Reflections from a year in Silicon Valley
Finding yourself in a world that’s trying to change everything
Silicon Valley truly is a magical place. It’s a riveting, inspiring place filled with the brightest people I’ve ever met in the world.
It is as crazy as you’ve heard: you walk down Market Street and all you see is what I call ‘the logos’.
Uber. Square. Twitter. Dropbox. Airbnb. Facebook. Google.
Adorned over backpacks, jackets, hoodies, t-shirts, and whatever else cool swag they’re giving out these days.
In most other cities, to see a concentrated swarm of individuals covered in the logos of household name tech giants would be a rare sight; nearly unfathomable, in fact.
For visitors and those new to the area, it’s easy to geek out over such superficial observations.
But that’s just another morning in San Francisco, or as the cool kids like to call it… ‘Silicon Valley.’
To be surrounded by some of the brightest minds in the world, immersed in a progressive, cutting-edge, innovate environment truly is a second-to-none experience.
Conversations everywhere — in coffee shops, Uber rides, brunch lines, I could go on — revolve around tech. Self-driving cars, drones, machine learning, artificial intelligence, you name it.
Tech meetups and conferences featuring industry leaders and riveting topics are a dime and a dozen; it’s impossible to keep tabs on them all and attend everything.
Living in Silicon Valley can be incredibly overwhelming — make no mistake about it.
Everyone is trying to optimize this, streamline that, scale this, grow that. The status quo is rejected in favour of dreamers’ visions of a better tomorrow.
You question everything, wonder why things are the way they are, and your brain begins to bubble with creative solutions to everyday problems you observe.
But really, if there’s one thing that I’ve learned during my time there, it’s that you need to take a step back sometimes and reflect on yourself.
Because so often, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype of the tech bubble in Silicon Valley. But you can get lost, really fast. And when I say lost, I mean lose sight of what really matters outside of this bubble, which feels like a fantasy land more often than not.
There’s far too many people working on problems that aren’t really problems, at least not outside of the Silicon Valley bubble.
Problems that are only problems for the privileged, wealthy, or self-absorbed.
But we need to take a step back.
In a world that places so much emphasis on output, to the point where people are judged solely off it, I argue input is just as important — if not more.
And that’s where I argue: at the end of the day, in a world that values innovation and creativity so much, it’s not about what you’ve built or accomplished.
Rather, it’s about what you’re made of.
Personality, character, thoughtfulness, resilience; these are the traits that truly differentiate you from others, especially in a world where startups and apps are a dime and a dozen.
Having a good work ethic, being loyal and humble, and quite simply, being a good person matter far more than any accolades or accomplishments.
And there may be no better place in the world to breed and groom these traits than in the epicentre of the tech world. Which leads to my main point:
Silicon Valley isn’t just a physical place. It’s a frame of mind; a way of thinking.
Your character is what truly defines you, not what you’ve built or accomplished. Especially in a world that’s trying to change everything, it can become nearly impossible to forget to find and grow yourself.
With that being said, here are the biggest lessons I’ve learned during my time in Silicon Valley. They are lessons I believe anyone can apply anywhere to achieve that same mindset:
Learning never stops.
Learning is a lifelong process. Everyone is always learning, and no one “knows everything” or “has it altogether”. Even if it appears that way. Learning is both proactive and reactive, and can come while collaborating with others, or while in solitude.
Learning can come in many forms — reading books or articles, taking courses, or simply asking questions. In fact, the smartest people you’ll meet will never be shy about the fact that they’re still learning so much.
You don’t need to be validated by anybody but yourself.
External validation is meaningless. Attaining personal fulfillment is all that matters. If you have a vision for something, follow it and see it through. If you’re ambitious, people will laugh at you and call you crazy. As long as you’re passionate about your work or project, that’s the number one thing you need to push forward.
As Gandhi once said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
Invest in the little things in life.
If you’ve ever heard of the state of “flow”, this rings especially true here. Flow is defined as “the mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does and loses sense of space and time.”
By investing — both time and money — into the little things, your life feels way more wholesome and complete. As a result, your day-to-day begins to feel incredibly seamless.
A good way to litmus test this is to weigh the trade-offs of cost and benefits of something you’re considering using, buying, investing in, etc. If the relative upside (benefit) significantly outweighs the downside (cost), no matter how large the latter is — again, we’re talking in relative terms here — then do it. Maximize those types of choices.
The little things in life are greater than the sum of their parts.
Appreciate the hard things, and embrace challenges.
Many of us — at some point or another — have shied away from a challenge of some sort. Perhaps it seemed too intimidating, sounded too hard, or we just didn’t want to put in the work. But the reality is that challenges are actually super exciting, because they present significant learning opportunities.
Easy things will always be easy. If you only work on easy things, you’ll become complacent when it comes to hard things. By putting yourself in difficult situations and pushing through them, you’ll be able to handle anything. It’s like being thrown to the wolves or learning to swim in the deep end. Once you can handle those, you can handle anything else in that realm.
Adversity teaches you more about yourself than success does.
It might sound cliche, but adversity truly does build character. Success certainly can teach you about what works, but when things don’t work out, you’ll be left searching for answers. Going through failures and adversity teaches you a scrappy, resourceful mentality that can’t be learned otherwise; it’s what I call ‘grit’.
If you go through life only experiencing continuous success, that might feel perfect — when in reality, you might not have learned much about failure. Which I’d argue is exponentially more important. Not only does it teach you how to recoup and recover, it also teaches you mentally how to deal with adversity. And that is a skill that you can’t put a price on, because otherwise, later on in life, when you’re dealt a difficult hand, you won’t know how to react and you might just fold.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Many people are often afraid to ask questions, because they feel like it will make them look unintelligent or vulnerable. When in reality, the truth could not be farther from this. Asking questions is not a weakness; rather it’s a sign of intellectual curiosity and thoughtfulness.
And it’s something that will be admired by the likes of employers and colleagues. Don’t be afraid to go against the grain and be the only one to ask a question, even if everyone else is too shy to raise their hand.
In summary, if there’s one major takeaway from my time in Silicon Valley, it’s that we — regular, ordinary people — can build, change, and re-invent things. It’s just a matter of embracing that mindset, and permanently internalizing it.
Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you, and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.
Whether it’s Silicon Valley or anywhere else in the world, soak in as much as you can, take a piece of it with you, and enrich wherever it is you go next.