This post originally appeared on Om Malik's blog and is republished here by permission.
Right there on the corner of Brannan and Fourth Streets, there is a billboard advertising some marijuana brand, saying, "Hello marijuana, goodbye stress." It got me thinking about stress and what is that is making people stressed out? Also, what does it say about people living in this tech town — are we so stressed, because of work?
Then I read that piece in The New York Times about Esalen Institute, which described it as "a storied hippie hotel here on the Pacific coast south of Carmel, Calif.," which has undergone a techie makeover. Now it is "Where Silicon Valley Is Going to Get in Touch With Its Soul." At help are reformed rich techies who have found enlightenment and spirituality. The kind of people I tend to avoid in my daily life, so I do not lose my soul.
I have said in the past, San Francisco (and Silicon Valley) has become a cliche wrapped in a punchline, and this article and Esalen makeover is just the latest testimonial. By the way, well played Tristan Harris, for starting by preaching the addictive effects of new technologies and transforming into a new age guru for lapsed technologists. Deepak Chopra had to write a book, you did it with an essay!
And you can do it with all the creature comforts. You can spend thousands of dollars, so you can also talk about your spirituality over coffee, during cocktails and even do a podcast about your experience and path away from technology. Mindfulness is natural when you do not need to think about minor daily problems like making a living! Didn't someone say religion is for the poor, spirituality is for the rich? You know opiates versus designer nootropics?
The whole thing seems like a damn scene from Silicon Valley. If I need Google and Facebook millionaires to find my soul, then the battle is already lost. Want to feel your soul — live among real people, breathe some polluted air, travel to the far corners of the world and come back and say thank you, god almighty that I can spend $5 on an espresso and $10 on some avocado toast. Seriously?
Finding your soul begins by discovering our ability to listen! Alternatively, by sharing a smile, a laugh and just by being human to everyone – from friends, colleagues, family and especially strangers, including those who are not from the same station in life as you. As my mama once said, you feel better about yourself by making others feel better! In fact, every holy scripture, ever philosopher and every holy man has said that for eternity. Again, you need to find your soul – start by listening and caring for others, not going to some spiritual version of Barry's boot camp.
Enough about that and let's talk about why are we in the Valley stressed out, so much so that we have to spend thousands to get in touch with your soul.
Is it the envy of the other which makes us stressed out?
I think so? When I was on Facebook, I was scrolling through everyone's fabulous life. I felt stressed out about my own life – never mind the fact that I have a great job, I am lucky to alive after a brush with death, and more importantly, I can do as I damn please and live life on my terms. I turned off Facebook, and just like that my stress went away.
Twitter and its echo-chamber? It was making me angry. So I limited it to a few minutes a day, and just like that ambient stress went away. We live with so many irrelevant stimuli in our world and need to take steps to find ways to ignore them. Stop reading Medium for its dollar store wisdom. Also remember, everyone there is selling you something. Eventually, you will be monetized — it is the only one real law of the web.
So the best you can do is control your actions. You do not need a few days in techno-spiritual retreat, where you guru — who by the way is the chief evangelist of brand marketing at Google and is wearing an Android smartwatch, so he does not miss notifications from Twitter about his talk on connecting to your inner-net.
However, let's get back to the real question: What is the actual cause of stress here in Silicon Valley that we need Deepak Chopra 2.0? Why don't we face up to the fact that many of us in Silicon Valley are living lives that involve telling ourselves a lot lies.
Startup founders often talk about disruption and innovation, when in the end, all they are doing is tweaking to grow faster, and in the process wanting the whole company to think of ways to grow faster and faster.
The majority of startup companies are built around this myth that they are disrupting the broader world, so the culture inside those startups is constructed to amplify that opinion. Seriously, you are doing on-demand parking or on-demand laundry; you are not innovating or disrupting anything except the peace of mind of your employees.
But, if you are a founder telling his team that we are disrupting the food industry, then your entire team is buying into that idea. You start setting targets, which are somewhat artificial, without any clue about the reality of real people. The whole machine is moving towards those false goals, and when they are not met and then suddenly everyone is feeling stressed.
Don't get me wrong — I know how it works. I have lived this story as an observer (reporter), a protagonist (founder) and now as an investor. Growth — rather implied growth gets you the investment dollars from professional investors. And then you have to justify the money you get from the investors by showing growth– a lot of it so that you can get more money to show more growth. In some cases, growth translates into the number of users, in other instances, it is the completion of a product, and in yet another set of companies its discovery of new methodologies. It is all growth — investors: professional and amateur, don't like to invest in things that are static or going backward. To "grow my money" is human logic.
The challenge is that no one sits down and asks themselves why they need money. What is that you, the founder, are trying to do and what is the cadence of your business? By understanding those issues, they can make a good judgment when taking venture dollars so they can grow along expectations of their investors.
When you are not self-aware, you ended up finding yourself in a place where you have to do unnatural things to scale your business. And when you do that, you push your teams, and suddenly the whole system starts to feel excessive pressure. Think of it as playing music on speakers that can only handle 50 watts of power with an amplifier that has 10 times the power and turned up at full blast. Something is going to blow. You and your team are going to need the Mary Jane (sorry they are calling it Eaze) to lower your stress.
Alternatively, if you are feeling flush, you can also book a session or two at the Esalen Institute 2.0!
Om Malik is a partner at True Ventures and the founder of Gigaom. He has previously held various editorial roles for Business 2.0, Forbes.com, Red Herring and Quick Nikkei News.