Episode OverviewIn this episode, Sasha tells us her story about working in San Francisco at a “sexy” tech company and living the life she dreamt of as a child. As she recalls her experiences, Sasha shares both the good and the bad. She also talks about navigating the high-performing tech culture, understanding the concept of “golden handcuffs,” and dealing with immense burnout. We discuss the moments that lead her to make a pivot and the aftermath of her decisions.
CEO - Edvo
Sasha ShilkoSasha has worked at Bain & Company, a management consulting firm, and Lime, a micromobility startup. She’s currently launching her own startup, which believes in surfacing information you need from a community you can trust. The goal is to make the process of purchasing online better. You can access the beta at www.nexttbrand.com. She published a popular article on Medium entitled “I Thought Silicon Valley Burnout Couldn’t Happen to Me, But Then It Did” and “Police Can No Longer Be Above The Law.”
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Shireen Jaffer 0:00
Hi, everybody. Welcome to the evolution podcast where we question what makes our life truly ours. I’m Shireen Jaffer. And I’m very excited to introduce you to some incredible people with fascinating stories. I’ve got Sasha here with me, I met Sasha through actually coming across an article she had written. It’s titled My friends in San Francisco scared me. Sasha got pretty popular on medium. I believe you mentioned, it was the number one in the San Francisco category for two weeks and over, you know, 25,000 people have read it. I’m not surprised. But it’s great to have you here. Sasha. I’m looking forward to learning a little bit more about your story. And you know, what led you to ultimately write this article and what you’re up to now. Thanks so much for being here.
Sasha Shilko 0:52
Thanks so much for having me, Shireen. I’m both happy and excited to share the story and also Really sad to to share it as much as I do, because it’s not something that I really, you know, when it when people want to hear the story, it’s normally because it resonates with them. And I think it’s a really sad story sad to hear that it’s resonating with people, but um, I think it’s I think it’s important to talk about So
Shireen Jaffer 1:25
yeah, I can I can definitely resonate with that I lived in San Francisco for four years. So when I read your story, it hit home. Definitely. So yeah, I can I can understand the mixed feelings there. But let’s let’s, you know, go go a little a few steps back. Let’s start with how you grew up. Let’s talk a little bit more about your background.
Defining Success (1:49)
Sasha Shilko 1:49
Yeah. So, to preface this a little bit, where the story that we’re alluding to is going is to the story about burnout and story about spiraling from burnout into depression and anxiety. And so I want to unravel and kind of go back trace back the steps that that brought that had that happened. And so just I guess background on me, I grew up in Minnesota. I am the child of immigrants from Belarus. And I think I had a very like typical childhood. I grew up in the suburbs. I loved hanging out with friends, I loved reading. And one of kind of the values that I think I was brought up with that a lot of my friends share is that you always want to strive to reach your fullest potential. And you want to strive for success and a lot of times success in The way that I was brought up is some kind of generally higher paying higher status career. And that’s kind of the background that I’ve been operating under for most of my life.
Shireen Jaffer 3:17
Yeah, I can. I know, I’m sure a lot of people are resonating. I know, when I grew up, or when I talked to my friends and even podcast guests I’ve had right almost everyone says, stability, that high paying job being at a company that was, you know, whose name was well recognized. All of those things determined or define success for them growing up. And so sounds pretty typical.
Sasha Shilko 3:43
Yeah, down the standard path. You know, growing up, it was important to get, you know, succeed academically and then in college and coming out of college is important to get a kind of successful professional Get on professional, successful professional track. And I, I ended up in management consulting first. I loved management consulting, and I was very much driven by Okay, I’m going to go do these things because they’re going to make me successful. But I happen to also really like, all those things, which I think is interesting.
Shireen Jaffer 4:21
And sometimes rare, too. I think a lot of people do things that they believe will get them to their success, but you know, they often don’t like doing those things. So it’s great to hear that that was the experience you had specially as you pursued management consulting right out of college.
Sasha Shilko 4:35
Shireen Jaffer 4:37
Yeah. And Is that how you found yourself in San Francisco or did that come after you had a couple years in consulting?
Sasha Shilko 4:44
Yeah. So I was at a management consulting firm in Los Angeles. And then I was there for three years and I decided to move into tech startups. You And one point I did that, you know, just because that’s what everyone consulting does, I’d have everyone that I started with. Nobody stayed after that three years. Everyone wants either Business School private equity or startups. And startups really appealed to me. It was really that part about, oh, if you if you join a startup at the right time, and you’re the right startup, you can get all of these really incredible career opportunities. So learning was there, but that that motivation around success and professional success was also a huge motivator. Yeah, people are motivated by multiple things. But I when I look back, I look back and I’m like, I’ve always been motivated by success. And, and I happen to see that, Oh, I’m happiest when I’m learning. But that I don’t, I haven’t actually made decisions to solve for learning. I make decisions to solve for success and oftentimes those two correspond. But that lets us do whatever will make us most successful was kind of like, what I was raised with is like how you should make all your decisions.
