What do you do when something doesn’t sit quite right with you, when your spidey senses tell you something is amiss? I’m not talking about life or death situations, but when you can sense someone is not being real with you, or when you suspect there’s a hidden agenda at play. I’ll tell you what I do, I retreat and get quiet.
I recall a memory from my twenties when I was working at the agency that launched my marketing career. A decision was made by upper management that impacted everyone and I just couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something more to the story. The lack of transparency caused me to distrust that the decision was in the best interest of everyone. The situation preceded an off-site team-building activity and I just couldn’t imagine myself bonding with a management team that I sensed was being disingenuous, so I made up an excuse and opted out of the activity – retreating, closing down, and self-isolating.
For a long time, I imagined that I was the problem – I wasn’t liked, trusted, popular, smart enough for people to include me in honest conversations. Then, over the past couple of years, I experienced a sense of disconnect in many areas of my life – work, friendships, gym – and so I got quiet. I started to notice situations where I felt frustrated by the lack of empathy being demonstrated or experienced anger towards a leader who put their self-interests ahead of what was best for their team. Then, I started to shift my perspective from judging people and situations towards the types of actions, characteristics, and qualities that aligned with the life that I aspired to have.
The Quest for Work I Love
I have begun to refer to the year I was quiet as my wandering retreat (inspired by Buddhist monk Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s story “In Love with the World). It started with a wholehearted effort to align my work with my values; I was on a quest for work I love. I had my heart set on joining a company where purpose, in-service leadership, and a growth mindset were celebrated. I had made transitions in my professional life before, including moves to NYC and L.A., starting two businesses of my own, and navigating between entrepreneurship and the corporate world. On each occasion, I set a six-month window for change and accomplished my goal within three months. This time around I had a tremendous amount of confidence that I would have a similar experience. The job market was booming, my skills were in demand, and my reasons for pursuing work I love were wholehearted and non-negotiable. I was blissfully optimistic about where this quest would lead me. I believed I was prepared emotionally, financially and professionally. It was not at all what I expected.
To summarize it simply, no one in the business world cared what I was trying to do. All they cared about was what can you do for me right now? All of the coffee dates, LinkedIn connections, informational interviews, and email introductions were dead ends. I felt foolish for leaving a stable, yet unsatisfying job, lured by the desire for my work to have meaning and impact. Even worse, I felt invisible. The people who really knew me told me they had no doubt that I would achieve my goal, however, because they were confident in my abilities they didn’t necessarily think I needed their help. Then there were the professional contacts, recruiters, referrals – all part of the career pivot ecosystem – where our exchanges were shallow or non-existent. The experience of putting yourself out there, asking for help and feeling like you are not being seen or heard is humbling and exhausting.
I turned to my yoga practice as a reminder that I’m not my thoughts or the outside world’s perception of me, but as I noted in my journal – sometimes this shit is hard! I also re-read the Bhagavad Gita and in chapter 13, verse 32 was struck by this entry: Akasha is space itself. Just as space pervades the cosmos, yet remains pure even in the midst of impure things, so the self remains completely pure, even though it dwells in all things. This helped me recognize that I craved creating space for certain qualities in my life:
This was a key moment that helped me articulate a clear vision for aligning my personal and professional aspirations, and the stimuli that led to a personal mantra of Creating Akasha – the space to see and be seen. With this mindset I was able to develop these pillars for finding work I love:
- A short-list of target companies based on the following criteria: A Seattle presence, a bold mission, and a demonstrated commitment to leading by example and investing in people.
- Narrowed my area of expertise, and followed my natural service-minded inclination, to make Customer Experience my platform and focus area.
- Implemented a consistent and disciplined practice of writing.
Looking back at my journal entries, this period was the summer of 2019. There is no coincidence that my first interview with Microsoft was September 6, 2019.
Perfect Moments. Perfect Days.
One of my core beliefs is how you spend your time says a lot about what you value in life. Time is a great equalizer; a nonrenewable resource of 24-hours in a day for everyone everywhere. On a day that I had deemed as perfect, I came across an excerpt from the memoir Chasing Daylight by Eugene O’Kelly. The excerpt describes how Eugene purposefully unwinds his most meaningful relationships before he passes away from cancer. He says he had more perfect moments and perfect days in two weeks that he had in five years, and then he asks: “How long would it take you to create 30 perfect days”?
