In this week’s Career Relaunch episode, David Pullara explains why he decided to leave his job at Google and instead focus his energies on his family and a few passion projects. We discuss respecting your authentic self and pursuing projects that feed your true interests. During today’s Mental Fuel segment, I described what happened when I decided to pursue a couple of my own side interests.
Key Career Insights
- Your authentic self is who you are, how you enjoy spending your time, and comes to life when you’re doing work you enjoy. If you’re working hard at something you love, it doesn’t feel like work.
- Walking away from a reputable organization is never easy, but if your work there isn’t allowing you to be your best self, there’s nothing wrong with moving on.
- Exploring your personal interests doesn’t mean you have to necessarily transform those interests into a career per se. Simply giving yourself permission to pursue some side interests allows you to feed your soul, live authentically, and uncover some surprising opportunities along the way.
Tweetables to Share
- David wrote this blog post, Why I Left Google where he explained why he decided to leave his job at Google behind. If you’ve ever struggled with leaving your job behind, I’d highly recommend checking it out!
During this episode’s Mental Fuel segment, I talked about the importance of giving yourself permission to pursue one of your side interests. What’s one small, concrete step you will commit to taking today to finally get moving’ on that side interest or project you’ve been toying with for so long? I’d love to hear what you plan to do in the comments below.
About David Pullara
David Pullara is a senior business leader with over 16 years of marketing experience working for consumer centric, global companies including Starbucks, Yum! Brands, Coca-Cola, and most recently Google. As someone who strongly believes in the importance of mentorship, he serves as a Director for the American Marketing Association’s Mentor Exchange Advisory Board. He actively meets with young business leaders through the Ten Thousand Coffees initiative, and he’s currently co-authoring a book on mentorship scheduled to be published in late 2017. You can follow David on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
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Episode Interview Transcript
Teaser (first ~15s): Fundamentally, your authentic self, your core beliefs, what you really love to do, that’s just part of who you are. I think that if you try to do something that goes against that, you’re going to be unhappy.
Joseph: David, thanks so much for joining us today here on Career Relaunch. I’m really excited to hear more about your transition. I know you’ve got a really interesting story, but I’d love to start off by just hearing a little bit more about what you’re up to right now.
David: Thanks, Joseph. Thanks for having me. What I’m up to right now, I’m actually taking the opportunity to pursue a whole bunch of different opportunities, some passion projects that I’ve wanted to do for a while, and it’s really tough to do when you’re working full-time.
For example, I’ve been working on a book for quite some time with a co-author, and now I have some time to actually focus a little bit on that. I’m going to be teaching a course at my alma mater, the Schulich School of Business, on retail marketing starting in January. I’m able to do a lot of the prep work I need to do in order to be prepared for that. Last week, I had the opportunity to judge the Canadian Marketing Association Awards, to act as a judge on that panel. It’s pretty time-intensive but something that I have time to do now.
Joseph: Very cool. You sound like a very busy guy right now. Some people may know what a passion project is. For those listeners who aren’t familiar with that term ‘passion project,’ how do you define a passion project for yourself?
David: When I had direct reports, I would always ask them, if you won the lottery tomorrow, what would you do with your time? I think that’s a really revealing question about what actually makes people happy. The way I always answer that question is, if I won the lottery tomorrow and I didn’t have to work anymore, I would spend time teaching, and I would spend time writing. I might do a little bit of traveling, but teaching and writing would be my passion project.
Right now, I’m actually getting the chance to do that. I don’t have the luxury of having won the lottery, but I’m getting the chance to do some writing and to prepare to do some teaching. That’s how I would define a passion project – what would you do if money weren’t the primary motivator?
Joseph: Could you tell us a little bit about your life before when you’re at Google and what you’re up to before this point?
David: I was working at Google. Google is an extraordinary organization. I was in a sales role, and I’m not a sales guy. I’m a marketer. Throughout my career, I’ve had the privilege of working for a lot of really great companies. I worked for Starbucks, I worked for Yum! Brands, I worked for Coca-Cola in various marketing capacities. I love marketing. I love the consumer. I love understanding the consumer and what they need. I love building brands.
