Amy and I have just launched a new project we are working on together called Startup Marriage: Balancing Entrepreneurship and Relationship. It includes a blog, a tweet stream, and a book (hopefully by the end of the year.)
Since the beginning of 2010 I’ve written two books. The first, Do More Faster: TechStars Lessons To Accelerate Your Startup, was with David Cohen, the CEO of TechStars. The second, Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer And Venture Capitalist, was with Jason Mendelson, one of my Foundry Group partners. Wiley published both of them and I’ve learned a lot about writing a long form book. I’ve also enjoyed the process and the work immensely, except for the final, mind-numbing edit cycle.
Amy and I have been talking about writing Startup Marriage for several years. Do More Faster’s last chapter is on Work-Life Balance and I have written a lot about Work-Life Balance on my blog. While there is always more to learn and figure out, Amy and I have gotten a lot of things right, although we’ve had plenty of ups and downs along the way as we’ve figured this stuff out.
We’re spending a good chuck of our time in Paris and Italy writing together. Our goal is to have a solid draft of the book done by the time we get back to Boulder after Labor Day. We haven’t decided whether to self-publish or go with a publisher this time around – we’ll see how we feel when we get a little closer to the end of the draft. In the mean time, we’ll be blogging regularly on the Startup Marriage blog about a wide variety of topics, including the experience of writing a book together. We hope you’ll follow us and participate!
It’s Sunday morning. Take a deep breath. It’s summer time. Go for a walk. Or a run. Play with your family. Take a nap this afternoon. Read a book. Go to a movie. Chill.
Last week, I had two close friends tell me some version of “I’m too busy.” One insightfully said “I have no time these days. I’m doing too much.” The other simply said “sorry I didn’t call back – I have no time.”
I too am intensely busy. And anyone who knows me knows that I eventually hit a wall, have short term burnout, need to rest / recover, and then get back at it. However, as I’ve gone through this cycle throughout my life, I’m getting smarter about how to handle it. My week a quarter off the grid helps. July in Alaska helps (although this summer has a fun, European twist). Running helps. Time with Amy helps. And recognizing that as one gets busier, more crap creeps into the schedule, is important.
I’ve deliberately slowed down in June. I’ve cancelled a bunch of unnecessary things. I’m rethinking how I approach board meetings which are a massive time suck for any VC. I’ve been a lot more hesitant to say yes to a trip somewhere to do something. I’ve been aggressively using Skype and Google Video Chat for meetings. And I’m scheduling a lot less throughout the day – trying to have more adhoc time to work on whatever I feel like or whatever comes up.
Basically, I’m trying to slow down. If I do this right, I believe I’ll be able to cover even more ground. I think this applies to any entrepreneur, or anyone involved in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. “Being really busy” is seductive – it has nothing to do with getting things done, or actually accomplishing your goals. But there’s something satisfying, or at least addictive, about being so busy that you don’t have time to think or reflect on what is going on around you. This is a big mistake long term as you’ll ultimately make crummy decisions.
Slow down to speed up.
Last night I had dinner with my brother Daniel, one of the partners at Slice of Lime, a Boulder-based web design and development firm. He and I were at TechStars at the end of the day where I gave a talk on “How To Be A CEO.” Afterwards, we had a nice dinner together at The Cheesecake Factory (his choice – I don’t think I’d been there in a decade – and it was surprisingly good), a great talk, and dynamite brother hang out time.
We do this once a month and have committed to each other to try to do this every month for the rest of our lives. For the first 25 years of my life we weren’t that close. While I don’t remember being an asshole older brother, I’m periodically reminded by Daniel about things I did that, while they fall in the “typical older brother” category, also could be consider major asshole moves. We became very close when he moved to Boulder 15 years ago (less than a year after I did) and we’ve never looked back.
We’ve modeled our relationship after our father (Stan) and his brother (Charlie). I’m very close to both my dad, who is one of my best friends, but also very close to Charlie who introduced me to computers when I was 11 and has been a great mentor to me, always inviting me along to meetings with major companies like Lotus, Microsoft, IBM, and DEC when he was the CIO at Frito Lay in the 1980’s. In 2000, Charlie and I became business partners when Mobius Venture Capital invested in The Feld Group and I joined the board. Over the next four years, I worked closely with Charlie and his partners at The Feld Group as they built the company before selling it to EDS in 2004.
