Do you love your job? I used to. And then I went interviewing. It was grueling but I’m happier now.
My friend’s post reminded me of why I did and why I want to tell you about it.
The past year I’ve worked as a software engineer at a company called Remind. It’s a K12 education company so you’ve probably never heard of it. It also is a stressful environment in August, preparing and coping with the annual user-base doubling during back-to-school. That’s when I started burning out.
When I burned out at Coursera, I kept going because I was so invested in the mission. This time, I wondered whether I was burning out on education industry as a whole. Maybe even engineering. It was a pretty deep burn. I went on Hired. I got in touch with founder friends.
One friend shared what his first manager recommended: interview every 6 months. He never did it himself. Interviewing devours time and energy, even deliberating whether to. When I told my manager that I was thinking of interviewing he said he interviewed occasionally to keep sharp. He encouraged me to look for what I needed, even if it was elsewhere.
The company was looking out for me. What about my loyalty to the company? “If you love something, set it free”, I reckoned. (There are many forms of love, and ancient Greek had distinct words. Talking Agape here. If you’re experiencing Eros at your company, talk to HR.)
The offers were dizzying. After a bunch of interviews and conversations with my manager, I narrowed it down to several compelling options, including a couple ways to stay. When I tried to rank them, it was like rock-paper-scissors. Because I didn’t really know what I wanted.
If you’re curious, LightStep was the early stage option. Brilliant people tackling an important technical problem in a growing market. Great small team it would be a joy to work with. I eventually realized I wasn’t in the place to take that level of risk. I’d only ever worked in startups and wanted to learn what it’s like to not worry about an exit.
Blue Owl (stealth mode) was the sure thing. Super well funded startup with a well-understood business model. Offer of around my last two startup salaries combined. My own office. Experienced engineers. The kicker: I’d get to put some of my dissertation work on persuasive computing into practice to save people’s lives.
I was ready to jump.
I just couldn’t do it. And in that moment when I realized I wasn’t leaving Remind, it became perfectly clear to me what I wanted. Through all the interviews I did and didn’t take, I learned about myself: my dream is to build a company someday with a social mission. Focusing on that led me out of the paper-rock cycle. Staying was the best step on that path. I messaged my manager, “you’re going to have a good day today.”
I also re-learned how I value money. Living in SF these days, it’s been hard not to get caught up in the explosive wealth. Why are my friends millionaires and I’m dreaming of a down payment? What happens to real estate when Uber IPOs? (Some consolation: maybe they never will.) I remember back to 2000 when classmates at Berkeley were dropping out and getting rich quick. Have I made bad choices?
Depends on what you’re optimizing for. To be rich in dollars? To be rich in life, I’ve made great choices. I’m good on the parts of Maslow’s hierarchy that money can buy. What I need more of isn’t money. It’s to make the impact I want in the world.
Now I walk the office with a clear sense of purpose. An alignment of my daily work with my larger professional and personal goals. I delight in my time with these people towards our common mission. Interviewing helped me to recognize my values and make a commitment that affirms them.
- Don’t settle for work that doesn’t inspire you.
- By exploring and choosing, you learn about yourself.
- By learning about yourself, you develop the clarity to be inspired.
Life’s too short not to ask yourself, “does my work affirm the values of my life?” What’s your answer?
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