Category Archives: Personal Development

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 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 Milestones

I don’t like GPS.  Always knowing where I am, where I’m going, and how fast kind of takes the fun out of exploring the world. Long before western empires had satellite technology to help us navigate, the Roman Empire used milestones to measure their progress. I imagine an ancient traveller passing the stone pillars and reflecting on the distance they’d covered that day. Maybe they counted the footprints they left along the cobblestones or breathed easier when they reached the top of a long, steep climb. Towards the end of the day when enough miles were behind them and they had reached an inn, they’d be welcomed by a kindly host and promptly asked, “how was the journey?”. At this point, the ancient traveller would sigh, think about the ache in their feet – the one that only comes when you sit down after a long walk – and stare blankly at their host for a moment. As a recent traveller myself I sympathize with the impossibility of the question and the necessity of a pause at this point. After a few beats of thoughtful silence, the ancient traveller would offer a vague and largely meaningless adjective like ‘good’ or ‘tough’. Maybe their host would press for more detail and the ancient traveller would begin to describe their journey by referencing the milestones.

Like all measurements, milestones make it easier to think about space and time. And in the absence of a GPS for life, yearly milestones help me think about where I am, where I’m coming from, and the most recent section of the journey. I’m lucky enough to have a summer birthday so between it and New Year’s my biannual reflections are well spaced. Of the two, New Year’s is the more introspective. I think it has something to do with the cold and darkness. It makes it easier to measure my progress.

At midnight on December 31st 2014, I was standing with friends on the icy shore of Georgian Bay just north of my home town. I was thoroughly layered in long-johns, jeans, two shirts, a sweater, coveralls, a coat, three hats, and a scarf. The temperature was somewhere below -10, the wind was plastering our backs with snow, and the bonfire in front of us was shooting sparks downwind. We greeted 2015 from a circle of (relative) warmth and light in the middle of a cold, dark night. When the fire burned down we went inside and played music in a kitchen until one by one the guests found places to sleep on couches and pieces of floor.

One year earlier, on December 31st 2013 I was partying with my cousin and her friends just outside of Paris. It was calm for a European New Year’s. My cousin is in her mid-thirties and was 8 months pregnant with her third child at the time. Her friends have young families too and we celebrated with snacks, kid friendly movies, and a dress up dance party just before midnight. While they were putting the kids to bed, I watched distant fireworks through the apartment window. It was the first year I hadn’t made it home for the holidays. After four months studying abroad in Amsterdam I extended my trip, celebrated with my cousin, and spent a few weeks afterwards in the UK. 2013 had been an adventure and I said good-bye to it from a much healthier place than I’d entered.
Just after midnight on December 31st 2012, I carried my guitar home from a party at a friend of a friend’s. That night, I slept in a sleeping bag on the floor of the house I grew up in. The furniture – and every other object – had moved south with my mother and sister and a for-sale sign peaked hopefully out of the snowbank on the front lawn. I was staying alone in the shell of my childhood and it was a terrible place to be. After a few hours of sleep I woke up in 2013, packed my things and drove 3 hours to an ex-girlfriend’s house hoping to spend the night. In retrospect, I was losing the physical foundations of my childhood and looking for some sense of acceptance and continuity to sooth my confusion. I imagine repotted plants feel similarly when the gardener shakes them loose from the soils that germinated them. The uncertainty – the total absence of the familiar – was terrifying. By December 2013 I was doing better and was carrying the kind of broadened perspective that time in foreign places and new friends can give a person. Coming into 2015, having spent the 6 months after my graduation visiting friends and family, sleeping on their couches, and wandering new paths in both unfamiliar and beloved places I feel the most grounded I’ve ever felt.

