I get annoyed when I read a story about someone who — rather publicly — makes a really dumb decision. When they’ve got an opportunity to do something amazing and instead do something… stupid.
I pointed this out to a friend last week, and she told me something perfect: “People have the right to be stupid.”
As in: People have the right to spend their money the wrong way.
As in: People have the right to hang out with the wrong crowds, or to waste time on the wrong projects.
As in: People don’t just have the right to — they’re going to. You can’t always stop these stupid decisions. Sometimes, you just have to stand there and watch stupid happen.
Now here’s the thing you have to remind yourself: It is not your job to stop other people’s stupid. Sometimes, in the course of doing the work, people get so wrapped up in the work that they make decisions that seem smart to them — but obviously stupid to everyone else.
I keep reminding myself: It’s not your job to stop other people from making those mistakes. You can offer advice, and you can reach out to help — but mistakes will be made.
Stupid just happens. It’s frustrating, but it happens.
There are times when I look around at myself and the life I have — 26, working at a rapidly-growing company, building cool stuff with a really awesome team — and I manage to convince myself that I am absolutely nowhere.
And then I ask myself question that everyone asks at some point: What should I do with my life?
It is a big, scary question.
I’d like to think that my grandparents asked themselves that question. One grandpa became a doctor, and the other became a pharmacist, and that was their life’s work. They picked a life and stuck with it.
But thanks to a few factors — for me, it’s hard work, a bit of luck, the comfort of a few dollars in the bank, and the way the internet has changed everything about how people make and share things — I don’t see one path. I don’t see one life.
I see many paths, and many lives.
There is a wonderful anecdote in the autobiography of Katharine Graham, the longtime Washington Post publisher. She talks about her father, Eugene Meyer. He started out as a businessman. Then he transitioned to a life in government — he served as the chairman of the Fed, and later the first president of the World Bank. Then he bought the Post. Then he got into community service. And finally, towards retirement, he pushed himself into family life.
Graham writes about these stages as the arcs of Meyer’s life. He had the arc as a private businessman, and the arc as public servant. He had arcs as a champion of certain causes, and an arc devoted to family. Some arcs lasted a decade. Some lasted longer. But his life wasn’t one continuous thread — just a series of strands that he wove together into something impressive.
That idea of arcs has stuck with me. There are a lot of things I’d like to do with my life. There’s an overarching theme, certainly: I’d like to keep making awesome things with great people, and I want those things to serve and to entertain others.
But I know that things will come into my life that will make me change my plans. I know how much the internet has changed things already, and it’s going to keep changing things. I’m going to leave New York at some point, and that’ll change things.
Family will change things — in a wonderful way, I hope.
And I love that idea of arcs. I love the idea that as things change, so can I.
There is not a thing I want to do with my life. There are a lot of things.
A decade ago, I first started working as a reporter. In a way, I see that arc slowly winding down. I’ve been transitioning into a new arc — as someone who makes stuff — and that’s really exciting.
I do not know what the next arc is. But I know this:
When I think about the question of What I should do with my life?, I feel stuck, and scared.
When I think about the arcs, and the chance to keep learning and growing and doing new things — even if that means big change along the way — I feel excited, and nervous.
It is a wonderful feeling, and I want to keep chasing it.
That’s a photo of me stuck in the mud in New York. I took it.
When I talk to people who want to work at my company, this comes up a lot: It seems like it’d be fun to work there! Everyone I talk to wants to work at a fun office.
But I’m not sure that’s where we should put the emphasis. Yes, it’s great to work at a fun office. But I’d rather work at a place that challenges me, and that gives me the chance to work with great people who I can learn from.
I’m not at BuzzFeed because it’s fun — I’m there because of the challenge, and because of the opportunity to learn.
Is it fun? is a nice question to ask, but it should not be THE question.
I know I’m lucky to work at a place that offers me that AND is a lot of fun. But if I had to choose just one, I’d choose the place that pushes me. In the long run, that’s going to open up the most doors for me.
A week ago today, I sat in a room and listened to Jerry Seinfeld speak. It was seven days ago.
It feels like months ago.
One of the things about working on the internet is that time moves in incredibly bizarre ways. News that blows up in the morning is forgotten by the afternoon. Things move fast.
And it messes with your sense of time. It makes the weeks difficult to track — there’s just so much you’ll come into contact with in the course of five days.
That’s why I’ve found it’s so important to set goals at the start of the week, and to spend some time on Fridays looking back at what’s actually been accomplished. I’ve discovered that on internet time, I’m capable of wasting lots of time. And if I’m not diligent about tracking my goals/accomplishments, I’ll get to Friday and discover that I’ve spent a week feeling busy, but really going nowhere.
I got to see Jerry Seinfeld get interviewed on Monday night. This quote from the interview really struck me:
“If you really want to make money, never make a decision based on money. If you chase money, you’re going to get less of it. If you chase a thing that you love that’s interesting, only because you love that thing, you’ll make more money.”
I love that. It’s something I’ve been thinking about (and writing about here) for a long time. I’m in my 20s, and it’s far too early for me to say where my career is going or what might even happen next. But I’ve tried to put great people and great projects first, and to focus on doing the work as best I can. Decisions — like the one to start Stry.us — came from a desire to make something great, not to make money.
Do I hope to make money some day? Sure! Better yet: I expect to.
