Let me tell you a story.
I’ve been very lucky in my professional career. I have worked for some great companies that opened doors to even greater opportunities to advance my career in the architectural, engineering and construction (AEC) industry. I’ve had ups and downs over the past decade, but there was one constant – my network through the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS).
Starting out in the AEC industry, SMPS became my anchor. It provided a place for continual education, an avenue to learn how to connect with technical staff, how to think beyond the proverbial “marketing” box and take chances by way of volunteer positions and committee involvement. Most of the time, I didn’t know what I was volunteering for, but I knew that if I could help anyone at the dawn of their careers in the AEC industry, by connecting companies, brands, people, mentors with mentees, then it made it all worth it.
When I think about my career plan, it, like the rest of my life, has thrown me some of the biggest curve balls. Some good, some bad. From my very first years of working in the “real world” I’ve had goals that I wanted to achieve. Many of those are still “in progress” and for me that’s ok. Some of my goals may not seem like achievements for others. And that’s okay too. We all have different perceptions. Different dreams. Which leads me to this.
I think it’s good to have a bucket list – for both your personal and professional life. Most of us don’t have an opportunity to check things off those lists every year. For those of you that do, that’s amazing and you’re my hero. I like to keep my bucket list in places where I can see them, especially my professional list. It’s just for me, in a sense. And I’m a firm believer that you’re more likely to get something done if it’s written down. It’s like you’re being held accountable. (Post-it notes are great for this – or even the notepad in your phone so it’s on all your devices).
I want to share one of my bucket list items with you, because I think the outcome of it is a good lesson about life.
SMPS offers regional conferences across the country where you can have the benefits of a national conference on a regional level. After attending a few of these it was something I wanted to be a part of, by way of the planning committee. So I added it to my bucket list.
In early 2015 I was offered the opportunity to help bring the Heartland Regional Conference to Pittsburgh. SMPS Pittsburgh had never hosted a regional conference and the team I had the joy of working with, compiled our city’s nomination, and it was an amazing collaborative effort.
Pittsburgh was named the host city for the Heartland Region’s 2017 Conference.
In the fall of 2015, another offer by two amazing and seasoned Marketing and Business Development professionals within our industry offered me the seat to be the Chair of the Programs Committee for the conference. This is one of those opportunities that makes your stomach turn with excitement and nervousness. But it’s what I wanted and what an opportunity it was. And the clock was ticking. We had under 18 months to plan a 3-day educational program for 200+ individuals.
At that time, my husband and I had found out that we were expecting our second child and my delivery was on the doorstep of the summer of 2016. As usual, things fell into place and with a rock-star co-chair and the support of an amazing committee and lots of planning, the schedule was coming together and milestones were being met.
Our second son, Toby was born May 27, 2016. I was very lucky to enjoy the summer home with my entire family and was anticipating getting back into work mid-August and jumping back into Program planning in the thick of everything coming together.
I was back to work for 14 days when my family’s world was brought to a stop. Toby died in his sleep, the afternoon of Wednesday, August 24.
I have always been a planner. Life does not stop for the unimaginable. Even though, in the midst of shock and grief, it seems to.
I stepped down from my role as Co-Chair in October. I needed to focus on being with my family. I needed to learn to walk again, with a very empty heart.
Fast forward to the beginning of April. The Heartland Regional Conference (HRC) commenced and brought nearly 230 AEC professionals into Pittsburgh. Feedback from attendees over the 3-day event was nothing but positive and the speakers were amazing. Sitting in the audience, watching veteran SMPS members welcome first-time HRC attendees was amazing. I’m sure you can ask any fellow SMPS’er and they will tell you, these conferences, whether regional or national, can put the fire back in your career and give a creative boost, just when it’s needed.
It was an honor to be involved in the beginning steps of bringing HRC to Pittsburgh. I was given a ‘thank you’ from the co-chairs and when I opened it, it had a lot of connection, pulled at a lot of strings that hadn’t been touched for a few months.
Artwork by: Nevin Robinson
We spend a lot of our life thinking we constantly need to achieve things. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to move forward in your career. It challenges us. Makes us think differently. Brings new friends into our path. Teaches us things. But I also think we can lose sight of a lot.
My husband and I love Pittsburgh. Sure, we love the beach and the mountains too, but Pittsburgh will always be home. We love raising our family here. We love working here. Our two-year old, Lucas, loves the sports teams. This is the only city Toby ever knew. I can’t imagine not being here.
This ‘thank you’ holds much more for me. The rivers of Pittsburgh. The Point. The view.
My journey changed dramatically eight months ago. I stepped to the bank and let a boat go by that I really wanted to be on. One surrounded with people that I admired and that supported me. I feel like I was placed back in the water in a kayak, alone. Life said “Here. Figure it out.”
My first thought when I looked at this picture was, “This is Toby’s view of Pittsburgh.”
I am not the person I was eight months ago, but that does not mean my life is any less. It does not mean my achievements aren’t worth as much as anyone else’s. It just means they are different. For someone that is a “doer” this is something I am working on learning to accept. And it is hard.
Sometimes we don’t achieve what’s on our bucket list. Sometimes we can’t. Sometimes we achieve things that have far greater meaning to our lives, right at that moment or much later in life. Sometimes people judge, say we failed, and it hurts. Sometimes doors open at the wrong times and we have to close them and move on. These are things that we don’t have control of. This is life. It’s hard to navigate and sometimes even harder to accept.
I have added one thing to my bucket list since August 24, 2016 – to live my life in honor of our son, Toby. To make a difference in his name. Maybe that will happen with the help of my professional career, maybe it won’t.
Take it easy on your journey, professional or personal. Be ready for curveballs. Be ready for the unimaginable. If you need to stop somewhere and take a break, it’s okay.
But, one tip. Be ready to ask life to leave you a paddle.