One Door Closes, Another Opens: Why I’m No Longer Working for Gaia

(Crossposted from ~C4Chaos @ Gaia)

“Never doubt that a small, group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
~ Margaret Meade

I remember it like yesterday. Two years ago I’ve embarked on a journey of pure serendipity. I left a relatively secured job to join a start up with a team of idealistic people I haven’t even met in person before. The reason I took the job was to experience change in my life while doing something that would have an impact in other people’s lives. Our team believed that social networking technology can be used to inspire and empower people by providing an online oasis where they can have meaningful conversations, freely express their beliefs, dreams, interests, creativity, and spirituality, without worrying about being judged and ridiculed. It was the early days of Zaadz.

Running a social network is as challenging as it is rewarding. Slowly but surely we grew our humble community. We resisted the urge of growing too quickly by focusing on quality of members rather than quantity. As a result, our growth was slow and organic. And therein lies our biggest challenge: sustainability. Our team and CEO at that time, Brian, had to make a hard choice: pack it up and call it a day, break up the team and keep on going, or keep the team and the community intact by finding a company that aligns with our vision and values. GAIAM came to the rescue. It was a perfect fit. Zaadz eventually transformed into Gaia Community. Our niche community continued to flourish.

Fast forward a year later, our biggest challenge–sustainability–is still there, only this time the harsh reality of our current economy had caught up on us as well. To make the long story short, GAIAM had to make cutbacks. Unfortunately, my position was one of those affected. So as of yesterday, I’m no longer working for Gaia Community.

[NOTE: See Siona’s blog for details. To all Gaia Community members: I may no longer work for Gaia but I’m still part of our community. Time-permitting, I’ll continue to visit, interact, and answer your questions. So feel free to email me and drop by my grapevine once in a while 🙂 ]

In spite of what happened, I’m still grateful for the opportunity to build something that is meaningful to others. Over the years I’ve met a lot people, online and offline, who had expressed their gratitude and love for the community we’ve started. I often hear the expression, “Thank you for what you do. I feel at home here,” whenever people describe their experience on Gaia. This made me proud and gave me goosebumps. How often do we hear people thanking us for making their lives a little better? I never got tired of hearing praises like that during my stay with Gaia. I’ll miss that part of my job.

Another thing I would terribly miss is my daily interaction with the Gaia team. I work remotely and have had very minimal physical interaction with them, but we’re like kindred souls online. It was a pleasure to share with them this journey. They’re the most passionate and compassionate people I’ve worked with. I wish them well.

Finally, I’ve also greatly benefited from Zaadz/Gaia on a personal level. For instance, I was able to work remotely from Ireland to be with my (then) future wife. Zaadz/Gaia will always be part of our family story.

So, what am I going to do next?

Short answer: I don’t know. A part of me wants to continue to find fulfulling work wherein I can leverage all the things I’ve learned from growing online communities, community support, moderation, social networking, and social media strategies. But another part of me wants to take the path of least resistance and go back to the corporate world of cubicles, office politics, status reports, and endless unproductive meetings. If it’s just me, I would take the former option. But the reality is that there are people who depend on me, so I’m considering the latter. I may be an idealist, but I’m also a practical person. Thanks to my pragmatic personality and my Asian cultural upbringing.

In any case, the biggest challenge for me is dealing with homeostasis. For the past couple of years I’ve gotten used to working remotely. As soon as I got up in the morning I was only a few steps away from work. There were days when I didn’t even bother to take a shower or change my sleeping clothes. (I sometimes teased my teammate, Matthew, that I work naked. I think he liked it.) I’ll miss the freedom, flexibility, and the less carbon-footprint lifestyle (i.e. for two years, I didn’t have to drive to work). I’m hoping I can telecommute in my next job.

Another adjustment I’d have to deal with is that, I won’t have the privilege of spending as much time online as I did before. I’ll do my best to keep up with my (hyper)streaming practice. But I’ll probably go under the radar again. I’m not comfortable mixing my online and personal/career life.

In the meantime, I’ll use my free time to reflect on things I’ve been putting off. One door closes, another opens. But I’m not getting any younger. So it’s time I shift my attention to what really matters.

P.S. Touched to my tenderness. This is why I will miss Gaia – I’m honored to have served you. Thank you for the opportunity.

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