How’s the Commute? Thoughts on Career, Lifestyle, and, well, Driving

It’s 2016, one month into the new year, and eighteen months into my role as Director of Instruction with West Vancouver Schools. After almost two decades of working in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district, where I had been a teacher, coach, Vice Principal, and Principal of two high schools, I was ready for a new and exciting adventure. Based on the innumerable encounters with former colleagues and community members, it seems the most pressing question is not How’s the new job? but rather So how’s the commute?  This is usually asked in one of two ways:

  1. with an incredulous and wide-eyed look of disbelief, or
  2. with a cheeky smile that suggests You poor sod. Commuting must be hell.

At first I was surprised that people were more intrigued by the topic of transportation than the actual experience of the job itself. I mean, I have a very cool job (ok that’s my opinion). But then I shouldn’t really be surprised. For close to twenty years I lived and worked in the same community. Our first home was a mere 3.7 kilometers from school. I was so close I could come home for lunch regularly. When I became a Principal, my commute expanded to a whopping fifteen minutes. That lasted for four years, until my second Principal appointment brought the drive back down to a pleasant seven minutes. I admit, I would, on occasion, brag about my non-commute to friends and acquaintances who had to suffer the pains of working -  GASP! - across a bridge, or God forbid, Downtown Vancouver. Those poor sods, I thought. Commuting must be hell.

The funny thing is, I didn’t really know. I mean, I had never actually been in a position that required me to face rush hour every day, but I certainly imagined how awful it must be. I saw the line up of cars heading west every morning and thanked my lucky stars it wasn’t me. But now that I am closing in on two years as a commuter, I have some things to say on the subject. And it might not be what you think. Let’s start with some facts:

The Facts:
  • Distance: 60 km (one way)
  • Communities Traversed: Maple Ridge - Pitt Meadows - Port Coquitlam - Coquitlam -  Burnaby - Vancouver - North Vancouver - West Vancouver (and back again)
  • Major Bridges: Two or Three depending on the route
  • Average Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Fastest: 48 minutes
  • Slowest: 2 hours plus
  • Point of interest: This commute spans the Easternmost part of Metro Vancouver (Maple Ridge) to the Westernmost point (West Vancouver)

As you can see, this is by every measure a “real”commute. I spend at least two hours in my car Monday to Friday. But before you start grimacing and feeling bad for me, here’s the first thing I want you to know. IT’S TOTALLY WORTH IT!

Granted, a short commute is easy. It’s comfortable and it’s convenient. And there is something to be said for that. But in my case, the call to adventure outweighed the desire for convenience. And strange as it may sound, I do feel like I heeded the call. I left a job I loved and a place I knew very well for the richness and challenge of a whole new experience. And the rewards have been extraordinary. I have a job I love. I work in a high achieving organization with a reputation for excellence. My work is challenging and dynamic, with a broad scope of responsibilities to keep me on my toes. Innovation is expected. See Superintendent Chris Kennedy’s Culture of Yes to get a flavour of the leadership and vision here.

I have come to know some amazing people -  smart, engaging, dynamic people with an appetite for pushing boundaries and reaching excellence. I think specifically of our schools and the wonderful teachers and principals and vice principals and support staff who work there. I think also of our wonderful district staff and all the machinery behind the scenes that goes into making a school district run. I think of the community connections I have been able to make, and the way a place that was once quite unfamiliar now feels like home.

Eighteen months ago I needed Google maps to tell me how to find each one of our seventeen schools.  I also felt like I needed a notebook to keep track of all the new acronyms I was going to have to remember: DLT, SBO, ILC... (note: school districts and the education sector in general  are notorious for acronyms). I now know where all the schools are (and many of the people who work therein). The acronyms now roll off the tongue like I’ve known them forever. In short, I have had some wonderful opportunities here to learn and grow and share and speak and make connections and become part of something exciting. Some of the highlights so far include: helping launch Google Apps for Education (among the very first in the Province), disbursing Innovation grants and working with Innovation teams (along with my colleague Lynne Tomlinson), hosting and organizing our first Ignite the North Shore event, speaking at TEDxWestVanEd, co-chairing a District Wellness committee, and working with my "family of schools."

And then there are the little things, not exactly part of the job, but certainly part of the setting that can add to the daily experience. The cafes on Marine Drive. The soup at Fresh Street. Walking distance to the ocean. Ambleside Park. Dundarave Pier. Cypress Mountain. Proximity to Downtown. It seems there is indeed a world beyond one's hometown.

There are other benefits too. Let's face it, life is busy. A little alone time in the car on the way to or from work is not a bad thing. I love listening to CBC Radio 2 Morning and The Afternoon Drive. And I like the think time - a little intellectual "hang time" for ideas if you will (yes, I get some ideas...). And our family is at a point where the evening demands are not as extreme as they once were. I am no longer racing back to run a soccer practice or to drive a daughter to Richmond to play a softball game on a weeknight. Perhaps you could say the timing is right.

So go ahead, and ask me, How’s the Commute? And just in case my words haven’t compelled you, maybe some pics will.


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