PGAV: A Love Story
– By Stacey Ludlum, director of zoo and aquarium planning and design
A year after my divorce, I sat across from a very uncharacteristically uncomfortable Al Cross, vice president at PGAV, for my annual review—me, in the full throes of emotional breakdown: a flood of tears, hitching breathing, hiccups, the whole nine yards. Not because the criticism was too harsh, the salary too low, my future bleak; but because I was so grateful.
When I started at PGAV, fresh out of grad school, I was both headstrong and meek. I thought I knew it all, but was simultaneously intimidated by the things I so obviously didn’t. I wasn’t a design geek; I didn’t have the best technical skills or drawing ability. All I had was a vast and passionate knowledge of zoo design. I thought that was all I needed.
That first year, I was honestly miserable. I felt out of place, underappreciated, and struggling to pay my bills. I dreaded work, and would scoff at the notion that I’d be here more than two years. Two years minimum, I told myself, because it wouldn’t look good on a resume if I left any earlier. But two years passed, and I gained more responsibility, knowledge, and confidence. Still, every year, I laughed at the idea I’d stay much longer, and in my fifth year, I was on the verge of taking the leap.
That year, I met the love of my life—or so I thought. Love at first sight, a quick engagement, and soon I found myself making a decision that would change my life. (It had, in fact, but in ways I would never suspect.)
I was leaving PGAV.
I was nervous to tell Jim Moorkamp—my late boss and mentor. He was an intimidating man; and at that point in my career, our interactions were still limited to reviews and constructive criticisms. After I explained to him that my new husband had found a job in Raleigh, North Carolina and that I was moving there in two months, without hesitation he asked, “Do you have a job yet?”
I explained I had some leads, but nothing solid yet. He was quiet for a moment, then asked, “How would you feel about telecommuting?”
I was taken completely by surprise. I had never considered telecommuting as a possibility. And although I wasn’t whole-heartedly fulfilled at PGAV, I certainly didn’t have a job in NC, and needed the second income. I agreed.
For three years, I struggled with the demands of telecommuting. I was the first person in our office to try this, and not everyone was on-board. It was challenging to work in a team, as many decisions at PGAV are made informally when you happen to bump into someone in the social café, or on your way to the restroom. I was isolated and lonely in Raleigh, and later in the suburbs of DC, only knowing my husband and his new work friends. I traveled a lot, going to St. Louis at least twice monthly as well as visiting my clients. And when I came home from a long work trip in October 2011, my husband announced he wanted a divorce, and my tenuous life completely collapsed.
So I moved, one more time, to Florida to live with my parents. Yes, I was that thirty-something that moved back in with mom and dad.
I was in Florida for eighteen months, and PGAV waited patiently–even though I know they were just dying to demand my return to the St. Louis office.
And I did. When I was ready. Without pressure from leadership. Without judgment.
I sat at lunch that day with Al, weeping from thankfulness that they were so patient, kind, and understanding. That they believed in me so much over the years to cultivate not only my talents, but to be considerate of my personal and emotional needs. To be flexible, but also to challenge me to grow as a designer, a leader, and a person—even when all I wanted to do was fall apart.
And the amazing thing is, my story isn’t unique.
PGAV is not only an innovative world leader in tourism design, it’s a family filled with brilliant, caring, and hilarious people. We don’t always get along; we sometimes whine and complain; we are often polar opposites. But after more than a decade of sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes exhausting, and always exciting projects, I’m in. Just like our 28 other designers who’ve dedicated ten years or more of service to our firm; our 26 with more than 20 years, I’m in–whole-heartedly and for the long run.
I sincerely thank you, PGAV.