A sharp intake of breath.
Tuesday, Sep 11, 2007
The next three months are going to be something really different for me.

This is exactly the point.

Ever since I left home and started at Berkeley 16 years ago one of the few constants in my life has been the way I oscillate between school and work. Between 1991 and 2003 I left and returned to school no fewer than six times. Most universities aren't set up for that kind of degree path and I was lucky that Berkeley, though fraught with administrative hurdles, enabled me to do this.

Now that I've completed my Bachelors and Masters degrees I probably won't ever go back to school for another degree, and yet the role that school has played in my life still exists, currently without an outlet to fill it.

My adult life has been guided by the oscillation between the learning of theory and its application in practice. I would thirst for knowledge and the acquisition of skills, and then I would hunger to apply these skills in a practical manner. After being sated by a stint in the working world, it was time to replenish my reserves and so back to school I would go. Very early on I discovered that I can't go to school and work at the same time any more than I can inhale through my nose and exhale through my mouth at the same time. One or the other would always dominate. Maybe some Tibetan gurus can accomplish this circular breathing, but not me.

For over a decade this was all well and good. Berkeley, MacWEEK Magazine; Berkeley, Dantz Development; Berkeley, Newton software development; Berkeley, Segasoft/Levi-Strauss; Berkeley, Yahoo!; Carnegie Mellon, Google. I would breathe in information, collect inspiration, harvest passion and ideas. Then I would find an opportunity to exhale, to let out a slow, metered breath of labor, inspiration, work, creation. Once the breath was gone and I'd start to turn blue I'd head back to school for more.

Each half of this cycle never lasted more than two years, and was often only 12 months.

Back when I worked for Dantz Development, I used to live in Berkeley and work in Orinda. Twice a day I'd drive through the Caldecott Tunnel, a three-bore tunnel through the Oakland Hills. When I was a kid, tunnels were wishes if you could hold your breath through them and I never fully outgrew it. I'd practice holding my breath through this 7-tenths-of-a-mile tunnel twice a day, between 45 seconds and a minute and a half. Any longer than that and traffic would, quite literally, take my breath away. This much wishing taught me a few things about breathing.

Too much pressure in your lungs only shortened the amount of time you could hold it in.

Moving burns oxygen.

You can hold your breath a lot longer if you don't actually hold it.

If you define 'holding your breath' as a single oscillation of the breathing cycle then the clock starts when you stop breathing in, and continues until you finish taking your next breath. This is clearly silly since you can game the system by taking advantage of two doses of oxygen, so I found a middle road, defining holding one's breath as not taking in any air while in the tunnel in question. I can release all the air I want in the tunnel. I just can't get any back until I'm out, or relinquish the wish and gasp early.

With practice, about a third of your time can come during the slow release of breath. The feeling of progress stops your body's reaction to gasp for air and you can feel the calm that comes with a metered exhalation.

Back to the present, I'm now entering my fifth year at Google, three times longer than I've ever been at another single job, and I'm breathless.

Done with school, I was stuck to find another source of oxygen, of inspiration, of passion and invention. An influx. A fix. I've found my answer in a personal leave of absence. Three months of mostly unstructured time. A quarter full of nebulous goals and ideas, of personal explorations, of acquiring new skills and generating new ideas unbeholden to quarterly objectives or the big mother G.

Me-ternity leave. A sabbatical. A university of one.

A sharp intake of breath.

I start in eleven days.

I'm so excited.

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Hi, I'm Kevin Fox.
I've been blogging at since 1998.
I can be reached at .

I also have a resume.


I'm co-founder in
a fantastic startup fulfilling the promise of the Internet of Things.

The Imp is a computer and wi-fi connection smaller and cheaper than a memory card.

Find out more.

We're also hiring.


I post most frequently on Twitter as @kfury and on Google Plus.


I've led design at Mozilla Labs, designed Gmail 1.0, Google Reader 2.0, FriendFeed, and a few special projects at Facebook.

©2012 Kevin Fox