They moved to the North Coast in a rental SUV, packed with luggage, two kids, a dog, a hamster, a bird, and an iguana that needed to maintain a certain temperature to live.
The journey may have been an indication of the adventures to come for Shelby O’Brien when she rolled into Prince Rupert with her ark on New Years Day four years ago.
On the drive up, the adapter for the iguana’s heat and light failed so they had to keep the heat cranked in the vehicle.
“We were all basically in shorts and tank tops inside the vehicle because it was 90-something degrees in there to keep the iguana happy. All of our food, our chocolate, was melting,” O’Brien said, recalling the move.
She came to be the in-house counsel at the ever-expanding port authority. Growing up in Thunder Bay, her father had also been involved with the port authority — but there’s quite a difference between lakes and oceans, which is one reason she signed up with the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue.
“With RCM-SAR I had the opportunity to help people and I think it’s a necessary service. Plus, I get to develop a lot of skills,” O’Brien said.
She was also looking for ways to get out of the water for work, to understand the area and marine issues. Since joining, she can now drive a boat, read charts, plan routes and she’s more informed on shipping lanes and navigation lights.
Before coming to Prince Rupert she lived in Nanaimo, where her ocean endeavours involved recreational diving. A few of the dive shops led a dive three or four times of week and O’Brien would rent the equipment she needed to join.
In Nanaimo, she had her own legal practice and was busy raising her two girls. She liked the size of the community where work-life balance was achievable, but she wanted to take another step in her career and work in-house for a company to gather the whole scope of the business.
Most of the in-house positions were in a larger cities, until she saw a posting for Prince Rupert. When she came to check out the situation she found the city to be beautiful, with a weekend of weather that was unusually clear and bright.
Taking the leap, she continues to grow in confidence and as a leader by embracing new challenges that pull her out of her comfort zone.
First, she signed up with Toastmasters to coach her in public speaking and communication. She’s still a member, although her daughter’s dance schedule has taken precedence this year.
“Really, for me, the biggest thing was spending a lot of time being very uncomfortable, getting used to being uncomfortable and doing things anyway, or being afraid and doing things anyway,” she said.
‘Uncomfortable’ is riding in an excessively heated car full of animals for days. ‘Not being afraid’ is realizing that rather than be a paralegal and work for lawyers, she wanted to be a lawyer, and as a single mom, she got through law school and has succeeded in her profession.
She continues to broaden her education to become a better lawyer. When Simon Fraser University offered an executive masters of business administration (MBA) program she jumped on the opportunity to understand the underlying principles of business. Along with juggling a three-year executive MBA program, she added more to her plate by becoming a voice for women in the community.
In the past year, O’Brien stepped into an executive role as part of the Women’s Leadership Network. She had belonged to a women’s business network in Nanaimo, and was looking for a similar group in Prince Rupert.
When the Women’s Leadership Network formed last year, she connected with the other women who have similar career aspirations and who want to find gender equality in some of the larger companies on the coast.
“I wanted to make sure there was a group of women who were promoting those voices and encouraging women to step into those positions. I think it’s a necessary perspective and it adds a lot of value, both to the business side of things but also to the social aspect,” she said.
One of the reasons O’Brien was excited to come to Prince Rupert was for the development opportunities and what that could potentially mean for the community. But she said there has to be thought and planning to ensure that it is beneficial and that everybody has thought about the pros and cons on how to manage that.
O’Brien is happy with her decision to move to the northwest. Her oldest daughter, Aejah, left for university, but her youngest, Lylah, made her mom swear not to leave until she graduates. Plus, she wants to stick around to see what some of the developments might mean for the community.