Amy – we have been married for 19 years today. Some of our friends chose today to get married such as my partner Seth and his wife Greeley. Other close friends are celebrating anniversaries, including Fred and Joanne (25th yesterday) and my parents (49th a few days ago). We are in good company even though we are still newlyweds compared to them. And, as a bonus, 19 is a prime number as is the sum of the digits of the date (06/21/2012).
When I reflect on my life, getting married to you is the best decision I’ve ever made. The great moments – which are frequent – are awesome. When we have issues we always work through them. And figuring out why we had the issue in the first place makes us better partners.
I’m your biggest fan, and I know you are mine. I can’t imagine tackling things like doing a marathon in every state without your support. I’d never be able to sustain the pace of my work if I didn’t know you were there for me. The victories and celebrations are so much sweeter since I get to share them with you.
Whenever I’ve been down, broken, defeated, or depressed, you’ve always been a safe person for me to be with. You listen when I need to talk, and you let me hang out in my man cave when I need to be alone. You know what makes me tick better than any other human on this planet and never make me do things I hate. As a bonus, you do things you hate, like clean up the dog poop when accidents happen, since you know how devastatingly difficult it would be for me to have to deal with it.
Last summer we got to spend 60 days in a row together – the longest stretch we’d ever been together so far in our life. It made me want to spend even more time with you and I’m having such a blast spending the whole summer with you this year.
I can’t imagine life without you. I love you and look forward to many more anniversaries together.
An hour ago I received a phone call from one of my closest friends who has been a hugely influential mentor of mine that his wife had passed away. She was a close friend also and they’ve had an enormous impact on my life. She’s been ill for a while so this isn’t a surprise and when I saw her about a month ago I knew her time was coming. But it’s still incredibly hard to process, especially knowing how close they were as a couple.
I had a longer post queued up today but it’ll have to wait for tomorrow. For now, I’m going to just let my emotions be whatever they are, feel love for my close friend, send him as much good karma as I can, and remind myself to live every moment of life as though it could end tomorrow.
I’m in Iceland spending the day at Startup Iceland 2012. Amy and I are having a great time in this fascinating country.
At dinner last night, I got into a long conversation about what makes for a fulfilling life. My answer was:
Spend as much time as possible with PEOPLE you love in a PLACE you want to be on a THING you are passionate about.
I believe it’s that simple. What do you think?
This morning I was taking a break between meetings in San Antonio at TechStars Cloud to check my email when I saw a note from my wife Amy with the header “I just broke my wrist.” The email said “Fell on stairs. At urgent care. Got x ray. Have “dinner fork” type fracture. Pam and Ryan will get me home. Not hurting too bad. Right wrist so also lucky.”
I called Amy immediately and got her voice mail. There isn’t anything more disorienting to me than hearing that my beloved is in distress and not being able to jump into action to help her. I sent her a note that said “I just tried to call. Call when you have a chance” and then tried to get my mind back into my next meeting. She called about 30 minutes later and we had a short tearful conversation but then she went into some room at urgent care where she couldn’t talk on the phone. I didn’t hear back for two hours, but in that period of time decided that I was heading home first thing tomorrow morning to be with her.
My awesome magical assistant Kelly dealt with the 20-ish SXSW meetings and panels I had set for Thursday through Sunday. The notes back from people were very supportive of me choosing to go home to Amy, even though I’m sure I’ve inconvenienced or disappointed a few of them. By the time Amy and I finally connected, she was doing ok but glad I was going home. By about 1pm I settled down and wasn’t thinking about her every two minutes and feeling helpless as I went through my meetings.
I had a super day at TechStars Cloud. The gang down here is doing great stuff, there are some really neat companies that are developing nicely (and quickly), and the vibe is dynamite. While part of me was excited about SXSW, the introvert in me was dreading it. This was the first leg of the trip and I was gaining energy from the focused interaction with the TechStars Cloud folks which I hoped would sustain me through four days of SXSW extrovertness.
