Part I: A Cautionary Tale of Power x Awakening
This is a coming of age story. The trials and tribulations of coming into and out of Saviorism. My intention is to shed light on how Savior / Messiah / Hero’s Journey complex originates and operates in a growing segment of Silicon Valley. I believe its trending expression is an important psychological and cultural phenomenon to understand. My hope is this case study may offer clues to relevant stakeholders to avoid recreating the harmful systems many of us are working to transform.
My story is Part I. My analysis + learnings is Part II: Disrupting Colonizer Consciousness in Silicon Valley 👾⌫. I recommend reading both. These are follows up to The Path of the Humane Technologist📚⚙ in which I inquire what and how the next generation of technologists should learn in order to create in a more life-honoring way.
Confession: I tried to save the world. Multiple times. Wait, am I somehow doing it again in writing this piece and hoping it goes viral enough to have a profound impact on the next generation of changemakers?
Ughh. I keep forgetting. Help! 😹
Hi, my name is Andrew, and I’m a Messiaholic. From 2016 to 2020 I worked on a series of projects that to me felt like they had the potential to actually, actually “CHANGE THE WORLD!” In the biggest ways imaginable. It wasn’t until recently that I started to examine some of the mindsets driving my behavior, reckon with the mess I made, and commit to a different way of being in and with the world. I feel a sense of responsibility to share what I’m learning along the way.
I’m going to experiment with a new format, in which I weave some historical and social annotations through the telling of my own story, in order to illustrate a hyper-relevant example of how one can come to a place of wanting to save the world, and the impact those actions can have on the web of life.
Annotations will be italicized with a vertical line in the left margin, like so, and link out to further educational resources. Some language may be uncomfortable as I try to navigate thorny topics like money and whiteness, in a real and welcoming way. I hold my views lightly and invite your perspectives.
See Part II for a deeper analysis into the legacies of colonization in Silicon Valley savior culture, including critiques of popular frameworks like the Hero’s Journey and narratives like “Ancient Wisdom x Modern Technology will heal the world.” I propose that re-learning history can be potent medicine for those coming into unearned wisdom and power in this curious time between worlds.
My Story: Confessions of a White Dude Who Tried to Save the World
Stage I Winning [Games & Sports]
We are products of our ecology and our times; inheriting systems, stories, traumas, privileges. I am not a child of the 60’s, the Black Panther Movement, or first generation immigrants. I am a child of the 90’s — upper class, secular, segregated, suburban, achievement culture of Westchester, NY. My beloved parents were MBA’s who worked on Wall Street. Much was invested to ensure my childhood was safe, secure and fun. I grew up with some greater than average pressure to succeed in a fairly narrow sense (material well being and social status). I was repeatedly told I was special, I was different, I could be whatever I wanted to: professional athlete, the President, CEO. I was good. Smart. Hard working. Fast. Elementary school teachers told my parents I needed to slow down, avoid careless mistakes, be less hard on myself. I was also kinda quiet, weird, awkward and timid. My high school tennis coach once had to tell me “don’t be afraid to win.”
Religious stories did not play a major role in my reform Judaism upbringing. I felt more connected to the mythologies that came through the silver screen: Disney classics, Indiana Jones, Armageddon. I learned about win-lose ways of being through individual and team sports that I’d often find little ways to cheat at: board and card games like Monopoly (originally designed to teach cooperation), chess and poker; video games like Mario Kart, Super Smash Brothers, Golden Eye and Grand Theft Auto. #1. All star. Harder. Faster. Stronger. Kill kill kill. I practiced pitching baseball at geese on our lawn. Always cutting corners and getting away with white lies. My ultimate concern was being the best at snowboarding among my friend group. I learned about the good life from MTV’s Cribs and VH1’s The Fabulous Life. Sex from PornHub. Masculinity from Jackass and Eminem. Beauty through plastic surgery. Race from Chappelle’s Show and eBaum’s World. By the time I became a man in the Jewish tradition, I could identify 1,000 corporate logos, but only a handful of native plants and animals.