While I’ve always viewed my relationship with my dad and Charlie as special, part of what drives that is their incredibly close relationship. My dad is older by about the same amount that I am older than my brother and, while there is the typical older brother / younger brother entertainment, these two guys completely have each other’s back, no matter what. Whenever my dad tells me he’s heading out to Charlie’s farm to hit baseballs (Charlie has a baseball diamond on his property), I can hear the joy and excitement of the kid from the Bronx who taught me how to hit a baseball in his voice.
So Daniel and I try hard to emulate the relationship and take it to another level. While we talk plenty about business stuff, we also spend a lot of time talking about our lives, what is driving us, what stresses us out, and what we strive to do better. We talk about things that only brothers can talk about and instinctively know when the other needs help and support. Often – we just hang out.
As I sit at my desk at my office in Boulder at the end of a Friday of another intense week, I think about how lucky I am to have role models like my father and his brother, both for themselves as individuals and for their relationship. Daniel – thanks for being an awesome brother. And dad and Charlie – thanks for leading the way!
This morning, as I cranked through my 5am – 7am routine (which ends at 6am today because I have to leave the house at 630am to get to CU Boulder to give a keynote at the 2011 Boulder Economic Summit) I kept thinking to myself “deep breath.” If you do yoga you know exactly what I’m talking about – it’s part of Amy’s mantra for each of us to relax, slow down, and concentrate.
I’m in a particularly intense work phase that I expect will run through the end of June based on a few things that are going on that will happen between now and then. On top of it, I’m trying to run two marathons in May (Cincinnati, which I did already – and it sucked, and Madison, which is coming up at the end of the month.) Between all the work and travel, I’d probably already be pretty tired, but layer the running and the marathons on top of it and I’m physically exhausted.
While I contemplated punting on the second marathon, there are a few things driving me to do it, including really understanding my own recovery dynamics. I have a hypothesis about how I recover from a marathon (quickly) but I haven’t tested it. By adding a second marathon on top of everything else within 30 days, I’m suddenly learning some new stuff about rest, sleep, and weight. I’m also experiencing an interesting emotional spectrum that I haven’t experienced in a while (some good, some not good) that is clearly a function of the intersection of my physical activity and my work activity.
What popped out this morning is the need for more “deep breaths.” With my normal work / life rhythm, I get these on the weekend and then once a quarter when I go off the grid for a week. But given the daily work intensity combined with the physical fatigue, it’s become very obvious that I need something different during the week to sustain things at this level. Last night I blew off a dinner with a friend to just go home and lie on the couch with Amy all evening. That helped, although I spent almost all of it with an iPad in my lap sort of watching The Hangover, sort of catching up on email, and working on a few things that I knew I couldn’t jam into today.
Tonight, Amy and I have dinner alone. I’m going to shut off completely for a few hours and reflect on what I’m going through and learning about recovery. Fortunately I have a partner who puts up with this and lets me use myself as my own laboratory for these experiments.
Amy and I spent the last week at Canyon Ranch in Tucson, Arizona. It was awesome.
I was tired and needed a break. I also needed a focused week to finish the final draft of Book #2 (Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and VC) that I’m writing with my partner Jason Mendelson. The submission date is March 31st and I think we are going to be three days early.
While I wasn’t completely off the grid last week, I hid behind a different email address and didn’t check my email, or the web, or any of my traditional news and info services. It was fascinating to be able to quickly catch up using Gist as I could look at the last seven days of news for the people I cared about in the Dashboard view (they prioritized). There were a few interesting things but like most weeks there was a lot more noise than signal.
So I got to spend my entire week on signal, which consisted of three things:
I had huge success on all three fronts, I’m refreshed, and ready for Q2.
After reflecting over the past few weeks on Turning 45 as well as Death and Dying, I’ve reached a conclusion that I’ve said out loud several times: “My life is most likely more than half over.” The singularity not withstanding, the chances, at least today, that I’ll live to be over 90 aren’t great.
