On June 29th, my ex wife received a letter that forever changed our lives: Her landlord was putting the house up for sale. She was going to have to vacate the premises in the next 60 days. The small, 1,200 square foot home (which you can see here) which had been sold for the ridiculous price (by national standards) of $1,500,000 back in 2015, was now being put on the market for an eye-watering $2,400,000. The Silicon Valley housing market that continues to boom for owners, continues to waterboard renters.
The prospect of having to move again, find new schools for our children and my having to move as well (despite having recently renewed my own lease at a 20% premium vs. the previous year), left us scrambling for options. It also left us asking ourselves the same familiar question:
Why on earth are we staying in Silicon Valley?
For my ex, the decision to move back to her home country will sound familiar to anyone from outside the United States. In her home country, she has her family, her friends, her business and can live their for a fraction of what it costs to live here (rent is actually 1/3 of rent here).
For me the decision was far harder: At 46 years old, I was contemplating a move to a foreign country over 8,000 miles away, where I have no network, no job and would have to work in a foreign language (which fortunately I happen to speak). More importantly, I would have to give up on a new business I'd started merely a year before and would lose physical access to all my friends and the close business relationships I'd built from working in startups and at Google for the past 9+ years.
The decision was agonizing.
or was it?
The reality turned out to be very different from what I would have imagined. For months I'd talked to others and heard myself complain about the situation in the Valley. I heard and said the words so often I grew sick of hearing myself say them. The cost, the traffic, the pressure, the competition and the whole point of it all.
I thought about it so often, that living in Silicon Valley felt like being trapped in a bad marriage. I could rationalize why I moved here. I could rationalize my attempt to build startups. I could rationalize why I joined Google. I could rationalize why I tried to start my own company. I could rationalize draining my savings in the pursuit of startup glory. I could rationalize the long hours, the stress, the frustration or the endless comparisons of where I stood in the pecking order of the almighty titans of the valley. I could even rationalize why it cost me my marriage...
But I couldn't now rationalize that I might end up violating my most sacred values if stayed on and let my ex and children move to the other end of the world, 8,000+ miles away. I couldn't rationalize not seeing my two little kids. I guess you have to draw a line in the sand at some point (and not cross it).
You see, when my world imploded on March 6th, 2017, I made, what became one of the best decisions I've made in a long time: I reached out and got help. Not from friends, not from my family and not from a therapist (although all these helped too). I got a personal coach. And through the work with my coach I came to realize two things that changed everything and have made, what was a seemingly impossible decision, into a fairly straightforward one.
I learned my purpose: "To be the magnetic energy that inspires people to lead careers of meaning and impact."
And I learned what my core values were:
THE GOOD FATHER: Coaching, mentoring, quality time, family, really present, playing, curiosity, fun, intentional, highly engaged, optimist
MADMORK: Independent, free-thinking, living at choice, innate drive to challenge, standing for fairness/justice, anti-Disney, anti-establishment, no bullshit, no anchors
TRANQUILITY: Peace, simplicity, gratitude, back to basics, no bullshit, refuge, natural world, healthy, natural belonging, deep connection with myself, family, what it means to be human
CENTURY RIDE: striving, driving, questing, curiosity, resilient, being present, no bullshit, commitment, vomit, being bold, fearless
So how did I reach my decision? I did what any good tech person would do. I gathered data and then I went off to chew on it. I talked to my parents, talked to friends, talked to my coach and did lots of reading. Then once I felt I had all the data points, I booked a hotel out in Pacifica overlooking the shoreline and sequestered myself there for 24 hours. I wrote, I read, I crunched numbers and went for long walks on the beach.
The decision turned out to be fairly straightforward. When you look above at my values, which are stack ranked, the top value is the Good Father. The Good Father value is all about mentoring, coaching, helping and being there for others. But more importantly, the Good Father is exactly that: a Good Father. And there were only 2 people in the world that mattered from that perspective: Natasha and Raphael Mork. My 7 and 11 year old.
Yes, I could stay here and try the ludicrous commute once a month to see them 8,000 miles away. Yes, I could delude myself into thinking that I could nourish the bond of fatherhood through Facetime and Whatsapp. Yes, I could wishfully think that great vacations in Disneyland or the Caribbean could wash away the tears they would have when daddy was simply not there. Not there to pick them up when they fell down. Not there when they had a bad day in school. Not there when they needed a hug good night. Not there.
