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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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Why More Stress Is Not Inevitable

Comments (22)

During my morning routine (90 – 120 minutes of catching up on email, reading my "daily" folder in Firefox, reading my RSS feeds, and blogging) I came across Alex Iskold’s post Faster – Why Constant Stress is Part of Our Future.  It was ironic to me that I read it shortly after posting my last blog about my Q1 vacation.

Alex makes the argument that constant stress is part of our current reality and that it is accelerating.  I don’t buy the argument that it is inevitable – I believe that it is a choice.  And I reject it.

If you knew me in the late 1990′s, you knew that I was always online, always on the phone, always interruptible, always available (except when on an airplane), and constantly traveling all over the place to save the world (or at least my little version of it.)  By the time we hit mid-2000 I was pushing 240 pounds, exhausted, strung out, and almost manic.  One weekend Amy told me she was "done" and when she defined that (e.g. "if you don’t change, I’m out of here") I listened.

Over the next 12 months I rewired all my patterns.  I stopped checking email before I went to bed at night.  I started taking a week off the grid every quarter.  I actually treated the weekends like weekends and had some downtime.  I started running marathons. 

2001 was a brutal year for me.  I helped wind down 10 companies that year.   There was very little about work that was fun.  At one point I was on the boards of four public companies where if you multiplied all of their stock prices together you got a smaller number (e.g. they were all sub-$1 stocks.)

While I put a huge amount of energy into the very unsatisfying work I was doing, I made sure that I carved out time for myself away from work.  I still got worn out periodically, but the stress started to melt away.

As I look back over the past decade, my intensity level hasn’t changed much since the turn of the century.  However, my stress level has changed dramatically.  I reject stress.  While it creeps up on me (and is usually an indication that I am tired and need a break), I make sure that I control (and choose) the pace of my work and life.

You can do this also – if you want to.  Start by taking small steps.  Exercise five days a week for at least thirty minutes.  Turn off your computer at 8pm and don’t look at email until you wake up in the morning.  When you eat dinner – eat – don’t try to do something else (like email) at the same time.  Go to a movie and turn your cell phone off.  Go outside and play with your kids (or your dogs.)  Decide that you aren’t so important that the world can’t wait 24 hours for you – and give yourself a short break.

Reject the inevitability of stress.

  • Josh P.

    Rejected title “Hey Fred Wilson, Read This”

    • http://ocvcblog.com Marc Averitt

      Amen, brother! Your story sounds eerily similar to what I experienced during my last few years at Intel. I was away from home ~15 nights a month in places like Russia, China, South America, and other “far away” places. I chose to leave it all behind a few years ago (upon the birth of my son) and haven't really looked back since. I'm now a “local” VC in SoCal and loving every minute of it. Life is truly short — live it stress free.

  • Peter Hoven

    Thanks for the inspiration. I now have my Blackberry set to automatically turn itself off at night.

  • http://www.sotirov.com Emil Sotirov

    Thank you for the “sane” voice on this matter!

    Too many people project their own “busy-ness” (especially in terms of answering phone calls and emails anytime, anywhere) as an outward measure of their irreplaceability. It's like saying all the time to the people who happen to be around you – you see, I'm constantly needed somewhere else, by other people… It's a high school level of social levereging – i.e. total BS!

    • http://knightlynews.net John Knight

      Agree with you Emil. I know of someone who uses this particular excuse to hide his insecurity. People who need attention and who want others to think highly of them always try to project this “busy-ness” image. It's either one of two things: 1) They're just unproductive at work, which is why they stay late at the office or 2) They have so much free time (actually) and are just so ashamed to admit it.

  • http://www.emaildashboard.com Deva Hazarika

    Excellent post. Many people could benefit from changes like that. So much of what people get stressed out about is the illusion of being busy and urgent and always connected, which often doesn't really have all that much to do with actually getting stuff done. Most of those people would end up being more productive and giving higher quality output if they focused on getting some rest and balance in the ways you mention. Here's a related blog that's pretty interesting and makes some good points: http://www.37signals.com/svn/posts/966-urgency-is

  • http://www.thestandard.com/people/i-lamont550036 Ian Lamont

    The advice about not checking email at night is helpful, as is the general theme of shutting off access to networked communications when work is over, whether its email, IM, or a mobile phone. The term “workaholic” has been around for decades, but the electronic element makes the situation far more pervasive.

