forward march

Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened

“How lucky I am, to have something
that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

— A. A. Milne

Today is a bittersweet day.

In the very recent past, I was fretting a little about my finances – since making the transition to living solo and being responsible for – well, everything – my wonderful job in the non-profit world wasn’t quite paying the bills. I landed some extra freelance work, and even went to an orientation for an evening job (at which point I realised what a frightful snob I was, couldn’t bring myself to phone Americans to ask them about their preferred brand of dog food, and left halfway through… this was following a test in which they asked us to explain the difference between an open-ended and a closed-ended question. Right?), but this course of action would have me waking up at 5:45 and working until 10:30 at night. I knew I’d probably burn out pretty quickly, and the extra money wasn’t substantial enough to make it worthwhile, and sometimes you have to give yourself a little bit of a break. So I crunched some numbers, made a tentative budget, and decided I would live off Kraft Dinner, shop at Value Village, and develop a passion for avoiding the world of music and theatre for the next five years, only at the end of which I would be close to paying off my debt. And then the universe intervened.

All of a sudden, I was being contacted by someone in the nation’s capital to ask if I was available for a job that I’d interviewed for a year ago (and been offered; I’d declined when funding came through that would allow me to remain where I was) – and that offered a 23% increase in pay. I’ve never been one to make a decision based on money – I firmly believe that we only have one life and we should do as much with it and leave as positive an impact in it as possible regardless of whether or not we have money – but reality was setting in hard, and I decided to take a leap of faith. I know it’s illogical, but I like to believe in signs sometimes, and the timing was just too coincidental. I had a giant problem, and the solution was being handed over with a nice big bow on top. So I said yes.

The next thing I knew, I was writing a resignation letter with shaking hands and a pounding heart, a mixture of excitement, relief and absolute heartbreak running through my veins. I met with my supervisor, her boss, and the Executive Director individually, shakily handed them each a copy of the letter, let out a squeaky “I — I’m going”, and burst into tears. By the time I got to the ED, I’d cried all my makeup off, and went into his office in absolute floods (which were only intensified when I saw he’d kept the giant ball of tin foil in pride of place, left over from my attempts at “decorating” his office). They each assured me I’d be missed, that I was gifted, and that I’d grown so much since I first started. They told me heartfelt things about admiration and resilience and said I’d made a difference in lots of lives. They said how they’d passed my blog onto their children who were going through difficulty because somehow they saw me as “an inspiration.” They gave me heartfelt hugs and boxes of tissues and left me wondering if I’d made an enormous mistake. But the last few months have been full of giant changes, and each one has led to new things that have been infinitely more wonderful than I’ve ever known, and in my heart, I know that this is a necessary step forward. The final step toward a brand new life.


Working in non-profit has been an absolute joy. My coworkers became like a sort of family, there to celebrate with decorations, afternoon tea, a TARDIS and Photoshopped Star Trek cards during the good times, and with hugs, coffee, boxes and cars to help me move during the challenges. It was part of the mission statement to have fun. It was also part of the mission to make a significant contribution to people’s lives, and we did both brilliantly. Nothing will compare to the feeling of seeing people’s whole worlds completely turned around, the effects that will last the rest of their lives, or the feeling I got after in absolute terror, I’d facilitated my first workshop, and had a round of applause at the end. I dressed up in Christmas costumes with these people, ran around the city taking ridiculous pictures with strangers, and learned lessons at staff retreats that will stay with me forever. These people helped me believe in myself, take risks, see the world differently, and do things I never thought I’d be able to do. I poured my heart into this job and the people I shared each day of the last two and a half years with, and I feel incredibly sad to see this chapter ending.

But whether you call it a sign, karma, orchestration of the universe or inevitability as a result of genetic makeup, this new door is opening for a reason, and I have faith that this is going to lead to brilliant things. New people, new challenges, a significantly less stressful financial situation, and new opportunities as a result. My new job is at a Big Corporate Company in a downtown high-rise – I’ve worked in non-profit, freelance and businesses with less than five employees for the last half-decade; it’s going to be a bit of an adjustment. I’m scared, but I’m almost as excited. I leave with people who’ll forever have a place in my heart, who’ve helped me become who I am this very moment, as friends. And I’m growing. I’m doing the sensible thing and taking measures to get into a better situation. I’m paving the way for all the things I want to do in the next few years in life – I want to learn more skills, challenge myself more, save more and see more of the world. I want to travel and get more tattoos and buy a car and take more classes. I want to be able to afford healthy food. I want to give more when World Vision phones me up or when friends have birthdays. I want to experience more and just be more. It seems the journey of Becoming A Grown-Up is continuing more rapidly as of late, with bigger steps and scarier hurdles and larger gaping chasms of uncertainty, but as with anything in life, you just have to accept it, go with it, and give it your all. Make a decision to just be brilliant.

