Update 9/21/2017 (original post from 05/15/2017 below): Since I posted this originally about four months ago, a lot has happened. Almost no one who was in my position as a CEO ever writes openly about life after a big, difficult change. From the very beginning, such changes are typically slathered in the conventional PR sheen of “spending more time with my family” and “seeking new opportunities.” I’ve always hated that, which is why when I left Etsy, I personally insisted on the release saying what happened. As they say, “it is what it is” and I had a great run over close to a decade. I mention how I handled my departure here months later because looking back that was an important first step in doing my best to live the rest of my life with no bullshit and no illusions. Life is really too short to live that way.
Being very public about my intentions back in May gave me the space to proactively fine-tune how I want to spend my time instead of immediately filling my days with random meetings. It forced me to sit and think about what I wanted to be rather than filling my life with activity and falling prey to others’ expectations of what I should be. Since then, I’ve had a great summer spending undistracted time with my family and friends. I’ve gotten to know my six year old son in a very deep way and there’s no better gift in life than that. I’ve spent a lot of time writing, reflecting on successes and mistakes, advising/coaching a handful of people (going deep in an unhurried way, not just “let’s have coffee on X topic”), and generally just being a friend to people I care about (including myself).
I’ve been working harder than ever, but on things that matter a lot to me that may not matter that much (if any) to other people. I’ve said “no” to just about everything that people have sent my way (which turns out to be something that Warren Buffett recommends). My time away so far has been brief by comparison, but this Rolling Stone interview with Patti Smith after sixteen years out of the public eye really resonates with me:
Q: As far as your fans and the music business were concerned, you literally disappeared during the 1980s. How did you and Fred [her husband] spend those missing years?
A: That was a great period for me. Until Jackson had to go to school, Fred and I spent a lot of time traveling through America, living in cheap motels by the sea. We’d get a little motel with a kitchenette, get a monthly rate. Fred would find a little airport and get pilot lessons. He studied aviation; I’d write and take care of Jackson. I had a typewriter and a couple of books. It was a simple, nomadic, sparse life.
Q: Was there a period of adjustment for you, going from rock & roll stardom to almost complete anonymity?
A: Only in terms of missing the camaraderie of my band [I certainly identify with this. -CD]. And I certainly missed New York City. I missed the bookstores; I missed the warmth of the city. I’ve always found New York City extremely warm and loving.
But I was actually living a beautiful life. I often spent my days with my notebooks, watching Jackson gather shells or make a sand castle. Then we’d come back to the motel. Jackson would be asleep, and Fred and I would talk about how things went with his piloting and what I was working on.
Because people don’t see you or see what you’re doing doesn’t mean you don’t exist. When Robert [Mapplethorpe] and I spent the end of the ’60s in Brooklyn working on our art and poetry, no one knew who we were. Nobody knew our names. But we worked like demons. And no one really cared about Fred and I during the ’80s. But our self-concept had to come from the work we were doing, from our communication, not from outside sources.
That’s the spirit of how I’ve been living. I’m doing what truly excites me (see my post about Bandcamp and my post about Cornell Tech) and with very few exceptions keeping my calendar free and clear. I’m keeping that as a permanent practice. Now that I’ve got a basic life rhythm worked out, I’m glad to entertain opportunities that are really special and deliver a clearly positive societal impact. This would include boards (non-profit, for-profit, NGO), advisory roles, and investment opportunities with clear positive social impact. I’m not interested in “all in” full-time roles right now. Once I’m in something, I give it everything and more. “All in” has always meant 150% commitment and I’m not interested in that kind of life right now.
More generally, I’m troubled about what is happening in our country and world today and want to spend my energies on things that help put us all on a better track. I’m doing some things quietly but am always open to new ideas and approaches. If there’s something you’re working on in that spirit and you think I could be helpful, email me at hello at chaddickerson.com. I’m continuing to keep my bar for engagement very high, so send as much detail up front about what you’re working on and how you think I might be helpful. There are lots of challenges in the world today, but I’m hopeful and optimistic that we can address them.
Original post 05/15/2017: Since the announcement on May 2 that I was stepping down as CEO of Etsy (official release), I’ve gotten so many kind notes and emails over the past couple of weeks from all the amazing people I’ve had the honor to work with over the course of my time at Etsy and well before that. I’ve been responding to all of those and enjoying it immensely. Anyone who is wondering how to get in touch with me, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
People keep asking me, “what’s next?” My only two commitments are that:
- I’m staying in NYC, Brooklyn specifically. I love it here. It’s the greatest city in the world!
- I’m not making commitments of any kind through the end of 2017. That includes:
- Job opportunities
- Board seats
- Advisory roles
- Speaking gigs
- Coffees / lunches / dinners far in advance. I’m *really* serious about not jamming up my calendar with future engagements. Feel free to call/text/email a couple of days before or the day of.
Being the CEO of Etsy for nearly six years and CTO for three years before that during a period of massive growth was completely all-consuming and a 24/7/365 job. I loved it but look forward to days that are open to spontaneity — ones that aren’t scheduled to the brim from morning until night.
I plan to be very busy, though. Aside from some travel and time with family, I’m going full maker’s schedule and plan to focus my energies on a couple of creative pursuits: writing and music. I loved serving creative people in my job at Etsy and am grateful to all sellers around the world for giving me that opportunity. Now I look forward to being on the creative side myself. I have some exciting ideas and it will be fun to see where they lead.