What We Owe to Each Other

Late in the evening, there are several things that periodically crept to my mind. And this particular thing, actually affects how I see the world, that leads to affecting how should I live my life. Sounds corny right, but this happens to me for quite some time.

I think that there’s a paradox, or call it as I will, a battle in everybody’s mind, on how selfish they must be. I personally believe, most people are selfish. That’s human nature right. Of course ancient history always say that human beings progressed this far is due to our collective efforts in grouping into tribes and staying together. Back then we needed to work together and helped each other in a geographically bounded communities. Now, we coordinate our efforts through families and corporations. But if we look at the individuals, we see that people work together knowing that it benefits their individual selves. It provides reassurance and protection, that the individual’s own survival, depends on the group’s survival.

When I look in our modern world. I observe that people are still selfish (or getting more selfish) whether we noticed it or not. I see that many people have big homes, but more people around them live in slums and constantly thinking on whether they are able to put stuffs on their dinner plate every night. It is people’s individual right to own properties and accrue wealth, but I see no way how this benefits the society; in which they, the individuals, actually live in.

I see, so many times, a grandma is waiting for a bus (an outdated and now rarely to be seen mode of transport) to arrive and carry her home. She is old and just finished her day of being a merchant at the nearby traditional market. I don’t know why. From hundreds of individuals passing her by in their cars and motorcycles, nobody offered her a ride. They barely noticed. Of course. Why bother.

Sometimes it sickens me, but being the person I am right now, I regret saying that I am actually among those individuals. Sigh. Do we actually owe each other?

Maudy and Optimism

In the past few days, my social media timelines and conversations around me revolved around Maudy Ayunda. And unlike any other chit-chats on the life of celebrities, this time was something very positive. She was admitted into Harvard and Stanford for her graduate study. This caught me off guard, not because I undermined her chances of going there, but her willingness of going there.

She was already privileged, and already had anything that she could ever wanted.

What striked me the most is that she doesn’t feel complacent about her life at all. A life that other people might dream of. She already had a world-class bachelor’s degree from Oxford University, established herself as one of the leading singer and actress in Indonesia, and even her image of being a public figure were showered with flowers.

What is she trying to achieve? I don’t know, probably something noble and important.

It is very common for people who had already achieved so much as Maudy, to settle down, to enjoy life, to gain more fame, probably. But she chose something that is less tangible and vaguely more long term; getting an education. An education, the best one the world can offer her.

And let’s stop talking about the privilege that she already had, and let’s not discount the hard work that she had put in achieving all of these. Let’s talk about ourselves. We, as people who aren’t as privileged as she is, and as people who haven’t achieved even a small bite of what she had, must keep on being optimistic. The gap that we need to close, betwen what we are now and what we are capable of, is still very wide. We need to work way way harder, and we need to think way way smarter.

I am optimistic about what my life will be. Not because I am naiive. Not because being optimistic is easy. But because, in a strictly utilitarian sense, being optimistic actually benefits me. It made me see a better path ahead of me. It made my life more bearable, even enjoyable. It made me try things that I wouldn’t even dare, had I been more negative towards my life. I was an optimists, and it had served me well.

I don’t see the value of being a skeptic or of being a person who always say the negative aspects of things.

Of course, being optimistic is not the same as being delusional. I need to be aware about myself, and be fully rational about what’s possible and what’s not.

And then it comes to people. In my life, at least recently, it is much more fulfilling to be circled with people who don’t constantly make me think that I am not good enough, to have friends who spreads positivity around me, liften up my mood, and slow down my heart beat.

Positivity. Optimism. A peace of mind. Will probably lead me to places I aspire to be, just like Maudy’s.

Hypergrowth and Being an Early Employee

I was stumbled upon reading a passage from Elad Gil’s High Growth Handbook that discusses how early employees can scale. I am currently an early employee at a startup that I consider to be high-growth, we were founded only one and half years ago but now employ hundreds of people.

