process, feels so much more personal and so the emotions involved are incredibly heightened.The ability to separate is much harder.
Shripriya, I wonder if this changes as you do a lot of it.I have a close friend who just published her first book. She describes feeling as if she’s cut out a piece of herself for the world to critique. I do know of others who felt the same way with their first creative project but I think the feeling changed somewhere down the line.Just a thought.
Oh god. And writing too I expect. And painting…..
I found making visual art far too persnal on a day to day basis. What ended up fueling me was my emotions. It became too hard to do good work when you were constantly burning on that level
The key is breaks. As a filmmaker, you get to do different things – write, pitch, raise $, shoot, edit. So the end product is still visual, but you aren’t in that elevated zone all the time.But it is still much more emotionally involving than tech.
“I am a VC”
Mea culpa my friend
Very popular saying, all over the lower east side, graffiti, t-shirts etc, back in the early ’80s when i was at film school, still echoes in my rapidly deteriorating brain:Fuck art. Let’s dance!:D
Man I miss that NYC. You still see it in places.
Good observation, but easier said than done, especially if work is something that you’re really passionate about. Perhaps a good way to think about the topic is to diversify your interests and not become obsessed with one single thing. Scott Weiss from A16Z had a similar perspective on the topic and how it can negatively impact life at home: http://scott.a16z.com/2014/….
Wow, what a great and timely post Fred. It took me years to realize just that. I spent most of my life being passionate about what I do everyday, dealing with the subtile differences between “taking efforts & results at heart “vs. taking it personally. I also found my life partner many years ago, who safely walked me through the humbling good times as well as the harsh more painful times. And I will admit that once I kicked-in meditation, the emotional roller-coaster got under control. Life is Intense. Life is also a Balance.I love Jeff Bezos’ quote – “you are not your stock price.” Realizing it allows us to be more than just that.
As Bill Russell said it best when asked about WHO he was:”No,” Russell would say. “That’s what I do, that’s not what I am. I’m not a basketball player. I am a man who plays basketball.”
I want that on my wall
I am not my job. I am my work.
For me there are three important things:1. Enjoy the people you work with2. Enjoy the journey you are on. Just like hiking you will be able to see the top of the next hill but not the destination. 3. Never lie to yourself.Even then you have to realize that being an entrepreneur your highs are higher and your lows are lower. That is the way it always will be, in all forms of your life. And just like it was said here if you have a family you better have the best spouse in the world (thank god I do) or you will not keep it for long.I usually only travel for a day (I regularly take the 6am to the West Coast and the redeye home.) I had to travel for a full week last week. The second to last day my presentation was voted the best by far of the entire conference where I was speaking by a wide margin, I was the belle of the ball. That was a high, then I got a call from my son and he was crying because he was missing me, worse he was trying not to cry and apologizing because he didn’t want to upset me.That was a low. But I am taking off this afternoon and we are going to romp in the snow.
if you have a family you better have the best spouse in the world (thank god I do) or you will not keep it for long.Super super important. The sad thing is that most young people that I know totally focus on the wrong qualities in a spouse personality wise.One thing that I have seen in partners who don’t come from business families (or who do and aren’t aware of the ups and downs) is that they don’t have a seat of the pants feel for how insecure things can be. So if for example your spouses parents are teachers with a secure tenured job who work 9 months of the year and get snow days off (and um summer) you really don’t fully understand the insecurity of being in business.Likewise a person who’s father (or mother) had a secure corporate job or had a professional parent (lawyer back when that was secure) or Physician has no clue either. I remember my father saying (with respect to something way back) “we’ll see how business is next year” or something like that.I laugh when I see all these people who have made it big (in the Internet ear) talking smack on, say, HN about how you can do it and still make it home to eat dinner with your kids and go to their ballgame. Note they are people that have already made it. Great survivor-ship kind of like “I didn’t have to study so hard I could have skipped that class”.Oh actually here it is:http://scott.a16z.com/2014/…Specifically this which I totally disagree with:” I believe even the busiest CEOs must drive a carpool, pack a lunch, help with homework, make a breakfast or dinner, and consistently attend school events. Being involved every week is the only way to stay connected at home, and it cannot be outsourced.”This comes from someone who is a partner at a16z.
3 is the rule people break the most.
It’s people like you that we need to learn from.