  • http://www.bijansabet.com bijan

    Great post brad. I needed it.

  • BD

    I think it comes down to defining what you want. I strongly agree with Emil above that many people use stress/business as a measure of “irreplaceability.” Unfortunately for them, “busy-ness” doesn't matter, only results do. I know I've fallen into this routine quite often. “Feeling busy” is completely different from actually getting things done.

  • Franchise Whale

    Really enjoyed it, I wanted to click out and
    you kept pulling me back in! Many thanks
    and keep up the great work!

  • http://franchisewhale.com Franchise Whale

    Great stuff! Thanks for sharing, one fresh
    idea and you can change the world, keep
    up the great work.

  • http://chrisyeh.blogspot.com Chris Yeh

    Something I learned back when I started my first company is that there is always more you can do. There's always one more email, one more phone call, one more Google search that might help your business.

    In the end, however, each day has only 24 hours, and when those hours are gone, they are gone forever. Moreover, you have only so many days to live, and each day that passes brings you one step closer to the cold embrace of death.

    Starting companies (or investing in them) is hard work. But stress, however justified, does not help your productivity. It's better to compartmentalize and make sure that you leave enough of your time and energy to actually live your life.

    The best way to find happiness is not to defer it to a far-off, continually receding future, but to seek it in the here and now.

  • http://www.adaptiveblue.com Alex Iskold

    Hey Brad,

    While I was reading this post, I checked my email 3 times. And then Twitter too. What can I say, I am crazy ADD this way. Oh and yeah I was working on the product power point – continuous partial attention. You know how that goes.

    I am joking of course. And truthfully, I am trying to control stress by exercising, but I can't be off the grid, at least does not seem this way.

    The major point that I was making is that most of us are not going to be strong enough to resist the pace and the stress. We will be pulled in. Me, my wife, my dad, inevitably. The environment that demands that we process more information faster is causing stress.

    Now, I am really glad that you are able to hold the wall up and to resists. Kudos to you, thats brilliant and I am impressed ;)

    • Ann

      Alex, I hope you soon realize that you need to stop and smell the roses while you're still here. Preoccupation with ideas of “importance” and “power” divert us from the truth, we're all alive for a short period. We all will eventually pass in to oblivion. If you're fortunate, you'll have taken the time to develop meaningul social relationships with people during your short time on this planet. It's the memories of our loved ones that keep our legacies alive.

  • http://www.adaptiveblue.com Alex Iskold

    Hi Ann,

    Since you are getting philosophical, I will chime in. You claim that the purpose is to develop meaningful relationships. Why? So that when we get old and crazy we hurt each other more? Or maybe we should develop meaningful relationships so that we have more regrets when we are dying?

    I do not really think that way of course, but here is something for you to think about. I deeply feel after 35 years on this planet that the purpose of my life is not to smell the roses, but to build software that changes the world. I think my purpose is to do what I am doing.

    Now, I have 3 little kids and they are fun and I cherish every moment that I spend with them, but I can not work or do things in any other way that I am doing it. I am giving it my best all the way and I do not know how to stop at 5 p.m. I can't. I fire away until my very last drop.

    And when I go down I will not have any regrets. I know this already, because my life so far has been so magical and fantastic and really unbelievable, that no matter what, I am already a super happy man.

    • http://www.derekscruggs.com Derek Scruggs

      You may not have any regrets, but will your kids?

      Hey, far be it from me to tell you how to live your life. If it's working for you and the people close to you, more power to you. But don't be surprised to hear that a lot of successful people reject the approach you're taking. Not just in business, but in sports, politics, nonprofits etc.

      This quote sounds like it's out of Bizzaro world:
      “So that when we get old and crazy we hurt each other more?”

