Monday, November 2, 2015

How I Came to Live on a Sailboat

We leave the things we love for the love of things we have yet to discover. It is often sad, always exciting and each time holds the promise of being the best one yet.

Whenever I am asked to share an interesting fact about myself, I like to share that I have moved 14 times in the last 17 years, including seven different states. This was not intentional and when I was starting my career I never imagined I would have found so many great opportunities around the country. Although I moved for a girl a few times, the majority have been moves for great career opportunities.

My most recent move brought me to Silicon Valley from Park City, Utah. Like a few of my prior relocations (leaving Truckee, CA comes to mind), this was a difficult place to leave. We had found a beautiful log home at the top of Summit Park, regularly went backcountry skiing out our back door, and frequently saw moose wandering down the street. But after two short years in the Wasatch, enjoying the deep snow and solitude of life at 7500 feet, it was time to move again.

Relocating as much as I have for my career has not always been a great idea. Moving to San Francisco in 1998, though I was not in technology at the time, proved to be poor timing. And while it was a tremendous career opportunity, the years I spent in Dallas I remember as being particularly sad and difficult. Although it’s always easier to connect the dots in hindsight, I still would not have traded any of the experiences along the way for where I am now.

Yesterday, my wife and I sailed out of San Francisco Bay, under the Golden Gate Bridge, and down the coast to our hailing port of Half Moon Bay. Here amidst the fishing boats we will live on a sailboat together. I will commute over the Coastal Range a short 30 minutes to Palo Alto to work with Kahuna, another incredible career opportunity, as the VP Customer Success.

Living on a sailboat, like many of my moves, was never part of the plan. It was an aspirational goal, maybe a bit of a romantic idea, that we talked about during one of our many road trips up the Oregon coast. “Wouldn’t it be cool.” It was fun to think about but never something we seriously considered. Then with our move to Palo Alto, living on a sailboat became a question of “Why not?” Although there were a lot of reasons, none of them were good.

After selling our home and reducing our possessions to the bare minimum, we are now moving onto our boat “Volatility”. It is a big transition from a spacious log home in the mountains to a cozy bunk with the wide open Pacific in the backyard, but it is an incredibly exciting new chapter in our lives. As I think about the many career decisions and stages of personal and professional development that have brought me here, three things stand out.

Embrace Change  While it can be difficult to start over in a new company or industry (or both if you move from HR Technology to Mobile Marketing Automation), embracing change is a critical step in realizing the opportunity. It is almost never the case that you can simply rinse and repeat the same processes, tools and people you enjoyed at your prior company. While you definitely bring the best of what you learned with you each time you move, embracing the new opportunity is critical if you are going to realize your potential. Actively embracing change will smooth the transition, from establishing new routines to building diverse work relationships, and focusing on learning a specific new skill set as a part of your new role will also help ensure that you are living in the present.

Maximize Your Opportunity  Embracing the change is an important first step, but just as important is maximizing your new opportunity. With each career move it is important to hit refresh on your personal and professional motivation for work to ensure you bring fresh optimism, a healthy constructive attitude and the ambition needed to accomplish big things. If you aren’t ready to sign up to do your best work, stay put and enjoy the scenery. There is nothing wrong with that. But when you’re ready and you do make the move, make the most of it.

“If you are going to eat shit, don’t nibble”  A great line from Ben Horowitz in his book, “The Hard Thing about Hard Things”, this is an important lesson I have learned in my own career and from my many relocations. If you are going to do something, just go ahead and do it. Living on a sailboat might prove to be a terrible idea. I have heard there is a thing called a Sharknado? But even if sharks do fall from the sky, we are all in. Transitioning out of my HR Technology comfort zone and into disruptive Marketing Technology might prove to be difficult, but I am all in. While it is probably not the best sailing philosophy, “If you are going to eat shit, don’t nibble” has been shown time and again to be sound advice for career management.

Sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge was a defining moment in my life and career. Living on a sailboat in Half Moon Bay and helping to build a great company at Kahuna will be a defining next chapter that I am thrilled to be writing.

About David Verhaag 

David is the Vice President, Client Experience at Degreed, the lifelong learning platform. Prior to Degreed, David established and scaled the Customer Success function at Kahuna and HireVue and spent eight+ years with SuccessFactors where he led the development of the global Customer Value team. David lives on a sailboat in Half Moon Bay, CA.

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