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How to Write Your Resume, Part 2 – Writing Your Objective Statement

Objective statements are a truly dangerous thing for your resume. Since an objective statement goes at the top of your resume, it’s the first thing people see, but mostly people really don’t know how to write an objective statement because they don’t really know how to put themselves in the shoes of the hiring manager and empathize with why they are looking at your resume.

This will become a theme. You must understand why someone is reading your resume, and what they want to get out of the experience of pouring over your boring job history.

I’ll give you a hint. Nobody reads your resume for fun. Nobody reads your resume because they are dying to be impressed about your honor society accomplishments. They don’t read your resume to learn that you went on a volunteer trip with Charity: Water.

No, the only reason anyone reads your resume is because they have a very particular type of person / skillset they are interviewing for, and they want to see a piece of paper that verifies that you are indeed that person. The good thing about a resume is that you can shape it to tell the best possible story about what you can do for the company.

For example, I worked at an international company for about 2 years that wanted a San Francisco-based marketer who was familiar with SaaS business models, and cared about small businesses because small business owners were their customers. I needed my resume to convey that in my objective statement (and the rest of my resume) order to get the job.

So your first step is to make sure you understand who is reading your resume.

How to put yourself in the shoes of the person hiring you

The first person reading your resume is going to be one of two people. One, it’s going to be a recruiter, whose primary job is to filter out the people who *won’t* be a good fit for the role, and make sure that people who fit the profile of the job can be phone screened.

The Recruiter

It’s helpful to think about recruiters as salespeople. In many cases (not all), they work on a form of commission, where they make a percentage or as much as ALL of the salary for the role that they fill. For example, the upper echelons of recruiters are often called headhunters, and their only job is to maintain a strong network of executives at various companies that they can recruit for other companies. Getting a well-compensated, successful executive to leave their current company is no small task, and these recruiters are well-compensated for the work.

However, even at the lower levels, recruiters are usually compensated based on their ability to successfully place a candidate, but they follow a the same process with each resume that they see. They’re essentially pattern matching for specific keywords, experience, and other cues that the hiring manager has instructed them to look for.

The best recruiters will take the time to find candidates who may not have the direct experience, but could still be a good fit. However, those recruiters are rare. In general, you should expect recruiters to skim your resume, and you need to make things jump out at them. Even when you get those awesome recruiters that are looking closer, you’ll still make their lives easier with a very clear resume.

The Hiring Manager

Hiring managers will look at your resume in a bit more detail, and since they are the ones hiring, they will have an intuition about what they need from the person that they hire, and in some cases they’ll be more apt to read between the lines.

Again, you still want to make your resume as simple as possible to read. The easier you make it on your future employer to consider you a good fit, the more likely you’ll get your interview.

But how are hiring managers thinking about your role when they read your resume?

Well, they are thinking about a specific set of tasks that they want to hire you for. They have a set of things that need to be done at the company, a set of deliverables that they want to be delivered, and they probably have a pretty specific way they are going to measure everything that you do.

Earlier this year, I was looking to hire an events manager / field marketer to take over a series of community events and conference planning. I knew that I wanted this person to have experience organizing a team of people to attend a conference. I knew that I wanted them to be super organized and to love spreadsheets.

Since the success of a conference is based on a simple math formula of Cost of the Conference / Number of Leads Captured x Value of a Lead, I wanted this person to be excellent at budgeting and measuring the success of an event.

When I read interviews, I was looking for experience in the above areas. Certain things I would be willing to work on with the person to help them grow, but in general my #1 priority was to find someone who could do this job without too much input from me so that I could just count on shit getting done.

When you are writing your objective statement, you need to appeal to those people.

Take your career story and put it into a single sentence.

In Part 1 of this blog series, I talked about how important it is to have a good story about how each of your jobs leads into the next. Well, your objective statement is a 1-2 sentence summary of your job story. It’s a statement in the present tense that describes exactly who you are as a potential employee.

If you remember, I talked about how to break down the key things that you take away from each of your past jobs and how you grew as an employee and as a human being at each job. You describe tools you learned how to use, and specific processes or projects you mastered that you can apply to future companies. You talk about how the experience at each company leads into the next one, and how they all add up to make you a perfect fit for the next company that you join.

Your objective statement should be an incredibly brief summary of your entire resume. If someone was going to sum up who you are in terms of your career, that’s your objective statement.

This is what my objective statement says:

Community and product marketer with over 5 years experience at rapidly growing startups. Focus on product marketing, developer communities, go-to-market strategy, and sales enablement.

I can break this down for you.

My bread and butter is as a community manager / community marketer. I thrive on connecting with users of products via content and social media, as well as at events and in person. I’m happiest when I get to be out there working with people who are using a product I am passionate about. I know this about myself, and I really only want marketing jobs where I can be as close to the customer as possible, developing relationships with them.

I also have a good deal of experience launching new products and developing messaging, press strategy, and awareness strategies around new products, and I love this part of tech business, so I put product marketer down.

The years of experience is helpful because it tells people how much I should know about startups, growing companies, and what they can expect from me. I want to set realistic expectations for what I can accomplish / what I can’t accomplish, and years of experience is a helpful barometer of this. Of course there are always exceptions this, but you get the idea.

The second sentence describes the areas of marketing where I have the most experience and can add the most value. If you dig into my resume and look for product marketing experience, you’ll see bullets that demonstrate that. If you look for go-to-market strategy, you’ll find that as well.

This sentence is high level that cues the hiring manager into what the rest of the resume hold, and qualifies me in for some jobs, but out for others. I don’t want to be interviewed for a job that I wouldn’t be a good fit for, so I want people to know who I am as soon as possible!

They also describe the things that I *like* to do, and want someone to hire me for. It’s ok to let your future company know what you want to be doing!

Avoid using meaningless statements.

I also said this in the previous blog post, but it’s worth repeating. Don’t put meaningless words and phrases into your objective statement. You get one shot to make your first impression here, so you need to make sure you make it count.

I worked with someone who used the following sentence in his resume (I’ve changed this to anonymize it).

I have a deep affection for people, art, Lego, and music.

First of all, I have no idea what a “deep affection” means, but it sounds like something that belongs on your E-Harmony profile, not your resume. And what is a wonderful affection for people? What is a wonderful affection for art? Why do you have Lego on your resume?

If I was hiring for that job and that resume came across my desk, it would go in the “no” pile immediately.

Tailor it for every single job you interview for.

This really goes for your entire resume, but particularly for your objective statement. If you’re applying for jobs that have somewhat different descriptions, you want to tailor your objective statement based on what the skills and required experience are for each job. This should be a simple process of making a note of the what the job listing describes and then using the exact phrasing, or similar phrasing in your resume.

Now don’t manufacture things on your resume just to fit a job description. That will only get you in trouble because if you actually get the job, it won’t take long before your employer realizes you don’t have enough experience.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

How to Write your Resume, Part 1 – It’s an Advertisement

A lot of pain and suffering would be alleviated if people understood one simple thing about your resume. The resume isn’t designed to get you a job. Your resume is essentially an advertisement designed to entice the hiring manager to spend 30 minutes on the phone interviewing you.

Advertisements are simple, they are evocative, and they are tailored to their audience. Your resume also needs to be simple, be evocative, and be tailored to the company and job description.