Stage II Winning [Academics & Good Life]
I was a straight A student. My favorite unit in elementary school was the one on European Explorers: those brave men who discovered exotic new worlds through epic adventures. I spent my teenage summers at tennis and golf camp, and later at college prep programs. Other hobbies included visiting luxury car dealers and hotels, stopping by the trophy store, and playing that talking globe game. I wanted my mom to paint a scene of me sitting on a Ferrari, which was my first email address (FerrariA50, after my dad wouldn’t let me create PimpinX50). I prided myself on number of passport stamps, living in one of the most expensive zip codes in the country and having a sense of familiarity with most of the locations on the list, and befriending kids of owning class families. The mere association with those who had wealth and status raised my self esteem and became part of my identity, a la Sushi12. My family had a lot, but I envied those around us who had much more, and was socialized into seeing that as the orienting goal in life. Three generations of successful upward mobility burdened me to reach even higher, financially and socially. But to what end? And why? *cue world’s tiniest violin*
Ashkenazi Jewish Trauma // Assimilated, white Ashkenazi Jews living in the U.S have inherited a common set of personal and collective epigenetic trauma as a result of frequent instability, Pogroms, immigration and the Holocaust. The patterns that have shown up strongest for me include a desire to control, vigilance and readiness to leave at any moment, and drive for acceptance, social approval and security. These are adaptive behaviors that once enabled my ancestors to survive, but now work against me. I’m also relearning Judaism’s rich tradition of nature connection and history of justice. See How Jews Became White Folk and what that Says about Race in America.
Reductive Human Capital Education // Much of the “drill and kill” education I grew up with was designed to herd children into an industrial labor economy (see Education in a Time Between Worlds), arresting holistic development through the forced learning of “marketable skills” and memorization of a nationalist mythology’s “official knowledge” (see A People’s History of the United States). Most children are not educated to become whole persons able to view the world critically or sacredly; rather they are taught to adapt to an oppressive world (see Pedagogy of The Oppressed).
Stage III Winning [Social Life]
I did a lot of achieving and jumping through hoops amidst a growing existential angst and disorienting sense of privilege, craving something More than the hallow rituals and vacuous options on the menu. Like pushing 140 MPH in my dad’s BMW. I burnt out of academic achievement after taking the SAT’s for the third time in pursuit of a perfect score, just in time to apply and get accepted to UPenn/Wharton through pressure and indifference and legacy connections, signifying that the business elite status quo chose me as an ideal human to uphold and enrich it.
My studies involved embracing the mantra “fuck bitches, get money” (I literally bought a shirt from Urban Outfitters that said “Mo Money, Mo Bitches”) and “ask for forgiveness, not permission,” pledging a fraternity, partying my virtues off and getting caught up in schadenfreude one-upmanship games, often to the harm of women in my life, as a core measure of my self-worth. I was the social chair and party promoter. Blacking out 50+ times, as a reliable way to quell social anxiety, feel recognized for whatever shenanigans ensued, and fill some unidentifiable hole of emptiness. I nearly didn’t graduate for academic and disciplinary reasons. I nearly died from alcohol poisoning one night. Another I was found on a bench at a train station in a different state. Another I became a meme when a frat bro asked me how my summer was, and I allegedly replied in a questionable mocking of an alpha male: “I made more money than my friends, I cop’d more pussy than my friends, and I’m huge.”
Stage IV Winning [Entrepreneurship]
I found most of the b-school curriculum awfully boring and was close to ditching the business thing altogether for something like anthropology or philosophy, but sucked it up for the Wharton degree and in my junior/senior year got bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. I suddenly came alive on campus, networking and hustling as I sunk a genuine passion into an empowering and visionary project. Steve Jobs became my personal hero. One week before graduation, while doing community service for a disciplinary infraction, I had a curious hangover thought say: “I am the next Steve Jobs.” I joked to somebody I lusted after that I wanted to get his quote on changing the world tattooed on my body. She told me that’s what she liked about me. If any of her friends were going to make a dent in the world, it was me.
After college I immersed myself in startup land, working for a series of early-stage, venture capital-backed tech companies, all raising the “changing the world” flag. Nightlife in NYC (Ivy League socialites), microfinance in Southeast Asia (white savior expats), international trade in San Francisco (capitalist hackers). Each felt like it really did have the potential to achieve something great, that I would convince myself mattered a lot to me too. My first boss challenged me to “be the hero.”
Though we always seemed to be “crushing it,” most teammates (myself included) barely held it together as miserable computer slaves, which gradually inspired me to start tracking my personal pain back to the systems I was participating in. I have a lot of love and gratitude for many of the friends and teachers throughout these professional experiences. And there were a lot of things I witnessed that were not okay: be it the party-boy manager mock ejaculating champagne into employees’ mouths, the fear-reliant Chairman condoning the publicly racist behavior of colleagues they favored, the biased investor making homophobic comments on stage, or the vomiting CEO needing to be carried back to their hotel room (sucks that the most important stories don’t told because of non-disparagement clauses). Omg, so much lying, hurt, manipulation, coercion. Bad luck startup chaos, or par for the course business? Decent people in indecent systems? I mostly stayed quiet during these experiences, per the green wall of silence. I was young. Even if I disagreed with that behavior, my salary depended on my looking the other way. I didn’t always have the analysis or words or courage to speak up. I wasn’t any more decent than they were anyways.
