Just Breathe, It’s only the Holidays

You might have noticed a lack of tales from our little Silicon Valley gang in the last few weeks. Actually if your life is anything like ours, you probably didn’t. Just as we passed Thanksgivukkah, many of the authors and I got wrapped up in the day-to-day turmoil of pre-holiday life while working on Community in the Digital Age.

I see little things every day. San Francisco is full of shopping tourists and the highways are clogged with Sunday drivers every day of the week. I’m reminded that Long Commutes are Normal and that there is No such thing as a Reverse Commute.  There are daily parties filling my calendar and I’m feeling a bit sleep deprived.  Maybe that’s why I even find myself worrying about Mo Money, Mo Problems.

How much is that doggie in the window?

How much is that doggie in the window?

Everyone is looking for some stress relief whether we’re Hitched to a Startup Cowboy or have the Unglamorous Reality of a Working Mom. My preferred stress relief is walking by the Macy’s holiday windows to look at the cute puppies and kittens. I wonder if I should consider becoming a Dog-Sharer?

The great thing about the holidays is everyone wants to catch up.  I’ve been able to speak with a lot of the SiliconValleyTale authors. With some, I discuss how to find meaning and a job in Silicon Valley. Most people just need A Stroke of Luck with Big Data to avoid The Accidental Tech Career. A lot of us have landed in great situations because we Treat Job Hunting Like a Venture Capitalist. We use Millennial Real-Time Lessons and consider the possibility of being a Serial Entrepreneur.

While I am firmly planted in my Silicon Valley tech roots, some of the authors will use the holiday break to reconsider priorities.  They will think about flipping a coin to say “Heads, California. Tales, Michigan,” figure out the way to Finally Write That Book or switch industries and see Google Alerts in a whole new light.

There just doesn’t seem to be any type of technology to help sort out the holiday angst. Maybe Task Rabbit? I’ll keep looking for another moment to add to the list started in Congratulations, It’s a Technology Marketer.  For now, I’ll just have another eggnog and wait for an opportunity to get some Remote Appreciation in 2014.

In the meantime, we wish you and your families all the best in this holiday season. We’ll be back in February with more Silicon Valley Tales.

Community in the Digital Age

On the day that I am writing this entry, it is the first Saturday of the month of December. I LOVE first Saturdays. I love them for a few reasons.

1) It’s Saturday
2) It’s flipping SATURDAY!
3) On the evenings of First Saturdays, the Americano Social Club gathers on San Francisco’s Haight Street to entertain the locals and anyone who decides to duck into Club Deluxe after a day on the town.

The Americano Social Club is a few things:
1) It is a band of revelers, merry makers, musicians, dancers, local drunks, pot-smokers, ruffians, hooligans and activists.

2) It is a Social Club.
Something like this one that you might already know Buena Vista Social Club

3) It is community.
I am indigenous to the Bay Area. I grew up in Hercules, just north of Richmond California. I attended the local schools, I ran around with the neighborhood kids and their families with whom we were close. We house sat for each other, we shared Thanksgiving meals, and we invited our most beloved goyim over to our house to share a Passover Seder. These people we lived beside came from all walks of life. They were from the Philippines, Columbia, Eastern Europe, Anaheim.

We grew up together, went on field trips, had tremendous falling outs and reconciliations and we still gather on occasion to eat food, celebrate milestones and meet the newest additions to the families. These people were (and still are) our community.

Merriam-Webster defines “community” surprisingly broadly, but my personal definition is fairly simple: “A group of individuals who choose to show up, hang out, and make the most of their time together.”

The key word is “choose.”

The people in our little corner of Hercules didn’t have to hang out due to mere proximity. We could have chosen to stay inside, never say “hello” to our fellow block-dwellers, never open our homes during the colder months and share home-cooked meals or house-sit for each other. To be perfectly honest, it might have simplified things exponentially. Significantly smaller meals to prepare, no complicated home-alarm systems to decode, no messy-falling outs over missing house pets (all of whom were returned safely back home thank you very much).

