Tag Archives: transition

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.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

 

 

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

On CHANGE (or: This one time, in Ottawa…)

Goodbyes suck. I was reminded of this fact a couple weekends ago, in Ottawa. Reminded of it over and over and over again in rapid succession as one by one, the people I’d spent the preceding four days with trickled back to their respective pockets of the country.

It’s amazing how quickly bonds can form when you stick excited, passionate people with similar interests, values and beliefs into the same small space to discuss, debate and learn. We were gathered in Ottawa for an Oxfam Canada Conference, and in attendance, a cross section of the organization’s campus (and alumni) presence from cities across the country. 40 or so energetic, lovely and inspiring young people.

It was in watching these energetic, lovely and inspiring young people enter their cabs that I was reminded that goodbyes suck. Reminded of it in every farewell hug that decoupled momentarily, only to snap back together like a set of magnets, determined to demonstrate the truth of the notion that opposites attract. I was reminded of it in every attempt to prolong the farewell, in every mushy showering of verbal affection, and in every promise to keep in touch.

I was reminded of my disdain for goodbyes each time the Oxfam corner of my heart felt a small pang of ache with the slamming of each car door. I have missed this community, this cause, these values, and these people.

And so while the conference made clear that which I already knew – about goodbyes and about a longing to be more involved with Oxfam – my four days with 40 inspiring leaders and a dozen or so insightful facilitators also reminded me of something else.

For the last two years, since graduating, I have felt adrift in the terrifying sea of young adulthood. I graduated UofT after 4 years of contempt for the University process, environment and culture. Graduated UofT with an uncertainty about who I was or what I was doing or where I was going, but also, with an unshakeable certitude that whatever the answers to the who, what, where were, they sure as FUCK would look nothing like how I had (formally) spent the previous four years.

After graduating I applied to every job under the sun. Street outreach officer, Communications Guru, Campaign Manager, Freelance BBQ Sauce Inspector, Event Coordinator. The list goes on. Hell, for giggles I even applied to (and was somehow interviewed for) the ED role of a small upstart.

Despite countless resumes and cover letters, proclamations of how I was the “best candidate for the role” and “please oh please god just hire me I won’t burn anything down I swear…” I had found nothing.

Imagine my shock – no one wanted to hire me?! My undergrad degree in Peace and Conflict Studies doesn’t allure you, you say? Would a nice crisp Queen Elizabeth II help? No? Ok…

What did help, however, was taking my university degree off my resume. I was no longer “Tyler Blacquiere, Honors BA with High Distinction from the University of Toronto”, and instead, was “Tyler Blacquiere…I’ve worked at a library before and I probably won’t burn anything down.”

Well, the latter must have been just the ticket, and thus set off my summer of pretending to rearrange shelves full of bagels, in the bakery at my local Loblaws.

Now, look. There’s nothing wrong with working in a grocery store or a Walmart or a WHATEVER. At least, not inherently. There WAS something soul crushing about erasing my last four years to get said job. There WAS something problematic about the amount of food that was thrown out, often even before its best before date. And there WAS something about the experience that was fundamentally at odds with who I considered myself to be – or rather, the person I wanted to be, and the place I wanted to occupy in the world.

For a long time I have been someone with a core set of values held close to my chest, and in times like my summer at Loblaws, when my actions have felt at odds with my beliefs, I have been met with great distress. Put simply, I try my best to hold myself to two main things:

  • I want to leave behind more than I take
  • I believe that life is meant to be lived for other people

My time spent in the bread aisles of Loblaws was not facilitating either of these, or other, values. Unless, I guess, you count helping people find bagels as “living life for other people” (sometimes you just really need some pumpernickel?).

You can imagine my joy, then, at being offered an internship with Engineers Without Borders at the end of that summer, in September 2012.

I was unsure of exactly what I’d be doing, and unsure of how exactly I’d live off an $800/month stipend, but these questions were irrelevant when weighed against a continuation of my current reality.

