Sam Gimbel

Tech, Beer, and Strange Thoughts.

30 Ain't Shit.

Really. It's a lot better than that. But it took self-reflection, therapy, antidepressants, and amazing friends to realize this.

The Myth, The Pain

At age twelve, 30 was a myth. At age 15, it represented the oldest a person could be. At age 20, it was a threat. At age 25, an inevitability and the source of all fear, should I not accomplish all I could by that ominous day.

At age 29, fear became doubt. To me, turning 30 seemed a poor marker of adulthood and an awful predictor of success. Changing ages this time would be the same as last year: one more revolution around the sun, one more year wondering if the veil of chronic anxiety would lift.

When you've been battling something since age seven, milestones are momentary: a glimpse of who you are in a loved one's face, a day that unfolds just so and rewards you with a minute or two of satisfaction before that voice returns to tell you it could have been better. My anxiety is a reaction to the chronic fatigue and anhedonia of omnipresent depression, and my "fight" against it will always rage. Because slowing down means being alone with demons you're not yet equipped to reckon with. Because not "performing" leads not to feelings of disappointment but to an acute deluge of self-hate so strong it threatens to overwhelm the imperative to keep breathing. Because a single misspoken word to or from a loving friend leads to rage instead of empathy.

Solipsistically, I assumed this is how everyone feels. Selfishly, I wondered why friends and relatives feel the need to usher in 30 as a boon and a challenge instead of an albatross. I was lost, confused, and offended by this impending marker of maturity. I'm to be harder on myself at 30 than I am at 29 when I don't have enough spoons to get home at the end of the day without collapsing? In light of my perpetually heavy affect, viewing 30 as anything other than another day seemed insane.

The Realization

In October, everything changed. Literally everything. It started when I realized I couldn't give Clark the focus it deserves to flourish. Starting my own company has been the most challenging thing I've ever done, but nothing has been harder than looking myself in the mirror and knowing the man looking back didn't have the energy to provide my team with momentum and inspiration. These amazing humans trust me, left jobs for me, believed me when I said we'd build something transformative and positive for the world. And until October I felt like I was phoning it in even in moments of smashing success.

And then I got into a huge fight with the woman I've been with for over six years. She didn't deserve it. Neither did I, really. It was something stupid, but boiled down to:

Her: "I need you to do X"

Me: "I want to, but I can't."

Six years, two cats, countless days of shared travel, experience, laughter, and love, and I'm crushed under the weight of not having enough energy?

I realized that without change, turning 30 was going to be another unmet expectation, an ephemeral moment leading to decades of regret. I owed it to myself and those around me to find a way to coexist with my depression and anxiety. So I went to work.

The Work

Irony is realizing you've been too hard on yourself in every way except as it pertains to finding effective coping mechanisms. One session in talk therapy uncovered this fact, so I kept going. I sought out antidepressants and began physical therapy for my knee so I could get back to running, my favorite meditation. The work is a daily effort, but I've kept with it. I don't see progress on a daily basis, and I've had to change my outlook in order to do work that sometimes feels counterproductive.

I started listening to the way I talk to myself. I began bargaining with myself to give up control. I decided to let my friends show me what I was worth and started listening to the way I interpreted the words they said to me. I decided to rely on other people and open up to the possibility of rejection in the process. I decided to celebrate my 30th birthday. I asked my girlfriend and two other friends to plan a party, and it was nothing short of life-changing.

Not Pictured: Many other loved ones. Five breweries, one scavenger hunt, dozens of loving, happy people, and one completely amazed me.

The Change

We padded softly over the newly fallen snow. "Where are we going?" I asked, repeatedly. "You'll see," they responded, coyly. We eventually arrived at Gun Hill Brewery, our first stop, and friends began arriving. They surrounded me with their positivity for the next twelve hours and for the first time I was in a place where I could enjoy it.

I have never felt more loved. I have never felt more energetically happy to be alive. The outpouring of support and community I felt was completely new. Last saturday was the first time I was ever able to to grok the depth to which interpersonal connection affects the human soul. In my 30 years it's only been since November that I've felt that my energy level comes close to matching my ambition for activity. It's only been in the last week that I've realized how platonic love really works. These last few months have marked the first time I've felt unadorned hope for the future. Irony of new hope in the face of the rise of American Fascism aside, the man I see in the mirror now more closely resembles the man others see when they look at me.

