Thursday, August 24th 2017

Depression in Abundance

It’s easy to feel bad when everyone around you seems to be feeling good. When we observe happiness or success, the subconscious asks: “Why don’t I have that?” It’s the catalyst for a waterfall of self-doubt that can easily drag down your mood if you let it.

Consider this post by blogger/pundit Michael Arrington. Arrington has made a new career of chronicling the development of Internet startups in Silicon Valley. “Times are good, money is flowing, and Silicon Valley sucks,” he writes. His beef?

“I don’t know what it is, but the same thing happened in the late nineties before the bubble burst. Lots of start-ups got funded that made no sense but people got excited anyway. A unique, beautiful and well-executed idea was not a story worth talking about until that first round of big, eye-popping capital. People become more anxious, and more likely to snap at someone in anger or jealousy. Rumor mongering spikes, and a crucial balance is lost. It’s no longer about beautiful products and genius developers. It’s about the money and the status, and hot PR chicks and marketing departments.”

The post, if taken for face value, belies a surprising naivete on Arrington’s part. When was Silicon Valley NOT about the money? People can find passion and drive for what they’re doing when there’s no money involved, but working long hours on a risky new product or company is a sacrifice. It can separate a founder from his or her loved ones or from doing something else fun.

But Arrington isn’t really writing about “The Thrill” that’s gone. He’s smarter than to believe in his own words. He feels bad and has tried to pin this on something outside himself. He’s not depressed, Silicon Valley is depressing him. It’s a classic case of Displacement, or finding an object outside yourself and imbuing that thing with your own emotions.

Arrington may, instead, expressing his own depression and anxiety. It’s hard to cope with slowing growth and low profit margins when so many people around you seem to be creating miraculous new products or earning huge profits.

It’s possible he is infected with a “Keeping up with the Joneses” mentality. It’s not a good place to be, but the cure is simple: track your own progress and personal development. Focus your energy and attention on what you’re doing to improve yourself and what steps you’re taking to avoid stunting your professional growth.

There will always be someone out there who is more successful, smarter, better looking, luckier, more talented, more creative, more powerful, more artistic, or more attuned to the universe. That’s especially true in Silicon Valley. Stacking yourself up against others will always leave you feeling low.

Focus on what you’ve accomplished instead. In Arrington’s case, that’s a lot. He’s built one of the best blogs in the business and is well respected by those who are familiar with his work. He should be proud of the way he’s matured as a writer and reporter during his blogging tenure and how he’s become more sensitive to the work of those around him. There’s a lot of empathy in his admission to writing about a company after getting a tearful call from a CEO.

But there’s always something to work on. It’s certainly okay to look outside of yourself for spiritual and psychological inspiration, but the real yardstick of your enlightenment is how you feel as you progress through life. Understanding the cause of depression, or any emotion, is a sign of wisdom worth striving for.

The picture is via Arrington’s flickr account.

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