Can You Quit Google?

Creative Commons License photo credit: h.koppdelaney

This post from ex-Google employee Jean Hsu on why she left Google caught my eye. She quit Google just two years out of college, without a firm plan but inspired by her husband, who’d also left the company two years previously to work on iPhone apps. Hsu is enthusiastic about her prospects even without a specific plan. I think she sees that new directions might never present themselves if she doesn’t leave the comfort of Google.

The food is undeniably delicious, and I really miss the heated toilet seats. In the end, what it came down to was that I felt too young to work at such a corporate job indefinitely. I felt that if I stayed, I would look back at this time years down the road, and wonder, what else could I have done?

I thought that for her it was less about rejecting Google than about embracing the unknown. What we think about life’s latent possibilities will play heavily into our assessment of her move. Is an endless horizon and its uncertainty dangerous, or full of promise? Don’t let anyone else answer that question for you…

Many of the post’s negative comments were less about leaving Google per se than leaving the supposed security of employment in a big company. But if Hsu expects more from her vocation-and her life-why wouldn’t acting on this fact be at least as sensible as not leaving in spite of it? You might remain employed your entire life if you are fulfilled by your job. But if you are not, I’d suggest not letting ‘security’ be the factor that tips the scales in favor of staying.

It’s been asked before but I’ll ask it again: why do we tend to assume that we have security by virtue of being employed, having given away direct control over the continued means to our livelihood to a company that will most certainly let us go if it suits them? The question is pertinent because this imagined security is part of the compensation package we receive. We know that it is a security contingent on larger forces, but the momentum of the ritual of ‘coming to work’ every day, seeing our co-workers’ cars lined up in the parking lot, knowing just where the coffee pot is, soothes us and makes this fact easy to ignore, if we want to.

Even if the security was real, do you want your whole life to be merely a weird tribute to it–a celebration of security?

And the alternative is what? Well, it is proceeding in a life just as full of cumulative risk, but accepting that the only thing standing between hitting the baseball out of the park and a lonely oblivion is self-reliance. This is serious, and requires more energy than staying comfortable.

But remember: if you are unhappy with your job there will be endless conflict between a part of you that expects more and your desire for comfort, and it will never go away until you either wage freedom or give up and accept less.

If you are unhappy in your job you must do what it takes to leave. If you don’t yet know what part of life to explore, go to avoid embracing death earlier than you must.

Becoming a freelancer, an independent contractor or an entrepreneur means you marshall your strengths/assets/abilities as a supernova of vertical integration, assume responsibility and reap the consequences of ‘adding value’ on your terms, rather than involving an employer who mediates untold economic chaos and opportunity, and gives you a place to remain seated each day at work.

You will fail. Lord knows there will be cold toilet seats when you least expect it. In time you will see that it is merely battles you are losing as you win the war.

In my experience, the amount of regret you experience in waging freedom will relate directly to the amount of effort you put into new direction(s) you find and make for yourself. If you are engaged you will succeed by definition, and not regret it. Even setbacks don’t really matter in the long run; you will just change direction because that is part of your new compensation package, and it’s what free people do. If moves like this are about exercising freedom they are also about making a workable vocation a livable life.

Jean Hsu knows what she had with Google, and what her critics don’t see is that–since she was not happy with her job–she values the answers to the question of what she’ll do with an unknown future too much to simply cower in what is quantified neatly and known.

The only real danger for her, for people like us, is to forget the spirit of personal responsibility with which we made our decision. We decided that treading water was not swimming. Now we must swim. That we might backslide is a risk worth taking.

I’d say good luck to Jean, but luck is for people who feel unentitled to take the bull by the horns.

2 comments… add one
  • I have seen this be the reason for a ton of people…”But if you are not, I’d suggest not letting ‘security’ be the factor that tips the scales in favor of staying.” Security can really hold some people in jobs they don’t like.

  • Afsana

    Hi Tom
    Your article is very interesting and inspiring. I have always wanted to work in Bali. And would like to know some ideas to work there. As I am not a citizen of the country.

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