Hometown roots and school gave structure to my life. I knew roughly where I would be and who would be there even if I didn’t know exact details. 2015 is different. I don’t have a map.  I’m currently self-identifying as homeless and unemployed as I continue to crash on friendly couches and begin to seriously plan next steps. For the first time in my life, I’m crossing the threshold of a new year with no idea where the next 12 months will take me. I have no idea how I’m going to make money, where I’m going to live, or who I’m going to spend my time with. And yet I feel like I’ve arrived somewhere significant, like I’ve made progress, and like I’ve grown.

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. 2015 is entirely unplanned. The next three-hundred-and-sixty-some days are pure potential and I’m excited. I don’t know where I’ll be when I reach the next milestone but I have every reason to expect that the road between here and there is lined with beautiful places and good people. I know that it might be steep in parts but I’m hoping that if I keep my eyes open – as I’m learning to – then I’ll be farther along when I get there.

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on making livings and lifestyles

I’ve been thinking a lot about the differences between making a living and making a lifestyle. As a recent university graduate I spent the first three months of my post-university life reconnecting with friends and family and reminding myself what life looks like when you don’t close down libraries at midnight. Running into (generally older) relatives at weddings and reunions usually meant that at some point (or multiple points) in an evening I would be confronted with the question of what I’m doing next. Although it’s an innocent and honest question on the surface, if asked with the proper tone it can carry a society’s worth of conditioning to imply that the only appropriate response to said question involves a clear and detailed career plan. I don’t have a career plan and although my canned response that “I’m looking for ways to use stories to inspire and educate” receives some favourable reviews, I honestly have no idea how I’m going to put a roof over my head and food on my table in the medium to long term. But, even if my liberal arts and sciences degree didn’t give me a paint by number career path it did instil me with a careful skepticism. My initial reaction to the question of shelter and food is to ask what shelter and food mean. Sleeping on couches and in basements for the majority of my summer reminded me about the beautiful side of simple living but I also aspire to one day live as part of a larger family unit (whatever that means) and those aspiration require a less transient infrastructure. What that infrastructure will be, I don’t know. But to some extent I’m treating my current travel as research into different lifestyles. There’s a balance to strike between making a living and making a lifestyle and some folks seem to have struck it.

I spent a week in mid-august wwoofing at the Harvest Moon Organic Bakery just outside of Lion’s Head on the Bruce Peninsula. I traded labour for food and lodging, stayed in a bunky on site, and assumed responsibility for the disposal of any and all broken butter tarts. The owners have run the bakery for almost 19 years, built themselves a passive solar home, carved walking trails and sculpture garden through the bush, and are socially engaged and lovely people. At one point they also operated both a large garden and bed and breakfast but they’ve scaled back in recent years. Although they work hard and long hours during the summer (theirs is after all a seasonal business) they produce good quality food, eat primarily from a garden they tend themselves, and spend the winter skiing, reading, and playing board games. After seven days, I left having met some of their neighbours, learned more about gardening, sided a treehouse, and been thoroughly entranced by a lifestyle that seemed to connect to both the physical and social space it inhabits. The folks at Harvest Moon make a living from a lifestyle that encourages active connection to their neighbours and physical surroundings. That appeals to me.

‘What next’ questions from my well-meaning relatives seem to focus only on the issue of making a living. My responses are sometimes met with disappointed and skeptical expressions but I’m trying to figure out what kind of lifestyle I want so that I know what ‘making a living’ means before I commit to a specific endeavor like law school or an oil rig contract that might fill my bank account at the cost of spiritual bankruptcy. While trying to avoid value judgements, I’m compelled to nonetheless acknowledge that no amount of money is worth doing things that would make me miserable and I say this from the middle of a 6 week contract that has me scrubbing toilets three mornings a week – although I am cleaning them in the middle of a national park in the Rocky Mountains.

You can only start with the question of making a living if you’ve already assumed the answer to what it means to make a life. It’s the same as asking how you’re going to get enough lumber to build your fence before you’ve figured out the height you want and the perimeter of your yard. Switching your thinking changes the question from ‘how am I going to provide for my needs’ to ‘what needs do I need to provide for and how can I meet them’. I’m still trying to figure what my needs are or could be but a week at Harvest Moon reminded me that yearly income doesn’t have to be earned over50 weeks a year at a 9-5 job and that work in something like a garden and kitchen can circumvent the need for some expenditures. Who doesn’t like homemade preserves?

