Month: September 2018
I enjoyed Bradley Tusk’s new book, The Fixer: My Adventures Saving Startups from Death by Politics. It’s another memoir, a category which seems to be ending up on the top of my reading list a lot these days. It also was in the pile of books I get sent regularly by publishers hoping I’ll read and review them (as in “Dear Brad Feld, here is a form letter about my book, I hope you like it.”)
While I don’t know Bradley Tusk, I know of him, have heard him speak once, and like his first name. When I started reading The Fixer, I had no idea whether I’d end up engrossed, or end up turning the pages every 15 seconds as I skimmed through it looking for the good bits.
I was engrossed, at least for the first half. I started it on Monday night after dinner and got halfway through before I noticed my eyes closing as sleep beckoned. It was about 9:15 pm, which is a typical call it quits time for me on a weekday, especially since I’m still sleeping 10 or so hours a night as I recover from my two weeks of misery.
Last night Amy and I watched Sicario: Day of the Soldado. It was exactly what we were looking for, so I took a night off from reading.
Tonight, I got home at about 7 pm, ate dinner, and finished up The Fixer. The second half had a bunch of startup stories, which were shorter, but also less interesting to me in the context of a memoir. It also shifted from “here’s my story” to “here’s what my business is doing to help startups” which, while better than most memoirs that try to walk the line of self-promotion, still was less stimulating (at least to me) than the first half. Well, except for the chapter about Bloomberg almost running for president, which I loved.
Overall, it’s a winner of a book. And, if you are an entrepreneur who is doing anything that touches on any heavily regulated industry (which is a lot of you), I’d put it in the must-read category to get more context and ideas about what you are up against and how to think about it.
A week ago, while proofreading a draft of Jerry Colonna’s upcoming book, I noticed a few sections where he mentioned Ani Pema Chödrön. When he referenced her book How to Meditate, I went on Amazon and bought a physical copy to read.
Last night, as Amy and I laid on our respective couches reading, I flowed through How to Meditate. With Brooks the Wonder Dog at my feet, I relaxed into what was a wonderfully written book on Meditation. It’s less about the mechanics of meditation (although there are some described) but more about the philosophy of meditation. And, as a human, how to relate to what meditation is, and what it can do, for and to you.
The book reinforced a lot of what I’ve experienced with meditation while giving me some new thoughts about it. Recently, I’ve been doing the Headspace pack on Pain Management as I work through all the pain linked to my summer of misery. Ani Pema’s book gave me the insight to try doing the 20-minute Headspace pain session first thing in the morning while sitting in my hot tub, outside, with my eyes open (but with a soft gaze.) I did this for the first time this morning and it was glorious. I’ll be doing it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day …
If you meditate, are curious about meditation, are interested in mindfulness, or notice that your mind is all over the place these days, How to Meditate is worth a quiet two hours of your life.
“How did your book end?” asked Amy from her position reading on the couch across the room.
“Perfectly,” I answered.
A Gentleman in Moscow was magnificent. While there’s still a chance I’ll read something better in 2018, for now, I’m declaring it the best book I’ve read this year.
I started A Gentleman in Moscow earlier this week after finishing Bob Woodward’s Fear: Trump in the White House, which was also excellent, but of a very different nature. Several people had recommended it to me (including, I think Maureen, so this may count as a women’s book club recommendation). According to Amazon, I’ve had it on my Kindle since I purchased it on 9/5/16. After consuming it two years later, it seems fitting that I let it age a little.
I didn’t really know what to expect, so I was startled to begin in Moscow on June 21, 1922. After the first few pages, we spent almost the entirety of the book in the Hotel Metropol. If I ever visit Moscow, I think I’ll stay in Suite 317.
I won’t ruin this one for you. If you like novels, especially with tasty historical backdrops, this one is delicious.
I’ve long written about the stigma around entrepreneurship and depression / other “mental health-related issues.” I was delighted to see two articles in the last day about others addressing this.
First, Felicis Ventures is committing 1% on top of every check the firm writes in non-dilutive capital earmarked for “founder development” in coaching and mental health. I love the way Aydin Senkut has characterized what they are doing and why they are doing it.