I’ve been covering my vast mistakes and failures in a series I call “Didn’t work Wednesdays” on my blog for the past few months ( http://gawk.it/search?searc… )…and sadly I have many more yet to cover in the series.It can be a bit depressing to reflect on some of these (because you feel really stupid about many of them – now that you have hindsight)…but it can also be really motivating and exciting (because you see how easy it was to survive through them, and you have a better filter for spotting avoiding them going forward).I guess I’m lucky in that I’ve never had the problem of thinking my work was *me*…and I’ve never been all that bothered by looking or sounding like a fool (I’m well versed in it in fact)…the flip side is that I never feel like my work lives up to the potential in my head/vision…but that’s just part of what drives me to keep on working and improving (the day I believe I have reached my full potential is the day before my retirement).
Another thing that is tough is that nobody talks about their failures. Seriously. I am sure you have seen Bessemer’s anti portfolio which is funny because you never see anything like that. http://www.bvp.com/portfoli…
Yes.It’s hard to talk about failures and mistakes…even harder in public and on the record…but I think it can help to reveal character, and that’s another part of why I’ve been doing it (part of developing into a great CEO as I build and launch Coach Wizard)
Another word/emotion that ties much of the commenting together is Guilt. I struggle with this constantly (and I know its wrong). Guilt that you’re not spending enough time with your family. Guilt that spending too much time with your family is not enough time building the company. Hell, I felt Guilty upon seeing the title of this post – Yep, that’s me (and I suspect much of this community did the same). After reading the post? Yep, still feeling Guilty that perhaps too large a part of me is my work.
I wrote it in a hotel room in SF. The city I have traveled to countless times in my career. The city that means to me “the place you are when you aren’t home”
It’s tough to reset when you are driven and really focused but it can be done. Some perspective and distance can fuel new insights. I like that Mike Bloomberg is back at Bloomberg with a whole new set of experiences.
One of my favorite quotes is: “My job is what I do. My hobbies define me.”
.Ii will take the under on this argument.Every man has within them 5-7 careers. I know this because I am on about number 5 and looking forward to at least 3 more.The inflection point that propels us from one career to another is often failure. Do enough stuff and failure will come visiting. The second or third time it comes calling, you will recognize it like an old friend.It comes in two sizes — micro and macro. If you fear taking risks that can lead to failure, you often provide the food for failure itself. You don’t know how to take a risk and once having fashioned the risk parameters go out and try to bite the ass off a bear.Failure doesn’t kill you, it makes you whole. It makes your strong. It makes you real. It prepares you for your next career. That bitch tests you and you figure out what you are really made of.We ARE our work. This new age sensibility that we are somehow something different is based upon some learned notion that being that damn simple can’t be healthy. Hell, we’ve to be more complex. We are not.”What do you do?””I am a philosopher but I make my living as a CEO.”We are many other things. But it all starts with our work. Don’t be afraid of a simple reality you can understand fully.When I was a professional soldier, I was a soldier 24/7. When I made bad decisions, sometimes people paid with their lives. Believe me, I was trying as hard as I could to get better. I did. The risks were still the same, the outcomes were marginally better.When I was building tall buildings, I would have paid to get the chance to do it. It was me. It was my work. It was my soul. I built buildings that actually live to this day. I drive by them and we talk directly. I am almost an innocent bystander as it is my soul and the soul of those buildings that are in conversation.I am not the least bit embarrassed to be that simple or sentimental.I wish for every man and woman — GREAT WORK. Work that is so challenging and risky that it makes you breath faster and deeper. That drips adrenaline into your life and that makes you proud to say — I am my work.Then of course, be watching for that next career. It is out there.If you fail along the way — tell that bitch you want to go 3 out of 5. Crush it the next time around.JLM.
Hey speaking of bad decisions what did you think of what Obama said the other day about pot?  Like I said it’s game over on this one. This is a power nail gun in the coffin. By the way a power nail gun is no worse than a hammer driving a nail through your hand. So don’t worry if you ever make a mistake when using a power nail gun. Because it won’t hurt more than a simple hammer and a nail.
.As a habitual and hardened marijuana user, the President is entitled to his opinion even when it contradicts the official pronouncements of his own administration and science.More proof that he is an idiot? Perhaps.JLM.
Our need for work is a basic need. No way around it.
Friggin’ brilliant! Couldn’t agree more! But hey that’s my experience.
Thanks. I needed that post today!