It was a small change: in every moment, your body provides your brain with feedback. With the right amount of energy, each moment reinforces your capacity to get to the next moment. Without it, each moment is a question of survival. I only know this because in October, my capacity began increasing and it's still growing. It's such an omnipresent factor in life, a low-level change that affects each action I take. It's a supremely enjoyable relief.

The effects are myriad: I feel equipped to have conversations, so I no longer feel anxious about how long they'll last. I feel able to do the tasks in front of me, so I no longer ruminate over which ones I won't get to. I feel the desire to speak with other people, so I no longer question why they speak to me at all. I see the micro-desires in my own affect when speaking with people I love, so I no longer wonder why people want to have a relationship with me. I see other people succeeding and failing, over and over, day after day, so I no longer feel that a failure on Monday means certain doom on Tuesday.

In short, I'm building a foundation, and people are noticing. My girlfriend has commented on my reasonableness and go-get-'em attitude. Clark is growing rapidly, and it's no longer a fight to stay focused (instead, I fight to push the envelope on what we can do as a team). Friends (I hope, you tell me!) notice my willingness to connect. I feel my rage decreasing, my empathy increasing, and my future brightening. The anxiety is still there. The depression is still a part of my life. Both will probably never disappear. We all have our struggles, and it's never as simple as a cure or "getting better." You always owe it to yourself to try, as hard as that may be. Pick a milestone that's meaningful or make a milestone meaningful by creating it. Either way, if you're suffering, find a way to make change in your life a priority. Changing yourself will change your world, too.

This is just the beginning of the journey, but 30 is going to be great.

For Those Who Still Suffer

It took so much to get to where I am today, most of it attributable to pure luck. I'm lucky to be high-functioning despite my mental issues. I'm lucky to live in New York and have a great education and to have broken into a career that I'm suited for both in skill and demographic (i'm a white dude in tech–bit of a cliché, really). And more than that, I am lucky enough to have health insurance. It's a human right we can no longer take for granted, and I can't stress the privilege I have by merit of finding funding for the hard work I've put into Clark.

Even if you have the support you need it's not a given that you'll find success in your first attempt to manage your demons. Please, keep trying. Something will work, but what does may surprise you. For me, it was a medication, a new diet, two doctors, and waking up every day to do what I love. Don't give up. And when people tell you not to be so hard on yourself, try to listen. They don't see what you see when you look in the mirror, but they still see the real you.

If you're in crisis now, don't wait. Get in touch with Crisis Text Line by texting HELLO to 741741. Help is closer than you think.

Trump the Shapeshifter

Disclaimer: I am a white guy. I know and accept that I am always coming to the table from a place of privilege. What follows is a call to the most privileged among us to act. It is not a prescription of what marginalized peoples should do. Feedback and corrections are welcome.

Saying that Trump means different things to different people may be the understatement of the century. To many including myself, he is a dangerous demagogue hell-bent on destroying the social progress enjoyed by millions of minorities and marginalized populations. To others, he's the lesser of two evils, a bombastic but harmless outsider whose new perspective will bring needed change to economically depressed communities nationwide. To still others, he's justification for hate and hateful acts.

All this from one man. Trump shows a different face to every audience, adjusting his message accordingly. In rust belt states, his rallies contained little of the racist rhetoric about deporting Muslims en masse that he included in southern states. For the cameras, he provided sensationalist fodder that obfuscated the policy messages he was delivering at his less hateful rallies. We responded to the hateful messages we saw, ignoring the growing coalition of voters who saw someone else. The news told us one thing, but people were feeling another, culminating in his victory this past Tuesday.

He faked us out. A man once sued for racial discrimination and currently under investigation for fraud managed to confuse and misdirect both the institutional left and the media. And all of us who depended on that information must now suffer with the knowledge that he will likely change his platform again.

