Yearly Focus

Sabbath Year – A Year Later

A little over a year ago I finished our sabbath year and began the process of reentering normal life. After taking that sabbath year to rest and reflect, I had learned a few lessons which I documented in this blog post. Now, a year-ish later, I want to reflect on how those reflections have aged.

The following line up with the decisions & changes I discussed in the aforementioned review post.

1. We decided that the next few years aren’t a period for taking on big risks or flirting with overcommitment.

This has held true. It turns out the role I took at Google was a lot more involved than I had originally envisioned, but this is mostly in my control. I tend to dive into things head first and put myself in the center of the action, which I’ve done here. Despite that, our lives feel fairly maxed out, despite minimal risk exposure. Margins are thin and so maintaining a relatively predictable lifestyle has remained important and effective.

2. We decided on having Seattle be our long term home with plans to snowbird (or rainbird) in southern California in the winter eventually.

We have remained in Seattle and been pretty happy with that. The time of year of my writing this is the harder time of year, but it also the time of year I find myself most inclined to do indoor hobbies like writing.

We had explored ramping up our San Diego plans this year by spending a month or so down there in an AirBnB. In the end we decided not to, though I have made a few quick trips down. I think the jury is still out on if we will desire rainbirding enough to do it. Some of me suspects that with the right adjustments we might be able to handle Seattle, but then again, it is still February – we’ll see how I feel come May if we have an extended winter.

3. I changed my work mentality from that of trying to retire early to realizing it is good for me, personally, to work.

This has proved the biggest change from our sabbath year. I entered this new period with a nearly 180* rotation in my mentality on work. I had previously been striving to free myself from having to work as soon as possible. I now hope I can find jobs interesting enough to me that I can work until I’m unable.

Currently, I think of my job (on most days) as the most realistic boardgame I could possibly play. Instead of a stack of cardboard coins, I get to play with a $10B/year business. The competition is fierce, the rules and complex but the measurement is clear. Sure, parts of my job are difficult, but in the end I’m encouraged to learn to fix those aspects and get to the fun strategy parts. Most days I remember that given a billion dollars of my own, I would probably still be doing something similar.

I also mentioned that as a result of this change we were going to value our time more and become more willing to spend money when it would save time. That has remained constant. Funny enough, though our spending has increased dramatically as a result of some things like hiring a nanny and ordering food more, our income has similarly increased such that the savings ratio is similar. The way the math works out that means we’re actually saving a good bit more than before. That won’t be impactful if we keep up this current level of spending, but if we ever do want to retire to a less expensive locale, that extra money will go even further which is nice.

4. After two years away from being a product manager, the role that leads a software team in prioritizing what to build, I decided to return to that role.

I think product manager means a lot of different things depending on where you work. What I get to do at Google is exactly the type of stuff I love doing. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the CEO of Alphabet came from a product management track. They design the role to build thoughtful leaders and I’m enjoying absorbing that culture.

On a daily basis I get to unify the interests of dozens of different stakeholders and design creative solutions to solve them in an efficient manner. I have a real impact on the ability of our $10B/year business to maintain (or increase) its 50% YoY growth rate. I could do similar things under different titles at different companies, and someday I will, but for now, this title and company are a great fit for me.

5. In my searching and exploration phase I exposed myself to a lot of ideas that helped me reject some false tradeoffs I’ve long held. One is a lie I’ve believed for a while that the highest paying corporate jobs at the biggest companies are stodgy, un-impactful and dehumanizing.

I now work for a trillion dollar company. On top of that, I’m having a lot more impact on the company than I would have expected when I joined – both in terms of within the company and on the industry as a whole. On top of that, I am part of work running group, I have people I regularly play boardgames with at lunch and I did a team bike ride around Mt. Rainier last year. I have so far found it to neither be stodgy, un-impactful or dehumanizing – so I’m glad I gave it a chance.

One thing I reflect on is whether I made the wrong move by not coming to a place like Google right out of college. My current thinking is that for me, it took a while to find my path and so small companies that let me fluidly change roles were a great place to slowly gel. If I were to advise a new grad today though, I would recommend giving big companies a try early in their career, especially if they know what role they want to spend the next few years in. It is hard to undervalue the benefits of a well known name, a network, structured management processes and well defined expectations. Start ups are a lot of fun but they aren’t for everyone. I saw plenty of people flail and fail while working at a startup that have since gone on to bigger companies and done great – sometimes explicit structure and expectations is valuable.

6. Along with rejecting some ideas I’ve held, I also became more comfortable explicitly accepting some beliefs I’ve loosely held. One is that that doing high quality work is in itself good, even when the task seems far from the objective.

I work on the billing systems for a cloud. This is a far cry from what I consider “good work” like developing cures for cancer, solving poverty ending human trafficking, etc. But, despite that, every step forward we take at making our cloud serve customers better will bring one more step of progress to the world. Either our cloud will serve customers needs better or it will force another company to find a way to do even better than that. Either way the world is going to see progress and I’m really excited about that. I might not be curing cancer, but people that are working to do so, like the Mayo Clinic, are using our cloud and benefitting from the projects my team works on.

7. I wrestled with the notion of identity and how hobbies played a role into that.

This has been an area I have been much more intentional about. Hobbies have remained a big part of my life but I’ve intentionally made some hobby decisions based on my life circumstances rather than letting my hobby dictate my life circumstances. I’ve generally found this to be effective. I’ve been able to transition to some new hobbies I find just as engrossing as my previous ones. I think that is part of why I’m less inclined to spend as much time as possible in San Diego. While I still love surfing, I’ve found I can replicate parts of it that I enjoyed in other activities if I take a bit of a reductionist approach. In the end, surfing is just some outside time, alone, moving fast, without full control, with variable rewards, some unpredictability and a lot of tactile stimulation. I can recreate that in other ways.