High-tech execs also search for fulfillment

For more than a decade, Randal Thatcher had flown all over the world, rubbed shoulders with top computer executives, and hung out with millionaires on their yachts.

Yet, he says, he felt unfulfilled.

So he quit.

"The last thing I did for Microsoft was a business trip to Tokyo," says Mr. Thatcher. "I took my touring bike with me and ... I went into a conference room, changed from my suit into my biking clothes, mailed my laptop computer and suit back [to the US], and literally went out, got on my bike, and rode off."

Just like that, after 11 harried years as an international-marketing manager, Thatcher quit the Redmond, Wash.,-based computer giant. "It was a silly existence," he says.

Thatcher jumped on a ferryboat and went on a month-long bike tour of the Japanese island of Hokaido to contemplate his future.

He had been considering a career shift for years, but his decision became clear after reading an interview with Bill Gates. When asked where his drive came from, Mr. Gates replied that computers were his passion, and he advised people to find a job they were passionate about.

"Reading that, it was clear to me that Microsoft was not my passion," Thatcher says. "My heart said ... you probably owe it to yourself to leave here, [even] as secure as it is, and as great a place it is to work, and as much money as you stand to make here."

His sentiment is one commonly felt in the corporate arena. A Gallup survey conducted last year showed that only 39 percent of Americans 18 and older are completely satisfied with their jobs, while another 47 percent are somewhat satisfied. Moreover, about 17 million US workers planned to quit to take new jobs in 1999, up 6 million from 1994, according to US News and World Report.

Fortunately for Thatcher, he had managed to amass enough savings to live without a weekly paycheck. He and his wife, Shari, took a year-long around-the-world trip. All the while, he questioned whether he had done the right thing.

And the pressure was tough: Microsoft's stock split four times. His friends told him he was crazy. Other employees that had quit Microsoft couldn't stay away and went back. "I would vacillate between this is the smartest thing I've ever done and this is the stupidest thing I've ever done," says Thatcher.

During their trip, the couple went on three volunteer missions with Global Volunteers, an international nonprofit organization that provides services to underprivileged communities. On separate visits, he cuddled orphans while in Romania, taught English at a fishing village in Java, and built a one-room schoolhouse in Vietnam.

While this new-found freedom was a refreshing break, he still questioned his decision to leave. For the next six months to a year, an identity crisis gripped him. "I used to hand people my business card: 'See this is me, I'm Randal Thatcher, international-marketing manager for Microsoft.' [After] leaving, suddenly, I had no identity.... My ego very much missed Microsoft."

Such internal conflict is common among career changers, says Benjamin Hunicutt, professor of leisure studies at the University of Iowa. "[Work] is the place for community, where we're going to find meaning in life, where we're going to be able to establish an identity."

Yet Thatcher's loss of identity eventually subsided, and he gradually became comfortable with his new life.

He now tutors at an elementary school in Seattle, writes travel articles, and continues to go on month-long trips with Global Volunteers.

"I'm feeling now - even without a full-time job, no business card, no title - a better sense of self," Thatcher says. "I can identify myself outside a corporate position."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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