Life on a Short Street

On the empty sidewalk opposite my house, I was toodling along on my bike recently — and yes, I was also talking on a cell phone with my brother — when I heard a driver yell, “HEY BUDDY, WHY DON’T YOU WATCH WHERE YOU’RE GOING?”

Before even looking up, I responded: “WHY DON’T YOU GO F*** YOURSELF?” Then I saw my neighbor, still so stunned he hadn’t quite erased the jolly, just-joking expression from his face, sitting behind the wheel.

My wife later reminded me that since our street diverts cars one block to the north and two to the south, I didn’t even have to look up to know that the only possible target for my bizarre spasm of aggression was someone I’d see every week for the next decade.

When you think about it, your whole life is like that street, much shorter than you once imagined, almost entirely populated by people you’ll meet over and over again.

But for a long time, I didn’t think about it. Until I was 15, my twin brother and I began every fall term by apologizing to our assembled friends for the way we were the year before, as if the coming year could make everyone forget the fleas we occasionally picked up from our dogs, or our tendency to yank on one another’s headgear in tussles.

It wasn’t until I was a hiring manager who called job applicants’ references that I considered how long people would remember all the ways you act up as an adult. I began to reflect on my greatest hits. It was like hearing your own voice on an answering machine, except instead of taking 30 seconds it seemed to take 30 years.

I now see amazing job candidates, some better qualified to run a business than I am, dismissed with the slightest gesture by some dude we dug up from LinkedIn. “Can you send us a few thoughts about working with Jerry?” we ask in a note. The message back makes the rest a formality: “Can I call you instead?”

When you’re younger, you never wonder what would be said about you in such a phone call. The whole world is a vast frontier, a life without consequences. You rage through it like an instinctive animal. If you think you’re good at something, especially at a software start-up, you let everyone know it.

But then you get to the end of the street and have to double back again.


  • blackmarkt

    I'm not sure you can perform that type of background check in California. I think you're only able to ask for verification & dates of employment. Otherwise you're exposed to a potential lawsuit… 

    • Glennhkelman

      It's an excellent point, but in practice many people will give you a directional sense of whether to hire someone…

  • Alex Loddengaard

    I used to put embarrassing photos of myself on my blog back in college. Then one day Scott, Atlassian's CEO, decided to use one of them to introduce me to 100 or so people at a conference. My college self would be dissapointed that I quickly removed those photos.

    I think it's inevitable to be young and stupid. I think we'd regret not being stupid when we're older.

    • Glennhkelman

      Kudos to Scott for doing that!

  • Ken Brand

    Nice reminder. I find the older I get the wiser I get, realizing that I was never as good or bad as I thought, and I'm still not.  Thanks Glenn.  Cheers.

  • JanelleS

    This morning, I almost jokingly honked and flipped off a bald man walking down the street thinking it was my friend/colleague. Luckily within a split second I realized this was not the bald man I thought it was, and stopped myself. Oh, how awkward that could have been. “Oh sorry! I thought you were my friend. Why then, am I flipping off my friend? Uh, well because… it's funny?”

    • KG

       Which bald colleague might that be?

  • Cheryl M

    Great post Glenn.  It takes true wisdom to recognize the course of one's own actions and the impact they can have.  I believe many of us have become somewhat unconscious about our actions in some aspects.  Road rage happens all to easily because we feel we are in the “protection” of our cars.  Behind the computer, it can be the same way.  Rude communication via email is always easier said than in person.  Bottom line, someone will always hold you accountable at some point!  Common consideration for one another is always the best! Thanks for the reminder!

  • Shaira Sandra

    When we were young, we dont think about the consequences of what we are gonna do. we just go ahead and smash something, sau something awful, do something stupid. When we get older we realize that all those things were awful and someone somewhere still remembers what you did. But we were young then and that does not mean we are still the same.

  • Litchurch Plaza

    This just goes to show that we should always put our best foot forward. Be in our best behavior always and if we are good at something don't be afraid to tell people about it. And for whatever idiocy or reckless behavior we showed during our younger years, we can make up for those by being mature, polite and responsible.

  • Slatetec

    There will surely be consequences in every action we make. A young individual makes simple and obvious mistakes but maybe due to lack of judgment and level of maturity. All of us learn from those mistakes and people change. I agree that we should be in our best behavior but it is normal to goof around. We must never judge easily because it is through our mistakes that we become better and successful individuals.