In Silicon Valley, I will like starting tech companies in my thirties for the same reasons I liked having open-heart surgery when I was four, or kissing my high school track coach with wine coolers in the parking lots of meets when I was fourteen. I will like it for the same reasons I liked toiling over chemical physics, multivariable calculus, and computer programming in graduate school at twenty-four and pulling all-nighters as a product manager at twenty-eight. I will like it for the same reasons that, later, I will like sitting in the dark and eating an entire bowl of Halloween mini-sized Twix and Snickers after my investors fire me from my own company at forty, and for the same reasons I’ll like exercising to the point of exhaustion, or swimming through the suicide straight beneath the Golden Gate Bridge with my son as witness, as if I might prove my invulnerability or submerge my shame.
I used to believe that only those who had experienced violent trauma or abuse, or who had done things well outside of socially acceptable or prescribed narratives, deserved to feel, or even could feel, shame. But I see now that I hadn’t understood the terminology. Shame is the universal feeling of not being good enough, of being unworthy, and studies show only sociopaths don’t feel it. They also explain why some of us feel it more than others.
Shame is not guilt, nor a useful map of wrongs done. Shame is both cultural and personal: we pick up messages about who we should be, what we should be, and who we shouldn’t be from politics, education, culture, media, religion, marketing, and from our parents, lovers, and friends. What happens when our expectations for what is good enough are unreachable?
I have always been a California girl. I hunger for the coastlines, the edges. I chase the highs to outrun the lowest of lows. I like living this way, or once, I thought I did. That doesn’t mean I don’t hate it, too; that I am not exhausted and often terrified by the bipolar swings in this cult of the extreme, or desperate to teach my sons that they can live in-between.
I was born in Silicon Valley, but barely. What I mean to say is not that I almost wasn’t born, though I suppose I wasn’t, or that there was some trouble with me at birth, although that is also true, but that the place I was…