“Felicis’ bet is that by making such resources available and publicly known, founders won’t feel too proud, or too much pressure to seem successful, to address personal and team issues. Tactical marketing help can only go so far, Senkut says, when founders aren’t telling their investors that they’re unable to sleep from anxiety, or not speaking to their cofounders.”
Next, Mahendra Ramsinghani has a long article in Techcrunch titled Investors are waking up to the emotional struggle of startup founders. In it, he references a bunch of stuff, including work that Jerry Colonna and the team at Reboot have been doing around this issue. He also points to the survey he is doing for his new book titled Depression: A Founders Companion.
A few months ago Andy Sack got me a subscription to The Next Big Idea Club. Every quarter, a box with two books in it shows up. These books were chosen by Adam Grant, Susan Cain, Malcolm Gladwell, and Daniel Pink – several of my favorite contemporary writers and thinkers.
A box showed up at the end of last week. On Saturday, I read one of the books in the box – Uncensored: My Life and Uncomfortable Conversations at the Intersection of Black and White America by Zachary Wood. I was pleasantly surprised that it landed squarely in the memoir category even though Zachary is only 22.
While Zachary is clearly an incredible human, his story is even more remarkable. The first 75% of the book is his story of growing up in poverty, with an abusive mother, an emotionally distant father, with time split between Detroit and DC, while – at a very young age – falling in love with books, reading, learning, and ideas. Against an extremely challenging backdrop and even more challenging odds – ones that many people grow up in – Zachary developed discipline, grit, and determination that caused me to be awestruck.
When I took the backdrop of his childhood out of the equation, many of his intellectual pursuits and academic achievements were similar to what I experienced growing up. To do this though, I had to delete at least half of the time and energy he put against just surviving day to day, getting to school, having enough to eat, finding money to do pretty much anything, and avoiding endless emotional and psychological pits. Then I had to delete another 25% of the stress he faced being different – both from his academic peers and the kids he lived around. Then I had to delete some more, which was the result of my nurturing parents, in the comfortable middle-class neighborhood, with the safe house, in my own bedroom, surrounded by friends who looked like me and acted like me. There’s a lot more that I kept unfolding as I turned each page, getting a feeling for an entirely different type of struggle than the one I had growing up.
Halfway through the book, Warren Buffett’s famous phrase about winning the ovarian lottery was echoing in my head. While I’ve worked hard all my life, I know I had an enormous head start being born in America, male, white, in the 1960s, healthy, with a good brain, to two loving parents who were both well educated, surrounded by lots of resources.
If Zachary and I were racing in a marathon, I got to start at mile 25 with clean clothes, a Clif Bar, and a water bottle. He started at mile 0 without shoes, wearing jeans, after having stayed up all night.
The last 25% of the book is about his time at Williams College, with a particular focus on his journey with the Uncomfortable Learning organization. To get a sense of the intensity and intellectual commitment of Zachary, take a look at his Senate Testimony from June 2017 titled Free Speech 101: The Assault on the First Amendment on College Campuses. To process any of this stuff, you have to put all of your biases (of which we all, including me, have many) on the shelf, in a box, and hide them in the corner. Then, while pondering what Zachary is doing, reflect on the intense negativity, anger, hostility, and ad-hominem attacks that are endlessly directed at him. And, rather than fight them, he embraces the conflict, while trying to elevate the discussion so that learning occurs, even though it’s uncomfortable.
I went to bed Saturday night with a lot of new thoughts in my mind. My dreams were strange, which is always a signal that I’m processing something new.
Andy – thank you for the gift. It’s a perfect one.
“an autobiography is a chronological telling of one’s experience, which should include phases such as childhood, adolescence, adulthood, etc., while a memoir provides a much more specific timeline and a much more intimate relationship to the writer’s own memories, feelings and emotions.”
Over the past few weeks, I’ve read Omarosa Manigault Newman’s Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House, Lisa Brennan-Jobs Small Fry, Mark Epstein’s Advice Not Given: A Guide to Getting Over Yourself, and Gail Honeyman’s fictional Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.
While it can be argued that each of these (other than Small Fry) belong in a category other than the memoir, reading each of them resulted in a lot of self-reflection on my part. Front and center was the notion of “an intimate relationship to the writer’s own memories, feelings, and emotions.”