I’ve got a few relatives who enthusiastically raise lifetime earning statistics to point out that I really should be starting my career as soon as possible. They’re measuring success by earnings; I’m not. And while I acknowledge that wealth affords opportunities, I’m inclined to view money as a means to an end rather than the end in itself. This perspective is the result of a certain amount of privilege. I didn’t need to work for a few months following university because I had friends and family who could put me up and enough money in the bank to move between them. And I’ve had the time to think about these things because I spent four years at an expensive post-secondary institution. Not to mention that as an articulate white male, the odds of me finding lucrative employment are good no matter where I look. Not everyone is this lucky and my thinking would probably be different if I had dependants and bills to pay. But I think that the question of lifestyle needs to come first in any case. It doesn’t matter how much you can afford to pay if you haven’t figured out what you want to buy. It doesn’t matter how you make a living if you don’t know how you want to live.

Jon Farmer

On running (and the downfall of pride)

It is a dreary, wet, and cold October morning, and there is paint dripping down my face. The helmet atop my head is two sizes too small, and has my skull locked in a vice grip. The small camcorder haphazardly taped to the top of that large child’s helmet is now getting wet, and so I’m not even sure that this little experiment of mine will work. Oh, and we can’t find the starting line. Well, we can see it, but getting there is another matter.

Confused yet? Fair. If your first thought upon reading the above was not “the start of Tyler’s short lived and disappointing running career” I could probably forgive your error. But that’s just what it is. Every word of it, the truth.

It was a Sunday and it was early. The helmet was on my head because I needed a way to mount the camera, and the camera was atop the helmet because I had the bright idea to film my 5k race, in the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Both of those things were the case because I was, at the time, interning at EWB, and because interns are keeners, I was filming my race to make a video for EWB’s Run to End Poverty. Oh, and the paint…orange was EWB’s colour. So, naturally, I painted the helmet orange. Apparently, however, when you glob on large amounts of paint the night before, it takes a somewhat long amount of time to dry. This hadn’t happened, and now the rain.

But back to the race. After stumbling around confused, we found the start, and the race began. I had always been generally athletic, but this was my first official race. I hadn’t really trained, hadn’t really slept the night before, and I really had to pee. Did I mention the rain?

All this aside, I loved it. The race was a blast. I never really had opportunity to realize it before, but in those short 5K I saw just how into the competition I could get. The thrill of passing people drew me on, faster and faster, and in just under 24 minutes, it was over.

For a while after the race, that was that. It was fun, my video turned out surprisingly well, my shrunken head returned to normal size, I hung my race bib on the wall, and went back to everyday life.

But as the New Year rolled around I found myself thinking about running more and more, and began to play with the idea of training for the full marathon in next October’s STWM.

Now, on a few occasions during my young adult life, there were times when I ran consistently for general health and wellbeing. But I never considered myself “a runner” – I never formed part of my identity around the activity. That changed in March of 2013, when – with the help of my Uncle Bryan and Elevation Personal Coaching – I officially began to train for the elusive 42k.

It didn’t take long before I was hooked. The thrill of pushing your body beyond what you thought previously possible, and the ability to actually see your progress kept me coming back for more. Over time, running became a bigger and bigger part of my life.

I was building my schedule around fitting in runs, I was eating better, and more, to match my level of exercise. Hell, I had even bought protein powder.

Pretty soon, I started to eagerly anticipate Sunday mornings, when my world became one of a still rising sun, a cool crispness in the breeze, carbohydrate gels and logged kms, in my weekly long distance runs.

I will never forget my first attempt at 15k – the first time I experienced “the runners high”. As I rounded the last corner in my route, coming into a 3 block straightaway to my apartment, I was on top of the world. I didn’t feel tired, or sore, or worn out. On the contrary, it felt like I could’ve kept going for another 15K.

