Amy and I have learned that I need a Q1 vacation earlier in Q1 (vs. waiting until the end of March). We were apart for ten days because of a trip she took to Africa, so we went to San Diego for a week.
I played tennis every day for 90 minutes. I took a nap almost every afternoon. I got a couple of massages. We went and saw Black Panther, which we loved.
I interrupted vacation on Wednesday for some work stuff but stayed off email completely. I played a lot of chess online but realized after losing a bunch of games that I thought I was winning that it was a bad idea to play 10 minutes games while watching the Olympics in the background.
I didn’t read much. I didn’t feel like it for some reason. While unusual for me, I just rolled with it.
We had two friends visit. Ben Casnocha came down for two days of stimulating conversation. David Cohen took a tennis vacation, which he had planned for a more exotic locale that fell apart at the last minute. The friendships were warm, mellow, and enjoyable.
The month of December continues to be a huge struggle for me. I reflected on why and Amy and I came up with a plan for trying something completely different in December 2018 that we are contemplating trying.
I’m back home alone in Boulder for a few days, while Amy spends the weekend with her sisters. I decided to have an isolated, minimal human contact weekend. Yesterday was a digital sabbath that included meditation, running, a float, dinner by myself at Kasa Sushi, Lee McIntyre’s Post-Truth, Radius, and Lo and Behold.
Today is more of the same, except online plus a massage. Maybe I’ll drop the heavy and serious tonight and start working my way through Fast and Furious.
I’ll be back at it for reals on Monday …
Amy arrived home from Africa yesterday evening around 6pm. She had been gone for 12 days and, while she had an awesome trip, we missed each other terribly.
She arrived home to a bunch of early Valentine’s Day stuff like a hot bath.
I figured it was Valentine’s Day somewhere in the world yesterday at 6pm Colorado time like, well, in Kenya, where Amy was.
It’s great to have Amy back home. For some reason, Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite holidays. Love is better than everything else.
I love the idea of A User Manual To Working With Me. A number of the CEOs we work with have written them and Seth sends out a letter to all new founders about working with us.
While I occasionally think about writing an @bfeld User Manual, I never manage to get around to it. On our Q4 vacation, Amy and I talked a lot about dinners out, especially my own struggle with dinners with large groups of people, which caused me to reflect on how I approach dinners out in general.
Business dinners have become increasingly challenging for me for a number of reasons. I’m an introvert, so when the dinner is more than four people, it’s extremely draining for me. I no longer drink, so every dinner lasts at least 33% too long. I’m a vegetarian and am now eating very lightly at dinner, so the experience of dinner is much less important to me. I’ve been to all the restaurants in Boulder many times, so there’s no novelty in the experience. I’ve got a 30-minute drive home from downtown Boulder to my house, so getting home is dinner_end_time + 30 minutes.
I go to bed early (usually before 10 pm) so dinners often are the only thing I do in the evening before going to bed. I love to lay on the couch with Amy and read in the evening before I go to sleep, so this decompression from the day is almost always lost when I have a business dinner. I also love evenings at home with just Amy, business dinners out take time away from this for us.
That said, business dinners are part of my work. I’ve been to at least 1,351 board dinners in the last 25 years. I typically have business dinners three or four times each week, every week. I almost always have at least four major dinner-related events (with greater than 25 people) each month. Simply deciding not to do business dinners isn’t an option as long as I do the work I’m doing.
To solve for this, and make business dinners more enjoyable and productive from my frame of reference, following is the best way to have a business dinner with me.
- The maximum number of people at dinner should be eight.
- Dinner should start early (I love 6 pm start times).
- I’m indifferent to the restaurant – you choose.
- I’m going to be fully engaged during dinner, but as the group gets larger, my focus becomes on the people seated immediately next to me.
- Don’t worry about what I do, or don’t, eat. And don’t be surprised if I don’t eat anything.
- I don’t mind if you (and the other people) stay later than 8 pm, but I’d like to leave then.
I’m sure I’ll end up at some dinners, and events, that don’t fit this profile. By default, I’m no longer going to board dinners, although I’ll make exceptions when necessary. Amy occasionally likes to go to galas and big public events, so I’ll tag along for those. And, of course, I can comfortably do these periodically. But, if you want to get the most out of me, and have me enjoy the experience, the bullet points above are a good guideline.
