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Being Fierce

I’m amazed at how much fear is a part of my life.  Even more startling is how clearly I see that grip when the fear loosens its hold and I’m lighter, less-burdened.

I’m also amazed at how well my unconscious feeds me what I need to hear, especially in times of deep transition and fear. It’s like when that mysterious woman speaks to you in a dream, telling you the thing you need to hear most. Or when the right words whisper to you as the breeze shakes the aspens in a walk outside of Bozeman.

These two observations came to me as I thought about the notion of being fierce. Months ago I was asked to give a brief talk and, after getting over the initial shock of being asked to speak briefly, I zeroed in on one aspect of leading which I found most difficult: having difficult conversations.

At the time, I didn’t want to admit to myself that the difficulty isn’t merely for my clients but for myself as well. In that talk (embedded below), I spoke of our tendency to avoid fierce conversation…with others, of course, but with ourselves as well. But as teachings tend to do, the notion–what I called “Being Fierce”–began to work on me.

In the first variation of the talk, I expressed the wisdom I’d learned from my therapist; as a way to cope with my migraines–something that had plagued me my entire life–she taught me to ask myself, “What are you not saying that needs to be said?” Identifying that and, importantly, saying it, freed me from the worst of my headaches (to say nothing of releasing me from back and stomach problems).

After the talk, though, it was clear the universe wasn’t done with me. I was asked to speak at the Wanderlust festival in Aspen. (Yes, me, a former VC, a former employee of JP Morgan Chase, talking to a bunch of yoginis at a festival celebrating so many things that my former JP Morgan-self would have found challenging.) As I was reviewing my notes for that talk, I had to admit there were other questions worthy of exploring. To that talk, I added two additional questions: “What are you saying that’s not being heard?” and “What’s being said that you’re not hearing?”

When I shared those three “magic Ninja move” questions, I could feel their correctness. Eyes grew wide. Bodies settled into place. And we, as a group, connected deeply enough that one woman was able to cut through my “I’m-the-presenter” persona/screen to ask me a question that made me cry (see, I’m not the only person with the superpower that calls forth tears): How do I react when I encounter a fierce woman? I said, “It depends. If the fierce woman reminds me of my mother, I have one reaction. But if the fierce woman reminds me of one of my sisters, than I have another.” I broke down when I thought of one sister in particular.

I’ve been walking a bit here in Bozeman. Big Sky is having at me with abandon. I came here from Boulder where I’ve been spending most of the summer, on sabbatical, prepping myself for the next transitions in my life: personal as well as professional. 2014-07-28 18.39.26 I came here to sit in the grass and, eventually, came to another observation. My late obsession of teaching about being fierce hasn’t merely been for my clients or those others who’d share a few hours with me. (Or, as some hardy souls have already done, share a few days with me at one of my bootcamps.) It’s been for me as well.

Sitting on a hill, staring off into the endless horizon, I recounted the half dozen or so fierce conversations I’ve had to have over the last month or so; each more frightening than the last. Each months, sometimes years, overdue. I suppose you know you’ve discovered the truest teachings when they rip you apart as surely as they rip apart the other. When the distinction between “teacher” and “student” is torn and we stand together, broken open by the fearful act of being fierce–when it’s as hard for you to say as it is for the other to hear–you know you’re speaking truth.

Thanks Bijan Sabet and Danya Cheskis-Gold for inspiring this talk and creating the goodness around supporting deep important dialogue.

Up and to the Right

I have a chai; he has a cappuccino. We sit outside, at the metal mesh patio tables, as the coffee house is about to close.

“I can’t decide the path: Taoism or Zen. It’s all so confusing.” He’s in desperate need of a haircut. I’d cut his hair myself if I had scissors.

We pause. Sip. Look west, watching the sun.  His search for a spiritual path is a proxy for the larger existential questions: Who am I? What do I want from this life?  I’ve nothing to say that can ease his pain. I’m helpless.

“I want to strip everything away,” he continues. “Anything that’s not me, to the bare essence of me, just so I can figure out what path I should take.”   I know that feeling.

Years and years ago–ages ago if, as I do, you see each interminable hour as an eon-like day filled with desperate pain between then and now–I knelt before Pema Chodron, pleading for her to tell me the path, the way, the steps I should take, to take me out of the pain. Then she lovingly tapped my hand, telling me about the pathless path. It makes sense now; then it left me bereft.

