It’s day two of September, and I couldn’t be happier to see the arrival of a new month. I’ve found I like to divide life up into chapters – my Facebook albums are neat, chronologically organized, and cover a span of precisely six months; my 1 Second Everyday (sic) videos cover a month each; I had a 25 for 25 and a 30 Before 30. and my schedule is planned in week-long bursts on Google calendar. It’s slightly hypocritical of me to see the arrival of this month as a new beginning when I’m eternally professing not having to wait for a whole new day to reset a bad one, but sometimes it’s the little crutches that get us through.
Last time I wrote, I’d just released my EP, summer had barely begun, and I was a week or two away from getting married. I hadn’t stopped all year; I was determined to get that CD complete before my 31st birthday rolled around, I wanted to book and shoot weddings, I was prepping for a house full of international friends and family here for my own, and Fringe festival was just around the corner. I was re-designing my website and painting my basement and I was so excited for it all, but, in keeping with my INFJ nature, equally excited for a bit of downtime come August. If we’re friends on Facebook, you’ll probably already know that August was quite possibly one of the worst, and busiest months I’ve ever had – I don’t think I’ve ever felt so overwhelmed in life before that I’ve wondered whether my actions were consistent with what a complete mental breakdown would look like.
Speaking of overwhelmed, as I sit here in a coffee shop listening to the bubbling chatter of the go-getting elderly and well-t0-do housewives (my favourite cafe has closed since I last visited), I wonder why nobody ever speaks of being “whelmed”. Is that a thing? And what’s the word for the actual state of being overly so? I feel that being someone who feels things at a greater extremity than what’s typically considered “normal”, I’m in a pretty constant state of being overwhelmed with sensation and emotion – and that’s normal for me. So when things go beyond that, not only do I feel like a failure for not being able to handle things, I feel like an immense letdown to myself (I’m used to operating in stress mode; everything should be a breeze!) and to everyone around me, because I – and I’m finding, like most people – don’t actually want to be helped.
Break for a relevant quote I’d love the non-feelers to know about us emotional people:
“Highly sensitive people are too often perceived as weaklings or damaged goods. To feel intensely is not a symptom of weakness, it is the trademark of the truly alive and compassionate. It is not the empath who is broken, it is society that has become dysfunctional and emotionally disabled. There is no shame in expressing your authentic feelings. Those who are at times described as being a ‘hot mess’ or having ‘too many issues’ are the very fabric of what keeps the dream alive for a more caring, humane world. Never be ashamed to let your tears shine a light in this world.”
— Anthon St. Maarten
Without feelings, there’d be no love, no friendship, no cheerleaders or causes to fight or stand up for, no compassion. Without logic, nothing would ever get planned, made, or achieved. We’re all different, and just because we may operate differently from those around us, doesn’t make our way of being any less valid. We fill in each others’ gaps in hardwiring.
Back to the point – lately (and by this, I mean over the past couple of years), I’ve noticed a consistent pattern in others as well as myself. Nobody talks about these things, but I feel that deep down, our own egos cause us to resist help – even at our most desperate. Around the time I turned thirty, I lost what were then my two closest friendships. (I think the story is in that last link somewhere.) This naturally threw my world into disarray – I willingly and continually suspend my disbelief for the illusion of permanence, and though all things must come to an end in some way or another, even if through the final act of exiting this world ourselves, it always catches me off guard. This happened again around Christmas time, when someone I’d known for years resurfaced in my life and we quickly began doing everything together, only to completely sever ties right before her wedding. This happens with those close to me regularly, and only now that I’m noticing it in myself am I starting to truly understand why. It’s because I’ve decided one of the primary legacies I want to leave is one of helping or improving the lives of others in whatever way I can, and ultimately, people don’t want to be helped. In its simplest form, my desire to help others robs them of control over their situation, and everybody wants to be in control of their own lives.
Take, for example, my old friend T. We so close we called each other sisters, but when life threw her what would ultimately end up a separation and then divorce, I went into rescue mode. I checked in every day so she wouldn’t feel alone (because I would want to know someone was thinking of me), but this soon became overwhelming to her. I started making lists, action plans, and scheduling dates to get together and hug and talk. I started analysing and problem-solving – but this wasn’t what she needed. She needed to figure things out for herself, because in life, I think the only true change or solution to a problem can last if we believe we created it ourselves. (And they say taking Psych in university is a waste of money.)
Take my old friend M., who’d become recently engaged, and asked me to be one of her joint Maids of Honour, and whose wedding was suddenly brought forward an entire year, forcing it to be planned in a matter of weeks. I saw she was stressing about it, and once again, went into problem-solving mode. I offered to design invitations, craft with her, book some of my photography industry people for hair and makeup for her… all of which I thought were taking away from the stress, when in reality, I was taking away control. When our friendship ended, she was very frank – at the time, I was upset, but looking back, it’s become another piece of the pattern that’s teaching me why this keeps happening, and lessons like this are priceless when it comes to future happiness. Once again, something I thought was helpful was in fact harmful when viewed as “controlling” – the ego will always find a way to justify its need to be right. (Sidenote: please read this book if you’re at all interested in the psychology of human nature and learning about our built-in destructive tendencies.)
