Author Archives: tblacquiere

On focus

Recently, while sitting in the big bay window of a crowded downtown coffee shop, I told a friend that I felt a bit like a bouncy ball let loose in a frictionless room. Its not an image that I had thought about or conjured up before. But in my attempt to encapsulate the ‘off’ feeling that I’ve been experiencing as of late, it’s what came to mind.

Our conversation moved on to other topics, but in the days since I’ve been going back to this image. Why it came to mind, what exactly I meant by it, and what, if anything, it means for my current context.

To start to unpack this image, there are a couple of things to get past. The first, is the feels as of late. Have you ever felt…like your head is simultaneously empty, and incredibly loud? This has been my dominant state the last few weeks. At times when it’s present, it feels like no matter how hard I try I can’t produce any thoughts. But in that void, the silence rings out like church bells, striking by the minute instead of the hour. And in that silence, I know that I need to work through whatever is behind the feeling, but my brain has stopped functioning, and so I can’t work through anything, and the silence only intensifies. The result is my entire inside feeling empty.

Somehow, this hasn’t had much of an effect on my general levels of productivity. It just feels like shit.

Thing number two, is the last year and a half. Which has been…interesting. Going from September 2014:

  • I was the Fundraising and Communications Coordinator at Engineers Without Borders Canada
  • I was unemployed
  • I put on an art show
  • I was pretty sad
  • I started doing some storytelling performance stuff
  • I managed a baseball website
  • I was unemployed
  • I was a Squire at Medieval Times
  • I moved to St John’s
  • I started working at Food First NL
  • I committed to doing lots of climbing
  • I put on a comedy show (twice)
  • I put on another art show
  • Most recently, I’ve decided to take up cross-stitching

This is where the bouncy ball feeling comes in. With the exception of climbing, life since September ’14 has been characterized by a feeling of being all over the map. Even the moment that started this entry—the bay window in the crowded downtown coffee shop—was a discussion about some podcast work that a friend and I are starting to get into. So when I said that most recently I’ve decided to take up cross-stitching, that wasn’t really true. Podcasting. Podcasting is the most recent thing.

On paper, all of this is great. On paper, I’m keeping busy. Trying new things. Exploring new potential passions.

In practice, though, it’s different. Which is not to say that I haven’t enjoyed all of this—the list above. The comedy show was fun and allowed me to tell a story I felt like I had been holding in my chest for some time. The art show was satisfying—and though I didn’t sell a lot—I felt proud of my work. The podcast stuff is new and exciting, and puts me back in touch with the storytelling work I’ve been circling around in different forms over the last several years. Even cross-stitching, which promises a return to the kind of concentration intensive, patience heavy artwork that I used to be into, when I was doing screen printing.

But at the same time, all of these one-off endeavours feel a bit…draining. Like, each one is a tentacle I’m shooting out into the world, and then dropping. Like a salamander that loses and regrows its tail.

For example. I did this comedy show, but I have no plans for doing anything with comedy. I did this art show and now I have all this left over art, without any idea of what to do with it. I have a photo website that I will occasionally and half-heartedly try and push. It goes on. And unlike an increasing number of friends who are actively pursuing ideas or careers they’re passionate about, I’m just sort of bouncing around from one opportunity to the next.

And again, none of this is inherently bad. None of it is inherently anything. And it doesn’t mean that I’m not passionate about what I’m doing. I like Food First NL a lot (the job, the org, and the people). The comedy show was fun and allowed me to tell a story I felt like I had been holding in my chest for some time. The art show was satisfying, and though I didn’t sell a lot, I felt proud of my work. It goes on.

None of this is inherently bad. None of this is inherently anything.

But that’s what I’m trying to figure out right now – how I feel about it. Whether I think it falls one way or the other. Whether I’m okay with it.

The last few weeks, and the image of the bouncy ball in the frictionless room, would seem to suggest that maybe, or at least, increasingly, I’m not.

The questions that logically follow, are where this tentacle approach to life and creativity has come from, and what, if anything, I do about it.

Both are challenging for different reasons. The latter, because that’s a very large question with a multitude of possible answers, and the former, because the answer is more clear, but harder to face.

The answer, I think, is fear.

It’s here that I think about my friend Ray. A couple of years ago Ray started pursuing a solo music career. In the time since we’ve chatted a bunch about how this endeavour is large and nebulous and challenging and, at times, frightening. And yet, she’s been killing it. In the last year, for example, she has completed a residency at the National Arts Centre, played in a variety of festivals, released her debut EP, had her US debut, opened for Esparanza Spalding…it goes on. Next month, she’s opening for Coeur de Pirate (WHAT). Her dedication is nothing short of inspiring. I am constantly in awe at what she’s able to achieve, and look up to her a lot.

When I think about the jumbled list of projects and endeavours I’ve been embarking on, I know that they too have their merits. I know that they, too, contain an element of fear and uncertainty conquering. But there’s a gulf that exists between doing a comedy show, and making comedy the thing you do. Between hanging some art in a coffee shop, and making art how you make your living.

And maybe neither of those things are the thing I want or am meant to do. And so maybe it’s fine that they’ve been one-off experiences. But I feel like I’ll never know, because I’m afraid to try.

I’ve been okay with the idea of taking on a manageale level of risk. Enough to move out here, to St. John’s. Enough to potentially look like a goof in front of a room full of friends, while performing a comedy show. Enough to potentially lose a few hundred dollars on art supplies.

But never enough for anything more than that. Never enough to commit to a world view and then risk having that world view crumble. Keeping with the flip-flop no-questions-answered nature of this blog post, maybe that’s okay, too.

But maybe that’s why I feel like a bouncy ball in a frictionless room.

Maybe that’s what I need to change.

I’m still working on figuring that out.

 

Until next time.

Ambiguously yours,

-t

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On uncertainty

1 year ago I was a Community Animator at Engineers Without Borders Canada.

9 months ago I did a brief stint as an artist, and put on an art show in Toronto.

