The grass was greener
The light was brighter
The taste was sweeter
The nights of wonder
It’s in our nature to see the world through the lens of self. Naturally - apparently - we lack empathy for others.1 This quality is paramount to our ability to build strong relationships, collaborate and generally get along with people. It’s far too easy to see all the “good” in someone’s life, now even easier by their fabricated (conscious or not) social media presence. We assume everyone but us has it so great. Even those with visible hardships or difficulties still have some advantage over us.
I’ve been thinking about this recently and how it applies to those wonderful non-personal entities: businesses. We see the employees of world-class or mega-hyped businesses as significantly happier and more fortunate than ourselves and fail to pick up on the emotional or cultural undercurrent of a company. If the marketing looks good, the company is raising lots of money and they’re paying a lot we assume it must be ever so lovely to work there.
Working in product and more generally, in startups is not the unique experience we perceive it to be. Each organization, idea and founding team is different, but the patterns around human behavior are common. Software development issues, sales conflicts and disputes between departments/executives/teams happen everywhere. Politics are played everywhere. This is why quality VCs and advisors are able to provide value to growing companies: they’ve seen this stuff before, many times.
Aim high and don’t settle for a subpar organization. But know that Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etc. all face the same difficulties that you do. A key difference between a stellar organization and a weak one is how they manage these challenges. The best are able to knock down obstacles that the worst will trip over. But the challenges and frustrations are common, if not universal.
Take a peak behind the scenes if you’re able. Talk to whoever you can on the inside. Once you see how the sausage is made, it may not be any more magical or seamless than the one you’re currently working on.
1. Or, this is a result of human history and, most recently, technology.