When I say your resume needs to be simple, I meant that as a general rule you shouldn’t need more than one page to get everything across. For those of you that are disagreeing with me, I can say that as someone who has read resumes before interviewing candidates for a role, I will spend as little time as possible on a resume. Hiring managers skim for themes, they skim for results, they skim for specific tasks and projects, and they skim for your familiarity with certain tools.

The simpler you make your resume, and the easier you make it to skim, the happier the hiring manager will be when they look at it. Remember, if your resume is simpler and easier to read than another candidate, then the hiring manager already likes you better than that candidate because you know how to communicate better than they do.

Here are the questions you want to ask yourself in order to simplify your resume.

What is the story of my career?

Every career has to tell a story. My story is of a marketer who specializes in working for high-growth Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) startups, with a focus on lead generation and open source communities for highly technical developers.

Your story will be different. Your story comes from how one role builds on another. If you started your career as a business development rep calling to book appointments to sell analytic software, and then you were promoted to quota-carrying sales executive, that starts to tell a story. That should be evident from a cursory glance at your resume. And you should also be able to tell that story quickly and in a compelling manner at each interview you go to.

If your career has hopped around a bit, sometimes you need to be a bit more creative about how to tell your story.

For example, I worked with a woman who had spent a number of years in her career working in the service industry, waiting tables and managing restaurants. She moved to San Francisco and got a job as an account manager at an early stage startup that provided marketing services to restaurants. The story of her career is of a kickass waitress and restaurant manager who made a transition into software sales, account management, and support. She leveraged her experience in the service industry to get a higher-paying job at a tech company, and because she had such deep restaurant experience, she could deliver incredible value to customers because she was intimately familiar with their needs.

That’s a great story.

How did one job lead into the next?

The way one job leads to the next is the most important part of your resume, and it will also come into play in your interviews. Think about each job as the perfect setup for the next job. You learn and accomplish certain things with each role that you then get to to apply in your next role.

It’s a bit like in a video game when you learn a new skill that turns out to be crucial for you to beat a boss at the end of a level. At each job you should take away some crucial experience that empowers you to be able to kick ass at your next job.

For example, if at one job you learn a ton about marketing automation software, like Marketo and Hubspot, that’s something you take with you to the next job that enables you to set up email automation, marketing campaigns, and various types of analytics. All of that is a massive value add to your future employer.

That’s a tactical way to think about it. You learned a particular marketing skillset that you can apply at your next role.

You should also think about this in terms of your overall maturity and perspective as a worker and as a human being.

For example, my first job out of college was at a startup incubator. I learned all about entrepreneurship and tech startups for the first time there. At my next job, which lasted about 90 days, I was a consultant writing software requirements. It was a highly corporate environment, and not very startupy at all. I got laid off from that job, and I learned that I liked the excitement, the independence, and the fast (sometimes chaotic) pace of startups much more than I liked corporate environments. I learned I was a startup person.

At my next role, I was the 12th employee at the fastest-growing startup in Austin, Texas. I learned what a company in “hypergrowth” feels like, including how company culture evolves dramatically from 12 employees to 120. I learned about how marketing and sales feed each other. I learned about open source software communities.

At my next company, I learned about in-depth marketing analytics and operations. I learned how to set up lead generation programs, and how to use technology to feed the leads I generated directly into Salesforce for my sales team. I learned how to do a business development deal and go-to-market with companies like Intuit and Apple.

As you read the above, you can see how I’ve grown in business at each of those roles, and how at each company I set the bar for what I can do a bit higher.

That’s exactly what you want your resume to say, and it’s how you want to interview at each job you go to. You may have really great career experience, but it’s your job to communicate that in your resume. If your resume doesn’t clearly show the hiring manager how amazing your experience is, then your resume isn’t doing it’s one job: advertise you as a perfect fit for the job and get you an interview.

Meaningless phrases to remove from your resume

At some point along the way, people started filling their resumes up with meaningless phrases like “creative problem solver” and “thrives in a fast-paced, dynamic environment.”

If you have these phrases in your resume, you need to stop reading this immediately and go remove them from your resume. I’ll wait.

Seriously. Go do it.

Are they gone? Ok, good.

The problem with these words is first of all, that they don’t actually mean anything. I don’t know what “creative problem solver” means, other than your college guidance counselor (who probably hasn’t had a job in the real world, and therefore has no clue about getting a job) told you that you should put it in there.

A hiring manager doesn’t another resume that says “creative problem solver.” They want a resume with a single bullet that describes how you solved a key business problem, and then you quantify the results. How much money did you save the business? Did you increase leads? Did you increase sales?

There are a lot of really hard problems to solve in a business every day. If you’re a creative problem solver, then you’ll have some examples of problems that you solved, and be able to talk about what positive thing happened as a result.

Also, the word creativity is overrated. Some problems are solved simply by hard work and hustle.

“Thrives in a fast-paced environment,” and “Dynamic” are also meaningless words you should remove from your resume. If I am a hiring manager at an in-demand company, I am assuming that my recruiter won’t send me a resume from anyone who couldn’t thrive in the fast-paced environment of our cutting-edge company. That quality should be table stakes, and therefore doesn’t require a mention on your resume. It’s as useful as saying you “thrive at sending and receiving emails.”

Use action verbs and quantify your accomplishments

When you talk about your accomplishments on your resume, you need to use action verbs like “deliver,” “develop,” “reduce,” and “create.”

For example, if you put together an email marketing campaign that increased the number of visitors to the website, you want to say the following.

“Developed and delivered email marketing campaign that increased site visits 10%, and revenue by 3%.”

The best resumes have a number of statements that look exactly like the above. If your bullets meander, or don’t have specific deliverables and quantified results, then you need to go back and re-work them.

If you’ve never done this before, it will be difficult because you may not have thought about your career in terms of deliverable results. However, this is exactly how a business will think about you. When you are hired, you are an asset to the business that can deliver a very specific sort of value, and you should be aware of this and be ready to explain how you have delivered similar value in the past, and how you can deliver even greater value to your future company.

The simple exercise of re-writing your resume with this idea in mind will help you understand what it feels like to be in the hiring manager’s shoes, and you’ll interview better as a result.

Hope this Helps.

Austin W. Gunter

Seven steps to ask for (and get) great advice from people you admire

Hey dude, can I buy you coffee to pick your brain?

I had coffee with someone this week who is further along in their career than I am because I wanted to get his insight into where my life might be heading. I also reached out to a blogger I really admire, with a very good introduction no less, and was kindly told by his assistant that he really couldn’t make any new connections right now in order to keep up with his existing commitments (ie.  a very rich life in and out of work that takes up most of his time).

I credit most of my growth to good advice that people have given me along the way, and I’ve been fortunate to work for and with, or have access to really amazing folks.

I’m rarely shy about asking for a connection, and you shouldn’t be either. If you identify someone who can teach you something, there is no reason not to ask for their input into whatever it is you are focused on at that moment.

It’s incredibly helpful to sit down with someone who has 10+ years experience on you and get their insight about where you are currently at, where you’re headed, and to think about if your life is heading in the direction you want it to.

But there is a very wrong way to reach out and ask someone for advice. If the phrase “pick your brain” is in the request anywhere, you’ve already lost.

Earlier in my life, I’d meet someone that I admire, or I’d have an intuition that they could teach me something, so I’d ask them for coffee. The problem with this approach is that when you ask someone who is more successful than you for coffee without a clear outcome in your mind, you’re effectively asking them to spend an hour with you without a specific purpose, and you aren’t respecting their time.

If you’re very lucky, they’ll recognize that you’re a bit aimless and start asking you really hard questions in order to figure out just how aimless you are, and then give you good advice.

