Tidying

Last weekend, bleary-eyed and exhausted, I heaved myself out of my thin, blue airline seat to, finally, return home.

It was just after 6 a.m. and, thanks to my procrastination when booking flights, I had cumulatively been traveling for 24 hours. The week was little more than a blur of last-minute shipping, customer service, planning, events, meetings, and, generally speaking, anxiety.

And the wine-induced sleep on the all-too-brief flight between Miami and London did little to allay my mind.

Most of all, though, was the fact that the preceding weeks — even, perhaps, months — had taken a disquieting and largely-unnoticed toll on me. As I had boarded the plane from Dallas almost a full day earlier, it had been six weeks since the launch of Need and — despite beating our revenue, traffic, and membership expectations — I was still habitually shuddering awake at three or four a.m. riddled with angst for some inconsequential concern that had flickered into my subconscious.

In other words, my nerves were frayed. For months, I'd been working relentlessly toward the goal of launching Need, but the area beyond that day — wherein I'd actually run the company and contend with day-to-day issues — was at a terribly distant remove.

All of a sudden, I had sprinted off the end of a diving board with no preparation — in many, many respects — for what I might find below.

Obviously, what I've written already harbors all the glaring hallmarks of so-called Impostor Syndrome. And, indeed, I suspect Need would not be prospering if it weren't for something I'm doing correctly. Still, there's the inescapable truth that, regardless of the goodness of the situation, that as I left the country ten days ago, I was inarguably at my wits' end. 

I was forgetting important duties, my various inboxes increasingly felt like inescapable pits of quicksand, and I'd lost the ability to look at mentions of Need on social media for fear of negative backlash or thoughtless aggression.

As I navigated Terminal 5 toward passport control, I felt my phone vibrate incessantly as email started to arrive. Typically, I'm not one to complain about volume of email. I tend to think all inboxes are surmountable. The trouble in this instance, however, was the content of email. Between lawyers, suppliers, investors, and so forth, there was seemingly no escape from the burdens of work.

Perhaps the most apt summary of this was the look of judgment from the border agent. As he stared at my British passport, he refused to believe the boy, 16, was the man, 26, standing before him. I supplied him, even, with my U.S. passport (dual citizen) and he still could not recognize me.

As he eventually let me through, he tiredly quipped, "you need new passports. There's no way you can pass yourself off like that any more."

For all of this, I suppose, the message is that work takes a toll.

Whether it's pent up issues that make you afraid to look at your phone or an overzealous manager who makes you regret waking up each morning, we all carry burdensome weights of concern throughout the year.

That is, for whatever reason, simply the nature of things.

After a few days at home, however, I began to allow myself moments to simply not work for brief stretches. I'd set my devices to airplane mode, switch off wi-fi on my Mac, and open Day One — for the first time in six months — and simply commit my thoughts to a page.

And, after a gradual and incredibly slow-moving start, today, I caught myself deleting outdated Squarespace accounts, updating passwords, carving through email, canceling subscription services, managing finances, and even re-designing this woefully underused weblog.

In other words, having given myself a few moments to breathe, I was suddenly able to begin tidying, organizing, and arranging my mind once more. And I was shocked as to what I found residing within the depths of my consciousness.

From this vantage point — relaxed, calm, and comfortable — even the most dire of comment about Need (or even Bionic) ceased to register. And, suddenly, even the depths of supplier, support, and legal emails and obligations appeared easily surmountable.

In other words — and it's so trite to stumble across this realization, but here we are — it's of the utmost importance to allow yourself some time away from work and obligations. Focusing solely upon work will invariably coerce you into an angry, anxious, and worrisome state, regardless of the clear positivity that may lie ahead of you.

Over the past twelve months, I've built Need from a rudimentary idea into a revenue-generating entity. As I mentioned earlier, we've beaten all of our expectations. Without regurgitating that fact repeatedly, I will state that that's a resoundingly and irrefutably positive thing. So, regardless of your feelings about my company, there's a fundamental and relatable truth to the process of growth from idea to revenue-generating entity therein. And, put simply, it's a difficult and hard-fought process — one that's hardly universal but nevertheless applicable to all of us working long and hard in this industry.

What it is not, however, is an excuse to work 18 hour days, wall yourself off from the world, and pretend that incessant work correlates to good work.

In a world of carefully curated spheres of information and insight, it's all-too-easy for us to feel we're simply abiding by the societal norms dictated by those around us. And yet, with work in technology and startups, the norm need not be incessant work, poor pay, and high expectations. It can quite easily — and, most importantly, sustainably — be responsible work with contextual perspective. That is, the awareness that life beyond the bounds of work can inform and improve even the most complex of business in an ineffably positive manner.

Building a good business requires hard work and focus, but those are for naught without perspective. Context and perspective are inextricably linked with the virtues of success and competitive advantage, whilst focusing solely upon negativity will prove to be a pathway toward ruinous failure.

Standing back from the precipice of negativity, anxiety, and sleepless nights, I can happily state that — with some perspective — it's easy to say that 2013 has been my best year yet. In fact, it was a remarkably good year on any scale. Looking at the growing success of Bionic, the humbling reception for Need, and all the friendships and relationships I've gained through both avenues, I simply could not be more happy.

I would suspect, once you pull away the layers of angst inherent to adulthood, you may have the same perspective for your own year, too.

I wish I would've written more about the journey. Perhaps I will. I suspect there may be something of use to be gleaned from my experiences.

