Eat. Sleep. Exercise. Work.

YCombinator S2011

“Eat. Sleep. Exercise. Work.”

I remember Jessica Livingston telling our YCombinator batch this in our first week of the Summer 2011 session. As a first time founder, I was terrified that I was expected to never see my friends or family again and that extracurricular activities of any kind had to be foresaken if I wanted any chance at being successful. Looking back, I have to laugh, because I was so naive.

For the vast majority of us, this was not an immediate call to eliminate distractions… it was a pointed reminder to eat, sleep, and exercise!

What most traditionally employed people, like myself at the time, would not understand is how unbelievably intoxicating it is to put your shoulder into the millwheel for the first time and feel it turning. Especially in the early days of founding your company, every minute you spend feels so incredibly consequential, and very often, it is! You can very viscerally feel how the work you are doing has the potential to create exponential value. Conversely, everything stops the moment you stop. So the temptation is there to just never stop working. If you are lucky enough to become truly enamored with solving the problem in front of you, then cutting out everything else in your life begins to seem easy and obvious. The work can become an addiction.

I found this out quickly, but the hard way. About three weeks into joyfully embodying the hacker stereotype of sleeping under my desk, eating unfathomable amounts of takeout, and working 18-20 hours a day, I became as sick as I have ever been. The entire next week was spent just trying to recover. Despite it trying to convince you otherwise, the human brain is inextricably tied to the human body. Writing a half-sensible email became like summiting Denali and any thought of writing code was out of the question. I was incapacitated.

From that point forward, Jessica’s words took on a whole new meaning to me. I truly understood the cliche that it is “a marathon not a sprint.” The amount of time I lost, an entire week, was far more time than it would have cost me to have eaten well, slept well, and exercised appropriately during the three weeks prior. Furthermore, it took time to reorient myself and load everything back into my brain after a long break like that. It just was not worth it to extend myself the way I did for no reason.

If I could go back in time and advise myself, I would advocate for truly understanding all of the ways one’s body can become stressed and to get really good at recognizing those indicators early. There are going to be times when you know you are going to have to go beyond your limits, but you have to understand what that will cost you. Any time you are hungry, tired, stationary, or isolated for too long, you are risking getting sick. Getting sick is the momentum killer for very early startups. This is why “Eat. Sleep. Exercise. Work.” is such important advice.


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