Shireen Jaffer 6:14
Hmm, yeah, yeah, definitely resonate with that. So, okay, so you want to go into tech, you feel like it’ll help you, it’ll increase your chances of, you know, being successful in the way that you defined it back then. Right. I want to take a minute and also talk about I have a lot of friends who are in consulting or who’ve pivoted away from consulting, just like you mentioned, you know, the three paths, school equity, private equity or, or tech. And I found that oftentimes startups are heavily romanticized and San Francisco, you know, when I was talking to my friends, you know, two, three years ago when they were making those changes, there was some interesting appeal to San Francisco. And I was living in the city back then. So it was Definitely an interesting experience for me to kind of just see my friends outside of SF talking about it. But tell me a little bit more about when you were going through that transition. How did you think about it? How did you feel about San Francisco? How did you feel about tech in general? Yeah.
Working at a Startup (7:14)
Sasha Shilko 7:14
I mean, I loved it. I when I moved to San Francisco, I I always like walking around and just being so happy I was there. I was so excited that it was like a walkable city. I loved that I could so easily meet up with friends and I really enjoyed how I found it really easy to make friends in San Francisco because everyone is so similar to each other in some ways. Everyone’s so excited about tech. I, I loved the job when I started it. I really did it. I love every part about it. And Yeah, it was like, I mean, I saw the, like homelessness crisis. And I would walk by and there would be kind of smell of urine and needles on the street and all of that. But like overarching Lee, I was just I thought that this had been like a great, great move. And I felt like so lucky to be there and to have the opportunities that I did.
Shireen Jaffer 8:30
And where do you think that came from that feeling of luck? Or just feeling like you were lucky to be there? Where do you feel like that feeling came from?
Sasha Shilko 8:42
I think there’s always an element of probably for for women, that imposter syndrome. So it’s like I hope like whenever anything’s going like super great, like, Oh, well, I probably didn’t like deserve this. I think that’s always a little bit there for me underlying but I don’t know I just like, well, another element of it is I had. So in between LA and San Francisco, I spent six months living in South Africa. And I saw a lot of just a lot of extreme poverty in developing countries. And that was also an piece playing in my head at the time of feeling so lucky to be just in the US and in San Francisco with all these like economic opportunities and standard of living and all of that.
Shireen Jaffer 9:34
Totally. Yeah, there’s no denying the access you get within a city where so much is happening and so many different thoughts are coming together to create, you know, beautiful inventions and whatnot. So definitely, there’s no undermining that. Okay, so you’re in San Francisco and you’re excited and you feel lucky and you know, you’re making new friends. What happens that How was your first year living the city workwise.
Sasha Shilko 10:04
So it started with just having a lot of these really interesting, intellectually challenging projects. So I happen to be the first a former management consultant that joined the startup. And so I had the opportunity to kind of pitch projects that I thought would be important for us to do, and then get to do them. And they continue to make a higher and higher impact where I started just ending up working with executive team on things like we’re expanding internationally. So how do we prioritize the order that we’re going to enter the cities? And then what are the targets we’re going to have for each region so that we can figure out our manufacturing orders by region? And what is the cost structure that we need to achieve in order to hit profitability. There’s a lot of very interesting strategic projects that let me learn a lot. And throughout this kind of I’d say like my first six months or so, at this startup, I, I worked all the time. I, I was up. I remember I’d wake up and I had like, so few hours of sleep, that like my eyes would burn when I tried to put contacts in and I’d be drinking like four shots of espresso. And not always but sometimes. And I was always thinking about work. So when I was a consultant when I came home I was I was kind of done thinking about work I didn’t think about anymore on the weekends, I didn’t think about work. Here. I never stopped thinking about work. I even when I was hanging out with friends in the back of my head, I’d be thinking about a project and alpha spent time with work friends and that I kind of justified to myself like, okay, it’s okay to have fun not be working because these are these are friends from work. And it is good to build relationships with people from work and I and I somehow felt that I needed to justify to myself that every second that I wasn’t spending working, and yeah, it, but I also i but i also woke up every day and I was so excited to go to work. Because I was doing all these really just the type of projects that I love doing and learning a lot and having autonomy and thought like that I was making a really big impacts is all very motivating.
Shireen Jaffer 12:41
Yeah, I have again, when I lived in SF, I noticed this but you know, I talked to so many friends who again love the work they’re doing and they really believe in the companies that they work with. But they do find themselves working all the time and thinking about work all the time. I mean, to a point where I don’t know if you felt this I don’t know if he did because he genuinely, you know, like the work I guess. But I was at a park. This was pre cobit. This was probably a year ago. But I was at a park and i and i was at Dolores park in San Francisco. And I remember overhearing a discussion where I can’t remember the exact words but something along the lines of, you know, they were talking about a project that they’re working on and the the man was complaining about how, you know, he’s, he’s doing a really good job, and he keeps getting promoted, but the promotion is not a pay raise. It’s more of a work raise, like you’re just going to work and and I remember the his friend had said, Well, you know, that’s what they do, you get punished to do good work, they’re just gonna start relying on you more and more. So you know, back up a little and try not to work so hard so that they don’t keep punishing you and it was such a and I’ve heard this Over and over again, over time, but how does that resonate at all with you or with you
Sasha Shilko 14:06
so much? Yeah, it’s the reward for doing good work felt like it was just more work. Uh, definitely felt that way. There was also this added, I guess stress that came from the fact that very quickly, we did multiple reorg. And so when I joined, I thought I had a clear picture of, you know, here’s what my opportunities here would be from like a career progression standpoint. And after all these reorg I now feel like not only do I need to spend time doing the work, but I also have to spend all this time trying to figure out how to like position myself almost politically, because all of this change is constantly happening, what happens at startups but you also get these funny startups where Like people can be very Miss leveled. Like the people. And this is like this. I feel like some annoying to complain about this, but you know, you have people at higher levels that doesn’t feel like should be there and people, they’re doing great work that are more junior than you and you’re like, why are they? Like, you know, how how does this make any sense? And that can be kind of disheartening just to see things that don’t seem fair. But it’s more of a minor point.
