How getting fired from Google drastically improved my life.

{This is an excerpt from Michelle’s new memoir/manifesto, Yoga Schmoga}

I am sitting in front of a volcano. I look at the lake. It’s early in the morning. The loves of my life—my husband, baby girl and cat—are all still sleeping angelically in our cozy bed.

I can never get enough of this volcano and this lake, no matter how long or how frequently I look.

We live in a tiny house. I work as an elementary school teacher and teach yoga twice a week. I co-teach a third grade class of sixteen kids at a charming place called Life School.

I could not be more fulfilled than in my current roles as Mother, Partner, Writer, Friend and Teacher. It sure was a long, strange trip to arrive at this place of perennial satisfaction. How did I get here? It all started with a simple question…

**What do you want to be when you grow up?**

My Aunt Margaret tells the story of when she asked the eight-year-old me that classic crystal-ball question. She swears my answer was: “I don’t know, but I just want to make a lot of money.”

I remember wanting to be a doctor, until I found out that they have to dissect a human cadaver in gross anatomy class. Gross! I remember wanting to be a lawyer for no good reason other than that Clare Huxtable was one. I never dreamed of working in advertising or education.

**1996**

My first job was at Putt Putt Golf ‘n’ Games in Round Rock, Texas. My duties included handing out miniature golf clubs; serving radioactive hot dogs and stale nachos with unnaturally yellow cheese sauce; and supervising suburban brats’ single-digit birthday parties. For this, I earned $4.25 an hour.

**1999**

My first industry job was at an ad agency I’ll call Martini Advertising, where I started interning in the media department as an overachieving college freshman. I remember being humiliated by having to wear a sandwich board with a martini on it and passing out fliers at the inaugural SXSW Interactive tradeshow.

After a few months as an unpaid intern, I was hired as a part-time Account Coordinator. I adored my job. I felt glamorous and special to be the youngest employee on staff. They granted me a leave of absence when I went to London for the fall semester of ’99.

**2000**

When I came back, the agency had tripled in size, and I was suddenly surrounded by a bevy of fun, good-looking, Gen X colleagues. Plenty of alcoholic beverages of all sorts were consumed by the crew at Martini’s weekly happy hours. Work was fun and flirtatious.

I applied and was accepted into the prestigious Creative Advertising program at UT. As a result, I was promoted to Junior Copywriter at Martini. I shared a first-floor, corner office with two Senior Writers. It had a red Ikea couch and walls of windows with a view of the knotty, ancient Live Oak trees outside.

**2002**

I graduated from UT and started working at Martini full time. I was now an official member of the illustrious Creative Department!

I was assigned to concept headlines that hook, taglines that reverberate in consumers’ minds and body copy to increase profits. In other words, words that sell.

Before, my workdays had been cluttered with pesky client meetings, schedules and estimates. As a *Writer*, I was paid to *think* and to present my expensive concepts in our sleek conference room where coffee and assorted cookies were served on faux silver platters. For a little while, it was great.

Then, I started to suffer from cognitive dissonance; as I got more and more into yoga and mindfulness, I saw advertising as the evil source of our consumerist culture and felt guilty that I was doing nothing to make the world a better place. I frequently found myself staring blankly at the white screen, not thinking of words to write but rather despising my life, hating my job and feeling like a coward for not quitting.

I started spending most of my time looking out into the future, and I didn’t like what I saw: my whole boring, lonely adult life stretching before me. Also, I was dismayed by the prospect of only two weeks of vacation per year. Two out of fifty two did not seem like a good ratio to me.

**2003**

 

Although I’d dreamt of becoming a full-time yoga teacher in the Golden State, I knew it wouldn’t happen overnight.

Within a week of my West Coast arrival, I scored a job, at Google of all places. They offered decent starting pay, all the free lunches I could swallow, healthcare, and hammocks and babbling brooks in the landscaped lawn surrounding its office complex. For a short while I convinced myself that it was corporate heaven on earth. How could I say no to a job with the world’s most popular search engine?

