I began this post on March 8, 2017, the morning after I accepted a final job offer. I started writing that day with the words, “there is nowhere else I should be,” and I almost clicked the “Publish” button a few paragraphs later. But I hesitated to tell the world that everything felt perfect when I hadn’t even yet moved or started the new job. I came back to this post a couple more times, always with the same content feeling, but I was in classroom training and still had yet to do the real job. So I waited some more. You see, this new venture of mine has a high washout rate, and often half the people hired are gone in a year. I’m an optimist, but I’m also realistic and felt that it would be unfair to shout from the rooftops before I even started the real job.
Well, I have now worked five full days on the operations floor and I still have the same sentiment 15 weeks later, so I’m finishing this post and publishing it. I’m green and need the constant words of my coach in my ear, but every time people ask if I have any regrets about turning my life inside out, my “no” is an easy answer. I still want to shout from the rooftops, “Keep fighting to be happy! Make changes! Take chances! LIVE LIFE.”
Written on Wednesday, March 8, 2017: Only once in a great while do we get that distinct feeling of “there is nowhere else I should be,” and I was fortunate enough to feel it twice in one year — when I got on a plane in January 2016 very shortly after my mom was diagnosed with cancer, and when I clicked the final button to submit a job application nine months later. Last night, I received a telephone call that I had gotten the job.
Exactly 13 weeks later, on another Tuesday afternoon, the same woman who called me about the job was congratulating me for passing academy and moving to on-the-job training.
In each of the many hoops I jumped through for this job (and there have been many), I never once hesitated or questioned it. Instead, as I passed each test and interview and subsequent test and subsequent interview, the feeling intensified: I was on the right path, and I really did want this job. Only time will tell if my instinct was correct, but I woke up the morning after that March phone call with a sense of peace and excitement. That’s a good combination, and it has not faded.
I try not to look back on my life events and decisions with regret, because I cannot change the past and because I know that, no matter how bad something was, it could have been worse. Of course, this knowledge doesn’t help me immediately after an unhappy event, and that’s where time and perspective help. I believe two tumultuous times in my life contributed heavily to my latest life change, and that’s why I can now see that good things came out of hard times.
First, in August 2010 I upended my life. I look at the “Timehop” app that shows my vague Facebook and Twitter posts from that time, and I see how incredibly unhappy I was for the year leading up to the breaking point. I almost included a screenshot in this post, but the sad reality is that there were too many screenshot options. I was miserable and didn’t realize how much so. The diagnosis of a stress fracture in my leg was the final crack that shattered the increasingly fragile glass of my well-being. Suddenly, I could no longer run and train for the Portland and New York marathons, which were the only bright spots in my life. Everything that remained was negative.
And so, in a few moments of desperation that caused my family more than a little worry, I quit my job, thus ending my 10-year journalism career. I also ended a dysfunctional three-year relationship. I suddenly had spare time and a lot of vacation pay-out, and then my old friend Ryan, whom I had recently reconnected with after an absence of 15 years, suggested I move my Portland trip to August, since I wouldn’t be going for the marathon in October. A few days later, I packed two weeks of belongings in my car and drove 10 hours north. Ryan hosted and showed me around Portland, as did my friends Becky and Frank, whom I hadn’t seen since I was in their wedding 10 years earlier.
I loved Portland. It just felt right. However, I needed a job, and a great opportunity came along in the Bay Area. I took it, and occasionally visited Portland when I could. I’ve never regretted moving to the Bay Area, because I made lasting friendships there, and I grew and learned a lot along the way. I also had no idea that it would allow me to take on the other tumultuous time I referred to several paragraphs ago.
In January 2016, my mother was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic colon cancer that had spread to her liver. What followed was a whirlwind of cancer doctors and surgeons and hospitals. That soon became chemo treatments and prescriptions and medical decisions. I was able to fly back and forth a number of times while still paying my rent, thanks to a compassionate boss and remote work access. My sisters and I watched as my mom fought cancer. Chemo wreaked havoc on her, and then she had to make a big surgical decision. In June 2016, I spent an anxious day in a waiting room while two surgeons operated, and then we spent more than a week in the hospital. Recovery at home was also very hard on my mom. But she kept going. It was inspiring.
