Thank you, Barack Obama, for believing enough in the American people to actually tackle a complex subject and discuss it with nuance, depth and honesty. I want to see more of this kind of talk from our leaders and I hope that both you and Hillary can elevate the next several weeks of campaigning by continuing the behavior exhibited here.
I'm of the belief that this idea of self is always in flux. This last weekend, I ran my first marathon and changed a piece of my self in a meaningful way. This post is about examining my conception of self and one of the tactics that I apply to create change in my life.
Shortly before my 10th birthday, I started taking Tae Kwon Do (TKD). From day one I was hooked. Being shorter or smaller didn't matter. I was fast, I learned quickly, I liked to fight. I was good at it, immediately.
A few months later, my family adopted a cat. Aside from fish, I'd never really had a pet and taking that cat in really opened my eyes to how attached one can get to an animal. We named her Aintabelle (the opposite of Isabelle..super dorky) and I quickly became her favorite.
As coincidence would have it, I have pretty severe pet allergies. We didn't really know it at the time, but when we took in the cat, I inflamed the asthma that was latent in my lungs.
So there I was, 10 years old, passionate about this new sport I'd started, in love with a new cat friend we'd adopted and wheezing. A LOT. Life seemed really unfair to me at the time.
Despite the asthma, I managed to keep practicing TKD. I loved it so much that I fought through the asthma. It'd flare up, but I managed it.
At home, as we figured the allergies out, I had to stop playing with the cat so much (it was hard, I'd usually just stop when my eyes got too red..) and she couldn't go in my room at all. It wasn't perfect, but combined with the inhalers, the allergy meds and the modified diet my parents put together for the cat, we kept it going all throughout my teens.
It was allergy-induced and although exercise exacerbated it, I could make it through in certain situations. I loved TKD so much (perhaps because I'd tried it before having to deal with asthma-attack laden lungs) that I figured out a way to get through. I got stronger and stronger every class and it actually made me more fit. I had to work 20% harder than everyone else, but I didn't care. It meant that I had more gas in the tank when I was finishing matches (my specialty became winning in the final round). I did what I had to do, because I wanted it, just that badly.
PE and school sports however, were another matter. When cross-country and track and field came around, I tried to compete, like I did for all of our sports. I ran a bit but didn't really enjoy it. It was torture, running while having lungs that were not terribly efficient and seeing other kids go so much faster with much less work. It demoralized me.
At school I became the kid with asthma, who couldn't run when you had to run in PE or who would, but was slow and had the inhaler. That was me. From time to time, I'd feel great and run well, but most of the time, I was slow, it was painful and I hated it.
Meanwhile, at TKD I was a different person entirely. I matured, I competed, I did well and it was a virtuous cycle of reinforcement. Day after day, month after month, I developed an idea of who I was in my TKD uniform: I was a competitor, a winner, an instructor, a coach. A leader. More than anything, Tae Kwon Do taught me how to lead when I was a teenager.. it was incredible.
I think that while my asthma is much more prone to flaring up when I'm running (particularly uphill) what really occurred was that asthma became more than just a physical ailment that impeded my performance. It became something that formed my sense of self. Thinking about that for a few moments is, for me, really enlightening.:
The way in which I saw the world, the opportunities available to me, the possibilities in life.. all of the options in my head became affected by a physical affliction.
I got it in my head that I wanted to be good at TKD. That I could prove myself through it - that martial arts, unlike other sports, were a place where the fact that I was smaller, smarter and not white didn't matter. They might even be assets. My frame of reference, at TKD, gave me the ability to envision great success, despite asthma.
I decided that I could and would be good at TKD and with hard work and practice, I was right.
As I met with more success in TKD, a disturbing pattern began to emerge. I'd prepare myself for the competitions and then, day of, I was often less interested in winning the competition than just getting it over with. Many times, I only really invested myself in winning when I thought I had something to prove to others. There was the match where the kid was double my size (no joke - I weighed 50+lbs, he weighed 98 lbs), or the numerous times when I sparred the adults in class and I'd destroy them for taking it easy on me. More often than not, I was motivated to prove others wrong.