I’m on day 8 of a cold, which in retrospect has been possibly the harshest cold I’ve ever had. I felt worse when I had salmonella poisoning in Adelaide in 2016 and I remember a childhood flu over the holidays that had me throwing up for days. But, on Friday, when I had some existential dread, I realized I was really sick and crawled back in bed for the rest of the day.
I woke up this morning still sick but feeling on the mend. I’ve been at home for a week and haven’t been doing much other than sleeping, reading, responding to email, eating mac and cheese, and sleeping some more. I’ve been a sub-optimal companion for Amy, but Brooks and Cooper have filled in pretty well for me.
I’m glad the world is taking a break for the holidays. 2017 was an intense year in many dimensions. Our society changed in ways that feel extremely uncomfortable to me, but I’ve tried to process it with a long view. Long-simmering conflicts that were just under the surface explosively broke through and forced us to confront them and our collective behavior, and reactions, to them. I’ve continued to do what felt important and right to me while listening and learning. I worked hard to eliminate the noise and concentrate on the signal. To do this, I withdrew on several dimensions, especially via social media and online channels, which diminished my experience, but allowed me time and space to think.
I’ve been metabolizing my emotions at a new level. I’ve always been able to handle a huge amount of stress and anxiety, and part of my role has been to absorb the stress in the system, stay calm, and help the people around me work through whatever we are confronting. I’ve learned that when this gets to a certain level in me, it can trigger a depressive episode, so I’ve been working on understanding my limits better and how to address them more effectively. The broader cultural challenges of 2017 have just piled onto this, so I had to learn a new set of skills around this. If anyone is curious, the magic gateways for me have been meditation and therapy.
This cold forced some downtime on me. As I’m recovering, I’m going to savor the rest of the week and prepare for 2018. It feels like a cold reboot is in order.
I turned 52 on Friday. Last year, when I turned 51, I wrote a post titled @bfeld v51.0 where I talked about several things that I wanted to change in v51 of me. This year, I enhanced my annual tradition of birthday reflection by reviewing my previous year’s blog post, writing a letter to my 52-year-old self, going for a 52-minute run, and then condensing the letter to myself into a public blog post (the letter was much longer.) I planned to do this on Friday and the day was set up nicely for it, but work got in the way. So I did this on Saturday instead.
Let’s begin by reviewing my v51 plans.
No Booze: I had a no alcohol goal for v51. Late in 2016 and early in 2017 I had several nights where I drank alcohol, but I think all but one was a special event. By the end of springtime, I wasn’t drinking at all and I’m now in a very comfortable no drinking mode. I feel like it’s one that I can continue for the rest of my life and, while it feels like a good aspiration, I’m going to only set it for v52, rather than saying “I’ll never drink again.”
Mission Sub-200: Weight loss was a big topic for v51 of me. I wanted to be under 200 pounds after weighing in at 218 on my birthday. I weighed 201.9 yesterday and 202.3 today so I’m close enough to that goal to call it completed. While my ideal weight is 190, Amy negatively reacted to me setting my goal to be 190 and suggested 195 instead, which feels much more achievable to get to and maintain.
Religious Digital Sabbath: Digital Sabbath has been hit or miss for me. While I have almost no organized work activities on the weekend, and when I do I put them on Sunday afternoon, I’m still on my computer on Saturdays. I’ve tried to isolate “on my computer” from “checking email”, but even that constraint is awkward. But, there is a difference between “spending a bunch of time catching up on email” and “just checking/responding to the stuff that came in overnight or throughout the day.” I’m going to drop the goal of Religious Digital Sabbath from my v52 completely, but be very conscious of trying to minimize work and email on Saturday while using my computer for writing and the normal life tasks that the computer pops up for (like logging my runs, or scheduling dinner.)
Focus On My 2%: Overall I feel like I did a good job focusing on my 2%. It took a while to completely shrug off the 2016 election, but by mid-year, I was engaging where I could make a difference, rather than wallowing in the daily noise and nonsense. I made some mistakes in terms of thinking about what my 2% was, such as wading into Boulder politics around the November 2017 city council election. While I thought I could have an impact on the election, I didn’t, but more importantly, I hated almost every moment of what I was doing around this. I realized I wasn’t defining my 2% precisely enough. So, I’m going to re-evaluate my 2% some with a combination of asking myself “should I be doing this?” and “do I want to be doing this?” before including something in the 2%. My default posture is going to be “no” instead of “yes” so I need to convince myself, rather than default into doing things.