If you’re unlucky, they’ll sense that you’re not really sure what you want to accomplish over that coffee, and they’ll do a simple cost/benefit analysis. “Do I spend an hour with someone who doesn’t really know what they want, or do I spend that time being productive or spending time with my family?”

More than likely, they will tell you no, and they’ll be right to do so. If you can’t be bothered to put your thoughts together and have a very clear ask for a busy person’s time, then you need to spend some time working on your question before you come back to them.

It’s helpful to think about someone in terms of how much an hour of their time would be worth if they charged for advice by the hour. It’s not enough to buy someone a cup of coffee because anyone whose advice is worth listening to can buy their own latte. Do some math to figure out what the monetary value of what it is you’re asking for when you ask for an hour of their time. If they make $150,000 each year, an hour of their time is worth at least $75. Double that once you factor in taxes and the expenses of running a business, and you’re looking at the most expensive, fair trade, hipster hand roasted latte you’ve ever heard of.

If you’re asking someone for $150 worth of their time, you need to do some work in advance.

Step One: Start with at least one very clear reason you want to talk with that person.

Let’s say you are considering a move to tech startups, but don’t have a ton of experience in technology or in early-stage companies. This change will involve leaving your current career behind, possibly getting new training, and starting a brand new career. You want to ask someone already in that career about what it’s like to actually live that life and if they love it. 

Go ahead and take some time to identify someone who is outstanding at this new career. Someone who has shaped their professional and personal life in a way that you’d like to emulate. Make a list of what it is about their career path that you admire and want to model, and then include that in your request for their time.

If they are an entreprneuer maybe you admire how they have not only started and are running a successful business, but how they use their success to contribute back to their community. Furthermore, you also admire how they keep a clear balance between their work and family life.

Your request then looks like this:

“Hi Ms. Entrepreneur,

I’m a big fan of how you’ve started and run your company, but I’ve also noticed how you’ve taken your success and leveraged it to make your community a better place by investing in after school programs for underprivileged kids. I’ve also noticed how you always strike a balance between your family and work life, which I particularly admire.

I’m writing because I’m considering a move into startups, and I’d like to understand what drives you to start companies, and how you balance that fire with the rest of your life.

I know you’re busy, but I have a short list of questions I’d like to ask you, ideally over a coffee, but I am flexible.

Thanks in advance,

-Your name

Step Two: Compile a lot of evidence about who you are as a person that confirms “yes entrepreneurship is the path for me.” 

One of the first questions you’ll be asked at coffee is, “why do you want to become an entrepreneur,” and your answers to this question are incredibly important. In particular for entrepreneurship, there basically has to be no alternative in your life, because starting a startup is practically impossible, and the people are successful at it tend to not have a choice. They have a fire in their belly that they can’t quench without starting a business.

But for any sort of vocation that is worthwhile, you need to have a similar answer. “I’m pretty sure that if I don’t take action on this, I’ll regret it for the rest of my life.”

If you want to be a therapist, your answer might be, “I find that a lot of my friends come to me for advice repeatedly, I am able to help them in some way, and it feels amazing when I can be part of helping someone move past something that was bringing them down.”

If you want to be a writer, your answer is something like, “I feel more human when I am writing every day, and there is something about the act of sharing my writing with the world that brings me fulfillment that nothing else really does.”

Step Three: Scrutinize your evidence. Ask yourself if your reasons are the right ones.

There are a lot of people who want to be entrepreneurs right now, in the same way that in the 90’s people wanted to be lawyers or work on Wall Street, and sometimes in the same way that teenagers want to start a band. Certain career choices are always en vogue, and portrayed as glamorous. You want to move past the glamour in your exploration in order to really understand the good and the bad so you aren’t surprised down the line.

Entrepreneurship, in particular, is not really glamorous for the first few years. You’re working all the time, you have to ignore your friends, if you take investment you are accountable to your investors, etc. The risk is high, there is no instruction manual, and you feel alone in your pursuit most of the time.

If you want to be an entrepreneur, spend a lot of time thinking beyond dreams of going public one day, or selling your company. Think about whether you want to do the hard yards of thankless toiling trying to get your first customer. Building a new product out. Hiring and firing.

Step Four: Come prepared with brass tacks questions about the good and the bad.

Share your motivation to be an entrepreneur, and listen to what their motivations are. Are yours similar? Are they different? 

When they tell you about their motivation and what they get out of this life, ask yourself if what they are describing is a life a life you want to emulate? Do you get a good feeling about their priorities and decisions? If you resonate with their values, you’re on the right track, and you’ll be able to tell because you both will be vibing off of the same energy.

If you feel doubt or don’t relate to what they are telling you, listen to that voice. It’s giving you valuable feedback that this path may not be for you!

Listen to how they talk about downsides. Do the negatives sound manageable or inconsequential compared to the upside of living the life of an entrepreneur? Or do the downsides sound like too great a price to pay.

Pay attention to the way people answer you about the negatives. If the conversation seems physically exhausting to them, you either have found a career path that sucks (like being a lawyer), or the person you’re having coffee with hates what they’re doing and you shouldn’t take their advice because they need to be doing something else.

And if the negatives sound awful to you, then you may need to think about a different direction.

Your goal is to arrive at a place where you your assumptions about the vocation vs what people actually get from this job start to line up.

For example, we’re taught that law is a great career, but career dissatisfaction amongst lawyers is rampant. The story we are told about lawyers doesn’t match up with the truth.

Entrepreneurship is branded as a glamorous job, particularly when Jack Dorsey is photographed taking Square public, but that misses the last 10 year of his life in the trenches, being fired from Twitter, and countless other hard times.

Step Five: Does your contribution from being an entrepreneur correspond to a higher purpose of contribution and love?

This is a short one. Ask yourself how you’re making the world a better place. How are you giving love back into the world as a result of your career choice.

Ask your coffee-mate how they are giving back to the world with their work. You’ll be amazed at what you learn. The most successful people in the world usually have an incredible vision for how they want the world to be a better place as a result of their life, and they live with that focus in mind every day. That’s how you want to feel too.

A quick note about living your contribution in love. It doesn’t mean you have to go sell everything you own and build orphanages in Africa. Love doesn’t mean you have to be a social worker and make zero money.

A big motivator of mine is to make a lot of money because I want to turn around and help other people with it. This means a lot to me because there was a successful entrepreneur who helped me earn my way through college as a result of my writing. His contribution to my life was about $10,000 over the course of my college career, which kept me out of school debt. I want to pay that gift forward, and the best way for me to do that is create my own success in business so that I have the financial leverage to turn around and help others.

So ask yourself, “How does this career allow me to offer something unique to the world that it lacks? How is this contribution loving the world?”

Step Six: Ask them what they would have been doing if they hadn’t pursued this career?

How unfulfilled would they have been? Is the thought of NOT doing that painful? Would they look back with regret?

A big part of the reason I started writing again was it was getting too painful to NOT be writing.

You want to find something that brings so much joy to your life that you cannot imagine your life without it. If you are unsure if your thing brings you this joy, then you’re probably sure it’s not a good fit. When you’re sure about something, it’s undeniable.

Step Seven: After asking all these questions, what do you do if you realize this wasn’t for you after all?

If at the end you end up with a vocation that doesn’t fit, spend some time thinking about what you just learned about yourself. Don’t get yourself down by being hung up on this being the only career choice for you. Take what you learned about yourself and translate that into a new question about a different course in your life. 