EWB was a charity. It was working to end poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. It was, for the most part, doing “development” in a smarter, more innovative way that most other charities.

Me, and my values, couldn’t be happier.

I now stand at the start of September 2014, and I’ve reach my two year anniversary with the organization. During that time, my roles and responsibilities have shifted considerably. From a videography and fundraising focused internship (September 2012 – January 2013) to a series of short term, part-time and full-time contracts, focused on EWB’s charity run and holiday campaign (January 2013 – December 2013), to a full time non-contract role in January of this year, focused on fundraising and communications.

These past two years have not been without their ups and downs, but on the whole the experience has been a good one. I’ve had the opportunity to occupy and lead a number of different roles and projects, worked with some pretty incredible people, and – not insignificantly for someone in this “transition to real people life” – have been able to keep myself consistently housed, fed and clothed.

These positives aside, however, things have been growing increasingly challenging. Motivation has been hard to come by, excitement has been relatively non-existent, and the days have started to drag. I have felt “there”, and not much more. The passion, felt so strongly in these 4 recent days in Ottawa, has not translated back into my work with EWB since returning to Toronto.

For the most part, I’ve been unsure as to why. Certainly, there have been some clear challenges in life and work that would explain part of my declining happiness in my current role, but nothing that really gets at the feeling of just being sort of…done.

It was not until this one time, in Ottawa, surrounded by 40 or so energetic, lovely and inspiring young people, that I was reminded of the reason why.

All throughout my “activist days” (if I can call them that) of University, I spent late nights working on things for Oxfam, Canadians for CAMR, and the Green Society Campaign (to name a few) and early mornings working on essays which, at that point, had taken a back seat to more important pursuits. Through the petitions, the protests and the press releases; through the MP meetings op-eds and videos, I felt like I was “doing something”. Felt like I was leaving behind more than I was taking, and like I was living life for other people. And sure, maybe I was just young and naïve and dumb, and now, in looking back, maybe I’m romanticizing, but still. It felt as though there was inherent purpose in what I was doing. It required a certain fire; required boots on the ground and coffee in the veins. And naïve dumbness aside, it did, in one way or another, and regardless of size, contribute directly to change.

And I know. I KNOW. Fundraising and communications are important. Fundraising is what enables the “on the ground” work. It lets EWB’s ventures operate, and provides the backbone for worthwhile programs like Kumvana, which connects young African leaders to the resources and training they need to amplify their impact and reach within their communities. It’s important work.

And communications puts knowledge into the hands of the people who we rely so heavily on to sign our petitions, run in our fundraising races, and become monthly donors. It helps them make informed decisions about where they’ll invest their money, time, and support. And, it shares the successes of our ventures, funded in turn by those donor dollars. It’s important work.

But. As important as it may be, I’m realizing that it’s incompatible with some central tenets of who I want to be. It’s incompatible with my strong desire for direct purpose and action. It is, I think, one step too far removed from the change creation process – from creating the kind of world I want to live in – to ever be truly and consistently satisfying. I was reminded of that in Ottawa, as I sat with 40 or so inspiring young leaders and talked about Oxfam’s new campaign to have a third televised leader’s debate, specifically around the issues affecting women. I was reminded of it as I participated in and lead sessions that drew me back to the days of yore. And I was reminded of it in the flurry of brain activity that followed.

In the last two years, as I’ve jumped from role to role, I’ve endured through any moments of doubt or question about what it was I was doing by, in part, rationalizing that “at lease it’s not Loblaws”, and, in part, by giving into the fear of leaving and stepping into the unknown once more. In doing so I have become disconnected from my desire for direct, purposeful action. And it’s starting to wear through.

