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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.
As they wheeled me into surgery, I thought to myself “If this is the end it has been pretty amazing.” This is a photo my brother Daniel took of me just after they wheeled me out of the recovery room and back into my little cubby hole where Amy and Daniel were hanging out. While I don’t remember any of this, probably due to being under the influence of Versed (a truly amazing drug) at least I had the right attitude in response to Daniel saying “take that kidney stone!”
I had an 8mm kidney stone removed using Laser Stone Surgery using Flexible Pyeloscopy on Friday 11/16. While not a major surgery, I still went under general anesthesia for two hours for the first time as an adult. Amy describes this as “they take you to death’s door, open it a crack, let you peer in for a while, and then pull you back and close it.” I probably didn’t need her to tell me that description prior to the surgery.
On Sunday 11/18 I went to Cabo San Lucas for a two week vacation which included my 47th birthday. I don’t remember much of the first week – I was stoned on Vicodin and in a happy, warm, cuddly, very constipated, fields of golden retriever puppy haze. I stopped taking Vicodin on Thursday 11/22 but it still took a few more days to start feeling normal. I dropped off the grid entirely for the week of 11/8 but resurfaced to do some email and writing the week of 11/25. By 12/1 (my 47th birthday) I felt about 90% and was very relieved to have the surgery, and the prior three months behind me.
This period started off on 9/5 in Kobarid, Solvenia with a bike accident. I broke a tooth, got some stitches, and badly bruised my ribs. It was entirely my fault and my partner Ryan McIntyre, who I crashed into, saved me from much more severe damage. I then proceeded to spend the next three weeks on the road, totaling a month away from home. That was mistake #1, as I underestimated how tired I’d get from it. Mistake #2 was underestimating the damage from the bike accident. I ended up running the Detroit Marathon on 10/21 and did fine, but I was completely wiped out physically by the end of October. I continued to spend a lot of time in October and November on the road and found myself exhausted and depressed by the end of it. And then our dog Kenai died.
Oh – and Amy and I wrote the bulk of Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneur during this time period (it’s done – we submitted the final page proofs over the weekend.) I recognize the irony of completely burning myself out during the writing of this book – fortunately we talk about this challenge plenty in the book and we communicated extraordinarily well as a couple during this time frame about what was going on. Finally, I do have a full time job and spent the bulk of my time working on that, so all of this other stuff was the extracurricular activity that filled in the cracks around the 60+ hours a week of VC work I was doing during this time.
I had a lot of time to reflect on this last week after I came out of my Vicodin-induced haze. At 47, I realize, more than ever, my mortality. I believe my kidney stone and depression were linked to the way I treated myself physically over the 90 days after my bike accident. While the kidney stone might not have been directly linked to the accident, the culmination of it, the surgery, and my depression was a clear signal to me that I overdid it this time around.
I’m back in Boulder and very refreshed. I’m also determined to learn from this experience. Amy and I spent a lot of time last week talking about changing the tempo on some things, including adding in some new daily habits like yoga that prioritize higher than other things. And I’ve accepted that part of my travel pacing has to include being home over the weekends to so I can recharge my extrovert.
Thanks everyone who gave me well-wishes and support the past few weeks. It means a lot to me. I leave you with the sunrise from Cabo that I saw each morning during the past two weeks.
If you’ve been following along at home, you know I’ve had a tough fall. It started with a bike crash in Slovenia, followed by a few weeks in New York where I physically felt awful. Fortunately I was with Amy for her birthday (we celebrate her birthday for most of September), but I underestimated how long it would take me to recover. I ended the three week trip in San Francisco for my mom‘s 70th birthday, which was wonderful until I got a terrible stomach virus on Sunday morning. I can’t remember the last time I threw up – and as I somehow managed to get home that day, I’m sure I looked like warmed over shit. After a week at home I hit the road again around the release of Startup Communities and spent almost all of October on the road, reaching Boise, Oklahoma City, Chicago, Des Moines, San Francisco, Seattle, Detroit, Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Lexington, and Louisville. While I had a great time, ran a marathon in Detroit in the middle of it, and met a lot of awesome people, I totally shredded myself.
I turn 47 in a few weeks. I’m extraordinary lucky to be married to an amazing woman for 22 years. We’ve figured out how to have an awesome relationship in the context of an entrepreneurial life, and we are wrapping up a book on it that will be out in January. I have extremely meaningful work with three partners who are my best friends. I get to work with incredible companies and entrepreneurs every day. And I get to define how I spend my time.
But I’m totally and completely fried. And I did it to myself. I already spend 60+ hours a week working with the companies I’m an investor in. So – all of the stuff I’m doing around Startup Communities is extracurricular activity. Writing Startup Life, while super important to me, is an extra curricular activity. Travelling all over the place is part of my work, and I have a lot of fun doing it, but plenty of the places I’m going are extracurricular activities. I feel like I’m getting all of my primary work done, but I’m neglecting one big thing in the mix – me.
I’ve found myself in a similar position every year. This is nothing new for those close to me – I run extremely hot and often up to the edge of my capacity. I keep adding stuff on top with some fantasy that my capacity for new stuff is unlimited. There is so much I want to do and I just keep going after it. I have a good internal algorithm for making sure I get all the “urgent / important” stuff done and I’m very aware of what work to prioritize over other things. When I start reaching my capacity, I focus more on the important stuff – both urgent and non-urgent, and insert a tighter hierarchy around my work, making sure my partners and the companies I’m an investor in are at the top of the stack.
But I neglect me. And that’s what has happened again this year. My extrovert is completely used up. While I’ve got a few more commitments between now and the end of 2012, I’m resetting my priorities for the balance of the year and focusing internally, on me, my health, my physical self, Amy, my partners, the companies I’m an investor in, and the writing I want to do.
I’ve been through this before – well – about once a year for the past 25+ years, so I know how to deal with it when it happens, although I clearly don’t know how to prevent it from happening. Maybe I’ll figure that out in my 48th year on the planet.