7 months ago I was unemployed, and not doing so well.

5 months ago I was managing a baseball website.

3 months ago I was volunteering at the Centre for Social Innovation.

1 month ago, I was a Squire at Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament.

Now, I’m living in St John’s, NL. And tomorrow, I’ll start my new job as the Communications Coordinator with the Food Security Network of Newfoundland and Labrador.

In many ways, I have spent the last year of my life learning to sit comfortable with uncertainty. For as long as I can remember, I have grappled with the idea of figuring it all out. Daily was the refrain of questions: What am I doing? Where am I going? Who will I be? What is my purpose? For a while, at EWB, I thought I had the answers to those questions. I thought that I had found my place.

But as that happiness and satisfaction dripped away, restlessness and discontent bubbled up, and I knew I needed a change.

I didn’t know what that change was, and the prospect of starting over (after having finally achieved the seemingly impossible dream of a full time role with benefits) was somewhat terrifying. But I left, because I was learning to sit comfortably in my uncertainty.

When I walked into the now defunct Sadie’s Diner, to ask about putting some art up, I can’t say that I really expected it to go anywhere. I certainly never expected that a mere three weeks later, I’d be standing amidst a crowd of friends and strangers, as my exhibit had its opening night. 6 paintings, 6 canvas prints and 12 framed photos adorning the walls. Three weeks prior, I could think of a million reasons to not go through with it – the cost, and the fear of failure, chief among them – but against my better judgements, I went ahead. I was learning to sit comfortably in my uncertainty.

When I agreed to manage the baseball website, when I agreed to volunteer with CSI, and when I accepted the job at Medieval Times, I had no idea where any of it was leading. I had no real long term objective, and no five step plan for using the opportunity in the moment to get to some position in the future (as appealing as one day becoming King was). But in all of these instances, I rolled with life as it came. I was learning to sit comfortably in my uncertainty.

There is a beauty in relinquishing control. In letting go of life’s reigns and seeing where you end up. Working as a squire was easily the biggest departure from whatever path I may have started out on when I enrolled in an Arts and Sciences program at the University of Toronto, but there was an enjoyment in accepting: horses and knights. This is my life now.

The move to St John’s has been in the back of my mind since 2011, and so came somewhat easier. Still, though, packing up your life and moving to a new place on the Eastern-most edge of the country brings with it its share of challenges. I’ve never been one to feel particularly attached to the things of where I’ve lived – the food, the attractions, or the amenities. But from my partner, to my friends, my family, and my climbing community, there were a whole host of people that I knew I would miss dearly.

Since arriving here, I’ve been working consciously on the uncertainty, but also on the idea of expectations. It feels easy to fall prey to the trap of placing unrealistic and unfair pressures on this move, on its outcomes, and on this new life on the East coast. With all that I left in Toronto, it’s easy to give into the feeling that I need to justify it. That I need some measure of success or happiness or accomplishment in order to make it worth it.

And certainly, I want to do more with my art and I want to find my stride in work and I want to climb outside and hike and maybe do a podcast, but moving here was never going to be the solution to all of these desires.

The truth is, there will be (and have been) days where I wake up and feel like shit. Days where I don’t do or accomplish anything. But that’s allowed. There would have also been those days in Toronto. Having move out here doesn’t suddenly make their existence any less acceptable. It sounds simple, but it can be easy to forget when expectation can roll in as quickly as the fog off the ocean.

So I’m trying to remember that:

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And now tomorrow, I start this new job, and it’s exciting. As I was preparing for the interview, it felt good to dive into research and reports and resources. I felt my brain activating in areas that have felt dormant since leaving EWB last Fall. I also feel nervous. Nervous to step back into a full time role. Nervous to step back into the non-profit world. Into the comms world. I’m still working on sitting comfortably in this particular uncertainty.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Unitl next time.

Ambiguously yours,

Tyler

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On searching for a former clarity

I feel like I’ve gotten horribly lost in the Bermuda Triangle that is the transition to stable, adult life. Not the physical me, of course, for that body currently sits on the sunny patio of Jimmy’s Coffee, in Kensington Market, scrawling these notes in a too-small notebook with a too-inky pen. No, it’s the person inside this outer shell that feels hardly recognizable.

I’ve thought this to be the case for some time now, but have been holding out hope for the return of the more familiar, more comfortable, me. With posters on phone poles and photos on milk cartons, I’ve stumbled through day-to-day routines filled with the naive hope that his return was just around the corner. That if I could just catch a break in the aimless and never-ending job search. If I could just paint the right thing. If I could just send that tough route. If I just bought the right pen and sat in the right café and listened to the right tunes, he’d return. With a sudden gust of inspiration, he’d send ink splashing across swiftly turning pages.

If I could just…If I could just.

But I can’t. And instead, the landscape of my life remains a barren wasteland of half-baked ideas and unfinished projects. The corpses of books half read and canvases half-filled lie alongside the ghosts of stories half written and photos never taken. Languishing bodies indistinguishable from the spirits of unrealized potential, all lost amid my internal clutter.

Every once in a while I think I’ve figured it out and in these moments I am Einstein, and a careful mixture of caffeine and exhaustion is my E=mc2. In these moments, it seems as though I’ve found the thing to kick-start this ailing engine inside of me. And I do, momentarily. And I’ll design or write or shoot and I’ll feel as though old-me has returned. With newfound energy and excitement, all aspects of regular life get pushed to the side. My sleeping schedule implodes, I forget to eat, and my once neat and tidy room becomes consumed by a chaos of productivity.

And then…gone. The pen stops moving, the paint starts drying, the pages stop turning, and I’m hurdled back off the wall I’d been climbing, left hanging in an empty space, unsure of which way is up.

In these brief flashes, I let myself think maybe, possibly, old me is here to stay. But with each departure the fall feels farther and farther, and makes the next appearance harder and harder to come by.

And so I don’t know what to do. And I don’t know what to think.

