On CHANGE (or: This one time, in Ottawa…)

Goodbyes suck. I was reminded of this fact a couple weekends ago, in Ottawa. Reminded of it over and over and over again in rapid succession as one by one, the people I’d spent the preceding four days with trickled back to their respective pockets of the country.

It’s amazing how quickly bonds can form when you stick excited, passionate people with similar interests, values and beliefs into the same small space to discuss, debate and learn. We were gathered in Ottawa for an Oxfam Canada Conference, and in attendance, a cross section of the organization’s campus (and alumni) presence from cities across the country. 40 or so energetic, lovely and inspiring young people.

It was in watching these energetic, lovely and inspiring young people enter their cabs that I was reminded that goodbyes suck. Reminded of it in every farewell hug that decoupled momentarily, only to snap back together like a set of magnets, determined to demonstrate the truth of the notion that opposites attract. I was reminded of it in every attempt to prolong the farewell, in every mushy showering of verbal affection, and in every promise to keep in touch.

I was reminded of my disdain for goodbyes each time the Oxfam corner of my heart felt a small pang of ache with the slamming of each car door. I have missed this community, this cause, these values, and these people.

And so while the conference made clear that which I already knew – about goodbyes and about a longing to be more involved with Oxfam – my four days with 40 inspiring leaders and a dozen or so insightful facilitators also reminded me of something else.

For the last two years, since graduating, I have felt adrift in the terrifying sea of young adulthood. I graduated UofT after 4 years of contempt for the University process, environment and culture. Graduated UofT with an uncertainty about who I was or what I was doing or where I was going, but also, with an unshakeable certitude that whatever the answers to the who, what, where were, they sure as FUCK would look nothing like how I had (formally) spent the previous four years.

After graduating I applied to every job under the sun. Street outreach officer, Communications Guru, Campaign Manager, Freelance BBQ Sauce Inspector, Event Coordinator. The list goes on. Hell, for giggles I even applied to (and was somehow interviewed for) the ED role of a small upstart.

Despite countless resumes and cover letters, proclamations of how I was the “best candidate for the role” and “please oh please god just hire me I won’t burn anything down I swear…” I had found nothing.

Imagine my shock – no one wanted to hire me?! My undergrad degree in Peace and Conflict Studies doesn’t allure you, you say? Would a nice crisp Queen Elizabeth II help? No? Ok…

What did help, however, was taking my university degree off my resume. I was no longer “Tyler Blacquiere, Honors BA with High Distinction from the University of Toronto”, and instead, was “Tyler Blacquiere…I’ve worked at a library before and I probably won’t burn anything down.”

Well, the latter must have been just the ticket, and thus set off my summer of pretending to rearrange shelves full of bagels, in the bakery at my local Loblaws.

Now, look. There’s nothing wrong with working in a grocery store or a Walmart or a WHATEVER. At least, not inherently. There WAS something soul crushing about erasing my last four years to get said job. There WAS something problematic about the amount of food that was thrown out, often even before its best before date. And there WAS something about the experience that was fundamentally at odds with who I considered myself to be – or rather, the person I wanted to be, and the place I wanted to occupy in the world.

For a long time I have been someone with a core set of values held close to my chest, and in times like my summer at Loblaws, when my actions have felt at odds with my beliefs, I have been met with great distress. Put simply, I try my best to hold myself to two main things:

  • I want to leave behind more than I take
  • I believe that life is meant to be lived for other people

My time spent in the bread aisles of Loblaws was not facilitating either of these, or other, values. Unless, I guess, you count helping people find bagels as “living life for other people” (sometimes you just really need some pumpernickel?).

You can imagine my joy, then, at being offered an internship with Engineers Without Borders at the end of that summer, in September 2012.

I was unsure of exactly what I’d be doing, and unsure of how exactly I’d live off an $800/month stipend, but these questions were irrelevant when weighed against a continuation of my current reality.

EWB was a charity. It was working to end poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. It was, for the most part, doing “development” in a smarter, more innovative way that most other charities.

Me, and my values, couldn’t be happier.

