With these two words, Steve Jobs welcomed Stanford's graduating class of 2013 on their commencement day. He repeated, “Stay hungry, stay foolish,” and I've been feeling more understanding of his remarks of late. It speaks to some questions I've been thinking about since I left school and entered the “working world” this January; questions like,
With whom should I compare and surround myself in order to be more passionate and more compassionate, more knowledgeable and more experienced?
When should I push myself to improve, and when should I be satisfied with my work?
For whom do I work? Why do I work on the things I do? When should I pivot to something new?
After a couple of months in the wild, I've come to terms with some of my answers to these questions, and my thoughts boil down to the same words Jobs lovingly repeated to the newly graduated.
Moving at rest
Today, I had a brief chat with a good friend of mine at the TEDxPurdueU event about drive and motivation. I also heard a speaker at the event, Mike Asem, contrast idea of hitting milestones and chasing goals to the value of enjoying the journey. In a talk about the start-up mindset, he spoke to the spirit of adventure, of taking risks to embark on creative journeys and “bad ideas”.
I don't want to be at rest. I want to keep moving, keep pushing myself into more challenges, to see where I go next. I'm surprised often by where I arrive.
That doesn't mean that I'm unsatisfied with where I am, or that I beat myself up over my work. On the contrary, I'm pretty happy with the opportunities I've captured and the community I've found off-high school. But my days are made better by the realization that I'll wake up every week to talk to people who can elevate me towards my passion, and I'll go to sleep every night having learned something new about how to run a better company or how to understand others more complexly or how to become a better artist or a better writer or a better advocate for my ideas.
Staying hungry doesn't only mean being thirsty for more progress. It means putting yourself in a room full of people who are veterans at how you want to impact your community. It means immersing yourself with so much forward motion, so many driven people, so much positive energy, that when you stay still, you feel like you're drowning in the current of everyone else's sprint forward.
I openly reject the sleep is for the weak, caffeine is the fountain of youth mantra of a lot of the “overachieving” stereotype, especially in the start-up culture where that kind of a mindset is more prevalent. I might work long nights sometimes, but I have no intention of doing work that doesn't fill that moment of work with some sense of optimism in myself. Let's say, even though I stay hungry, I'm a picky eater.
The beautiful thing about this idea is that you don't have to be at the top to be the agent of the idea. Wherever you are in life, in education, in career, you can find people who are better than you, and you can put yourself in the middle of the best. You can step into the stream of positive energy that pushes you forward when you feel like you're standing still. I've found that to be invaluable.
So here's what I've come to know about the three questions I asked myself:
First, I should compare myself not to the people around me, but to who I want to be. Years down the line, when I'm 25, 30, 40, what am I doing? Who am I talking to? Where am I challenging old ideas? That's the question I ask myself to set long-term goals.
Second, I should be satisfied with my work only to the point where that work makes me happy. I want to wake up every morning looking forward to the next twenty-four hours, and if I can hit that mark and do something useful in the long run, I'm satisfied. I don't need 60-hour work weeks, but if it's a busy week, I might take it.
And lastly, as Jada Hoerr so eloquently spoke at TEDxPurdueU, I work for those people thirty-degrees to my right, those who metaphorically live next door but live without the privilege of pondering their career potential or pursuing their dreams because the world didn't work for them. Challenging the status quo in education has been my North Star for a long time, and putting myself in front of more diverse perspectives on learning has only strengthened it for me.
The inertia of unity
There's the caveat to being in a world of progress. There's no point in this exercise without other people. If we can't move forward as a community and a world, my own forward motion only pushes me into rougher waters, alone.
The only way to wade through those white waters is together, to immerse ourselves with our better versions, so we become better by virtue of being together.
I stay hungry for that community.
There are many reasons for my absence from writing this year, but the best ones by far are the friends and people who's talked to me or worked with me in some way as I try to grow as a person, a student, and an entrepreneur – you've helped me pick up something new every day and consider success from new angles, and for my progress so far, I owe you. I've tried so much to surround myself with people from whom I can learn something new, and let me tell you, it's been a blast.
A special thanks to the TEDxPurdueU team, who's included me in am amazing, fulfilling experience of putting together such a diverse, bright, event this weekend from which I learned so much.
If you enjoyed this piece, you might also enjoy my next post, When failure is success.
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