One man’s (extended) thoughts on why we should slow down, take life one day at a time, and become comfortable perpetually exploring our identities, passions and lifestyles. Told through a life story and personal journey, so buckle up!
I’m not sure what took me so long to find my way, nor can I tell you why I diverted myself onto so many paths I knew would never lead to my ultimate quest. I have no explanation for putting off what was arguably so clear so long ago. I suppose it just hadn’t yet struck my fancy.
What I can say, now that I’ve been spending my time exactly how I choose, is that I’m the happiest I’ve ever been and feel as though I’ve found my belonging.
And I’m just getting started.
To back up, allow me to share some insight into who I am and what the hell I’m talking about.
Ever since I was a kid I’ve played with technology—programming LEGO Mindstorms to maneuver how I wanted, developing complex architectures on a TI-83 calculator so I could store and recall my semester’s grades, customizing intricate online portals with a never-ending thirst for PHP knowledge, and growing online communities through my fully stacked vBulletin forums.
Total. Complete. Nerd.
To me it was the norm, but apparently it wasn’t the same for everyone else. I spent a lot of my free time messing with technologies and playing video games.
Lots and lots of video games.
I was simultaneously into music and really took off with it through high school, joining every band I could through school or with friends. By the time I was graduating and looking into colleges, I was caught in a world of music and believed that was my path to pursue, so I marched on.
Through a combined interest in music and business I ended up in Ithaca College’s business school with plans to combine the two fields. But something happened—I got wrapped up in the world of finance, investing, and business, and dove deeply into an investment banking track.
I spent so much of my time working within the business school studying growing technology companies. We had a mutual fund with tens of thousands of dollars under management, and I ended up leading investments within the technology sector, as I found every other sector boring.
And then again, something happened. I went to NYC on a trip with the school and realized something important—I had zero interest in living life as an investment banker talking about money all day long. Sure, I enjoy money (perhaps more than the next), but I couldn’t talk about it all day, every day, thus leading me to switch into the communications school and study media to try to get back into music.
The result was getting sidetracked once again, this time with audio production and mass media, which ultimately led me to study in Los Angeles. I fell in love with LA and everything it had to offer. Combined with an overdose of Ari Gold and Entourage, and a wildly strong Ithaca-LA network, I decided to move to California to become a talent agent (which, in hindsight, was nothing I knew, nor gave a shit, about).
While I was trying so hard to be this person I thought I wanted to be, somewhere along the way I noticed that every job I’d ever had always resulted in me building online presences (aka websites with an understanding of digital marketing) and leveraging technologies to increase efficiencies. After finally realizing that I didn’t belong in entertainment, I jumped ship to an agency and formally became a web producer.
Half a year in I didn’t love the company, and when I started to reevaluate my life I noticed I was losing some best friends to the East coast, had a sister starting college in Philadelphia (where my family lives), and a roommate moving to New York.
So naturally I decided to move home and make a life in Philadelphia.
Thing was, I had no idea what the hell I was going to do with myself. I took my LSATs (always had been an interest and figured the time was right) but decided I didn’t want to be a lawyer, so I didn’t apply to law schools. After some exploration I ended up leading new business efforts for an awesome brand development company (read: ad agency) in Philly. A year and a third (and some big wins) later, we parted ways as the fit wasn’t right for either party, leading me to a completely open ended lifestyle—which I recognized was in my complete control.
The past (almost) 5 months have been a wild roller coaster ride, with me often not knowing what the hell to do with my time and where to properly expense my energy. Excited to no longer have a full time job, I knew I could throw myself into any projects I wanted, as I had the luxury of some time before I really needed to get “a job.” After exploring a bunch and moving on from most of them, I noticed something. I had always been interested in a local mobile tech company, and had kept them in my peripherals for the two years that I’d lived in Philly.
Through discussions with their CEO and others, I decided this was where I would dig in and kick ass for a while. Not knowing what it would be like, I rolled up my sleeves and started pounding the digital pavement (so to speak).
And let me tell you, it’s been fucking awesome.
