I am an ex-Googler.
Those who know me will likely be very surprised about the “ex” part of that sentence. As a marketer, I’ve loved Google for over a decade. When I began working there last year, I made no secret of how privileged I felt to be a part of a company that was redefining digital marketing and on the forefront of redefining how people work. Google is literally changing the world as we know it, and I was living my dream of working there.
But my decision to leave Google, incredibly difficult as it was, was absolutely the right decision for me to make. I know this because I came to realize I was working for a company I loved in a role that was not making me happy.
This isn’t something I could have anticipated when I first saw the “Account Executive” role posted on Google’s website in early 2015. In fact, I remember thinking, “this role is perfect for me!” Although I’m a marketer and the job was clearly a sales role, the responsibilities outlined seemed to place more focus on strategic thinking, building relationships, and finding solutions than on “meeting quota”. My career has been full of interesting pivots — moving from one industry to another, from one company size to another, from one job function to another — and I’ve always found the thrill of adapting to a new environment and learning a new set of skills exhilarating. Would moving into a “sales role” be any different?
As I was interviewing, I was upfront about the fact that my background didn’t include any traditional sales experience, but my interviewers told me that wasn’t what they wanted. They were looking for a strong, strategic marketer who had been “on the other side of the table and who understands how the media decisions are made.” “That’s me,” I thought. I fit that description, and knew I could be a valuable contributor to the team. Google seemed to agree; they offered me the position, and I began my life as a Googler in June 2015.
The learning curve at Google is very steep; every Googler acknowledges it, and nobody makes any apologies for it. The type of people that Google hires are all really smart and intellectually curious, and they’re used to figuring things out on their own. So when people ask you in your first few months how things are going and you say things like, “It’s fantastic, but I feel overwhelmed” or, “It’s incredible, but I feel like I’m drinking from a fire hose”, people smile broadly, nod their heads enthusiastically, and tell you that the feeling is completely normal and that every new Googler would be able to relate. They tell you not to worry, and that things will start to feel better in a few months.
So I decided not to worry. Instead, I redoubled my efforts to understand all of Google’s products and how marketers could use them to achieve their objectives. I continued to meet with my clients to determine how I could might help them, and continued building strong relationships with my brilliant colleagues and global counterparts to benefit from their ideas and best practices. I embraced the breakneck speed at which Google operated, a very different pace from what I was used to at previous companies but one that proved both empowering and exhilarating.
But something was still missing. Something still felt wrong.
I’ve been a high-performer my entire life, and I was used to climbing steep learning curves rapidly. This feeling of inadequacy after several months on the job wasn’t something to which I was accustomed, and it certainly wasn’t something I was prepared to accept. So I increased my efforts further, and reached out for help. I had a candid conversation with my manager about what I was feeling and what I wanted to do about it, and together we put a plan in place to help me become more comfortable in my role. I set aside more dedicated time for training. I connected with various Googlers to get their advice on how to succeed in the role, and implemented their suggestions whenever I could. I booked more meetings with clients to try and uncover additional opportunities to help. I even began working with an Executive Coach, an investment I made personally, to better understand myself and what I needed to do to succeed.
But in the end, it was my newborn daughter that helped me realize the problem.
My wife and I welcomed our daughter Charlotte to the family in early February, and my manager strongly encouraged me to take advantage of Google’s generous paternity-leave benefit. I had mixed feelings about taking this time, but my manager reminded me I’d never be able to get those first few weeks with my daughter back later on, and she was right. So I took four weeks of paternity leave to spend time with Charlotte and her two older siblings.
The New York Post recently published an article about author Meghann Foye’s concept of a “meternity leave”, which she defines as, “a sabbatical-like break that allows women and, to a lesser degree, men to shift their focus to the part of their lives that doesn’t revolve around their jobs.” As a parent, I don’t love the author’s comparison to a maternity leave, but I can absolutely vouch for the benefits of taking time for yourself to reevaluate your life’s priorities. That’s what I was able to do while holding my daughter each day over those four weeks, thinking about everything that made me happy and everything that didn’t.
And I realized that what didn’t make me happy was my work.
I loved Google. I loved the company’s mission and culture. I loved the fact that I was surrounded by smart, passionate people. I loved the way the company treated its people, not only from a compensation and benefits perspective, but also from a trust, information, and respect standpoint. I loved Google. I love Google. But I came to realize that I simply wasn’t in the right role.
I’m a marketer, not a salesperson. I have passion and skill for building brands over the long-term, not for building sales figures for the quarter. And while I have the utmost respect for both salespeople and agency partners, I don’t truly belong to either group. Attempting to be what I was not (and what I had no desire to be) was an assault on my authentic self, and the root of my unhappiness.
Steve Jobs said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it, keep looking. Don’t settle.” I wasn’t unhappy because I was struggling, I was struggling because I was unhappy. And there was an obvious way to solve that problem.
When I returned from my paternity leave, I had a candid conversation with my manager, and outlined exactly why I felt I was in the wrong role. I finished by saying that I’d love to stay with Google if a more suitable role were available for me, but that otherwise I’d like to explore the option of an amicable separation. My manager was very understanding; she fully supported me as I explored other options within the company, and when I determined the right role wasn’t available, worked with me to implement a smooth exit plan.
When I announced my news to my colleagues, the response was heart-warming. Many wrote to tell me they were impressed by my level of self-awareness, and by my courage in making the change I needed to make. My favourite quote among all the wonderful emails I received read as follows: “If what you’re doing doesn’t make your heart sing, your time is too precious to slog it out — especially when three little ones are looking up to you, learning how to live their lives from your example.”
Do I sometimes wonder if I made the right decision, leaving a renowned organization like Google without having something better waiting for me? Of course I do. (Coincidentally, this usually happens around the time I’m making myself a sandwich for lunch, while wondering if Prime Rib was on the menu that day in the Google cafe.)
But then I think about how many hours the average person will spend at work during their lifetime, and how terrible it would be to do something every day that you didn’t love. I remind myself that I didn’t really leave Google, I left a role that did not make me happy.
And most importantly, I remember I have three young children who will look for me to set an example, and that I’d like to teach them to be self-aware enough to know what they love to do, and courageous enough to pursue those passions.
At that point I stop wondering if I made the right decision, and continue eating my sandwich with a smile.
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David Pullara is a Chief Marketing Officer, writer, speaker, consultant, and course facilitator for the Schulich Executive Education Center. His career has included roles at Starbucks, Yum! Brands (Pizza Hut), Coca-Cola, and Google. You can read his thoughts on Medium, LinkedIn, and Twitter.