Life got in the way. Being with Amy is infinitely more important to me than four days of nerd craziness. As I sit here in my hotel room wound up and unable to sleep I long for a teleportation machine that would get me home in 30 seconds. I’ll be home in 12 hours, but that feels like a long time. I know Amy is fine, but the magnetic pull of what matters to me overwhelms my patience right now.
Yesterday at TechStars for a Day in Boulder, I gave a short talk about obsession. As part of it, I focused on the importance of taking a long term view and being obsessive about what you do in a way that you can sustain over a lifetime. I made the comment that unexpected things will happen continually throughout life and you have to be flexible enough to react to them, especially when they are difficult, painful, or tragic in a non-work dimension. I had to live with those words today and it was easy. So while I’ll miss a bunch of friends at SXSW, I’ll be spending those four days with the person who matters the most to me on this planet. And that feels good.
My twitter stream this morning had a conversation between Kara Swisher and Chris Sacca about a TED video from Jill Bolte Taylor. Kara recently had a TIA (minor stroke) and wrote about it. The conversation between them prompted me to watch the TED Talk by Jill Bolte Taylor about a massive stroke that she’d had. Taylor is a brain scientist, which makes the whole discussion even more incredible as she had a chance to study and think about her own experience of having a stroke.
I strongly encourage you to invest 18 minutes of your life in this. It’ll change how you think about your brain, as well as possibly a few other things.
I’m off to run the Zeitgesit Half Marathon in Boise, Idaho with my friends Mark and Pam Solon. It’s another beautiful day on planet earth.
Last night I had the pleasure of talking at a dinner at Emily White’s house. Emily is on the board of the National Center of Women & Information Technology with me, is ex-Google, currently at Facebook, and with her husband Brian are amazing hosts. We had a fascinating group of NCWIT board members as well as a bunch of local entrepreneurs and members of the bay area entrepreneurial ecosystem who had a connection either to Emily or to me. The environment, food, and evening was delightful, and I led a discussion about a wide variety of topics after doing a 30 minute space jam in answer to Emily’s lead off question of “So Brad, what’s on your mind?”
We covered a lot of stuff around entrepreneurship, creators, the magic of doing things, the importance of asking “why”, and my belief that we are in the midst of a massive societal behavior shift. One of the questions that a long time friend asked was something like “My daughter is in high school and worries about the path she needs to be on to make sure when she gets out of college that she gets a good job. If you were me, what would you tell her?”
I don’t have kids so I don’t really feel qualified to answer this from a parents perspective, but I answered it with a story of three key things my dad said to me between the ages of 10 and 17 that had a profound impact on what I’ve done and how I live my life.
Age 10: You can do anything you want: My dad is a doctor. He came home for dinner every night but would often go back to the hospital in the evening (and on weekend) to do rounds and visit patients. Until I was 10 I’d often go with him. I loved hanging out with him, would bring a book, and plop down at the nurses station and read while I waited for him to go about his business. At 10, I decided I had no interest in being a doctor. I didn’t like the way hospitals smelled, I didn’t like the noise and the chaos, and I lost interest in all the doctors I was meeting. I remember telling my dad that I didn’t want to be a doctor. I blurted it out – think of a very nervous 10 year old just spitting out “Dad – I don’t want to be a doctor.” I remember my dad looking me in the eye and saying very clearly, “Brad – that’s ok – you can do anything you want to do.”
Age 13: We didn’t want to discourage you so we were supportive: When I was 10 – 13 I was a serious tennis play. I played all the time and was on the Texas junior tennis circuit. I was pretty good – consistently getting to the quarterfinals in singles and occasionally the semifinals. When I turned 13 I bought a computer for my bar mitzvah. I also hit puberty and discovered girls. I lost interest in tennis. Recently I was talking to dad about this and wondered what he thought at the time. He said that he and my mom were supportive of my tennis, but were relieved when I decided to quit playing. They were sick of schlepping me around Highway 80 and other places in Texas to spend the whole weekend watching me play, scream and yell, throw my racket, and then mope when I eventually lost. He said “I didn’t want to discourage you, so we were supportive, but we were relieved when you went down a different path.”
