why i quit my dream job

The short answer is… there wasn’t enough joy in my work anymore.

To be clear, it really was a dream job, a once in a lifetime opportunity for which I am eternally grateful. If change wasn’t inevitable, I would never have wanted to leave.

For 11 of my 21 years at Microsoft I worked with an incredible team of people who I loved very much; all geniuses in their own right. Imagine the good fortune of being paid to think about and tell stories of how technology will benefit us in the future. For years I would skip into work grinning from ear to ear. It was a really good thing.

Not all was bliss though; I was a creative type working in an environment where analytical thinkers and doers were valued highly. I never quite fit the corporate tech culture although was fine being a misfit as long as I felt respected.

My boss had the foresight to know the importance of having a diverse team of perspectives, thinking, and experience for our task. We created a balance important in designing lasting concepts for the future. We took our jobs seriously working to do the right thing for the company and humanity. For many years we had the autonomy and freedom to create without prescription. We were successful and happy.

Evolution happens.

For long time I would just dream up concepts, relying on my smart colleagues to tell me if they were viable. Together we developed valuable work. I had a broad but shallow understanding of what technology could enable. Somewhere along the way it became important for me to go deeper into the tech and include a due diligence of research and analysis in order for my work to have a similar value (become more like them). This required a different approach. Enjoying a challenge, I tried to work more analytically. Unfortunately my voice and creativity became lost in translation. Eventually my work became stale and looking around everything we were producing now tasted like institution.

During the 11 years, the evolution of technology forced incredible change in the world and much of the world had caught up to the future. The technology and innovation of the present was amazing and in a sense our competition. All along, our team tried to design for individuals vs. institutions, but this began to feel self-serving as other companies leapt past us with cool personal products on the market.

To complicate things I was in a new life stage. My own personal evolution introduced perimenopause; it was in full swing and not being kind. Not an easy situation to describe or experience especially in a company that was 76% men. My work world was in a downward spiral.

A few things sustained me for a while. My love of meeting with visiting guests and ability to communicate the benefits of future technology to them in a way that resonated. We also hired a brilliant new design manager who had the passion and drive to do the very best work possible. She inspired me and I clung to her sails for as long as I could.

Unfortunately slowly I began to shut down. I became lost and unhappy. I used to love my job, the work, the process, the outcome. That was gone. Alone I could develop a plan and process for moving forward, but too often when it met with resistance I froze and had no language to move us forward. This is a terrible place to be in when leading a big project. We all deserved better.

We were about the future, where it’s not business as usual. I didn’t know how to reflect this practically in our work process to help the team evolve.  My strength was in telling relevant stories about people’s futures.

Situational awareness kicks in. A series of events happened that made my consciousness shift.

I helped my friend die.

Our best friends living next door made the difficult decision to move after living in their home for 30 years.

I recognized my daughter would be entering her last year of high school in the fall. I had spent her entire life working a demanding job at Microsoft and was poised to spend the next 18 months crazy busy.


I was sitting in my office preparing for a meeting I’d be leading. I looked out the window and saw a bus. I thought to myself, I’d rather walk in front of that bus than go into this meeting; seriously.

A dim bulb lit in my head- what insanity is this? I had to figure a way out.  The meeting came and went; ironically it went well although it didn’t matter I was already on a new path. On the bus ride home that night I silently cried to myself. It was over. It was like a veil lifted to expose lack. Lack of doing a good job, lack of creativity, self-respect, joy… I was sick and depressed.

I am not in a position to retire, so I had to look at what might happen if I quit my job. I came to the conclusion that we might have to sell our house. Then I asked myself – when have I ever not had enough? Enough food, shelter, things like this… the answer was- I have always had enough.

On the corner of my office white board were posted my values. They are: Respect, Joy, and Appreciation. The intent was to check in on them regularly and make sure I was making choices based on them. Somewhere along the way I’d traded personal respect for security, joy for $, and appreciation for apathy. All so I could maintain a lifestyle tied to having and maintaining “stuff”.

Being conscious not to make big decisions based on fear, I decided trading my house to realign with my values and find potential happiness would be worth it.

When change happens we either adapt, suffer, or leave to survive.

I am eternally grateful to Microsoft. I hope our paths cross again.


Quitting my job didn’t fix my problems. I became even more depressed.  In hindsight my issues with my working situation were mostly due to my inability to see any joy, not Microsoft. Often the issues we have with others are really issues with ourselves.

