For Founders

How the Bay Area Encouraged Exploration

 min read
February 17, 2020
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In October, I moved temporarily to San Francisco after leaving my second family at Marco Strategic Advisors to explore different career and life paths.

While I was initially anxious about making a decision no one understood back home "what do you mean you're quitting and moving with no plan? Are you interviewing for when you come back? When are you coming back? Exploration is why people go to grad school, just apply!"

I knew I made the right decision when I realized exploration is not only welcome but celebrated here in the Bay Area - In fact, I found a whole tribe of explorers, incredible human being who were in similar situation while doing the On Deck Fellowship

TL;DR - Exploration is underrated. It teaches you storytelling, humility by way of ignorance, discomfort and rejection, and the willingness of human beings to help.

So what did I learn during this period of exploration?

1- Exploration is great - but learn how to frame your story.

"Are you technical, product, growth?" a question that initially confused me as I wasn't used to having to define myself in those three buckets - and still don't - but I learned how to frame my past experience to be something people understood and turns out I did have my own bucket "BizOps!" I learned how to say I'm exploring and open to different paths but my current core competencies are project management, cross-functional work, community curation and business operations.

I also learned how to say I'm industry agnostic without feeling flakey, and it pushed me to figure out what the reoccurring themes of my past career choices have been and how I can best use them going forward.

2- Honesty is key - but don't undersell or self select out.

"you should talk yourself up more — you’re a founder! you’ve done a bunch!" we don't always have great people to remind us that we're underselling ourselves, and depending on your upbringing there might be a million tiny voices in your head telling you to sit down and be humble. However, I found out that the more you learn how to talk about your different experiences the more you can actually help others and invite serendipity into your life!

Self selecting out might dress itself up as humility or "knowing your place" but in reality often it's more about you choosing not to go through potential rejections. Rejections are painful but they are a necessary component of growth, inviting them into your life early and often allows you to learn how to deal with them at your own pace instead of you being crushed by them at critical times later in life.

3- Listen actively to other people’s stories - but don’t expect to replicate them

"I'm here to talk about x" I got to hear stories from an incredibly diverse set of people. Everyone had their own approach, while a few were bullish on theirs, the majority shared that it was a combination of hard work, luck, timing, and one person taking a bet on them.

Whoever spoke, despite their industry or their approach and whether they focused on the art or the science of it, there were still numerous lessons to be learned - the main one being that there are many paths to "success", and everyone has their own journey.

Also, there are entire universes of disciplines that people dedicate their lives to while you can spend your whole life without knowing about their existence. Listen, you might just learn something.

4- Pay it forward, always - no buts.

"Let me know how I can be helpful" while a whole parody account exists around this, I found it to be a genuine question people asked and magical things happened when I took them up on their offer: from tips on cold email writing, and numerous warm intros to companies I wanted to be a part of, to the more personal touch of family holiday dinner invitations, and even a private plane tour of the area! In return, I tried my best to give back through listening, problem solving, introductions, and feedback.

But what's so special about The Bay Area?

Personally, I've had the incredible privilege of experiencing different entrepreneurial ecosystems around the world, but I finally understand why "Silicone Valley" is the model people are trying to replicate. However, for me the magic that actually differentiates it isn't the technical abundance or capital overflow, it is the social norms advocating exploration, and the high tolerance for failure.

Exploration is incredible, it's humbling, it pushes you to learn new lessons, challenges you to show up, to put your hand up, and try again if you're not called upon.

For me, exploration in the past few months allowed me to help two startups through their public launches, have incredible conversations, make numerous friends, hack away at side projects and arguably most importantly it led me to find out what I enjoy doing and what I don't so I can lead a more fulfilling career.

While I recognize that not everyone is able to take months off and move across the world to focus solely on exploration, you can always add elements of it to your life. I started back home 7 years ago when I applied to my first summer job, and from there I joined and created multiple communities both locally and globally which allowed to explore in small doses and meet likeminded people.

What's next?

I gave myself a window of six months, and some things are already materializing but I'm always open to conversations. I'm here in San Francisco for two more weeks before heading England for a couple of weeks - if you're around let's grab coffee!

P.S. Special thanks to 1- Misk initiatives for enabling an entire generation of Saudis to explore different paths. 2- David Booth and the On Deck team for curating an unmatched community of support. 3- My parents, and friends for listening to the otherwise human parts of this experience (i.e. the bad and the ugly)

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