Author Archives: jeffieku

On Numbers

Adulthood was a numbers game to me, that’s how I saw it growing up at least.

I would be an adult when I turned 18.  I would go to post-secondary school for 4 years and get 1 degree.  I would eventually meet someone and be in 1 loving marriage, and with that have somewhere between 2-3 kids and be 1 happy family.  I would have 1 successful career making hopefully 50,000 a year, and if I got good enough at what I did, maybe more!

Clearly I didn’t know anything about adulthood, and numbers were a way to help make it easier to comprehend.

Reflecting on all of that now, my math was WAY off (Reminder: I am an engineer by training, so I take pride in getting the correct numbers).  I put such face value to these numbers, not understanding the depth and meaning behind them, and how it would ultimately translate into reality and life.  And it is probably because of that simplistic and naïve view of adulthood that made it such a weird, confusing, muddled, stressful, and ridiculous time in my life so far.

In the short stint into adulthood so far, there were so many numbers that I didn’t expect, that completely blindsided me.  Instead of the 1 degree I anticipated, I ended up pursuing 2, and one of which was at a higher level than I anticipated.  That meant 7.5 years in school, 2.5 of which was an unfamiliar blank space that haunted me at the same time as the blank space of young adulthood, feeling like I was falling behind in life.  What about the nearly 3 years of depression I struggled through, and the approximately 20 one-hour sessions of counselling to try and figure out ways to manage it?  Nearly a handful of ruined friendships because I was in such a dark place and did not know how to properly confront those problems. 0, count that, Z-E-R-O, “proper” relationships, as it were.

However, not all the numbers were negative.  I completed 1 thesis (totaling over 160 pages of written analysis) in those extra 2.5 years, and I’m in the process of writing a scientific journal publication to accompany the hard work I put into that masters, and I’m proud of those achievements, especially when it was such a difficult time in my life.  I volunteered with a great organization for 3 years, getting more involved with each subsequent year, on 3 difficult and personally important projects, working with countless amazing individuals that brought me inspiring friends across all 10 Canadian provinces. I was fortunate enough to find 1 great starting job so far that keeps me on my toes and constantly challenges me, in the midst of struggling whether or not I should stay in the field of engineering or attempt other passions, or whether to stay in the City I was born or move to a city that is new and full of wonders.  At this job, I’ve met great coworkers and friends, and have been fortunate enough to have a good handful of mentors to help me grow personally and professionally.  I’ve attended 3 great weddings of friends already, and 1 of whom I had the honour and privilege of being a part of as a groomsman, with many more to come.

But these are the things that I have been able to understand through numbers with adulthood so far.  And it really is such a minute piece of the puzzle of it all.  How can I even come close to quantifying and giving numbers to experiences?  I can’t put a number to travelling to across the Pacific Ocean with my dad after high school and meeting my extended family for the first time.  No numbers can describe being taught by friends how to ride a bike or camping for the first time or learning how to ski because you never had those opportunities as a kid. Numbers aren’t the things you remember from roadtripping with friends across the Western US, the late night discussions about the world and its complex issues, and the skype calls or google hangouts just to see faces you’ve missed from across time zones.

I am coming up on 9 years of being an “adult”, and simultaneously sharing that anniversary along with 9 pieces of random rant-filled thoughts to this appreciated space I’ve stumbled upon, alongside wonderful friends exploring the same ambiguous time of young adulthood.  This piece, my tenth, reminds me that adulthood is so complex, so abstract, and so unpredictable, that mere numbers could never help me comprehend what it means to be an adult.  Adulthood is not a zero-sum game, nor an accountant’s balance sheet, nor a set of mathematical equations. Adulthood is messy, full of questions with not enough answers, and ultimately unexpected experiences.  Adulthood has meant that with each passing year, I gain control of my environment and choices a little more, I get better at pretending like I know what I am doing; I embrace ambiguity just a little more.

– Jeff

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On blank canvases

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post is the 3rd in a series, intended as a space for the various authors and contributors of Embracing Ambiguity to reflect on the past year in each of their lives. 2014 has been a tumultuous year for each writer, from transitions and changes in the physical spaces they live in, to the internal turmoil of life changing decisions.  Each post follows the general prompt of thinking back to where we stood one year prior, and the head space we were in at the time; reflecting on what has brought us to where we are now and the change that has occurred in that 365 days of time. Happy reading and an ambiguous 2015 to you!


