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On Failure

Failure and I have never had a good relationship. I was always that kid who could pick things up with relative ease, I was a star student and teacher’s pet throughout high school and did well in my university classes too. I won medals in my extra-curriculars and my bosses’ regard during summer jobs. I always thought that if I followed the rules, laid out a good path for myself and worked hard, then things would fall into place. But that feels like a very naïve perception of things now.

I understand that failure is a natural part of any learning process. I understand that failure allows people to evolve and become stronger. I even understand that it gives people character, experience and intellect. Yet despite understanding these things in theory, the fear of failure still stops me from living the exact way I want to. It means that I can’t stand being a beginner. Rock climbing, yoga, guitar –things I discovered I loved yet have completely stopped practicing because they involve too much public failure as a beginner. Even as I write this, I worry I’ll fail at getting my point across or at making this article compelling and relatable.

Lately, failure is mostly associated with the job hunt. I finished my Masters 6 months ago and I am still waiting tables. I’ve been told that’s a normal amount of time, and that in this economy it’s actually not even that long. But every day, my various visions of the future get a little bit fuzzier. That image of me managing a team of policy advisors then driving home in my electric car to my beautifully decorated home gets blurry when tips from work are bad that week and I worry about the electricity bill. The picture I have of working in the field, collecting data on endangered species in exotic locations fades with each rejection email. The constant feeling of failure does nothing to motivate me to keep sending more job applications into the void of HR email accounts. Each rejection letter ends up making me feel more entitled, like somehow because I’ve gone through this, I deserve the job more.

I’m aware I’m not the first recent graduate to feel this way. And I’m trying to take these daily feelings of failure in stride by making time for friends and being out in nature. But the sinking feeling is inevitable when I sit down in front of a miserably formatted Word document job application once again. I apply to most jobs knowing I’ll never get an email back, let alone a positive response. Every pep talk from well-meaning employed friends or family feels like a repetitive reprimand despite it coming from a place of genuine kindness and concern.

I’ve been thinking more and more that I want to get creative and approach the entire job process differently, as so many of my peers are doing. Young people are taking the cards dealt to them and turning their traditionally losing hand into something wonderful by starting creative businesses, working remotely in budding industries or foregoing the notion of a typically defined career entirely. But again the fear of failure stops me in my tracks, despite my extreme admiration for friends who have taken the leap.

For now, I’ll keep searching and enjoying the little things. No doubt that this idea of creating my own career path will keep brewing in my mind the whole time. Maybe I’ll try and think back to the days when I barely had a concept of failure. I’ll try to incorporate some of that boldness into my future career goals. After all, back when I was a straight A elementary school student, free from the fear of failure, I won our school’s Valentine’s Day lip syncing contest five years in a row.

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On Waiting

EDITOR’S NOTEThis post is the 5th 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! 


 

These past two new years have been different from the ones before them.

Before 2014, New Years marked progress; I had a sense of purpose and a control over my life as I moved through University. The last two New Years have been less about moving forward through school and more about waiting. At the start of 2014 I was waiting for that last semester of university to be over so I could start my career, and now waiting for a job so I can start my career. Juxtaposed to the many other positive aspects of my life, it makes the stall in my would-be career feel even stranger.

Last year at this time, I began my last semester of my undergraduate education. I was about to reach the end game, something that is now so common among the population my age we sometimes forget what an accomplishment it is. So with one semester left I was waiting to graduate, an easy course load and already looking into job applications. And now I am waiting for a job, perhaps it is the one I just applied for, or the one I just had an interview with, or maybe, my worst fear will come true and I will still be waiting one year from now. I am waiting for some big change that will alter my not only my day to day life but also my future, though I may be putting too much faith in the idea that my career will fill some void.

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.

This past year I did have adventures, I found joy and inspiration, I have had ups and downs and now I feel as though I may have come full circle. After spending months applying for jobs at the start of last year, I went abroad to teach English in Colombia; somewhere I never planned to go but was able to make an adventure. I got to go to Coachella music festival with my brother, I graduated university, I spent time with my grandma and family, find new hobbies like biking and cross stitch, evolve relationships with friends. But now I am back into the thick of months of applying for jobs, back to hoping and waiting for THAT job, whatever it ends up being.

And it is these other aspects of my life, other hobbies and my friendships, that make this wait bearable. With New Years just past, I see some sense to resolutions, whether you complete it or not, resolutions can allow you to take control of at least one aspect of your life, making those uncontrollable parts, that you are simply waiting on, bearable. Maybe resolutions allow you to focus on other things while you wait.

 

– MG

On saying so long.

EDITOR’S NOTEThis post is the 4th 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’ve been struggling a lot with writing about my past year. Feelings of discomfort overwhelm me with every effort, and I arm myself with words and filled pages to try and fight them back.

How quickly I fall pray to old habits.

Yet I continued to return to the keyboard, determined to write something about this past year. A year that brought so many tears, so much anger and resentment against it, such fear and frustration. I wanted to write something about it, but I didn’t know what. Or why.

