Tag Archives: growth

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 two years

If two years ago you had asked me, “What will you be doing two years from now?” I would have told you, “That’s the dumbest question I’ve ever heard.”

Between the barren job landscape and my terrified, just-graduated self, I would’ve had an easier time telling you the 2041 Oscar winner for Best Picture (my money is on a biopic about the guy who invented the Cinnabon).

If two years ago you had, instead, told me that two years from now I’d still be operating Embracing Ambiguity…I probably wouldn’t have believed you. And not because I don’t think that the blog is worthwhile, or founded on a solid idea, but because, well…who doesn’t have a blog?! Prior to starting #EmbAmb, I myself had started two different blogs, which, cumulatively, lasted for three weeks.

So, I didn’t expect much. But the idea caught hold and some others jumped on board, and the little blog that might just kept on coulding. And here we are, 2 years, 11 authors, 68 posts, 98 followers, 1 Facebook page and a whole lot of uncertainty later.

It has been a pretty wild ride, and I’ve been honoured to share this outlet with a number of good friends, and to have it read and followed by a whole host of others.

I think that the blog’s success owes to the fact that we’re all just little fish, floating along in the large and often terrifying sea of young adulthood. Whether you’re a writer, a vocal supporter or a casual lurker of the content that has filled these digital pages over the last 730 days, I think the one thing that everyone walks away with is a shared sense of “huh…so I’m not alone in all this.” And I think that’s key.

I have valued this outlet and this experience more than words can describe, and so I won’t bother trying. Instead, I’ll let the blog keep doing its thing, and keep on coulding. Hopefully it will for years to come. #sixseasonsandamovie

To celebrate our two year anniversary, the EmbAmb writers have decided to write a series of posts about the idea of adulthood, and what it means to them.

This is something I have addressed a fair bit recently. In thinking about the idea for this specific series, I’ve had some additional thoughts that I have chronicled below.

For two-years-ago me – freshly graduated and trying desperately to figure out just what it was I was doing with this thing we call life – adulthood was the panacea to all life’s problems. It was the thing at the end of the terrifying rainbow of young adulthood. It was the thing I was chasing. I was Indiana Jones and it was my Ark of the Covenant. It was…well, you get it.

I didn’t know what I was doing or where I was going or how I’d know when I had gotten there, but I could take comfort in knowing that somewhere out there, was adulthood. And I’d eventually have it. And it would be great.

I couldn’t really define it, I just knew it would come when the pictures on my walls acquired frames, when I had a permanent alcohol collection, and dental. And when I could drop $14 on a cocktail without thinking. You know, all the classic signs that you’ve made it.

In a lot of ways, adulthood was like this blog– a coping mechanism. It was a promise of certainty that I could look to, in a world that seemed to offer anything but.

Over the last two years I’ve realized that adulthood doesn’t exist. At least, not in any tangible, quantifiable sense. Because I may not have a liquor collection, or dental, but yesterday I filed my taxes and made a fancy ass breakfast that was not Sugar Crisp and I’d defy you to try and tell me I’m not an adult just because I also spent a couple hours curled up in a ball of anxiety, and ate a bowl of popcorn for lunch.

And I still don’t know what I’m doing or where I’m going or how I’ll know when I’ve gotten there, but it also doesn’t matter. That’s not to say that I don’t have days with stress or anxiety over money or work or whatever – I do – but I don’t think that I have nearly the same anxiety ridden preoccupation with checking off a bunch of theoretical boxes on the “ARE YOU AN ADULT” checklist.

What I’m saying is, if the concept of adulthood is a coping mechanism, then like all coping mechanisms, you lean on it when you need it, and forget about it when you don’t.

Two years ago I was in a world where my every move was more or less planned out for me, where my worth was determined by my ability to regurgitate information on command, and where the mysterious force known as OSAP made sure I didn’t have to worry about how I’d make rent or fill the fridge while trying to stay afloat of essays and readings. After a sudden and violent transition, I found myself in a world where I faced $40,000 in debt, where my next step was wholly and completely up to me, and where no one no longer gave a flying fuck about why Napoleon’s invasion of Russia didn’t succeed.

