Change Is Not Easy

Change is not easy. Fred Wilson blogged about how if you seek to understand, or seek to see the world differently, Change.  He is seeing change in his portfolio companies.  In some of my portfolio companies, I have seen that too.  It’s a part of the business.  That concept extends to life in general.  The other day I posted about how older people can integrate themselves into the startup world.  For them, it might be a sea change.

When you change you need to adopt the Boy Scout attitude of “be prepared”. You are prepared to make a move, but the rest of the universe probably isn’t ready for you to make that move.  The world likes stasis.  It doesn’t like kinetic energy.  It likes to think it does, but the evidence shows that the world wants sameness.

In the comments on that blogpost, I linked to an article by a person who joined the AirBnB team.  His approach was perfect.  Instead of being the old person lecturing like a parent to a child, he asked a lot of questions.  He saw his role as dual-not just an operating officer who was charged with making a lot of decisions but also an intern.

If you are older and go to a startup, using that tactic will help. Being a follower and a leader is a tricky path to walk.

It occurred to me that change is really easy to say and incredibly difficult to do.   For example, we are seeing a lot of articles and speculation around artificial intelligence, automation, robots, machine learning and other technological innovation.  It is topical, but I think the real reason is there is an underlying terror.

Part of the terror stems from people being exposed.  If you are playing the game and not trying to standout, you don’t want automation.  If you are striving and trying to go for the stratosphere, automation helps you get there.

When the automation affected low wage commoditized jobs, it was okay.  Now that it’s affecting high quality, high paying jobs that people spent years learning how to do well, it’s terrifying.  Pardon me if I am not spending my days worrying about this.  No one worried about me.  There was no net.  When I hear taxi companies and hoteliers whine about losing asset value on their businesses, I think about seat values and streams of income we lost when the pits closed.  I think about how a stupid DOJ memo from an inside employee with an agenda cratered CME stock $150.00 per share in one day.  Where is my government protection?  Where is my bailout?  Please pass the bitter herbs.

I was a person that was automated out of a job.  I was a floor trader.  I was really fucking good at it.  Machines trade now.  You really have little chance of making money trading these days-which is another factor pushing capital into indexing.  I was forced to change.  Believe me, if I could still make money trading I’d be trading.  The path I chose suits my skill set really really well.  Change wasn’t a choice.  It was change or die.

The change in your life is gut wrenching.  I could try to explain it but words really don’t suffice.  You go from having meaning and purpose to having nothing.  I read a lot about failure in startup land.  I empathize but try going from pulling down big money every year to nothing or losing it all.  Try living off your savings for a decade.  Try seeing your friends go through divorces, go broke, kill themselves, or become shadows of themselves.  I have seen it, heard it, lived it.

When many of them tried to change the world didn’t accept them.  They didn’t fit exactly into the holes.  Even when we got advanced degrees, we were told we weren’t “qualified”. “Here’s to the crazy ones….”. People in startup land say that all the time, but the hierarchy is really uncomfortable with it.

Inside, you burn.  You were/are insanely competitive and now you can’t compete.  You feel hate, anger and all the emotions that one would associate with a death in the family.  You feel trapped.  Caged.  You try to find a normal routine like you had but you can’t.  Frustration sets in and you lose hope. I know it and had to work through it.  To say it’s brutal is an understatement.  Floor traders aren’t a public bunch, but I’d love to see them comment on what they faced when they left the floor.

You are told by person after person that you don’t have the “necessities”.

People that already exist inside industries don’t really want to accept the change when confronted with a person that is an outlier.  What do I mean by this?  Suppose you were a person that had spent 10 years in an industry.  All of a sudden, some person shows up that has 0 experience, but is a pretty independent personality.  They work their ass off.  They are street smart, but not book smart.  They are personable and make friends easily.  They adjust on the fly.  Their background is unintelligible.  There are no definable skills.  Do you hire that person or not?  If you have to work with this person, are you envious?  Terrified of them because of their lack of conformity and independence?  Some deliberately try to screw the new person over or get rid of them.  They discriminate.

I find that people talk a good game around change but when they are confronted by it don’t really like it so much.

One thing I found is a lot of people telling me “You can’t.”  I was talking with my friend Jordan Melamed on his decision to quit trading and become a film maker.  Everyone told him he was crazy.  Everyone told him he couldn’t.  He’s made three films.  He’s not out of the woods but he is plodding down the path.  Some old floor traders have built resorts, or become small business owners.  I speak to a lot of them privately all the time.  They are out there, searching for their place.  It’s hard. I don’t know many that became corporate.  Corporates don’t understand them.  “You can’t” isn’t a part of the vernacular.  “I can, I will, I must” is more like it.

Roadblocks are set up.  Whether intentional or unintentional, they are there.  When you decide to make a change, the world might not want you to change or accept the change.  You are going to get ZERO help to overcome anything. It’s your own private obstacle course.  It’s often a singular fight.  You might talk to people about it and then they have the same idea, or coopt your idea. Then they want your help!

Turns out, the people that really change the world are the ones that have ideas that upset a lot of apple carts.  Most people don’t like their apple cart turned over.

You learn a lot about yourself when you change.  You find that the world doesn’t owe you anything.  You find intestinal fortitude and MTXE aren’t just phrases.  Even if you have worked your ass off and gotten qualified, the world owes you nothing.  However, many in the world will tell you that you owe the world everything.  You learn a lot about other people when you change.  You learn about the world when you change.  It’s not always good or comfortable or “fair”.  Sometimes it’s about survival.  At least as floor traders, we understood survival.  We understood change.  We lived it, every second of every day.