Over the weekend, I saw two blog posts from friends – one from Joanne Wilson about her mom passing away titled Judy Solomon, Entrepreneur and one from Ken Smith (I’m actually close to Ken’s brother Keith, the CEO of BigDoor) titled A Eulogy for Elmer Smith. Both are beautifully written – Judy was 73 and Elmer was 97. Joanne starts off with a very insightful statement:
“Old enough to have lived a full life yet young enough to have had her life cut short. I always thought she would live to the ripe old age of 90 something, but life doesn’t always turn out as expected. “
Several of you recommended that I read Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy – Until You’re 80 and Beyond. It was one of the books I read during my week off the grid the first week of December and I enjoyed it a lot.
It had two key graphs in it. The first is the normal “human being decay cycle.” Basically, at the age of 45, most humans start a long, slow, gradual decay ending in death.
The second is the “desired decay cycle.”
The book talks about how to live your life from 45 forward so you experience the second curve. As Amy likes to say, there are usually only a few things you need to do to accomplish physical health (e.g. if you want to lose weight, (1) eat less and (2) exercise more.) In this case, it’s (1) don’t eat crap and (2) exercise six days a week, at least two of them with weights.
There’s a lot more in the book, including plenty of real medical, health, and physiology explanations from Dr, Harry Lodge (the co-author). But just internalizing these graphs along with the two tips from the book have enabled me to re-commit to the six-day a week exercise approach (at least two of them with weights).
I sure do like the second graph a lot better than the first graph.
I’m turning 45 next week and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. For some reason this seems like a more significant birthday to me than 30 or 40 was. I know some of my thoughts are a result of a few colleagues dying recently (in their 50’s and 60’s), me completely wearing myself out this fall, and spending about half the year struggling with a back injury, but I think something deeper is going on.
At my core, I’m profoundly happy with my existence on this planet. I’m married to an amazing person who I’ve been involved with for 20 years. My direct family is healthy and very functional. I have three superb partners who I get to work with on deeply satisfying activities. I’ve structured my life so that I get to spend most of my time on really interesting things. I get to work with fascinating entrepreneurs on long term projects that I care about almost as much as they do. Finally, I live in what I think is the best town in the world (Boulder) and spend plenty of time in several great cities in the US (New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Boston.)
When Amy and I talk about turning 45 the phrase “mid-life” comes up. Both of us want to live a long time but are realistic that living until 90 based on our family histories is a long shot, the singularity notwithstanding. So I think we’ve accepted that this is the pivot point where we can start viewing our lives as “at least half way finished.”
Reflecting back on the last 45 years, I’m really pleased with how I’ve lived my life. If I died tomorrow, I wouldn’t have any regrets. Of course, I’d be dead, so that’s kind of an odd phrase. I believe when it’s over, it’s over, but my inner editor refuses to change the sentence.
In some way, that liberates me to think about the next 45 years with a freshness that I wouldn’t otherwise have. I love my work and my daily life so I don’t feel like I’m in need of any fundamental changes. But there are plenty of tweaks, especially when I look back at the last year of injury, illness, and fatigue. For example, I got an email from a blog reader a few days ago in response to my Death and Dying post with the following key paragraph:
“So, what do I do differently now that I’m zooming towards 50? While the work load peak-to-average (crest factor) will always be high in our businesses, I now try for a healthy mix of work, exercise, eating right and relationship building on a 2-7 day window instead of the 30-90 day window. The “week off the grid” model seemed to work in my 20’s and 30’s, but the swings from low and high (energy, mental acuity, happiness, etc.) would be unsustainable today.”
My engine has always run hot – I work and play hard until I run out of gas, and then I crash for a while. I’ve solved this for the past decade by taking a quarterly week of the grid to recharge and spend focused time with Amy, but I’m starting to feel like the 90 day tempo isn’t working as it’s too much physically and emotionally. The idea that I should shift to a weekly or some better defined monthly rhythm is appealing.
There are plenty of other things, both physical and mental, that I’ve struggled to change such as trying to lose 25 pounds for several years, learning a new programming language like Python, trying to stop using the telephone except for family, partners, and CEOs, and trying to back off of being completely scheduled from Monday to Friday.
Fortunately, next week is one of my quarterly weeks off the grid (although I have several things going on that will keep me a little engaged) so I’ll have plenty of time to ponder this. But, for any of you out there that have read this far and are willing, I’m interested in the suggestions, ideas, and tweaks you might have for me as I turn 45.