This sounds like a Part 2 evolution to what you wrote 2 weeks ago – Back to Work, where you said you will miss the vacation, but look forward to the work. http://www.avc.com/a_vc/201…It really boils down to what makes you happy, what your needs and interests are, and what stage of your life you’re at. It’s not that easy to think one can apply what works for others.The reality with the North American culture is that work is a big part of it. In other cultures, life and living is more important.
“In other cultures, life and living is more important.”Indeed. The difference between living to work, and working to live.
yup. I should have said lifestyle instead of life.
I loved this post. I have so far to go here. I wish I had time to better-internalize the comments, and I hope to get back here. Thank you for this.
fredwilson @garychou jerrycolonna you are pointing to how you define your uniqueness, no? Hoping the reader has started finding, defining and refining his/her own, so they don’t get tripped up and tongue tied at dinner parties, while defining their work selves as iterations of their core selves.The second step of Jerry’s question of how you avoid the fire can be the standard exercise which reaches into the future. Answer how you want to be remembered. What you impression/s you will make, things or thoughts, changing minds and perspectives, who you want to serve. As an artist, and entrepreneur, this thought exercise is about ‘fingerprinting”. We define what we do in how something we build is so intrinsically imprinted by us – our unique fingerprints for how we think and see, what makes sense to us. As we seek to define our own our imprint, we must remember how much we’re on the receiving end of what has imprinted us as well.As a Jerry coachee, I can attest to the many fingerprints of his thinking on mine. Fingerprints resulting from his “holding” me during deep self-examination of my passions and beliefs, while he challenged me to be accountable and face fears to iterate. I KNOW what I believe is how, and why, I live as I do, first. How that translates uniquely from me into my work is second. If I got the first one right, then my unique fingerprints will be all over my work. If I am lucky, those fingerprints will shape others in the way I envision – by empowering their intellects and creativity, giving them a better language to share their fingerprints with others and find connection and meaning.Jerry has long teased me I have a desire for “a theory of everything”. I took that as a challenge, and have translated it into my fingerprints, part of which I give back in my work, part of which I give back in my personal life. My fingerprints are covered in Jerry’s fingerprints, from his “holding” so you don’t break in the process of making that which bears your unique fingerprint, to the power of paying it forward. My “theory of everything” fingerprint incorporates holding children steady as they figure out their fingerprints – asking them – what do you believe? and think? and what will you do with that?
Hey, you are out!
You are not your mother and father (but you are)You are not your childhood (but you are)You are not what you have read or learned (but you are)You are not your work (but you are)I’m reminded of the following from Annie Dilliard’s – The Writing Life; How we spend our days….How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern.
literally just wrote about this last weekend: https://medium.com/philosop…was inspired to after an entrepreneur friend of mine said to me: “Each time we lose a customer, I feel like my girlfriend dumped me AND told me what guy she’s gonna sleep with next.”p.s. awesome discussion re: partnerships here @jerrycolonna:disqus @domainregistry:disqus @pointsnfigures:disqus @jameshrh:disqus
what’s eating gilbert grape?What’s foxing fred wilson?did the therapist recommend blogging?
Your work: I still don’t see how the heck, hard work24 x 7 or not, early on you saw the value inTwitter. Maybe the Twitter team explained whatwould happen. For me to see that value early on,I’d need some really good evidence and arguments andsit in a very quiet room for most of two days.I fail to see that early on good evidence wasavailable. E.g., my wife’s Ph.D. was inmathematical sociology, and I never saw anything inher work or that of her profs (two of whom becamePresident, American Sociological Association, one ofwhom was long the ‘go to’ guy for ‘Time’ and playedan important role in Brown v Board of Education)which would have suggested any very goodunderstanding of just why Twitter would work so wellor at all. One of those papers on networksmentioned yesterday she could have done quickly