“You seem to want to know that you’re making progress, that there’s path and that you’re on it,” I offered. He nods and his bangs shake, the boy so evident despite the man’s body.

“I can’t tell you how much I wish I could tell you. All I can do is point out what I’ve seen. I’ve seen you find a teacher, follow them down a path, feel what you felt, learn what you learned. And then I’ve see you pause, sometimes doubling back and re-directing yourself, sometimes moving backward.”

He’s watching me. He knows I’m speaking from my heart, telling my story as much as his. “And I’ve seen you plateau, stand still.” Then I make my point, “And to me, it’s seemed that that is when the next teacher, the next path, emerges. It’s never been when you worked hard to find it. It’s never been when, head in hands, you gnashed your teeth.”

Relief washes over him.

“It’s odd how we are all so desperate to move up and to the right. We become convinced that any motion that isn’t straight, direct, up and to the right is somehow not part of the path.”

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What if being lost is part of the path? What if we are supposed to tack across the surface of the lake, sailing into the wind as much as with the wind at our backs?

I share the story with my partner, Ali. “Yes!” she blurts out, elongating the S. “Leslie Feist has this brilliant song with an incredible line…”

A map is more unreal than where you’ve been

Or how you feel

Opening email this morning, there it is again: the wish for a map, for a path, for direction.

“Dear Jerry, I am looking to define an meaningful next chapter which meets my personal, professional and practical goals,” one inquiry begins.

And another…”I’m not lost, but could sure do with a point in the right direction (and a kick up the ass!).”

And then this:

“Dear Jerry…I was introduced to your site just last week…I just came to it today, and I’ve been crying for the past two hours since reading your work. I could say I’m not quite sure why, and I could a list a hundred reasons…I’ve done a ton of this type of work. But I’m skimming the surface of the ocean.

Your comments on being a warrior struck me the most…I finally think I’ve brought myself to the point where my hand is on the door knob, but I still don’t know how to open the door or cross the threshold. I need help…But I really don’t know if I can actually make it anywhere, or if I’ll just always be wishing for something and never actually create.”

We all want it: movement that demonstrates that our experience is meaningful, that it’s taking us someplace, any place better; a place where we are smarter, richer, healthier, less afraid, more secure. Up…and to the right.

We live in a culture that says anything less is failure. Up and to the right, we’re told, is where the happy people are. That’s where the people who never fear, never fail, never struggle live on bonbons.

Our economy is driven by the sense that here–down and to the left–is awful and if we buy the right soap, drive the right car, build the right company, love the right way, we’ll be safe and loved and happy for ever and ever. And ever.

We look to those who seem serene, content–the embodiment of up and to the right–and fail to see the struggles they lived through. We place into them our wishes and our expectations of reaching that point where all things are at peace and we never ever smell of body odor.

Everyone else’s journey is so much easier. Every else’s business is so much more successful. And if only someone–you–would give me a map, then I can get there too.

But a map is a poor substitute for a life lived. The truest guide isn’t the mind of a guru but your broken, scared, and lonely heart. I just wish broken-open hearts weren’t so damned painful.

The irony, of course, is that up and to the right, as appealing as it is when we’re down and to the left, is a place of separation. It’s a place where, were we to achieve it at all, we’d find ourselves found, perhaps, but utterly alone.

When I catch myself wishing for more than incremental progress that’s directionally correct, I remind myself of the companionship I’ve discovered in this murky, mucky place, down and to the left. I belong to this place, for this is the place where, as David Whyte writes, “I ask my friends to come, this is where I want to love all the things it has taken me so long to learn to love.” Me and my broken-hearted friends, we belong here.

 For S. Thanks for sipping in the sun.

Our First CEO Bootcamp: This Being So, So What?


“In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die

And where you invest your love, you invest your life.”

Mumford & Sons, Awake My Soul

One of the great gifts of our first CEO Bootcamp came for me. It was a reinforcement of something I never tire of hearing: Trust your instincts.

Just hours before our first night’s gathering, when my partners Ali, Sam and Michael and I would greet the participants, the campers, I was still working out what I was going to say to start things off. I sat in our lodge, by the cold fireplace, thinking by typing.

For days Mumford & Sons’ Awake My Soul had been playing in my head. “It’s a virus, “ I told Ali as we drove to Devil’s Thumb Ranch from Boulder, “it’s taken over my CPU.”