I now stand at the start of September 2014, and I’ve reach my two year anniversary with the organization. During that time, my roles and responsibilities have shifted considerably. From a videography and fundraising focused internship (September 2012 – January 2013) to a series of short term, part-time and full-time contracts, focused on EWB’s charity run and holiday campaign (January 2013 – December 2013), to a full time non-contract role in January of this year, focused on fundraising and communications.

These past two years have not been without their ups and downs, but on the whole the experience has been a good one. I’ve had the opportunity to occupy and lead a number of different roles and projects, worked with some pretty incredible people, and – not insignificantly for someone in this “transition to real people life” – have been able to keep myself consistently housed, fed and clothed.

These positives aside, however, things have been growing increasingly challenging. Motivation has been hard to come by, excitement has been relatively non-existent, and the days have started to drag. I have felt “there”, and not much more. The passion, felt so strongly in these 4 recent days in Ottawa, has not translated back into my work with EWB since returning to Toronto.

For the most part, I’ve been unsure as to why. Certainly, there have been some clear challenges in life and work that would explain part of my declining happiness in my current role, but nothing that really gets at the feeling of just being sort of…done.

It was not until this one time, in Ottawa, surrounded by 40 or so energetic, lovely and inspiring young people, that I was reminded of the reason why.

All throughout my “activist days” (if I can call them that) of University, I spent late nights working on things for Oxfam, Canadians for CAMR, and the Green Society Campaign (to name a few) and early mornings working on essays which, at that point, had taken a back seat to more important pursuits. Through the petitions, the protests and the press releases; through the MP meetings op-eds and videos, I felt like I was “doing something”. Felt like I was leaving behind more than I was taking, and like I was living life for other people. And sure, maybe I was just young and naïve and dumb, and now, in looking back, maybe I’m romanticizing, but still. It felt as though there was inherent purpose in what I was doing. It required a certain fire; required boots on the ground and coffee in the veins. And naïve dumbness aside, it did, in one way or another, and regardless of size, contribute directly to change.

And I know. I KNOW. Fundraising and communications are important. Fundraising is what enables the “on the ground” work. It lets EWB’s ventures operate, and provides the backbone for worthwhile programs like Kumvana, which connects young African leaders to the resources and training they need to amplify their impact and reach within their communities. It’s important work.

And communications puts knowledge into the hands of the people who we rely so heavily on to sign our petitions, run in our fundraising races, and become monthly donors. It helps them make informed decisions about where they’ll invest their money, time, and support. And, it shares the successes of our ventures, funded in turn by those donor dollars. It’s important work.

But. As important as it may be, I’m realizing that it’s incompatible with some central tenets of who I want to be. It’s incompatible with my strong desire for direct purpose and action. It is, I think, one step too far removed from the change creation process – from creating the kind of world I want to live in – to ever be truly and consistently satisfying. I was reminded of that in Ottawa, as I sat with 40 or so inspiring young leaders and talked about Oxfam’s new campaign to have a third televised leader’s debate, specifically around the issues affecting women. I was reminded of it as I participated in and lead sessions that drew me back to the days of yore. And I was reminded of it in the flurry of brain activity that followed.

In the last two years, as I’ve jumped from role to role, I’ve endured through any moments of doubt or question about what it was I was doing by, in part, rationalizing that “at lease it’s not Loblaws”, and, in part, by giving into the fear of leaving and stepping into the unknown once more. In doing so I have become disconnected from my desire for direct, purposeful action. And it’s starting to wear through.

I miss the days of being so excited by what I was working on that I’d gladly stay up all night and push through to the morning. I miss the days of frantic, furious inspiration that comes from pursuing something you truly love. I miss the feeling of being truly and deeply tired from a day’s work. Not the kind of tired that comes from being bored and grinding, but the tired you feel in your bones. The tired you earn after a day’s worth of pouring passion into a vessel of your own creation.

If I’ve learned one thing about this journey to adulthood, it is that this whole thing, this whole process, is one of crossing all that from your list which you know is not for you. So as difficult as it is to find myself in this spot, I know that I am, at least, getting a bit closer to finding my place.

Whatever the hell that actually means.

…and then I found $20.

Until next time.

Ambiguously yours,

-t

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