The evidence is already piling up: Building a Mexican border wall and repealing Obamacare, two oft-repeated policy tenets, are on the chopping block. In a true surprise, Trump laid out a plan to expand student debt repayment protections. None of this lines up with the platform he outlined in his campaign, and there are signs he'll evolve his platform again. If you're a party Republican, you're horrified. And if you're a Trump detractor, you should be too.

These policy shape-shifts will define the struggle over the next four years and determine whether Trumpism–and Trump himself–are here to stay. By obfuscating a truly heinous first 100-day plan with common-sense affordances to the voters who elected him, he is strengthening his coalition and casting even more doubt on the institutional left. These are tangible, relief-inducing policy shifts that, if executed, will reflect poorly on the political establishment. It's a reality we must now accept, and despite the danger it poses, it's a masterful plan that should not be underestimated.

These observations are shocking. The political machine of both parties is crumbling, but the financial forces that fueled them are not. Notably, the corporate support for both parties will be redirected to future candidates who are able to get these kinds of results. The RNC may be losing its luster, the apparatus of voter suppression and control it has implemented over the last several decades is easily repurposed by powerful men like Trump, or worse. His toothless policy positions reflect his political naiveté, but the damage he has done could easily be wielded by someone more savvy, and likely more evil.

The fear felt by racial and cultural minorities in the wake of this election is very real and very well-founded. There is a lot of hate being unleashed due to the endorsement Trump's win gave to hate groups nationwide. And while many white people are waking up to an imperative to fight for the rights of women's bodies, black bodies, gay bodies, and the social institutions that support them, this is in large part because we feel threatened, too. There's more at stake than the bodies of today, though. As Trump's policies shift and change, he is likely to placate–or even win over–the faithful on the left simply by pulling back from his extremist views, putting the next generation of minorities in jeopardy, too. People whose bodies are at risk will see through the lies, but will I? Will you?

This is a fight for the most privileged: It's a fight against confusion and against lies, and it starts by turning off the news and getting out of your bubble. We are all seeing filtered information. We are all victims of a tightly controlled, highly sensationalized media machine that fed us exactly what Trump wanted us to hear. We are all being lied to, and if we want to pave the way for the world we know our most vulnerable deserve, we must win this battle.

Here's the awful, heart-wrenching, nigh-impossible (and easy-for-you-to-say, white guy!) part. Without the support of people who voted for Trump, we cannot win. They are [mostly] not the enemy. As a whole, they rubber-stamped a platform of hate and violence. As individuals, their net impact was racist, misogynist, homophobic, and against their best interests. As a collection of cultural groups, they are highly divided from those of us in urban settings. But if we fail to find common ground, we will fail to turn the tide. These voters summarily rejected the corporatist and imperialist leanings of both parties. We cannot rely on the Democratic party to reject neoliberalism, and until they do, winning will remain elusive. Without a platform that espouses the type of sweeping change Trump offered, the Democrats have no chance in 2020. And it's up to progressives to lead that reform, starting with understanding and recognizing what we have in common with rust-belt Trump voters.

Let me clarify something, though: we cannot normalize hate. We cannot "wait and see," and we cannot "give Trump a chance." We are angry, and we will stay that way. It's not OK to feel OK. We will fight and we will not yield, and we will not forget. But it's also not OK to think we have all the answers, or pretend that Hillary Clinton was our savior. We have to find a way to honor her historic run for president while condemning the cronyism and corporatism that led to her downfall. We need to call out the sexism that contributed to her loss while holding her campaign accountable for the hubris that lost us Michigan and Wisconsin. We need to elevate the positive social policies that Obama passed while recognizing he had a net negative effect on the world's political stability.

In short, we need to be aware of our own place in this struggle. Marginalized people have an exponentially harder time in the world than I do, and we can't expect them to lead yet another charge. It's on the most privileged to provide a pathway to bring in those duped by Trump while continuing to condemn those who were motivated by hate. It's on us to educate and shine a light on the impact their actions had so we can avoid this ever happening again. It's on us to call out policy shape-shifting and provide context to help people get out of their bubble. And most importantly, it's on us to amplify and channel the perspective of marginalized groups and defend safe spaces against the onslaught of normalized hate.

It's OK to grieve. I certainly still am. It's been less than a week since our world was upended. But when you're ready, we must come together to reject the shape-shifter. So much is at stake, and we can't afford to lose.