Today is my first day. And despite all the nerves and anxiety that have made a thoroughly jarring and unwelcome return over the last few days, I have no intention of doing anything less. Wish me luck…

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So it goes…

FINALLY, after what feels like absolutely months, I can say I’ve returned to the online world! I feel absolutely horrible I haven’t been able to keep up with you or write back to your lovely comments, but last week, with the help of a team of wonderful boys, I moved, got The Men in, the Internet hooked up, and am currently in the process of catching up on everything. Come to think of it, this may take another week. 🙂 

Unsurprisingly, a couple of things that seem to have worked their way into my mind as of late and taken up residence are the ideas of risk and change. If I were to describe the events of the last few months, you might wonder why said mind hasn’t handed in its proverbial resignation (seriously, when DIY espionage, treason, and a hundred-and-eighty-degree turn in life path, people, relationships, accommodation and finances all crop up within a few weeks of each other, sometimes the only thing you can do is laugh!). But in keeping with one of the goals I wanted to put into practice, I seem to have latched on tightly to the notion of acceptance, and consequently hitched a surprisingly comfortable ride through the last few weeks. 

Every hand we are dealt by the universe is accompanied by a choice of reaction, and if the last year has taught me anything at all, it’s the power that lies within every one of us to choose our response. For a long time, it used to be panic, and despite the best counselling efforts of one Mr. Adams, crap would happen, and I’d fly into a fit of despair. The rug would be pulled from under my feet, everything would go up in the air, and I’d find myself scrambling frantically in an attempt to maintain some semblance of control. But at the end of the day, panic is just one option of many. My boss once described a metaphor for change that’s stuck with me to this day: a trapeze artist swings through the air, and unless she takes a leap of faith in grabbing onto the next bar, momentum will slow to a stop and she will be left hanging.  There is a comfort in holding onto what’s comfortable, held back by the fear of free-falling through the air, heart racing, nerves pounding, not knowing when or where the next bar will come. But if you don’t take a leap, you’ll be left hanging, until the only way left is down. Sometimes a leap of faith is exactly what’s needed to launch you toward bigger and better things. 

breaking at the seams, heaving at the brace
sheets all billowing, the breaking of the day
the sea is not my friend, the seasons they conspire
yet still I choose to swim, and slip beneath the tide
James Vincent McMorrow, If I Had a Boat

It seems that lately I’ve become incredibly passionate about the idea of change. I think without it, one stifles all possibilities of future growth, of becoming more, of doing more and seeing more and exploring our unchartered potential… I don’t want to get to the end of my life, look back on my map and see that the ship never left the harbour. Someone once said that ships are safe in a harbour, but that that wasn’t what ships were for. I want to look back and see trails across stormy seas through torrential rainstorms and bands of pirates, up to new countries and through new sights and civilizations, stopping for treasure and beautiful sunsets and meeting a plethora of all sorts of fascinating people with whom I’ll share stories and build memories and from whom I’ll learn great lessons. I want to see it full of adventure and culture and colour, and I want to be left with battle scars that tell the story of a life well lived. I don’t want to settle for what’s comfortable. Settling’s better left in Catan. 

One does not discover new lands without consenting to
lose sight of the shore for a very long time. –
André Gide

I recently met somebody fantastic who has the words “so it goes” etched across his arm. Apparently I’d been living under a rock, and wasn’t familiar with Kurt Vonnegut (!), but in its stark simplicity I think it’s the perfect summation of an attitude with which to face life. Everything you could need is packed into three simple words that simultaneously accept and dismiss absolutely everything. Which is brilliant. There has been no shortage of people lately asking if I’m okay, telling me I must be doing terribly, and expressing confusion or doubt when I genuinely tell them I’m fine. These three words encapsulate the spirit with which I want to live: crap happens, and at the time it sucks, but it’s fine. We keep calm, as they say, and carry on. We focus our energies on forging a better future, not on futile attempts at rewriting an already written past. 

So in the spirit of great change and acceptance, a natural successor would be that of risk. It’s hard to imagine any change taking place without taking a risk first, but we seem so conditioned to construct walls of caution and fear around our hearts that we inadvertently become prisoners of our own design, and go through life staying in one place, allowing fear of hurt or failure to cage us in, outweighing the hope or potential of something more brilliant. It’s sad that people’s first reaction to my state of mind is one of surprise – why not choose to be fine? Why not take big leaps into creating the future? Why waste time on things that have already happened and doors that have been closed; why not learn their lessons as fast as you can and move on with life’s next chapter? If you take a risk and things work out, you’ll be that much happier; if they don’t, you’ll be that much wiser.

