If you missed last week’s post, you may want to check it out before reading this one: https://embamb.wordpress.com/2013/04/03/on-transitioning-to-real-people-life/
Or, you can just jump right in to this week! We won’t judge (:
After a depressing summer of throwing out bread and sense of self-worth, all the while pretending I gave two shits about how neatly arranged the shelves were, I happily left the world of Loblaws behind me and jumped into an internship (or, more correctly, a ‘Social Change Fellowship’) at Engineers without Borders.
With an interest in videography that had developed over the last few years of University, I applied to the communications team (logical, no?). When I got my “Congrats! You did it!” email (perhaps not in those exact words) soon after my interview, I was stoked. This was my out! Along with the excitement, I was also…confused. In the email, it mentioned that I would be working not with the communications team, but rather, with the Invested Partnerships (IP) Team. My first thought was: “The what?”
This initial confusion was cleared up rather quickly, when I learned that the IP team had was the entity formerly known as ‘Fundraising’. The difference, in short, was a focus on a dual bottom line of revenue generation and genuine, two-way partnerships with donors both big and small.
Though my experience over the next 5 months would be an incredible one, filled with a consistent sense of challenge, excitement, freedom and incredible relationships (you can read a more detailed account of it here), the initial note of ambiguity that the placement started on never really went away.
When I sat down to write this post, and attempt to put some of my thoughts over the last five months to paper, it quickly became apparent that I could take this in one of two directions. One, a much more specific rant about the complexities and challenges of working within the organization itself. Along this vein, I could discuss the difficulty of jumping into a high level of responsibility and work load at an organization that I didn’t even fully understand (my previous interactions with EWB had been limited, at best). I could talk about the ambiguity that exists within the organization itself; EWB is an organization built around core dilemmas: around what exactly it wants to be, around focuses in both Canada and Africa, and most recently, around making the shift towards becoming an incubator of social and systemic innovation.
On the flip side, I could talk about some of the broader, more abstract questions and challenges I faced on a daily basis; things related to working in the development sector generally, and, as the title of this post suggest, on “transitioning to real people life”.
I’ve decided to go with the latter.
When I think about the five months I spent at EWB as an SCF, it is an interesting experience to consider holistically. On the one hand, I absolutely loved it. It was challenging, exciting, unique. It left me feeling fulfilled and like I was contributing to something I could feel good about. I felt pushed to put myself in new and uncomfortable situations, I felt trusted by the people I worked with, and I felt free to explore things in my own unique way. I met and worked with truly incredible people.
With all this in mind, and considering the summer I’d had before this, you’d think that I would have found exactly what I was looking for.
To an extent, that was true. But, also…
What exactly was I doing? What was I working towards? Where was I going in life, in both my immediate and long term future? What was my place in social change? What is it that was driving me to this work; to spend nights working in the office or to voluntarily take on additional tasks outside my field of responsibility? How do I balance my desire to do this kind of work, to volunteer and give all that I can in the service of something vaguely defined as “social good”, with a very real financial need to provide for myself (the internship was not unpaid, but I was only making enough to barely cover costs. I also spent what little free time I had outside of work volunteering on other endeavours.)
I also found myself grappling with something that, I believe, came directly from my experience working at Loblaws. I am not exactly sure when it happened, but somewhere, sometime over the last half-year or so, I made a decision…
Before I get to that, however, context! Two things:
1) I can be relatively impulsive in the way I make decisions
2) I am very much someone who sticks to their principles and decisions, once they have been made
Example: I am in university, and sitting at my desk in PJs, sweater hood pulled up over my head. I am staring out the window, slowly sipping coffee at 4 o’clock in the morning, when suddenly, I have a thought: “I am going to become a vegetarian”. Starting that day, I stopped eating meat, and have stuck to that since. There was no reasoning behind this decision. I was not a staunch animal rights activist, and I had not just finished a viewing of Food Inc. I just…decided. And once I decided, I had to do it.
Aaand we’re back! Now, where were we? Ah, yes – decision! At some point over the last half year, during all of my uncertainty, I made the following decision; the one point of certainty on the open path that was my life:
Someday, I will die. When I get to that point in my life, I want to be able to look back at my life and see that I have left behind more than I have taken.
Like my sudden vegetarianism, I quickly stuck to this, and it would come to guide the decisions I made moving forward. Decisions around what work I was taking on, how I was setting priorities, and how many hours I was putting in (a recurring thing with me is the outright resentment of the biological need to sleep that I have developed). An added bonus with this decision, over the one to become a vegetarian, is that I was not even really sure what it meant. “Not eating meat” is a little more clear cut than the somewhat abstract concept of “leaving behind more than you take”.
Despite this uncertainty, it started to have impacts. I began to feel as though I could not, in good conscience, take another job at Loblaws. It started to make me question whether video was actually the right path for me (I enjoyed it considerably, and I like to think that I have some skill with it, but my thinking was: a) there are many other more skilled individuals currently doing video work in the social justice space, and b) is it really what I am best at? Or do I have another skill I could be leveraging?)
On a more personal level, it left me with a lot of questions around balancing my commitment to this kind of work with other aspects of my life; a task that, to this day, I can’t say I have gotten much better at.
I can’t pretend that I have discovered the answers to most, if any, of the questions I asked in this post. But, while sitting in a meeting at the EWB office one day in late January, I did come to one particular realization.
We were gathered to discuss strategic planning for the upcoming year, when all of a sudden – a light bulb in my head clicked on. I had a moment of clarity, and spent the rest of the meeting furiously recording ideas in my notebook. I left that meeting feeling more excited, passionate and fired up that I had felt about anything in a long time.
What was it, you ask?
Well, for now I’ll leave you with this
Until next time.