Lost…and Found Part II

That’s me in the center back row. Our founder is also in this picture (I won’t burn him by pointing him out!)

We were a fun-loving group of techno and audio nerds working for a start-up in Scotts Valley, a small town in California. Our company specialized in publishing music and video for independent artists and authors. We spent our days reviewing music, videos and dealing with the technical challenges that arose from trying to turn Indie content into marketable CDs and DVDs.

I loved this job, and I loved living 15 minutes away in my nearby hometown of Santa Cruz. When I was hired, I thought I was set for quite a while. Turns out the company was bought by Amazon, and shortly after I had been hired Amazon decided to move it to their headquarters in Seattle, Washington. They offered to transfer us goons with the company. Wait! No! Seattle lots of rain and cold damp weather Seattle 867 miles away from Santa Cruz Seattle where I knew no one. OK breathe…Seattle, where I would at least have a job. So I took the offer. But not before I resisted it any way I could: asking friends for opinions, hoping at least one would say “don’t go!” (they did the opposite); asking for ridiculous compensation from the company for making the move, hoping they would laugh (they agreed); asking my employment agency to quickly find me another cool job like this in Santa Cruz (you can guess the answer to that). So I packed up my scooter and everything I owned, said goodbye to my beach town apartment and friends, and make the trek to the Emerald City.

The PacMed building — former amazon.com headquarters.

Funny thing…as much as I resisted the move, this soon became the greatest adventure in my life up to that point. For the first year, my old workmates (who were moved with me) and I were stationed in a 1930’s former military hospital called PacMed. It was the former headquarters for Amazon, before their growth truly exploded and they moved into multiple new office buildings several miles away in South Lake Union (near downtown). We took over offices in PacMed once used by important corporate attorneys, with ceiling to floor windows and views of downtown Seattle. It was boss. It was also haunted. One night one of our coworkers was in her office, working late. The entire floor was empty — everyone had gone home. In the still quiet of the abandoned office, she suddenly heard a soft voice crying nearby. Trying to control her urge to run for the elevators, she peeked around the floor and saw no one. She never worked alone in that building again.

Seattle, despite its infamous (and accurate) weather reputation, was a beautiful and fun city to live in. I often rode my scooter in to work from Greenlake, which is north of downtown, and on clear mornings I would see the towering volcano Mt. Rainier looming behind the downtown skyline, like some snow-covered god. There were beautiful, forested parks that made you feel like you were in the woods instead of a big city. There were lakes. There were cool coffee shops — lots of them. And there was rain and cloudy skies a majority of the year. Being a California boy, this was tough to get used to, but I sorta did. In Santa Cruz I would hide my beautiful red Vespa scooter the moment it looked like rain was even a possibility. In Seattle, after the first few months, I would only park it if the puddles were deeper than my wheel hubs. Seattle was a beautiful, interesting city, but the weather was tough. And making close friends was even tougher. I became lonely.

Amazon headquarters in South Lake Union (from my office window).

After our first year, Amazon managers decided to move me and my team of fellow small town coworkers to the main core of new buildings in South Lake Union. We got broken up into several different teams, spread across different offices and floors. Worse, where we had been semi-insulated from the high pressure corporate world of Amazon by being secreted away in the PacMed building, we were now directly immersed in the world of “good is never good enough” and “great is only great until tomorrow”. Everyone was overworked and/or afraid that they would be squeezed out of a job because someone else had a better idea. It was stressful x10 but, at least at first, it was exhilarating and fun and challenging and you felt like you were part of something much bigger than yourself or even bigger than anything you’d ever imagined. I think I had been at Amazon only a year when there were already about 8,000 people hired after me. When we had company meetings we would need to rent out a freaking basketball stadium to fit everyone inside. Full size charter buses lined up by the dozen to transport us from our building clusters to the stadium. Among these thousands of Amazon employees, I became lost.

Rainbow over monastery in Big Sur (photo by Jer Conte).

Each year, to get away from the gray skies and orange crush of Amazon, I would fly back to California and travel through Big Sur. The raw beauty and endless ocean horizon of Big Sur began to mesmerize me, calling me back again and again. I found a small, isolated monastery in the mountains that was run by monks, and I would rent a room there for a quiet, peaceful week of solitude and nature hikes. Monks provided my meals and offered a chapel for prayer or meditating if I wished, and I provided my books and hiking sticks. This monastery, New Camaldoli Hermitage (the monks there are hermits), became a sanctuary from the faceless, heartless, corporate squeeze of Amazon. I decided I wanted to stay here, not as a monk but as a worker. For years I had dreamt of living in Big Sur, embraced by her nature and breathing the wild breath of the mountains, but I had not a clue how I would do it. Now I knew.

I became found.