Facing the Truth
I’ve spent my career meandering, always having one foot in the door, one foot out, and a third foot in some other door. I would get excited and play around with this shiny new toy and that fancy new gadget. I would start a LOT of things. I would not finish 99% of them.
And it worked me! Kinda…
I mean I very much got away with this lifestyle for 10+ years of my adult life.
I was born into an incredibly privileged position, with an aptitude for engineering. Despite my wishy washy work ethic, I was always employable, and even got to work alongside some truly brilliant people. Even with this lack of discipline, I was just productive enough to bring enough value to be “employable”. Somehow, I even created an outward image to many people, who don’t know me that well, that I was “doing pretty well in life”. I wanted validation…and often I got that validation.
But…did that really work for me? Did that really make me happy?
Those who really know me…would not say so.
Around 6 years ago, I was diagnosed with Bipolar I Disorder. Over those years, I suffered through crippling depressions, and destructive manic phases. And just about nothing helped. I went to the best doctors, healers, experts, coaches, spirtual gurus, trying to understand my condition. I tried every medicine, legal, semi legal, and illegal, under the sun, with no effect on my mood or stability. No matter what I did, the same patterns would keep repeating, over and over.
As much as I wanted to believe the problem was chemical or “outside” of me…It simply was not the truth. The better of those “healers” tried to tell me this…But I would not listen. I would just spend tens of thousands of dollars on another “expert” to tell me what I wanted to hear, that I was the victim. Now sure, I had a genetic predisposition component, to this illness, but after extensive “experts”, I very much discovered that it was not the root of my conditon.
Over the years, life forced me many times, to look the actual truth in the face — that the real reason for my Bipolar was really a lack of true fulfillment.
And…the even more uncomfortable truth, that this lack of fulfillment was not due so much to my brain chemistry, or my job, or my boss, or the country I lived in, or my friends, or my girlfriends, or…
I was the common denominator.
At the end of the day…I was the one responsible for my lack of fulfillment. I had all the tools. The brain. The charisma. The likability. The incredible luck. Dozens of people invested me. And I mean really invested in me. Invested their time, money, majorly stuck out their necks, gave me chance after chance, despite all my resistance.
These people really invested in the true currency that moves the world — their physical, emotional, and spiritual energy, all in service of helping me grow.
Being my friend, boss, mentor, lover, or partner is not easy. I have a HUGE ego. And although on the surface I may seem like an honest, trusting, and open minded person, I really am not.
I dig into what I want to believe the truth is. And I do not budge. Whether you yell at me, berate me, or love be and praise me…I do not let go of that lie I want to believe. Even if I know, deep down, it’s a lie.
But still, people kept investing time and energy into me, showing me the truth that was at the root of my suffering. And every step of the way, I would resist them, not fully recognizing or accepting the enormous gifts they were bestowing upon me.
After a relatively long period realtive stability, working as an R&D Frontend Engineer for HOVER, I felt burnt out all of a sudden. In early 2020, I took a medical leave, and eventually left HOVER, doing what I usually do — blaming it for my “burn out”, failing to truly appreicate the extent to which my boss and the HOVER executive team bent over backwards to make me comortable, happy, and accomodate me, in every possible way.
And then…I went through my longest and most brutal mental valley - 1.5 years. I was searching for an answer. So I just traveled around the world doing basically nothing in particular, trying to fill some void, find some “magic formula” or “environment” that would make me happy.
I thought I was burnt out from work…But really I was burnt out from fighting the truth. Fighting my higher self.
And boy was I exhausted from all that fighting. That depression, was debihiltating. For months on end, I would literally lay in bed watching Netflix, getting up just to use the bathroom or eat some fast food. I did not even have energy to shower.
Now…I’ve been very public about my mental illness over the years. But let me share something that I’ve only a few people truly know about.
Right around this time in 2015, I started contracting for a small financial startup, EVEN. I did a great job. A really great job. So much so that the founder offered me essentially a Founding Engineer level position, with a bunch of equity, and matching responsibilities and resources. I was put in charge of interfacing with the Roken agency’s developers for a huge project — the EVEN rebrand. I was overjoyed. This was my big break. Finally…I had everything I wanted. The position, the componensation, the authority, the respect. And most importantly that validation I so deeply craved. I deserved this!
But boy……..did that power go to my head.
Shortly after I accepted the position, I had my first manic episode…In less than a month, I went from being a pretty productive engineer, to a literal maniac. I was swinging my metaphorical dick left and right. And somehow…the founder supported that…Validated that…Maybe even enabled that…He TRUSTED me.
I decieved his trust. My ego got so massive in less than a month, that I demanded that the resignation of the Roken’s CEO. The agency was belligerent, understandably, and threatened to tank the massive project. And more…
Needless to say I was fired.
But that was not enough for me to face my ego. No, I was right. The Roken CEO was wrong! My boos was wrong! He should’ve blindly supported me! He should’ve kept feeding my ego, enabling my descent into insanity!