But it was unavoidable. There seemed to be a visceral and mutual need for what we had built. We felt closer, safer, and that we weren’t a collection of individuals living in solitude together.

As I grew older I experience other types of communities and after a 5-year educational tour in New York City, I moved back and started dating in the Bay Area. This very simple and completely natural social activity unleashed a level of cognitive dissonance for me that invariably shook the foundations of my understanding of human interaction. It forced me to re-examine my previously developed understanding of what “community” has been to me, what it means now and where the concept is potentially headed.

Given that I have a penchant for dating brilliant yet incredibly emotionally unavailable men, I quite frequently found myself dipping into the tech, engineer, programmer, gamer pool. Not that men from other professional fields aren’t equally as brilliant or unavailable, it just seems that men from the former professional fields were more…. abundant. After spending 6-8 months meeting these gentlemen online and at parties, what I found was nothing short of an existential crisis.

I began to take note that most of these individuals are transplants from outside of the Bay Area. These people are building their community from scratch, relying on co-workers to fulfill that niche or virtually nurturing relationships from outside of the state as an extension of a greater (global) community at large.

This is amazing in a way as it appears to be bringing this world in closer and the idea of a global community where people share ideas and catalyze change for larger issues on a grand scale becomes more of a foreseeable reality. Progress!

HOWEVER: This requires an individual to spend more time in virtual space and less time in the physical world around other humans. Humans who express moods with the tracking of their eyes and a subtle weight shift. Humans who smell like musk and lemon oil. Humans that touch and laugh and dance and make sounds. Humans who have intuition. Humans who get emotional and say things they regret the next morning. Humans who vibrate and hum. With life.

It also seemed to me that most of the people I encountered were suffering from a severe and virulent strain of FOMO (for those of us who have yet to meet this lovely anagram: Fear Of Missing Out). I mean, there have been evenings where I’ve had to choose one activity over another, but this was on a scale that I had never previously experienced. Subsequently, the choice to “show up” on the part of any particular romantic prospect was very rarely ever made (until the last moment). And by “showing up” I mean “choosing to hang out, and make the most of our time together.” The majority of the interactions I had took place from behind the scrim of backlit glass screens of smartphones or computer monitors. Even these interactions would take days to complete as a text might not be returned until a day or three later. Conversations about the weather could span an entire week. To me, this is when the term “Real Time” started to become a “thing.” In fact, a whole new language seemed to be unfolding in front of me in the context of this new virtual, interactive world. LMAO, LOL, PWNd, STFU.

Thich Nhat  Hanh, author of The Art of Communicating, opens the second chapter with “Loneliness is the suffering of our time.  Even if we’re surrounded by others we can feel very alone. We are lonely together…..Technology supplies us with many devices to help us stay connected.  But even when we’re connected, we continue to feel lonely.

The pace at which this virtual universe is altering the way we humans interact, do business, realize our dreams, fall in love and save the world is staggering. And it’s only gaining speed. I myself have found my day-to-day interactions with people taking place more often through my iPhone touchpad than with my body and vocal chords. While it is efficient and instantaneous, it is also why I find First Saturdays with the Americano Social Club to be so rewarding and energizing. It is a place where people choose to show up regularly, to interact, to laugh, dance, drink, eat, sing, hug, smile and listen to one another. In “real time.” The same bodies choose to appear, their stories unfold and we become accountable for each other, in much the same way that my Herculean community did.

Herein lies the risk, I suppose: becoming accountable for each other.  Whether we like it or not, we start to care about one another. It’s a pretty big responsibility and can be fairly intimidating.

I believe (and have an earnest hope) that this type of emotional accountability, this sense of community can be transposed into the virtual world. But it’s going to take a bunch of people choosing to show up and make the most of the time they have together, even if it isn’t comfortable. Even if the objective isn’t notoriety, prestige or networking but the mere feeling that we aren’t collection of individuals living in solitude together.

 

Remote Appreciation or What I Did on my Vacation

Just before Thanksgiving, I vacationed in Nicaragua with some friends. I love traveling to other countries. New experiences spark my creativity and give me a refreshed appreciation for the things that I have in San Francisco.

