nifty fifty

When I turned 40 years old, I wrote a short series of four posts to try to sum up the four most important lessons I’d learned to that point. For most of the past decade, I thought I’d do the same at 50. I certainly have learned a lot – far more than I expected – and I assumed that I’d have no problem churning out the “five-for-fifty” posts to sum up my life’s lessons. I even imagined myself getting to 6-for-60 and 7-for-70, as I feel confident that the older you get, the more you have to say about life.

But all those lessons started to feel overwhelming (to read, not to write), so I recently began to think that I should concentrate on the one most important lesson. And that would be about the one most important topic, which is of course love.

Someday I’ll write about that, but this isn’t the day for it, this isn’t the time for it. This is 2020, and a half-century in, I can finally see that despite anyone’s fondest dreams, the cynics and the bruised romantics were always right: Love is not enough.

My home is on fire. We are like bacteria in a bottle, blindly exhausting all the available resources in our ecosystem. More and more people believe that the end is nigh. And that’s just the obvious future. In the terrible present, we are battered black and blue by our failure to bring about a just society. Amoral tech leaders fail over and over again to actually build socially beneficial products that are worthy of their position of power. The ruin of the fourth estate has led to idiocracy. What is the lesson that I should try to deliver when my half-century on the planet has me wondering if any eventual grandchild of mine could reasonably hope to see the same age?

The lesson is this: You can be at peace while still fighting.

I am stunned to discover that I’m at peace in a way that I never believed was possible for me, or for anyone. I am not confused about my place in the world. I’m not angry all the time; no grievances torture my heart. I know what I want to make of the remaining time that I have. I know how to give and receive love, I know the power of kindness.

It remains true that I react in anger with some frequency. I’m not as kind as I’d like to be. I do still have a low opinion of people who I believe to have wronged me, and I’m quite sure that there are people with a similarly low opinion of me – and I agree with that assessment at times. I don’t know exactly whether or how I will accomplish the things I dream of today.

But still, I find that my dreams are bigger than they’ve ever been. I know that I’m going to have to fight for what I believe in, and I love that because I’ll never stop fighting.

Your mileage may vary, but the road is there if you want to take it. True peace in your heart is available for anyone. But the fight for a world worth living in will always be everyone’s to fight. I worried that peace and serenity in my heart would mean less fire in my belly, but now I realize that the fire doesn’t come from me.

the pages of illusions

Ah, it’s that time of year, when we make promises to ourselves that we won’t keep.  For virtually every new year since the mid ’90s, I’ve made at least one of the following three resolutions: (1) get a new job, (2) get more exercise, (3) write a book.  Totals over the last fifteen years:  9 jobs, 2 years in which I exercised more than the prior year, 1 book (unpublished).

To be fair, 7 out of the 9 jobs were really a single job to me:  learning how to be an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley.  I’ve learned some good lessons, and although I didn’t achieve the outcomes I aimed for, I’m not sad about the experiences of the last dozen years.  How can I be sad?  After all, everything I’ve learned only gives me fodder for another book . . .

I’m going to title this book The Age of Illusions.  If I can do this properly, I’ll be working on three intertwining themes:

Illusions of youth.  In your 20s and 30s, you’re at the peak of your powers, or at least in the prime of your unrestrained ambitions.  You’re out of childhood, with the energy of youth and none of the detritus of age. Maybe I’m taking turning 40 too seriously, but I mean this as a celebration, not as resignation:  If you haven’t crashed into a wall by the time you’re 40, you’re doing it wrong.  If you haven’t learned your limitations the hard way, you wasted the resilience of youth.

Illusions of enterprise.  My core work experience of the last decade was at a startup that could be considered the most successful failure of the Internet age.  Changing the world is hard, and most of the people who say they’re doing it aren’t even really trying.  At Linden Lab, we weren’t just trying to change the world, we were trying to recreate it in a better image.  We didn’t get where we wanted to be.  Some say that failure is a badge of honor, but I can only agree with that sentiment where the goal was so great that even trying is reasonably regarded as lunacy.

Illusions of empire.  The first decade of this millenium was a rollicking cascade of unreal events.  The background of all of our tales of this decade may be the end of the American empire.  It’s a story too large for me to tell with my limited skills, but somehow I have to acknowledge that I’m fingerpainting on the canvas of epochal history.

Folks, don’t hold your breath:  I estimate that it’ll take me almost six years to write this book.  I think I’ll only average around a page per week, and I’m aiming for at least 300 pages.  Ah well – it’s nice to have a slot filled for those annual resolutions all the way through 2016.

Happy New Year!