The week everything changed

[Disclaimer: This is going to get sentimental. Very. If you can’t handle that, skip this post. You won’t enjoy it. I promise. You have been warned.]

All my life, I’ve struggled to integrate two parts within me.

In the one part, I have an emotional and spiritual quality to me that I can’t easily describe. A deep sense of love and connection with other beings and a deep sense for the vulnerability and humanity that we all share. I’m not your typical extrovert people person, but I’m good at sensing what’s really going on beneath the surface of most people when there’s space and quiet enough for me to sense.

In the other part, I have a strong entrepreneurial streak, a desire to create something great in the physical world and the marketplace, and a hunger to succeed.

But my business side has always seemed oddly cursed.

Problem is, all my role models in business have been very very different from myself.

They’ve either been more extroverted, a typical “people person”, or they’ve been cold and somewhat soulless and dead inside, or more like a steamroller, brash, noisy, very focused and goal-driven, “businessy”.

Most of my life I was absolutely convinced that to succeed in business, you had to be like that. And being in technology hasn’t helped at all, because a lot of the people I met while studying and at other places in the technology world were pretty tense and lifeless and overly analytical, and I never felt at home in their company.

So whenever I’ve “done business”, I’ve been taking on a mask, adopting a persona that wasn’t me. All the attributes I thought I had to be to be successful in business.

For the longest time I didn’t realize I did that. It was completely unconscious.

But even after coming to the realization about two years ago that I was approaching business all wrong, and pretty much everything else in my life just about right, I still kept doing it, because the beliefs and the unconscious fears that caused me to do so were so deeply buried within me.

But just this past week, something happened that has really shifted things in a big way.

The roots go back to October when Gary Vaynerchuk published his book. I’d been following Gary for a long time, after DHH pointed me to him, because his authentic, caring, heart-driven approach spoke to me. So when his book came out, I saw that he offered a one-on-one dinner if you bought 500 copies of his book.

I read the book on the plane over to New York with my lovely wife, and I knew right then that I wanted to do the dinner thing, and that it would totally be worth the $6K cost of admission to me.

So while still in NY, I bought 500 copies of the book on Amazon. I had them shipped to my friends’ office at Gilt, and still haven’t even collected them.

Fast-forward to February, and it was time to claim my dinner. Gary was everything I’d hoped and more than I’d expected. Extremely present, personal, inspiring, honest, loving, and lovable.

Here’s someone doing business in a way that’s completely in line with the values that I hold in my heart, but have never managed to implement in my business life. It was a very important moment for me.

Tony Hsieh from Zappos is another person I’ve been following at a distance for a while. I heard about him and the company a while back, and saw him speak live at a conference about a year agoo. And since Gary had told me to go to SXSWi, and since I could see that Tony Hsieh was going to be there, I asked Gary for an intro.

I got the intro, and that led to a chance to hang out with Tony and his friends on the Delivering Happiness bus he had hired for the conference to promote his book. The bus was completely wrapped with a blue promotional plastic thingie for the book and made into a disco with free bar and music and dancing inside. It was frickin’ awesome (or killer or wicked, depending on where you’re from).

The bus would go from party to party around town, but mostly the party on the bus was the best party in town, so I mainly just stayed on the bus. I even ended up in Tony’s hotel room after all the bars had closed.

I didn’t get to actually spend more than a few minutes talking with Tony, but that didn’t matter. Just being around him over a couple of days has meant a whole lot.

One of the things I’m pretty good at is picking up on people’s nature through “osmosis” – just by listening, watching, and sensing, I believe I can get a pretty good sense of what’s going on with this person, and how he or she operates.

So between those several hours in Tony’s company, and the advance copy of his book (due out in June), they constituted a real life-changing moment for me:

I finally have a clear picture of what it means to do business in a way that’s consistent with my true nature.

While Gary is definitely an inspiration, Tony is even more like me. Not completely, of course, but more so than anyone else I have ever encountered before.

Gary is loud and intense, loves big crowds, is a wine guy and business guy with no technology bone in his body, who has never read a business book in his life. That’s not me. I’m introvert, like to be for a long time with a few people, have read tons of books, loves coding, and so on.

Tony is much more quiet and introverted, he’s a programmer, an internet entrepreneur, and an enthusiastic reader of business, personal development, and psychology books.

And he’s built a fucking one point two billion fucking dollar company.

And he’s done it in a way that’s 100% compatible with MY true values and personality.

See? Everything deep inside of me has told me all of my life that that is 100% completely impossible. Not consciously, but unconsciously. And no matter how hard I’ve tried to “tell myself” that it IS possible, and I need to be me, and that the world is changing and favors “softer” entrepreneurs and bosses – you can only do so much with rational thought and convincing arguments. This stuff is so old it’s stuck deep inside my body somewhere.

Butn now I have a new role model. Not just from reading a book or a magazine, but from meeting a real, live human being.

And I’m insanely grateful – to the point where tears are coming to my eyes as I’m writing this – for living in a time and a world, where it was possible to have experience all of that these past few days.

Tony is tangible, living proof, that you can achieve both happiness and extreme financial success (screw the money, really, but they’ve always somehow been part of some argument from the “other” side of me) by being true to MY values and with the kinds of weird combination of skills and talents I happen to have. Even though those values and qualities are QUITE different from those that almost all of the rest of the business world are living by. That is powerful.

In fact, I think Tony is not just the best person in the world to deliver that message to me in a way that really sunk in. He’s probably the ONLY person in the world who could do that.

Tony, if you ever happen to read this: Thank you! You have no idea how much it meant to me to finally have someone to identify with. It is beyond words. It reaches wide and deep into my entire being.

Thank you.

Postscript:

Apologies in advance for possibly crossing your intimacy boundaries here, but the next thing that happened was that actual tears started flowing. I’m writing this on the plane ride home, so I just went straight to the airplane bathroom for some privacy and cried for at least 20 minutes. Beautiful — (well, actually, there was a mirror that I happened to look in, and I can tell you I ain’t that pretty when I’m weeping, but it was still beautiful event in another sense) — tears of healing.

An important nugget of information is that the people in my life who had a big heart and were connected with their spiritual selves also happened to be either (a) miserable (b) weak, (c) poor, and (d) in pretty bad health, or a combination of them. All of them lived very unfulfilled lives. So I learned early to associate my spiritual side with everything I didn’t want in life, and to stick it away somewhere and try and be “that other thing” that seemed to bring about an easier life.

That sobbing sound you just heard was the sound of that 30-odd year old rift inside the core of my being healing.

Finally … thank you to Gary for providing the opportunity to share a meal together. I’m serious. Yes, I paid $6K and helped Gary get his book on the best-seller list. (Congratulations on that, btw.) But the fact that he even offered this opportunity was the reason all of this happened, and it was well worth it, and I’m just glad it actually helped spread the word about the book (it’s good … get it).

And thanks also for the intro Tony.

And to both of you for writing your books. You didn’t have to write those books, to share so much of yourselves as you have done, but you did, and I’m grateful that you did.

Most of all, thanks to both of you for being who you are.

And thanks to you, my reader, for staying with me till the end here.

And for being who you are.

Oh boy, if we could all just do that, life would be so much simpler, it’s insane…