However there were two little miracles that occurred during this era. At 23 I took a friend up on the opportunity to get out of fast life NYC and work together on his company in India. While there, traveling solo, without internet, on the edge of my universe… I experienced a cosmic PAUSE: a life-changing evening of solitude, exhale, reflection, joy, love, flow, aliveness. I wanted to follow the thread of this taste of awakening into Eastern philosophy and spirituality, but felt pressure to focus on my career instead. Three years later in San Francisco, I was unexpectedly pushed out of a unicorn company I helped build. That moment was simultaneously shocking, and freeing. The last straw, and a blank slate. I was at peak disillusionment with the tech world, the business world, professional life in general. Ready to throw in the towel. I vowed I would no longer work on anything else that wasn’t nourishing my soul or serving the whole. And if I ever were to start a company, I would do everything differently.
So I asked myself for the first time: what the hell actually matters to me? Well, err, hm. I didn’t like how addicted I was to my phone and social media, noticing how it was getting in the way of life, and how my moments of highest inspiration in my early 20’s had come while unplugged–like that time in India. So I jumped into a passion project: a wearable voice transcription ring that would allow me to record my thoughts while away from my phone, thereby solving my own tech addiction challenges and helping me access more of the wisdom of life. I landed on a cloud of the wellness industry, which seemed to offer all I was craving: personal growth, high EQ organizations, “real” impact on the world. While pitching my project at a hardware meetup, I fell in love with a mindful tech startup called Siempo that was re-imagining the smartphone to be more intentional and less distracting.
Imbalanced Masculinity // The ways in which male-bodied people in America are socialized today often involves hiding emotions, violence towards female-bodied people, and rewarding certain qualities at the expense of others. Our culture of toxic masculinity molded me into a silent monster. I’ve only recently come to reckon with my womanizing years. What does healthier masculinity look like?
White Supremacy Culture // (stay with me 🙏 we can disagree on ideas and language and still learn from each other) Experienced in every organization I’ve ever been involved with, including those I’ve stewarded. Grind culture, perfectionism, workaholism, sense of urgency, defensiveness, quantity over quality, worship of the written word, only one right way, paternalism, either/or thinking, power hoarding, fear of open conflict, individualism, objectivity, right to comfort, progress is bigger/more. These characteristics are damaging to both people of color and white people. White supremacy does not just refer to white supremacist hate groups, but a political, economic and cultural system in which white-identified people overwhelmingly control power and material resources, conscious and unconscious ideas of white superiority and entitlement are widespread, and relations of white dominance and non-white subordination are daily reenacted across a broad array of institutions and social settings (Anti-Racist Teaching Collective).
Stage V Winning [Self Actualization]
We joyfully jammed on the hardware path until it became a clear dead end. It was a nebulous spring of running out of money, throwing Hail Mary’s, co-founders departing. Then out of nowhere, we were miraculously given a new lease on life by a generous fan and set out to find a new CEO to lead the organization. At the time, I had little interest in being a leader of a great company, having worked with a string of uninspiring leaders, while feeling unqualified with persistent insecurities around activities like public speaking. I didn’t see myself as extra special or destined to greatness. Rather, kind of indifferent, disempowered and stuck.
But things were getting weird. As I immersed myself into the wellness tech world, I encountered a tidal wave of California New Age culture, which I had previously dipped my toes into throughout my work and travels in South and Southeast Asia, but became swallowed by in the Bay Area: the epicenter of East meets West. Everything started to change: books, events, friends, language, clothing, beliefs, dreams, names. Culminating in my first plant medicine ceremony in 2017, in which I received ineffable, revelatory visions of a flourishing human society, and my leadership playing an integral role in getting the world there. From an unpublished blog post:
“I realized that Siempo was a prime vehicle for me to work towards this vision, and tapped into a previously inaccessible confidence that I could lead the team effort. [She] dissolved a sense of self-doubt, stories that I wasn’t good enough or didn’t have something important to say. I realized trust in my authentic self in seeing that I would be a leader. I gained conviction that this was my time to shine, to kick things into high gear. I am the person to do this. I am an original, a connector, a creative. I am fearless and willing to suffer for this. I have the requisite experience, I live and breathe the mission because I personally struggled with digital addiction, and my focus on inner work allows me to think differently about business and product than other tech entrepreneurs looking to capitalize on the emerging opportunity.”
It was now up to me, to redesign the home screen of the planet to protect and promote human flourishing, and scale that to five billion smartphone users, as soon as possible.
