Passion – The Search for Transcendence
Posted on 08 July 2010
I was reading an article in New York Magazine today which talked about how parenting turns out not to make most folks happier. I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching lately, and I think that something in that article helped me understand what drives us. Referencing Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard psychologist, they mention his belief that "what children really do, he suspects, is offer moments of transcendence, not an overall improvement in well-being".
I think that realizing that anyone with hope seeks moments of transcendence. Some find those moments within their church, others within their family. Some seek achievement, others fame, and others ultimately seek to reach a point where they are free to disengage from the world and live in a mountain cabin.
A few weeks ago, I happened upon Chris Dixon’s blog, and a post entitled Builders and Extractors, which expanded upon an old January 2009 Tim O’Reilly post Work on Stuff That Matters: First Principles. Though Chris’s post was from the point of view of venture capitalists, the same holds true of the entrepreneurs they fund, and even further down to those who are would-be entrepreneurs or who use entrepreneurial techniques outside of the small-company world.
Some people seek to extract value out of inefficiency — the New York rental real estate market is a glorious example — brokers and landlords know that they’ve got the upper hands in an emotional transaction, and as a result, people pay 15% of the annual rent to a broker who may spend a few hours showing them places and often uses less-than-ethical bait-and-switch or scare tactic to make applying for an apartment a fear-centric decision. Doesn’t appeal to me at all from a transcendence point of view, though when I worked retail in college, I do recall at least feeling like I could be less of a schmuck than the alternatives.
Others seek to create value by building things. He refers to Google, who in any head-to-head I’ve seen them in, I’ve sided with because I believe in what’s often said about their stance on their role in the internet, which is to do things which increase internet usage, because they will ultimately benefit from increased internet usage. It’s a model of "plenty" and not of scarcity, and in its openness allows for distributed benefits. When you’re competing on an open platform, you win by being better, not by exclusivity agreements.
Building platforms that create value is one thing that gives me transcendent moments. Building processes, busting out a quick hack, integrating disparate knowledge to create insights…
And then there’s another side of me that yearns to be creative and expressive. Despite the fact that I’ve got a voice that — no joke — landed me the only non-singing part in a musical performance of Robin Hood in 8th grade, I have those moments when singing. I have them when writing. I have them when walking the streets of Manhattan (except when I hear in my head the theme to Mary Tyler Moore, or more recently Empire State of Mind, which get me back to thinking about changing the world in a business sense), like tonight’s walk around the Upper West Side where I had a wonderful time looking at what I could tell from peoples’ eyes. When I think of eyes and the city, my first thought tends to be to the eye doctor’s sign near the gas station in The Great Gatsby looking down upon the happenings like Lady Macbeth’s conscience. Tonight, rather than watching the eyes and wondering what they see, I began to think about what they say.
What do these things have in common? Experiencing creation. I want to create, and I want to experience it. And if I’m going to find sustained transcendence, they together are more a need than a want.
In line with that, I will be starting a few projects which I’ll cover here on the blog, and I’m always open to hearing from folks looking for a collaborator, whether on the creative side or business/tech. I’ve got ideas and capabilities, but I realize that I’ll be able to get more done with collaborators with different ideas or skills if we’re passionate about the same thing about a project. I’m open to being a sounding board for things, as long as you realize that I self-scored a 43 on the Autism Spectrum Quotient Test, and I might be what would be considered brutal if asked to be completely honest. A decade ago I apologized to a colleague for my bluntness, and she told me "if I don’t want your opinion, I’ll stop asking".
I’m tired of being unfulfilled, and I get just as much pleasure helping someone achieve the same kind of transcendence.
Want to work on something?