Good read, and useful. Whether you're in silicon valley or not, as any sort of entrepreneur, it's hard to find people you can relate to without any sense of competition. Family/friends can sometimes help, but they can't often relate. When speaking with close family, you may often either scare them or piss them off when talk of money issues way outside their experience level.
A few years ago I ran a phone/email group of some fellow entrepreneurs to help support each other - it ran its course and people moved to various stages of life and business at different rates, but was extremely useful for me to help put perspective on issues I was having in business.
I've also recently found a 'support group' of sorts in a local business group in town. Most of the businesses aren't tech related at all, but the support and being able to just be honest about issues 'in private' is very useful for all of us.
EDIT: If anyone is interested in starting/joining an informal support group, ping me at email@example.com.
Yeah, I would love to see more of this. I use my close friends a bit as a sounding board for these sorts of things, usually they tell me -- dude, stop working so hard, even if you fail you'll learn stuff that will make you much much more valuable in the future either for your own company or even for someone else's.
I use my close friends a bit as a sounding board for these sorts of things, usually they tell me -- dude, stop working so hard, even if you fail you'll learn stuff that will make you much much more valuable in the future either for your own company or even for someone else's.
One reason, I think, that I don't use my best friends for a sounding board on this, is that they are too likely to be supportive and encouraging like that, and I don't think I want that kind of talk. For one, I'm too old and there isn't enough time left for that kind of thing. If this startup fails, it's pretty much "game over" for me, as I see it. So any talk that isn't "fuck or walk", "do this or hit the bricks pal", "do or die", etc. is counter-productive to me.
Rational? Probably not. But I don't want any fatalistic talk, or overt acknowledgement that failure is even a remotely reasonable option, because it might give me an excuse.
Of course, explaining why I put so much internal pressure on myself is a whole other story. And one that I don't feel like I could ever really tell anybody. It would involve too many uncomfortable truths and too much digging around in my past.
Easier to keep soldiering on, amped up on a steady dose of heavy-metal, adrenaline and caffeine and a mindset that there are two outcomes in front of me:
1. Succeed at this startup, and achieve some things I've been questing after my whole life.
2. Emulate Nick Cage's character in Leaving Las Vegas.
I think that it is unfortunate that you are in this situation. My close friends of all ages are not all necessarily perfectly comfortable talking to me about their deep-seated fears, but certainly some are. And the others have their confidant.
And certainly a fair bit of the feedback I get from my friends is "stop being lazy and work harder".
But I find that if I get too anxious or worked up, my actual quantifiable performance drops dramatically.
If I used your strategy, I would do worse because I'd be spending more time worrying about failure instead of working hard. Similarly, the anxiety of feeling like it's succeed or die would not make me more likely to succeed, it would make my health worse, definitely my mental health worse, and I'd be more likely to fail. It would be like being stressed out and deciding not to exercise anymore. It's only going to make me more stressed out.
Maybe we're just very different people, but I find anxiety crippling and a huge drain on my ability to do creative work in particular.
For me, knowing that even if I fail at starting my company, it will be much easier to get a good job afterwards being able to demonstrate that I've got the drive and interest to help a company's core mission is very, very helpful. This is the best advice I was given by my friends. Yeah, my company might fail, but every other company will be more likely to hire me to a management or other high level role knowing that I tried, even if I failed. They know a lot of it is luck, and that as long as I can demonstrate that I didn't fail due to massive incompetence or laziness (which will not be a reason I fail at it) it makes me a more valuable potential employee.
Maybe we're just very different people, but I find anxiety crippling and a huge drain on my ability to do creative work in particular.
Heh, yeah, it's hard to explain. I certainly have "stuff" that it would be nice to get off my chest, things that I don't want to talk to my best friend about, even things I don't want to talk about with my co-founder. But don't get me wrong... I'm not suffering from crushing, debilitating depression or anxiety here. And the feelings I feel are - to me - largely motivational.
I guess the biggest thing is, I don't know how to tell anybody exactly how scared of failure I am in this context, or how to explain why I am so driven to make this work. And now that I'm getting older and getting more of that "this is my last shot" mentality, the pressure is even stronger.
Anyway, I don't want this to sound too morbid. I'm not in a bathtub full of hot water with a straight razor or anything. Yeah, I sometimes worry that my story ends like Leaving Las Vegas, but that's just a background thread that activates from time to time. Most of the time, I'm just slogging away, working hard and dealing with the day to day stuff that comes along. :-)
For me, knowing that even if I fail at starting my company, it will be much easier to get a good job afterwards being able to demonstrate that I've got the drive and interest to help a company's core mission is very, very helpful. This is the best advice I was given by my friends. Yeah, my company might fail, but every other company will be more likely to hire me to a management or other high level role knowing that I tried, even if I failed.
Yeah, part of my problem is, I feel like I'm too old for that stuff to matter. Plus, the entrepreneurial route is the only way I think I can ever be really happy. It's not about making a lot of money, mind you. It's about the fact that I don't want a "job" in the traditional sense, for any company. As long as I have a "boss", in the sense of one person who can order me around and fire me for non-compliance, I will always chafe at that and be unhappy.
(Yeah, I know that when you run a company you still have a "boss" in a sort of metaphorical sense. That isn't quite the same thing though.)
Also, just to illustrate something... I'm just old enough to have grown up on a steady dose of 80's "feel good" movies. That brand of narrative pervades my thinking... the determined underdog, through hard work, grit and determination battles his way to victory against all odds, etc. I watch Rocky for inspiration once every couple of months or so. So I think that I actually need to be in this "do or die" situation to feel at balance with the world. That's my reality, being the underdog, having the deck stacked against me, and having to test myself to see if I can overcome. Sounds weird, I guess, but it's just something that's become part of my fabric over the years.
