it’s so hard to say goodbye

Not just lyrics in the classic cover by Boyz II Men (the first group I ever saw in concert, by the way, at the Allegan County Fair. holler!), but also the theme of my Tuesday this week … and how it really is so hard. But to be clear, I don’t ever say goodbye. It’s so … final.

Let me back up.

It all happened very quickly a few weeks ago. There was an email, two calls, an in-person and then an offer to take a new position with Priority Health. I asked for 48 hours to think it over because I was fuh-reaking out told the recruiter my yes was going to be my yes and if I accepted, there was no turning back.

Ultimately, I accepted.

The day after I accepted, I needed to talk to Mike, aka Mr. Gerfen. He heads up our Kalamazoo VML office and is someone I respect more than almost anyone. I met Mike likely my first day at Biggs|Gilmore a little more than 17 years ago. I was selected as one of two seniors in my program at WMU to take an internship with the local ad agency and to say he made me nervous is the understatement of the century. He was one of the three leads (at that time) and his very presence gave me the impression it would be in my best interest to just stay.away. Human beings that smart and classy and well-spoken are those my kind of people turn and hide in a corner to avoid making any unnecessary eye contact or (gasp!) small talk with.

So to say I was nervous to share my news with Mike is also an incredible understatement. But not because I would have to sit in the same room as him. It was because I didn’t want to disappoint him. See, over time, I learned that while Mike is all of what I stated above, he is also incredibly humble, compassionate, generous and wildly immature. So, I actually relate to him quite well. And in the past 17 years we’d had interactions that spanned a continuum from terribly difficult to totally incredible and all made me better, even those that felt anything but that at the time.

The past year had given me the opportunity to work more closely with Mike than I ever had and I never grew so much in my professional career. During the same time, he helped me immensely personally and I was only that much more appreciative of the kind of human he is.

So yeah, I didn’t want to tell Mike I was leaving. But just like every hard thing I’ve ever had to do, I just … did it. I texted him asking for time and as my streak of amazing good luck would have it, he responded ‘What the F? You leaving?’ Turns out, he’d seen me head out of the parking lot for coffee just after I sent him that note. But that’s the kind of relationship we’d gotten to and what made it even more difficult to make the decision to leave.

But, we had our talk. I laughed at the beginning and said, ‘actually, yeah, i am leaving.’ He was gracious like always and from there, I had to start the process of transitioning out of my role with VML.

I started with Biggs|Gilmore, now VML, as a baby child. I went from intern to some kind of digital project manager, which essentially was my role for the entirety of my career save from a short stint in operations. This past year I’d found my way back into the project management group and was honored to lead the team in Kalamazoo. I worked with them in three different buildings (first, The Radisson, then at 261 E Kalamazoo and most recently, at The Foundry) and was grateful to never have gained the freshman 30 (because we always had a fresh stock of ice cream). I saw people come and go and learned very early on that advertising can be the most brutal of industries because when budgets are cut, we feel it first. I’ve had to say so long to many friends along the way as a result. Advertising can also be super fun. You’ve seen Mad Men, right? It’s kind of like that except present time and people can’t smoke at their desks. We had the greatest of parties, road trips and staff meetings that were always made more fun and creative by the super talented people that filled the office.

I’ve essentially lived all of my adult life with the same company so, for better or worse, they know me. And I know them. And we are family because of all of those experiences noted above. I could name all of the people who impacted me there, but ain’t no one got time for that. You all know who you are and I’ll never be the same because of your guidance, mentoring, kicks-in-the-butt and grace. All the grace. But since we’d collectively experienced some tragedy a couple years back, I’d been questioning myself. And what my priorities are. And what God may have next. I prayed that if He was going to open a door for me that it would be so wide open I could literally not question what my response should be. And I have to say He did that just a few short weeks back.

So we had a little gathering Tuesday before I left because that’s what you do at an ad agency. I got some amazing gifts and a card that I waited to read until Wednesday night signed by many of my VML family. (Let’s just say reading that in the privacy of my room was a very.good.idea.) Mike spoke and then gave me the opportunity to share. Which was a terrible idea! I fumbled my way through a thanks with many tears because, oh my gosh, how do I say goodbye to these people who actually had given me the confidence and wings to fly?

Well, I didn’t. Because I don’t. I said, ‘see you later.’ Because I will.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to my friends like family at Biggs|Gilmore/VML. I will never be the same. And thank you, Mike, for pushing me as hard as you did. You made me better.

And here starts the beginning of another brand new ending.

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