Jacob Kaplan-Moss

Personal lessons from XOXO

I wrote this post in 2013, more than 9 years ago. It may be very out of date, partially or totally incorrect. I may even no longer agree with this, or might approach things differently if I wrote this post today. I rarely edit posts after writing them, but if I have there'll be a note at the bottom about what I changed and why. If something in this post is actively harmful or dangerous please get in touch and I'll fix it.

Three things I want to remember from XOXO, written in haste as the conference wraps up:


XOXO is so un-snarky, so radically honest and sincere, that it almost feels like another world. XOXO is an amazing departure from that. The sincerity and friendliness is so total, so comfortable. A number of speakers shared intensely personal moments: Marco called his talk a “group therapy session” and discussed his fear and insecurity; Cabel shared a story of depression that was heartfelt and resonant. These stories were so personal, shared so freely, and received without an ounce of skepticism or cynicism. It’s hard to imagine this happening anywhere else, and that’s a shame.

The tech world is so often snarky, mean, and cynical. I struggle with the demons of negativity myself, however much I hate it. It’s just so damn easy to look at someone’s work, pick out a small, inconsequential mistake, and say “haha epic fail you suck.”

XOXO reminded me that the world doesn’t have to be that way. I don’t have to be that way.

I want to remember this kindness, this heartfelt desire to see others succeed, and tap into it instead of succumbing to cynicism and snark.

Jealousy & self-doubt

I think right now this is still too raw for me to write about directly, so I’m going to be have to be a bit vague. XOXO was amazing, but it also tapped into some of my darkest emotions.

I have trouble with others’ success: I want to be truly happy for them, but in reality that happiness is always shaded by a bit of “why isn’t that me?” Worse, the closer I am to someone the more jealousy I feel. I think this is all part of my life-long struggle with self-doubt and wanting to be liked. I’m far too invested in wanting people to like me, and I’m jealous of the adulation that success brings.

I suspect this won’t get much better, at least not very quickly. I want to keep thinking about it though, unpacking these emotions. Maybe one day my outward “congratulations!” won’t be tempered by some inner distress.

Get excited and make things

We heard story after story of how people made their work, and there was a theme. A theme so simple it’s trite and laughable: the way to get started is to get started. We make up all sorts of excuses about why we can’t, shouldn’t, won’t, aren’t able… but the only way to get good at something is to just fucking do it.

For me, the thing I want to be doing is writing. I haven’t written, not seriously, in years. Jack talked about how the longer you go without making, the harder it gets because it feels like you have to break that silence with something awesome.

Yeah, this.

I need to get over myself, and get back to writing. So I’m writing this now, quickly, and publishing it in its rough, rather crappy state. It’s not exactly the kind of writing I want to be doing, but it’s something, at least.

I hope I’ll be able to remember this drive to create, and be able to tap into it and rebuilt my atrophied creative muscles.