Categories
Emotional Work

Day 148 and Ted Lasso

As I’ve written about before, I like shibboleths and secret codes. And Ted Lasso is my go to show for the language of emotional empathy.

It’s touched a nerve for a certain corner of the internet. The folks yearning for positivity. It shouldn’t have worked. And yet the show’s curiosity opens up your heart. It was a tonic for a tough year. So much of its magic is about learning to accept others as they are and love yourself for you.

Jamie Tartt: “Coach, I’m me. Why would I want to be anything else?”
Ted Lasso: “I’m not sure you realize how psychologically that is

I’ve written about the concept of psychological safety in building partnerships, most recently in venture capital. If you have a desire to improve your bonds with others try Ted Lasso. It will teach you much about feelings you never knew you had.

Whenever someone special is going through something in their life or if I just really love them I’ll rewatch Ted Lasso. I’m having an afternoon off and doing just that.

Categories
Finance Startups

Day 146 and Gossip

Gossip drive the world. The stories we tell about other people reflect a lot. Even if we claim we don’t care what others think what others think moves the world around us. And I would posit that this actually isn’t a bad thing. It can drive closer bonds and increased connection.

There is a concept in evolutionary psychology called indirect reciprocity. Natural selection favors strategies that base the decision to help on the reputation of the recipient. Social interactions in which one actor helps another and is then benefited by a third party are key to cooperative reputations.

This isn’t just a systemic population level issue either. People who are more helpful are more likely to receive help. It’s uneven obviously and people can obscure their reputation. Depending on if you are up or downstream of helping or being helped, you make different calculations. Some people help more but they feel it’s worth the cost. They are downstream. Others accept more help because they are upstream. We are all making trades based on our position and arguably they are fair market trades.

How we decide to cooperate and with whom is driven considerably by reputations and shared value beliefs. Relaying reputation signals to bolster your capacity to connect to others is actually a key part of empathy. We need to establish psychological safety to partner with each other. Gossip helps us find suitable relationships. This is especially true in disciplines which require creativity. Quoting myself on the topic of psychological safety in venture capital.

If entrepreneurs are solving entirely new problems with high chances of failure feeling like they can trust their financial partners should be a top priority. Yet the atmosphere of distrust is pervasive. Venture capitalist and entrepreneur are constantly managing the information flow between each other.

Managing the information flow is a key component of gossip. Showing you understand their context, their fears and their reputations concerns helps you. An act we denigrate in popular culture actually helps you to deepen the relationships as each signifier breaks down space between two people and builds trust. So don’t knock gossip. It has evolutionary, societal and individual benefit. Just remember the ultimate outcome is about bringing people closer.

Categories
Emotional Work

Day 137 and Feeling Invaded

The line between feeling abandonment and invaded is thin for me. Being a child that often felt abandoned by my successful but distant father ingrained in me a fascinating pattern as an adult. I fear that I won’t be chosen, but when someone does choose me I easily tip right over into feeling invaded. I suspect this is a pattern many others will recognize.

There is a deep yearning to be the priority. My desire to be the one that gets picked is so strong. Such is the lingering fear of abandonment on the inner child. But because I have more comfort and recognition in the feeling of abandonment, when someone shows up for me it’s a swift inversion to the feeling of being invaded.

How dare this person who I so desperately wished would choose me then actually choose me! I will then become shy, distant, evasive and cold as the feeling that someone has overstepped their boundaries (which they haven’t) makes me retreat. For anyone who has ever been so sure that someone gave them all the signals of desire only to have it feel as if it was yanked away, this is the pattern your desired may be reenacting.

Because the consequence of being wanted is, well, being wanted. They desire something of me. I don’t even just mean this of friends or sexual partners. I can be thrilled that someone has chosen to work or collaborate with me and then when they approach me as if I have committed to them I will seize up with anxiety. The agony I feel at someone wanting something from me even when I gave them every indication that I want to give that thing to them is intense. My chronic fear of calendars is a deeply comical manifestation of this fear. I’ll spend an entire day agonizing over one short phone call in an otherwise empty day.

I doubt I’m special in this pattern of yearning and retreat. One of the most quoted lines from Star Trek is Spock noting “After a time, you may find that ‘having’ is not so pleasing a thing after all as ‘wanting. ‘ It is not logical, but it is often true.” For me it is often true and it is a pattern I wish to break. For when I reach out and offer my time and emotions to others I do mean it. The fear of invasion and patterns of retreat are simply a reactive pattern from my childhood. It is protective, and even in the mind of a child, logical. But children’s logic can only take you so far in life. As an adult I take responsibility for my emotions and through mindfulness can move beyond it.

