Life is how you react to it

5

Of course we spend too much time being slaves to our smartphones, and of course this stimulates an always-on, knee-jerk reaction lifestyle. Worse yet, if you’re not sharing it on social media it didn’t really happen, right?

I’m as guilty of this as the next person but I also love the pure focus of a CrossFit metcon or Olympic lift or even a set of heavy back squats; or those dinners where you have no desire to pick up your phone because the person you’re with is so interesting.

What this means? I don’t know. More airplane mode for my phone? Now that I acquired my Dad’s iPad he wasn’t using I’m going to have yet another distracting device. Love it though; so interesting to learn how to use an Apple device. In some ways the apps sure do work better than on Android. Yes, I am an equal opportunity critic.

You have on your one shoulder a devil, and an angel on the other. These inner voices are whispering to us constantly, all the time. I’m not talking so much about the dutiful vs the mischievous, I am talking about the positive thoughts vs the negative thoughts about yourself and the situation. Glass half empty, or half full? The choices don’t end there: dump it out, fill it up, or order me a fresh one.

Some of the best things in life are free (or inexpensive). To feel the breeze, to swim, the smell of jasmine at night, to roll over and go back to sleep, to eat a fresh strawberry. Of course.

But many other things in life are meaningful because of their difficulty or their struggle. To enjoy the beauty from the top of a mountain you climbed up. To take pride in a job well done. The feeling of a PR. To succeed at something you didn’t think you could do. To look fear in the face and do something anyway. To apply for a job you’re not sure if you can do. To go after something you want, where you may not get it, but you might. I’d take 20% chance over 0% any day.

Clearly.

Strange trip for me, from the New Years party that I spent with some friends I hadn’t seen in a year, some I hadn’t seen in three or four, and some new people in the lives of these friends. Oddly enough, one of the most memorable things out of this was a 2am mobility diagnosis of one major problem with my shoulders. Figures it would take a yoga teacher to figure it out, but something so dramatic is clearly going to cause issues. Hey, knowledge is power. Plus, there wasn’t any 4Loko this year.

There are some things that just can’t be replicated. That New Years party of 2010-2011 was a pivot point in my life. I remember one moment at Ask Jeeves in about 2000 when I was looking at the people around me and all of a sudden time just slowed down and I realised that this particular configuration of people would never be together again, not like this.

Once a moment passes, it can be gone forever. Or, not. You can just fall right back into old patterns and relationships (good or bad) just like that.

Yes, friends. But not the same as it was.

Yes, friends. But not the same as it was.

A somewhat non sequitur but that shared culture is inescapable. The same way I’ll miss an 80s cultural reference my South African friends will make; I really noticed how when the TV show we were watching New Years Day made a reference to Ben Roethlisberger, everyone laughed. Everyone.

On New Years Day, my mother and I flew to California. Turned out to be a bit of a mission when our flight to New York was delayed by four hours, causing us to miss our connection to San Francisco. Luckily (and by luckily I mean because I had really good timing to go nag the gate agent), after about an hour or so we snagged the last two tickets on the only other flight to San Francisco that evening. So instead of landing at 9pm we landed at midnight. Not ideal but better than getting in the next day at noon.

For those who don’t know, I lived in the Bay Area for six years. On this trip I went to some old haunts, although some of my favourite restaurants are closed down forever. I saw some of my best friends from the Jeeves days; although there were MANY others I did not see. As always, I stayed with my best friend Cat (I still think of her as Cathleen, as I knew her at university). Some things were old/new, like going to a mecca of Olympic lifting in Catalyst Athletics [great session!! My technique is definitely coming right along!] to a kind of ‘home’ gym in Diablo CrossFit, the gym where my genius coach resides, along with a lot of really sick athletes.

Mount Diablo makes my heart quicken whenever I see it

Mount Diablo makes my heart quicken whenever I see it

Very cool to meet a lot of them in person, play around on the platform, squat heavy twice, do a metcon [not very well, I needed to do more shoulder work before attempting such a thing], and get some technique coaching from one of last year’s Masters champs. I’ve always wanted to know how to do what he showed me, but no one could ever teach me. I love when something just clicks, but it will take some practice.

