Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Posts Tagged ‘introspection’

What are you working for?

Posted by shannonclark on September 14, 2008

A great question which a friend asked me earlier this afternoon after a brunch where our conversation covered dozens of topics. He is a financial adviser and most of clients are from the tech and startup world.

What am I working for?

I have been thinking about this question for a while now, all summer in fact. Being an entrepreneur means a lot of things, not least of which are some lean and sometimes tough financial times as you are getting started but also great rewards (including finacial rewards) when you succeed.

I have a, relatively short, list of things I would buy if money were not an object. A related list of things I would do, events I would attend. But I have realized that other than also putting some money aside for my hoped for future family (which first likely requires dating and probably marrying the right woman) much of what I am working for, what I would want financial rewards for are to be able to then do stuff for others with those resources.

So first the basics a quick list for my own future reference – what I am working for, what I would do when finacial success starts to flow my way.

  • Buy a car. Not an impractical car, but also not a beat up car. My taste tends towards hatchbacks or coupes, probably something with some serious power and performance yet also with many luxury features and definitely an automatic (I both do not and do not want to learn how to drive stick). I have not had a car for nearly 4 years and prior to that I had owned a car for 4 years but only drove it 13,000 miles. However to really enjoy living in CA I probably need a car and for my planned use of one owning it is likely more suitable for me than a car share service (for one I hate having deadlines or restrictions on my flexibility – one of the great things about working for yourself is being in control of your time and movements)
  • Furnish my apartment fully. I have, alas, expensive tastes when it comes to furniture. I really like very modern, very clean lines in my furniture. Most likely when I have the money I will spend a great deal of it at Roomand Board which is almost without exception my design aesthetic
  • Update and maintain my wardrobe. I like quality and clean design in most things, including clothes. However though I have many great pieces of clothing I also have many other items which are worn (even worn out) and do not update my clothes all that often. I also have many items where I really only have one – one pair of glasses, one brown belt (and one black belt), only a handful of shoes, not many different pairs of pants etc. Here I have also learned that for my taste quality matters – I definitely feel and act differently when I am wearing clothes that fit me well, that are well made from high quality fabrics, than when I am in ill-fitting clothes of cheap fabrics.
  • Complete and maintain my Doctor Who collection. I am huge Doctor Who fan, but for about the past decade I have not been actively collection Doctor Who items and as a result there are vast numbers of books, original audio plays from Big Finish, comics and especially DVD’s which i have not collected. If I had the resources I would buy a great deal of these materials and subscribe to many others. In particular Big Finish does amazing work, when i have the money I’d buy most of their back catalog and subscribe the future shows, in no small part as a thank you to them for their great work and that of the actors.
  • Buy even more books in hardcover editions and subscribe to great magazines. I already do buy a lot of books each year (probably averaging over 200 books each year, perhaps more some years) but much of what I buy are used or paperbacks and there are many new hardcover books, even by authors I really like, which I do not end up purchasing. When I have more money I would buy more these (though I likely will have less time to read so this is as much about supporting authors I really like as it is about reading the books – though for my favorite authors I do usually eventually read the books as well). On the magazine front I subscribe to very few magazines at the moment, yet here too there are many which I would really like to have and read on a more regular basis, in many cases a subscription is likely even a net savings (since i end up buying magazines like Wired and Monocle on newsstands with some frequency)
  • When I eat out eat at more of the restaurants I really love. And treat myself to serious dining experiences such as French Laundry and various tasting menus on a regular basis. I am a foodie, yet much of the time in the past years I have eaten cheaply instead of well, certainly not all of the time but there are hundreds of places I have always wanted to try but which I have not for lack of funds.
  • Upgrade my kitchen tools and continue to cook and buy locally. My one indulgence, though truly not much of one, has been to usually buy locally and mostly from farmers’ markets. However my kitchen equipment in some areas is lacking (no food processor or electric mixer) and I do not keep my pantry and fridge as well stocked as I would like (and for that matter my fridge and stove are not very nice at the moment)
  • Invest in myself. On a basic (and immediate even if the rest of this list takes longer to get to) I need to invest in my own health. Lots of dentist visits, finding a primary care physician in San Francisco, having full and complete health insurance, keeping a good supply of asthma and allergy medicines, etc. This also means investing more in my own ongoing and continual education. I love to learn, yet it has been nearly a decade since I last took a formal class anywhere. I should be taking something nearly every year – a writing workshop, a class at a local university, something to keep myself sharp and to continue to push my mind in new directions. For that matter I would also like to strengthen my knowledge of French and perhaps to try to learn other languages (Spanish? Hebrew? Chinese? Japanese?)
  • Commit to and attend more of the events I want to attend. In the past decade while I have made it to a lot of amazing conferences and events in nearly every case I have done so by deciding to attend at nearly the last minute and I have missed many events I would have really enjoyed being at (and at many of the events I have attended because I decided to go at the last minute I have not gotten the full benefit from attending – not been listed as an attendee, haven’t set up as many meetings or figured out what talks I want to hear/people I want to see etc). My short list of events I would want to attend includes: TED, PopTech, SXSW (music as well as film and interactive), a serious film festival (probably Sundance), one or more serious writing conferences (both genre such as World Fantasy and perhaps a non-genre such as the New Yorker Festival) and there are many more. I don’t see much live music, don’t get to live theater or opera, and rarely attend festivals. I definitely want to do more of all of that (and even some occasional sporting events such as this year seeing a Cubs game, especially if they make it to the World Series). More than the actual cost of attending any of these events (many of which are really business investments or which I have in the past been able to minimize through my own tech involvement and writing) is the powerful impat of being able to plan for the future, of being able to commit money now for future activities – and not be overly concerned if I have to later change my plans (as will inevitably happen as an entrepreneur). For the past few years I have not felt confident in my future planning (and budgeting) to commit money too far in advance, this is a habit and mode of thinking I want to break.