Categories
Chronicle Internet Culture

Day 108 and Energy Vampires

Recently I’ve been watching a mockumentary about vampires living in Staten Island called What We Do in The Shadows. It’s surprisingly funny for what you’d imagine is a set of basic gags. My favorite running joke is a type of vampire called an Energy Vampire. Everyone in the house is your standard drinks blood loved forever vampire except “Colin Robinson” who is an energy vampire. He lives forever by draining the life force out of people. It’s the most common type of vampire.

As you probably guessed Colin Robinson is meant to remind you of vampires you probably have in your own life. The show runs heavily off “boring” jokes but the real kicker is how energy vampires are perpetual victims. Colin Robinson is always sucking you in with pity and apathy. Energy vampires prey on your emotions.

As you might expect they have an episode about social media and Colin Robinson gluts himself on the low quality but copious amounts of energy available. There is also a troll joke. It’s pretty funny because it rings true. One accidentally viral tweet and suddenly your energy is being sapped by a crowd of vampires. The extremely online eventually pick up some Van Helsing skills to keep their energy from being drained. I like to think I rarely spend time online without my garlic, holy zingers and reply through the heart stakes.

The real issue is when you discover you’ve got an energy vampire in your real life. I recently realized someone was draining my life force. I thought they were a friend but a set of misunderstandings I finally realized they’ve been sucking me dry for years. They are pretty good energy vampires as I actually thought I liked them quite a bit. It took one overdrawing of my energy to wake me up to the reality that their tactics exhaust me. With the energy vampire metaphor you can enjoy a laugh as to whether this behavior is malicious or not. Energy vampires need to feed! But the end result is you feeling shitty.

As much as Colin Robinson jokes amuse me I do think I need to keep my energy vampire away. Their last feeding left me feeling tired and obsessive. I let the shitty feeling they induced in me upset other people close to me. And that’s just fucked up. Then energy vampires get even more energy. So I’m going to try to keep them at bay. I don’t need to prolong the life of someone feeding on me and I certainly don’t need to waste my boy immortal life as someone else’s emotional food.

Categories
Chronicle Internet Culture

Day 67 and Virality

There are few more satisfying feelings in the world than seeing your emotions mirrored back to you. It’s what makes us fall in love, form communities, build anything that takes the work of more than one person. I’m not sure that anything matters more to humans than feeling seen.

Feeling seen is valuable. Finance knows it, marketers know it, fashion designers know it and the algorithms really know it. A switch flips when the outside world mirrors us back. The cold reality of being atomistic individuals dissolves just a little with the prospect that the other might not be so far away after all

This is why going viral on social media is such an ecstatic feeling for people. Being mirrored at mass scale is beyond pleasure and pain. Virality is existential. This fact is not lost on Silicon Valley and various expatriates of the culture and even current citizens question the morality. Creating virtual existential experiences feels wrong to us. And I can’t argue that the consequences of virality hasn’t done significant damage to the fabric of civilization. Facebook has more blood on its hands than a small government. But I’m not sold that synthetic experiences are morally worth less than natural ones. Social media replicates religious and cultural experiences but whether it’s “worse” than the other existential experiences is a bit like questioning if opium or fentanyl is worse because plants are morally superior to chemistry labs. The effect is the same more or less. Sure the dosing is what gets you but arguing scale gets you into a “good of the many or good of the one” debates and I’m not the crew of the Enterprise or Spock.

I can tell you that it’s probably best to be cautious about anything that can get you hooked if you know you are an addict. I’ve gone viral on Twitter several times in the past week and probably going on double digits now in the last year. Each time I get a new appreciation for how much it can feel like a god has messed with your reality. If it goes poorly you feel like you got hit by a bolt from the blue. Even if it goes well you worry if maybe Aries has decided to make you his tool. I’m a Christian so I’m no stranger to the feeling of surrender to a higher power, but watching a machine algorithm play like the left hand of God in your life is fucking weird.

By Silicon Valley standards I’m a minor clerical authority in some backwater. I’ve been initiated into the rights but I’m not close to the Vatican or Mecca. Being swept up in the miracle of virality makes some amount of sense to me and I appreciate the benefits of status that it confers. But I know it’s a ritualized way of bringing us closer to the divine that’s not about the individual and is ultimately about the institution. Fortunately I’m also a Calvinist so I have very few illusions about my place in the experience. I’m still a sinner and whether I’m damned or not hasn’t got much to do with human rituals. But I’m not immune to the awesome either.

So if you are inclined to use social media be careful what weight you assign to your actions and words. At any moment a miracle facilitated by the rites of machines can and will occur. I made a stupid joke about a monarchy in decline and a television show about a witch in a massive universe of superheroes. But 31,000 accounts decided to like it and a million discrete instances of it were produced to “others” willing to mirror it back to me. Which is about as stupid a thing as I can imagine happening and also as close to the random miraculously nature of God as I can possibly imagine. Just don’t read too much into it or your faith might have an existential crisis as well.