Each day, old-me would wake up with this idea in his head that he was the kind of person who wanted to change the world. To make a difference. But with each passing day, this-me finds it harder and harder to see just how that will ever be the case.

Each day, I wear this ring on my pinky to remind me of a commitment I made to use my skills and time to make the world a better place, and scattered around my room are remnants from my Oxfam days – times when I was knee-deep in social justice; when I was “doing things.” I hold onto all of this as tightly as I’d grip a crimpy hold on the rock-wall, hoping it’ll keep me upright and stop me from falling off. But I don’t know how strong a connection I actually feel to any of them anymore. And like finding the right pen or the right café, I don’t know if they’re actually what I need right now.

In one of my more recent flurries of productivity, I got the idea in my head to re-name, re-brand and re-start the storytelling work I had been doing two years ago. And so I spent the better part of two weeks brainstorming and designing and staring at fonts. And when I was done I sat back and looked at my creation and thought to myself: “I don’t actually know why I did this.”

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I had all these ideas for a logo and a name, and a series of meanings to bind them both, but what was missing was any of the actual drive and excitement needed to take a word and an image and make it something more. And so it, like the domain name I own, sits and collects digital dust.

And so I worry that old-me is horribly lost in the Bermuda Triangle that is the transition to stable, adult life.

If you happen to see him as you traverse your own ambiguity, please send him home. The thing inhabiting this-me is not early as fun to be around.

Until next time.

Ambiguously yours,

-t

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On two years

If two years ago you had asked me, “What will you be doing two years from now?” I would have told you, “That’s the dumbest question I’ve ever heard.”

Between the barren job landscape and my terrified, just-graduated self, I would’ve had an easier time telling you the 2041 Oscar winner for Best Picture (my money is on a biopic about the guy who invented the Cinnabon).

If two years ago you had, instead, told me that two years from now I’d still be operating Embracing Ambiguity…I probably wouldn’t have believed you. And not because I don’t think that the blog is worthwhile, or founded on a solid idea, but because, well…who doesn’t have a blog?! Prior to starting #EmbAmb, I myself had started two different blogs, which, cumulatively, lasted for three weeks.

So, I didn’t expect much. But the idea caught hold and some others jumped on board, and the little blog that might just kept on coulding. And here we are, 2 years, 11 authors, 68 posts, 98 followers, 1 Facebook page and a whole lot of uncertainty later.

It has been a pretty wild ride, and I’ve been honoured to share this outlet with a number of good friends, and to have it read and followed by a whole host of others.

I think that the blog’s success owes to the fact that we’re all just little fish, floating along in the large and often terrifying sea of young adulthood. Whether you’re a writer, a vocal supporter or a casual lurker of the content that has filled these digital pages over the last 730 days, I think the one thing that everyone walks away with is a shared sense of “huh…so I’m not alone in all this.” And I think that’s key.

I have valued this outlet and this experience more than words can describe, and so I won’t bother trying. Instead, I’ll let the blog keep doing its thing, and keep on coulding. Hopefully it will for years to come. #sixseasonsandamovie

To celebrate our two year anniversary, the EmbAmb writers have decided to write a series of posts about the idea of adulthood, and what it means to them.

This is something I have addressed a fair bit recently. In thinking about the idea for this specific series, I’ve had some additional thoughts that I have chronicled below.

For two-years-ago me – freshly graduated and trying desperately to figure out just what it was I was doing with this thing we call life – adulthood was the panacea to all life’s problems. It was the thing at the end of the terrifying rainbow of young adulthood. It was the thing I was chasing. I was Indiana Jones and it was my Ark of the Covenant. It was…well, you get it.

I didn’t know what I was doing or where I was going or how I’d know when I had gotten there, but I could take comfort in knowing that somewhere out there, was adulthood. And I’d eventually have it. And it would be great.

I couldn’t really define it, I just knew it would come when the pictures on my walls acquired frames, when I had a permanent alcohol collection, and dental. And when I could drop $14 on a cocktail without thinking. You know, all the classic signs that you’ve made it.

In a lot of ways, adulthood was like this blog– a coping mechanism. It was a promise of certainty that I could look to, in a world that seemed to offer anything but.

Over the last two years I’ve realized that adulthood doesn’t exist. At least, not in any tangible, quantifiable sense. Because I may not have a liquor collection, or dental, but yesterday I filed my taxes and made a fancy ass breakfast that was not Sugar Crisp and I’d defy you to try and tell me I’m not an adult just because I also spent a couple hours curled up in a ball of anxiety, and ate a bowl of popcorn for lunch.

And I still don’t know what I’m doing or where I’m going or how I’ll know when I’ve gotten there, but it also doesn’t matter. That’s not to say that I don’t have days with stress or anxiety over money or work or whatever – I do – but I don’t think that I have nearly the same anxiety ridden preoccupation with checking off a bunch of theoretical boxes on the “ARE YOU AN ADULT” checklist.

What I’m saying is, if the concept of adulthood is a coping mechanism, then like all coping mechanisms, you lean on it when you need it, and forget about it when you don’t.

Two years ago I was in a world where my every move was more or less planned out for me, where my worth was determined by my ability to regurgitate information on command, and where the mysterious force known as OSAP made sure I didn’t have to worry about how I’d make rent or fill the fridge while trying to stay afloat of essays and readings. After a sudden and violent transition, I found myself in a world where I faced $40,000 in debt, where my next step was wholly and completely up to me, and where no one no longer gave a flying fuck about why Napoleon’s invasion of Russia didn’t succeed.

I was a tiny fish floating in a large and terrifying ocean and so grabbed hold of the one thing that I thought would carry me to safety – this idea that one day, it would all be ok. One day, I’d be an adult.

Two years later, the ocean is still large and terrifying, but I’m no longer a tiny fish. I’m a badass mother fuckin’ octopus, and I can hold my own. So screw adulthood. $14 cocktails are for suckers, anyway.

Until next time.

