After spending some time reflecting on 2019, I figured I’d write out these thoughts more for my close friends, and it’s possible at some point I’ll publish an edited version of this without a password. Disclaimer that many of the views expressed below on life come from a specific type of experience both on growing up and of economic status and mobility.
My key learnings/top of mind things personally in 2019 were surrounding two components. The first is inertia.
By the time you’re 29, all the memes ring true that there are all sorts of people in your age living various types of lives. You have the friends with kids living in the suburbs far away from any of the “core” cities in your life, all the way to the sorta friends you knew who are still doing too many drugs and are out past 3am 3-4x per week.
None of this is particularly mindblowing but the thing you do notice is that that mountain we’re all climbing in pursuit of what Rod Tidwell views as the “Quan” begins to send people off the path to the top. Life happens. This can manifest itself in kids, loved ones falling ill, lack of passion, or just a belief that the “Quan” that they were chasing, is actually just not what will make them happy and/or is not the same.
Before you roll your eyes, I get it. Different people have different things that make them happy. Not everyone defines winning the same, not everyone has the same priorities, people change, people are different, and maybe their Quan changed. The Quan is not an absolute truth.
I honestly probably couldn’t tolerate these views about 5 years ago but as life beats you down and you grow up, you just get it.
With that said, as I accept the malleability of the Quan, I’ve begun to instead deeply worry about the power of inertia in our lives. Put simply, I think people are not nearly as intentional as they should be with their lives and how they make decisions. The decisions people make in the short-term and understanding long-term implications, and everything in between increasingly just happen. And we let them.
There’s this underlying story mechanism present in almost all indie films that basically manifests itself in a moment where some main character looks up after reaching a single point and wonders ”Is this all there is?”
Sometimes that happens when someone reaches what they thought was the top of the mountain1(or so they thought. Insert rich person realizes they really want a loved one or family trope here), other times it happens just along the journey to the top. Admittedly, I haven’t hit that point in my life yet but there are definitely days where it enters my orbit, and I expect that to only increase as I continue up the mountain over the next few decades.
Keeping to movie scenes reflecting life, this point is embodied most to me in a scene from Boyhood quoted above where as the mom says goodbye to her son as he goes off to college, she sits at her kitchen table and deeply wonders if this is all there is.
When you’re 0-18, you’re under your parents rule and strangely the power of inertia is actually quite prevalent and well understood. Your parents likely recognize that your surroundings both in terms of people and environment will greatly influence your life and push you along a variety of paths, until you reach college.
Then we spend our entire high school years worrying about college, making decisions along the way of what to study for, what extracurriculars to participate in, and what the *perfect* school to go to could be because we’ve been told of the trickle down effects that that decision will have on us, and because we know the inertia that will take hold once we hit college. So a subset of people are super intentional about where they go off to school. (I was not until my sophomore year when I transferred to NYU)
Then in college, at some point we bring that same depth of thought and intentionality surrounding our decisions of classes, friend groups, and internships. And we must be intentional with our decisions because the world is so complex and competitive and we want a good job because that means a good life (or so we think).
And then we graduate and some of us just…float for the next 70+ years.
Sometimes we’re intentional about our careers. We change jobs, pick up skills on the side, and network. And sometimes we’re just focused on surviving as 21-24 year old “adults” in the real world.
Then we’re 25-28 and maybe we’re having an existential crisis around are we adults or not? Are we in the right career? Should we go back to school? Are we going to be single forever? Are we going to get too old for kids? And then the prime inertia period that confuses and concerns me most happens.
I think the ages of 28-32 really is when inertia starts to take hold strongest. You no longer think you are totally flying blind in life, you are increasingly a little more tired than normal, and the path of least resistance can seem nice after having life beat you down to varying degrees. I now see inertia put people at jobs or career tracks that are suboptimal to what they say they want. I see people stay in relationships, or worse continue to progress those relationships, without much justification or thought process as to why something took them from relationship → roommates → life partners → parents. It just happens. We never stop and ask “why am I doing this?“. 2Sometimes we hear the complaints that happen over and over again about something but with no real effort to change that thing in one’s life. (and I know that part of having friends and living life is complaining about things that long-term you’re happy with, but I think there is a distinct difference between many of these situations).
