I’ve been writing a series called “Shifts are hard”, which is about simultaneous career and life shifts. I thought I would share my current shifts and how COVID-19 has derailed our plans.
After taking a new role-based out of Sydney Australia at Atlassian, my family and I began to plan our move. I accepted the role in September of 2019. We debated several options on our plan:
Should the kids finish school or just pick up school in Australia?
We decided this mattered the least because the Australian school year starts at the end of January. My kids were already in school in Canada and had started their school year in September. Grades 12, 6, 2, and 1. They would have to start over if we moved before January. The idea of scrambling around finding a place to live for the proper school boundaries sounded unpleasant but palatable. We would play it by ear based on other decisions.
Should we sell the house, or perhaps rent it?
My family and I had long conversations about where we wanted to live one day or where we would retire. A part of me still loves Seattle but I could also see us traveling to different countries until we can physically do no more. However, no one picked Ottawa. We also talked about our ties and purpose to Ottawa. While I have built strong relationships with people living in Ottawa, many are living there due to their jobs at Shopify. A few are natives. We didn’t feel that the people alone created a strong tie. We also didn’t want any additional responsibility to maintain a property unless we had a future here one day. We didn’t. We called our agent and listed the house in the first week of September. We decided that perhaps we will leave Ottawa as soon as the house sells. We also listed it as a rental. The family had to keep the house clean. It was hard on the family and I could hear it in my partner’s voice.
Should I go alone to Australia or together with the family?
I’d go ahead without family for several reasons. I found that in previous executive roles, having the family with me automatically meant that I’d prioritize them first. I care for them deeply and I took on their challenges personally. Which meant if my oldest is bullied at school, or my partner felt isolated and alone, I’d have to “HELP” fix it. After all, they always move because of me. It’s my fault. So I feel it’s my responsibility to help support their transition. Learning from my past:
- Seattle to Berlin – My family came with me. Immediately, I was stressed exponentially. We needed to register in the city, become familiar with a new town, and find a new home in a month or two. My own work onboarding to a significant senior role and 1:1s was information overload. My four kids needed to register for school. Public or private schools? German or English? Everything was waitlisted. So there were many decisions and transitions to consider. It was overwhelming and it’s incredibly exhausting for 3 months. Also, we didn’t know a word of German and had to pick up language lessons.
- Berlin to Ottawa – I headed to Ottawa on my own two months prior to their arrival and planned for a return visit in between. I onboarded to Shopify which took about a month for the company and research & development programs, no real work context yet. I went back for a visit with the kids and felt mentally re-fueled (I had missed my family so much). I got back to work and began onboarding for real work context. However, our relocation support said they had no place for a family of 6. So I went with my local relocation advisor and tried to find a temporary housing situation. We must have looked at 16 places and most of them were quite disgusting. In one of them, we found a jar of marijuana and soiled underwear while the current tenants were going room to room. It was quite stressful, something that should have been avoided. Luckily, my family arrived and relocation finally did their part and found us a suitable AirBnB location. I’m not sure why the relocation company did not take care of this. We later found them to be incompetent. They lost furniture, the movers were inappropriate. One put their phone in between our house floor cracks and my partner had to dig it out. Another threw their food waste in a box of saris. Then the stress for supporting my family transitions began just like our transition from Seattle to Berlin. In hindsight, it was harder for me to onboard to Shopify as my family took the additional 3-6 months to settle in. I found it took me about a year to onboard and an additional six months to be truly effective. Subconsciously, I noted that I would not do that again.
- Ottawa to Sydney – Going alone for a longer period of time felt right! I was able to have some much needed alone time and I wanted to hit the ground running for my senior role at Atlassian. I was going to ignore all the previous advice I had gotten at Shopify; “Take your time, enjoy the time to onboard”. I wanted to focus on ramping up in this new product domain and meet everyone without the stress of sorting out family. I headed to Sydney on October 31st of 2019 and arrived on November 2nd. November 4th was my first day of work and Atlassian onboarding was only one day. The rest of onboarding was self serve. Along with personal administration living in Sydney, this took about two weeks to wrap up. In the month that followed, I read everything I could and met as many people as possible on the team. It felt great! On a personal front, I had decided to stay at different AirBnBs to explore neighborhoods while I was in Sydney and even stayed in a hostile, because why not? I headed home to Ottawa mid-December 2019 after a visit to the San Francisco office to meet the teams. I spent some much needed time with the family for the holidays. On Jan 7, 2020, I headed back to Sydney for the longest time I’ve spent away from family. I began working on the strategy with my teams, hiring, and had already built some great relationships. I was feeling good and already seeing the impact I had.
Are you settled in Sydney?
