Tag Archives: failure

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 focus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The answer, I think, is fear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe that’s what I need to change.

I’m still working on figuring that out.

 

Until next time.

Ambiguously yours,

-t

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On 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.”

IM

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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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 the road to el dorado

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So shake him off, oh whoa

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

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

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

Oh whoa.

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

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

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

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

Ilgner goes on to say that:

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

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

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

#RookieMistake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cause looking for heaven found the devil in me

Looking for heaven found the devil in me

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

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on photosynthesis

Sometimes life throws you curveballs.

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

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

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

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

Ambiguity.

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

Ambiguity.

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

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

Ambiguity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so it feels like I’ve lost something.

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

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

And so I worry that I’ve lost something.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Until next time.

Ambiguously yours,

-t

 

 

 

 

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On choice and consequence

EDITORS NOTE: This blog post is the fourth in a series intended to celebrate Embracing Ambiguity reaching the 50 post milestone. Embracing Ambiguity received an email in response to a recent post, that asked a lot of great and challenging questions. In celebration of Embracing Ambiguity’s milestone, various authors will be responding to these questions over the next week. In general, the theme is (roughly) “making the decisions that will impact EVERYTHING” and “the narratives we tell ourselves about what we’re doing, why and how we feel about it.” It is left to each author to choose how closely they reference / stick to these (and other) prompts. We’re excited to see what they come up with. If you like what you read, share it on Facebook and Twitter and help #EmbAmb increase its reach. Happy reading.

 


 

From this week’s prompt: How do we make the decisions that will impact EVERYTHING?! What if, at the end of the day, the “right thing” is bullshit, and it’s really just about the narrative you tell yourself about what you’re doing, why and how you feel about it? What if it’s as dumb and basic as fucking rephrasing it? How do we ever know anything if it’s as easy as telling yourself that one thing is right and another is wrong?

 

…So, it was a nice, light email for a Tuesday afternoon. I was sitting at my desk at work when it landed at the top of my inbox. Anna, in her characteristic way, had managed to cut to the heart of my recent blog post, and ask all the right questions. The effect of which, this time, was to send me into a tailspin of self-doubt and uncertainty. Thaaaanks Anna.  (<3)

Though it was unknown to her at the time, the email – and the flood of thoughts, questions and panic that followed – was coming on the heels of a rather large, relevant, terrifying and sudden life event: at the end of the month I would no longer be employed.

Part my choice, part a sped up decision to reflect the needs and desires of my team and organization, the life shift meant that, once again, I would be floating into the void of decision making, fear, uncertainty and ambiguity that I have, in past, referred to as the black hole.

Like many people my age, I have never been particularly comfortable with uncertainty (if this blog was any clue…). Raised through an education system that mercilessly pushes you toward “success” (read: good grades, the “academic” stream, a university education), I have become engulfed by this idea of “working it all out.” And how could I not be?

After all, grade school was never particularly challenging and so it was always made clear – by teachers, peers and guidance counsellors – that the “academic” stream in high school was the place for me. When I continued to excel in secondary school, University was the next logical step – I wouldn’t want to “throw away” my grades and potential, after all.

On top of this, I was – on a daily basis and like pretty much everyone around me – fed the lie that university education = job = stability = “it all worked out” = university education, etc.

As logic dictated, I went to university after graduating high school and after grinding my way through four meaningless years (from an education point of view) I graduated that, too. I was, then, somewhat surprised by the discovery that no one gave two shits about my major in Peace and Conflict Studies (But it’s from the Munk School of Global Affairs!! He cried, to no one in particular).

And so, I have never been particularly comfortable with uncertainty. The exact opposite has been drilled into my head consistently, since the day I successfully printed my name from left to right. I grew up on a straight path with one start and end point (education -> career). Is it any wonder that now, finding myself amid a large, open field, I was at a loss?

Compounding all of this, is the fact that I have always held my values close to my chest. The result is an, at times, paralyzing amount of thought that goes into even the smallest of life decisions. Is this really what I want? Is this the kind of impact I want to be having? Is it enough? Am I really happy?

You can see, perhaps, how the combination of these two things may act as a recipe for ambiguity (lollll).

All of this is just to say, that as I sat and digested my 28 days and counting of employment, as I pondered all of this yet again and considered just WHAT the hell I was going to do with my life, Anna’s questions struck something of a chord.

It’s this idea of “the narrative we tell ourselves” in particular, that stuck.

As someone interested and experienced in storytelling, the idea of narrative is one that is often on my mind. In response to Anna’s questions, I began to consider my own narrative – the one I tell myself about the world and the place I occupy within it. Some of this will be familiar to those of you who read my last post, but:

I very strongly believe that life should be filled with meaning. Within that, I believe that life is meant to be lived for other people, and in doing so, my aim is to leave behind more than I take. I want to live my life in service of this planet and these people and I’m terrified of complacency and settling for something that “pays the bills” and nothing more. I want to change the world. Or, at very least (and more realistically), the tiny fraction of it which I occupy. Failing that, I want to go out knowing that, if nothing else, I fucking tried. Because I’d rather be wrong and moving than right and stationary.