I miss the days of being so excited by what I was working on that I’d gladly stay up all night and push through to the morning. I miss the days of frantic, furious inspiration that comes from pursuing something you truly love. I miss the feeling of being truly and deeply tired from a day’s work. Not the kind of tired that comes from being bored and grinding, but the tired you feel in your bones. The tired you earn after a day’s worth of pouring passion into a vessel of your own creation.

If I’ve learned one thing about this journey to adulthood, it is that this whole thing, this whole process, is one of crossing all that from your list which you know is not for you. So as difficult as it is to find myself in this spot, I know that I am, at least, getting a bit closer to finding my place.

Whatever the hell that actually means.

…and then I found $20.

Until next time.

Ambiguously yours,

-t

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

On embracing change

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

1525650_10152185621216341_1685695118_n

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

On Ambiguity Defined…Sort of.

So I haven’t written anything in a while. Work has been kind of crazy lately, and has made finding time for these kinds of extracurricular activities a little difficult.

I’ve also been putting more of my spare energy into getting The Storytelling Project back on track – a slow but steady process.

Perhaps most importantly, however, is that I’ve worked it all out.

Answered all the questions.

No more ambiguity.

 

 

Ha! Jokes. You should’ve seen your face just now.

The above is most definitely not true. At least, not entirely. I guess that I’ve temporarily staved off some of the questions I have been grappling with since starting this blog, but I definitely haven’t “solved” anything.

See, it all started back in September, when I moved into a new role at my work place and took on full time hours. In doing so, I also took on full ownership (or close to it) of a few projects.

The result has been a crazier schedule, a more challenging work environment, a stronger sense of “what I’m doing” and a new set of questions and uncertainties to deal with.

I think that the most challenging piece, for me, has been learning to accept myself as a leader. It’s not an easy task. For the last year or so I’ve been working at the same organization, with the same set of people on roughly the same types of initiatives. During this time, I was always given the freedom to pursue said initiatives in my own way, and was trusted in the decisions I was making.

During this time, however, it never really felt like I was the “end” of a process. There was always someone else to give the final “Ok”. Someone else to hit “Send”. Someone else up above me on the ladder of decision making. I think that my natural tendency was also to always see myself as somehow different from everyone else in the office – not as experience, not as “adult”, not as “legit”.

Over the last couple months I’ve been finding myself challenging some of those earlier tendencies. I’ve been finding myself at the top of that decision making ladder more and more. And while it is empowering and exciting, it is also a little nerve-wracking.

What if I mess something up? What if I slip and lose my footing?

Being in this position also means being responsible for revenue in a way that I haven’t necessarily been before. The effects of potential missteps suddenly feel all the more real.

I know that I am capable of doing the role that I’ve been tasked with, and I know that I have the experience to back up that claim. At the same time, however, that confidence doesn’t always come easy. Sometimes I have to fight for it, and sometimes, it’s just not there.

I think I am at an interesting point in my career progression. With every day that passes I get closer and closer to admitting to myself that maybe, just maybe, I’m becoming an “adult” with a “job job” (I’m waiting on business cards to seal the deal). It’s exciting and rewarding and terrifying all at once. I still don’t know where my path is going, or what life will bring when my contract is up in December. But, I am also finding my footing getting stronger and more assured every day, and am learning to spend more time appreciating the journey, and less time worrying about where exactly it is I’m going.

I promise I’ll be better at keeping in touch.

 

Until next time.

Ambiguously yours,

-t

Tagged , , , , , , ,

On Ambiguity

I have been thinking a lot about ambiguity lately. Not in a philosophic ‘consider the idea way’, but rather, in a staring directly at it kind of way.

4th Wall Shit: The rest of what I am going to say must come with two caveats. The first, is that regardless of what it may sound like after this point, my life is fantastic by all accounts. I have an over abundance of everything I need to live a long happy life. The second, is that while I will speak in generalities, I speak only for my own experiences. There may be others who thrive where I do not, and others still who fundamentally see the world differently, and I fully accept both. However, with that out of the way, let me get back to my point.

