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When Patrick Pichette last week posted a letter on Google+ to say that he was resigning as the company’s chief financial officer to go backpacking with his wife, the whole world cheered. A must-read, inspiring was the online verdict.

Duly I read the post, and duly I felt inspired. Not to buy a backpack but to declare that, in the suspect genre of resignation memos, Mr Pichette has composed an instant classic. More than that, he has raised questions about oversharing, false modesty and about the double standards we all have about work and family. I urge you to read it at once if you haven’t already.

The post begins: “After nearly 7 years as CFO, I will be retiring from Google to spend more time with my family”, which would be a fine start, only it is not quite true, as becomes clear later. It goes on: “I want to share my thought process because so many people struggle to strike the right balance between work and personal life.”

He’s right here. Almost everyone struggles to find a balance, but that is because there isn’t one. Different people cope in different ways. Moreover, Mr Pichette makes about 100 times the average US wage, which means the vast majority of people with whom he is sharing his thought process will not be moved one way or another.

Then he tells us that his new life was born early one morning at the top of Kilimanjaro. “Tamar (my wife) and I were not only enjoying the summit, but on such a clear day, we could see in the distance, the vast plain of the Serengeti at our feet, and with it the calling of all the potential adventures Africa has to offer.”

Two things occur to me about this. The first is that it is quite hard to get enough oxygen at the top of a mountain, which can lead to confusion, irrational behaviour and even death, making it not a great place to take big life decisions.

The second is that Mr Pichette’s words sound weirdly familiar; I find myself singing Toto’s Africa, one of the corniest pop songs ever written: “I know that I must do what’s right/Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti” etc.

The CFO explains he didn’t resolve to leave Google right away. He went back to work, and then three reasons for quitting came to him.

“First, the kids are gone.” This strikes me as a little eccentric — spending time with the family at the very point that the family is no longer there.

Second, he needed a break having worked flat out for 1,500 weeks as a result of being a “member of FWIO, the noble Fraternity of Worldwide Insecure Over-achievers”. Only he can know if he rightly belongs to this fraternity, though if the message is any guide there is not much evidence of the “I” in the FWIO.

“I love my job (still do), my colleagues, my friends, the opportunities to lead and change the world.” Led and changed the world? Not much insecurity there.

The third reason is the strength of Mr Pichette’s 25-year marriage and the “many great memories we already have together . . . I want more. And she deserves more. Lots more.”

Even if it weren’t vaguely indecent to discuss a wife’s deserts in a corporate memo, it is tempting providence. Patrick and Tamar haven’t seen a great deal of each other in the past 25 years; one hopes that the playlist that accompanies their future trek is more Africa than D.I.V.O.R.C.E.

“Allow me to spare you the rest of the truths”, he goes on, raising hopes only to dash them again by declaring that he is going to have “a perfectly fine mid life crisis full of bliss and beauty”, a claim so breathtakingly ambitious that it distracts attention from the rest of the sentence, which reads “. . . and leave the door open to serendipity for our next leadership opportunities, once our long list of travels and adventures is exhausted”.

In other words, this isn’t retirement at all. It’s a mere holiday, after which he is open to further job offers.

“Working at Google is a privilege, nothing less,” Mr Pichette winds up, thanking Larry, Sergey and Eric for “letting me be me”.

That’s all very well, but if I were a shareholder I might quibble that I wasn’t paying Patrick $5.2m a year to be Patrick, but to keep the company’s cost structure in order.

So there you have it. A man who has spent seven years as finance director of one of the world’s biggest companies decides to go on an extended vacation with his wife.

That is a private decision, and might or might not be a good one. Yet outsiders have bizarrely judged him to be a hero on the strength of it. As one man wrote rapturously underneath: “Je suis Patrick.”

Yet in reality “nous ne sommes pas Patrick”, and we should all reserve the right to make our own choices for ourselves.
lucy.kellaway@ft.com

Twitter: @lucykellaway


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