It was a Saturday afternoon. I sat in the basement of my dorm, head heavy from a night spent smoking, drinking and a half assed attempt to focus at a late night “board meeting”. A couple of beers, pulls and one episode of Cosmos later, I woke in one of my classic strange moods.
The type of mood where you feel entirely inadequate. Where the world seems so vast- an endless stream of knowledge, power, influence, love, passion and people, and one feels so little.
In these moments I am spurred to seek knowledge. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s a pacifying gesture- learn one more thing and there’s one less unknown, one less mystery. Perhaps it is a half hearted attempt to make myself feel smarter (or at the very least, not entirely stupid).
In the case of this Saturday afternoon I began as I normally do by making a to-do list. Never mind the fact that I had already made a listmoz online, made a note on my laptop, or written down every upcoming event on a notepad in my room, there was just something so consoling about making a new list.
The feeling of control, of having your life put together, that comes from writing down what you should do but probably won’t is not to be slighted.
Anyways, as I sat here musing on 5G network connections, 2020 rollout dates, millimeter waves and antenna design diagrams that I had no hope of parsing, I felt a different emotion well up inside. It was one I don’t feel often and one I find quite paralyzing.
The fear of being inadequate, of not quite being good enough. A fear that I didn’t deserve to be where I was and I fear that I had no idea where I was going. I had just turned down two fantastic internships in tech and research to instead join a startup team at Yale trying to build a 2 sided marketplace connecting peak level musicians with their fans and followers. It was exciting, it was fun, it was mindlessly boring at times, and it was scary.
There was no pay, no guarantee that anything would come out of it (not quite sure why I’m writing in past tense as this is very much real right now) but I did it anyways. It’s always been my dream to start my own company. To build something from the ground up- to give it direction, purpose, and eventually to sell it to someone and make a boatload of cash (cough cough, fingers crossed).
All that said however, I can’t help but question whether I’ve made the right decisions. I love my co-founders, awesome guys, fun to hang out with, great with ideas, each with his own quirks, but great as a team. But I sometimes ask myself if I’ve devoted time and energy to the right place.
At the end of the day I want to be building things. And building things for myself not anyone else. Whether it’s software, a team, an app, a product, or a god damn building, I want to be building things, making things and bringing things to life. Yet the fear I was feeling right now was chipping away at that exhilaration I had felt when I became co-founder. When I signed the papers that accepted our company into an incubator. When we went out for our first round of beers as equal partners in a potentially world-class stupid startup.
It was the fear of failure.
Here I was, a junior at Yale. Not the stupidest person in the world but not even close to being smart. Not the most social person in the world, but not even close to being an out-going, egregious frat boy. Not the most interesting person in the world but someone who always yearned for more- more ideas, more knowledge, more travel, more passion.
I’ve always felt like I don’t deserve to be here, at this elite institution. Amongst folks who’s spring break trips consist of weekends in Barcelona and Mondays in Hong Kong, to incredibly, breathtakingly smart researchers, philosophers and writers. When people talk about interning with Obama, to doing cognitive studies on monkeys in the Cayman Islands, you find yourself wondering- what the hell did I do?
All that said, this fear of failure puzzles me more than anything else. I consider myself decently introspective, yet failure is a word whose definition eludes me. What does it mean to “fail”?
I guess it’s an intensely personal answer but for me failure would be the abject, unnecessary loss of time. That is, at the core, what I believe all fear is. Time is everything. It’s all you have, it’s all you will every truly have and everything else is a transformation of it.
I’m rambling on at this point but I think what it comes down to is that I’m afraid that the choices I’m making aren’t right. And I think at some level everyone is. We’re all players in a massive game of life, with no rules save the ones we write. There is no endgame- you simply stop playing. And I guess what scares me is the thought that when it’s my turn to cash out, no one will ever know my name.