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I’m not religious but I’ve always liked the idea of the Sabbath. One day a week of rest and reflection. I spent the weekend with Amy in San Diego and in addition to a Digital Sabbath (no electronic devices from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown) I took off all day Sunday off from electronic devices, only opening up my laptop on Sunday night to start editing the latest draft of Matt Blumberg’s book Startup CEO.
It’s been 145 days since I first acknowledged my lastest struggle with depression in my post Depression and Entrepreneurs. This has been my longest depressive episode since my mid-20′s when I had an extremely difficult two year depression. I’ve thought several times that it had ended, most recently mid-February, only to have it be back in it within a week or so.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a functional depressive, so I’m able to get through the day, but it takes an enormous amount of energy. And I know that simply makes the cycle longer – rather than restore myself, I’m draining myself, which just makes it harder to get out of the depression cycle. Resting and sleeping is key for me, but so far this year my schedule has been packed, so it’s been hard to get ahead of what has become a negative spiral.
Digital Sabbath is a new thing I’m going to try to help break the cycle of what has been going on. The value that comes from having a day of rest each week is universal regardless of one’s religious beliefs. So I thought I’d try it, starting this weekend.
It was really difficult. I slept late Saturday, although it was a turbulent sleep. I then played tennis for an hour and went for a 70 minute run. My brain continued to churn during my run – whenever I realized I was obsessing over something I just sped up a little and listened to my breathing. Amy and I had lunch and then I realized the afternoon was stretching out endlessly in front of me. For some people this is wonderful; when I am depressed this is awful. So I asked Amy what she thought of me just doing a quick check of my email.
“I think that’s an awful idea,” said Amy. We then had a 15 minute conversation about what was going on in my brain. By this point the cruft of all the stuff that was bothering me was floating to the surface and I was having to either think about it or let it go. Amy encouraged me to acknowledge it, and then let it go. Then she suggested I just listen to my breath – a classic meditation technique. So I did. Eventually I got in bed and took a nap for several hours.
We had dinner with Howard and Ellen Lindzon on Saturday night. We had a great time – I love Howard and Ellen – and they are good for me. They let me be me, we talked quietly about a bunch of different things, and enjoyed a calm meal at the nice restaurant at the place we are staying.
On Sunday, I again slept in. I didn’t know whether I’d do another day off the grid, but I knew I’d start my day off with a run. My sleep was less turbulent except for the few hours where I tossed and turned. Amy and I had breakfast together, although I wasn’t hungry so I only had a few bites of pancake, and then went for an 80 minute run. The drill was the same – whenever my brain started obsessing on stuff I sped up and listened to my breath.
I decided to maintain my Digital Sabbath for another day. I didn’t turn on my computer until after dinner and then it was only to start working on Matt’s book. Throughout the day, I noticed that my brain continued to spiral around the same things, over and over again. Whenever it got out of control, I just sat, focused on my breath, and let it go. But it made for a very long day.
I woke up this morning feeling about the same as I did on Friday. I’m a little more rested feeling and have a pleasant soreness in my legs from my running, but my overall mood is unchanged. I know I’ve got a full week of stuff to do and my next task will be to tackle the 300 emails that have shown up since Friday night. But first, breakfast.
I woke up to an email today from Aaron Schwartz, founder of Modify. I don’t know Aaron other than our email exchanges but he thanked me for Venture Deals which he said has been very helpful to him. His note went on to say:
A close friend of mine, and one of my best friend’s co-founders just passed away after a 15-month battle with non-smoker’s lung cancer. I thought the below article was incredibly revealing about how meaningful a partner and leader can be for a start-up. If you think it would be useful to other entrepreneurs, I hope you’ll take a moment and share it.
I went on to read Farewell Hansoo, We’ll Miss You, a beautiful tribute by Bhavin Parikh, the CEO and co-founder of Magoosh. At the end, I had tears in my eyes. Hansoo is 35 and just died of cancer, which was discovered a year ago. I have several friends fighting cancer right now and had one die last year and this story really touched me – of the intimacy of the relationship between co-founders, the beauty of spirit of Hansoo, and how rapidly loved ones and partners can be taken from us.
I just made a donation to the The Hansoo Lee Fellowship to support entrepreneurs. The fellowship will provide a stipend and mentorship to help Berkeley-Haas MBA students pursue their venture full-time for their summer internship, as Hansoo did. MBA students will receive a summer stipend of $5 – $10K, Mentorship from Haas alums focused on entrepreneurship, and office space.