      The older I get, the happier I get, and the closer I am to my family. This also seems true with most of my friends. Maybe your experience is different.

      Stress and the need to feel like you're working are mental constructs, no more “real” than the worry that terrorists might kill you. Relationships, however, are real and will have a far greater impact on your long-term success and happiness.

  • http://www.tech-surf-blog.com Graeme Thickins

    What a very interesting post and lively discussion! Brad, I like you even more after reading this — and you, too, Alex. You guys are both awesome.

    g

  • http://www.kurtiss.org/ Kurtiss Hare

    I stand united on this one.

  • http://www.howardlindzon.com howard lindzon

    240 is a big number. I would have kicked your ass on the tennis courts.

    How true about choice. We are so lucky to have them.

  • robin bordoli

    Brad, great post. Self analysis and self correction has always been your strong point. “

  • davefriesen

    This is a great post. My wife says “thanks.”

  • http://karyng.typepad.com/soaking_in_samsara Karyn German

    In is really only in the last 6-7 months that I have dramatically decreased my stress and it was by finally accepting the “let go” philosophy. Some things will never, never change and accepting (even embracing) that has been lovely. Combine this with not wallowing in negativity (that belonging to others and that belonging to oneself) and I am much more at peace. Spending one's time enbroiled in negative energy is a sorry waste of human potential.

  • Josh P.

    Rejected title "Hey Fred Wilson, Read This"

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/deva_hazari2084 deva_hazari2084

    Excellent post. Many people could benefit from changes like that. So much of what people get stressed out about is the illusion of being busy and urgent and always connected, which often doesn't really have all that much to do with actually getting stuff done. Most of those people would end up being more productive and giving higher quality output if they focused on getting some rest and balance in the ways you mention. Here's a related blog that's pretty interesting and makes some good points: http://www.37signals.com/svn/posts/966-urgency-is

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/peter_hove12341 peter_hove12341

    Thanks for the inspiration. I now have my Blackberry set to automatically turn itself off at night.

  • Ian Lamont

    The advice about not checking email at night is helpful, as is the general theme of shutting off access to networked communications when work is over, whether its email, IM, or a mobile phone. The term "workaholic" has been around for decades, but the electronic element makes the situation far more pervasive.

  • bijan

    Great post brad. I needed it.

  • Emil Sotirov

    Thank you for the "sane" voice on this matter!

    Too many people project their own "busy-ness" (especially in terms of answering phone calls and emails anytime, anywhere) as an outward measure of their irreplaceability. It's like saying all the time to the people who happen to be around you – you see, I'm constantly needed somewhere else, by other people… It's a high school level of social levereging – i.e. total BS!

  • BD

    I think it comes down to defining what you want. I strongly agree with Emil above that many people use stress/business as a measure of "irreplaceability." Unfortunately for them, "busy-ness" doesn't matter, only results do. I know I've fallen into this routine quite often. "Feeling busy" is completely different from actually getting things done.

  • Franchise Whale

    Really enjoyed it, I wanted to click out and
    you kept pulling me back in! Many thanks
    and keep up the great work!

  • Franchise Whale

    Great stuff! Thanks for sharing, one fresh
    idea and you can change the world, keep
    up the great work.

  • Marc Averitt

    Amen, brother! Your story sounds eerily similar to what I experienced during my last few years at Intel. I was away from home ~15 nights a month in places like Russia, China, South America, and other "far away" places. I chose to leave it all behind a few years ago (upon the birth of my son) and haven't really looked back since. I'm now a "local" VC in SoCal and loving every minute of it. Life is truly short — live it stress free.

  • Chris Yeh

    Something I learned back when I started my first company is that there is always more you can do. There's always one more email, one more phone call, one more Google search that might help your business.

    In the end, however, each day has only 24 hours, and when those hours are gone, they are gone forever. Moreover, you have only so many days to live, and each day that passes brings you one step closer to the cold embrace of death.

    Starting companies (or investing in them) is hard work. But stress, however justified, does not help your productivity. It's better to compartmentalize and make sure that you leave enough of your time and energy to actually live your life.