We don’t like to offer up control of our situations because in doing so, it tells us that somebody else knows better, and that’s something we don’t like to admit. It took me a while to figure this out because for the longest time, this didn’t make sense – I’d been trying to act as the friend, colleague, lover, or family member I’d want someone to be if I needed help – but now in a situation where I do, I find myself resisting in the same way. But in examining, I’m finding that awareness of this tendency is allowing me to understand what’s happened not just in the past, but also in the present, and I’ll remember this going forward for the rest of my life. So, as someone who a) derives meaning from helping others, and b) as someone who, just like everybody else, also needs help from time to time, what to do?
I think when it comes to others, it’s important to teach your brain the habit of attaching awareness to situations, so when ones come up that threaten your way of being, you learn to automatically think before acting, recognize that just as we all operate in different ways, we all also like to deal with our situations differently too, and the way I can personally best be there for others is to give them what they need at that moment, and not automatically go into fixing – or “controlling” mode. Internally, I think we all have the best of intentions when it comes to being there for our loved ones, but if they are resisting, it’s probably because they want to figure the situation out for themselves, because that’s what will have the most meaning for them in the long run. Stop checking in on my schedule and try to get a handle on what they need themselves. Maybe people don’t need someone constantly asking if they’re okay, psychoanalysing things or offering up lists of solutions – maybe they just need to know you care, and figure things out on their own.
So why am I so overwhelmed; why am I in need of help right now? Two weeks after our wedding, I suddenly lost my job. The company had gone into creditor protection back in May, and everyone at head office was consistently told that things would be okay, and to operate as usual. Despite bills not being paid, and despite losing vendors and contractors as a result of owing and not paying. This continued to the day before the weekend after which we were all made redundant (I actually prefer the north American expression of being “laid off” here; it’s far less insulting!). We were all called into the board room and told that the company had been sold to a liquidator and would be going out of business by the end of 2016, but not to worry, we wouldn’t be coming back on Tuesday to locked doors or anything, and that we’d likely be okay until December. I was personally even told I’d be introduced to other potential prospects who showed an interest during the bid. That Tuesday came around, and I was out of the office for a couple of hours in the afternoon for an appointment. I got a text from my colleague, who informed me quite simply, that we were all done – that over half of head office staff were all told to hand in their IDs, given dismissal notices, and escorted out of the building. After months leading up to the wedding and not even a year into a mortgage, I had expenses, and naturally went into panic mode. This only escalated when I read the dismissal notice stating that as a result of being under creditor protection, we would be given no notice, no severance, and that any benefits would cease immediately. This being against the law, a few of us affected soon went to the Labour Board, who informed us that they could do nothing until the company was out of the protection period in December – and by the time that comes around, they’ll have declared bankruptcy, and would no longer be around to deal with anything. In other words: we were all screwed.
It’s been a month, and I’ve applied for Employment Insurance and filled out my reports, and I’m still in the waiting period. We pay so much into these programs while employed without any choice at all, yet when we need them most, it’s near impossible to get the help we need. We have to sit and wait while our case is analysed, continue reporting and jumping through hoops and trying to keep our spirits high while our bank accounts are steadily being drained simply by the cost of living, hoping that someone at the government will tell us eventually that we’ll be helped. I’m incredibly lucky in that my husband, being the smart man he is, started planning for this scenario back in spring when we were first informed the company was in trouble. He’s been able to help with my share of the mortgage and bills this past month, which I’ve felt awful about – in another life, without a credit card, I’d be out on the streets. But our joint account is being drained, and there’s still no hope in sight. I was paid out my vacation time accrued, which I was saving for some time in the future when I’d actually be on vacation, or toward finishing my album next year or equipment to hopefully grow a photography business – but after five weeks, I’m approaching zero, and those dreams have evaporated. The world’s expenses don’t stop just because your employment does.
A week after the layoff, I got the news that my grandfather had passed away, that my grandmother was now alone and already beginning the descent into dementia, and was halfway across the world. With no job, I couldn’t very well fly over there and be there, and it made me angry and sad. So I made some art instead.
I also got the news that another member of my close family now had a cancer diagnosis, and got some medical results back myself that were also unfavourable. I also had to immediately get a new phone contract (having had a work device provided), and our area of the city, while absolutely lovely, also happens to be the Bermuda triangle of mobile phone reception, meaning climbing with a blanket to the top of a small mountain, building a fire, and sending a series of smoke signals usually has a better chance of conversational success. Responding to interview calls and trying to change my phone plan with the provider became so frustrating that I found myself shouting down the line from outside in the street as well as the very top of my house, and eventually bursting into tears and throwing the phone across the floor.