What's To Come

part 1 of 2

For many, a Trump win was unthinkable. But, as always, there are exceptions: in the immediate aftermath of his unprecedented win, the first signs of "surprise? really?" came from my LGBT, black, and activist friends. Their reciprocal disbelief stems from the knowledge that we've always been a racist nation. For the rest of us, we're only just discovering how willing our fellow citizens are to embrace bigotry and hatred.

There's a huge amount of fear in the air in New York City right now: Just as the Democratic party is reeling from a loss of power, so is this city. Long the voice of leftist culture and a haven for the disadvantaged, New York will endure. Hundreds of years of precedent tell us that, despite the hatred between the Hudson and the Sierra Nevadas, the coasts of America remain safe for free expression. We will protect the quality of life of our poor and our weak, imperfectly, as always.

But what of the rest of us? The juxtaposition of Hillary's popular vote win with an electoral map soaked in red symbolizes the local struggle already faced by many. It's a herald of emboldened bigotry to come. It's a clarion call to those of us who felt mollified by Obama's benign but imperfect rule. It's time to stand up. There is no other option: if we desire an equal, equitable country, we must fight.

There are less than 70 days until Trump's inauguration. Until the promised repeal of Obamacare, the promised deportation of millions. That's your deadline. Get to it. The stakes have never been this high.

It's not OK to feel OK.

I’ve been feeling like I might cry for weeks now. The Stanford rape case hit the news. 50 people were killed in Orlando. The fragility of life and the vast inequity that led a judge to give a rapist only six months in prison has floored me. The evil and callous responses to the deaths of the club-goers in Orlando have me wondering if I can recover. And the way that life continues on, same as it ever was, gives me pause.

I forced myself to read the statement made by the victim in the Stanford case. I read that statement multiple times and I shared it and I took it to heart that there are so many people who do awful things, and plenty of people who don’t care that awful things happen, because they don't consider them awful. The rapist's father cannot see how what his son did was anything more than a poorly considered transaction; a thing that takes 20 minutes, a rape, a destruction of a life did not embarrass him, did not wake him to his son's toxicity.

It's disgusting that we live in a world where we cannot all agree that a body belongs to the person who lives inside it. It's a foul and repugnant suggestion that the type of body or the opinions of that body or the clothes worn by that body are ever to blame for the violence that occurs against that body. It's a tragedy and a crime against our species that these events can occur. It's depressing to know that so many feel apathy and that some who would lead our country feel that encouraging hatred is an acceptable leadership tactic.

Evil is not new. But our view of the stability of the world is completely disconnected from reality. The privileged, whose power could catalyze change, have been fed a story of prosperity and peace that contains only tangential references to the struggle of those lacking resources. White suburban dwellers have been trying to forget the plight of their fellow citizens since suburbs were invented, and those with a vested interest to stay powerful have encouraged that forgetfulness at every turn. Technology has added additional demographics to the list of the forgetful, encouraged by the advent of content filtering and curation. Would you be surprised to know that the Orlando killing was not, in fact, the largest mass shooting in the United States? Or that only two of the daily mass shootings that claimed over 400 lives in 2015 could be attributed to Islamic terrorism? That doesn't fit with the narrative we're fed, now does it?

No wonder it’s so surprising to white people when the world starts to show cracks. It’s surprising, but it doesn’t get absorbed the way it does by people whose own lives are affected by racism, sexism, homophobia, or toxic masculinity. We see these tragedies as blips, aberrations, and situations that have slipped through the system. We can’t see that this is normal and has been for some time, that death is a reality for people the world over, that tragedy and suffering are a daily reality for more people than for those it isn’t. People whose experience is violence against their person do not feel OK. People whose experience is fear are not surprised by the violence in Orlando or the experience of the Stanford victim.

We have to stop being surprised. We have got to stop allowing ourselves to feel OK about this. It is offensive that we are partying when hundreds, thousands, millions die from tragedies that can be prevented. And it’s short-sighted and self-aggrandizing to believe that we're not part of the problem. You are. And we'll continue to be until you get off your ass and do something about it. It doesn't matter if you're part of the population affected, an ally, or you'd prefer not to be "political." The lives of your brothers and sisters, of your fellow humans, are at stake.

