"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
There is a beautiful quote by the children’s and young adult author Cammie McGovern on finding your place in the world.
There isn’t any one big test or way to validate ourselves in the world. There’s just a long, quiet process of finding our place in it.
Over the past 20+ years it’s probably safe to say I’ve held more than the average variety of titles from business development manager to Creative Director to founder. There was also that weekend I was a mortgage broker. But, I digress. Growing up in small-town rural Illinois, like most boys my age, I had a paper route. Having a paper route meant very early mornings (3-4 a.m.), exposure to all-weather conditions, lots of bike crashes, and tedious attention in taking care of your hundreds of subscribers. But the rewards were tremendous when Christmas came around and I was thanked with generous tips and warm cookies. This paper route gave me my first real exposure to what it was like to have a steady income. Where did the money go, you ask? Towards my obsession with building BMX and freestyle bikes, of course.
As a young teenager, I worked as a corn detasseler, likely the most interesting job title I’ve carried that always elicits many questions. ("Corn have tassles?") Once I decided to stop using my skateboard as a means for transportation, the money earned from detasseling allowed me to buy my first car for $500, a 1954 Ford Crestline, which I proudly rebuilt the engine to original condition and ultimately sold the car for a profit to buy a 1980’s Camaro. I was 16 years old. Little did I know this would be my first lesson in investment. (The Camaro was a junker.)
In my late-teens to early 20’s I worked as a machinist, and by the time I was 24 had taught myself web development and started a consulting business. O'Reilly's Definitive Guide to CSS was a permanent fixture on my desk. Sadly, I also remember the year being 2001 living in Sonoma County and waking up to see the Twin Towers fall on live television. The world was never the same after that day.
The rest is history… dozens of side projects, some forming into startups; years of nonprofit service, including time spent in Africa; building startup programs to benefit marginalized communities; educating (myself and others); coaching (getting coached and coaching others); and ultimately early-stage investing and fund management. Of course, I’m condensing two of the most impactful and transformative decades of my life.
I find it fascinating how our pursuits are really just scattered attempts at validating our place in the world. Who am I? Where do I belong? The reality, as quoted above, is that finding our place in the world is a long, patient process that takes time despite how fast life seems to go by as we age. Life is lived in the margins, where the smallest moments have time to germinate into much larger opportunities to learn about ourself and choose to be a force for good for others.