Ambiguously yours,

-t

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ON STORYTELLING – “FOUR FORTY-FIVE AM”

A little while back I wrote this blog post about…being sad, and stuff. Then, in January, I took part of that story and added some things, changed some other things, and told it live at an event called Stories We Don’t Tell, a monthly storytelling event in Toronto.

You can hear that live recording using the Soundcloud player below. If you like what you hear, there’s a podcast available with all of the evening’s stories, available here.

Happy listening!

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The Summary Post – New Years

Over the last month, eight of Embracing Ambiguity’s authors took the time to reflect on the past year in each of their lives. 2014 seemed to offer hills and valleys for each writer – from transitions and changes in the physical spaces they lived in, to the internal turmoil of life changing decisions. Throughout the month, each author reflected on the question of “Where were you one year prior?”

The resulting blog posts are filled with a variety of emotions, but all take an honest and challenging look at the 365 days that made up 2014. In case you missed any of the posts, we’ve compiled them all here.

Happy reading!


ON MILESTONES | Author: Jon Farmer

“2014 was a year of transition and learning, and looking back, some of the best parts of the year were things that I couldn’t have predicted on January 1st. That realization calms me down and gives me hope. A year ago I didn’t know how many friends I would make, places I would travel, or things I would learn. I had no idea how the projects I was working on would turn out or how much fun graduating would be. I didn’t know my sister would get engaged or that we would spend Thanksgiving together in her home in Alberta. I had no idea that I would work beside a glacial lake in the shadow of Rocky Mountains or that I would find a new sense of calm somewhere in the 3 months of travel that followed. I entered 2014 with things to do but some of my greatest growth appeared in the unplanned spaces.”

Read more here.

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ON SAYING YES | Author: Stefan Hostetter

“If anything, what changed was how I saw myself and how I understood the nature of work. In 2014, I began to see employment not only as something you can go out and find, but also as something you can build given the right opportunities. I spent the year saying yes to nearly every request made of me, rarely knowing if it would end with me being paid for anything. Often it results in a bunch of work and not much else, leading to a friend stating that ‘Stefan works for free’. But in the end, it proved to be a surprisingly effective tactic if your goal was to only get by…Saying yes to work showed me that I could create value in this world and gave me the opportunity to prove it to others.”

Read more here.

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ON BLANK CANVASES | Author: Jeff Ku

“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.”

Read more here.

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ON SAYING SO LONG | Author: Maya Fromstein

“2014 was a hard year. It brought many of my demons to the surface, despite my best efforts to have kept them hidden for the past 13 years. I learned, and am still learning, to differentiate between myself and these demons. To call them out when they act up, and to distance the blame, shame, and guilt that they bring with them…The struggle, tears, and relief all tangled together in one terrifying and new and strange and comforting bundle. I learned that vulnerability is distinct from weakness. That self care is different from selfishness. That depression is not only sadness, and anxiety not only stress. I learned that I am worth fighting for.”

Read more here.

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ON WAITING | Author: Molly Grove

” I am waiting for some big change that will alter my not only my day to day life but also my future…Not idle waiting, though I do watch more than my fair share of Netflix. Not inaction. It is a lack of control over outcomes. It is doing all that you can and putting that out to the universe and waiting to see what returns to you. You can do the best you can to bring things into your life, but in most cases, we cannot control what is coming for us, and that is scary. So you do everything you can, and then you wait.”

Read more here.

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ON A HEART BROKEN WIDE OPEN | Author: Mica McCurdey

“And so this year, I admit, my frailties often got the best of me. But (and this is a very large and important but) I like to think my heart, somewhere along the way, began to break wide open. Maybe it happened in the unexpected last minute drives from Toronto to my hometown; in dancing without care at a best friend’s wedding; in stuffing ourselves with Indian food on my living room floor; or in getting on a plane to land on an island with open arms. I can’t say if the year was overwhelmingly good or bad, as both certainly existed, but I am sure that somewhere along the way I changed.”

Read more here.

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ON THE ROAD TO EL DORADO | Author: Tyler Blacquiere

“For the last few years I’ve raced along the Road to El Dorado and after this mythical concept ofadulthood; something I naively assumed I’d see glimmering in the distance, a golden city on the horizon line, once I had figured it out, once I knew what I was doing. But I think the most adult thing I’ve been able to do these last few years, specifically, in the darkness of these last few months, is admit and accept that I have no fucking clue. Accept that my El Dorado is filled with fool’s gold.”

Read more here.

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ON MY 4-STEP PROGRAM TO FINDING MYSELF | Author: Michelle Reeves

“But that newfound solitude lead to more introspection than I had ever experienced. I feel like I know myself much better than I did last year and I am more confident in my independence now. In that sense, the Year of Michelle successfully reached its initial objective. My personal growth curve has been getting steeper and steeper every year and I hope that trend keeps up for a long time.”

Read more here.

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On My 4-Step Program to Finding Myself

EDITOR’S NOTE #1: This post actually comes from Michelle, but due to some technical difficulties, is being posted under another account. 

EDITOR’S NOTE #2: This post is the 8th 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! 


On this day last year, I was in a surprisingly similar situation as I am right now. I was in a quiet mountain chalet with my family, surrounded by beautiful snowy landscapes and gorging on delicious food I could never afford on my own. Our agendas were filled with exactly the same activities as this year: going into town to get groceries and internet access, walking through the forest, skiing and spending quality time with family and friends. The only difference is that last year, the cottage in question belonged to my family and was just outside Montreal. This year, we’ve changed continents and I’m sitting typing this in the French Alps.

As pretentious as that sounds, it’s actually pretty indicative of how everything is sort of the same, but also pretty different. If my 28th’s of December 2013 and 201 seem similar, the years that preceded each of them couldn’t be more different. On New Year’s Eve 2013, after a few flutes of champagne and much to my family’s amusement, I dubbed 2014 the Year of Michelle. And I have to say, I think I was successful in making the year entirely about myself. It seems crazy, but I had never consciously made myself a priority before. So 2014 was by far the year where I spent the most time completely on my own, and when I thought the most about my path, independently of anyone else’s.