A couple days after the 2014 New Years, I found myself at my rented basement suite.  I was pissed.

I had left a couple small items to move out still, back to my parents’ home, but the place was still a disaster, with no sign that my former roommate had come back to help with anything and I wouldn’t be getting my deposit back unless I stayed to finish the job.  It took me a total of 6.5 hours, and even the landlady felt bad and came to check on me to make sure I hadn’t passed out from the fumes from the cleaning products (which was most appreciated).

The immense cleaning session, however, gave me a lot of time to think and reflect.  The majority of which was dedicated to figuring out what my next steps were in the next few weeks; and life in general.

That morning I had received an email from the University telling me that my thesis was accepted, so that was one less thing to worry about, but it also meant I had one less thing to work on, and one more end to school and the regularity and familiarity that had come with it.

This meant that I was moving into a completely new blank space, one that encompassed all aspects of my life.  In some ways, I was moving on and forward with life, but I was also moving back home, so at the same time, it felt like I was taking steps backward. Well now what? I was unemployed, and I hadn’t heard back from the engineering firms and the non-profits that I had sent resumes and cover letters in to.  What about relationships? HA! That is one area that has never worked out either, so no good news there, but nothing that I haven’t been through before.  I literally went into the New Year a complete blank slate, with no direction, no plans, and no clue.

In the end, 2014 has been a year of practicing patience, mostly towards myself.  It was a year of learning, about limits and what I want in my life and of myself.  It was a year of finding direction and forming goals.

I was fortunate enough to get a job, and it was even in the field of my undergraduate education (note: not my graduate program however).  Most days I feel stupid at what I do, and have constantly learned through mistakes, asking lots of questions and listening to the perspectives of coworkers on what they would do.  I am still not 100% confident that my career path is one which I will stick to for the rest of my life, but it is one that I am enjoying presently, and I know if I want to stay in this industry, what directions I want to take or where I want to see myself in the future.  I started saving up my money, and I have been actively looking for a condo to buy and call home to start my adult life anew.  I made wonderful friends this year, and I’ve lost touch with some, but have tried harder to strengthen relationships with others, understanding more that I need these kinds of relationships in my life.  I started realizing how much time I put to work, but not on all these goals and hobbies I had wanted to pursue in years past. Even with actual vacation time to my name for once in my life, I decided not to use them and learned how much I can burn out, and should probably take some time off from time to time and go on adventures and invest back into myself.

From entering 2014, furiously wiping clean of what remained from the year before, I had produced a blank canvas, and I had started putting pencil to paper; sketching and outlining what I wanted to start seeing my life to look like.  The image isn’t totally clear yet, but there are shapes taking form.  It is just a matter of adding colour and seeing if looks right.  Let’s be honest, I’ll probably have to paint over some parts, and redraw lines and maybe even change up the medium.  But it’s a start, and that blank space doesn’t seem as daunting as it once did.

-Jeff

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on the always, ever changing

EDITORS NOTE: This blog post is the first in a series, intended to celebrate Embracing Ambiguity reaching the 50 post milestone. In response to a recent post, Embracing Ambiguity received an email response that asked a lot of great and challenging questions. To celebrate a year and a half of existence, and our 50th post, various authors will be responding to these questions over the next week. In general, the theme is (roughly) “making the decisions that will IMPACT EVERYTHING”, and  “the narratives we tell ourselves about what we’re doing, why and how we feel about it”. It is left to each author to choose how closely they reference / stick to these original prompts. We’re excited to see what they come up with. If you like what you read, share it on Facebook and Twitter and help #EmbAmb increase it’s reach. Happy reading.

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As the new year rung in for 2014, I was happy that my masters was behind me, and that in a few days, I would be reunited with amazing friends and helping run a conference in Toronto for approximately 800 people (the result of 8 months of working remotely with remarkable people).  I told myself that I would take things seriously after the conference was over.  I had already moved back in with my parents for two weeks at this point, and I had decided that I wouldn’t worry about looking for work until the dust settled from the conference and I had time to breathe again.  Who would be hiring during this time anyways? Everyone is too busy stuffing their faces, enjoying the company of friends and family.  Who would have time to care about what a fledgling engineer-in-training was thinking about in regards to careers and what to do with their life right?