Part of my enjoyment from running came from – and excuse me while I ditch humility for a second – I was fucking good at it. I was managing the upper distances without too much trouble, and more importantly, to me, I was fast. My uncle and coach had dubbed me “Flash” and I became obsessed with the idea of speed.

It eluded me at the time, but looking back now I can’t help but think that running became a proxy for other things in my life. After some rough personal-life times and the stress of work-life times, as well as a general late winter/early spring malaise, it felt good to be doing something I enjoyed, and doing it well. In part, I think, because it was real and tangible. Unlike my work, which was ambiguous, short term and at times, hazy – where success was unclear and in an environment of brilliant people, often overshadowed – running was real. My times were definite and quantifiable; in the immortal words of Shakira: “Ooh, my Garmin don’t lie.”

I had something I was succeeding at, and was proud of it.

But my uncle’s nickname of “Flash” was not – I think – just a reflection of my finish times. It hinted at my tendency to be young and dumb and overzealous. Things were going great, I was feeling good, and so when Bryan would say things like “Keep the pace above 4:45” or, “Take it easy on this one,” my brash brain would, at times, respond, “but whyyyy?!” I could do it so much quicker. And I sometimes did. But with a body as complex and susceptible to injury as the one we’ve got, speed isn’t everything. And pride will be your downfall.

It was a gorgeous Sunday morning. I was in cottage country with colleagues. I’d avoided drinking the day before, in preparation for what was to come: an empty country road, a backpack full of water, and 21K. Now, I had done this distance before – this was a revisiting. A step back. A refresh. My instructions were to do it at a reasonable rate; just take it easy and enjoy it. But my pride had other ideas.

I wanted to crush it. I wanted to push myself and see just what was possible, and what I could do if I went all out. And so I did. I pushed and I pulled from deep within and in less than an hour and a half later, I was done. I didn’t tell Bryan. I think I knew that he would be less than pleased. But I did it. It was possible. And what’s a little extra effort now and again, anyway? Well…

I was sore. Not unreasonably sore, I convinced myself. Just sore. Looking back now, this was likely the beginning of the end. For it was a week or two later, 23K-ish out on the Toronto Waterfront that my right knee gave out. I’m not even really sure what happened, it just kind of…hurt. A lot. And I stumbled. And then running was impossible. And then walking was hard. But there I was, 20K from home, without money or a way back. So I walked. Slowly, and gingerly; in pain, both body and pride.

It was awful, long and slow, but I made it home and reported the news to my uncle. A few weeks off was the prescribed solution, along with a lot of ice and elevation. Despite my best attempts, however, a few more ups and downs made it clear that I wouldn’t be ready to run in October.

It was now my turn to be crushed. To have trained so hard and for so long, and now…this. Watching from the sidelines on race day pained me in a deeply physical and emotional way. All the success, excitement and hope for what was possible was gone. In its place, a feeling of stupidity and hopelessness about running.

It took a while, but I eventually got over myself, and life moved on. I resolved to come back better and, more importantly, smarter, next year. But when next year rolled around the universe had other plans. Despite months of rest, my knees just never felt the same, and life events threw curveballs in many attempts to get training back on track. After a number of these false starts and several long winded Facebook explanations to my uncle, I went silent. I stopped running and stopped communicating.

I had given up, and I retreated.

I was scared about the state of my knees and their ability to carry me on the wind again. Was embarrassed to have done this to myself. And, I felt like I was letting Bryan down. It was hard enough to admit all of this to myself, and so I never tried to convey it to my uncle. For a long time, I beat myself up about it, until eventually I pushed it out of mind and tried to focus on other things – work, writing, photography.

