Elliot Roth

Jul 10, 2020

4 min read
A recent picture of Muriel after she was picked up from impound — saved by my roommate, her new owner

Beaten Up

These past few days I’ve been a bit down.

I joke with my team that every year we have a spring calamity. One year my eye was eaten by bacteria. The next, I irresponsibly threw a party and got kicked out of a program. The following, everyone in our lab was evicted. This year I got a double-dose of Coronavirus and credit card scams. I can’t wait to see what fresh hell comes next year.

I was talking to a mentor and they said to me: “you seem to have learned a lot in a short amount of time.”

Yes, I’ve learned to live at the limits of survival. I’ve learned to live on $380 of rent, sharing 1 bathroom with 7 roommates. I’ve learned to buy $0.50 bean burritos in-bulk from the grocery store and eat only 1 at-a-time for lunch to make them last. I’ve learned that you can get all kinds of free shit if you really look for it on walks around the neighborhood.

Most of all I’ve learned that if you ever have to fear for your survival, it is so much harder to plan for your future.

As a startup founder, I’ve been living at the limits of survival for years now. It has gotten pretty cozy here at the bottom. Down here, you can make $100 stretch for weeks.

Most nations measure how well they are doing on the basis of GDP, or gross domestic product. Each person becomes a financial statistic, an average of how much they make.

Not Bhutan. They measure Gross Domestic Happiness. There’s this funny thing about being wealthy — after you have a certain amount above base level, additional wealth does not bring you joy.

Bhutan

What has been bringing me joy recent is secondhand items. They have grit, a story to tell if you’re listening. I try not to buy anything new (or anything at all) and patch my jeans. I wear shirts until they change colors and get holes in them. Then I turn them into art.

These kind of things are easy to learn and hard to forget. What is far harder is planning for the future when you’re just trying to live day-by-day. The fight-or-flight-lizard-brain instinct of survival is hard to kick.

Recently I’ve been watching a lot of One-Piece, an anime my cofounder Surge got me into. In it the characters take on overwhelming odds and get beaten up time and time again.

Luffy from One Piece in a fight for survival

There’s this concept in anime shows that has always been interesting to me. Your strength level is proportional to the last person who has beaten you. The more you get beaten up, the stronger you become. The only thing you have to do is keep going. Then you win.

The thing that keeps all these anime heroes going is their mission and their commitment to honor their friends.

So mostly that’s what I’ve been learning. To keep going. To deepen my resolve. To get creative with secondhand items. To make sure that I’m still exploring and thinking long-term despite living at the limits.

And I’m learning to double-down on my relationships along the way. At the deepest depths of my despair recently I went through my contact list and wrote out the names of almost 100 people who I could call up to help me with the problems I’m facing now.

If you’re not on this list, don’t worry! It’s because I needed help with a specific problem and these people might have experience with that issue

Although I might feel beaten up, on the other side of pain is success. Each of these lessons is building me to become stronger, to keep going to fix the world’s problems, and to stay true to my friends.