Shireen Jaffer 15:30
Oh, I mean, I think it’s, it’s, it’s very important point to just put out there because so I work with a lot of companies and I advise them on people operations, and I can’t tell you how many people leaders that I work with that say, oh, our culture is great. And you know, we do all these things for our, for our people, and we have these meals and we have these Hangouts and we have these Lunch and Learn series and our managers do one on ones routinely. And then when we go and talk to the people on the ground, There is a lot of, you know, the disheartening sentiment that’s going on because there’s these weird dynamics at play that leaders aren’t paying attention to. Or if they’re paying attention to them, they just don’t prioritize them as things to think so.
Sasha Shilko 16:19
You can have, you can love your work. And it can be great. But if you feel like things aren’t fair, that’s kind of like a table stakes thing that I think can really actually ruin a job even if it’s apart from that awesome and you love the day to day if you feel like something’s unfair. I don’t that was that was that was part of my experience for sure. It wasn’t it wasn’t so acute in any way. It wasn’t like an overriding issue. I’ll circle back like what arm what were my overriding issues, but I definitely saw that and I definitely was part of a number Have you conversations with people around that kind of that topic?
Shireen Jaffer 17:06
Yeah. And to put it into perspective, Sasha, what year was your first year in San Francisco?
Sasha Shilko 17:12
Shireen Jaffer 17:13
Okay, so relatively recent.
Sasha Shilko 17:15
Yeah, this is all very recent.
Shireen Jaffer 17:17
Amazing. Okay. Very cool. So all right, then let’s go to the overarching reasons. Your, your to in San Francisco, what’s going on for you?
Struggling with Burnout (17:27)
Sasha Shilko 17:27
So, so this actually, my entire time in San Francisco happened within a year. So yeah, this is gonna be like a very, very abrupt story, almost. So it’s not like the first six months, I, I essentially, join a startup and I am given full of, I’m given more autonomy than I ever have before. And it’s like work as much as you want and there’s just there’s no end have things to do. And so I do all of it. I like it. Yes, I signed up like, I will do it, I will do all of it. And so I, I essentially, my entire life is just my work. There’s nothing else happening in my life. Like I wanted things I love to read, I essentially stopped reading if I was reading, it’d be a management book. And I felt like I had to, like, justify to myself why I was spending time not working and reading. I love hanging out with friends and I kind of same thing, it’s like well, then I’m only going to hang out with friends that are from work and only like a short amount of time. I love traveling and I just stopped doing it because I didn’t want to take PTO I had nothing like really in my life. Apart from just working, that was the main thing and so my entire identity was just centered on this. And when I loved my job, that’s great. And it helps me be more successful at the job. Challenge came in was when I started hating my job because that meant I started hating my life. And why why did that even happen? Well, I mean, I think I mean first of all, like any any job probably has ups and downs so it was kind of just like it’s it’s not I don’t I don’t think it’s like very unique or very like special that like oh I went from loving my job to you know hating it or like you know liked it a lot to not liked it. I think that happens to everybody at some cycle in their job. My issue was that I had just put my entire like life and identity in this job so that when that happened, it was super dangerous for me. In my particular case, the reason why I started disliking my job was because I moved from doing all these strategic projects on setting up okay here are the targets. Essentially you A plan for the company to just keeping the executive team up to date on how you’re tracking toward the plan made a ton of sense for me, for me to be the one asked to do that. But I personally just kind of stopped learning because of that. It’s kind of a reporting function. So it’s not that interesting. And, but second, I kept, kept working really long hours, and I’d be just throwing these really urgent requests all the time. And I and that’s, that’s pretty stressful. And also just like, I felt like I had no control over my day, I had no idea what would happen like when I get another email asked me to put this together for investors are this together. And then another part is I just, I just didn’t think it was that impactful. I’m like, okay, at the end of the day, I’m like doing all these forecaster reports. And like, it’s not it’s not changing anything. It’s it’s just reporting it’s not doing things and so Could have lost. Really any of the things that normally motivate me a lot in my job. But I thought back to myself, I was like, well, this is what the company needs me to do the highest value I can add, and I don’t want to leave or I shouldn’t leave. I just so I just kind of ignore the fact that I hated waking up and going to work every day and just kept doing it and kept working these crazy hours and Yeah,
Shireen Jaffer 21:34
why not? Why not leave?
Sasha Shilko 21:39
Well, there wasn’t, I couldn’t think of a good reason to leave. Like, I was like, Okay, well, I could go to another startup. But then startups are really uncertain and then I have to go prove myself all over again. And it took me like I’m actually in a really unique position at this point. And I don’t think it would be quite difficult to have the level of kind of trust and credibility that I have. I came in kind of right before an entire new executive team was brought in. And so I have very strong relationships with them. And I like that’s probably unlikely that timing and I felt very lucky in the timing that I had joined this company. And so I was like, Oh, that’s probably unlikely to happen again. And like, this is like a very tough to get promoted. I have built these great relationships here. I am thinking about applying to business school, so I can’t leave. Because I need to get recommendations for that. Like this is the logical thing to do. So I need to stay here. There’s no good reason to leave. And yeah, and I just succeeded. Looks like having like, career progress. And I’m I’m successful by all accounts. Right?
