Tag Archives: grad school

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 becoming process-oriented

EDITORS NOTE: This blog post is the second 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.

I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately about being process-oriented rather than goal-oriented. About focusing on the journey as opposed to the destination, if you haven’t had your daily dose of bad cliches yet. I’ve been having these conversations because it turns out that I am so utterly and entirely goal-oriented, to the horror of the “ideal self” that I have constructed in my mind of who I ought to be. I want to say outright that I’m not suggesting either one is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. I also don’t mean to dismiss any future goals by trying to be process-oriented. I can have goals (oh honey, do I have goals), but it is whether I can let the process of how I reached them be important, or to continually mount all the pressure and life legitimacy on the precarious “Did I get there?”.

My four month calendar above my desk tells me I am in week three of my two year master’s program. It’s Tuesday. Some people keep a calendar on their desk to keep them organized, and while I wholly intended to use it for that purpose I have to tell myself to use mine as a reality check. How many times have I already freaked my shit about not knowing what I would do my thesis on? About how the end results of my thesis would AFFECT THE WORLD AROUND ME? It is the very onset of my masters (it’s Tuesday of week three, let me remind you), and I am already having discussions or letting comments fly about how I hope it only takes me two years, or how on earth will I get a job with a masters of arts and still no employable skills. I am standing at the beginning, with my gaze solely and intently focused on the very end. I have assumed the middle part will be full of stress, crazy netflix binge watching, and more stress and tears. That is such a crazy thing to do — not only did I predict the course of the next two years, but I predicted a sad and imprisoning two years — that I almost feel the need to repeat it. It is crazy, yet it comes so naturally.

And so, I have been told, I am goal-oriented.

I have recently gone rock climbing only twice, and each time I am excited and cannot wait and then I am rock climbing and I am no longer enjoying it. Something happens. I start a problem (fancy speak for a route up the pegs), and am immediately taken over by thoughts of how in months from now I’ll be so strong; I’ll be so much better than I am now; I’ll be doing way harder ones with less difficulty. I cloud the here and now with thoughts of the future. I completely skip the present moment. I have not gone rock climbing in weeks.

And so, I have been told, I am goal-oriented.

Yesterday I took the bus to school instead of biking. I could have enjoyed the comfort of sitting on my butt, being taken up the big ass hill instead of focusing on breathing and not the burning in my thighs as I struggle to bike up it. I didn’t get a cold or a cough because I forced myself to bike in the cold windy Guelph weather. Yet, I continually reminded myself that “healthy people are active” and if my goal is to be a “healthy person” then I should be riding my bike. I associated this tiny little activity with the grand aspiration of calling myself a Healthy Person.

And so, I have been told, I am goal-oriented.

Slowly, slowly I am trying to learn how to focus on the present moment. To not necessarily focus less on “WILL THIS JOB DEFINE ME” or “WILL THIS MAKE ME THE MOST QUALIFIED EVER” and “WANT. TOP. MARKS”, but to actively incorporate and pay attention to the moments of “Well this is nice” and “mmmm” (four m’s, check it) into my life. To respect my body and my mind and all of their assorted needs, while simultaneously respecting my potential and my future aspirations. To truly believe that if I take the breaks I need, and stimulate the other areas of my brain or hands that thesis writing and computer typing leave wanting, it will enhance all areas of my life.

Thinking about this new ideology is liberating to think that maybe there is hope for me and fun to be had! I am allowed to enjoy the process. I want to enjoy the process. Imma enjoy this process!

This new ideology is also overwhelming because I know change does not come easily, and that I get easily frustrated when I face personal setbacks.

Thinking about this new ideology is even a bit isolating, because it makes me feel like I am working on a whole other full time job on top of my commitments to school. I know everybody has their own shit they are working on and dealing with, but my rational and emotional brain have never liked seeing eye to eye.

And so, I have been told, I can become process-oriented.

-M

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On embracing change

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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On comfort zones and unrealistic self-expectations

I haven’t always been as into social justice as I have been in the last few years of my life.  I mean, I was always curious about it growing up, knowing there was a lot I didn’t really understand.  I ate up a lot of the targeted advertising and skewed perceptions that media provided.  I dabbled in some social justice activities in high school, joining our tiny Amnesty International chapter, doing the 30-Hour Famine challenge (which I cheated I admit… I know…I’m a bad human being), and taking part in my friends’ initiatives to hold mini-conferences for junior high students on issues dealing with prejudice.

It wasn’t until halfway through my undergraduate degree in environmental engineering, that I was finally convinced by some amazing classmates and friends, to get more involved in Engineers Without Borders.  This is when I think I truly found an appreciation for social justice.  I found it empowering!  I was surrounded by so many remarkable individuals who shared this immense passion for disassembling and fighting against the numerous inequalities and injustices in this crazy world!

But by the last year of my undergraduate career, I found myself in a crisis.  What do I do now?  I’ve always been “good” at school.  Now that I was nearing graduation, I didn’t know what to do.  I’ve always been told what the next steps were, what I should be doing next, but things were changing, and changing fast.  It was finally up to me to decide the next chapter in my life.  I was mortified! Shit! I’m not ready for the “real world”! Fuck, I’m screwed.  I’m just sitting there, mindlessly busying myself, whereas my friends were actually looking for jobs and doing other adult things.

At the time, I was also getting deeper and deeper into this world of social justice and human development.  I didn’t want to give that up; I didn’t want to give up that family and network I slowly got to be a part of.

Then one of my professors said that she and one of my favourite professors were looking for a student to do some graduate level research projects.  I immediately jumped on that opportunity, and started the process of meeting with the professors and applying for graduate studies and scholarships.  It gave me a chance to stay in my comfortable bubble and stick with my EWB family.  I started applying for exec positions in our chapter and going on all the EWB things that I missed out on through my first 4 years of University.

The first 6 months of grad school went by, and I started going down this dark and dank rabbit hole.  I underestimated how difficult grad school was going to be; how its structure was so non-existent and something I wasn’t used to.  I also started struggling with finding meaning and purpose in my research.  I wanted so much to have my research project actually mean something; to have some strong social implication and actually help people.  I was slowly poisoning myself with my ridiculous expectations.  I even joined a third lab group, put myself in a graduate level class that I had no business being in, and worst of all, willing to compromise my personal and professional boundaries. I was becoming so depressed and down on myself that I had friends suggest that I should probably just quit, which hurt me, because I’m not a quitter.  I had pride myself on finishing what I started, and doing a decent job at it.

I was very fortunate however, to have two very supportive supervisors that could tell something wasn’t right with me.  A few personal meetings, an awkward break up email with that third professor, a winter break not knowing what I was going to do for a thesis, a trip to beautiful Montreal with friends and an amazing EWB conference in Ottawa later, things began to clear up.  That time off and realization to step back was the best thing to happen to me!  I could think clearly again, and figured out that I can challenge myself in realms I was still comfortable with, but was still forced to learn new things and that I can still make a difference, but in my own way.

A year and a half later, I’m rounding up my final bits of my project and writing my thesis; a thesis to be proud of and one that I saw a lot of personal growth from. Sure there were speed bumps and sinkholes along the way.  But that can be shared another day.

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