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Lots of people get married on the summer solstice. To all of them – including those getting married today – congrats and welcome to the club!
It’s a particularly sweet club on your 21st anniversary if you are a numerophile, which is a word that Amy and I just made up that describes people who love numbers. And blackjack. And Dragons. And Daenerys – what a serious badass she is. And Arya also. But I digress. Can you tell that we recently figured out how to watch the Game of Thrones season finale up in Homer?
21 years ago Amy and I woke up and decided to get married. We were on vacation in Alaska, hanging out in Fairbanks at the time. Amy grew up there so she loved to point out all the things that were completely unchanged since she was a child. We took her mom and her nephew Drew out for Drew’s birthday breakfast at Sourdough Sam’s, which was one of those unchanged places. Her mom asked what we were doing that day and we turned to each other and said “getting married.”
Yup – we eloped.
We went to the Pay-N-Save and bought six rings for $1.19 (we still have them). We then drove up to the top of Ester Dome. I took out a piece of paper and wrote the word “VOWS” on it twice. I tore the paper in half and gave half of it to Amy so we each had vows to exchange. We each grabbed one of the rings. Amy recited the traditional marriage ceremony. We exchanged VOWS and rings, hugged, and kissed. And that was it.
It feels like yesterday. Well, not really. But it’s been amazing. We’ve had our ups and downs, including nearly getting divorced (which I recount at the beginning of our book Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur (I know you see what I did there, Brad-the-book-salesman.) We moved from Boston to Boulder in 1995 and never looked back. We thought briefly about moving to Homer, Alaska but decided instead to buy a house up here and spend a month each summer up here.
As I sit on the couch in our house in Homer, two feet away from the person I love spending time with more than anyone else on this planet, I feel so lucky that I’ve found someone to spend my life with who understands me. Who puts up with me. Who treasures me. Who holds me when I’m down. Who celebrates with me, but also keeps me humble and chases all the bullshit out of my life. Who is my biggest fan and staunchest defender. Who is always there for me no matter what.
And – who I feel exactly the same way about. Amy – you are awesome. Thank you for being you. And for putting up with me.
Every entrepreneur has a mom. Take a look at a few of the Techstars moms and, as a special bonus, some childhood pictures of me and my brother Daniel.
My mom – Cecelia Feld – has had an enormous influence on me in so many different ways. She’s an artist, so from a very young age I was exposed to an endless stream of creative activities. She is serious and disciplined about her art, so when I was in school, I knew she was unavailable between 9am and 5pm because she was working in her studio. While it would have been easy for her to call it quits early to hang out with her kids, her focus on her craft was a notion she planted deep in my mind early and carries through my belief system, impacting how I approach my craft.
Mom is incredibly generous of spirit, especially when I’m being difficult as a son. I’m sure I annoyed the shit out of her as a kid (and continue to as an adult) with my endless questions, exploration, openness, and unwillingness to be passive about things. I never felt anything from her but unconditional love. Sure – she got angry sometimes, was comfortable disciplining me when I crossed a line, but she always did it in a way that I learned from it, never felt threatened (physically or emotionally), and always closed the loop with me after so that the lesson she was trying to convey was learned.
She’s a thinker. She loves to read. She loves to explore new ideas and new places. She loves to try new things, especially when they are part of her craft. I remember her getting excited about digital photography a while ago, learning Photoshop – and I mean REALLY learning Photoshop – which is no picnic. What she can do with it is magnificent.
I learned about loyalty, compassion, and love from my mom. Her relationship with my dad continues to inspire me. After 50 years of being married, they are still deeply in love.
My mom is cool. When I was in high school, she drove a Corvette. She’s always had crazy curly long hair, which is the inspiration for my crazy curly long hair. She knows how to hang with people of any age. She’s funny as hell without trying to be. And she has an endless edgy contemporary style in everything she does.
Mom – you are awesome. Happy mother’s day. Thanks for putting up with me.
20 years. Just amazing. You are my favorite person on this planet. Here are some pictures from the past 20 years.
Fashion has clearly never been my strong sense.
Fortunately, my t-shirts are rubbing off on you.
And your class and grace is rubbing off on me.
And one never really does leave Wellesley, does one?
I love you.
This is a tough time of year for a lot of people. I used to be one of them. And I’ve gotten over it, and myself, which I attribute 100% to Amy helping me figure it out and not being willing to put up with my nonsense. But it’s a useful reminder for those who think it’s awesome for everyone.
While the Christmas and New Year’s holidays can be a restful, restorative, wonderful family time, it can be excruciating for those who are depressed. It can be oppressive rather than restorative to those who are exhausted and worn out from the year. And for those who feel pressure from being immersed in their family, or who feel unresolved tension in their relationships, it can be a nightmare.
My struggle with this time of year is simple – I never had Christmas as a kid. I’m Jewish and my parents didn’t embrace the “ok – we’ll pretend like Christmas isn’t supposed to be about Jesus being born” so we never celebrated it. I recall existing in this parallel universe, where all my friends had this crazy gift foreplay for the month of December, talking about what they were going to get, running around with the parents getting things for their friends, and planning for the main event. It culminated in gift orgies on December 25th, wrapping paper flying, and endless gifts piled up to be played with, inspected, eaten, and traded.