I was determined to prove that I was right. I started some amorphous company, and within a month spend > $400k on lavish expenses, hiring people to do all sorts of useless things, just to validate that I was smart, that I was capable, that I was right. That everyone else was wrong.
Well…that did not go as planned. I was in massive debt. More importantly, I burnt the bridges for every significatant person in my life. My (ex)wife. My family. My friends. My mentors. I shut them all out, as they were trying to help me see what I had become.
I was diagnosed with my first manic episode. If you look in the DSM-IV under “manic episode”, you will see a little picture of me. I ticked every single box. Yet…I didn’t accept it. No…I was not manic. They just don’t get it.
Fast forward, the next 6 years was the same story repeating, over and over. Maybe not as intensely as before. Little by little by ego started accepting the possibility that maybe…everyone wasn’t wrong…maybe I was wrong…
It wasn’t without help of course. Dozens of people, old and new, forgave me, and kept investing in me, helping me, supporting me, loving me.
But…I still wasn’t really facing the truth.
It took 6 excruciating years to tire out my ego…
Probably more before I was “offically diagnosed”.
I just passed the 6 year of what happened at EVEN. Being given this incredible trust, opportunity, and power to do something big.
And maybe God decided to give me another chance...
Earlier this year, I joined a small startup named Smartrr, recruited by a brilliant and inspiring founder and engineer, Roger Beaman. The moment I interviewed with him, I knew that he was a force of nature, that you meet only once, maybe twice in your life. Despite my deep depression, I knew deep down, in my gut, that working with Roger…was going to be special.
Sadly, for complicated reasons, we did not get to work together for very long, and were forced to go our separate ways for a bit. I stayed at Smartrr for a while, but that depression, that just started to lift, came back and intensified. I ended up doing what I usually do. I quit, spent some time “recovering” from my “burn out”, blaming Smartrr’s management and my bad luck, and this and that.
Starting the same story all over with different characters. Moving to another company, hoping that “this time it’ll be different”, while not confronting the real problem.
Anyways, I was deeply hurting at this point. I felt alone. Most of my friends were back in Silicon Valley. And I didn’t have the energy to go out and make new friends.
Then…something told me to go out on a limb, and reach out to Roger. I really needed a friend, to listen to me, to take away that crippling lonliness.
Roger did that…and so much more.
It was only when we started our personal friendship, that I truly realized what a genuine, unique, and truly remarkable person Roger is.
What makes Roger so incredible is his commitment to growth. To real growth. And real growth, takes committment to the truth. I’m not talking about that “technically this is x not y” truth us engineers have, sitting in our ivory towers.
I’m talking about the shit that matters. Facing who you are. What you are. And being with it, no matter how ugly it is. No matter how much it hurts.
Now, Roger is in no ways perfect. Far from it (no offense bud!). Just like all of us, he struggles with his ego, and all sorts of cognitive dissonances and inner struggles and insecurities. But, unlike most of us, he faces it, head on. And he does not shy away. He does not run from it. He truly accept it as it is.
Roger truly inspired me, not by his engineering prowess, or business savvy, or even his vast knowledge, wisdom, and intrinsic understanding of just about anything he jumps into. But by this quality alone. Facing the truth. Accepting it. And moving forward from it.
January 1st, 2022, I am embarking on, by far the most challenging, but also, most rewarding journey of my life, as Founding Engineer, at Novel.
Now sure, it’s the snazzy new field of “NFTs” and all that. And sure it has all the investors and brands and whatnots up in a tizzy as the next unicorn. And I’m extremely lucky to be part of that adventure…on its own…especially on the ground floor.
But all of that pales in comparison to the real prize — a chance to learn from and grow with my closest friend and greatest mentor. Someone I truly respect and believe in.
I’d like to say that I trust Roger 100%. And where it matters, I absolutely do. I trust 100% that at his core, Roger is a determined, genuine and principled engineer, businessman, and friend. But, my ego — it still very much is clinging on to the little bits of my old story — of being a victim, of being right, of everyone else being wrong. Because boy….was that a comforting story. So I fight Roger’s advice and help every step of the way. We argue for weeks about the stupidest things…And it’s one hell of a fight. That ego…does NOT want to let go. But, it’s getting there. 90% of the time, after hours and hours of yelling, it goes “FUCK…Roger’s right”. And 10% of the time, Roger’s ego goes “FUCK…Toli has a point”. THAT is healthy. THAT is how growth happens. Being there, with that discomfort, with that pain. Until…it dissipates.
Growing at Novel is not going to be easy. Not by a long shot. It will be the hardest thing I’ve done in my life, by far. Not because of the tech, I could probably figure that out. But because of how I must fundamentally change as a person.
There’s no more running or hiding from the truth of what I am. Not with Roger as my boss. I mean…the option is always there. But I can no longer consciously tell myself that sweet comforting lie…that it’s someone else’s fault.
So, to all my old friends, mentors, bosses, lovers, and partners, from the bottom of my heart, I offer you my sincerest gratitude for getting me to this point. I absolutely could not have come to this point without your collective unconditional love and support.
To a New Year, and a brighter future. May you all find the path that challenges you to find your true fulfillment.