Reflections on 2017

9 minute read

2017 was a year of change. I quit my job, became an entrepreneur, moved from Philadelphia to Austin, overcame challenges and failed at others. I’ve learned more in the last 12 months than the previous 25 years combined. This is one of my reflections, made public in that hopes that others can learn from my experiences.

What I’m Grateful For

My Privilege

I would not have had the same opportunities if I was a woman or a poc in tech. Simple as that. I’m grateful for my head start at life, and committed to giving back to the people that haven’t had the same privilege.

My Opportunities

I’m grateful for the people that took a chance on me this year. I wouldn’t be where I am without them. Looking at you Lisa Ganderson and Marcus Carey.

My Friends

I’m grateful for my friends, who help me navigate this crazy startup world. Especially Humza Saleem and Sarah Spear, who keep me motivated while making sure I make self care is a priority.

My Mentors

I’m grateful for my mentors, who I lean on to supplement my curiosity and work ethic with experience. Especially Sam Bishop, Dave Lemphers, and Chris Heinzmann.


Last but not least, I’m grateful for everyone that has broken their silence through the #MeToo movement. I’m grateful that they have a platform and a voice, and I’m grateful (and hopeful) that we can continue to faciliate real change with actual consequences for inappropriate behavior.

What I’ve Learned

Be skeptical

Everyone wants to be an advisor, on your board, or just have a say in what you are doing. What they don’t want to do is give anything more than the minimal time necessary to say they had a hand in your success. Be mindful about someone’s motivations and experiences when incorporating their advice into your decision making. Chances are they’re motivated by something you’re unaware of.

Everyone has ideas, few can execute

Everyone has an awesome idea for the next big thing. Everyone has an awesome idea about you and your thing. People that can follow through on that idea are rare. Surround yourself with people that know how to execute and you’ll inherently have a network of curious thinkers that have the motivation and know-how to get shit done.

Everyone is their own protagonist

In The Fifth Agreement, we are taught to “be skeptical” and “the world is not as you see it”. What that means is, we need to be mindful that everyone is the protagonist in their own story. You shouldn’t assume someone else’s motivations or perspective. You should appreciate when someone makes time for you.

Be Present

Being present means giving whatever task you’re working on full attention. I approach each task with the goal of entering a flow state, which I learned from reading Deep Work. I turn off all notifications, use a work block system of work and then reward, and remove all social media distractions. As a result I have a higher quality of work, I work less and get more done, and meetings are more productive.

Principles and integrity mean more to me than success

In the last year I’ve seen plenty of entrepreneurs “play the game” to be successful. They sacrifice their values for nepotism and homogeny because they either pattern match with other successful companies or don’t want to put in the work to source mentors and employees that don’t look like they do. I want to succeed on my terms. I want to look around at my coworkers who all look different than I do and have different backgrounds. I want to feel like I’m contributing to a better society. I want to use my privilege to be a leader in the community and give back.

What I can do better at

Work less

Basically what you say in an interview when asked for a bad quality, right? But seriously, burnout is real, and you don’t realize it until it happens. I don’t want to lose productivity because I didn’t take care of myself. Also I’ve been in Austin almost a year and still feel like I just moved here! 2018 should be a year where I explore and see what Austin has to offer instead of spending all day behind a screen.

Give back

As a tech professional, we have skills that allow us to build things that affect many peoples’ lives. Why aren’t more of us volunteering our skills to the community or society? I started Magnifai to donate my free time to help nonprofits and other organizations that don’t have the time, talent, or expertise to leverage modern technologies, and I’m excited to put more hours into this in 2018.

Don’t project my standards onto others

I have high standards for my productivity, my word, and my work. I’m defensive about my time, always justify how I spend it, and try to be mindfully engaged with and deliberate about everything I do. That being said, it isnt fair for me to enforce those standards on the people around me. High productivity isn’t a badge of honor that I should wear around, nor should I judge people that don’t spend their time in the ways I view as productive. Everyone is living their own dream, and I need to let them do that in 2018.

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James Mensch is the Director of Engineering at Threatcare and the CEO at Magnifai. I believe in building intelligent products, using data to drive decisions, and engineering for social impact. I write about some of the cool stuff I do with tech, productivity and motivation psychology, and my social innovation projects. Connect with me on LinkedIn or say hi on Twitter.