How Silicon Valley limits your thinking

By Francisco Dao , written on October 15, 2013

From The News Desk

People often point out the “anything is possible” spirit of Silicon Valley, but there’s a downside to the constant talk. For those still searching for their true calling, or even just an opportunity that resonates with them, the entrepreneurial buzz is both distracting and surprisingly narrow.

I saw this firsthand when my intern recently asked me, “How does a person find their professional path? Silicon Valley is a very confusing place to do that I've come to notice. I'm realizing how much more confusing Silicon Valley makes it with all the 'do what you love' ...and incredible speed at which everything goes.”

It was always pretty obvious that most of the “follow your passion” talk was just entrepreneurs telling themselves a good story to get them through the tough times. But as I explained it to my intern, it became clear how this constant chatter was confusing for people in search of their path.

I told her, “You know it’s not true, right? Have you ever noticed how everyone’s passion is always an Internet startup? Do you really believe that all these entrepreneurs and wantrapreneurs are conveniently and coincidentally passionate about iPhone apps and relatively useless websites? Most of them are just doing what they think is the best path to success and claiming it as their passion.”

I’m not faulting people for trying to convince themselves that they’re following their dreams. Being an entrepreneur is hard, and I’m sure the self-talk helps keep a lot of them pushing forward. But for someone still searching for their passion, it presents a misleading picture. If all you hear is, “my passion is my Internet startup,” pretty quickly you start thinking your passion and the internet must somehow be connected. If it isn’t, and for most people it’s not, this is a recipe for confusion.

The idea that the Internet is the only viable option is not limited to 23-year old interns. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine who works in the tech industry, but not in a technical capacity, started telling me about an Internet idea she had. I could immediately tell she wasn’t in love with the idea, but was just looking to start her own business.

When I asked her why she was only thinking about Internet companies, she couldn’t answer. I told her, “Not everything has to be online. There are still a million things you can do in the real world.” Her eyes lit up with the realization that the world was not limited to .com, and she said, “I never even thought about it. You spend so much time around tech that you start to think that’s all there is.”

Even I’m affected by the constant stories of startup success. I run a great business that primarily consists of me going on vacation with amazing people, and yet I often find myself feeling a tinge of envy after reading about some 3-year old startup worth $100 million dollars. Sometimes, I even start trying to come up with Internet ideas of my own despite having no technical skills and no particular passion for this type of business.

This is the danger of immersing yourself in the technology ecosystem. There is always a steady stream of temptation drawing you into a very narrow way of thinking. The message is essentially “Internet or bust.”

Contrary to the standard message, the Silicon Valley dream is not about doing what’s possible, it’s about doing what’s possible on the Internet, or in many cases, doing what’s most likely to get funded or acquired. And all the talk about following your passion? That only applies if your passion is online. For people who have interests elsewhere or can’t reasonably convince themselves that their passion lies in Internet startups, this message can be downright disorienting.

Figuring out what you want to do with your life is hard enough. If you’re not naturally inclined to building an online business, don’t let the narrow dreams of the tech ecosystem limit your thinking. There’s still a very big world out there.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for Pandodaily]