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.
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.