Tag Archives: Charities

On uncertainty

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

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

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

5 months ago I was managing a baseball website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I’m trying to remember that:

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

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Unitl next time.

Ambiguously yours,

Tyler

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On searching for a former clarity

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

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

If I could just…If I could just.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time.

Ambiguously yours,

-t

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on the road to el dorado

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post is the 7th in a series, intended as a space for the various authors and contributors of Embracing Ambiguity to reflect on the past year in each of their lives. 2014 has been a tumultuous year for each writer, from transitions and changes in the physical spaces they live in, to the internal turmoil of life changing decisions.  Each post follows the general prompt of thinking back to where we stood one year prior, and the head space we were in at the time; reflecting on what has brought us to where we are now and the change that has occurred in that 365 days of time. Happy reading and an ambiguous 2015 to you! 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So shake him off, oh whoa

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

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

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

Oh whoa.

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

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

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

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

Ilgner goes on to say that:

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

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

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

#RookieMistake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cause looking for heaven found the devil in me

Looking for heaven found the devil in me

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

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On the way we think about non-profits

I am overhead.

If you work for any non-profit organization, it is guaranteed that one of the top 5 questions you have to answer relates to your admin costs. This question comes in various forms. The educated: “Tell me more about your organization’s funding structure.” The blunt: “So how much money ACTUALLY gets spent where its needed?” And the downright offensive: “How much do you make doing THAT?”

I also spend a lot of time fielding other ridiculous questions (“Does your CEO ride in her own private jet?”) and ridiculous statements (“I don’t donate because your organization funds abortions!”).  But admin costs are the biggie. Every year prior to our big fundraising push, an anonymous email circulates throughout our city, literately titled, “The Best and Worse Charities!”

Aside from featuring a truly remarkable abomination of the concepts of spelling and punctuation, the email is also one of those that remarks plaintively that 99% of people won’t forward it, which, in my opinion, is probably the only accurate statistic in the whole message.

It also has the nerve to call organizations that purportedly pay their executives a competitive wage “offenders”:

“Keep these facts in mind when “donating”. As you open your pockets for yet another natural disaster, keep the following facts in mind; we have listed them from the highest (worse paid offender) to the lowest (least paid offender).”

Honestly, I’m SICK AND TIRED of this attitude. And no, I’m not sick and tired because I sacrifice all of my worldly possessions, health, and sanity to help people by working in a non-profit. I have GREAT health care and benefits; my employer sees to that. I have had amazing training, experiences, and treatment because my workplace sees me as an asset, one which if invested in can bring back exponentially more to the organization, and subsequently, to those we serve.

Why is it that a millionaire who gained his wealth at the expense of others can be lauded as a philanthropist for making a charitable contribution to an organization, but a social worker at that organization who makes in a year what the millionaire makes in a few days can be criticized for even having a salary? Surely anyone who sets out the majority of their adult life to help those in need shouldn’t be rewarded! Surely there should be no incentive other than martyrdom to do this kind of work!

We need a paradigm shift. We need to start investing in non-profit the way we would invest in a business. We need to change the rules of the game so that there is incentive for the industry of helping humanity to grow and to innovate. Nobody makes this argument more succinctly and more convincingly than Dan Pallotta, who can be seen here in a TED Talk entitled “ The way we think about charity is dead wrong.”

If you have, do, or will ever give money to a charitable cause, I strongly encourage and downright urge you to watch this video. Watch this video, and read everything you can get your hands on about your organization of choice. And before your open your mouth, read the organization’s latest Annual Report. In its entirety, including the financials. If you want to invest your dollars – because truly, donating to a charitable cause is exactly that, investing in our collective future – you need to be just as informed as if you were making a business decision.

With this new attitude and in-depth knowledge, you will be equipped to invest your money in something you believe in. And believe me, the staff of that organization will love you for it.

 

P.S. Still don’t believe me? Read this article.

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