My fingers struck keys like soldiers wielding swords, attempting to protect myself from the feelings and the everything that came over me every time I even thought about something to write about this past year.

How quickly I fall pray to old habits.

I wanted to write something, but I didn’t know what. Or why.

I think I understand now though.

A eulogy.

Unknowingly, I had been trying to write a eulogy for this past year. I didn’t want the year to change, for me to wake up in 2015 and just move on. I couldn’t–can’t–just move on.

I couldn’t begin 2015 without properly mourning 2014.

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. I learned what asking for help–and not on a math question–can look like. Help to get through the day, to find motivation, any reason, to do so. Help to listen to myself, and find worth in what I hear. Help to love, and be loved. I learned what all of this felt like, and even more so, that it is okay to feel it. 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.

I am still learning to believe it.

It was a hard year, not a magical one, after all.

Nearly every day of the past year, I learned and learned again, that life is painful. Life is exhausting and frustrating and sad. I have also learned that life is not always so hard, not always so terrible, not always so draining. I am still learning to value the fight for those good moments when the bad ones seem always around the corner, and always stronger, adapted to my new defences.

For each thought, each moment, each day that I lost to the stillness, the void, the emptiness, in 2014 and in the years that preceded it, I mourn.

And so I write a eulogy for 2014. I acknowledge my struggle, my losses, and I try to accept them. I hope that those dark moments of 2014 will be buried deep, never again to resurface. I want to never think about it again. I wish that my eyes will open in the morning and I will wonder if 2014 was just a bad dream. I want to believe that 2015 will bring joy and sunshine and renewal. Sure, I’ll squint in the beginning, but soon, soon my eyes will adjust. To the joy, the sunshine, the renewal.

Yet, that does not feel quite right. Not quite enough.

I continue to try to write something about this past year. I just don’t know what. Or why.

I hated 2014, with all of its hardships and suffering, but it is because of 2014 that I know I cannot cross my arms and blink it all away. There is no magic solution. And there is no moving on without taking with me what I have gained from it. This past year freed me from what could have otherwise been a lifetime of bondage to my demons. I know deep down that if I can survive 2014, I can survive anything. This fight for freedom that I have started, that I already have one year under my belt of, is the hardest thing I will ever have to do. I have hit rock bottom, and I am climbing back up.

I wanted to write something about this past year.

I had to memorialize 2014, make sure I in fact never forget it. So I never forget how far I have come and how hard it really was. So I never forget what shapes strength can take.  What glimmers of sunlight feel like against my cheek amidst the darkest of days. So I never have to retrace my steps. And, if one day I do, I know the route, and who I want to bring with me for it.

And so I wanted to write something about this past year. I wanted to prove to myself, to show once more to the demons, that I am not hiding anymore. I am not letting my fears or discomforts prevent me from accomplishing what I know I can do. If I can survive 2014, I can survive anything.

I will not fall prey to my old habits today.

So long, 2014.

– m

On Giving Up

So here it goes. My first embracing ambiguity post.

I have started and restarted this post more than three times in an attempt to make it all sound right and most importantly to make my failure gain some sort of universality. Something that you can connect to. The hardest part was that writing this piece meant facing the biggest failure of my life.

For those that don’t know me, I am, or was, a swimmer. I once dreamed of the Olympics and spent my days pushing my body, mind and emotions beyond their limits. In reality, this meant 10-2hr practices a week in the water (including 5am wake-ups), at least 5 hours of dryland, physiotherapists for my overused shoulders, sports psychologists, massage therapists, eating right, flying to new cities only to see the inside of a pool, and so many more things than I can list. It also included incredible friendships and memories, the success of besting your own times or winning provincial medals; though these things don’t seem to add up to much anymore. When someone asks me now if I am still swimming, I tell them I quit and then correct myself because I actually retired. Working at something for over 15 years makes it a career. Right?

But it wasn’t work. Swimming was my passion, my life, my everything. And for it I truly sacrificed everything. And when you have something that important, letting it go can feel almost impossible. It took me two years to realize that the time had come for me to leave behind that life.

Until a short time ago, I revolved my life around a dream. Maybe it goes back further than one month though for I had been slowly spiraling away for even a few years. But what is a few years of semi-commitment when you have spent the last 15 focused on one sole passion. And finally, after 2 years drifting away from what I had previously defined as my life, I quit or maybe I failed or maybe I just retired. Near the end, I agonized over every decision, every workout and when I finally couldn’t manage to continue on, knowing that my goals were unreachable; I knew it was the end. I failed mentally, my body failed me and I failed at the only thing I had ever given my all.

But when I talked about this to an aunt of mine soon after the decision, she reminded me that everyone expects the right decision to make us feel good, so when that good uplifting feeling doesn’t come we question what we have done. It’s funny how the right decision can feel so shitty sometimes.