After I came home, I muddled around, sending one or two resumes out a week, but mostly read, played video games, and went to yoga every day.  And then I miraculously stumbled into a job, thanks to my friend’s connection.  I’ve been working that same job for just over half a year now.  It wasn’t work that I thought I’d be working in when I first got out of school, but somewhat related to what I studied (in my undergrad at least).  Now that I’ve worked this long at my job, I’ve been asked several times how I like it.  My best answer?

“Well I don’t loooooooooooooooooove it… but I don’t hate it either…  I guess I’m content.”

I thought for the longest time, that I would only really enjoy working if I loved it.  If I felt like I was making a difference in the world. And everything I did at work aligned with all my values and beliefs.  That ultimately dictated the direction of where and what kind of jobs I was applying to during my funemployment phase.  It also dictated a lot of emotions and frustrations I was feeling during my first couple of months of employment.

Over the next few months, and allowing myself to have more patience, to open up, to talk more and converse with coworkers and to build actual relationships there, I’ve realized a few key things.

  • No, this job is not my ideal job. I don’t know if I actually know what that ideal job is for myself yet.  But I am also just starting out, and no one is going to take me seriously or give me any credibility with no experience and such marginal understanding of how things work if I only looked for these ideal job opportunities.  They simply do not exist for people as junior as me, even if I arrogantly think I have what it takes, and so desperately want it.

 

  • I am not powerless, however. I do have a say in shaping my own direction and path.  Right now, my responsibility and goal is to learn.  Simple as that.  I am here to learn and gain experience and it is then that I can start finding opportunities to grow and improve.  It is with this new knowledge that I grow, that I can start seeing where I can and want to go and to direct myself in those directions.

 

  • Famously reminded to me by a coworker friend on a near constant basis, as he is seeing signs that I’m burning out and overworking, that we should “Work to Live, not Live to Work”. Work cannot fulfill all aspects in life, and it shouldn’t have to.  It does allow me to practice my problem solving, team work, and technical skills.  It does not, unfortunately, allow me to truly practice my interests in environmental sustainability (arguably it can be counterproductive to this point), or other social justice issues of international development or gender equality, mental health awareness, or leadership building and youth engagement.  But the interesting thing is it does provide me the opportunities to do so.  I can afford to attend conference, talks, and even certification programs in any of the above.  My job has provided benefits towards maintaining a healthier lifestyle if I so choose.  And it even has team building events geared towards doing volunteer work together in our local community.

 

  • I have been reminded once again, how important relationships are to me. Over the past 6 months, I’ve been able to make some great friends at work that I truly enjoy the company of at and outside of work.  I work with a great team, and we’ve gotten to the point where amidst frustrating scenarios at work, we can laugh and joke.  I even like working with my boss.  How many people can say they like their boss, and working with them?  I am very fortunate to have come across these amazing people, and if I were to decide it was time to leave, the hardest part would not be the pay or benefits, but to have to say goodbye to these great people.

Do I necessarily see myself working this same job 5 to 10 years down the road? I can’t really say, it could go both ways.  I honestly have no clue.  What about 2 years from now? Who knows?  If I’ve learned anything in my early 20s and adulthood, it is that a lot can change and happen in a short amount of time.

Is this job the right job for me? Once again, I do not know.  But, for now, in the present moment, it feels right.  6 months from now, it still might feel right, 1 year, still right, 5 years, maybe it still feels right.  But until it feels wrong, there isn’t much for me to worry about and to have to take action against.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t any excuse to be complacent.  I still need to keep on my toes and find opportunities to improve and seek those clues that might take me on a grander adventure, one that will provide me greater challenges and enjoyment.  Things will always be ever changing for me, and if you stop and talk and listen, it is always ever changing for everyone else too.  No stint of work, no matter how short or long is a waste. It is a learning opportunity, each one being a directory guide on the long hiking trail, helping me decide which direction to pursue.  And you know what? I may not end up at a final destination where THE ULTIMATE MEGA JOB has been waiting for me to get to.  It will actually probably lead me back to the beginning where I get a good laugh at my work life, and I then discover the joys of retirement and being a bratty old man.  But as long as I am learning, and gaining and fulfilling some aspects of my life at my job, I will stick with it, and when the time comes where my position fails to provide me with those opportunities I seek, then it just means that it is time to move on.  But time is not now.  Although I am sure that time will come, as the time for all things will eventually come.  For now, things feel right.

