I asked my CEO today “what can I do to be better” and he responded that it was the fourth time I asked that question in the last month. While he appreciated my efforts to always improve and get better, he told me I needed to give it time. Whenever I’ve asked him for feedback in the past, he’s always told me that I’ve done a great job and that if I continue to do what I do, I’ll be fine.
I thought to myself that’s the worst feedback I can get. I don’t want to be “fine.” I want to be great, to be excellent, to be amazing, to be (insert another synonym here). It was almost offensive that I will be “fine” because it sounded like mediocrity.
One of my goals has always been to be the stupidest person in the room so I can surround myself with crazy smart people I can learn from. That’s how I can grow the fastest. Inadvertently, by doing that, I can’t help but compare myself to them.
My CEO sold a multi-million dollar company when he was 28. My Product Manager has founded and sold multiple businesses and he’s 25. That’s only 2 years older than me. When I work day-in-day-out with these two incredibly smart and talented people, I question myself, what have I done? If I’m only 2–5 years behind them, what will I have accomplished in that time?
The stories about Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and other crazy 20-something-years-old founders making a dent in the world has created a sense of urgency in us (the all-too-ambitious-millennial-wantrepreneurs). It also doesn’t help when there are countless stories telling us that there’s no better time than now — when we’re young, out of school, with nothing to lose. Don’t wait until you have a family, mortgage, responsibilities, etc. This sensation of now has made me very impatient to grow and create value.
I want to get to my goals faster. I want to be better tomorrow. I want to learn everything I can so I can go create value ASAP. We all have 24 hours in a day and I feel compelled to use every minute in the most productive manner. If I’m eating breakfast, I’m watching a tutorial on Udemy; if I’m in transit, I’m listening to a podcast; if I’m waiting for the bus, I’m reading an article on Pocket. If I don’t, it feels like I’m falling behind.
I remember a few months ago coming back from the Valley where so many people told me that if I wanted to learn as much as I can while working in tech, I needed to move down there. More opportunities, more resources, more talent, more growth. It made sense. Anyone who wanted to do acting should go to LA, anyone who wanted to do tech/startups should go to SF. A friend said to me that because there are more opportunities in the Valley, people learn and grow faster, and if I don’t go now, I will be falling behind. That scared me. I don’t want to fall behind from my peers. I was almost going to pack my bags and move.
When I came back to Toronto, I thought about it a little more. Why did I really want to move to SF? Is that what I really wanted? And I realized that while my professional ambition is important, so is family, personal development, and balance. But after SF, I almost felt guilty wanting a balance in life. Knowing that these are my golden years, I should be maximizing my output and giving myself the opportunities to lay the foundation for “success.”
Once again, I felt guilty that I wanted balance. And that’s just wrong.
While no one’s ever going to tell me it’s wrong to want balance at my age, our productivity-obsessed culture combined with a sense of urgency shaped this judgment. It may be that I work in tech where agile development, speed to market, and scale are always top of focus. In this world, if you don’t move fast, you can’t compete.
So I treated myself as a startup. Telling myself that I need to be better faster, and that there’s a ticking clock to do so.
I just spent the last 3 hours sitting in Indigo after work, picked up a book, and read it cover to cover. I don’t remember when was the last time I did that. I don’t know what prompted me to do this either. But it felt great. I forget what it felt like to be sucked into a good book and have your mind be taken somewhere else. And I forced myself to finish it even though my mind was telling me I had 1000 other things to do and worry about.
And guess what? It was OK.
Was it productive? Debatable. Was it a waste of time? No. Did I sell a company? Nope. Will I sell a company (or create enough value in society to have monetary returns) in the next 2 years? I don’t know. But even if I don’t, that’s OK. As long as I have learned something, and that I’ve created some value in someone’s life, today was a good day.
I’m only 23. And yes, in 1.5 years, I will be 1/4 of a century old. But that gives me 3/4 of a century more to keep learning and creating value. That’s 657,000 more hours I have to do whatever else I want to do with my life.
Susie, you’re only 23. Stop rushing life.