Categories
Chronicle Startups

Day 53 & The Process

Startup land can feel exclusionary and clique driven. Looking in from the outside it can seem as if all the power and money is concentrated into a few groups that only fund and hire their friends. Less charitably it looks like a circle jerk.

While this isn’t an incorrect perception, I believe why we think it is exclusionary is very different from the reality of why it is exclusionary.

Startups are tight knit because successful companies have high psychological safety. We all tend to work together again and again and back each other’s plays because we have built up a high trust environment in order to survive. Even if we don’t exactly see the vision someone else has we trust that they will find a way to make it into a reality.

We don’t trust that this is true for everyone. Ideas are like assholes in that everyone has got one. It’s the ability to turn a formless expanse of ideas and hopes into a company that makes a product it’s customers like. It’s extremely hard to make something new. Harder than you can ever imagine if you haven’t tried it. So people who make a living out of making something from nothing have developed a set of heuristics that let us determine if someone outside our circle is capable of making “a thing” to prove their ideas can become reality.

We tend to overweight people that build tangible things. Even though many of the most crucial skills in business are the less quantifiable ones. We tend to overweight people that have demonstrated any kind of success in zero-to-one work even if what they want to build isn’t remotely related to what was done in the past. This is how despite most of my experience being in advertising tech and e-commerce I was backed to make cosmetics. People had faith that I could flip the bit from off to on.

While this may make it seem hopeless if you are currently not inside the system that’s not what I hope you take away. Startup people love watching newbies make the leap. I cannot overstate the fondness we have for someone gathering up the courage to spring into the unknown. I used to hate the phrase “I’m rooting for you” till I realized everyone actually did want me to succeed. They just rightly realized I needed to learn the hard lessons in my own time. They could give me all the advice in the world (and believe me they did) and sometimes I just needed to make the mistake in order to learn the lesson. The mistakes allowed me to succeed.

Of course, we always hope people will learn from our advice and not require the pain of a fucked up cap table or a growth plan that missed target because we burned our cash position down to three months runway. But most people that are genuinely good at startup work appreciate that only the person actually “doing it” can make the choices that lead to success.

So startup folks will always be excited to give back and encourage those that want to try “doing it” too. If I have a clear ask I find I get an answer from even the most successful and prestigious. Literally CEOs and world famous developers of entire languages will just email you back. It’s honestly miraculous. I have invested in cold emails. Championed them to my nearest and dearest. Because we believe that the process of making something from thing doesn’t exclude anyone. You just have to show someone that you will try to make your vision a reality.

Categories
Chronic Disease Chronicle

Day 47 and Unraveling

The saga of the specialty doctor continued this morning. To recap quickly my doctor wants me to see a specialist for an urgent medication but the clinic didn’t have any appointments till mid April. So I said I’d take any cancellations. Apparently this guy is in such demand a 23 minute lag time has me missing out on a canceled appointment. So carrying on, I got a call at 8am from a Denver number. “This is the clinic we have a cancellation at 11am can you make it in?” This time I’m smart enough to say yes immediately. I hadn’t rebooked my calendar so I was available.

I spent the morning organizing supplement and pharmacy charts, brought in my biomarkers and a list of tests. I worked myself into a small frenzy coordinating with my doctor on what information and part of my medical history needed to be brought up in the short appointment as my case is complex. No need to bring up unnecessary or extraneous detours. I could feel myself unraveling. I took an Ativan after throwing a pile of books off a chair in a fit of frustration to get a better angle at the laptop. It was at that point I realized I might have some medical trauma spooling out.

I say this not to insinuate I have unchecked anxiety or am concerned about my mental health but to say that even the most stoic can quickly find themselves unraveling in the Kafka logic of our medical industrial complex. The people tasked with healing us are burdened by a system that is poorly suited to anything that can’t be solved with acute care. Break a bone or need emergency care and you can’t go wrong with western medicine. Add any additional complexity to their already onerous system and you may wish you had a broken bone instead. Finding a way to through the maze requires willpower and focus just when you are at your weakest.

Add in a dose of chronic care and health quickly becomes a discussion of just how much better to you expect your life to be. Maybe this is as good as it gets. You ask yourself why do I bring trauma into my life? Why bring on the stress of yet another specialist when it may get you just another dead end. Even with a good diagnosis, and an excellent doctor pain, exhaustion, and other “irritating” but but not life threatening symptoms get to be things you start to accept. You live with debilitating issues because getting good care can sometimes be worse for your health than living with it.

Except I’m not good at taking no for an answer. I don’t stop just because a hurdle or even a panic attack gets thrown in my way. I keep plugging away. I’m what you might call resilient. Still I know medical systems have become places I associate with trauma. But I keep at it.