    The best way to find happiness is not to defer it to a far-off, continually receding future, but to seek it in the here and now.

  • Alex Iskold

    Hey Brad,

    While I was reading this post, I checked my email 3 times. And then Twitter too. What can I say, I am crazy ADD this way. Oh and yeah I was working on the product power point – continuous partial attention. You know how that goes.

    I am joking of course. And truthfully, I am trying to control stress by exercising, but I can't be off the grid, at least does not seem this way.

    The major point that I was making is that most of us are not going to be strong enough to resist the pace and the stress. We will be pulled in. Me, my wife, my dad, inevitably. The environment that demands that we process more information faster is causing stress.

    Now, I am really glad that you are able to hold the wall up and to resists. Kudos to you, thats brilliant and I am impressed ;)

  • Ann

    Alex, I hope you soon realize that you need to stop and smell the roses while you're still here. Preoccupation with ideas of "importance" and "power" divert us from the truth, we're all alive for a short period. We all will eventually pass in to oblivion. If you're fortunate, you'll have taken the time to develop meaningul social relationships with people during your short time on this planet. It's the memories of our loved ones that keep our legacies alive.

  • Kurtiss Hare

    I stand united on this one.

  • howard lindzon

    240 is a big number. I would have kicked your ass on the tennis courts.

    How true about choice. We are so lucky to have them.

  • Alex Iskold

    Hi Ann,

    Since you are getting philosophical, I will chime in. You claim that the purpose is to develop meaningful relationships. Why? So that when we get old and crazy we hurt each other more? Or maybe we should develop meaningful relationships so that we have more regrets when we are dying?

    I do not really think that way of course, but here is something for you to think about. I deeply feel after 35 years on this planet that the purpose of my life is not to smell the roses, but to build software that changes the world. I think my purpose is to do what I am doing.

    Now, I have 3 little kids and they are fun and I cherish every moment that I spend with them, but I can not work or do things in any other way that I am doing it. I am giving it my best all the way and I do not know how to stop at 5 p.m. I can't. I fire away until my very last drop.

    And when I go down I will not have any regrets. I know this already, because my life so far has been so magical and fantastic and really unbelievable, that no matter what, I am already a super happy man.

  • robin bordoli

    Brad, great post. Self analysis and self correction has always been your strong point. "

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/graeme_thic3081 graeme_thic3081

    What a very interesting post and lively discussion! Brad, I like you even more after reading this — and you, too, Alex. You guys are both awesome.

    g

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/derek_scrug1878 derek_scrug1878

    You may not have any regrets, but will your kids?

    Hey, far be it from me to tell you how to live your life. If it's working for you and the people close to you, more power to you. But don't be surprised to hear that a lot of successful people reject the approach you're taking. Not just in business, but in sports, politics, nonprofits etc.

    This quote sounds like it's out of Bizzaro world:
    "So that when we get old and crazy we hurt each other more?"

    The older I get, the happier I get, and the closer I am to my family. This also seems true with most of my friends. Maybe your experience is different.

    Stress and the need to feel like you're working are mental constructs, no more "real" than the worry that terrorists might kill you. Relationships, however, are real and will have a far greater impact on your long-term success and happiness.

  • davefriesen

    This is a great post. My wife says "thanks."

  • John Knight

    Agree with you Emil. I know of someone who uses this particular excuse to hide his insecurity. People who need attention and who want others to think highly of them always try to project this "busy-ness" image. It's either one of two things: 1) They're just unproductive at work, which is why they stay late at the office or 2) They have so much free time (actually) and are just so ashamed to admit it.

  • Karyn German

    In is really only in the last 6-7 months that I have dramatically decreased my stress and it was by finally accepting the "let go" philosophy. Some things will never, never change and accepting (even embracing) that has been lovely. Combine this with not wallowing in negativity (that belonging to others and that belonging to oneself) and I am much more at peace. Spending one's time enbroiled in negative energy is a sorry waste of human potential.

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