But right now, I’m focused on making great things that people love to share, and I’m learning how to get better at it every day. These are decisions you make for the long run. Hopefully, in time, Jerry’s right, and the money follows.
I was listening to this interview with Chris Rock earlier this week. I recommend the whole thing, but one part stuck out to me:
It comes about 3 minutes into this interview with Alec Baldwin. Now here are two men who’ve done everything you can do in the world of acting. Rock’s one of the most successful stand-up comedians ever. He’s been an “SNL” cast member. He’s been in more movies and TV shows than you can count.
And Alec Baldwin’s resume is just as impressive — movies, TV, theater, radio. The works.
Anyway, Baldwin interviewed Rock in 2011, when Rock was doing a Broadway play. It was the first play Rock had ever done.
Baldwin asked what Rock was struggling with, and here’s what came next:
Rock: “Rehearsal’s the hardest thing I’ve gone through in my life.”
Baldwin: “I always tell people, it’s like having the Empire State Building shoved up your ass one brick at a time to learn the play.”
Rock: “Yeah. And you can’t believe there’s ever going to be a day when you’ll know these lines.”
A fairly graphic Alec Baldwin line aside, I love that. I love the idea that these two veteran actors still struggle with the day-to-day work of putting on a play. I love that it’s still a challenge for them — even though they’re hugely successful (and experienced) actors.
Earlier this month, I started looking ahead to all the things I want to accomplish at BuzzFeed in 2014. And it’s a lot. This will be a year filled with launches and A/B tests and speaking engagements. It’s going to be a busy year.
And looking at it from a distance, it was kind of overwhelming. I started asking myself: How the hell am I going to get all of this done in 2014 — especially when I’ve got so much on my plate each day already?
So here’s the idea I’ve come up with: I created a Google Doc, and labeled it 100 Big Things. That’s my goal for 2014: Knock 100 big picture things off my to-list in 2014.
And then I started labeling each week of the year, and under that, I added a 1) and a 2).
To get to 100, I’ll just need to do two big things every week. (And I’m subtracting the two weeks of vacation I get a year, which takes me down to 50 weeks and 100 things.)
That seems manageable, right? I don’t need to do it all this week, or next week. Just two things a week, and that’ll add up to something really big by the end of the year.
I still have my day-to-day stuff. But my Two Big Things are the things that are going to take me and my team to the next level by year’s end.
There’s this one thing that my Uncle Billy said to me about two weeks ago. It was after my grandma’s funeral. We were sitting on the couch, watching the game, eating chopped liver. We were talking about, I dunno, the Broncos or the chopped liver, probably. Doesn’t really matter now.
But somewhere along the line, Uncle Billy dropped this bit of life advice, and it’s stuck with me: “You get one swing.”
Uncle Billy’s 88 years old. He went to war, married a girl he loved, went fishing more times than anyone else I know, showed up for every birthday and bar mitzvah I can remember. As far as Great-uncles go, he’s been a pretty stellar one.
I’ve heard that bit of advice before, obviously. It’s there on fortune cookies. It’s there in self-help books. Hell, there are people at my office who’ve worn YOLO T-shirts before. (Ironically, but still.)
But none of that quite carries the weight that it does when it comes from someone like your 88-year-old Great-uncle, does it? (And at a funeral, no less!)
I went to a funeral last weekend. At 87, my Bubbe — my mom’s mom — died suddenly. Two days later, I found myself in her old house, surrounded by loved ones as we mourned. I’ve been in that house hundreds of times, but I’d rarely gone downstairs.
And walking around downstairs, I stumbled into a room I’d never paid much attention to. It was my grandfather’s office, and it was filled with diplomas and awards and pictures.
This one photo especially caught my eye:
It’s a photo from 1939. It’s from my Great-uncle Leon’s bachelor party. (Leon’s the big guy front and center.)
Look at that photo for a second. That’s not a wedding — that’s a bachelor party.
I write a lot on this blog about the importance of having great people in your life. They’re the people who will support your work, who will be there for the low moments and the high. It is almost impossible to do the work without those people.
But sometimes it’s tough to visualize how many people it takes to support someone doing great work.
So here’s your visualization. That’s the support system it took to help Leon Gordon do his work. (He was a scientists.) That’s one man, and one body of work. They were there when he needed pushing, and when it was time to celebrate, well, they were certainly there for that, too.
That’s Uncle Leon. What will it take to make your work happen?
I will confess that I once believed that I was madly in love because of something I saw on TV.
There are a lot of shows out there featuring tall men — some of whom were even Jewish! — falling in love with attractive blondes and attractive brunettes. If you watch enough of them (and I did), and if you’re in a vulnerable enough place (and I was), you can start to believe that the romance you see on TV is the romance you deserve in your life.
You can fall for the story, and fall for the belief that what you saw on screen is what will soon happen to you.
I will confess that I have fallen for this.
And I will confess that it’s not just TV romances that I’ve fallen for. I’ve fallen for tech stories about the next great company. I’ve fallen for TED talks about the life I could lead. I’ve fallen for ads and myths and resolutions, and every story imaginable.
But I’ve also lived through enough to know what can really be mine — and what’s on screen isn’t it.
When you’re doing the work, other people’s stories become distractions. They’re there to inspire you, and to get you excited about what could be. But the minute you start believing that their story is your story, too, you’re screwed.
Nothing is gifted to you. Nothing is scripted.
This is your story and your journey, and it starts as soon as you commit to the work.