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Regen Diaries: Chapter 2 - Start with Silly

A recap of learnings from EthDenver, PGN updates, and rediscovering the playful side of web3 :)

[This post was originally written in mid-March 2024.]

Spring Cleaning

As we move into spring, I’m learning to shed the things that didn’t serve me last season and replace them with new frames of thinking that do.

2023 was truly groundbreaking for me. It awakened me to the possibilities that blockchain technology can have on a global scale. I realized that as a giant, more effective, bottoms-up coordination machine, we have the potential to push humanity forward and build the future we want to see. The big picture was clear to me - a “solarpunk” future where technology and our planet coexist harmoniously, where people have financial autonomy, and we bridge the inequality gap.

Yet, the day-to-day fight was burning me out. Seeing so clearly the impact that PGN could have, but lacking agency or decision-making power, left me in a state of limbo for months, depleting my energy and drive. Looking at the big picture, I felt overwhelmed by how many urgent problems needed attention, yet, there wasn’t enough time to tackle them all. I felt like I was moving a million miles a minute, without clear direction, barely making a dent at any of it.

I knew things needed to change.

My first goal was to gain clarity on PGN’s future. Every time I heard it was shutting down, new information gave me hope it could be revived. Whether its new people, secured financial prospects, or advancements in tech infrastructure, PGN was not going down without a fight. I joke that PGN had a mind of its own. It was like a cockroach, despite all our attempts to kill it, it kept surviving another day.

Fueling the Flames

While at EthDenver, I finally met the team who wanted to take over PGN in person. My main takeaway was the joy of being part of a team working towards a shared goal. We spent a lot of EthDenver getting to know one another, discussing PGN’s future, and working on a hackathon project that ended up winning a few prizes!

Overall, I came away feeling energized. Discussing PGN's future in person not only solidified my own belief in its potential impact, but it also revealed the strong network of support that existed. We met communities eager to deploy apps on our chain, infrastructure partners willing to integrate at no cost because they believed in the mission, and even funders interested in investing and offering grants to support this experiment.

To add even more fuel to the fire, February marked PGN’s first-ever profitable month, generating around 5.6 ETH (~$20k USD at the time). Despite being a “dead” network, we still averaged 2,000 daily transactions and produced a profit. At its peak, our network had 2 million TVL (Total Value Locked of assets on our chain). Post announcing the shutdown, it dipped to 1mil but grew by a quarter million dollars to 1.35mil TVL in just one month. 

It felt like a breath of fresh air - like we were turning a new leaf. It was as if the universe just gave us a little handout saying “here, keep on funding public goods, we’ll make it easier on you.”

Breakup, Heartbreak, and Letting Go

The week following EthDenver, I went to Breckenridge, Colorado, for a women in web3 residency program. The idea behind this retreat was to foster close sisterhood relationships with other women in the industry. We spent our days co-working in a beautiful snow-covered cabin, and our nights were filled with little bonding activities.

[Group photo from our lil pancake brunch.]

During one of those days, I had my PGN team sync, where they delivered the news that PGN was fully shutting down. The conversations exploring a transition were over. It was time to proceed with the winddown. My high and optimistic view for what PGN could become was shattered by the stark reality that it was over. Again.

While it felt like a punch in the gut, this had been my reality over the past month, so the feeling wasn’t new. I felt defeated. As I sat with my new friends in Breckenridge, sharing crepes and coffee, I shared the update from my morning meeting.

“It’s like going through a breakup,” my friend Laura said.

This little reframe helped me feel less bad about the pit in my stomach. Losing PGN really did feel like a breakup - but honestly, a bit worse. A breakup just affects me. PGN ending felt like it crushed my beacon of hope for a giant, effective, scalable funding mechanism for public goods that could have a massive impact on the world.

“Ultimately, this is out of your hands,” another friend added. 

True. The reality is that PGN’s future was not up to me. I can beg and plead, but ultimately, I didn’t have the decision-making power to decide what happens with the network. It was time to let go.

Silly Little Magical Internet Money 

The thing is, unlike Web2 products, you can’t really shut down a blockchain. It’s a blockchain. Part of the beauty (and horror) of Web3 is everything is permanent, with a digital record forever. While you can end contracts with different infrastructure providers and make it very difficult to use, unless people move their assets off of our network, they’re stuck there. 

Before joining this industry, I was a Web2 startup founder building a networking app. I remember the financial models we made and the estimated time projections it would take to actually hit those goals. When I look at Web3 and its remarkable ability to create so much freaking magical internet money, I have to pinch myself. Comparatively, this is absolutely nuts. It's absurd. It's just so, so silly.

Big Brown Blob

As I move into spring, I realize that putting all my time into fighting for PGN’s survival is no longer serving me. The constant gut punches have depleted my energy. And looking back at the past few months, I don’t feel like I moved the needle at all. 

