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It's a fine line between living for the moment and being a sociopath.

Patricia B McConnell: For The Love Of A Dog.

Pema Chodron: The Places That Scare You

Daniel Wallace: Mr Sebastian & the Negro Magician

All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. --Pablo Neruda

Saturday, April 08, 2000

LA Unconfidential #2

L.A. Unconfidential
April 8

Two weeks in Los Angeles. Two weeks in a weird web/healthcare startup. Two weeks feeling completely decontextualised. I remember feeling this way—for a much shorter time, if more intensely—the first time I jumped out of an airplane. Nothing familiar, a total absence of reference points, but a strong sense that the adventure would be worth it.

This past week, the stock markets went on an acid trip. Actually, more like a line of coke, followed by a Quaalude, followed by crystal meth. Everybody in the on-line world is frantically hoping the Dow and the NASDAQ quit screwing around and return to the Exstasy trip we’d all gotten so used to. When the NASDAQ was feeling particularly trippy last Tuesday or so, two folks in my office were ribbing each other about how soon they were going to receive margin calls from their creditors. Everyone’s been so stoned, financially speaking, for so long, I worry they’re not going to be able to live sober.

I was aware of this mentality in Australia. Surrounded by upwardly mobile Sydney-siders with disposable income, I heard far too many dinner party conversations about margin lending and how long the boom would last. But, however intense it got in some circles in Oz, it’s astounding, here. Everybody’s a player. They’re all hooked.

It’s not just the investors, of course. Money motivates lots of the people fleeing to work for startups, too. And, of course, that’s just stupid. The odds aren’t as bad as the lottery, but they’re steep. I know that in a year, I’m statistically more likely to be unemployed (or, I hope, in another job) than counting options in the money. All those folks that tossed me knowing grins when I announced I was leaving for a net startup must have only been reading the stories about twenty-three year-olds getting rich. Thirty-two year olds going bust aren’t newsworthy. But there are far more of them.

Those folks were missing the point, anyway, regardless of the stats. There are lots of reasons to flee the comfort of a blue-chip. I don’t think money’s number one for many people. Anyone who says the fantasy of skyrocketing wealth isn’t appealing is lying, but that doesn’t make it the reason for the exodus to the promised land of the Web. You know it’s unlikely to be milk, honey and pomegranates, but you think the trip may be worth it. It’ll be fun, you’ll learn a heap you wouldn’t otherwise and you probably become more employable even if you fail. Anybody with a brain knows that the chance of making a killing is tiny. On the other hand, I suppose it’s nice to have a lottery ticket when the jackpot gets big.

Still, I’ve always been risk-averse and security conscious, so this is one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve ever done. I’m doing it for the same reason I jumped out of that plane…or moved to Australia nine years ago, or walked across Guatemala. I’m doing it out of fear: the fear of looking back and regretting things I didn’t do, the fear of playing life safe only to find I haven’t squeezed the juice out of it. When the market eventually goes to rehab, and the world takes the interconnectivity of the net completely for granted, I don’t want to look back at the biggest technological, sociological and economic discontinuity of my lifetime and say “I could’ve been a part of that.” I want to say I was a part of it, even if my part goes down the gurgler with a quiet, un-newsworthy sucking sound. I want to be at the revolution, not read about it in the papers.

For some reason, this all makes me think of my late stepfather, Bob, who captained Australia’s Wallabies in the 50’s. His was one of the losingest sides in Australian rugby history. He and his teammates got battered, literally and figuratively, playing injured more often than not. But it was the best time of his life. His memories were overwhelmingly bright. He was proud.

Maybe that just leaves me with an anodyne, insipid prescription: Live passionately, and if I get knocked about I’ll still have more to show for it than the fruits of timidity. Even if it’s my fear that drives me forward.

This week, I’m going to start doing a bunch of stuff I’ve never tried before. A lot is at stake for our business. I’ll see how my courage holds. I’ll let you know.

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