Concepción Volcano

Concepción Volcano Located on Ometepe Island in Nicaragua

Three things I love about Nicaragua.
1. Volcanos as skyscrapers
One of five active volcanos will always be in view instead of skyscrapers. No one wants to live above the first floor, since a horrible earthquake in 1974 caused many building to collapse. (Ok there are a few exceptions)

2. New and old juxtaposed
We sat in the back of a truck with bench seats and no seat belts. We bumped 30-minutes down a rutted road to a surf camp with minimal electricity that used ice for refrigeration. They did have a really decent WiFi signal for the entire length of the mile long beach.

3. Nature
I have to give this one to the turtles. In a four hour period, I saw about 200 Olive Ridley “Mom” turtles laying thousands of eggs and just as many babies turtles crawling out of their sand nests to trek to the ocean. (There was some trauma with the momma turtles trampling some of the babies turtles.)

Hanging in the nursery

Hanging in the nursery

Three things I appreciate more about San Francisco.
1. Clean water / proper sewage treatment
I really like cleaning my toothbrush under the sink faucet. I also really like not having to remember to keep my mouth closed in the shower. It’s a shame that Nicaragua has some of the largest unusable fresh water lakes in the world. They have started recovery projects, but some lakes are so polluted they will take seventy years to clean.

2. Employment
In Nicaragua,the average worker makes about $350 a month if they have a job at all.  Most of the new buildings in Managua (the capital city) house call centers that service North America. This is helping people get a better start and drives more adoption of English (which makes it easier for American tourists). Having just started my new job at Showpad, I am thankful this holiday season for the employment opportunity.

3. Fog
If you are on twitter, I recommend following @karlthefog. Who knew that I would miss fog? After the ninety-degree temperatures with seventy percent humidity, it was a blessing to get off the plane and see Karl’s cool blanket rolling out across the evening skies. Especially now that I wish that Karl was sheltering us from the freezing temperatures.

Some days I want to throw everything about this place out the window. The traffic, the cost of living, the hipsters. Then I travel away for work or vacation. One of the best things about living in the Bay Area is coming home. There’s really nothing like flying into SFO and seeing the fog roll into the city. It’s nice to be home. It’s especially nice to be home with my family at the holidays. I wish you and yours all the best.

Thanksgivukkah

Last night I had an impromptu girls night out “family dinner” with three of my best girlfriends. The type of evening you can’t plan – one that organically integrates and you need it more then anything. When everyone had a crap day, and needed a collective shoulder to lean on.

We were celebrating new jobs, former jobs, and grand future plans together. Laughing, sharing stories of love, heartbreak, sexism, leaning in (and out) and everything in between, I was reminded how grateful I am for the wonderful women who navigate silicon valley along side me. Even as four privileged women – who have been given every opportunity for success – spending any amount of time in this valley can be hard. Really hard. Even when it’s suppose to be an enlightened, progressive, meritocracy, where everyone is empowered and breaking traditional norms are celebrated, it can still be hard. In order to have any hope of success or happiness it’s imperative to have girlfriends (of all types) along for the ride.Shared Dessert

Girlfriends at the office, who you can share a smile with when someone shows up with a push up bra, collagen lips, sleeping with the boss and asks to be taken seriously.

Girlfriends who will point out that your ex-boyfriend is giving a TedTalk which has gotten 20,000 views today and it’s probably a good sign you had no idea. (But it’s okay to watch it when you get home).

Girlfriends who will tell you it’s okay that you didn’t say anything when you were told “you should have been born a man” because you didn’t even realize how offensive it was until the moment had passed.

Girlfriends who know how to eat – and understand that sometimes a fries course after an entrée is not only acceptable, but encouraged!

Girlfriends who will remind you that you do in fact know something about the market you work in, and it’s okay to share that.

Girlfriends who know what it feels like to be articulate and poised navigating technical nuance and market share, but tongue tied and blubbered about their own emotions.

Girlfriends who will take you out to dancing and karaoke and make sure you finish that fireball damn-it! And let you pass out on their couch and take your hungover self to work the next morning.