I also had to find a job as soon as possible, so I had to learn to hide my grief and panic, put on a face and go on as many interviews as I could land in the middle of summer when most executives are off on holidays, and convince countless people that I was a happy, competent, fun and skilled person they needed on their team. Putting on an act is something that does NOT come easily to someone with Fe, and after buying a house, getting married, losing a job and losing a family member – some of the biggest stresses in life one can ever experience – was not something that was easy, but it was something that was mandatory. I kept telling myself the same thing I’ve had printed and framed since 2009: “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” I cried a lot, and didn’t get to see any of my friends for weeks because I had so much to do. For a very short time, I hated the world. But it amplified my gratitude for having someone to hold my hand. For having a roof over my head. For the forced lesson in being strong.
I had messages from people offering their support, each one of which also made me cry, because people cared. But I resisted their offers of help. Why? I think I told myself it was because I didn’t want to be a burden. August seemed like it was pretty shitty for a lot of people, and I didn’t want to turn to anyone with my problems if they were having some of their own, but why, logically, if they were offering? I fell into the trap of what we all seem to do, and justified my ego’s need to prove I could do it on my own. I exhausted myself with bottled emotion, explosions of emotion, and the guilt of having an endless need to be doing, and as a result, didn’t do myself – or anyone around me any favours. In refusing help, I did what my old friends did to me – robbed carers of that from which they derive personal meaning.
I made endless to-do lists now I suddenly had time for things, but none of the items I checked off made me feel any better. I wasn’t nurturing or looking after myself, I was doing what I convinced myself I needed to – driving from interview to interview, writing cover letter after cover letter, keeping spreadsheets of applications, filing my strewn paperwork and organizing all my digital files, making sure I was on top of housework, catching up on laundry, ironing, washing dishes and mopping floors every other day, applying for grants, finishing other people’s photos, clearing out clutter, and compiling a portfolio. All I wanted to do was write a song, make art, grieve, see friends, finish my current book, get back to working on my novel, write a blog post, finish my scrapbook from last year’s adventure and make one for the wedding, and take online classes to learn more about photography, audio engineering and web design, but I didn’t allow myself to accept help, or to do anything my soul actually needed, because my ego needed to reclaim its control on the situation that had become my life. Was it making me a better person? Did it make me feel any better? And was it letting me be a good person to be around for anyone around me? No, it overwhelmed me, and either hurt or stressed those around me watching it all happen.
August was a really, really hard month, but September is a new chapter. And the best protagonists in any story are the ones who learn lessons from their experiences. I’ve learned a lot about human nature, about stress, and about my flawed tendencies lately. I’ve learned too that I can actually be strong when I need to be, and I’ve learned that the ego is far from being always right. I’ve learned to accept, and that it’s okay – even if the world seems like it’s ending – to take people up on their offers of help, as well as to take a little time to do the things my heart needs as well as the things my bank account does. Today, I indulge in reflection, writing, and singing. Last week, I wrote a song and learned a bit about mixing audio, and next week, I will start allowing myself to socialise again. I still struggle with the guilt of doing anything other than what’s strictly necessary, but I’m learning to practice being aware, being present, and to balance.
That lesson in brevity will apparently sink in one day. Oh, and here are some fun photos from what actually was, for a hundred different reasons, the best day ever.
I started writing this at the tail end of 2015, and the past few months have gone by in an absolute flash. It feels like just yesterday I was returning home from a whirlwind trip to Europe, starting a new job, and J. was moving in – a short-lived venture, as we bought our house the same week and moved into that in November. I can’t describe how thankful I am for the whole year – one that began on New Year’s Day in a sobbing fit alone on my living room floor, and one that ended with tales of adventure, journeys, growth, new friends, goodbyes, challenges, lots of growing up, and, come Christmas Eve, a beautiful ring on my finger that symbolises not just the never ending circle of infinity, but my own promises, vows, and endless love for this beautiful man. I’m honoured to be chosen by the one I still believe I dreamed into existence, and after a few years of rather terrible Christmases, I can honestly say December 25th was the probably the best day of my entire life. 🙂 We’re just going to enjoy this for the time being – togetherness, happiness, and the brink of forever – but I’m sure we’ll start talking about plans and such in a little while. 🙂 To me, I’d be happy making my vows in our living room in an old white dress- the only thing that matters, to me anyway, isn’t fancy decorations or thousands of dollars on dinners or lights or fireworks – it’s the moments those words are exchanged, entwine around each other, and are launched into the universe for all eternity.