So as I started to notice this trend, I dove a bit deeper in conversations into the mechanics of people’s lives and their decisions (including mine). I’ve written about some of these decisions here and today I try to be incredibly intentional in how I make decisions surrounding allocating time and energy to loved ones and my career. For me, it requires saying no to a lot of things. 3Ok I’m done patting myself on the back. I was incredibly not intentional about high school and most of college.
Admittedly, I still have a ton of large life decisions left to make, but when I say inertia impacts at these core ages, let me provide a tangible example – marriage.
Over the past 3 years or so I’ve seen a ton of peers, colleagues, and friends get engaged within various groups. They all have been within 12-14 months of the same age. They all have had wildly different relationships with their significant other in both pace and length. If we back out a key driver of “We want to have kids” 4Which is a real factor (and one I hope will be solved in the next decade), but I’ve taken the time to chat with a large # of people to understand if that’s on the near-term plans or was a factor then it’s incredibly odd to me that everyone felt ready to pick the person they spend the rest of their lives with, all at the same time, despite some knowing each other for 8+ years, and some for 2 years.
That is inertia due to heavy influence. Or maybe in general us upper-middle class coastal city dwellers just aren’t as unique than we all think?
And even worse, when I’ve asked a large # of people why they knew now was the time, I’d estimate <40% gave any sort of answer. 5Maybe they didn’t think I deserved that answer, which is fair.
Now, marriage is just one of many possible examples of inertia, so please don’t take this as me shitting on all of your marriages. Actually a large # of those couples that I think have just blindly followed what they think they should do, will probably be great life partners 6I don’t know them all well enough to say that for sure. Statistically ~30-50% of them will be.. But the lack of intentionality and purely statistical likelihood of these key inflection points all converging at the same time is mind blowing and highly improbable when we look at this rationally.
This year I’m turning 30 and I feel like I’ve got a grasp on those big life inflection points, and alternate reality type decisions in the moment 7History will likely prove me wrong. But sometimes I wish others would think about personal decisions, professional decisions, and day to day decisions with deep intentionality. And it kills me that as people I care about (and honestly, even ones I don’t care about) progress through their lives, it feels so unintentional and perhaps heavily influenced by outside factors not related to their own reasoning. Inertia kills me.
And inertia can push us at all ages. From the times we feel most alive, to the times we’re just trying to stay afloat, to our later years. Which leads me to mortality.
I’ve always felt like I would die young. You could argue being born with heart problems, having a pacemaker at 10, and having 1 of 50 pacemakers in the world that malfunctioned at 11 could do that to you, but I think it’s probably just some self-important, overly paranoid view I have. 8Shout out to when I die after I send this
I’ve told this story many times before but one day when I was leaving my office in Jersey City at an old job, we were in the elevator with someone who worked on security for the PATH train. He was working on a system to close the tunnels off in the event that someone set off a bomb while under the Hudson River to prevent the tunnel from flooding.
Me: Well uh…how likely is that to happen?
Him: Do you really want to know?
Him: Honestly, if someone wanted to do it, they probably could. When you do this job long enough, you realize that when it’s your time, it’s your time, and there’s nothing you can do about it…Alright have a good one!
When it’s your time it’s your time is something I think about a lot.
It’s kind of a freeing mantra to have and one that is nice to say until you actually feel mortal. And it turns out that I’ve had a few of those moments over the past few years and the feeling of mortality is sobering. 9To be honest, even today though I’m honestly not overly concerned about hedging out risk in the spirit of my mortality right now besides far more vigilant in making sure I do all the normal medical shit (and maybe diving deeper into advance preventative medicine).