Then rinse and repeat. You’ll stumble upon something. And if you came to coffee with clear questions, chances are you will have made a strong connection with someone who will be willing to help out more along the way.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

A process to work through bad situations

I was talking to a close friend today about a challenging situation that he’s found himself in. The details aren’t super important, particularly because we all find ourselves in really challenging situations throughout our life. Maybe we lose a job. Maybe we find ourselves at odds with someone in our immediate family. Maybe we are fighting with someone we love and cannot seem to find our way back to love. If you’re reading this (and not a GoogleBot) you can insert your own tough situation here.

I’m going to explain how I conceptualize every single challenging situation that I go through in order to frame the bad that I am experiencing in a positive and empowering way. I fundamentally believe that bad situations are there to offer us feedback that it’s time to adjust our strategy, and the faster we understand and internalize the feedback of the situation, the faster we can remove ourselves from anger and pain of the situation and move forward.

Bad situations can feel like failure, and I know that I grew up believing failure is supposed to be a bad thing that I ought to be afraid of and carry shame around from.

That’s not an empowering way to live, so I spent a lot of time redefining failure for myself.

Failure is never a condemnation of who I am as a person.

Failure is always feedback. As traumatic as it can be, failure is simply a part of life, and the faster I can extract something of value from a bad situation or a “failure,” the faster I can move through that lesson and apply it to get ahead in life.

Failure is a nudge to explain that my current strategy isn’t working, and that I now have an opportunity to try something different. That different thing is usually much more effective, and can feel effortless in comparison.

Those are my beliefs about failure and challenging situations that leave my mind open to the following process. When I am open to a new idea, it is easier for me to learn something from what is happening around me.

This is my process for working through failure.

1. I believe that I am responsible for getting myself where I am.

Notice first that I use the phrasing, “I am responsible,” rather than, “it’s my fault.” That’s an important distinction. When I say, “this is my fault,” I am placing blame for the shortcoming. When I say, “I am responsible, it means that I was empowered to get the current, albeit bad results, which also means I am responsible (and capable) to get different results.

The willingness to accept responsibility for where I am in life means that if I am not happy with a certain result, I am empowered to change it. This is one of the most life-affirming beliefs, and possibility-focused ways any of us can live. “I am responsible for my life. If I want something to be different, I am empowered to change something to make it so.”

And if I am happy with where I am in a given moment, I can say “Awesome. I did this right. Here’s to more of the same”

In both cases, I hold the keys to where I am in life.

2. I got myself where I am today via the decisions I made, the attitudes I have (whether or not I am aware of them), the beliefs I hold, and the actions I took.

If I am unhappy, I ask myself, “what can I adjust or do better in order to put myself in a different situation?”

Do I believe something that is disempowering? Am I taking actions that are based on fear rather than love or possibility?

Does my attitude reflect the best in myself and others, or is it pessimistic and negative?

What decisions have I made that got me here today? We always have a choice. We have a choice to accept job opportunities, or to put our hearts at risk in love, or to move heaven and earth for someone. When I make a big decision, it is mine alone, no one else’s, and no matter the outcome, I am responsible for making that decision, the beliefs and attitudes that drove me to make it, and whatever outcomes arise.

For example, if I were in a job that wasn’t fulfilling, that would be because I accepted the offer, and continued to accept my paycheck every month as payment for my lack of fulfillment.

That decision I made to be in an unfulfilling job might be based on a belief that I can’t do something I love AND have a secure financial future. Maybe that’s true, maybe it isn’t, but it’s the belief that I would be holding in that situation. If I believed something else, I’d be making different decisions and my life would look different.

If I am happy in my love life, that is a reflection of the belief I have about being worthy of good love, and the decision to make myself the best person that I can be in the pursuit of giving as much love back to the person that also loves me.

If I’m unhappy in love, it’s because I’m making a compromise about the sort of love I think I am worth. Or I am deciding to not take the risk to challenge myself to approach love in a new way.

As human beings, we are inherently creative people. We speak and write and build and things become reality. When I walk around the Financial District of San Francisco at lunchtime, I am surrounded by tall buildings that were ideas in some fallible human’s head at some point in time. They believed that those ideas should become reality, so they made decisions and took actions to set that reality in motion.

When I walk out to Crissy Field, I can see the Golden Gate Bridge, which is the result of someone’s vision to build not just any bridge, but a bridge beautiful enough to live up to the experience of gazing at Marin Headlands as the emerge from the Pacific Ocean. They not only had the vision to do it, but they believed that it was possible.

Here’s to massive belief that can see all of us through every single challenging situation life throws at us.

Here’s to building beautiful bridges that cross us to the other side.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

Reclamation as a theme

When I was 13, one of the realities of my life was that I had to quit going to school and playing sports. By the time I was 16, I’d spent a decent amount of time in a wheelchair instead of walking. Then I needed to have both my hips replaced so I could walk again.

I don’t say this to get anyone down. It’s just how my life turned out, and that has had an incredible effect on my life in some really positive ways. For example, you don’t know what you’re capable of until you spend 18 months in a wheelchair, have your hips replaced, and then learn how to walk for a second time. In many ways, I suppose I reclaimed my ability to walk.

What doesn’t quite get reclaimed are the years where I wasn’t having the normal experiences of a 13, 14, and 15 year old. I don’t really get those times back, and I think there is a big part of me, even 15 years later, still trying to get some pieces of myself back that I felt like I had lost. More and more, I find myself more and more fully integrated as a whole person, but tonight I had a profound moment where I got to hearken back to one of my favorite things: sitting in my room, alone, listening to music, and reading.

One of the values that my father instilled in me from an early age was the importance of a good stereo system, so from an early age, I had a full receiver (usually a hand-me-down from him), and he taught me how to wire my own speakers. I remember getting a really great Kenwood receiver for Christmas one year, and how it traveled with me from high school to college.

A few years later, I even got a minidisk player because those were going to be, like, the future. Minidisks never really took off (at least in the US), but man did I love making mixes on my minidisk player in high school.

In the evenings throughout my adolescence, I’d close my door and sit on the floor and listen to music and read. I had one of those amazing CD wallets with space for about 24 CDs, which was about all the music that I had. This was a few years before Napster and Kazaa came along, and well before iTunes and Spotify, so I was limited to the music that I could physically carry on disks with me.

Sometimes, I’d just listen to the radio instead, tuning into the modern rock station in Austin, Texas. The callsign was 101x, and to this day that radio station is burned into my memory.

Maybe as adults we all idealize the endless possibility we experience as we start to become teenagers, or maybe it was just me. In either case, I remember how the world was opening up for me at school and in life. I was an athlete, classes were easy, girls had begun to like me. Life was good, and I’d sit at home in my room at night, reading and listening to music and visualizing where my life was beginning to take me.

Everything was new and full of possibility, and something about those evenings in my room listening to music drove that home for me.

Tonight I had a handful of things collide and bring me back to those evenings.

I have a thing for really good covers of pop songs, so I’m a fan of the music Like a Version (I’d link to the YouTube channel, but it’s an Australian TV show, so you can’t watch their videos anywhere else) puts out. In particular, Chairlift absolutely crushed Beyonce’s “Party” on the show once.

Go ahead an listen. I’ll wait.