Still, for now, I can simply state that you mustn't fall victim to the relentless demands of business. You'll grow tired and jaded, becoming completely unidentifiable from your younger self. Those who argue otherwise — particularly those who argue 18 hour work days are prerequisites for success — are likely to be utterly out-of-step with the original values and inherent goodness (if there ever were any) of their idea.

Take a step back and enjoy some time off. Forget consumerism — this coming from someone who, oddly enough, owns an e-commerce store — and embrace time with friends and family. Dare to dream big for the coming year and then actively work to fulfill that vision. It'll be far more rewarding than reflecting solely upon the immediacy of problems you face today. You won't remember those in years to come.

Back to Work 140

Merlin Mann, 5by5

This week, Merlin is joined by Bionic co-host, Matt Alexander. They discuss ““technology ecosystems,”” life as a self-described trans-atlantic, tech scenes that thrive and don't, dating someone from Florida (and her Mum), and getting back into Marvel comics.
Special guest Matt Alexander.

With Mr. Benjamin in New York for Brooklyn Beta this week, Merlin was kind enough to invite me to co-host this week's episode of Back to Work

As you can imagine, we had a lot of fun. 

Unlike my pseudo-absurdist podcast outings each week with Myke, Back to Work 140 took a slightly more serious (at least in moments) route. We discussed Bionic and the broader journalistic landscape, nationality, the democratization of startups, dating girls from Florida, and comics.

It was a genuine honor to appear on (and potentially ruin) such a venerable podcast. 

I owe a huge thanks to Merlin and Dan for extending me the opportunity. 

Attentiveness

I have never been — and presumably never will be — a proponent of attempts to hack productivity. I find it to be, at best, self-defeating.

Of course, that's one man's utterly subjective and outrageously reductive opinion. Worse, it's an opinion with flaws compounded by the stinging fact that I rarely have a strong handle on my day-to-day obligations.

I preach (and live) an organic and naturalized approach to leading a productive life, but I frequently — as all humans do, I suppose — fail to uphold even the most crucial tasks I've dedicated myself toward.

OneThirtySeven, this weblog, has very much facilitated the professional growth I've undergone over the past year or so. Launched in November 2011, the website has carried me from interested nobody to engaged somebody (albeit with a relatively small reach). And yet, for all of the gains, I fail to find the time to dedicate to this once confidence and happiness-inducing platform.

My attention is most obviously divided between my upcoming startup, Need, and my podcast with Myke Hurley, Bionic. (I also help with WELD, work with startups, and serve as an advisor to a handful of startups, but they pose relatively minor impacts on my day-to-day when compared to Need and Bionic.)  Although those are both, of course, fantastic objects deserving of my attention, there is a distinct feeling of anxiety I feel every time I catch a glimpse of the OneThirtySeven favicon sitting — neglected — in my browser's bookmark bar.

For as much as my other projects are gaining popularity and intrigue, OneThirtySeven was the first and foremost result of my desire to breakaway from the corporate world. It was a naive, fun, and important means for escape. And it's one I've carelessly allowed to fall into inauspicious silence. 

I've written before that I wish to write one long-form article per week here. I've equally made statements of my intentions to never let this site fall into disuse. Obviously, as I write this, I've failed on both accounts. 

Simply put, my professional place is increasingly divergent from the world of independent technology writing. I articulate opinions on Bionic and Twitter, but I rarely have the time to write a lengthy piece about the state of Yahoo! or the latest iPhone. 

Nevertheless, I wish I did. 

I write this not as a resignation or with the intention of garnering empathy. I write it as a means to hold myself publicly accountable for my attentiveness to the properties that mean the most to me. I write it so that you, the reader, might occasionally send me an email or tweet decrying my silence.  I write it so that I, on those days I dare to visit my own quiet weblog, will remember that I have a promise to uphold.

Perhaps I'm simply ushering this piece of prose into a decrepit room no longer occupied by people who care to listen. In fact, I suspect that is, indeed, the case. This outlet, however, has never been about the size of the audience or the quantity of page views. It has been about the catharsis of writing, the joy of spilling my thoughts for others — however many — to dissect, and, most importantly, to meet fascinating people with similar interests.

I fully intend to continue writing here. I don't wish to shutter the site and write on, god forbid, Medium, about trite tips and tricks for marketing your startup. (How on earth do we let people do that in the first place?) I have opinions I wish to share and I have discussions I intend to pursue with all of you.  But I — and I'm happy to admit this — am utterly flawed. This site, too, is utterly flawed. For that, I simply an acknowledge that, yes, both myself and my work are irrevocably imperfect. And I'm at peace with that.

What I'm not at peace with is the passive allowance of such a personally important thing to fall into neglect for the betterment of something newer and shinier. (There's an obvious and grandiose metaphor to be gleaned from this acknowledgement, but I'll save us all the excruciation and allow it to simply sit there quietly awaiting your groans and yawns. )

I don't intend to fall into the mold of virtually all startup founders and start writing about the trials and tribulations of launch a company and raising venture funding. (Hint: it's just the same as doing any other intensive job, but there's far more narcissism involved. Everyone is busy, everyone faces daily struggles, and pretending entrepreneurial endeavors are exceptional is reductive.) I want to write about topics that matter to all of us, rather than taking the easy route towards meaningless page views.

For all of this verbosity, I simply mean to state publicly that I intend to do what I love — regardless of what ramifications it might pose — and write. I don't know how I'll manage that, but — and I say this to myself — I promise I'll try.