Let Me Be Real
An introvert moves to a new country, and takes a job working from home. What could go wrong?
I was thrilled in late 2017 when my wife broached the idea of moving to Canada. It’s my native land, after all, and living in Trump’s America made me anxious all the time. Plus, I was doing consulting anyway, so it wasn’t like I even had to officially quit a job. We jumped at the chance, and so on Feb 2, 2018 we got on a plane in Denver, suitcases and cats in hand, to start our new life in Ottawa.
Moving is always stressful, but almost immediately I fell into a depression. I’ve moved a few times, from Western Canada to the American Midwest, to the Colorado Rockies, and now up to Eastern Canada. But this move hit me hard.
I love to run, but moving to Canada in the dead of winter was tough. I had some real physical pain while running — though seeing a chiropractor regularly for most of the past year has helped. So my favourite hobby (and really, a large part of my identity) wasn’t really there for me. I ran 15 hours total in February — and 5 of that was on a single day, when my Mom and I did a marathon together. [Note: this is not a recommended approach to marathon training]
When I moved, I lost my network (client base), and I had to learn the logistics of establishing a business in a new country. Was it even worth it? I decided it wasn’t and never even tried..
The Ottawa tech scene is VERY different than the Colorado tech scene. Fewer meetups, for one thing. Meetup.com was the #1 way I found my tribe in Denver back in 2008. Full disclosure, I’m also a decade older and married, so I’m certainly less motivated to head out to a meetup than I was then. But even if I WERE, there’s not the dearth of options I became accustomed to.
We were in temporary housing for two months, and then we moved into an AirBnB while we tried to close on a condo here. Looking back, the temporary housing was a real, real low point. The space was pretty small: definitely not intended for two people and two cats to live in long-term. There wasn’t a desk, so I basically just laid in bed all day. Sure, I read or listened to audiobooks, but I was basically just a sad lump of a human being for that period of time.
Thankfully, May brought a new condo and a new job for me: I was rehired at LexisNexis as a UX Specialist. I’d worked for the company before, so they were willing to hire me as a remote employee (generally they prefer for staff to be onsite). This seemed like a dream for an introvert like me! I get to stay at home with cats!
But fast-forward eight months, and while the job made me less miserable, it hasn’t truly helped me feel settled.
I was just reading a book that talked about self-determination theory and our three psychological needs:
Which is pretty close to Daniel Pink’s writing about motivation, which posits we’re driven by
In my work, I have a decent amount of autonomy. That could be because I am out-of-sight, out-of-mind as a remote employee. I get the sense I miss a lot of hallway requests and meetings :-) That being said, of course when I worked for myself, I was the Queen of autonomy. I set my own hours, billing rates, and chose my own projects to pursue. So, my new work environment is a bit of a downgrade.
Although my job posting said “UX Specialist”, when I started in my role, I was put in the UX Designer bucket. I had (have?) some imposter syndrome about that. My wife is the Designer of the family. I consider my strengths to be more in the “What should we do” realm than the “How should we do it”. That being said, it has been great for me to contribute at that more detailed level, and the teams I support don’t seem to have any concerns about my work. I have been able to get more exposure to some different tools and acquire some new skills. (Sketch and Abstract FTW!)
That being said, being a remote employee (and the only UX Designer supporting our business unit) means I haven’t really had the opportunity to work with/learn from peers in the company.
Which brings me to the final piece of the self-determination theory puzzle.
It’s embarrassing to admit, but it’s true: I haven’t made a single friend in the 13 months since I moved to Ottawa. Sure, I get along great with people when we get together with Sara’s work friends, but there isn’t a single person in Ottawa that I’ve met on my own.
Couple that with a lack of collaboration with peers at work, and I am .. struggling. A lot.
I feel very alone. I’ve been very sad.
It’s also felt like a lack of purpose. Sure, I also wondered if that’s just some midlife crisis I’m going through, but I do think they’re related. I want to have more in my life than just putting in my X hours a week to get a paycheque. We don’t have kids, I don’t have friends, and honestly, my running is getting harder as I get older (I’m really hoping that nicer weather will get me out of the funk I’m in). So .. what’s the point of it all?
I’ve always had a bit of a temper, and I want to be clear: I’m not numb as part of this sense of emptiness. My emotions are high! They’re just not positive emotions. They’re frustration. They’re disappointment.
They’re a sense that I still have 25 years of work ahead of me and is this what I’m going to be doing for all that time, because 25 years ago I thought I was going to go into International Relations and isn’t THAT funny because that’s absolutely not the path I took and I’m not even doing the job I thought I was hired to do so if this is the wrong path am I destined to just keep stumbling until one day I just give up because when I’m comfortable I’m bored and then I seek out something new so I’m never becoming really great at anything, while others are actually moving forward so I’m getting left behind. Whew!
I’m writing this on Feb 28th, 2019, and I’ve had two onsite visits with my product team in the past month. We spent 2 days together at training in California at the beginning of the month, and I’m writing this from a hotel room now in the middle of a three-day visit. Both times, my sleep has been HORRIBLE! When I was in California I was getting maybe 2–3 hours of sleep a night. Not because I had anything to do, I was just wired from all the interaction. And it occurred to me: this is the relatedness. And even though I LOVE my quiet focus time at home, I need other humans besides my wife.
How poor my sleep has been is really a bit of a weird wake-up call. Have I really become that unaccustomed to being around so many people? Is my body basically freaking out because of it?
[There are a few other health concerns I have, and I have appointments with a Naturopath and an Immunologist in case there’s something more insidious going on..]
I’ve known that I need to go out and meet people in Ottawa. I officially have a few run clubs and a French conversation group on my google calendar. Have I attended said events? Well.. a single group run, on New Years Day… I know I need to do it. But seeing how I’m reacting to people here makes me realize that this is truly something I need to do for myself.
Sara and I had a serious conversation the other day, and she said that she’s seen me go downhill since we moved. It’s true. Sure, I’ve known since we moved here that I SHOULD make friends. But I am really starting to feel some urgency around it.
I need to dig myself out of this hole.
I’m writing this not because anyone reading this can help me do so. I’m writing this because this is my first grip on the dirt side of the wall. I’ve always loved writing, it’s my way of being honest with myself. And I’m putting it out here as a way to be gentle with myself. This doesn’t have to be some deep secret. It’s just a state of affairs.
It’s going to change. I’m going to change things. I’m going to be happy again.