“I think you travel to search and you come back home to find yourself there.” - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
(This is a long one. If you want to skip the intro, hop to the good part.)
A few months ago, in the midst of my travels, I jotted down some notes in my journal: “Conditions under which I can return to the tech world.” It was a list of requirements for any potential job I was evaluating. Next to it I started diving into all the things I like to do for fun or the things I find myself doing naturally and why I find those things fun or naturally interesting. I broke it all down until I got to my base motivations. It was enlightening stuff to say the least.
I knew there would come a point where I would be tempted by some job posting that came my way and I wanted to remind myself of the reasons I had decided to step away in the first place. I knew I would need to take on some freelance work to, you know, pay the bills and things. I also knew that the idea of a steady income and a shiny new project would cloud my judgement when the time came, so I wanted to have my thoughts in writing before I put myself back into the ring.
I’d been funemployed/consulting/without 9-5 employment for well over a year. An amazing year. The best year ever, in fact. But I was also becoming keenly aware of my dwindling bank account and the holes in my socks. When I got back from my last trip, I took on a few freelance projects and started interviewing at full speed. I don’t even remember the number of companies I was in touch with. It was getting in the way of my blogging spree, but sadly the blogging wasn’t buying me new socks.
My heart wasn’t in any of it. Deep down I knew I didn’t want to sign on to just work on any ole thing. I didn’t want another blip on my résumé. I didn’t want to do e-commerce again. I didn’t want to work at a growth-stage company. I was putting on my happy/friendly/hire me face, spitting out all the lines I knew they wanted to hear, when underneath I was hoping it wouldn’t work out so I didn’t have to convince myself that I wanted to work there. Hashtag Millennial Problems? Probably. But I’d done a lot of work over the previous year to learn about what it is that I like to do, what it is that I’m good at, and following my heart and my instincts has been the right choice every time. This was against everything I’d learned. I wasn’t standing up for myself and what would make me happy in the long run.
But reality is reality and I’d resigned myself to the idea that I might have to work on something less than ideal and I would figure out how to make the best of it. Or I could get a part-time job at a coffee shop or something to fix the holes in my socks and buy myself some more time. Christmas was coming and I knew new job reqs tended to open up in the beginning of the year as new budgets and headcount opened up. So I continued the interviews.
I was reaching the later stages with some companies when I got a phone call from a woman I’d met while speaking on a panel for a class at Cornell. We’d met on the bus to Ithaca. Less than an hour after I’d left Birchbox on my last day there. The same bus ride I wrote my Medium post from. Funny how things work out.
Anyway, I remembered the company she was working on from the panel and they were in need of some Product/UX help. She asked if I would be available to work with them. Ideal: A consulting gig through the end of the year and I could keep my interviews going in the background but reduce the urgency.
Then I got there. It was a bit of a fixer-upper situation, but just the kind I like. And the people were cool. And the problems were interesting. And it wasn’t a “Building Uber for X” or “Airbnb for Y” kind of situation. It was something I could sink my teeth into.
Just before we left for the holidays they popped the question: Would I join them full-time? I consulted my trusty list. To my amazement, it checked all the boxes but two (work remotely and not based in NYC or SF). It even hit the ones I thought might be a bit of a stretch given how startups usually work. Not to mention the company is run by two of the coolest and most successful women I’ve ever met, in a space I’ve had on my list of wanting to tackle for years, and it’s got a full engineering team ready to go. When does that ever happen? IT DOESN’T.
To my own surprise, especially given the commitment I’d made to trying to travel full-time only a few months before and the issues I was having with my earlier interviewing, I couldn’t come up with a reason to say no. My heart was finally in it. The stars were aligning. When I looked at things in the grand scheme, the only con I came up with was “cuts into my travel time”. Poor me. I’d make it work. As of January 1, I’ve joined Kandu full-time as their Director of Product. When I signed on in early December, Kandu was a bit of a nebulous idea with the mission of creating digital tools for kids to be able to build and play. Since then, we’ve evolved that idea into something even more interesting (at least I think so!) that I’m super excited to dig into. It’s an incredibly collaborative place and it’s run in a way that’s unlike any startup I’ve encountered in the past. Everything about it is refreshing and for the first time since around 2010 or 2011 I feel like I’m not building a different take on something that I’ve built before.
I’ve been holding off on writing this for a while because it all happened so serendipitously it almost seems unbelievable. Everything has been going so well I’ve been paranoid about jinxing it. Plus, I only recently made the bold claim that I wanted to be a full-time traveler and this is pretty much the polar opposite of that - save for my daily 6-hour commute. I felt ridiculous changing course so quickly. I’ve been hinting that I’m looking for an apartment in the NYC area, so I figured it was time to share the good news and maybe that would make it feel real.
It just goes to show that you should always put your best foot forward and opportunity knocks when you least expect it. I’ve been in search of this job (without being able to really define it) for at least 3 years now, but it took meeting someone over a year ago, traversing the world, figuring things out, learning, and coming back home for it all to come together. I don’t think I would have been ready for this job a year ago. I had a lot of growing to do. That quote about luck, preparation, and opportunity comes to mind and I believe it now more than ever. My crazy experiment worked out.
"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” - Douglas Adams
PS: I have to thank Prof. Deb Streeter for organizing that fateful panel, Jessica for passing along my phone number, Jimelle for being my ever-reliable sounding board when I was worried I was suffering from shiny object syndrome, and Cornell for once again proving that it’s totally worth it to still be paying off my student loans.
PPPS: Yes, I bought some new socks.