“By mid-November 2021, after more than 18 years, I was abruptly out of my work-job-career.” I wrote that in a post in April 2022, and said that it was a story for another time. That time has arrived.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been on a staycation. It was my first extended time off in nearly two years, and while the camping getaway plans were abruptly cancelled, I still wanted to spend time away from work and the computer, so I stuck to my scheduled break. I had lots of books to read and a few decluttering projects around the house I could tackle.
One project involved a box that has been sitting somewhat conspicuously in a hallway for nearly two years. I would often bump it and remind myself that it needed to be dealt with. But over time, it became just a another part of the pathways of our house, the base for another pile of things, and easy to ignore. Then, a few weeks ago, a flurry of other decluttering happened, and the box moved to be even more conspicuous and inconvenient. With time on my hands, I decided to sort it and get rid of it.
The box contains 29 notebooks, each filled with my handwritten notes from my previous job. As the notebooks had been purchased by me, and notes in my handwriting can really only be meaningful (or even understood by) me, they came home with me when my that job ended, part of the jetsam of ending one’s long-term office life.
As unplanned or unforeseen endings of relationships often are, that ending was traumatic for me. For more than 18 years, until late October 2021, I was a proud and valued member of the Genome Sciences Centre (GSC) at BC Cancer. However, under the requirements of the BC COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care employees, my employment was terminated in November 2021. My decision regarding vaccination for myself, and my reasons and rationale for that decision, are personal and private and entirely my own. It was not an easy decision to make and keep, nor one I ever expected to have to be so open and public about or to have such drastic consequences. As such, my departure from the GSC was of neither the timing nor circumstances that I would have hoped.
In the several weeks following my termination, I spent very little time thinking about the future. Through the holiday season and into early 2022, I lived in the tumult of sadness, anger, sorrow, incomprehension, guilt, defiance, reaffirmation, denial, grief, bravery, optimism, and loss. My job had been a large part of my identity. My work consumed the best part of my time, effort, initiative, creativity, energy, health, and love. I LOVED my work – the place, the people, the projects – and it felt monstrously unjust to lose it so abruptly.
By early 2022, for reasons both financial and emotional, I had to get back to work. Fortunately, I had started my business, Lyric Management, back in 2011 and so was able to focus on turning up the volume on that. I could also lean into the strong and purposeful network and a reputation for good work in leadership and management that I had developed throughout my career. And so, Lyric Management became my full-time gig, and it is growing and succeeding.
But the box of notebooks lingered. Occasionally, I would open it and pull out a specific book, looking for a date or an event that was relevant to a current conversation, or a contact name for a new project. Each time, I thought about a plan for disposing of the books, but the task seemed both daunting and discouraging.
And then the staycation. The time had come.
I decided that I needed to go through each notebook page-by-page to ensure that nothing confidential or personal was in there, and I wanted to preserve some pages for myself – milestones of important events, personal notes from my own coaching sessions, the occasional personal journal entries – and to document my project portfolio from that job. I also wanted to walk across that bridge of memories one last time, to revisit the people and projects that had been so much a part of my life. As such, I went through the books twice, once as a walk down memory lane, and then again to sanitize them for disposal.
The 29 books* cover the period July 2011 through October 2021, and chronicle the ordinary day-to-day of my work as well as the highlights. New starts and departures of team members. First meetings with people who have become valued colleagues and friends. Project proposals and launches, including the very first meeting of what would become the POG program. Creation of management teams such as MAG, HOD, and IMT. The GSC’s 20th anniversary party, from idea to delivery. My own advancement to the Director role. Sketches and diagrams for organization and reorganization of teams. The timeline of COVID-19 and how it affected GSC people and operations. And random quotes, notes, and thoughts, like this one from November 2011:
The right thing is crucial, even if the right thing is a hard thing.
10 years later, I was put to the test on that. As I look at where I am now, I like to think that I passed by sticking to my principles even though it was hard - even though I lost so much.
Each round of perusal took several hours, with many pauses for reflection, a few laughs and some tears, and many fond memories. Ultimately, the box of notebooks was whittled down to a small stack of pages.
The day I completed the second pass, a serendipitous incident happened that I took as a sign that the time was right to let go of the past. In 2009, when I was given my 5-year pin (for 5 years of service), the event organizer gave everyone a small gift as well – a small green dish and some chocolates. The dish wound up serving as spoon rest in my kitchen ever since, until the day last week that I finished with the notebooks. As I was unloading the dishwasher, I dropped the dish on the floor, and it broke in two. So, like the notebooks, it is also leaving my life.
The GSC – my time there, the projects, the people, the considerable good works that I participated in and contributed to – will always be a part of me, and a big part of my history and experience. I continue to connect with friends and colleagues from there, and to be interested in and concerned for the GSC’s future as a place and a team. But now, with the departure of these notebooks, my GSC life will truly be a part of my past rather than my present.
* These 29 notebooks are numbered 17-45. Books 1-16, for the period April 2003-July 2011, remain at the GSC as part of the project team archives,
What are your experiences with leaving jobs and letting go? How do you balance staying connected and moving on from jobs and workplaces? Please comment below or email me at email@example.com with your questions and feedback.
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Who is Robyn?
My career as a research project manager is rewarding, dynamic, challenging, and fun. I'm looking forward to sharing my knowledge and experience in communication, organization, and common sense approaches in research management and leadership, and to enabling others to learn and grow in this exciting career.