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SFO / San Francisco / Such a Fucking idiOt

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1st Jan 2016 | 08:36

On a flight to San Francisco in 2000 or 2001 I had a chat with a British woman sitting next to me. She was a similar age to me, 20-something, also aiming to try her hand at the Silly Valley thing, but, you know, MONTHS behind me. She asked me if I knew of a Days Inn or something like that. There was (is) one in the Tenderloin district literally round the corner from my flat, but that part of the city was such a shithole I was embarrassed to say I lived there. And then (I kid you not) I managed to leave my box of tea behind on the plane, and I lost touch with my seat-mate trying to retrieve it. What a chump.

Another time, I was on a taxi from Cambridge to Heathrow (ridiculous wasteful expense) when I realised my passport had fallen out of my back pocket while I was sitting on my heels during a party. I missed my flight, had to go back to Cambridge to recover my passport, and my employer's travel agent put me on another flight the next day. I felt like a fool; I'm amazed my employer handled that so reasonably (not to mention the other ways I took advantage of them).

My sojourn in San Francisco was not a success. I was amazingly lucky to catch the tail end of the dot-com boom in 2000 but I burned out badly less than a year later. I was stupid in so many ways.

I failed because I overestimated my own capabilities, and I underestimated the importance of my friends. It's enormously difficult to establish a social network in a new place from scratch. I was lucky working for Demon Internet in London (1997-2000) and for Covalent in San Francisco (2000-2001) that in both cases my colleagues were a social bunch. But I was often back to Cambridge for parties with my mates, and there's a big difference between 60 miles and 6000 miles.

And, honestly, I was too arrogant to ask my colleagues for feedback and support. (I'm still crap at that.)


I recovered from the breakdown. Though it took a long time, I moved back closer to my friends, spent my savings writing code for fun, and in the end got a job which has kept body and soul together (and better) for 13 years.

My failure was painful and difficult, but I learned valuable lessons about myself, and it WAS NOT (in the end) a disaster.

This year has brought that time back to me in interesting ways.

A friend of ours went back to work in South America, in a place she knew and loved, in a job that was made for her. But the place had changed - the old friends were no longer there - and the job wasn't as happy as expected. She was back here much sooner than planned. But our mutual friends told her about my crash and burn and recovery, and this helped her recover.

Another friend did the dot-com thing with a much greater success than me: it took him a lot more than a year to burn out. His was a more controlled flight into terrain than mine, but similarly abrupt. However he already knew about my past, and he says he also took strength from my story.

It is enormously touching to know that my friends have seen my failure, seen that it wasn't a catastrophe, and that helped them to get back on their feet.

So, happy new year, and know that if things don't work out as you hoped, if you fucked it up, it isn't the end of the world. Keep talking to the people you love and keep doing your thing.

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Comments {6}

So proud of you my son.

from: anonymous
date: 1st Jan 2016 10:11 (UTC)

There have been anxious times for me as your mother, but such proud ones too. I love you to pieces and your family too. Happy 2016 darling. Xx

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Thanks for that! And to tell my story..

from: anonymous
date: 1st Jan 2016 11:51 (UTC)

I, too, landed in San Francisco with nothing but my old computer (desktop, running FreeBSD) and a hundred dollars (plus a few hundred owed for a job I did in Europe for US partner.)

Two years later, I moved into my own house.

Seven years later, I sold that house and divorced my wife.
I proceeded to life life of my dreams with girlfriend, in new apartment.
I lost her in two years, and apartment in four. I left US shortly.

Now I live in Ukraine and travel the world for free (ok, my company pays.)
Today is first day after my three-year volunteer term with European non-profit.
Many mistakes were made. Social conservatives circles lost and gained.

You are absolutely correct that one's friends matter more than oneself.

You know who I am :) posting from iOS app that didn't allow me to login.

Thanks for sharing. Hope to have tea with you one day.

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from: autopope
date: 1st Jan 2016 12:47 (UTC)

I did the dot-com thing too, circa 1995-2000. Was the first developer hired by Datacash, two weeks before Gavin and Dave registered the company; if I'd had the sense to take equity and salary rather than work for contract I'd be a millionaire now.

Instead I came within a whisker of having a second nervous breakdown, and managed to GTFO and jump ship for another job just as the boom ended (and the job I was jumping ship to evaporated before I got there).

These things are transient, and while they're a pain in the arse at the time, they'll give us a rich mine of anecdotes to trot out in future years.

(Also? Much happier now.)

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from: khalinche
date: 1st Jan 2016 13:53 (UTC)

I'm touched to be included in this, although my recovery's still very much ongoing - your example did help. Here's to forward momentum.

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from: delta_mike
date: 1st Jan 2016 14:12 (UTC)

I came very close to not getting my PhD—to quote autopope's most recent Laundry novel, my PhD is in, "Not Knowing When to Quit". While I did make it through by the skin of my teeth, and thus managed to convert the albatross around my neck into something useful, it was a mistake and the process broke me.

Spontaneously breaking down in floods of tears in the middle of Trafalgar Square because a good friend suggested that it would be totally okay™ to abandon my PhD was a sign I should have paid more attention to.

I'm an engineer and support human, not an academic; I've been much happier before and since serving in such roles!

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Interesting Links for 02-01-2016

from: livejournal
date: 2nd Jan 2016 12:00 (UTC)

User andrewducker referenced to your post from Interesting Links for 02-01-2016 saying: [...] It's gratifying to know that even when we get things wrong, others can learn from our mistakes [...]

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