And maybe I am very full of myself in saying that. Maybe I’m giving into an inflated sense of self importance. Maybe it is (it definitely is) a privileged thing to even have the ability to say. And maybe, it’s all for not. Maybe, it is, as Tim Minchin once said in a commencement address:

“I think it’s absurd: the idea of seeking meaning in the set of circumstances that happen to exist after 13.8 billion years’ worth of unguided events. Leave it to humans to think the universe has a purpose for them.”

Even if you don’t ascribe to such an extreme view, maybe, it is, as Anna says:

“What if at the end of the day, the “right thing” is bullshit and it’s really just about the narrative we tell ourselves about what we’re doing, why and how we feel about it?”

OR MAYBE, it is, as another friend, Sarah, recently said to me:

“I don’t believe in right and wrong and good or bad, I believe in choice and consequence.”

If I’m choosing sides and swearing fealty, it’s in somewhere in between these last two bits of wisdom that my allegiance lies.

Because the “right thing” has to matter. It has to. Life is too damn short and too damn precious and people are too damn great and the world is too fucking awe-inspiring for it not to matter. It has too.

Because for all of our shittiness and intolerance and absurdity and injustice, humanity is – for all intents and purposes – pretty fucking beautiful. And sure, it needs a little poking and a little direction every now and again (read: pretty constantly). It sure as hell is not perfect. And it never will be. But it is, and can be, so much.

And maybe I’ve naïve as all fuck to think that I can alter anything, but if in my 90 some odd years in this body on this planet I manage to inspire, affect or alter one person – hell, one moment in time – I’ll consider it 90 years well spent.

So it has to matter. It has too.

Because if the “right thing” is bullshit, and if it is just about the narrative we tell ourselves about what we’re doing, why and how we feel about it, if it is as dumb and basic as fucking rephrasing it, then my narrative – the thing I choose to tell myself – is that it does matter.

I won’t, and can’t, believe anything else.

Because it has too. If I get to consciously decide what has meaning, then I choose this life and the decisions that impact EVERYTHING. I choose my actions. I choose working hard day in and day out for whatever I’ve naively decided in that moment, day, month or year is the “greater good.” I choose saying fuck you to a life of complacency, comfort and routine – to a job that is misaligned from the values I hold dear. I choose the path that is uncertain, difficult, stressful and, at times, emotionally exhausting – it will be my reminder that I’m doing something that truly matters to me, if no one else.

Because it has to. The “right thing” can’t be bullshit. It can’t. Because “choice and consequence.” Because if it is, what’s the alternative?

For all its beauty, this world is also one of poverty, injustice, war, sexism, racism, systemic inequality, animal abuse, child abuse, rampant exploitation, environmental degradation, climate change – pick your fucking issue – in the world of all this…shit, what’s the alternative?

For all those wide eyed University frosh with dreams of “changing the world,” for all those who mature and learn and grow and become leaders through the Oxfams and the Amnestys and the War Childs and the UNICEFs of the world, what’s the alternative to unending, youthful optimism, hope, and the pursuit of meaning? The pursuit of the “right thing?”

I can’t accept that the “right thing” doesn’t matter – that there isn’t a choice to be made – because I can’t accept the alternative. Because the alternative is one of complacency and complicity in all that is wrong and needs changing in the world. Choice and consequence. It has to matter.

Because for everything I said above, it still holds true that life is too damn short and too damn precious and people are too damn great and the world is too fucking awe-inspiring for it not to matter. To quote my friend Sarah, once again:

 

“How could a person not just be totally floored by everything??”

And I’m not saying that any of this makes the hard, complicated, stressful, shitty and unending process of “figuring it out” any easier – my naiveté only extends so far – I’m just saying that it gives you a reason to do it.

Because it has to matter.

 

Until next time.

Ambiguously yours,

-t

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On people

EDITORS NOTE: This blog post is the third in a series, intended to celebrate Embracing Ambiguity reaching the 50 post milestone. If you haven’t already, you should definitely scroll down to see the first post by Jeff. Embracing Ambiguity recently received an email response to a post that asked a lot of great and challenging questions. In celebration of Embracing Ambiguity’s milestone, various authors will be responding to these questions over the next week. In general, the theme is (roughly) “making the decisions that will IMPACT EVERYTHING”, and  “the narratives we tell ourselves about what we’re doing, why and how we feel about it”. It is left to each author to choose how closely they reference / stick to these original prompts. We’re excited to see what they come up with. If you like what you read, share it on Facebook and Twitter and help #EmbAmb increase it’s reach. Happy reading.

—–

This story takes place in many places.

It takes place on the streets of Brooklyn, as I am sprinting down a sidewalk I’d never before been. It takes place in a back alley, as I frantically try to clean. It takes place on the bar stool, as disco lights and billiard balls flash behind me. It takes place on the perfect blue chair, as I sit, listening to a story.

It takes place on the third floor of my office building, as I sip wine to a slow realization.

But due to the usefulness of following some form of chronological order I shall start with the chair.