As I was procrastinating this blog post tonight, I found myself noodling around on YouTube on the Triple J channel, searching for more good covers. I had also just gotten out of a great 90 minute hot Bikram yoga session. Despite the big meal I eat immediately after yoga, I was ravenously hungry the way I used to be in high school. I’m almost 30 now, so I tried to ignore the hunger, but it was not going to be denied. Into the fridge for the leftover ginger beef and fried rice to accompany the music.

One of the great things about listening to covers is if the artist picks the right pop song, a flawless classic, they can sometimes transcend their own songwriting and as the listener, you can catch a glimpse of how talented they are as musicians. The effect is more pronounced because covers often are often live and lack post-production treatment that would mask the artist’s shortcomings. When you listen to a cover, the artist has nowhere to hide. As the listener, you know exactly how talented they are.

The Chairlift song is a great example. They’ve taken a great pop song, imbued it with their own style, and offered their listeners something absolutely delightful.

Tonight, the cover that I discovered was done by Milky Chance. They did Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off.”

If you’ve listened to Taylor Swift’s 1989, you already know that it’s full of pop gems that are all flawlessly written, probably by Dennis Pop and Max Martin, not Swift. The songs on her album don’t really go together, but sound like a lot of singles that were written individually and only then compiled into an album for the sheer economics of traditional pop music marketing and distribution channels.

Taylor’s album isn’t an album so much as a vehicle for her stardom and what I assume is probably a pretty amazing concert experience. Nothing but love for her business, particularly when it creates such amazing singles.

Ryan Adams has already done a stellar job of covering 1989. Below is his version of “Blank Space,” but I highly recommend you listen to the entire thing.

The point is, everyone is that everyone is covering TayTay these days, including Milky Chance.

I remember hearing Milky Chance come out of the woodwork a few years ago. The vocals of their lead singer Clemens Rehbein always seems incredibly distinctive to me. His voice lacks an equal in pop music today, but there is this nasal, gravelly quality about it that I didn’t appreciate until I heard this live cover of “Shake it Off.” As soon as he begins to sing, the room comes alive. It’s the sort of voice that commands the room.

The cover loses its momentum about a third of the way through, however, the impression is made. Behrein’s voice cuts through the noise, and the band is smart enough, and talented enough, to build subtle, precise arrangements around him.

People stop talking and gather when someone like Rehbein begins to sing. An oddly distinctive, magnetic voice is a mark of a true songwriter.

I like Neil Young for this as well.

Check out Neil playing Heart of Gold in 1971, soon after he wrote it. As he introduces the song, his voice is awkward, but as soon as he begins to sing, something amazing happens. You’re sucked in, almost in spite of how he sounds.


Tonight, I found myself immersed in music for a long while again, reclaiming a quiet space in my heart. Hungry like a 16 year old, and blissfully lost in my thoughts.

Now it’s time to go do some reading.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter


The Compounding Interest of Habit

One of the big reasons I started writing again is because it dawned on me what my life would be like if I continued to delay on getting back behind the keyboard again. That’s the reason I’m sitting here at 11:45 on a Wednesday night writing instead of passing out in my bed. It’s because if I don’t write tonight, I’m losing my momentum, and I must keep my momentum up.

It’s late because after yoga, I went out for dinner with some friends from New Zealand who are in town. The last startup I was at is based in Auckland, and I got incredibly close with a lot of the people I worked with there, and Kiwis all travel a lot. In fact, over the span of 8 days, I’m going to see 4 separate Kiwis from that company, all in San Francisco for various reasons.

San Francisco isn’t all bad. I suppose if I lived in Tulsa, I might not have quite as many opportunities to see these people as I do living in San Francisco…

But had I not gone out to dinner, I’d have been writing sooner, and I’d have already hit publish, and I’d already been in bed. As it stands, I have an hour of writing to do today, and I can’t sleep until I do. There’s a decent chance I’ll be off my game tomorrow because of how I’ve spent my time tonight.

It was actually a pretty hard dilemma. I really couldn’t justify not spending more time with my friends since it’s a bit hard to hop a plane to Auckland too often, and they really are relationships that I will sustain. However, I knew I’d be missing out on some sleep in order to get this blog post done.

I think that’s a lot of what being an adult is. Knowing how you’re supposed to prioritize and structure your time is the first part, but then you have to actually do it. The last handful of months have been the first in my life where I’ve consistently increased my level of discipline, almost across the board. I have a morning ritual that involves a good bit of meditation, and I’m not missing that because I feel and think more clearly after just 15-20 minutes of meditation every day. I’ve cut alcohol out of my life dramatically, and at this current rate, I may end up cutting it out altogether. If I quit drinking altogether, I think I’d miss Zinfandel and really good gin-based cocktails, but man am I happier when I drink less.

Yoga has also been a massive discipline I’ve cultivated. Since I have some physical ailments that keep me from lifting weights and playing most sports, it’s been a struggle to find a good exercise regimen for a decade. Discovering Bikram Yoga 6 months ago was a godsend. It’s given me strength and energy that I forgot was possible.

At first I was going 2 days each week, just to get the habit up. Over the past month, I’ve started going 2-3 days in a row as often as I can. The more yoga I do, the better I feel. Yoga ceased to be an option. It’s become a *must.*

I won’t go off evangelizing the yoga (you should do it). I’ll simply say that my emotions are clearer, my memory has improved dramatically, and my body is stronger, much more flexible, and full of energy. When I get out of 90 minutes of yoga, I feel like a million bucks. Everyone should feel this good all the time. I certainly like to, so I’ll keep going back.

Prioritizing these things is transforming how I interact with the world, and I think it’s making my life better.

For so much of my life, I’ve thrived by being flexible in most things. I could rearrange the pieces of my day based on something emergent, and would reprioritize my time and my focus based on external forces. I’ve been willing to not write, or not read, or not spend time lost in thought, or not exercise because it was more important to let myself be pulled in a different direction by something outside of me. That’s a huge reason I wasn’t writing as much. I would get distracted, or some people from New Zealand would come into town, and I’d end up going to bed instead of staying up to put pen to paper.

I remember having a conversation about the importance of consistency and structure with Jason Cohen a few years ago over dinner in Austin. I talked about how I believed that the secret of life was to consistently make specific decisions every day, and keeping some order in how you spent your time, your focus, and your energy. He told me that wasn’t how startups worked, that you couldn’t plan everything out and had to be prepared for the chaos.

I don’t think he was suggesting I give myself over to the chaos without a fight. I never saw Jason miss something that he believed was important.

And right now, it’s dawning on me right now that no matter what is happening around me, there are first principles that I need to focus on every single day.

There is a decent amount of chaos in being part of a 5-person tech startup like I am right now. But if you want to be a 6-person startup, and then a 10-person startup, and then a 100 person company, there are certain things you have to prioritize every single day.

The apartment I’ve lived in for a little more than a year is the place I’ve lived in the longest in four or five years. Before this, I had been moving every six months or so.

Talk about chaos.

Doesn’t matter. I have to execute no matter what.


And I think that being an adult, at least being a successful adult comes down to knowing that you spent your day focused on the right things that you decided. Period, the end. So here I am cranking out another thousand-word blog post tonight before I go to bed.

It seems real simple. Figure out what it is that is important to do and do it. Don’t do the other thing that is probably a bit easier to do, but isn’t as important. It’s easy to say, but turns out it’s really hard to put that into practice. It’s so hard that I think that there are more of us than we’d want to admit who aren’t living some important part of our lives out.

I will be the first to raise my hand.

