Trees, Sharks & Change

Posted on February 11, 2010. Filed under: startups | Tags: , , |

My last post on this blog was 5 days ago (my 28th birthday).  My lull in activity since then stems from the discussion that ensued both on and off line surrounding the subject matter of that last post.  In short, that post articulated my feeling of racing against the proverbial life clock to accomplish my dreams. Many people were concerned that measuring my progress in life against the metric of age was a potentially harmful school of thought, and the voices expressed in the comments of that post were interesting enough that I thought the discussion deserved “homepage real estate” for a few extra days.

I was talking to my friend Brett yesterday and he said something that made a lot of sense to me.  He said, “you and me, we are like sharks…we like to be moving all the time, and if we stop moving we die…most people aren’t like us.”  I thought about this for a while and I realized that the reason why I didn’t detect a shred of despair in my previous post (while many people read it that way), is because the state that I am happiest in is one of change.  Through that lens, the reason I keep introducing what the most ardent critic, Matt Mirelis, would call  “unattainable” accomplishments/timeframes as points of reference to measure my own progress in life (i.e. those who accomplish amazing things very early in life), is because with the knowledge that more is possible than what I have or am doing, comes the reminder to keep moving and never become complacent.

I think many people work towards defined goals in life (money, wife, house, kids, cars, corner office), and once they achieve them, they stop creating new goals and become complacent.  I will call these people “trees” (once a tree grows to be a certain hight, very hard to move it).  In this complacency, “trees” find happiness, but that is because they are not “sharks” as my friend Brett would say.  Reveling in the satisfaction of what you are doing in the present or what you have done in the past is a recipe for slowing the rate of change in one’s life.  This is a completely valid ambition, to reduce change, and some of my closest friends are unhappy during transitions, and extremely happy in routine…but “sharks” crave constant transition.

My dad called me up on birthday and said, “so, your mother read your post and is worried about you…she thinks you sound defeated…but I read your post and thought the exact opposite…and I told her, that’s the difference between being an optimist and a pessimist.”  I didn’t get his analysis when he first said it, but now in the context of a “shark” who always wants to be in motion, I realize that by craving change from the present context, we “sharks” are inherently optimistic.  We exist in a state of transition toward the future because deep down we believe that the future will be as good, if not better than the present (no matter how good that present may be).

What you have to understand about people is that we subconsciously build infrastructure around our lives that is designed to preserve a state of happiness.  Those who derive happiness from complacency or lack of change seek out stable situations and build a social/professional/personal infrastructure around minimizing change, largely as a mechanism to maintain their state of happiness.  We “sharks” build a social/professional/personal infrastructure around our lives that is designed to perpetuate movement, because that is the state in which we are most happy….Measuring my progress in life in the fashion I described in my last post is perhaps a piece of infrastructure that I have put in place to perpetuate a never-ending catalyst for change/movement (the derivative of which is never-ending happiness).

I think most of the people who saw the negative element in that post are probably not “sharks,” and that is completely cool.  But “sharks” don’t give a shit about what they’ve already accomplished in the past, or what they’re doing in the present…we are always looking toward the future and actively moving ourselves into it.  So I guess that’s why I benchmark my progress in life against my age…it’s because I am aware that the state that I crave the most (as an optimist) is movement into the future, and as time passes, we start to run out of future to move into…and the day I stop moving toward the promise of what’s next, as happens when a shark stops swimming, is the day I die…

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    I’m a NYC based investor and entrepreneur. I've started a few companies and a venture capital firm. You can email me at Jordan.Cooper@gmail.com (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it)

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