Heather Byrne 00:06
It was emotional. It was emotional people definitely felt like it was out of left field.
Chaz Thorne 00:13
Welcome back, or Welcome to toughest call a podcast for organizational leaders where we hear stories from your leadership colleagues about career defining decisions. I'm your host, Chaz Thorne. In this episode, I'm talking with Heather Byrne about a tough call, she faced deciding to leave an organization she cared deeply for to relocate closer to her extended family. Heather is the executive director of Alice house, a provider of safe second stage housing and support for women and children leaving situations of intimate partner violence. Many of us struggle with finding and maintaining a healthy balance between family and career. At times, it can feel impossible to reconcile our personal and professional ambitions. Heather talks about how taking care of what made her feel, allowed her to become an even more effective leader.
Heather Byrne 01:11
From a work perspective, I had just was approaching my two year mark as executive director at an organization that had had a really rocky number of years before I started, and I was brought into the role and into the position really to stabilize the organization and stabilize the staff. And, and get it back on track. From from the position that it was in before that was that was that was what I was there to do. Personally, my family was in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, which was very far away from our roots, which between my spouse and I were on the east coast and in Ontario. And so we were out in Saskatoon for for career opportunities. And we were both starting out pretty early in our careers. And there was an opportunity, and we decided that we would go and chase it and find it and build build our careers. From there.
Chaz Thorne 02:15
It was the type of work that the organization was doing.
Heather Byrne 02:19
So this was a harm reduction based organization that was providing advocacy and support services and access to care for people who were impacted by HIV or who were HIV positive. And in Saskatoon. There's a significant HIV problem in Saskatoon they have double the national average of positive HIV cases, and in particular, is affecting marginalized communities there who are experiencing chronic homelessness, who are racialized, who have mental health issues. And so then also don't have access to regular care, regular healthcare and are, are battling or wrestling with multiple complex issues in addition to their HIV, which is what has rendered them vulnerable to HIV to begin with, and actually reduces their life expectancy compared to the average person now can live with HIV, almost as a chronic condition with the right medication and treatment, but this particular population doesn't typically have access to the medication and treatment because of the other circumstances in their lives. So people are passing away in these communities because of complications from HIV, which in you know, 2020s or late, you know, 2019 or 2020. was, is unacceptable.
Chaz Thorne 03:52
When you came up, you came up to this point where you and your husband, were feeling like you needed to make a change. What were those starting first with your husband? What were those conversations? Like? What were you discussing? How did it come up?
Heather Byrne 04:14
Well, we were discussing how pleased we were with the way both of our career trajectories were unfolding in Saskatoon and the promise that was coming to us have wonderful careers in Saskatoon but kept reflecting back on how we also felt isolated and that we missed being close to family. Probably more than we thought that we would, and we sort of minimize the idea of Oh, well, we'll just when we want to come home to visit we'll just hop on a plane and and go home. That's no problem. We live in a global world, people move all over the place. And so we didn't really have a full understanding of what that was actually going to feel like day to day. We had family members who then ended up having some health scares that we couldn't attend to, or get there for or know when we should take the time to go and come back because these were some long term scare. So there was multiple circumstances where we really felt like a big part of our lives outside of our careers that were going to give us the quality of life that we were looking for was not being met.
Chaz Thorne 05:26
What sort of process did you go through to make this decision of whether or not you would leave what was working quite well for you both in Saskatoon and moving towards making a decision that prioritized your family life, your personal life,
Heather Byrne 05:50
we had a lot of discussions about what we wanted over all for our overall well being and acknowledged that our careers and our career paths were only a part of that. And we really tried to focus on pushing away all the noise and the expectations and where we should be and what our priorities should be. And really drill down into what did we want for our families? If we had to consider no one else? Or, or nothing else in the equation? What did we want our lives to look like?
Chaz Thorne 06:30
And what was that decision that that you and your husband decided to make?
Heather Byrne 06:35
Well, it was that family was the most important thing to us and feeling like we were entrenched in a community that was going to have roots for us that we could put roots down for our children. And commit to in the long term was incredibly important. And playing an active role in the lives of our extended family, including our parents, siblings, cousins, to to benefit from their support as we went through our lives and would in invariably end up with, you know, different ups and downs in our lives and be able to benefit from their support, but also wanted, it was important to us to provide that support to our aging parents and to you know, our other family members, you know, ups and downs and trials and tribulations of life, we wanted to be a part of it. day to day,
Chaz Thorne 07:33
this organization that you were leading at the time in Saskatoon was doing extremely important work. It was work that you were very passionate about. You were passionate about the organization, you felt that it was it was functioning well, how did everyone react emotionally to this news.
Heather Byrne 07:55
Um, it was emotional, it was emotional, people definitely felt like it was out of left field, people were starting to feel sort of safe and secure, for the first time in a long time in that organization. And so there was there was tears, there was certainly tears on my behalf, it was difficult to say it was probably some of the most challenging conversations that I had had. So they transition to to my staff team and my board ultimately being happy for us and happy that we were making a family move. But it certainly at first there was a lot of shock and awe and some fear and anxiety and and disappointment about what that meant.
Chaz Thorne 08:48
You make this decision, you decide to you decide that you're you're moving on. What happens next?
