Meta: when I started writing this I intended for it to be brief but any large text box I’m presented with these days feels like an invitation to dump an overload of thoughts I’ve been carrying around in my head for months. Consider the following a brainstream on my life lately.
One of the many joys of being a young person is that everyone wants to give you advice. I say 'joys’ entirely earnestly — I think it’s a uniquely valuable position to be in if you use it right. Asking for advice is probably the easiest way to hotwire a human brain to empathize with and see themselves in you.
I collected a lot of advice during my 6 months of exploration earlier this year. Most of it along the lines of: you should found a company! You should refine a craft! You should do all the things I didn’t do when I was your age but looking back, wish I had! While the advice pointed me in a million different directions, one thing was mutually agreed-upon: I should definitely, absolutely, 110% not become a venture capitalist. Firstly, the entire industry is cringe and transactional. Secondly, how would I ever build any sort of competency if the feedback loops on whether my work is good or not are literally 10 years long??
Fast forward to now and I’m three months into raising my first fund — consider this email a dispatch from the road. My path to merging onto the VC highway involved exploring basically every other option before finally circling back to reconsider this route with renewed appreciation. I’m actually grateful for this — I now know that all the other roads I would otherwise be dreaming of now are in fact not all that idealic to drive on after all.
I’m willing to say it: I think most of the advice I got was bad, actually. Or at least, bad for me. Mostly because if I’m honest with myself, my core competency has been, and probably always will be, people. Becoming a renowned scientist or getting really really good at a craft like design has never held all that much appeal to me. I’m a generalist at heart — I know I can do most things decently well (or at least figure them out) but what I actually excel at is understanding people, packaging their stories, and making them feel seen. What kind of craft is that?
Well, it can take the form of consulting — but that caps out at selling your skills to realize one-off projects that end up feeling even more transactional than VC. Which would be fine except I’ve always known I wanted to build something of my own: a brand, a group of people, a body of work. Without a product in mind ‘company’ never seemed right and ‘non-profit’ felt unnecessarily limiting. Eventually I realized that I could collect my favorite people and their mission-oriented containers (companies) around a pot of money that would align the incentives for me to work with them for the long-term — and that pot of money is called a venture capital fund. Who knew!
The fundraising road so far hasn’t been without bumps — rejection exposure therapy is no joke and extremely under-discussed. But wow is it good for me; I now realize that not having direct experience with high volume rejection was exactly what was keeping me from previously trying literally anything risky. This seems to be the enduring superpower gained by anyone who tries to start something at some point — you don’t just intellectually know that the worst case scenario is simply that people say no — you’ve also felt that reality before so it looms far less large in your mind. Knowing these things to be numbers games where rejections are rarely personal is a priceless perspective that can only be earned by simply doing stuff.
My friend Chris Beiser put this best: “too much of ‘being someone’ prevents the development of ‘doing something’ muscles.” He’s right, and I’d add this: most advice bestowed on young people overrotates on being someone far before we have enough data points to know who that someone should be. Personally, I’d rather be wrong in an interesting way that I learn something from than right in the same boring way as everyone else. Which is another reason why I like the role of being a venture capitalist. It’s our job to focus not on how an idea could go wrong, but how it could go stupidly, magically, world-changingly right. Ambient optimism is great, but applied optimism backed by action and money operating on a power law-driven portfolio is even better.
I think we should all take riskier bets and bigger swings — especially as young people. I’m talking about the kind of big bets that no one would advise you to take except in retrospect — many might call them outliers, wild cards, or contrarian moves. Here’s mine: I’m willing to bet on people that others wouldn’t. Unpopular ideas cost a certain amount of social capital to get behind, sure, but they pale in comparison to the cost of getting behind unpopular or unknown people. People are the most volatile stock of them all because we’re unpredictable — owing to those pesky things called emotions, needs, and primal desires. But we’re also what created our world as it stands today, and what will continue to make and remake it anew.
So I’ll leave you with this: consuming advice is an incredible tool for connection and reflection but it’s no substitute for having done all the stuff you thought you wanted. The latter grants quiet competence in the study of your own motivation while the former can only hope to mimic the advice giver’s confidence and find a way to tune out the voices that constantly question whether the same is true for you.