This is how I’ve become someone that swipes my credit card for $900 in supplements and no longer turns my nose up at esoteric and unproven treatments like cold therapy or electromagnetic pulses. I want to be 90% better not just “can get out of bed” better. I can work 5-6 hours a day now. I want to get back to 10-12. Even though I know my half day is more productive than most people’s whole days. Because I just don’t accept that what I’ve got is good enough. Even when the search for health unravels me. Because progress is something that you work at every day. Even with the setbacks. Especially because of the setbacks.

Categories
Aesthetics Chronicle Media

Day 43 and The Freeze

I’ve been watching the television adaption of Snowpiercer. So I’m delighted to have the polar vortex collapse that is chilling most of American dovetail so well with my current media aesthetics. I’ve always loved the cold.

Colorado has been in the single digits all day and will be below freezing for the weekend. I had to drive out to a doctor’s office for some treatments and was terrified I’d slip off the road at every intersection. As the sun slipped behind the flatirons a gloomy grey quickly turned into a pitch back snowstorm.

The aesthetics of disaster and apocalypse generally lean more towards heat and explosions but the subgenre of extreme cold holds our attention. Day After to Tomorrow, Snowpiercer, The Revenant, The Thing, The Grey and many other freezing fear movies capture an aesthetic.

The natural fear of cold isn’t just about freezing to death. Much of the claustrophobic feeling of cold crisis movies comes from isolation, loneliness and it’s resulting paranoia. It’s why the genre does so well when mixed with horror or action. Game of Thrones regularly intoned the threat of winter.

Freezes typically operate on bleak but wide open spaces like arctic tundra or within the confines of a station or refuge that quickly closes in on its people. Scenes of mayhem and violence come out of close quarters that are supposed to guard you from the even more fearsome freeze right outside your door.

All of this conditioning from film and television makes a weather condition like a polar vortex collapse take on a bit of an edge. I indulged in my pre-storm prepping shopping to make sure we has enough beef for stew and chickens for roasting. But that’s partially ritual. A sacrifice to the gods that says I am worthy to survive the bitter cold that is coming. It’s almost superstitious. But it’s also joyful. Humanity against the odds of Mother Nature. We’ve developed rituals and technology to live in the worst conditions.

Categories
Chronicle Finance

Day 33 and Psychological Safety

Creativity is scary. Any time you build something new fear lurks around the corner. Because even if it’s not rational, your perception of risk rises when your potential for failure is at its highest. Perhaps this is why when you take a conscious risk you unconsciously try to mitigate any unnecessary additional risks. This has a number of significant consequences for businesses. You want to feel safer when you take risks so you seek out psychological safety from your associates. The principle is simple. You will only take risks if you believe you don’t be punished for it. Psychological safety has been shown to be crucial for teamwork.

I’d wager this is a factor in why startup teams tend to be homogeneous as human nature makes it harder to trust what we don’t know well. Which is fascinating when you consider that diversity is also an important factor in financial performance. And as much as this principle of psychological safety been discussed for team performance, there is one area in startup land where feeling safe is rarely cultivated: venture capital.

Venture’s entire culture is steeped in cliches of competition and combativeness. Which seems odd for a group that theoretically prizes high performance. Wouldn’t they benefit from cultivating psychological safety the most? If entrepreneurs are solving entirely new problems with high chances of failure feeling like they can trust their financial partners should be a top priority. And surely plenty of ink has been spilled on picking good partners in the literature of startup advice. And yet the atmosphere of distrust is pervasive. Venture capitalist and entrepreneur are constantly managing the information flow between each other. Which is exactly the opposite of what creates the necessary safety to take creative risk. So why isn’t this discussed more?

Imagine a fund who instead of poking holes in your data or lobbing grenades in your plans instead showed it was sensitive to the parade of fear and doubt that pervades most decisions. You’d get more done by a mile. Ideas could be refined instead of defended. Plans could be buttressed and shored up rather than rationalized. Having safety will lower the kind of inhibiting social pressures to show “that you are always crushing it” perhaps enough to produce startups that actually do go on to crush it.

This strategy could shift the dynamics of a firm’s competitiveness too. In group dynamics of status and posturing prioritize deal flow among only in group group members which disadvantages everyone by increasing competitive deals and rising prices. Funds who who have psychological safe founder relations will then disproportionately control what deals get done as the creative risk takers will seek them out. That kind of deal flow would be a major leverage point. Rather than getting stuck fighting for the same deals everyone agrees on (which isn’t a sign of quality no matter how much we want it to be so) venture fund that sticks to prioritizing psychological safety will spend more time with productive risk taking that builds the future.

Developing emotional capacity isn’t a platitude. It’s grueling work that takes place over years, sometimes to little effect given our innate resistance to change. But it is truly transformative.