A switch had been turned on. I was no longer afraid to win. Put me in coach, I’m ready to LIVE.
It was all happening. Siempo was the one. I was the one. I was Siempo. The most important company on Earth. I embraced the opportunity to focus even more on personal development, per the advice of the wellness industry thought leaders around me. So naturally I got into meditation, yoga, acupuncture, nature connection, wellness conferences and retreats, transformational festivals. So many modalities! Gotta try ’em all. Especially when we were working against a doomsday clock. The more I saw myself as a founder coming into power and awareness around the need to create from a different level of consciousness, the more it felt doing “the work” as fast as possible was the most responsible thing that I could do. In offering the entirety of myself to this noble and urgent mission, I was determined to make sure that all the right ingredients were in the mix of Andrew and Siempo. If we were going to be the next Apple, I wanted to serve as a model for Silicon Valley to create technology and business in a more “conscious” way. I was going to be the next Steve Jobs. But less of an asshole.
But it wasn’t enough just to be a “mindful founder” following the typical startup treadmill of fundraising and user growth. Reimagining the smartphone for mental health and well-being was a massive responsibility in a prophetic time. I obviously needed to heal all my trauma and completely overhaul my sensemaking! So I would go further into exploring energy healing, developmental psychology, gender identity and expression, new economy, community living, anti oppression, systems thinking, authentic relating, regenerative culture and a laundry list of deeper mystical esoterica and “peak experiences” from silent retreats and breathwork to play parties and ceremonies. Holy shit, love is actually the answer. Energy is real. I had found the good stuff! I had found More. Thank. God.
Stage VI Winning [Saving The World]
It was in these moments of clarity and spaciousness from “the matrix” that divine information (or “downloads”) reliably streamed through. Those sublime moments were nectar for my Soul. The visions would even come during mundane moments like sitting next to a creek, or having a conversation on the dance floor. I recorded, clung to and followed as many of these insights and visions as possible, translating thoughts into To-Do’s with perfected agility and without question. I didn’t really seek these altered states out — the invitations just kept coming and I trusted that trying on more of the human experience = better for Andrew and Andrew’s projects, and that there was no limit on the returns of personal work. Peak experiences made me come alive. So I made them my way of life.
For many who knew me well pre-2016, these new interests and ideas seemed strange, chaotic, disconcerting. Especially in moments of “holier than thou” behavior that revealed my arrogance in looking down upon those who I judged as living foolishly or thinking smaller. e.g. asking a family friend at BBQ: “Oh you work in FinTech? So, where is your energy going at the end of the day?” while I donned a feather earring and served hapé to college kids down to get high on anything. I just wanted everybody to see all the shiny ornaments I had added to my ego!
Out of concern for all the sudden changes and overzealous behavior, my parents seriously wondered if I needed to go to rehab, and encouraged me speak with our hometown Rabbi about my work and lifestyle. Rabbi Greenberg reflected: “You seem like a great guy, but I don’t get the visions of grandeur. You should be building a home, a family.” I thought he was out of touch. I couldn’t understand why my parents were getting in the way of me doing something important for the world. I wondered if Gandhi’s parents had given him such a hard time.
Though I believed I was brilliantly navigating my path in order to be of maximum service while enjoying the maximum quality of life, my motivations certainly had their shadow side: I wanted to make wrong those who were succeeding at “business as usual,” thereby proving myself to those who doubted me (wtf Forbes 30 Under 30?) or I perceived as more _______ than me. I wanted that one girl who got away to change her mind about me. No matter how selfless and equanimous I felt, in the back of my mind I still wanted to create a billion dollar company. I also totally performed spirituality, in order to feel accepted and belonging with “spiritual” investor crowds, for example. In the “Bay Area conscious community ” I felt like I was finally getting all those needs met. Welcome to the metamodern aristocracy, baby. I was at last secure in the cool kids club (or at least my projection of it), feeling levels of love and joy and connection that I didn’t know were possible. And yet, there were always other circles that I felt on the outside of, unwelcomed and unwanted.
Messiah Complex // (aka Christ complex, Don Quixote complex, Savior complex, or White knight syndrome) A state of mind in which an individual holds a belief that they are destined to become a savior today or in the near future; that they are responsible for saving or assisting others. Often leading to self-sacrifice, delusions of grandeur and grandiose self-images. Neither a clinical term nor diagnosable disorder. Could be sparked by a religious upbringing, a spiritual awakening, or run of the mill late capitalist society.
Hero’s Journey // A narrative pattern consistent through human storytelling, observed by Joseph Campbell in A Hero With A Thousand Faces. Typically involving a character who goes on an adventure, is victorious in a decisive crisis, and comes home changed or transformed. Recently migrating from Hollywood and psychology to New Age leadership coaching and healing retreats as a framework to contextualize one’s own life path of self-discovery and greatness.