The role that I was in didn’t allow me to do a lot of that. I joined Google because it’s Google. It’s a fantastic organization. Everything I read about it, it’s true. The people are all brilliant, but fundamentally, I just wasn’t doing what I love to do. Frankly, I wasn’t that good at it. That was just becoming really clear to me and the fact that I wasn’t happy. You should be happy when you’re working for an organization like Google.
Joseph: You mentioned that you felt like you weren’t good at sales. Was there anything else that convinced you that that was the case?
David: The expectations from a sales person are that you’re meeting your quota first and foremost. My colleagues, they come into the office, and they say things like, ‘Hey, we just got an extra X thousand dollars of revenue,’ and they get really excited about that. When I was able to do that, that’s not what excited me. What excited me is when I worked with my client, and they had a big problem, and we were able to solve the problem. That was the win for me. I would celebrate that win as, ‘Yes! We solved the problem!’ I wouldn’t even care how much revenue was attached to that. That’s a pretty big sign that you’re not a sales guy.
Joseph: You’re at Google. You realized that this sales role isn’t quite right for you. What did you start to think about doing next?
David: I didn’t immediately come to that conclusion. My first instinct was to try to double down and try to get good at it. I spoke with a lot of my US colleagues. They were really helpful. They gave me some good tips. I spoke with a couple of senior people within the Toronto office where I worked, and they gave me some great pieces of advice to follow. Even after I did that, I found that I saw the path to success, and I just still realized that I wasn’t going to be happy doing it. That’s really what prompted me to make the change.
Joseph: I would imagine that being at such an amazing company like Google, the idea of walking away from that would be difficult. I’m just curious what was going through your head in terms of extracting yourself from such an amazing organization.
David: It was an incredibly difficult decision. It was Google. It was literally one of my favorite companies. I had dreamed of working there for years and years, and so I didn’t want to admit this. I almost saw it at first as a failure on my part. It took some time to come to the conclusion that this wasn’t a failure. This was just something that I wasn’t meant to do.
Google as an organization is great. I think that in the right role, I think Google would still be a tremendous opportunity, but the role that I was in was just not right for me. That took some time, and I worked with an executive coach for a while to help me validate what I was feeling. I think that’s what took so long. I think that in a regular organization, I would’ve come to the conclusion much faster.
Walking away both from a culture perspective and from a financial perspective was really tough to do, but it was the right thing to do.
Joseph: A lot of people I speak to, if they are in a company that they admire, one of the things that they try to do is what you’re describing, which is to sort of mitigate the situation or maybe find a way to make it work. At which point did you realize that there was not going to be a way for you to make it work in another way at Google?
David: I think it was recognizing the tradeoff that had to happen. I understand what I like to do in the course of a job and what I don’t like to do. I like to solve problems. I like to come up with solutions. I like to manage people. I just realized that, as I was speaking with more and more people about what it took to be successful, it didn’t feel like me.
Joseph: One of the things you mentioned, David, in your article was an assault on your authentic self, which I think is what you’re getting at there. Can you just explain what you meant by that when you said assault on your authentic self?
David: I came up with that line because I feel like everybody has the person that they are when they’re with the people they’re most comfortable with. When you’re with your loved ones, the people who know you best, that’s the true you. I think that, sometimes at work, you hide a little bit of that to fit in, to be a little less of an extreme personality sometimes, but fundamentally, your authentic self, your core beliefs, what you really love to do, that’s just part of who you are. I think that if you try to do something that goes against that, you’re going to be unhappy. If you have a set of values and you go and work for an organization that has a different set of values, you’re not going to feel good about that.
That wasn’t the case with Google. I think that culture fit, and the values were very much aligned, but my authentic self is a marketer, and I was trying to be a sales guy. I was trying to be something that I actually wasn’t. Every day, I came home feeling emotionally beaten up because I was trying so hard to be something that I wasn’t.
Joseph: It sounds like you actually had quite a bit of self-awareness to know what it was that you did love to do, and you were courageous enough to pursue those passions. What do you say to people who aren’t that clear on what it is that they love to do? Because I think that’s one of the challenges: knowing whether or not this is just a rough patch or if this is actually the signal of a complete misfit in a role.
