I’ve been thinking about our lifespan recently. That sounds grim, but it’s actually not. One thing that spurred this thinking is that my wife’s great aunt just turned 100. She is essentially my wife’s grandmother figure and they are very close. I first met her over 10 years ago when she was turning 90, and I figured I realistically wouldn’t see very much of her. But I was quite wrong ☺ Recently, she just made the decision to move to the Boston area so that she can be close to Nancy’s family, so I hope to see a lot more of her in the coming months and years. Incidentally, my own grandmother is in her 90’s too, so hopefully that means that our kids have pretty good genes.
Then yesterday, I read Peter Thiel’s commencement speech at Hamilton College. It was a terrific speech and one point I thought was particularly interesting was that he believed that the conventional wisdom to “live each day like it’s your last” is flawed. Instead, he said that one should live like they might live forever, and that those around you might live forever too.
Reflecting on this advice and on the life of my wife’s great aunt got me thinking about a few things.
First, it’s a reminder to invest in cross-generational relationships. Nancy and her great aunt have a great relationship because they both invested in their relationship over many years. It’s a rich and fruitful one, and in her older age, there have been practical benefits too. Who knows what kind of a relationship I may one day have with my friends kids when we all grow older? Who knows what kind of a relationship I might have with my mother or uncle or aunts if I assume we will live forever and might yet bring our relationship to a different level? I find that I’m sometimes about optimistic about how relationships can develop for people of my own generation, but I have too narrow a view of how relationships can develop with people of a different generation. There will be a lot to learn from both directions.
Second, it’s a nice reminder to have a long-view of my career. Can I find a way to invest in companies that will be around not just 10-years from now, but when I turn 50, or 75, or 100? How do I think about the evolution of NextView if I think about the firm being around for generations, not just until the next fund or the next decade? How do I develop a broader view of where technology and innovation is headed so that we can draft behind the broader march towards the future, vs. a temporal opportunity?
And related to this all, is the reminder to always be learning and to never fear re-inventing. Earlier in my career, I really longed for the moment when I felt like I could “master” a craft, and then repeat it over and over again. The reality is that this is not at all how things work, and it’s especially obvious when you take the long view. Context changes and conventional wisdom changes. One moment you are too young to know anything. The next you are exactly what the world wants. The next, you are written off for being a dinosaur. But some people are ageless, and they tend to get that way because they are always learning and always looking to re-invent themselves. They leverage the things they’ve learned, but realize that the world will pass them by mercilessly if they don’t find a way to keep up.