Yesterday, I was dismissed from a great job at a great company with great potential. Six months ago, I was dismissed from a great job at a great company with great potential. Two times in a row, I’ve been rejected, dismissed as “not a good fit” which in some ways is saying, “not good enough”. Startup pace is quick, if not brutal. So today, here I am, back at what seems to be Square One, trailing behind the offshoots of engines that will jet off to greatness without me. By most standards, I’ve failed. But by at least one standard, I am encouraged. Defeat presents an opportunity to grow. Richard Nixon, a man who weathered a lot of turmoil, said that learning to survive a defeat is when you develop character. Scoff all you want about Nixon being the last person to know a thing about character, but he’s got a point.
“Ultimately what matters most is resilience–the ability to quickly rebound from failures, indeed to see failure as a stepping stone to success.”
– Arianna Huffington
That’s not to undermine the shame and embarrassment I feel. Being let go sucks. Being let go twice doubly sucks. When you think about it too much, you go crazy, believing your life is just pedaling against the current: one step forward, two steps back. You descend into all sorts of belittling comments and emotions. Heart-wrenching pain that leads to tears, sobbing, louder sobbing, and mind-blowing cries because heck – – rejection hurts.
But amid all the pain, there is a voice – small, quiet yet certain – that knows this is all necessary. After all, what is good without bad? Happiness without sadness? And success without failure?
The windows in my living room overlook the corner of a busy intersection humming with people rushing to their destination. It’s a perfect encapsulation of New York City. I usually scarf my breakfast in plain view of Kate Moss, whose Rag and Bone ad is plastered on the building across the street. Her frozen smile stares at my 99-cent Cinnamon oatmeal sprinkled with too much brown sugar. Her perfectly symmetrical face simultaneously captivates and infuriates me. I imagine her passing gentle judgment, with my asymmetrically cut strawberries, crumpled shirts, and pants squeezing too tight. “Nothing tastes better than skinny. Get it together, Lynne. Don’t fuck up today.” Perfection can be motivational.
Today, I looked out, expecting her gaze. Instead, I saw an assortment of black flyers advertising a weekend party. One of them had already been scribbled on. How quickly perfection had been replaced! I was reminded of the Augusteum in Rome, once the center of the empire only now to be a collapsed monument waiting for a reconstruction that will never happen.
My ego is bruised but has learned its lesson. Ruin is the road to transformation. Life is chaotic, bringing changes that nobody can anticipate. So, don’t take it all too seriously. Fall, but get back up. A job is a job, and life moves on. Like a fish out of water flopping about, I’ll find another place to swim.
“The Augusteum warns me to not get attached to any obsolete ideas about who I am, what I represent, whom I belong to, or what function I may once have intended to serve. Yesterday I might have been a glorious monument to somebody, true enough–but tomorrow I could be a fireworks depository. Even in the Eternal City, says the silent Augusteum, one must always be prepared for riotous and endless waves of transformation.”
– Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love
To the next wave.
A few hours separate one coast – and one world – from another. This morning, I braved gutsy hurricane-like winds in San Francisco, now I’m warmly tucked in to my Brooklyn nook. Air travel, akin to time travel, will never cease to amaze.
So there I sat at 4:30 am PST, my thoughts dripping steadily like the rain drops coalescing on the airplane window. My SFO – – > JFK flight was delayed. We had been stuck on the runway for nearly 2 hours before the pilot was forced to head back to the gate to refuel and wait the storm out. Storm gusts blew at more than 15 knots per hour. (know what that means? neither do I)
For 72 hours before, I took in San Francisco like a vagrant. I stayed at a humble artist’s hotel with morbidly beautiful paintings adorning the wall (my first two room options consisted of one: a crying geisha, two: a stripper staring me down). I finally settled on a more calming bedroom backdrop reminiscent of a Japanese ‘Starry Night’.
