Today’s most-emailed article in the New York Times is about the near-manic entrepreneur, who dreams big and sleeps in his office. I read it feelingly, as it describes a way I have always wanted to be.
But in at least one respect, how I wanted to be changed once I became a father. Not for the reason you expect, because I now have to be at home for dinner; it’s true that I often leave the office earlier, but I still work once my son is asleep, and usually until I can’t stay awake anymore.
What changed is I watched someone already very like me become enraged at the universe because he needed a nap. It was almost comical to see my son so distraught without any self-knowledge at how easily solved his problem was.
Then I realized the joke was on me. I reflected on all the days I was a beastly leader. On every one I was tired and self-righteous from having over-worked myself the night before. In almost every case, I swung to the dark side in the afternoon, when I should have been in a crib crying myself to sleep.
I still come to work cranky and tired, but when I do, I try to remain carefully sequestered the next day. “The reason I’m cranky,” I tell myself, “is because I need a nap.” I have half-seriously thought about keeping a pacifier in my desk drawer, or a sippy-cup of milk in a mini-fridge.
This doesn’t mean I want to pacify myself into becoming a professional manager. I still believe what a friend’s great-aunt told me many years ago: that a person’s most important quality is the quality of her energy.
And I can’t quite give up my own craziness, or my belief that the whole world is desperate for sincere emotion, real personality, decisions made when there’s no percentage in them. You can’t change the world without that craziness, or without a lot of hard work.
But if I’m going to be a lunatic, I have to be a well-rested lunatic. If I’m going to congratulate myself on a heroic effort, I won’t “harbor spiteful feelings against ordinary people for not being heroes.”
Since the day I came to Silicon Valley, the sleeping bag in the office has been our red badge of courage, a symbol of our willingness to do whatever it takes to realize our vision. But when the hero of the New York Times story shows off his sleeping bag, it just seems like a cliche, and an empty symbol. Anyone who works hard already lives ten minutes from the office anyway.
Over time, you realize that the real trick is working hard without seeming like you do at all. One of the other manic leaders cited by the New York Times, Teddy Roosevelt, once reported in self-bafflement: “I never seem to get tired.”
I used to spend a lot of time wondering how it could be that Teddy never got tired. Now I realize the trick is to never let yourself get tired. If you’re going to work hard, do so quietly, and know your limits.