Reset Social Media: I completely and successfully reset my social media interactions. While I still broadcast, I don’t consume anything. While I’ll periodically open up Twitter or Facebook, I always feel unhappy (or even “dirty”) after I do this, so there is almost no desire on my part to do it. I took both apps off my phone early in the year and, while I put them back on and deleted them a few more times, they are currently deleted and I don’t have an urge to put them back on. I’m still broadcasting regularly through my blog, Medium, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, but I’m not responding to the comments and responses I get, except for occasional ones on my blog or more personal interactions via email. I like my position as a content generator and am relaxed in my lack of interest in engaging in discussions through these mediums.
More Maker Mode Expansion: Maker mode expansion and my writing in v51 on books was a failure. I had a few stretches where I wrote, but they weren’t sustained, and I didn’t really make any progress on either GiveFirst or Startup Communities 2. Instead of calling this maker mode expansion in v52, I’m simply going to write these two books this year. It feels comfortable to type that, as I want to write each of these books and can project that my emotional satisfaction around both the process and the completed product will be high.
Travel Mode Expansion: My travel changes in v51 were mixed. 2017 started off disastrously, with five consecutive weeks of travel. At the end of the fifth week, I acknowledged to myself that I was on the edge of falling into a depressive episode, so I abruptly stopped traveling, canceled a bunch of stuff, and shifted back into self-care mode. I experimented with a few other travel approaches and settled on shorter and more focused travel. I’ll travel in v52 for work, but I’ll always ask myself “why” before each trip commitment.
Reflecting on v51 as a setup to v52, I had several big functional goals that required a shift in behavior. However, I don’t feel like I had an overarching theme. I’m not sure a theme helps me, so for v52, I’m going to use nouns to describe what I’m focused on.
Vegetarian: Food has become increasingly challenging for me. While my diet has changed as I’ve lost weight, I’m struggling with more food sensitivities. I’ve been a pescatarian since I was 19, but these days I’m not enjoying fish at all, including sushi. Overall, I’m struggling a lot with food and would like to be free of what feels like regular allergic reactions to things. A vegan diet might get me there, but it feels too extreme, especially in the context of me and Amy eating together. So, v52 will be vegetarian, trending toward vegan.
Introvert: My default social posture will be more time to myself, with Amy, or with small groups (up to six people, but a preference of four people). When I do something with a bigger group, I’ll consciously engage, but know that I want to limit the length of time and the frequency of larger events.
Runner: Food, weight, and fitness are all part of my identity as a runner. I leveled up a lot in v51 and will level up more in v52, both on the physical and emotional dimension. My goal of 195 pounds continues in the right direction, which a vegetarian diet and no alcohol (which was successfully implemented in v51) will help with. I’m committing to a daily meditation of at least 20 minutes for v52, along with a nightly goal of at least eight hours of sleep. My running rhythm of at least one marathon this year will continue, but I’ll incorporate swimming and strength training into the mix.
Writer: I’m going to write GiveFirst and Startup Communities 2 in v52. To be a good writer, I believe you have to read a lot. I’ve read 72 books so far in 2017 (a goal of 100). I’m going to keep the goal of 100 books for 2018.
Coach / Mentor: My work role has shifted over the years from “doer” to coach/mentor. While there is inevitable doer activity in my work, I’m identifying more as coach/mentor. I’m going to explore this more in v52 as I think forward to future versions of me. I don’t plan any abrupt shift or specific different sets of behavior, but rather a broad and continual reflection on my role in my work.
Discriminating Wisdom: This is a great Buddhist notion that Amy pointed me at. I want to be selective about anything new that I take on and I want the overall number of things I’m working on to decrease. If I view this as an input/output model, where inputs are new things I take on and outputs are things that I finish/get closure on, I want there to be more outputs than inputs in v52 so that I end v52 with fewer overall commitments.
I learned a lot about myself in v51. Time for another trip around the sun.
I’ve spoken openly about how I don’t care about the idea of legacy. When pressed, I’ve struggled to describe the reason why I don’t care.
My long-time friend and first business partner Dave Jilk sent me the following Percy Bysshe Shelley poem to help me understand my perspective better.
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Look up at the sky and ponder how far the sands actually stretch. Infinity is far away.
Matt Bencke passed away yesterday. We put the above photo and note up on the Foundry Group site yesterday but I was still processing it and wasn’t ready to blog about it until this morning. His partner and co-founder at Might AI – Daryn Nakhuda – wrote some beautiful words about Matt at In our hearts, always.