I remember two distinct moments of clarity on this point:
- The first occurred when I was preparing for the state championships my senior year of high school. I was at this point, the favorite. I'd won the past 3 or 4 years and I'd actually competed nationally a number of times. It was a strange feeling, being the favorite. I took training easier. I didn't push myself to fight the bigger, tougher opponents in my classes. My friend Rocky had argued with me, saying that if I forced myself to run, I'd be in even better shape and would be able to not just finish the fights strong, but to finish the tournament strong. Fighting 4 or 5 9-minute bouts was devastatingly tiring. He was right. I didn't care. I ran once and stopped.
- The second occurred at the high school graduation party my parents threw me. My master came to the party. At this point, he'd been part of my life for 9 years. I was his 3rd student. He cared for me quite a bit. He made me who I am, in some ways. He talked with my parents about the fact that he was disappointed that I was leaving the state and couldn't continue to train with him for Nationals and the Olympic Games. I heard about this later from my parents and the overriding thought in my head was, "That sounds like too much work."
I'd looked to prove other people wrong with TKD in the first place and followed that pattern by looking to others for motivation to get better at TKD. Progress, after a while, became a series of spurts, rather than steadily occurring change. I've learned that this approach doesn't tend to work well in the long run. We have to create and maintain the habits that define us. It requires continuous investment and repetition, that's why it is, in fact, habitual. My habits take work, regularly.
So, one of the habits that I care a great deal about is that of self-motivation.
When no one has expectations of you or they already think that you're doing well, you can often coast and make excuses if you don't live up to expectations. The reality of the world that I live in is that it doesn't take a tremendous amount of work to just tread water. In personal and professional life, being average to above-average doesn't seem to be challenging. Of course, this is contextual, so I understand that I exist in a privileged class. I might rephrase this and say: coasting, in life, appears to be the norm.
I think that in some ways, this reflects upon how much we want to be seen as "nice" people. In the world that I live in, very few people are truly honest in their evaluations of one another. They bottle problems up, they hold back with suggestions, they get scared to give praise. While this is polite, it also makes it much less likely that we can look to others for motivation. One of the reasons that I have this blog is to solicit feedback and motivation from my friends. Only a few of you choose to :)
I don't think that this is terrible. It does, however, explain why I'm more likely to give you feedback and try to offer praise. I have had to learn that I can't rely upon you for motivation.
Over the past several years, I've taken up running. It started off slowly - 10 and 15 minutes on the treadmill at the gym. Jogging really slowly with friends. Introducing myself to the idea of enjoying running, not hating it. I found something amazing happened once I started running outside in San Francisco: I got happier.
It really was as simple as that. One day I started running down to the Marina and along the water and after that I couldn't stop. It's just that beautiful, calming and energizing for me. I've always loved the water and running along it made me appreciate running and San Francisco far more than ever before.
As I ran, I got healthier, I got happier and I taught myself self-motivation.
At first, when I started running regularly, I found myself looking at how others were doing in order to find a reason to push myself a little harder. I was falling back on the habits I'd developed in TKD. But I realized it and sought to change it.
Now, when I run, I play mind games with myself. Sometimes I see someone running faster and see if I can keep up with them to test if I'm taking it too easily. I see how much of a song I can make it through at a dead sprint at the end of my run (I was up to half a song or ~2 1/2 mins). In short, I learned to focus inside for my running motivation and increased performance.
I made myself start running the bridge, to see if I could do it.
I took the US Half Marathon course map and did it, the day before the race, to see if I could do it.
I started training with Allison for the LA marathon, to see if I could get my mileage up quickly.
3 weeks after Allison said that she was going to do the marathon, I knew I was in. I wanted to see if I could prove that my past self could be changed. I wanted to see if I could grow far beyond the asthma attacks of my youth to complete a marathon.
Which brings me back to the title of this post, "Proving your self wrong". As much as it was important for me to build myself up and enter the race, feeling as if I could do the marathon, that's not the whole story.
Many of us know and believe that being positive is a great thing, that it helps us push forward in life. But many of us forget that along the way, we reach points where we feel as if we CAN'T do anything. In those moments, many of us vow to avoid those can't determinations again. We don't push through.