I think it starts in the littlest things. Going to yoga and meditating were the two cornerstones that my writing is now built around. For several months now, I know that when I wake up, I pull out a prayer rope and say the Jesus Prayer for about 20 minutes, synching my breathing up with the cadence of the prayer. When I meditate in the morning, my days simply go better. It’s like having a cheat code for your life. If you meditate, things will go better than they would otherwise. And the stronger a connection I make to meditation and good days, the easier and easier it is to make it happen every day.

And then after work, I go to yoga. No matter what is going on, I go to yoga. I go when I’m tired. I’ve gone hungover, and suffered through 90 minutes of sweating out the previous night. I go when I’m hungry, and just make sure I finish the whole class. I know when class is every day, and when it’s time to go, I drop what I’m doing and head over. It’s just what I do now.

And if my friends want to catch up over a drink or dinner, I suggest we do yoga instead. People actually take me up on this all the time. It’s awesome.

The next thing I’m add is writing. When it’s time to write, I come home, pop out my laptop, plug some headphones in, and start typing. I don’t really plan right now. The less I think about it, the less anxiety I feel about “what will I write about” and the easier it is for me to build the habit back up.

And then when I’m done writing, I hit publish. I don’t really edit right now. I don’t second guess myself. I just get the words down and send them out into the world. If nobody reads, that will be ok, but that’s actually not what’s happening.

And as I’ve written and shared it with you all this week, I’ve felt more alive and more connected to myself than I have in a while. And on top of that people are reaching out to me to talk about what they’ve read, and offer different perspectives.People I’ve never met before, but wanted to, have reached out to have tea. To have a conversation. I love that most of all – when my words on paper start conversations in real life.

Even when they reach out to tell me I got something wrong.

All of that is huge results from a few hours of work and a few thousand words.

I think this is starting to happen because I am writing, and I am a person who is supposed to write, and since I am sharing things with the world, tiny little things are starting to happen, and with consistency those tiny things may start to build up. It’s a wonderful feeling.


Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

Another Post About Living in San Francisco

I’ve written before about San Francisco, and how it is different from Austin in terms of startup community and culture, and the way those differences create different results for the people and companies who live in both places. In that post, I talked about how laid back Austin is, and when coupled with a Texas bootstrap your company mentality, we see startups that raise less money, move at a slower pace, and drive a different sort of growth (slower, often) than the all or nothing San Francisco Unicorn or Unicorpse club.

I tried to be very balanced in my treatment, acknowledging how Austin strives for a more balanced quality of life than San Francisco. Frankly, it’s easier to have a laid back quality of life in Austin because the cost of living doesn’t touch San Francisco’s (but it is rising). But Austin also places a lot of value on free time for family and being outdoors and hobbies in a way that I have not experienced in San Francisco. The norm here is to either be working on the weekends, or day drinking, or driving to Napa, etc. Even when San Francisco relaxes it’s intense.

I’m sure the post was biased. One of the top influences in my life then was Ben Metcalfe, co-founder of the startup I was with, and a big reason I moved to SF in the first place. Ben loves this city and all the tech here, and his take on the world was a lens that I heavily relied on.

Next week will mark my 3 year anniversary living here.

When I arrived, it was Friday afternoon, and pouring down rain. I was incredibly wide-eyed and innocent. There were so many things about the world that I really didn’t understand, and learned only via some painful lessons or mistakes, or some things where I just look back and think how adorable I must have seemed. San Francisco is a city that has switched on the world’s “expert” setting, and the learning curve to survive here is steep.

I had zero clue what I was getting myself into in terms of startups, the culture, the cost of living, the real estate market, et al.

As I finish my 3rd year as a resident, there is a part of me that is weary of the San Francisco startup rat race and how the constant disruption removes any inefficiency from the city, squeezing the margins of life with constant waves of disruption.

One of the best things about living here is working with the best people in the world. One of the worst things about living here is working with the best in the world. Competition is fierce for everything, starting with your apartment, and ending with your job search.

The competition means you can raise your game faster than anywhere else in the world, and you better raise your game if you want to keep your job. The startup you work for probably just raised another big round, complete with a big revenue target to hit, there is very little room for dead weight on the rocket ship. Only unicorns survive.

I just started work with my 3rd startup, and I can tell you that the hiring process is much more advanced, more thorough, and more strenuous by orders of magnitude than when I started my career – a direct reflection of the level of execution and competition present.

The upside to this is that I can probably go most places outside of San Francisco and get a very good marketing job and run at half speed.

The bad news is that there is constantly a race on to grow fast enough, and it never lets up.

In San Francisco, you are a startup of one. You are either going to sink or swim based on your hustle. It can wear people down over time.

This is the price to play with the world class.

The drive of San Francisco hit me very hard in August as I arrived back from 2 weeks vacation in Sofia, Bulgaria and London. Sofia is one of my favorite cities, and I love Bulgaria for their incredibly rich culture and their people. London is much closer to America than Bulgaria, but definitely not American. I experienced a rhythm in both cities that was more at peace and holistic than I feel anywhere in the US.

One of my favorite Bulgarians likes to jokingly say, “The problem with you Americans is you don’t take your pleasures seriously enough.”

She’s right.

This must be the European of vibe that seems to innately understand life’s ebbs and flows and gives a wide berth for people to ease in and out of various stages of life. To enjoy a different level of balance and take a month off in the summer. There is very little balance in the hyper-competitive, capitalistic supernova San Francisco.

I say this about Europe even though my trip wasn’t a particularly easy one. For personal reasons, the trip was an emotional roller coaster, and I shed more tears than I have in a few years. And amidst the tears, I was still renewed by my time in both cities. My body felt more relaxed. I was able to sit at cafes and in parks and have a coffee and read for a few hours without hesitation. Sofia in particular does very good things for me.

I carried that European peace when I landed in San Francisco on my return flight. It was late Sunday evening as I gathered my suitcase and called an UberPool to take me back to my apartment in Nob Hill. The energy of San Francisco began hovering over me as I waited at SFO for the Prius to arrive.

I remember how the energy felt the summer before I moved to San Francisco. I spent a few weeks here apartment hunting, and I was falling in love with this place. It was intoxicating, and when I landed back in Austin, I felt almost nothing. No vibe of energy. I was bored. When I would return to SFO, the energy would cover me and I wanted to wrap myself in it.

Landing this time was different – heavy. I got into the backseat of the Uber, and there was another startup guy in the back with me. Super good energy from him, but we started talking about work immediately and I was a immersed in the startup echo chamber before the car had left the airport.

We talked about startup things and then I told him a bit about my trip. He had just been to Vegas, I think. He told me stories as we drove North on the 101. As we passed the long strip of the highway that runs alongside the bay for a few miles, I began to feel San Francisco’s energy welcome me back home. It felt like a meat grinder. My body grew tense. I knew that I was going back to the hustle first thing in the morning. Where Europe had felt rich and dynamic, warm and human, San Francisco suddenly felt one-dimensional to me.

I thought about some of the simple things that I wanted in my life. A family. A deeply rooted sense of community. A yard with a garden. It’s a challenge to have a family in San Francisco without pulling down around $250,000 each year. I’m gratefully well-paid for my work (otherwise San Francisco’s rent might be more of an issue), but not quite at that level.

