Two years ago, my decision to leave Intel released a large amount of my energy that I had dedicated to it for over three decades. This gush of energy sought its new level not unlike water that is suddenly released into unchartered terrain. I looked forward to applying the resulting increase in freedom and I was also aware of the immense self-accountability that came with it. It was then that I wrote my first blog entitled “Beyond first career“. In it, I mentioned the book “Portfolio Life” by David D. Corbett which influenced me early in my new journey. The book highlights Nancy Bailey Miller’s quote – “A job no longer defines who I am. Rather who I am seems to be defining the jobs I do.” I aspired to feel, not just understand her sentiment.
Well, I am not clear on who I am. But do I need to be? Perhaps it is less important to understand who I am before I decide how I spend my time, and more important to take the next natural step and be present in it. If I pay attention to my footsteps and watch where I go, I hope to be clearer on who I am, as I go.
So what is a natural step? How does one recognize it? The challenge in those questions is what makes life interesting. But it is fair to say that the step comes naturally to one and is unique to everyone. The decision algorithm is fueled by our own unique combination of values, capabilities, constraints and opportunities.
For me, there has been a shift away from getting ahead and wealth building. While I don’t shy away from recognition and wealth building opportunities, there is a significant reduction in intensity of motivations caused by such factors. More excitement and more freedom are the driving values for me.
Excitement comes to me in the form of an impactful mission, a clear pathway for my contribution towards the mission, new learning along the way, and professional teammates who share a common desire to get things done. Many times during my Intel career, all these ingredients came together to produce exciting runs. Each run was a pursuit of excellence enabled by its impactful mission, an empowered role, loads of learning and excellent team players. I know what excitement is like. I just want more of it.
Freedom is in feeling more accountable to myself for my commitments than to anyone else, with no one else trying to convince me otherwise. Freedom is in arranging my life in a diversified portfolio of energy streams. Freedom is in navigating the relative fluctuations in the demands of these streams. The portfolio lives, ever-changing and ever-evolving. In the last two years, my portfolio has taken its current shape through various twists and turns of happenstances and the exercise of my own decision algorithm.
A few months into the journey, I found myself in the midst of a few colleagues from Intel discussing a venture that could provide disruptive value to healthcare using our collective expertise and experience in high technology. Before long I found myself co-founding and investing dollars and sweat into the venture. Before then, I had never worked in an early stage startup. New learning came through a firehose. Excitement was abundant. So was freedom to make decisions at lightning speeds. My professional network expanded to include respectable and interesting personalities in both healthcare as well as in high technology. We have had our ups and downs. We have had our eureka moments and we have experienced walking in the valley of death. It is satisfying to note that two years into it, our momentum is pointing upwards showing promise of more excitement and more freedom in our future.
In my role on the board of the Children’s Cancer Therapy Development Institute, I have seen the transformation of an old Beaverton warehouse to a wonderland of research labs that it is today. These labs are roaring on all engines, skillfully operated by distinguished researchers under Charles Keller, MD, the scientific director. cc-TDI is a non-profit enterprise on a mission to make childhood cancer universally survivable by accelerating the translation of scientific discovery into clinical trials. I hope to write a more detailed blog on this transformation down the road. Dr. Keller’s multi-dimensional and multi-disciplinary team is engaged in discoveries, and engineering the early lives of these discoveries to hasten the benefits to our children.
Another board position and a consulting appointment at a semiconductor company allows me to apply my semiconductor experience to help in the success of its mission. The company is run by experts in a specialized technology that promises to enable the forward path of the digital revolution by moving data at unprecedented speeds and efficiencies. I joined them not only for their hunger for my experience, but because they are capable entrepreneurs who teach me something new every day.
My passion for mentoring individuals plays out on my Reach-For-Infinity platform with personalized career coaching for a few clients. The satisfaction that comes from this is deep and meaningful. I have always been a good mentor as a manager, but this is the first time I found myself mentoring from the side and without existing understanding of the workplace of my mentees. What I learned from my experience in this area is that my customized coaching style is not scalable. To limit the concentration of my portfolio, I limit the number of active mentees to two.
There are many other energy streams in my life. I listen to new entrepreneurial ideas on a monthly basis to make angel investment decisions. I have learned that while it is an exciting activity, there is nothing angelic about it. I am a more involved witness in the lives of my family members. I hang out electronically with a global network of my college friends who share their life learning and diverse experiences on a daily basis. I am reading more and spending more time visiting people and places I care about.
Having observed my footsteps in the last two years, am I clearer on who I am? Well, all I know is that I am enjoying this journey, its freedom and its excitement. I like the diversity of my portfolio. I navigate life with a far less rigid plan than what I was used to at Intel. I find many off-plan opportunities that provide rewarding upsides.
Robert Noyce said “Don’t be encumbered by history. Go off and do something wonderful.” Today I get to define what that wonderful is, with my own values, capabilities, constraints and opportunities.