Leaving a Dream Job to Pursue Some Life Goals

March against Mass Surveillance, CC-by EFF

The last two years have been an awakening for me. The global pandemic made me take stock of my own life and think more deeply about my mortality. Undergoing ankle surgery forced me to take months away from running and made me confront how my body is already aging and breaking down in ways that are irreversible. Then last fall, my dear friend and colleague Elliot Harmon died of cancer at the age of 40.

I’m a committed atheist. I don’t think there’s some other secret life waiting for me after I die. This life, whatever I do with it, is the only shot I’ve got. And for years, I’ve focused so much of my energy on work that I let time with my loved ones, including my life partner and my chosen family of friends, slide into the edges of the days. I’ve repeatedly put off dreams of long distance hiking and visiting places like Thailand, Alaska, and the Mediterranean because it was always the wrong time to go. I’ve tried to squeeze as much backpacking and travel into long weekends and midweek camping as possible, but many of my dreams don’t fit into a long weekend.

So I’m moving my adventure plans to the top of my to-do list, and quitting my job to take 18 months to travel, hike, meditate, and figure out who I am outside of work. I’m calling it a sabbatical, but in some ways it’s more of a career intermission. (And yes, I’ll be looking for a job in 2023.)

Flying a blimp over the NSA data center in Utah, CC-by EFF

I’m grateful for all the amazing experiences I’ve had working for EFF in the last 11 years—from launching the very first Tor Challenge to flying a blimp over the NSA data center in Utah, from the SOPA blackout to a march on Washington. While those flashy events make for the best stories, I’m perhaps more grateful for the experience of walking into an office everyday filled with people who were genuinely brilliant and committed to working together to defend digital rights. I’m grateful to have worked on fascinating topics with some of the top legal and technical minds in the world, and to have learned from outstanding writers and editors. I am also honored to have hired so many fantastic advocates early in their careers, and then watched them go on to accomplish amazing things.

My last few years at EFF, I left the activism director role and took on the role of Chief Program Officer, which is a largely internal role guiding the programmatic teams in being more effective in their work, offering day-to-day management of the organization, and supporting the team directors. There aren’t many exciting stories from this time, but I’m especially grateful for how much I learned about organizational development, fundraising, navigating complex human resources issues, strategy, and building consensus. Plus, I’ll be prepared the next time I need to lead a nonprofit through a global pandemic.

Eleven years at EFF have indelibly changed me. I’m grateful for the work I’ve done, the colleagues I’ve learned from, and the sense that I’ve made a big difference in the world. It’s honestly terrifying to walk away from a dream job knowing that I won’t be able to undo this decision. But it also feels like the right thing.

Often, doing the right thing is a bit terrifying

Life is fleeting and precious and also small. Let’s not defer dreams, whether they are quaint or wild. When I look back on my life, I want to know I was kind to others and that I approached my dreams with conviction and fearlessness. And while it’s unrealistic to cross everything off a bucket list because I’m always adding more, it’ll still be fun to spend a year and a half trying.

Delivering petitions against mass surveillance

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