The Journey of Rediscovering Myself

The backstory of a little statue with a big message

Carlos Arguelles
10 min readMar 30, 2024

Back in February, I had a little birthday get-together at my house. My good friend Ramil showed up with a present. I was so busy chatting with people that night that I didn’t open it until the next day. As I was sipping my morning coffee in front of the fireplace and unwrapping the box, I was puzzled. It seemed to be a statue? At first, I didn’t understand why he had given it to me. As I was trying to decipher the meaning of the gift, I noticed some writing:

To Carlos, a man that can reInvent himself.

First, the funny spelling of “reinvent” as “reInvent” was clearly intentional and made me chuckle. Ramil and I were both ex-Amazon Principal Engineers (I am at Google today, and he’s at Meta), and reInvent is a massive yearly Amazon AWS conference. It was a little subtle pun from one ex-amzn to another.

I continued examining the statue, still unsure of why my friend had given it to me. After some googling, I learned that the original artist was Bobbie Carlyle, and her vision was a man with a hammer and a chisel, carving himself out of stone, carving his character, carving his future, a beautiful shape emerging from a seemingly amorphous and unremarkable block.

It was an incredibly thoughtful present with a deep meaning. Ramil had been my friend for a number of years, and had mentored me through a challenging part of my life in which I had worked very hard to better myself. I was now at the end of that journey… light at the end of the tunnel. This is that story.

The Journey Down

I did not handle covid isolation particularly well. 2019 had been a fantastic, intense year where I had traveled the world on behalf of Amazon. I thrived in a vibrant culture, I knew everybody, and everybody knew me. I had been there for over 11 years. But I had decided that I needed to push myself and explore an entirely different culture, so I joined Google. Immediately after, the pandemic started shutting down the world. That first year was nothing like I had envisioned. I found myself feeling lonely and disconnected from the world, on hours of confusing video conferences with people I had never met and didn’t culturally understand in a place that I struggled to belong to. Gone was the camaraderie that comes with going out for lunch every day with your coworkers, or casually grabbing a coffee to work out some differences with another engineer face-to-face.

I did eventually figure out how to rebuild relationships, expand my network, and get my bearings in a new place, even become productive again. And I did reasonably well, even scored an Exceeded in one of my performance reviews at Google in that period.

But in some ways, I lost myself.

It was not a single isolated event, but rather a small set of little steps, until the day I realized I perhaps wasn’t my best self any more. How do you boil a frog? Quoted from Wikipedia, “If a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to or be aware of sinister threats that arise gradually rather than suddenly.”

I always spend a couple of hours every December 31st to reflect upon what I’ve done the last 12 months, look at the big picture of where I’m going, and decide whether I want to change direction. On 12/31/22 I took a hard look at myself, and decided: I missed who I was in my core and I was going to get back to that.

My story today talks purely about non-technical aspects of my life, but I assert that it’s all interconnected. Being happy with who I truly am and the knowledge that I’m being my best self gives me energy and focus to be better and more productive in my professional life.

The Journey Back, Physically

One of the ways in which I had lost myself was that between 2020 and 2023 I had gained 80 pounds. I was quite active before the covid shutdown, but during it I became stationary. I had a hard time sleeping at night, and low energy during the day. I ran out of breath going up the stairs at home. I felt that weight gain was starting to impact my life. My default answer to many things was “No”. I felt I wasn’t being a good role model to my kids. I literally felt my brain working slower.

And so my resolution on 12/31/22 was that I was going to lose 80 pounds in 2023. I went to the gym every single day, rain or shine. There were days I didn’t feel like it, but I had a goal and a personal challenge and I forced myself to go. Every Single Day, no exceptions. I took pride in pushing myself beyond what I thought I could reasonably do. It reminded me that we always have grit and determination if we seek deep inside. That lesson I can apply to my professional life as well.

I also started eating much healthier. That too was not easy… there were lots of foods I missed. I was hungry and cranky throughout the day. But I stuck to my resolution. There were no miracle solutions or miracle drugs, just hard work and sacrifices. That too applies to your professional life.

Goals are best when you can measure them, and so I did. Every day I stepped on the scale. At first nothing was changing and I felt demoralized. But little by little things started to change. One pound gone here and there. I started feeling better, healthier, more energetic and overall more enthusiastic about my day. There was a turning point where I started to crave some physical activity. My head felt more clear, I was more excited about saying “Yes” to things and welcomed new experiences in my life.

It really is eye-opening just how much your physical health impacts your mental health, and just about every aspect of your life, personal and professional.

On 12/31/23, I once again stepped on the scale, exactly one year after my decision to change my situation. I had lost exactly 80 pounds in 365 days.

The Journey Back, Mentally

Another area of my life I was struggling with was that it was very difficult to be 100%-in-the-moment. This is actually very important, and I think we’ve all lost this recently so I wanted to take a minute to explore it today.

When I was working at Amazon (in-person, pre-covid times) it was a very intense work environment, but I never really felt burnout. Not once in over 11 years there. I think part of the reason is that I had a very clear line between my professional life and my personal life. When I started working at Google in 2020, covid dynamics up-ended the entire thing, and it took me a while to recognize it, and tackle it.

