I asked my CEO today, “What can I do to be better?” He responded that it was the fourth time I asked that question in the last month.
While he appreciated my efforts to always improve and get better, he told me that I needed to give it time. Whenever I’ve asked him for feedback in the past, he’s always told me that I’ve done a great job and that if I continue to do what I do, I’ll be fine.
I thought to myself, That’s the worst feedback I can get. I don’t want to be “fine.” I want to be great, excellent, amazing. It was almost offensive to hear that I would be “fine,” because it sounded like mediocrity.
One of my goals has always been to be the stupidest person in the room, so I can surround myself with crazy smart people I can learn from. That’s how I can grow the fastest. But this goal has meant that I can’t help but compare myself to super-achievers.
My CEO sold a multi-million dollar company when he was 28. My product manager has founded and sold multiple businesses, and he’s 25. That’s only two years older than me. When I work day-in, day-out with these two incredibly smart and talented people, I question myself. What have I done? If I’m only two to five years behind them, what will I accomplish in that time?
Stories about Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and other crazy 20-something founders who made a dent in the world have created a sense of urgency in ambitious millennial would-be entrepreneurs. It also doesn’t help that there are countless stories telling us there’s no better time to hit it big than now — when we’re young and out of school, with nothing to lose. Don’t wait until you have a family, mortgage, and responsibilities, people say. This sensation of now has made me very impatient to grow and create value.
I want to get to my goals faster. I want to be better tomorrow. I want to learn everything I can.
We all have 24 hours in a day, and I feel compelled to use every minute in the most productive manner. If I’m eating breakfast, I’m watching a tutorial on Udemy. If I’m in transit, I’m listening to a podcast. If I’m waiting for the bus, I’m reading an article on Pocket. If I don’t do those things, it feels like I’m falling behind.
I remember a few months ago, coming back from Silicon Valley, so many people told me that if I wanted to learn as much as I can while working in tech, I needed to move there from Toronto. Silicon Valley has more opportunities, more resources, more talent, more growth.
It made sense. Anyone who wants to act should go to Los Angeles; anyone who wanted to do tech and startups should go to San Francisco. A friend said to me that because there are more opportunities in the Valley, people learn and grow faster, so if I didn’t go right then, I would be falling behind. That scared me. I don’t want to fall behind from my peers. I was almost going to pack my bags and move.
When I came back to Toronto, I thought about it a little more. Why did I really want to move to San Francisco? Was that what I really wanted? And I realized that while my professional ambitions are important, so is family, personal development, and balance. But after San Francisco, I almost felt guilty for wanting a balance in life. Knowing that these are my golden years, I feel I should be maximizing my output and giving myself the opportunities to lay the foundation for “success.”
Once again, I felt guilty that I wanted balance. That’s just wrong.
No one’s ever going to tell me it’s wrong to want balance at my age. But our productivity-obsessed culture, combined with a sense of urgency, shaped my self-judgment. It may also be that I work in tech, where agile development, speed to market, and scale are always the top focus. In this world, if you don’t move fast, you can’t compete.
So I treated myself as a startup, telling myself that I needed to be better, faster, racing against a ticking clock.
I just spent the last three hours sitting in a bookstore after work. I picked up a book and read it cover to cover. I don’t remember when was the last time was that I did that. I don’t know what prompted me to do this either. But it felt great. I forget what it felt like to be sucked into a good book and have my mind be taken somewhere else. I forced myself to finish it, even though my mind was telling me I had 1,000 other things I needed to do and worry about.
And guess what? It was okay.
Was it productive? Debatable. A waste of time? No.
Have I sold a company yet? Nope. Will I sell a company in the next two years? I don’t know. But even if I don’t, that’s okay.
I’m only 23. And yes, in one and a half years, I will be a quarter of a century old. But that gives me three-quarters of a century more to keep learning and creating value. That’s 657,000 more hours I have to do whatever else I want to do with my life.
Susie, you’re only 23. Stop rushing life.