Though I never verbalized it in such direct words, I know that in my mind, between the ages of 27 and 30, I believed I was tasked with saving the world. That it was something within reach. I would be the hero, giving humans their lives back, taking down Apple and Google, transforming Silicon Valley, and upending capitalism in one fell swoop. I can still connect with the feeling tone. A certain ecstasy in touching infinite potentiality, and the fruit that might accompany that achievement: universal recognition, the ultimate expression of winning, invitations to the highest cool kids clubs, power to manifest all my ideas into the world. Completion. Wholeness. Salvation. Boundless love. Nirvana. The Holy Grail. The Ring of Power. NFL Blitz buzzer beater. Immortality.
And this was constantly reinforced by the world around me — supporters acknowledging my work, billionaires promoting the path I was on, dozens of pitch conversations in which my job was to passionately paint our vision, and hundreds of normal conversations in which people seemed authentically jazzed to talk about the timely thing I was working on. I was often the youngest person at exclusive gatherings of Silicon Valley changemaker elite, where the consensus was it was up to us to shift humanity’s course and bring awakening to the world. I listened dutifully. There were no adults in the [figurative] room, we were told. There weren’t many elders, youth, or BIPOC’s in the [actual] room. But there was an entire jet-set conference circuit based on the premise that infusing wisdom into the tech sector was our best shot. Of course it would happen here and now! How wonderful that we get to be the imaginal cells in this historic metamorphosis! I liked the idea of playing for “Team Humanity” alongside the superhero squad of my mostly white male techie Burner friends in San Francisco. But wait, who is leading that team? Could it be me? Who would I have to become?
It became an extremely confusing period amidst countless synchronicities and inexplainable experiences that seemed to affirm my mandate: receiving emails from users thanking us for literally saving their life or giving them their life back; the night an elder scientist in wizard garb told Tristan Harris and I in a dim basement that we were the Jedi’s in the battle against darkness; watching the man burn with the director of The Social Dilemma; organizing an industry of developers to push back against Apple (Jake in Avatar vibes); going on dozens of podcasts and panels and TV; winning award after award; suddenly hanging out with supermodels and historical figures and characters from all walks of life (many of whom claimed to be a goddess, warrior, priestess, shaman, alien, wizard..).
It was a perfect storm of conditions: growing up in the heart of Empire, parents/school/society telling me I could do anything I put my mind to and showering me in trophies just for participating, an inner drive to achieve a level of greatness that would mean my ultimate whatever, all the workshops and conversations about purpose, stumbling into an emerging technology that could dictate how humanity related to life, getting adorned with acknowledgements (e.g. “visionary” by the President of a Big Tech co, “Christ-like” by a Buddhist elder, “superhero” by a teammate, “conduit of miracles” by a fellow entrepreneur), recognizing the potency of this societal moment… this must be my destiny! Waking up the world from the hypnosis of technology, so they can connect with their true nature and higher purpose, and plug into Team Humanity. Everything in my life and maybe since the Big Bang has led to this moment of self-actualization and fairy tale happy ending for all beings, holding hands across the Earth in a holy moment of celebrating that every single one is well. I have seen the promised land. I am leading my people out of bondage to freedom.
Silicon Valley Savior Virus would command all my resources. In feverishly exhausting every path to make Andrew and Siempo work, I’d ignore the signs of my body and burn myself out several times, put the majority of my life savings into the project (self-righteously selling my unicorn stock — hey, Elon famously did it, and I was on track to be in that same league, right?), injure a number of important family and friends relationships as I sought to be right and change (i.e. save) those around me, lose trust, amplify my anxiety, feel blacksheeped and banished, adopt and promote muddy ontologies, and simply miss out on the joy of the little things in life. I was getting lost, making a mess and not willing to take responsibility for it. The reparation process is ongoing.
Ultimately in 2019, as an all star Siempo team approached its moment of greatest potential, I backed down from soldiering onwards, in a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy of “wellness founder chooses to prioritize own wellness.” We were fighting such an uphill battle, the business model we were progressing on felt out of alignment with our mission and values, and it felt out of integrity to accept money from my community when I honestly wasn’t committed to fight for the long haul. The visions and potentialities never ceased, but I learned that I had choice. See postmortem draft here.