-Jeffieku

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On embracing change

*Jumping on this trend of writing a year end recap, as inspired by my fellow writers here at EA, I want to try and switch it up a bit and look right at the ambiguous space that has been left in front of me from the end of this past year

As 2013 comes to a close, so did several chapters of my life as well.  One of the most notable things is I FINALLY slayed the beast that was my master’s degree.  It took me 4 months longer than I was planning or hoping, countless hours more than I’d thought, with extra bumps along the way, and nearly throwing my dying laptop at a wall; but I finished it and submitted to my University.

Another major part of my life that has taken up the former 8 months of my life was the National Conference I had been working on with an incredible team of individuals across the country. Okay, so technically, this didn’t happen until after the New Year, but it ties in with the whole theme of things, trust me.  With that, I’ve also decided I am going to give myself a bit of a break from the organization I’ve been working with for about 4 years now.

Now with all of those things wrapped up, I’m now sitting in my room, all moved back in with my parents, in my quiet city, and trying to figure out my next steps. Yup, I moved home with my parents again.  Yup, I’m unemployed.  Yup, I’m too poor to allow my wanderlust to grab my hand and lead me into the world.

Moving home somehow wasn’t as bad as I had made it up in my mind to be.  My family has been very understanding about the new boundaries I need, and it’s about relearning how I fit in to the household dynamic again.  My time in Toronto for the conference has challenged me about what I’m capable again, that I underestimate how far I can take myself, but I realize I also need to start somewhere, and learn what I can to take me to those places.  And my wanderlust? It probably won’t go away for a lot of my life, but that wanderlust can take me to new discoveries within places close to me as well, if I let it.

This picture is one I found wandering around Toronto when I had some extra time before lunch with a good friend.

 

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I probably stood there on that cold sidewalk for a good 5 minutes looking at the simple graffiti on that wall.  (I disguised myself as being a tourist and was busy trying to decide what filter I was going to use on Instagram to not look like a crazy person).  But I couldn’t help but be moved by this simple piece of art, and it made me start thinking about my life and past year.  And the first thought that came to mind when reading those words was, “I hope I have changed”.  I hope that I am always going to change, and become a better person; to come closer to being that person I want to be.

These words left me proud and hopeful.  It reminded me that through these ambiguous times I’ve struggled with, I’ve learned to change and adapt.  More importantly, I will continue to do so with the next few chapters of ambiguity that are undoubtedly going to come.

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On Control

Life can feel like it has a mind of its own; it has its own predetermined story plot or script that has been written out, simply for you to follow it and play the part.  Basically, you feel like you are not in control.  This is a feeling most of us in our early and mid-twenties feel as we leave school… or maybe it’s just me.

And it is something to easily get trapped in telling ourselves that we are not in control and there isn’t much we can do.  What a load of bull.  Don’t get me wrong, I do this to myself too.  I probably fall into this trap more often than most of my peers… at least that’s what it seems like the majority of the time.  But sometimes, we only need reminders that we are the ones that choose what to do.

I had an interesting experience recently, where, due to my geographical location, couldn’t physically attend an all-day team meeting that I would have really liked to attend myself.  Instead, I participated through the magic of technology and cyber space.  In doing so, to be able to participate in the discussions and or to see what was going on, my wonderful team mates would take turns helping me write or helping me convey my opinions and responses.  Interestingly, being carried around via lap top, I felt helpless, and I wasn’t in control of anything for 8 hours (Well I went to the washroom when I needed… but you get what I mean I hope).