offthe back of her hand while we did our usual Fridaynight end of week beer and pizza rest stop.Last I heard, Twitter was worth ballpark $45billion: In such a case, any reasonable fraction byUSV should put USV ROI in the tops of the charts fora long time.So, you can take a rest, e.g., four days skiing.Still, I don’t believe that “you” are skiing,either! To me, skiing is a good way to get wrappedaround a tree. Ouch! I tried running and wiped outmy Achilles tendons; skiing can wipe out wholejoints, bones, limbs, etc.When my wife was getting very sick, finally I wentto a guy and asked him, “Tell me about women.” Iwanted a fast, one on one tutorial in Women 101 fora Dummy — Me. Or some of what I never saw readingJ. von Neumann, ‘Quantum Mechanics’ (actually nicereading) or D. Knuth, ‘The Art of ComputerProgramming’ (okay but many steps below vonNeumann). Johnny was a bright guy.The guy I went to told me a little about myself(simple, no biggie, but I hadn’t realized — okay)but only a little about women — bummer.I finally did learn maybe the 101 level materialabout women, but the ‘course materials’ were a totaltrain wreck, nothing like von Neumann.Now that I understand Women 101, maybe grade B-, ifI could be 15 again, then I could do MUCH better!There were so many nice, sweet, very pretty girls Ifailed to take to Howard Johnson’s for SwissChocolate Almond ice cream! But there was likelynot even one I could talk to about von Neumann’s’Quantum Mechanics’ or even Wagner’s ‘The Ring’.Even if my business is wildly successful, I stillwon’t be able to take those girls, or any suchgirls, to Howard Johnson’s. Bummer. Can’t be 15again.Ah, there’s a startup idea — fountain of youth!Wonder what Steve Blank would advise on “findingproduct/market fit”? Or how hire enough securityguards to keep rich men from breaking down the doorsto the lab!Not new thoughts: Maybe it was Mark Twain who said:”Youth is such a wonderful time of life, too badit’s wasted on young people.”.But before I got some understanding of women, I’dgiven up on such things so that the person I “was”was pure and applied math, mathematical physics,especially relevant to cosmology, computing, and itsapplications.So, for now goodbye girls/women and back to what I”was” and really should be!Ah, for women, just listen to some Wagner, i.e.,’The Ring’: The best parts are fantastic beyondbelief, especially Wagner’s understanding of women– totally beyond belief. Sieglinde, Brunhilde,these are REAL women! Puccini, Verdi, CamilleSaint-Saëns, etc. have a long way to go to catch upwith Wagner’s understanding of women. Elsa in’Lohengrin’? A lot — too much — like my firstgirlfriend, 18 months starting when she was 12 1/2and I was 14 1/2 or so. When she messed up likeElsa did, I did what Lohengrin did — out ofignorance of Women 101 blew it. Bummer.Ah, if my startup works at all well, then I’ll get asupercharged Corvette and some opera tickets andtake the closest approximation I can find to thegirls I saw when I was 15. Then I’ll get back tobusiness, mathematics, mathematical physics, music,etc. “No, sorry, Honey. I’ve got to get back towork and get up early for a conference call. Goodnight!”.Ah, got some good SQL code written last night whilelistening to Wagner! So I got in the statementsUsing – End Using, etc. with the exceptionalcondition handling worked out okay.The exceptional condition handling is simple but sofar okay: Put essentially everything in a pairTry-Catch, and in the block Catch write a suitablemessage to the Web site log and return a non-zeroreturn code for the function value. Then thecalling routine sees the non-zero code and (returnsit to its caller or) does an immediate transfer toan error page to apologize to the user, do not passGO, do not collect $100. If the users are seeingsuch error pages too often, then I’ll add in somemore work to handle the more common exceptionalconditions.Now for nearly everything I need from the Microsoft.NET Framework, I’ve got well tested code awash withlinks (in my code comments) to the relevantdocumentation (on my computer) from Microsoft’sMSDN. So, for new code, I find some good, oldexamples and just copy and edit a little. MUCHfaster!Yup, some of my links and comments in old codereminded me that it’s okay to run the method Closeon an instance of the class SQL connection even ifthe connection is already closed — helps simplifysome exceptional condition handling code that mightnot be sure the SQL connection is closed. And I getto reuse the same, exact SQL Server connectionstrings I got to work from a Web page after severaldays of mud wrestling bad documentation!Can end with an E. Fromm remark: Productivity isimportant for happiness.