David: I think everybody has a bad day, and everybody has a bad week. A lot of people even have bad months, but it’s when you’re going repeatedly over and over and over where it’s tough to get up. I call it the alarm clock test. When you just start a new job and you’re super excited to be there and you just can’t wait, you leap out of bed. You wake up before your alarm. You never hit snooze. The snooze button is just not something you ever do when you’re excited about your work.
When you’re less excited about your work, and the alarm goes off, and you’re hitting snooze one, two, three, four times, that’s kind of a subconscious signal that something’s not right, that you’re not excited. When you’re doing that for a prolonged period of time, that’s one little example of something that you need to rethink about what you’re doing.
Joseph: It’s like one of those things that you can’t ignore when you wake up each morning, whether you’re feeling good or whether you’re feeling bad about the day ahead.
David: The other thing that I would say is that I have a very supportive, very loving partner, my wife, and when you have supportive people around you who are willing to be honest with you, they’ll let you know when you’re not being your authentic self. My wife saw that I wasn’t happy. I would leave really early in the day to catch the train, and so everybody was sleeping when I would go to work, and I’d get home pretty late, just enough time to help give my kids a bath and put them to bed, and then I’d go back to work. My wife was like, ‘You’re not happy, and we’re not seeing you very often.’
If you’re working hard at something that you love, it doesn’t feel like work. It feels like just something that you’re doing to pursue your passion. When you’re working hard at something that you don’t love, then your days are really long. That’s the distinction. That’s the mark of what you should and shouldn’t be doing, I think.
Joseph: Did you come across any skeptics along the way as you decided to start your transition on the way out of Google onto something else?
David: There was only a very close circle of people that I trusted with the fact that I was struggling. It’s never easy to admit that you’re struggling with something. We talked a little bit about self-awareness before. It’s really difficult to draw that line to say, ‘This isn’t something that I can do really well.’ You don’t want to necessarily broadcast that to the world. I did write a blog posts and broadcasted it to the world, but that was after the fact. While you’re in the moment, I think it’s pretty natural to just put on a smiley face and work hard and just try to get past it.
There were a lot of skeptics because there weren’t a lot of people that knew how I was feeling, but the people closest to me who did know, they love me and support me, and they want me to be happy. It wasn’t, ‘What? Are you crazy? You have to stay. It doesn’t matter whether you’re happy or not. It’s work.’ It was more about, ‘You need to do what you love because that’s going to make you happy,’ and, ‘You’ll find something. Don’t worry about leaving this opportunity because the next one will come along, and it’ll be great.’
Joseph: Can you take us through what happened next for you as you started to transition out of Google?
David: Once I left Google, I took a couple of weeks just for myself, spent some time with my kids—I have three young children—just to recharge. I had gone through 10 months of a very intense period, and I just took a few weeks just to reset, figure out what I wanted to do next. I think for me, the mapping and the planning of that was really important.
Joseph: I think one of the things that people struggle with and one of the tensions I hear about is whether you should leave your job before you have another job lined up. I’ve been in both situations where I’ll leave a job, and I’ve got something conveniently lined up. I’ve also been in situations where I left my job behind, and I don’t have something lined up. For me, the latter was a lot more uncomfortable. I’d be curious what that was like for you to leave Google behind without having something lined up for you next.
David: I’ve been in both situations as well, and it’s definitely better when you have something lined up. It definitely feels better to hand in your letter of resignation, take a two-week vacation, and then start something new and not have to worry about any discontinuation of pay or anything like that. I think the choice that everybody has to make is, can you go on until you find something new?
In my situation where I just discovered that I was really unhappy in that sales role, I didn’t want to go on. I didn’t think it was fair to myself. I didn’t think it was fair to my family, who was seeing that I wasn’t the best me I could be. I didn’t think it was fair to the company. I don’t think it makes any sense for me to take up space, just taking the paycheck while I looked for something else. I felt like I couldn’t do a complete job search and give 110% to Google. I didn’t think that was even fair to them.