But this part isn’t about me, necessarily. Instead I’ve been thinking a lot about my parents’ mortality.
If we’re lucky, our parents spend the first 18+ years of our lives taking care of us, and probably some prior years before that preparing to take care of us 10And also decades emotionally caring for us far after 18, so that we can have great lives. It doesn’t always work out, but in my case it did, and so now when I think of my parents I instead think about how do I gift them back for some of that time now that I’m moderately financially able to, and have a job where I can be flexible with my time and where I work from if need be to spend time with them.
Time is a finite resource and the currency you exchange for mortality.
What another realization of 2019 was, was that it’s incredibly difficult to reconcile someone else’s mortality for them. Put more simply, as i’ve been on my “give back” mission, trying to get my parents to travel more and have new experiences, with the views of “I want to give back’ and “they might only have 15 more years or so where they are truly physically able to enjoy life fully.” I’ve struggled to get their urgency to do so and make them truly internalize this.
The activation energy is quite high to get them to just pause and fast forward months ahead, and I’ve resulted to trying to quite clearly spell out how much time they have left on this earth, to mixed results.
Now there’s the argument that as they’ve gotten older, they are okay spending their time at the home they’ve built, enjoying their lives and eachother, and being perfectly content. Again, people don’t always have to search for my Quan.
I‘ll compliment this point with the dumbest example ever: We all have those friends that think you’re missing out when you don’t go out and get drunk and stay out late with them on a saturday night because you’re just over it/tired. But those aren’t things that when I look back, I’ll necessarily be upset that I missed. 11And even every now and then, I still try and go out anyways. Because as we move from “simpler times” to “more complex times” I know a part of me will miss these simple times that are just this idea of being out with my friends, with fairly limited responsibility. Just as a I miss the simple times of being 22 and a moron living in new york city, staying out far too late, with no responsibility.
My point is, I’m trying to help them do things that I know that when they look back on that experience, they’ll be so happy they did. I’m going as far as to minimize activation energy for them by trying to plan it all for them! But inertia can overpower any activation energy I try to fuel.
This leads to a broader personal dilemma that I think I’ve dealt with my entire life, but is top of mind as life decisions become more important (and have longer term consequences) for my loved ones (Friends/Family). One that I think runs through almost everything I do, and I suspect has probably always been the hardest part about being friends with me.
How much can I or should I attempt to impact or change those close to me and their lives?
It’s the proverbial lead a horse to water but can’t make it drink problem, but one that I think eats away at me perhaps more than most as I think about intentionality decaying so massively in our lives.
I don’t know the answer but most people would say that it’s not your life to live. My counter point is that that’s part of what being a friend is. I want my friends to try to make me the best version of myself and vice versa. Pushing when you have no incentive and being there regardless of the outcome is a clearer way to do that then just idly standing by IMO.
I actively struggle with this idea of impacting direction vs. trusting others’ process in both personal and professional context.
In our personal lives we spend months and years building relationships that we both opt-in to at an equal level, thus disagreements on life we assume are because one person just cares for another person (Even if we hate this other person in the moment). With founders, the ties are often much weaker and built in shorter-terms, and have a power dynamic in some ways thus I must be more diplomatic and at times push less due to both the dynamic of the relationship and the long-term ramifications that can reverberate because of how closely tied the networks of tech are together, unlike the fairly disparate networks of family and various groups of friends.
So, that’s my past year and in some ways, past 29 years. Lots of thinking on people, intentionality, and trying to continually grow up. Thanks to all of you, who if you’re reading this, in some way you’ve influenced these thoughts deeply.
I’ll end this with my favorite quote about friendship and how special it is, that I think underpins a lot of these emotions for me.
“See, nobody believes in friendship. People talk about it. That’s the thing about friendship, it’s a lot rarer than love because there’s nothing in it for anybody.”Steve Dallas, Are You Here (2014)