I was reading an interesting article recently about a study on the number one contributor of happiness. Money, health, attractiveness, popularity, and a hot sex life were all expected answers, but according to a report by The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “all these mentioned life goodies were topped by the biggest life goodie of them all: autonomy – defined as “the feeling that your life – its activities and habits — are self-chosen and self-endorsed.”

This makes sense, when you take a moment to contemplate how lovely autonomy can make you feel – and how miserable its absence can make you. In fact, when you’re upset about something in your life – a  break up, a job problem, your weight – it’s usually because you’re feeling as if you’re no longer in control of this area your life. “Having a strong sense of controlling one’s life is a more dependable predictor of positive feelings of well-being than any of the objective conditions of life we have considered,” says Campbell.  A University of Michigan nationwide survey also sings the praises of autonomy – reporting how the 15% of Americans who claimed they felt “in control of their lives” also raved about having “extraordinarily positive feelings of happiness.”

It’s all about how you choose to react, and I believe that with a focus on choice, action, acceptance and attitude, risk really can be a win-win thing. Life happens. We just have to allow hope to be of greater weight than fear, and be active participants in shaping our future. The possibilities are endless if we only take a leap once in a while, and, as they say, choose to build wings on the way down.

Here’s to change, to taking big, giant leaps into the unknown and risking your heart for the sake of possible brilliance. Here’s to resilience, to the power of choice, and to making the most of every precious moment we’re given. Here’s to everything that’s ever been, everything that ever will be, and to shaping everything that exists in the here and now. Here’s to great stories, battle scars, epic lessons, and infinite potential. Here’s to writing the next chapter. Here’s to risking it all, and hoping for the best. Here’s to life. After all, we only get one.

Time and Space (and money. Sadly, this post isn’t half as nerdy as it sounds)

As you read this, I’ll have finally moved into my new place. The past few weeks have been full of decluttering, packing, and hauling heavy things up three flights of rather narrow stairs, but I’m finally on the other side, much more settled, and theoretically much fitter.*  I’ve moved countries, continents and through seven different residences in the last decade, and contrary to all evidence, it’s never something I actually enjoy. I loathe moving. The process of going through absolutely everything, weeding out all the junk, packing away a home you’ve invested time in decorating and making your own, and closing the door on all the fun memories had in it isn’t something I particularly enjoy. Especially when you’re leaving a beautiful big house in a fantastically quirky, artsy neighbourhood a stone’s throw away from all your friends (and an ice cream shop close enough to get a ’99 during the adverts of Britain’s Got Talent). 

So with this move comes a lot of adjustment. An adjustment of time in that my evenings are now free to spend however I wish – as much as I absolutely adore having company, I can’t deny that the idea of coming home to a full, empty evening to fill with productive things like writing, reading, or endeavours at learning to cook is wonderfully appealing. Another adjustment is going to be one of space. In my house, I’d gradually accumulated more and more things with which to fill it, which resulted in far more things than could possibly fit in a one-man apartment. My new cupboard space is small, and my kitchen is compact. Still big enough to have a bit of a dance while waiting for cupcakes to cook, though (a must!), but a squeeze nonetheless. There are 45 degree angles between the walls and ceilings which gives the whole place brilliant character, but also makes it a slight impossibility to hang all my photos and art. This may be a sign to finally grow up (but but!) and shelve the band and Doctor Who prints for later.  

There’ll also be an adjustment of surroundings. Over the last two years I’d fallen in love with my little indie neighbourhood (exhibited perfectly one night last week when I saw a man, on a skateboard, wearing a sombrero, and walking a dog) and just how much character it has. I loved how close it was to all my friends, and how I could walk past all the little boutiques and restaurants on a sunny day all the way to downtown. I loved the fact that my street was tucked away and faced the river, with a glittering view of the (albeit makeshift) downtown skyline. The neighbourhood was definitely going to be the thing I was going to miss most, but I’m determined to learn to love my new area. It’s not that far, and it’s close to other restaurants and shops. The street is full of giant old houses and lined with a canopy of trees. It’s beautiful… but it’s just a little more grown up, I think. And I still feel a bit of an indie kid at heart. 