I knew we had to make room for the soul.

photo 3

I also knew that, in setting the stage for what was to come, I had to lean into the reality of the participants as co-creators. We had to create the space for what was true for them in their lives to emerge while simultaneously holding a structure, a container. I realized that implicit in their questions were the answers.

Then, as I was typing and thinking, an idea popped: have the campers read the questions they’d written on the applications.

After a few minutes of greetings, we settled into our chairs in a circle. I joked about feeling guilty about being in such a beautiful place (and, more seriously, feeling guilty about taking time away). Then we passed around a random and anonymous set of questions and asked each person to read their questions aloud to the whole group, placing the questions—if you will—into the center of our circle.

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Magic happened when we’d finished reading aloud; one camper raised his hand to add another question: “Is anyone else having an anxiety attack listening to those questions? I could have written every one of them.” He paused and started to cry: “I didn’t even know I was holding those.”

Magic happens when you listen to the song that’s embedded itself into your head, into your heart.


The feelings in the room shifted, settled, eased into the Earth and we knew we were onto something.

Earlier I had described our bet:

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This was the bet of the weekend and I was watching it unfold.

I believe fervently believe in that bet, that calculation. Time and again I’ve watched as hearts break open and true, authentic leaders emerge. But that process depends on a brave first step: facing the reality of what is and not being deluded by the powerful, seductive dreams of what can be.

Of course this doesn’t mean there’s no role for dreams. We need dreams.

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?” Robert Browning.

But the willful ignoring of what is true is not the same as dreaming. It’s delusion and delusion leads to terrible decisions and, even worse, the destruction of trust. Hence my bastardization of a Zen aphorism: This being so, so what?


And what was so for those campers, what is so for many entrepreneurs, is fear; fearful questions keeping them up at night and fearful imaginings keeping them from their kids’ school play, their spouse’s side, causing them to lose their way as humans.

The first thing to do when we’re lost is to look to the ground and the sky: What is true? What is false? What do I know? What am I imagining to be so? What are my demons and how are they standing in the way?image

The first act of becoming a leader is to recognize this being so. From that place, we get to recognize what skills we need to develop, who we really are (and are not) as leaders, and to share in a way that creates authentic powerful relationships–with peers, colleagues and even our families. Grant us leaders who can do this and we just may create institutions that are less violent to the self, our communities, and our planet.

The Camp unfolded and I watched my allies, Ali, Michael and Sam, with wonder and awe. It felt like we were playing jazz, never quite sure whose riff would end when but comfortable relaxing into the not-knowing of the music.

As the Camp unfolded, I realized again just how fortunate I am. I get to bear witness to extraordinary people finding themselves. I get to live out the life I was meant to live all while watching people discover the lives they were meant to live.

When we started planning this Camp we had vague notions of doing this several times with different cohorts (the coherence around a particular cohort is incredibly powerful). Those notions are less vague. Tired and exhausted at the end of the week, we could barely contain ourselves from launching in and planning more. We’ve already got a “keep me up to date” list for future Camps as well as nascent discussions about doing one in Europe and doing something specifically for a profession.

Regardless of how future Camps unfold, though, nothing will take away from the magic of this first experience. As I said that last day, you never forget your first love. My fellow Campers, you stole my heart.

(Special thanks to Sooinn Lee for her incredible illustrations of the experience. You made the Camp that much more magical. Thanks, too, to our dear friend and inspiration, Parker Palmer. His work inspires, challenges, and deepens the heart and soul of who and what we are everyday.)













Re-creating the conditions of our lives

I believe that, more often than we care to admit, we create the conditions of our lives; the good as well as the bad. I’m not talking about some sort of New Age visualization tactic. That practice may  or  may not work (“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio/Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”). I’m talking about the ways in which our unconscious needs drive us.

For me, my need to rescue, to take care, can feed a manic quality to my work. Despite the Zen-like bearing I can project, the truth is different: the more efficient and effective I am, the more I take on. Couple that with my unconscious somewhat neurotic impulses and I can find myself working at a pace that is harmful to myself and less effective for others. I have to remind myself that speed kills.

So I put myself in the time-out chair. Beginning in July, I officially entered a sabbatical (this despite still working on occasion–I’m incorrigible), which will last until after Labor Day.