As I write all this, I’m not interested in leaving San Francisco yet. I have a lot left to accomplish here, and in the few months since returning from Europe, I’ve begun to feel at home for the first time in my life. San Francisco has shaped me in some amazing ways, but in particular it has helped show me what is important and what isn’t. Finding the answers to what is important and not has meant I have a sense of purpose that is very new to me. That sense of purpose is the source of feeling at home. The city hasn’t become any more or less welcome to me, but I am more and more at peace than I have ever been. Even in a bit of a meat grinder sometimes.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter


Finding my writing voice all over again

When I was 21, I spent 3 hours getting my first and only tattoo. A typewriter.

Getting a tattoo isn’t something I really enjoyed, or something that I recommend to most people, but I still have this typewriter on my left shoulder that greets me in the mirror.

But it’s not an ordinary typewriter. There is a bit of blood on all 8 of the home keys, as if the writer had blood on his hands. The idea for the typewriter came from a high school teacher who I give sole credit to revealing writing to me as something I love. Her name was Connie Roalson, and she was one of those teachers who changes the course of your life.

On the walls of her classroom, she had a lot of posters as high school teachers do, only hers didn’t suck. They weren’t the trite motivational “you can do it” posters that will pass the administration’s “is this vanilla enough so as not to be offensive to anyone” test. No, the things Mrs. Roalson hung on her wall were real things that real writers had said, and they weren’t always nice.

One particular poster really stuck with me. It was a quote from Hemingway (oft misattributed to the late sportswriter Red Smith)  that said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

I loved that quote so much. Even at that age, I was learning the feeling I would get when I had written something that was worth reading. The words contained a part of me in them, as if a part of my personhood was conveyed in what I had written. My hands had transferred some of my DNA to the words I had published, and when I had written something that I believed to be important, it was a bit like I had bled into the pages in the process.

So when the time came to get a tattoo, the idea of the bloody typewriter was the idea that I went with. A tattoo with blood on the home keys to represent the process that every writer knows. That every artist knows. Your best work is imbued with a part of you, and when you put something out into the world, it is an incredibly personal, intimate act.

You have put your blood into your work, and it is a new creation. And the artist temperament will confess that when people react poorly to your work, it feels like more blood is spilled.

Where am I going with this?

Well, over the past 2 years, I’ve done a lot less writing and publishing than I ought to. A few things happened about 2 years ago that shook my confidence in my writing quite a bit, and since writing is such a personal and vulnerable expression for me, it’s taken me a little longer than I had hoped it would to climb back on the horse.

When I quit writing a couple years ago, I had been publishing frequently for about 2 years, and some of the stuff that I was writing at the time was striking a chord. I was picking up momentum, but I let myself get a bit spooked from holding some strong opinions in posts like this one on SXSW having lost a lot of its luster (an opinion I stand by, albeit with a bit more nuance) because there was a bit of controversy for someone from an Austin startup to write a takedown of one of a crown jewel of the (more impressive by the day) Austin, Texas startup scene.

That post and a couple more got me some attention and scrutiny I didn’t quite know how to handle, but that post also saw me featured in the Grey Lady a year later. I was on to something good, but I got spooked and my solution was to disappear for a bit and keep my head down.

When I sat down this evening to write this post, I intended to talk about the things that threw me off my regular writing cadence, but as I’ve written here, I realize the events hold almost zero power over me right now and the point really isn’t why I quit, but why I’m back at it again.

What’s gotten me back in front of the WordPress dashboard again was a conversation over the weekend with Brad Hart, who I’m working with as my coach right now. Our conversation at Bernal Heights on Saturday revolved around what my vision for life was. Writing and publishing has been a massive part of what I wanted to do for a decade, and that came out as we talked. Brad walked me through how my life might progress if I continued to be afraid of writing, or delaying it every day the way that I have been.

It wasn’t a fun picture of my life.

Then we walked through how my life might look with me writing and publishing again. The things that I’ve loved about writing have been the connections I’ve made through my blog. I’ve been able to contribute to some really amazing site, and met some fantastic editors and other writers. I’ve dated someone long term that met me via a blog post. I’ve gotten to speak to families with kids who have Rheumatoid Arthritis because of my experience growing up with that.

Writing has been a way for me to connect with the world, and I’ve had the opportunity to meet and know so many people that I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t blogging. Without a regular stream of words published here, who knows what I’ve missed out on over the past 2 years.

And as I write tonight, I realize this is the second time I’ve let a blog languish a bit right as it was starting to pick up a bit of an audience. When I was 16 or 17, I bought the domain “” and blogged about my journey to graduate from my private liberal arts school debt free. The site ended up making me about $15,000 for less than 6 months work, all of which I plowed into my tuition and books and did indeed graduate debt-free in 2009.

However, once I got to college, I got distracted and didn’t quite know how to keep the blogging up. I don’t have very many regrets, but not seeing where I could take that blog is one of the bigger ones.

[NB: I let the lapse, but just purchased it again. Will have to come up with something to do with it now.]

A few years ago, I heard an entrepreneur in San Francisco say he had a really new angle on his identity. He said, “I say that I am a developer, but did I write code today? If the answer is no, then can I honestly say that I am a developer?”

The idea was that we live our lives one day at a time, and our identities are made up of the actions we take and the decisions that we make on that day, and if we fail to take action one day, our identity starts to crack a bit and we may lose the ability to credibly say “I am a developer,” or “I am a writer.”

So if I want to say that I am a writer, I’d better be writing everyday in order to build that into my identity. And it’s something that I’m committed to doing every day. I may not be publishing all the time, but I will at first.

Those of you that have read the blog in the past, bear with me as I find my voice again. I’ll be writing about whatever’s on my mind for now in order to build up the habit and rhythm of publishing again. The idea is just to sit down, write for an hour or so, and then hit publish every day.

After all, the tattoo shouldn’t be the most writery part of my life :-)

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter



The Wisdom of Three-Legged Dogs

This morning I was at the top of a really beautiful hill in the Bernal Heights District of San Francisco with a friend / mentor of mine, Brad Hart. We were talking about a lot of really deep things that involved career, developing a deep sense of purpose, and what it truly means to live in contribution to the world. It was a three-hour conversation that we have pretty regularly as part of something he is working with me on.

When I moved to San Francisco 3 years ago, I lived at the foot of Bernal. When I look out at the city from that vantage point, I go back to the emotions and thoughts I had those 3 years ago in my first days in the city. I can feel the sense of possibility and adventure that San Francisco held for me at 26, and it reminds me of the number of things that have changed over the past few years, where I’ve come and what I’ve learned and become in the process.

With those thoughts, it’s fitting to have a vantage point looking down at a city as it unfolds below you. The view from the top of the hill looks North through the Mission, into SoMa and the Financial, following the 280 all the way through the city until it turns into the 80 and crosses the Bay Bridge via Treasure Island. You can actually see both bridges from where we stood. The elevated perspective over the city matches the perspective of reviewing the past few years of your life to see where you’ve come from.

We were talking about living to your greatest potential, and laying plans down to build an amazing future. Any time I have those conversations, and I think this is probably true for everyone, the little voices that tell us we can’t do something tend to pop up. I was certainly thinking about mistakes I’d made, or things in my past that were surely going to hold me back.

I think that’s a really human way to feel. It can be the easiest thing in the world, at least until we learn a different way, to let our past get us down or even let it get in our way sometimes.

As we talked, there were a lot of dogs running around. People from the neighborhood walk up and let their dogs run around and play fetch. As Brad and I talked, we had a constant stream of canine friends to pet and hang out with. One of them adopted me for a while to play fetch, and kept bringing his slobbery tennis ball up to me, and I kept throwing it back down the hill for him to chase.

