» » I Quit Microsoft. Today is the First Day Of The Rest Of My Life

I Quit Microsoft. Today is the First Day Of The Rest Of My Life

posted in: Life | 3

11/11/2011 was my last day at Microsoft after working there for seven years.  The date was unintentional but provided a good bookend to a good run at the company.

Before I start my new role in 2012 I’m relieved to have some time to step back and think about the next chapter in my career, what I hope to accomplish in the short term, and what I can look back on years later and be proud of. For thirteen years I poured all my energy into my career, working late nights, staying in front of the latest technology trends, and strategizing over my next move or the project that would accelerate my career and put me on the cover of Fortune magazine.

Now that I can step off the treadmill for a just a moment I realize many of things I placed so much emphasis have proven to be ephemeral now.  Initiatives which I had invested so much energy into just a few years ago are now either obsolescent or forgotten.  With the exception of a few instances, software I’ve written for customers has been replaced with the next best thing or adapted to the point where I wouldn’t recognize it.  Awards I received for high performance, prior achievements or years of service either sit gathering dust in my old office or occupy space in a landfill somewhere.  The various trophies and certificates remind me of little league where even the benchwarmers get one for having a good attitude.  The clarity offered by jumping off has been a refreshing opportunity to kick myself in the pants and reboot.

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Prior to this I lay awake for months and wondered what I should do next, which transitioned to what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.  I imagined myself as a dying old man (who I’ll unimaginatively refer to as Dying Old Man) looking  back and asked myself, what did I do that was significant and worthy to be proud of?  Professionally, I feel like everything up until now has been a big learning experience and creating a base for more meaningful opportunities.  I reconfirmed that I am passionate about software and technology, which is comforting since there aren’t many other things I’m good at.  Ultimately, finding and creating opportunities where it can benefit people and society in general are where I’m pointing my compass next.  It will be a journey getting there but I’m confident my next steps have me heading in the right direction.  I’m hopeful.  Eager to get started again.  Emotions that I thought were dead when I believed all that was left was all about protecting and not losing what I had gained.

I reflected on past work achievements and I was discouraged by how unimpressed Dying Old Man was.  I wondered if there was something about my career that he could take pride in. Anything.  The answer was unexpected and something I had never associated with work, but instead was enabled through what I earned from it.

Ever since a life-changing experience when I was twenty (a future blog post), giving to charities and those less fortunate has always been a priority and it’s something my wife and I continue to this day with every paycheck, bonus, or financial gift we receive.  We’ve both seen poverty up close with our own eyes here in the U.S. and internationally in travels to Mexico, Guatemala, Sri Lanka, and Africa.  A person’s perspective changes being in a poverty-stricken area versus seeing a news headline or driving by a homeless person carrying a sign with the windows rolled up.  And even if you’ve seen it you can easily forget how difficult life can be, how fragile it is, and how circumstances can conspire against you.  This past Thanksgiving my wife and I helped at a soup kitchen preparing a meal and serving to the homeless in downtown Seattle.  The volunteer providing security was an outgoing, funny, intelligent, well-dressed man.  At the end of the day he revealed that he was once a homeless cocaine addict who had abandoned his family, and that various charities had provided the opportunity for him to get off the street, reconcile with his family, and buy a house.  Telling him or any of the people we met that day to just “Get a job!” is one of the most ignorant and callous things I can think of.

our "kids" supported through World Vision.
our “kids” supported through World Vision.

Our giving is based on a percentage of our income.  When I was a college student eating various concoctions of Top Ramen and tuna, a few dollars had little significance.  These days I notice my own reaction with bemusement as the amount we give grows.  I’m tempted to calculate what man-toys I could have purchased, like skis or the planet’s most harmonically balanced headphones.  Or a lot of tuna.  But instead I count the things I do have.  My marriage to my great wife.  We’ve never gone hungry.  We’ve always been able to pay the rent and the utility bill.  So far.  Who knows, someday we may fall on hard times.  I hope someone is out there to extend a hand if it happens.

I’m not a sentimental person or one for mementos, but I have held onto the three cards below that were sent to my wife and I several years ago from a single mother and her two daughters who were homeless.  They remind me I’m pretty damn fortunate and while I may want, I don’t need anything.  The children’s father had attempted to murder their mother and kicked them out of the house.

The first one is from M’s teenage daughter:

the letter from m's teenage daughter.
the letter from m’s teenage daughter.

“…we have been through so much for the past two years. Our dad tried to kill our mother and kicked all of us out of the house. We were homeless for a couple of months, and from a four-bedroom house we now live in a one-bedroom house. It is small but we are much happier because there is no violence.

“When we left the house we lost everything.  We have been struggling to get our life back on track but it has been a very difficult journey.  My mom lost her job and we get no help from our dad.  Recently, my 8-year old sister had seizures due to stress…I am a sophomore in high school studying to be an oncologist.  I wish you the best and many thanks.”

This one is from M’s other daughter, who was 8 years old at the time and taking medication for seizures caused by stress:

letter from m's 8 year old daughter.
letter from m’s 8 year old daughter.

“We have been so poor for so long since my dad threw us out of the house and my mom lost her job.”

And this one is from M herself:

letter from m.
letter from m.

“I almost gave up my life 2 years ago due to our crisis in our family. Our life has turned upside down but…there is light at the end of the tunnel…I was nearly killed on July 1 20xx by my daughters’ father. The girls and I became homeless, had no transportation, and a few months we almost lost C, my 8-year old daughter. She was hospitalized for nearly 3 weeks due to seizures caused by stress. She will be on medications on a long term basis. Being a single mother of 2 girls with no child support or any help has been very challenging. My deepest appreciate to you and everyone at Microsoft…Very truly yours, M”.

My setbacks and frustrations in life are trivial in comparison.  Besides my faithful marriage of 11 years and counting, giving is one of the few things that gives Dying Old Man any sense of fulfillment.

I’m eager to start the next chapter after the holidays, something I haven’t felt in years.  The past frustrations haven’t been all for naught, and there’s also a sense of urgency to transform work into lasting meaning.

The exciting title of this post was intended to draw you in.  If you’ve gotten this far that means I’ve succeeded and I encourage you to consider how fortunate are some, and how unfortunate others are.  And if you feel compelled to give, check out a site like CharityWatch.org which does research and reports on fiscally responsible non-profits.

For those of you who read this whole thing thinking I was going to dish some inside dirt on Microsoft, here’s one: their cafeteria food is pretty good but it can be monotonous.

3 Responses

  1. Lori
    | Reply

    Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. I am so proud of you, and am honored to be in your life. I love you bunches, and can’t wait to see where the next stage of your journey takes you!

    • Steve Yi
      | Reply

      Thanks, Lori. Love you guys. My work is going to take me to Boston fairly frequently, just a couple hour’s drive to New Haven. Would love you to see you, Ken, and the family sometime soon.

      • Lori
        | Reply

        Absolutely – we’d love to see you too! Let us know as your travels bring you this way!

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