It's Time to Lead
Never Bet Against America
Over the weekend, I watched QB1, a docu-series on Netflix that follows three highly recruited high school quarterbacks as they go through their senior year. You learn about their families, follow them through their ups and downs, and see how different the football experience can be across the country.
Two things struck me as I watched:
Justin Fields and his family are so likable that I’ll find myself rooting for Ohio State this fall for the first time. This is a borderline miracle considering one of the three times I can ever remember crying was after the Buckeyes upset the Miami Hurricanes in the national title game on a bogus PI call in 2002.
American values and American culture still exist and are worth fighting for.
An increasingly common discussion amongst my friends on both the left and right recently is the option of “exit.” The flavor of choice could be threatening to move to Canada/Europe, living the well-trod expat life in Asia/Latin America, or buying a bunker in New Zealand. What isn’t up for discussion is that America is in permanent and irrevocable decline.
My family immigrated to America in 1994 because my parents wanted a better opportunity for their children. I thank God every day for that decision because it completely changed the trajectory of my life. My parents wanted me to be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. I have no doubt that if I had grown up in most places in the world, I would’ve done one of those things, pleasing my parents and earning a comfortable life.
But we came to America.
America taught me different values: independence, chasing your dreams, and questioning authority. “Muh freedom” is a meme to many of us, especially those ensconced in our yuppie coastal enclaves, but it’s hardly surprising to me that the most vocal and consistent resistance to lockdowns came here in America as early as May. Whether or not you agree with their viewpoint, Americans will not be compliant to the government or authorities simply because they’re told to. It was striking that the rest of the globe by and large submitted without questions asked.
Thumbing your nose at conventional wisdom is what has built every great American company from IBM to Microsoft to Facebook. It’s that entrepreneurial derring-do where one or two people stand up, with all evidence to the contrary, and say “No, I think that’s wrong. I’ll show you.”
America is where creative destruction still thrives. It’s the entire premise of the great experiment that is Silicon Valley.
Does this independent streak have its drawbacks? Undoubtedly. American exceptionalism goes both ways. We’ve certainly had one of the most botched responses to COVID-19 although it may be interesting to note that Europe has been nearly as bad in the second wave. The UK, Spain, and Belgium topped the USA in per capita deaths with Italy and Sweden trailing just slightly. Nevertheless, this was clearly a catastrophic failure.
Contrarians are usually just wrong. The magic happens when a contrarian is right.
Watching QB1, I was struck by the simple and honest lives these American families from California to Georgia and South Carolina were living. The sons were chasing the dream of college ball and the NFL while the parents were always in the background, cheering them on the sidelines, taking them to church to teach them good values, and driving them to medical appointments. All the families were decidedly middle-class, with absolutely nothing remarkable about them.
I still got emotional while watching because what made these families special was just how American they were. There are millions of families like this all across the country, who simply want a better future for their kids, to own a home, and be part of a local community. Maybe they don’t have a fancy degree from an elite university, but they’re part of the fabric of this country and what makes it so special.
My favorite moment of the entire series may have been when Justin Fields’ team was down by a few touchdowns and he seeks out his dad on the sideline. His dad tells him to keep his chin up and that the others are looking to him for leadership. Justin goes out there and immediately starts dominating, rallying the team behind him. The comeback eventually falls short but what happened next was interesting: Justin immediately takes full responsibility for the loss, even though they certainly would not have been even close to winning without his heroics.
It was extreme ownership (and great fatherhood) in action.
What do we have today when we look at the American body politic? Everyone blames the ‘other.’ Republicans blame the radical left and claim they’re trying to destroy family values and capitalism itself. Democrats blame the far right and castigate all their opponents as racist. Incels complain about women; feminists complain about toxic masculinity. The campaigns of both Presidential candidates this cycle have entirely been antagonistic: “vote for me because of what HE’s going to do.”
No one is taking extreme ownership. Extreme ownership is not putting a trendy hashtag on your username, but then planning to move to another country if the person you don’t like is elected President. Guess what you’re leaving behind? The honest American families like the Fields, Mitchells, or Hartmans who make this country great. It’s time to toughen up, take responsibility for our own part in the mess this country is in, and fix it.
So many great companies are still going to be born here. The cure for aging will probably be found here. Some of the world’s best athletes are still born here. On a more granular level, so many more families deserve the chance to live the American dream with dignity even if they aren’t “knowledge workers.”
Stop blaming bogeymen and take a hard look at the mirror. You have a purpose and you can help fix things. This country is worth it and worth fighting for.