I’m currently job hunting. Which feels a bit more like life hunting, as what I’m looking for is my first paid gig in something that has to do with my degree. The first stepping stone as I wade out into my selected field.

I have run an environmental non-profit for nearly three years, my current job includes a variety of environmentally related tasks and I’ve been working on environmentally related projects with a U of T professor for the past year, yet this is my first step. Perhaps everything mentioned prior has given me a running start, allowing me to better reach these first rocks but in the end I’m still on the beach. This is how I’ve come to see almost all unpaid work. Each and every one of us is running back and forth on the beach hoping someone who’s already standing in the water will see us, like us, and help pull us in. This running is the ambiguity which I imagine the title of this blog refers to.

But recently, I’ve come to realize something about the nature of this uncertainty. In small doses, it’s fine, perhaps even fun. It’s the kind of ambiguity you can carry around in your pocket, or perhaps an over-the-shoulder bag if you prefer. It can be taken out, looked at, shown to others, but there’s no need to dwell on it because it doesn’t pose any real harm.  It’s kind of cute actually. Kind of makes what you’re doing feel different. Who knows what lies around the corner right? We’re living life on the edge.

But there is a thing about living on the edge, the fun comes from the sense of the edge, not the reality of it. You know you can always take a step back onto completely solid ground. The danger is not real, so it can be played with. In the past month the ambiguity in my life has outgrown my bag. In fact, it’s outgrown most of everything in my life. It has forced me to stare at it because there is nowhere else to look.

4th Wall shit: I’m about to unapologetically delve into an irritating analogy, filled with over generalizations and overly poetic and dramatic language. So if those are things you hate you probably should stop reading now.

So this is me now. I’m still standing on this edge but now I’m no longer sure where it is. You see, what I realized was that as ambiguity grows it changes its shape. There exists a tipping point where it’s no longer fun, where instead, it’s a creeping black fog, casting a shadow of insecurity and fear to the point where embracing it no longer feels feasible.  What is there to embrace? This mass is far larger than you are, you can hold parts but that does nothing to dissipate the growing blackness.

The edge that used to seem fun is now obscured, any single step could send you off it. So here you stand, staring. Paralysed by an encroaching blackness. This is where I found myself, but I’m starting to get some feeling back in my extremities. During my time staring I came to realize two things. The first is that no amount of staring will dissipate the fog. I can’t hope to simply stare the uncertainty away. To try would be to give yourself in to the blackness and rely on blind luck to find your way to the other side.

The second is that if you’re not happy with letting luck control your life, you are faced with the classic fear response. Fight or flight. To choose flight is to take your best guess at the right direction and just jump into the blackness. You’re smart and savvy, you can fend for yourself and if you land on solid ground it may just be a little less foggy there. If you fall, you can always blame the fog, dust yourself off, nurse your wounds and do your best to climb back up. It is a legitimate choice to make. And perhaps, to do so would be to actually embrace ambiguity.

But this is not my chosen path. My chosen path is to fight and the only way to fight is to grab hold of one of the few things that remain un-obscured by the fog, the things you still have control over and swing them wildly at the darkness. Use whatever you’ve got you fight it back. When understood in this manner the blackness can almost be freeing. It strips down distractions and eliminates options, forcing your hand. If you are going to get through this, its going to be on the back of what you’ve got left, so better make the most of it. Sure you may still fall off the ledge, but perhaps in fighting you’ll learn something that will make the climb back up easier, or more fruitful.

Who knows, maybe this entire analogy is bull. It certainly is dripping with privilege. The edge I speak of is nothing more than a personal feeling of failure. I’ve got a strong enough safety net that survival isn’t even on my radar.

So why write this?