In my situation, I felt that the best thing for me to do was to leave and just have faith that I could translate that into another opportunity.
Joseph: Was there anything that was especially surprising about leaving and having a little bit of idle time?
David: What’s surprising is how much I’ve enjoyed it. I’m somewhat of a workaholic, and I’m going to have to get back to work at some point clearly, but just taking the time to—we talked a little bit about earlier—pursuing those passion projects, playing with my kids, and going out for coffees and doing a lot of networking with some really great people I know, just catching up, it’s been phenomenal. I didn’t actually think that I would enjoy it as much as I did.
Joseph: You mentioned that alarm-clock moment in the past. What is it like when you wake up right now?
David: I don’t set an alarm a lot of days. I think having a 6-month-old takes care of that for you.
Joseph: Natural alarm clock.
David: That’s right. Normally, my wife, in the middle of the night, has gotten my daughter, a 6-month-old, and brought her into our bed, and so when I wake up to the little laughing and gurgling of my daughter lying beside me, I open my eyes and see her smiling face, it’s just a surge of energy. It’s funny how certain points in your life change your perspective. Having kids is definitely one of them.
Joseph: How did that change your perspectives?
David: Having kids is a moment where you realize that there’s something bigger than yourself. You now have a responsibility to these little people who are looking to you, and you’re the role model. I want to do what’s best for them above what’s best for myself. Some may argue staying in a job and getting a paycheck is what’s best for them, but we’re fine. We’re pretty conservative with spending, and we’ve saved up a little bit, so that’s less of an issue than teaching my kids that you can go and love your job. I have in the past loved my job. When you don’t love your job anymore, I don’t want to teach my kids that you have to stick it out, that it’s okay to be unhappy for a paycheck. I think that that changes your perspective. I think before I had kids and before I had that responsibility, I never would have thought that way.
Joseph: I know you’ve alluded to money and having the steady paycheck a couple of times here, David. Was there anything that you found surprising about not having a steady paycheck anymore and the impact, if any, that that’s had on your life?
David: If you have the opportunity to plan for it, that’s key. I didn’t storm into the office one day and say, ‘I quit,’ and I’m done. I knew that this is something that I was considering, and I talked it over with my wife. We sat down and figured out what the implications of that would be. I think with the proper planning, it hasn’t had a tremendous impact. At some point, I think we all have to work, we all have to do something, but it hasn’t been as devastating as it could potentially have been because I was able to plan for it.
Joseph: What’s been the toughest part of making this transition for you?
David: The most challenging part is just, from the actual transition, trying to explain it to people who would never understand your decision in a million years. That was really difficult.
Joseph: How do you go about doing that? I know what you’re talking about there, David, because you’ve got the people who just won’t ever get it. They’ve got a certain perception of what one’s career should look like. How did you go about explaining it to those people?
David: I think most people can understand that there are some roles that you should be doing and some roles you shouldn’t be doing. I think that no matter who you are, I think if you took a look at yourself, you could say, ‘These are the jobs where I would be happy, and I think I would be terrible at these jobs, and I would be unhappy at these jobs.’ I think if you frame it like that, that’s a much more powerful message, and people kind of get that a little better.
Joseph: When you look back on your career change, what’s something that you wish you had known that you now know?
David: I would say that I wish I was willing to take more risks earlier. Now, I’m pretty comfortable with risk. I’m very comfortable with change, but earlier on in my career, I was a much more conservative player. I felt like I needed to have the linear career, start off as an assistant brand manager, be promoted to brand manager, go to senior brand manager. Most people think of their career in a linear fashion, and my career has been a lot of lateral moves, a lot of different industry changes, and it’s worked out really well for me. I wish I’d known that it could work out that way earlier on in my career because I would’ve been less afraid to make changes.
Joseph: Do you have any advice for someone who is maybe in that sort of linear career, and they’re not feeling happy, and they’re hitting the snooze button four or five times a day? Any sort of career advice you’d offer that person?
