In September of 2016 I left my job and became a full-time parent. Our son, Nathan, was now four, but the main reason behind this decision was because we were now also joined by our new arrival, the ginormous Toby, in August.
Right off the bat I want to say that I appreciate that the option to temporarily exit the workforce after the birth of a child is a luxury that not a lot of people can afford. I totally get that. Since Nathan’s arrival, my wife has also been a full-time mom, putting a career in software development on hold and working as a consultant and contractor in an ad hoc fashion, more to keep her skills sharp than any real need to bolster our coffers. So, as a family we were in a position financially that both of us taking time out to just be together and focus on being parents to our young boys was not only a feasible option but something we quickly realised we were very eager to do. We didn’t exactly plan it in advance, but life often has a way of giving you what you actually need rather than what you think you want.
Heading into the winter of 2016, as “little” Toby grew and embedded himself so completely into our family, so much that it’s difficult to imagine life without his infectious laugh and huge, chubby legs, I started to talk to various prospective employers. At the time we were thinking that me taking a few months’ sabbatical would be sufficient before returning to work. Not that we were financially constrained; there was no deadline looming of when I had to return to work before things got precarious, but because I had worked hard to break into the gaming industry, I still have a passion for working with talented and creative people, and, in essence, I was curious as to what new challenges awaited.
I also knew that looking for a new job around the holiday period is traditionally somewhat difficult. Budgets are often set in the new year, and there is also the key point that, for the gaming industry, end of year is typically an extremely busy time as new titles are launched. Studios are usually focused on more pertinent things, and interviewing new candidates is often the last thing they want to so. So I viewed this time as exploratory, just making some enquiries, seeing what was out there and getting an idea of what might be on the horizon in 2017.
During this time I spoke to a lot of places. So many, in fact, that if I started to list them off here it might be seen as merely rattling off a veritable roll-call of who’s who in the industry. As is to be expected, some of these conversations were quite short and ended relatively quickly. For a number of studios, while they were polite and professional, for various (and usually valid) reasons, I wasn’t a good fit: I didn’t have X, or I needed more Y. This is job hunting. It’s a process.
The opposite also happened. I was told more than once that I was over-qualified. Other times a company was very interested in me but I wasn’t too keen on my side for, again, a myriad of valid reasons: the location wasn’t great for my family; the project didn’t really excite me; it was a short term contract rather than a full-time position. Finding a new job in the gaming industry is like speed dating in the near dark. It’s rapid. There are lots of unknowns. You bump into things a lot. You think something is going to happen but then it doesn’t. You also might see something shiny and get a little excited only to discover how things are not quite as they seem upon closer inspection when the lights come up. Ultimately you’re trying to find as close to a perfect mutually beneficial match as possible with imperfect inputs. Continuing with the analogy, being based in Ireland also means the matchmaking event is in a small town off the west coast. While the industry is growing here – compared to other countries – pickings are slim.
Hence, from the get go we were fairly confident that we would be relocating. This is not the first time the prospect of moving countries for a job was a possibility, and we do have a history of wanderlust. Ireland is a wonderful country (it has its faults, of course) but there comes a time when you realise that if you want to really challenge yourself and experience the truly great opportunities in my chosen industry, you’re going to have to leave for foreign lands. I wholly appreciate that this opinion is not shared by all, and, like I already said, the Irish gaming scene is growing, but for what I want to do and the career I want to have, it’s bag packing time.
I spoke with gaming studios in the UK, Sweden, the US, Canada, and The Netherlands. There was also some rumblings with places in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Russia. The Russian job sounded absolutely insane but that’s a tale for another time.
Some people reading this will know that at one point during this process I was all set to join a studio in the US. You may actually be reading this expecting me to explain what happened. Sorry to disappoint but, again with the dating analogy, somethings should remain private. Needless to say I had options and, in a rain-soaked Galway restaurant, having just received the offer I ultimately accepted, I faced one of the most difficult decisions of my life. It was my Jerry Maguire moment: I could either surf or ski. Which is a tad disingenuous as you can also ski in LA but permit me some creative licence.
