The Profile: The first lady of the Internet & Silicon Valley’s disillusioned generation

Good morning, friends.

I still remember when I first met Katie Hawkins-Gaar at CNN’s headquarters in Atlanta. She was ambitious, enthusiastic, kind, and someone people genuinely loved working with. And though I learned so much from her and her team during my time at CNN, the most important lesson I (and many others) would learn from Katie came years later.

The lesson is around relentlessness and strength. Two years ago this month, Katie suffered a sudden, unimaginable loss when her husband Jamie passed away unexpectedly. She writes, “Jamie was 32 years old and he was the love of my life. In a lot of ways, it felt like the day that Jamie’s life ended was the day that my life ended too.”

Yet here she is — living with more resolve and determination than most of us could dream of. Through her absolute must-read newsletter My Sweet Dumb Brain, Katie gets to the core of what makes us human — she explores grief, anxiety, depression, and most importantly, kindness.

I’ll let her take it from here.

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Katie Hawkins-Gaar, writer & journalist:

Last year, I spent a 24-hour layover at a fancy hotel outside of Reykjavík. Among other amenities, the hotel boasted its own private geothermal spa, a beautiful lagoon that was blissfully empty when I went for a swim.

Soaking in the mineral-rich waters, I felt pure joy. It was a feeling of contentedness without strings attached, and it was totally unexpected. When was the last time I experienced such uncomplicated happiness? Somehow, the feeling lasted for hours. That night, I slept more soundly than I had in months.

That moment of bliss soon felt far away — 3,600+ miles away, to be exact. For a while, I thought there was something magical about Iceland. I wondered if the hot water unlocked a sensation I’d never experienced before, if the money I spent on the hotel really did buy happiness, or if I discovered a secret about travel: that focusing on a single destination was the key to fulfillment.

I revisited that joy again and again, trying to figure out why it felt so significant. I’ve had plenty of moments of happiness before, but this one was different. It wasn’t followed by a foreboding sense of dread.

If things are this good now, something bad is bound to happen.

I was traveling overseas because my husband died a year prior — suddenly and unexpectedly at age 32. The solo trip offered me a way to heal, to mark the progress I’d made in my grief, and to honor our marriage. Losing my husband is one of the reasons why uncomplicated happiness is such a rarity in my life. Joy is almost always fleeting for me, followed by a chaser of shame, scarcity, or fear.

Now, a year after that trip and two years after my husband’s death, there are more and more moments of happiness in my life, but I still struggle to accept and appreciate them. Researcher, TED Talk star, and best-selling author Brené Brown calls this experience “foreboding joy.”

We can all relate to this feeling: If you’re a parent, you’ve likely smiled while watching your sleeping baby, only to be gripped by fears that your child could die. Maybe you’re a writer, and know how quickly your pride for a well-written essay can be swept away by worries that it will be the last good thing you’ll ever produce. Or you’ve experienced a day of fun and relaxation that’s interrupted by a call; before you even pick up the phone, your mind rushes to worst-case scenarios.

“If you asked me what’s the most terrifying, difficult emotion that we experience as humans, I would say joy,” Brown said in an interview with Oprah. “When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding.”

That flicker of fear — what if something bad happens? — will always exist. But that doesn’t mean it has to take over. Brown found through her research that the happiest people have learned not to feed their worries when they arise.

So what’s the secret? There are some key things you can do to avoid transforming joy into fear:

Get grounded. When you sense that foreboding feeling, take note of it. Don’t judge yourself, just note your emotions. From there, try and connect with your body. Breathe deeply, and focus on things you can see, touch, feel, smell and taste. Practicing meditation will help you sharpen these skills over time.

Surrender to the feeling. Allow yourself to experience happiness. Sink into the feeling without trying to control the situation, or enjoy it only to a certain point. While this step might seem simple, it’s tougher than you think. Brown calls joy “the most vulnerable emotion we experience.”

Practice gratitude. The next time you feel happiness, give thanks instead of listing reasons to worry. Gratitude saved me in the early months after my husband died. Sometimes I kept a daily gratitude journal; other times, I’d force myself to mentally list things I was grateful for in the moment. It takes lots of patience and practice, but research supports the link between gratitude and happiness.

And that’s what happened in Iceland. The warm water helped me to get grounded — to be in touch with my body instead of my mind. Being relaxed and in a new place made it easier than usual to surrender to happiness. Most likely, though, the unencumbered bliss I felt was the result of a gratitude journal I was keeping. By the time I’d gotten to Iceland, I had kept up a practice of writing three things that I was grateful for every day, for 23 days.

