Nov 19, 2021

Choose happiness

My friend’s dad is this biker, brick wall, ice hockey defenseman — and one of those unassuming stoics that talks about golf, not dead Greek guys. When he got divorced, he handled it like you’d expect, like any zen-like mountain-of-a-man would. He didn’t know it, but he inspired me to handle conflict like him for decades after.

I remember talking to him when he got home from his shift at the warehouse. He’d sit back at the kitchen table, sipping from a whisky glass that was almost disappeared in his big fist. We’d tell him random stories about our up-to-no-good projects that we probably shouldn’t share with adults. He’d sit back with a smile and listen, interjecting here and there with a word of encouragement or caution.

Here was a big romantic lug who’d put a pro-hockey career on the back-burner because he cared more about love. He’d worked long hours and started a side business power-washing buildings, just to build his castle for him and his family. And here he was, going into his second divorce.

This time, he knew he didn’t want a fight. “I want her to have half. She’ll be happy, I’ll be happy and we won’t drag this out.”

Here were two romantics who loved each other but after a short marriage, were now accepting they wouldn’t overcome their differences. He wanted to do the right thing, honour their time together and see her off as best he could.

Over the years after, in love and in business, I’d try to leave partnerships the same way. Even if I had to sue someone to hold up their end of the deal, I’d still want to do right by them. Sometimes it weighed heavy.

Eventually I built organisations that employed young entrepreneurs, and was proud that it supported so many to grow, to overcome their own afflictions, and to turn them towards success.

If you’ve mentored before, you’ve probably helped someone who’s so caught up in their own struggles, that they don’t see what you’re putting on the line for them. They’re too focused on proving something to themselves. Well, to prove my character to myself, I’d give these young entrepreneurs another chance, risking something of mine. (Yes, I see the irony now.)

But sometimes when that didn’t work out, it was messy.

For me, I’d still think of my friend’s dad, and try to leave them in a good place, even if it cost me significantly and even if we were going our separate ways.

I hoped they’d appreciate that.

A while back, I caught up with the happy bear after a round of golf. He was still solid as a rock, and we cracked open a few beers. When we talked about his ex, I realised I’d missed the point all this time.

He didn’t do it expecting to be appreciated. He did it to avoid a long, drawn-out divorce. This was for her, but also for him. He wanted to get up the next day with a fresh start.

He paid the price so he could wake up the next day and go golfing.

Looking back, I’m glad I consistently did what I thought was right, fair and generous. But he helped me realize this need to be appreciated was getting in my way.

In all my conflicts and break-ups, I woke up the next hoping to be appreciated, if not by them then by others.

Looking for appreciation gets in the way of being happy about the person I’ve become. It distracts me from the beautiful, open road ahead.

There’s no escaping our pasts, but I can still wake up today and choose to be happy.

Seems silly not to, since I already paid for it.

What am I up to these days?

I’m a new parent, and prioritising my attention on our new rhythms as a family. I’m also having fun with slow creative pursuits: making a few apps, writing, etc.

Work-wise, I’m trekking along at a cozy pace, with a few non-exec, advisory roles for cryptography and microchip manufacturing programs.

In the past, I've designed peer-learning programs for Oxford, UCL, Techstars, Microsoft Ventures, The Royal Academy Of Engineering, and Kernel, careering from startups to humanitech and engineering. I also played a role in starting the Lean Startup methodology, and the European startup ecosystem. You can read about this here.

Contact me

Books & collected practices

  • Peer Learning Is - a broad look at peer learning around the world, and how to design peer learning to outperform traditional education
  • Mentor Impact - researched the practices used by the startup mentors that really make a difference
  • DAOistry - practices and mindsets that work in blockchain communities
  • Decision Hacks - early-stage startup decisions distilled
  • Source Institute - skunkworks I founded with open peer learning formats and ops guides, and our internal guide on decentralised teams