A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece on startups that got way more attention than I expected. Little ol’ me over here, writing to my ~100 subscribers, mostly using that startup series as therapy to process what I’d been through during my year in startupland. (Therapy’s only for the wealthy here in America, you know. This is cheaper, and until that piece, much simpler.)
More people read and commented and emailed and DM’ed than I’d imagined. At first, it was awesome — having great, nuanced, imaginative conversations with other humans on the internet, meeting new people, finding new perspectives. Two lovely humans actually paid to subscribe to my newsletter, which was a delight.
And then, it stopped being awesome. It got curated by Medium and this meandering little essay I’d written about how I couldn’t match up public and private in a way that felt ethical became something people wanted to scream at me about.
Some people were really upset, although I’m not sure over what — questioning something they held dear, maybe, which makes us all a little vulnerable and scared. They found me on different platforms and followed my kids on Instagram. It was weird, and awful, and stressful.
At first, I just wanted to shut down. Fine, I thought. I’ll just publish on my own site and get off Medium, and no one will ever read me, and I’ll be happier that way. Then, like the five stages of grief, I cycled through some more feelings — resistance, like I should respond, or fight back, and anger, that people were being this ridiculous over a 500-word piece from a girl who grew up in the public sector and couldn’t handle the big bad world of venture capital.
And terror, too, because when you’re a woman writing on the internet there’s a whole ‘nother level of fear when people start finding your kids because of something you did. I already write my most private thoughts under a pen name account, because you can’t find work in the 21st century without it. But I’d figured I could talk about professional career decisionmaking on my main account because it didn’t involve sex or religion or money or marriage.
The piece I wanted to close that series with was, ironically, about the way venture capital distorts and corrupts the real and admirable desire with which most founders I worked approached their startups. I wanted to talk about why we take that pure motivation — to make money, yes, but also to solve a problem, to build a solution, to bring human innovation to problems and fix them — and make it all about money, and profit, and senseless activity that helps no one but the already-wealthy.
I wanted to write a bit about the culture of work as religion (the topic of Carolyn Chen’s highly-recommended new book, Work Pray Code; there’s a good summary article here.) I wanted to write about how VCs and tech bros bitch about the lack of innovation for things like the DMV when they have to stand in line, yet refuse to build products that would help governments innovate, because the growth capacity isn’t as fast and endless as they want their hockey sticks to be.
I wanted to write about having been slightly vindicated by an article in TechCrunch on the fragility of the 2020–2021 unicorn class. Mostly, I wanted to write about the brilliant founders and entrepreneurs I’ve worked with who haven’t yet had their dreams corrupted by the flickering promise of a VC check, people who are building things that really do advance humanity and make the world a better place, and show people that it’s possible to invest in tech for good.
But I don’t think I will, at least not for a while. Startupland doesn’t need my opinions and wouldn’t change if it had them. And there’s just something to be said for self-preservation, even when you’re an idealist who still believes in the internet that the ’90s promised us, full of global connections with strangers that prove our humanity to us.
Also, this is a hard lesson to learn, but a good one: Everyone is carrying something, especially now, when we’re all exhausted from the past three years of chaos and death, and the first thing the world does when the pandemic shows signs of slowing is to bomb kids in apartment buildings and dither over responses.
We’re all carrying a lot, and even those people who were awfully intent on tearing me down were just responding from fear, and exhaustion, and the scarcity of understanding that the investments everyone told them to make aren’t going to safely carry them into the future, no matter what they do.
If I can’t respond from grace, I shouldn’t respond at all. I do believe in humans, the messy and fragile goodness of us, buried underneath a lifetime of trauma and stress. I do believe that most people are trying to be and do good and that if we’re all kinder to one another it goes a long way towards making this difficult life a bit easier.
And this was a lesson in practicing what you preach. For me, if I want the internet to be the connective glue that brings the good as well as the bad, then I have to keep showing up. But I might take a break from VC world for a bit — because I am also am learning at the ripe old age of 38 how to put on my own mask first, before I try to take care of everyone else.
For those of you graceful angels who commented with new ideas or subscribed or clapped — please know how grateful I am that you exist. Thank you for taking a moment to be kind and to show me that I could in fact keep on believing in the world as a nice place most of the time. ❤
Photo by John Moeses Bauan / Unsplash