Truth be told, I still struggle with holding onto happiness. But I’m getting better at it, and am glad to report that experiencing uncomplicated joy doesn’t require an elaborate trip overseas. Writing this essay has inspired me to restart my gratitude journal; I hope you’ll join me. If you’re interested in learning how to meditate, Headspace is a great place to get started. And you can read more about Brown’s research findings in Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.

Here’s to finding happiness, surrendering when it comes, and being grateful that we get to experience it in the first place.


👉 If you enjoyed reading this column by Katie, click here to tweet so others can enjoy it too.


This was a fire week for profiles:

The first lady of the Internet [**HIGHLY RECOMMEND**]
— The deported Americans
Silicon Valley’s disillusioned generation
The young couple fighting their demons
The founder who can’t escape his political ties
The streaming company fighting off Amazon
The company stealing your secrets

PEOPLE TO KNOW.

The first lady of the Internet: Whether or not you know Lena Forsen’s face, you’ve used the technology it helped create. Practically every photo you’ve ever taken, every website you’ve ever visited, every meme you’ve ever shared owes some small debt to Lena. Yet today, as a 67-year-old retiree living in her native Sweden, the former Playboy model remains a little mystified by her own fame. “I’m just surprised that it never ends,” she says in her first public interview since 1997.

“I don’t understand, but I think I’ve made some good.”

The deported Americans: More than 600,000 U.S.-born children of undocumented parents have returned to Mexico. Some families were deported, others “return migrated.” But the kids, who were born in America, weren’t returning. They were just … leaving. This powerful profile asks the question — What happens when you’re forced to return to a country you’ve never known?

“This problem of being unable to adapt to Mexico or belong to the U.S. — it’s a generation that was left in between.”

Silicon Valley’s disillusioned generation: Stanford has established itself as the epicenter of computer science, and a farm system for the tech giants. Following major scandals at Facebook, Google, and others, the university and its ambitious students are coming to grips with a world in which many of the stereotypical dream jobs are now vilified.

“It seemed super empowering that a line of code that I wrote could be used by millions of people the next day. Now we’re realizing that’s maybe not always a good thing.”

The young couple fighting their demons: This profile demonstrates just how difficult marriage can be — especially if you’re still trying to find yourself. Justin Bieber and his longtime friend-turned-wife Hailey open up about the insecurities, the trust issues, the emotional outbursts, and the petty fights they grapple with in their relationship. With his turbulent past behind him, Justin is still struggling to find peace. “I was real at first,” he says, “and then I was manufactured.”

“You don’t wake up every day saying, ‘I’m absolutely so in love and you are perfect.’ That’s not what being married is. But there’s something beautiful about it anyway—about wanting to fight for something, commit to building with someone.”

The founder who can’t escape his political ties: Ryan Williams, the CEO & founder behind real estate startup Cadre, counts Peter Thiel, Mark Cuban, and George Soros as backers. And he was recently about to add the king of investors to his star-studded roster: SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son. But within a month of his meeting with Masa, Bloomberg ran an article emphasizing the potential link between early Cadre investor Jared Kushner, Softbank and Saudi money. Discussions fell apart soon after. Will Williams be able to escape his political connection especially when Kushner refuses to divest?

“I would be lying if I said the political angle wasn’t frustrating or concerning. There are people who won’t work with us [because of the Kushner connection], and we get that.”

COMPANIES TO WATCH.

The streaming company fighting off Amazon: HBO invented prestige television and long had the category all to itself. But in the age of Netflix and Amazon, the network that brought you The Sopranos, Sex and the City, and Game of Thrones has more competition than ever—and a new corporate parent with high expectations. Here’s how its chairman Richard Plepler and programming chief Casey Bloys intend to meet them.

“Being forced, every once in a while, to question your assumptions and talk it through almost always makes the thing better.”

The company stealing your secrets: Adam Khan had invented something he believed to be valuable — a diamond glass that could make your phone’s screen nearly unbreakable. He sent a sample for testing to a laboratory owned by Huawei Technologies. But when the sample came back months late and badly damaged, Khan knew something was terribly wrong. Was the Chinese company trying to steal his technology? As Khan attempted to figure this out, the FBI got involved.

“This multibillion-dollar company is coming after our technology. What are we going to do now?”