As I noted i do not have particularly expensive tastes except in a few areas (furniture, food and clothing). I would probably also indulge myself in some modern electronics (an HDTV projector, some games consoles, etc) but even after all of that the actual cost of all of the items I mentioned above (assuming medical costs aren’t too insane) is in the grand scheme of things not actually all that high. Probably dipping towards six figures with all of the medical costs and conferences added, but only barely.

Long term I probably would want to buy a place here in the Bay Area and probably either rent or buy a place in New York, perhaps also somewhere in Europe (London or Paris most likely) and long term my fantasty is that I live a more fully bi (or including Europe tri) coastal lifestyle. But what I want more than the places is the flexibility of living in each city for extended periods of time – so creative renting might work well (or buying a place in one of the newer buildings that rent out your apartment as a hotel room when you aren’t using it).

Very long term I also want to own (or have a long term rent) on a venue where I can hold events, probably some retreat center like property, most likely in the midst of a large forest somewhere (likely near here in Northern California). Though I love living in large, vibrant cities, I am also a serious lover of forests – more so than coasts or open fields, a forest is where I feel most at peace and most comfortable. Someday I want to own my small (or not so small) piece of a forest and have a place I can retreat to from time to time, probably extremely well stocked with books, games and fireplaces. I can see myself buying a place as a mixture of a personal retreat and as a working retreat center, I love to run events, having a place where I could host them myself has a lot of appeal, especially if it had sufficient space and facilities for the types of events I most admire and want to have (this probably means space for up to a few hundred, perhaps as many as 400+ people). So this is long term – and with money and resources there are far cheaper options to having access to such spaces than buying them entirely myself.

So given that most of what I describe above would be well within my reach if I were to go to work for someone else – my skills, experience and contacts are such that I would likely command a quite decent salary even by Silicon Valley standards – why am I working towards the possibility of much greater rewards (with all the stresses and risks associated with that)?