New Age Narcissism // Psychiatrist Gerald May defines spiritual narcissism as the unconscious use of spiritual practice, experience, and insight to increase rather than decrease self-importance (self aggrandizing > deepening humility). People act superior because believe they have attained a level of spiritual development higher than the rest of us. There’s even a new study linking some forms of spiritual training to narcissism and spiritual superiority. Jamie Wheal, Alex Ebert, and Eamon Armstrong chop it up on the matter in Life Is a Festival: Healing New Age Narcissism (Part 1, Part 2).
Stage VII Winning [XXL Saving The World]
After putting Siempo on hold, I took some time to consider my next steps and decided that 2020 would be a year of slowing down and being present for life, maybe getting a little politically active with a new party I had been connecting with. One thing led to another and I quickly found myself involved with One Nation (now the Independent National Union) with its charismatic leadership, a mytho-poetic theory of change, endorsements from respected intellectuals and celebrated activists, and a central focus on systems change and healing. The organization emanated “saving the world” energy and drew me in like a tractor beam. I wanted to learn from them. I told people it was the next Google. I wanted to hang out in this new corner of the cool kids club, that seemed like my ticket to all the things Siempo had not fulfilled.
Friends raised some red flags around hubris, savior and cult vibes (even so far as explicitly calling out the typical dynamics that happen when a bunch of white folks get together and think they have the vision for the way the world needs to be), but that didn’t deter me from moving in with the team and eventually being all-in for the mission. Nor did the kitchen jokes of who in the house was the most “Yeshua-ist” or which Avengers character, strategy to iconify ourselves and develop member iconification as a core competency, emphasis on leveraging the framework of the personal hero’s journey in our media and membership experience, use of language like “paradise” and “heaven on earth today.” I was cool with all of it. And encouraged by weekly displays of leadership shedding layers of self-acknowledged narcissism, patriarchy and other wounds. Things were extremely transparent and people were exceedingly vulnerable. I wouldn’t have wanted to quarantine with anybody else besides a systems/spirituality-oriented political revolution. We had a lot of best days ever. Friendships for life.
But while we claimed to be on a multi-decade arc of a theory of change, we tried to complete years worth of projects at once in a workaholic haze, doing a mediocre job at most of them. The ideals were high, and we struggled to embody them. Despite daily life being “beyond imagination” with an insane amount of supernatural affirmations of the path we were on, I felt this gnawing low grade anxiety and ambient disempowerment, which later was interpreted by two departing teammates as an imbalance of patriarchal energy in the organization.
In trying to be the “movement of movements” for all those working towards creating a more beautiful world, we fizzled out in the remote New Mexico desert. And it was from there, in the void of releasing attachment to doing and winning and rushing and saving, that something else could be reborn (INU) from a place of genuine collaboration and humility. Along the way, I intimately witnessed expressions of savior complex in others–both its real and potential impacts–which provided a powerful mirror for those aspects of myself that I had yet to examine. I’m proud of how each of us has grown throughout the experience.
“The question remains whether America needs yet another white male-led political movement acting independently, when there are BIPOC & LGBTQIA2S social and political movements that have long informed how white folks organize and mobilize.
Germaine comments that she’s observed this type of behavior in herself and in other white folks in movement spaces: ‘We get this inkling of the root systems issues, and then we get triggered, and then we want to run off and start our own movement, and we can get really grandiose with our ideas.
Another symptom of white folks getting ‘woke’ is the savior complex…”
We neither discussed these reflections, nor did much of anything to respond as an organization when George Floyd was murdered four days after the article’s publication. I think this was our biggest failure, and I acknowledge my role in it (retrospective coming soon).
Stage VIII W̶i̶n̶n̶i̶n̶g̶ Being [Humbling]
As the dust of the One Nation experience settled and I found myself climbing down from my high horse into a place of transition once again, I started to notice my natural inclination to GO GO GO on big new ideas, say “Yes” to all the catch ups and online events, work on too many projects at once, and pour all of myself into something. I wondered where these habits stemmed from. What lessons had I learned from the last few years that I did not want to repeat?
Everywhere I looked leaders I had once put on a pedestal were falling from grace: abusing power, succumbing to burnout, even taking their own lives. Meanwhile I became increasingly turned off by “save the world” type projects and messages on social media, as well as what I experienced as extreme imbalances in beliefs and attitudes from some close to me, and chatter about the growing overlap between Q Anon and New Age culture. Hitting a climax around Thanksgiving, I couldn’t take it anymore and felt a sudden urge to disappear from it all. ENOUGH! Tap out. No more 5DregeMe∞)(2030sdksl;. Time to take a break from creating the new paradigm, go into the woods and tune out the noise. Reflect, write, come back to myself.