Recently, however, I went for a run. Not a timed, training run. Just a run. It wasn’t very far and it wasn’t very fast and I didn’t have carbohydrate gels and I didn’t post the results to my online training diary. And it was…nice. I was relaxed and without pressure. There was no expectation, no target to hit and no fear of what was next or whether I’d be able to run again in the future. Just me and the trail. For so long, running had been a means to an end – I was training for a marathon. There was an end goal in mind and running was (quite literally) the vehicle that would get me there, across the finish line at the 42K mark. Now, for the first time in a long time, running was an end in itself. It was a nice change, and one that sparked a realization about my relationship to a lot of what I do in life. It was in this moment that I was reminded, in particular, about this crazy hectic panic filled transition between “now” and “adult life.”

Because I have very much been treating that transition as a means to an end. Work has been the thing, the experience, and the connections that will lead me into whatever my “place” is. I’ve seen work as the path leading me to my real purpose – the big shiny pot of gold at the end of the terrifying rainbow of young adulthood. In approaching it this way, it has been needlessly stressful. Every slight hiccup, diversion or stumble along the path has been so much more than that, because of how it was detracting from my pursuit of “the end.” I have consistently failed to see these things for what they are: a challenge, a learning opportunity, a potential for skill development. That’s not to say that these moments wouldn’t still be stressful through this different mindset, but I’d be able to take them as they were, instead of as what they could be.

So maybe, if I can get over myself for long enough, work too can become an end in itself. I can take pride in the everyday small projects and wins. And maybe, I can start to find enjoyment in it again.

For now I’ll keep running. Not far, or fast. And without my Garmin. I’ve accepted that there probably isn’t a marathon in my near future. But someday. And when that time does come, I’ll be smarter. And I’ll listen to my coach.

(ps sorry Bryan)

Until next time.

Ambiguously yours,

-t

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatever the hell that actually means.

…and then I found $20.

Until next time.

Ambiguously yours,

-t

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on friendship

If I have been blessed with one thing in my short life thus far, it is the abundant presence of wonderful people. From my family of 10 (if they ask, I never said that…and yes, 10. 7 siblings and 2 parents) to a number of acquaintances, friends and surrogate family members. At times, these people have been the glue that has held my often haggard and confused 24 year old frame together. They have been my encouragement, my inspiration, my push toward new and exciting challenges.

I can say without question that I would not be half the person I am today without the presence of these people in my life (#nurturevsnature). Alongside them, I have found the courage and strength to go from a relatively silent, mullet rocking vested youngster to a semi competent adultish human, comfortable exploring the concept of leaving my mark on the world around me. It was through great friends that I got into videography. That I pursued art. That I found Oxfam, co-founded Canadians for CAMR, came to EWB. It was alongside friends that I organized protests, fundraisers, concerts, and more. Friends have been there for birthdays, shark movie nights (If Brooke Hogan isn’t the scientist in your shark movie, you’re doing it wrong), #justpalletthings, and all else in between.

When life has gotten overwhelming, I’ve been able to turn to friends for advice, and they’ve kindly been a sounding board for my (sometimes) irrational panic and anxiety. With the calm of an experienced sailor, they’ve been able to tie my head to the mast that is my scrawny frame, correcting course and setting me off in the right direction, wind at my sails.

I’ve been lucky enough to watch friends approach and ultimately cross that line between friendship and family. When your shared experiences and realities link you like individual brush strokes, coming together to paint a beautiful whole. When sitting together in silence is not feared but revered, and in that vacuum of sound an affirmation: we’ve something great here.

And yet. At the same time, I’ve watched the opposite. I’ve seen friends grow apart with age or distance. I’ve seen the Skype calls and email updates dwindle, fade in and out like shitty signal strength until relationship are, at most, the occasional Facebook like, and at least, a happy memory of something once great. Despite the (most often) unintentional nature of these drifts, I’ve felt the pangs of guilt that accompany them. The subconscious and constant nagging that “if only I’d done a little more” we’d still be the best of buds.