This was the full question my friend posed me earlier today, given that for the most part my tastes do not run too high, that I don’t really have much need on a personal level (or for that matter the desire to spend), why am I working so hard (if sometimes it feels not yet hard enough) towards really high rewards? Why didn’t I (or why don’t I) take the seemingly easier route of taking a job working for someone else?

The short answer is I do have a lot I want to do with great resources – but most of it is not personally directed. There are dozens of organizations I want to make a serious financial (and other) support towards. At some point in my future I also see making direct investments (or indirectly as a limited partner), especially in the types of businesses I think can have a really deep and lasting impact locally and on the world. I want to offer finacial support to politicians I believe in (Obama for starters). I run MeshForum as a non-profit for many reasons, not least of which is philosophical I have a mission with MeshForum which is not to make money directly but rather to help spark and support innovation and new ways of thinking about deep and complex problems – in the case of MeshForum around the area of the interdisciplinary study of Networks – and informing different fields and businsesses which are network related with the techniques and approaches of other fields. The conferneces I hold and will hold help here, making the content available widely also helps, but there is much more I could do. In the future I want to directly support lots of research efforts, especially around making richer datasets available to researchers and around supporting truly interdisciplinary scholors.

My passion is around learning and around having a large impact on the world. One way i want to do this is building a large, sustainable (in all senses of the word) business – a truly global business which has a large impact. I then want to leverage that business and the resources it makes available to me towards supporting great work and research – especially research that crosses disciplines and very much the basic research that is not as supported today inside or outside of academia.

So that is why I work, in a small way for the personal comforts it will bring me in the future, for the support it will offer my future family, but mostly I work to get the resources to have a huge impact on the world, to support the many people I know (and will know) who are doing great things and to help support and spark new innovations that can continue to have great changes in the world in the future.

Why do you work? What are you seeking from your efforts?

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Posted in Entrepreneurship, meshforum, networks, personal, politics, reading, San Francisco, working | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Approaching being a year older

Posted by shannonclark on June 12, 2008

And I hope wiser, though I wonder often at that phrase. Next week will be my 34th birthday, the third birthday I will have celebrated here on the West Coast and in many ways a major milestone for me.

But in many other ways I look back on the past decade and though I have much to be proud of in my life, I am also far from achieving many of the goals I had always assumed would have occurred in my life by now. So in a bit of what I suspect may be a bittersweet post and one that may be a bit more personal than many of my more recent blog posts, here are a few of my thoughts back and forward as I approach this milestone in my life.

In high school and college my vision of myself in the future started with getting a PhD. I wasn’t sure in what field, indeed well into college I was still rethinking this, but I always assumed that my “real” life and work would start after getting a PhD. That like my father I might then have a career that bounced between industry and academia, that straddled and likely blurred both lines, a career where I found a way to make money (always assumed I’d find a way to make a fairly large amount of money someday) but would also likely involve teaching and to some degree (dependent on my final career/field choice) advancing the state of knowledge.

I was never, however, all that interested in the politics of academia or in pure research for research’s sake, I did (and still do) love the act of teaching, the process of helping people learn and grow.

Since sometime in high school I have found myself with a bit of a split in my interests and in how people perceive and interact with me, to a large degree this persists to this day.

A few examples to illustrate this point. Starting recently and working back to high school.