Stage IX Being [Homecoming]
It had been a wild few years. What the heck happened? What can I glean from those experiences? Where do I go from here? I’m extremely grateful for my friends Belinda, Peter and the Hestia community for birthing the Hestia Winter Incubator program just in time, so perfectly aligned with my intentions for the winter to integrate my 2020, my Saturn Return, seven years since I began “my journey” in India, and 30 years of life. The day I arrived, I had a feeling I would eventually write about this savior topic. In retreating to the mountains to write and study and unravel, I’d also reconnect with Judaism, ancestry, enchantment of nature, and education reform. In stillness I began to see the experiences of the last few years through a different lens, receive their lessons, bring things back into balance (constant social connectivity, information intake, religious note taking, disembodiment), and practice new ways of being. I went to my room to think about what I had done. It was self-directed TIME OUT / rehab from the craziness of all I had been through. Homecoming upon homecoming.
In one profound moment of personal insight and irony, I realized that even my seemingly innocuous habit of note taking was imbued with savior goals. While documentation had a simple intention on the surface (record “valuable” insights), the underlying motivation was a drum beat of the old story: productivity, success, superiority. Being a student of life, in service of “getting ahead” in life. Moving as fast as I could, in the direction that seemed “right” to me based on my narrow north star (climb the career ladder, appear woke/awakened, maximize the success and impact of my projects). While overvaluing and placing an inappropriate level of faith in my thoughts and mental ways of knowing, as if they were pure and at times divine instructions that needed to be actioned immediately, without regard for harm caused to my body, or the social or environmental web around me. They say the mind is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master. Somehow in scattering my attention across dozens of modalities and therapists and coaches, I missed the memo on over-identifying with thoughts, exercising choice, doing as little as needed > as much as possible, and other basics that I’d need to be taught again and again.
It’s sobering to reflect on these last few years and notice how I wasn’t always going in a healthy direction or getting there in the best way, relative to what I know now. What if one of those projects “took off” with the consciousness I had at the time? What kind of harm might have been done if I stepped into orders of magnitude more power with so many hidden motivations and biases? What if that had happened when I was in my frat bro era? What if I didn’t stop returning to the wishing well? What harm have I done by influencing others’ actions?
On the other hand, I appreciate and accept where I’m at in this moment, so perhaps I needed to experience the sharp imbalance in order to come back into balance. Though I don’t know if we can afford to have so many waking white Wharton wankers like me go through that process, dumping the amplified waste of our limited consciousness onto the rest of the world to clean up. Though I suppose we each have to learn our own hard lessons, and it’s all for our collective learning? The value and meaning is always yet to be revealed? No, we must reject and stop and hold accountable! Or, maybe everything is redeemed in the long run and perfect in this moment, and it’s all Creation or just energy yin yang’ing back and forth to infinity? Always both? I don’t know.
It’s also shocking to realize how much I’ve been influenced by old stories and ways of being, and how my closely held mindsets represent a microcosm of what is playing out on systemic levels. Oh the irony of it all. I started working in this mindful tech space to scratch the personal itch of an achievement-oriented bro who was taught that he needed to make a lot of money to be whole, and that saving the world could fill a sense of emptiness. Siempo’s mission was balance. One Nation’s was all-win paradigm. Along the journey I managed to knock so many things out of balance, even with access to an unprecedented amount of knowledge and tools for how to create balance and alignment. The company and party needed to fail in their missions in order for me to have a chance at succeeding in my personal journey towards greater wholeness.
Stage X Being [Positioning]
Today, I’m still in awe of the cornucopia of efforts working to create a more beautiful and regenerative world, and pleased to hear that many crews are integrating valuable lessons along the way. In my seeking to be a bridge between worlds, I don’t want to let go of all the magic and beauty and community of the last chapter; I still want to play in those sandboxes, I’m just getting more clear on my role in it all:
I don’t want or need to start or lead or work on “the next big thing.” I don’t want to be rich. I want richness of life. I don’t want to win. I want to be in right relationship.
I aim to learn, mentor, write, weave, facilitate, make art. To serve and savor > save. To better understand how I am situated and what I am positioned to change.
I want to collaborate with those at the intersections of education, justice, spirituality, technology, business. I want to create educational, healing and integration experiences, for leaders, in nature.
I am ready to own up to it now and take responsibility for the impact of my actions. Though it felt like I was waking up from the collective delusion that is modern American life, in hindsight I acknowledge I was in a delusional state from 2016 through 2020 in trying to save the world. I was so invested in what I thought was my holy life purpose / mission, that I couldn’t read the signs trying to help. On what feels like the other side of that (maybe?), I sense that going through this Silicon Valley Savior Virus developmental stage has snapped me out of both delusions into a more balanced, grounded, self and world-aware place. With appreciation for how much more unlearning and relearning I have yet to do.