Well, the Bay Area is home. It kind of always will be. The same way I get that excited trickle of familiarity when I look at a map of Boston. Beautiful place, and a lot to love. Just like America – for all the indignation I can feel over, say, Utah, at the moment, I can love going to Peets (matcha almond milk lattes!!) and Whole Foods. It’s no longer home but that doesn’t mean I can’t miss it.

So many wonderful reunions that made me long for all the ones that didn’t happen. All the friends who essentially said “So you’re a CEO now, huh? Doesn’t surprise me a bit.” The best line was from one of my old mentors who said that didn’t surprise him, any more than it would have to hear I was running as Senator of Massachusetts. Politics! I would die. Never say never, right? Those are the things I often wind up doing.

Dave & AJ; Dave, who I used to train with circa 1999, and AJ, who was also a friend before the two of them met, got married, and had two lovely kids. Such different experiences the three of us have had of the working world.

Jen, who also married a Jeeves employee and has two kids, and now lives a life that part of me envies. She splits her focus between her family, her kettlebell training (where she’s a world champion), and her work as a real estate agent. She envies my career focus, but my career doesn’t even let me focus on my sport to any real degree. I have no balance. And that’s ok for now, but maybe not forever.

What she reminded me though is that all semi-pro or serious athletes are injured, all the time. And no one wants to hear you whine about it. So my shoulder’s jacked up. Someone else has probably got a knee problem. Or their grandmother just died. Suck it up, buttercup, and you’re actually not respecting the rules of the game by talking about it; or at least not respecting yourself. If you’re too injured to compete, don’t compete. If you’re competing shut up and get it done. I just love that she’s so toughminded about this sort of thing, in a way that I’m not. My mental devil on the shoulder is often stronger than my angel. Why give the devil so much power?

6

Indeed.

Cat, who struggles with petty politics and jealousy. The sort of garbage I have no patience for whatsoever, and neither does she. We were driving up to breakfast in Berkeley on our way to wine country (before we saw Robert Reich!) and she pointed out that seeing around corners is the sort of skill that we both have that so many people seem not to. Baffles me how others don’t see what I see; but seeing from other perspectives and the implications and connections therein is a skill.

Billie, who I can see has grown into herself a lot in the past fifteen years. She’s deepened and softened, and turned a raw energy, power, and ability to understand people to something even more sophisticated. I bet she’s a great manager and internal diplomat. She and I used to be much more hotheaded than we are now.

She had this one comment that was very profound. She said the time that we worked at Jeeves was the first time in the history of the world that there was ever a true meritocracy. You could be male, female, queer, tattooed, a teenager (like me!), middle aged … it didn’t matter. You could be strung out on Red Bull and cocaine, as long as you could still do your job. Of course that sh*t does eventually catch up with you, tragically.

Speaking of catching up with you...

Speaking of catching up with you…

I debated this point a bit because it wasn’t exactly a utopia. There was some crazy corporate politics and not everyone was treated equally in terms of …. Well, a lot of things. But when it came down to just showing up to get work done, she’s right. There was a heck of a lot of diversity. And having grown up in Vermont then having gone to an east coast boarding school, Cal was a bit of a culture shock. Jeeves probably even more so even if I didn’t even realise it myself. I was raised to be colour-blind and open-minded but working in such a diverse environment probably made me more so.

Robin, who taught me a lot of sense in terms of how to look at an engineering world; also not to get too attached to my own ideas. This conversation was interesting because you of course have to explain to your old work mentor what you’ve learned about yourself in 15 years. We concluded that I’d always been intellectually curious, unshy, and confident.

Two things I learned in the meantime: the first is how to be creative in negotiations. Understanding what the other party wants, and how to structure things that are win-wins; normally by finding things of high value to one party that is low cost to the other party. This is kind of a form of lateral thinking.