At this time last year, I had just completed my first work contract, and had decided to start grad school the following September. But we were only in December, which gave me 9 months of sitting in the waiting room of life. I was determined to make the most of it though; to take the time to shed the layers of school and work, and get down to who I was at the core. When I think back on it, I accomplished this with my very own 4-step program. Step 1: one month of absolutely nothing. Seeing what I did with absolute free time gave me my first real glimpse of me. It was fun while it lasted but I didn’t love what I saw initially. Step 2 lightened the mood a bit; I filled my time with volunteering, hobbies and friends. But the big test came with Step 3: two months of traveling through South America on my own.

This was a slight echo from 2013, when I studied in Panama for four months. Here was the thinking behind this new trip down south: I had an amazing experience in Panama, but with no control over what I was doing there. I wanted to see what it would be like to experience something similar, but entirely on my own and under my control. And that’s exactly what I got: a perspective-shifting, mind-opening trip that furthered my thirst for adventure. I no longer had any patience for people who couldn’t hold an interesting conversation. I had met so many fascinating people with so much to say, that a conversation about the latest in reality TV just didn’t seem worth the time.

Needless to say, coming back to a marketing job was excruciating after that. But this was Step 4 and I was almost at the finish line. The grumpy secretary that works in the waiting room of life? She was about to call my name! So I powered through and made the most of the little time I had left in my hometown before moving on to the next big step: doing my Masters in Scotland. The goal was to get a higher education all the while still making it an adventure. I’m on that road now, although I’ve realized that grad school may not be the opportune moment to develop hobbies and go on insane adventures, which has led to a nice balance of weekends spent with my head buried in the library and others spent exploring breathtaking (literally and figuratively) Scottish hiking trails.

Looking back, I feel confident that I made the most of my time in the waiting room. However, I do wish I hadn’t seen it as such. If I had just thought of it as another step in my life, instead of a ramp leading up to the huge move to grad school, maybe I wouldn’t have felt as alone at times. But that newfound solitude lead to more introspection than I had ever experienced. I feel like I know myself much better than I did last year and I am more confident in my independence now. In that sense, the Year of Michelle successfully reached its initial objective. My personal growth curve has been getting steeper and steeper every year and I hope that trend keeps up for a long time. I don’t know what next year holds, and there are no guarantees that December 28th 2015 will also be spent in a quiet mountain chalet, but wherever I spend that day next year, I hope I can look back on my year and be even more proud of myself than I am now.

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on the road to el dorado

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post is the 7th 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! 


I have started and restarted this blog post countless times now. The thoughts and sentences and paragraphs – ones that usually come with relative ease – have either felt stilted, incomplete or insincere.

Part of this is, I’m sure, due to the very nature of this series of posts. How, exactly, does one choose the 1000 or so words that encapsulate an entire years’ worth of lessons, hardships, learnings and experiences?

A much bigger part of my difficulty, however, has come from the intrusive and overwhelming pressure of these last few months.

Since leaving my job at the end of September life has been…tumultuous. October passed by in a flurry of brush strokes, as I frantically prepared for an art show I’d host at Sadie’s Diner at the end of that month. “I’ll take this month to really pursue my art, and then I’ll get to serious job searching next month,” I told myself.

And to give some credit, I did start November with a flurry of job activity. Cover letters and tailored resumes filled my days, but ultimately, so did a lot of rejection emails. As the weeks wore on it became harder and harder to stay motivated and energized, and eventually, to even pull myself out of bed before 1pm.

Crippling anxiety and frustration began to take over, and I ceased doing much of anything at all, save for rock climbing…and playing Batman Arkham Asylum.

So the last few months have been hard, and in the context of my year, it’s even harder to look past them. They feel a bit like a black hole, sucking in any shreds of light from the previous eight months, and masking much of the year in a shroud of crushing blackness.

But as I sit on the second floor of a local pub, beer in hand, Florence and the Machine’s “Shake it Out” begins to pound in my ears, and as I sit listening to the chorus, I notice that it is an eerily appropriate anthem for this moment in time:

And it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back

So shake him off, oh whoa

The song is actually written about being hung over, says lead singer Florence Welch, but swap out “a devil” with my black hole, and the message is fitting.

This past week I’ve been trying to re-establish some sense of routine. Wake up early, go for a run/work out, eat breakfast and make coffee. On Monday I woke up at 1pm and went for a run at 3pm. But I did make coffee. “Breakfast” may have been a scoop of protein powder in milk, but it was something. On Tuesday, I was out the door and pounding the pavement by 12:30pm. Baby steps.

I am on my way to feeling better, but I’m simultaneously realizing that if I’m really going to move past this most recent period of my life, I’m going to need to shake it off…

Oh whoa.

At first, I attempted to do this by starting from the beginning of 2014 and listing out all of the things I was proud of having accomplished:

  • I started my first full-time, real-person job
  • I created and regularized a number of communications processes at my workplace
  • The Embracing Ambiguity blog had it’s 1 year anniversary
  • I lead a storytelling workshop at an Oxfam Canada conference
  • I took up rock climbing
  • I set up a photo website, and put on an art show
  • I started running again, recreationally

At first, this seemed like an ok way of going about this whole process. But as I looked at my list, and as I thought about it more and more, I started to think back to a book that I had been reading, called The Rock Warrior’s Way, by Arno Ilgner. The book is about climbing, but its applicability goes far beyond.

In one of the early chapters, Ilgner talks about how we’ve been raised in a cultural system where worth and value are determined by achievement, and where the toxic idea that “accomplishments somehow make us more valuable,” is commonplace. In this setup, it also means that our sense of self-worth is removed from the self, and placed in the hands of the external factors and people that judge, measure and celebrate our accomplishments.