Girlfriends who run along side you around the park and back because the endorphins will make you both happier. Bright neon shoes highly encouraged!

Girlfriends who will get you hired, be your boss, mentor you, and teach you what “ROI” means. (The amount of jargon in this valley could fill several dictionaries).

Girlfriends who look to you for guidance that remind you how far you’ve come even when you think you haven’t learned a thing.

Girlfriends where you can be yourself, judgment free, and have a good long laugh with.

In this season of Thanksgivukkah – I give thanks to the women along side me.

The Serial Entrepreneur’s Rash or How To Decide What Your Newest Venture Will Be (Part 1)

When I originally started my UX design consulting business in Silicon Valley over 8 years ago, the single biggest driver was the passion to create something of my own. In fact, it was the very same passion that led me to a career as a product designer. That passion outweighed any trepidation I had about not being successful (and believe me, I had more than enough of those annoying “trepidations” to stop me).

On one hand, I was totally thrilled to be running my own show, to be able to energetically put into action all the ideas I had harbored when creating and managing UX teams for other companies. On the other hand, I was scared silly of taking on a challenge in an area where I had little experience. After all, in the world of business creation aka enterpreneurship, I was an absolute beginner. But being a beginner also made me quite happy because, for the first time in my career, I felt that I was truly in charge of my own business destiny.

Or so I told myself in the bathroom mirror each morning when I dutifully recited those daily affirmations. “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and DOGGONE it – I’m an…an…an..[deep breath] I’m an entrepreneur!” Can you say entrepreneur, Sarah? I knew you could….

I also remember several well-intentioned mentors asking what my exit strategy was. Exit strategy? What exit strategy? What is this exit strategy thing and how did it pertain to me? In my experience, exit strategies were for tech startups, stunt pilots, and maybe white collar hedge fund criminals, not for brand-spanking-new UX design services businesses like mine. I was only just getting started, and the thought of an exit was so far in the future that it didn’t seem relevant to consider. While basking in the rosy glow of my new business venture, I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else but building my services business.  Keep Calm - I'm an Entrepreneur

STARTING MY NEXT VENTURE
Fast forward several years. A little voice in my brain started telling me that I would be starting other new ventures.

After a few more years of navigating the wild and woolly roads of building and running my business (and absorbing all the learning and, ahem, character-building experiences that came with it), the little voice turned into a loud holler; it could no longer be ignored. I began asking myself the question I’d not contemplated when I started my business: “So, what is next for me?”

For as much as I’d learned running my first business, I’d developed what I call The Serial Entrepreneur’s Rash: I was itching and scratching and frankly longing to start a new venture. My time as a service provider had only whetted my appetite to design and build something of my own, a product that I could cultivate beyond a standard short-term consulting engagement.

And so I started imagining what my next business venture would be. As soon as I allowed myself to open up to it, new ideas flooded in.

Almost too many ideas, and they all seemed shiny and do-able, at least at first blush.  I was a kid in a proverbial candy shop of business venture ideas, and I could see myself being enthusiastic about all of them.

But WHERE, WHERE, WHERE TO START?
How to pick just one? Did I even have to pick just one? And if I did pick just one, what would I do with my current business, the one that was still technically not only my day job but another venture that needed regular care and feeding and business focus?

Finally, with the help of my business mentors, I took a long hard look at why I wasn’t moving forward past a point with any idea. It was then I realized that it wasn’t for lack of good ideas or due to the fact the I had too many choose from.

I was simply scared of being business beginner again, of starting over.

I resisted exiting the comfort zone of my current business. I worried about starting over at something that had no guarantees of success.

Clearly, I’d developed temporary amnesia about what it was like when I started my first business, about the heady combination of excitement and trepidation that comes from attempting to peer into the unknown with the possibility of success (or not).

Ultimately, the passion of creating something new has been greater than the sum of any worries. I picked an idea that resonated with me and ran with it.

But more on that in Part 2 ,so stay tuned for my next installment, “How to pick one idea to run with when a jillion of them all seem really, really good.”