Why I left the tech industry to craft a career in ceramics

Only a few months ago I was sitting at my desk, crying over some exchange I had just had with a colleague and I told myself "this is not sustainable for you". I could not see the end of this, but I knew this was not me. That this could not be my life.

But where was I going to go? I knew I was happiest being creative and working for myself but my creative hobby was just that: a hobby. Certainly I could not pay my mortgage with that. 

I am getting ahead of myself. This post is not about how I made that jump, but why. What drove me out of an industry that was essentially telling me all along it hated me?

I've been wanting to write this for a while, and it seemed to me that if I did, I would be officially shutting off a door. After all, my Linkedin profile still shows me as an experienced product consultant with management experience. 

But there is no going back. I spent over 10 years working in an industry that hates women. And I drove myself mad trying to please everyone and trying to mould myself into the manager, the colleague, the person I was expected to be, only to end up with severe anxiety and depression. 

There is no going back.

There was no breaking point. I would describe it more like a pot reaching boiling temperature.

I started my career at the bottom of the ladder: doing technical support and fixing up pages. I had a propensity for working fast and well, and that quickly made me visible and recognised among my team. At this point I had already heard the throwaway comments and the sexist remarks. Once in a Skype group chat I asked a support staff if he could get back to me once a particular bug was fixed because the rest of the team was on stand-by. He responded "yes madam", and promptly deleted his post. Numerous times I was asked if I could "keep up" with the technical conversation by a rather abusive database administrator who liked to berate me in front of my boss. 

All in all though, I was happy to be seen and to be appreciated. Something in me still told me I could be happy and successful. In the first few years of my career I had a great mentor. Someone who taught me how to be respected by being kind and human. Over time, as my role changed and I climbed through the ranks, things only got worse.

It wasn't only the pressure and crazy hours. It was the constant feeling of invisibility and the expectation that I could never ever show how this affected me emotionally because I would be branded as unstable. It wasn't only the being told I had "resting bitch face" (to my face), but how my suggestions were ignored only to be accepted once another (male) colleague made them months later. It was the "you have a sexy voice"-comment over Skype, but also being passed on for promotions while being expected to show nothing but support.

The tech industry may be the arena of innovation (and I certainly don't buy into that idea), but for all the talk of culture that is so popular in start-ups nowadays, I still have not seen any truly healthy working environment. 

Years ago, I was sitting at dinner during a retreat with my company. We were half-way across the world, celebrating each other's successes. As everyone was happily chatting away, I was on day 5 of subsisting on coffee and very little sleep. My mental health was clearly deteriorating but I had no way of knowing yet.   I was exhausted and sad. My mind was going to pretty dark and scary places. Only after months of therapy and after being diagnosed with panic disorder and depression, I finally started seeing more clearly.

While anxiety is a complicated disease and has many factors, my job acted as a trigger. I could not go back to work for months but while I changed job, I stayed in the industry thinking, hoping, that it would be a fresh start. Unfortunately, the same issues that plagued my previous working environment seemed to exist everywhere. During my first week in my new job, a colleague threatened to leave because "he could not be managed by a woman". But I stayed because I wanted to change the culture. It did not end well. 

So no, there is no going back. Because I tried to fix things but couldn't. There is no fixing this industry from the inside. Not for me at least.