(That said, I wonder if we can be transported by hot air balloon up into the night sky and exchange vows floating in starlight? A girl can dream :))
I always find years wrap up with a word or two that does a brilliant job of encompassing everything that happened within them; a theme, if you will. 2015 was unexpected. In every way. I had no idea I would meet someone on Instagram, travel the world, lose the people I believed to be lifelong kindred spirits, and instead gain a new tribe of unconditionally awesome, genuine and sincere human beings. I had no idea I’d voluntarily give up a job I loved and end up with the word “Director” in my job title, go through three roommates, buy a house, go off all my medication, have a complete breakdown and go back on it again. I had no idea I’d start working toward a career in photography, or that my fiction, photographs, and modelling would all be published in print magazines. I had no idea I would gain and almost lose everything. I had no idea I’d write enough songs and grow enough balls to somehow find myself professionally recording an entire EP. I had no idea of the kindness of strangers and of friends, and that some of the worst and best days of my entire life would take place within these 365 days. If you are reading this, I imagine your year may have been unexpected, too. Goods and bads, successes and failures… we got through it. And we thrived.
I added a clip of the MASTERED version of my first song to my campaign page. There are three days left. Click through to hear/please help if you can at all!! 🙂 ❤ I can’t believe this little uke song turned into this!! 🙂 (I also made a Facebook page! #becomingreal)
Work was a huge change for me this year. The circumstances that led to me landing my new position were interesting: I very much enjoyed where I was, because it was a place that not only allowed me to exercise my imagination, but being a creative female in a heavily male-dominated sales environment allowed me to stand out. I was welcomed on board along with my colleague as a breath of fresh air, and I was allowed to run with pretty much every crazy idea I had. (Star Wars Free Press ads and zombie TV spots included). I felt valued, and I had a supervisor who was willing, always, to teach with patience and kindness. I was congratulated and my work shown to the entire salesforce in team meetings and at trade shows. The positive reinforcement and patient encouragement and reception of new ideas was fuel for me, and as a lifelong overachiever, it motivated me to be the very best I could be.
I now find myself in a much senior position. One in which I have someone reporting to me, and one in which I hold a large level of responsibility when it comes to an entire company’s corporate branding. The title is one I’ve always dreamed of, and upon hire, I was excited beyond belief to hear of a place where everyone’s opinion matters, where innovation is the name of the game, where I would be seen with the potential I could reach, and where I would be mentored to succeed. Leadership is always something I’ve been interested in – as an INFJ I derive my biggest personal satisfaction when I can be instrumental in helping others do well. I’ve just never formally been in a position to do so. This is why I am of the firm belief that anyone, anywhere, can be a leader, even simply within their own community, group of friends, or home.
I hoped to be given the opportunity to help transform a culture, and I was thrilled at the opportunity. (NF ding!) I want to be the kind of leader, in work and in life, that sees people for what they can achieve, not their immediate shortcomings, and help motivate them to become more. I want to help them see the potential within themselves and encourage them to chase after it. Because this has been done for me, and it has changed my self perception, and my life. I know not everyone is the same, but I think it’s pretty universal that people will respond better to positive reinforcement and tapping into intrinsic problem-solving than they will to fear and repeated messages of you’re not doing it right. Being shot down creates an atmosphere of fear – and results will undoubtedly reflect that. If your leadership cultivates an atmosphere of fear in order to get a job done, the job will get done, but it will not come with the enthusiasm, excitement, or additional effort or creativity that often accompany the most successful of projects. You will feel more likely to stay at home if you’re sick rather than coming in, because you will feel unappreciated and uncared for. If your leadership is one of inclusion, encouragement, and belief in your team – your team will be on your side and want to support and deliver on a project that does have those things. They will want to be your cheerleaders. Absenteeism will decrease, quality will increase, as will a sense of community and of belonging. The resulting job may be the same, but the added unseens, the team spirit, morale, contributors’ confidence, loyalty, excitement and motivation – can only exist when the tone is set from the start.
Am I wrong? I think this can also be applied to life outside of work, too, and it’s something that’s been on my mind a fair bit lately.
I’ve read a lot of John Maxwell’s leadership books in the past, and actually was fortunate enough to spend a few years working in a place that not only offered Lunch and Learns, where the boss gave everyone the opportunity to take part in a leadership course, share ideas, and develop ourselves over a few lunch hours, but also offered a yearly retreat, usually revolving around the curriculum of one of his books. The one I went on was based on the book Put Your Dream To The Test – an overnight, two-day stay together watching DVDs and reading chapters and having group discussions as well as fun dinners and board games in the evenings. This was a non-profit organization with very little money, but with a culture of truly believing in its team members, in unity, in a common goal, and in personal development. They thought outside the box and really helped develop everyone as leaders in their own right, helped them realise what their individual dreams were, helped foster a culture of inclusion where everyone felt safe to express and contribute, and helped develop better human beings. The CEO was actively involved in morning meetings, extracurricular events, and sold me on the idea of creating a personal board of directors (it’s worth reading, for the idea alone) for your own life. A brilliant idea: be selective in those with whom you choose to share your innermost everything, and trust those who’ve earned yours time and time again. A personal board of directors will always guide you in the right direction, without judgment, and certainly without steering you off course for reasons of their own.