I was a tiny fish floating in a large and terrifying ocean and so grabbed hold of the one thing that I thought would carry me to safety – this idea that one day, it would all be ok. One day, I’d be an adult.

Two years later, the ocean is still large and terrifying, but I’m no longer a tiny fish. I’m a badass mother fuckin’ octopus, and I can hold my own. So screw adulthood. $14 cocktails are for suckers, anyway.

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 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 the always, ever changing

EDITORS NOTE: This blog post is the first in a series, intended to celebrate Embracing Ambiguity reaching the 50 post milestone. In response to a recent post, Embracing Ambiguity received an email response that asked a lot of great and challenging questions. To celebrate a year and a half of existence, and our 50th post, 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.

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As the new year rung in for 2014, I was happy that my masters was behind me, and that in a few days, I would be reunited with amazing friends and helping run a conference in Toronto for approximately 800 people (the result of 8 months of working remotely with remarkable people).  I told myself that I would take things seriously after the conference was over.  I had already moved back in with my parents for two weeks at this point, and I had decided that I wouldn’t worry about looking for work until the dust settled from the conference and I had time to breathe again.  Who would be hiring during this time anyways? Everyone is too busy stuffing their faces, enjoying the company of friends and family.  Who would have time to care about what a fledgling engineer-in-training was thinking about in regards to careers and what to do with their life right?

After I came home, I muddled around, sending one or two resumes out a week, but mostly read, played video games, and went to yoga every day.  And then I miraculously stumbled into a job, thanks to my friend’s connection.  I’ve been working that same job for just over half a year now.  It wasn’t work that I thought I’d be working in when I first got out of school, but somewhat related to what I studied (in my undergrad at least).  Now that I’ve worked this long at my job, I’ve been asked several times how I like it.  My best answer?

“Well I don’t loooooooooooooooooove it… but I don’t hate it either…  I guess I’m content.”

I thought for the longest time, that I would only really enjoy working if I loved it.  If I felt like I was making a difference in the world. And everything I did at work aligned with all my values and beliefs.  That ultimately dictated the direction of where and what kind of jobs I was applying to during my funemployment phase.  It also dictated a lot of emotions and frustrations I was feeling during my first couple of months of employment.

Over the next few months, and allowing myself to have more patience, to open up, to talk more and converse with coworkers and to build actual relationships there, I’ve realized a few key things.

  • No, this job is not my ideal job. I don’t know if I actually know what that ideal job is for myself yet.  But I am also just starting out, and no one is going to take me seriously or give me any credibility with no experience and such marginal understanding of how things work if I only looked for these ideal job opportunities.  They simply do not exist for people as junior as me, even if I arrogantly think I have what it takes, and so desperately want it.

 

  • I am not powerless, however. I do have a say in shaping my own direction and path.  Right now, my responsibility and goal is to learn.  Simple as that.  I am here to learn and gain experience and it is then that I can start finding opportunities to grow and improve.  It is with this new knowledge that I grow, that I can start seeing where I can and want to go and to direct myself in those directions.

 

  • Famously reminded to me by a coworker friend on a near constant basis, as he is seeing signs that I’m burning out and overworking, that we should “Work to Live, not Live to Work”. Work cannot fulfill all aspects in life, and it shouldn’t have to.  It does allow me to practice my problem solving, team work, and technical skills.  It does not, unfortunately, allow me to truly practice my interests in environmental sustainability (arguably it can be counterproductive to this point), or other social justice issues of international development or gender equality, mental health awareness, or leadership building and youth engagement.  But the interesting thing is it does provide me the opportunities to do so.  I can afford to attend conference, talks, and even certification programs in any of the above.  My job has provided benefits towards maintaining a healthier lifestyle if I so choose.  And it even has team building events geared towards doing volunteer work together in our local community.

 

  • I have been reminded once again, how important relationships are to me. Over the past 6 months, I’ve been able to make some great friends at work that I truly enjoy the company of at and outside of work.  I work with a great team, and we’ve gotten to the point where amidst frustrating scenarios at work, we can laugh and joke.  I even like working with my boss.  How many people can say they like their boss, and working with them?  I am very fortunate to have come across these amazing people, and if I were to decide it was time to leave, the hardest part would not be the pay or benefits, but to have to say goodbye to these great people.

