“I knew I was having trouble coming to terms with the difference between what I was good at and what I was interested in, and where those two things overlapped.”
John Allspaw has built a phenomenal career: he helped build Salon, Friendster, and Flickr, has written two books, and is now building the online marketplace Etsy where he’s the SVP of Tech Operations. But John wasn’t always sure of where his career would take him. He told us how meditation helped him navigate the transition from college to career and how the practice continues to keep him focused on his goals.
Why did you start meditating? What was your goal?
I started meditating towards the end of college, when I had a bit of an existential crisis about what I wanted to do for a career. I knew I was having trouble coming to terms with the difference between what I was good at and what I was interested in, and where those two things overlapped. Instead of thrashing back and forth, I discovered that meditation might be a good way to learn my own mind.
What is your meditation routine?
Generally, it’s to sit in the morning in the house before my wife and kids wake up. For about twenty minutes, never really any longer than that.
Can you tell me a story about how meditation improved your performance?
At one point, I had a completely full plate: I was running Operations for Flickr, had committed to writing a book (The Art Of Capacity Planning), and was about to become a father for the second time. My book’s manuscript was due the day my son was due, actually. I felt reasonably stressed but that wasn’t the major issue; my attention was too caught up with all of the ancillary things that surrounded those events and responsibilities. I went back and re-read some of the books that got me into vipassana to begin with, and I bought a new zafu [meditation cushion] and got to sitting.
After some time, I was able to keep aware of what was important during the day: what was in front of me. I kept worry from taking too much mental real estate.
Do you think meditation gives you a competitive edge? Why?
This is an interesting question, because in order to ask it, I think I have to have a baseline on which my “competitors” sit, on some axis. All I know is my experience, and they are they experts in theirs. What I can say is that I’m better and more present when I do have a strong practice, and I think I make better decisions when I’m more present.
What book or speaker got you interested in meditation, and why?
Thich Nhat Hanh’s book The Miracle Of Mindfulness.