On Feb 20, 2009 I boarded a plane and moved from Vancouver, my home of 20 years, to Yellowknife. I was born and grew up in Yellowknife, so it’s not quite as impetuous as it may sound. I moved for two primary reasons: The Gov’t of the NWT offered a job I couldn’t resist and I wanted to help my senior parent transition to life “down south”. In the decision making process, I wrote out pros and cons, but I overlooked a few! Here are 5 factors that deserved more sober attention than I gave them:
1. The value of my professional network I’d built up. I hadn’t fully grasped the implications of starting from scratch, at this stage of my life and career. Over two decades in Vancouver, I’d built up a vast network of people who knew me, knew what I was about, and knew what I was capable of delivering. I underestimated the quiet sense of security that provides a person. My colleagues up here are wonderfully warm and receptive to be sure, but nothing can replace two decades of building up a professional reputation. This leaves me feeling a lot more professionally vulnerable than I had expected. I often feel like I have to ask for the benefit-of-the-doubt since my new network hasn’t actually seen demonstrated results from me yet. Presumably this will diminish with time, but still, I wish I’d reflected more deeply on this. Lesson: factor this in, and ensure there are support structures in place to compensate for this loss.
2. The job is quite different than what I’d expected. This is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact, it may play out very positively. Nevertheless, moving 3,000 miles to make that discovery is unsettling. When making a career change within your geographic area, you are more likely to be in better touch with an informal network that can give you a clearer picture of the employer. If you discover it’s not what you want, after all (and I’m not saying that’s the case for me! It remains to be seen…), it’s a whole lot easier to opt for a Plan B if you’re in your home stomping grounds. Lesson: dig a little deeper, if possible, to get as complete a picture as possible of the new job context.
3. The situation has changed for my parent. One of my reasons for moving up here has been unexpectedly eliminated for reasons that have nothing to do with me. Lesson: In retrospect, I wouldn’t move for the sake of another person, unless things had been really nailed down. I think of all the women/men who have moved for the sake of a new relationship only to discover the relationship didn’t work, and shake my head a little. If you have a story to tell about that, I’d like to hear about it – leave a comment!
4. The personal impact of changing cities. Because I grew up here, I thought I knew Yellowknife, and in many ways that’s the case. But I didn’t realize how deeply I’d miss a few elements that align with my values and aren’t available to me here. These include my formal, gritty, inclusive (!) parish church which nourished my spiritual life, it includes digital infrastructure (YK isn’t really wired), and above all it includes my home – I’m in an adequate rental unit but it doesn’t provide the sense of contentment and “at home-ness” that my condo in gastown provided. These are taking a cumulative toll on me and I wish I’d taken them into greater account in my decision-making process. Lesson: Clearly identify values critical to quality-of-life and weigh them heavily into the decision.
5. The ancillary costs of a move. For me it’s been: $1200 to build a fence for my dogs, $1000 for a winter parka, $3000 to paint and fix up my Vancouver condo for the tenant, easily $2000 in replacement costs for furniture which I didn’t bring with me, $2000 in airfares for Christmas … you get the picture! Lesson: just like home renos, I suspect moves always entail unexpected expenses. Add 50% to the estimate!
I cannot conclude without saying this: None of this is in any way a reflection on Yellowknife or my new job. Rather, it’s a sober acknowledgment that in many ways, this move was a Bigger Deal than I’d originally anticipated. Maybe, like a lot in life (parenting?), it’s a good thing we don’t know all the challenges in advance or we’d stay in our comfort zones.