Being carried around and having people communicating on my behalf made me feel like I was a baby.  Literally a baby; a small infant that requires the parental figure to survive.  I actually laughed when I realized this hilarious situation I had found myself in.  But this also made me realize how silly it is, that as an adult, I felt like I had no control of my life, as if I had reverted back to being a child.  But that is the beauty of being a young adult, that I am no longer a mere child, that I’ve already gained the experience and wisdom to know how to take control back in my life or how to best face most of my problems.  There are of course instances to be wary about, such as financial restraints, family and relationship obligations, health issues, etc., but even in these seemingly restricting conditions, there are choices we can make and opportunities to change them and our present state.  Sometimes it takes a little push against those restraints, and maybe we will see that we are more in control of our lives than we give ourselves credit for.  Maybe we can start seeing ourselves sitting in the Director’s chair too once in a while.

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On wanderlusting…or running away

Since I am nearing the end of my graduate degree and program, I’ve been considering a lot about what my options are for the future.  There is an inherent part of me that wants to plan for my future properly, find a job fast and find a condo or house to buy, and start being an “adult”… whatever that really means (check out Tyler’s post on being an adult while you’re at it). There is also an undeniable feeling of wanderlust, and to leave behind what I have behind me and to simply explore and observe and learn.

So why am I in such a state of wanderlust, and why does it seem like such a beautiful idea and attractive option?  Is the familiar becoming boring? Is routine becoming frustrating?

Arguably, these feelings of wanderlust are fed by wanting to simply leave; simply leave my problems behind.  Problems that I haven’t found solutions for just yet, problems that still affect me, still bother me, still dictate my action… or in-action.

If I give in to my wanderlust however; if I head to start a new chapter in my life on the other side of my country, or travel abroad to vacation or to do something completely irrelevant to my studies, will my problems actually stay behind? Or will they follow close at hand, stitched tightly to my shadow that has never left my side.  Will I learn anything to help solve my problems if I leave my familiar environments?  And what of me staying put?  This has been my home for 25 years.  So many key experiences in my life have happened in this place.  Will I have the will to combat and overcome these problems if I choose to stay?

For now I am a scared animal, stuck in the state of decision, between fight and flight.  I have confidence that whatever my ultimate decision may be, I will eventually find solutions to my problems and I will grow from the experiences.  But right now, I just don’t know, and that’s okay too.

on giving a f*ck(?)

If you’ve read most of my posts on this site so far, you’ll probably notice that my focus has been more on the personal side of things and I’ve only briefly talked about social justice issues or my role in them.  There is a reasonable explanation for this, and that comes as a question: Do I actually care about international development, social justice, and social change?

I’ve spent the greater part of the past 4 years of my life (my graduate degree and the last 2 years of my undergrad) getting involved and increasing my involvement with a non-profit organization (what can I say, I was a late bloomer), starting at the student chapter and slowly making my way up to national level work.  What got me started on it? Simple, a couple of very amazing friends in my engineering classes invited me to take part in the local student chapter of the NGO.  At first, it was addicting!  All I wanted to do was learn more, and my curiosity became a great fuel for discussions as I was trying harder and harder to understand everything that was being thrown at my face and how little I truly knew about worldly matters.  What made me stay though, ultimately, were the people that were also heavily involved.  I have never met so many engaging, critically thinking, intelligent, and passionate people before.  Basically, I wanted to be more like these people, because I genuinely wanted to be a better person and individual.

To clarify quickly, the work I have done has mostly been here in Canada, and not overseas.  I’ve recognized from an early point in my involvement that my greatest impact would be here in my own community or country and not internationally.  Because of this, I have always felt a sort of disconnect with the issues of poverty and social injustice abroad, but I know and acknowledge their existence. My friends have witnessed these injustices first hand and have retold those stories to me, yet I still feel disconnected to the entire thing.

As mentioned in previous posts, I’m graduating soon (seriously, I’m really excited, and will take every opportunity to tell people this because at one point I wasn’t sure if I’d be stuck for another 3 years trying to do this thing).  Once again that question of what I am going to do afterwards comes up.  And whenever this question is asked of me, I always ask myself, whether or not I give enough of a fuck to try and keep doing this social justice thing instead of engineering, and if so, am I doing it for the right reasons?  Do I care enough about the issues at hand anymore like I used to?  Or, fuck it, let’s be honest here, I want to work with these amazing people I’ve grown to love and care for dearly.  And if I find myself in a situation where I do work in that environment, but my friends have chosen to leave, will I have the drive to stay put, or would I see myself leaving soon after?