Maybe the Twitter team explained what would happen. For me to see that value early on, I’d need some really good evidence and arguments and sit in a very quiet room for most of two days.IIrc Fred had said at one point that the difficulty and effort that he had to put into blogging made it immediately obvious that something like twitter could work.As far as “Maybe the Twitter team explained what would happen.” that is always the case. And Fred got to ask questions and get answers as well.Everyone else is just dealing with the imperfect Harvard Case Study writeup, right?”I’d need some really good evidence and arguments and sit in a very quiet room for most of two days.”Investing is a bit like the government and terrorists.The startups are the terrorists. Many terrorists. Only one has to succeed.The VC’s are inverse success to airport security failure. Only one has to get through. Or something like that you get the point.Likewise many things in business are like that. From the outside you walk into the store and see products and have no clue how they sell all the stuff that sits on the shelf. But it’s not sold all in one day or even in one month. It turns. And if it doesn’t turn they lower the price. If it still doesn’t turn they “sell it to the dogs” meaning they dump it to someone and take a slight loss. (I’ve adapted that from something I learned from the garment business where sharp operators are called “garmentos”.)Here’s one from the fish wholesale business. “Sell it before you smell it”.”Sell it before you smell it” could be like “greater fool” in investing.
> IIrc Fred had said at one point that thedifficulty and effort that he had to put intoblogging made it immediately obvious that somethinglike twitter could work.”Obvious”? Hmm! A bright guy knows that not allgood, valuable knowledge comes from academicresearch! I know that too! The academic stuff doeshave some advantages: Some of the powerful,valuable, rock solid stuff there actually is notwell known or exploited in business yet.Now that I look at Twitter, maybe I see some of thevalue. But then I would have questioned how muchburn rate for how long it would take before therewas enough ‘social critical mass’ to give enougheyeballs to pay the bills from available’monetization’.Accepting that burn rate for that long sounds likeExcedrin Headache #1,929,892,293.> As far as “Maybe the Twitter team explained whatwould happen.” that is always the case. And Fred gotto ask questions and get answers as well.> Everyone else is just dealing with the imperfectHarvard Case Study writeup, right?Yes, such VC data makes the assumption of ‘perfectinformation’ in the ‘efficient market hypothesis’look totally wacko. Maybe Fama would say that hiswork still looks good from a high level, say,viewing US markets from Mars. Meanwhile back onearth, VCs, with their early information, should bebeating the heck out of the Dow, S&P, index funds,etc. Some VCs are!
But then I would have questioned how much burn rate for how long it would take before there was enough ‘social critical mass’ to give enough eyeballs to pay the bills from available ‘monetization’.What really key though is other black swans like major world events and/or celebrities that decide to use twitter to give it huge amounts of free publicity. Like when you are watching Brian Williams on NBC and night after night he is mentioning twitter. Or when Oprah gets her twitter account.I’m always a big fan of looking at success by non obvious factors. You have Yale as being located in a crappy neighborhood and you have Princeton as being really nicely located. To what extent did Princeton’s location play into it’s success? Most people would use data to show that it didn’t matter (by, say, pointing out Yale). But in my mind things like that matter. Because I know people are going to visit the campus and say “hey this is damn nice I want to go to school here”. Just like some people are going (and faculty) to say “I don’t want to live in Ithaca NY but I like Stanford”. Just like I know of many kids back in high school days who wanted to go to college in Colorado, Vermont or Florida because of nice weather or skiing etc.U of P’s master plan to completely wall off west philly from their campus was key to their success no question in my mind. Just like Temple U being located on north broad st. makes them the red headed whatever of Philly colleges.End of fork.
Thank you Fred! This has to be the best birthday present that was unknowingly sent to me today! It has already had a huge impact on my thoughts and I will continue to hold this close. Thanks again.
Happy Birthday, Peter! Thank you for sharing your birthday present with the rest of us.
Nice post, Fred. Quiet, humble, real. We need more QHR however we can get it. Yes i agree that too much living in “The Doing” does not allow enough air to come in. We need to change things up and yes, crazy as it sounds, sometimes we need our failures. They allow us to change perspectives and start to mow the lawn in our brains in different directions. Let’s hear it for neuroplastiscity. And for the QHR.
“Failure can sow the seeds of success. It did for me. It did for Mark Pincus when he turned the failure of Tribe into the success of Zynga.”A healthy, capitalist society can’t afford too many successes like Zynga. That’s the kind of success where wealthy insiders like Mark make money but the average Joe buying the stock in the aftermarket gets his head handed to him (as Tim Knight has noted: http://slopeofhope.com/2013… ).
Great post Fred, interesting piece in the New Yorker as well: http://www.newyorker.com/ta….There’s not such thing as work-life balance, there’s just life…and it will show us where we’re unbalanced!
As a college senior, it is a weird time in terms of self identity. I am lucky to have several different jobs possibilities open to me in different industries. I know that the choices I make will vastly change people’s perception of me. In college, you are not judged exclusively by career ambitions. That seems to change the longer you are in the workforce.Posts (and attitudes) like this are important because they help give work and self identity a bit more distance.