I was twittering, leading up to the marathon and during it, because I wanted to document some of my thinking for myself (and anyone else who was interested). In mile 20 of the race, I twittered:
I didn't twitter however, that at mile 23 of the marathon, I KNEW that I couldn't finish. I felt it in my legs. They were done. Too tired. I'd gone out too fast, shouldn't have separated from my partner at mile 12 and it was far hotter than I was used to. My head told me something:
I wasn't going to be able to finish.
And so, what I want people to remember is that sometimes, it's not that you're lacking a positive outlook. It's that you need to prove yourself wrong. If you want something out of life but think you've objectively determined that you can't have it... you're probably right.
But what if you're wrong?
Microsoft is attempting to open up and share its technical documentation with the world, free of licensing stipulations:
This bears watching because if they really follow through on what they're talking about here, the whole idea of "web services" could take another leap forward. Imagine your desktop becoming indistinguishable from the browser (yes, I realize that's been discussed many times) because everything on your desktop is accessing both local storage and "the cloud". This could be a huge turning point.
The new Yahoo! Media Player beta is actually super powerful and makes a ton of sense. If I can figure out how to implement it on my blog in the next few weeks, you'll see what I mean, but feel free to go check it out in action on Ian Rogers' blog, where he's showing it off regularly.
Princeton is working on a plan that will enable admitted students to go abroad before starting their college careers. I've often thought that I would have benefited from a year off before starting college and apparently, more and more students are of the same opinion. If this were to catch on, it'd be a large shift in the way we view higher education.
Amidst all the Microsoft - Yahoo! turmoil, Yahoo! announced OneConnect at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week. It's unclear what's really going to launch, as the announcement didn't come with a product release, but it looks promising. I certainly will be watching to see what comes out when the team's ready to share.
I'm shocked at his reaction. I'd say appalled, but Michael, really, I can't say that I'm ever appalled by anything that a CMC alum does :-) (I went to Pomona, for the record).
First of all, it seems to me that Michael's characterization of Glenn's post is off-base. He says that Glenn compares Silicon Valley unfavorably with Seattle. I don't see that in Glenn's post - what I see is a comparison of the pros and cons of the two areas.
Must everything be a conflict with a clear winner and a clear loser?
Perhaps this is the huge difference between the Silicon Valley and all other "also-ran" cities. The competitive spirit is such that in Silicon Valley you can't sniff in the area's general direction without raising the hackles of one of its cheerleaders.
Let's be clear - I don't mind the competitive spirit, I really enjoy and thrive upon it. Competition is great and it creates stronger, more resilient organizations and people. But aggressive competition has its costs as well. To steal a tactic that Michael uses, "Don't delude yourself" into thinking that choosing to be aggressively competitive is anything but a tradeoff. You're choosing to alienate and motivate those that might have been your best allies.
Which brings me to the 2nd of my reactions to Michael's post:
Glenn Kelman's post is about how he, Hadi Partovi and Rich Barton all think that Seattle is never going to be much like Silicon Valley. It's illustrative of his very point that he chooses to collaborate with both of those executives in crafting his post while Arrington goes off on his own about the perceived attack the Valley has suffered at their hands.
As someone who grew up in Redmond, WA and currently calls San Francisco home, my observation has been that the cutthroat nature of the Valley makes it much harder to feel like you can ask for help. Of course, this is just my perception, but I'd like to extend this point to something a bit more relevant:
It appears to me that "Web 2.0" (or whatever name you want to use for the networked technologies of today) is about collaboration, openness and most importantly, the understanding that if the other guy wins, it doesn't necessarily mean that YOU LOSE.
It is my belief that we're all seeing the most open, collaborative, cooperative companies make a name for themselves because they understand that competition isn't really about crushing the other guy, it's about competing to provide your customers with the best, most useful products and services.
Furthermore, the approach taken by many of the Seattle companies that I've been watching has been all about following a strategy of open collaboration. Amazon, Redfin, iLike, Zillow, Picnik and many others are leading the way to a more collaborative, hopeful, helpful business climate. This is where the bomb-throwers among you probably think, "Wait, you're from Redmond and Microsoft is all about crushing the other guy!"