There are multiple goals for this period. One is to simply cut back, to feed myself–as I like to say–so I can later feed others. Another is travel-I leave later this week for another visit to rural China, to Tibet, to renew friendships and visit sources of inspiration. I’ll be bringing my 16-year old son Michael and he’ll see why his dad is so in love with a land and its people.

I also want to read and write more.

But, really, I’ll be using this period to rethink, again, the way I manifest my work in the world. I feel deeply connected to this calling: helping people with the existential challenges that arise when we encounter work.

Indeed, few things have given me the satisfaction I experience, the simple joy, of bearing witness to someone having a profound breakthrough on their journey to existential equanimity. I love the nearly audible click when my client’s brain kicks in and they understand viscerally as well as intellectually what it means to lead. It’s breathtaking.

As I’ve written before, I want to have greater impact. Over the last few years I spoken more, led more workshops, facilitated more group dialogues and worked more closely with whole teams. This spring I had the joyful satisfaction of speaking about the crucible of leadership to a varied group of entrepreneurs and loving each one of those who allowed their hearts to break open to what is: the sound and the fury of that crazy-assed job, being a CEO.

I also realized the gift of working with my friend Parker Palmer to lean into the difficult vortex of depression. (Thanks, Parker, for that gift.)

But something wicked this way comes (boy, I’m in a Shakespearean mood today).

A few weeks back, a long talk I did with my friend Jason Calacanis was posted and became mildly viral (Side question: Is it possible for something to be sort of viral? Or is viral-ity like pregnancy? It is or isn’t? I should ask Seth.).

In that conversation I casually mentioned an idea I’d been marinating on with a few folks: a retreat, an extended workshop, to help folks in the struggle of becoming a CEO. The idea was to host a small group of selected people coming together to focus on the pragmatic aspects of the job while exploring the body and soul techniques available to enhance their resiliency. To get even more prosaic: I want to facilitate a group of first-time CEOs becoming startup warriors.

(In various spiritual traditions, the notion of warrior refers to the ability to face life as it is–head on with dignity and equanimity.)

That casual reference resulted in hundreds of emails. We hit a nerve.

The theme of the CEO Boot Camp we’ve designed is “Reboot your leadership; reboot your life.” The plan is to spend three and half days together exploring, learning, challenging each other. “It’ll be a success,” I told a friend, “if, at the end, what emerges is a tight-knit group of peers supporting each other with humor, skill, and courage.”

This week, we open the doors to the application process.

When I began thinking about this post, I thought I’d simply tell the story of how this immersive workshop came to be and how it seems to fit so well into the ways I’d like to take my work–deeper and with more impact.

But when writing, I realized that, as with so much of this inner-directed work, the challenge is there for me as well.  In a sense, and without intending to, even the process of collaborating on this project has caused me to reboot my own thinking. I suppose, in the end, this is what I was searching for all along: to interrupt the conditions and patterns that unconsciously drive my life and, once more, raise my awareness and choice. In doing so, I raise the chances of creating the conditions I want in my life.

So, if you join us, we’ll be rebooting together.

The Hand of A Friend

After hours of careful listening, my therapist offered
an image that helped me eventually reclaim my life. 
“You seem to look upon depression as the hand
of an enemy trying to crush you,” he said.
“Do you think you could see it instead
as the hand of a friend, pressing you down
to ground on which it is safe to stand?”

Parker J. Palmer Let Your Life Speak

I met Parker Palmer long before he met me. It was March 2002. I was on a plane to Arizona and I had in my carry-on some things I’d meant to read for a while. Among them were two pieces given to me by my sister Ann: When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron and a magazine article.  Ani Pema’s book became my gateway drug into Buddhism–but that’s another story.

The article was an excerpt from the book, Let Your Life Speak by Parker. I knew others had written openly about their struggle with depression, with difficult challenges of the heart but Parker’s grace, simplicity, elegance, and care, spoke to me. His words released something from deep within me.  I wept.

Several weeks before I’d stepped out of a meeting in lower Manhattan and stood just shy of the still-smoldering wreckage that was Ground Zero and wanted to die.

It hadn’t been my first encounter with suicide. As I often add when sharing this story, “Hello darkness, my old friend.” But thankfully I called my therapist instead. And thankfully instead of giving in to my wish to be put in a hospital, she suggested I get myself to Canyon Ranch for good food and daily massages.