I’ve landed myself in roles in the past and felt the familiar INFJ twinges tugging at my heart. Why aren’t people supportive of each other? Why is morale so low? Why are people more concerned about succeeding themselves rather than helping others? I encounter it time and time again. In each job I will try to bring extra things I believe will improve team spirit, increase positivity, and a feeling of belonging and being valued. Things like field trips, parties, pot lucks, MBTI assessments, internal newsletters… things that go beyond day to day duties and actually help people get to see each other as just that: human beings. Human beings whose skill sets are all part of a giant team effort to help the company be successful. When people feel seen, heard, and valued, that effort will multiply. Relationships will strengthen. There will be harmony. When people feel replaceable, or worse, are chastised when brave enough to think outside of the box – you’re not going to get that out of them.
As a leader in our own lives, I think our goal should always be to help others be the very best they can be. In work, in friendships, in relationships, even in day to day interactions with random people on the bus. Everything we say, post online… everything we write in an e-mail, every tone with which we choose to wrap our words can be interpreted in a myriad different ways because no two people are the same. This is the cause of all life’s misunderstandings and overanalyses! We can choose to learn each other – to put the effort into truly knowing them and how they are wired, what their needs are – communicate accordingly, and watch them flourish – or we can communicate in the only, rather self-focused way we know how – branding anyone who thinks differently “too sensitive”, “rebellious”, “useless”, or “too emotional”. The list goes on. Contrarily, as one often accused of being far too sensitive, I see many people that I personally judge to be “too closed minded”, “too opinionated”, “too confrontational”, or “too cold”. Nobody’s not guilty of this. Anyone that differs from ourselves can easily be called “too” this or that. But if we all took a moment to acknowledge that everyone is wired differently (it’s all just various combinations of brain chemistry, after all), and took the time to see their potential and encourage them to reach for it by speaking their language, I think the world would be a much happier place.
I used to think it came down to treating people as you’d want to be treated. (Grandmas know best!) But I’ve learned that life is infinitely richer, fuller, and deeper when you treat people as they’d want to be treated. At work? Take the time to learn about your coworkers or employees. See what they react to. Get a sense of their vulnerabilities and strengths, and nurture the latter. If you want somebody to become something more than they are, learn their language and speak it if you want to see results. People blossom when someone speaks to them in their own language, especially when it’s not one’s own.
A great example of this recently for me has been working with my friend Dave. Like most of the best people I know, Dave came from the Internet in response to a call-out asking if anyone might be interested in working with me to get my EP out of my head and into being a real thing. I had no idea who he was, but over the past few months he has taken my little ukulele song and transformed it into something people keep telling me “could top charts” (I DON’T know about that, haha). I’m still too nervous to sing in front of people, so in the recording process, he built me a fort out of blankets and room dividers. At the recording studio itself, they turned the lights off in the booth and put candles in there. When I cried because I thought I was doing terribly, I was brought tissues, and my subsequent vocals encouraged for having emotion in them. Every time I missed a note, I’d just be asked quickly, behind my wall of blankets, “that was great, can we try it again?” No reprimanding. No actual pointing out of my cock-ups, even though I knew they were there. Just positive encouragement. And that form of mentoring and leadership brought out the very best in me.
This is what I want to do for others. I want to learn them. In relationships: I’ve learned my “language” is, unsurprisingly, one of words. I like to be told things, and I like letters and notes and messages. Other people may like demonstrations of service (cleaning the house, picking up groceries), or physical affection. People communicate in different languages, and each is valid. I know very well that not everybody needs the same type of communication as I do – I’ve learned that my levels of feeling, caring, etc. can be… intense, and sometimes when good intentioned, can come across as overbearing and actually drive people away. These are all good lessons – the bottom line being to pay less attention to your own needs and more to the needs of those around you. Becoming fluent in another’s language is like a direct line to their soul, and every relationship, whether at work, home, or in friendships, will flourish as a result.
Happy new year, everybody. May it be full of harmony, growth, wisdom, fun, reflection, happiness, and adventure. 🙂
I have to look to my last post for advice – from myself, to myself, in times of such fragility. “All your tomorrows start here.” I’d thought that the power of choice was enough to overcome such uncertainties that have hung about for so very long: Finally, I had a small range of motion back. Finally, I was returning to work, settling into a new home, stepping back toward being financially stable, and finally, starting to have the physical ability to do the things I loved again that had been stolen dreams for months. I was starting to sing again, model again, and write again. I was starting to imagine again, and plan, and take action. I was so very excited and moved and frightened by the jellybean video that I had no choice but to get back on course; seconds of life were evaporating and I was compelled to get back to living the heck out of them. Enough was enough.