Ilgner goes on to say that:

“Looked at objectively, your self-worth is essentially static: you are worth the same as anyone else. No more, and no less. You may be glad to have accomplished [x, y, z]…but they have not increased your worth as a person.”

So looking at my year in this way seemed off. This lens also took those moments I had laid out, and placed them in opposition to those that were less shiny, only further defining and highlighting my black hole as a giant, all-consuming failure.

Now, failure is fine. It’s a very human thing, and everyone experiences it. But, in my previous model of thinking, I wasn’t gaining anything from the recognition of failure. It was success and failure. Good and bad. Static descriptors, and nothing more.

#RookieMistake

So with all this in mind, I took another stab at my list. This time, however, I applied a different lens – as suggested by Ilgner – one of learning, and growth:

  • I learned how to navigate working on a team as a full-time staff member, in a small but ambitious organization
  • I learned how to balance different working styles and preferences in an office environment
  • I learned more about communications in the non-profit sector than I ever thought possible
  • I simultaneously learned that, maybe, communications in the non-profit sector wasn’t for me
  • I learned that I love presenting in front of people, despite what my shy, 10-19 year old self might say
  • I learned that rock climbing is the shit, and that it is incredibly beneficial for my mental and physical well-being
  • I learned that when I trust myself, pretty great things can happen. Like art show’s at Sadie’s Diner
  • And, from my black hole, I learned that I’m not yet at the place where I can be making decisions about who I am and what I’m doing and where I’m going

When I started my full-time job in January 2014, I thought that “this was it”; the thing I’d worried about all 4th year of University, and then fervently pursued in the year and a half following, had finally been “got”. I had won young adulthood.

It took but a few months for me to learn that maybe, I wasn’t actually where I wanted to be.

As I explored my art in the fall, I learned that I love too many things, and care about too many more, to make a decision about THE THING that I want to do.

For the last few years I’ve raced along the Road to El Dorado and after this mythical concept of adulthood; something I naively assumed I’d see glimmering in the distance, a golden city on the horizon line, once I had figured it out, once I knew what I was doing.

But I think the most adult thing I’ve been able to do these last few years, specifically, in the darkness of these last few months, is admit and accept that I have no fucking clue. Accept that my El Dorado is filled with fool’s gold.

So here’s to 2015. Here’s to not knowing but not caring. Here’s to stumbling along and to trying new things and to keeping an open mind. Fuck figuring it out, that shit is so 2013.

Cause I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t

So here’s to drinks in the dark at the end of my road

And I’m ready to suffer and I’m ready to hope

It’s a shot in the dark aimed right at my throat

Cause looking for heaven found the devil in me

Looking for heaven found the devil in me

Well what the hell I’m gonna let it happen to me

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on photosynthesis

Sometimes life throws you curveballs.

Sometimes, it’s 4:45am on a Saturday morning and you’re crying in your room after having just finished watching Warrior (2011).

Now, not to take anything away from the film – which is great – or from the performances of Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton – which were greater – but I don’t think that the heartfelt MMA action-drama is what is causing the faucets of my eyeballs to leak onto my face.

You may have noticed that it has been a while since I have written anything on the blog. Or not. I guess that’s maybe assuming a lot. Either way, the truth remains – I haven’t. But it hasn’t been for lack of topics.

In early October I wrapped up my time with Engineers Without Borders Canada – two years of working there. My first real job, done. The end of an era. It would have been one thing to step away from this job for want of a change of scenery, but that’s not why I left. I wanted to fundamentally change what I was doing.

Ambiguity.

In late October I put on an art show with my photos and paintings. It is all hung at a place called Sadie’s Diner here in Toronto, and will be there until late December. I have never done anything like this before and doing it while unemployed has felt like a big risk, financially and otherwise.

Ambiguity.

The exciting and life-important thing in all of this is not that I put on an art show. The exciting and life-important thing in all of this is that I managed to find the self-trust to allow myself the chance to take a chance on, well, me, to put on an art show.

Then there’s the unemployment. It is only so long that the joke of #funemployment remains funny. Only so long until the daily grind and grey of unemployment sets in. The entry level jobs looking for three years’ experience, the unpaid internships, the rejection emails, the self-doubt and criticism – each one like a wave pounding the shore of your resolve and there are days where pulling yourself out of bed before 1pm seems impossible but for a small act of god. Or Santa. Or Captain Crunch. One of the three.

Ambiguity.

All of these things are ripe with ambiguity, and all of these things are ripe with content for blog posts.

But it has been a while since I have written anything on the blog.

I’ve tried. Believe me, I’ve tried. But my head has more often than not been cloudy and the thoughts hard to come by. I’ve been feeling lost. Uninspired. Deflated. It has been overwhelming, to say the least.

Sometimes it’s hard to see a reason to wake up in the morning, and sometimes, it’s 4:45am on a Saturday morning and you’re crying in your room after having just finished watching Warrior.

But I don’t think the heartfelt MMA action-drama is what has caused the faucets of my eyeballs to leak onto my face. To try and explain what (maybe) does, I have to tell you a story.

It’s early January 2012 and I’m walking home along Bloor St. in Toronto. It’s cold, and at my sides hang six or seven grocery bags, stuffed to the brim. On my back sits a backpack filled with cans, and I’m coming back from a grocery trip to No Frills.

Now, the thing about coming back from a grocery trip at No Frills, is that I don’t live anywhere near a No Frills. But I’m a student and I’m poor and I have this stubborn belief that I should do the things I’m capable of doing. It’s why I carried a mini-fridge from Canadian Tire to my dorm room in first Year University. It’s why I moved the contents of my apartment – from desk to shelves to bed – by longboard, twice. And it’s why I’m walking back from No Frills, six or seven grocery bags at my sides and a backpack filled with cans on my back. Because I can.

So I’m walking along Bloor St and it’s cold and it has probably been half an hour already, with another 10 minutes or so in front of me. I’m walking along Bloor and my hands are crying out – the weight of the bags and their thin plastic handles are digging into my fingers, punishing my stubbornness. I’m carrying all this shit, just passing the Tim Hortons near Bloor and St George, when I feel the phone vibrating in my pocket.

