I was hired at Apple in the spring of 1999. Later I would joke that I got the job when they were hiring anyone with a pulse, but that doesn't give me much credit. I didn't have much directly applicable experience, but I was not without skills and I'm grateful for the management team who recognized them and took a chance on me. When I interviewed for the Apple job I was working at a small law firm where I had been for three years and had advanced as far as I was likely to get without pursuing a law degree. I was bored. I loved the firm and I loved the other staff but I needed more challenge. A good friend worked as a software tester at Apple and one day when I was grumbling about my going-nowhere job he challenged me to send him my resume.
I have always been an Mac user. By which I mean I never learned how to use Windows (until, ironically, I was testing Apple devices on a Windows machine while working at Apple years later). In retrospect I can see that could have been a very career-limiting deficiency, but somehow I had always lucked into jobs in offices that used Macs or simple-enough dedicated systems that I didn't need any other skills. So the idea of working at Apple was somewhat of a dream, but not one I'd ever put any energy into pursuing because it seemed so terribly far-fetched. Until they called and wanted to meet me. Even after the interview I was sure I was such a long shot that I bleached my hair and then dyed it fire-engine red, thinking I'd never hear from them again. And then they called for a second interview. Luckily Apple is not a company that cares much about the color of one's hair.
I doubled my salary that year and thought that this was going to be a fun interlude until I went back to my real life. I'd earn a bit of money, save up a down payment for a house, then go back to being a starving artist. Each year I said, "Just one more year," but each year there were new and interesting projects, promotions and new positions that challenged and engaged me. At about year eight I had a conversation with my then manager about where I was going with my career, what my goals were, and what engaged me. And I realized I had somehow fallen into a career. I had moved from software testing to management, QA management to project management, and then built up a team from scratch and was responsible for shepherding 20 or more projects running concurrently. I was disclosed on projects running years into the future and was balanced in the perfect spot of seeing the big picture of the company's direction and being hands-on with engineers writing out lines of code. I loved project management. I saw it as my mission to get all the details taken care of so the people doing the hard work could do the hard work. My mantra was, "how can this be easier?" and I loved being able to sit down with engineers and other managers and say, "How can I help you today?" I couldn't write code but I could keep track of details, make lists and send reminders. I could listen to someone feeling frustrated and figure out what needed to shift to let them get back in motion. I could get the right people in the room to work out a problem and then hold the door shut on the rest of the world for them until they nailed it. I loved it. I was so excited to get up and go to work every day.
But at some point, things started to slip sideways. I'm not even really sure what it was or where it began. I don't seem to be able to talk about it, still, without sounding like I got sour grapes. But suffice it to say that at some point I realized that I wasn't saying, "Just one more year," and I was no longer excited to go to work every day. In fact, I had begun to dread it.
In the days following Steve Job's death I saw this quote a number of times, excerpted from the Stanford commencement address he gave in 2005:
You 've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it.
I left Apple in June of 2010. There was no longer room for the work I was best at and the work that remained wasn't a good fit for me. The days were too long and the work too hard to continue when I was no longer in love. There is some irony in the fact that following Steve's good advice lead me to leave the company that he loved so much. But that was his great work, and no longer mine.
I'm still not entirely sure what the work is that I love. I know that I loved being a manager and supporting my team through hard transitions, through growth and into new heights. I loved being of service, being able and willing to say "How can I help you today?" and then really listening to the answer. I know I love to write, and I love the power of communication to connect people, to change minds, to tell stories. I love working with brilliant, passionate people. I love making things by hand and I love how teaching others to make things empowers them in so many ways beyond the making of the thing itself. I love food and the growing and sharing of it. I am fascinated by language and the ways we use it. I love learning, and I am learning that I love mothering.
Maybe someday I will train as a life coach, work as a management consultant or train people to be better leaders. But for now I am putting more of my writing out into the world and soon my words will be showing up in new places and on new topics. And I am mothering this small being who has been entrusted to me. Just now that feels like all the great work I need to be doing.