  • I was recently asked “What do you do?” to which I replied “I’m an entrepreneur” but that, by no means, sums it all up. I’m very deeply technical (know some half dozen+ computer languages, many OSes, have edited standards, done serious AI research, supported over 1000 full time developers around the globe, etc). But I’m also very involved in business, my current company is not really a technology firm as much as we are a business connector and to a degree translator of different businesses to each other. Much of my consulting work has been relationship building, strategy consulting, business model advice and brainstorming. I’m also deeply interested in and expert at event organizing. Plus over the past months my blogging and writing has turned semi-pro with many posts for Centernetworks and the launch of my new blog Slow Brand. So I’m also a writer. Oh and I take my cooking and my photography relatively seriously (and think I’m pretty good at both).
  • In high school I conformed on the one hand to the stereotype of a particular type of math & science nerd. Heck I was seriously the captain of the high school Chess Team for 3 1/2 years. Was also on the math team, did a project for the Westinghouse Science Fair, competed in other science competitions, was an active member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Club (and as part of that started a science fiction convention which is still running now almost 20+ years later) and yes, I played AD&D and was part of the gaming club. And of course I was in straight honors math & science classes, took many AP classes in both math & science and had taken AP Computer Science as a sophmore (and then spent the next three years spending a lot time in the computer labs). But all the while I was also in honors English and History classes, took French, took philosophy also as a sophomore and then spent the next two years doing college level independent study philosophy, the summer after my junior year in high school I went to the University of Chicago for summer school and Western Civilization (a class I later learned was most often take as a 2nd or 3rd year at the college) and my senior year in high school I was an editor for the school literary magazine. And I was actively writing poetry and fiction. As a freshman I had taken a drama class (found I wasn’t very good at memorization) but all throughout high school I attended almost every single play which was performed (and my school typically performed about 11 different plays and musicals each year) plus I had taken and greatly enjoyed a class on photography which included learning how to develop our own film. So in many, many ways I was as equally a “social sciences/creative” geek as much as I was a math & science geek. But people tended to see me mostly as the math & science type.

And that, to a large degree is my challenge still.

On the one hand I am deeply technical, am quite happy reading through code, or analyzing 100’s of academic papers on AI techniques. I am fascinated by the application of technology to solve complex problems – though I am strongly of the belief that most complex problems are equal parts technology and people related, that the design is as important (often more so) as the underlying technology. In recent years I have been deeply following Network research and have been off and on working on a theory of Economics from a Network perspective.

But at the same time I am seriously interested in creative pursuits. I cook passionately (and I think quite well) expressing myself through my cooking. I don’t own a very expensive camera but I think I have a very good eye so the few photos I do take I think are well composed and engaging. I mostly write non-fiction these days, but I have been told that I express myself well (these overly long blog posts not withstanding). I care deeply about politics – though I am also strongly an Independent (supporting mostly Democrats this election cycle) – my political views are far, far more centrist (and even of some parts of the “right”) compared to the more typically strongly left & activist views of much of the Bay Area.

I am also very interested in business – and yes in global, corporate business. My goal with Nearness Function is not to make a quick buck, nor is it to be deeply radical, rather my goal is to work with great brands, great publishers, and I hope, millions of individuals around the world to help create lots of value, spread messages and provide support to amazing communities and services people value. But most definitely via means that allow for large and yes “corporate” companies to play an important part (and to pay for that).

When Nearness Function is a success that will mean both that we employ an amazing mix of people, very likely across the planet, but as importantly that through our efforts 1000’s of individuals and businesses will have the resources to also pursue their passions and create sustainable and great businesses, all while also delivering great value to their communities. I welcome the time when I’ll have lots of employees with all the headaches that can also bring.

On a personal level I find it hard at times to settle into any one community of friends or any one social circle. My interests and personal views are quite diverse – I love live music but not just current pop acts, also electronica, classical and yes also opera. I am and have been pretty deeply interested in film, but also in art – I’d love to go to more serious films, attend film festivals and go to many more museums and gallery openings. At some point in my life I definitely hope to do more than just look at great art, I want to collect it, to help support amazing artists in seeing their visions realized. I have traveled across the US at times to see works of art (flew to NYC to see the Gates in Central Park for example) and I frequently visit museums when I travel.

I take cooking and food very seriously. Definitely from a slow food/localvore perspective in many ways, I try to expose friends to great foods whenever we go out as a group for business dinners and post-event dinners. And when I have dinner parties I typically cook almost entirely seasonal and local ingredients. But I would love to have a close circle of friends (and yes a girlfriend) with whom to explore even more of the amazing food being created around the world and here in the Bay Area. I want to go to the French Laundry, to El Bulli in Spain, and to countless other restaurants large and small. And not just to eat there by myself, but to share those experiences with people who would also appreciate the experience.

