Bear Pause: Paul Sebastien '87

Paul Sebastien Bear Pause

Paul Sebastien ʼ87 finds himself oscillating somewhere between Silicon Valley crypto-blockchain libertarian and forest-bathing Marin naturalist. He lives with his wife, Julia, and new baby, Roman, in Mill Valley, California, and misses visiting his hometown of Wayzata and brother Nick [Skrowaczewski ʼ88] in Minneapolis due to the pandemic.

Q: If you had your own talk show, who would your first three guests be?
A: Hopefully this talk show would allow for deceased guests, as I would choose Stoic philosophers Seneca and Marcus Aurelius and then probably Silicon Valley investor-meets-philosopher Naval Ravikant as the third. We'd have a spirited discussion indeed.

Q: What book has influenced you greatly? How?
A: So many books, hard to pick just one; probably a tie between "On the Shortness of Life" by Seneca and “The 80/20 Principle'' by Richard Koch. The latter is less about the quality of the book and author, but rather the life-changing and far-reaching significance of understanding how to leverage the 80/20 Rule (Pareto Principle) across virtually every facet of life and work. 

Q: What are your three favorite smells?
A: I would have to say chocolate, coffee (the actual beans right after grinding), and—stay with me here—the smell of the remnants of red wine in a Riedel Bordeaux glass the next day. Absolutely complex and intoxicating.

Q: If you had one extra hour of free time a day, how would you spend it?
A: Definitely meditating. Meditation has been a game changer for me, and by that I don't mean doing a formal structured practice with all of the related dogma. Simply doing body scans while observing your ever-changing thoughts as they come and go, without judgment or trying to force anything, and letting "anything happen,” leads to incredible awareness, calm and equanimity of being. It's a superpower and I wish I spent even more time each day doing it than I already do, replacing silly social media and obsessive work-related nonsense with present state awareness instead. 

Q: What is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning?
A: I sadly have to admit that despite my meditation, Stoic proclivities and aspirations, I still reach for my iPhone in a state of fear and panic about work-related items. And intellectually I know that it's completely unnecessary—everything is going great, work is better than ever, so much to be grateful for—yet the Pavlovian fight-or-flight kicks in and cortisol goes through the roof. Something I'm trying to work on, ahem.

Q: If someone rented a billboard for you, what would you put on it?
A: I wouldn't put myself on the billboard. I'd love to just have it say, "RELAX. NONE OF IT MATTERS." Yes, in the Stoic sense, and on a cosmological level. I also might want to tape this phrase to my bedside table to remind myself of it to help quell those mornings.

Q: If you could have the answer to any question, what would it be?
A: Probably an answer that would unfortunately only lead to more questions, which would then lead to further questions, recursively all the way to an unanswerable point. But it would at least help to make progress and probably shift how one views their life. The question: are we living in the equivalent of a simulation? Which of course then begs, "Who or what is behind that simulation?" and then "Who created them/that simulation?" and the recursive "What came before that?" tree of questions...along with the "well but why?"

Q: It’s been said that everyone gets 15 minutes of fame. What happened during your 15 minutes?
A: This would definitely be my music career in my very early 20s. After far too many bands, projects and musical conceptions, one of them finally stuck, and my band Psykosonik got a large recording contract with Wax Trax/TVT Records. We scored two Top 10 hits on the alternative charts and an MTV video, and I scored music for the Mortal Kombat movie and soundtrack for which I shockingly won a Platinum Record Award (which hangs on my wall in my music studio to this day). We also played briefly on the Lollapalooza Tour, although we weren't a live/touring band—the "band" was a contrived, studio-centric entity that consisted of myself as singer/songwriter/producer and a co-writer plus two friends who served as the other members so that we could look like a proper band. After about two years and two albums, I ironically became disillusioned with the music business and went head first into computers, the early internet and multimedia and created a company that soon led to me selling my company to Thomas Dolby and moving to the San Francisco area to join forces with Thomas and co-found early web audio company Beatnik Inc. And I never looked back, despite more recently getting back into music making as a bumbling, befuddled old man.

Q: What story does your family always tell about you?
A: My daughters, Madeleine and Mia, love to embarrass their dad whenever possible—and I absolutely LOVE to embarrass them. At my wedding a couple years ago, they told our wedding guests about the time I tried to embarrass Mia at the drugstore as she was trying to act cool and nonchalant in front of several teenage classmates of hers who came into the store, as I then yelled across the store, "Hey Mia, I'll be over here in the LAXATIVE SECTION!" to which she shriveled into a puddle as the boys laughed. And so many other times, including the time I literally split my khaki shorts right down the backside whilst lifting weights in front of several of their friends. Ah the joys!

Q: Who is your hero?
A: Biased, but I have to say my parents—on so many levels. Stanislaw and Krystyna Skrowaczewski (yes, my maiden last name that I later changed during my music career to use my more pronounceable middle name Sebastien) represented such an incredible mix of generosity, love and family first ethics with a high bar for achievement and the importance of intellectually rich interests. And while my dad was known in the Twin Cities as the conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra, to me he represented so much more. Ditto for my amazing selfless mother, who I've come to appreciate more and more over the years. My parents are indeed my heroes, and I'm forever grateful to them.

Q: What teacher inspired you the most? How?
A: My sixth and seventh grade Blake English teachers arguably had the biggest impact on me. If I recall correctly it was Mrs. Singer and Mrs. Johnson. I credit both with helping me learn how to write, to communicate and to take an interest in good writing. I'll never forget one of them telling me, "Paul, keep honing your writing and you will soon set the world on fire.”  That simple vote of confidence during an otherwise difficult early teenage time period in my life made all the difference in the world later in life. I'll always remember that, and I thank my Blake education (particularly during middle school) for this and so many other things I feel fortunate to have learned during my time at Blake.