If you’ve never been really depressed, it’s hard to understand what depression feels like. This is especially true if the person who is struggling with depression is someone who looks like they are on top of the world, that everything is going well, and that nothing could possibly be wrong. Many people who go through depressive periods are highly functional – I’m a good example of this. If you didn’t know me well, you wouldn’t notice. And, if you know me well, you probably think of me as tired, lower energy than normal, or that something seems slightly off. Finally, if you know me really well, you know I’m struggling to get through each day when I’m depressed.
I’m definitely in an “I’m doing better but why am I hauling my butt all over the place, and why again am I doing all of this stuff” mode. I was pondering this (after canceling some travel that I don’t need to do) when I got a powerful note from a blog reader. In it, he talks about how after reading a recent post of mine, he started to understand how to relate better to his brother who is struggling with a deep depression. The email made me smile, and reminded – if only briefly – why I am doing all of this stuff. The email follows.
For the last six months or so, my youngest brother—a very handsome, tall, intelligent, fit, seemingly-perfect person—has been battling depression. As the oldest brother, and as someone who has battled all his life to help my foreign, single mother get by, it’s but incredibly hard to understand and relate to him. In fact, regretfully, I used to criticize him for the way he felt. It wasn’t until last week, when I saw him beg to be admitted into a hospital because he felt unsafe, that I realized how serious this was. I just couldn’t understand, how can someone who appears to be so perfect in many ways, so blessed (especially compared to what we went through as children), be so unhappy and miserable inside?
Sadly, it still took reading 6 words on a blog post from someone whom I look up to most (“came out of depression on Feb. 14”) to finally understand that what’s on the outside is very different than what’s on the inside. He/You can both seem so perfect, but loving someone means knowing their deepest thoughts and feelings, understanding why they feel that way, then being there for them no matter what. I regret letting him get to the point where he didn’t feel safe. I’ve strived all my life to set an example, to be there for my family, but I was stuck in my own arrogance. I let the “knife” cut through everything and get the best of me. But it won’t happen again.
I’m so proud of my brother in every way: we never had a role model to guide us through life, to tell us how important reading and learning is, yet he’s managed a 3.9 GPA at a good school. He loves reading more than anyone I know (maybe even you, Brad..) and wants to be a doctor and writer one day. He just turned 21, but has the mind and soul of someone who’s 40…it’s crazy. Maybe that’s why he has a hard time coping..? Who knows – all I know is I’m going to be by his side always and support him in every way possible. My arrogance, confidence and toughness can go towards working my butt off and making this company successful.
If you read this far (which knowing you, you probably did…I thank you). I thank you for being you, for sharing your life’s journey with people like me. I promise to continue to pass on wisdom and give to others as you have.
My dad is one of my best friends. I’ve known him for 47 years and other than a few relatively brief moments where we have struggled with classical father / son stuff as I was growing up and separating my identity, he’s always been a buddy, mentor, friend, cheerleader, and confidant. I’ve learned an enormous amount from him, and continue to treasure every moment I have with him.
My mom arranged a 75th birthday this weekend for my dad in San Antonio. They live in Dallas so I’m a little perplexed why we ended up in San Antonio, but when you are 75 you get to decide where you want to celebrate your birthday. So me, Amy, my brother Daniel, his wife Laura, their daughter Sabrina, and my dad’s brother Charlie and his wife Cindy descended on the Eilan Hotel. As expected, there was no shortage of confusion when there were Felds in four different rooms, but we had our usual fun tormenting the hotel staff who tried their hardest to keep us all straight.
As part of the birthday, my mom asked us all to write some thoughts to my dad about our relationship with him. She has compiled them and has them waiting for him when they arrive back in Dallas, but I thought I’d spring my thoughts on him a little early. Here they are!
Dad – as I sit here at 6:46am on 3/11/13 pondering all the amazing things we’ve done together, I closed my eyes and thought back as far as I could to some memories from my childhood. As I get older, I find that the memories fade to snippets, rather than entire concepts, but here are a few that I remember when I close my eyes and let my thoughts drift back to when I was a kid.
- Reading a little green book on endocrinology in my bedroom.
- Being in your very white and organized office at Endocrine Associates looking at all the New England Journal of Medicine books on the wall.
- Driving past the KERA building downtown in the car on the way to something with you and mom.
- Running the 1.5m loop around our neighborhood early in the morning with you.
- Sitting at the round kitchen table in those painfully uncomfortable white mesh chairs eating dinner and talking about what happened during the day.
- Having you hand me the keys to mom’s Corvette while you said “Enjoy it – be careful – don’t kill yourself.”
- Going to a store in Addison to buy my Apple II computer – I remember it was in the shopping center near where Houstons used to be.