For the past decade, actually probably for longer than that one of my few constants has been that I have had a subscription to the New Yorker magazine. And I have read pretty much every single issue, cover to cover, of the New Yorker for the past decades (starting sometime in the early 90’s if not late 80’s). But for most of that time I have not had anyone with whom to consistently share and discuss what I have read (ideally what we have read).

More recently I have found some additional publications I plan on reading on a nearly monthly basis as well. Monocle being among the first. I’m considering adding a few others. And I also, and here’s a bit of a contrast again, have for nearly as long if not longer, also read the Wall Street Journal every day. Even as a kid I would read the Wall Street Journal when my parents were done with it, not every article but a good mix of the articles.  Now I continue to scan the Journal on most days, grumble about the politics but use it to keep abreast of a particular aspect of the global business climate (and to a lesser degree the political climate).

In Chicago my somewhat, semi-secret vice was that I listened to Sports Talk radio, had for many many years. Again, I didn’t have a lot of people with whom to share this particular aspect of my personality or interests, the geek circles usually don’t overlap with sports fans, and likewise the sports fans (especially in Chicago at the time) tended to not be my social circle either) and I’m not an overly passionate sports nut – but I do love and enjoy many sports. I’m a supporter of both Chicago baseball teams, though with some favoritism for the Chicago Cubs, and I generally follow the Chicago Bears. In years past I have paid attention to the Bulls as well and for many, many years my father and I would attend at least one Notre Dame football game each season (the University of Chicago in contrast doesn’t have very serious sports teams) and I still consider myself a fan.

For the past few years I have had to make do with a couple of short podcasts each week talking about the Chicago Cubs but that’s about it. I made sure to watch the Chicago Bears when they were in the Super Bowl, but not owning a TV or for that matter a radio it has been hard for me to follow my Chicago sports teams to the degree I would like to. And though I could listen to some stations streaming over the Internet for the most part I don’t.

And again, I don’t have a circle of friends with whom to share these interests with either.

My personal philosophy of life has been remarkably consistent since that Philosophy class in high school. I am (and was) an Existentialist (a note, that Wikipedia article is pretty rough, emphasizing a very different aspect of Existentialism than I focus upon and focusing instead on some issues I mostly don’t care much about – such as existential psychology etc). I rejected the Catholic faith in which I had been mostly brought up, refused all throughout high school to go through Confirmation (which if you don’t know is a Catholic sacrament when you officially become an adult member of the Catholic Church). I am of the atheistic strain of Existentialism and very much influenced by Sartre (whom I have read in French as well as in translation). Though I definitely don’t follow him when in his later years he grew more Marxist in his views.

But on my mom’s side of the family I am also Jewish, though I was not raised as a practicing Jew when pressed I most definitely claim a Jewish identity at least from an ethnic perspective. However my name being so dramatically Irish in origins generally leads people to assume that if I am religious I am some form of Christian (and probably a Catholic) and even close friends have been known to forget that I am Jewish. Jewish enough that I could, if I wanted to, emigrate to Israel.

So for me religion and the social and cultural circles around it have not been, at all, a source of community. My father is an active member of his Church and growing up we attended mass every Sunday, though I stopped going as I entered high school. I haven’t yet found a secular equivalent and though at times I consider being more active in Jewish social events I don’t always feel entirely comfortable. Though I am Jewish, I wasn’t ever practicing so I don’t know Hebrew, don’t have all the same cultural associations, and as I noted once people see and know my name they, perhaps subconsciously, assume I’m not actually Jewish (though as I noted my entire Mom’s side of the family is and has been for as many generations as we can trace, back to the 14th century for at least some branches).

All around me I see people hanging out in groups, in couples and in groups of friends and coworkers. Here being the “boss” has always made that last option a bit awkward when I have had employees. In many other cases friends seem to cluster around certain common, shared experiences – membership in the same cultural subgroup (punks, hipsters, burners, etc) or for example having gone to the same school. I do have a few friends from when I was at the University of Chicago, but for the most part they live all over the country. I don’t fit, at least not comfortably, into any music focused social group or into any driven at least in large part by dress.

