Parker Palmer On Vocation

I just finished reading ‘Let Your Life Speak’ by Parker J. Palmer. He’s an author, educator and activist focused on community, leadership, spirituality and personal growth.

The book is essentially a collection of Palmer’s essays about listening to your inner voice or true self, finding your vocation in life, crawling out of the depths of depression and finding the path towards meaning and fulfillment.

I found his essays to be deeply thought provoking and timely given I’m turning forty in October and wrestling with some big life questions. This book has helped me find some clarity by tuning into my inner voice, recognizing what gives me energy and asking myself what’s truly important.

There is one passage in the book that really struck a nerve for me. I wanted to share it with you in hope that it speaks to you as well.

“Vocation at it’s deepest level is, “This is something I can’t not do, for reasons I’m unable to explain to anyone else and don’t fully understand myself but that are nonetheless compelling.”

What is your vocation?

The March To 10,000 Hours

How long does it take to become a master at something? I first learned of the “10,000-Hour Rule” about a decade ago when I first read ‘Outliers’ by Malcolm Gladwell. The premise of this rule is simple: the key to achieving mastery in any skill or craft, is, largely, a matter of putting in the time and practicing for roughly 10,000 hours. Gladwell argued that legends like The Beatles, Bill Gates and others crossed this milestone before truly breaking out.

I’ve been thinking about the “10,000-Hour Rule” following a conversation I had a few weeks ago with a talented and thoughtful executive at a well known startup in NYC. This gentleman just turned thirty and is starting to think about the next phase of his career and life. Despite being very good at his job, he doesn’t feel like he has made an impact or developed real skills that are truly valued in the world.

He told me about Thomas Callahan, a bike builder in Brooklyn, who is the founder of Horse Cycles. Thomas makes about twenty custom steel bikes each year. His bikes are incredibly well made and beautiful. I can assure you Thomas has passed the 10,000 hour threshold building bikes. He’s a master craftsman.

My friend explained, “there’s something intoxicating about the idea of building something with my hands, delivering it to a customer, and then seeing that person derive happiness and meaning from that exchange.” I got the sense my friend desires to transition from his “desk job” to a new vocation that has a tangible impact on others. Thomas Callahan clearly has impacted my friend.

How does this story relate back to 10,000 hours? My friend just entered his thirties and is clearly contemplating what to do next with the next phase of his career and life. I don’t know what is the right answer and path for him. BUT I do know that he has the time to remake himself and master a craft if that’s what his heart truly desires. God willing he makes it to eighty, he has five decades remaining to devote to his craft. Five decades! That’s fifty years! The time no doubt will go fast but it’s certainly more enough to achieve mastery.

So what does the march towards 10,000 hours look like? Eight hours a day for five days a week gets you there in only five years. Seems challenging but doable especially if one switches careers. Here’s another combination: two hours a day for five days a week gets you there in twenty years. That’s the part-time path to 10,000. There is even a calculator should you want to go down that rabbit hole.

Here’s my point in all of this. We all have the ability to launch our lives in a different direction. We all have the ability to master a new craft. We all have the ability to bring our visions to life. 10,000 hours seems like an eternity but remember time is on our side for many of us especially if we get started today. Each of us can become our own version of Thomas Callahan if we’re willing to put in the effort, passion and of course the time behind a vocation that we truly love.

Godspeed!

The Craftsman (And The Factory Worker)

The older I become, the louder the voice in my head is screaming, “Stop wasting time and create.” This voice talks to me when I’m on the subway, upstate in the woods and even when I’m in pitch meetings. For years, creative ideas have flooded my brain but I haven’t taken much action outside of penning blog posts every few months. Perhaps the voice is gaining power because I’m internalizing the fleeting nature of life, I badly want to create something from beginning to end, and/or want to leave something behind that’s truly an expression of myself.

Several weeks ago I was having my monthly ‘philosophical conversation’ with Andrew Taggart, a modern practical philosopher. He is three parts philosopher and one part coach. For months, we’ve been talking about creation and expression. These themes are top of mind as I turn forty in just two months. I want creation to define the next decade of my life. Andrew has been helping me examine this deep desire and explore how these urges will ultimately manifest in the world.

At the conclusion of our conversation, he sent me the following on ownership and creative freedom:

“A person is alienated just in case he doesn't, as it were, really see himself in what it is he makes. A simple example: a factory worker, Marx thought, was alienated, because of the division of labor: unlike a master craftsman, a factory worker does not place his creative stamp on the thing from beginning to end. A craftsman makes the entire violin. A factory worker may help manufacture the resin.”

This passage hit me like a ton of bricks. I wrote it in my journal immediately and I’ve been revisiting what it means to be a craftsman over the last few weeks.

A craftsman has complete control over his craft. He hones his specialty through years of trial, error and experimentation. He gets lost in his work. In fact, he doesn’t even feel like he’s working most of the time. He would refer to it as a vocation rather than work. Passion drives him rather than financial reward or upside. He’s satisfying his desire to make something out of nothing, to manifest his vision in the physical world, to push the boundaries of what’s possible. He is part of a community of craftsmen who help push his work. His fingerprints are found at every stage in the creation process. He will stand in the face of criticism no matter how brutal because the craft is the calling. A craftsman lives to create and to be one with his creation.

