Life doesn’t have a playbook

You have an idea, you begin a company, you go from 2 people to 10 people to 100 people to 1500 people, your success is overwhelming, you have more money in the bank than you ever thought would be possible. Friends start to treat you differently, new ones start to cozy up to you. Stress starts to take over, you can’t sleep, you don’t take care of yourself, you start self-medicating and begin to feel extremely confused, alone and untrusting.

Nobody teaches you how to deal with success, money, and a life that you strove for. There is not a playbook for this. Some seem to rise to the occasion and are able to figure it out while others find themselves in deep dark holes. It is something that not enough people talk about in the tech community where we have seen people catapulted into success or failure in what seems like overnight.

We went from barely being able to pay for the weekly groceries, a house with post-college furniture in it, kids bedrooms decorated by me with a sewing machine and a paint brush, to moving back to the city with three kids in tow and a totally different bank account. It was life-changing but there was no playbook. Perhaps high-end problems but I keep thinking about Colin Kroll, the founder of HQ Trivia, an incredibly bright young man who at 34 overdosed. How insanely sad.

I am concerned we will see more downfalls in 2019 and there is no playbook for that either. The roller-coaster of highs and low can be overwhelming. Everything seems to change in an instant. One day you are riding high and the next day you are not or just the opposite. My only advice is to talk to someone who has gone through the same thing and has written their own playbook otherwise, the highs and the lows each have their own set of difficulties that are not that easy to work through alone.

Comments (Archived):

  1. bfeld

    So true – both personally and in business. I think part of the challenges in our broad society is a result of too many specific playbooks. Amy and I are in Season 3 of The Americans and it’s a really fascinating reflection on the US / Russia “playbook” of the cold war.

    1. Gotham Gal

      You are one of the few people who talk about the emotional issues that come with being a founder, or just a person.

      1. bfeld

        I’m going to keep doing it! And I wish more would. I’m really glad you do …

        1. daryn

          Really appreciate both of your writings on this. Having never done well with the middle-of-the-road stasis (though I think that’s getting easier with age), I embraced the startup world specifically because of both the higher highs and lower lows. While I haven’t had the meteoric success you describe, there have certainly been extreme peaks and valleys throughout the years.What’s helped for me, especially as I’ve found the pendulum swinging toward the negative, is remembering that life isn’t one, or even three, dimensional. While X might be spiraling out of control, there are always aspects to balance it out. Sometimes everything seems to be going wrong, and it can be really tough to find the good, but it’s there and forcing myself to search for it has my best way out of the hole. Maybe it’s the 12 years of Quaker schooling in me, but I take “there’s that of God in everyone” to mean “there’s always some good to be found”, and even if I may be fooling myself, it’s better than the alternative.

          1. bfeld

            And, there’s a magic trick. Regardless of what is going on, if you stop for a moment, close your eyes, and just breathe deeply while you count to ten, things change …

  2. ben giordano

    I suspect it’s harder to handle when success comes too early in life. Weathering storms is humanizing and maturing; at least, that’s what I like to tell myself!

    1. Gotham Gal

      Success can be difficult at any age.

      1. ben giordano

        I’m sure that’s true. I will hold on to my hallucination that rising to life’s challenges for fifty years might make the particular challenges of success a tad easier.

  3. LE

    The short answer to the ‘why’ of all of this is that you have people that are exceeding their baseline abilities (which as you know is definitely more than just intelligence or ‘incredibly bright’) and as a result not being able to live up to the pressures of what they are doing.No question that this is exacerbated and fostered greatly by the web and of course social media. Even 24×7 news coverage. Traditional media. Compare the WSJ of today to 30 years ago and see what is covered and highlighted.Business wasn’t traditionally like this as anyone older knows (who has followed business). You had your stars but they were far and few between as far as attention. They weren’t talked about daily and certainly weren’t people that you had any close connection to. if they were celebrated it was in a very narrow business press or maybe trade publications (where people you knew didn’t know they even existed). Growing up? Sure Howard Hughes was the billionaire that everyone knew about. And the only person anyone really envied was the rich guy in your own neighborhood you never made it to see any other neighborhoods and if you did it was quickly forgotten.Look at any of this where the media, the web, blogs or social media has highlighted and created stars (in a wide variety of areas). That is the root of a large part of the evil that drives this. It’s ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ times 1 million. By people who are not cut out for it mentally.It’s not as if there is no upside and only downside obviously. The upside is that this attention drives many people and people who are not going to fold under the pressure of exceeding what I call ‘baseline limitations’. And we gain from that. That is knowing if you are cut out for the pressure of what you are trying to obtain. There are always telltale signs of that pressure by the way. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Your body tells you when you can’t cope early in the process. Unfortunately the pull of seeing what others are doing would obviously keep many from ignoring those signs (for fear of feeling inadequate).I’d watch out for this even in cases such as your son who I believe I heard wants to be a chef. He will (and by no fault of his own) compare cooking good food with the recognition in the press of being a star chef and having a restaurant that everyone is talking about. It won’t be about just doing a good job it will be about people fawning over how great of a job he has done, awards, and press recognition (in probably the toughest market in the country).

  4. jjj575

    Thank you for this.