Hey there, it’s Will! 👋🏽 Welcome to Product Life — a weekly email about product strategy, career advice and frameworks for navigating life.
This week, I’m sharing a major life update with you all. It’s a personal story that I hope resonates with some of you. We’ll get back to product insights next week. ☺️
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The Bay Area had everything I could want: great weather, crazy-high salaries, a lot of young people and some of my best friends as roommates. Sometimes I would sit at Alamo Square Park (a block away from my house) and marvel at my luck.
Less than two years later, I’ve decided to leave the Bay Area. The pandemic taught me one thing: there’s so much more to life than your job.
“Duh.” You say.
Yes, I know it's a cliché. But here’s one thing I’ve learned: highly-ambitious people should prioritize relationships over their job. This is a path towards long-term personal success.
This is a story for all highly-ambitious professionals. The ones that move to San Francisco, New York, Toronto, London or Singapore for a job. The ones that want to spend their twenties and thirties building their careers before “settling down.” The ones that feel like they have something to prove, money to make and prestige to achieve.
I was like you. I learned that optimizing on the margins of your job has diminishing returns. After creating a career “floor” for yourself, your time can be better spent investing in relationships.
In this piece, I’ll share:
How continual investments in my career led to diminishing returns
Why achievement is not a reliable identity trait
How it felt taking a $40K salary cut to pursue a new path
I’ll share lessons along the way (and a summary at the bottom). But this is my story.
Climbing the Mountain
Immigrant parents, hustle culture and my own insecurities made getting the best job my number one goal.
This culminated in August 2018 with an offer for Facebook’s Rotational Product Manager program. I had climbed to one of the most prestigious companies globally, the most in-demand role I could imagine and the ability to learn while rotating through the company.
There was literally no higher spot that I could have imagined in my field.
There was one small blip: my girlfriend of 4 years wouldn’t be able to join me in San Francisco. She would have to stay in Vancouver, and we were in for a long bout of long-distance.
She was great — but Facebook RPM?? How could I turn it down?
I started at Facebook in July of 2019. It surpassed all of my expectations.
In February 2020, my girlfriend and I went to Hawaii to celebrate our fifth anniversary. Hawaii was incredible. But at the five-year mark, I started to think about the future.
Life in SF was good. I was loving work, had great friends and was in the best shape of my life (thanks to free food and a gym at work).
Thinking about my long-distance relationship brought me out of those good times. All I was experiencing was the obligation to call, the exhausting weekend trips to Vancouver and the ambiguity of not knowing when long-distance would end.
In many ways, I wanted more “me-time” to dive further into work and experience everything I could in SF.
I asked my girlfriend to take a break. Not to see other people, but for us to see if this is something we really wanted. I initially felt relief.
Quarter Life Crisis
I got back from Hawaii on March 6th, 2020. I took the red-eye and went straight from the airport to the office. I didn’t know it at the time, but this would be my last day on Facebook campus.
On March 7th, we were asked to start working from home. Something called coronavirus was starting to spread, and we could now work in our pyjama bottoms. It felt like a snow day.
What I thought would last a few weeks turned into months. I now had all the “me-time” in the world.
Still, something was missing. I couldn’t tell what it was. All I knew was that I was in a rut.
After talking to other highly-ambitious friends at a similar stage of life, I realize this is a common feeling. A quarter-life-crisis, if you will. A time to assess what’s wrong in your life and chart a path forward.
In my mind, three factors were contributing to my quarter-life-crisis:
More time, same results
I wanted “me-time” to reinvest time into my work. But as I invested more time, I realized I was hitting diminishing returns.
In university, investing 1 hour a week into my career work (ex. coffee chats, interview prep) yielded high returns to career growth. Now, investing an additional 5 hours into work yielded a lot less.
This stemmed from a simple idea: I was learning a ton at work! These learnings were coming at a fast-pace, and pouring more hours in seemed to waste time and burn me out.
In the right environment, smart people can stop putting more hours into work because they experience diminishing returns.
I found myself hitting this point.
The only priority
I had come to know myself as an achiever. Someone works incredibly hard, exceeds expectations and takes risks for big rewards. A pursuit of achievements became the basis of my identity.
With less need to invest aggressively in work, I was losing my sense of self. Questions like, Who am I and What do I really care about were causing me anxiety.
