Tag Archives: feelings

On uncertainty

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

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

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

5 months ago I was managing a baseball website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I’m trying to remember that:

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

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Unitl next time.

Ambiguously yours,

Tyler

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On searching for a former clarity

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

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

If I could just…If I could just.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time.

Ambiguously yours,

-t

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On Becoming An Adult

April 1st was a bit of a milestone for me, though it likely wasn’t obvious to anyone. I woke up, showered, skipped breakfast and hopped on my bike for the incredibly short ride to work. The elevators don’t become fully operational until 9am, but work starts at 8:30 so I need to exit out the rear elevator doors and swing around to enter the Centre for Social Innovation lounge and greet my team for the day. Outwardly, it will be like every other day I’ve had for the past three months here, but something will be different.

On April 1st, at age 26, I qualify as an adult for the first time.

This of course is based on highly scientific criteria that I created in my mind years ago as to what makes an adult.

  • You own alcohol you do not drink. (Bonus points if you have some sort of hutch where you keep it).
  • You have a dental plan.

I’ve fostered this theory for years, waiting to finally shout my achievement from the rooftops and as I left the unopened bottle of red wine and assortment of random liquor sitting on my counter and headed to work on the fateful Wednesday, I had made it. I started my first consistent full-time job in January and my dental plan kicks in after three months, unknowingly anointing me as a fully- fledged adult. But to be honest, for those of you who haven’t hit this stage in your life yet, it doesn’t feel that different.

Is it handy to have something on hand to offer an unexpected guest upon their arrival? Of course. Is it great to know that if half of my teeth fall out of my mouth I’ll only have to personally cover some of the expenses? Yes, definitely. But despite the years of thought, discussion and refinement that has gone into this anointment, it will pass with little fan fair, for one main reason.

  • It’s bullshit.

As a child, we have all of these perceptions of adulthood and what it consists of. We see these ‘grown-ups’ doing grown-up things and build our perception around the things we see them doing. Adults have fulltime jobs. Adults do their taxes. Adulthood becomes about doing things and therefore we come into our formative years with the belief that once we do these things we’ll feel this magical transition and suddenly it will be upon us.

But then it doesn’t happen and you start hear voices rise up stating that their biggest surprise was that no one knows what they are doing. You begin to see the world as the patchwork of people just like you, and it’s incredibly frightening. You realize that what makes an adult has nothing to do with what the person is doing but rather why they are doing it.

Adulthood is nothing more, and nothing less than reacting to responsibility. I’ve spent the last three years trying to find my way after graduating university, slowly building myself into some semblance of what I thought I saw as a child when I looked up. And I’ve made progress. But the secret that‘s only a secret because it never really soaks in is that even if you have dental, and alcohol you don’t drink, you’re still able to be fucking terrified in the face of something you don’t feel prepared for. Which is a problem, because life is going to keep giving you the responsibility to do these things and the only way to be prepared for something is to do it.

In an adult life you’re scared again and again and slowly, if you’re lucky, you learn to feel this fear, listen to its concerns and carry on. Knowing at the very least, that if life punches you in the teeth, you’re an adult.

Which means you have dental.

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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 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 blank canvases

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post is the 3rd in a series, intended as a space for the various authors and contributors of Embracing Ambiguity to reflect on the past year in each of their lives. 2014 has been a tumultuous year for each writer, from transitions and changes in the physical spaces they live in, to the internal turmoil of life changing decisions.  Each post follows the general prompt of thinking back to where we stood one year prior, and the head space we were in at the time; reflecting on what has brought us to where we are now and the change that has occurred in that 365 days of time. Happy reading and an ambiguous 2015 to you!


A couple days after the 2014 New Years, I found myself at my rented basement suite.  I was pissed.

I had left a couple small items to move out still, back to my parents’ home, but the place was still a disaster, with no sign that my former roommate had come back to help with anything and I wouldn’t be getting my deposit back unless I stayed to finish the job.  It took me a total of 6.5 hours, and even the landlady felt bad and came to check on me to make sure I hadn’t passed out from the fumes from the cleaning products (which was most appreciated).

The immense cleaning session, however, gave me a lot of time to think and reflect.  The majority of which was dedicated to figuring out what my next steps were in the next few weeks; and life in general.