Sadly, even if you act today, more will die. More tragedy will occur. Do yourself a favor: don't feel OK when it happens. Don't allow yourself to process it and move on. It's not time to think about how you can eke out another email at work or be sure to meet that Tindr date. It's time to reflect on what you're so interested in preserving, so dedicated to building. It's time to consider what kind of life you're creating and on whose backs it's being laid. There is no other answer but outrage, right here, right now. There is no other solution but action, change, and an unwillingness to settle.

It's not enough to question or to be defiant. It's not enough to feel that something is wrong or to agree that people should not be treated this way. It's not enough to sign petitions or go to rallies. Change your life. Change the way you speak to children, the way you react to the "harmless" transgressions of your friends and coworkers against vulnerable populations. This will not be a top-down change. This will start with you owning up to the part you play in each and every action taken against your fellow humans. It's time to grow up, and it's not OK to feel OK.

Alarm Clocks

For all readers, but especially for my family, please god know that this is fiction. Fiction based in fact, but fiction nonetheless.

Don’t worry about the rain, we’ll get through this.

Her words echo through the streets as I leave the dry haven of the coffee shop. It’s early May in Brooklyn and it seems no one told the weather man. My grandfather used to say that during every unseasonable meteorological event: no one told the weather man. I guess the joke is that TV weather people don’t know much about the subject. They’re almost always right these days, though. This particular cold snap started over a week ago and hasn’t let up, putting a damper on the joys of early spring that New Yorkers rely on to justify living in a place with such unbearable winters.

That must be why the barista was so adamant that we’ll get through this. The unrelenting rain can make you crazy if you’re not careful. And it is unrelenting, this rain. Unyielding, and cold. A true northeastern deluge. And of course it will have every anti screaming about how global cooling is real.

Fuck those idiots. In the past I was worried about the lack of science education that led to such nonsense conclusions. Then I was convinced the illuminati were to blame, disguised as business elite. Now I know it’s a weakness, a fear of discovering that an entire worldview is incorrect. And in that fear, a tacit acknowledgment of truth.

That fear hits close to home. My grandfather watches The News every night. He’s 84 and morbidly obsessed with the yarns spun by Fox & Friends. I don’t think he sleeps much these days. The News is an institution to him, a bastion of information and along with the Times, the Post, and the local paper, it’s the only access he has to the outside world.

It must be difficult to watch your world change. Sure, there are changes in clothes and language, friends moving away and moving on. All that is in flux when you’re young, too. Here’s more what I mean: when I was 8, I surpassed my father’s skill with computers. He’d purchased a brand new, dual-floppy i286 from Leading Edge. Its claim to fame (beyond setting him back over two grand and upsetting my mother) was that it had memory. RAM. The maximum at the time was famously 640k, and my father had purchased the full amount. I surpassed his skill and he stood by, watching the younger generation thrive in new and different ways.

He came home that day satisfied and a little concerned about my mother’s reaction to his purchase. Unboxing the machine, he was careful to talk about how it was an investment in our future, and how it opened up new opportunities for us as a family. That he’d purchased the best possible machine was a fact he kept to himself. A little hidden indulgence to fill the void left by a childhood of never having enough. The quiet excess was his alone for six years until I turned 8.

My older sister had never been enthusiastic about the computer, but I’d been silently watching my father type up invoices and play Wheel of Fortune for almost two years at that point. When he wasn’t looking I’d sneak into the computer room and open a new document. I believe the software was by Corel. Yes, it was called Word Perfect. I always loved that name. I’d open a document and start typing, one letter at a time. Once I hit the wrong key and a list of commands showed up in a strip below my text. Save. Close. Copy. Verbs that changed my world. It clicked instantly in my head. This machine did what you told it as long as it understood what you wanted to do. And two years later, when my dad’s newer Windows 3.1 machine broke down, I was able to fix it by investigating the file structure and running simple diagnostics from the command line. It had a single corrupt file, so I copied all the important data to a series of 30 3.5” floppies and reinstalled the operating system. I’d surpassed my father. His investment had already paid off.

