January 16, 2011
2009 had been pretty much a smoking crater for me — I lost my mind, almost died, closed my startup, totaled my car, lost friends, and tried dating — but I made no resolutions towards self-improvement in 2010. Instead I decided to re-engage with joyful life through the inspiration of a movie I never even saw: the Jim Carrey comedy Yes Man.
Basically I forced myself to act on anything that was sincerely suggested to me and not obviously shady. Join a football pool despite my utter ignorance of the sport? Yes! Give good wingman for my girlfriends? Yes! Drive the breadth of the nation from LAX to JAX in an ’89 Toyota? Yes! Volunteer to be a brain-research guinea pig? Yes! Watch World Cup every day for weeks? Yes! Re-activate 106 Miles bigger than ever? Yes! Attend a massive roots-music concert in Golden Gate Park? Yes! I didn’t have any money, but I didn’t have a job either so the two factors probably balanced out.
The main way I grew though was less about fun activities, and more about getting to know new people. It’s natural and normal to gradually narrow your social circle as you get older… but one day you wake up and realize you’re only hanging out with those who are essentially just like you. I think the problem can be especially bad in Silicon Valley because it’s pretty easy to convince yourself that “diversity” means you have work buddies who are geeky overachievers from Shanghai, Mumbai AND Caltech. But slowly you’re depriving yourself of getting to know sick old men, military servicepeople, the townie kids who make your sandwiches, bitter middle-aged types with drinking problems, witty Southerners, Marina blondes, stubborn Midwesterners, birdwatchers, and former college athletes. And if you’re like me, you’ll start to maybe treat these groups as stereotypes rather than individuals… and they’ll do the same to your geeky overachievers… and pretty soon America will suck just a little bit more for everyone.
This year, I am actually inclined to do something self-improving. I’m still not making resolutions, but I have a goal: to work on eradicating some mental habits that I think are holding me back. I think the key for me might lie in the realm of sports psychology — an idea that formerly would have made me roll my eyes in derision. I’m sincerely grateful to everyone who gave me some perspective on my own blind spots and lazy assumptions… and I can sincerely recommend the Yes Man technique to anyone who wants to shake up his or her own mind.