Setting Up Base Camp: A History Lesson

Before I start the whole blog thing, I think it’s important to share some history in order to ground all my readers on some past and present events in my life. I think this knowledge will help form a solid starting point for the blog going forward. If you’ve read the About Me page or my initial Welcome post, you already know I’m using this site as a place to write and share my travel experiences. You may also know that I plan on traveling around the world for five months beginning in the middle of June (I think the post with my itinerary gave that away). To put a little context around that five month trip and why I’m doing it, let’s start with the present and work backwards….

I am a single, 31 year old regular joe schmo guy who happens to also be unemployed and living with my parents (both of my own volition and the reason I have five months of free time to travel). Before you start thinking I’m some lazy deadbeat loser or the lazy deadbeat loser son of some wealthy business mogul, let me add that I have: a masters degree, ten years work experience, I own a struggling internet start-up that’s all but dead, and neither I nor my parents (who are retired) are remotely close to being considered wealthy. And yet I have the resources to make planning a five month trip around the world reality.

Confused yet? Let’s take a look back in time to help explain my current situation….

On February 23, 2012 I walked into my performance review and quit my job at a Fortune 100 pharmaceutical company (although I worked on the nutrition side and our baby formula products). There wasn’t a new job or a new company waiting for me. I was burnt out and felt like my life in general had stagnated. I know everyone hates their job and feels disillusioned from time to time but this was different. You see, I had decided to leave my company two-and-a-half years earlier. Think about that for a moment. For over two years I had been working a job for a company that I no longer really cared about – other than the fact that I got paid. I had finally decided to make a change and get out of the rut I was stuck in, even if it was somewhat drastic. Some of you reading this are probably thinking I did this to myself, that I should have left long before February 23, 2012 if I was oh so unhappy. But you see, it’s more complicated than you think.

In the fall of 2008 I absolutely loved my life. I lived just outside Boston, MA – a city I loved unconditionally and still consider my second home to this day. I had just finished my first term of business school at Duke University (it was an executive program so I was able to live and work in Boston while attending classes both at Duke and via the internet). I had a great group of friends, roommates, and co-workers. I was able to travel around the US and the world regularly for work, school, and vacation. And, while it had changed and I had been in the same position for almost four years, I enjoyed my job as a sales analyst and supporting the sales region that was based out of the area.

All it took was one phone call for everything to change. My new manager was based out of our home office in Columbus, OH (all part of the changes that had recently occurred) and he called me with an interesting proposition – he had gained approval to create a new position and he wanted to know if I was interested in interviewing for it. The only catch? The position would be based in Columbus. By December I had been formally offered the position and I had accepted. If I absolutely loved my life in Boston, why would I even consider leaving? Well, let’s dig a little deeper….

I graduated from The Ohio State University in 2002 with no real clue as to what I wanted to do with my newly minted business degree. All I did know is that I didn’t want to move back home to Atlanta, GA and live with my parents while I looked for a job (kind of ironic considering my current situation, eh?). I enjoyed my independence and I had a paid internship that would last for another 8 months. Fast forward to 2004. I held a contract position with the Pharma company as an analyst in the Marketing department. After being exposed to Marketing and product management, I decided brand management was what I wanted to do with my life. I interviewed for an associate brand manager position in my group, but I was not offered the position in part because I didn’t have an MBA or enough experience (hence why I would later got to business school).

So, going back to the original question – why would I leave a life I absolutely loved in Boston for a new position in Columbus, OH? Well I went to college in Columbus and still had quite a few friends in the area, plus the new position was in Marketing and provided a path for me to move into a brand management role that I had long coveted. It seemed like a great opportunity, I could move closer to college friends, tailgate and go to Ohio State football games in the fall (don’t laugh, our tailgate is kind of a big deal in those parts), and I could continue to pursue my dream career.

What seemed good in theory ended up being a disaster. While being around my college friends and being in Columbus during football season was awesome, football season only lasts three months and it only took about six months for me to decide I wanted to leave my job. That’s right, six months into my supposed dream job I was ready to jump ship and start over. How did it get to that point so quickly?

Like anything in life, it’s complicated. I was homesick for Boston, the exposure I gained to other people and their careers while at Duke made me realize there might be other things I would like to pursue besides brand management, I came to the realization that I didn’t want sell baby formula the rest of my life, and, due to circumstances outside of anyone’s control, I didn’t think I was being given a fair chance to succeed at my new position (and the door to a brand management position was slammed shut for various reasons six months later). Add it all up and I didn’t see the point in staying someplace where I didn’t see myself having a future.

So, why did it take two-and-a-half years for me to finally leave (especially since I wasn’t going to get that dream Marketing job)? I could write another couple pages on that topic, but I’ll spare you the details and say there were two main reasons. First, my company paid for me to relocate from Boston to Columbus, and I would have to pay them back if I left within two years (which means I couldn’t leave for free until the beginning of 2011). Second, a friend and I decided to start our own business during the summer of 2010. That business would be located in Columbus, OH with a target launch date of September 1, 2011. So, once I didn’t have to worry about repaying my relocation expenses we were only 6-9 months away from our anticipated launch date.

I did look, and on occasion interviewed, for a new position, but thanks to the Great Recession I never found anything that I thought would be worth either the financial penalty of paying back my relocation expenses or giving up a relatively easy job that allowed me to focus on starting my company. With that in mind I had decided that my company would be my ticket out by early 2011. We had a great concept, had some very talented people working with us, and we had enough connections in the Columbus area to make the company a success (for proprietary reasons I won’t detail what the concept is, but it has some pretty good potential to become successful at least regionally).

However, if you couldn’t guess from the second paragraph of this post, we missed that September 1 launch date and we aren’t much closer to launching today. There are a variety of reasons we haven’t been able to get off the ground, but the root cause has been a lack of IT programmers and an over confidence that we could launch our product while short staffed. This over confidence coupled with the missed launch date has caused our finances to drain away (which tends to happen when you anticipate covering pre launch expenses with future revenues that fail to materialize). Anyway, as it became clear that we weren’t going to be able to pay for additional staff or programming help, I began to realize that I couldn’t wait for my company’s launch to save me from my stalled out Pharma career.

In early January I used Duke’s alumni resources to work with a career counselor on updating my resume, developing job search strategies, and coming up with a plan for where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do. I broached the subject of quitting my job and traveling around the world, and my counselor assured me that personal sabbaticals weren’t completely uncommon these days – although there were still risks to consider. As the date for my performance review neared I realized it was the day before I would have quit if my company had successfully launched. Since I had the money saved up to quit anyway it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take a break (think about it – I segued straight from business school to starting my own company, which means I’d been essentially working two full time jobs for almost four years), do some traveling, and start fresh in a new city with a new career when I returned.

And that folks is the long way of explaining how I became a 31 year old regular joe schmo who happens to be unemployed. Since this post is already quite long, and most people have probably fallen asleep while reading this, I’ll save explaining the whole living with my parents thing and why I decided to travel for five months for next time.

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