A little later I was weeping in seat 7D, wondering who was this man who spoke so fiercely, with love and heart, and with no trace of maudlin self-indulgence? Ten years later–my life radically, lovingly different—I found myself on a call with Parker, laughing and knowing and laughing some more.

Parker and I came together through my teammates at Cojourneo, Kevin Friedman and Dan Putt. Parker and our good friends at the Center for Courage and Renewal have crafted a workshop built around the principles underlying his Healing the Heart of Democracy. The partnership strengthened and blossomed as this year began.

Then, just weeks after Aaron Swartz, Jody Sherman killed himself. As with so many in this industry, Jody and I had crossed paths a number of times. The first was 17 or 18 years ago when he joined Lycos–one of the first companies I’d helped birth into being. The last was in 2012  when he attended a workshop I’d given on behalf of the guys at Venture51. In that workshop, Disappearing into the Fire: Surviving the Startup Life, I tried to address the emotional demands of this delusional thing called entrepreneurship.

I remember the end of that day, my voice raspy and tired, I paced the room asking in desperation, “What are we doing to ourselves? What are we losing when we pursue this magical, impossible task of building a company?” I wish I could say that I had looked into his eyes when I’d asked those questions. I hadn’t. But later, in that Jody way, he grabbed my hand with a firmness that felt even then a little too tight and said: “Thanks Jerry. That was great. Maybe we can grab coffee sometime and catch up.” I nodded and headed for water.

A distraught client emailed me the day after Jody died. So many people were hurt by the news–whether or not they knew him. I tweeted, emailed, reached out to friends. I wrote to Parker.

My request was simple: Help me help them. We decided the best way to respond was to embody what we believe: that speaking about the existential difficulties, being authentic even in our collective guilt, pain, and fear, is–as Parker coined it in Let Your Life Speak–Leading from Within.  We would have a conversation about the ways in which this merger of self and work exacerbates the pain as well as Parker’s notion of the Tragic Gap. We’d invite others to join us.

The conversation, sponsored by Cojourneo and the Center for Courage and Renewal, is in two parts: the first will be via video chat on March 20 at 7:30 p.m. EDT. You can register for that here. The second will be in person on April 19 at 2 p.m. at Naropa University in Boulder; register here. Both are free.

I have no illusions about our coming up with solutions. I have my theories about why I think the entrepreneurial path is so damn hard but, really, I have no answers. And I’ve written plenty about those dealing with the Monsters (One client said last week, “Um, that’s all you ever write about.” Not true! Okay…so maybe it is true but still…). I just know that there’s something powerful in the simplicity of friends coming together, to listen and to hold each other.

What little I know about the Quaker wisdom tradition comes from my friend Parker. His vision of a Circle of Trust—which comes from that tradition–is such an exquisite example of the opportunity, the responsibility–before all of us: to be the friend whose hand holds another still; to make it okay for them to be with whatever is happening. Simply that.

And, with a nod to yet another wisdom tradition, it is in fact a heart-wrenchingly beautiful yet difficult and hard gift to be simple.

So we will sit, first on a Google Hangout and then later at Naropa. We will talk and we will listen. We will be together.

Yesterday my son Michael sent me a link to a video of a young poet. Watsky spoke to him. This morning, as I write, I recall Watsky’s deeply personal, deeply affirming observation: “We live in a house made of each other.”

Come sit with us. We’ll build that house.

If a sadness
Rises in front of you,
Larger than any you have ever seen;
If an anxiety, like light and cloud shadows,
Moves over your hands and everything you do.
You must realize that something is happening to you,
That life has not forgotten you,
That it holds you in his hand
And will not let you fall.

Shoot the Crow

I have to remind myself that there’s nothing noble about the writer who throws his manuscript into the fireplace or the painter who slashes her work with a razor.

“I hate the fucking product,” my client is saying and my mind drifts to Hollywood scenes of the angst-ridden artist. “I wake up, grab the app and feel sick. I want to tear everything apart and start all over.”

This pain, I say to myself, is real. This is pure existential suffering.

I remember when I was the editor of a magazine. I remember planning the redesign; the hours-long conversations about every meticulous detail. We debated font size, picas and kerning. We compared color scheme after color scheme. And when we were done, I felt a rush of pride as the first copies came back from the printer.

One month later I hated every damn aspect of that new design.