“Early employees who are humble enough to realize they can learn from fresh blood can grow with the company and use it as a personal platform for their own learning and impact.”
– Elad Gil

Elad suggests that early employees must be humble enough and must optimize for learning from the new but more experienced peers. I then asked Aswin and Angky (our co-founders) on how early employees like me could scale along with the company, not just being eventually replaced by more senior folks. Aswin’s answers perplexed me, but I couldn’t agree more.

“Well, companies grow way faster than people could possibly grow. The equation just doesn’t make any sense. There’s no way around that.”

We could try as hard as we could, but the math, the biology, and the wirings on our brain just say it won’t work. I also recently read an article on First Round regarding the laws of startup physics, arguing that:

1) Companies grow exponentially
2) Humans grow linearly

And in a fast-growing startup, the double-edged truth would be:

1) If the company grows as it should
2) It will outgrow many of its people

If those are the premises, what should we as employees (especially early employees) do? Beware that this will not always be the case, companies can stagnate or just go on a death spiral. Meaning employees will grow faster, and eventually leave the company to pursue other opportunities.

I am now planning to practice these two things: to accelerate my learnings and to perform one level above my current role.

1. Accelerating my learnings

This is the immediate consequence that I need to do. It does not matter if the math doesn’t add up, but it still matters that I grow as fast as possible. Otherwise, I am at a disadvantage. I need to learn on the job, by talking to people both inside and outside the company, and from external resources such as books, articles, and even YouTube videos. It is not enough that I learn, I also need to practice what I learn. One of the reason why I started writing on this blog again is to hone my structured thinking and writing skills.

2. Performing one level above my current role

Performing at the level I am in will only lead to a comfort zone. It will be harder to fail and therefore it will be harder to grow. So I need to strecth myself into doing what’s beyond my current capability. Sometimes it will feel really uncomfortable and the success-to-failure ratio will be alarmingly low, but I guess this is the price. As time goes by, I will have my learnings, what’s now uncomfortable will then be a comfort zone, and I will need to find yet another challenge to keep growing.

Every person’s expectation and priority might be different. There’s nothing wrong if you are optimizing for a comfortable environment or stability as long as that’s what you want.

Okay, so, my opinion doesn’t necessarily reflect my employer’s, but if you are keen to face the challenge that I face day-to-day, we are hiring! 🙄

Sub-optimal Guidance

Traditional leadership books only deal with the complexity of being a leader or manager, but in a startup, we have an additional complexity of building the organization from the ground up.

I assume that traditional leadership starts with us having N direct reports, we need to lead them to achieve results. When we joined a startup, most of the times we don’t have direct reports. We have to hire, build, and set the culture of the organization that we will be leading.

The challenge doubles, but the upside also doubles. You are forced to learn tremendously useful things that you otherwise wouldn’t get if you don’t build the organization from the ground up.

In this aspect, the books we need to read to be successful are also rare. That is why, I personally prefer startup or founder books compared to business or leadership books. Startup or founder books tell us more stories on building something from scratch, from 0 to 1.

On Motivation

There are phases in my life where I can get up every morning, and be very eager to start the day doing what I love to reach things I dream. However, there are also days where even to get up and do the necessary things (like showering and have breakfast) is a struggle. I sometimes have this tendency to do inaction. I prefer to just stare at the ceiling, let my mind wander on things I never do and goals I failed to achieve. Or unproductively scroll through endless streams of things my friends do and publish to their social profiles. I am their biggest consumers. The instant gratification of just looking at things people do, outweighs any plans I have for the day.

I don’t know if it’s a trait, or a bad habit I need to get rid of. To follow a growth mindset minds that I must discard anything related to innate traits, and frame everything into things that I can do if I work on them hard enough. So it must be something that I can work on then. I tried to watch motivational videos, there are even Spotify Playlists catering the needs of people like me. Most of the time, it works though. Some times, I just feel irritated by the narrator shouting at me, for not being good enough or not trying hard enough or not owning my life fully. Hmmm.

If only I can study this thing called “motivation”, I might work on it better. Hoping that I too, can have a more stable spirit in life. So I gradually bought books relating to this topic. But to this day, none has been read. Sigh.