I see it to the end, my writing is so personal
My heart bleeding out my pen, make no mistake about me.
– Jay Z, from the song “You’re only a customer”
It’s said that individuals gain strength from their society or community, and societies derive strength from the individuals who belong to them. I’m a member of a few communities. My co-working space & the NYC startup community at large, my company & its partners, and a much larger community known as the friends and family who love me. Each one deeply offers me challenges, and as things wind up and we get ready to launch- it seems like they’re all intensifying simultaneously. If I don’t stay positive and grow from these challenges, nothing will matter. I know things are going to get harder, I’m going to seemingly have less time and even feel shittier soon, but I gain strength from each community. Later in the post I will talk about a man who wrote a touching blog post and how it inspired me to write this down. And it is my duty that if I can’t derive strength from these communities, I need to help change them until I do and then I’ll feel better.
So when things go wrong, particularly around the semi-expected delayed launch of my first startup, it’s super easy for me to consider the option of freaking out, being negative, curling into a ball, or just start being nasty to people until things go my way. The latter was pretty much standard practice for my previous career. Lots of money was on the line constantly, the ship needed to be righted, and someone was always being vaporized in front of his peers (women generally did not get scolded in public in my career, and surely much of it has to do with the sensitivity around sexual misconduct suits surrounding banks and brokerages).
In twelve years of sitting on chairs in trading desks ‘elbow to elbow’ with men and women pouring their lives day after day into screens and phones, I was no stranger to abuse. I have been slapped upside the back of the head, been publicly ridiculed on firm-wide trading wires for seeming too effeminate, and spent a dozen years getting screamed at almost daily by folks so disgusting that most people in my current industry can’t even fathom it. You can say that something like this would make me stronger, thicken my skin, but mostly it meant I would generally be a miserable dude unless it was the weekend and scowl at people and hate my life. But it was cool because the checks kept coming in. It very hard to leave an industry that paid you really well for a dozen years at something you were good at. But life pays me back much more since leaving the biz. It already paid off.
The first book my first mentor in this industry told me to read is Do More Faster by Brad Feld. Brad is a widely known venture capitalist based out of Boulder and runs the widely known accelerator called “TechStars”. It’s widely known techstars is a cult. Kidding. But their network of mentors, many of the companies that emerge, and ways of thinking are amazing- and it made Mr. Feld a folk hero in the startup world. Since I’m new and can’t repeat verbatim every tweet the man has sent or drill down on his bio- I must have missed that he is very open about his struggles with depression and discussed this in a blog post. The post was beautiful and reminded me that no one is perfect and that mental illness is a medical condition not a choice. Plenty of people make terrible choices about their attitudes every day but that’s not mental illness- it’s just part of being human. It’s real easy to feel better about yourself when someone admits to something that is seen as a weakness, particularly when he’s a famous expert who ‘tells it like it is’ and has some solid financial success, but it takes a ton of courage to open yourself up like that. I remember when Ricky Williams admitted he had social anxiety disorder around the ’99 draft, it was huge news and he was ridiculed. Yet today over 10% of people in my country take medication for depression. And surely 99.9% of the people starting a company for the first time experience severe anxiety or they’re either full of shit or insane.
So I just wanted to get that down because I treasure that I feel like shit right now because I’ll never have this exact feeling again- I’ll never be freaking out about my first startup again. Will I learn from it. Hell yes.