Heather Byrne 09:00
Well, once we made the decision, and told everybody your decision, it actually felt like a huge relief, because we had been talking about it so much before in my family and what we were going to do so it felt a bit like I was living a bit of a double life. So once everybody knew then it was then I could just get down to business and the strategy of what things are we going to put in place who's going to cover my position? Let's get the search started, I was able to give a month notice to give the board as much opportunity as possible to to at least start the recruitment process of the next executive director. And so I did everything that the organization asked me to do before I left as well as my own ideas and strategies of what things could be put in place so that there wasn't an actual loss and reminded my team that although was leading the team, they were the one delivering for the team. So they would have the capacity to keep going and stay on the trajectory that we were on. And to rely on and believe in themselves that they could keep going until the next person came into place.
Chaz Thorne 10:19
happened when you arrived in Nova Scotia.
Heather Byrne 10:25
So yes, that is what we had to take a huge risk to do this, there was no certainties at the end of it, there was there was no jobs at the end of it, we had to come here and be willing to start over completely and accept whatever that was going to look like. And what we decided was, if we were with our families at Christmas time, and at Thanksgiving, and we're achieving the closeness that we were looking for, by being close to our families, that whatever the outcome was going to be from a career perspective, it would have been worth it. So there was a lot of feverish job searching was what was what was happening. And we had started the process before we left, really, and weren't able to secure something. So we just knew that we were going to do the best that we could and apply for everything that we could. And if it took us a couple of years to rebuild, then we you know, we accepted that that was going to be the the outcome. We started the process of starting over and looking for employment then I ended up in this position and I was house that I've been in ever since.
Chaz Thorne 11:48
Tell me a bit about your your work and what you do at Alice house.
Heather Byrne 11:55
So Alice house provides second stage safe housing for women and children who have fled their homes because of intimate partner violence. So we are a second stage Housing Association. So families stay with us for up to two years as they really rebuild and recover from the circumstances that they found themselves in. So it's it was it was similar work to what I was doing in Saskatoon what I wish I was looking for, which was really an opportunity to lead a team to make a difference in my community and support people who are going through an incredibly in and life life threatening situation.
Chaz Thorne 12:41
You and your husband made this made this choice took this risk, have the difficult conversations for you, you had that difficult conversation of leaving this organization that you led and cared very deeply about. It obviously ended up working out well, professionally. However, that wasn't that wasn't the focus. That wasn't really the goal. The goal was your was your commitment to family, your family lives. How has that side of your goal worked out? What is your family life, like now that you moved closer?
Heather Byrne 13:26
Well, pandemic aside. It's exactly what we were looking for. It's exactly what we were looking for. We see family on a regular basis. We see family at all occasions, we have people coming to visit us we have to schedule times of we're like a booking agency in the summer, I have family members who are coming to visit us which you know, remarkably wasn't happening when we were in Saskatoon. So what we were trying to achieve, and the the the roots and the grounding that we were looking for, for ourselves as as parents and leaders in our own family that we were going to need to to be able to provide our children with everything that we wanted to be able to provide for them, and then provide our children also with that extended family support and having strong relationships with their grandparents. Is was was achieved. The Career piece the fact that the career piece worked out as well as it did and quickly as it did was was a bonus. As you say that was an aside. We hoped that that would happen. But it wasn't the primary goal.
Chaz Thorne 14:45
Heather, what would you say? Were your most significant learnings as a leader from this experience?
Heather Byrne 14:56
First of all, that we weren't To the best of ourselves, and we couldn't be the best of ourselves, in our careers or in our families with this major piece of how we identified ourselves as whole people as missing. We couldn't achieve or have everything that we wanted in our lives with this with this missing piece. So once that was understood and established, it had to be filled, whatever the consequence of that was, was necessarily going to be. And that was, that was hard, because we would make that decision but then fear would creep in and anxiety would creep creep in, and are we doing the right thing, and we have two children, and we're leaving two very good jobs for no jobs. Is that a wise thing for us to be doing? So we had to continually reground ourselves in who we were and what we wanted as a whole, for ourselves to be happy and healthy people if we knew that, to know that we were going to then end up being able to carve out the life for ourselves that we wanted, and career was always only a part of that. And so, in doing that, and pushing through the noise, and and grounding ourselves through the fear and anxiety, because we knew fundamentally, we were doing the right thing for the right reasons. And then having the success at the end of it has taught me that you have to put yourself first you have to be grounded in who you are, and what's going to make you balanced and whole, if you can be expected to lead a major team or make good solid, grounded decisions, even from a strategy perspective for an organization. So exercising that muscle for ourselves personally, and how to do that, even when there's pushback is directly applicable to my role right now and leadership and making decisions with my team on behalf of Alice house, sometimes you will get pushback, sometimes you will let people down sometimes, you're not going to know the outcome of what it is that you're doing. That there there's a risk associated with it. But if the principal and why you're doing it is grounded in who you are and your values or the values of the organization that you're representing, then that's the move that you need to make.
Chaz Thorne 17:45
If you'd like to learn more about Heather and her work at Alice house, you can check out their website, Alice house.ca. And if you'd like some assistance with your own tough calls, we've compiled a collection of free tools just for you. Go to toughest call.com to check them out. If you're not yet a subscriber to toughest call, please add us wherever you listen to your podcasts. Thanks for listening. I hope this conversation helps you when faced with your next tough call.
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