But in the hustle and bustle of day to day life (especially this life, this non-profit life EmbAmb centers around), in the rush of projects and the fear of looming deadlines, you slip. Skype dates get moved and emails remain in draft. Tomorrow becomes next week as next week does next month, and winter dissolves into summer like snow into rain. Friendships fade like an old Polaroid, the dim remainder of a once vibrant scene.

As is perhaps obvious, I have given this a lot of thought lately. It has caused me to fret and self-criticize, the familiar chorus of “if only I’d…” This is, in part, because two very good friends of mine are about to set off on a cross country adventure, from the busy streets of Toronto to the gorgeous cliffs of St John’s NL, which they will call home for the foreseeable future.

As I contemplate their imminent departure, I find myself met with a mixture of emotions. On the one hand, I’m incredibly happy for them. Really and truly, I am. Happy that they’re pursuing their desires, excited for this next stage of their lives, eager to see what magic they will bring to the Eastern shores of this giant place we all call home (Canada. The answer is Canada).

At the same time, however, I can’t help but also feel a mixture sadness and worry. Now, I know. In this modern age of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Skype, etc., ad nauseam, I know this isn’t “goodbye”. I know. And yet…

To say that these two have played an important part in my life these last few years would be a dramatic understatement. I can’t begin to calculate the number of times these two have – separately, and at times, in power couple tag team fashion – secured my spiraling emotions and helped me plant my feet firmly beneath me.

I was lucky enough to share a place of employment with them for some time, and in that time they helped me wade my way through the complicated muck that is early adulthood employment. Helped me navigate everything from the hectic environment of a small but growing charity, to a small but growing sense of self as I slowly but surely morphed into a real human adult person. Together, they have helped me discover confidence in places I didn’t know I had (metaphorically) and have helped me see the image behind the stereogram.

They have crossed that friend/family line, there alongside me during the struggles and joys of real life as much as work life, encouraging me in my interests, sharing in adventures and opening their hearts and homes. There was also the time I woke up incredibly drunk on their couch but, conveniently, I don’t remember most of that episode.

So in the context of all of this wonderful, why the worry? The easy option is that I just can’t help but worry about losing these wonderful parts of my life. Or, at least, having them shrink to a once a year visit, or to Facebook and Twitter updates. The harder option points to the irrationality of that fear. Says sure, there’ll be less backyard, or rooftop, or living room…or patio, sangria, or famjam dinners, but friends and fam they’ll remain.

I want to believe that the second of those options is the one that will ring true. And to be clear, I do. But…there’s that inch of worry that sees the “what if?” In grappling with this “what if”, I think I’ve come to a realization.

I spend so much time worrying about failing to keep up with people – or, regretting having failed to do so – that I’m unable to see how easy it would be to rectify. And, hopefully, how willing others would be to have it happen.

In the past week I’ve been thinking about the people I’ve more or less lost contact with. People in different part of the country and world who’ve gone from being integral parts of my life, to names and smiling faces I see on social media, reminders of the lives I’m no longer part of.

And yet, I know – at least, I hope – that if, for instance, I’m ever in Calgary, I could call up a certain former Oxfam Co-President and we could hang out like nothing had changed. Like we were still in the heyday rush of planning a Hunger Banquet, hanging back after club meetings to pound our chests like gorillas (but actually), ranting to one another to let go of stresses and anxieties.

In the same way, I know that I’ll always have a home in St John’s. I’ll always be able to make a call out East and find two attentive ears – well, two sets…four ears – and open hearts.

Because friends are never gone. Friendship is not something with packaged on or best before dates. There’s no start and end point. Instead, I’ve come to see friendship as a mobile home that trails behind you your entire life. Over mountains and across countries it’s there, faithfully following. Inside, the sum of life experiences, memories, learnings, laughs and tears. The Perkins tent of the road (mad bonus points for catching that reference). It’s there for you to go back to at different times, and at different stages in life, for an instant and familiar sense of comfort and warmth.