You may remember Matt from his incredible article in Wired Magazine titled The Day I Found Out My Life Was Hanging From A Thread. I added on to this in It Can All Change In A Day.
Matt found out about his cancer on July 28th. The day before he, and everyone else in his world, thought he was in the peak of health. My post was on August 24th. It’s October 20th. I’m struggling to process this time frame.
I measure the closeness of my friendships with a few specific markers. The one that shifts things into another level of intimacy is to spend a few days together with me and Amy. Matt and I had been planning to have him and his wife Amy (who I only know from a distance) come out to Aspen in September and spend a long weekend with us. That obviously didn’t happen and will be a hole that I always have in my life.
Matt – you were awesome and will always be in our hearts and memories.
Amy and I just spent a week of vacation off the grid in Aspen. I ran, read, and hung out. I had a fantasy about writing, but didn’t get to it. We watched Narcos Season 3, ate at a bunch of Aspen’s restaurants, and had an Amy pre-birthday dinner with our friends Dave and Maureen. And we napped – a lot.
I hadn’t had a vacation since mid-April, which is unusual for me as Amy and I try to take a week off the grid every quarter. On day three, which was a Monday, I settled into a total chill zone which lasted all week. I did my long run on Friday (instead of Saturday) and cruised from Aspen to Basalt. I then slept most of the day on Saturday when I wasn’t reading or eating. Yup – I’m marathon ready.
While I’m not quite finished with Reincarnation Blues, I did knock down six other books this week.
Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening: Intense, powerful, horrifying, and inspiring all at the same time. Manal Al-Sharif is incredible. I hope I get to meet her someday – I’ll thank her for being brave enough to do what she does and to tell her story while doing it.
The Impossible Fortress: My inner 14-year-old loved this book. Loved, loved, loved it. The Commodore 64 code was a bonus.
Angel: How to Invest in Technology Startups – Timeless Advice from an Angel Investor Who Turned $100,000 into $100,000,000: I met Jason Calacanis in the mid-1990s when he was peddling his Silicon Alley Reporter magazine. We’ve been friends ever since and I give him a big hug whenever our paths cross. He’s his normal outspoken and bombastic self in this book, which has lots of gems buried in it. I smiled a lot when I read it. And how about that subtitle …
The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living since the Civil War: This book was a grind, but it had a lot of good stuff in it. It’s only 784 pages so it took more than a day to read it. If you are trying to understand what is going on in the current American economy, and why the future will not look like the past, this is a good place to start.
Teach to Work: How a Mentor, a Mentee, and a Project Can Close the Skills Gap in America: As part of my effort to get rolling again on my #GiveFirst book, I thought reading this might be a useful kick in the pants. It wasn’t.
My next vacation is in mid-November. The tank once again has plenty of fuel to get me to that point.
His autoresponder (typos and all) is one for the books, and like great poetry, worth reading over and over.
My cancer (ccRCC, metastic) has gotten the upper hand and I’ll be
putting all my resources into managing it.
In my stread, please keep these very important messages in place:
* be good to each other
* enjoy evert day
* wanting is suffering
* The journey is still the destination, now more than every
* the trend of purpose is coming like a tidal wave, get out a heard of
it. enjoy the ride. die fulfilled.
* Reframe your thinking of “what your career can do for you,” into
“what can your career do for others,” and wonderful, meaningful work
Jeff Clavier introduced me to Ted in 2006 and we both invested in Ted’s company Dogster. We crossed paths periodically, usually online.
My last email to Ted was a few months ago, where I wrote “Sending you some love this morning” followed by
He responded quickly with:
Every day is hard these days.
Nonetheless, I’m very happy to be alive and keep fighting through.
At some level, it’s all pretty simple.
Enjoy Every Day.
Ted – thank you for the gift of you.
On July 28th, my partner Jason told me that Matt Bencke, the co-founder and CEO of Mighty AI, had suddenly gotten a serious cancer diagnosis. While Jason was on Matt’s board, I had spent plenty of time with him and, as one would expect, was shocked.
I immediately sent Matt a note that said:
I will keep confidential, but I wanted to send you love and good karma. You are a special person. I’ll be thinking good thoughts and sending you positive energy multiple times a day.
I didn’t know what else to do. Later that day, I got a note from Greg Gottesman, a close friend of ours who helped start Mighty AI – with a summary of what was going on.
1. He has a large clot in his right ventricle that needs removed. That is very likely to be open heart surgery. We are being transferred to Swedish Cherry Hill to start that process; surgery is likely tonight but TBD.
