Me at the Google Munich office, 2015
Over the years, many have asked me why / how I quit my job at Google and why / how I returned. Here's the story.
I've always been the type of person who struggles to make big decisions. Often, I let the Universe (or life's course) make them for me but I've gotten better at taking command of my own life in recent years. This was not the case in 2017 when I left Google and California. By the spring, I knew I had to make a change. I was living in San Francisco by myself, really far from my family and my boyfriend. He and I started dating long distance in 2016 and things got serious so he is a big reason why I wanted to move back to my hometown Chicago. Not to mention, I was pretty lonely out there. And last but not least, I wasn't thrilled by the work I was doing at Google.
When I got hired at Google and moved to California in 2015, I was starry eyed. I'd been a graphic designer since 2008 and Google was my "dream job." While Google continues to be an amazing company to work for with awesome perks and benefits, I realized that the actual work was just that – work. I wasn't excited about it and ultimately felt that Google was just another job at another big company (as far as the work itself goes). This was a hard pill to swallow because I needed Google to be everything. I had left my whole life in Chicago for this job and quitting seemed like a failure.
Me with the Marshmallow statue, Google campus in Mountain View, 2015
2016 was a tough year. On a personal level, I was reeling from the end of a decade long relationship. I hadn't been single since I was 20 and I certainly wasn't used to living alone in a new city with only my feelings to keep me company. I started working on myself in therapy and pouring any extra brain power into my job at Google. At one point, I was working toward a promotion and had 5 projects I was working on. I used to take the earliest bus to avoid traffic, which put me at my desk in Mountain View by 6:30am. I was addicted to the rush of working and it kept the bad feelings I had about myself at bay.
I started to realize the dream job wasn't working out when I started blogging. I started in early 2017 as a creative outlet. The long hours at work were really starting to get to me and I was beginning to feel like I didn't have much to offer the world outside of my day job. Around that time, I started vintage hunting and dressing in wild clothes (which really made me stand out in a sea of super cool SF hipsters who only wore black or minimal color). I got a thrill out of putting together outfits that made people stare. I even picked up a watercolor paint set and started painting just for fun. I did all of this to distract me from the suffocating feeling I felt at my desk from 9-5. For months, I couldn't admit to myself that I wasn't into the job.
Me in a funky outfit for my fashion blog, August 2017
I finally got curious enough to ask Google to transfer me to the Chicago office, but they would not (for a plethora of reasons that I won't list here). This left me at what felt like an impossible crossroads. I could choose to stay, live in California and do a long-distance relationship. I could continue to climb a very neatly packaged, difficult, and expected corporate ladder. Or...I could quit, pack my bags and go back to the city that's always felt like home and to the people I missed so dearly. The latter option was rife with uncertainty because I wouldn't get a new job right away. If I really ended up quitting, I wanted some free time to unwind and recharge from the intensity I'd put myself through in Silicon Valley.
I decided to quit.
When I got back to Chicago, I had no plan, other than the fact that I felt creatively suffocated. I wanted to release my creative energy so I bought a ton of art supplies at Blick and started painting random things in a sketchbook. I didn't have a job anymore (and didn't plan to get one for awhile) so I slept late, went on walks, did all the things that one can do during the day with no restraints. This was also very hard on me. I was living off savings, which gave me anxiety. I had no plan for my days, which also gave me anxiety. I remember early on, I ate a giant bag of Ruffles for dinner. I started to feel worthless.
To give me something to do, I picked up a graphic design freelance gig in January 2018. I also helped a friend with a tech project that he needed UX design for. I continued to write blog posts with the intention of making my blog a full-time thing. I continued this way through the spring of 2018, ultimately got let go from the freelance gig (which was fine by me because it sucked) and was back to empty days with no plan. This brought me to the 100 Day Project in early April 2018. I decided to paint one 8x8 canvas board per day and see where it went. I really enjoyed doing the paintings and I started to share them on my newly created Ponnopozz Instagram account. To top it off, people liked them as well! It was a tremendous amount of validation. Because of this, I picked up some larger canvases (16x20, 30x40) and started painting those. I didn't really know if they'd sell or what I'd do with them, but I knew I had to paint them and just keep going.
One of the 8x8 paintings I did
By the summer of 2018, I had 100 small paintings complete, plus several mid sized ones. People were starting to slowly take notice and I felt Ponnopozz could maybe be heading in a good direction. Around this time, my old boss at Google and I re-connected over email. I asked him if he needed a remote, Chicago-based freelancer. To my complete shock, he did! By August, I was re-hired at Google on a contract basis.
You're probably wondering why I went back. The answer, for me, is balance. When I worked at Google full-time, I gave them 100% and had no time for my own passions. When I quit and worked on art 100%, I was anxious about money and had no structure to my days. So I decided to go back to Google and also do art – now I'm at 50/50.
And that's where I am today. I work full time at Google again (lol, yes, they converted me from a contractor back to full time in August 2019) and I also run Ponnopozz. The balance for me is ideal. The money from my salary allows me to pay my store's rent and pursue other creative endeavors. I do wonder how Ponnopozz would be doing if I dedicated 100% of my energy to it vs. just 50% but at this time, the balance is more important to me than the stress of running a small business during uncertain times. So, I do both.
Photo by Amy Lynn Photos, on Ponnopozz store's opening day, 2019
There are days when my day job is busy and I can't work on Ponnopozz. Those days are tough. But...I remind myself that there will always be something about my life that I don't like, even if I worked Ponnoppozz full-time. I think about the good things Google does provide me, and then I always feel better.
I've learned that it's OK to have a day job and a passion project. A lot of great creatives have income coming from other jobs so I'm certainly not alone. It took a bit for me to realize this and be okay with it but once I did, a weight was lifted off my shoulders.
I'm not sure when I'll take the full leap. Maybe I never will but I aspire to. Only time will tell.
Wow I feel like you’re writing about me. I’m a UX designer at one of Google’s “Bets” and while I haven’t been here more than a year, I am already looking for an exit route. I mean, this was my dream job and it’s sad to realize it’s not how I had hoped (for reasons pretty identical to what you described). But… definitely feeling the hesitation and anxiety about making that leap from “employed with stable income and great insurance” to “absolutely nothing”. How did you do that part? Was there anything you leaned on to help make that choice easier?
After establishing yourself as an artist, you found an happy balance by becoming a freelancer/contractor. How did you get into that relationship with your former employer? Were there any obstacles or learning curves to setting yourself up to juggle both?
Thank you for writing this honest, relatable post, Adrianne. I came to your site via Pinterest on a whim, and have loved reading your true journey navigating and balancing Ponnopozz and all it means on a soul-level, with the need for structure and consistent income. I have a part-time public relations contract with my community college that includes a lot of creative license, but there are so many days I want to quit and do my own art/writing/coaching full-time. Like you, my “other job” gives me structure, which frankly helps me with my mental health, even though the wide open days to create everything from scratch on my own terms is always calling me. Thanks again for sharing where you truly are. I am inspired and cheering for you!