Today marks the ten year wedding anniversary for your father and me. We're in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic so we celebrated at home. It's given me ample time to reflect on how much life has changed since we first got married, and how much gratitude I have for him and for you. As a gift for him, I wrote him a letter. Maybe it'll give you some perspective on all the lessons I've learned in life so far from my journey together with him. Here it is below:
Happy ten year anniversary, my love! As I reflect back on the last decade of marriage, I am filled with gratitude for your companionship. As I've grown and changed, it's been a thrilling journey that we've shared together. My life today with you and Zoe and Dexter is a radical transformation from when we first met in college.
I hold deep admiration and respect for you, in large part because of how you've taught me to be a better person. Here are ten lessons you've taught me over the years.
Seek and embrace constructive criticism
Many years ago when we were at LinkedIn together, I was eager to make my case and get a promotion within the marketing team. I was delivering fantastic results and my cross-functional partners were happy. However, the team had recently acquired new leadership and there were a lot of new faces on the team. It came as a shock when the new leader of the team pulled me aside after a team meeting and told me rather harshly that I needed to participate more and that I was making new team members feel like there was a divide between the old guard and the new guard. I remember coming home and telling you about it, expressing my outrage that she'd singled me out to give this critical feedback. Your feedback then was a huge surprise. You said, what if she's right? What if you take the feedback at face value, and rather than have a chip in my shoulder and resent the way that it was delivered, and embrace the content of what she's saying? It was like a icy shower on my private little pity fest. However, you were right. I followed your advice and made an effort to change my behavior and got almost immediate feedback a week later about how much she appreciated my leadership in the team.
This small example was one of the first formative steps for me to learn to ask for and embrace constructive feedback. It would have been the easy route to say yes that is so unfair, but you didn't take the easy way out. For my best interests, you did the uncomfortable thing for you, and engaged in a direct conflict to push me on how to take the feedback to heart so I could improve as a person. These days, I am far more eager to give and receive feedback and self-aware at how prickly I can be when I receive it. However I always think back to this small example and it reminds me how valuable it can be.
Follow your passion
The idea of following your passion has always felt like such a hackneyed and trite phrase that belongs on those signs you see inside of wine country gift shops. It wasn't until I met you that I truly began to understand what it means. You have such a burning desire to build and create software and businesses that the energy and enthusiasm for this shines out of you. It's like a strong internal compass that always tells you what true north is. And as I've watched you navigate your career and life, you've been true to these passions from start to finish. The decision not to work at Goldman Sachs and instead go into technology despite the higher pay and status. The decision early on in your career not to interview at Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation because their mission was not your mission. The decision against joining top-tier VCs because your passion is to build and create. Tempting acquisition offers for Notejoy because people want you to lead their R&D teams. Time and time again, life has thrown these amazing opportunities your way as far as the other things that people value - status, money, power - and while it hasn't been easy, you've been unerring in your clarity of focus. Seeing this clarity has been incredibly inspiring for me and I've benefited so much from seeing you make these hard calls. The lesson you've taught me over the years is that it's important to understand my own priorities and values in life, and use those intrinsic factors to guide the decisions that I make.
Embrace change even if you disagree
It took me eleven years with you to get a dog. Eleven! And now, we have Dexter in our lives and he's become a full member of our family that we both care for and love. I never would have imagined this would be possible at the start of our relationship because we had spirited arguments about whether or not to get a dog and you really dug your heels in. I remember arguments and tears along the way. You made it abundantly clear how opposed you were to the idea of getting a dog. They are smelly, they get in the way of travel, they require work, and you don't really appreciate the benefits. All of that is largely true and I know it still is.
And yet you ultimately were OK with us getting a dog because we bought the house and we hit a compromise on the right breed to minimize the drawbacks. And yes, he did throw up in our car within minutes of meeting you for the first time. What I'm amazed by however is that once you said yes, you were all in. When we hit our rough patches with Dexter, you didn't hold it over my head for even a minute that this inconvenience was all my fault. Despite the fact you never wanted one, the argument was had and the decision was made. And once made, you modeled what it is to move on without hard feelings and accept a new change in your life. When I reflect back on this journey, I am filled with admiration on how wholeheartedly you can embrace change - even change you disagree with - without holding grudges.