My father’s transcendent moment was with HAM radios. We don’t know what his father’s moment was because he was a violent drunk, and we don’t talk about him. He certainly didn’t invent domestic violence, but maybe that was his only claim to fame. Asshole.

But when I think about my grandfather (on my mother’s side), growing up in the steel yards of Baltimore, the 11th child of 12, chafing against the struggle of being young, of being poor, of being Jewish, of being from Poland, I think he must have had that moment too. I know he was accepted into Johns Hopkins Medical School, then turned down when a Jewish boy showed up to the final interview. So he must have had a highly technical understanding of the world, or significant empathy, or at least a brain. I know he once lived in a Frank Lloyd Wright house replica in Baltimore, so I know he had the clarity of mind to think about style, reputation, or aesthetics.

But I don’t know what his moment was, the moment when his parents realized the future was his to create and that they ought to give him space to do so. My father took 10 years away from computers because I was in the house and able--no, willing--to do whatever needed doing on that front. My great grandparents must have done the same for my grandfather. I wonder what.

It must have something to do with the spread of information, with the creation of villages that span nations. He must have developed trust in the written word at an early age, a trust that translated to television news when that became popular. He must stay up nights, wondering how the world can be so horrifically backwards, never questioning whether the story being reported is accurate. Variability is not something he takes to naturally: not in his career, his relationships, his opinions. So I’d be surprised if he didn’t look up to television news anchors the same way toddlers look up to the indifference of a neglectful parent.

I wonder how far that goes. While my generation’s moments of clarity led to the digital replacement of many objects, other generations still see the allure of an alarm clock by Braun, a rolodex on a metal ring, or a landline phone. But the tech-savvy masses have abandoned such items, relegating the production of analog devices to outfits specializing in nostalgia or cheap plastic disposables. For my grandfather, the skeumorphism of a digital calendar with stitched leather edges is not bad design, it’s the only design. For him, cable news is all that’s left of the powerful local news stations of the past. And for him, being able to see his $3 alarm clock on his bedside table is worth the fact that it drifts a full 3 minutes a day.

Getting older is not what I expected it to be. I’m about to turn 30 and after weeks of reflection I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m more vital, more in love with life, more appreciative and more energetic than I was at 25 or 21. Some of the novelty has dropped out of the equation (you can arrive at a new destination for the first time exactly once), but that’s left me wondering about the spikes and valleys of the boom-bust travel-work lifestyle. It seems we’ve made a decision as a generation to travel first and work later. Contrast that with my grandfather, who gave life to a chain of gourmet groceries in Baltimore, worked in real estate after that, and never lacked energy to travel in his later years. He got the travel in. He saw a world with new eyes in much the same way I did when I landed in Lima, or in Israel, or in Bogotá.

Rather than a tightening of routines and a need to take Life More Seriously, getting older seems to be about recognizing that the meat of an experience is enjoyable if you let it happen. How else would my grandfather have found the patience and perseverance to make it to Beijing at age 70? How else can I justify the number of hours I put in building the company I started last June? But this isn’t a story about me. It’s a story about that $3 alarm clock.

I guess as my grandfather got older, he saw fewer things evolve into better versions of the familiar objects he grew up with. He witnessed the slow death march of calculators and handwritten notes as they were consolidated into digital equivalents. He attempted first to accept these changes, to accept the increased frequency of novelty in his own life as he left his early adulthood and became a father, then a grandfather, then a great-grandfather. Some things had to stay the same for his human soul to stay resilient to the changes around him. So he developed a yearning for simplicity, which for him assumed physicality, familiarity, and decidedly luddite daily routines. And now he sits, napping in his favorite chair in the heat of the Phoenix sun (despite having air conditioning, a prime need of my grandfather is to not waste it on his own comfort), watching Fox News.

He’s scared all the time. In recent years his heart has failed him several times. It’s a testament to his constitution that after triple bypass surgery he is able to find the energy to be upset with the state of the world as broadcast through the thinly veiled hype engine of cable news. Maybe he’s holding on for good news. Maybe that will finally do him in, to know that this heaviness he feels the need to inherit from the suits on screen is manufactured. It’s an exoskeleton, hard minerals left behind after the soft tissues of truthier broadcasts have melted away.

