Playing at adulthood: the grown up confessional

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When I was little, I always thought that growing happened like magic. You wake up one morning, all the secrets of adulthood would be downloaded into your brain. Everything would change, you would know how to make the right decision – you would be certified a grown up.

According to some “grown ups” I know, I have wasted my 20s. Apparently I wasn’t meant to spend it building a career and charging my way through a formidable industry. No, it seems I was suppose to spend it looking for a husband. My grown up advisors seem to think my want or lack of want is irrelevant here. The way they see it, the past decade of my life has been spent on the wrong things and as I enter this new one, which is meant to be spent on procreation, I must settle the debts incurred in my 20s. That is what adults do, they tell me.

I have been trying to explore what it means to grow up and truly understand myself for some time. I began with checklists, things adults should have done, do and have. That didn’t quite work out because I just felt like a big kid given access to things I wasn’t quite ready for.

I suppose this time around, I need to figure out the purpose of this decade before I run through it, chasing the impossible and wrong dreams. Entering your 30s in Africa isn’t terribly helpful, with all the big life stuff aching at you while the African cultures and traditions niggle at you like an unwanted lover. You are in most cases bound by propriety and in others torn by love for the people who you know in some warped way actually care about you. In Africa, when women turn 30, they enter a period I call the ticking time bomb leading to the crisis of old age – because it is all over now. The grown ups will have you believe this and schedule your battle plans accordingly — yes this is war and we are all praying about it in Africa fervently.

When you are in your mid 20s and begin to notice the world for what it really is, you suspect that there are no grown ups. You face the dubious reality that this is it, you will continue to fumble through life hoping for the best and learning. You learn that most things are like for like. The way you treat people matters, simple respect and courtesy goes a long way in earning you respect and kindness. These things matter to people. Taking responsibility for who you are and showing up is the biggest lesson you will learn.

So here is what I know to be true as someone playing at adulthood:

Spend your decade doing what makes you happy, but take responsibilities for your actions and choices because they are yours and yours alone.

Stop worrying about who is watching you, governments and companies included. If you keep looking over your shoulder life will pass you by.

Eat the damn cake, you only live once.

If you are trying to find a way to say something in a delicate manner, don’t. Just say it.

It is perfectly okay if you like Taylor Swift and not a tween, some experiences cross age divides.

If your boss tells you that you are too young to get a deserved raise or promotion, quit because that company does not deserve you.

Show righteous indignation when someone belittles Africa, because damnit we are a great continent.

Finally, save up and buy that incredibly expensive thing you really want but don’t need.

I am sure that my well meaning grown ups will tell me that I have life all wrong, my approach just isn’t done. But I have been disappointing them for so long, why stop now.

Tonight we ate cake and didn’t care: the startup edition

Cake

Tonight, I ate cake for dinner and I didn’t care because I work for a startup and having dessert for dinner seems like the only reward at the end of particularly bad day.

I am dead inside, but that’s okay I had to pay a price for what lies at the end of the finish line and my soul is a small price to pay for what is to come. Yeah, right. This is the sort of bullshit that dedicated startup worshipers feed themselves and they sit and think it’s okay that they have no friends, or not having any semblance on a personal life makes them that much dedicated. It does not.

We believe in the product and we are building something amazing. I can’t wait for the world see. That’s pretty much how everyone who works for a startup feels. You join a company and give up yourself. A company drone you will be.

I work for a startup, most of my friends work for startups or have startups of their own. I am not sure if it was by design or some cosmic accident but 90% of the people I deal with on a daily basis are involved in some startup world (tech or otherwise). In someways this is a good thing because they get my daily woes and the many problems that make up copious glasses of wine. When you work for a startup wine becomes a food group because if we are being honest it is much easier to end the day with a glass than have to factor in feeding yourself with everything else.

For the special, the startup chosen, we find it hard to understand why our “normal” friends can’t just see it. We don’t understand why they are bored of our obsession with this supposed best product ever built. Especially for the tech startups, how can these people these non-geeks not want to just be consumed by this little win that the tech world is losing its mind over? For us, the good soldiers we get it and the loss of these people who don’t, makes perfect sense.

A friend of mine told me that working for a startup does damage to a person’s psyche.

“It fundamentally changes who you are and the things you want,” he said. “If you are not careful it will ruin you.”

He has a startup and his startup ruined him, but according to him, it is his burden, his curse and his gift and they are bounded together. Interestingly his company is successful and by all accounts he should be happy.

“It’s the sacrifices,” he says. “You have to ask yourself, what are you willing to give up?”

What am I willing to give up? Am I willing to give up myself? Am I willing to give you my friends? My comforts?

For some very strange reason the idea of working for s startup seems greatly romanticized. People think that working for startup means you get taken on a romantic date, you get to make love and live happily ever after. No it is actually the opposite. The realities of starting a business and working for a startup is you get screwed and get left for dead on the side of the road the majority of the time. There are no “it’s not my company, I don’t have to stress” — when you work for a startup who stress like it’s your company you don’t get the rewards of ownership but you feel the pains of it. You have no identity beyond the startup, your sense of self gets incredibly warped that most days when you look in the mirror all you can see is a product of an environment that is not your making. You become consumed by company mantras without your permission and soon interrupting your life and your happiness and your little wins for the bigger picture become the norm.

You won’t leave, you can’t leave because yourself worth seems to have morphed into this place, you suffer from Stockholm syndrome because this is home and you convince yourself that this product, this thing that is being built cannot be built without you, even though it can and most certainly will be built without you. My friends and I have these conversations and I see the patterns, no startup is the same but the threads of what they demand is. No one forces these on you, it just happens, and you feel like a defector if you don’t think this way. The ones you leave are traitors and you are a good little soldier for staying. It is the most effed up psychological warfare known to man. Entrepreneurs have it worse because for them defecting means failure and how can they fail, how can they sum up their worth if they are marred by this failure.

It isn’t all doom and gloom and it is all getting f*cked while your back is turned. There are moments when your Stockholm syndrome isn’t in full effect, when you become part of something that you can see the rewards. When you share and create something so amazing even your non-startup friends want you talk about it. The days when you have a sense of achievement so high that you eat real food, the day when you’re toasting to a job well done not drowning the demons that keep you awake every night. There are days when you think “I am xx years old and i just did this, how cool is that?”. Those days make it seem like paradise, in those moment, you are not dead inside, humour is genuine and not twisted by battle scars. In those moments you simply work for a company that is taking over the world and you couldn’t do anything else.

Those days are rare, but they do exist.

Tonight, I ate cake and didn’t care because today is the day in-between.