Frankly, I haven’t felt like a master craftsman with end-to-end ownership and creative freedom over a product and/or craft for a long time. Perhaps that’s because VCs are removed from the company building that’s taking place inside the portfolio. Perhaps I haven’t found the creative outlet that’s calling out to me. Perhaps I need to launch a creative project to grease the wheels. Perhaps VC is a creative craft and I need to shift my perspective. Perhaps coaching is that craft.

In the next two months before my fortieth birthday, I’m going reflect on how I want to spend the next decade of my life and what I want to create. More specifically, how do I want to spend my time and express myself? What do I want to leave behind? I don’t know where I’m going just yet but I do know that I’m committed to harness the power of the craftsman that lives inside of me.

Are you a craftsman? Do you see yourself in what you make? What’s calling out to you?

Creator Lab: On Personal & Professional Growth

Last month, I had the good fortune of sitting down with Bilal Zaidi of Creator Lab, a podcast that dissects the thoughts and actions of leading entrepreneurs, non-profit founders, award winning designers, educators, artists and everything else in between. Our episode dropped earlier this week (Apple, Spotify, Overcast).

In our wide ranging conversation, we discuss my journey to becoming a VC and a coach, what I look for in a venture investment and why Primary is the best seed fund for entrepreneurs in NYC. We also dive into how to navigate your career, why I decided to adopt a sober lifestyle (hint: performance + clarity), how to create good habits, why the top performers have coaches, how I’ve coped with anxiety and the fear of death, and why 360 reviews are a powerful tool to uncover your blindspots.

This was a really fun and open discussion. I certainly didn’t hold back. I hope you walk away inspired to build the future you’re craving, make changes in your own life and/or help someone you care about. Enjoy!

How To Conduct A Comprehensive Annual Review

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.” -Meg Wheatley

The holiday season is my favorite time of the year. It symbolizes family, friends, vacation and of course plenty of good food. I also enjoy it because it marks the end of the year and the beginning of a new one. This is an ideal moment to reflect on the past twelve months and to define what we want to achieve in the year ahead.

So much happens over the course of a year. Lessons learned. Victories. Hardships. Physical changes. Special moments. Personal growth. New relationships. But by the time New Year’s rolls around, we often forget most of what happened because life gets in the way.

Many of our employers have us complete an annual review and set goals before year end. This makes good sense. It’s difficult to know where to head if we don’t know where we’ve been. But this leads me to the question: why don’t we conduct an annual review for all the components of our life? The answer is simple: we don’t create the time necessary, feel any pressure to or have a blueprint to guide us.

For the last three years, I’ve carved out time at the end of the year to conduct a comprehensive annual life review. The process has been not only cathartic but also illuminating and empowering. In fact, this exercise has helped me identify what’s important, shed what isn’t, and transform in many ways. As a result, I decided to get sober, leave a job that wasn’t the right fit and pursue coaching as a profession.

Several clients and friends recently asked me to share my annual life review blueprint. What follows is an attempt to provide the framework and hopefully the nudge to complete your own annual life review.

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On Privilege

Last week, I published a blog post titled, ‘Decoding the Qualities of a Great VC.’ The spirit behind the piece was to spark a conversation about what makes a good venture investor and whether that can be predicted. It was generally well received until I saw this Tweet from Nathalie Molina Nino, CEO of BRAVA Investments, an investment platform that cares less about creating the next woman billionaire and instead backs businesses that create wealth for a billion women.

I immediately became defensive because I had good intentions in writing the post and felt I highlighted ‘universal’ attributes of great investors. Without giving it any thought, I quickly replied to Nathalie with the following tweet.

I then felt a backlash from a number of individuals including Katherine Gordon, Founder of The 3% Conference.

At that point, I became uncomfortable because my ignorance was obvious. Growing up in a predominately white upper middle class town in Massachusetts, I was indirectly taught that privilege was about wealth rather than race, gender, sexual preference, etc.. I incorrectly believed I wasn’t privileged because a) I was raised by an amazing single mother who worked two blue-collar jobs, b) I’ve earned an income since my early teens, c) I financed my college education, d) and I’ve worked hard to be self supporting for nearly two decades. It dawned on me through those various exchanges that I have been eating my own bullshit. What I began to quickly realize is that wealth is just one component of privilege and arguably the weakest one.

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Hug O' War

Last weekend, I was hanging out at my twin brother's house. It was early in the morning and wanted to kill some time so I decided to browse his vast book collection. I came across one of our most cherished books from childhood, Where The Sidewalk Ends by the legendary artist and writer Shel Silverstein.

As I was flipping through the book, I arrived at one of my favorite poems, Hug O' War: I immediately Google'd Hug O' War to learn more about what inspired Shel to write the poem. I discovered that he wrote it to widely express nonviolence and goodness to the world.  That expression really resonated with me.

As I reflected on the poem, the words non-violence, cooperation, winning, surrender, love, happiness and goodness kept coming up for me. I felt those words accurately represent what I value as a human being.

Yesterday, I walked into a tattoo parlor near Chinatown in San Francisco and had Shel's Hug O' War illustration etched on the back my arm. My hope is that it'll serve as a reminder to always love, support, serve and cooperate rather than to fight, harm or hurt. Here's to filling the world with more kindness. I can't think of a better purpose than that.

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