David: There’s nothing wrong with a linear career per se. I have a love of friends who have done it that way, and they’ve been very successful, and they’re very happy. When I was younger, I would be trapped by the thought of having a better title, and title was a driver for me. I became happier, and I became more successful frankly when I stopped trying to collect titles and started to collect skills.
When I evaluate opportunities, I look at what I can learn and what I can contribute. When I’m about to start a role, I think about what it’ll look like when I end the role. I say, ‘What did I learn from that opportunity?’ and what was I able to contribute, because really, those are the things that build your career and build your resume.
If you’re in a linear career path, recognize the point where you’ve stopped learning, when you’re doing the same old, same old, same old over and over again. That’s, I think, when you need to make a change, and then just figure out, be honest with yourself about what you’re really good at and what gaps you may have and go and try to fill those gaps.
Joseph: I want to wrap up today, David, by talking about—I wish we had time to talk about all of your passion projects, but I definitely want to hear more about your book on mentorship, which I understand is scheduled to be published in 2017. Could you tell us a little bit more about that?
David: It’s a moving target. We’re self-publishing, and we’re targeting a late 2017 date. I’m working with a co-author, Dr. Alan Middleton from the Schulich School of Business. He’s a really well-known, really great guy who’s had a terrific career. I think for both of us, we feel very strongly about the concept of mentorship. We believe that you cannot be successful in any area without having people who have offered the benefit of their experience and their advice. This applies across any field.
What we’re doing is we are interviewing a number of high-performing people, people who have accomplished a lot in their career across various industries and trying to figure out what part mentorship played in their success, because I think life is too short to make all of the mistakes yourself. I think that having people who are willing to give you their wisdom so that you don’t have to make those same mistakes yourself is invaluable and essential to true career success.
Joseph: It’s definitely one of those things that I know sometimes I struggle with: reaching out when I actually need help with something, but when I have done it, it really just saved me days of work because there’s somebody out there who’s probably already done it.
I also want to hear about one more of your passion projects because you mentioned it. You’re getting ready to teach an MBA course, and I’d love to hear a little bit more about that.
David: I’m super excited about this. Earlier in my career, I used to teach for Kaplan part-time, helping people learn how to score well on the GMAT test, which is the test you need to take in order to do your MBA. I’ve really liked teaching. I really liked helping people understand things. Maybe that ties a little bit into my passion for mentorship and having people ask me about things and allowing me to share those experiences.
Teaching is something that I’ve always wanted to do. As I mentioned earlier, if I had won the lottery, one of the things that I wanted to pursue is to be a professor. This opportunity came up where I graduated the Schulich School of Business to teach the course in retail marketing, which I think is such a dynamic area. The opportunity came up. I spoke with an old professor of mine who happens to be running the department now, and this is the person who actually developed the course and has been teaching it for 10 years. He wasn’t able to do it anymore. They needed a professor, and I put up my hands. I wanted to step in. I’m very excited about that.
Joseph: Very cool. Also, I think it’s just great that you’re dedicating so much of your time to pursuing some of these projects that also give back to other people, which I think is really fantastic.
David: It was really interesting that they said that if you finish school when you’re 20 years old and you work until you’re 65, that’s a 45-year career, and you can take that 45 years and split it into three different sections. The first 15 years is all about learning and growing and building your skills. You just focus your time and energy in learning as much as you possibly can and building your base. The next 15 years is about benefiting from that first 15-year cycle. That’s where you’re going to start to do really well in your career and get the titles and get the promotions and get the paychecks. The last 15 years is about giving back, giving back of your time, your money, your expertise, your experience.
Not to say that those are hard lines in the sand, each of those 15 years, but I think that that’s a pretty good framework for how I want to build my career. I’m in the second phase right now, and I’m always going to be learning. I love to learn, but I also don’t think that I need to wait another 15 years before I start giving back.
Joseph: It’s just been really interesting to hear about your career trajectory. I know you talked a lot about self-awareness, which is useful, and also the importance of planning. It’s also just cool to hear about what it’s like to be pursuing some of your passion projects too. I’ll be looking out for that book and really looking forward to seeing what you’re up to next the next time we connect.
David: That’d be great. Thanks, Joseph. I enjoyed our chat.