Friday, October 21, 2011

Turning 40

Today, I am 40. I write this from a small village in Baja, where I am celebrating the milestone with my wife and best friends.

40 is an iconic birthday and an occasion for reflection.

40 years ago, I was born to a US Air Force Captain and his wife, Kent and Marian, in Wiesbaden, West Germany. From birth, my life has been peripatetic. Six days after my birth, we moved to a small village on the Czech border. By the time I was twelve, we'd lived in Germany, Ireland (sister, Elizabeth, born), Northern Ireland, Nigeria (brother, Richard, born), the Ivory Coast, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom. My father's job with the military and then with Citibank required frequent moves. True to form, at 14, I left London for boarding school in Connecticut. The moves averaged one every eighteen months and left an indelible mark on me.

First, I became very good at being the new kid. Adapting, making new friends, and dealing with the trauma of change.  Second, my body adapted to the rhythm of major change every eighteen months and I suffer from wanderlust.

The "risks" associated with change were blind to me, as evidenced by my equally peripatetic educational and professional experiences. High school in London and CT, college in LA, China, and Cambridge, banker in NYC, HK, and Singapore, teacher in Indiana, business school student in Chicago, and the last twelve years in venture capital and start-ups.  My childhood blessed me with the ability to adapt, while leaving me with a true sense of restlessness.

Fortunately, my wife, Caroline, helped me understand what I'd missed growing up - the power of community and consistency. While my email address continues to change, I've lived in the Bay Area for twelve years and my children have attended the same public school for seven years. My oldest son, Jack, is 11. By his age, I'd moved eight times to seven countries. I now see through him the importance of reinforced, persistent human relations and my wanderlust has dimmed as I enjoy long-term friendships and a feeling of connection.

In fact, over 40 years, I've come to believe strongly in the following:
  • the value of investing in community
    • I love being part of the Bay Area start-up community, mentoring, coaching youth sports in the Los Altos-Mountain View, playing my Sunday morning soccer game, running into friends at local restaurants, and building rich relationships born of years of common experiences and context.
  • being present for my wife and children
    • While I struggle with presence and mindfulness, I work hard to be fully home and to really listen, hear, and understand the lives of my sons and wife.
    • Nothing gives me greater pleasure than time with my family.
    • Thich Nhat Hanh's book, the Art of Power, is a great book to read and reread to help reinforce the value of mindfulness.
  • pets
    • I've come to love the presence of animals...a hike in the hills with my lab, Sierra, or hanging at home with our bird, Storm. Caring for animals grounds you and children simply love them.
  • routine exercise
    • I work out every morning from 6-7am and then have coffee with four guys. Its a ritual and commitment that makes the start of every day magical.  Every Sunday at 7am, I play soccer with the same eighteen guys, hit Peet's after the game, and head home tired and happy.
  • never acting in fear
    • Being new every 1.5 years at school is a lesson in overcoming fear and insecurity. As I studied mindfulness, I came to realize that I let fear limit my joy of live, which led to poor decisions. Being afraid to fail, to try new things, fear of looking foolish, ignorant, silly....these fears are self-defeating and something I've worked really hard to overcome.
  • nature
    • Simply put, I love being outdoors in the wilderness and work hard to find time every year to spend time with my family off-the-grid.  In my secular life, the church of nature fills a spiritual void and provides solace, energy, and peace. 
  • redefining risk
    • In my early 30s, I was diagnosed with a kidney disorder. At the time, I was told that my kidney would fail by the age of 40 and I would need a transplant. Thankfully, I am in remission and have been for six years. Nevertheless, for a few years, I lived with a heightened sense of mortality and a revitalized commitment to make every day really count.
    • The modern economy is volatile and life-time employment a quaint memory. As I've worked on start-ups, my friends at McKinsey, Merrill, HP and other pillars of stability often remarked that they found my career path too risky. Many of them were later laid off as the economy soured.
    • I've come to believe that greater risks lie in not finding out what you are truly capable of, in  seeking safety at the cost of possibility, and in thinking that there will one day be a "good time" to take a chance.
Here's to the next forty years and to my parents, wife, family, friends, teachers, and colleagues for making my first forty simply wonderful. I love you and thank you.


  1. Happy Birthday, Will! What a great post. I did not know most of this about you. Many, many more birthdays to come!

  2. Happy birthday, Will! Thank you for taking the time to reflect on and share your thoughts. This is one of my favorite reads of this year. Thank you and enjoy your vacation! Dan P

  3. Happy birthday big brother!

  4. Anonymous3:18 PM

    Happy Birthday Will and thank you for sharing.

  5. Thank you very much.