Do I necessarily see myself working this same job 5 to 10 years down the road? I can’t really say, it could go both ways.  I honestly have no clue.  What about 2 years from now? Who knows?  If I’ve learned anything in my early 20s and adulthood, it is that a lot can change and happen in a short amount of time.

Is this job the right job for me? Once again, I do not know.  But, for now, in the present moment, it feels right.  6 months from now, it still might feel right, 1 year, still right, 5 years, maybe it still feels right.  But until it feels wrong, there isn’t much for me to worry about and to have to take action against.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t any excuse to be complacent.  I still need to keep on my toes and find opportunities to improve and seek those clues that might take me on a grander adventure, one that will provide me greater challenges and enjoyment.  Things will always be ever changing for me, and if you stop and talk and listen, it is always ever changing for everyone else too.  No stint of work, no matter how short or long is a waste. It is a learning opportunity, each one being a directory guide on the long hiking trail, helping me decide which direction to pursue.  And you know what? I may not end up at a final destination where THE ULTIMATE MEGA JOB has been waiting for me to get to.  It will actually probably lead me back to the beginning where I get a good laugh at my work life, and I then discover the joys of retirement and being a bratty old man.  But as long as I am learning, and gaining and fulfilling some aspects of my life at my job, I will stick with it, and when the time comes where my position fails to provide me with those opportunities I seek, then it just means that it is time to move on.  But time is not now.  Although I am sure that time will come, as the time for all things will eventually come.  For now, things feel right.

-Jeffieku

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On lettuce

If you asked me last year, or even last week, if I thought I would ever find myself contemplating eating an entire head of plain lettuce I’m quite certain my answer would be no.

In fact, if you had asked me to make three statements of things I knew for sure about my life I believe they would be in order: I will get married, I will have a fulfilling job and I will never eat an entire head of plain lettuce.

I mean I don’t even really buy lettuce, and regardless salads are pretty easy. So why would I ever do this? If you had asked me then, I would have said I wouldn’t.

Just in the same way I know that I will get married. I love people, I’m good at relationships, it’s shown itself to be the case that at least some people can love me. So eventually those stars will align. That is pretty obvious I feel.

The bottom line is that lettuce just isn’t enough by itself. And it is only once you find yourself staring at the pile of chopped lettuce on your cutting board that you think…maybe. I mean, what other options are there? I didn’t plan for this, I just sort of stumbled into it and now it’s here and I don’t know what to do with it.

It is the dead end job of foods.

I try a bite. It really isn’t that good. In fact, I’d argue it’s bad, but I’m not in a position to complain. I came home knowing what was here. But the rain, but the broken bike, but faint hope that Tyler might be home to save me from myself, but every excuse in the book.

It’s only as I begin to shove large chunks of it down my throat while washing it down with a beer I don’t like because I bought it for someone else that I fully realize that I have only done this to myself. I could have acted differently, I could have avoided this, but I didn’t. And now I see that each of my minute decisions over the past few days, weeks, months have lead me to this place. Every time I was too lazy to stop on the grocery story, not checking ahead to find out if we had onions, entertaining the idea of eating it in the first place. It was all me.

This is my personal nightmare.

The only thing I fear more than a life that ends too early is one that extends long enough for me to know for certain that I have wasted it. I have an odd skill for deluding myself. An odd talent for accepting what is in front of me as what was always going to be.

I toss a bit of the lettuce into a pan with vague plans to fry it with something but I still continue to munch away on what cannot fit. I guess this is just where I am in life.

I finish the lettuce.

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On Changing Course and Being Happy

I’ve been trying to write this for a while. And by trying to write, I mean it’s been running in my head over and and over again. Words fly by in a whiz of anxiety, sometimes excitement, but always overwhelming. The central themes revolve around satisfaction in my life so far, trying to be optimistic in the future, confirming and reconfirming (and re-reconfirming) that “I am no one’s runner up”, and realizing that I have come so bloody far in the past year, no matter how deja vu this all “september 1st is rolling around” feels.