Shireen Jaffer 23:09
Yeah. Yeah, I Well, I asked because I think I mean, you nailed it. I think so many people feel the way you were feeling when it comes to not really, you know, I think people feel this whether they enjoy their work or not, especially when you’re not enjoying the work, the motivations have changed, but you hang on you stay because you know, you have the equity in the company or they’re paying you Well, the paycheck is nice, or again, it’s that sexy company in San Francisco that it would be foolish to leave or so what you know, people are kind of talk about it. That’s tough. So yeah, I that’s why I asked because I think it’s a very common experience. By the way before, you know, obviously, there’s so much to the story, and we’ll come we’ll keep going. But I do have a quick question. Do you feel like you were the Only one feeling this way. Did you sense more feelings with your friends while you were going through it?
Sasha Shilko 24:07
While I was going through it? Yes, yeah, I did see it in a lot of people. And I started talking about it. Other people that I hadn’t heard say anything with would all of a sudden, it turned out that they also were feeling very much the same way. But also Yeah, so many of them the golden handcuffs thing is so real in Silicon Valley. And you know, if you’re in a big company, it’s it’s real golden handcuffs where it’s like very clear they can if you stay a certain amount of time, it’s like a publicly traded company so you know exactly, or roughly exactly how much money you’re going to be losing. If you even then even at the startups. You’re like, Well, no, I have to vest and I can’t leave now. And yeah, I guess a lot of people were just I’m like, Oh, yeah, the this is what I’m supposed to do like I’m supposed to. I’m supposed to work and it doesn’t necessarily have to be great like work is in. You’re supposed to struggle and not be happy if that’s what it takes to be successful and so we’re on the path to success so Okay, we’ll stay the course.
Shireen Jaffer 25:24
Yeah, it’s so interesting because I do believe in strong goal and we learn a lot from struggle, but that’s very different from losing your identity and not feeling like you’re doing anything worthwhile, like the struggle you know, the struggle is worth it because someone is telling you that one day it’ll be worth it because you’ll get x y&z right. Yeah, it’s just it’s very different. And I think it’s important for I mean, it’s different for everybody. I think it’s important to reflect on however you’re struggling. What does that struggle really feel like for you and who are you really struggling for? What are you struggling for? What are those definitions of success that you’re working towards? So I’m glad you brought up
Sasha Shilko 26:08
the thing that I was, I guess I was struggling toward I was struggling toward the next promotion, and then the one after that the next one, and then I want to raise up, I just want to move up as quickly as possible. That’s, that’s what I’m struggling toward. And that just seemed like the obvious thing you’re supposed to struggle for, like you’re supposed to reach your full potential, and that means always progressing. But I, what I realized, like I didn’t really have a clear picture of what I was progressing toward or why I don’t think everyone actually is driven by the same thing. So it’s funny to for everyone to have the same definition of success, or at least me taking out what I thought was everyone’s definition of success.
Shireen Jaffer 26:55
Yeah, yeah, totally. So okay, so let’s go back to your story. So You now recognize that you don’t really love getting up in the mornings you don’t want to go to work. Yes. So tell us more.
Hitting the Wall (27:09)
Sasha Shilko 27:09
Yeah. So it it was actually it was much more gradual than that. It was. Now I look back on it I’m like, Oh yeah, this is what was happening but it kind of just started slowly where I in the beginning I just had so much energy that I don’t even know how I wasn’t sleeping very much but I just like I decided to go do things on the weekends I get I get energy from work and then I have more energy on the weekends and then something kind of started shifting where I, I would get to the weekends and be like, Oh, I’m so tired. Like, I don’t really want to do anything I just want to recharge is like you know, make sense. But then it just kind of I started dreading like just going like starting the week again and just every kind of day. I’d like wait until The weekend I can get through the weekend and be like, Oh, I’m so tired. I don’t I don’t even want to hang out with people. I want to do anything. I just kind of want to rest. And yeah, my energy is draining away like week after week. I was just forcing myself to get through the week and then and then I start the next week with even less energy than I did the previous one because the weekend didn’t do anything. And yeah, it was just kind of it just kind of was slow and gradual. I didn’t realize what was happening. But the the ha moment for me was, I had just gotten promoted. And I started having anxiety and never had a look. It never had anxiety before in my life. And I didn’t understand what’s happening at all. And I stopped eating food. I stopped eating food for like three days. I was nauseous. I’d wake up like super nauseous and my thoughts were racing and spinning. And I, I was trying to grab a string to just get myself to eat some rice. I was at work. And one of my friends who’d been traveling for a little while came up to me and she said, How are you doing? Go, I’m fine. No, actually, how are you doing? And I just started crying. And I couldn’t stop. I just couldn’t stop at all. I’m also very uncharacteristic for me. And yeah, and that that was kind of my like, aha moment of like, okay, no, this is like a, this is a real problem. I’m like, not, I’m, I, this can’t This can’t go on. I can’t live like this. I can’t, I can’t go crying sporadically. I can’t feel this way. Something needs to change. And I didn’t know it at the time, but I had kind of gradually over those months. I had Going through an episode of depression. And and now this is kind of anxiety layered on top of that.
