“Oh excuse me, it’s Amy,” said Brad Feld as he answered his wife’s phone call, while sitting on stage doing a live panel to a packed out room at the Hard Rock Cafe in Seattle. Priorities!
Many topics were covered during last night’s session, to share insights on how we, as entrepreneurs and workaholics, can “maintain fulfilling, loving relationships while working in the high demand world of startups.” At least that was the intent of the panel, and it certainly had heads in the crowd nodding along and voices practically uttering “amen.”
I know I was.
There were golden moments and tweetable take-aways, one of my favorite from Brad, saying: “If you spend all of your time talking about how to talk about your relationship, it will fail.” So meta, and so true. “Be present,” surely a mantra we could all do better by.
Setting priorities was a hot topic with Brad, Emily Huh (Cheezburger Network), Geraldine DeRuiter (Everywhereist), Rand Fishkin (SEOmoz), and Keith Smith (BigDoor). Brad certainly practiced what he preached when answering that timely call, and the crowd adored him for it.
Keith made it clear, in his usual sharp and witty deliveries, that his children reign supreme in his hectic life as a leader. His added comedy helped balance out moments where Emily shared her’s and her husband Ben’s earliest relationship memories, and Ben’s thoughts of suicide from being absolutely overwhelmed with debt and failure of a previous venture, or when Rand spoke of Geraldine’s pilocytic astrocytoma, or her tumor rather, and the seemingly insignificant, but very real arguments of if Rand “should or should not Google it” to find out more.
Shit got real.
Pardon my language, but it’s true. These five sat up in front of a full room of friends and strangers, and shared real moments. Moments of weakness. Moments that could be shameful and lessening of their character.
But you know what? Knocking them down a peg was the last thing that appeared to be on the audience’s mind. Instead, the room showed empathy and embraced the vulnerability. It was a safe place to share because everyone there felt pieces of them sitting on stage talking right back at them.
Everyone was hungry to learn what tools and processes these community figureheads have acquired from their failures, mistakes, and battle scars, because they need help in their own lives. The lives that are generally kept hidden behind closed doors and are afraid to surface when in public.
It makes me think.
How many times have you been networking and was asked: “How’s it going with you or your startup?” All you can muster is the highlight reel of successes and momentum builders? How many of your social status updates only work to craft an image of how awesome you or your company is?
Sure, it makes sense. We want to be trusted as someone who is stable, can deliver, can succeed, is the right person to lock in that business deal with or to provide that round of financing. What we don’t want is to be the butt of a joke, or a gossip topic, or thought of as inadequate and unworthy. We’ve all worked extremely long and hard to position ourselves to create a life, business and future, and want to maintain that.
However, we have all been inundated and overwhelmed, kept up late at night worried about crunching those dwindling numbers in the bank account, flustered and frustrated that communication has broken down with a co-founder. We have all hit some severe roadblocks that truly shows what kind of person you are in how you can recover from it. Hiding it or avoiding it doesn’t make the issues less real or you any better.
Why then do we put so much energy into wearing a plastic face, staring at another plastic face who could be experiencing, or who has experienced, the same exact issue? I’m guilty of this myself, but it’s time to stop. It’s killing us.
Change is happening already.
Andy Sack understands the need for transparency very well. At TechStars, he has every founder stand in a circle, every single week, to share and drink to the highs as well as confronting and consoling the lows. Each year, it’s that circle that creates the strength of family because of its ability to be a safe place in being a real human being, flaws and all, and finding support.
There’s also a great YouTube series called DinnerDialogues, where Ben Huh (Cheezburger Network), Andy Liu (BuddyTV), Dan Shapiro (Sparkbuy), T.A. McCann (Gist), and Oren Etzioni (UW), sit down to share intimate and ugly details of their entrepreneurial journeys.
Brad’s book, Startup Life, and last night’s panel, is a great step towards creating a healthy dialogue about issues that need to be addressed, starting with the core; relationships. Buy the book, if not to read and apply it, then to support the courage of vulnerability and communication.
Before you know it, we may get real on depression, anxiety, and all of the other harsh symptoms that come with the tumultuous, yet oh so rewarding life, of being an entrepreneur. When you get real, you might just find the perspective or support that you need to overcome it, or provide it for somebody else. What a gift!
If you run into me at a future event and only get the highlight reel, please call me out and dig deeper. I’ll appreciate it and return the favor.