Foster a growth mindset
We spent our 20s in relative sloth. After our youthful physiques began to fade, we spent way too much time eating burritos and pizza and all the delicious things under the sun. I had convinced myself that I was just completely unathletic and this was a gift that I was not born with. I remember the first 5K we ran together in 2012. The idea of running 3 miles straight was horrifying. When I finished, I thought I was either going to throw up or my heart was going to burst! It felt simultaneously like a major accomplishment and a horrible life experience I never wanted to go through again.
Fast forward to almost a decade later, and together we have journeyed together to come to the realization that if we identify the parts of exercise we like, it is actually really fun and motivating to achieve a fitness transformation. I've ended the decade in the best shape of my life. While this is a journey that we've gone through together, I am so grateful for your companionship on this journey. So often I have heard stories of partners who resist change for themselves or don't support a change in others if this new lifestyle inconveniences them. We could easily have stalled each other's progress by tempting the other person into skipping just one workout or going out for a delicious meal, but that didn't happen. Whether it's my decision to start working out, or your decision to do it with me, you've been unstinting in your love and support for me to pursue a change in my life.
Stop keeping score
I have always grown up with money and time as a way to keep score. And there have been times in our career where I've made more money than you and other times when you've made more money than me. Whether you were the product leader for the new product launch of LinkedIn Sales Solutions or I was SVP Marketing at SurveyMonkey through a massive transition, I have never once felt like we had to keep score on money or time in our relationship. In times of extreme stress for me, you would step up and take care of getting dinner together or taking care of errands. With words and action, you've been an incredibly supportive partner who has never once run the tally on who is contributing more money or whose turn it is to pull the weight. Instead, you put your head down and get what needs to get done, and bring it up if it begins to feel like an issue. Our relationship is a place where I feel safe that our priorities are aligned and we are both contributing what we can without competition or measurement. I've learned to truly embrace this idea in our relationship and it's made me a happier and more relaxed person.
Don't just accumulate stuff
From Brandini shirts to Great Erase pencils to Bose Quiet Comfort headphones to the backyard hammock and your specific combination of Nespresso coffee pods and Silk soy creamer, I love your single-minded focus on happiness as it relates to you. I love that what makes you happy is this eclectic mix of sometimes fancy mostly random things that have deep personal meaning and happiness to your life experience. Rather than focusing on the accumulation of more stuff or fancier stuff or the highest rated stuff, you have this beautiful perspective on the world that is more about how you optimize the things that matter to you. And (sometimes infuriatingly) you tend to largely satisfice on the rest because it doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things.
Seeing your world view on this has given me a lot of room for self-introspection over the years. Rather than focusing on what others think and buying the latest and greatest things, I've followed your example and really examined what things make me happy over time. And the answer to that has always been accumulating life experiences through travel, building deep and lasting relationships, and maximizing the comfort of my daily routine. I've also come to realize that the feeling of not having something I want is a damper on my happiness, but a lot of those wants aren't really internally derived. Along this journey, the happy side effect is we've saved quite a lot of money and been able to bow out of a lot of reflexive consumer buying without feeling like we're missed out. I love that we drive a 14 year old car and I still have clothes from a decade ago that I wear. In knowing you and growing from that experience, I've been happier for it.
On just about the very first times we met, we were at a Starbucks in downtown Seattle and you very earnestly told me, there's something I need to tell you. The conversation that progressed was you telling me about how you have a weak stomach and you've battled IBS for most of your life. And that I shouldn't be surprised if you were in the bathroom a lot and for a long time. What a first conversation to have! And yet, while it wasn't a big deal, it started our relationship with one another off on such a refreshing note of deep authenticity. Rather than trying to make yourself out to be the perfect guy, you quite openly and honestly admitted to a physical weakness in one of our earliest conversations! I love the open and honest approach that you embody in your life.
