Tag Archives: life

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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The summary post

Last week, Embracing Ambiguity reached the 50 post milestone. To celebrate, various authors who have contributed to the blog over the last year and a half wrote a post on a similar theme. That theme, roughly, was: “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 was amazing to see different authors take the prompts in completely different directions, and inspiring to hear their experiences, interpretations, and fears. With five new posts in the span of a week, we realize you may not have been able to keep up! So, just in case you missed anything:

ON THE ALWAYS, EVER CHANGING | Author: Jeff Ku

“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.”

Read more here.

ON BECOMING PROCESS-ORIENTED | Author: Maya Fromstein

“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.”

Read more here.

ON PEOPLE | Author: Stefan Hostetter

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

Read more here.

ON CHOICE AND CONSEQUENCE | Author: Tyler Blacquiere

“I can’t accept that the “right thing” doesn’t matter – that there isn’t a choice to be made – because I can’t accept the alternative. Because the alternative is one of complacency and complicity in all that is wrong and needs changing in the world. Choice and consequence. It has to matter. Because for everything I said above, it still holds true that life is too damn short and too damn precious and people are too damn great and the world is too fucking awe-inspiring for it not to matter.”

Read more here.

ON COCOONS OF SAMENESS | Author: Mica McCurdy

“So now I sit here, feeling all warm and fuzzy for fall foliage, and wonder who I’ve become and what exactly I’ve done if I’ve not made many intentional choices over the past few years. Who am I if I stumble around from job to job, thing to thing, without really taking a moment to pause? Is this the person I want to be? And if so, what decisions am I going to start making to intentionally maintain that? But if not, who? what? how?”

Read more here.

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On choice and consequence

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

 


 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So it has to matter. It has too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Because it has to matter.

 

Until next time.

Ambiguously yours,

-t

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On 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 Control

Life can feel like it has a mind of its own; it has its own predetermined story plot or script that has been written out, simply for you to follow it and play the part.  Basically, you feel like you are not in control.  This is a feeling most of us in our early and mid-twenties feel as we leave school… or maybe it’s just me.

And it is something to easily get trapped in telling ourselves that we are not in control and there isn’t much we can do.  What a load of bull.  Don’t get me wrong, I do this to myself too.  I probably fall into this trap more often than most of my peers… at least that’s what it seems like the majority of the time.  But sometimes, we only need reminders that we are the ones that choose what to do.

I had an interesting experience recently, where, due to my geographical location, couldn’t physically attend an all-day team meeting that I would have really liked to attend myself.  Instead, I participated through the magic of technology and cyber space.  In doing so, to be able to participate in the discussions and or to see what was going on, my wonderful team mates would take turns helping me write or helping me convey my opinions and responses.  Interestingly, being carried around via lap top, I felt helpless, and I wasn’t in control of anything for 8 hours (Well I went to the washroom when I needed… but you get what I mean I hope).

Being carried around and having people communicating on my behalf made me feel like I was a baby.  Literally a baby; a small infant that requires the parental figure to survive.  I actually laughed when I realized this hilarious situation I had found myself in.  But this also made me realize how silly it is, that as an adult, I felt like I had no control of my life, as if I had reverted back to being a child.  But that is the beauty of being a young adult, that I am no longer a mere child, that I’ve already gained the experience and wisdom to know how to take control back in my life or how to best face most of my problems.  There are of course instances to be wary about, such as financial restraints, family and relationship obligations, health issues, etc., but even in these seemingly restricting conditions, there are choices we can make and opportunities to change them and our present state.  Sometimes it takes a little push against those restraints, and maybe we will see that we are more in control of our lives than we give ourselves credit for.  Maybe we can start seeing ourselves sitting in the Director’s chair too once in a while.

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On sangria breakfast

I had Sangria for breakfast today. Yes, you read that right.

You are now considering how good of an idea that sounds.

The other half of your brain is now edging in, making you question whether it’s really a good idea, and whether it could possibly have been enjoyable.

It was. It was glorious.

Also, I’M AN ADULT I DO WHAT I WANT*. Also the second half of your brain is stupid. Stick with the first.

I realize that all of the above may make my current situation seem more dire than it actually is. Usually when you are breaking out the alcohol over breakfast, the shit has long since hit the fan and is now being flung at random around the room. I’ll let you enjoy that mental image for a minute.

Oh god, it’s on the drapes.

BUT! Things aren’t quite that bad. Not yet, anyway. Which is not to say that they have been completely peachy, either. I have definitely been trying (and mostly failing) to embrace ambiguity these past couple weeks.

See, I have been grappling with making a few semi-large life decisions, and seem to go back and forth about them on the daily. On days where I think the answer is “yes”, I can’t tell if I actually believe that or if I am just going along with it because it involves maintaining that which is familiar and easy.

Alternatively, on days when the answer so obviously seems to be “no”, I can’t tell if I’m just being a chicken – afraid to step out onto an invisible bridge that may or may not be there, on my quest for the holy grail (and unlike Harrison Ford, I don’t have any sand with which to check).

(Yes. I just dropped an Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Reference. Wat up. See above*)

Which is why decision making sucks so hard – there’s making decisions, and then there’s the decision of whether or not you’ve made the right decision. Oy.

I know that making tough choices isn’t unique to someone in my position (a 20 something trying to find their way in the social justice sector), or unique to anyone, for that matter. I am well aware that the need to make tough decisions persists as you age. That said, I do think that the decisions hold a certain weight – real or perceived – at this age and point in my life / career path.

Whatever I decide has the potential to pretty drastically alter the course of where things go from here on out. How am I sposda deal with that shit? Man, fuck life. I just want to live on an island, eat bananas and have Sangria breakfast – ya know?

So, this is the part of the post where I drop some big truth or revelation…right? Where I tie up all the loose ends I’ve drawn out? Well, not gonna lie folks – I’ve never been very good with knots and on this one, I’ve got nothing in the way of answers.

I don’t know what the solution is for navigating these big uncertainties. I don’t know how to make them any easier, I don’t know how to know when you’ve made them “correctly” and I don’t know how to stop them from infiltrating the conscience on the daily (Sangria breakfast helped, but I don’t know if that is a sustainable strategy).

If I’ve learned anything from my time in University, however, it’s that sometimes you don’t need answers. Sometimes you just need folks to share and commiserate with. Writing this has already helped me, and hopefully – if you’ve been experiencing something similar – reading it has helped you, too. If any of this is familiar, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Ps. Give the Sangria a try…at least once.

Until next time.

Ambiguously yours,

-t

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