I quit my job at Google to start a company, but five months after leaving, I hadn't done much.
It was a huge disappointment when I couldn't keep up with the small goals I set for myself.
I changed my mindset and discovered unexpected joys, which led to my new approach to my career.
"Goodbye, I'm off to pursue my lifelong dream of becoming a startup founder," I wrote in an email last year addressed to everyone I knew at Google, where I worked at the time. I was ready to become a svelte, stylish entrepreneur who went on fabulous vacations. I had enough savings to start a company in two years, I told myself, before going back to work.
Five months later, I was in bed watching TV, wearing the same pajamas I had on for the past four days, with a startup business proposal mostly forgotten.
I tried everything to motivate myself
The worst part is I even planned for failure. I craved the heartbreak we're all inspired by: Oprah Winfrey when she got demoted as a news reporter, Sara Blakely, who bombed the LSAT twice before founding Spanx, and Min Jin Lee, the author of "Pachinko" who had two manuscripts rejected before publishing her first book 12 years after quitting her job as a corporate lawyer.
Brimming with Instagram wisdom, I believed even the smallest changes could be transformative. I would start with two minutes a day on my startup, knowing that soon I'd be coding for hours on end. I set a rule for watching Netflix only on the treadmill (like Arianna Huffington), believing that before long, I would run my first marathon.
Desperate, I tried every hack. I subscribed to a web-development platform. I tried limiting my time working after reading about a guy who went to the gym for weeks but didn't allow himself to work out, then lost 100 pounds. I tried rewarding myself with a massage for meeting certain deadlines.
I still have a backache from how little I worked.
Compounding my shame was the guilt of knowing that time off was a privilege most Americans couldn't afford. A gap year, while possible for college students or millennial tech workers, is a luxury for most Americans whose median bank account balance is about $5,300.
I started having fun
Painfully and with much pleading, I broke up with my dreams. Then something weird happened. I had a lot of fun.
I handmade cards for people I appreciated, which filled me with unexpected delight. I joined a gym and ran the fastest mile of my life — it felt like I was flying, a new experience because I was overweight for most of my childhood. Never did I think, "This is a step toward a greeting-card business." Never did I say, "If I improve by 20 seconds a week, I'll eventually hit a six-minute mile." It was glorious. There were no goals, zero expectations.
Recently, a friend also quit her job. She's been in therapy for anxiety about spending time off incorrectly. There's no wrong way, I almost told her. Except there is. The wrong way is dictating what must happen and believing you've failed if it doesn't go as planned.
I changed my attitude
Seven months after leaving my corporate job, I tried a new approach. Instead of pouring my energy and savings into finding a "product-market fit" for a startup I liked only in theory, I devoted my attention to finding a "life fit" with activities where working hard felt purposeful and joyous. My entrepreneurial setback was an opportunity to be a novice again, and I began sampling careers from writing to nonprofit work to real-estate management. I'm not sure where I'll land, but I'm learning things every day.
Sometimes, it's a terrifying choice. There's a nagging fear that I've let down my family and myself. Am I pushing back retirement and depleting everything I've worked for, just to take a break I don't deserve?
In those moments, I'm hopeful that stepping back from one career might be a step closer to another, where late retirement is desirable, where meaningful work can sustain a longer period of productivity. If that turns out to be the same job I had before, so be it. But it never hurts to take a look around, and I'm trying to do so with as much openness and curiosity as possible.
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