My reasoning is two-fold. The first, is that writing is how I cope. Everything is more manageable after I’ve written it down. I can only think properly if I am expressing it. When done in spoken word this has gotten me into trouble, as I speak to test an idea but after it’s out there’s no delete key. Writing is different. The second, is that sometimes I just need to get angry. I need to tell myself that life is a battle and if I’m going to do something great, I better start fighting. I can harness this and turn it into something powerful. So if you will excuse me, I’ve just written a spear and I’m off to throw it at the fog.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

on facebook pages

Hello folks!

Just wanted to make a short note to let you know that in addition to operating this here WordPress Blog, we’ll also be running an EmbAmb Facebook page from here on out! Our aim in doing this is two-fold:

1) Increase the audience of the blog

(but more importantly)

2) Increase the amount of conversation and discussion that is happening. We really want people to engage and chat with us about the ambiguity in their own lives, so we hope that Facebook will let that happen in easier fashion. It’ll also allow us to post shorter updates, interesting links from elsewhere, and all manner of other things!

So if you follow the blog, join us at: https://www.facebook.com/embracingambiguity

 

And be sure to check out our latest post, “On Thunderstorms and Optimism”

 

Until next time.

Ambiguously yours,

-t

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

On becoming an adult…

This post was inspired by this image that I found online:

942304_10151465600072136_1201935626_n

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All of the following should probably be qualified by the following disclaimer: I’m not entirely sure if I actually am “an adult”. I mean, I live independently, have something of a “real job”, and have now been graduated from University for a year; but, at the same time, I have been subsisting almost entirely off of bananas and eggs for the past couple weeks…so there’s that.

I don’t really know what I expected to have happen. I think that some part of me assumed it would be like a switch being flipped. As if I’d wake up one day and things would just be…different. Things would just feel right (whatever that means). That they’d be more certain. More “in place”. After all, other adults seem so…together.

If I’ve learned anything in this tumultuous last year of life (which is debatable), however, it’s this: you know that sentence I ended the last paragraph with? I know it was like 40 words ago but I don’t know, maybe you have a bad short-term memory. This blog is a space of zero judgment. Point is, if you’ve forgotten, go back and check. I’ll wait.

Good? So, that one. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

No one knows what they’re doing (and that’s okay!). People just get better at faking it.

This is both a comforting and concerning fact. Comforting because it means that, even if it feels like it sometimes, you aren’t alone as you flounder down the path of life. Comforting because it demonstrates how, as confusing as walking that path can appear to be, it’s possible.

Concerning, alternatively, because it’s the thing that lets you – recently graduated, green as Kermit, banana-eating mess – get and hold a legit job. You know, one with real responsibility. One where if you fuck up, it is actually a fuck up deserving of that expletive.

As I think I’ve mentioned in other posts on this blog, I’m playing with the idea of applying for a manager level position at the organization I’m currently working with. On paper, I’m actually a pretty good fit in almost all related areas.

More often than not, however, it feels (at least in my head) completely unattainable. I’m sure that part of this is just my tendency to downplay my own strengths and skills, and another part is everyone’s tendency to hold things in higher esteem than we should. But, then I think about that thing that I’ve learned this past year – how no one really knows what they’re doing, and it starts to feel okay again.

So maybe this job would come with a really steep learning curve, and maybe I would stumble around in it for a while. But, maybe, after a while I’d start to get it. Maybe I’d actually start to own it, and people would look at me and say, “Boy, does he ever know what he’s doing”.

Little would they know, I’d have just gotten good at faking it.

 

Until next time.

Ambiguously yours,

-t

OH HEY ADDENDUM. I don’t think it’s a bad thing that everyone seems to grapple with some amount of not knowing what they’re doing, and puts on some amount of “faking it”. If I ever get to the point where I know exactly what I’m doing in my job, where I could do it with my eyes closed, I’d like to think that would be a pretty clear sign that it’s time to move on. To try something new and actually challenge myself; and more importantly, perhaps, to give a recently graduated, green as Kermit, banana-eating mess a chance to learn the age old trade of “faking it”.

Tagged , , , , ,