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In the Forest - Monday, May. 08, 2023
Friday, Mar. 24, 2023 @ 12:00 pm
Morgan. I look over, and he’s sitting there waiting with his co-instructor. The ski program is finished for the year, but there he is all prepped to teach. I didn’t think that I’d see him again until next winter.
I’m at the base of the ski hill with a group of friends, other volunteers that I met over the course of the season. We are waiting for a latecomer, overheating in the spring temperatures, chattering together and excited for a social sunset ski.
I walk over to say hi. He asks how I am. I tell him about how I’d just signed an offer letter for a new position. A bump up in pay and responsibility, plus a shorter commute.
“That’s really good,” he says, making direct eye contact. He’s attentive, but also closed off and protected. I should have tried to talk to him more over the six weeks of lessons, but the opportunity was minimal as we were both engaged with our special needs students.
But looking back, there was ample time to socialize, the proof of which is this group social ski. Nine of us, lapping the hill, stopping at length to talk and build relationships. Is he introverted? Should I have reached out to invite him to join us?
After skiing, we drink beer in the chalet. I look around the table and am amazed at the international collection of folks. I inventory the countries from which they emigrated, going clockwise around the table: France, France, Spain, Malaysia, Mexico, Mexico, Mexico, Mexico. Then me, born in a hospital located 10km away as the crow flies.
I meet the man who is to become my new manager. I interviewed virtually, so there is a strange moment at first meeting where their height isn’t exactly what I’d imagined. The experience pulls like a blind date. He repeats several times how excited he is to have me join his team. We talk intensely for 45 minutes, organizing the details of the internal transfer. Cell phone. Laptop. Planned vacation days. But there’s also this intangible thing that’s forming up over the course of the meeting. I feel beholden to him, as I feel as though he’s taken a leap of faith to offer me a position. And I want to prove that he made a good decision.
When I tell my manager about the transfer, he expresses disappointment. When I tell him the title of the new position he says, “You should really be hired into the next level up. You undervalue yourself.”
When I tell my direct reports that I will be leaving, there is a long silence. I attempt to reassure them that I am working on a transition plan, and that I’m doing everything that I can to ensure that they aren’t abandoned. But the truth is that the department is going to be frustrating, messy, and inefficient for several months while HR recruits my backfill.
“They love you, you know,” my manager tells me during a meeting to discuss the transition. “You are going to be tough to replace. We can only dream of getting another Shannon.”
My imposter syndrome flares intensely. I constantly doubted my leadership. I didn’t write about it here; I don’t know that anyone cares to hear about the banal details of managing in a union environment. I always felt like I should be doing more to support the team. I upgraded their outdated software and trained them up in a series of tutorials and practice projects. I advocated for them to be more included in the design process. I balanced their workloads and asked them what they needed to do their jobs better. I trusted them to do their jobs. I made a difference, but it never felt like enough.
“I took this job because of you, you know,” one of the drafters confesses. “I wanted to be able to learn from you. Your reputation as a leader and mentor was why I applied for the job. I turned down an offer from an organization with a shorter commute because of you. You seem to honestly care about those around you, and you bring an infectious enthusiasm to the workplace.”
I sit there unable to respond, my face flushing. I feel ashamed to abandon them.
“You can come back, you know,” says one of the senior engineers at a leadership meeting. My manager types the statement into the meeting minutes to document the offer.
The intensity of all of this is overwhelming. My body is jittery from lack of sleep. Even the newly extroverted version of myself is exhausted from the endless meetings and conversations. I leave messages unread on my phone because I have nothing left to give.
And through all of this, spring has arrived with a bursting of cherry blossoms and the return of the flock of Great Blue Herons that breed in the rookery adjacent to my apartment. At dusk, the flock lifts up in unison and performs a coordinated lap out over the ocean, then back into the treetops. I watch in awe, the scene somehow prehistoric in nature.
At night, the aurora borealis glimmers and pulses green light through the patchy clouds. A rare appearance this far south.
And me riding my bike through the spring showers, the cherry blossom petals sticking to my damp jacket. I savour the time alone. I turn up my music recklessly loud and push into my pedals and the city moves past me like a cinematic movie. The sunset reflecting off of the still ocean. The wind whipping my hair into impossible tangles.
Russell’s warm body curled around mine at night.
Finally, I fall asleep.