- Driving to Frito-Lay’s data center to play on Charlie’s mainframe.
- Sitting in your study at 7310 being extremely frustrated with Hebrew a few weeks before my Bar Mitzvah.
- Sitting in our living room with all my friends who were seniors figuring out how to redesign our high school schedule, and then creating a movement to change it, so that we weren’t stuck in school all day.
- Doing algebra with you. I loved learning algebra. That was probably my favorite time in school at any point in time.
- Walking around Concord, MA with you and mom in October of my freshman year at MIT and wanting to quit because I was homesick and lonely. You told me to give it a year. I did, and by the time a year was up I was fine.
- Being pissed off at you so much that you said something like “I think it’s time for therapy” at which point I let a few days pass and then decided I wasn’t pissed off any more. This was 7th grade or something around there. I remember walking on the 1.5m loop with you as you tried to get through to me.
- Getting a huge hug from you after missing a the final sudden death playoff kick where we lost. Scott Albers (wow – where did that name come from) missed his kick – he was the star of our team – and I let the last one go by me and I cried.
- Doing rounds with you at Presbyterian and hating the way the hospital smelled. Hating the bright florescent lights. And hating the beeping noises.
- Sitting in the back of Cy Arnold’s convertible on the way to a Dallas Cowboys game.
- Getting picked up from Camp Champions when you had gallstones and just hoping we could get home so you could be ok.
- Saying something totally dumb on the CB Radio on a trip to Big Bend that caused a big backlash. I think my handle was “Teddy Bear.” You calmed me down and were very nice about it. We were with the Segals I think.
- Mrs. Waters Chocolate Cake. That stuff was awesome. I think she put drugs in it.
- Having the flu in my old bedroom and puking for a few days during Chanukah. There was a big Hefty trash bag full of stuff involved somehow.
- The first night of every trip to see your parents in Hollywood. It was one giant food orgy.
- Playing tennis with you.
- Riding in your Porsche and thinking I had the coolest dad in the world.
I love you!
I’m spending the day working at Yesware. I’ve been an investor from inception and love what this company is doing. I also love the culture – I wrote about it in my post The Monastic Startup. If you use Gmail and Salesforce and are not also using Yesware, take a look at email for salespeople right now.
It’s an atypical day for me. I was supposed to be in DC all day today and tomorrow. I had full days of meetings, including two Startup Communities related events – one with the World Bank and one with a Congressional Caucus on Innovation. I had a few company meetings along with some stuff I was exploring. And I was going to drop in on 1776 and check it out.
Congress decided to shut down for the week because of the pending snow storm so the two events I built my trip around (the World Bank and the Congressional Caucus) were cancelled. So I decided to punt on going to DC and stay in Boston. I decided to have a “work at one of the companies I’m an investor in” day and get caught up on some stuff.
Last night before dinner I had a phone call with someone who gave me a great metaphor about “filling up your gas tank.” We were talking about the introvert / extrovert dynamic and how always being in “give / support mode” drains an introvert like me. He suggested that I make sure I do things on a daily basis that fill up my gas tank. Yup – that makes sense. But then he said something that was a new thought to me.
“Encourage everyone you work with to put some gas in someone else’s tank every day.”
It’s totally consistent with my give before you get philosophy, but it’s got a nice twist. Rather than being random, be deliberate about doing it, but random about how you do it.
For example, when a friend of mine had testicular cancer last year, I called him every day for 60 days during his chemo regimen. While I only talked to him every two or three days, I always left him a message. I was filling up his gas tank a little each day.
Another example is that I try to randomly call a different CEO of a company I’m on the board of every day. I don’t manage to do this every day, but I try. These are short calls, often voice mails that just startup with “Hey – thinking of you – no need to call me back.” I then often offer up an observation about something positive I see going on.
I like to be impulsive when I’m on the road. After lunch (I took out the Yesware team and yes, I paid) I stopped by Kinvey‘s new office on 99 Summer which is around the corner from Yesware. Kinvey went through TechStars several years ago and while we didn’t participate in their venture financing, I love the company and especially the CEO Sravish. I surprised him, gave him a hug, got a tour of the place, grabbed a few tshirts and some stickers, and headed back to Yesware. He sent me a link to a new post they just did titled The Boston Startup Map: Visualizing the City’s Tech Scene so I could do more random drop ins if I wanted.
These aren’t programmed, scheduled calls in that I’m being deliberate in advance. They are just me filling up someone else’s gas tank with some random positive feedback in the midst of an otherwise chaotic life. And it makes me feel good.
So – go fill up some gas tanks today. And tomorrow.