After a long road, I found I have a gene mutation that causes depression and now take L-methylfolate which has thankfully taken the depression away. Read about my discovering the root of my depression.

why i quit my dream job

objectified: i raised this boy

After returning from a trip, my son now 18, greeted me wearing this hat. This picture reminds me of how society objectifies women. It may happen unconsciously, but regardless it happens. In this case I raised this boy to think it was ok to wear images of women as sexual objects. Interestingly this image is commonly seen on the mud flaps of trucks. Pause for a moment to absorb the symbolism, this image is placed on a vehicle where mud and road dirt are spewed at it.

I couldn’t make up anything as quintessentially disrespectful as this if I tried. Don’t get me wrong, I love my son with all my heart, I just didn’t care for some of his younger behaviors, reminding myself- I raised this boy.

There was also period of time when too often I would see him he was wearing a t-shirt with this funkadelic image. When I saw it I would cringe. I wanted to throw rocks at him.   I tried to explain how vulnerable that position is for a woman. He thought the image was cool. I think he had a sophomoric perspective. Today there are still countries where women don’t have the right to vote, and sections of our society that ask women to submit to their husbands.

Back in the day, I was not raised with an overt oppression to be submissive. It didn’t matter; the cultural expectation was there. I remember in junior high hearing I was a nominee for class clown. I was mortified thinking girls weren’t supposed to be funny; they’re supposed to be demure and submissive. Ingrained in me was the collective unconsciousness from hundreds/thousands of years of bad behavior.

I often think of what I could have done differently to have discouraged this. I wonder what girls today think?

In 2009 Jimmy Carter wrote an article “Losing my religion for equality”. The article describes his struggle and brake from the Southern Baptist church in support of human rights and equality. Go Jimmy!

objectified: i raised this boy

harry belafonte

I recently watched “Sing Your Song” a documentary about Harry Belafonte; a must see. I always imagined Harry as a kind man, although was not familiar with anything other than his music or Hollywood celebrity. The movie portrays a gracious man driven to make the world a better place especially for those who struggle. He does this by bringing awareness to political and humanitarian causes. He has worked closely with global thought leaders and has been instrumental in the success of some very important movements and moments in time that have moved social justice forward.

Harry bailed Martin Luther King Jr. out of the Birmingham jail… Can you imagine?

In the movie he recounts a conversation he’d had with King about how they should engage Bobby Kennedy to gain support for civil rights issues in the US. King suggested finding Kennedy’s moral center and willing him towards their cause. They did this by introducing Kennedy to people in poverty in the US. This exposure awakened a consciousness in Kennedy which led to his advocacy of civil rights.

It’s very sad to think of how King and Kennedy were assassinated within 2 months of each other in 1968. I was a child and remember how devastating this was for so many people. Harry’s strong conviction kept him moving forward continuing to awaken the consciousness of the world.

Harry is my new role model.

harry belafonte

life obscura

My visits to facebook have been sparse over the past 6 weeks. I decided to suspend activity after I caught myself thinking about what ironic statement I would post as I was on my way to the Puyallup Fair. It occurred to me that I was manufacturing the message before the experience; risking the simple act of experience. So I decided to shut it down for a while.
The result – I slightly missed fb, and I do value it. Moving forward I will attempt to use fb for the value it provides- a rolodex of deliberately manufactured semi-public life. One veil in our ever expanding digital world, our “life obscura”.
Life obscura is a manufactured representation of a physical being using digital technology. It has multidimensional and interactive potential, that potential also influences the representation.
Similar to “camera obscura” it is a projected reproduction. Camera oscura was the precursor to photography. Life obscura may be the precursor to “digital grip” or “d’grip”: a maintained, measureable and evolving set of controlled and uncontrolled incarnations that permeate the digital realms.

life obscura

NYT on context

I recommend reading  the NYT article “Texts without context” by Michiko Kakutani. It heavily quotes Jaron Lanier.

 It’s describes the state of the art with regards to the internet, media and culture. We’re changing the way we think and process information: commentary is king, division and identity politics are key, and “mash-ups are more important than the source” (to quote Jaron).

The article gets lost in the middle and has too many quotes. But has good points of how we’re receiving and interacting with info today. It’s a thought provoking aggregate.

Kakutani writes “People form judgments before seeing the arc of an entire work… and rely far more heavily on cherry-picked anecdotes — instead of broader-based evidence and assiduous analysis”.

This is very much in line with news reporting today. It’s become like fast food- don’t let it get cold before you serve it.