They’re a tech company so every day I talk tech, discuss the future, use geekspeak, and do all the things that excite me (remember above where I nerded all over this page?). I spend time at home reading about and tinkering with tech of the future (TechCrunch and my new GS4 w/ NFC). I spend time at work applying that knowledge to conversations, marketing and sales efforts. I’ve totally blurred the line between work and play, because it’s become one and the same: “plork”. Kidding.
But seriously, I’m noticing that I’m happy as hell while growing this company, and I finally feel like I have a home.
Maybe my realization and acceptance were brought on by the recent explosion of tech entrepreneurship. I see it all the time?—?articles arguing whether or not entrepreneurship is the future of America. That’s a big statement and I understand why it’s a discussion, but here’s how I now see it:
Entrepreneurs are people who do what they want because it truly excites them.
They LOVE the rush of tinkering with problems keeping them up at night, waking them in the morning and fueling them throughout the day. I’ve just decided THAT’S what entrepreneurship is.
It’s exploring yourself, identifying what makes you feel alive, and then pursuing it with everything you’ve got until you’re successful in your own right.
Just look at Elon Musk.
This entrepreneurial (startup) culture has seemingly permeated America like a viral disease—which I credit to Silicon Valley, but that’s another discussion—and we’re all now realizing that it’s OK for one to pursue what we enjoy. Not only OK, but encouraged. I’ve written about this before, but I feel as though I’ve expanded my understanding of why entrepreneurship is about doing what you love, and doing it with everything you’ve got.
The company I’m working with is the first truly tech company I’ve ever been a part of. I’ve always enjoyed them from a tech standpoint and have thought they could do so much and be so much more than they currently are, which is why I’ve thrown myself into growing them.
I’ve come on in a consulting capacity—sales, marketing, business development—and I do whatever needed to get our tech in front of the people that will benefit from it but just don’t know it yet.
I’ve only been working with them for a month or two and all I can say is that I fucking love it. I love being there every day, hustling like there’s no tomorrow. I find tremendous joy talking technology with prospects, team members, strangers on Twitter and friends alike. At the end of my day I come home and play with technology, learning more than I knew the day before and enveloping myself in a world of knowledge, as that’s what we use to create the future.
What prompted my writing were my ongoing thoughts of “why has it taken me so long to identify and make peace with what has clearly been my passion for the majority of my life?” And similarly, “why did I take so long to make an effort to move into the tech field, which is clearly where I belong?”
After writing way too many words (I’m sorry!), I’m not sure I have the answer, but I think it has to do with the journey. I’ve had a wild journey and I’ve made sure to enjoy every step of the way, despite all stressors thrown my way. I’ve managed to work in finance, entertainment, new media, advertising—and tech has been the undercurrent through the whole thing. It’s what’s carried me along and kept me looking forward.
I’ve learned a lot from all my experiences and I’m sure that will never stop. The best I can leave you with is that there’s no need for us to feel rushed to discover who we are. I’m sure I’ll have several more “epiphanies” throughout my next (hopefully) 80+ years, so I’m not going to get too comfortable. Had I not taken the paths I chose, I would never have experienced so many incredible things—and I’ve loved the life I’ve lived!
So my suggestion to you all, I’ll borrow from the Holstee Manifesto:
“This is your life. Do what you love, and do it often.”
It’s ok if you don’t know where you’re going, and it’s ok if you haven’t fully identified who you are. I’ve always been unsure, but now I’m going to make it work to my advantage. Every day is a new adventure and I recognize that I’m in complete control.
Go out there with a smile on your face and give it your best, because your best is all you’ve got to give.
Mike Tannenbaum is a 20-something living in Philadelphia who’s currently growing a mobile technology company while continually exploring opportunity, new paths and things that excite him. He’s worked with creative agencies, new media companies and startups, and is always seeking to connect with curious, passionate people interested in exploring, learning and creating. Inspired by the combination of technology, social impact, creativity and entrepreneurship, he can be found on Twitter @TannenbaumMike.