Shireen Jaffer 30:07
Wow. That’s Yeah, thank you for sharing that. I think it takes some. It’s unfortunate, but it often takes those moments to really help us become more aware of what our bodies have been trying to tell us. Right. And I and I, and I’ve, and I know how hard it is it when you’re going through it, to have that awareness because again, you have so many outside environmental influences telling you, everything looks great. You work at a great company, there’s nothing for you to be sad about. You’re like, just another day, get through it. I know the feeling. And I’ve, you know, it’s so funny. I’ve never even I’ve always had my own thing. I’ve always been an entrepreneur. And so and even then I can relate to those because I’ve had moments where, you know, I was choosing to handle my business in a way I thought I should handle it even though it didn’t align with what I believed and those weeks months. The entire year I’m thinking back to like, I think it was 2014 that entire year I remember wanting waiting for the weekend like it was a countdown to the weekend and then the weekend would come and I would be so anxious all weekend because I was worried it was passing by too fast. And you had the next week coming up. So but I remember even in those moments, I would have so many external influences saying but you have your own business and look at what you’re doing and and you know, cheer up and you know people have been so much worse and so if I remember breaking down in the bathroom by myself, and that was my wake up call of Okay, something is not right. You’re literally I remember it was something I think that like dropped toothpaste like I kid you not it was something so simple. I dropped to the basement. I just broke down And that was a wake up call have fallen to patient not be making this sad What the heck is going on? So I appreciate your sharing of that. I think a lot of people will resonate with that experience, unfortunately.
Sasha Shilko 32:18
Yeah. And I I just I ignored it for so long I felt all these things I just ignored it because I just thought about it rationally. I was like, oh, there’s no reason I should feel this way. Yeah, no good reason. Everything’s going the way it’s supposed to. All right, say like, Oh, yeah, you know, I don’t really don’t really like what I’m doing today. But then I think about it and be like, nope, but that’s, that’s what I should keep doing that makes no sense. Like, you know, in six months or however long you know, it can change. You just got to get through it. Like, stop complaining. Like what like these feelings don’t make any sense. If you don’t agree with them. Let’s ignore them. And Yeah, apparently if you are, I guess I won’t speak for everyone else. But apparently if I do that to myself, then my body doesn’t really let me do that. And it decides it’s going to override my logic and reason and physically, let me know that it’s quite unhappy with the choices that I’m making.
Shireen Jaffer 33:24
Oh, yeah, your body has a wonderful way of telling you exactly what it means you do here and it’ll it’ll make it known I, I Sasha went, maybe this was it was 2014 maybe it’s 2013. Anyway, so I remember when I was going through my year, it it manifested in this weird twitch I got to my left leg which would keep me from walking. Like I wish I could not move my left leg. I could not bend my knee. I was Remember getting in a wheelchair, I remember my mom and dad having to, like, come down and help me and air was a mess. And I think after that year, it probably came back maybe once that I’ve never had it again. So it’s the inflammation really definitely kicks in. But of course, there’s many different ways your body will make it known that it needs you to stop and listen and figure out what’s really going on.
Sasha Shilko 34:27
Yeah, yeah, that sounds terrible. And that’s so scary, too. Because you’re like, I don’t know what’s happening.
Shireen Jaffer 34:33
Yeah, for sure.
Sasha Shilko 34:35
I was constantly I constantly had a cold, always had a cold. never went away.
Shireen Jaffer 34:42
I saw Deborah Benton who I think was episode three on my podcast. She said the same thing she said and manifested. For her. It often manifests in a cold that doesn’t go away for months.
Sasha Shilko 34:55
Yeah. Yeah, um, So yeah, so I, I kind of, you know, just probably started out as burnout. And then I ignored it, and then it kind of spiraled into this depression where I was very functional. And most of my friends when I kind of after the fact was like, I was going through depression, they’re like, Oh, you didn’t, like you seem fit sad and I was like, No, like I I, that allows us I was like, so I’m, like all the world. There’s no point to anything I’m not. I’m not excited about anything. I can’t think of a single thing I’m looking forward to. Like I was in a really, really, really dark place. Um, I still did everything like kind of what I would normally do, I guess at work, and then I kind of hold up on the weekends and just not do anything. Then in my head is really dark and just like really unhappy. Be Yeah, thinking everything is miserable and pointless and like, what am I doing? And then Okay, fine, I’ll keep doing it because that’s whatI’m supposed to do. Mm hmm.
Shireen Jaffer 36:13
And then what eventually helped you through it?
