Working from home is great but it has become very clear that there are no boundaries between home and work. As I adjusted to what would become the 2020 routine, I was privileged to manage my work schedule so that I could play with my kids intermittently throughout the day, have dinner with them, and then tuck them in around 9pm. That created a relatively short work day, so I’d sit down in front of my computer around 9–10pm and then get back to work until 1–2am. I’d also default to working on the weekends when the kids were napping/sleeping. I did, for sure, get in some Netflix and even some Starcraft (because if Tobi Lutke says it can teach you about startups & life, then you’ve gotta do it right?) so the total hours of work per week was nothing crazy. But I was certainly defaulting towards work at all waking non-childcare hours.
And then at some point in August, every time I sat down in front of my computer at night, I couldn’t muster up the motivation to work. Late night work is reserved for deep dives into companies and technologies, which I genuinely enjoy, but I just couldn’t do it. It was bizarre as I had never felt that before, even on those >100 hour weeks at McKinsey or the late nights in the office at Samsung. I wasn’t sure what it was until I spoke to a friend who was going through something similar and attributed it to burnout. Burnout?? I was nowhere near the 100 hour weeks I soldiered through in the past. It couldn’t be burnout. But Labor Day was approaching and I proposed a long weekend getaway to my wife and we started planning a trip to San Luis Obispo so the kids could hang out at the beach.
Then in a fascinating turn of events I started to feel some of the weight on my shoulders and the motivation engine began to rev back up. I realized that acknowledging that I was experiencing burnout and addressing it was more than half the battle. Despite being an eternal optimist, I realized that mental fatigue can indeed sneak up on me and I started to become more conscious, and frankly concerned about the mental toll brought upon many, if not most of us during this time of crisis.
As I tried to comprehend this new feeling, a friend sent me an article by journalist Tara Haelle titled Your ‘Surge Capacity’ Is Depleted — It’s Why You Feel Awful, which perfectly articulated what I was going through. At some point she wondered “Shouldn’t I be used to this by now?” and then “realized I wasn’t in the minority. My experience was a universal and deeply human one.” She interviewed Michael Maddaus, MD, a professor of thoracic surgery at the University of Minnesota, who summed it up nicely by saying “It’s a shitty time, it’s hard. You have to accept that in your bones and be okay with this as a tough day, with ‘that’s the way it is,’ and accept that as a baseline.”
Haelle also interviewed Pauline Boss, Ph.D, a family therapist and professor emeritus of social science at the University of Minnesota, who explained the decrease in motivation that had set in for me:
“We can kick and scream and be angry, or we can feel the other side of it, with no motivation, difficulty focusing, lethargy, or we can take the middle way and just have a couple days where you feel like doing nothing and you embrace the losses and sadness you’re feeling right now, and then the next day, do something that has an element of achievement to it.”
The concept of mental health and overall wellness was never a topic that I paid much attention to. But the combination of the pandemic and the realization that I’ll be 40 in less than one startup fundraising cycle has highlighted the importance of mental and physical health. In Haelle’s article, Maddaus describes the need to build up a resilience bank account.
“A resilience bank account is gradually building into your life regular practices that promote resilience and provide a fallback when life gets tough. Though it would obviously be nice to have a fat account already, he says it’s never too late to start. The areas he specifically advocates focusing on are sleep, nutrition, exercise, meditation, self-compassion, gratitude, connection, and saying no.”
Physical & Mental Wellness: A new investment thesis
At D20 Capital, we have been spending a lot of time at the intersection of technology and fitness & wellness. Our recent investment in Whoop represents our excitement surrounding the rapidly accelerating trend of consumers taking health into their own hands. As avid Whoop users at D20, we’ve experienced significant behavioral change towards more exercise and better sleep.
We are also starting a deep dive into the mental health and wellness space in the search for innovative companies working to increase awareness and to make mental health services more accessible for those who are financially constrained or for those hesitant to engage due to factors such as cultural stigma. For this, I will enlist my sister Yoonhee, who is 2 years into her Psychology Doctorate program at Stanford/Palo Alto University. So stay tuned for insights from someone who actually knows what they’re talking about.
Thankfully, as I write this, we have things to be optimistic about. The results of two promising vaccines have been announced and the terrible people in the White House have been voted out. But this crisis is nowhere near over and we must continue to build our ‘resilience bank’ and acknowledge the gravity and stress of the situation. Some days will be good, and some days will be tough.