And there is another category around which many people cluster, sex – both sexual orientation (and the complications of it) and various kinks. But even here I don’t fit into any of the subgroups. I’m straight (since college I’ve thought in many ways my life would have been easier if this wasn’t the case but I definitely know what turns me on – and it isn’t men). And though I know many people who are actively polyamourous and indeed I have been in somewhat poly relationships (my first and indeed only girlfriend in college had a simultaneous if long distance girlfriend), my life experience is rather too limited to decide, and generally speaking when I am in an active relationship I find myself pretty comfortably monogamous.

But to be blunt, I haven’t been in that many relationships. Just two serious and even somewhat long term ones (one for less than a year, the other for nearly 3 years) and a few, very very few, shorter relationships. So even on the sexual front my fantasies are, especially by San Francisco terms, quite, quite tame.

And no, I’m not going to share them here, but it is definitely a personal life goal to sometime have a girlfriend with whom to share them (I think for the most part they are all rather so tame as to be likely easily achieved and comfortable for her – I’m not into BDSM or the like in the least).

So for me though I have friends who have (indeed have had these friends since college) rather complex and diverse sexual habits and interests, since my own are so tame in comparison, I’ve actually never dated anyone who was part of my social circles.

And that, I think, may be my biggest personal issue, that somehow all of the social circles I have been a part of, since high school, have not, ever, resulted in a deeply personal relationship – at least not one that was long term. I did have a few short flings in college (which in fact sadly lost me a friendship in the end) and I definitely have close if not intimate friendships – with both genders – but in terms of a girlfriend I’ve never dated someone who was also part of my then social circles.

I would like to – either by changing some of my social circles or by figuring out why I haven’t.

Another social circle I am definitely a part of, at least to a degree, is that of science fiction and fantasy fandom. I have been since high school. I’m a fan of lots of authors and written science fiction and fantasy, and I’m a fan of tv shows, comic books, and movies. Most years i go to at least one, if not more than one science fiction and fantasy conventions and my bookshelves are full of the genre. I know dozens of authors personally (and have taken writing classes and written some, albeit not yet published, works of genre writing myself). But at the same time I have for many years of late felt somewhat removed from the fandom community (or more technically from any one community – there are probably dozens or more of subgroups within fandom). I’m not active on LiveJournal, I’m not dating a fellow fan, and though I read a lot of genre fiction (and attend cons and go to book signings etc) I don’t at times feel a full part of the community.

And I don’t quite know why.

I’d like to figure it out, but I don’t know the answer.

One, perhaps, is that like the hipster/not-really a hipster issue is that I have many other interests and a worldview that is not entirely overlapping. Another, perhaps, is that to the extent that at least among my particular closest group of friends who are also fans there is also a huge overlap in groupings which also involve sexuality I don’t really fit in. Never have. Perhaps who is most attractive to me is also often not in these groups (though that isn’t entirely the case – but what attracts me to someone is fairly complex and I haven’t yet fully figured it out myself). Though one, perhaps, strong sign I’m definitely not “poly” is that pretty much any woman who is in a relationship isn’t then someone to whom I’ll be attracted.

And yes, that’s probably why I don’t date much, since for the most part people meet each other while one person or the other might still be in a relationship. Intellectually I know this, but it is quite like a switch in my head.

Anyway this is getting far too long and rambling, suffice it to say I have much I am thinking about as I approach 34, and in the next year alongside of growing my business I hope to find ways to expand my social circles in new directions, to form new strong relationships as well as to renew old ones which I haven’t paid enough attention towards. And who knows, perhaps after I post this, I’ll meet an amazing woman who gets all the complex aspects of me – and who will both expose me to new things and, perhaps, share a few of my passions. (food, fandom, and generally being a fellow geek would be great starting points)

Posted in Entrepreneurship, geeks, personal, San Francisco | Tagged: , , , | 5 Comments »