Mar 20 2019

Do You Love Your Job?

My dad’s posts over the past two days put me in a reflective mood about work.

I’ve been working hard around computers and entrepreneurship since the summer between my senior year in high school and my freshman year at MIT. That first real job was as the first employee of Petcom, a company started by a husband and wife team that grew to about 20 people before the oil and gas market for software evaporated in 1985.

Since then, I’ve been a founder of a number of companies, a CTO of a public company that acquired my first company, an angel investor, a VC in two different firms that I helped start, and an LP in a bunch of VC firms. I’m also a writer, run a foundation with my wife Amy, and do a lot of random things that support entrepreneurship.

I’ve tentatively explored a number of different activities that are adjacent to my daily work world, including academia and politics, neither of which are interesting to me in any meaningful way.

Whenever I reflect on my work over the last 36 years (going back to that first summer at Petcom when I was 17 years old), I end up thinking about which parts of my work I love. As I get older, I’m trying to spend most of my time on things I love, even if they are hard or unsuccessful, and with people who I enjoy being with. There’s always a non-zero percentage of my time that I have to spend on stuff I don’t like and with people I don’t like, but I’ve tried to structurally minimize that.

While it’s easy to make decisions around people, especially given all the mistakes I’ve made (and hopefully learned from) in the last 36 years, it’s been harder for me to figure out the specific work activities and cadence that bring me sustainable joy. I’ve had this come up in a number of conversations in the past few years with other entrepreneurs, especially ones who have either gone through a transition in their company or are burned out and exhausted from the intensity of their work.

In these conversations, the question of how I shifted from “operator” to “investor” inevitably comes up. One of the concluding lines in my dad’s Birth of an Entrepreneur post stood out to me.

“I am convinced that by creating an environment in which my sons can be creative and innovative, I have learned more from them than I have taught them.”

I had one of those tingly moments where I realized I was able to trace the roots of my philosophy of #GiveFirst back to my dad. If you are familiar with the concept of servant leadership, the sentence above will resonate with you.

I was president of my first company (Feld Technologies). My partner Dave was vice president. We didn’t use the CEO title because we didn’t know to, think to, or really care. We were partners and the titles demarcated something that might have been useful, but I remember that we behaved like partners.

While Feld Technologies was a successful company, and I was an effective president for seven years, with the benefit of hindsight I realize that I didn’t like my job very much once we had more than a few people working for us. At the time, I didn’t have a sense of what I wanted to do, I just worked incredibly hard.

After I sold my company, I went on a journey that included working for a public company, being part of the M&A deal team for a very acquisitive business, making a bunch of angel investments, starting a number of companies, and being chairman or co-chairman of several of these companies.

I straddled the operator / investor world until 2001 when the Internet bubble burst and my work world exploded into tiny pieces that collected into a huge mountain of shit that I had to work through. I finally realized a limit, and choose to abandon my operating roles and just be an investor.

Even then, there we many periods of time where I couldn’t answer “yes” to the question “do you love your job?” Instead, I just worked as hard as I knew how to work, independent of my emotional state around what I was doing.

Throughout all of that, I maintained that I was fundamentally motivated by learning. When I got depressed in 2013, I realized that I needed to modify the statement to say that “I am fundamentally motivated by learning and teaching.” That brings my back to my father’s quote.

“I am convinced that by creating an environment in which my sons can be creative and innovative, I have learned more from them than I have taught them.”

If you substitute “entrepreneurs” for “my sons”, you get the part of the job the I love.

“I am convinced that by creating an environment in which entrepreneurs can be creative and innovative, I have learned more from them than I have taught them.”

If you are familiar with servant leadership, you’ll recognize this concept. While my environment extends beyond just entrepreneurship, the construct of “creating an environment where <x> can be creative and innovative” has become foundational to my way of being. When I’m doing that, I love my job.

My dad clearly helped put me on this path, as did Len Fassler, who bought my first company and has continuously modeled this behavior for me. And, I often think of my uncle Charlie Feld (my dad’s brother), who taught me a lot and who still loves his job every day at age 76.

Do you love your job?