Well, no, that's not right at all. If you look at the companies that many of us watch and are most interested in at the moment (Google, Yahoo!, eBay, Facebook, Amazon, MySpace) you'll recognize that many of them are looking to copy the playbook of Microsoft (and some are even beating them at it..). For decades now, the company has competed fiercely but reached out even more stridently to cooperate with those who could help them (don't make me post the infamous developers speech again). There is no company out there today that has been more responsible for supporting software development than Microsoft. There are literally hundreds of thousands of small businesses that make money by taking Microsoft software and extending it and servicing it. The very idea of a software platform begins with Microsoft and while you might argue that they haven't done enough you certainly would sound ignorant by suggesting that their collaboration and cooperation hasn't been hugely valuable to the company and the industry.
If companies in Seattle or New York or Mumbai or Sao Paulo are learning that it's better to work with one another and that means they "don't have what it takes to make it in Silicon Valley" I say Silicon Valley better start looking into the mirror a lot harder. But somehow, I don't think that Michael speaks for everyone in the Valley on this issue..
Finally, I have one last thing to take issue with, given that Michael was willing to nitpick every part of Glenn's post:
The truth about Silicon Valley is that ideas matter more than anything. A Stanford (or even the occasional Berkeley) student with an idea can turn it into a Yahoo. Or a Google. Or countless other success stories. They are surrounded by people who want them to succeed, who are willing to give them money to support their ideas, and then help them grow it. There is no where else in the world quite like this place.
If anything, the sheer number of successful companies in Silicon Valley proves that it's the execution that matter. The support system that Michael references helps in EXECUTING. Ideas are everywhere. As someone who has spent his time in the halls of Yahoo!, WebEx, RealNetworks and other co's I assure you - there's NO shortage of ideas. If Michael wants to argue that the Valley is better at hearing ideas and supporting their execution, great. But don't tell me that ideas matter more than anything. ESPECIALLY not in Silicon Valley.
Last week I wrote about why I was voting for Hillary Clinton and my final point was about the disparity in media treatment between Hillary (a woman) and the rest of the candidates for President (all men).
Since then I've been doing some more reading and seeing some stories that talked about this issue and I thought it made sense to share a couple of them:
Additionally, Paul Krugman writes much more elegantly than I did that the Obama campaign is in danger of becoming a "cult of personality". As I wrote last week, I respect Obama. I'm not angry with him and I certainly don't view him or his supporters as "the enemy". The fervor that exists around his campaign is at the same time inspiring and worrisome. I wonder why so many supporters of his seem intent on saying things that imply that it's their candidate or no one.
Additionally, he uses a phrase that I've been struggling to describe - Clinton Rules:
What’s particularly saddening is the way many Obama supporters seem happy with the application of “Clinton rules” — the term a number of observers use for the way pundits and some news organizations treat any action or statement by the Clintons, no matter how innocuous, as proof of evil intent.
We're both in favor of some very similar things. We have differing approaches, perhaps. We think that the Presidency means different things, it appears to me. But don't, not even for a moment, forget that what we're really talking about here is the promotion of the core Democratic values and goals. We're not just about one candidate. Because if your candidate wins, I'm going to be by your side, frustrated with the application of "Clinton Rules" to Obama. I hope that you'd be big enough to do the same if the situation is reversed.
In my first job after college, I was an "I-banker" at Deutsche Bank and my first Associate, Campo, used to repeat over and over again the above mantra.
I always found it rather ironic, given that my experiences subsequently taught me that banking is a pretty short-sighted profession that prefers to sprint on the backs of its employees. Day after day, week after week, the "fire drills" of the profession burn out most of the employees and the major method of keeping employees is by buying their time at ever-increasing rates.
I believe that we're constantly building and growing what it means to be "me". Our actions, our words, our choices - they provide us with a body of work that makes up the idea of self. I'd say that from the age of about 5, I understood at a very deep level that what I do today provides the idea of who I am tomorrow - to myself, to my friends, to my parents (the specific story involves Big Wheels, the park and McDonald's..).