But then I went back to the hospital, and was told something frightening. That even though the bones themselves were almost healed, the reason I was still in so much pain and had such a limited range of motion was due to being in a certain stage of “adhesive capsulitis“, in which, as the orthopaedic surgeon so vividly put it, the muscles and tendons transform from being flexible and stretchy to “cable-like”; rigid, and from that point, they don’t turn back. I was mortified. It’d been almost half a year; I was holding on so desperately to the hope that it was just slow going. Not permanent. And after this long, they can’t keep providing physiotherapy twice a week, so I’m on my own. With my broom handle, trying hard to force some kind of movement.
And then I quit my job. I’d come back and, understandably, my job wasn’t really there any more. It’d been carved into pieces and handed out to different pairs of hands, and all the efforts I’d put into creating a positive, inclusive culture seemed to have been forgotten, and I felt like a stranger all over again. Shortly after, and on a day I was feeling a little down about it, through random chance, I received a text message from a good friend of mine. A friend of hers had posted something on her Facebook about their company having an opening for a “strong creative writer” with a communications background and social media skills, and my friend told me I should apply. I sent in my resume and cover letter eagerly, along with some writing samples from across the board (yes, even one of my horror stories! #Diversity), and the very next day, I had a call from the Vice President saying she’d arrived to work and been told by three people that morning, “CALL HER”. I was so excited! We met face to face at Starbucks one evening, and we hit it off royally. We’d studied the same very random things at university; we were both into MBTI; had family in the same county in England… we really got each other in terms of values, workplace culture, making an impact, understanding people… it was a wonderful meeting, and I wanted the opportunity more than I’ve ever wanted a job in my life. I actually remember, at that moment, realizing that this was kind of my dream job, in terms of skills, environment, people… and I’ve never had that before.
Then I had about 200 interviews and was made offers elsewhere, but I was focused. And determined. I was sent a few assignments, to show I could actually write, and spent hours throwing in design work too to show what I could do. I met with the president for breakfast one weekend; another great meeting that ended with being told “this was the position for me” and that I’d have an offer within the week! After my references were checked (I cannot convey the depths of my gratitude for all the wonderful things they said!), I was called in for a formal offer (and to make sure I knew “it was going to be primarily a creative writing position” and ask if I was okay with that…haha), accepted, and… I start on Monday. They didn’t even advertise the position. Two of my favourite people in the whole world know people that work there, and I’ve already been in contact on Facebook and e-mail with some of them, and have already been invited on a day out next weekend with a group of them, and received kind words of encouragement from some that had seen the news of the breakup online. They just seem to be a really caring, genuine bunch, and I haven’t even met them yet. I even had a discussion with one about wizard hats and the TARDIS. I’m really excited.
But yes… that happened. Such an intense loss I was unable to do anything for days, and my body, perhaps in rebellion, just kept throwing up and collapsing. I also got sicker than I’ve been in years, and recently realized I’d lost 27 lb. in the last seven months (seven of which have probably evaporated in the last two weeks due to sickness and grief and the sadness of everything). When I returned to work, ALL my clothes were miles too big, and I was told today “I didn’t have to step on a scale to see I was just skin and bones”. Things haven’t been panning out as they were when I last wrote at all, and when there’s stress, apparently my appetite disappears. But I have to remind myself – and my friend keeps telling me – this too shall pass, and everything, good and bad, must have an ending. I was a bit of an emotional wreck for a while, but again I return to my last post and remind myself: the frustration can become the fuel. I’ve forever believed in the power of choice, vehemently so, even when things are at their hardest. But I’m also a creature of intense emotion, and those two things can sometimes be at war. The head and the heart. Both such strong warriors for the same cause, but both so completely opposing at times. It’s hard not to feel lost.
But this is where acceptance comes into play. Things have been tough for a really long time, but as sensitive and emotional as this heart is, it’s also full of dreams and a longing to know and to create. To connect, yes, because true human connection is the most beautiful of things, but it is not the only thing. I have to focus on some of the other things. I’ve been seeing friends often (for those who’ve been beside me through everything, I can’t even begin to say how humbled and grateful I am, and how much love I have for you), and I’ve been brainstorming up a fury in terms of creating again. I’ve fallen in love with conceptual/storytelling photography, and have been lucky to have been part of some great shoots (and hope to do more!), but I’ve also always loved digital creative manipulation.
