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#4: Reflections on The Pathless Path
A non-linear career, the allure of entrepreneurship, and loving one's fate.
I recently read the Pathless Path book by Paul Millerd. I've been following him for a couple of years since I feel that my life path is pretty similar. Now that the startup world is in a downturn and the resulting feeling of uncertainty creeps in, I'm rethinking what it means to embark on this path.
I've been on a pathless path for a long time. Every time I feel that I am on a clear path, I always found a way to stray into a more fuzzy one.
People who know me always felt puzzled whenever I chose a new path. My decision wasn't making any sense. The previous path was already perfect. People would kill to be in my position. Why would I abandon that and start over, in an unknown risky territory?
A non-linear career
When I was in college, in Indonesia, I have the rare opportunity to intern in the US. I was one of the first students from Indonesian universities who had the chance to intern in Silicon Valley. Having a six-figure salary is guaranteed after graduation. But I chose to come back to Indonesia to learn and build an impact here. Sacrificing more than 90% of my income.
I committed to that new path and built my career here in Indonesia. After a while, it slowly becomes a clear path. Moving from an early employee to a significant contributor. Moving into leadership, slowly growing my role as the company grows. I was pretty successful, too. I was only 22 when I was given the trust to manage a team and several employees older than me. What was once unfamiliar, would eventually become a clear path.
Then I moved to a bigger startup, a mid-sized one, in an engineering leadership role. This too becomes a clear path, my role grew as my team grew and my business responsibilities grew. The point of my self-worth becomes how big my department is, how many roles am I working on (Answer: multiple! I was handling engineering, product, design), and how many business lines we are responsible for. This seems to be a respectable and pretty successful career to be in, especially in a company where my peers are much older than me. Then my entrepreneurial itch started to come in. Several friends reached out to me asking to team up to build something together, and I took the plunge into one of them.
The allure of entrepreneurship
The plunge happened one and a half years ago.
I knew to some extent that being an entrepreneur has a much higher level of uncertainty than being an employee at any level. It will have ups and downs. But I didn't know how extreme the uncertainty and the ups and downs will be. I foresaw myself going on a linear path where my self-worth will come in terms of startup metrics: funding size, valuation, team size, users, and revenue. Because those are what was presented in the news, and what people share on LinkedIn. The highlight reels show only the achievements and the congratulations.
But that's not the case at all, especially if I am pretty early and still on my way to finding Product-Market Fit. It's all pushing boulders up to the mountain. But I don't know which boulders and which mountains is the right one. Every action we do is a grunt and gone is my previously imagined straight path seen through rose-tinted glasses.
Some days I feel that I am winning. Some days I feel like the whole world doesn't want me to succeed. All those extreme highs and lows, excitements and stresses, releases dopamine, which is addictive and can be a recipe for mental health issues if not handled properly.
This path requires a sturdy yet flexible mind, a Talebian antifragile one. Personally, due to my upbringing, I was accustomed to living a life with a highly uncertain path. However, I live in a society with forcing functions incentivizing people to stay on the default path. I feel that too. Sometimes I also wonder whether it is a mistake to make the choices I made.
Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius would say, "A blazing fire makes flame and brightness out of everything that is thrown into it.". This is a motto that I want to constantly embody in this journey, a skill to be able to turn anything that happens to us into fuel to keep going.
However, it would be very hard to keep on going while we are on a pathless path, with numerous things stacked against us. We need to build a condition around us to help us be more resilient. One piece of career advice that I say very often to my friends and colleagues is when you want to have high stamina & be long-term in a job. It needs to be either 1) fulfilling or 2) enjoyable. It's perfect if you can have both. But at least you need to have one.
If it's fulfilling to your soul, then you can endure however unenjoyable or boring the work can be. Because deep down, you know that this is just a means to an end. There is an intrinsic meaning and fulfillment you get just by doing it. If it's enjoyable, then regardless of how shallow the mission is, it will be bearable. You will not despise your everyday work, because you enjoy it.
I think this is not a set and pre-determined condition. Through simple changes in our working setup and daily activities, we can have a more fulfilling and enjoyable experience. I hope I can share more about this in the coming weeks, in case it’s helpful to some of you who are treading on a similar path.
I don’t know what will happen to me in the next few years, given how uncertain the time is. But I strive to make sure it will be full of learning, reflection, and fulfillment.
This is the pathless path.
The sky is still blue in Bluesky
Moving on to other topics.
Last week I got an invite to Bluesky, a new decentralized social network backed by Jack Dorsey. I have used it for a week now, but I couldn’t find the fun yet. My friends and most people I know are not there, since the platform is invite-only for now. And it's very hard to get an invite. Users need to wait for two weeks before they can invite their friends. When I joined, there were only around 30 thousand people on the platform. Compared to the 300 million on Twitter.
The premise of Bluesky is that it's built on top of an open AT protocol, providing account portability, interoperability, and algorithmic choice.
I have mixed feelings about Bluesky. On the one hand, I love Twitter. I have been on the platform since 2008 (that was 15 years ago!) and I have also worked there. I met a lot of cool people and learned a lot of cutting-edge technologies primarily from the platform.
On the other, it's not enjoyable to see how unstable the product currently is, especially after Elon took it private and shook the company inside out. So, having another platform trying to fix the core problems of Twitter is intriguing to me. It would be great if it can be an open protocol like HTTP, that everyone can extend and use.
Andrew Ng, the legendary professor who taught the most well-known online course of all time, is backed in the game. Now he taught developers in utilizing prompt engineering in ChatGPT to be more productive.
Mitchell, who co-founded Hashicorp (that built Terraform & Vagrant), argued that Prompt Engineering is not just witchcraft, but a rigorous discipline that aims to utilize prompting as a way to build reliable functionality for real-world applications.
See you next time folks!
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