Around this same time, I listened to a podcast where Jim Collins described how he tracks his time every day and has done so for many years. I decided to combine these two concepts and began a daily practice of tracking how I spent my time. My reason for experimenting with this was two-fold: I wanted to be very intentional about dedicating my time to what mattered most to me in life, and I was curious if these buckets of time would correlate with an overall higher emotional rating. For one year I tracked my time every day including:
- Short description of the day
- Hours spent in Creativity/Flow, Active/Workouts, and Relationships
- An emotional rating
- Dream description (sporadic and based on best memory)
I plan to write a post dedicated to this time tracking experiment, but what I can state now is that the simple act of reflecting on how I spent my time made me more grateful for each day.
Optimizing for Quality of Life
If you cherish how you spend your time, then two enemies are multi-tasking and social media. With the latter in mind, I turned to Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism which is based on three principles:
- Clutter is costly
- Optimization is important
- Intentionality is satisfying
It’s a fascinating book that exposes questionable strategies by companies such as Google and Facebook in their all-out attempt to capture extremely valuable resources – people’s time and attention. This glimpse into what these companies will do in exchange for even an hour of your time will help put into perspective how valuable people’s time is and how these corporations are profiting from most people being “too busy” to notice that their time is being hijacked by mindless activities that turn into time-sucking habits.
Following the guidance provided in the book I did this 30-day digital cleanse
1. Make a list of all the digital products in your life. This includes everything from email, text, Netflix, Youtube, apps for banking/music/maps, smartwatches, etc.
– I was surprised to find that I regularly used 26 digital products.
2. Determine which of these digital products are optional. Be honest with yourself by applying this filter: would my job, family or relationships be severely compromised if I did not use this technology?
– Of my 26 digital products,16 met the ‘optional’ criteria.
3. Make a list of the non-digital things you enjoy doing in your leisure time.
– For me, this included yoga, walks, hiking, reading, 1:1 relationships, writing, traveling, learning, and self-care such as getting a massage or a facial.
4. List the things that are most important to you in life.
– I greatly value deep relationships, self-care, sustainability, preservation, time with friends and family, fulfilling work and solitude.
5. Take a 30-day break from all of the non-essential digital products. Delete the apps from your phone, read a physical book instead of watching Netflix, pretend like it’s 1984.
I didn’t find the 30-day cleanse particularly difficult, in fact, I extended it to 75 days. I did alert my family that I was doing this, my kids, of course, thought that I was crazy. The digital cleanse felt freeing and like many hard habits to break the longer I abstained the easier it became. When I felt I was ready for the next phase of digital minimalism I considered these questions when introducing the digital products back into my life:
- Does this technology directly support something that I value?
- Is this technology the best way to support this value?
- How am I going to use this technology going forward to maximize its value and minimize its harm?
A few of the notable decisions I made after going through this process were to delete my Twitter account and to not add the Facebook or LinkedIn apps back on my phone. I also resolved to have more in-person conversations and interactions in support of my desire for ‘real’ connections versus the illusion of maintaining relationships through the lens of a digital app.
Be Still and Know
In November 2019 the pillars I created for my quest for work I love led me to accept an offer to join Microsoft as Communications Director for Customer and Industry Engagement. Shortly thereafter I learned that the team I was joining would be central to transforming the end-to-end customer experience for every Microsoft customer. It was beyond my imagination that pivoting my career towards customer experience (CX) would lead me to take part in a CX initiative of this magnitude.
The year I was quiet was challenging on many levels, but I believe it was instrumental in creating the friction and space I needed to cultivate my career goals and align them with my personal values. It was a practice in patience and persistence, forcing me to heighten my self-awareness and foster self-inquiry. It was an exercise in stripping away the non-essential things that didn’t add value or contribute to my life in a meaningful way. I am learning to retreat less and to listen and be quiet often. I’m super grateful for this time in my life and I don’t take one minute of it for granted.