Reflecting on my life path, I can see how I was extra susceptible to getting sick because of genetics (male bodied), epigenetics (Jewish trauma), and environmental factors (90’s NYC). It was a sneaky and invisible virus, operating in subtle ways, not clinically designated, little public awareness. I picked it up in the Bay Area, America — a known hot spot with a recent spike. I caught it in myself by intimately observing how others were struggling with it. I’m trying to get better through making lifestyle changes. But there’s no known cure; no quick fix. Maybe it’s a chronic illness that will never fully go away, requiring continuous inoculations and immune system bolstering. But I’m learning to live with it and loosen its tight grip. It has been helpful to name it, feel the yuck, accept it, investigate it. It can be challenging, since I benefit tremendously from the project of settler colonialism, but I see how it’s time to make a choice. I don’t want to feed those systems anymore. Ew.
Before closing, I want to make sure to lift up some of the bright side of this personal journey. The tone of this piece is intentionally self-critical to convey a point. But it’s far from the whole story. I’ve learned many valuable life lessons, created wonderful friendships, actively participated in emergent cultural phenomena, completed a lot of important self work, experienced powerful initiations, had dreams and fantasies come true. All I ever really wanted. A life of engaging in life. Knowing myself. I know I’ve contributed to humankind. I’ve been humbled in getting SCHOOLED by this virus, and I feel grateful for getting it out of my system in a relatively short time frame with relatively little collateral damage. I can feel the little bits of hard earned wisdom. I love myself a whole lot more than I did four or fourteen years ago. It has been a powerful self-directed grad school of life that I am proud to be an alumni of.
And in one interpretation that I’m holding lightly, I can see aspects of each stage of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey reflected in my coming of age story of going out into the cultural wilderness, defeating my false idols within, and returning with lessons to share. Perhaps the gift I’m bringing back to the village is this story, like Moses bringing back the Torah from Mt. Sinai (lol jk). Maybe it’s more like the wild men escaping the battles of civilization for the wisdom of the woods, becoming poets and healers. Or maybe I’m just a canary in the coal mine (omg, the canary that landed next to me that sunrise at Burning Man! Synchronicityyy). In all seriousness, if my role right now in the village is to tell cautionary tales around the fire to those younger versions of me, about a bro trying to find his/their/her way… I accept! Happy to illuminate the feedback loop for the change I wish to see in the world.
I’m extremely grateful for the experiences, mirrors and teachers that have led me to this moment of sharing my story. I celebrate that I can watch my patterns with a little more distance, laughing when my mind takes a meme idea to visions of the zenith expression of virality, or I find myself passionately painting my latest visions to a friend at a party. Writing this piece has been such a dance, or wrestling match. A teacher in and of itself, inviting me to look at how I uphold colonization and white supremacy, and draw new connections between some major trends I’m noticing around and within me. It keeps writing and weaving itself in unexpected directions, while also testing me out in the real world. The process has been a true gift. It was enough just to go through the process, even if it never saw the light of day. I swear I’m not trying to save the world by saving those who are trying to save the world. And, I know I am fallible. And, I know there is power in storytelling, especially teaching stories that demonstrate what not to do.
“It’s all stories! What’s left when you die? The stories you told that keep being told, and the stories people tell about you.” –Lewis Mehl-Madrona
I want to conclude by saying a special thank you you to those who had the courage to call me out for following the wrong things. Please forgive me for not listening. Forgive me for not showing up. Forgive me for trying to change you. Forgive me for making you uncomfortable. Forgive me for my arrogance. Forgive me for being a dick. Forgive me for not forgiving you. I’m sorry. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you.
Thank you, Great Mystery. I call in support on the unlearning and relearning and remembering that I need to do in order to come into right relationship with all my relations. I call in opportunities to support others on their journey. May these words find a soft landing pad in your heart. May they inspire reflection, dialogue, healing, action. May I have the courage to look inside my heart, feel and remember it all. May the highest good be revealed.
If this piece resonated deeply within you, please approach me in some form! I’m curious how others have come into and out of savior complex. Perhaps we can be of service by coming out and identity patterns.
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Andrew is a student and teacher at the intersection of humane technology and personal development.
He supports entrepreneurs in crafting Learning Journeys, Impact Plans, Thought Leadership & Personal Retreats.
Special thanks to the following friends who have provided feedback on this piece: Belinda Liu, Tim Chang, Sara Wolcott, Nancy Zam, Mathew Lazarus, Julia Plevin, Megan Parker, Jeff Pawlak, Briana Halliwell, Zoli Kertesz, Anna Smedeby