Thursday, July 16, 2015

Why We're Moving to Portland

Fifteen years ago, in the summer of 2000, Rob and Rachel had just graduated from George Fox University in Newberg, OR with idealistic dreams of changing the world. We had completed our degrees in International Business & Economics and were ready to start careers in “something international” (as I used to say). Shortly after graduation, Rob’s first job was as the China program director for International Family Services, a large international adoption agency and relief and development organization. And Rachel: she walked into the Portland headquarters of Mercy Corps for an informational meet & greet. At that point in time, Mercy Corps was a large $129M Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) with 1,400 staff members worldwide that distributed food, shelter, health care, and job training in the world’s most challenging places. They went where no one else would go.
Rachel asked her Mercy Corps escort: “How do I get a job here?” And the Mercy Corps response, in my colloquial tone, went something like this:
“Silly 21-year old idealistic girl! Everyone wants to work here. We turn down Harvard resumes every day!” [long dramatic pause … I’m sure there was a long pause] “Look, okay. Theoretically if you really wanted to work here you need to do two things: #1 Go Abroad. Live overseas in a humanitarian aid capacity. If you can survive a couple of years overseas, our recruiters will take your resume more seriously. And #2 Learn a Trade. We don’t hire idealistic people, we hire professionals to fill specific roles. IT, accounting, project management. When you get those two things down, come back and we’ll see what we can do.”
As a specific result of this conversation, later that very same month Rachel and I filled out our Peace Corps applications. Now life, of course, is much more complex: we drove to Seattle to meet with the regional Peace Corps recruiter who explained to us that if we weren’t married, there was virtually no chance that we’d be in the same hemisphere together. So about a year later, in September 2001, we got married and re-applied. Take that! In fact we drove back to Seattle, met with the very same Peace Corps recruiter, and slammed our marriage certificate on his desk. He rolled his eyes (I can’t recall specifically but I’m sure he did this), congratulated us on our perseverance, and sent us on our way oversees. In May of 2002 we began our 2+ years of service in Romania. That’s another story. Two years is a long time and a lot happened in Romania. But here are the key points as they relate to the rest of the story:
Point #1: Rachel, who had settled on “accounting” as her trade to develop, began researching graduate schools for accounting, so that she could be eligible to sit for her CPA. These grad schools require prerequisites, so…
Point #2: Rachel took two correspondence prerequisite courses in finance and calculus from US universities to become eligible for grad schools. She also needed to take the GMAT, so…
Point #3: Rachel studied for, and dominated the GMAT. She actually traveled to Bucharest and took the test. She really dominated the GMAT, I am still to this day very impressed.
Point #4: Even before our COS (close of service) in Romania, Rachel had been accepted to all three grad schools she applied to, and we settled on The University of Texas at Austin: the #1 accounting program in the country.
Not to discount myself, in parallel to all of this I (Rob) am plotting a new course that will pivot me from a career path in international econ to a new path in corporate America (not sure what happened to me in Romania!). So I too am taking correspondence courses and GRE/GMAT tests in Romania. Eventually I too get into my dream school at Rice University, earn an MBA in finance, and eventually land my dream job in corporate finance at Starbucks. But anyway…
Life is complex and meandering, just like this story. Rachel thrives in the UT Austin accounting program, earning not just great grades and an internship and full-time job offer with Deloitte, but also by developing deep and lasting friendships with her colleagues. I supported Rachel financially by working once again as China Program Director, remotely from a small apartment in Austin, Texas. In return, Rachel agrees to move with me to Houston, even though she preferred to move back home to Portland, so that I can complete my two year MBA at Rice. Rachel studies for and passes her 4 CPA exams the very first time while in Houston.
After my grad school we move for my job from Houston to Seattle-Tacoma. Even though Rachel prefers to be in Portland, she agrees to move for my job. I quickly landed my dream job at Starbucks and Rachel begins a new career at Russell Investments.
Eight years pass. We have developed deep roots. I’ve grown tremendously as a corporate finance professional at Starbucks, and Rachel has developed into progressively more and more complex roles at Russell. We’ve become parents to two boys who only know life in Tacoma. We get planted into our community in the North End of Tacoma. We are members of the PTA, we have incredibly close friendships, a church, social lives, a community. Life is really, really good. We truly love where we are in life. We see ourselves growing forever in Seattle-Tacoma. End of story, right!?
And then, life gets in the way.
That’s how I remember Star Trek 2 anyway

We are perfectly content in Tacoma. But on occasion we put our feelers out there to see what incredibly insane career opportunities are out there. On a lark Rachel sees that Mercy Corps has a Corporate Controller role open, and she applies. I am not surprised when they contact her for a phone screen. She is, after all, qualified and brilliant. I am not, therefore, surprised when she has her first phone interview. (Although now I am starting to get a little nervous).
A few days later, her phone interview was a success and she is asked to meet the CFO and the team in Portland, and now I’m starting to panic. “I love my life! I love my job. I love my kid’s elementary school and being walking distance to Metropolitan Market!”
A week later, her interview with the team and with the CFO goes great, and they are asking when she can start. I am not too gracefully freaking out internally and externally. I am beginning the Five Stages of Grief. But as I am processing, I am logically sensing that this opportunity is the one opportunity, out of thousands, that would actually convince us to uproot ourselves from “the good life” and move back home to Portland. With time and lots of prayer, I eventually become supportive, and then actually excited for this opportunity.
In the fifteen years since she visited Mercy Corps, it is now over 2x larger, with over $300M in annual revenue and over 4,000 staff around the world helping the most disenfranchised people in the world’s toughest places. In coming full circle after 15 years, this isn’t just some feel-good idealistic job that Rachel is taking, it’s the one role that would cause us to do what we’re doing. It’s a promotion of responsibility and a recognition of the 15 years of methodical development that she has invested to get her to this point.
And as we are beginning to bifurcate ourselves from our lives in Seattle-Tacoma, the Lord keeps opening door after door: we find a beautiful new place to live in Lake Oswego, OR. We find a couple of potential preschools for Greyson, we find the great school for Jude and begin to transfer. And importantly with Starbucks, they are being very supportive. All of these separate aspects of a stressful move come instantly into focus and settle into place.
Starbucks is letting me work remotely in Portland starting mid-August, and is allowing me to stay on through the end of the fiscal year, and perhaps a bit longer as needed by both parties. This gives me the time to focus on the family and not on finding a new job. Everyone I’ve spoken with at Starbucks is excited, sad and understanding that this is a difficult move given all that we’ve been through together (yes, it’s like a relationship!). I’m leaving my dream job so that Rachel can have her dream job.
I tell this meandering story for two reasons. #1: Because I want you to understand the methodical 15+ years-worth of steps Rachel and I have taken together to get us specifically to this place in time that sees us moving to Portland, and #2: Because I want you to understand that we don’t take the decision to move away from our life in Seattle-Tacoma lightly. It was a gut-wrenching decision. Despite that this was the right opportunity for us, we still struggled to accept it. At times we second guessed ourselves and had to reassure one another that this was the right decision. We had to take a step back and look at the arc that was set into motion 15 years ago, and to say “this feels like the right thing to do.”

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