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Reflections on Turning 26
Thoughts on therapy, writing online, dating apps, switching jobs, and travel
This past year has been filled with highs, lows, and “WTF, is this real life?” moments. Here are some highlights.
A year ago I had a severe panic attack on a flight from Miami to San Francisco. I spent the previous weekend staying up late partying with the aid of mysterious drugs and one too many Tequila shots.
Shortly after, I began suffering from social anxiety and became so self-conscious around people that I had to work in an isolated area of the office. I’ve always thought of myself as fairly sensitive and self-aware but I felt completely lost during this time.
I decided to see a therapist to help me understand what the hell was going on. Therapy made me realize I was using drugs and alcohol to numb my feelings of insecurity, anger, and shame.
Ignoring these painful emotions can lead to a vicious cycle. Chronic procrastination, overeating, working long hours, lavish spending sprees, lack of clear decision making, and being judgemental of others are just a few potential symptoms.
Instead of ignoring painful emotions, I’ve learned that it’s important to give yourself the space to process these feelings. Some of my favorite ways to do so include talking to someone I trust, going for a long walk, writing in my journal, meditating, negative visualiztion, screaming into a pillow, or letting myself cry like a little baby.
Traditionally, people believe emotions aren’t safe because we think accepting an emotion means we’ll be stuck with it forever. But I’ve learned that giving yourself the space to process these emotions allows the emotion to flow through you instead of control you. It’s like jumping into a freezing cold pool.
Your fear of the cold is usually more harmful than the cold itself. But as soon as you jump in, your body begins to adapt. Before long, you wonder why you were so scared in the first place.
When an unpleasant emotion arises: recognize it, express it, inquire into it, and love it. Over time, you will learn to love the resistance to these unpleasant emotions. As a result, life will go from constant conflict to creative flow.
For four years, I was scared to death about writing online. I was scared people would think I was dumb. I was scared my friends would think I was annoying. I was scard an angry internet mob would attack me.
Of course, none of these things happened. Instead, writing has become the most important habit I’ve built over the past year. Through my writing, interesting people from around the world have reached out to me for advice. Founders, executives, and investors have slid in my DM’s to collaborate on projects and brainstorm ideas.
Most importantly, writing online has turned me into a micro-entrepreneur responsible for finding a niche, creating a product, distributing it, gauging feedback, and improving over time.
Although my audience is still small, I realize that an audience is the most valuable currency on the internet. Your audience will become your friends, employees, business partners, investors, and customers. With an audience, you can start a company, get hired for your dream job, publish a book, create online courses, or sell branded merchandise. One of my goals is to build an audience through my newsletter / Twitter and sell online courses.
If long-form writing isn’t your thing, there are many other ways to build an audience. If you’re good at short witty writing, try Twitter. If you prefer curating links from the internet, start a newsletter. If you prefer conversations, start a podcast. If you enjoy connecting people, start a community specific to your interests. If you look like a supermodel, post on Instagram.
However you decide to share your ideas, your audience can give you the freedom to create the opportunities you want in your career.
For my first year in San Francisco, I refused to use dating apps. I figured my time was spent best by meeting women organically through mutual friends. I also wrongfully thought the types of women on dating apps weren’t worth dating.
But as I kept seeing the same women at the same parties and going home from the bar with nothing but a $4 overcooked hot dog from a street vendor, I realized something had to change.
My friend Jay compares dating to a sales process. In a sales process, there are two types of potential customers (also known as “leads”) - inbound and outbound.
Inbound leads are those that reach out to you through a referral, word-of-mouth, or after finding your website through a Google search. Outbound leads are those that you reach out to through a cold email or phone call.
Inbound leads have a higher chance of converting to a paying customer because they have a higher intent to purchase. But sales teams know that you still need to do outbound prospecting because inbound leads can be rare.
Dating is similar.
Inbound leads come from being introduced through a mutual friend or meeting at a friend’s party. Outbound leads come from dating apps, hobbies, and random encounters. Although dates from apps tend to have a lower success rate than dates through a mutual friend, dating apps still play an important role in helping people find their best match.
In the first month of using dating apps, I went on a few dates, had a lot of fun, and realized there are plenty of high-quality women out there. Thankfully, I didn’t get catfished.
My first job out of undergrad was as a software engineer on the Growth team at Instacart. The first six months were an intense learning experience. Eventually, projects began looking the same and I didn’t feel like my work made much of a difference for the company.
I decided to switch jobs to work at a crypto startup called Dharma as the lead software engineer on their Growth team. Instead of using pre-built systems to solve the same problems, now I would be building systems from scratch to solve new problems.
At Instacart, projects took weeks or months. At Dharma, projects take days. With just a year of experience, I didn’t think I was qualified. But there was only way to find out...
After seven months, I’m confident that this was one of the best career decisions I’ve made.
I’ve learned how to move quickly, work independently, take ownership over features, understand customer needs, scope features for fast iteration, develop product strategy, and much more.
Although much of what I learned at Instacart about engineering was transferable, taking a product from 0 to 1 is fundamentally different from taking a product from 1 to n. If you ever want to start your own business, working at an early-stage startup can teach you how to build something people want and distribute it in a scalable way.
Traveling to Japan
Spending just a few days in Japan last year showed me that traveling is the best way to understand the world.
On the first night in Tokyo, we went to an all-you-can-eat sushi place but it was full. One of the receptionists told us there was a similar restaurant down the street. She then proceeded to spend the next ten minutes walking us there to make sure we didn’t get lost. It felt like we had our own personal tour guide.
In the US, the cashier at McDonalds gets annoyed if you ask for an extra fork. Meanwhile, in Japan they treat customers with so much respect that it feels like you’re having dinner with Prime Minister Shinzo himself.
Immersing myself in another culture showed me new ways of living. The most educational moments weren’t from visiting museums or historic landmarks, they were when I observed how the locals live their lives.
How they treat their family. How they service customers. How seriously they take their craft. How they handle work-life balance. How they spend time with friends. How they view money. How they express themselves.
Getting answers to these questions was the real education.
There’s a lot to look forward in this upcoming year and I’m excited to see where it takes me :)