This past August I went home to Colorado for 2 weeks. I was born and raised in Colorado Springs. While I no longer have any family there I still consider it home. I knew that I missed it but I didn’t know to what degree I missed it. I understood it with my head. After 2 weeks of rest, relaxation, lots of walking and visiting friends at 8000+ feet I understood it with my heart and body. I sat in the Denver airport watching the thunder/lightning storm move in (how I miss those). After a relatively brief delay we boarded and took off. The moon was visible outside my window the entire flight. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. When we started the descent a little voice said you’re moving back to Colorado. (And I hadn’t even had anything to drink 😉 We landed and drove to my brother’s place to pick up our car (ah the joy of the east side). I walked in and hugged my sister-in-law. I had had a fantastic trip which she could see on my face. Our eyes met and I told her I was moving home.
As I settled back into life in Portland the desire to move evolved. It wasn’t about moving to Colorado, or at least not right away. It was about getting out of the mall and out of the store. At this point I had been in the same mall for over 10 years. The last 8+ with Apple. I’ve worked in retail for about 15 years. Before Apple I was with Pottery Barn for 5 years between New York and Portland. Apple has several stores in Colorado and I considered a transfer. But I had NO interest in moving back to the Springs (it’s beautiful but that’s not enough considering the rest), I was never a Denver girl and a good Colorado friend (who I visited on my trip) said she couldn’t see me in Boulder. So that ruled out the stores. And really a transfer would just land me in a new store and a new mall.
Then Steve Jobs passed away from Pancreatic cancer. I’m no Apple fan boy. I moved to Apple because of the inventory control position. I didn’t really care about the products. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great company. They make incredibly sexy and intuitive products. But when a new item came out I didn’t want to know about the features. I wanted to know how many part numbers I was going to need to learn and how much room I would need to clear in the stockroom. After Steve’s death he was in the news, on TV, radio, books were coming out, interviews were being re-released. He was being quoted everywhere. I couldn’t avoid his brilliance. He never talked about joining Apple, like it was some kind of cult. He talked about doing what you’re passionate about. He talked about doing what you want to do. What you’re meant to do. I realized that if I really wanted to honor him I needed to leave his company, because it wasn’t my passion and never has been.
Then a high school friend of mine (John-Alex Mason) went in for, what is considered, a “routine” operation for Testicular cancer. They didn’t catch an internal bleed and when he was in recovery he went into cardiac arrest. They got him back into the OR stopped the bleed, got his heart going again but he was in a coma. This man was the epitome of living your passion. He was married, had a little one with another on the way and supported his family with his music. He was this gangly toe head with the voice of an old Blues Man.
The memorial for Steve was held at corporate and streamed to all retail stores and remote offices. Julianne (my first Apple friend) joined me at the store. The memorial was, profound. My friends at corporate were posting where they were in line and then where they ended up sitting. After the memorial I just didn’t have it in me to hang out. Maybe on some level I knew I wasn’t up for it. I got home feeling emotionally spent. I checked my email, learned that after several weeks in a coma John-Alex had passed away. I crawled into bed and gave up on the day.
I used to have passions (beyond inventory, process and procedure). I moved out here in 2001 to be a part of my nieces life. I now have an amazing niece AND nephew. And I’ve made my mark. I have no fear that they will think “aunt who?” But in that time I let myself fall into a rut. I worked, went home, maybe I would hang out with family or friends but usually not and I drank like, well, whatever drinks a lot. Where is the nina? Where are the things I care about? What the fuck was I passionate about? I scheduled a chat with Peter, an old friend and admitted fan boy. He married a dear high school friend of mine AND they live in Portland. I had had dinner with his family when I got back from Colorado. When I told him at dinner that I had been at the mall for 10 years his jaw literally dropped. As we sat in the mall with our Starbucks before my shift he asked questions and listened. He pointed out there was too much noise in my head at the store and I wouldn’t be able to figure out what I wanted to do while working in the mall; in the store. (Over the years we have had several “what do you want to do” conversations but something was different this time.) At some point in the conversation I asked him if he was suggesting I leave without a new job lined up. He thought about it. He sipped his coffee. He looked at me and simply said, yes. I was nauseated. He said that meant it was the right thing to do. We discussed how it could work. I’ve got a very reasonable mortgage, a decent 401K and plenty of stock which I could sell as needed and still have plenty left over. I could comfortably live for a year. I couldn’t believe how easily I was thinking this, much less saying it out loud. And to someone who would hold me to it. Now I just needed to figure out when to leave. I’m a planner; I like process, policy and procedure. I was freaked out and so excited.
I had dinner with the Bauers and Matt suggested I leave at the end of the year. I really liked that idea. (To be fair Bauer’s first suggestion was I just leave, we are an at will state. I needed and wanted to give notice, Heather agreed.) The only thing that would have been better would have been leaving on my hire date. I know it’s silly but that’s me. I liked the symmetry of it. Now I had a plan. I just needed to actually give notice. (details…) Every time I saw my manager my stomach jumped into my throat. I knew it was the right thing to do but it was still huge. I mean, I had been there for more than 8 years. I opened the store. I opened lots of stores. I trained Inventory Control Specialists and Operations Managers. I set up a time to chat with my manager. I walked in the office and he said, are you leaving? (You have to understand I didn’t schedule time with him. Lots of employees did on a regular basis, but I didn’t. So he knew something was happening.) I told him my story. He appreciated where I was and what I was planning. He asked if he could offer me new opportunities or different challenges. I told him I had thought about that and knew it was time. If I wanted management I would have made a play for it years ago. If I wanted to become a genius I would have taken people up on the offer to go to training. And if I had really wanted to be at corporate I would have made something happen during the exchange program I had done in 2008. But I didn’t. Apple wasn’t my passion and I needed to find what was. I needed to find my own apple (if you will).
So I worked out the year and now in 2012 I’m starting Project Nina.