The second is more of a recent skill, and that one is to reject the premise if I don’t like it, and if I can. I suppose I would make a good politician. One example of this is rejecting the proposition that a small company can’t play in a field populated pretty much exclusively by big companies, or that lacking funding to do certain things ourselves, to assume those things couldn’t be done. As another ex-coworker put it so well, I need someone else to give me a full deck of cards to play with. In actual fact (South African version of ‘and also too’), multiple different someone elses.

Gloria Ferrer

Gloria Ferrer

I think we often give up too easily, or presume something is impossible and give up before we start. It’s about setting yourself up to win; and to win, not to not lose.

In the words of John Welbourne (apropos reference since we crossed paths at Cal), well, hell, I’ll just quote the two sections I particularly liked:

Mediocrity is the full length fur coat you are wearing when you get thrown into a fast moving ice cold river…wearing lead shoes.  My team at work hears me say repeated,  ”nothing destroys a body, a mind, a business, will or relationship like mediocrity.”  Don’t be ordinary when extraordinary people get to have so much fun and go cool places.

Fuck mediocrity.

As people make their way in life they encounter problems.  They solve these problems based on a few simple procedures.  They either work within the frame of their past experiences, ask someone whose opinion they value, or shoot from the hip and guess.  Usually, it is combination of all three.  The outcome, whether positive or negative, will shape the next decision and the next and the cycle continues.  Herein lies the problem with knowing your margins: margins can lead to limitations, limitations become boundaries and eventually become the Grand Canyon.  Don’t be afraid to fail at the margins; the margins are where the game is played and kings are crowned.  Nobody ever wrote a book or made a movie about the guy that played it safe.

Fuck safe.

Tell it to ‘em, Johnnie.

Speaking of, I have definitely found a new industry hero in John Legere (T-Mobile CEO). I knew that mobile carriers could engage in amusing antics. But this guy? He crashes the AT&T party at this big tradeshow called the Consumer Electronics Show, claiming he just wanted to hear Mackelmore. Then he shakes up the industry yet again when speaking by offering to pay most or all contract termination fees for customers switching from AT&T. This is a few months after they killed international roaming charges. His speech apparently included such dandies as:

  • “Hey, we’ll even save you the drama and help you with a break-up letter to your old carrier.”
  • “You’ll see how easy it is to tell them where to stick it.”

Epic. When I grow up I wanna be just like him.

  • “Bad news, Ian. Zeth just replied and said ‘They’re out of pear trees.’” – Brian
  • “In order not to take things personally, you have to lose some of the investment in it, which means some of the fire leaves.” – Matt
  • “You can’t burn every bridge around you.” – Kim
  • “No one wants to sign up for a shitshow.” – Kim
  • “Nerd joke!” “You got it!!” – Ellie & Brian
  • “Did you just have a jello shot?” “Whaaaaat?” – Ellie & Kim
  • “I think I played my card too soon.” “Timing is everything.” – Lauren & Ellie
  • “It works now that I f*cking did it right.” – Zeth
  • “That’s fantastic!” “That depends on your point of view!” – AJ & Ellie
  • “God! Stupid!” – Ellie (don’t remember what I was talking about but the child who was present was quite amused by my outburst)
  • “You might be fooling me about your job. You might be fooling me about the nature of your company. But, and I say this as a mental health professional, you can’t fool me about you.” – Robin
  • “You don’t have to be a dick to be brilliant.” – Robin
  • “You’d like Matt.” – Robin (this was in response to my unsolicited editorial comment about how VCs must have a hard time dealing with entrepreneurs)
  • “Sometimes the devil is stronger than the angel.” “What you’re really saying is, you’re the devil.” – Ellie & Jen
  • “Some people can’t choose their destiny.” – Jen
  • “The executives f*cking cheated.” – Jen
  • “One of them caught CrossFit and now it’s spread.” – Cat
  • “She has a male husband.” “Is he black?” – Mom & Steven
  • “Well. Pissing off the Magical Ellie-Beast was never a very good idea.” – Billie
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