Making this decision was not easy, and at one point, as anxiety coursed through me like a nauseating stream of what-ifs, I would have paid good money for someone to just make it for me, someone magically gifted with foresight of knowing how both options would pan out. This wasn’t just my life I was changing. Choosing a new country to live in is immeasurably impactful on my family, too; I am literally closing a whole new thread in my wife’s and children’s lives. The friends they will make. The experiences they will have. The careers they will explore. For my kids, this choice will have an all-encompassing influence on ultimately the people they will choose to have their own families with. Their future is now bounding in a direction – for better or worse – that is undeniably different to another course in life I have unceremoniously shut down. The magnitude of this reality is sometimes difficult for me to even comprehend.
Of course, every decision we make in life affects our future and the lives of our loved ones. But it’s the sheer scale of what relocating incurs that heightens this fact. If life is a tree of choice, picking one country over another is tantamount to facing a wide, stable branch and willingly turning your back on an alternate existence that will now always remain hidden.
In the end we chose Montréal. There were a lot of factors behind this decision but, without getting into drooling sycophancy, the prospect of working with the team at EA Motive on something new and exciting was enough for me to realise that, when it comes down to it, sometimes you just have to go with your heart and trust everything is going to be okay.
What happens now?
Considering we originally thought we were going to the US, we’ve been in moving mode for some time. At what sometimes feels like an almost glacial pace we’ve been purging belongings we don’t want to take with us to Canada. Emigrating, it seems, is the perfect opportunity to cleanse years of detritus and the flotsam of four decades accumulating junk. Who knew?
I say junk but what I really mean is the tendency of nearly everyone to cling to things as connections to the past – sometimes a past that appears through a rose prism as better than the present. I have a perfect black stone from a beach in Iceland. I still have my train pass from Japan. Not that either of these things or the cornucopia of other personal trinkets I’ve amassed in my life are exceptionally notable or even hold much significance to me. They’re more touchstones, reminders of what came before in a varied and fulfilling life. But I don’t need them. I’m using this chance to really pare back on things I don’t need to accompany me going forward.
It’s hard to convey just how cathartic this actually is. I recommend checking out Netflix’s documentary The Minimalists. It pretty much solidified what I have been thinking for some time – that the things you own end up owning you. Tyler’s words coming out of my mouth, I know. I still have too much shit. I’m working on becoming more lightweight, simplifying so that I can focus on what truly matters. I’ve realised recently that the clutter of modern life, the abundance of choice so prodigious that the result is inactivity – petrification due to the competing noise of options – is something I need to take better control of.
We’ve also been churning through the Sisyphean catalogue of things that must be done before you move to another country. The car? My dad’s getting it. He can just have it. It’s a good car and I could drive it back to the garage I bought it from and get a good chunk of cash for it but, fuck it, have the car. You deserve it, Dad. And my old Sony Bravia, too. I’m getting a 4K TV in Montréal. Don’t tell Sheila. Basically anything electrical is getting punted into a skip or sold to randomers. Apart from the consoles. Let’s not get crazy here.
Right now we’re waiting on our Canadian visa to clear. Cancelling contracts (gas, electricity, refuse, debit and credit cards, phone, internet, Netflix!, eToll, all that awful guff) is still to come. We’ve already had the meeting with the bank and moved some savings around to make them more liquid and (hopefully) lucrative for the future.
Fixing things around the house in preparation for renting it out (again, Christ, I swore I would never repeat this …) is kinda happening. Well, it is. It’s just slow. Because it’s soul destroying. It’s like we’re almost living in soft denial, or we need the actual flights booked before we’ll realise that there’s literally weeks of work to do before we can leave and we’ll somehow be energised into action. We’re learning French again. C’est magnifique.
But we’re leaving. It’s happening. People have asked us if we’re scared. No; I genuinely don’t feel fear of moving to another country and starting out anew. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Excitement? Nerves? Sure. Fear? No. I once travelled around the world in three months because I wanted an adventure. I’ve run marathons because people said it was intensely difficult for non-athletes to put their bodies through such extreme conditions. I needed to know if I could do it. So I did. Twice. I like a challenge. I get very bored with normalcy. When people tell me I can’t do something or I’m not good enough, that’s when I refocus and go and do it anyway. I am the most stubborn person I know. Tell me I can’t. Success is the best revenge.
I’m going to try and write here more. The process of moving to Canada and starting a new job is a long and eventful experience and I’d like to remember it with some degree of clarity. Writing has always helped with such perception. I just won’t always be able to say what I’m actually working on – at least not yet – but I hope to post something here at least weekly from here on in.