CEO Who Sold His Startup for $1 Billion Relied on Alcohol for Escape, Now He’s Getting Sober
In April, entrepreneur Justin Kan announced his decision to quit drinking, a move that has since inspired others to also pursue a life of sobriety.
The 35-year-old, who sold Twitch to Amazon in 2014 for $1 billion, had been drinking alcohol since he was in high school, enough for it to become “a big part” of his identity.
In his heartfelt Twitter thread, Kan, who now heads legal startup Atrium, revealed that he often used alcohol as an escape — a habit he believes had prevented him from realizing his full potential.
“I’ve decided to quit drinking alcohol permanently,” the entrepreneur declared. “This will be a tough challenge for me: drinking has been a big part of my identity since I was in high school. Unfortunately it’s also been an unhealthy way to avoid being fully in touch with my emotions and my experience of life.”
“As a young founder in high-stress situations, I often used alcohol to escape facing things. I’ve struggled with this for a long time, and while I think I’ve gotten better over time, I believe that this is the last thing preventing me from actualizing my 100% conscious self.”
I’ve decided to quit drinking alcohol permanently. This will be a tough challenge for me: drinking has been a big part of my identity since I was in high school. Unfortunately it’s also been an unhealthy way to avoid being fully in touch with my emotions & my experience of life.
According to Kan, he decided to open up about his struggle to encourage others who find themselves in a similar position and hold himself publicly accountable to his personal commitment.
“You can have all the success in the world and still be unhappy or engage in toxic behaviors (and you will not be alone),” he wrote. “But it is never too late to make change in your life. I wish you the very best in your journey.”
You can have all the success in the world and still be unhappy or engage in toxic behaviors (and you will not be alone). But it is never too late to make change in your life. I wish you the very best in your journey.
Kan finds help in a habit-building app called Streaks, which he uses to follow through meditation. He also created a guide to “Feeling Good,” which details the methods he uses not only to avoid alcohol, but to maintain a happy lifestyle.
“I started off as a beginner in each of these areas, and personally have relatively low willpower,” Kan noted. “The following things aren’t very hard to do, they just require repetition, consistent reminders, and practice.”
Aside from quitting alcohol and practicing meditation, Kan’s program mainly consists of journaling, negative visualization, phone time reduction, diet, exercise, and therapy.
His journaling practice is primarily geared toward the expression of explicit gratitude, which he finds “important because it helps re-contextualize the short-term negative things that happen to you throughout the day in the greater context of all the positives in your life.”
Meanwhile, he uses negative visualization — or “the practice of imagining (with as much detail as possible), what your life would be like if something bad happened to you” — to exercise adaptability and realize how “awesome” real life is.
For meditation, he practices a form called Transcendental Meditation (TM), which aims to settle the mind inward until a state of “pure consciousness” is achieved.
Like most people, entrepreneurs like Kan spend a huge deal of their time on screens. However, the 35-year-old has managed to optimize and cut down his 5.5 hours of phone use a day.
“The solution I’ve settled on is that I’ve turned my phone to greyscale (to reduce its addictiveness; go to Color Filters in Settings), deleted email, Slack, and all entertainment apps (YouTube, Twitch, Instagram, and even the browser), deleted the app store (locking it with a passcode that I don’t have access to),” Kan shared. “My phone is now only useful for reading, music, texting; I find myself using it much, much less, at basically no cost to my quality of life.”
Kan attempts to exercise on a daily basis, while a trainer visits him at home three times a week. For those who cannot afford a trainer, he recommends meeting a friend at the gym on a regular schedule.
After discovering his sensitivity to carbohydrates, Kan stuck to a ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting for the first and second six months of 2018, respectively. He finds intermittent fasting “easier to stick to and had about 65% of the benefits of keto.”
Finally, Kan cites therapy as an important factor to happiness. He admits that he was originally reluctant to go.
“I was very resistant to trying therapy,” he noted. “Finally, after a breaking point at a previous company, I realized I had to make a change and found someone. This was life-changing for me: I worked through a lot of paralyzing guilt around failure that I felt, and learned how to detach myself from my daily emotional ups and downs.”
Kan also includes removing attachment, being authentic, and feeling and naming emotions as actions that bring about happiness.