What I’ve come to realize is that I shouldn’t fret change, but treasure the addition of another room, another guest in my mobile home. There are few things in life that remain as accessible and ultimately constant as good friends. And that’s pretty damn special.

So travel safely, my friends. Here’s to good times and new adventures.

Until next time.

Ambiguously yours,

-t

 

***Addendum***

After showing this post to a good friend of mine, and fellow EmbAmb author, she raised some good questions. I’ve decided not to tackle them in this post (perhaps in On Friendship Part II?), but for your consideration:

– What’s so important about friends being in the same city? What changes when they leave?

– You mention that it would be easy to reach out, and that friends who have drifted would be open to it. Why don’t we make that happen? What holds us back from reaching out?

If you have any thoughts on the above, I’d love to hear em!

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On owning that ponytail and working that up-do

***Note from Tyler: I did not write this. The author wished to be kept anonymous, so I’ve just posted it under my account***

 

A boy graduates from university. He moves to a new city and with no contacts – knowing nobody “in the biz” – manages to land his dream job. He spends three days a week gardening in a serene environment, encouraging children to learn about PLANTS. A young girl goes up to him and – I kid you not – she asks, “Can you show me the edible flowers, please?” A young boy, when asked if he’s hot because he’s wearing a black t-shirt in the sun, responds with: “Why? Does the colour black absorb heat?” I mean, for real peeps, what more could you want out of life. For the summer this graduate lives on an island near the city, out of a camper. He is mobile. He is heavily bearded. He wears a comfrey leaf as a gardening badge of honour. He is living “the life.”

———————————————————————————————————————

A beautiful girl beams with a smile that light and love seem to pour out of. She is graceful, intelligent, and wildly capable. She is surrounded by oh so many people who love her, and has the bravery and compassion to give space to the one she loves when he needs it most. Of course (of course!), she works full time at a job that is putting her on the right path to reach her end goal, and her co-workers seem to be total jokesters, and a pleasure to be around. As if she needed more reasons to be self-confident, she speaks three languages fluently and has hair that doesn’t quit.

———————————————————————————————————————

I could go on with other anecdotes that I collect in my storybook of “Why Everybody Else is Better Than I Am”. Seems petty, and melodramatic, but if I’ve ever met you, you can rest assured you’ve got your own chapter. For my entire life, comparing myself to others has made itself a central tenet, and I continually beat myself up for the countless ways in which I didn’t/don’t measure up. The seaweed truly was always greener on the other side of the sea, and it killed me. Well, it didn’t–but it did push me to a path of self-destruction that I lovingly and deceivingly labelled as motivation, drive, “an edge.”

Although I have been theoretically taking this past year to heal, I can only truthfully (and I sometimes even believe myself when I say it!) say now that I am finally on a new path. I can definitively say, on most days, that I have left my previous path behind me. Them shoes been worn for a long time, folks. I am now on a path to recovery. A path to health, well-being, happiness, and success. My old path only had one end goal–”BE THE BEST”–and scenic routes were punished. I am not sure what or where my new path is leading me toward, but I do know who I want there with me and that it sure as hell won’t be linear. I understand that on some days I may be tempted to turn back and return to the path I had walked so well, and that on other days I might only make it forward on my hands and knees or in a loved one’s arms.

But what is most important for me to understand, appreciate, and turn compassion towards, is that my path is my own and it is no one else’s. No one else can be farther ahead, even when it seems like that is so painfully obviously the case (and the only possible Capital T Truth), because they’re on their own fucking path. And that’s what makes each of our paths so beautiful dammit! Everybody walks at their own pace, in their own direction, with their own swagger, on their own path. I am not in anyone’s footsteps. I am not anyone’s runner up. I am moving in the right direction at the right pace. And it’s “right” because I said so and I am the only one who can.

In the great words of that SNL skit, I am trying my very best (and receiving all of the help along the way) to “Own that pony-tail! Work that up-do!”

Because at the end of the day, that boy – with the figured out dream-life – asked a nearly perfect stranger to hang out sometime soon. He was vulnerable and in need of a friend.