So am I a bad person if I’ve figured out that I’ve been giving my time in this sector of work, not primarily for those that are suffering, but for the people who have chosen to work in this line of work themselves?  Is investing in those around me, and caring about their work because it is important to them, a good enough reason for my involvement in the social justice community?

This time I don’t have an answer, and I don’t know if I’m going to like it when I actually figure it out.

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On Motivation…or lack thereof

I am nearing the end of my time as a graduate student.  I’m so close; I can almost taste it (whatever it is that an MSc in Environmental Engineering tastes like…)!

But, I’m having some problems:  I’ve really been lacking in the motivation department lately.  The past 2 weeks have been pathetic attempts at trying to write out my thesis.  A never ending spiral of minimal work, distraction, guilt, shame, avoidance, and oversleeping has taken over my life, and it is frustrating me to no end.

This is really weird, especially in contrast to how I was only 3 weeks ago, when I went to visit friends in Toronto for a week.  I was a little wary of taking a vacation at the time, since I felt that I should be focusing on writing and not leisure, so I brought my laptop with me.  I promised myself 2 hours a day in the morning at a random coffee shop, that I would stumble upon whilst exploring the town so I could go visit friends (who almost all conveniently work in the same office) for lunch, and then back for more personal exploring, work, meetings, or hanging out until friends or hosts would be done work.  I was magically productive.  I wrote out more during that one week than I have this entire time I have been back home – a fact that is not helping how guilty I feel about this whole thing.

How can I enjoy writing for a blog about the ambiguous parts of life, but not write out scientific evidence that I’ve been working on for 2 years?

I have also noticed that I’m growing increasingly distracted as of late.  No, I’m not just talking about the countless hours spent on failblog, imgur, social media sites or blogs I’ve been reading lately (I’m not going to give you the urls, just to save you all from going down that dangerous path into the depths of the internet).  Instead, I find myself distracted with what I want to do again after my degree.  This is partly due to having such a lovely time in Toronto, and wanting to move to start a career there.

I feel as though I am being pulled in all sorts of directions again, questioning issues of my identity, passions, values, and ideals.

Trying to find the motivation to write my thesis has become a larger focus of finding motivation for what I want to do with my life from here on out.

I have been trapped in this situation before.  Am I handling it better? Not completely, but it isn’t unfamiliar.  Am I overthinking things again? Yes. Very much so.  Is it bad I am overthinking things? Yes and no.  Letting it control me like the way it has this week is bad, but being self-aware that this is part of me, helps me manage it and to understand what is going on.

So, having this period of lacking in motivation isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It’s giving me an opportunity to re-evaluate what I want to really do.  It’s letting me look at my short term and long term goals and whether or not they are relevant anymore.  It is almost humbling, in reminding myself that I am someone that is still growing and trying to understand myself.

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On struggling with identities

In the midst of dealing with being in graduate school, I also had an identity crisis.  Seriously, it wasn’t something I needed on top of being stressed out about research.  Basically, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. This stemmed from the constant day dreaming of finishing up my master’s degree and finally leaving the safety net of school…and a future where I didn’t have to ever hold a pipette again, deal with ass mud, or wait for science to defrost.  Through my time as a graduate student, a co-op student working in the engineering field, and my time in Engineers Without Borders, I simply didn’t know what I wanted to do.

Now, I want to explain quickly that graduate school has a funny way of undermining your self-confidence; making you realize how little you truly know and how easy it is to stumble into failures.  And in the middle of this identity crisis, this lack of self-confidence filled me with doubt at what I could succeed in doing for the rest of my life, and more importantly be happy and content in doing.

So. What should I do? What should I be?  Should I be Jeff the Environmental Engineer?  Should I be Jeff the researcher?  Should I be Jeff the social change leader?  Should I be Jeff the youth advocate?  Should I be Jeff the educator?  Or should I be Jeff the coach and enabler?

All I wanted was a niche.  I just wanted to fit in.  It was junior high all over again!  OH MY GOODNESS!  My worst nightmares that I thought I were over were coming back into my life!

And then it dawned on me.  And I don’t even remember how this thought finally came into my exhausted mind, but I realized I was thinking about this completely backwards.

