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Benyam Ephrem

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A Professional Vacuum

June 2022

I left my job at Twitter on January 21st, 2022. Today is June 21st, 2022 and I have lived in a professional vacuum, as I like to call it, for 5 months ("professional vacuum" as a euphemism for unemployed).

What I don't like about the word "unemployed" is the weight it carries in society. It carries a weight of uselessness, of unwantedness. You cannot create value. You are a reject. You are on the fringes of society, unable to be a true contributor.

If you were to chart the asymptotic behaviour of a professionally unengaged person's wealth, health, happiness, it would eventually limit to 0.

For me, this is an experiment I have wanted to run for the past 2-3 years. Many times while building Back To Back SWE I told myself "one day, I am going to take a year off and just do nothing". Those were just words of solace for my depressed and overworked mind at the time, a coping mechanism to continue building.

Being professionally unengaged has a stigma socially. Acquaintances constantly ask my friends "what does he do all day?," strangers at bars struggle to comprehend, close friends subliminally update their internal mapping of Ben to "doing nothing professionally".

Having a high-status name, an association, is important. "He works at Twitter." "She works at Airbnb." We need these things to latch on and identify new and existing figures in our lives (& establish their value to us). Since work traditionally occupies 5/7ths of the week and is the main contributor to purpose in life, it only makes sense that the largest identity "hook" we seek out to latch onto is what we do.

When you no longer are running a company you have run, you lose that identity, that hook. You lose what made you relevant. Relevancy comes from impacting others, and when you resign from your position, you lose the associated clout you once had.

I knew the dynamics at play and still decided that taking the time off was worth it and the right move for me to move my life in a healthier direction.

These external pressures would bother me in the longterm, but not in the nearterm, as this is a temporary experiment. Generally, I always want it to be hard to explain what I do to others, then I think I will be living interestingly.

Money tends to eclipse all other areas of life (and rightly so because money is power in life to do) to the point that one lets their personal life slip.

And I let my personal life slip. I let my health slip, my rock-bottom self-esteem from childhood sit unhealed, my friendships deteriorate. Everything outside of money that contributes to happiness was slipping. By default, all of these facets of life default to decomposing into chaos unattended.

For years:

  • I had not had a breakthrough in my fitness goals despite going to the gym regularly (due to lack of time & focus)

  • I had not had any intimacy or deeper interaction with girls (due to social ineptitude & low self-esteem)

  • I had neglected relationships in my life and socialzation (which I believe is as primitive a need as our need for food)

I decided that now was the time to make a change in all of the areas of my life that did not have to do with bits and bytes.

In late December, after moving back to my childhood home from Colorado for a reset, I began to workout like a prison inmate. I was lifting 2x a day and my strength was growing leaps & bounds like it never had before. I was running from demons, I had a mission in my head.

In March, I moved to Washington DC with my college friend Michael and began to go out to bars, clubs, & general social events (to grow in that area as well). Things I just never did in college because I was closed off, building my business, head-down. I began learning social rulesets I had never learned before (one rule being "there are no rules").

I began a cut and was losing 1-2lbs a week at a rapid rate (down ~21lbs at the writing of this) while maintaining all of my muscle mass which had grown greatly from the 2x/day lifting (which actually led to overtraining until I started my March cut). I have had to get my jeans tailored and all of my underwear replaced because nothing fit anymore (my waist thinned down 3-4 inches).

I had worn glasses for years. Initially when I got them I loved them, but they made me look & feel like a nerd (which I am) in social environments. So I got contact lenses. The world looked new to me afterwards, perfect peripheral vision. My self-esteem in social settings went up.

Since I was a child I have had bad hyperpigmentation from acne flare-ups on my shoulders & back (that I don't even remember). For years I'd go to dermatologists and they would give me routines that wouldn't work or they'd just say "it'll fade over time," then I would forget about it. It hadn't faded in over 6 years. Through a lot of online research I implemented a skincare routine (a key component being Cerave Resurfacing Retinol Serum) that has almost completely cleared my shoulders & back.

As silly as it sounds, one of the largest hits to my self-esteem was my PIH. I was afraid to take my shirt off my whole life. One sunny day coming back from the gym, now that my back pigmentation was starting to heal and I was quickly losing weight, I jogged back shirtless. I was very self-conscious. Then the next day I tried to walk back without a shirt. Eventually I'd go on runs completely shirtless from leaving my front door to returning to my front door. Now I am not afraid to take my shirt off at all and it has transformed my confidence & body image.

Life has slowed down. I have been able to walk around the city during work hours and just people-watch. I go on runs and just observe the mosaic of the city move and mold.

When inspired, I write. I began writing for myself (inspired by Paul Graham), articulating my thoughts in a persistent medium and expanding on them.

Being the son of foreign parents, all my life I have done things I did not want to do for the sake of professional furthering. This has put me in a great position, but I wanted to run an experiment where I strived for nothing to see what would surface within me as true.

The past 5 months I have run an experiment simulating retirement. What I have realized is that you never want to retire for a life full of leisure. What you do is an intimate part of your life's meaning and purpose.

You just have to find work that you like. Whether it is a job, or painting your own picture with a company. This is possible, it is just that the subset of "professional engagements I can get & do that will make me happy" is a very small subset of "professional engagements I can get & do".

You want work that professionally fulfills you, and gives you freedom and flexibility in life. We need impact and a name. We need meaning.

A large part of happiness is a purpose and a mission.