I’m at home, a few weeks out. I swivel slowly on a chair left here by my sister. It’s blue, feels a little like corduroy, and is possibly the most comfortable thing you’ll ever sit on. I’m listening to a few friends tell stories we had written, and I am suddenly hit with a feeling that I can’t quite place.

I’m on the third floor of the building, in meeting room three. It’s still a mess, shirts scattered, paper still stuck to the desks, large now empty cardboard boxes sit to the side of the room. My plan was always to do this, and really, it was for the most part working. But I hadn’t truly anticipated the scope, and there were holes. I’d already patched a few thanks to the help of enterprising participants watching the doors and guiding people, but the biggest was out on the cement of the back alley. I trapped someone in the room with the promise I’d return and near sprinted to find that my anxiety was for nothing. They had done everything already, I could return to the mess. That night, as I sat sleeplessly staring out the bus window, I came back to the feeling I’d had on the chair.

I’m on the twelfth floor of a commercial complex in Koreatown, Manhattan. I sip my just larger than a shot glass of apple-sour soju. The laser based lighting system, and thumping pop music colour what would otherwise be a relatively expensive billiards club. I’m with four friends, three of whom I’ve been friends with for over six years and none of whom I’ve seen five times this year. But that doesn’t matter.

I’m on Felton Avenue, Brooklyn, demanding if my phone can see someone who’s running like a fucking maniac. Shortly before this moment, I had sworn at him. Shortly before that I had took off, away from the buses that had now become the ticking clock to something I just didn’t want to believe I would have to deal with. He could have been stubborn, he could have taken offense to my tone, but when he heard the panic in my voice when I told my phone that it needed to run, he ran. As we sit side by side in silence, the rain pattering against the bus windows, I think of how rare this relationship is.

I’m on an old zebra pattern chair in an office well above my pay grade. I pick the wine off the carpet to poor myself a second glass of the cheapest red the closest store sells. I’ve come here for practice after a day of working from home. I had arrived unsettled but as conversation flowed I sat back, and thought of advice a friend had once relayed to me: “Find the things in that make the world make sense”.

And I found myself, disagreeing.

For me at least, there was nothing I could do that would make the world make sense.

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

During the march, between the laser billiards and Brooklyn sprints, there were four men in costume and a sign.

“Butterflies against the end of the world”.

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on learning about, and from, failure

The other day I caught myself saying, “when I left my job” instead of “when I was laid off”. This week marks the one year anniversary of that event, and it’s remarkable how much my narrative about it has changed.

For a long time shame held me back from candidly talking about my unemployment; a shame born out of a fear that I had somehow failed. After all of those long hours, sleepless nights, heart and soul conversations about money and change and potential and better worlds, why was I let go? It must have been because I was too critical. I didn’t deliver. I wasn’t good enough. For a long time I waded through neck deep amounts of internalized failure shit, and I thought awful things about what it meant to be laid off (but really what it meant to be a person).

In January I started working on a conference about failure, in particular how to build a productive relationship with failure. I took on the social media role and spent near every day reading other people’s 140 character insights on what it meant to fail forward, scoured blogs for content, and tried to  sell people on why they should attend a day long event on failure. While I in no way planned for this to help me out of my internal failure funk, it did, because there is something powerful in surrounding yourself in the thing you want to avoid the most.

I found myself in the midst of a community of admitted failures who were brave enough to move beyond their emotional response to failure (shame, and all of the baggage that it brings) to pinpoint what went wrong, and how they were involved. A decisive resolve to own your failure helps to shed some of the negative hangers on of it – like assuming the whole thing is your fault, or taking it personally when it’s not intended to be.

At the same time a coworker noted how few things seemed to ruffle my feathers and I joked that being laid off helped me find my zen place, but really I had begun to differentiate between small f and big F failure, or as I think of them, oops and oh shit moments. An oops is forgetting a sign at the office on your way to an event, or not putting the toilet seat down in the communal bathroom. They are mistakes that maybe it would be best not make again. An oh shit is sending out an e-mail from your boss’ personal account to the VIP mailing list without clearing it with her first. Here there’s an opportunity for a revised external communications process, with room for a certain someone (me) to ask better clarifying questions about work tasks. My zen developed from being able to shrug off the oops’, and try to learn from the oh shits (though at the time, nothing else hurt more than the layoff, so to some extent I was still shrugging off the oh shits).

Two weeks ago we hosted the failure conference and I was blown away by how excited the participants were to talk about failure. Personal, professional, it didn’t matter – they dove in to conversations about failure like they had found an oasis in the desert. They wanted to take on the challenge of learning both about and from failure. They wanted to move forward, fully recognizing what had gone wrong, with the intention to do it differently the next time. They inspired me.

One year out from my layoff and I’ve had 5 contracts, planned, or helped to plan, 14 events for 20 to 700 people, but the failure conference has by far been the most rewarding. Today if you were to ask me about failure I would proudly share all the things I’ve learned from that work. Today I say “when I left” because it doesn’t matter now that I was laid off. That’s not what defines who I am, or the work I do. Losing that job remains one of the more painful things that has happened to me, but like any other failure (either mine or someone else’s) what matters most is how I learn from it.

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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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