Reflections On Finding My Passion And Early Steps In My Entrepreneurial Journey

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Most of this blog has been about broad intellectual topics, but if you’ll forgive some self-indulgence, I’m going to begin to share some more personal anecdotes. I just finished a post on passion and what I advocate for how to find it, and now I’m going to give you a small glimpse into some of the life choices that led me here today. Though there’s a good chance that a fair amount of this is just connecting the dots looking backward as Steve Jobs likes to say, I have no way of knowing.

For most of my life, athletics were my core passion, but athletics began to fade after series of misdiagnosed back injuries, that first occurred in 7th grade, and began to develop into chronic injuries that I was unable to overcome throughout high school despite many hours of physical therapy and disciplined training.

My passion for sports began at a very young age and I’d have to consult my family for more accuracy. But I know I put myself out there when I was very little. I was more athletic than most of my 3 year old peers and was pushing myself pre-kindergarten. At my Pre-K (a year between preschool and kindergarten) I was unsatisfied spending my recesses on the little kid’s yard, so I lobbied to cross over the chain link fence where the big kids (first and second graders, big right?) were playing soccer. I don’t think this was an easy sell, no one to my knowledge had done it before, but I proved I could more than hold my own. After I made the trek over to the big kid’s side of the yard many of friends began joining in. You could say I was the Jackie Robinson of pre-kindergarten sports. Soon we formed a soccer team that played in a league outside of school. We called ourselves the Big Green (after the amazing movie, of course) and went on to become a micro soccer dynasty, losing just twice in our 5 year history and racking up a shelf full of trophies. Micro soccer was just 4 on 4 on a small field that allowed youngsters like us to develop our foot skills and teamwork more easily. I have found memories of regularly zipping through my opponents racking up consecutive goals just minutes apart.

As I got older many of my afternoons were spent practicing, many weekends were spent competing and many summers were spent at sports camps. In my downtime at home I played many video games, usually sports games. Though if I wasn’t playing sports games, I was probably playing long RPG (Role Playing Games) like the Final Fantasy series. These RPG’s were great because they weaved long complicated story lines together, frequently culminating in a big world changing idea, like a corporation that controlled the world, or a mysterious phenomenon that sent people back in time and showed how their lives we’re all interconnected. I’m sure these early influences had an effect on my current inclinations towards big picture thinking and weaving disparate theories together.

Two of my strongest passions now are for big ideas and making them happen through entrepreneurship. The life of the mind began to take root around the age of my Bar Mitzvah (in case you were wondering I now consider myself an atheist though culturally jewish), which was also 7th grade, probably coincidentally, maybe luckily timed with my injuries. Because at some point late senior year I called it quits indefinitely on my athletic career (it’s still on hold 8 months later, granted I’m still a push up and sit up enthusiast and exercise bike aficionado) for one because the frustration of not being able to play even close to my potential was becoming unbearable. I was in purgatory. I could play, just not well. I was never big, so my whole game was based on speed and quickness. At one point in middle school my teammates nicknamed me “the flash” after a string of breakaway goals in consecutive games. But post-injury my bursts of quickness could be sustained no longer than flashes in a pan.  The second reason for calling it quits was that my life of the mind had been growing steadily the last few years and was now bursting at the seams, salivating for more of my time and energy.

The next 6 months were anything but fun, but I knew I was making the right decision. I knew delaying gratification was part of the deal for a better future. I was at the beginning of my startup career, I had a really big idea but no idea how to make it happen. I jumped in the deep end and tried to swim, and I did, but I got slapped around…a lot. I was putting in a lot of energy and not getting a lot of return. I would meet big fish like Leo Laporte, Kevin Rose,  Jason Calacanis and Saul Griffith (though the relationship with Saul was longer standing from when I reached out to him about digital fabrication), impress them in the moment, receive verbal commitments of help and be on cloud nine the rest of the night, but then be blown off the following day.