Age 17: Give it a year: My first two months at MIT were awful. I was homesick – all my friends, including my girlfriend, had gone to UT Austin. I got a 20 on my first physics test and went in my room for an hour and cried. I was completely overwhelmed by Cambridge and Boston – the people, the dirt, and the hustle of the city. The fraternity I lived in was filthy. The early winter chill startled me. And I thought Dallas, where I grew up, was the greatest place on early. My parents came and visited me in mid-October for a weekend. We were walking around on a crisp fall day in Concord, MA when I told them I hated MIT and wanted to drop out and go to UT with all of my friends. We talked to for a while – with my parents mostly listening – and then my dad said “You’ve only been here two months. Give it a year. If you still hate it after a year, switch to UT. But give it enough time to really understand it.” I ended up staying at MIT, getting two degrees, dropping out of a PhD program (I finally got to achieve my desire to drop out), and – while many of my days at MIT were brutal, I ended up loving the experience and treasure the impact it has had on my life.
I’m really lucky to have parents who have been awesome and incredibly supportive of me. When I reflect on the things that shaped the path I’ve taken, it was often short little one liners like these at a critical moment. My dad was just magical with his timing and his message. I can only hope I can be as good as he is.
To everyone who lost someone close to them on 9/11 – I’m sending you every bit of good karma that I can today. While I was in New York that day, I was lucky and didn’t lose anyone close, but I’ll always remember 9/11 and I think about it every time I’m in New York.
I’ve always had some survivor guilt around 9/11. I had a lot of emotional trauma from it, but everything ended up fine. My survivor guilt is amplified by my own anxieties around the events that lingered for about three months. I’ve never felt these anxieties were warranted on my part, but they were there and I couldn’t deny them.
While I’ve told my story to plenty of friends, maybe by writing it down and getting it out there on this tenth anniversary I’ll both contribute to the memory of loved ones on 9/11 as well as help me (and maybe others) get some closure. There’s a part of this that feels self-indulgent since I wasn’t directly impacted, but there’s another part of me that knows I’m searching for closure on this. So, here’s the story.
I took a red eye from San Francisco to New York on Monday night 9/10. It was something that I was regularly doing at this time as I tried to manage my way through the collapse of the Internet bubble. I landed at LGA at 6am, took a car to The Benjamin hotel where I was staying for the first time (I randomized my hotels back then just to experience different ones), turned off my cell phone and went to sleep. I didn’t have a meeting until 10 so I set the alarm clock in the room for 9:00. I woke up in the normal haze of jet lag to someone on the radio shouting about something going on at the World Trade Center. At first, I thought it was some sort of drive time radio talk show joke, but as I gradually woke up I started processing that something major was happening. I turned on the TV – something I rarely do in hotels – and saw the first tower on fire and the chaos that erupted as a plane crashed in to the second tower. I don’t remember seeing the plane crash, but I do remember seeing the endless plumes of black smoke.
By the time I was mentally functional, it was about 9:10. I turned on my phone to call Amy who I knew was on the road on the way to DIA to catch a flight to New York. Her birthday is 9/14 – she was going to meet me in New York, we were going to hang out for a few days, and then go to Paris for a week of vacation together. I had trouble getting through on my cell phone but somehow managed to get her on the phone around 10:00. She was bawling hysterically – she’d pulled over to the side of the road and was frantically trying to reach me. Since my phone was off, she couldn’t, and her brain had immediately gone to the place that so many peoples did which was “my loved one is on the plane.”
While we were talking, the first tower collapsed. I remember watching it on TV and being unable to continue talking on the phone. Amy asked me what was wrong and I simply couldn’t answer. It was inconceivable to me that the World Trade Center would disappear and – having been in the building a number of times, immediately starting trying to calculate how many people must have been inside.
