When Jay Standish and I had our interview he had just returned from a “vision quest” of sorts in Utah. A month prior he had stepped down from his position as co-founder of OpenDoor, a mission-driven company that runs co-living spaces—housing based around creating community and meaningful lives. I was excited to chat with Jay because it was an opportune moment to understand how he was going about aligning with his truth, while he was in the middle of the actual process. There is something about being clued in for the ride that feels raw, untamed, and real.
For the last four years, Jay has been building OpenDoor with his business partner Ben Provan. Together, they envisioned housing opportunities in which individuals living in cities could co-live, build community, and be a part of a larger “home” system. The organization has grown to include three large properties in Oakland and Berkeley that house anywhere from 13 to 20 people and they are currently developing a 60-person co-housing unit. Being someone who enjoys privacy in my home space, I am deeply intrigued by the delights and challenges that come with co-living. Jay notes:
“It's funny how I think the outside perception is [that] living with 13 people sounds really chaotic and overwhelming and like you'll never have any personal space. [However], it turns out that at any given time maybe one-third of the house is home because we're living busy lives in a big city.”
Jay continues to share that what he has found to be most valuable in the land of co-living is the feeling that he doesn’t have to live his life alone. He feels “backed and supported by a core group of people” like you would feel with a family or a romantic relationship. Additionally, the members of these houses have an adage that “relationships trump structure,” which allows for trust to be a core part of the organization’s foundation. As for challenges, Jay discusses the difficulty of coordinating multiple people’s desires and opinions and food preferences—but this seems marginal in comparison to the benefits.
As Jay currently transitions out of being a lead stakeholder in OpenDoor, we begin to discuss the process of unfolding that led him to step one foot out of something that he has put so much time, energy, and effort into creating. The first things that Jay notes is that when he and Ben started the organization, the concept of co-living had yet to exist. Now—four years later—co-living has evolved and expanded into its own entity. He states, “I think [that for] so many people when they create something or are in the initial phases of something it's really hard to not attach your ego to wanting to be recognized in the new phases and folds of it.” As their intention of spreading the idea of co-living has finally started to materialize, Jay feels more comfortable letting go. In addition to this initial attachment, Jay touches on how challenging it was to take care of himself and prioritize his well-being while creating an organization from the ground up. Part of leaving OpenDoor is about following his curiosity to explore new passions, but it’s also about regrouping and re-grounding himself after burning out.
Burnout is such a common experience in today’s fast-paced, over-achieving society. For many of us, we feel that we must burn out in order to feel like we’ve done a good job. As an entrepreneur building something that he truly cares about, Jay reflects on how committed he was to the organization. As all of his resources went into getting OpenDoor off the ground, it was easy for him to ignore the small voice inside of himself that was saying it was all too much. He notes, “It was commonplace that at least once a week I would not be able to fall asleep.” After many of these sleepless nights, Jay felt clear that working with such all-consuming intensity wasn’t serving him and he would have to tell his business partner that something needed to change.
This is such a crucial part in Jay’s story because it is both the moment when piercing clarity and fear enter the equation. There is the intuitive clarity that something needs to change but with it comes the fear of letting go, the fear of letting people down, and the fear of not knowing what is next after things fall apart. As Pema Chodron writes in When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, “Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.” Jay’s story pays sweet homage to the blessings of truth, because the actual process of undoing his life was much simpler and less painful than he had fearfully imagined. Chondron states, “The most difficult times for many of us are the ones we give ourselves.”
Since leaving OpenDoor, Jay has spent much of his time backpacking in the wild. When we spoke, he had recently returned from a solo backcountry trek through the canyons of Utah and was reflecting on a theme that continued to show up along his journey. As it was over 100 degrees with very little protection from the sun, Jay was forced to surrender his normal mode of charging forward and moving ahead. He had to surrender to the elements, to nature, to time, to the future, to having a plan—he had to surrender in order to survive. He will have to continue to surrender over and over again in order to fully be alive. Jay describes this realization:
“It hit me on this physical, experiential level that the end conclusion of that mode of being is death. That doesn't work for me anymore. This is an outdated way of being. And so I've discovered this way of actually being joyful and centered and present in the moment. And I actually enjoy the journey and [being] more perceptive to what's going on around me as well as what's going on inside [of] me.”
At the end of our conversation, I ask Jay to share what he would offer to someone who is amidst the process of change and letting go—much like himself. Wisely he notes, “It is not a luxury or a selfish thing to follow what feels good to you ... and the most powerful thing we can probably do is [to] break our own internal dialogue, [to] meet ourselves, to actually experience ourselves from a new perspective, and [to] reacquaint ourselves [with our own hearts].”