One of the challenges that comes with this perspective on life is that I'm ALWAYS looking ahead, thinking about what's coming up, where I want to be going and how I should get there. It's similar to what happens as I finish my run by heading up Fillmore St. - I look up to see if there are obstacles/people that I'm going to have to adjust for and I make sure to adjust so that I don't have to suddenly change my pace or gait.
However, if all that I'm focused on is UP the hill, I forget that there are things at my feet, these steps, that I have to negotiate on my way up the hill. If I forget to watch what's directly in front of me enough, I'll NEVER make it up the hill to the obstacles in the distance.
This is a tradeoff that all of us are faced with in our lives. The question is an everpresent undercurrent every single time we make a choice: "Will you think about just right now or are you thinking about tomorrow, the next day and 5 years from now?". We answer it with our actions, our words, our perspectives, our self-measurements.. our lives. Some of us ONLY live in the moment. Others among us only live in the IMAGINED possibilities.
Over the past several years this question has consumed me. Again and again, I've looked at this question, turned it over in my head and wondered to myself, "How I can know if I should be thinking about the long term or the short term right now?"
It was only this past year that I successfully addressed it.
The problems of perception are myriad, but one of the hardest is accepting the fact that your view of the world disallows you from seeing ALL possible angles. I've come to accept that no matter what, I always see the sprint through a marathoner's eyes. I always view the short term choices through the prism of my long term goals.
I'm never going to see the world as others who think only about the short term think. I can only hope to know enough about the steps in front of me that I successfully navigate them and save myself from falling on my face. I'll leave the bulk of the responsibilities to those who think about the short term. My talents lie in the long term and it is there where I'll do my best work.
I feel like I'm finally ready for this marathon. See you at the finish line.
Today is "Super Tuesday". As most of you know, it's a big day for the Presidential Primaries here in the U.S. and as an active citizen, I'm certainly going to be exercising my right to vote. I hope that the rest of you who have the opportunity do the same. In coming to a decision over who I was going to vote for, I've listened to and watched some of the debates, read a ton of articles and done some investigation of the candidates' websites. For those who are interested, I thought I'd share some of my rationale in deciding to check the box next to Hillary Clinton's name.
"Obama spoke for only twenty-five minutes and took no questions; he had figured out how to leave an audience at the peak of its emotion, craving more. As he was ending, I walked outside and found five hundred people standing on the sidewalk and the front steps of the opera house, listening to his last words in silence, as if news of victory in the Pacific were coming over the loudspeakers. Within minutes, I couldn’t recall a single thing that he had said, and the speech dissolved into pure feeling, which stayed with me for days."
I'm a fan of Bill Clinton's because he was a natural orator, capable of inspiring and leaving people with that emotional feeling, while addressing substance as well. I watch the debates, I review the speeches, I shake my head. I'm not getting that from Obama. To those of you who believe what we need is style over substance in the Democratic Party because Kerry and Gore were "boring" I tell you that if you want style, Bill's going to be campaigning, don't you worry your pretty little head.
When it comes to questions of policy, I agree with Hillary over and over. For example, take a look at the debate over Health Care. Obama says, "affordable for all" and elaborates by saying that yes, some people won't be covered, but it'll be their choice, so it's not an issue. Hillary says, "coverage for all" and elaborates by drawing on her 20+ years of working on this issue, telling us that if you start with a compromised goal in mind (coverage for most, not all) the lobbyists and opponents will nibble you to death. She says you have to bite the bullet on this issue, it's just that important. I agree.
Moreover, I fail to understand why this approach isn't inspiring? We have a candidate pushing for Universal Health Care coverage in the U.S. and it's the other guy who is more inspiring? Really?
While these are the main points, there's more here. However, given that polls are starting to close on the East Coast, it's probably time to wrap this up and get to the polls in SF myself. I suspect that by the time most of you read this, many of these points will seem somewhat obsolete, but feel free to comment or contact me to discuss this more. I don't think the nomination's going to be wrapped up for a few more months, given that the Michigan and Florida primaries are in some limbo at the moment.