My new coworkers asked, “How is your family settling in?” I’d follow with, “my family hasn’t arrived and I’ve moved without them”. They would follow with, “Wow that must be hard”. Folks: yes I missed them, but I needed a break!!! I felt I had been running a marathon both in my career and in my life. Who decides to have four kids, get to a c-level and move to three countries within five years?! I DO. It is not normal and it is exhausting.
Our house didn’t sell through the holidays and when I came back during my visit we took it off the market. We planned to do a little updating and put the house back on the market in March of 2020. However, in February, while the house was off-market, it sold. I was in Sydney weighing our offers. After some negotiating we took the final counter offer. Our house was sold with a closing date of July 15th. We were elated that one of our big rocks in our plans came together. What a sigh of relief.
When will your family arrive in Sydney?
I had many people ask me, “When will your family arrive in Sydney?” My answer was often, “later” until our plans started to fall into place like our house selling. I remember also saying, “well, you never know what might happen”. We’ve had to learn to deal with curveballs and be flexible. Every move prior has had so many curveballs, we were used to it by now. Veterans of international moves.
Knowing they will finish the school year on June 24, 2020, we began to plan out a road trip for the kids where I would come back and meet them once. We thought it was a once in a lifetime opportunity for the kids to enjoy the states before heading to another continent. Afterall travel for six is expensive, and we didn’t know when we would be back stateside. We thought the kids would go to New Jersey and hang out with my extended family for two weeks. Then we would head down to Georgia and hang out with my partner’s family for about six weeks. After that, we’d make a final trip to Texas to visit my dad for a week. I would meet them there and as a family we would all board our final flight to Australia around October 2020.
I had also planned a trip back to Ottawa while the kids were out of school for spring break and to be present for one of my kids to turn 12. It also was coordinated to align with a work trip. I would visit home then travel to San Francisco offices for 1:1 with the teams. Then a trip to vegas for our conference called Summit followed with an offsite with our teams in San Francisco. I would have been in the States for a month before I’d head back to Sydney around the first week of April 2020.
Are you worried about COVID-19?
Around early February we started hearing news of COVID-19. One of my team members and I have weekly 1:1s. They were stressed about their family being in Korea as there had been an outbreak. They had asked me “Are you worried about COVID-19?” I started to hear more about it in the news, concerns about outbreaks on a cruise ship and different cities. A week later our conference event was being re-evaluated and travel was canceled. I rebooked tickets to head to Ottawa from Sydney. I was determined to be home for a birthday, plus I missed my kids and partner so much. I managed to find a flight from Sydney to Vancouver and on to Ottawa at a decent price for a round trip. I hopped on the plane in Sydney March 12, 2020, to find out later the offices closed at the end of that day. The virus had reached Sydney. I landed in Vancouver with a sigh of relief. I made it into the Canada border. I headed to Ottawa and made it home just after Midnight. I loved every minute of being home. The birthday kid and family was elated. Five days later news started to spread that borders were closing. I reached out to my manager via slack, “I could book a flight but I think I should stay here, I can work shifted hours. 3 pm to 11 pm Sunday to Thursday.” He said, “Yes stay with your family, this could be a while”.
What are your plans with COVID-19?
I have a saying I picked up. “Plan for the worst and hope for the best”. I’ve been in Ottawa since March 13, 2020. I’ve spent more time with my family than I ever imagined. I find this time precious. I can hear my kids now: “Mom, remember that time of COVID where you spent every day with us cooking and baking? We played so many games together!” It has been a good reminder to slow down and enjoy what you have. I’m one lucky gal. I have a great job and a great family that are all healthy. I’ve kept myself busy and told myself not to worry about our move to Sydney until June 15, 2020. That would give us one month to consider what to do. Around the end of May, we decided I could work anywhere. Why stay in Ottawa? We decided to send our household goods to Sydney and head to the United States to stay with my partner’s family. This is what I described as “couch surfing” with a family of six with a dog. We felt this was a once in a lifetime opportunity for our kids to know a side of our family they have never met. We had several other options too! My company offered to provide us another move in Ottawa while the Sydney borders were closed. Another option was our house in Seattle because it became vacant on June 30, 2020. We decided against all the other options. We wanted to move to Sydney, it’s our goal and we didn’t want to feel settled in a place.
So as of today, our new plans are to head to Georgia. We will stay there until the Australia borders open to temporary Visa holders. We don’t know when that will be. Our kids will register for schools in Georgia and attend for as long as we need to. This could be until the end of September since that is how long the border closure has been extended for Australia. We imagine it is going to be the entire year and most likely up through March of 2021. At this point, we think it might be good for the boys to finish the school year again.
I never would have thought I’d be living in Georgia after leaving 20 years ago post-undergrad. Nor would I have thought I would be leading a team of 30+, remotely working shifted hours from 4 pm to midnight (6 am to 2 pm Sydney time). Life is weird right now and making plans is impossible. 😉
I just plan on being flexible.