I hope the goals of PGN can be realized one day… and since things have a way of working out – something tells me that its goals and community will manage to find a way to stay alive.

So, what’s next?

At Breckenridge, my intention was simply to determine where I wanted to direct my energy next.

One night, we did a vision board activity. The table was full of art supplies - paints, paper, bedazzles, and trinkets galore. I grabbed a piece of poster paper and stared at my blank canvas, unsure of where to begin.

Where do I start?

“Start here.” Said my friend, squeezing a blob of brown paint onto my paper.

And so I did. I grabbed a paintbrush and swirled the brown paint, expanding the blob. As I made little swirls, I thought about how fun and freeing this felt, wondering why I rarely did this. I felt like a kid again, fully immersed in the flow, enjoying the playfulness of smearing paint across the canvas.

But then, my flow state was abruptly interrupted as I critiqued the painting I had just created. I knew we would soon be presenting our vision boards, and all I had to show was a silly brown blob. In a panic, I scanned the table, trying to identify what I needed to add to give my blob meaning.

Suddenly, I felt stunted, back at square one with my blank canvas. Actually, not blank, smeared with imperfections.

What do I do next?

Unsure of what to do next, I nearly deciding to discard my work and start over from scratch. In this moment, I decided to stop fixating on the final creation and instead focus on whatever put me back into that blissful flow state. I decided to start with silly.

So I squeezed out some yellow paint and began smearing it around the canvas. I dipped my fingers in the paint, adding dots all around the bottom. I ripped up another piece of paper and glued it to the top. When I was in the flow, I instinctively knew what to do next, seeing how each section could connect to create a cohesive piece. The intuition of how to make it all come together came naturally.

However, I kept hearing a little voice in the back of my head critiquing me. I questioned what I was even doing, looking at the canvas holistically and realizing it was a total mess. Sometimes, I’d accidentally use a paintbrush with old paint, adding unexpected colors and ruining my plans.

But throughout it all, I kept repeating to myself: start with silly.

If I didn’t know what to add next, I did something silly that brought me joy. Any unintentional paint stroke was just a silly little part of the process. So, as I made my painting, that’s what I kept telling myself: “Trust the process and start with silly.”

[Image of my painting. I’m not sure what it is. Let me know if you interpret any meaning from it.]

For the first time, I felt like I truly understood art. It’s a little window into someone’s consciousness, a medium to communicate what’s in your head to another person without uttering a word.

When you start creating a piece of art, it can’t be destroyed. You can choose to stop adding to it or giving it your time and energy, but it will still exist. The only way a piece of art truly fails, is if you give up.

Embarrassing the Silly

Right now, I’m at a stage of my life where all I can see is a big, ugly, brown blob on a fresh canvas. Part of me thinks it’s easier to paint the picture if I had never started with that brown blob. But this critical inner voice isn't serving me well. When I question everything, I’m fully stunted. Inaction is the enemy of progress.

I have no idea where this brown blob fits into the big picture, but moving into this next season of my life, I want to do things that will keep me moving forward. I want to start with silly.

The Regen Reframe

In one of my conversations at Breckenridge, we talked about our love-hate relationship with this industry. A few women previously worked at other projects pioneering the regenerative finance movement. Similar to my experience at PGN, many of them joined for the promise of how web3 could positively impact the world, only to become disheartened by the day-to-day realities of working in this volatile, directionless industry filled with people solely motivated by financial gain.

Yes, it's super volatile… and unknown… and with many players driven by greed. But it’s also really, really silly. So silly. 

I feel incredibly lucky for all the opportunities Web3 has provided me – meeting incredible people, traveling in community, and getting to play a role in building and shaping this new technology. 

While "silly" may not be the perfect word, this reframe works for me at this stage of my life. My values, goals, and desired impact remain the same, but truthfully, I felt burnt out and overwhelmed when I focused too intensely on the big picture.

So right now, I’m going to start with silly.

It’s Time to Play

At EthDenver, I felt the most in my flow state while building our little hackathon project. Ultimately, I love creating products and find joy in building silly little things with a team. I cherish being in person with others I’m working with because that’s when I feel the most recharged. I cherish actually building and shipping things, instead of playing some political and financial fight to stay alive.

I think part of the reason I’m so determined to see PGN live on is because I view this network as a playground for running silly little experiments. This silly, playful energy is so present in so many areas of Web3 – but typically those revolve around degen plays for financial gain. The public goods and impact niche of Web3 doesn’t really have that same silly energy, in my opinion, because there’s not enough room for play.

Up next, I’ll be going to New York City to be in person with the people I’m working with. I’m ready to get moving, I’m ready to take action, I’m ready to keep adding more color to my brown blob and see what it can transform into.

I’m ready to start with silly. 

- xoxo, Sophia.

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