I’m rather dismayed at the amount of discussion there is here about stay at home mom’s.
I think that many are pretty baffled by or mystified by the concept. Also, think about it. How many forums does the average AVC reader have to talk about this. 🙂
Plus we tend to get on tangents here. As you may have already noticed.#occupyAVC
Some thoughts as I read this — and BTW thank you — amazing post:I wonder if there would have been an AVC without that last year at Flatiron? Would the Fred Wilson prior to that be the Fred Wilson who could write posts like this?Without Flatiron you would still be interesting, but I wonder if you would be as inspiring?I also wonder if it is possible to do the type of work you do with the stakes involved and not be somewhat consumed? I really don’t know the answer, just wondering.That bit about being brilliant. I am taking that with me. It’s like when @fakegrimlock:disqus says “Be awesome.” I get chills.
Thanks, Fred. Going through an issue right now and your note really helped.
To close on this as it stuck with me for 24 hours–I can’t imagine having a conversation with friend or stranger for over an hour that didn’t bring what I do into the picture.i may not be the sum total of my work–but it’s up there.
Have you written posts in the past (before I was reading your blog) about the failure of Flatiron? If you could point to one that sticks out, I’d love to read it.
No wonder we get along.
I think the biggest issue is that it is not work.Work is something people do because they have to. My close friends that are plumbers, dry-wallers, electricians, work because that is what it is. They cannot understand why I wouldn’t retire. I understand why they want to. They want to do something they love.I do not work. You do not come here and read this stuff because it is work to you. You are right, it is part of who you are. But you have to realize that your love is a mistress. (why is there no good non-gender word for that?)This is why I have a problem when I see people that do this because they want to make a lot of money or see it as glamorous. If it doesn’t work out it is crushing.But you do have to remember to balance out your life.
Self awareness (which requires self-honesty) is the key.
I kind of get the impression (totally from things you have written) is that music and causes are who you are.In my case business (and human nature as it aids my understanding of business and negotiation) is who I am.Business is my hobby. I think about it everyday and I see things that happen and I investigate them and gain enjoyment from understanding of how people make money and why things are the way they are.The money is important for sure but in the same way people play those games (like fantasy football) the game of it is really more fun.
“There’s little doubt that “do what you love” (DWYL) is now the unofficial work mantra for our time. The problem is that it leads not to salvation, but to the devaluation of actual work, including the very work it pretends to elevate— and more importantly, the dehumanization of the vast majority of laborers.”https://www.jacobinmag.com/…
They cannot understand why I wouldn’t retire.Spoke to an entrepreneur the other day (was trying to buy a name from him) who was a retired VC from California. He had ended up buying a Harley dealership in the Southwest.I found that interesting because anything that I like other than business (say boating as an example or maybe certain cars) I don’t really have the desire to “retire to”. I think that would actually kill the fun of it being around it all the time like that.I like skiing but you I wouldn’t want to do it every single day.One thing I know is that being in business while you can definitely have some very bad days I have never tired of it much in the same way you never tire of eating a good meal. Or sex. Or quite frankly a good #2. Anything else anyone can think of? You don’t say “you know I’m ready to get over this eating thing I’m bored with good food” because food has such control over your head and gives you pleasure.(Same as a good deal or business success gives you pleasure, right?) Those basic bodily functions start completely new every single day.
Very kind of you to say so.
Very kind of you to say so.
We’re afraid. If you aren’t perfectly poised and positive you get fired…
Good recruiters want to see failures and messiness and realness in peopleYes, but do hiring executives? 🙂
LOVE IT! #Coach_Wizard_Wisdom =)
I’m confused by what you wrote. I certainly didn’t say a woman shouldn’t have a work identity.I’m saying that if a woman CHOOSES to make raising a family her work identity, she should be celebrated for that choice, and people should understand that she is not “just at home taking care of the kids.”It’s as hard of a job as any of the ones I’ve ever had.
Problem? Okay, solution: Do a good jobhome schooling the kids. Done.
