I want role models who are happy, not rich

Here is a damning indictment and a heartfelt confession rolled into one:

I am a startup junkie.

Ok, perhaps, that’s not the worst kind of junkie to be, but it’s still pretty silly when you basically have no substantive connection to this community apart from the fact that you desperately want to have a connection to this community. Don’t leave just yet, let me explain.

I am not totally unaffiliated. I’ve worked for a startup before, and over the last year I’d had modest success bringing my skill stack up to date and putting some little toy projects out there, injecting myself into startup discussions, promoting my blog, and generally having a great time conversing (I wish I could apply the word mingling here) with the industry heavyweights.

The ultimate question is why am I doing this. Why have I chosen to become, for the lack of a better term, a startup junkie?

I’ve given this some thought, and I given this some more thought, and then I turned to my past for an explanation. Now, if I go back to my modus operandi, say, 10 years ago, I recall with much regret that my aspirations in life were pretty shallow. Not that I wanted to get rich quick any more than the next guy, but I definitely saw wealth as a kind of one-dimension phenomenon, and that one dimension was money. Happiness had a very concrete measure, and that too was monetary.

When I think back to these times I find that my approach to personal development mirrored the idiotic belief that money would somehow bring happiness. I seriously believed that knowledge was the key to self-improvement. The more you know, the more chances you’ll have to get in front of the pack. When I use the word knowledge here, I mean it in a very basic sense, i.e. not experience, not skills — just an accumulation of facts. That was my naive reasoning at the time.

If you ever bought “For dummies” books (and they are a good reminder of this folly if you haven’t thrown them out yet), you too must have suffered from this delusion. I don’t necessarily mean to say that you thought that having “Running Linux” on your desk was somehow going to propel you to happiness. But I instinctively equated buying these books with getting ahead, getting better at something and eventually getting me a better job or a promotion.

If you ever put those books into practice or actively applied what you learned, you, dear sir, are a smarter man than I was. But alas, I was stupid. Knowledge acquisition was all that seemed to matter, putting what I learned into practice mattered less, getting myself out there and talking to like-minded folks, let alone making a splash or making a difference, matter even less.

How did I go from that sad state to becoming a startup junkie?

Since my apparent lapse of judgement two life-changing things happened: I got married (another lapse of judgment?), and I got to work at a startup. Essentially, my wife quickly disabused me of the notion that knowledge was the cornerstone of happiness, and my startup experience confirmed me that she was right. There was no denying it: happiness first and foremost was tied to experience — to seeing, feeling, and practicing a craft. That is the true and only source of happiness and personal fulfillment. Money slipped way down.

So, let’s get back to the role models. I’ve never seen people so passionate about their work than people that I got to work with. It was something magical, and we all had this bug that took us through the highs and the lows, made us work crazy hours and take the company’s failures like a personal insult. Like I said, totally irrational behavior completely ruled over my life for the duration of my startup experience. It was madness. I woke up with the thought of my work, and I actually rushed to the office in the morning.

This was a time and place where experience, passion and happiness all fused into something special and meaningful, and it really change my worldview. I guess what I am really trying to say is that this was an inspiring time that changed me forever, and gave me a kind of yearning for the good old days one can never fully shake off. And that’s the reason for my startup junkiness. So to all my newfound role models, to startup community at large: I really want to let you know that what makes you so irresistible and likeable to me is your passion. And for those of you who are also wealthy, it is decidedly not your wealth.

And while I hope to be back at the firehose soon, I cannot help but hang around and hope that some of your happiness and drive rubs off on me in the form of inspiration. Call me crazy but I know it already does.


10 responses to “I want role models who are happy, not rich

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention I want role models who are happy, not rich | one budding entrepreneur's story -- Topsy.com

  2. I am not unlike you. I bought “Linux for Dummies” in 1998. I read “Running Linux” 2 Ed at the library. I currently have “Linux Administrator’s Handbook” sitting on my desk. It is the only book in sight. I have read half of it.

    The pursuit of knowledge is meaningless without applicability. To share, be it an experience, knowledge, food or time, is what makes us happy. To accumulate makes us “Jerks” as Warren Buffett has been known to say about gold hoarders.

    You have reminded me of this fact. My book is not going to share itself. I must find a purpose for its existence, and make use of it. Only then can I share the value of the book’s contents.

    • Yes, precisely. Although I wouldn’t go as far as to call us jerks. I think it’s just a huge misguided waste of time to accumulate knowledge. I think a much better and fulfilling approach is to accumulate experience, to not only expose yourself to others’ ideas but to be a source of those ideas.

  3. Pingback: I want role models who are happy, not rich « Interesting Tech

  4. Ilya,
    I’ve got a great story for you of a very happy individual who chose not to go after money. In the still to be finished story, he’s gotten both. Also, just realized you went to GT – I graduated back in ’05. Happy to share the story, but it’s too long to type out. Drop me a line and we’ll connect. I’m based in SF.

  5. I don’t understand.

    When I think back to these times I find that my approach to personal development mirrored the idiotic belief that money would somehow bring happiness. I seriously believed that knowledge was the key to self-improvement. The more you know, the more chances you’ll have to get in front of the pack.

    In this paragraph, you jumped from talking about money to talking about knowledge, and from happiness to self improvement. But there was no segue. Then you went back to talking about money.

    • Yeah, I know. That transition is sloppy. I actually tried to elaborate the analogy at some point, but then it ended up being too convoluted and I threw it out.

  6. Great observations and reflections. I’m currently looking for that same first-startup experience and your article made me really psyched about it.

    All the best,

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