I heard a brilliant thing recently concerning making mistakes in a relationship. The person I heard it from described it as “the 5 to 1 rule.”
“When you screw up, recognize that you need to do five good things for every one bad thing. So, when I do something that makes my wife mad at me – or which she considers “wrong”, I consciously focus on making sure that I do the next five things right.”
I think this simple rule can be applied to all relationships, not just the one with your spouse or significant other. As humans, we make plenty of mistakes and have plenty of failures. We also do plenty of things that annoy, distress, and anger people around us. Sometimes we realize it; sometimes we don’t.
Assume that you’ve done something, in the context of a relationship, that you’d consider to be a mistake and that you realize it, either because someone pointed it out to you or you figured it out yourself. If you consciously focus on doing “the right thing” the next five times you interact with that person, you’ll likely neutralize the impact of the mistake.
More importantly, you’ll develop a pattern of doing the right thing. This leads to all kinds of positive second order effects, like being generous, happy, and content with the people around you.
It’s especially powerful when you apply it to your spouse or significant other. I annoy my wife Amy on a regular basis. I show up late. I forget to do something she asked. I’m inconsiderate about something. But I try hard and over 18 years of being together the ratio of “good to bad” is much better than 5 to 1 in both directions. And it shows whenever one of the bad things happen, as each of us knows there is plenty of good coming next.
Two colleagues have died suddenly in the past two weeks – one was in his 60’s and one was in his 50’s. Both shook me up. A close friend’s mother is very ill. And a close friend’s father died earlier this year.
I’ve had a physical challenging year. I ran a marathon in February and was geared up for a lot of running and then hurt my back. Seven months later I’m better, but I had five months of solid and consistent pain (never getting below a two on a 0 to 10 scale and often reaching eight or nine.) On top of that, I’ve had a few nasty colds, including a staph infection in my earlobe that scared the shit out of at least one doctor. Oh, and two weeks ago my extrovert completely burned out.
When I read the title to Fred Wilson’s blog this morning (Pacing Yourself) I thought he was going to talk about “personal pace.” His post ended up being about investment pace (and is a very important one), but it has deep roots in personal pace, even if they aren’t obvious on the surface.
I’m turning 45 in a few weeks and this is the first year of my life that I’ve felt any amount of sustainable physical fatigue. Every year I run extremely “hot” until I burn out, but then I recover in a week or so of deep sleep and rest. Suddenly, however, I’m feeling tired on a more regular basis. My binge sleeping on the weekend is reaching new levels. It takes me a few days to recover from a redeye (and, as a result I’ve decided not to take them anymore.) The periodic intervention from my partners about “pushing too hard” seems to be turning into an annual affair.
Fear of death motivates a lot of human behavior. I’d like to believe that I’m tranquil about death (when my number is up, it’s up) and when I read posts like Regrets of the Dying (thanks @djilk) I smile and feel good about how I approach my life. But this year feels like a transformative one for me as I am suddenly acknowledging that I’m probably not in the first half of my life anymore.
I had a couple of dreams that past few days about death and dying and good versus evil. I’m 99.9% confident these dreams are a result of me watching the Star Wars episodes over the past five days (Return of the Jedi is tonight – then I’ll be done). As I come out of my latest burnout cycle, I’m starting to ponder how and what to adjust so that year 45 if a healthier one than 44 and doesn’t have a burnout week (or month) in it.
About once a year I completely use up my extrovert capacity. I drain it completely to zero. Whenever this happens, I remember that I’m fundamentally an introvert. If you don’t know how to relate to someone like me when he goes into deep introvert mode, take a look at the great Atlantic Monthly article from 2003 titled “Caring for Your Introvert.”
The last sixty days have been awesome but extremely intense. My ordinarily full days had the Do More Faster book tour layered on top along with a bunch of other public appearances, interviews, speaking engagements, and events. About two weeks ago I started feeling a fatigue that I couldn’t get in front of and the last two weeks pushed me over the edge.
I’ve got one more big extrovert push this week at Defrag this Wednesday and Thursday and then I’m done for a while. Oh – I’ll be available – but if you have a physical sighting of me, you might be interacting with my new avatar.