Finding Life’s Act II

The following guest blog post originally appeared on Maria Shriver’s website.

Finding Life’s Act II: How I Went From “Chief Xbox Officer” to “Civic Engineer”

We all remember being asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” For adults, it is a conversation starter with a child, but for the poor soul on the receiving end, the question eventually becomes tiring. It migrates from “…when you grow up” to “. . . when you graduate” to “. . . when you change jobs”. And eventually, you get asked “What do you want to do when you retire?” General (and President) Dwight Eisenhower once said that, “In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” To his point, while the “what do you want to be when you group up” question may be trite, it is important to do some planning from time to time.

For me, this discussion took on a unique form when I decided to leave Microsoft after 22 years. Over those years, I was fortunate to experience the excitement of living overseas, the accomplishment of contributing to the formation of the Microsoft Office business, and the challenge of leading the creation and development of the Xbox video game console.

I was only 49 years old so I definitely didn’t think of leaving Microsoft as “retirement”, but it certainly involved stepping back from the table and reflecting on my next steps. In Eisenhower fashion, I did some planning for my “Act II”.

[Ann Romney on the Stay-at-Home Mom Business: Being a Mom Was My Job]

The rock ‘n roll of my Microsoft years left me with an incredible set of experiences, skills and talents that I wanted to apply in a new context. The ultimate question that came from my planning and early post-Microsoft activity was simple: How could I take the lessons I’d learned from the challenges of building several successful businesses at Microsoft and apply them to broader civic and social issues? How could I have deep, lasting impact? XBox Revisited Robbie Bach

When I took on the leadership of the Xbox project, we made up the title Chief Xbox Officer or CXO – an unofficial title that became a byline for my leadership in the gaming industry. As I started my Act II grounded in social impact, I took on another self-created title – Civic Engineer. Civic Engineers are people that utilize skills, talents and tools from their personal and professional experiences to grapple with the serious problems that affect our communities.

The best part of being a Civic Engineer is that it is not an exclusive club. In fact, rather than requiring years of study, advanced diplomas or a “Chief of Something” title, civic engineering is the most democratic of clubs, requiring only that we live up to our duties as citizens and apply our common sense to challenging problems. And it is not necessary to wait until Act I is finished to get engaged. Although current circumstances will dictate the form of each person’s activism, all of us need to find a way to have impact in our communities. Civic engineers need only do three things:

[Do You Know What Kind of “Archetype” You Are?]

  1. Find a civic passion – there are plenty of local, state and national issues so finding something that has deep meaning should not be the challenge. The difficult part is being selective so that the engagement can be deep enough to have real impact.
  2. Get educated – if this is going to be an important commitment, Civic Engineers owe it to themselves and the cause they serve to be knowledgeable about the subject. This might involve research, some meetings with engaged leaders or even just listening at some meetings. Step-by-step the expertise can be acquired to have an impact.
  3. Take action – depending on personal circumstances, the most leveraged form of involvement may be volunteering, it might be serving on a committee, it might be taking a leadership role or it might be providing funding. Whatever the form, taking the first steps in the civic engineering journey will be rewarding…and lead the engineer from crawling, to walking, to running toward social impact.

[Read Maria Shriver’s latest ‘I’ve Been Thinking’ essay]

In my new book, Xbox Revisited: A Game Plan for Corporate and Civic Renewal, I make the argument that fixing America’s problems requires an army of Civic Engineers willing to get educated and get involved passionately in issues that matter to them and their communities. America is at a crossroads, one of those pivotal points in history that will determine the trajectory of our future. I remain convinced we can conquer the most complex of challenges if we mobilize effectively and work together.