Taking a “Gap Year” (36:18)
Sasha Shilko 36:18
Yeah. So after I had that breakdown, or I just, I just cried to this friend for two hours. Um, I, you know that that was kind of it, that that’s when I called it more or less. Um, and I will preface this by saying like, I was very lucky in that I had the financial means to take time and not work. That wasn’t the financial part wasn’t a real concern. Before you know, at least good number of months time. So I I told my manager I need to take time I flew home, I saw a doctor, I was prescribed antidepressants. Apparently those do not work the next day, which is very sad to hear, but I personally for me, I think they were very helpful and yeah, I when I came back I ended up taking a leave of absence for a month, um, but essentially, a we were kind of negotiating whether I just resign or take a leave of absence and my my managers really kind of everyone was really understanding and we ended up going with a leave of absence but it ended up coming back after that and I took I would almost say so he got better right away of when I was like, Okay, I’m gonna make all these changes and I felt relief and then I got worse because I now left my job and I was okay I’m just focused on getting better. And I kind of for some reason in my head I had this idea that after four weeks I will be better. And when I wasn’t when I wasn’t feeling myself, like, you know, okay, I’m, I’m back to normal now. I think I just kept I was really like beating myself up about it and feeling really guilty like How could you do this? How could you just take this time off and then let’s not get better and you’re like, you must be really weak and like other people don’t are fine. Like, like, yeah, I’m really beat myself up about it. And so yeah, I’m kind of did that for a while. While but in general, the main things that I that did help were exercising, definitely really, really important. Just getting on a mammal sleep schedule. And ultimately, what actually really helped was just like letting go and saying, Okay, stop worrying about like your career trying to be, like succeed in something, just your only goal is to be happy. Just focus on being happy. Like take a whole so for me, I was like, I told myself take a whole year and do whatever you want to be happy. And that kind of was very freeing for me. And kind of let me finally stop feeling guilty and shift my logic to being okay six Now looks like being happy. How can I do that? And I think accelerate the healing process.
Shireen Jaffer 40:07
Yeah, I’m glad to hear that. I think, Well, two things there. I think one Yeah, it’s a common misconception unfortunately that, you know, taking antidepressants or anti anxiety, you know, medication, it is the cure, right? Um, but oftentimes, it’s not it needs to be coupled with, whether it’s therapy or whether it’s these like major lifestyle changes that you know, you went through yourself. I think it’s very important to point those things out. Because I do have so many friends who are on these, you know, pain medication, but do not are not feeling what they expected to feel. But that’s also because literally nothing in their life has changed outside of the medication. And so there’s all these very strong influences in their lives that lead them to, you know, this miserable state of mind. So thank you for sharing that part. And second, you know, financially and this is we can have a completely separate discussion on this. But I do think about people that don’t have the financial means and all the society, right, like, What? How do we prevent from this happening in the first place? Because the last thing I want for people is to get there and then not I mean, I know so many people are here right now where they don’t feel like they have a choice. They don’t have the financial means to be able to take time off and whatnot. So again, probably a separate conversation, but it’s, um, I don’t know if you’ve experienced this with maybe your friends or you know, people you’ve worked with, but that’s something that definitely keeps me up at night is figuring out how we can support you know, more people in that boat, which I believe are the majority.
Sasha Shilko 41:53
Yeah, no, I yeah, I I think about that all the time. How lucky I was to have the options that I did on here, I’m, I’m in a bad place on mental health. Let me just stop everything and focus on fixing that and just having that incredible privilege to be able to do that.
Shireen Jaffer 42:21
And I will I mean, oh, hey, you know, regardless of finances, there are, again, just for listeners, like there are options, there are absolutely options. And, yeah, it might not be, of course that you know, you can take a year, you might not have the opportunity to do that. But there are so many other ways that you can at least take a step towards, you know, a happier life and a better life. And, again, the resources out there and if anyone’s listening wants to tap into those resources, please reach out. But you know, going back Sasha to your story, so, you know, you’ve got this year, what do you really use This year’s doing and by the way, did you at the time? Did you actually say I’m going to take a year like Was it a hard one year deadline? Or did it naturally come about?
Sasha Shilko 43:13
So I didn’t, it’s not a hard deadline. But I had this idea in my head of, you know, take a gap here, essentially. And not that I needed this justification. But I happen to graduate college in two years. So I was like, Oh, well, you’re already two years ahead. So just take one of those years just to focus on your mental health and just be happy. Go just go like go backpack or travel or go do whatever you want. Like, take that gap year. And I couldn’t have needed to justify it to myself, but that’s kind of how I did and then yeah,
Shireen Jaffer 43:56
I don’t Yeah, I’m glad you said that. Because Absolutely you don’t need to justify it. But the majority of us do feel like we have to justify it. Similar to of course, you know what you were going through. And it’s it’s funny how that it’s not funny. It’s it’s, it’s no surprise that we do justify it in wasted years, right? Like, oh, we’re not. I think I literally was just talking about gap years. Yesterday, I wrote about it on my LinkedIn. I was, it was it was just yesterday. And so gap years is really recent in my head as a topic. And one of the biggest things I was talking to a few folks about was, copiers isn’t just for, you know, that one year between high school and college, which is what it’s commonly known for, right? gap year. for college kids. Like right now, there are so many college students worried about, you know, going back to school in the fall and what that looks like, and if they can’t go back on campus and have the same type of access, that they believe the college education was actually worthwhile for that, you know, it doesn’t make sense to even go back and invest all that money. But they’re too afraid to take gap years because for them, you know, similarly Sasha to how, you know, you voiced having to justify it to them as well. I don’t want to waste a year. I don’t want to fall behind. And obviously I have my own opinion there. But I want to hear from you on you know, you’re you’re kind of going through this year right now, right? This is part of the year.