Seriously? WTF was I even thinking. It all just became crystal clear. I was going to move 8,000 miles away. Forget the startups, forget the glory, forget my network and forget this pipe dream I'd been living for the past 4-5 years. It was time to honor my values and to do what is probably obvious for most fathers but that maybe less obvious for those of us running on the tech treadmill and grinding it out on the Google bus day in, day out.
It was time to be true to who I said I wanted to be. End of story.
When I finally made my decision, my mind was lucid and clear and I felt an enormous sense of peace. I left my hotel room and went for a long walk along the beach. At the end of the walk, I came to a tall bluff overlooking the sea. I still remember that moment and it will live with me for a long time. I looked out over the sea, felt the cold wind blowing in my face and I felt at peace, relieved, happy and excited. The road ahead, finally seemed clear.
Over the next few weeks I won't pretend things were easy. The harsh reality of my situation, age, lack of connections and moving to a foreign country weren't lost on me. I would wake up in a cold sweat questioning myself. Wondering how I'd make a living, what it would be like to start all over, how I would make friends in a foreign country and in a foreign language. I found myself nervous and anxious.
But in the end, I've never second guessed myself. It was a decision based on my core values and based on what mattered to me most: my children and being an important part of their lives. From that perspective, working with my coach to clearly identify and prioritize my values, really ended up making my decision much simpler than I thought it was. It's also what I preach to the clients I've coached in tech over the past year. Once you really know your values and are willing to live by them, many of life's decisions actually become a lot simpler.
Other reasons for leaving
Values aside, there were other issues at play that also hastened my decision to leave the Valley. Aside from the obvious considerations around the insane cost of housing, which is significantly magnified when you have kids and multiple households to support, the commute in San Francisco is now ranked the #1 worst in the United States and #5 globally - congrats San Francisco!
On top of the snarling traffic jams which extend from San Francisco to Sunnyvale, the other thing that's migrated south, along with the traffic, is a growing population of homeless people and RV's. The homeless in Redwood City nearly seem to be on every street corner and have permanent encampments under various overpasses across the city while a steady parade of recreational vehicles seems to be lining the streets from Palo Alto to Redwood city.
Now, I'm not a sociologist so I can't point to why specifically this is happening, but the growing surge of house prices and wealth inequality in the region are certainly not helping. The whole thing makes me wonder where the region is heading and worried me as a parent when I thought about what type of environment my children would be growing up in.
Which brings me to those two special little people in my life: my kids. A big reason for the decision to move centered around two things:
First, even when I was physically present for my children, I was constantly stressed out when I was with them and the quality of the attention I was giving them wasn't what I wanted based on my values. This was painfully driven home when my 7 year old daughter would make comments such as: "Daddy, why are you working all the time?" or "Daddy why are you always mad? I don't like it when you're mad". In fact it got so bad that my ex wife even mentioned to me that the kids had become too scared to tell me certain things. Scared of me. wow...
When I realized that my relationship with my children was suffering, that was the breaking point. Something had to give. I was in violation of my values. I didn't want to keep living that way.
Second, it dawned on me, given my work in meditation and coaching, that I didn't need to be successful here to be happy. In fact, when I looked around and saw people who were "successful", many of them weren't actually "happy". Sometimes, it almost seemed as though the more successful they became the less happy they were.
So I've come to the realization that I'm perfectly OK living somewhere else were I can have a better work /life balance, a higher quality of life and be a "bigger fish" in a "smaller pond." I don't really care about being in Techcrunch. I don't care if my company has raised X from Y at Z valuation. Those things simply don't matter to me the way they used to.
Don't get me wrong, I don't regret my decision 9 years ago to move here. I don't regret the decisions I made or the things I've done, because they've all led me to become a more complete, self aware and more balanced person.
Silicon Valley continues to be a place of magic, innovation, unparalleled creativity and technological genius and I've made many great friends here, but it faces serious challenges that its leaders need to address if it's going to continue to entice people to come here (which will be made even more interesting given the latest legislation that may increasingly keep good people out of the country regardless).
So for me, it's time for a fresh start. A new country, new faces, new opportunities and challenges. I'm eternally grateful for everything I've experienced here and, more importantly, to all my friends and family who have endured mad mork's madness and drama. Silicon Valley will always have a special place for me, so for now it's not "adios" but "hasta luego." I'm sure I'll be visiting again soon
From where? That's the subject of my next post. Stay tuned ;)
hasta la vista baby!