Kevin Rose walked into a bar…
11:34pm on a Saturday night in San Francisco, 2007. Kevin Rose walked into The Phoenix Irish Pub.
I had had a couple of gin and tonics, and I don’t remember who I was with at the time. We probably aren’t “friends” anymore.
I was just doing that thing where because it’s Saturday night, you go with some people to a place where you can’t have a conversation, and drink alcohol. You sometimes spend several hours doing this — the equivalent of an entire working day — and then the next day you feel like crap, and you’re not sure if it’s because you drank too much, or if it’s just because you’ve started a war with your circadian rhythms.
I felt antsy, and disconnected. I didn’t know why, until I saw Kevin.
A few months prior, an older co-worker had placed a copy of BusinessWeek on my chair. Kevin was on the cover, with the headline How This Kid Made $60 Million in 18 Months. There was a yellow sticky note: “You can do it! Go make your millions!” It was bolstering to be believed in and encouraged, but deflating to know I wasn’t doing anything to make such a dream come true. I sighed, removed the magazine from my chair, and sat down in my grey cubicle.
Every generation has a whiz kid who makes it big, who fuels the dreams of aspiring whiz kids. Before anyone cared who Mark Zuckerberg was, Kevin Rose was this whiz kid.
Something changed inside of me when I saw Kevin at that bar. My chair suddenly feel very uncomfortable. I know that whole thing about frogs in water slowly coming to a boil is a myth, but I had been that frog.
What I envied wasn’t that he was a millionaire, it was that he looked, in every fiber of his being, a manifestation of his own self. I heard a scientist once say that people can detect a fake smile — that a real smile uses certain little muscles that don’t get used otherwise. Kevin had a real smile.
Somehow I had decided I’d spend the next several hours drinking, and I wasn’t even enjoying myself. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with enjoying a drink with friends, but I wanted to earn that drink (and share it with actual friends).
So, I left. In the middle of a round, I went home and worked on a coding project until 4am.
The project had no tangible consequence that I can point to today. The important thing was that I was learning something new, challenging myself, and that I was fully engaged in what I was doing. I wasn’t putting off until tomorrow what I wanted today.
That was 9 years ago, and I never did make those “millions.” So, depending upon your perspective, this could be a cautionary tale. But, I do believe that when I smile today, it’s a real smile; because since then, I’ve made a habit of cutting through the falsely soothing din of noise around me, and asking myself if I’m sitting in a comfortable chair.
Jason Fried explains why you don’t want to be like him, you want to be like YOU, on my podcast Love Your Work. Subscribe on iTunes.