Sometimes, I just feel quiet.
Instead of worrying, “Am I doing enough?!” as I usually do, I’ve found it can be fruitful to listen rather than talk — to get really good at receptivity, rather than push for more productivity. Even Paul Graham says it’s ok to just read (and re-read) sometimes.
Recently however, I heard a story that made me want to speak up. Today I’m sharing that with you.
Maks is an entrepreneur from Latvia who traveled to the U.S. to be a part of the 500 Startups Accelerator about a year and a half ago. He and his cofounders applied to what’s a fairly competitive program, got in, and moved their lives to Mountain View, California for four months. Maks’ wife was pregnant at the time, expecting their second child.
For some months, they focused all their energies on growth, product market fit, UX, and the right way to pitch to investors. Midway through the program, Maks went home to attend the birth of their new baby.
In Latvia, if a dad wants to be present for the birth of a child, he has to go through a routine lung screening. Maks’ screening revealed that he had advanced stage lymphoma, an exceptionally serious cancer. He got his results when his daughter was five days old.
Lymphoma is usually not something that sits well with a young startup founders’ (or a new dad’s) life, but Maks managed it for a couple of months. Soon, he had to shut down the company to focus entirely on his health.
Since April of this year, 2014, he has been bedridden due to effects the cancer has had on his immune system, making him unable to walk from the pain.
His family have exhausted their savings to pay for his health care — because the cost of treating cancer and its casualties is higher than what his government has allowed for.
I usually get a little bit of Christmas money from my parents, we don’t really “celebrate” apart from this small gesture, a nod of appreciation that says “I see you, and I’m glad.”
It’s well past Christmas as I write this here in India, I’m fully a grownup at 31 years old, and I doubt if I will get any money this year.
But whether real or just hypothetical, I’ve paid my Christmas cash forward to Maks, not because I know him (I don’t), not because his case is all that special (millions of people suffer and die from lymphoma every year), but as a completely inadequate gesture of thanks — “I see you, however telescopically, and I’m glad.”
In the past 24 hours, I’ve cared so much about so many small things, it’d be hard to list them all, and it’d be boring to read.
This isn’t to say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” The small stuff makes up a life, and it matters.
It matters whether we meet someone on time, whether our email was proofread before sending, whether we flossed today and yesterday. All of it matters even more in aggregate.
We need a bit of myopia in our everyday lives to get done the things that are small but important.
But at least once a year, if not once a day, it’s good to zoom out.
The detail that rules your day or your life right now could be obsoleted by the next detail that comes along. We are not invincible.
And yet, especially here at the end of another year, I can’t help but feel both vulnerable and triumphant. Perhaps Maks feels the same.
Wherever you are, I hope this finds you strong.
Thanks for subscribing, thanks for reading, and happy 2015.