Start Up Life And The Acceleration Of Self

Photo: Freddie Marriage via Unsplash

He hands me his card. “Surprise…ologist?” I arch an eyebrow.

“Yes!” He replies cheerfully, shifting in his chair and leaning forward like a cat about to pounce. “I’m a Surpriseologist. My core responsibility is bringing joy to our clients everyday.”

“So…you’re in sales?”

It’s too early for this. I take a long slurp of coffee.

New clients are perched on a couch merely twenty feet away. We keep visitors occupied with snacks fit for the average teenage stoner — Fruit by the Foot, Goldfish crackers, Doritos. I often wonder if their trust diminishes in direct response to each level of bro-speak overheard.

A colleague comes sidling in, one hand over his messenger bag and an iPhone clutched in the other. Under some unknown prompt he begins hollering directly over everyone’s airspace before retiring for a coffee break thirty seconds later. He snaps rubber bands across the room as he goes.

“This place is cool!” says the Surpriseologist,* a soft drip of admiration in his voice.

“You could say that,” I reply, trying to meet him in virtue with an edge of derision slipping through.

An hour earlier I slipped through the back of the building from the alley to avoid the tourists and street vendors, clone commuters and everyone else from everywhere contributing to the pattern of early morning foot traffic in Manhattan. The freight elevator is broken at least once a week and smells like garbage always. Still, it’s a much easier trip than barreling in from the front of the building only to wait ten minutes for the tiniest business elevator ever to arrive.

That morning, the freight elevator was ready to carry its usual haul. A skinny dude with intricate tattoos covering his neck and arms, pushing an expensive-looking fixie. A heavyset guy with a twitching French bulldog tucked under one arm. The CEO of a popular social networking app. And of course, there’s me — head of accounts for a mobile app agency. I carry a coffee and wear all black (it’s easier that way).

As the elevator door began to slide shut two girls clutching matching iced coffees pushed their way in. I was fairly certain they worked at the men’s lifestyle brand that occupied three floors of the building. These girls were easy to spot — poster children for street style, their priorities included (beyond iced coffee) hangovers, the dating app Bumble, and #OOTD (outfit of the day). They were frequently spotted at Equinox in deep moral conversation surrounding something like the benefits of green juice versus that of coconut water.

I get off on the last floor. There’s a guy walking around barefoot shouting into his iPhone. His hair was spun into a giant man-bun on the top of his head, seemingly weighing his body down as he paced. I couldn’t help but catch his outfit — tight silver pants and likely a dozen long necklaces piled over a black threadbare t-shirt cut into a low “v.”

I am a social anthropologist hard at work.

For the most part, I’m lucky though because I work with brilliant people. In sports they say to “play up” — always aim to be the weaker player so your game will grow stronger. Sometimes I find myself within a more motlier group, but in any given circumstance tend to iterate quickly.

It’s not until eleven that the co-working space is fully alive. People in their early to mid twenties stream in from the elevators.

They mix, mingle and meet, fire up computers and jump onto Skype calls. They pop in ear buds and gulp down energy drinks, a workday to be filled with impromptu meetings and countless social media cravings satisfied.

At eleven-thirty a little reminder goes off on my computer. “Order Lunch” it says. In under ten seconds I log into Seamless, find “recently placed orders” and reorder a salad from the place four blocks away. I fully realize it will take an hour to get there. The hope is that while I’m in meetings it will eventually find its way to my desk.

They say that startup life is sexy. In theory yes it is. It’s a sweet opportunity to introduce something new to the marketplace, streamline a product or service that could be better, or — best case scenario — fix something that’s broken. The freedom that comes with this kind of work is addictive.

There’s verbiage I’ve vowed deeply to avoid. Said language includes words like “epic” and “disrupt.” Another big one is “hustle,” which basically means that you give a shit about getting things done.

Most people obsessed with startup culture get sucked into a type of growth inertia. It’s the mandatory and persistent need to move forward by any means possible. It’s progressing the work, making the process meaningful, and applying purpose as you go. For our generation attaching ourselves to purpose is paramount.

A recent topic on Quora discusses growth acceleration of the individual. The belief is that one path of arrival stems from boredom and the other from anxiety.

The acceleration of self gets us in over our heads every single time. The paradox is that it also enables us to feel our most alive. It gives us what we need to solve for the pressing problems of the world while offering direction and purpose on a personal level.

We need to place more focus on this acceleration of self.

Most of us are adults ripened by boredom, not understanding the uncomfortable feelings that, God-willing, will lead to something better on the other side. We don’t see obstacles as bridges to cross. Instead they are overpasses to jump from.

There are no chances until later, when we are forced to show up for other things like finances, family, or personal relationships — when we begin to truly understand what growth can really be.

Just imagine having slightly larger shoes to fill every year for the rest of your life, not just in childhood.

One Saturday afternoon I sat in a darkened Williamsburg movie theater drinking wine at noon. I was there to clear my head but instead felt incredibly alone. I drained my glass then ordered another.

After the credits rolled I wandered outside to discover that at some point it started to rain, the first sprinkling of the season after a ridiculously brutal winter. The water left little puddles within characteristic dimples of the worn Brooklyn sidewalk.

I may have been Prosecco-drunk but it was nowhere near a drunken decision to return to a start up. I was addicted to the excitement and tied to it through personal passion. As the raindrops hit my face, It was at that moment I realized there was more important work to focus on. I needed to rewind a bit to accelerate growth for myself.

There was little validation to be found in the startup world if I kept applying a magnifying glass closer to the valuation of things I couldn’t control.

The focus needed to shift to the things I could control. I needed to neutralize the unpredictable and at times disorienting pace of life by creating a space to more comfortably grow.

It was time to show up differently — not only for myself but for my passion projects and the other things that made me whole. Friendships, community, writing, DJ’ing.

Besides, growth is deeply rooted in our DNA. So we owe it to the world to show up once in awhile.

Eventually, we’ll improve the odds and hit on something meaningful. It doesn’t have to change the world, but the acceleration of growth on a personal level can maybe help us to become better as individuals. As it relates to work, with this alignment intact we then become battle-ready.

Maybe we’re all anthropologists. We may not know what we’re building yet but it is the future. One word or one line of code at a time. It doesn’t take a Surpriseologist to generate that kind of bliss.

  • Not to be confused with Possibilitarian or Chief Brunch Officer.

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