I had only just recently acquired a cellular communications device and so this idea of always being in reach was still new to me, and so, my first thought was: “Who the hell could that be?” As you may or may not have noticed (depending on your imagination and reading comprehension) I’m not in the most opportune position to be taking a call. But when you don’t have caller ID and you don’t have voice mail and your first thought is, “Who the hell could that be?” the question of “Did someone die?” is too real a possibility to let the call ring out.

So I awkwardly fumble for the phone in my pocket, and still holding the three or four bags in one hand I lift it to my ear and answer, “Hello?”

I don’t recognize the woman’s voice on the other end but she identifies herself as a staff member with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, and she asks if I have a minute.

To take a step back, this call wasn’t quite as totally out of the blue as it probably seems, for myself and a group of friends had done some work in partnership with the Legal Network just a couple months prior, at the start of December 2011. Bill C-393 was going through Parliament at the time and we had organized a demonstration at Yonge and Dundas, to coincide with the Bill’s second reading and to try and put pressure on the government to make some crucial changes. As well as organizing the event, I filmed it on the day of and put out a video that we later sent to every Member of Parliament.

There’s a long and anger filled rant that I could go on about this Bill and the issues surrounding it, but I’ll spare you. The important takeaway is that it was an issue I was very passionate about and that the Legal Network – and their Executive Director, Richard Elliot – were something of an intellectual crush of mine.

So she identifies herself as a staff member with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and she asks if I have a minute. I lie and tell her that I do, trying to play it cool so she can’t hear the strain in my voice from the three or four grocery bags that I’m still, for some reason, holding up to my ear with the phone.

She tells me that they want my help with something, but that it’s “sort of top secret” and before she says any more she asks me, “Are you in?”

Yes. This is probably the coolest thing that will ever happen to me.

Now, I have no idea what to expect or what they could possibly want from me, but I say, “Yes, of course I’m in.” Partially because I love their organisation and have an intellectual crush on their Executive Director, and partially because of the off chance that this might be my one chance…to become a super spy.

When she proceeds to explain the situation I don’t get my dream of being a super spy but what I do end up with is a pretty close second.

I’m told that one of their staff members managed to record some footage with popular artist K’NAAN (of Waving Flag fame) backstage at a recent show. In the footage K’NAAN gives his support for Bill C-393 and the Legal Network wants to use this footage to kick off a massive petition campaign, to coincide with the Bill’s final reading in the House of Commons.

The only problem, she tells me, is that the footage is in a few different takes and it isn’t that great and they need it in a finalized and shareable format by tomorrow and they didn’t know who they could get to do it and so they thought of…me.

I know.

This is probably the coolest thing that will ever happen to me.

I’m told to await an email with the footage, which will come once it’s uploaded, and so I hurry home with my six or seven bags of groceries and backpack full of cans, to wait.

And now I’m home in my shitty basement apartment and the groceries are put away and I’m at my desk in my cramped, windowless bedroom (gotta love the Toronto rental market) and I’m hitting the refresh button on my Gmail. And I’m hopped up on adrenaline and caffeine, too excited by the events of the day to do anything other than wait, so I wait. And I wait. And I wait.

A couple hours go by with no email and no word and I begin to worry, but then the phone rings, and it’s the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, and the footage is almost uploaded.

Finally the email lands in my inbox and I eagerly open it and download the footage and I hit play AND

What I’m met with is a grainy, poorly framed, 7 minute clip comprised of a few different shots, in which K’NAAN (bless his heart) repeatedly makes mistakes regarding the more intricate technicalities of the bill. All the right facts are there, they’re just in different takes and so I set out on the task of stitching together something usable.

It takes most of the night to edit and the rest of it to get the video uploaded, but come morning I send it off to the folks at the Legal Network who in turn send it off to K’NAAN’s people (I know…) for approval.

It takes a couple more hours but it comes back with the a-ok, barring one minor change: K’NAAN’s name is to be written in all capitals.

I could go on forever here about the bill, but the quick summary version is that the video got 21,000+ views, the petition got 50,000+ signatures, and the bill made it through the House!

I wish I could say that this ends on a high note, but the quick summary version ends with an even quicker punch in the gut, in that the Bill was later killed on paper in the Senate, thanks to some political shenanigans from the Conservative party.

But this post is not about politics and the problems with it in this country. Instead, I share this story for a couple reasons:

  • It is a pretty cool moment in my life that I don’t often get the chance to share
  • Because lately, I’ve been feeling as though I’ve lost something

When I first picked up the phone on Bloor St. that cold January day, and when I was asked if “I was in”, I was prepared to say yes, no questions asked. I would have done literally anything they asked of me in that moment.

At the time I was in University and working part-time and struggling with course loads and probably a bit of depression (or at least, Seasonal Affective Disorder – the shitty basement apartment with the windowless bedroom will do that to you), but despite all that I was completely and thoroughly wrapped up in this issue. It became my primary focus that semester, so much so that I can still – nearly three years later – rhyme off all of the details surrounding the bill and its journey through Parliament. I can’t tell you a damned thing about what I learned in class that semester. Hell, I don’t think I can even tell you what classes I had that semester.

And I don’t know why this was the case. I say that not because Bill C-393 and access to medicine is not an important issue, but because it’s one that I had no real connection to. I didn’t know anyone who had suffered from HIV/AIDS, I just saw something that, to me, seemed painfully and glaringly obviously unjust, and felt compelled to try and do something about it.

There was no pausing to reflect and no thought about whether I could handle this extra time commitment. Just action. Just fire and passion.

I tell you all of this, dear reader, because at the beginning of October I wrapped up my time with Engineers Without Borders Canada. In late October I put on an art show. And as we sit here at mid-November the joke of #funemployment has lost its humour. The days have become grappling contests between the often harsh self-criticisms of “you need to be more productive” that wail like bomb sirens, and the simultaneous and unshakeable desire to do nothing at all.