When I was still a little girl, and my mom would come lie with me to help me go to sleep, she’d often have to help me quell my anxiety. What is hilarious to me now is that even as a 10, 11, 12 year old kid, I cried at night with the question “What am I going to be?! What am i going to do?!” ringing in my head (and the walls of our house). I didn’t take well to the standard responses: we’ll cross that bridge when we get there, everything is going to be OK, YOU’RE ONLY 10 FOO’, and anything else anyone would tell me. And so my mom, ever the patient saint, would lie with me naming occupation after occupation, stopping to explain the words that were still foreign to me. Starting with the A’s like archeologist to occupational therapist (I still can’t understand what they do) to social worker,  my mom would move through the alphabet as I was near hysterical about what the future would hold. I can’t say now if it was truly just my anxieties starting to take form, or if even then I had begun to feel the responsibility of the world on my shoulders. I know that the feeling of not being enough, of needing to be more, had already rooted itself in me. It’s almost palpable through the memories how much more faith I had in my peers (what, from their handball skills?) than I had in myself.

Despite all the question marks, some things were certain. I was brought up with my two role models having completed both undergrad and graduate school (my dad’s favourite line, after ones in Hebrew for “that’s how you learn” and “life’s hard, kid” being “I spent 11 years in university!”), and so before I even understood what they were I knew that that’s what my path was too. I thought that’s just what people did, end of story. It honestly didn’t occur to me that there were alternatives, nor did I think to look. I guess my anxieties were gripping with white knuckles the certainty in that path, even if I’d have to fill in all the other blanks as I went along.

But, of course, ha!, try as I might, that wasn’t to be my path. I took a year off before even starting my undergrad, and I hardly finished it in one piece. I literally crumbled a few months after graduating, and after dedicating myself to my GPA so that I could get into any grad school I wanted (although I had no fucking clue what that was), I decided, to hell with it! that wasn’t for me! I met really lovely people who were making it work without a master’s degree (say what?!), and that was powerful.

That didn’t pan out so well, if only (and definitely not only) because I was too sick to even watch  movies for much of this past year. I can break the year down into a few distinct phases, or states of mind, but the most important of which being the two I currently capriciously rotate between.

There was the sick, unable, hopeless Maya that when answered what I was up to I would sheepishly answer anything from I don’t know, Nothing, or sometimes in moments of hysterical honesty I would own the list of diagnoses that had become my shadow. I became almost comfortable, although maybe complacent is a more accurate but also unfair descriptor, in these diagnoses, in the “what was wrong with me”. It was my self-perceived identifier. My new Path, illuminating where I had been and where my feet were to be planted next. Instead of these conditions being something I had, I let them become something I was. The running dialogue in my head was overrun with “I am Maya and I am tainted.” This occupied a lot of space, a lot of time, and a whole lot of energy. And still, in my weakest moments, it roars its ugly ass head once more.

But a powerful thing happened the other day. I can’t remember what the context was, or who it was with, or even what I had just eaten. I was probably talking to myself, to be honest. Something provoked me to describe myself, in my head or out loud, and my first response was no longer “I am Maya and I am trying (and rarely succeeding) to get better” but instead “I am Maya and look at this bright future and all the baller things I’m going to do!” That’s right, there was a fucking exclamation mark. There are baller things that I am going to do. ME. My path had yet again changed course. This time, though, it didn’t have a predetermined destination or mapped out route. It. Just. Was. Inhale. Exhale.

Ten year old Maya would still be unsatisfied–I haven’t answered any of her questions. I don’t know what I am going to do or how I am going to get there. I still have to reckon with the fact that I have spent my whole life following the equation I wanted so badly to exist for how to live a happy life. I still have a long ways to go before my physical and mental health are up to par. But for tonight, for right now, I can be OK with not knowing what I am doing and if my current path is the capital R Right one, or if the Right one even exists. In this moment, I am not seeking perfection. I finally (sometimes) have optimism for the future and a hope that things will get better. That all the work I’ve put into this year will realize its rewards eventually, in time. And, fittingly enough, the ability to see that is the result of all the personal work I’ve done this year.

 

Someone recently told me, “I’m busy enjoying being happy”.

So maybe this new grad school won’t be the answer, and maybe it won’t land me my dream job or make me feel like I am the morning and the evening star.

But maybe, hopefully, I can be busy being happy (with my deepest sympathies to ten year old Maya’s frustration and anguish)

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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 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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