It's been one year since I quit my job at Google. Here's answers to the most common questions I get about how I did it and what the heck I do all day.
If you're contemplating taking time off of your day job, I really highly recommend it, or at least planning for it in your future. In Silicon Valley, the golden handcuffs make it really hard to fully quit, but many companies offer unpaid sabbaticals. After taking a sabbatical and quitting, I look back and see how valuable ME time is to re-set yourself, pursue your personal interests, and put your life in perspective beyond the tech rush.
What do you do all day?
I don't ever feel like I have downtime unless I plan it for myself. Frankly, I don't know how I fully lived life while commuting + working for 10hrs a day. I'm busy each day with life. I stretch for 20min with my morning coffee, cook breakfast, go to physical therapy twice a week, run errands, work on multiple projects (see below), make lunch, take care of the garden, edit photos and write blog posts, meet with old friends, go to the gym, read more books. Each day fills up fast.
What projects are you working on?
So many! I'm always busy!
I divide the last year into phases. There was the ROADTRIP phase, traveling and rock climbing in a camper van with my husband Jeremy for 4+ months this last year (we had done another trip when I was on sabbatical prior to quitting).
Waking up after camping on BLM land with no other people in sight, waking up on Christmas morning to a snow-covered van at the foot of a rock canyon, sharing Thanksgiving dinner with 40 strangers in the Indian Creek desert, sharing a pint with the owner of a brewery in a 300-person town, pushing myself scared shitless in tears climbing on amazing rock--those are the memories I'll always have. And on a long road trip, you experience the real 'MERICA and get to know the real people in towns beyond who you'd interact with if you were just on vacation.
[above: There's really nothing like being away from cities or established campgrounds. You can read more about our multi-month roadtrip here.]
Then there was the WEBSITE DESIGN phase, where I learned front-end code and re-designed my blog from ground-up (did you notice?). I designed it myself starting from scratch paper, on top of the Ghost backend and hosting platform. I use the flexbox / grid system, fully responsive on small, medium, and large screens. It's not bad for my first web design and implementation venture! I've been running experiments implementing different 3rd party ad networks (which are unfortunately paying pennies). I'm soon due for a v2 with new features like search and email subscription.
There's my current QUILTING phase, where I prioritized my goal to be more creative and whimsical rather than my tendency to plan everything. I spend a couple hours a day sketching free-motion quilting designs, learning new techniques, and making myself uncomfortable. I even started an Etsy shop! That came with a lot of overhead of designing a logo, creating it in Photoshop, creating a brand and a cohesive product line.
It's been quite a challenge to just create, coming from not only an engineering background, but spending the better part of my career as a Program Manager, planning and creating order out of chaos.
There's also my HANDIWORK/DIY projects, since my other big goal this year is to be competent in house projects. I learn most from Jeremy--we put in hardwood floor, an attic fan, new baseboards, trim, and doors, broke out a whole wall and made a kitchen island, and made a good neighbor fence. I've chop sawed, nail gunned, crawled through insulation in the attic to cut holes through ceilings, sledgehammered a wall out, and put drywall in to close an old doorway. The projects continue!
Then there's the ongoing activities: PHYSICAL THERAPY, which takes up almost 6 hrs a week between actual PT appointments and my own exercises to come back stronger than before from my second ACL reconstruction surgery. There's CLIMBING, which is also about 12hrs/week at the gym. There's the ongoing PHOTOGRAPHY editing from each of our trips, along with WRITING BLOG POSTS. There's the seemingly constant stream of VISITORS--friends and family, which we wouldn't have had time for before.
Do you get bored?
No. In fact, I have to remember to schedule "weekends" or when I feel like I had an unproductive day, remind myself that it's ok.
Do you miss the free food?
No. I like reintegrating into normal society with normal tasks. I got to the point at Google where I would be annoyed when there wasn't bacon on "bacon Thursdays" at breakfast. I didn't like being a part of the Silicon Valley bubble in that regard, though the free food was a necessity given the commute and work.
Now I eat more healthily. And I take joy in making myself shaken iced coffee with honey and cream in the afternoons. It's the little things.
Do you remember what it's like to work?
Yes. I really hate this question, since it's usually in sarcastic jest. I had a minor case of PTSD for 6+ months after quitting. I remember much of it vividly. It took me that long to not feel like I was cheating life by not working Monday through Friday.
What other changes have you noticed?
There's night and day difference physically. 3 months after I quit, I looked in the mirror to a 5-year-younger me. Small wrinkles and stress marks disappeared.
My recovery from my 2nd ACL surgery, which was after I quit, is going much better and faster--and in fact, I attribute tearing my ACL graft after the first surgery to stress and cortisol levels. I never gave my body a running chance at recovery when I was so stressed at work.