Aside: I don’t hold any resentments against any of these people, it was very much a matter of circumstance. I welcomed any positive interaction I had with them as an undeserved reward for a young kid thinking big, but coasting on potential. Any help I did get from them thereafter was greatly appreciated, but that’s not to say I wasn’t heavily disappointed when I couldn’t get my emails returned. I also must admit at the times I did get help I wasn’t always ready to take maximum advantage of it. But it’s all part of the process of growing into my own. And the interactions I did have with these people were highlights that definitely served as fuel to keep going. My thought process after rejection went something like, “I may only get a glimmer of their attention now, but if I keep going we’ll be collaborating in no time.”

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I was the drunk hook up. I was the new kid on the block. I still am, but I can feel the tide turning. I can’t prove it to you now but you’ll see, the proof will be in the pudding the next few months. Now I receive comments like, “You know you’re going to rule the world, Max”, “Max, you just know everybody don’t you?” I’m flattered. But things certainly aren’t downhill from here. But miraculously they feel like it. I’ve done enough conscious mind hacking to align the dopamine reward centers in mind with working hard and making a difference. I put value out into the world and it comes back to me. I’m addicted, what can I say. But I’m not on career milestone blitz either. My goal is to live a healthy, long sustainable life, full of impact, fun and love. My first foray into adult intellectual communities was with the futurist community who deliberated on ideas of Accelerating Change and the Singularity. I interned with the Institute for the Future last summer and nearly with Singularity University this summer, and while I have scaled back my involvement in futurist communities some (to be explained in a future post), my long term orientation has not left me, and I hope it never does. And what that means is that although there’s still a big disparity for me between effort and reward I know I’m in it for the long haul, and the last few years have been a time of building a foundation and paying my dues. At some point that equation actually flips polarity and you begin to get rewarded when you barely put in any effort. I’m far from there, but things are beginning to speed up for me nonlinearly. All the hours I put in the last two years to develop myself, expand my connections and mind set the stage for the gap year I’m now taking.

But I was telling you how the last semester of high school was full of sacrifice. I skipped dances for conferences, I skipped picnics for lunch meetings, I skipped parties for the chance to finally have a few concentrated hours to iterate the next version of my executive summary. I also kept up with a very challenging and time consuming course load. I knew I couldn’t drop my studies then, as much as I knew from an opportunity cost’s perspective they were wasting my time. I also needed to do well if I still wanted my parents support and the freedom they had given me to pursue these entrepreneurial activities. And there was pressure to finish school with a good academic record after I had maintained one all four years and not drop the ball at the finish line, in large part for college admission’s sake. So I was sleep deprived and felt like I was working two jobs and not having much fun.

But I had something very few of my peers did: Passion and purpose. And the farther I began to venture into this entrepreneurial world the more disconnected and out of place I felt in the school environment. My social life was never spectacular in high school but that semester I really turned the power off and it rusted and rotted. In many ways this was a conscious decision. I was never that connected with my peers, I always felt different, (though along the way I adopted a belief that I should be able to have fun with anybody in the moment no matter our differences, but I didn’t have the skill to pull that off at the time)  and I knew we’d all be scattered around the country in 6 months anyway. So I set out at first to create a new network of people I knew and later a new network of friends.

One of the great things about finding your passion and purpose before finding your true friends is that it becomes much easier to find friends you are truly compatible with on many levels. Especially, if you learn how to seek people out and social network very well like I did. Finding friends you respect at a deep level is so important because you become who you surround yourself with, and now I get to choose who I surround myself with. Most of my friends now are in the 22-27 range. I just turned 19. I stole the “I’m the youngest person in the room” card from one of my precocious 22 year old friends, who is pushing 23, and there’s usually an age vacuum between us — no competition.  But my conversations with my new circle of friends are at a higher level than I ever had before (my conversations with one friend in high school excepted, who was an awesome intellectual peer and we had amazing conversations at a theoretical level for a straight year and half, but we began to diverge when our world views as entrepreneur and musician began to disagree). My new circle of peers push me every time we interact. We can hit high lofty theoretical crescendos and then bring it back down to reality, creating actionable next steps each of can take to achieve our goals.  And that feeling is simply amazing. It’s soul filling.