Break Out of a Golden Cage
By Federica D’Armento & Tony McGaharan
Picture this. You’ve a job at “the best place to work”, and then you start experiencing those mixed feelings like in a love-hate relationship, until you decide to leave. This is actually what we went through at Google.
At some point it felt like being in Groundhog Day – living the same day over and over again. The challenge was not to become the cynical “we’ve been always doing it like this”.
Too often we spent time marketing ourselves, and then asking “why – are we here to solve problems or we are window dressing?”.
Sometimes you just know: no matter how shiny everything was, it was time to break out of the golden cage.
When you come from nothing and fear to lose everything
F – I come from a small village in the very south of Italy. My humble family did a great job at collecting sacrifices instead of debts to pay for my studies. I went through many unpaid internships, and earned 700€ a month for jobs that made me stay in the office ten hours a day.
When I landed at Google it was a dream.
When I started feeling uncomfortable at Google it felt like a nightmare.
Nothing was clear but my fear. Fear of losing the status of Googler; of giving up my lifestyle. Fear of being judged as ungrateful; of throwing away a winning lottery ticket. Fear of being a disappointment to my parents. Google is an amazing place to work for: you’ve a consistent paycheck, generous benefits packages, and perks like free gourmet food, massages, discounts on education courses – you name it.
How should I tell my parents that I want to walk away?
T – Growing up in Belfast, my dream was to become a teacher: I had never considered any other career outside of education. My mother raised all of us to study hard and reach our potential. To find a job where I could be of some service to people and make enough money to pay the bills: this was my own career goal.
Then I got caught up in the world of tech, travel and all the incredible benefits that working in a large multinational provided. I enjoyed not worrying about money for the first time in my life. I had become known as a Googler and I loved it – at first. However, my fear of leaving Google was deeply rooted in my identity. As the years passed, I was afraid of losing that status, but I was even more frightened that my own values and identity were becoming diluted and on the verge of being lost.
Comfort provides a floor but also a ceiling (T. Noah)
F – A solid routine told me what I needed to do. OKRs and team goals to achieve were my lighthouse. I was always busy doing something: I truly had all the reasons to stay. It would have been responsible and safe.
A former Director at Google once told us that as long as you are learning and happy, you are in the right place, if one of these two aspects is missing, then it’s time to consider making a career move. Why wasn’t I feeling happy?
There were times that I felt my job and my company were indicators to me of my worthiness and value. It was a scary, sad feeling and still, why was I staying there?
Then I had to be honest to myself: it was for comfort not for fulfilment.
T – And it sure was a comfortable floor with a fully stocked micro kitchen nearby, near enough free onsite massages, and a games room all within walking distance. I often changed floors and even countries. The best thing for me about working in Google was the opportunity to experience different cultures. I had never been to Asia before moving from Dublin to Singapore for my second role in Google. I’m not sure I would have ever decided to go to Asia – it felt super expensive to get there!
I remember busting my gut for my third promotion in the company. I started to question, “Why?”.
Live by Choice, not by Chance
F – It happened in the end: fear of not taking the risk took over all the other fears.
It took me a year to realize that I was consciously ready to break out of the G. bubble, and go back to the ‘real’ world. I remember when I quit that some of my colleagues felt happy for me, but at the same time jealous that they couldn’t do the same because they had families or a mortgage to pay – which I completely understand. For me it was: now or wait until you retire!
It was not easy, not painless, but I’ve chosen.
To live by decision, not by default. To be clear on my “why” and see the value in taking the risk. To feed faith, not fears. To fear regret rather than failure. To accept that the right moment doesn’t exist. To listen to my inner voice and make room to renew, breathe, stretch and toughen.
T – It took two years for me to leave Google. From Dublin, to Singapore, to London – I was getting ready to leave Google there. Then an opportunity came to return to Dublin in what I believed to be a dream role. After only 6 months in the role I knew it was time to leave. The hardest bit about taking the leap was not being able to fully discern the exact reasons why I wanted to walk away. It took a lot of energy to make that choice, but as my Coach would often say: It’s all about process. In fact, it was a lengthy process of creating some distance, leaning on loved ones and reconnecting with my own values and vision for life.
I’m on a new journey now. It is hard in a multitude of different ways. That said, the struggle is easy because I know my why.
We’d like to spread a message of non-discouragement: this is also the purpose of this article.
We are conscious that the current global situation is revolutionizing the job market – undermining (or accelerating?) a transformation that has been going on for at least 10 years.When it comes to a job – searching for it, changing it, etc – many factors are needed in order to respond to the changes out there, to choose consciously and find opportunities also in crisis. But if we have to pick one we would say “clarify your why“: try to take some time to focus on your motivation. When the why is strong enough, the how will define itself!