This year in one of my courses we have discussed a lot about relative versus absolute gains, and I think that there are also relative and absolute failures. I think that I have just gone through a relative failure. It is a failure as compared to how well I thought I would do, how well my colleagues are doing and my friends and family continue to remind me that this failure was not absolute. Life goes on.

Of my 22 years of life, I have spent 15 of them dedicated to this passion and when I was finally released from this love/hate relationship I felt and feel anguish at my failure.

— MG

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On embracing change

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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On Teeter-Totters

Since being let go I’ve started volunteering at a breakfast program for community members in need and taken up singing in a choir. In doing so, I’m trying to balance The Struggle, and I teeter-totter between knowing if I’m living up to my potential or not.

E.B. White says, “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” I sing because I need to do something that makes me happy, but to really feel like I’m contributing to the world I awkwardly hand out bananas at a drop-in breakfast. Maybe an oversimplification, but its the most recent in a string of examples of what a challenge navigating this tension between so-called “improving” the world and “enjoying” is.

When I was working, and working at something I thought was more aligned with improving the world, I told myself that it was just as important to enjoy the day to day. In this framing, working justified enjoying, and I would never give up working, but I certainly could (and did) give up enjoying.

Maybe the time I have now is meant for me to dedicate my more creative side — Cook and bake to my hearts content; Write and blog and tweet with intentionality; Paint and create to shame the best of pinterest boards; Read all of the things. I have so called free time, and I am lucky enough to live in a city with thriving arts communities, so why not dedicate it to artistic pleasures?

And yet I can’t but help to feel guilty when I do nothing with my day other than read interesting articles and make homemade chicken pot pie. Working is fulfilling and busy, and because its something of a necessity (EI only lasts for so long) it addresses White’s described tension for me – you must strive to improve the world, that struggle is most important, and then sometimes there are things to enjoy.

Of course balance would be the ideal, where I would do something I love and live a life where I can push for change and feel just as good about that as singing in a choir. I want it all – I want to embrace this tension in the fullest and then clasp my hands in triumph when I can stand in the middle of the teeter-totter without falling. Aren’t we all working toward that moment? Is it so hard to do?

I don’t know how I’m going to get there, though I have a feeling this is a life long pursuit and my first step might be in getting off my couch, and back on that teeter-totter.

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On wanderlusting…or running away

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

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

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

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

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

On “your pain is real”

From Seth Godin’s The Icarus Deception: “Your Pain Is Real.

It’s the pain of possibility, vulnerability, and risk. Once you stop feeling it, you’ve lost your best chance to make a difference.”

This is interestingly timely, considering a topic I was thinking about just the other day – what other “leaders” felt like when in doubt or fear. This is that feeling!

The doubt, fear, or pain is real, and it is unavoidable. It’s a feeling that comes from the challenge of colouring outside of the lines, the discomfort of doing something that doesn’t carry certainty but is loaded with surprise and chance instead.

And as Seth Godin goes on to say, that feeling is part of being alive; it’s core to the process of making something that matters to you and to other people.

To push through that doubt, fear, or pain is still a difficult challenge, though. Don’t understate its ability to confine you – to make you keep your ideas, projects, or abilities to yourself. The feeling is probably one of the most formidable opponents to being true to yourself and your work.

One of the best ways to defeat it is something that is equally difficult to practice, but once you get it into a habit, you never have to go back: keeping a “bias towards action”.

The notion of a bias towards action comes out of design thinking. Remember “move fast and break things?” “Make a dent in the universe?” Yeah. Those things require – and advocate for – a bias towards action.

It means, in moments of uncertainty – the decision between to do it, or not to do it, or to do “a” versus to do “b”, it means just to take action. Stop thinking about the “analysis paralysis” or the doubt, fear, and pain: close your eyes, breathe deep, and take action.

Then, learn from it, and do it again, but differently.

That feeling won’t go away. And it shouldn’t. Remember, it is a feeling you should embrace – because while you feel it, you know you’re doing something that means something to yourself and to others, too. If you stop feeling it, then you should start to worry!

But by practicing a bias towards action, you can become comfortable with that discomfort. Acting within that feeling becomes easier and easier. Just never too easy.

And don’t forget to share what you make, and what you’ve learned.

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Oops. I just “shoulded” all over myself.

No Ordinary Ostrich

It was a beautiful August morning at the cottage; I was on vacation and the day was my oyster. Despite the calm water, sun reflecting off the lake, and warmth in the air, I couldn’t shake a terrible feeling of dread and frustration. It had been slowly gnawing at me for a few days, and finally gained the strength to take the wind out of my vacation sails. I complained to my Mom about this malaise, and she asked me where it was coming from. After some resistance, followed by reflection, I realized it was coming from some deep-rooted shoulds.

I should know what I want to do with my life coming out of this vacation. I should return to Toronto with a decision on my next life steps. I should know what I want already. It shouldn’t be such a hard decision. I should live a life of impact…

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