And that girl – who could not appear more content with life – struggles every day to give herself the love she so effortlessly shows others, with a voice that tells her she doesn’t deserve to eat three meals a day.

Neither of these outweigh the positive things they have going for them, not by a long shot, but it does show that there is always more depth to be discovered. Their seaweed has its own shit going on, too, even if everything else seems “perfect.”

 

I am on my own path now.

I am no one’s runner up.

 

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On Water, Soil, and Sun

When I was born my parents planted a tree in our front yard. They don’t live at that house anymore, though on occasion I walk by it to wallow in nostalgia and to see how my leafy counterpart is doing.

A little while ago my Mum stayed with me, and my housemates, for a week. She’s in her fifties and doing a master’s degree. Each spring her program offers an intensive, week long in person course and as her school is just a few blocks from my house it’s a convenient, and rare, opportunity for us to spend time together, to share in each other’s lives in an intimate way

I moved out of my parent’s house when I was eighteen to a different country for school. Since then I’ve spent one summer with them, but otherwise our close relationship is sustained by a few phone calls each week, holidays, and one-off weekends either here in Toronto or at their home.

You could say I’ve spent my formative years with them, but I’d argue that my “growing up”, my most painful and most important learning, has happened without them. Which makes week long living situations particularly interesting, because the versions of ourselves we think we know today, right now, in this moment, aren’t necessarily the ones others hold on to.

I’ve recently started a garden. It’s the first one that’s all mine (there were a few years as kids I think we “shared” a garden with Dad) and it is unbelievably satisfying. My tomatos are well on their way to yielding what I hope is endless jars of sauce, the lavender I planted from a shop around the corner is so aromatic you can smell it from across the room, and my bean plants look so much like the picture perfect bean plant I wish there was a fair I could enter them in.

The satisfaction though comes from tracking their growth – they follow a pretty straightforward pattern, and with some research, a just as straightforward plan for care. There are enough variables to keep things interesting (motherfucking raccoons), but at least I know the kind of growth that’s going to happen. Water, soil, sun and one day in a few weeks a tiny little bean, or the beginning of a tomato.

People are less predictable (surprise!). If you had mentioned to my Mum ten years ago that she might think of doing a master’s she would have laughed before you could finish your thought. If you said that being laid off from my first job would shatter my innate sense of confidence, I would have stared at you in confident disbelief. We’ve come a very long way from who we were yesterday, and the day before, and the year before that.

Spending a week with my Mum reminded me of this. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking of her in a very specific way – as the her I knew when I was nine, or eighteen, and not taking the time to see her as she is now. We are different people and that’s made clear when looking at career trajectories or even our gardening habits (she grows flowers, and I veg). With so many shared moments between us, I couldn’t pinpoint the most important transitions in her life or even map what I think her career trajectory has been. It’s the little things in between our Christmases and week of visiting that may have had the most impact. It’s that time that boy said no, or that sweaty drunken dance party to old eighties anthems. But she doesn’t know those things, and I don’t know those things, and instead what we have is just who we are.

Maybe what’s most surprising to me is that personal growth doesn’t stop. Maybe we only notice it in fits and starts. Maybe we don’t know we’ve grown until years and years have passed and we look in the mirror one day and see someone else, someone new, looking back. Maybe we turn fifty, go back to school, spend a week with our adult daughter and get to grow with her by learning new ways to relate to one another. Maybe it’s all of this and nothing at all.

A lot has happened since my parents planted that tree twenty-four years ago, and I imagine in another twenty-four years I’ll have just as inconclusive reflections on change and growth. While my plants are growing, and my Mum is studying, and I am figuring out what I’m doing right (and wrong), I will forever wish there was a clearer plan.

Then again, maybe the answer for people, as for plants, is just some water, soil, and sun. Summer is here in Toronto and we’re all likely to grow as it turns to fall. It’s surprising how much can happen when it’s happening.

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