Why do we hate what we labor so long to create?

I think it’s partly because the song we hear in our head, the application we dream up late at night as we can’t sleep, the story we write in the car as we drive home is never the same as the song that is sung. It pains me when I see my clients, artists every one of them, frustrated that no one can hear the notes as well as them.

The founder who turns to CTO after CTO, engineer after engineer, to sit through yet another whiteboard session leading to wireframes.
“Make it like this.”
“Then have it do this.”
“And then this.”
Make it feel this way…or that.

And inevitably they blurt out: “No, no, no. NOT that,” grabbing the dry erase marker, “…like this!”

The designer shakes his head, the engineer slinks back to her desk, muttering, “What the fuck do they want?!?”

Sometimes our frustration grows out of boredom; familarity breeding contempt. We live with our creations, day in and day out, and come to hate them. Perhaps, in seeing only the flaws in the creation, we’re really facing our deepest insecurities, our deepest doubts about our right to be creating at all.

Who the hell am I, says a voice deep inside, to think that I can cause this impossible thing to come into being? Why would anyone want to use this thing, this service? Maybe I’m just wrong.

Or perhaps every day that the service doesn’t live up to our expectations (or, maybe just as bad, those of our employees, our investors, and our “friends” in the middle-school-like atmosphere of the particular startup community which we inhabit), we’re reminded of our deepest fear: failure.

I feel that most acutely when I write. Some days, I hate every single syllable I type. I took a few writing courses in college. The extraordinary poet Marie Ponsot would talk about the crow sitting on your shoulder saying things like: “That sucks,”  “How could you write that?” and “Are you kidding me?”

Diminutive, chain-smoking Marie would jut her tobacco-stained finger into the air, punctuating every word: Shoot. The. Fucking. Crow.

I suspect the particularly exquisite pain of hating your own creation may be yet another manifestation of investing too much of your own sense of being into the company, the product, the service. When we hang our sense of self on the whisper of an idea, what else are we to feel but pain?

Thankfully we live in the age of pivots, failing fast, and “iterate, iterate, iterate.” Those survival strategies are all clever and important–necessary, even, given the pace of innovation, competition, and change. But the most helpful aspect of that implicit mindset is its promise of freedom from the awful mental torture of hating your own company, your own creation, your own self. Failing fast and endless iterations are wonderful little bullets with which to shoot the fucking crow.

Taking Care of Our Own

Running on Riverside Drive this morning, just next to the park, the wind kept kicking up. I had that exquisite pleasure of my body heating up and the tips of my fingers freezing.

Brad Feld’s most recent blog post on depression and entrepreneurship was on my mind. As usual, I focused inwardly first. I know with the trauma of Hurricane Sandy hitting this week, I was having increased anxiety. “It’s normal and to be expected,” I reminded myself. Then I thought about the ways I alleviate my anxiety: “What are you doing to care for your body?” Well, duh, I thought, I’m running now.

“And what are you doing to help others?” That stopped me.
You see, I firmly believe that one of the best ways to give your mind a break is to focus outside the bubble of your own narcissism. And nothing is better for that than helping others.

I can’t reboot servers. I can drain flooded areas but not as well as people who skilled in such things. But I can listen. Really well.

As I thought about the trauma of Sandy, I realized that even as the waters recede and the Number 1 train finally makes it past Times Square, there are going to be a whole lot of walking wounded around town.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a bitch. I know; I’ve been there.
Unexplained anxiety, lack of sleep, loss of appetite are serious conditions and the sooner they are dealt with the sooner you’ll be able to get back to work.

I can’t help everyone, but as much as I’d like to rebuild the houses and lives of the people of  Breezy Point, my people are on Broadway from Madison Square on down town.

And one of the things I love about our community, about Startup Communities around the world, is that, as Springsteen sings, “We take care of our own.”

So this is a call to action. Working with Kevin Friedman and Dan Putt at Cojourneo, I’d like to help organize folks who can help with people who need help. I need coaches, therapists, and other mental health professionals to, perhaps, facilitate peer support groups.

Many people, even some flooded out of their homes and whose businesses are in jeopardy, won’t need help beyond the physical. But some of your friends, some of your competitors, some of your colleagues will. And what will turn the trauma of Sandy into a tragedy is if we ignore our peers in need.

