Geekdom is not a club; it’s a destination, open to anyone who wants to put in the time and effort to travel there.
In recent memory, few articles have invoked such an immediate and visceral emotional response as "The Road to Geekdom."
Focusing on John's youthful fascination with remote control cars, it's difficult not to feel the heart-warming resonance. For as long as I remember, I've always fallen down similar slopes — particularly those which are otherwise deemed odd, immature, or outcast by broader society.
As a young man, I was deathly afraid of admitting that side of my personality to my friends and family. I was self-conscious regarding my care for — and admiration of — things I perceived as existing outside the bounds of normality for someone my age.
These days, I'm much more open about these interests. Most people know, for instance, that I'm a regular reader of comic books.
The persistent trouble for me, though, is the fact that geekdom is, as John puts it, a destination.
For me, geekdom is me and I am geekdom. It's less of a place to eventually reach and more of a persistent, intangible reality. And, as such, it's something I still struggle to tout as part of my person. It's a characteristic that resides far below the surface and, without explicit acknowledgement, is not readily apparent for those around me.
In other words, I'm adept at camouflaging, hiding, and masking my so-called geekdom. And, most troublesome, I have yet to discern precisely how to tackle that intense sense self-consciousness.
Sadly, I have no resolution for such issues. I doubt you have any either.
The best thing I've found, though, is that people — like John — exist and inhabit the same realm of fears, anxieties, and concerns as me. That, although I haven't quite worked out how to articulate and share the extent of my geek-side, there are others who are tackling such issues publicly, triumphantly, and admirably.
And that's a wonderful, encouraging thing, at the very least.
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.
Max's talk was easily one of the best at XOXO 2013. (Those David Foster Wallace and Aaron Swartz segments alone. Oh my. Who knew you could successfully invoke such weighty personalities in a talk about the delight of independent board games and creation.)
I'll be sure to continue sharing some of my favorites as they trickle out over the coming days/weeks.
I may also — if I find the time — finally put my thoughts about XOXO into words.
In the meantime, I implore you to check out both Greg Knauss' article about transparency regarding failure — a common theme throughout the week — and Kai Brach's piece for his magazine, Offscreen , sharing their precise revenue statistics.
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.