> Maybe being a stay at home mom is superchallenging for some women, but I’m telling you, itwas eminently boring for my mum.I’m not ‘getting it’, Sandy. Matrix theory can beviewed, as P. Halmos did, as a baby (finitedimensional) case of Hilbert space theory, and canstay busy, busy for a long time there. DiffEQsimilarly: The course in that I had in ugrad schoolwas elementary and silly, but later I got a copy ofCoddington’s book and worked through it and at onepoint saw that the variation of parameters techniquealso worked for difference equations. In gradschool I took a reading course in deterministicoptimal control theory; after the first lecture Igave the prof, from Coddington and Levinson(apparently now available in PDF!), on aCaratheodory result needed, e.g., in the Athans andFalb book, the prof never showed up again! Again,can spend a lot of time in DiffEQ, deterministicoptimal control, Falb’s ‘delay differentialequations’, the Pontryagin maximum principle (at onetime a hot topic in US aerospace), etc. Can branchout to stochastic optimal control and stay really,really busy. I got into deterministic optimalcontrol, got accepted to grad school at Brown whereFalb was, met with Athans at MIT, when I was tryingto optimize climb, cruise, and descent for FedExplanes. There’s a short, sweet, dessert buffet ofsuch things in a book by Luenberger, ‘Optimizationby Vector Space Techniques’, or how to have fun andprofit from the Hahn-Banach theorem, have more funwith the Kalman filter, etc.Sandy, in such stuff, people can spend their livesin just small niches, and sometimes do. If your momwas guiding you through such stuff, at 14, then sheshould have been busy, busy and not “bored”.Maybe your mom fell for the remark “If you spendjust a little more time at your routine dailycleaning, then you can save so much time in your bigweekly cleaning!”.”Big weekly cleaning”? You’re putting me on! Whatthe heck was she doing instead of understanding thepolar decomposition and multi-linear algebra fromHalmos, ‘Finite Dimensional Vector Spaces’ and theapplications to recommendation systems andrelativity, polishing the stainless steel in thekitchen? If that stainless steel needs something,then it should ask, i.e., tug on my sleeve like mykitty cat does!Can spend a lot of time in a kitchen and not bebored; e.g., see what Microsoft research guy andStephen Hawking assistant Nathan Myhrvold did whilealso working on patents.Sandy, there’s no end of stuff to do.But, right, I saw one woman have one child, anotherby accident, keep the house clean, and otherwiseretire to a back bedroom with beer and cigarettes.I saw another one have one child and retire to aback bedroom with chocolate candy where she gainedabout 100 pounds. I saw another one, one child,retire to a back bedroom with three dogs. I knew aguy with a good business that kept him on the roadfive days a week, and when he came home his wife wasasleep on the living room floor surrounded by herreally good friends Jack Daniels and Jim Beam. Andthere were more examples, but I don’t want toconvert AVC into NSFW.Sandy, I’m not understanding how a person with a lotof free time or doing work that is optional and,thus, should have a lot of free time should getbored.For you, with matrix theory and DiffEQ at 14, by 18you were taking your Ph.D. qualifying exams? Heck,there are chaired professors of computer science whodon’t know math, e,g,, they don’t even know how towrite math, as well as one should with muchbackground in matrix theory and DiffEQ.There used to be TV ads of very happy house wives insome chiffon or some such shirtwaist dresses withfull skirts dancing around some high end dining roomfurniture and spraying some wax out of an aerosolcan; the women in those ads were pretty, alright,but they needed something more productive to do.Somehow your mom got you going early on; heck, at 14you were on about the same trajectory as CharlesFefferman now long at Princeton: Maybe your momshould have dug into some of the material you werelearning. Then when you got around to asking whymulti-linear algebra gets involved in Cartan’sdifferential forms and general relativity, she wouldhave an answer for you!Heck, in my family room is my wife’s piano with myviolin on top of it. On the other side of the roomis a big shelf unit with a lot of sheet music.Working through all of that on piano and/or violincould keep one not bored for a long time. The pianoneeds tuning, and my violin needs new strings andnew bow hair, but I’m writing software instead;otherwise I’d be playing the violin and maybe alsothe piano, along with working my way throughCartan’s ‘Differential Forms’ (now also in English),with more on quantum mechanics and relativity, maybesome computer science (do the really easy stuff onthe side for relaxation!), and much more and neverbe bored a minute for several hundred years. Irecommend some such thing for your mom.
Sandy, are you a recruiter?I am suspicious of someone for a senior level role who has not failed. And learned from it. I guess facing adversity could be a substitute.But getting fired as a screen? That’s a new one.
In some religious circles it is called vocation or calling. I think this captures it. Especially calling. It does not feel like work when it is a calling.