In sharing my story with both fellow artists and customers at the weekend art shows, I am often asked if I miss my former “day job” at Google - while my story isn’t unique, it definitely isn’t commonplace either. And never is this more top of mind than when I’m in Mountain View, as I was earlier this month for their fall Art & Wine Festival, as I run into many former colleagues and current “Googlers”.
Given that it’s now been a full two years since I regularly went into the office, this is as good a time as any to share some reflections on whether the fears I had at the time I made the leap became real, what I miss (and what I don’t), and other musings for those considering pursuing a similar leap.
But in a word: NO! I definitely do not miss the office job - hopefully all the posts of the past two years have made clear how much I’m enjoying my new gig, though it does have its challenges. Nonetheless, there are certainly some elements of the tech world that I do miss.
My (Unfounded) Fear When I Left: Laziness
I was worried that, with my newfound freedom, I might sit on my ass and watch TV all day, pursue a few interests for a few weeks or two months, read a few books, and then have nothing to do, nothing that fulfills me or makes me happy.
Those who know me well will probably tell me this was never a real risk, but taking such a major leap - when Branching Out Wood wasn’t yet set up - was a little scary.
Turns out that, even without a 9-5 (or more realistically, 7:30-6:30p) day job, there still ain’t enough time in the day to do everything I want to, between this business and attempting (and failing) to get another business off the ground, volunteering, and yes, of course, reading a bit more. And indeed, travel has become more easy: I have taken a few family and personal trips I probably wouldn’t have done before, and am about to embark on a trek through the Himalayas.
So, nope, laziness was not a problem - I still don’t “relax” or “lounge” very well!
An Unexpected Challenge: Social Interaction
However, there is one challenge I did not anticipate: lack of social interaction. Sure, I probably have roughly the same social life in the evening and weekends now that I did when I had the day job.
But the day job was also very social. There are continuous water cooler interactions and lunchtime conversations that one friend described it as a “slow running soap opera”, where you feel connected to a wide network of colleagues’ kids and family drama, pets and remodels, commute woes and exciting travels well beyond your core group of close officemates.
Contrast that with my day job now: most days I’m working in my workshop, a solitary affair. Weekend festivals and social interaction during commissions make up for that a bit - a special thanks to everyone who has stopped to have a friendly conversation at a show, or engaged online or with a project. And the artists I’ve met both at shows and online have been without fail incredibly warm and friendly. But that’s a bit different than the daily din and repeated interactions that comes from an office job. Or at least I need to learn to be more proactive in building that into more of a personal community.
To fill the gap, I’ve cultivated (and, yes, had the time to cultivate) a few friendships with some fellow entrepreneurs, as well as built a few relationships with folks that I’ve done volunteer work alongside of or with - thank you to George, Tina, Dawn, … and many more.
This is something I’m still working on, and something that I miss more than I expected, or even considered.
Necessary Lip Service: Food & Healthcare
Yes, of course, I miss the free food from Google. But I’ve lost five pounds, and am cooking a bit more.
I miss the gold-standard healthcare, though I’m now a proud card-carrying Affordable Care Act member. However, the “bronze” level just doesn’t hold a candle to Google’s plan - even the “gold” doesn’t compare. Fortunately, I’m in good health and this isn’t a major pain point. It has, however, changed my behavior a little: I’m perhaps not as willing to go skydiving now, whereas I went three times in the last five while covered by my employer health insurance.
Being a Part of Something Bigger
On less-materialistic considerations, I do miss both the deep insight to technology trends and the connection to much larger scale projects than anything I am undertaking now. My role at Google gave me previews of specific technology and trends one to two years before they were announced by us or partners with any detail, and my team had influence over multi-billion dollar investments; I heard of the responses to major security threats and attacks that, on the outside, get a paragraph of vague description in an industry rag - or perhaps no mention at all.
I’ll confess I have no particular passion for, say, hard drive caching technologies. But I was fascinated by how evolving mass storage technologies can affect, say, how racks of servers, and thus cooling infrastructure, needs to be laid out. Or more generally, how one small piece of a physical system interacts with a much larger system in non-obvious ways.
Being a part - even if just a small part - of building and running a much larger (cutting edge) system was rewarding in a way different from the satisfaction I feel in building and delivering a beautiful product.
This, like the social interaction piece, I’ve attempted to replace: by volunteering with Habitat for Humanity on an ongoing basis for some of their larger projects; by trying to fill a niche in the solar industry space to grow clean energy adoption; by getting involved, albeit briefly, in some local political issues.
But I feel that, unlike everything else I’ve spoken about so far, this point was uniquely met by the group in Google that I was a part of - this is an aspect that may not be easily replicated in any job.
So Why Not Go Back?
That’s a lot of things to miss, some of which can’t be replicated at a sole proprietorship. So why not go back, to Google, or to another company with similar large scope and complexity (i.e.: a solar company)? I won’t say never, but … I don’t miss the horrible commute; the freedom to deeply explore my creativity and create beautiful things; the time to read a good book or book a trip whenever. And I definitely don’t miss the politics and challenging personalities inherent in any job.
Though it’s still work, now, each day I get to set my own goals and explore my own projects. And I’m able to enjoy beginning each day - and perhaps this also helps with the creativity? though probably not with the table saw! - in a relaxing way with my very own home-made Irish coffee.