I turned 31 this week after what will probably go down as the strangest year in modern history. When Carole threw me a surprise Zoom party last year for my 30th birthday it was a couple weeks into the lockdown when everyone was still making sense of the early phase of the pandemic. We had no idea what was ahead in the coming months.
I’m glad to say that Carole and I got closer over the last year by spending way more time together than we ever did before. We ate almost all of our meals together and shared the ups and downs in real time with one another.
We also managed to travel a bit in the last year, including a week in Tulum, a few days in Sedona, a week in Bend, and most recently a few days in Death Valley National Park.
This week Carole even surprised me by throwing me a real-life birthday party here in SF with friends in our extended quarantine bubble.
On the way to dinner, I noticed Carole texting a lot. I said, “you know, a woman who is stressfully texting while walking to her husband’s birthday dinner looks like a woman planning a surprise birthday party… are you planning a surprise birthday party?”
She gave me her classic dismissive look and said no.
We got to the restaurant and Carole tried walking past the host but I stopped to check in. The host asked for the name on the reservation, to which Carole replied “Carole”.
The host said, “great, I see Carole - party of 15 right?”
Carole gave the host her classic death stare while I smiled. We went outside and celebrated with friends with lots of drinks and food.
Way better than a Zoom party.
With the light at the end of the COVID tunnel starting to shine, I’m reflecting on another key difference in my life today vs last year: the career side of things.
One year ago I was unemployed (after being recently laid off from Abstract) and facing a very uncertain job market. I was interviewing and not having any luck. It’s fair to say I wasn’t in a very good place mentally. I was doubting myself and going into dark places in my head.
Despite the challenges, I pushed forward, continuing to line up as many interviews as I could manage. Each “no” led to a new “maybe” as I kept my pipeline full at all times. I spent weeks preparing for interviews, journaling about past projects, reflecting on challenging team dynamics and learnings so that I could convey my experiences in a way that was factually honest and emotionally mature. Memory can make this tricky.
I was wrestling with my strengths and weaknesses. I came to the conclusion that my strengths, when unchecked, were my weaknesses too.
I include teammates as equal partners in decision-making (strength) but if I push it too far my teammates can get frustrated by my perceived lack of decisiveness (weakness).
Beyond coming to grips with my past experience, I was also realizing that some things I took as obvious assumptions were potentially rationalizations run amuck.
One of these assumptions was that startup life would be better for me than big tech company life. For years, I bought into a narrative that you can either work at a big tech company and just be a meaningless cog in a big machine or you can work at a small startup and make a huge impact. I’d be making less money in a startup but it would be better for me in the long-run.
I realized that my belief that working at a big tech company would be boring or soul-crushing was the result of my attempts to rationalize my choices to spend years in early stage startups. I was deeply involved in many hiring processes in early stage startups and got very good at pitching the scrappy-yet-functional, messy-yet-sensical startup culture. Truthfully, I enjoyed the hell out of startup life. But it was time to reconsider my assumptions.
After seven years in early stage startups, with Carole pushing me to seriously consider working in a big tech company because it might actually be really good for me, I did.
I joined Facebook last June and I’ve been pleasantly surprised in all kinds of ways. I’m growing, learning and exercising muscles that I haven’t used in a long time. The strategic part of me is waking back up after laying dormant during the years of constant execution in the weeds. I’m rediscovering my storytelling voice and using my leadership skills in a way that wasn’t valued in earlier stage startups. I’m planning to publish a separate post that goes into more detail about life at FB so we can keep that queued up for the future.
All in all, I’m feeling super grateful with everything I have on my 31st birthday and am excited for the world to be almost entirely back to its normal self by the time I turn 32.
Quick Note on Death Valley National Park
A couple weeks ago Carole & I took Thursday and Friday off to go enjoy the desert. We flew into Vegas on Wednesday evening and drove out to Death Valley NP first thing Thursday. It was my first time to that national park, and it was beautiful. Fun fact: Death Valley NP is the largest national park in the lower 48 states. It's massive.
The whole national park is inside a seemingly endless valley that you can drive through for days. Because it’s so large, there’s all kinds of landscapes: salt flats, sand dunes, mosaic canyons, volcano craters, and dried lake beds. I highly recommend going.