My 5 Biggest Lessons from 20 Years in Silicon Valley
Silicon Valley – the nearly $3 trillion neighborhood that all the titans of technology call home. The chrome-faced, fast-paced, never-sleeping valley that is ironically full of nap-pods, and where ‘angels’ and ‘unicorns’ are far from fictional – they’re coffee-line chit-chat for messy-haired startup owners and Armani-clad investors.
I spent 20 years taking in everything Silicon Valley, and its make-it-happen atmosphere had to offer. In return, I gave it everything I had so I’d call it a fair deal.
Two decades and one burnout later though, I decided to jump off the fast-train to work in mental health and well-being – something that had wriggled its way closer to my heart while I was busy shooting emails and crushing deadlines.
Not that my work with the many fantastic companies I worked with in Silicon Valley wasn’t close to my heart. It was, but perhaps a little too close? Most workaholics would understand that love-hate relationship.
So, what I want to share with you here are the lifelong lessons my exciting, exhausting yet invaluable time at Silicon Valley taught me.
The beauty of these lessons? They apply to anyone trying to accomplish anything, anywhere in the world. I hope to give you at least about five years of value in exchange for the five minutes you spend reading this.
Let’s get on with it, shall we?
Lesson 1: You simply cannot please everyone
Yes, you’ve been told before, and it’s true so I’ll say it again. Especially when you’re being effective and trying to get the job done, you’re going to make people unhappy.
Even with that empathy knob turned up to full capacity, and even if you make a conscious effort to be kind and thoughtful, you just can’t please everyone. So make your peace with that sooner rather than later.
Lesson 2: People over project
When I was at the peak of my Silicon Valley career, a mentor of mine told me that I could take on any project and get it done, but I left some serious collateral damage in the process.
I started my career in a very structured corporate environment with an AT&T call center. There was little room for tardiness of any kind there. And I brought that management style with me to my first management job in Silicon Valley.
Did I get stuff done? Absolutely. Did I leave people drained from the effort rather than exhilarated? Kind of.
I didn’t want to be that leader. I’ve always wanted to empower people. So after facing a few harsh facts, I turned towards a new motto: People over project.
I learned that if you care more about the people, they will carry the project. People really don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Lesson 3: Know and accept that you are different
This one is more literal for me than most of you, perhaps. I was born with an uncorrectable eye condition called Nystagmus, which left me with a significant loss of vision.
But the doctors couldn’t explain the condition to my parents, and so I grew up almost ignoring my disability – acting like it didn’t exist.
I liked that I had the grit to go at life like I had no disability, but in corporate America, I was forced to face my disability head-on, and work with it rather than around it. It also helped me appreciate a lot of other people who didn’t let their disabilities slow them down.
It made me more sensitive to people and myself. All of this, consciously or subconsciously, has been a part of living ‘authentically’ – the core of what I’m trying to help people do today.
Lesson 4: The loudest doesn’t always get the most or know the most
I am still learning how to sit back and watch. And listen. Listen to the explicit and the implicit.
In bustling environments, there are always those that want to be loudest – with their thoughts, opinions, orders, and ideas. They’re not always the people who walk away with the prize, even though it might seem like it.
Being quiet and introspective gives you a much firmer grip on the situation than loudly making your point, no matter how right it is.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not someone who wouldn’t speak up or take due credit. It’s just important to know when that’s required, and when your work can do the talking for you instead.
Lesson 5: Burnout is a real thing!
In a world where even failing needs to be ‘fast,’ you can imagine the speed expectation that comes with the job.
You’re switched on all the time, disrupting, innovating, solving problems, and sleep is for the weak!
Well, I ran in top gear for a little too long, and before I knew it, I was desperately looking for the brakes. I switched tracks, and after 20 years in the ‘biz,’ I quit for a career in mental health and well-being.
It’s important to know that burnout isn’t just a myth and to recognize the signs of burnout when you’re (getting) there.
I like the following article. I hope it enlightens you.
Any other Silicon Valley worker bees, disrupters, alchemists who would like to weigh in with their experiences?