In contrast, my reflexive and base state is far less open. I tend to gravitate toward wanting to project my best self to others. However, by seeing the example that you've modeled, over the years I've come to embrace a deeper authenticity in my relationship and experience with others. I always saw admissions of weakness as a negative thing, but in observing you I have come to question that deeply held belief. Your authenticity and curiosity comes as naturally as breathing to you, it doesn't ever seem to occur to you to live any other way. And I have seen and experienced firsthand how powerful it can be as a way to engage others and build deeper rapport. You are so effective in doing this that sometimes you don't even know it! It's really inspired me and been a lesson to change how I interact with others and I've become a more self-assured and authentic person over the years because of this.
Embrace your new reality
The past year has been one of the most difficult years of your life to date because of the cochlear hydrops diagnosis. All of a sudden, you've had to upend your entire life and turn it on its heads. And on top of that, we've decided to start a family and we now have Zoe in our lives. An enormous amount of change compressed into a small time-frame, and you've been challenged by life to give up a lot of your favorite things. What is life without pizza, after all? I am so amazed and impressed by the positivity and hard work that you've put in to accepting and embracing your new reality. You've truly rolled with the punches, and made the most out of the new circumstances that life has chosen to give you.
I know without a doubt as we face the next decade together, and the decades after that, that this won't be the first time that we have unexpected news in our life. We're living through one right now with the coronavirus pandemic going on. And yet I'm so inspired by how you've navigated the past year. You acknowledged and experienced the bad feelings, and then you picked up and starting moving on. After all of that, I still get to hear your laughter all the time. I couldn't ask for a better role model and companion on how to navigate life's worst experiences and how to fully enjoy the best ones.
The very first time you met my family, you walked straight up to my dad, looked him in the eye, and shook his hand. I distinctly remember him saying right after he met you how much he appreciated that.
The way you treat my family and your family, our family, is with respect and kindness. You think before you speak, you seek ways to give, and you are generous with your time even in your most chaotic moments. You make the effort to go home for Thanksgiving every year, and after many years of spending time with your family, I've come to deeply appreciate the value and payoff of making the effort. While you often say that you are not the most people-oriented, when it comes to our family, your actions over time paint a very different picture. This is one of the lessons that I am grateful that Zoe will be able to take away from her father, and she's so lucky to have you as a role model for it.
Learn all the time
I see you learning and improving all the time. Now that Zoe is here, you've taken on cooking. Cooking has been a sore point over the many years that I've known you. When I first met you, you could care less about the quality of the food. You were happy to scarf down a $1 frozen burrito for dinner from a paper towel and call it a night, and it didn't matter to you. The idea of spending time planning, shopping, preparing, cleaning, and appreciating food seemed like a complete 180 from the Sachin that I first met many years ago. You've transformed so much over time and day by day even in this small example I can see the progression of how you're willing to learn new things, improve your technique, and take pride in that improvement over time. Your Sach Chef photo album of food has grown tremendously even in the past few months. I've also see how your time to chop onions has reduced, and your comfort level with building flavor into recipes by adding items in a specific order has improved over time. It's a huge progression and this is just one small example. You take the time to listen and notice details, and make changes due to them.
The lesson I take away from spending time with you and watching all of that everyday we all have an opportunity to learn something and become a better version of ourselves for it. It isn't just about becoming a better person at your work, it's about becoming a better chef, a better parent, a better partner, a better person. The only thing it requires is taking the effort to notice and learn, and the desire to embrace it.
Whew, this turned into an incredibly long letter to you! I hope as you read this, it is clear how much I love and appreciate you for all that you are. While we are not perfect humans, part of the beauty that I see in the imperfection is that we have so much potential for boundless change and growth. The Sachin that I knew a decade ago is a very different Sachin from that one that I know today, but my love and respect for you has only grown over time. Some of my favorite qualities about you are your curiosity, your lack of ego, your excitability and energy, your authenticity, and your honesty and integrity to yourself. I couldn't ask for a better life partner and I am sometimes just amazed at the wisdom of my 18 year old self in finding you! (Good job, younger Ada!) I can't wait to experience what the next decade holds.