Falling Out Of Life
Asking important questions and an update on everything.
About a month ago, I fell out of life. That was the only way I could describe it to friends. It was as if I had woken up in a past version of my own life.
When I sat down to write, every draft seemed stale and boring. I had been working on a book outline and could not bear to look at the mess on the page. Not to be rescued in its current state. Overnight, my work felt limited and trivial.
Everything in my apartment, too, seemed out of place, like an echo of history. There were stacks of books I didn’t want to open, furniture that was suddenly in the way. My days were permeated by a sense of detachment. The city appeared quiet, flat, as if drained of color.
Was it time, and that thought crossed my mind during sleepless nights, to burn it all down? To start fresh, move to Florida or Bali, and open a surf shop or become a yoga teacher? Or was there a way to breathe new life into my work, to rearrange and reshape my world and let it reflect what had happened to me?
I have been on a bumpy road of personal transformation ever since I joined a newly-formed hedge fund right before COVID and was subsequently let go. But the trigger for this recent experience was a long conversation with two friends. On the surface, we chatted about AI and how the new tools would permeate and alter society and the human experience.
That weekend, I could barely sleep. The conversation kept working on me. In those moments, I have to dump my mind out on the page. It’s the only way to discover what I truly think. If I don’t, I find no peace.
I realized that on a deeper level, the conversation had been about impact. In a revolution, are you a participant or a bystander? Do you try to shape the force of change or resist and fight it? As a writer, the high-speed development of AI tools can feel disorienting and scary. And I tend to get self-conscious about my lack of technical skills. Oh, if only I were an engineer, scientist, designer, or founder playing an active part in the great unfolding. Or if at least I had the instincts and hustle to create an AI newsletter and capitalize on this latest wave.
I had sat across someone who deeply believed in their own ability to play a crucial role in the re-engineering of our world. Yet when I looked at myself in the mirror, I could not detect that same sense of agency. All of this brought me back to a conversation I had had last summer. I had been sharing my frustrations about finding greater commercial success with a fellow Substack writer. My acquaintance had left me with a pointed question:
What if what you are doing is not important enough?
At first, this question annoyed me. It was uncomfortable. It felt almost insulting. I had readers who liked my work and I was doing my best, even improving over time. How dare you!
But I’ve carried the question with me ever since. And now was the time to revisit it.
How do you know if what you are doing is important enough?
Do you feel challenged? Does it get you out of your comfort zone? Does it force you to grow?
Do you impact a lot of people in small ways (say through business, technology, public service, or media) or a few people deeply (say by being a parent, friend, or, for example, healthcare practitioner)?
Does what you do really matter to you (or to your audience, your customers, etc.) or is everything just a means to an end?
Do you attempt to do things that scare you?
Even better: Would it matter if you failed?
It’s a deeply personal and multi-dimensional question that everyone has to answer for themselves. I am not suggesting there are universal yardsticks or easy answers. But I believe that we intuitively know the answer at least directionally. We can feel whether we are pretty close or way off. Life will tell us when it is time to raise the stakes and pursue real growth, as uncomfortable as it may be.
Growth is a funny thing
I recently wrote about the nature of fear and personal growth. While real growth can scare us, a lack of growth can become infuriating. We’re grinding away on a plateau. Nothing seems to be moving and frustration builds. It is not obvious how to proceed.
Sometimes, we just need patience and stamina. We need to keep at it, gradually and consistently. We grow by remaining engaged and immersed.
Other times, we need to level up and get new input. We need to find a new teacher, learn a new method, gain a new perspective, or use a new tool. We can only grow by stepping away from the work.
And sometimes, everything needs to be re-invented, re-thought, and re-assembled to match who we have become.
Falling out of life was my signal to step it up. I realized that the next step was not to burn it all down, but that it was time to dig deeper for the why behind my work. It was time to wrestle with the nagging question of whether what I was doing was important and difficult enough. It was time to experiment, to look for new questions, stories, and ideas.
When I started writing this Substack, it often felt like I was dropping words into the void. I had a decent-sized following on Twitter but the email readership was a tiny group of enthusiasts. That said, maybe it was for the better. I look back and cringe at most of what I wrote early on. Thankfully, that’s a sign that I am moving up the learning curve. And today, there are more than 22,000 of you and that, frankly, blows my mind. Thank you all for being a part of this! I couldn’t be more excited to continue this journey of learning, creating, and sharing.
One small but immediate change is that I realized the need for an open and undefined space for experimentation, a playground of sorts. AtI will publish anything too raw, odd, emotional, or spiritual to fit in here. I think of it as more of a personal creative journal. I will share some of the initial posts through Substack’s cross-posting function. If it speaks to you, feel free to follow along.
Thank you all for reading,
Work with me:
I will continue to write about institutional investing, strategy and related topics (the Business of Money). I continue to believe that Wall Street needs new storytelling and if there is one thing I miss from my days investing at family offices, it is the engagement with thoughtful managers and entrepreneurs. However, I am not convinced that a paywalled Substack is the best place for that kind of content. If you are running or building an investment firm or financial media business and are interested in exploring working together, please reach out.
If you are interested in reaching my audience of investors and financial professionals, feel free to reach out.