A Typical Failed Startup Experience

A short story with hints of borderline and projection.

A Typical Failed Startup Experience

First they'll tell you to follow your passion —what do you know? You're 18, 20, 25, 40 —it's never too late they say, and hey, what do you know... life hasn't been all too great leading up to this point, maybe it's high time you did something.

That word something stares back at your face, your mind experiences a revelation, wow —because there's so many things, how to choose... but that's not the problem, you gotta feel it, you gotta know it by heart, you gotta be passionate.

So the next couple days you don't even hear your boss or your mom or your dad or your significant other, it's high time! and that's not just a polite expression for the legalization of weed across the states, its an idiom —now or never, or so you feel.

For once in your life, you experience an acute awareness, its dizzying, freeing, but at the same time brings with it a feeling of Nausea —it won't be like this forever you think, as soon as you nail that passion, it'll all come into focus... it all starts with an idea.

Then one evening as you're finishing your daily dose of entertainment, it hits you —like literally, hits you. Jessie is breaking up with you —what? How could it be? How could it happen? ... You send your condolences over text message and lament that you didn't get the last chance to hug or kiss or ... but that's in the past, it's always in the past, and that's fine because there's no time to waste! Jessie wouldn't be holding anyone back anymore!

The next morning you're invigorated —beyond invigorated, you feel a sense of refreshment you've never felt before, like a wave of ecstasy that bubbles and builds, slowly beginning in your frontal lobe and expanding to every corner of your brain, the idea —a dating app.

It all makes sense, everything, everything! has been building up to this moment and you feel a profound sense of faith even though you're not religious, but in this moment prayer seems like a possibility, the uncanniness of life, this break-up was the best thing ever.

You rigorously set to planning out your idea, the connections in your synapses are going crazy, the feeling of purpose and meaning flooding your senses, the frenzy of your typing and writing, the explosion of the future, a vision forming in the innermost being of your soul. The world's problems can be solved, and it all starts with relationships. If only relationships would be solved, we'd fix the world —people would be happy, Maslow's 3^rd^ hierarchy of human needs: relationships and love would be solved. That's right... human connection is the ethos of this world, without it, we are lost.

You take a moment to revel in your abandonment, to capture the moment on Instagram, but not for anyone but yourself. Fame is not important, it's about helping people —but fame is always accorded to those people who do help people, and you keep this hope within your mind.

The next day, your first pang of dissatisfaction hits —you felt the passion yesterday, the focus, the intensity, could it possibly be waning already? Impossible, you shake your head and look at the list of action-ables you made yesterday, a key insight appeared: it's all about the team. To carry out your passion, to carry out the mission, you'll need a team of brilliant co-conspirators, collaborators, people with equal drive and ambition as yourself. You consider your obligations an unnecessary burden now, and you long to cast them off, but you need a team —you need to network.

The idea of going out into the world and connecting with like-minded individuals excites a frenzy in your mind again, you can feel the warm glow reappearing and spreading to each corner of your mind, which accumulates in a Facebook Events search. You look for networking opportunities, speaker events, and groups that will point you in the right direction. You fill out your calendar and tonight, you sleep well.

The next few weeks takes you from event to event, with your giddy excitement and reserved demeanor at the same time —the flood of people always captivates you, but you remind yourself of your task and move with purpose around the room. Each event has its different cadence and you can feel what the situation demands of you each time. In a few events, you stand out —people notice you, and you take down contact information with an air of grace on the outside, while your heart beats rapidly on the inside. It's almost time.

When you get back home, you get a surprise call from Jessie —you wonder what's going on and wonder if you should answer. The phone continues ringing and you feel your heart stop, when the phone stops ringing you can feel your heart start beating again. You decide to sent a text asking what's going on instead of calling back —a few minutes pass and you watch your phone with a bit of unease, then several hours pass, after which you resign that you won't be getting a text back. This doesn't bother your mind in the least —you're more focused than ever on your mission and there's not a minute to be lost.

You start going through all the different contacts you'd gotten over the course of the your life and the last few weeks on your phone —you begin sending messages out to survey interest in your idea; there are some cold leads, but there's also receptiveness from a good deal of people —this realization has you sending more texts, which accumulates finally, in a product team —you and 3 other people, a coder, a designer, and a marketer, with you as the CEO. This idea confounds you, you strip away the thought of being a CEO, it's just a project —you're just you, nothing's changed yet, you can't believe this is happening; tomorrow you'll set off to defining the idea and the first milestone for your MVP as the official team manager...

You get back to your team about the milestone and the roadmap, you assign tasks and people begrudgingly listen, you're not sure why the energy has died down, just a week ago they were all excited and just as passionate as you, but now there seems to be a lack of it —this startles you, and you try to give a small speech to rally the troops and embalm their work in glory. You're sure this will encourage the team to better work, even though you're not —for some reason Jessie flashes in your mind as you're giving this speech, but you brush that thought away, and you're happy to see after the Skype meeting that everyone does seem reinvigorated. When you get off the group call, you start your own work.

