I see those struggles -- from the cancer and layoff, to the cross country move without all the answers, to the stint as a “semi-single parent”, to learning a demanding new job -- as life-affirming.
I was raised by Dutch immigrant parents who survived harrowing WWII experiences. They helped weave a healthy work ethic and the need to persevere through obstacles into the fabric of my upbringing. In the years that followed, I was further tested; some of the biggest challenges came in the form of cancer followed by a job elimination in my late thirties.
As I turned my attention to finding my next professional role my husband and I agreed I would try to find the best one available. That opportunity came in the form of an exciting role in Seattle, far from our home of Chicago, working for Amazon.com. After a fantastically exhausting and exhilarating day spent interviewing with some of the most amazing professionals I had met up to that time, I headed back to the Windy City. My head pounded and my stomach churned. I wanted and needed this job. I couldn’t imagine not getting it.
Thankfully I didn’t have to because Amazon soon offered me the position. But now we had another challenging decision. My husband had made commitments to young men he taught and coached. For the ten plus years we were married, we had always been a two career couple. We believed in supporting each other’s professional aspirations and individual priorities. But with two little boys of our own, it wasn’t just about us.
We agreed Amazon and Seattle were a great fit. We also quickly realized there were pieces of the puzzle we didn’t have yet. So we took what we knew: this was a great role, my husband needed to stay in Chicago, our kids were resilient, and we could manage anything together. As a result, we decided I would go to Seattle with the kids. My husband would remain behind and visit us every couple weeks. When I told a colleague of our plan, his response was, “That will never work.”
What followed was probably one of the toughest personal as well as professional years of my life. I was still weak recovering from cancer treatment, which messed with my mind as well as my body. I didn’t have my best friend by my side. And I had two children who were making a huge transition and needed me to be both parents when dad wasn’t around. Instead of my ex-professional athlete husband leading after school sporting activities, I had to take on that responsibility. But doing so allowed me the chance to connect to my eldest in his preferred arena with his younger sibling as an enthusiastic cheering section. I also came to better appreciate this part of my spouse’s contribution to our family life.
In addition, I had the challenge of starting in this fashion in a unique, fast-paced, and intense environment. However, I received wonderful support from my colleagues. I committed to myself that I would start and end the day with my sons, as much as possible, given all the upheaval for them. My colleagues, including my boss, would often rearrange meetings as well as cover ones that ran late into the evening so I could make this a reality. Both boys grew up a little, taking on more around the home. And our family became closer through the challenges endured together.
Nearly eight years later, I am still here and believe we made the right decision for our family. Looking back, I see those struggles — from the cancer and layoff, to the cross country move without all the answers, to the stint as a “semi-single parent”, to learning a demanding new job — as life-affirming. They were refining fires that revealed what was most precious to me as well as the depth of my own resilience.
Ellenore Angelidis is currently EU Legal Director for Amazon EU Sarl; she resides with her family in Luxembourg.