Night time brought walking escapades through the city, often with nary an idea of where I was going. Thankfully there were friends who led the way through various neighborhoods. Interesting to observe their tendencies. Just like some New Yorkers shudder at the mention of certain neighborhoods (ahem Williamsburg), San Franciscans have similar reactions to particular areas (Marina?) Ultimately, each neighborhood has a distinct character and way of life that makes San Francisco what it is. In addition to downtown, there are neighboring suburbs: Palo Alto, San Jose, Cupertino, Oakland, Marin County etc. which collectively comprise the Bay Area, a whole other world to itself.
I jotted mental notes comparing San Francisco to New York. Each is arguably the ‘golden’ city on its own coast so, of course, I was evaluating the potential of each as a future home.
The main differences I noticed:
– Residential: San Francisco, while urban, is markedly more residential. You’ll see long stretches of houses and apartments even in the thick of downtown. In Manhattan, aside from maybe the Upper East and West, that’s unseen. And even in neighborhoods like those, Manhattan retains an utterly cosmopolitan environment.
– Style: San Franciscans are more casual. Admittedly, I spent all of my time at startups (one in downtown, and another in Palo Alto) but even around the more corporate Financial District I sensed a greater level of openness and earthiness. New York, while scrappy in ways, is all business with its swank and suits.
– Health: San Franciscans veer natural. They are close to the outdoors with hiking paths, access to mountains and actual room to breathe. Living in New York, meanwhile, might take a year off your life. Physically and mentally, you drive yourself sick between riding the subways, battling anxiety and other neurotic souls, while being lured into oil-dripping street Halal food. But…it’s New York.
I spent most of my time in the more touristy parts of San Francisco: Union Square, Ferry Building, Financial District. Next time, I’m intensely interested in understanding the people, values, and pace of the city. This visit was far too short to get at the city’s real essence. But from the few people I did encounter (including the good samaritan who paid my MUNI fare because I didn’t know you needed exact change) – I’d say it was quite nice.
– seeing my childhood best pal and longest friend to date, Diana
– eavesdropping on “big ideas” at Ground Up Cafe, a shared space for employees in the AOL building (which houses several startups and Stanford’s startup incubator)
– touring the ZeroCater office and shadowing their account managers for a very accurately depicted “day in the life”
– eating cioppino and sea dabs for the first time at a homey family-owned Italian restaurant in North Beach
– exploring the bar scene. Local Edition (located in the Hearst building; the displays of old San Francisco Chronicle editions with typewriters make this a news nerd’s heaven) and Bourbon & Branch (prohibition-style bar with great whiskey & gin cocktails; there’s an old-school library too)
– being a tourist and eating overpriced hamburgers and martinis while overlooking Union Square. Totally worth it.
“Look at all those fish swimming in a fish bowl down there.”
Thanks for a great time, San Francisco. I hope I get to spend more time with you one day.
What am I actually doing? People ask me that a lot. I don’t have a straight answer. I am making no money, am essentially “jobless”, and have no particular path. One could say I am a freelancer, though that’s really just a euphemism for being unemployed since I float between various projects at minimal (sometimes zero) pay. Furthermore, I’ve skipped the few money-making opportunities I have to focus on fledgling ventures that may tank.
Logic questions my decisions, but I’m stubborn. I fill my time with projects that have little traction because a.) they challenge me, and b.) I learn from the visionaries behind them. There is a time and place for everything. Money and security are safe but my current priorities are personal growth, experience, and relationships. The wise wanderer holds off and restrains. My ultimate goal is to get on a rocket ship; until then, I wander.
I’m working with a team called MOWA. MOWA is a mobile photo-sharing game that partners with up-and-coming fashion brands and rewards socially-savvy media users with unique prizes. We aim to create a network of fashionable trendsetters to help brands advertise in this fast-growing mobile photo-sharing and gaming space. The app is currently pre-beta, but you can check us out at www.mowa.me and get on the subscriber list in the meantime. We are looking to test the Beta version of the app with 100 trendy, fashion-forward 20somethings so if you meet that criteria, leave a comment. (You get free stuff!)