My heart goes out to him the more his heart threatens to fail. No one who has known him would describe him as perfect or even generous. Intelligent, sure. Funny. Driven. Devoted, even. But not generous, and his news habit is a selfish one. He desires peace, even deserves it after so many years lived and so many tragedies past. But a man who cannot give up the daily promise of 6PM alienation is unlikely to change. A man who cannot give up an alarm clock from another age is unlikely to seek peace for its own sake. Grasping at clocks and for the even keel of perfect diction and ticker tapes, my grandfather is stuck inside himself.

The sun still rises, and try as you may there are no sounds of ocean waves in the Arizona desert but I assure you they’ve not stopped. The tragic breeze travels through the needles of statuesque Saguaros and past my grandfather’s window as his hands clench the arms of his favorite wicker chair. A sigh escapes his lips and settles into the space between his expectant need and the blaring of the television. An unnoticed bird calls from outside and the surface of the granite-lined pool shivers in anticipation. My grandfather slowly relaxes his grip and remembers the past. He remembers the cars and the clocks and the charisma of black-and-white personalities on TV, warmed and distorted by antenna broadcasts. Back in Brooklyn I watch the final drop of rain slither down the street as I round the corner to my apartment. I lower my umbrella and look upwards, surprised at the sudden end to the deluge. The grey of the sky continues to roil and flow solemnly, but a patch begins to turn white, then blue, and a single ray of sunshine leaks through. Ten soggy days, over.

Don’t worry about the rain, we’ll get through this.


I stared out at 50 sets of bored eyeballs, the eyeball owners still confused about leaving their routines to listen to me. I'd done my research, set up sample projects, and now it was my job to train 50 DigitalOcean staff–mostly engineers–on how to use JIRA. I don't hate public speaking, but it's not my favorite. I take a deep breath, introduce the topic, and look up for a second. Ben, the CEO, sits down in the crowd with a pained look on his face. His shoulders are tense. My heart goes out to him: he looks like this a lot, especially during this major re-org we're undergoing, not to mention the ongoing struggle of building a functional product team. I was hire #1, and six months later there was no hire #2. There were plenty of reasons for him to look pained.

I'm not sure what happened. Maybe I over-thought it. Maybe I got spooked. But it's at that moment that I lose my confidence. I couldn't speak clearly, the demo fell apart, and the leader of the company saw the whole thing. He looked down at the table he was sitting at and I saw him visibly deflate. I had spent the last few months building consensus on the importance of good product process and this flubbed moment was a setback for both of us. I was embarrassed at my fuck up, but moments like this are thankfully rare. I finished up the demo, walked out, and made a comment to a co-worker about how poorly I'd performed. He laughed it off and we went to lunch.

This was a minor failure. It didn't have many consequences for the organization or the product. It certainly wasn't critical. Nonetheless, screwing up this JIRA demo marked the beginning of a year-long search for my confidence, a personality trait I'd never thought I could lose.


It wasn't until much later that I realized what I'd lost. Anxious people tend to second-guess themselves often, and I'm used to listening to the self-doubt narrative and letting it roll in the background while I continue on the best path anyway. Plus, my time at DigitalOcean was extremely taxing. The breakneck speed of growth at the company had us consistently under-staffed and over-stressed in the face of challenging goals. I had reason to question my decisions: there was a lot on the line, and no one person or group had the knowledge necessary to make fully informed decisions.

My lack of confidence showed itself in corners, peering out from the piles of junk I couldn't part with, whispering in my ear as I'd prepare to give my order to the waiter, leaving me tongue-tied and indecisive. I went on a trip to the Bahamas with my girlfriend last April and found myself having trouble picking a book to read on my Kindle. The desire to read was there. So was the familiar neural locking of preferences with descriptive blurbs, urging me to read The Martian before Born To Run. But when I'd go to click on the icon of the book I'd freeze, paralyzed with the fear that maybe I should be reading something else.

I remember thinking, "That's not like me," and choosing a book at random.