The decline of America is my fault because I put the goal of personal wealth above everything else. I was a narcissistic millennial, derelict in my duty to the country and symptomatic of what grips our nation. The selfish escapism route tempted me: I was a professional poker player for six years and have long toyed with the idea of moving to Asia or New Zealand. Singapore was a pretty amazing country to live in for a year. It still offers many lessons for how to build the great cities of the future.
But in my heart, I’m still American. And I’m so grateful to this country for what it taught me and for its people. I love them. Every one of them, even the ones whose beliefs I can’t stand or understand. We are still family. Sometimes you don’t love everything about your family, but the answer isn’t to throw them out or ignore them. I don’t care what Buzzfeed tells you. Family is forever and you fight for one another through thick and thin.
Every one of us is Justin Fields going up to his dad wondering what to do. We’ve messed up and things don’t look so good.
Let’s fulfill the promise of America that keeps the garbageman waking up for his 5 am shift, the cashier working her second job, or the teacher sowing seeds of hope in an underprivileged neighborhood. They want to work a job with dignity (not get their monthly UBI dole*), build families, and live peacefully with their loved ones.
The answer isn’t to quit. It’s to keep your head up and fight. It’s time to take ownership. Stop looking at others and start with yourself. What can I do to fix this? Others will follow.
It’s time to lead.
This 2x a month (hopefully?) newsletter will be related to my interests. These include technology, investing, and nutrition but I will surely cover other topics. If these sound interesting to you, please subscribe. If not, please subscribe anyway!
In case you don’t know anything about me, I’m Chief of Staff at Volley, a voice-controlled gaming and entertainment company. I used to be a professional poker player, ranking as high as #2 in the world in 2015. My biggest claim to fame was winning the National Spelling Bee as a seventh grader. I also won the National AAA Travel Challenge, the high school version of the Geography Bee.
For the past several months, I’ve become fascinated by the world of startups and venture capital. I plan on writing much more extensively about this topic in future newsletters. One of my greatest strengths is Deconstructive Thinking. I believe this is the key to learning effectively, a principle I’ve used to become world-class in three different domains. When starting a new endeavor, the temptation is to try to learn a bit of everything to feign a veneer of competence, however, it is impossible to achieve excellence or original thinking through shallow mimicry. The alternative is 'deconstructing' everything to its simplest form, performing thousands of reps, and slowly adding complexity as you grok each layer.
This newsletter will, in part, be a way to open-source my learning as I begin attacking my goal of becoming a world-class venture investor. I suspect some of my learning methods may not jive with traditional strategies and I’m always eager for critical feedback.
So if that’s the goal of the newsletter, why did I start off with a topic so seemingly unrelated?
I believe it’s important to know your why. Why are you doing what you’re doing? I want to fight for America and do my part to increase the prosperity and wealth of this country that changed everything for me. Participating in the building of generational companies is one of the most powerful and positive-sum things you can do for wealth creation. Many may disagree with this formulation, but I believe what makes America such a rich and wonderful country is the entrepreneurial spirit that underlies every company from the smallest mom & pop dry cleaners to the biggest behemoth that is Amazon. To quote Peter Fenton of Benchmark, “If you can be in service to the extraordinary founders that are changing the world for the better, it’s a noble calling.”
I’m excited to share this walk with you all.
Nutrition Tidbit of the Week: I’m really enjoying Justin Mares’ The Next Brand newsletter. Justin embodies that American entrepreneurial spirit and has built Kettle & Fire and Perfect Keto into businesses doing nearly $100mm in revenue. His most recent newsletter covers the amazing results elimination diets and fish oil have had on ADHD. Nutritional deficiencies (and toxicity from vegetable oils and sugar) are likely the cause of many of our modern diseases. For further reading, check out Dr. Cate Shanahan’s Deep Nutrition and The Fatburn Fix. If you do nothing else but stop eating vegetable oils, this newsletter will have been worth it.
Book or Podcast Episode I Recently Enjoyed: Ravi Gupta on VC:20. The story he shares about Mike Moritz when Instacart is going through one of the worst possible days in its history illustrates beautifully what makes a great VC and why Sir Mike is one of the GOATs.
See you all again in a few weeks where I’ll begin writing about my early forays into understanding the world of venture!
*I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Andrew Yang’s support was largely limited to well-meaning technocratic elites and their NEET children. Most Americans want honest jobs and the ability to live a life of meaning and dignity, not a handout. We need to build an infrastructure and opportunities for them.