“Move fast and break things.”
-Facebook’s old mantra for its developers
Last long weekend I went to New York City to celebrate my 29th birthday. It’s really hard to believe that I am entering the last year of my twenties! Time really does fly by. I am determined to make this last year a blast and hope to set the stage for kicking ass in my 30’s. Luckily, I had some awesome friends with whom to spend Day 1 and Day 2 of Year 29. I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the first time, ate delicious Korean BBQ in K-Town, and saw a show at Carnegie Hall.
Two of the friends I visited were friends from my study abroad days in Beijing. That time in Beijing was really a special time for me. The Americans I was lucky enough to study with in my program were some of the most interesting, kind, open-minded, and cerebral and wacky people I’ve ever met. It was a unique time when I was surrounded by the kind of people who were interested in the same sort of things I was. Special circumstances such as studying abroad as a young person in a foreign country tend to draw people who are in the same situation together, and it was no different for the people in my program. They were all there for each other as we struggled through some of culture shock we encountered living as Americans in China.
It makes me a little sad though to think back on those times, because this was before I changed my life philosophy, and I was then was so ambitious and success-driven that all I cared about was my studies and internship. I did not pay attention to the friendships I could have nurtured and fostered. Because of this, I’ve vowed since to never lose sight of the good people in front of me. I don’t want to look back at my current life and think, “If only I worked less and focused more on the good people in my life then.”
As they say, though, better late than never, and I’ve been lucky enough to grow closer to some of the people in my program after we returned to the United Stations, such as two of the people I visited in NYC. Both of these friends ran the half-marathon with me in DC last year, and they both decided to sign up with me as a team for the Ragnar Trail New England Race in June this year. It is an overnight relay trail race through Western Massachusetts, and I am very excited about it! This will be my first race since recovering from my IT band injury and also my first ever trail race. Right now I am focused on filling up my 8-person team and getting back to baseline fitness before I begin training specifically for this race in a couple of months. At the moment, I have worked my way up to running 4.5 miles three times a week and will keep that mileage more or less steady before attempting more. I also lift weights in a weight training class twice a week and continue to do the exercises my physical therapist prescribed me. The injury apparently came about because of some muscle imbalances in my leg, and lifting heavy weights should help with correcting it. Not to mention that I always feel my best when I am both running and doing weights, and not just one or the other. As my friend who is a personal trainer says, “Focusing on only one or the other makes you only half-fit.”
While walking around NYC, I had a very interesting conversation with one of my friends. She works in a startup-like division of a nonprofit, and I currently work in a startup and have worked in another startup previously as well. We both love startup culture and ideas and were discussing the things that draw us to it. Speaking for myself personally, I love the fact that generally almost every single person working in a startup is very hard working and driven. Quite frankly, I’m worried that I would have a hard time working at a larger and more established company, since I wouldn’t know what to do with people who were NOT hard working and simply clocked in and out.
We also discussed our fitness and nutrition regimens and how even though we are both adults in our mid to late twenties, there is never a shortage of things we are still trying to figure out. I mentioned before that I am trying to get back to basics after putting on weight while recovering from my injury, and I have been experimenting with what I usually thought of as my “healthy” diet. I was a vegetarian for many years, and even before and after being a vegetarian, I never was a huge meat eater. After reading a lot about nutrition through the Precision Nutrition website, I realized that I probably haven’t been getting enough protein, and I’ve been trying to add a little more protein to my diet through eating more poultry, fish, and lean dairy. Per Precision Nutrition’s recommendations, I have also cut back a little on carbs. It’s been surprising how much better such a small tweak makes me feel! It’s also humbling to realize how there is always room for improvement. I’ve been eating my whole life, yet I found that there were so many things I didn’t know about something so basic as what to put in my mouth.
You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this and what nutrition and fitness have to do with startup culture. Hang in there – I’ll explain. If you work in the startup world, you’ve probably heard of a book called The Lean Startup. (I confess that I actually have yet to read this book, but I’ve heard enough said about it that I think I have a good understanding of the basics.) The book states that you don’t know for sure what your customers want. Market research can only give you so much. All you have is a guess, so you should start with modest offerings in products and iterate on them based on market feedback. Agile software development takes this approach as well: rather than create a fully robust, final product based on a drawn up plan, you create minimal versions of a product and iterate on the product after feedback from the customer. This is essentially applying the scientific method to business: you come up with a hypothesis first and test it through experimentation. Only then can you know whether or not your hypothesis (and product) is valid and worthwhile.
I realized that I should apply this to my own life: I should always test out different hypotheses in my life in order to learn and improve. The extra protein thing was a small example of this – my whole life I assumed that I didn’t need a lot of protein, but after adding more protein to my diet, I feel a lot better and stronger. I feel that I should continue to be iterative in my life – who knows what could be changed or improved upon. It makes sense to take a scientific approach to this and only change one thing at a time, the same way a scientist would only change one variable at a time in his or her experiments.
I can be pretty hard on myself at times, especially when I make mistakes. It still makes me sad that during my study abroad days I did not focus more on my friendships, but I realized that I was essentially “trying out” a hypothesis that turned out to be incorrect, i.e., work and school matter more than everything else. I realized that I should TRY to make more mistakes. As long as I learn from them, then there is no reason to have regrets. That’s why I always liked Facebook’s old mantra, “Move fast and break things.” It’s only after trying stuff out, failing, and eliminating dead ends that you can figure out what works.