Mi Exito = My Success
British playwright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard wrote, “Every exit is an entry somewhere else.” In Spanish, “my success” translates as “mi exito,” which sounds a lot (in English) like my success is my exit. Makes sense to me. After all, how we end things influences how we begin something else.
Of course, this goes both ways. Angry residue from a departure doesn’t just disappear overnight.
When I limped to the finish line of my four years of leadership at Airbnb more than four years ago, I was burned out. 70-hours-a-week will do that to you. I left, reminded of Rumi’s quote and how life can be summed up in three phases: raw, cooked, and burned. I was clearly at the end of the third phase, and I was ready for my exit. True to his generous spirit, CEO Brian Chesky allowed me to give an exit speech.
On January 19, 2017, on the very last night of our three-day, all-employee gathering, I stood up after dinner and shared twenty minutes of parting words with nearly 3,000 employees from 22 offices from around the globe. We, as a company, had come so far from the time when I joined (we only had 300 employees when I started less than four years earlier).
As Brian introduced me at the last part of this annual company lovefest, I felt like the village elder surrounded by a community less than half my age. Rather than sticking to my script, I spontaneously quoted Kahlil Gibran (from “The Prophet”), “Work is love made visible.”
I couldn’t help it. My heart was overflowing. My parting words revolved around the idea that our “little tech company that could” needed to “stay hospitable and stay human.” It was these twin traits that truly differentiated us in the data-centric Valley and the transaction-focused online travel industry. They would also be our “exit” to even greater success—the next chapter in the company.
Ironically, I gave a commencement-like speech, and, yet, as Brian suggested in his introduction that night, I was the one graduating, walking away with a new kind of degree—the Modern Elder diploma.
So, while I was cooked, burned, and more than ready to take a break from Airbnb, I also felt profound gratitude that I could share some parting wisdom. Little did I know that I would be sharing that wisdom with myself. Five months after that speech, I had my “Baja-aha” epiphany of creating the world’s first midlife wisdom school, the Modern Elder Academy.