After a few days of training, each morning, I’d settle in and begin my only task: reviewing those tiny text ads that come up on the right hand column of any Google search. My fellow mouse-clicking monkeys and I reviewed those ads and their corresponding links against dozens of policies on everything from grammar to guns to porn.

Our managers emphasized “quality over quantity,” but it came down to a sheer numbers game. How many ads could you correctly review in the mind-numbing forty hour work week?

Many of my coworkers lived in constant fear of being laid off; I was invincible though. I had four years of advertising agency experience under my belt. They’d be crazy to let *me* go. Because the task was so boring and repetitive, I began to treat it like a game. How fast could I go? I was warned to slow down. I didn’t. Yet I was blindsided when the manager asked me if I had a minute, led me to a secluded conference room and lowered the guillotine.

I was shaken by the immediate shock of rejection. I’d been hired and fired by Google within a month. My ego was bruised, my root chakra punctured.

I went back to Julie and Vanessa’s apartment where my “bedroom” was an air mattress in the living room. The moment I found an uninhabited space, I shut the door behind me and broke down in tears. But when I woke up the next morning, I was genuinely relieved not to have to go to a job I despised.

Being released from my duties at Google was the best thing that could have happened to my yoga teaching career. I blanketed Silicon Valley with my yoga resume and immediately got a few subbing gigs at gyms and yoga studios and before long I would be teaching a dozen classes a week.

**2004**

I found lots of part-time jobs of varying degrees of oddity to pay the bills. I temped in data entry at Stanford Hospital and cashiered at Stanford Bookstore. I valet parked shiny sports cars on crazy San Francisco hills, wrecked a limo in Fremont, and manned a chintzy Halloween store at a mall in Cupertino. I also became a substitute teacher for the San Jose public school district, which planted the seed that would later grow into my career in education.

I came full-circle when I began posting my own Google AdWords ads for my fledgling business, Yoga Freedom. I clicked ‘submit’ and sent a little vibe of compassion to the poor peon who would be reviewing my ad at the other end.

I subconsciously sabotaged my advertising career on multiple occasions. In my annual review at Martini Advertising, I admitted that I didn’t see myself in the advertising field long-term. At Google, I didn’t take my work seriously. Later, in marketing again in Austin, I would smoke pot on the drive to work in a futile attempt to spice up my life, which consisted of a forty hour work week, plus commuting an hour each day, to a gray cubicle in a gray building.

Getting fired from Google drastically improved my life, because it pushed me to become an yogantrepreneur. Running my own yoga business at age 23 gave me confidence, and even though it eventually failed, the whole endeavor was an incredibly valuable experience.

**2005 and beyond**

In one sense, getting fired from Google definitely sucked: it led to my financial downfall. Fortunately, that tumble was followed by picking myself up and starting over again.

Getting fired from Google drastically improved my life, because it (in a roundabout way) led to me becoming a teacher. Education is the ideal career for me. I enjoy teaching; I feel empowered by empowering others – namely, my third grade students – to read, write, speak and understand English, but above all, to be passionate about learning and creating. I strive to teach them how to think rather than what to think.

Back in Austin, at the height of my teaching career, I would work long days at school, and nights grading papers or planning lessons at home, growing more and more frustrated with all the standardized tests I had to administer to my students. I also taught yoga a few times a week and had oodles of social commitments and other obligations that I didn’t necessarily want in my life.

Five years later, here at Lake Atitlan, in Guatemala, life has slowed down. It’s far from perfect, since there’s no such thing as perfect, but I savor each day. I meditate on the volcanoes and the lake. I wake to write at dawn; I bike to school to teach in the mornings; I laugh and play with my precious Jade in the afternoons; and I currently teach yoga twice a week in the evenings.

In my book, that’s one drastically improved life.

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