I’ve been so incredibly inspired lately by photographers who create worlds of fantasy and tell stories through powerful, whimsical images… that I’ve decided to try it for myself. I don’t have a fancy camera, but I have a head full of ideas and hands that can bring them to life and I live in a city where the arts community is absolutely thriving. I threw out my ideas, and the response was overwhelming: over the next six months or so, I’m going to be creating my own images, editing them, and telling stories in new and (hopefully) exciting ways. I already have one group lined up for a shoot next month, and I can’t wait to get into the post-production and make something awesome. And literary! I also had someone ask if I wanted to make a music video of one of my songs… I don’t know where I’m going to go with music, now, but people seem to like this one, and it’d be a huge challenge to be in front of a camera, filmed and playing… worried about doing it alone, worried about memorizing lyrics and chords… but I think it’s a challenge I should take on. Especially if someone’s offering their time and creative brain to make it happen.
So… things are hard right now. But they could also turn out great. I don’t know what the future holds at all, and that’s terrifying, but right now I do have things to be thankful for. My incredible friends and family, my imagination, people willing to indulge it, and a new job I think is going to be pretty amazing. I might not be able to turn off my brain’s rapidfire of thought, fear, worry… the list goes on. But I can choose not to be consumed by it, and let what will be, be.
All my posts come from my blog over at http://proseandconstellations.com.
The year is drawing to a close and with it, a difficult chapter, and as the door to a new one opens I sit in the half-light of the in-between. It’s New Year’s Eve, and yes, traditionally this is a time for goals and reflection (and when have I not taken the opportunity to make a big list to dive into?), but I think I’ve been doing a lot of that over the past five months while I’ve been removed from my life. 2014 beckons with a warm glow, but recently I’ve felt plagued with the old flames of self-doubt I thought had been extinguished.
As I mentioned in my last post, breaking my arm led to a whole topsy-turvying of worlds, and the time has come to get back on board. I’m not fully healed by any means, but I am well enough to do most of the basics, and am hopefully on track for the anticipated full recovery by about August if I put in the work. The routine part of normal life is scheduled to commence on the 2nd, and I will once again join the ranks of the daily workers. I’m scared, because I’ve now been off for almost as long as I was at the job in the first place, and I was by no means an expert in my role when I had the accident. I’d given it my all, and brought in new things to the company (and will be returning with a completed project I hope my boss adores) that I think made a difference, but now I’m going back and I feel like the new girl all over again, except this time, there’s the expectation I should fall straight back into the groove of things. So much happened in the six months I was there, I can’t imagine how much more there is to learn almost another half-year later. I want to go back and show them how committed I am, how determined I am, how I’m worth holding onto… but my fear of not being well-versed or up-to-date enough coupled with pain and limited mobility frighten me.
I think I’ve allowed this fear to fester in other attempts to regain a sense of normality lately, too, and I don’t like it one bit. Throughout the injury I’ve been pretty down about not being able to do so many things that were either part of the things in life I loved most, or were about to become them. In recent weeks, I’ve gone back to music – I can hold an instrument now, and AC and I made a joint goal in November to get 50 live performances under our belts by this time next year. That’s at least one per week, and we’re relatively on track, but after most of them, I’ve found those long-buried voices resurfacing, telling me I’m not good enough. And firmly believing I’m not. I watched an old video I did in my apartment before we decided to start a band, and it made me incredibly sad, because though it was before I’d ventured onto any sort of stage, I sounded better, vocally and instrumentally, than I do now. I know, logically, that if you take five months off from any activity, you’re not going to be a pro when you first try again, but it frustrates me to no end knowing I’m filled with such determination and had the courage to go from throwing up after singing one song in front of someone to being asked to do several shows (and being thoroughly exhilarated by them) – to having a weaker voice, less of a range, and losing much of the progress I’d made in playing. I know I can’t help what happened, but in a linear fashion, logic says I should be better than this video by now. And I’m not. And it’s horribly discouraging.
The same seems to be happening in another area I was really enjoying before the break. At the beginning of this year, I’d decided to give modelling another go, and over a few months discovered a passion for artistic, conceptual photographic storytelling – something I plan on exploring on the other side of the lens in the new year. I’d done a bit of it years ago, but being cursed with apparently not aging (please don’t tell me I’ll appreciate it when I’m 40; I’m sure I will, but for now it’s hard turning 29 and still looking 20 and trying to be taken seriously in the professional world), I decided to give it another go, and became really passionate about it. Anyone who knows me in person knows I feel HARD, for better or worse, and so when I’m excited about something, I can’t not let it shine. I had great compliments from photographers, took risks, and took pride in being a model who could be counted on to be there on time, prepared, make everyone laugh and take risks for a good picture (not always the best decision), and it was a passion that kept building.
