Reflecting on the last 10 years since losing my mom
System of a Down blaring on my stereo, I scrawled this on my bedroom wall at some point in my angsty teens. I noticed I’d always played video games better when I was on my last life. Back when video games were hard, you’d get a finite number of lives before it was game over and there was nothing like being on that last life to sharpen your focus.
I didn’t realize at the time just how important that idea would become to me, but it hit me within the first few months of founding Reddit. I’ve written about what transpired, but only recently have I started talking about the effect that losing my mother — after a three year long battle with brain cancer — had on me.
Last week was the 10-year anniversary of her passing. I called my dad like I do every year on this day and we caught up, shared memories, and remembered her. A lot has changed in the last year; she would have been so happy at my wedding. (We had it on her birthday.) Mom would be giving my wife’s mom some serious competition for Junior’s biggest fan. She’d also be really happy for me to be back working alongside Garry Tan at Initialized.
This seemed like a good time for reflection. As entrepreneurs, we are all so busy “crushing it” that physical health, let alone mental health, is an afterthought for most founders. It took me years to realize that the way I was feeling— when working on Reddit was the only therapy I had — was depression.
It was a thick fog that always lingered, muting good feelings and amplifying bad feelings. It showed up just before my mom was diagnosed, because my then-girlfriend had a serious accident while studying abroad; and it settled in for the next few years. I don’t recall when it went away, but it was sometime after mom passed. I felt lighter again. Someone turned the volume back up on life.
I haven’t felt it in a long time and I’m grateful for it, but it doesn’t take losing a loved one to feel this way, especially with the pressures of entrepreneurship. When you’re struggling, talk to someone. It can be a professional, a family member, or even a stranger can be helpful in getting you into a better headspace (that’s one reason why we invested in 7cups).
We’re all a work in progress.
Executives Need Coaches, Too
I only got an executive coach three years ago and it’s easily been one of the most valuable investments I’ve made in myself professionally, and personally. We often push founders to executive coaches and consistently check-in with them in good times and bad to make sure they’re taking care of themselves.
And why shouldn’t executives have coaches? The greatest athletes in the world all have coaches. They’re the only professionals who have real, quantifiable, undeniable wins and losses. The rest of us are bullshitting each other by ‘keeping score’ using revenue numbers, headcount, or valuations — athletes actually win or lose every day they go into work.
I’d argue every profession, especially if you’re trying to be the best, should have some form of coaching. And that makes me bullish on a company like Torch, providing those services at scale. One day, it will seem absurd to be an executive, or even a manger, and not have a coach — as absurd as it’d be to see a basketball team take the court without their coaches courtside.
You’re going to need to keep growing as a leader and getting outside perspective and guidance is a natural part of the process. Take care of yourself because you’re not getting uploaded to the cloud anytime soon. And when things do get hard, which they will, you especially need to prioritize your well-being.
Take Ownership Of Your Most Valuable Asset
Yourself. That starts with exercise and wellness for your body and your mind. I waited until I was going to be a father to start taking this seriously. That was idiotic. Moderate the garbage you’re putting into your body and commit yourself to a healthy routine — you don’t need any equipment to do a wide range of bodyweight exercises or go for a run. Founders especially will forget this because we’re so busy out-grinding one another.
Your environment has an outsized effect on your outcomes. It’s not just the people you surround yourself with (remember: you’re the average of your five closest friends) but also the places where you spend your time. Your work, your home, that amazing spot where you finally use some of your vacation time… get yourself out of situations and away from people who are not making you better. You only need an internet connection to change your perspective in a minute (see the community at r/getmotivated).
Our time is all going to be up at some point and when you’re (hopefully) looking back on it, the people and experiences you have in your life will be what you cherish or regret. I know because I saw it firsthand and getting that privilege at 22 meant I could live those years of boundless energy and optimism with some of the wisdom of someone much older.
You’ve got zero lives remaining, don’t squander this one.