Living in Vancouver: one year later

It has been almost a year since we moved to Vancouver. It’s hard to believe. In some ways, time flew by incredibly fast, as it tends to do when you think in chunks of training cycles, or significant events (my sister had a baby!). But in other ways, there were months that dragged on thanks to lingering injuries, rainy winter days, and periods of looking for work.

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A picture taken on the day we landed in Vancouver from what has now become our neighbourhood.
People often act surprised when they find out that we moved here from Toronto. I guess there’s this perception that Toronto is a step up from Vancouver when it comes to career. I might say that’s true, and that was one of the first things I noticed when we moved here. There are less companies, less jobs, and much less opportunity overall. Everything feels more “small scale” compared to Toronto. From a lifestyle standpoint, that works great for me. From a career perspective, I can see how it might be a problem for some. Still, I was interested in branching out from my past life as a market researcher and also was planning on going back to school to become a holistic nutritionist. Oh yeah – that. Yeah, so the whole reason why we chose Vancouver in the first place was the fact that it ticked all the boxes on what we decided were the most important for our lives… and it had a great holistic nutrition program that I wanted to complete!

 

In a nutshell, this is what I thought life in Vancouver would be like:
  • Clean, fresh air
  • Daily mountains and water views
  • No snow/polar vortex (This was me – Mike loves the snow)
  • Great running
  • School full time, work part time
  • Finally getting that dog I’ve been dreaming about
  • Activities every weekend – hikes, trips to Seattle
  • Work/life balance
  • Holistic Nutrition school that I wanted to go to (which has a branch in Toronto and a few other Canadian cities, but this was by far the most attractive).
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The scenery here does NOT disappoint.

In reality, this is what life in Vancouver was like:

  • Unemployment
  • Running out of money
  • No air conditioning + abnormally hot summer = massive eczema break out
  • No pet rules
  • Running-related Injury after injury
  • Desk job, but career pivot
  • Lots and lots of scenery
  • Hardly ever leaving our Kits/downtown bubble
Aside from one trip to Victoria, we didn’t leave Vancouver once for the rest of 2015. This was largely due to finances. The original plan was always to start school in September and I already had money saved up for tuition. Unfortunately, the AirBnB that we rented in that first month sucked most of that away. Then there was the apartment that we found and had to move on really quickly to get which used up the rest. We made a decision to cut back on travel until we could get our feet back on the ground and the months of job hunting was an unexpected hurdle. Once I realized I’d need to work for a while to build my savings back up again, I then faced another hard challenge: finding work in Vancouver.
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Waiting to catch the sea bus to a job interview on the North Shore. It would have been a crazy long commute from where we ended up living, but I was still excited to head out there and see what it would be like.

I was truly shocked at how long it took for us to find work. Both of us have been working professionally for several years, and it is possible to get a job in Toronto within a week. Maybe not “the dream job”, but the industry is small enough that people know the places you’ve worked at and it’s pretty easy to get find work. I hadn’t worked in an office in two years so if I was going to give up my consulting work in exchange for some consistent income, I really wanted it to be the right place. It took both Mike and me months to finally land a job, and the interview process for the one I’m at now was anything from short.

Career-wise, it has actually been a huge jump for me. I’ve never worked at a tech company before, and I’m finally getting exposure to working in an agile environment, and shaping my research practice. It has required a lot of self-educating, additional reading on weekends and evenings, and general learning as I go. It can be stressful because there’s so much to learn, but it’s exciting at the same time. In past jobs, there were already established ways to do things and I was evaluated on how quickly and efficiently I could complete them. Often, the big thinking stuff was left to someone else. I’m the only dedicated researcher in my company which is exciting and terrifying at the same time.

The pet rules here are stupidly restrictive. In Toronto, if you rent an apartment, you are legally allowed to own a dog. The only exception is if the household owner actually lives in the same house as you. Over here? There’s a puzzling amount of support for maintaining no-pet policies. We originally wanted to hold out to find a place that would allow pets before signing a lease, but in the end, we needed a place to live. Our current apartment meets almost all our criteria except the one that I initially wasn’t willing to bend on: no pets. We hesitated on taking it, but it actually is an amazing apartment. Probably the best one I’ve ever lived in. But since it’s not pet friendly, we’ve had to put our dreams of getting a dog on hold… again.

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A scene from one of my regular running routes.

The running stuff deserves a post of its own. I’ll get to it someday. But it hasn’t been good. That’s on me, not Vancouver itself. I’m sad that I haven’t been able to take advantage of the running scene here as much as I wanted to.

Another thing that I’m hoping we can do more of is travel. It doesn’t have to be crazy big trips to Europe or Australia (although both of those places are on our radar in the next 1-2 years). I just mean more shorter trips to Seattle, Tofino, or Whistler. Close by cities that we could visit without having to take much time off work. We’ve been using the fact that we don’t have a car as our main excuse, but we can always rent one or take a bus. We just need to plan it out and make it work.