Difficult book choices grew into a fear of public speaking during my time in the Blue Ridge Labs fellowship, indecisiveness regarding the path we should charge down, and a complete lack of motivation to speak with others in the industry about what we were working on. Time and time again my fear was invalidated and I pushed forward, first by rehearsing pitches, then by asking (too many times) for validation from loved ones, then by forcing myself to listen to my instincts and push back even though I didn't always emotionally agree with myself. I was scared.

My whole life I've been able to sit down, do a thing, and know it reflected who I am.


It was around this time that I started digging into the intersection of introversion, anxiety, and childhood trauma. I suffer from the first two directly, and the third was dispersed among my family members when I was 9 by my aunt's murder by her ex husband after an extended period of domestic abuse. I was uncovering just how fragile I was as a result of living in a world that expects me to be social and outgoing without heeding the anxiety generated by so many [illogical, unwarranted] daily sources.

Anxiety is a prominent driver of indecision in those who suffer from it, resulting in localized inability to differentiate bad decisions from bad feelings about decisions. It leads me to equivocate and stall and to accept the decisions of others whose opinions I perceive as stronger than my own. Add in a natural sensitivity resulting from introversion and being touched by violence and the stage is set for me to cognitively run away from my own decisions.

When we talk about making decisions, we're referring to the result of confidence, not confidence itself.

The logical pre-frontal lobe driven decision-making apparatus was consistently competing for bandwidth with the fear-driven amygdalic and limbic response. The signal was frequently getting stuck, exacerbated by anxiety and resulting in high cognitive load even when deciding on simple things. For instance, today I was deciding between writing this and playing video games. It took me 20 minutes to realize I could do both. Just not at the same time. At the time, I was concerned that I was suffering from Aboulia as a result of the early stages of Parkinson's Disease. While not thought to be genetic, Parkinson's has affected several people in my family, most notably my mother. It's unlikely given the isolation of the symptoms, but the fear was there, driving even more confusion.


The struggle came full-circle: I was paralyzed in my own home wondering whether this lack of confidence was self-imposed and thus curable or simply genetic and only going to get worse.

When you're paralyzed, start looking for quick wins.

I'd been fundraising for Populace and striking out left and right. The lack of external validation had me leaning towards the "genetic and getting worse" explanation, but I wasn't satisfied with that. So I started pushing myself out of my comfort zone and looking for simple victories. Let me tell you. Forcing yourself to move when you're paralyzed by anxiety uses up a lot of spoons. You can't do it a lot. But once you do, the results are positive, widespread, and validating. For me, it was asking for introductions to people I should be talking to, reconciling with friends I'd put on the back-burner due to my fragile mental state, and finding ways to heal my relationship with my partner which had frayed due to my constant second-guessing. Once you push yourself to look past the trap of making the "perfect" decision and trust your own instinct, things start falling into place.

Which self will you listen to?

My mind was opened to a new reality, a new theory of the system I live in. I'm not living in a world where objective reality is unattainable by instinct. I'm not so inept that I must continually appear competent to survive. And I'm not intrinsically broken. I'm a complex being, strong-willed and well-suited to make decisions, but also anxious and sensitive. It's stressful to make important decisions. It's hard to be confident with the people around me. And it takes courage to build the meaningful relationship I want and my partner deserves. But similar to running your first mile, it takes time to train yourself to balance the flailing of the different aspects of yourself.

The part of me that is excitable is also extremely sensitive to setbacks. The part of me that executes effectively is also not great at advocating for the ability to do so. And the part of me that ties all this together tends to defer to the loudest actor. As humans, we forget how loosely integrated our different functions can be at times (it's scary to think about), but by recognizing this you can start to dig into the needs and interfaces provided by those different functions. For me, being confident means amplifying the part of me that loves people, ideas, and success. It means building emotional momentum to overcome the sensitivity and fear of potential failure. And it means counting the victories, being mindful of their existence and the patterns they represent, and being OK with the fact that this is you, this is how you thrive, and this is OK.

Confidence is recognizing past success and identifying similar opportunities.

It's not easy being a human on earth. It's even harder when we expect ourselves to behave in certain ways without recognizing the underlying realities of our existence. Doing so may scare you, and will certainly have you seeing yourself in a new light. For me, it's been a path to new growth and a better understanding of how I can do the things I want in a world that doesn't always expect me to be here. Set your own expectations. The world will come around.