A busy product manager gets a few weeks off to spend however he wants. No work commute, no deadlines, no family obligations — just him and his backpack. So what better place to spend a few carefree weeks than… a Guatemalan orphanage?
Yes, John Nack, Adobe’s principal product manager based in San Jose, turned the idea of “me” time into “we” time by using his vacation time to volunteer in an orphanage in Guatemala.
“I didn’t know much about it before I did it,” John says of the volunteer gig he found online. “I said, ‘I’ll go where you need me.’ I just wanted to be with human beings, not computers.”
John says his goal was something of a reality check — away from the affluence of Silicon Valley, away from the constant pressure to innovate, away from a place in the world where it’s too easy to become desensitized to fortune and good luck.
So a few weeks later, he found himself in Guatemala City helping to care for some of the 50 kids who lived in a local orphanage. He spent days playing games, drawing, giving hugs, and controlling chaos. On his Adobe blog, he later wrote moving entries about his experiences: “the life-affirming, the very sad, and mostly the totally banal.”
The experience of working in an orphanage, he says, is hard to sum up. It’s sometimes the typical tediousness of childcare. It’s sometimes the crushing recognition that these children may never know the love of a parent. And it’s sometimes just playing with a bunch of kids who just want to play.
“I didn’t expect to change the world, but I hoped to change myself in some measure,” John says. “Did I change at all? Did I make a dent? It’s hard to quantify that, but you hope that when some critical decision comes 10 years down the line, after an experience like this you could be ready to make a more courageous call.”