Taking some old advice

Jake Knapp
3 min readMay 9, 2017

Today I’m leaving my job as design partner at Google Ventures. Instead of another full-time job, I’m focusing my energy on writing. I have about twelve books in mind, including some nerdy fiction. And I’m gonna go for it.

I’m typing this post to explain my decision to everybody, and also — because writing helps me think — to explain it to myself.

First, am I sure I want to leave? After all, this is my dream job. Over the last decade at Google and GV, I’ve had an absurdly great opportunity to experiment with my design sprint process and work alongside super cool startups. My colleagues are some of my closest friends. I can’t lie, walking away is painful.

But I’m not giving up this line of work altogether. I love running workshops and sprints. Honestly, I gather a lot of energy from it, so I can’t give it up. I’ll still advise startups on the side — but I’m putting writing first, rather than squeezing it in on the sides.

For years, I’ve done the bulk of my writing on weekends, late nights, and vacations. Last year, I published my first book. But check this out: I’ve been working on an adventure novel for seven years. Seven years! Why isn’t it done yet? Because I’ve been waiting for someday. I’ll have a little more time someday. I’ll finish it someday. And boy, will it be great. Someday.

Well, I’m done waiting for someday. Instead, I’m taking some old advice from my mom and dad.

In 1979, when I was about 2 years old, my family left Seattle for a small island in the northwest corner of Washington State. My parents had always wanted to live on a farm someday, and they decided to go for it.

They had seven kids and zero income lined up. Neither my mom nor dad actually knew how to farm, and they weren’t sure how they’d make ends meet (spoiler: not by farming). It didn’t make sense, but they had to do it. They wanted to make better use of their time on earth, and decided to pursue their crazy hippy dream.

It didn’t turn out to be a hippy dream. My dad had been a lawyer in Seattle, and he ended up taking a job as the local prosecuting attorney. My mom went back to school and became the high school English teacher. But they did get to do what they loved: feed animals, mend fences, and be part of a small town.

Growing up, I never totally understood that move. But now, I think I do. I have kids—only two of them, but they’re good ones—and I find myself telling them “take risks, find what’s true for you, don’t take the easy path.” But how can I tell them that if I don’t do it myself? If I want to write, but I don’t because I have to give up something great, how can I ever honestly ask them to take a chance?

A little over a year ago, my father died. I think about him every day. It’s been long enough I suppose I should be over it, but I’m not. I want to call him and talk things over. I want to hear his advice.

It was Alzheimer’s that got him. He was 85 when he passed away, but really started to decline around 80. As I type this, I’m 39 years old, and it’s hard for me not to think mid-life crisis thoughts. If I’m on his timeline, I’ve got 40 bucks in my pocket, and I’ve gotta think hard about how I spend each one. What am I gonna do with 2017? Buy another great year like the last five at GV or the last ten at Google? Or try something a little crazy?

If I could call my dad, I know what he’d say. If I was giving the advice to my boys, I know what I’d say:

Follow your heart. Do it, even if it doesn’t 100% make sense. It might not work out exactly how you imagine, but it’s probably less risky than you think. And either way, you’ll learn something.

So, okay. I hear you, dad.

Here goes.

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Jake Knapp

Writer, designer, person. Author of SPRINT and MAKE TIME. Co-founder of character.vc. More at jakeknapp.com.