A few weeks ago, I tweeted out the following:
Existential vc questions: Am I an investor, therapist, consultant or content marketer?
— Ezra Galston (@EzraMoGee) June 4, 2015
Let’s be clear: I am blessed. Being a venture capitalist is an extraordinary job. Within a single title & firm, I have the platform to be a thinker, be a writer, be a gambler, be a cheerleader, be a marketer, and be a friend. With some exceptions, I get to do what am I most passionate about.
And yet, VC is nevertheless, a really stressful job:
VC is easier than being a founder but still very stressful. Wish there was a forum for young VCs to share ideas and advice. There’s a void.
— Steve Schlafman (@schlaf) June 4, 2015
I’ve been vocal about my positive experience with the Kauffman Fellows, a 2-year fellowship that I recently (and sadly) graduated. And I’ve been equally vocal that the value in the program was not solely with the education materials, but really came out in our quarterly group therapy sessions, aka “Debriefs.” In an industry which can be rather opaque (even for us on the dark side) I realized how paramount it was to have an unconditional, non-judgemental group of VC friends who understood all my personal fears, struggles, and weaknesses in the industry.
And so, given my commitment to transparency, I will share one of those personal struggles. I look at heavyweights like Brad Feld, Fred Wilson, and Mark Suster & just have to ask: how the hell do you do it?
How are you everywhere at once? How do you produce so much content? How do you maintain thoughtfulness on the forefront of industries? How do you have time for all your entrepreneurs? How do you have the time to help them hire? How do you have time to handle their midnight freakouts? How do you have time for your freaking families?!?! How do you stay balanced? How do you find time yourself? Seriously, how do you do it?
And Brad – and this one’s for you – I have sent you I think two cold e-mails in my life (and we’re not friends although I’d love to be!!!) and your average response time is….wait for it….1 minute.
As a young VC, I look up at the edler statesmen of the industry and am simply in awe. It’s not about working hard. Because everyone works hard. And it’s not about being smarter, because everyone in this industry is hellasmart. So it must be something different? And I’m not sure I can pinpoint it.
Here’s where I’m coming from: For example, I love producing content – I absolutely love writing. But you know what? All the people who come up to me or send me notes complimenting those successes actually add to the anxiety: will my next piece also be published on TechCrunch or Forbes? Will the next piece also get 100k views? Will I wake up to e-mails from public company CEOs who stayed up late to offer feedback on my thoughts? (But please keep the compliments coming!!! just for my mom to read, yknow?! ok, thx!)
I’ve read the practical tips, but frankly, I find those underwhelming. Not checking Facebook is not a solution to this problem, because while time management is certainly a part, it’s only one of the axioms. This is a question that is more conceptual, emotional, maybe even spiritual than it is practical.
Sometimes I wonder if it has to with playfulness (a concept I articulated in The Importance of Being Dumb). I think that’s part of it. And I also wonder if it’s about not being too hard on yourself (I’ve noticed that all three of you are open about your weaknesses and struggles) – and that’s a part of self-awareness anyways, which is undeniably a vital quality for VC.
I think a lot also has to do with triaging focus. It’s another concept Greg McKeown discusses in Essentialism (I promise I’m not getting paid to shill this book):
Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.
The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage. In other words, Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless.
And yet, as much as I want to envelop myself in Greg’s beautiful prose and allow only the vital activities to permeate my existence, it still seems so practically impossible. How do I avoid all the meetings I have to take as “favors?” Or the meetings I take “defensively” – because if I don’t, and the company gets huge, then I get blamed. Can I stop attending certain events which waste untold hours if the effect will be to hurt the feelings of the organizer? Should I stop spending my evenings with my baby boy and instead be that VC who responds to nightime e-mails instantaneously? Should I stop cooking dinner for my pregnant wife? And on and on and on.
And, as I believe personal and professional lives are inextricably connected, feeling really freaking good about time utilization in the professional sphere (or personal) will undoubtedly make one more focused in the other realm.
Yesterday, my wife and I took our 2.5 year old son for a walk on the beach, gently testing the lapping waves of Lake Michigan with a timid toddler. It was a beautiful day and perfect weather. We both looked relaxed, dressed in our aqua blue polo and skirt, respectively. And yet, when she asked me “honey, are you really here right now?” I had to admit that I was struggling. My mind was in so many places – how to best strategize portco issues for the coming week, how to react to certain family issues, how to sell myself to a series of founders I love – I was also at the beach, but it was only one small piece of the puzzle.
That moment made me want to write this blog. So, to those who are making it: how are you everywhere at once and yet always focused in the present – for your families, your partners, and your entrepreneurs? Because I am struggling. And I want really badly to figure it out.