Back in pre-covid days, I would wake up, leisurely have coffee with my wife, drive my boys to school, and take a bus downtown. I had a 30 minute ride to the Amazon campus, and I would use that time to catch up with work emails and texts. After the bus dropped me off, I had a 10 minute walk to my building. I would use that little walk to strategize on how I was going to structure my day, and the things I wanted to accomplish before heading home. When I entered the building, I was 100% in “work-mode.” I was there to get X, Y, Z done today. In the afternoon, I had a similar routine, but in reverse. By the time I got back home, I had successfully disconnected from my Amazon duties, and I was a dad and a husband, again 100% in that mode.

Surely, there were emergencies at work and I worked longer hours. But for the most part, what was notable about that routine is that whether I was at home or at work, I was 100%-in-the-moment. When I was having coffee with my wife in the morning, I wasn’t thinking about work, I was just enjoying a conversation with her. When I was driving my boys to school, I was chatting with them about what toys they wanted to play with, or a movie we had watched the night before. When I got to work, I wasn’t thinking about my family, I was thinking about the things I wanted to accomplish on behalf of Amazon that day.

Those clear boundaries mattered. Being 100% in the moment made me happier and more productive.

Fast forward to 2020, and covid forced us all to work from home, whether we wanted it or not. At first, I loved it. I was able to have lunch with the family! I no longer needed to spend an hour of my life commuting to work every day! I could take a nap in the afternoon between two meetings! I discovered all kinds of benefits of working from home. Summer came, and I worked from my pool: we have a pool in our backyard, and I literally joined some meetings half submerged in water. Life was good!

But little things crept up. Just like you boil a frog. I would grab my phone first thing in the morning and check on work emails before I was even out of bed. Very slowly, being-100%-in-the-moment having coffee with the wife became being-90%-in-the-moment, then 80%-in-the-moment, then 70%-in-the-moment, as I discreetly scrolled through work texts. Things crept up the other way too. I was in a work meeting thinking about how after that meeting was over I needed to help my 13-yr old with his math homework. So I wasn’t 100%-in-that-moment either.

There are two downsides of not being 100%-in-the-moment. One is efficiency. Context-switching is expensive. If 80% of your brain is thinking about X, and 20% of your brain is thinking about Y, there’s always the overhead of continuously context switching between X and Y. But it’s not just efficiency. Context switching requires cognitive effort and it leads to burnout.

In the last six months, I’ve worked extremely hard on going back to my roots of being 100%-in-the-moment regardless of where I am. This has required setting boundaries, and doing a reset on a number of behaviors that I had fallen into. I’m so much happier and so much more productive. And my wife tells me I’m a much more enjoyable human being to be around, which I think is a pretty good achievement.

As I was more deliberately working on being 100% in the moment, I realized I had lost the depth of human connections I used to have. It’s not like I was disconnected from my wife, my kids, my friends. But I was definitely less connected. And those deep connections mattered to me.

I took time off work, and surprised my wife with a little trip to Paris in November. We ate a lot of delicious French food, we drank a lot of French wine, and we walked around without a specific destination. We had been to Paris many times before, so we had no tourist agenda. Just wanted to enjoy the city and each other’s company.

December came, and my 16-yr son had his Winter Break from school. He had been curious to see German castles, and I thought: why not? So I booked a last-minute flight to Frankfurt, and we drove around Bavaria for a week checking out German castles, just the two of us. It was a fairly spontaneous decision, but the “reInvented” Carlos was more about seizing the moment and saying Yes to things I would normally have said No to. And it was a priceless time that we got to enjoy with each other.

A couple of weeks after that, when my 13-yr old had his Winter Break (they’re at different schools with different breaks), I asked him what he wanted to do, thinking he’d say Legoland or something more local. “Well dad, I’ve always wanted to see the New Year fireworks in the Colosseum” he replied casually. At first I was surprised, thinking, no we can’t do that. But again: more open to saying Yes to things I normally would have said No to. I booked last-minute tickets to Rome, we flew in on December 31st and made it to the Colosseum for an unforgettable fireworks display. And he had been learning about Pompeii in school, so I thought: instead of reading a book about Pompeii, why not just show you the real one? Spending this 1:1 time was priceless.

Was it a bit extreme to literally go to Europe three separate times in the span of two months? Yes. A little. Ok, a lot. But the 1:1 time that I got to spend with my wife, my 16-yr old, and my 13-yr old, and the shared experiences, were absolutely worth it.

Twenty years from now, that time will have mattered more in my life than checking my work email twenty times per day. And like I said, all is inter-connected: I’m a better employee because I’m a better person.

Now YOUR Journey

Are you physically and mentally your best self? If you’re not, I hope my little post finds you and inspires you to embark on that journey. This holds true whether you work in an office or remotely, and it holds true whether you work 20-hours per week or 80-hours per week. It’s about being fully present in the moment. And it’s well worth it.



Carlos Arguelles

Hi! I'm a Senior Principal Engineer (L8) at Amazon. In the last 26 years, I've worked at Google and Microsoft as well.