Eden Chen

Reflections on 2017 (and other random rants)

Eden Chen December 30, 2017

Reflections on 2017 (and other random rants)

A Lesson from the Sequoia

2017 was the year that Hugh Hefner met his demise, dare I say that death comes to us all. The irony of his Playboy empire was that it represented freedom and individualism and yet oppression and exploitation. Sexual freedom enslaved so many men to sexual addiction (pointing at myself). We live in an ironic generation. I find that the more we fight for freedom, the more we realize that freedom enslaves us. Socialism has seen a massive resurgence in 2017 and yet we still fight for freedom of individualism in everything. People are afraid to admit that freedom can create inequality (larger and larger income gap), vice (objectification of women), and addiction (opioid crises), and people don’t always make the best choices, when given the choice. My parents are from Taiwan, and they tend not to be fans of communism which has trickled down to me, but the truth is often nuanced. I know in rural areas, the irony is just as thick. People complain about taxes and government involvement and then they complain about rising food costs which are driven lower by government subsidies.

We are great at using language that supports our ideals, like demonizing “capitalism” instead of freedom. Or people that struggle to find a job blaming the “weak economy” when by almost any measure we are living in the most prosperous of times. Facebook connects people and yet people have never been further apart. We’ve hit peak Google where people can find information on anything in the world, and yet we seem so far from asking the right questions. Unemployment and the stock market are at all time highs, but I feel like we are at the apex of skepticism of institutions. My 2017 rant — we are a people that find it very difficult to take contrarian opinions, and to see the nuance among the things that we fight for. We live in ironic times.

That all being said, every year I sit down and do two things:

  1. Reflect on my year
  2. Predict the theme of the next year using the arc of past events

One of the most difficult things to do, is to remember and reflect, and one of the next most difficult things to do is to look to the future and cast vision. It’s much easier to just go to work, and go to the next event, and the next event, until you wake up and it’s the end of the year and your left wondering what happened. I do this a lot.

Looking at some of my past reflections: At the end of 2016, I reflected that 2016 was a year of stabilization. I wrote that unmet expectations created stability for me and I predicted that 2017 was going to be a year of growth and war. I think that’s been largely true but when times are good, it’s sometimes hard to tell if you are really doing good or if success is just a product of being in a strong economic environment.

I checked off a bunch of ego boxes this year like getting on the Forbes 30 under 30 list, growing the business to the point where we will make the Inc 5000 in 2018, amongst a bunch of other accolades. I think the biggest growth for me though, was realizing how accolades and press matter very little, and it tends to be the most narcissistic egocentric people that chase them. Accolades are for chumps like me.

I don’t mean to say that press is not useful or that it’s easy to get. As the saying goes, “all press is good press.” I always think of Tim Ferriss, who wrote his best seller 4 hour work week after building a business that wasn’t really all that successful. He was able to find the key piece of what made that experience meaningful (namely that it was automated and he didn’t have to do much) and used that to propel him into one of the most influential business writers of the last decade. If you’re smart about the way you promote yourself, you can get press, and that press can certainly help you, but it doesn’t mean you’ve done actually done anything. I just don’t think that people that are actually making stuff happen in business (Bezos, Jobs, Musk, or the thousands of other people you’ve never heard of) are trying to get on lists. They just do work.

Overall, it really has been a great year, namely because of the people that surround me. I’ve had best friends move to Los Angeles this year, and had the grace of loving the city I live in more and more. I really have a hard time understanding why everyone doesn’t move to LA. I’m so thankful for our amazing church and the co-workers that I get to work with. I really had a blessed year.

As I reflect on 2018, I want to get more serious about doing meaningful work. Charles and I started Fishermen Labs because we wanted to make an impact. I believed and still believe that business is the best way to make impact in this world in a scalable way. It’s only now that I reflect and realize that all the things that don’t push our revenue or income are the things that get kicked down the road. It’s very difficult to say no. And when you don’t say no, it’s really hard to do meaningful work because you are always responding to the most near term problem. I would like for 2018 to be the year of meaning. Saying no to things that waste time. Stay focused.

Charles and I announced that we’re starting another business, one that democratizes healthy food by taking the most “common” food type that we as Asian people know (ramen), and making it something that doesn’t kill you. I always feel awful after eating instant ramen but it is so good. If you drink the soup it’s hard not to get heart burn. And yet, the components in ramen have the opportunity to be cheap and nutritious, with simple components like noodles, soup, and veggies. We have no business being in the food industry, we’ve already had many people laugh at us for being naive and entering such an unprofitable industry. I personally think ignorance is bliss when you are just getting started. Turns out, that very few people would start a business if they knew the amount of pain it would cause. I think that’s probably true for having kids too.

Finally, I went to the most interesting restaurant in LA the other day, called Clifton’s Republic. Don’t be fooled by the horrible reviews, the place is like Disneyland in downtown LA. There’s all these nooks and crannies. I found the most peculiar plaque that was nailed to the wall. I couldn’t believe I was reading something Christian in a restaurant in the middle of downtown Los Angeles. It is my prayer as I close out 2017.

I move thro’ the silence of trees high and grand,
Then pause ‘mid the ferns, and give thanks where I stand.
Dim aisles of woodland cathedral-like seem,
Evoking my worship, enhancing my dream.
O God that this restless and visionless race
Might seek Thee in earnest, and slacking pace,
And trace thro’ Thy word the real meaning of life…
That life “hid with Christ” mid the worry and strife.
O forest of big trees thy secret I learn…
’Tis in stillness of soul His true path we discern.

Weekly musings delivered to your inbox