Reality is, I am Jeff.  I am multi-faceted.  I am not any one particular thing or role.  Instead of being shoved into a tiny cubby hole in society, it is completely the opposite.  I realized I was actually the cubby hole, and that different roles fit me (Please… I’m trying to be serious here, must you think of the innuendos?).  I can be, and I AM, an environmental engineer (in-training I guess), an environmentalist, a youth advocate, a researcher, an educator, a coach, a social change agent and so many more things rolled into one.  I don’t know how I came to the idea that I needed to fit into society in some way, but I’m glad I realized that was bullshit, and that I am more dynamic and abstract than any one identity.

I’m still not perfect at this, and I never will be.  But, I’m learning that at different points of my life, bits and pieces will be thrown out, and new roles and identities will be thrown in the mix to make me who I am. After all, Life is about creating, learning, discovering and growth, not about finding, fitting in and being complacent.

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On comfort zones and unrealistic self-expectations

I haven’t always been as into social justice as I have been in the last few years of my life.  I mean, I was always curious about it growing up, knowing there was a lot I didn’t really understand.  I ate up a lot of the targeted advertising and skewed perceptions that media provided.  I dabbled in some social justice activities in high school, joining our tiny Amnesty International chapter, doing the 30-Hour Famine challenge (which I cheated I admit… I know…I’m a bad human being), and taking part in my friends’ initiatives to hold mini-conferences for junior high students on issues dealing with prejudice.

It wasn’t until halfway through my undergraduate degree in environmental engineering, that I was finally convinced by some amazing classmates and friends, to get more involved in Engineers Without Borders.  This is when I think I truly found an appreciation for social justice.  I found it empowering!  I was surrounded by so many remarkable individuals who shared this immense passion for disassembling and fighting against the numerous inequalities and injustices in this crazy world!

But by the last year of my undergraduate career, I found myself in a crisis.  What do I do now?  I’ve always been “good” at school.  Now that I was nearing graduation, I didn’t know what to do.  I’ve always been told what the next steps were, what I should be doing next, but things were changing, and changing fast.  It was finally up to me to decide the next chapter in my life.  I was mortified! Shit! I’m not ready for the “real world”! Fuck, I’m screwed.  I’m just sitting there, mindlessly busying myself, whereas my friends were actually looking for jobs and doing other adult things.

At the time, I was also getting deeper and deeper into this world of social justice and human development.  I didn’t want to give that up; I didn’t want to give up that family and network I slowly got to be a part of.

Then one of my professors said that she and one of my favourite professors were looking for a student to do some graduate level research projects.  I immediately jumped on that opportunity, and started the process of meeting with the professors and applying for graduate studies and scholarships.  It gave me a chance to stay in my comfortable bubble and stick with my EWB family.  I started applying for exec positions in our chapter and going on all the EWB things that I missed out on through my first 4 years of University.

The first 6 months of grad school went by, and I started going down this dark and dank rabbit hole.  I underestimated how difficult grad school was going to be; how its structure was so non-existent and something I wasn’t used to.  I also started struggling with finding meaning and purpose in my research.  I wanted so much to have my research project actually mean something; to have some strong social implication and actually help people.  I was slowly poisoning myself with my ridiculous expectations.  I even joined a third lab group, put myself in a graduate level class that I had no business being in, and worst of all, willing to compromise my personal and professional boundaries. I was becoming so depressed and down on myself that I had friends suggest that I should probably just quit, which hurt me, because I’m not a quitter.  I had pride myself on finishing what I started, and doing a decent job at it.

I was very fortunate however, to have two very supportive supervisors that could tell something wasn’t right with me.  A few personal meetings, an awkward break up email with that third professor, a winter break not knowing what I was going to do for a thesis, a trip to beautiful Montreal with friends and an amazing EWB conference in Ottawa later, things began to clear up.  That time off and realization to step back was the best thing to happen to me!  I could think clearly again, and figured out that I can challenge myself in realms I was still comfortable with, but was still forced to learn new things and that I can still make a difference, but in my own way.

A year and a half later, I’m rounding up my final bits of my project and writing my thesis; a thesis to be proud of and one that I saw a lot of personal growth from. Sure there were speed bumps and sinkholes along the way.  But that can be shared another day.

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