If you can help–if you have the time to help organize free small, intimate, and safe online and offline peer support groups, please send an email to:

If you need help, or know someone who does, send a note to

And, lastly, if you’re in neither category…pass the word. Let’s take care of our own.

The Sarajevo Effect

A few months back, after a talk I’d given in Warsaw, I was invited to speak in Sarajevo. “There are dozens of entrepreneurs there,” the woman told me as we sipped drinks in the setting sun on a busy street outside a bar, a favorite for ex-pats working in Poland. “They need to be inspired too.”

Sarajevo sent me spinning. The Sarajevo of my youth conjured images of athletes flying above the snow. The Sarajevo of my adulthood conjures images of death and destruction; of beauty and potential thwarted.

The woman approached me after weeks of travel that had taken me, again, to Berlin and to Krakow, Munich, and Istanbul as well. Months before, in a castle overlooking gorgeous Ljubljana, I met entrepreneurs from Zagreb, Vilnius, and Yerevan.

A year ago, I walked the streets of East Berlin with a young Russian who told me of his plans to distribute work to students around the world all the while really telling me about his life-long desire to rise above, break out, stand apart, and become himself. Earlier last year, I’d sat in a hotel conference room in Chengdu, chatting about the importance of cash flow to entrepreneurs from the Tibetan plateau.

At that moment, standing in the sunset on a Warsaw street corner, I recalled all of these people. I was transfixed: Sarajevo has a startup community.

I remember when the Berlin Wall fell. I remember being told that the forces of Democracy had defeated the bogeymen of my Cold War-dominated youth, Socialism and Communism. I remember Presidents past talking about democracy marching on. At the time, I wondered and doubted. Now I understand. No one won. No system defeated another. That is, the changes implicit in this movement have little to do with the machinations of politicians. What is happening is far more powerful, far more important. From Moscow to Chengdu, from Tunisia to Armenia from San Jose to New York to Boulder, people are taking control of their lives.

I often write about the challenges of being an entrepreneur; it is a large part of why people come to see me. Because of this I try to avoid anything that smacks of the naive cheerleading that often passes for analysis (Apologies to my friends at Inc., Fast Company and, even, the Harvard Business Review but each of you could do a better job of warning about the dangers of pursuing the startup life.).

Those who seek to create their own startup do so more often out of the desires for freedom, dignity, validation and, ultimately, self-actualization (in the full Maslow-vian sense) than for riches. (Indeed, those who seek riches most often fail.) For them, and despite what most politicians and government officials blather on about, it’s not about jobs. It’s about life.

Which is why Startup Communities, by my friend Brad Feld, is so important and why my friends in Armenia, China, Tunisia, Turkey, Germany, Iceland, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Slovenia, the United Kingdom, as well as Idaho, Texas, et al should read it. (You can order it here. You can also take his workshop developed by my friends at Cojourneo in support of the book here. )

The book essentially lays out a blueprint for creating and nurturing startup communities for, as Brad writes, “I have a deeply held belief that you can create a long-term, vibrant, sustainable startup community in any city in the world, but it’s hard and takes the right kind of philosophy, approach, leadership, and dedication over a long period of time.”

He calls his framework The Boulder Thesis and it consists of four components:

  • Entrepreneurs must be the leaders
  • They must take a long-term view
  • The community must be inclusive of anyone who wants to engage at any level
  • You must have activities and events that engage the entire entrepreneurial stack

What I love most about this view is what it lacks: notice there’s no call for government action; no pontificating on the need to create “technology parks” where the only people who tend to make money are real estate developers. No pleas for tax breaks or incentives. Indeed, the most important aspect of his view is its focus on the entrepreneurs themselves. You guys, he says, have to do it yourselves.

That fits so well with what drives people to become entrepreneurs: savoring the dignity and pride in being responsible for your own failure or success.

Ultimately, that singular experience of doing it ourselves is the magic behind the entrepreneur-led social revolutions implicit in the startup communities around the world. Just as no one should hand you a job, no one is going to hand you your freedom.

As I internalize that reality, and all the ways it’s shaped my life and the lives of the men and women I work with every day, I realize I have my own little thesis brewing: freedom, dignity, pride, opportunity all coexist with the success/failure roller-coaster of the startup life. And that co-existence is more likely to lift people out of poverty, war, and chaos than any political intervention. I think I’ll call my framework The Sarajevo Effect.