ifindkarma. elegance is refusal.

June 14, 2009

Failure, loss, and learning.

Filed under: believe!, life, the universe, and everything!, relax! — ifindkarma @ 6:14 pm

Joyce and I have reflected a lot in the last fortnight.

Among other things, I recall this line a month ago from yishimcgee:

I feel like I failed… I feel no relief.

I wish I could speed the assuaging of her pain… but I cannot. Relief from the feeling of failure — especially when it accompanies loss of someone or something you love — comes only with the passage of time. That’s been my experience.

So today as Joyce, Kenneth, and I pulled two dozen boxes to the point of physical exhaustion, I found comfort in this passage Joyce sent me from Will Wright in the New York Times:

When I’m managing creative people, the way they relate to failure is very important. Because there are certain types of failure that you really want to celebrate. I personally learned a lot more from my failures than from my successes. And if you look at it that way, then all my failures, you know, in some sense brought me to my larger successes, because I recognized why I failed, and I learned from it. And so, at that point, you can even argue that it’s not a failure. It’s part of your learning process.

And so, even with interns, it’s kind of interesting to see how they relate to failure. Does it motivate them, do they go a different direction, do they give up or do they learn from it and get some insight and add it as part of their tool chest? In some sense it is an award that they’ve earned.

One of the questions I will usually ask somebody when I am interviewing them is, what was your biggest failure? And what did you learn from it and what would you have done differently? Within a team setting, a lot of times we’ll go down paths and we’ll prototype things. And at some point we’ll realize it was a bad branch and we have to back up and go take a different branch. Those forays — as a team, we can celebrate those.

Joyce and I have lost a lot of people recently. Billy and Rajeev, to name two.

How am I coping? Mainly through physical exercise and recalling 90-year-old wisdom:

No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.

I used to sweat every little detail about every little thing. Now I find myself regularly asking, “In five years, will this matter?

I used to packrat things from every era of my life. Now I’ve started to throw things away. I’m struck by a feeling that until I let go of some things, I have no room to grow. So I look to get rid of anything that isn’t joyful, useful, or beautiful.

I think that’s part of how I’ll get myself back to the right state of mind so I can have the vision to see opportunities again. As Richard the Wise Man once said,

Being in the right place at the right time is actually all about being in the right state of mind.

Richard Wiseman says that only about 10% of life is purely random; the remaining 90% is defined by the way we think. Our attitudes produce our luck.

Failure happens. Think of Thomas Edison, who tried thousands of filaments while failing to make a working long-lasting light bulb, “I never failed. I simply discovered 10,000 ways not to do it!”

So yes, unexpected death and feelings of failure happen regularly. They are an inescapable part of this world.

It’s hard to lose people and things. It takes time to internalize what happened and integrate it all as part of ourselves.

I will remember to breathe, and I will remind myself to be patient because healing takes time.

And remember to get outside every day. Because miracles are waiting everywhere.

June 8, 2009

Thank you, Rajeev Motwani.

Filed under: ifindkarma!, life, the universe, and everything! — ifindkarma @ 1:35 pm

On Friday I learned from Manish and Naval that Rajeev Motwani had died.

Rajeev and Asha invested in Joyce’s and my company Renkoo four years ago, and it really was the case that his friendship and his time were the most valuable aspects of that investment. Over the years, he has been a great advisor, confidant, and friend.

We would meet regularly at the University Coffee Cafe in Palo Alto. Every time I talked with him, he made my ideas better — on both technical matters and human matters. On the former, he always asked about algorithms we were developing so that he could suggest ways to improve them; on the latter, he regularly reminded me to be patient so that I could improve myself.

Over the years I’ve gotten myself into many sticky situations, and Rajeev was always Socratic, calmly advising me and Joyce to be all we can be, and reminding us to believe in ourselves the way he believed in us.

My favorite story about Rajeev is when the going got tough for Renkoo, and we gave every investor an opportunity to exit, his words to me were assured and confident. “Why would I want to leave you?” he asked. “You’re just getting started.” When I pointed out that other people did want out, he seemed peeved but resolved that everyone reacts differently to difficult situations, and that he was not going anywhere. Great things happen as the result of struggle and experience, and the longer we toil, the more experienced we become.

I never wanted to bother him, but he regularly checked in with me, and frankly I don’t know where he found the time. I know he was busy with a million other things, but he always made time for me. In fact, my next call with him was supposed to be today.

I spent a lot of this weekend shocked and sad. I still can’t believe he’s gone. As I read peoples’ thoughts about him — among them Om, David, Ron Conway, and Sergey — one thing really came across: Rajeev Motwani was a kind man. Rajeev gave so much strength and wisdom to so many people that his legacy lives on in all the people we touch and all the work we do.

And that is the greatest compliment I can bestow on anyone. I will truly miss you, Rajeev. Thank you.

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