I mean, you're probably not that much older than me if you grew up watching 80's movies. I'm not exactly some undergrad considering dropping out to start the next facebook. I've finished graduate school, a postdoc, and am on year two of two startups. Arguably, I grew up more on Star Trek: TNG, but you sound like you can't be more than 10 years older than me.
If it helps inspire you at all, my dad started a non-profit at 30 (when I was 7), another one at 35, switched careers at 40, switched again at 45, and switched again at 50. And has every intention of continuing to switch regularly as soon as his job gets uninteresting. Life doesn't stop at 40 unless you decide to let it.
I do get what you're saying about having a boss. I find it frustrating too. I find my 2-day a week part time job much more stressful than starting two companies most of the time. Not because it's quantitatively more work, but because it's work that's not something I'm doing of my own volition.
That said, the more independent you present yourself in looking for an actual job, I suspect the more independent you'll end up being in a final position. I suspect that if you end up as a director of research and development, or a vice president of systems development, or whatever you will find that in practice you are extremely independent.
Sorry if that de-motivates you ;-) It's just how I would approach the problem you describe. Unless you were watching cartoons in the 60s, you're not too old to keep getting more awesome.
Life doesn't stop at 40 unless you decide to let it.
Yeah, I mean, intellectually I understand that (I'll be 40 this year BTW) and I don't mean to suggest that it literally does. I'm just saying that, at this age, the pressure starts to mount (at least given my particular world-view) for various reasons. Just to elaborate, and without boring all of HN with too much detail about my own personal drama... I was just diagnosed with diabetes late last year. I literally spent a night (3, actually) in the hospital for the first time in my adult life. So now I'm a lot more aware of my age and the inevitability of declining health and vitality due to age. Something like that kinda amplifies that "clock ticking" sound, ya know?
I suspect that if you end up as a director of research and development, or a vice president of systems development, or whatever you will find that in practice you are extremely independent.
True, and I'm not quite convinced that failing at this startup means heading for the Golden Gate bridge (or the liquor store, then Vegas), but there is definitely an under-current of "this has to happen, and happen now, or else" in my mind.
Sorry if that de-motivates you ;-)
Damn you, neltnerb, I was SO close to achieving my dreams, and you came along and destroyed everything!!! Aaargghh!! I will now spend my final years hunting you to the ends of the earth to seek my retribution!
Now that I can relate to. I was recently diagnosed (July) with a degenerative neurological disease, and expect to be unable to walk by 45, and be in pain most of the time.
So from that perspective, yes, definitely, I have been having a hard time figuring out what to do. The whole optimization problem of what to do has changed.
It's always been that my current happiness is a function of my current workload, and that my future happiness is a function of my current work and current happiness and future health, and that my future work is a function of my current happiness and current work, but let's just say... the prefactors for each shift rather dramatically when you can't help but think "if I don't do this now, I will probably never have the chance".
But it's worth considering, at least for me, that my current health will in large part effect my future health. So anxiety in the present will have a concrete quantifiable effect on my future health and therefore my future work.
That problem, I definitely have no answer to. But I do think that you shouldn't overvalue current work relative to current health. Not to trivialize anything (diabetes sucks), but focusing on your health now may well give you a lot more time in which you are able to succeed. The optimization function is not at all clear to me, at least.
For me, stress explicitly will increase the rate at which I lose neurological function. But I doubt it's linear; I mean, much more likely that there is some threshold at which I can operate and not degenerate much faster. So I should be operating at that magic optimization point. But unfortunately, my condition has such large patient-to-patient variability that it's unclear what that optimization point is. Ugh.
So yeah, I can feel the clock ticking too. Heck, I don't even have a decent boyfriend yet. And I want to have kids someday!
I dunno, it's tricky. And I definitely haven't figured it out yet other than to know that I need to make changes to reduce my stress level from that of some undergrad. That's just not healthy. Exercise, sleeping well, maintaining personal relationships, these are not irrelevant in determining your future outlook.
Again, I apologize for probably completely misunderstanding your worries. I'm misunderstanding my own frankly. This is a weird time of my life as well; perhaps we can just be confused together.
Yeah, I'm doing the low-carb diet thing, and my diabetes is fairly well controlled at the moment. I'm not in eminent danger of collapsing and dying as far as I know, but it's just that going through the experience I did (I developed something called DKA or "Diabetic Ketoacidosis" which is a life threatening condition, hence the hospital stay) has made me much more aware of the inevitable decline in health and fitness as I age. Yes, I know that proper exercise and diet and what-not can slow the process down, but I can no longer pretend that it isn't going to happen to some degree. Having that shoved in my face very unceremoniously has given me a new perspective on certain things. :-)
Once you create a narrative, it becomes harder to relate to a world that exists outside that narrative.
Most of the things which, in retrospect, give me a sense of having lived a fulfilling life, have rarely originated from the narratives I created for myself about who I am or what I should accomplish. I try not to paint myself into movie characters or personality caricatures anymore, as much as possible. Doing that gets me to the "acceptance" phase of emotional events a lot sooner.
Hey mgkimsal, I remember when you were doing something like that before. I would probably actually want to get involved in such a group. I'm about to head off to Chicago for 3 months for a consulting gig, but when I'm back in town, I'll get in touch.
I'll be home most weekends, if not all. I usually fly in Friday night on a late flight, then fly back out Sunday afternoon. I'll shoot you an email or give you a call, and we'll set something up. It has been a long time!