I'm a much nicer person to be around. Jeremy was absorbing the brunt of it. I don't flip out at minor issues and take life much more in stride.
How do you do it financially?
Hard work, luck, and frugality. I worked dang hard pre-Google through college. I had nearly 90% of college covered under merit-based scholarships, so I didn't come out with any student debt. I was lucky to land a job at Google--their job interviews are no joke, no matter how smart you are. I'm really frugal with money. At the time I quit, I had been working for 10 years (2yrs Boeing, 8yrs Google), so I had a bunch saved.
Being married to Jeremy has nothing to do with my finances in this regard. No, he's not supporting me. I have quite a bit of personal pride here in the hard work I put in over my life to get to this point. I'm not dependent on anyone financially.
What about health insurance?
Here's where it does help to be married. Fortunately, I'm covered under Jeremy's insurance. I have a few friends who've quit their jobs and have coverage under Obamacare.
Do you miss the social aspect?
Yes and no. There's always the cool workplace relationships you develop and workplace drama, but much of that isn't very deep. I keep up with a number of old co-workers regularly, the ones with whom I have a deeper relationship.
I have a strong network of friends through the climbing community who I've known for years and see multiple times a week. Climbing is more a lifestyle sport.
Now, my interactions with people are deeper--I'm not half lost in my own thoughts or too exhausted to talk. I'll have lunch with friends or see people at the gym and actually connect with them, rather than staring through a fatigue curtain.
[above: Thanksgiving in the desert. Might be the biggest Thanksgiving I've been to.]
Do you feel the need for mental or technical challenges?
Yes, I have a need--I'm a project-oriented person. Right now that's fulfilled by cultivating my weaker areas like art (quilting) and house renovation projects. I'm learning about my body through physical therapy and the journey back to climbing.
When I re-designed my blog, I learned the more gritty details of HTML/CSS/JS--I have an Electrical Engineering degree and worked as a Program Manager, so while I know the ins and outs of programming language development, it's been years since I've sat down and written legitimate code myself. I have plans for a v2.
The biggest thing I'm learning is what balance I need in my life--or will need--going forward. The emotional stress by the end of my last year of working was huge and took a toll on my relationships, Jeremy included. I've re-based my body physically and listen to it. Before, I had no idea how stressed I was and the toll it took because I lost sight of (or never knew) what should be my norm.
[above: Overcoming extreme fear and mental challenge moments after I had a near breakdown, scared mindless on one of my first outdoor leads. It's really mentally draining to face your weaknesses head on. Liposuction, 12a, Reimers Ranch, TX.]
Do you feel like you've "thrown away" your degree?
There's a couple ways you can view it: either you're wasting a degree by not working every day using it, OR an education and hard work gives you options, and you're exercising one of your options by taking a break from the grind.
Society drills into us that we work until we retire, making it hard to stop doing something you've been doing every day for over a decade. At first, I fell into this trap: I battle with pride and a strong desire to push myself all the time. Really, I'm taking time to refresh myself for the next phase in life, whatever that brings.
Do you miss work?
I'm leaning more toward no at the moment. I look back at the early to middle years at Google as some of the best I've had. There was a ton of work in a ton of areas that needed to be done. I'll always remember that energy and the people. Those days were awesome.
At the moment, I'm incredibly busy doing things that I never thought I'd do in my life. Multiple cross-US rock climbing road trips! Doing own house renovations! Starting an Etsy store! Joining a Quilt Guild! I was on such a straight path in college as an Electrical Engineer--those definitely weren't in the plan!
When / will you go back to work?
Yes, in some regard. I haven't decided if that will be working for another large company or setting out on my own with consulting. I'm not ready to make any decisions or moves. I want to experience again what I felt when learning in college and working during the early Google years.
The skills I'm developing now are shaping me into much more well-rounded person. The closer relationships I'm building, the people I've met while living on the road, balancing my need for order and understanding with creativity through quilting, being able to understand a house project and execute it with the help of YouTube/Jeremy, and devoting the time to strengthening my posterior chain post-ACL surgery, are all things that fit my needs at the moment.
It's not a walk in the park
What could be wrong with not working and having a ton of projects? It is harder than it seems to actually quit, and to be ok with not working for an extended period of time. Of all the people who've joked about my not working, I can name 3 who've done it themselves, despite the fact that most hate their jobs. It takes courage, self-confidence, and self-motivation. If you can do it, there's a ton of personal reward.
And it's even harder as a woman, for both the pressure you put on yourself, and for the societal reactions you get. More thoughts on that later.
[above: Embodiment of what life is like when you're balanced. Here we were camping in West Virginia, sweating in the heat and trying to climb, but came back to friends playing guitar together in the woods.]