I was prioritizing work over everything. It was not because I needed more success or financial security, but because this was the only thing I had ever prioritized in the past.
My top priority has always been work. My mindset, habits, and goals are all optimizing for the best possible work outcome. This needed to change.
Achievement is a hamster wheel
Why was I prioritizing work? I learned it was tied to an obsession with achievement.
I was already successful in work. But there was always a path to “more success.” It would be to work harder, get a better job, feel happier (maybe). Rinse and repeat, again and again.
This way of living was less about personal growth and more about chasing the high. Less about climbing the mountain and defying the odds and more like running in a hamster wheel. Alone.
Is this what I wanted my life to be like?
No, it wasn’t. I knew I wanted to continue to have new, different experiences that allowed me to grow.
This rut told me something: the pursuit of individual achievement led me towards a life I didn’t want. This chapter of life — one that was about achieving only for myself — was nearing a close.
But this raises the question: what is the next chapter of life?
The Next Mountain is different
Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming, is broken into three sections:
Becoming Me, Becoming Us and Becoming More.
I finally understood it. The first mountain in my life was developing myself. Uncovering my values, my skill sets and my voice. Building my own life, complete with physical health, a job and financial security. Enjoying the individual pursuits that life has to offer.
Becoming Me is a lifelong process. But I had come to a point where I was comfortable with Me. I had built a life for myself and knew who I was. I had built a new foundation of understanding, experiences and stability. From this new “basecamp” I could explore new mountains.
The next phase of my life, I now understand, will be centred on relationships. Not just romantic, but friends, teammates and family.
From a selfish lens, spending time cultivating relationships can look like they take away from “me-time.” It's as if building relationships is taking you away from self-actualization.
But I’ve now come to appreciate the very opposite. Great relationships create new opportunities that are hard to unlock by yourself. Backpacking trips, launching a startup and starting a family are easier when you have built strong relationships.
The next mountain will not be a continuation of my personal pursuits. It will be the pursuit of us — of building relationships that create life-changing opportunities.
Across the Pond
After realizing the mistake I’d made with my partner, I asked her if she wanted to get back together. In our time apart, she’d taken parallel steps in her mind to arrive at a similar place as me. We decided that we were going to start prioritizing each other over work.
My girlfriend had decided that she wanted to pursue a Masters's degree. Given her econometrics field, London was the spot with the best universities that didn’t require an arm and a leg for tuition. Fortunately, London was also a place where Facebook had a big presence.
By December of 2020, the RPM program at Facebook would end. My cohort and I would be “free-agents” who could find a spot within the company to land permanently. It was a great opportunity for a switch.
With a clear mind and a natural break in my role, I pursued a team in Facebook London.
After a few months, I found an incredible fit with the Audience Network team. Their charter is to help 3rd party app developers (ex. indie games, recipe apps) make money with in-app ads. As a creator myself (with this newsletter and an online course), I loved the mission and was excited by the challenge.
It became real when I saw my new contract a few weeks ago. This move would involve taking a $40K salary cut. Part of me cringed — wasn’t career growth about increasing your salary?
But after nearly a year of reflection, I know London is the right decision. Choosing to invest in my relationship has allowed me to get out of my rut and look forward to new life milestones. This is a long-term bet that choosing to build a strong relationship will help me grow and seize new opportunities that weren’t previously available to me. And I’m confident that bet will pan out. ☺️
I’m happy to share that I arrive in London on Saturday. My girlfriend will arrive in the summer.
I’m moving to London to prioritize my relationship. I don’t see it as a sacrifice. I see it as an opportunity to climb a new mountain with my best friend. Here are some takeaways as you explore your own next play:
Relationships create opportunities, not detract from them: relationships open new mountains to climb - personally, professionally and romantically. Be aware of these when deciding on your priorities.
Achievement is a hamster wheel: there will always be more to achieve. Know when to shift priorities to other parts of your life.
Update your mindset at major milestones: my mentality held me back from setting new priorities and making progress. Use natural breaks in life to reassess what’s important. These can be as small as a project ending at work to a major geographical move.
Diminishing returns can cause a rut: if you feel like you’re not making progress, it may be time to diversify your investments. Try to identify the next mountain to climb and start your journey.
Thank you for reading. This was a really personal piece, and I was a little embarrassed to share it. Can you relate to this journey? I’d love to hear from you.
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