Full of “Potential” = Full of You Know What…

Posted on February 6, 2010. Filed under: startups | Tags: , , |

So today I am 28 years old.  When I was 24 I used to look at other Associates at venture capital firms who were 27 and 28 years old and think to myself “well, I’m four years ahead of these guys.”  When I was 26 and founding my first company I used to look at 30 year old founders and think “well, I’m 4 years ahead of these guys.”  Now that I’m 28, I look around at my peers and I’m pretty much right smack in the middle, not really “ahead” of anyone.  And what’s worse is, 2 years from now, I’m going to look around and start to say “well, I’m 2 years behind these guys.”  It’s already happening.  I spend time with a guy like Chris Hughes (26 I think) and leave thinking “well, I’m 2 years WAY behind that guy.”

For the first 18 years of life, and really through college, I think most young people are valued by their peers/teachers/family, etc… based on “potential”.  Especially is the case with my generation (and I have heard many baby boomers…hi Joel …complain about this fact) we are constantly told that we “can do whatever we want,” and that we are “special, and going to do amazing things in life.”  We are told that we have the potential to outperform the norm, to differentiate ourselves, and escape the statistics of mediocrity.  Depending on a specific student’s maturation and interests in college, part of the pack begins to focus on turning that “potential” into “actual,” and the majority of us begin to struggle with this conversion in our first year of work after school.

In a world where everything is ahead of you, it is very easy to believe that you will achieve your dreams, but as years begin to pass and we are inevitably not as close to those dreams as we thought we would be, we begin to wonder why all that “potential” has not properly converted into “actual”.  As an analyst in an investment bank, the masses of high potential youngsters are able to attribute the disconnect to external forces holding them back.  “These ass holes have me putting together mindless powerpoint presentations.  I’m not using my talent here.  They’re the ones who are not letting me realize my potential, but I am still special.”

For most, the frustration of these external mitigants drives us to flee the confines of entry level positions for an environment where we will have the latitude to finally spread our wings and achieve our imminent greatness.  So we jump from entry level at XX, to slightly above entry level at YY, and yet still we are not where we thought we would be when we were 18 and had ambitions of taking over the world.  Conveniently, there is still a structure in place on which to place the blame.  But with more responsibility in this new environment the story of “I’m not achieving my full potential because of something other than me” begins to dilute.  Even though we may be doing really well in this new chapter of real life, we’re still not “breaking out” like the outliers who we read about in the newspapers, etc.  “25 year old Harvard Grad returns 1000% on his own hedge fund and simultaneously saves 10,000 baby seals through an innovation in oceanic chemical treatment.” We think to ourselves, “I’m 25, I went to Harvard, how many baby seals have I saved?  Zero.  If only the Partner at my firm didn’t stifle my desire to experiment with oceanic chemical treatments, I would be the one in the WSJ.”

For me, one of the first things I realized when I took the plunge into entrepreneurship, was that all of the sudden, there was no external structure to account for a disparity between my “potential” and the “actual.”  Now, if I’m not Chris Hughes at 26, I’m simply not Chris Hughes.  I still may achieve an “actual” that I feel is on the same level as his accomplishments (unlikely J), but the reality is it might take me 10 more years than it took him.  And in those 10 years, he is going to achieve more amazing things, and at the end of our lives when we look at our respective “actuals,” Chris Hughes will have objectively outperformed me.  Why? Because he is simply more advanced.

So I look at 28, and I think to myself, “everything I accomplish from this day forward will be slightly less impressive than had I done it at 27.”  This is not to say I am upset about turning 28.  My pace is my pace, and everyday I put 100% of my effort into realizing my “potential,” but I am conscious of the fact that every year that passes signifies a declining window in which I can make it happen.  Realizing our dreams is a true race against time.

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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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