Along the way, I had started pondering jobs in Chicago, knowing I couldn’t sustain the time away from work. It was not my first choice, though, and when my mom continued to rally despite undergoing more chemo, my thoughts again turned to Portland. We only get one chance at life, and I knew it now more than ever. If I never took a chance and tried Portland, would I look back one day with regret? The answer was a firm, resounding “YES.”
In early September, Becky randomly sent me a picture of the two of us from that first visit to Portland six years earlier. She said it was a nice photo of a time in my life when I was going through a lot of changes. Her timing was, as Becky later said, “providential.” I told her I was again thinking about moving to Portland, and she said to send her my resume. A month later, her husband Frank emailed me a job posting, asking if I’d be interested in being a 911 call taker.
My first instinct was another capitalized “YES.” I made myself think about it for a week, considering the shift work and the stress that I knew about from my years as a crime reporter who listened to thousands of hours of scanner traffic. I looked at several dispatcher friends’ Facebook pages to remind myself of what they gave up on countless holidays and weekends. When I looked at the application again as the deadline neared, I had answers for every question. There were no feelings of doubt.
My application — one of 150, I later learned — made the first cut and I then snuck away to Portland and sailed through a two-hour test with what I was later told were “incredibly high” scores. I got to an in-person interview and found myself wearing a new outfit while sitting at the head of a table in front of an interview panel. I had all those answers, too. Then another interview felt right. Sure, I had prepared for each one, but the answers came naturally and I never had a feeling of incompetence, or the thought of “well, that was a long shot, but at least I had interview practice.” The process continued (and I owe heartfelt thanks and drinks to the nearly 20 friends and family members who were contacted during the background investigation). More tests ensued, and along the way I confused a doctor and nurse with a perfect hearing test (what?). The vision test said something about my astigmatism (oops), and the psychological evaluation was the most exhausting part of all. [Note: All of these requirements and procedures are listed in the public job description. I will not reveal anything that is confidential. Also, any opinions expressed here are my own and not my employer’s. This was written on my own time.]
I received a “conditional” job offer, pending that daunting psychological evaluation, and found an apartment in Portland. I even had a backup plan in case the new job fell through — but that made me want it even more. When I received the call with a final job offer on that Tuesday evening in March, I sat in my car in a parking lot, filled with a kind of electrical shock and excitement.
And so it was that old friends introduced me to Portland during a rough time in my life, made me smile when I struggled, and were there for me years later.
A little less than three weeks after that job offer phone call, I had moved 650 miles to a new state.
Then I started a full-time academy. It was generally harder than I had imagined, especially the vast amount of geography I was required to learn in a short amount of time — Portland is the biggest city I’ve ever lived in, I moved here five days before work started, and I already have a knack for getting lost. One day found me crying in my car after scoring 20% on a geography quiz, and another day I was sent to a different instructor to see if maybe SHE could work some magic on me. As I type this, I still don’t fully know all 71 on/off-ramps of Interstate 5, plus the ones for I-205, I-84 and I-405, or all the bridge ramps. But I kept going. I gave up most morning runs so I could study when my brain was fresher, and I made many flash cards. And, to my utter amazement, I scored 100% on a subsequent geography quiz.
And then, after two days of exams, academy was done. I was officially on the work schedule, with my name on a mailbox and permission to park inside the secured gates. That said, this next level of training is going to be a different kind of exhausting than academy — and it will last at least four months. And then I’ll start an even more intense, longer phase of training. All in, this will take 18-24 months.
I still have no regrets. Every single day, even the time I was hating myself for crying over geography, and the unpleasant calls I’ve already taken, I see funny, beautiful things that make me so glad I took this big plunge.