That morning I had received an email from the University telling me that my thesis was accepted, so that was one less thing to worry about, but it also meant I had one less thing to work on, and one more end to school and the regularity and familiarity that had come with it.

This meant that I was moving into a completely new blank space, one that encompassed all aspects of my life.  In some ways, I was moving on and forward with life, but I was also moving back home, so at the same time, it felt like I was taking steps backward. Well now what? I was unemployed, and I hadn’t heard back from the engineering firms and the non-profits that I had sent resumes and cover letters in to.  What about relationships? HA! That is one area that has never worked out either, so no good news there, but nothing that I haven’t been through before.  I literally went into the New Year a complete blank slate, with no direction, no plans, and no clue.

In the end, 2014 has been a year of practicing patience, mostly towards myself.  It was a year of learning, about limits and what I want in my life and of myself.  It was a year of finding direction and forming goals.

I was fortunate enough to get a job, and it was even in the field of my undergraduate education (note: not my graduate program however).  Most days I feel stupid at what I do, and have constantly learned through mistakes, asking lots of questions and listening to the perspectives of coworkers on what they would do.  I am still not 100% confident that my career path is one which I will stick to for the rest of my life, but it is one that I am enjoying presently, and I know if I want to stay in this industry, what directions I want to take or where I want to see myself in the future.  I started saving up my money, and I have been actively looking for a condo to buy and call home to start my adult life anew.  I made wonderful friends this year, and I’ve lost touch with some, but have tried harder to strengthen relationships with others, understanding more that I need these kinds of relationships in my life.  I started realizing how much time I put to work, but not on all these goals and hobbies I had wanted to pursue in years past. Even with actual vacation time to my name for once in my life, I decided not to use them and learned how much I can burn out, and should probably take some time off from time to time and go on adventures and invest back into myself.

From entering 2014, furiously wiping clean of what remained from the year before, I had produced a blank canvas, and I had started putting pencil to paper; sketching and outlining what I wanted to start seeing my life to look like.  The image isn’t totally clear yet, but there are shapes taking form.  It is just a matter of adding colour and seeing if looks right.  Let’s be honest, I’ll probably have to paint over some parts, and redraw lines and maybe even change up the medium.  But it’s a start, and that blank space doesn’t seem as daunting as it once did.

-Jeff

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on friendship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time.

Ambiguously yours,

-t

 

***Addendum***

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

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

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

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

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On owning that ponytail and working that up-do

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

 

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

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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 being left behind

I have a really awkwardly located bike burn from a combination of wet shorts and a hard seat. I eat a lot of pulled pork burritos (no spice, no dairy). I read and reblog articles about gender issues in pop culture on tumblr. You can no longer count the number of freckles on my elbows as a result of afternoons in parks. I find it easier to talk to people who are close enough to touch, and I’ve been using more “I feel” statements… much to my own embarrassment.

You’ll notice that none of this has to do with social justice.

My life was previously a whirlwind of planning, organizing, and coordinating people for money, all for the purpose of eradicating poverty (because you know, “SMART” goals) and today it exists in very singular specific details with no SMART intention in the least.

I was let go just over a month ago. For a while there I could tell you the number of days it had been, but time is much more fluid now and the sharpness of hurt and anger have softened to more of a dull ache. These are potentially indicators that I’m moving on, however the reality is that it is the others, previously my colleagues, who work in social justice who have moved on. Their work hasn’t stopped, their purpose remains the same, and their lives remain stable with income and community.

As I get more and more wrapped up in the minutiae of my every day, I’ve lost touch with the forward motion that is being a part of a social justice organization. I’m not “in it” right now, and with my termination comes the feeling that part of my identity has been stripped from me. Who would have known that this was something to keep up with? That you have to actively work to be a part of this movement each and every day or else you lose touch, and you get left behind?

It’s strange to think of joining a new community of equally as passionate planners, organizers, and coordinators. Strange to think that I have to seek that out, and discover for myself a new way of being “in it”. I question now if its worth running to catch up, or taking some time to enjoy a much slower pace. I don’t know what is going to make me happy, but I do know that there is happiness for me in the details of the day to day. There are worse things to do than apply lotion, eat burritos, read articles, sit in the sun, and talk about my feelings (though I’m still hesitant on that last one) and soon enough there will be even better things to do.

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