His owner laughed when I picked the tennis ball up for the first time. “You’re brave.” I think he was talking about picking up a wet and dirty tennis ball for a dog I didn’t know. I figured washing some drool of my hand later seemed like a small price to pay for the smile it put on my face, and the dog’s.

As I was thinking that, a tiny three-legged terrier ran by us, chasing a ball that his owner had thrown. Brad and I had been having a deep conversation, and it made sense to stop for a moment and call out how much I think three-legged dogs are a model for how we should all live our lives.

If you’ve never seen a three-legged dog run around before, it looks really awkward at first. The dog has a really funny gait, and has to compensate by balancing differently on his remaining three legs. He’ll never run as fast as the other dogs. When I see a dog like that, I always wonder if he was born without a leg, or if something had happened and the leg needed to be amputated at some point.

Dogs are easy to empathize with, and describing a three-legged dog run around really makes my heart hurt a bit, because I can see the dog struggling to run in a way that he was clearly meant to, but won’t be able to. He’s struggling a bit, and putting a bit too much weight on the lone leg. It’s not how things are meant to be.

But the key detail is that the dog never stops smiling, never stops running. It’s in his programming to have a blast, and he doesn’t question that prime directive. He runs, he chases, he barks, he licks things, and he loves people, his pack. The dog never seems to question whether his body is missing something, or if there has been some grand injustice done to him for having received only seventy-five percent of his total leg allotment. The smile on his face continues to be massive. The joy he has chasing a ball isn’t diminished, and love for his owner remains undaunted in the face of a limp.

Really, he doesn’t know any better. He just lacks the reasoning that would make him think, “well shit, something isn’t right here…I appear to be missing a leg…” and then arrive at the place where he starts feeling depressed about his lot in life, or starts believing he was robbed of a good life that would only be possible with the full provision of four legs.

Three-Legged-DogThat’s an easy conclusion for us to draw when we see a three-legged dog. The poor little guy is a little fucked up, and won’t be able to really live a real life. He can’t quite run right, so all his little doggy friends are going to probably pick on him, or at least reject him. And he may not want to run around in the first place, missing a leg and all.

This is certainly us projecting ourselves onto the dog.

Thing is, none of his doggy friends will actually care if he’s missing a leg or not. If you’ve ever seen a huge German Shepard jumping around and playing gently with a tiny Chihuahua, you know that the last thing those dogs are thinking about is the physicality of one another. They’re just there to play and bark and jump around.

And you’re never going to tell a dog, no matter how many legs it has, to disobey the singular voice that lives inside of him that makes him chase tennis balls, and bark at things in the night, and want to be outside running around until he wears himself out.

No, the dog lacks the ability to question his purpose in life, and this gives him the unexpected virtue of ignorance. He doesn’t wonder about how many legs he has, man, there are balls to be chased. There are other dogs to run around with. There are owners’ and their faces must be licked, dammit.

The smile of the three-legged dog is no different from the smile of any other dog. Their bark doesn’t come with an asterisk. Their joie de vivre is untarnished.

They are a reminder to us that we are just fine with our scars and our pain. That our smiles are still worth the entire world, and the entire world is out there for us to explore and adventure without any hesitation.

Here’s to the wisdom and the undaunted spirit of the three-legged dog.

Hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter

Life in Transit – Finding Home at 30,000 Feet


The straightest line from most places in the US to Europe isn’t a straight line across a map, but it’s an arc that follows the natural curvature of the Earth. The flight from San Francisco to Frankfurt seems to go almost due North, well into Canada and over Greenland before finally following its arc back down into Northern Europe. The pilots really do understand that taking the shortest distance between two points often looks counterintuitive to the uninitiated.

I’m in the air over North East Canada right now, flying home from London. I’ll stop off at George Bush International in Houston, before connecting to San Francisco. I’m in an aisle seat, but if you were here with me to crane your head to look out the window, you’d see an ethereal turquoise glow casting itself across the wings, and coming through the windows.

The glass on the Dreamliner might be polarized, but I think it’s because we’ve just passed over Greenland, and are still very close to the North Pole. The color is what you would imagine flying through the northern lights must be like.

I’ve just spent time with people I know in Eastern Europe and in London. People born in Eastern Europe, people born in France, people born in New Zealand, people born in Egypt. As I fly over Canada, I’ll pass by Toronto where I have a number of friends. I’ll land briefly in Houston where my closest friend lives with his wife and brand new daughter, where girls I have loved in the past live. I’ll stop off for a moment, gather my suitcase to present to customs, and then hop my final flight back home. All told, I’ll be traveling for nearly 17 hours, not counting an hour and a half on the Tube in London.

Traveling over and through these cities makes me think of the strong connections I share with people in each of these cities. When I visit, I immerse myself in their lives as much as possible, wearing their local culture like a jersey. But I will eventually be back up in the air again, globally disconnected from each of them, looking at them from a reserved place flying overhead, connected with a line on the map.

I feel at home on the plane. In transit I feel more at peace than anywhere else. Moving from place to place, but not quite settled ever, or at all. I like being up in the air watching turquoise from another world peek through the windows, telling me we are safe in a place beyond time and where the normal rules do not apply. We are up in the air and distant and safe and removed from the daily toil of life on the ground. We live in the clouds, and do not have to face the reality of gravity, or coming back down.

I love to travel, but need a good 4-6 weeks on the ground between heavy bouts of plane time. However, once I have been in one place for more than a few weeks, I start to grow restless. It’s time to board a plane again. I’ve always had trouble sitting still, but I don’t know that I ever suspected I’d grow constantly restless for travel. Even turbulence, which used to make me wish for Valium, has begun to feel relaxing.

With all this travel, there is a yearning for a place to belong. When you have a sense that you haven’t discovered where you’re supposed to belong, you always feel in transit. If you don’t know where your home is, you’re always on your way there. Being in transit is as close as you ever get.

The road home winds me from place to place. From Bulgaria to London to Canada and to San Francisco. Home seems to be getting closer, but never quite arriving. Like the last leg of a transatlantic journey, the last few hours take the longest.

I keep looking at the map to see where the plane is. Now over Canada. Now over the Midwest. The arc of the map from London to Houston takes you so far North it seems like the pilots are taking a detour. It’s actually the shortest route back where you came, and you will arrive.


But in the meantime I wonder, “how  can I actually find my way back home?” How do will I recognize a place that I’ve never been before? Will the sense of belonging seem foreign? Would I grow restless and wish I was on the move again? Somewhere in transit between point A and point B.

How does anyone find a single place on the map to call home? Is it possible to arrive at a place and a people you’d be grateful to rise and meet the day every day alongside for the rest of your life?

I keep hoping to find an answer to the following question: “what is it that makes us belong somewhere?”

The best answer I have is that it’s the people. The people who you rely on. The people always have a couch for you to crash on when you need a place to stay (London and Bulgaria). The people that you love and who love you back (Houston), and who you can be yourself around (Every stop along the way), the people who let you make a mistake, lose your cool, and are there in the midst of all that life can throw at you. And you’d do the same.

The common thread weaving everything together is remembering that they love you and you love them, and you stay committed to that love. No matter what, you remain certain that they’ll be there for you, and you’ll be there for them.

This place called home exists somewhere. I believe that we’ll all find it if we look long enough. That’s why I’ll keep wandering at 30,000 feet until I finally arrive. Until home finally arrives as well.

I hope this helps.

Austin W. Gunter