There was a time when then-me would have relished in this free time, would’ve taken it as the opportunity to do what I wanted when I wanted. Time to photograph, to video, to write, to volunteer, to protest. In these long weeks it seems that all I can motivate myself to do, however, is rock climb and drink gin and tonics while playing Batman: Arkham City.

And so it feels like I’ve lost something.

And somewhere deep down I have this horrible fear that this – this complacency and loss of fire – and not the full time job with benefits and a desk – is the marker of my transition to “adult life” that I’ve thought so much about these last couple years. A fear of some unavoidable dividing line cutting through my life, where on one side there is youthful optimism and spirit and on the other side there’s a tame and docile curmudgeon stocking up on for-sale toilet paper and toothpaste.

Case in point, the other day my roommate asked me to come with him to a march happening at the University of Toronto, in support of fossil fuel divestment, and I couldn’t drag myself out of bed to do it (for context, the march was happening at 12:30. This wasn’t a 7am affair). There was a time when then-me would have said “Of course I’m in!” There was a time when I would’ve been out filming, running alongside the march and climbing on top of newsstands to get a better angle. A time when I would have stayed up all night editing the footage to be able to put a video out by the next morning.

And so I worry that I’ve lost something.

For a long time my “anthem” was Frank Turner’s Photosynthesis. There’s a part of the song that goes:

“All your friends and peers and family solemnly tell you you will, have to grow up be an adult yeah be bored and unfulfilled. Oh but no ones yet explained to me exactly what’s so great, about slaving 50 years away on something that you hate, about meekly shuffling down the road of mediocrity, well if that’s your road then take it but it’s not the road for me. I won’t sit down, I won’t shut up, but most of all I will not grow up.”

This was my jam. This was my quote on my staff page of the EWB website. This is still a quote on my “About” section of Facebook.

And last week, I couldn’t pull myself out of bed to take part in the divestment march.

And so I worry that I’ve lost something. And I’m left wondering what it is I stand for and where it is I’m going and whether any of this actually means anything or matters, or whether I’m just a self-absorbed 20-something millennial obsessed with a bullshit notion of “finding myself” and “making a difference.”

And so as heart-wrenching as Tom Hardy’s turn as “Tommy” in Warrior was, I don’t think it’s what had the faucets of my eyeballs leaking onto my face at 4:45 on a Saturday morning.

Instead, it was likely this unshakable feeling that I no longer know which way is up. It was likely the knowledge that the moments in my life that stand out as the most meaningful were driven by action and not pondering thought, and the simultaneous fear that I don’t know how to “just act” anymore.

And so I worry that I’ve lost something. But I also don’t believe that it’s gone. This notion of the line of adulthood, from which there is no return once you cross, is silly. I know that. There’s no reason that the higher level of responsibility that comes with being an adult has to be mutually exclusive from being the idealistic, energy ridden millennial from early January 2012.

And so I don’t believe that it’s gone. That said, I’m finishing up this post in a coffee shop in Guelph and I can barely bring myself to fire up the computer to add in these last minute additions – the Grey of today has long set in and the grappling match is well underway. So it’s hard.

But I won’t sit down. And I won’t shut up. And most of all I will not grow up (but also, I will. Cause that’s ok).

And so while I feel as though I’ve lost something, I’m working on getting it back.

 

Until next time.

Ambiguously yours,

-t

 

 

 

 

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The summary post

Last week, Embracing Ambiguity reached the 50 post milestone. To celebrate, various authors who have contributed to the blog over the last year and a half wrote a post on a similar theme. That theme, roughly, was: “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 was amazing to see different authors take the prompts in completely different directions, and inspiring to hear their experiences, interpretations, and fears. With five new posts in the span of a week, we realize you may not have been able to keep up! So, just in case you missed anything:

ON THE ALWAYS, EVER CHANGING | Author: Jeff Ku

“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.”

Read more here.

ON BECOMING PROCESS-ORIENTED | Author: Maya Fromstein

“Slowly, slowly I am trying to learn how to focus on the present moment. To not necessarily focus less on “WILL THIS JOB DEFINE ME” or “WILL THIS MAKE ME THE MOST QUALIFIED EVER” and “WANT. TOP. MARKS”, but to actively incorporate and pay attention to the moments of “Well this is nice” and “mmmm” (four m’s, check it) into my life. To respect my body and my mind and all of their assorted needs, while simultaneously respecting my potential and my future aspirations. To truly believe that if I take the breaks I need, and stimulate the other areas of my brain or hands that thesis writing and computer typing leave wanting, it will enhance all areas of my life.”

Read more here.

ON PEOPLE | Author: Stefan Hostetter

“Rather, I had found the people that made the world make sense. If I had accomplished nothing else, I had done this, and I realized then and there, that I think this would be enough. I would never be making a choice that would impact everything. I could never have a failure too great. I could never be so wrong that I couldn’t be right again.”

Read more here.

ON CHOICE AND CONSEQUENCE | Author: Tyler Blacquiere

“I can’t accept that the “right thing” doesn’t matter – that there isn’t a choice to be made – because I can’t accept the alternative. Because the alternative is one of complacency and complicity in all that is wrong and needs changing in the world. Choice and consequence. It has to matter. Because for everything I said above, it still holds true that life is too damn short and too damn precious and people are too damn great and the world is too fucking awe-inspiring for it not to matter.”

Read more here.

ON COCOONS OF SAMENESS | Author: Mica McCurdy

“So now I sit here, feeling all warm and fuzzy for fall foliage, and wonder who I’ve become and what exactly I’ve done if I’ve not made many intentional choices over the past few years. Who am I if I stumble around from job to job, thing to thing, without really taking a moment to pause? Is this the person I want to be? And if so, what decisions am I going to start making to intentionally maintain that? But if not, who? what? how?”

Read more here.

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