Each had something special in it for me. While I was struggling with my bacterial infection, I had a heightened sense of my own mortality. While I only had one 24 hour period of existential dread, Amy was there beside me and let me talk openly about how I was feeling. I was reading Mark Epstein’s book at the time that I had this feeling, and many of the messages in it became more precise – and poignant for me.
As I sit at home, on a sunny day in Boulder, I realize how incredibly fortunate I am on many dimensions. It’s a cliche, but the human condition is extremely complex. Reflecting on other people’s struggles, especially in comparison to my own, generates enormous perspective for me. It is in this way that I find memoirs different (and more enriching) than autobiography.
For me, it’s not about the meaning someone else ascribes to their life, or the history a third person tells about someone, but how one’s self-reflection helps inform, enhance, and evolve the meaning I give to my life.
One of my favorite public events is the CU Boulder Silicon Flatirons Entrepreneurs Unplugged series. I was the co-host for the first couple of years, sharing the interview job with another Brad (Bernthal) who now is generally on his own.
On Thursday, 9/13/18 at 5:30pm, Bernthal will be interview David Cohen and David Brown, the co-CEOs of Techstars (who we often fondly refer at Foundry Group as the “the David(s).” The event will be held at the CU Boulder Law School.
If you know the David(s), I expect this will be a treat as I know Bernthal will start with their early entrepreneurial career (Pinpoint) and stick with it for a while. While many people know the Techstars story, the PinPoint story is much less well known but equally fascinating. And, if you need any hints on Q&A (which Bernthal always leaves time for), just drop me a note.
On the afternoon of 8/21, I had a Foley Catheter put in. I didn’t think I was going to die (that was the afternoon of 8/22), but I did think I was going to explode.
I feel better today. Not 100%. But on the mend. But two weeks ago I was in the midst of a blooming E. Coli infection that started Sunday 8/19 and probably came from some fruit and vegetables I bought at the Aspen Farmers Market on Saturday. Note to self – always, always, always wash your fruits and vegetables carefully.
By Thursday, 8/23 I was very sick. So I canceled everything on my calendar through yesterday. I addition to my dance with E. Coli, I am healing from a bone bruise I have on my left tibia and something miserably wrong with my right shoulder – both which came from a tumble down the stairs on July 16th.
Yeah – it’s been a physically shitty summer. Not just for me, but for lots of people in my world. A friend with liver cancer. Another friend in the ICU for a few days. Another friend with a messed up knee from a fall. Several big marital struggles. Lots of “we are 45 – 55 and stuff is starting to break” going on. No one close to us died this summer, but we had a few days of real uncertainty in the mix.
My worst day was the one where I had borderline sepsis. I always thought the acronym for sepsis was telling, but it’s not until you are on the edge of it that it really hits home.
S – Shivering, feeling very cold or having a fever
E – Extreme pain or discomfort
P – Pale or discolored skin
S – Sleepiness, difficulty rousing
I – “I feel like I may die,” a feeling like you’ve never felt before
S – Short of breath
Fortunately, all of that passed within a few days after they bombed me with IV antibiotics, but then I was completely exhausted for a week. For whatever reason, my shoulder pain intensified during this time period and between my new friend Foley and the pain, I couldn’t sleep. Within a few days, it was pretty easy to see the struggle one goes through with chronic pain or illness, something I’ve been spared my whole life.
Yup – it was a miserable two weeks.
Amy was incredible. I playfully tease her about her school motto, Non Ministrari sed Ministrare (Not to be ministered unto, but to minister), but it is remarkably accurate. She’s always been amazing in a crisis – any crisis – and shows up fully for whomever is in need. For two weeks, I got her continual, endless, and wonderful attention. I’m not sure how I would have handled the two weeks if I was alone.
A friend recently said, “Your real friends are the ones who show up in a crisis.” I count myself lucky – a lot of people showed up the past two weeks. While Foley is gone, I have plenty of healing to do in front of me. We are heading back to Boulder for the rest of September and I’m just planting myself in one place, doing only what I have to do, and getting healthy.