I spent most of my professional career as a user experience researcher and designer in the heart of Silicon Valley. For ten years, I worked on everything from customer service strategy to product design for Fortune 500 companies. In 2010, I was well established as a researcher for an emerging technology division within Microsoft.
Regardless of the many outward signs of my success, something was amiss. Despite the seemingly endless opportunities at Microsoft and a steady stream of inquiries from external recruiters, I found myself thinking, “Is this it? Is this the best I can do?” At the time, it was difficult to tease apart the reality of what I wanted from what I believed I was supposed to want. I was achieving greater material success with each passing year, yet my sense of personal fulfillment was rapidly declining.
The first problem was my pace of life. My days were so exhausting that I wasn’t able to perform my best, even though I enjoyed my job. My team was already geographically distributed, so I approached my manager about becoming a telecommuter. We came up with a plan and agreed on how we would evaluate my success. I relocated to a small community in Northern Idaho and spent the next year proving my ability to be an effective researcher from a home office in the middle of nowhere. The slower pace of life not only renewed my energy with regard to work, it also gave me the mental space to connect with my core values. Among other things, I learned that shaping the future of technology—even if it would potentially touch thousands or millions of lives—did not fill me with a deep sense of purpose. I was most inspired when I could see first-hand the impact I had on people’s lives.
I’d already made enormous changes, but I still had further to go, and I wasn’t convinced the technology sector could get me there. Instead, I turned to my long-time passion for health and fitness. I spent evenings and weekends studying to become a certified personal trainer. After six sleep-deprived months, I passed my exams and inquired about the possibility of working part-time in order to pursue a side career in the wellness industry. I was given an ultimatum: I could continue to do research in a part-time capacity if I was willing to become an independent consultant. The prospect of short-term contracts and paying for my own benefits was terrifying, but I had already gotten a taste for how empowering it was to write my own rules.
Last summer, I took the necessary steps to become an approved vendor for Microsoft. Shortly thereafter, I got a position as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor at a nearby university. For me, there is no such thing as a “perfect” career. Instead, I have two careers, and something much closer to the perfect balance.