The biggest adjustment, however, will undoubtedly be a financial one. I’ve always shared accommodations with other people (which has definitely resulted in a few war stories), and split rent, bills, and usually food at least in half. This place isn’t the cheapest suite I could’ve gone for, but it was still close to friends and family, and it had character. The sale was probably catalyzed by the fact that my new landlord is a fellow Brit, too. I work in non-profit at a job I absolutely adore. But this means that disposable income is pretty much going to have to become a thing of the past. Randomly, a few days ago, I received a phone call out of the blue from a recruiter I’d been working with when I’d been job-hunting years ago. They had a position that would be “perfect” for me that if I was hired for, would result in a 30% increase in income and an exponential decrease in money-related stress. But it was mundane. And it didn’t directly have an impact in people’s lives. They even asked me if I wouldn’t just be frightfully bored… so I had a decision to make. Money or meaning? If I stay where I am, I’ll be living paycheque to paycheque, shopping at the Dollar store and taking up part-time residence at friends’ places adopting all sorts of free leisure activities like Star Trek marathons and games of Settlers. (The space version of course; do I look like a girl that enjoys agriculture? J) But I’ll be spending every day going to do something I love, with people I love, in a job at an organisation that exists to make a positive impact in people’s lives. If I leave for the sake of money, sure, I’ll be able to afford more and pay off my debt more quickly, but I’ll be sacrificing something I care about and spending my time doing something that doesn’t really have any significance. And that doesn’t sit well in my heart. My decision’s made – I’m definitely staying where I am. I just have to learn to live a little less frivolously and give up a few luxuries is all. I knew I took that poverty challenge for a reason. 🙂

So a lot of change is going down right now… but that’s always what makes life such an adventure. Change is a key factor in growth; if things always stayed the same I fear I’d coast through life, never taking any risks or learning anything new or stepping outside of what’s comfortable… Change is always a little daunting at first, but I think if you dive straight in and make yourself at home, it’ll be one more step on an upward path of growth and experience. Speaking of diving straight in, I’ll be getting Internet hooked up tomorrow, and will finally be able to catch up with everything in the blogosphere after what’s felt like an eternity! Here’s to new beginnings…

 * “Theoretically” being the operative word; in theory I would be much fitter, if I hadn’t remedied the post-exercise hunger pangs with the frightfully convenient iced cappuccinos and pastries two blocks away.

A One-Way Ticket to the Rest of my Life

Recently, as you may have read, I came to the decision that it was time for a bit of direction. I was full of ideas and dreams – but had no plan in place to help them become part of reality, and it was high time that changed. In years of late, I think I’ve become more of a big-picture thinker – whether the current situation is life-shattering or miniscule, I try to think of how my future self would look back on my current course of action. Perhaps that’s why I have such difficulty understanding people’s choice to perpetuate rifts and disagreements – we’re only given a finite time on this earth, so why choose to waste time on something futile? 

This mentality has been the fuel for the newfound decision to take direction of my life. I don’t want to look back in fifty years time at my twenties and say I wasted them, settling for a job that, though pleasant, doesn’t exercise my strengths or passions. I don’t want to say I wasted these years surfing Facebook, watching back episodes of Star Trek, or saving for a rainy day instead of spending time actually living. I don’t want to live in a state of the perpetually unfinished – an education once started but never complete; an idea for a story once hatched but never written; a dream once borne but never transitioned into actuality. Now is the time I can make the choice to take control, and though the thought slightly terrifies me, there are three things that have been swirling around my mind, desperate to escape the confines of the immaterialised and take shape to become the rest of my life. It’s easy to talk about dreams and bucket lists that have no set expiry date, meanwhile being perfectly content to coast through the day-to-day without taking any risks. I’m happy that I started my 26 Before 26 last summer – it’s pushed me through my 25th year and made me grasp opportunities, take leaps, and do things I’d always dreamed of, but never had the proverbial balls to try. But these were all small things that though in part, add up to me becoming more comfortable with myself, don’t ultimately influence the grand scheme of things. I may be more comfortable in front of a group, and I may have developed a few new skills, but this isn’t the stuff of great magnitude. This isn’t stuff that charters the course of the rest of one’s life. 

But these three dreams, these three swirling ideas that wrap themselves around my day-to-day, may very well be just that.  I only have three more years as a twenty-something, and I need this decade to close on accomplishment. Three more years, three big ideas. It’s going to take patience, dedication, and financial hits. It’s going to take a shift in priorities, lifestyle changes, and lots of perseverance. It’s going to take a heck of a lot of faith, and a few big risks. But I can’t break this pull I’m feeling; I’ve been offered a one-way ticket to a threefold destination, and there’s no stopping the train. One of these stops involves higher education. One of these stops involves my biggest passion in life, and the pursuit of the ultimate dream. And one of these stops  involves something that wasn’t on my radar this time last year, but now seems the only way forward. Over the last few weeks, I’ve taken small steps into this new territory – and I’ve never felt more strongly that life is becoming exactly what it was meant to be.