I finally pulled it together, told Amy to go back home, and we’d figure out what to do once things settled down. I turned on my computer, plugged in the hotel ethernet cable, and connected to the Internet. Amazingly it worked flawlessly even though by this point I couldn’t make a phone call on my cell or the hotel phone. At the time I was using both AOL and Yahoo IM – a bunch of messages popped up from people who knew I was traveling to New York checking to see if I was ok. Email flowed fast and furiously for a little while and as I surfed the net and watched TV from my hotel room in midtown, I got more and more freaked out.
By about 11am I was completely paralyzed. I didn’t really know what to do. By this point both buildings had fallen, four planes had crashed, and there was total chaos on TV as no one had any idea what was really going on. I remember looking out of the hotel window at the beautiful day outside but being afraid to leave my room. All kinds of doomsday thoughts crossed my mind, like “go get a few gallons of bottled water” but I sat, transfixed to the TV, email, and IM hoping someone would say what was happening. I felt safe in my room, but also terrified that I was in the middle of Manhattan – isolated in the middle of one of the largest cities on the planet.
Early in the afternoon I found out via email that my friend Paul Berberian, who was the CEO of Raindance (I was on the board) was in town with Nick Cuccaro, his CFO. Raindance was a public company and they were talking to investors downtown. They were safe and trying to figure out how to get home. We connected by email and decided to meet at my hotel. By this point all the flights were grounded and as I tried to figure out how to get a rental car, it quickly became clear that it would be – at best – really hard to do.
I wrote an email to Jenny Lawton, a close friend who was working with me at Interliant and lived in Greenwich. Jenny offered up her car if we wanted it. By this point it was early afternoon and the news reporting was now in a cycle of redundancy – lots of speculation but no new information. While I was still scared to leave my hotel room, I had this incredible urge to get back to Boulder.
When Paul and Nick showed up, we agreed to go to Jenny’s, get her car, and drive home. Around 5pm we made our way down Park Avenue toward Grand Central Station. There were no cars out, very few people, and an eerie hush had fallen over downtown. The picture in my mind is that it was already twilight and a chill was in the air. I was anxious but when we got to Grand Central it was empty. We figured out which train was going to Greenwich and got on without a ticket. Thirty or so minutes later we got out and jumped into Jenny’s car.
Jenny made us spaghetti for dinner – I can still remember sitting at her dining room table eating the first proper meal of the day. Jenny gave us the keys to her orange SUV (I think it was an Isuzu, but I do remember it was orange) and off we went. The roads were empty and before we knew it we were cruising through Pennsylvania.
All three of us had an overwhelming desire to get home. We each had cell phones and had touched base a few times so our families knew where we were, but none of us had a car charger for a phone so we were protecting our batteries. We stopped at a gas station to fill up on road food – I stayed in the car but to Paul to grab me some fruit stuff. A gobbled down a bag of it before I realized it was “fruit flavor sugar candy” at which point I had to rid out a hard sugar crash in the back seat of the car as Paul and Nick drove through the night.
I remember a lot of very specific things from the trip. We stopped somewhere for breakfast in Iowa at an I-80 roadside restaurant and had an awesome breakfast. There was no useful information on the radio – we just listened to the same speculation over and over again – clearly, no one had any idea what was going on. The sky was a perfect shade of blue. There were no airplanes in the sky and no contrails, which was especially startling in the context of the blue sky. Nebraska is a wide state – we ended up deciding there was an East Nebraska and a West Nebraska. Three guys in a car for 24 hours after a very anxious previous 12 hours makes for a very smelly car. Our capacity for being thankful that we were alive was endless.
As we got entered Colorado we were out of cell phone juice. Nick was obsessed with going by DIA and getting his car, so we ended up adding two hours to our trip at the end. When I finally got home it was dark, but Amy was waiting at the door. We had a very emotional moment, at which point I went and took a shower and then collapsed for a long time.
I didn’t travel again until December. It was the longest stretch of time since college that I’ve been in one place. Some was travel anxiety, some was re-evaluation of the tempo of my life, and some was just plain acceptance of the exhaustion that had been building over the past few years with the corresponding capitulation from a very emotional moment.