Moving to Vancouver: would I do it again?

Yes. I firmly believe that movement in life fosters growth. Every new city I visit gives me new perspective that helps shape me as a person. I always want to grow and experience new things. The fact is that I stopped growing in Toronto. Ironically, I’ve come to realize that I actually LIKE to have a little routine in my life, but while we were still living in Toronto, I felt like I was suffocating. I felt trapped and clueless as to what I wanted to do with my life. There isn’t a single day that I don’t miss my friends and family in Toronto. I thought it would have gotten easier by now. In some ways it has – I’ve accepted that I’m across the country and can’t stay up to date on everything. I still try my best. However, I believe that that moving here was the best thing that I could have done for myself. I’m lucky that Mike was so supportive of this. We won’t be able to pick up everything and move like this forever. The more we have to tie us down, the less mobile we become.

Career-wise, coming here has opened up a new path that I never would have imagined for myself. I’ve grown more as a researcher in the last year than I have over the last 7 years. When I was consulting, I was self-employed and working for myself which was great, but I was also still doing the same things I had been doing before. I wasn’t learning anything new, I was just learning how to do more of the same thing with less time. That’s great and all, but I wasn’t particularly passionate about what I was doing, either. Now, I’m actually building a research practice and THAT is pretty damn exciting. I’m not going to lie and say it isn’t stressful, because it is. I’m constantly worrying that I’m not learning fast enough, or doing the right things. But every day I’m trying, and if something isn’t working, I take the steps to iterate on it and improve. The good news is that constantly iterating on your approach to work towards a bigger picture is something that tech companies intentionally do.

So one year later, I’m concluding this by saying that I’m still glad we made this move. It has been far from easy, but it was really important for me to branch out and explore my own limits. The last 12 months have certainly resulted in that. What’s next? I can’t wait to find out…

alison

A check in

Inspiration to write can hit you at the strangest times. I should be sleeping in bed and getting ready for my long run, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last few months, it’s that trying to settle into a running routine is silly and pointless (for now, maybe again someday). So I’m throwing caution to the wind and staying up past my bedtime.

The last 12 months or so have been some of the most frustrating running-wise in a while. I’ve been flirting with setbacks and injury ever since we moved to Vancouver. I flirted with injury over and over, I could not get any consistent training accomplished, and I watched my dreams of running another fast (for me) marathon slip away cycle after cycle. I’m in this weird place with running where I feel like I’ve given it so much time, thought, and energy and it has returned back very little to me. Mike often tells me to be patient and to trust the process, and I WANT to, but I’m beginning to feel like I should move onto something else. We’ll see. I haven’t given up just yet, I’m just irritated and disillusioned.

Aside from that, life in Vancouver has been… interesting. Wonderful, yes. Fulfilling, yes. Eye-opening, yes. Lonely? Yes. I still miss my family and my friends in Toronto. My sister just had a son about a month ago, and Mike and I flew to New York, where she’s living for the next year, to meet him. Those who know me well, know that I’ve never been a “kid person”. I’ve never had a desire to have kids, and I was never one to really find babies or kids cute. It’s like awkward elevator small talk that kids see right through. Kids are smart.  But my nephew has changed my world. I barely left my sister’s apartment while we were in Manhattan because I wanted to soak up as much time with him as possible. He is perfect in every way and he has completely broken down what I thought I wanted in this life and which direction I want to head into down the road.

The thought of him growing up and barely knowing me breaks my heart. Selfishly, I feel like I need him more than he will ever need me. And those moments with my sister? Every year, I feel even more of a pull to be physically close to her. Over the years, I’ve formed a bond and a friendship with her that I fiercely hang onto and am terrified of losing. Now that she’s a mother, her time is even more limited. Being here in Vancouver means I’m that much farther away. I can’t just pop by on a weekend, randomly. That sucks.

Career-wise, moving here has been one of the best things I could have done. I’ll speak to it more another day, but I love the work I do and I haven’t felt this type of excitement at an office in a long time. There is work that slowly kills you, and there is work that brings you back to life by keeping you on your feet and driving you to continuously learn and try to get better each day. Mine is the latter. Being here means that I get to breath in fresh air and stare at the ocean and mountains every single day. I never get sick of the views. It’s so damn gorgeous here.

Being here has also brought some of the most uncertainty in my life. It’s ongoing. It’s exhausting. And sometimes, I just want to take the easy way out and move back to familiarity.  I still feel like I am where I need to be. I just wish it were easier to accept that not everything I want close to me, is actually close to me.  I guess that’s all I have to say for now.

alison

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