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My dad is one of my best friends. His birthday is on Saint Patrick’s Day and it has been a bright green celebration for as long as I can remember. He turned 74 today and we had dinner tonight at Oak at Fourteenth with Amy, my mom Cecelia, my sister-in-law Laura, my brother Daniel, and their daughter Sabrina. We had a wonderful evening and it reminded me once again of the importance and delight of family.
I’ve learned many things from my dad during the 46 years I’ve been on this planet. Following are a few pivotal ones that have shaped my life.
Age 10: I told my dad I didn’t want to be a doctor like him. I didn’t like how hospitals smelled, I was bored when we did rounds together (I just wanted to sit in the corner and read), and I didn’t like being around sick people. He told me that I could do anything I wanted to do.
Age 12: I hated learning Hebrew and thought being Bar Mitzvah’ed was stupid. My dad didn’t fight me on how I felt, but he told me tradition was important and this was a seminal jewish tradition. I procrastinated as long as I could and then crammed over the last few weeks. He sat with me, coached me through it, and was patient with me when I continued to fight the process. My Bar Mitzvah was a powerful learning experience, and, while I eventually became an atheist, am glad that I participated in the key jewish tradition.
Age 17: After two months at MIT, I was ready to quit. All of my friends had gone to UT Austin, including my girlfriend, and I was homesick and lonely. As we wandered around Concord, MA on a beautiful October day, he told me to give it a year and if I still didn’t like it, I could go somewhere else. But he told me I’d be short changing myself if I didn’t give it a year. By spring time I had fully embraced MIT and never looked back.
Age 21: Dave Jilk (another Saint Patrick’s baby) and I started Feld Technologies. My dad was our third partner, sat on our board, and contributed continuously as a mentor to us as we figured out how to create and build a company. He personally guaranteed a $20,000 line of credit with his bank which was our beginning working capital (which we stupidly used up immediately, although that made us realize we had to be profitable and cash flow positive from the beginning because there was no more money to tap.) Almost every year Dave, my dad, and I would go away somewhere for an annual meeting. I remember these weekends fondly as they shaped the path of our business. My favorite line from this period that I remember from him was “if you aren’t on the edge you are taking up too much space.”
Age 24: My father resisted the easy temptation to say “I told you so” when I got divorced. When I dropped out of a PhD program, he told me he supported any decision I made. When I was feeling sorry for myself, he’d remind me cheerfully that “everyone pees in the shower.” His unambiguous support of me, at a period of darkness in my life, was priceless.
Age 29: When Amy and I decided to move to Boulder, the first words out of my dad’s mouth were “that’s a great idea.”
There are many more like this, but this should give you the sense for it. In addition to being one of my best friends, he’s been an incredible mentor, business partner, and supporter. I love his sense of humor, his joie de vivre, and his endless curiosity. He always lights up any room he’s in, is always learning, and keeps on trying new things.
Dad – happy birthday. You are awesome. Green suits you.
Today is my 46th birthday. I’m hanging out with a bunch of friends and family, enjoying their company, and reflecting on the past year. 45 was a good, but intense year. Lots of ups, a few downs, and much learned. Following are some of the things I’m chewing on as I start being 46.
Mortality: I’ve had a lot of reminders of mortality lately. In the past year, several close friends’ parents have died and a few other friends have gotten very ill. When I think about being 46, I accept that even in the best case scenario I’m probably half way done with my time on this planet. I’m happy with my physical self – I’m probably in the best shape I’ve been in since I was in my early 20′s – but I’ve finally decided to really focus on dropping the 20 pounds I want to get rid of. Rather than being 210, I’d like to spend the rest of my life around 190.
Optimism: I’m an optimistic person – always have been. I’ve noticed an incredible amount of negativity around the system in the past year. Historically I’ve tuned out most of it because I ignore all non-tech news, but I’ve really noticed it in the tech news the past year. Clearly a switch flipped and the journalist / bloggers decided the best way to get attention – or at least links – was to be negative. Balanced is fine (not all is good), but the preponderance of negative trending toward nasty and hostile, especially without any facts or substance behind it, is a drag. I haven’t decided what to do about this yet, but I think I’ll likely just keep tuning it out the best I can.
Learning: I had another awesome year on this front. Between the companies and entrepreneurs I get to work with, TechStars, the books I’ve written, my running, and all the random stuff that I talk about and explore with Amy, I’ve learned more than I could have hoped for. I especially loved the experience of living in a new city for a month (Paris) – just living – not trying to be a tourist, or alter my normal work rhythm, but live in a totally different place for 30 days. Amy and I are going to do this in New York from mid-April to mid-May in 2012 as part of our “live for a month in a different city every year” experience.
No Assholes: I’ve worked really hard to get to a place where I get to spend almost all of my time with people who I want to spend time with. I’ve been able to do this while figuring out how to engage with lots of new, interesting people all the time. I’m going to work even harder at this at 46 – more great people, no assholes.
Travel: My greatest personal disappointment while I was 45 is that I sucked at managing my travel – again. At several points throughout the year I was completely exhausted from the endless cross-country travel. I’m taking a totally different approach at 46 – I’ve already locked down my entire schedule for 2012. With the exceptions of emergencies, I’m not making any trips that aren’t already scheduled. There will be a lot more video conferencing in 2012 and longer stays in cities when I do travel. Who knows if that tempo will work better, but I’m going to try.
For all of you who are part of my life directly, who know me through this blog, or have a relationship with me in any way, thanks for being part of my first 45 years. I look forward to spending time with you during the next 45.