He ends with another quote from Jaron  “… since the Web is killing the old media, we face a situation in which culture is effectively eating its own seed stock.”

Whether this is good for us isn’t relevant; it’s here. I doubt it will ever go away. It’s now a right, a platform for freedom of speech that people have never had before.

I don’t think we can neatly separate technology, business, and culture anymore; the bleed is too heavy.
Some initial questions for the future.

  • What will define a subject matter expert?
  • Should we build frameworks for knowledge unions?
  • How this effects business and government?
  • What role can technology play in making sense of the mess? Is it a mess?
  • Can we predict the evolution of media and culture?
  • Is there an opportunity to redirect culture? Should we?

I saw a talk from Mary Ann Allison 5 years ago. Part of her talk was about automation and its effect on society (Farming, manufacturing, etc). She gave us in software technology a warning, she called it “Karma”-and said be thoughtful because what we automate, as we will be setting the stage for automating social processing.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

NYT on context

on my mind…

Of late I’ve been troubled with generational views of technology (the gap) and those making policy around them.  The boomer generation sees tech as a tool, where the younger generations see it as more of an extension of themselves, and are more likely to identify with the possibilities.

Many of the decision makers today are working from conditioned mindsets that aren’t prepared for how technology is empowering and enabling the average person. A perfect example of the generation gap was in an article 4/21/10 “Technical difficulties at the Supreme Court” about our Supreme Court justices and their collective lack of understanding current technology.

Understanding the long term implications of the choices we make today is imperative. We’ve seen significant change in the last 10 years as people, businesses, and governments are now empowered and connected in new ways. This has posed new challenges for us all in staying current; not only with our investments in technologies, but also in our processes and mindset’s in preparing for the future. We’ve moved into an era of extreme agility. Progress is no longer linear on a timeline, it’s fractured and simultaneous.

It’s in our best interest to help our leaders not only build a technology roadmap, but also a vision that includes understanding what we’ve enabled, so they can be proactive in their response and involvement. Enabling them to effectively lead (and react less).

on my mind…

Jesse Schell-DICE 2010

Jesse gave an entertaining and informative talk “Design outside the Box

He spoke about the playing field for the online world and how reality is everywhere, not just in games.

Facebook, it was unexpected and is not like other retail models. Factoid: There are more Farmville players than twitter accounts.

Some online gaming successes are attributed to what he calls the elastic velvet rope; aka psychological tricks.

  • WebKins- Promote virtual animals and stuffed animals are real (truly kids believe this)
  • Club Penguin-Get’m hooked with free stuff and then start charging for extras.
  • Mafia games- Using your real friends to play games and compete with.
  • If you spend time on things it must be valuable.

He cites the book “Authenticity” – Gilmore and Pine, the premise is about what consumers really want.

The most valuable thing in products today is whether they are real/authentic. Why now? All of the virtual stuff that has crept up over the years has cut us off from nature. We live in a bubble of fake.

He believes in technological divergence not convergence; with the exception of the pocket devices. Phones are like a Swiss army knife- including not appropriate for the kitchen.

He has a funny diatribe around point systems from ear buds influencing your dreams to digital tattoo advertising competition.

Jesse Schell-DICE 2010

NIN- my muse

I went to a Nine Inch Nails concert summer 2008, the tech for the staging was interactive and incredible.

There were 3 vertical layered of screens, an LED screen backdrop and 2 semitransparent screens in front, with the band between the layers.

The set also was interactive at times using touch, lights and presence as the interaction method.

The Nine Inch Nails – The Making Of from Moment factory shows some of how they did it. More info about Moment factory.

Here’s a video someone took in Seattle which is taken from a side balcony and gives a pretty good idea of how it was set up and the different ways the set was used.

We have come a long way baby…

NIN- my muse

Philips design philosophies

Over the years I’ve followed (off and on) Philips design approaches and philosophies, especially Josephine Green, and Stefano Marzano.

I met Josephine Green in Brussels; she was on a panel for the research and academic folks. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the panel, although I did get to have an interesting conversation about ways to think about designing for the future.

Given different circumstances, I think we could have conversed all day. We generally share similar perspectives on the people and social aspects of what we’re both doing. It would be interesting if to think about information and vision sharing outside the company, and whether we could synch with Philips or others…and focus on sharing philosophies, not IP. Consider it soul food.

Checking back in with the Philips site here are a few interesting articles.

This article, A vision of the future, is old but one I’ve come back to many times.

Other articles…

Making the future more tangible

Design for desirable future

Visualizing the future

Philips design philosophies