Reassessing Life and Success (45:25)
Sasha Shilko 45:25
Yes. Yes. on that, on that point, I family member kind of raised that thing. Like you’re wasting your time you could be progressing you could be Um, and I was like, No, like, the waste of time was those months when I was going through depression. That’s that’s not life. Like that’s, yeah. That that is a waste of life. Literally a waste of life. You when you’re in that awful, awful mental state where you’re like mind is attacking itself. That is I was like, that’s a waste I, I would do anything to not feel that way. Um, it sounds like this is not a waste like this is compared to that this is the opposite of that.
Shireen Jaffer 46:16
Oh, that got my heart. I am. Yeah, I agree. I also think, progression, right? You need to be progressing in life. And this linearity it’s not even just the linearity of this like climbing up the ladder is progress. But holistically, we’re not even looking at how we’re actually making progress as humans as you know, whoever we want to be, and the type of life we truly genuinely want to live. I think progress is also an interesting again, it goes back to your definition of success and how it’s really defined for you. So how has this your bed? What have you been doing? Yeah.
Sasha Shilko 46:57
So I I came across actually a couple of Friends both independently recommended this book to me, it’s called designing your life. It was written by two Stanford professors who have a course at Stanford by that name that’s kind of using design principles to your life. And as you actually read the whole thing, but I skimmed A lot of it, um, well, it’s, it’s not actually something you really read, there’s a bunch of exercises in it. And one of them was this concept of rapidly prototyping. And the thought was essentially, it’s like, first you do a thought experiment where you think about Okay, what would I love to do? And I thought about it in terms of kind of just like yeah, I have had this year what would I love to do more than anything else? And and I just started testing them. So at first I was like, I just love to read I just want to sit and read. That’s all I want to do. I did that. I just I didn’t read so many books. But then I got sick of that. And I was like, Whoa, like, you know, I’m learning a lot but like, actually want to like do something. Um, so I mean so when I first I like put together this a book list and like sent it to all my friends cuz I’m like oh well now I get to like that I’ve created something then I was like okay well, um I can maybe maybe just staying home and reading books doesn’t work why don’t I go to national parks pre Coronavirus and like go on hikes, listen to audiobooks, and that will be great. I tried that. And I was like, I don’t know, I don’t know if I can see myself doing this for a whole year. And then I tried. I was like, maybe I’ll go backpacking, so then I like try staying in a hostel and seeing what I if I like that, and I was like, Ah, you know, this is nice, but like, I don’t want to do this for a year. Then I came back home and I was like, maybe honestly, maybe I’m just a workaholic and I just need to go find a job another job. So I started looking at jobs. And I was like, No, no No, I’d rather go travel without a job. Nevermind, then I, I’ve always really liked politics. And so I was like, I’m gonna write an email newsletter that’s going to talk about major world events, but from different international angles. So same story, but what did China say? What did North Korea What did Russia say? What did the USA and kind of synthesize that I started doing that and I loved the output of it. But I was like waking up every morning, dreading it feels like hours and hours of homework. Just it just I just, I just didn’t enjoy the process. So I was like, okay, no email newsletter. And then and then I had, that was one kind of like, it’s not that I don’t know if I’d call that a start up. But like I had all these like ideas of like startup things. And and then I landed on the one that I’m currently working on and I’ve been working on for about five months now. And essentially the idea there is that. So I’m actually just go through the story of how I came up with it. I was talking to my little sister and we both listened to this podcast by Guy Roz called how I built this interviews, entrepreneurs. And it was, there’s just been an interview about a way luggage. And I was thinking to myself, like, wouldn’t it be great if you could know about a way luggage before it got big? And I realized that there’s all these brands out there that are selling directly to consumers through their websites. So if you can analyze website traffic and see it spiking, you can kind of get a sense of what are those big brands are going to be up next. And then I kind of put together this little website and show it to my friends that did that had all these kind of brands that you commonly see advertised on Instagram that are not on Amazon. showed to my friends and it had trending. And they looked at it and they’re like, Oh, this is, you know, interesting, but I need to see reviews. And yeah, I realized that the reason that companies like Yelp or TripAdvisor create any real value isn’t because they have these lists of hotels or restaurants ranked in order by popularity, because they have all these reviews. And I realized that what we really need in this kind of space of all these brands that aren’t on Amazon is one central kind of go to review platform that has reviews. And the ideas morphed a little bit more now to where the platform for that isn’t really the ideal platform like that isn’t actually like a Yelp it’s more of a social networking app like Instagram. It’s just that instead of Instagram, your feed are your friends product reviews. And so it’s your friends posting pictures and a one to five star rating of every brand. And then you can search let’s say like a mattress and see what mattresses your friends have rated. Anyway, long story, but I kind of went through this journey of just kind of like just going through different ideas and learning what I actually liked. And yeah, landed on the what what I’m working on right now, which is launching this review platform because I just really loved the process of it. And I was solving for like what gets you excited to wake up in the morning and do and this just got me really excited. And so that’s what I’m doing.
Shireen Jaffer 52:54
Good I will I again as a fellow founder, I know that feeling of just again, just Big so genuinely excited about what you’re building. So I love that you’re in that mode. As you were learning about things that you found fun did anything shock you did anything surprise you? Yeah, tell me more there.
