Tag Archives: dreams

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 Numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Jeff

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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 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.”

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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.

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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 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 Transitioning to Real People Life (Pt. 3)

It started back in December of 2012. I can distinctly remember sitting in a café in Toronto; my good friend Anna was there and we were in front of a window. I was unloading all of my recent stresses and Anna was doing her best to ensure me that my life was not, in fact, falling apart at the seams (looking back, the number of times that this scenario has played itself out is alarming…).

Normally, Anna is able to talk some sense into my terrified, overly critical and self doubting brain, but on that day there was just too much going on. If you have been following my series of posts (“On Transitioning to Real People Life”) you’ll know that I had a somewhat (read: entirely) terrible University experience. I spent much of it freaking out about what I wanted to do, and never felt truly attached to or passionate about anything that I was studying.

BUT THEN! I found a home in social justice and videography. In doing so, a lot of my uncertainty disappeared. I still didn’t know exactly what I was going to do, or how I was going to do it…or how I’d know when I had, in fact, “done it”, but I did know that I wanted whatever “it” was to involve video.

What brought me to pouring out my stresses over coffee on that December morning, however, was the disappearance of even that small certainty.

See, I’d started to question myself. Did I really want to do video? That’s what I had been telling people for two years, but it seemed as though I was only doing enough to be able to keep on saying that. If I really wanted to “do video”, why wasn’t I out entering film contests, connecting with the Toronto film community, or even showing much interest the various film and documentary festivals Toronto is blessed with?

I had also begun to question if video was actually my value add. I was (if I may say) moderately talented, but when I looked at the landscape of “people doing video work” there were also plenty of others who were much more talented. Sure, I could improve – but I questioned if there wasn’t some other skill I could be leveraging, to greater effect, to achieve the kind of change I wanted to be contributing to.

All of those things would stay in my mind over the next couple months; slowly stewing like fine borscht (do you even stew borscht? I should really research my metaphors before committing to them). In January, however, after watching a Ted Talk from Jacqueline Novogratz (of Acumen Fund), the elements came together in a flash…in my mouth (cause they’re stew, remember!).

The Ted Talk was about a single mother named Jane that Jacqueline had met while in a slum in Nairobi. What really stuck in my brain after watching it was this one part (this is Jacqueline, paraphrasing Jane):

My dreams didn’t look exactly like I thought they would when I was a little girl. I thought that I wanted a husband but what I really wanted was a family, and I love my two children fiercely. And I thought that I wanted to be a nurse, but what I really wanted to do was to serve…

(You should watch the whole talk some time – for context, but also just because it is great).

I was thinking about this while sitting in a strategic planning meeting at Engineers without Borders when it hit me like the flash of a light bulb (which is ironic, given EWB’s logo).

I thought that what I wanted was to “do video”, but sitting there in my own little world, in the middle of a meeting, I realized that what I really wanted to do, was to tell stories.

Thus, The Storytelling Project was born…kind of. I spent the rest of that meeting furiously scribbling down notes, thoughts and ideas. I began going over all of the video work that I had done in the last couple years – work that, at the time, I hadn’t thought twice about. The creative thought process around video planning and editing had always been a near instantaneous one for me; I just knew what to do instinctively, and so was never very conscious about why I was doing the things I was doing.

Looking back in that moment, however, I began to notice that there were, in fact, clear and distinct reasons, ideas and philosophies behind the creative decisions I had been making around videos; around storytelling. It was a fascinating process. A conscious exploration of previously unconscious thoughts. Over the next couple of weeks I would develop these thoughts further, forming everything from the vision of the project, to ideas around how the actual storytelling process with people would work.

Instead of sharing those lovely details here, though…

I instead (very excitedly) invite you to check out my newly launched website for The Storytelling Project. On it, you’ll find my first story and a write-up of working through that process. Ambiguity abounds.

www.thestorytellingproject.ca

So as you can see, exciting things are happening. Some of the most exciting things that I’ve been involved with in…ever. But, that doesn’t mean that the ambiguity is gone. Next week I’ll share some of the fun questions I have been dealing with most recently.

 

Until then.

Ambiguously yours,

-t

 

Ps. Moral of the story: Not that I (by any means) have things “worked out”, but I think that what this story points to is the fact that things do, eventually, work themselves out. I know that I’m not there yet but it feels like I am, at very least, beginning to move down the correct path. It’s a long, treacherous, scary and booby-trap laden path, but at least it’s a path.

It is sometimes hard to remember that life is not, in fact, falling apart at the seams. But perhaps we don’t have to remember that. Perhaps we just have to hold the seams together long enough to reach a tailor.

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