Amy and I were at a delightful dinner with friends (new and old) last night who are deeply involved in Naropa. After a very long couple of days where I was very tired, it was nice to sit in a cozy house, eat home cooked food, and just talk about life.
Near the end of the evening, I heard a line that will stick with me for a very long time.
“Contentment used to be a virtue. Now it’s a vice.”
As with many things that need to stick with me, I repeated it out loud. We talked for a few minutes about the overall, dominant American culture of achievement. The endless striving. The need to feel busy, important, and successful. The deep cultural norms around ambition.
The word striving stuck out for me (I wasn’t the one who mentioned it first.) Recently I’ve been telling people that I’m done striving. Sure, I expect I’ll accomplish a lot more in my life, but it’s not driven from a place of needing to ego fulfillment of accomplishment. Everything about striving, including the definition (“struggle or fight vigorously”), turns me off at this point. It’s not me, how I think about myself, or how I want people to think about me (as a “striver.”)
Yesterday afternoon before dinner I gave a talk at the Catalyze CU-Boulder accelerator. I try to do this every summer as one of the things I do to support entrepreneurship at CU Boulder. As I got in my car to drive to dinner, I wondered whether the students got what they wanted from me. I spent 45 minutes answering a set of questions they’d put together in advance but gave to me when I showed up. While I answered their questions, sort of, my responses were rambling philosophical views of what I thought was actually underneath the question. It was a lot more fun for me; I hope it was useful for them.
This morning, I realized that many of my public talks, especially Q&As, have become more abstract in the past few years. While some specifics still find their way into what I say, I’m trying to help people think about the questions at a much higher level than they ordinarily do. And, in a lot of cases, I’m not trying to give an answer, but provide stimuli to generate more introspection about the question.
On my drive in today, my phone dropped three times, which is in the normal range of one to six. On the third drop, when I called the person back, I said:
“My life with Verizon can be agitated or amused. I choose amused.”
The person I was talking to, who is a high achiever in a very fast growing company, said “I choose amused also. It’s a better way to live.”
Choose amused. Think about the real issues. Embrace contentment.
During Boulder Startup Week 2016, Dave Mayer of Technical Integrity moderated a panel on Mental Health and Wellbeing that I was on with Sarah Jane Coffey and Tom Higley. It ended up going 90 minutes and I remember it being powerful for me and the audience. Dave recently put it up on Youtube and wrote a blog post about it. His leadoff in his post sets things up nicely.
“During my relatively short six-year journey through the startup landscape- I’ve been through ugly founder breakups, I’ve lost plenty of money, lost way too much time, and I ended up in the hospital from exhaustion from too many 100 hour weeks. That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the reality of building new companies. I know of suicides, families being torn apart and of course several cases of debilitating depression.”
If this is a topic that is interesting, relevant, or important to you, I hope you enjoy our rambling session on it at Naropa during BSW 2016. Thanks Dave for organizing and hosting. And thanks to Sarah Jane and Tom for being vulnerable and brave enough to talk publicly about this stuff.
Today’s #GivingThanks post is for my dear friend Jerry Colonna. When I make a list of non-family members and non-partners who I would want to be stranded on a desert island with, Jerry is at the top of the list.
Before I tell a story, if you want to participate in #GivingThanks to Jerry, please make a donation to Naropa University where Jerry is the chair of the board. I was going to try to create some kind of complicated matching donation scheme since I hadn’t made a gift to Naropa yet this year but I decided to just gift them $10,000 (which I just did now through the website) so I encourage you to support at any level if you want to participate in my not-so-complicated match.
I met Jerry in 1995. I was chair of NetGenesis, which was the first angel investment I’d made after selling Feld Technologies (my first company). NetGenesis had raised some money and had created three different products – net.Forms (a web form manager), net.Thread (a web threaded discussion board), and net.Analysis (a weblog analysis tool). While our customer for each product was the same (a webmaster or a company trying to build a website), we were having trouble leading with all three products. Allaire was eating our lunch on .Form, a company called eShare was picking us apart on .Thread, and this new company called WebTrends was torturing us on .Analysis. A year earlier, none of this had existed – now we realized we needed to focus on one product. We chose net.Analysis and went about selling the other two products to different companies.
Jerry had just invested in eShare. Somehow Raj Bhargava (the NetGenesis CEO) had connected with Jim Tito (the eShare CEO) and worked a deal to sell him net.Thread. NetGenesis got some of eShares equity, eShare got the net.Thread product, and I joined the eShare board.
That started a 20+ year relationship between me and Jerry that I comfortably use the word “love” to describe.
Jerry became partners with Fred Wilson and they started Flatiron Partners. We all started working with SoftBank as affiliates (along with Rich Levandov). I eventually co-founded SoftBank Technology Partners (which became Mobius Venture Capital) and SoftBank (the corporation) became a 50% LP in Flatiron with Chase. We made more investments together. As Jerry and Fred’s relationship evolved, so did mine (with each of them) as we had different kinds of professional and personal connections.
I remember a moment in what must have been 1999, sitting at Jerry’s desk in NY in a dark office (I never really like office lighting so I work without it on and it had turned into evening in NY.) I was trying to get a deal done and it was a stressful mess. The tension of the Internet bubble bursting hadn’t started yet, but I was already exhausted and negotiating basically all the time with everyone about everything. I hung up the phone and put my head down on Jerry’s desk. I wasn’t crying, but I was probably in a parallel emotional zone. Jerry walked in the room, saw me, and wrapped his whole body around me and just covered me up. It was one of those moments I’ll never forget – total, compete emotional intimacy in the context of support. I’m sure he was feeling the same kind of stress and in the moment we just hugged. And then I cried.
Jerry has a super power – he makes grown men (and women) cry in a business context. But that’s the super power – it’s not a business context, it’s life, and he helps us understand that in powerful, unique, and profound ways.
In 2002 Jerry retired from venture capital and went on his own personal journey for meaning. He was an extremely successful VC but woke up one day hating the work, feeling unfulfilled, and struggling with what became a deep depression. I was fighting my way through my own dark shit then so we didn’t see each other often, but when we did it was extremely helpful to me. There was an immediate sense of comfort, of love, of empathy, and of understanding. It didn’t matter what we talked about – we were just there, together, in the moment.
Today, Jerry runs a CEO coaching company called Reboot. Their mission – front and center on their website – says it all.
“We believe that in work is the possibility of the full realization of human potential. Work does not have to destroy us. Work can be the way we achieve our fullest self. Reboot is a coaching company. We help entrepreneurs and their teams deal with the internal ups and downs of entrepreneurship and support the growth they need to improve their performance and their life.”
I believe that Jerry is the best CEO coach on this particular planet. I’ve seen, and experienced, his magic many times. He’s found his purpose in life, and it’s wonderful to see him practice it every day.
Jerry also moved to Boulder last year. That means I see him a lot more in person that I used to. I still have to make a mental adjustment when Amy and I run into him and Ali on the Pearl Street Mall heading off to different restaurants for dinner, but an enormous smile always crosses my face when it happens.
Jerry – thank you for being you. And for everything you do in this world.