By Bits And Pieces, Giving Back And Paying Forward

Over the past few months, a number of people I know well but maybe haven’t seen in a long while have resurfaced in life. It is great, and I can’t explain the timing. Maybe it’s summer. Maybe I have more time and am not traveling. Whatever the reason, it’s a nice change of pace. And, this wave has had a consistent theme — many people are thinking about what they should do next.

It feels a bit funny that old friends are coming to me in their quest for their next stop. For years, I was on the other side of that conversation — hundreds of those conversations. And, people here gave me tons of their time and ears. It would take me a year of just focusing on helping others to pay back that debt. So, even in a small way, it feels nice to be part of another’s counsel. By bits and pieces, I get to give back (to those who have been immensely helpful to me) and to some new folks.

Just a few years ago, I may have tried to come up tons of “solutions” when I got these kind of questions. But, now, I try to listen to what my old friends and new acquaintances are saying, both verbally and their non-verbal queues. I ask lots of questions and then I try to actively listen. Yet, I end up giving the same bland feedback, which goes something like this: “I am sure you’ll do great at whatever you pick. The challenging part of this — it seems — is what to pick to focus on. At least with me, I’ve found that over the last three years, as kids have entered the equation, and more companies are in the portfolio, and inbound emails compound, I’ve found that with each passing day, time becomes more expensive. That feeling also compounds. And, if I wasn’t energized by what I do for work, it would be a disaster. What energizes you?

It’s a tough question. For years, people would ask me that, I had nothing to say. Yes, it is a luxury to be able to pose that question to yourself, but focusing on it and cracking the nuts makes life more interesting, and that is something to strive for. The derivative question, then, is: In the absence of knowing what energizes you, how does one figure it out? The best answer I came up with is: “Pay attention to play.” It’s easy to network all day or surf job boards or all day, but that is a linear endeavor. What if, instead, one just tries to do what they want to do, and takes the time to pay attention to what captures their attention? It does take some time, but for those surfing across different entrepreneurial experiences, sometimes we get a break in between and we can ask ourselves this question.

To make this work, one has to be open to ideas that challenge one’s identity or preconceived notions. It also requires a level of intellectual honesty to say, for instance, “Yes, I want to do ____,” which has no direct connection to what you have done in your past. People may judge your choice, or talk about it with their friends after congratulating online for it. But in the end, the energy which comes from self-direction and self-motivation helps protect against general boredom, which is its own prison. Given that framing, it seems like a wise question to pose to ourselves every now and then, if for anything, as a reality check for how we spend precious time.

Haystack is written by Semil Shah, and is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Copyright © 2017 Semil Shah.

“I write this not for the many, but for you; each of us is enough of an audience for the other.”— Epicurus