How it all began (A personal story)

A year ago, I walked into my manager’s office and told him that I was quitting. I was probably more surprised at my decision than he was. I just changed teams, and I couldn’t have been happier with the new team: every person was cooperative, positive, and respectful. My decision wasn’t based on any rationalization, but on a gut feeling and some strange bio-feedback: The minute I was stepping into the office, my heart would start pounding hard, and I would start gasping for air. I went to see my doctor, did all the tests that he recommended, and found nothing wrong with my heart or my health. Yet I kept getting these symptoms over and over.

I couldn’t understand what was wrong with me: I had a very comfortable job, working in a great company, getting paid a six figure salary and offered tons of benefits. There was no reason for me to be dissatisfied with my life, and yet I was. In fact, for someone who moved from a country where I was getting paid annually less than I was getting paid here monthly, it would be insane to give up such opportunity.

One morning, I looked myself in the mirror, and asked myself if I were to do what I was about to do that day if it were the last day of my life. I didn’t just say it, I felt it. During the following hours, I started seeing many messages, what one might call omens, that left no doubt in my heart that I am about to make the right decision.

When I walked out of the company that day, I felt light. I didn’t know what I was going to do next, and I didn’t care. I drove home with Castaneda’s sentence resonating in my mind: “I have told you that to choose a path you must be free from fear and ambition.”

The following week, my dear friend Aaron Jasinski emailed me and told me that he knows someone who’s looking for a good UX designer to help with a new startup idea. A week later, I was sitting in a coffee shop with Aaron and Kevin Merritt who pitched me a vision for an application that lets people create databases with the same ease and freedom that they fill out a spreadsheet in Excel. Since I don’t believe in coincidences, I told Kevin that I would help him with the product. During the following nine months, I had the most fun in my entire life, designing the user interface and interaction for blist, working with one of the most accomplished entrepreneurs in Seattle. blist went out of stealth mode with a bang, and everyone praised its slickness and ease of use. It wasn’t a surprise to me because it was a pure labor of love! In products, as much as in food, you can taste love from the first “byte”. What was a surprise to me was how my design work on blist was more effective than any PR or marketing work I would have done. Founders and CEOs started calling me, and I had hard time picking the next project to work on: every one had an interesting challenge, and I wanted to help every single company and make more users happy. And in making them happy, I am having the most fulfilling time of my life: When I go to bed at night, I can’t wait to wake up and do what I do one more day: Whether it’s designing a new user experience, or improving an existing one.

What brought these memories back was not just that it’s been a year since I quit Microsoft. A week ago, precisely a year from the day I walked into my manager’s office and told him I am leaving, the product I was working on was shut down.

The reason I am sharing this story is that every day, I meet entrepreneurs whom I admire for their determination and commitment to solve hard problems and make a big difference by doing things differently. I also meet people who are worried about what they would face “out there” if they leave their comfort zone and do something different. People who are longing for change, and yet are afraid of the slightest change. But at some point, we need to take that leap of faith, answering that voice deep inside, knowing that it doesn’t matter what we’ll face on that journey, and it doesn’t matter so much what we’ll accomplish. What really matters is who we’ll meet on the road, and who we’ll become at the end of it.

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  1. Powerful post, one of the best I’ve read anywhere in a long time.

    I’ll need to snag a copy of The Teachings of Don Juan sometime soon – if it’s anything like The Alchemist (one of the few books I actually own) then I can see why you couldn’t get it out of your head.

  2. Loved the post Amir. Glad to hear that you are doing something you are so passionate about. Life does get better for those who are willing to take risks while following their dreams. 🙂

  3. Thank you, Dale, for your kind words.
    So far, I haven’t had any regrets about my move. I have taken more and more risks in the past year, some of them paid off, and some of them I learned from. At the end, they are shaping my life in ways that I could never imagine.

  4. I just found my way here from the Lean Startup Group. This was such an inspiring post to read. Thank you.

    • You’re welcome Ryan.
      Glad you liked it, and thanks for dropping by 🙂

  5. Amazing and inspiring post…. you are really a role model for those who look to do something different in their life that includes me …tooo ! 🙂 Gr8 to hear your story… and hope to make a lasting story !

    • Thank you, Anand.
      I am glad you found inspiration in the story. Hope you will transmute it into action that will inspire everyone around you, including me 🙂

  6. I know exactly how you felt during the time you describe in this post — except I never got to the point of having to question why my salary didn’t make me happy — just jumped in head first before going the whole corporate route. So, obviously, everything you say about just taking action, and learning as necessary along the way is something that I hold very dear. Would love to talk to you about advising us — we have some interesting, and important, UX challenges to battle. Have followed you on Twitter; lemme know if you’re up for a chat. cheers, David

  7. Wow, Amazing jaw dropping, inspiring post. It’s been a very long time since I came across post worth reading and actually enjoyed what I’ve read. Their are thousands of designer blogs out there and 90% repeat what the other designers have said or posted with slight twist. You, Amir have seriously made my day, I have just retweeted this article and I’ve added your blog to my designers blog list. I look forward to more posts from you in future.

    Thank again for sharing this great post.

  8. Really amazing and inspiring post…I was in a dilemma what to do…Now I am thinking positive and wish to go with my passion…..


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