You consider what you should be doing. You wonder if the passion has drained again, maybe you're just tired, the last few months have been an incredible blur of time, but you think it might be time to tell your boss or your mom or your dad or your friends that you're turning a new leaf —it's time to fully commit and make your mark, this was really going to be it.

You're not sure it's quite that easy, but you begin making plans to wrap up your old life anyways. You begin clearing your room a bit, you never know where life will take you when it starts moving... and a few framed pictures of Jessie end up in the trash can.

You stare at them for a moment as they lay in the trashcan. The urge to dig them out strikes you, but an equal competing thought that it's ridiculous to harbor on the past strikes you. You feel disconnected from the world —and a sense of dread over the future finds its way down to you. You stand there for several more moments, then let the trashcan lid drop.

You sit down on the edge of your bed and check the Slack group you created for your project. The team is making steady progress, an MVP should be ready within a week. This news excites you, and you think everything could be looking up from here on out. An MVP, if it went well, would mean you could really escape your current obligations...

The next few days you sit in nervous anticipation. You wonder what the MVP will look like, how it will turn out, what your parents will think, your friends, what you'll do next, oh it never seems to get simpler! What next? What next? Your anxiety rises, then lowers —you head to your calm place, you try to remember that glow in your mind, that expands, that caresses you. You get a text from Jessie, your heart stops.

You read it, "Hey Will, I'm really sorry —I never fully gave you an explanation for our break-up, and I just wanted to be honest, to keep things clear between us, it has nothing to do with you, it's just that I've been really busy lately, and I've been working on a project that's taking up all my time, so I didn't think I could keep doing us... I hope you understand and that you're doing well and let's definitely stay friends!"

Your brain is on fire. It feels like it's about to explode and your cheeks redden —you fall asleep re-reading the text over and over again on your couch.

The next morning, you wake up and see a series of texts from your project team asking where you are. You check the time —shit, 30 minutes late to meeting. You get up and wash your face real quick, then hop on Skype. You add in your apologies to the rest of the group chatting amicably, making sure to include that you've been thinking a lot about the idea recently and the future of the product. With this, you kick off the meeting and ask the product team to demo what they have.

For the next few minutes, your brain goes on auto-pilot as you see different screens and button clicks, graphics, tech. You jot down copious notes and make mental notes as well. There's a moment of silence when the demo is finished. As if without any conscious control you shout, "I LOVE IT!" The group beams, virtual high-fives are given, and youwrap up the meeting letting the team know you'll get next steps to them by the end of the day. Everyone is in high spirits —except you.

You go back over to your couch and open Jessie's text again —"working on a project that's taking up all my time," you look at that line and try to make out what it means... "working on a project that's taking up all my time," your eyes dart to the next sentence, "I hope you understand... let's definitely stay friends!" your eyes focus on the exclamation point, "friends!" but that doesn't make any sense, you're the one that broke up with Jessie —after all, you're busy as hell working on this project!

You take a look at the project demo again —this time taking care with the screens and buttons at your own leisure. You hate it; it will never be enough to go to market and revolutionize the dating industry, in this state it will never fix the relationship problems out there. You lay in bed dejected. You begin to think about what you just wrote, you try to connect the dots, but nothing makes sense —but then it all suddenly makes sense; you are not you. You is me.


You is me, as in me, the author, talking to myself. All of us have this ability, it's called metacognition, the voice in our heads, or else self-awareness.

When you read the piece, it seems like the piece is talking to you, it's not seen as an author typing about himself because we feel they should use I in that case.

When we talk to other people, we often make the mistake that we think they are talking to us because they say "you", but there's a psychological defense mechanism called projection which looks to project personal deficiencies onto other people —"you".

If you've ever had a friend shout a bunch of angry mean things at you, then wonder afterwards, were they describing themselves? That is an example of the friend projecting —in the case of the friend, they don't recognize it within themselves because they are too busy shouting it at you. This more commonly happens in romantic relationships. Person A who admonishes person B for being upset is more likely than not upset themselves, irrespective of person B being upset or not. —ergo: Person A is likely upset, not person B, but person A says person B is upset.

It's very difficult to separate ourselves from what people say about us, which is why projection is an effective technique, the other person usually takes the bait and launches into a defensive reaction that only further justifies the projector's position. Solution? Stop reflecting, if you don't care about the person, indifference is the correct response.

Unfortunately, if you do care about the other person, it gets trickier —you're indifference will likely only make them more upset or become more entrenched in their position, in this case the best you can do is treat them well and try not to take what they say too personally because after all, they are projecting, they aren't really talking to you —you're just a stand in for their internal emotions.

Regardless, as a general piece of advice, we should consider that the traits we see in others are the traits we see in ourselves. This is not an admonition to praise or idolize other people; this is a separate problem, it just means that we should give people the benefit of the doubt. We can't read minds, and it's dangerous to think we know the reasons for a person's behavior when we really don't, even if we asked, it's not a guarantee that we'll be told or what is told is accurate. People can be incredibly difficult black boxes, and the best we can do is believe that people have their reasons —especially reasons for not telling their reasons.

Fight the mirror —don't project yourself onto others and pay attention to others when they speak to you, are they talking to you? or you?