I’m charged with user acquisition and media outreach which puts me smack in marketing/PR. Coming from journalism, this could be considered complete sell-out status. But here’s the thing (and a significant reason why I skipped work yesterday to join the MOWA founders): I enjoy it. Our communication approach is open and real and based on building real relationships by providing interesting content to the next stylistic generation. It’s not gimmicky. We’re connecting people to brands they love. All marketing jokes aside, that cuts straight to the reason why humans exist – to connect.
So, what am I doing again? I’m experimenting, figuring out what works and what doesn’t. I’m dirt poor, unreasonably idealistic, and hungry. But I figure as long as I am constantly evaluating where I am and feeling satisfied (even with a lack of answers), no one can question my actions. Not even myself.
At an interview with a startup incubator today, our team was asked,
“One year from now, you’ve failed. What are the reason(s)?”
I was a little taken aback, mainly by how the question was framed. There were no conditions; the statement was definite, as if failure was inevitable. They say something like 75% of startups fail . That percentage may or may not be accurate, but that’s not what’s important. What’s important is why failure occurs. Because like our interviewer today implied, failure is inevitable.
Failure takes on various forms, whether it be a major disaster or a minor hiccup. It’s part of the process, though. At best, failure is market research, resulting in critical pivots which can then lead to success. At worst, its something you never bounce back from, resulting in bankruptcy. Whatever form it takes, it’s helpful to think about what could, or what will happen, if you allow it to. The best way to combat failure is through thoughtful identification of potential root causes and then taking necessary preventative measures. Even then, you will likely still fail.
I came home freezing from a long day in Philadelphia, but the cold trek was worth it for this question alone.
Forget website values; these are people values.
On the first day of Venture for America‘s summer boot camp, we asked fellows to stand and speak for one minute on why they do what they do. This was before any proper introduction to staff or knowledge of what would take place during the 5 weeks of boot camp. Nonetheless, all 40 fellows boldly took a stab at their version of ‘why’.
Their responses were personal but mostly variations on a theme. A large majority said they like to build. They’re here because they want their career to align with their values. Because they have been given opportunities and want to create opportunities for others.
This reflective exercise forced me to ponder my own answer. Instinctively, I do what I do because I am fascinated with startups and the people in that space. This notion of creating and building something from the ground up is deceivingly glamorous. Startup people are scrappy, creative, and could care less about cubicle politics. They’re going to change the world, and that’s pretty cool.
However, this incentive focuses strictly on the end product. It’s easy to forget that startup life in the here and now is tiring. While it’s good to keep the goal in mind, enjoying the process is equally, if not more, important. As Howard Roark in The Fountainhead said, “in order to get things done, you must love the doing, not the secondary consequences.” I first gravitated to Venture for America because I was excited by those consequences, the prospect of what Venture for America could and would become. I saw that it could be made into a force for good, an alternate option for college graduates who wanted to create something new, a powerful movement that would redefine success as more than just large paychecks and high status.
I do what I do because I know that my hard work today will enable the future I imagine. That future is a place where talent is channeled to worthwhile endeavors. But that’s not enough. The weight of the future only holds sway for however much of the present you can avoid. In reality, I will only do what I do consistently if I love what I am doing NOW. There are so many obstacles that get in the way. If your primary motivation is some goal in the future, you won’t have the stamina to get over the present bumps. For me, these challenges involve setting a system where no system exists, working through application errors, responding to angry emails, troubleshooting technical mishaps, showing up at job fairs, talking to career services, and crafting VFA’s narrative – I must learn to love it all.
Thinking about the end goal keeps the motor running under stressful circumstances. But if you’re going to be a person of consistent action, learning to love the process as much as the end goal is critical. You climb the mountain to see what awaits at the top, but also to embrace the challenge of getting there.
That is why I do what I do.