As I write these words, it’s incredible to me that this was 10 years ago. The sheer number of specific memories I have amazes me. The emotional feeling around the event continues to be overwhelming to me. While our capacity as humans to deal with, survive, and move on is powerful, this reminds me that there are many things we never forget.
To anyone who lost a loved one on 9/11 – my heart goes out to you. I know how hard this was for me, and as you can see from my story, I was simply a visitor in the city for a brief time in which this heinous event occurred. I’m thinking of you today, and sending you my love.
Congrats and good karma to my friend Bre Pettis on being able to take his new child – Nika – home from the NICU.
Over the last few months as we were working together to close the MakerBot financing, Bre and his partner Kio Stark had Nika prematurely, which resulted in a bonus six week stay in the NICU. I talked to Bre a number of times during this period, often when he was camped out at the NICU, and he was remarkably calm and engaged during this period.
He’s written a very detailed, thoughtful, and intense post about how to survive the NICU. While I don’t have any kids, nor do Amy and I plan to, I expect all of my obsessive behavior would come out with a vengeance if I ever ended up in a similar situation to Bre’s. My guess is that his rules apply to the hospital stay of any loved one and are well worth reading.
Bre – thanks for taking the time to write up your survival guide. I’m glad everyone is home, safe, and healthy.
I gave a talk yesterday to a class of soon-to-graduate MBA students at CU Boulder yesterday. It was their last class in the course that had been filled with a bunch of interesting VC and entrepreneurial guest lecturers. We did Q&A for several hours, covered a lot of ground, and had plenty of fun (or at least I did.) At the end, the professor asked if I had any final words of advice to the room full of MBA’s who were about to graduate. I thought for a moment and then said an abbreviated version of the following.
Imagine that you are 45 and are looking back on your last 15-20 years. Is your work, and life, full of meaning?
Don’t worry about money right now. You can always get a job that pays you plenty of money. Don’t worry about your resume. Don’t worry about “am I positioning myself the right way for something five years from now.” I know way too many 45 year olds who have plenty of money, have done all the right career things, yet are unhappy with where they are in life, where they live, and what they do. Don’t be that guy or gal.
Start by choosing the place you want to make a life. If it’s Boulder, figure out how to stay here. If it’s New York, there’s an easy United flight that gets you there in under four hours – take it the day after you graduate. San Francisco? That flight is only two hours long. Just go and figure it out when you get there. Don’t talk about “I’m going to live there some day” – go get in the middle of wherever it is that you want to build a life. Oh, and Boise is a pretty cool place, as is Austin, Seattle, Miami, DC, and at least 95 other cities in the United States.
Next, choose a domain that you want to dedicate your life to. If you’ve dreamed of being an investment banker or consultant to Fortune 1000 companies since you were 10, then Goldman Sachs or McKinsey is looking for you. If you want to be an entrepreneur, working at an investment bank or consulting firm for a while is pointless. Be an entrepreneur starting now. Pick that domain that turns you on the most – start at a high level (e.g. software, Internet, clean tech) but then pick a thing that you really care about and a set of problems you want to solve. If you aren’t technical, go find a technical co-founder right now – there are hundreds of them on this campus. Get your ass out of your chair and just get started.
Finally, make sure you are living your life. You are young and hopefully have plenty of time on this planet. But don’t wait because you never know when the lights are going to go out.
Ok – that’s more cogent than what I probably said in real time, but it’s what I meant. And I think it applies to anyone about to graduate with an MBA. When I graduated from MIT Sloan with an SM (they didn’t have MBA’s back in 1988) I was already following three of these – I hadn’t focused on where I wanted to live until 1995 when Amy and I moved to Boulder. But when I look back, I didn’t care about money (and subsequently made plenty of it), I focused all of my energy on building a software company (which evolved into helping create software / Internet companies), and I lived my life every single moment – the ups, the downs, the dark depressed days, and the euphoric moments.
Go do something important right now, whatever that is for you. The world needs it and your chances of living a meaningful, happy, and fulfilling life will increase dramatically.