Understanding What Makes Us Happy (53:16)
Sasha Shilko 53:16
So I, I thought like every part of it I was shot. Like I said I would just be super happy just reading all the time. Like I picture myself retiring. I’m like, oh, I’ll just like sit around and read all the time. And apparently like no, I don’t like that. I like the idea of like creating something. And then I was like, Okay, we’ll create something. I’ll create this email newsletter. But I’m not a writer. I’m not a journalist. Like that’s not what I enjoy doing. And I think this, like what I’m doing right now, startups called next brand. That gives me so many opportunities to learn and build something and I also have a team I have interns from the university that’s here that are working with me that I also realized, like this actually adds a ton of energy to, to me apart from also just being really important to the success of what we’re building. But yeah, I kind of started realizing, here’s what I like, and here’s what I don’t like. And it wasn’t necessarily what I thought.
Shireen Jaffer 54:26
Yeah, I think so many of us are. We spend so much of our time, trying to be the best for whether it’s our company, whether it’s a partner, whether it’s our friends, whether it’s family, it doesn’t, you know, whatever it is, but we try for so long to try to be there to be our best self for them right and really understand them and what they like and what they need. And we invest so much of our energy in that, that we don’t even realize we haven’t spent that energy in ourselves that we don’t even know what you like or Weren’t removed. So I love that you were shocked and surprised along the way and really got to know yourself better. And it goes back to our conversation on gap years. And again, that is not wasted time, you’re really getting to know your strengths and what you gravitate towards, and how you can, you know, truly be your best self. And ultimately, that shows in the work you do and how you treat people. So, again, I’m very happy to hear that for you.
Sasha Shilko 55:28
Yeah. The biggest thing, though, that I’ve learned out of this entire experience, is that I need to have a mix of things in my life. And it’s such a basic, you know, concept, but for me, it’s so real. It’s like, you cannot only have work as your entire life and your entire identity. Particularly, you know, if you’re a founder and you’re working on a startup like you’re going to have high You’re also going to have lows. And it’s so dangerous if the lows are so dangerous if you only got one thing. So now I’m very intentional about I need to make time in my life for other pursuits that allow me to learn and building really strong relationships. Those are huge on happiness and are very, very strongly related to any study on happiness. And yeah, just being very intentional about I need balance.
Shireen Jaffer 56:36
Yeah, I think there’s a common misconception around founders. And just people who look at founders that we do just one thing but all of our soul and energies focus on this one business. And as a founder as a second time founder, I can say that’s not true. The lows are, are very even talk about the lows. It’s more about having a vision in your mind, at least for me. I have a vision in my mind. I know what I want to bring into this world, I know the type of impact I want to make being a social entrepreneur. So I do many things that get me there. And they’re often tied. And I mean, they’re, they’re absolutely connected. And so on the surface, you might see me just doing a bow, for example, and feel like my entire life is about edco. But I am involved with so many different things. Because if one part of the business is really low, yeah, it’s frickin hard. It’s really tough. And I learned for my first company, how toxic it can be to have all of your energy in this one thing and have no other outlet or no other motivation to keep you going. So I completely, absolutely agree with that from the founder ones.
Sasha Shilko 57:45
Yeah, yeah. So it’s, I mean, the change has been in success. I mean, I guess. I mean, I don’t want to say like, Oh, I don’t want to be successful, but it’s that definition of success. Isn’t Oh, you know, get a high status high paying job and continue to progress along that job. That’s that’s not what success looks like, to me anymore. It actually might be what success is for people that really look deep down that maybe some people have that that’s our definition. But for me, success is really just waking up in the morning and feeling energized about what it is I’m going to do. And it doesn’t mean that it has to be like easy or like pleasant. It can be super challenging, and really, really hard. But I’m like, excited to take on that challenge. And just having energy that that’s that’s what success looks like to me, because I never want to be where I was before or ahead, where I lost that and in order to actually accomplish That I think that mix is critical. Because it’s not any one thing that you do is probably unlikely to always be great. So you have to be able to have multiple things that you can lean back on. If one goes down, whether that one thing is relationship or a job or whatever else.
Shireen Jaffer 59:21
I appreciate you sharing that. And I appreciate you sharing your story. And I am excited for all of the different things that you’re exploring right now and to see the journey of next brand as well. How can how can our listeners follow along and get in touch with you?
Sasha Shilko 59:38
Yeah, so I would, I would encourage them if and I hope this story didn’t resonate with whoever is listening. If you made it this far, it probably did. And if it did, I hope it was helpful to you to hear, hear this. I encourage you to go check out that Medium article so if you just Google Sasha Shoko, it will pop up or type that into medium. And if you’re curious, you can check out next brand calm. It’s in an early beta stage. Yeah.
Shireen Jaffer 1:00:18
Amazing. Awesome. And yes, I’ve read that article so I definitely recommend everyone check it out again. It’s titled My friends in SF scared me. That’s still the title right Sasha?
Sasha Shilko 1:00:29
They they actually so um, a medium publication picked it up. So they actually changed it to. I thought Silicon Valley burnout couldn’t happen to me, but then it did. But it was my friends in San Francisco scared me for a long time when it actually got very popular.
Shireen Jaffer 1:00:49
Yeah, okay, cool. I’m glad we verified. got several massage I get for being here.
Sasha Shilko 1:00:56
Yeah, thank you so much for having me Shireen.
Also, our CEO, Shireen Jaffer, hosts weekly virtual hangouts to bring people together. If you want to know when the next one is happening or get the curated email update,
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