2. Initial pathology report does confirm what we knew was the most probable but worst diagnosis – pancreatic tail adenocarcinoma. We know it is Stage 4 because of the metastases to other organs. It is terminal and incurable, but how long he will have will depend on more information and how soon he can recover from open heart surgery and start chemo. MDs right now say could be over a year. We simply don’t know.
A day later, Matt sent me a short note in response that said:
7/28 was a Friday and Amy and I didn’t have anything planned. The evening was a quiet, reflective one. I still remember being empty of words whenever I thought about this. Matt is 45 and in incredible physical shape, so the reminder that this can happen to anyone hung quietly in the air.
On 7/30, I got the following email from Matt.
No need for confidentiality
Your prayers and thoughts mean the world, thank you. This is still surreal. Of course I’m hoping for the best and I’m a stubborn Pittsburgh-born fighter…but the prognosis is clear.
This may sound weird but maybe I can turn this into a silver lining for others. When I’m feeling coherent i could do a webcast or some such
Matt has written an incredible essay that was published in Wired today titled The Day I Found Out My Life Was Hanging by a Thread. It’s extraordinary. In addition to reflecting the awesomeness of Matt, it goes through the intense few days of discovery, his emotional journey personally and with his family, while weaving in the backdrop of how a CEO, management team, company, and board deal with something like this unfolding in real time.
You know you are in for a powerful story when the lead in is:
“It started while I was on a Hawaiian vacation in May. I thought I’d just tweaked my back lifting a poolside lounge chair. Back home, my back pain became severe, and I started noticing nerve pain in my legs. For eight days I could barely crawl around the house. My wife and two daughters nicknamed me “the worm.” At 45, I’m in pretty good shape—avid cyclist, runner, weightlifter, yoga enthusiast with a resting pulse in the 50s.”
I read the draft of this when Matt first wrote it. Wired changed very little, which is a tribute to them for letting Matt speak in his authentic, unedited, and raw voice. For example, when describing the moment of the initial diagnosis:
“He went on to explain that I had many tumors in my liver, pancreas, and chest. In addition, he explained that I had quite a few blood clots, including in my heart and lungs. “What is ‘many’ tumors?” I asked. He looked defeated, saying they stopped counting after 10. I thought he might cry, and then he started in with some nonsense about how maybe it was all just bad tests, or maybe I had a rare water-borne pest infection. Amy began crying, hard. I went into silent shock and just tried to get this guy to shut up and leave.”
But that was just the start. Lots more transpired over the next day in the hospital. And then …
“On Friday the docs woke me with an urgent problem: They had found a blood clot the size of a Ping-Pong ball in my heart’s right ventricle. If it broke loose, I would die instantly, whether I was in an ER or my basement. To make matters worse, they showed me an image of the clot, and it was precariously wiggling on an already-loose attachment. Each time my heart beat, the ticking time bomb swayed precariously. The clot was too big to suck out with a vacuum, too risky to slice and remove bit-by-bit, and too large to remove from the side by breaking open a few ribs. Nope, removing it was urgent and would require cracking my sternum. Today.”
Time sped up.
“Events were happening at a dizzying pace. Clearly I needed to start making some calls—to resign my role as Mighty AI CEO, to connect with my mom and other immediate family members, to alert more of my closest friends. It was around 9:10 Friday morning. Mighty AI’s weekly operations meeting would be getting started at 10:15, so I had a lot of calls to make.”
I hope I’ve inspired you to go read the whole thing at The Day I Found Out My Life Was Hanging by a Thread. I just went and read it again and it’s one of the best in the moment essays I’ve ever read. GeekWire has a nice add-on piece titled Mighty AI co-founder Matt Bencke diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, vows to ‘beat the odds’ as he hands over CEO reins.
Matt ended his essay with this:
“We are all so fragile. Each day is precious. And the most important parts of our lives are the relationships we invest in. I certainly feel that way, as my friends and family—“Matt’s Army”—have Amy and me awash in love that feels like a mighty waterfall.”
Treasure every moment. Love your fellow human. As Matt says so clearly. “The most important parts of our lives are the relationships we invest in.”
If you know Matt or are part of my extended gang and want to help, Matt’s Army has stepped up to Wage Hope at PurpleStride, the walk to end pancreatic cancer. Join us and donate something. And hug someone today.
Matt – we love you and are rooting for you.