I attended a few of these gift orgies at the invitation of my friends. I always brought over a nice gift for my friend and his or her parents. I always got something – usually one thing that was generic (that everyone got), or a book, or sometimes a piece of clothing. Occasionally, out of last minute mercy, the mother of my friend would scrounge up whatever extras they had, put it in a leftover stocking, and give it to me.
As I got older, I got crankier about it. My first wife celebrated Christmas so we did it at her house, with her family. They were polite, but they never liked me very much, so the whole think was this awkward charade, which just made things worse. I refused to have a Christmas tree in my apartment, so my ex-wife and I fought every year around Christmas for the few years that we were together. And that sealed the deal for me – Christmas sucked.
I then went through the “why isn’t everyone working” phase of Christmas. I was resentful that everyone took two weeks off. C’mon – there’s work to be done! I’d grind through my work, being newly productive, cleaning up all the cruft I hadn’t gotten to, as everyone else partied and had fun.
I can’t remember what Amy and I did for Christmas for the first few years of our relationship, but after we moved to Boulder we started spending it with her family in Western Colorado. They were extremely nice to me and included me in everything they did, but I still felt like an alien in the midst of a strange human ritual. I recall spending hours huddled over a laptop trying to figure out the cheapest way to get a dial-in connection to check my email, even though no one was sending me email because it was Christmas.
At some point I just accepted that I was grumpy at this time of year. Disoriented. Confused. Sometimes a little depressed. Usually just bored. Amy put up with it, but kept nudging me to try different things.
A few years ago I finally turned a corner. We started spending the last two weeks of the year at our house in Keystone. We’d invite a variety of friends up for a few days. The only Christmas celebration we had was Jewish Christmas, where we went out for Chinese food and a movie on Christmas eve. We’ve recently augmented that with sushi and a movie on Christmas day night. Instead of being grumpy, I just chill out. I enjoy hanging out with whomever comes to visit. I read a lot, sleep a lot, and catch up on a bunch of stuff – mostly writing – that I get behind on. And I get rested and ready for the year ahead.
It took me a very long time to figure this out. Maybe I’m slow when it comes to decoding Christmas, but I’ve got a bunch of friends who also struggle with this time of year. I watch from a distance as couples bundle up their kids, stick them on a plane, and make a painful, stress-filled visit to some distant city where one of them grew up. Or my single friends searching for something – anything – to do other than a trip to their parents. Or others, just defaulting into a trip to where they grew up, knowing it’s going to suck but feeling powerless to do anything about it.
It’s ok not to love Christmas. But that doesn’t mean you have to be miserable for the last two weeks of December every year. If you aren’t loving the game, change it.
There has been a cliche going around the last decade or so that goes “hope is not a strategy.” It inspired a book titled Hope Is Not a Strategy: The 6 Keys to Winning the Complex Sale and is repeated often by VCs in boardrooms when they are confronted with companies that are flailing, especially when trying to reach their revenue goals. I’ve been guilty of saying it a few times although it always left a funny taste in my mouth and I didn’t know why until this morning when I read a great essay (unpublished at this point) by Dov Seidman, the the Founder and CEO of LRN. In it Dov has a great punch line.
“No doubt you’ve heard the old business cliché that hope is not a strategy. During the recent presidential election one candidate in fact said this very thing in an attack ad against the other. It’s an expression usually used to belittle someone and to exhort them to deliver a linear plan. And while they are right that hope is technically not a strategy, inspirational leaders understand one final thing: that without hope there is no strategy. “
He is so absolutely correct.
I’m an optimistic, hopeful person. I think things will turn out ok. I don’t deny reality and I live by the words of John Galt when he said “It’s not that I don’t suffer, it’s that I know the unimportance of suffering.” I suffer plenty, I have plenty of things fail, and I’m sure I disappoint a lot of people. But I never give up hope, never give up trying to do better, and never give up learning from my mistakes.
We are coming to the end of a calendar year that has had a lot of crazy, bizarre, hostile, and negative stuff in it, especially in the past two months. I measure my years by my birthday, so my new year started on 12/1 when I booted up v47 of me. I was in pretty rough shape physically and emotionally because of the preceding few months but I was on the mend and optimistic. Other than struggling through a nasty cold (which is clearly linked to a completely trashed immune system from a pile of antibiotics and the past few months of system stress) I’ve had a great few weeks with Amy, some friends, and very little travel.
As I look forward to the next year, I have a clear strategy – both for my work, my personal life, and my health. A bunch of friends have said mildly cynical things like “you say that every year” or “I just read the annual ‘Brad broke himself” blog post” – mostly in an effort to be supportive, but clearly with the view that no matter what I try differently each year, the outcome will be the same and I’ll melt down somewhere in October or November.
Part of the beauty of an annual cycle is the opportunity to try again. To revisit your existing strategy or to create a new strategy. To shift your mindset from “this is inevitable” to “having hope for a different outcome.” Now – if you only have hope, but no strategy, you won’t make any progress. But if you have a strategy, but no hope, you are dooming yourself to failure before you begin.
So take advantage of this time of year. Do whatever you need to do to hit reset. Purge your brain of all the angry, negative, cynical, defeatist crap. Accept that context in which we are living. Then, create a new strategy for yourself – for work, for yourself personally, for your relationship, for whatever, and inject a good dose of hope into the mix.
Do something new. And be extraordinary at it. Remember Yoda – do or do not, there is not try.