From Equity to Awakening
My story of professional loss and finding my way in a changing industry
Hello! I’m Pat and Better by Design is my newsletter sharing insights into the business of creativity and innovation for pragmatic creators. If you’re new here, join our tribe!
In 2020, I faced a personal and professional upheaval: I lost my startup job and two-thirds of my equity as part of a downsizing strategy in preparation for acquisition.
While it was a turbulent time for everyone, I thought I was safe, but my belief in job security was, unfortunately, misguided. Despite my role in designing the critical core of the platform and having deep domain expertise, I learned a tough lesson about the expendability of employees. The harsh reality hit me: regardless of the value I had contributed, the company could go on without me.
When I got the surprise news, I struggled to hold back tears. My hard work and dedication seemed to vanish in an instant. In the weeks that followed, I found myself in an isolated daze, grappling with uncertainty and reevaluating the professional path I had believed was secure.
Losing this role was particularly disorienting. It had been an ideal combination of elements for a tech job: a robust product, a cohesive team, work-life balance, competitive compensation, and a mission I believed in. This loss wasn't just about the job; it felt like the foundation of my professional identity had been swept away.
I questioned everything I had strived for in my career. The realization that I had traded thousands of hours of my life and creative energy for a project where I had no real ownership was brutal and it forced me to wake up to a hard reality I had long ignored.
In the months following my departure, I went through a period of introspection and doubt, taking up a contract role to find my footing. Then, unexpectedly, the acquiring company reached out. They wanted me back, recognizing the value of my expertise for shaping their new product line.
Despite having mixed emotions about returning to a company that had cast me aside, I couldn't shake the feeling of unfinished business. Perhaps influenced by the instability of the COVID era, I was drawn to the familiarity of my previous role and hoped to get some closure on the unsettling last chapter of my career.
However, my return was met with the stark realization that the landscape had changed. The comfortable routine I once knew no longer existed in the post-acquisition context.
Professionally, the merger resulted in internal politics that hurt our workflow. This new phase, characterized by sluggishness and frustration, didn’t align with my preference for speed, experimentation, and progress which made the days feel like a grind.
On a personal level, the trust I once had in the company was irreparably damaged. No amount of reassuring words could negate the impact of their previous actions. This disconnect between past and present made it increasingly difficult to stay motivated, as I was haunted by the thought that history might repeat itself.
After spending a year in this state of professional limbo, I acknowledged the inevitable: I was never going to get the closure I sought within the confines of this company. It was time to move on and get a fresh start.
This journey, marked by loss and reevaluation, profoundly reshaped how I view work and life. The stark reality of my experience in the tech trenches opened my eyes to the illusion of security in corporate structures and the importance of creating space for myself where I have real autonomy and ownership.
As I’ve navigated this new terrain, I’ve tried to follow three core lessons:
Success, for me, is no longer defined by climbing the corporate ladder or accumulating company equity. It's about creating and owning my work, making a tangible impact on those around me, and pursuing my curiosity without the fear of redundancy. My aspiration now is to establish a career path where my creativity and skills aren’t just assigned a dollar value but rather add value for myself and others in my unique way. I’m still in the early days of charting this new path around my writing but the emerging opportunities are exciting!
Seek Autonomy & Ownership Over Security
The hard truth is that the sense of security in a corporate job is often a mirage. The experience of losing my job was a tough reminder that contributions to a company can be undervalued or overlooked in the face of broader business decisions. This realization pushed me to seek more than just job security – it urged me to pursue autonomy. While my next move was to take another full-time role, I made sure to make time every week to pursue my own projects. Eventually, that experimentation turned into this Substack, which has evolved into one of the most creatively fulfilling projects of my life.
Find a Blend of Passion and Pragmatism
Looking ahead, my approach to work is a balanced blend of passion and pragmatism. While the need to make money and the practicality of having a day job remain, my focus has shifted towards projects where I have significant creative control and ownership. This balance ensures financial stability while nurturing my entrepreneurial spirit. Thankfully, my decade in tech allowed me to build a financial base that gives me time to pursue this project without rushing to monetize. I believe in the foundation that I’m building and that if I stay the course and keep refining the money side of the equation will come together naturally.
As I step into a new phase of my career, I carry with me the lessons learned from this transformative period. The loss of my job wasn’t just a setback but a launchpad into a future where my worth isn't dictated by a title or compensation package. It's measured by the impact I can deliver and the joy it brings me. The journey hasn't been easy, but it has been instrumental in shaping a more fulfilling and self-determined path forward.
To those navigating similar situations, remember that change, though often uncomfortable, can lead to profound personal and professional growth. It’s in these moments of upheaval that we discover what truly matters and how we can redefine success on our own terms.
Until next time,