Stepping back

In the last few weeks I have left my job, sold or given away most of my stuff, and moved out of my apartment. There are no specific future plans or job I have in mind; many friends (and mostly, my family) are confused by these seemingly irrational decisions.

The Past and the decision to leave. I moved from Boulder for my job with Axiom, an information management and IT consulting firm. I had my own office, a management role, a technical role, and the position looked pretty good on paper. My apartment was amazing: biking distance from work, and a walk from downtown and my gym and the BART train stop. Lots of space, lots of toys. A fast car.

With all these comforts, it should have been no surprise that I got comfortable. But I was surprised. These ‘things’ I had attained did not — and do not — match those things which I value in life and career. I seemed to have taken the right choice at every step along the way, but when I stepped back it was clear I was walking down the wrong path.

But actually, that last paragraph is misleading. It implies I somehow lost the forest for the trees and then had some awakening epiphany. That’s not true at all.

  1. I didn’t know when I started where the hell I was going. Like most people, I figured out all of my current career goals by first making some relatively arbitrary choices, and then correcting along the way.
  2. Even when one has some specific destination in mind, it is rare to be able to walk directly towards it. I found, as surely most others do, that you have to walk a ways in some other direction first. There are other priorities in life (like family), and practical constraints (like loans), and fun stopovers (like sports).
  3. And what’s the hurry? I know the 20s are considered by some to be ‘prime’ years of one’s career, but they are ALSO a prime time to do other things. Like enjoy life. I’m not shooting for the Field’s medal — there’s no time limit on my career goals.

The decision to make these changes in my life was actually very un-dramatic: planned long ago, gestated over many months, and timed for execution based on a many factors.

[A couple more comments on the decision. First, for most people in the world, a comfortable, secure, paying job is a dream come true, and this translated to a certain amount of guilt about the fact that I hated it.  Second, I didn’t hate my job. In fact, I acquired invaluable skills, gathered strong experience, and dealt with countless ‘real-world’ issues. I had simply reached a plateau, and therefore it was time to leave. In the end, I got impatient, like high school’s senioritis, and easily found fault with my situation.]

The Future and my next destination. “I have no idea what I want to do with my life, but I have a pretty good idea of what I want to do next.” Ha! I freely confess to having made that same statement many times in my life, and although I say it with more confidence each time, I know that I’m likely to make it again with some new path in mind.

So, while my next intended destination may continually evolve, there are some quintessential observations that I can share. (While life goals constitute many things, I’m referring specifically to career-related goals here.)

  1. I’m ambitious, and I’d like my choices to better reflect this strong sense of ambition.
  2. For the immediate future, I am in a position to take some risks: I have few financial obligations and no dependents, and no geographical constraints. This window of opportunity is limited, and I’d like to take advantage of it.
  3. While I’m not able articulate succinctly those features of my career that I value over others, my last job provided some valuable insight. In the future, I must strive to understand my own enigmatic values, learn to balance them in a more healthy way against the values held by my family and my influential peers, and select my goals accordingly.
  4. I realize that the aggressive moves I had made coming out of college diluted slowly over time to safe and static positions. One could compare this to an innovative startup that had some decent success and then stopped taking risks. This is a lesson learned; I must strive to stay dynamic.

I may write a post later about what I think I’ll be doing next, career-wise and other-wise, but I don’t think that’s important for what I wanted to say in this post.

The Present. I’ll be flying to India to spend some time with family. In particular, to spend time with my paternal grandmother, mataji, who is 94 years old and has an unbelievable story to share. I will also take a few weeks to travel in India, a trip that is long-overdue.

I’m networking with fiends and business contacts in the SF Bay Area, establishing some connections that might translate into business ideas or job opportunities in the future. Since I’m not immediately in need of work, I’m able to do this without awkwardly inserting requests for help into the conversation, which makes it all pretty pleasurable.

I went skydiving.

I’m reading books that I’ve been wanting to read for a long time, both fiction and technical. I’m solidifying skills picked up over the years by strengthening my fundamentals, which often get glossed over to meet the needs of some project that must be done by some deadline.

I’m helping prepare for the wedding, which is no small matter in Indian culture… even for a relatively small, relatively rushed wedding such as my brother’s. I’m (once again) learning about development, geopolitics, and identity issues in the Indian subcontinent.

For a reading break, I read “The Third Thing” by Donald Hall. It reminded me to slow down and keep perspective about time and values as they relate to life decisions.

Slow down.

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4 comments

  1. John Nadratowski

    Hello Aman,

    My name is John and I work for a startup in he Advertisement space. While I don’t know your skill set, nor your past employment history, I am impressed by your posting today. If you would be interested in a job, and possibly moving to NYC, please shoot me an email and we can see if we make a good fit.

    Hope to hear from you. Good luck with wherever your path may take you. Cheers.

  2. Dave

    This is the luxury of anyone with technical skills. No on this planet can walk away from a high paying job this easily. Take heed all that read. If you have tech skills you are more in demand than the most desired after super model. Be thankful you can code.

  3. Glen Foss

    “Change and growth take place when a person risks himself and dares to become involved with experimenting with his own life” Herbert Otto

    It has to do with one’s definition of success. Our society, our media, our capitalistic model has sold us a bill of goods, but it does not necessarily lead to happiness/contentment/joy. Isn’t that the real definition of success?

    I bailed out of the corporate world, downsized, sold the house and have been driving around this magnificent country for the past 4 years. Not as financially secure. Our standard of living is diminished. Our quality of life is so much greater. It was the right decision for us, not everyone, but it’s not about anyone else. One’s life is, or should be, intensely personal… despite the judgement of others.

    I admire your courage, Aman, and wish you well.

    “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
    -Ralph Waldo Emerson-

    Glen

  4. Pingback: Joining The Data Guild | pafnuty.blog

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