Start with my words above: do you really want the same things as me? Maybe you value mastery of a craft and a sense of security most of all — in which case I’d take everything I just said with several generous servings of salt. But what I will say is this: I think most people live the majority of their lives trapped in place by a fear of rejection that probably feels worse to stew in than actually experiencing the rejection they fear so dearly itself. Which is a shame, since as Brian Eno put it: “for the world to be interesting, you have to be manipulating it all the time.”
I’ll end this brainstream with an offer: I’m obviously investing now and would love to see how I can help you if you’re thinking of starting a company or raising. I specifically like helping shape company stories — firstname.lastname@example.org :)
Keep your identity small by Paul Graham
I come back to this a lot. Pairs well with Ben Horowitz’s thoughts on contribution over identity.
Our Humanity Depends on the Things We Don’t Sell by Mary Harrington
On sacredness and instrumentalization — I adore this.
For Happiness, Moral Character is More Important Than Intelligence or Money by Rob Henderson
We all knew it, but numbers to back it up every once in awhile are nice.
Storytelling: The American Tradition by Venkatesh Rao
History of storytelling and how it has defined the American way!
Life After Lifestyle by Toby Shorin
An entertaining and informative analysis of where we are in the cultural cycle.
The Perils of Audience Capture by Gurwinder
“How influencers become brainwashed by their audiences.”
On Not Drinking the Kool-Aid by William Deresiewicz
One of my favorite writers and topics (political correctness meets art).
List of intelligentsia circles throughout history by Tyler Altman
A list of lovely low-level cults!
Newsletter Economics in 2022 by Bryne Hobart
Periodic reminder of how many businesses start as newsletters.
Nuclear energy: past, present and future by Julia DeWahl
A truly excellent lay of the nuclear land.
Triangle of Sadness (movie)
Cult classic to come on class subversion and survival.
Us by FKJ: A colors show (song)
Major key: extremely vibey and immersive.
Mashita by Mansur Brown (song)
Minor key: hits deep in the soul.
You falsely think that your fears protect you, your beliefs have made you what you are and your attachments make your life exciting and secure. You fail to see that they are actually a screen between you and life’s symphony.
— The Way to Love by Anthony de Mello
Adored this, Molly. I've been thinking along similar lines lately as it relates to advice and its utility. Advice is mostly a self-reflection vehicle for the advice-giver, which is useful for both of you: useful for them because they get to learn about what they are yearning for (usually the driving force behind the advice), and useful for you because you can learn from their experience (by reflecting on how their advice lands with you.. advice that aligns with us feels expansive; like 'yes, this is what i needed to hear. this resonates.' and advice that doesn't agree with our self image makes us contract).
What advice doesn't do is tell us what *we should do*, only we can do that. That decision needs to come from a combination of self-understanding and personal ambition (what we want to do with our unique set of interests, aspirations, and predispositions). The truth is that no one knows us as well as we know ourselves, but that's an uncomfortable truth because it means: we have to make our own decisions, and live with them. If we blindly take the advice of others, we can say "hey, I just got bad advice and I took it, oh well." But if we do the thing *we* think we should do, we are the ones to blame if it doesn't work. We gave *ourselves* the bad advice! The flip-side is that we are also the ones that get to fully own the win if it goes well, and we tend to be more committed to making a path we chose independently work.. there's something here about complete self-agency being uniquely energizing. But reaching a state where our self-trust and self-awareness meet at some sort of critical point that gives us enough confidence to leap at our own intuition takes time. I think it's worth waiting for, though. Congrats on reaching your critical point :)
An excerpt on resisting advice from one of my recent substack pieces, "you vs. you":
"I was discussing [advice] with a founder friend who said something along the lines of 'I’ve generally found that successful people’s advice is what they would have done to avoid the pain their success required.' Which: true. It’s hard for successful people to give you the “secret sauce”, but they can tell you how to not hate yourself by the end of your journey, so they typically do that, instead. But that advice should not be confused with the advice that will help you win. Because, as I’m about to get into in this piece, that can ultimately only come from one person: yourself."
There's too much to say to this typically wonderful post, but I have to make a minor note first (amidst packing for travel and EOY preparations): I couldn't believe the de Mello quote at the footer! I had no idea how widely, if at all, he was still read. How did you come across him? I find him extremely fun!