Then it happened, and I watched the world continue on without me. In recent weeks, I had a couple of opportunities to get back on set. I was prepared for the fact that I wouldn’t have full mobility, but I wasn’t prepared for my mind acting like it did years ago. I found myself in a sort of physical and mental paralysis that forbade me from being what I was before, and I didn’t seem to be able to do anything about it. I was completely taken over by having watched the world continue to spin without me and pent-up feelings of being forgotten that I couldn’t shake the feeling of not being good enough. My mind kept telling me: you were great six months ago; you should be better now. Again, logically I know an extended break is going to set anyone back, but I couldn’t stop judging myself. And it made me a poor performer. My photos reflected someone whose fear was overtaking their passion. My own mind was sabotaging the very things I love to do as an artist. And I can’t not see the results of how I was compared to how I am now and not be saddened.
My last post, however, was all about choice. I’ve always believed that life truly is only 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it, but sometimes it’s a really tough battle, even when you’re given the tools with which to choose. It’d be easy to stop, now. But it would go against my entire nature to do so. I’m determined, and always have been, to be better each and every day than I was the day prior, whether as a person, a friend, a lover, a musician, a thinker, or a writer. I also realise the power of acceptance, and maybe I have to take this as a lesson in that. That maybe the reality is that something horrible happened and it did take me ten steps backward. But staying there isn’t the answer. Staying there isn’t me. I have to remind myself on days where the voices resurge that I, too, have a choice, and maybe I can’t help where I am right now. But I can choose how I deal with it. Stop judging myself, and realise that other people probably aren’t judging too harshly either. Start from where I am, keep marching forward, and if I make mistakes or don’t live up to my own expectations, then work harder. It’s what I have to do with my arm, so it’s the same attitude I should have with everything else I’m trying to rebuild. The hard part is that all those things are in their very nature, worthy of being judged. Modelling. Singing. Performing. Writing. All efforts to put something out into the world for anyone to see. But I think to keep going is to keep following dreams, and to be brave. And that’s something I’ve always tried to do.
I came across a quote recently that I feel may be apt for this situation, and may lead me through the door into a new chapter and a new year safely:
“If you have built castles in the sky, let not your dreams go to waste; just build the foundations under them.”
– Henry David Thoreau
I am finding it tough. But I think if I learn to accept, stop judging, be brave, put in the work, and look at reality, life is going to not only return to normal, but become even more of what I’ve always wanted it to be. I’m determined to make 2014 the year I tried my absolute hardest to make my dreams come true, to fill every moment with love and gratitude, and to try to always make the right choice.
“We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well,” someone once said, “that Death will tremble to take us.”
Have a wonderful new year, and don’t forget that no matter where you are now, every passing moment is another chance to turn it all around.
I haven’t been writing here half as often as I used to. I’ve been spending most of my writing time on fiction for the last little while (enormous thanks to those darlings who took a peek at my recent short story!), and when I’m not doing that, I’m making various endeavors to learn to play musical instruments, getting more tattoos, and decorating for my cats (seriously, this is in a frame above their food dishes. It is important for me to chronicle this life of mine through writing, but lately I’ve found it slightly hypocritical to do so without actually spending it living. Still, I’ve been taking lots of pictures and recording lots of videos (which I’m sure will come back to haunt me in the not-too-distant future), and connecting regularly with some really awesome people.
But recent life hasn’t all been smooth. I’ve always maintained the importance of eternally moving forward, no matter in which direction, but for a little while over the few months leading up to Christmas, I felt myself being pulled toward a dangerous destination. A place where old, distorted ways of thinking wrapped their way around the progress and masqueraded as reality. And that called for action.
From late 2011 until about spring 2012, I started to see a counsellor. I also started taking medication for my anxiety for the first time in my life. I went through a ten-week course with the Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba, I did my homework, and after a few months, my case was closed. But toward the end of 2012, I found myself immersed every day in what felt like a pool of toxins that began to insidiously creep in and distort my entire mentality. No longer was I spreading my wings on the vast ocean of possibility, but I was becoming caged, torn between my own vision of capabilities and the person I had to be in order to comply to that environment’s standard. I’ve always been motivated by achievement and surpassing others’ expectations, but when your wings are clipped and all you’re left with is a dream of what you could be doing, you begin to question the capabilities you had in the first place. Everyone around me told me what a huge, positive difference I’d made. But those with authority over me saw nothing but someone stepping beyond their role, taking on too many “extra-curriculars” – necessities, in my mind, for a successful operation – and pointing out all the places things could be done better. I was someone who didn’t fit the corporate mould.
“I’m too good for that, there’s a mind under this hat;” words to a favourite song come to mind. “I speak because I can to anyone I trust enough to listen; you speak because you can to anyone who’ll hear what you say.”
I mean no malice in writing these words, but I have to be true to the reason that led me down the path of old habits and distorted imaginings, things that led me toward the place I used to be. I started feeling that if all my achievements, hard work, creativity and dedication to bettering something meant nothing, then maybe the same held true for myself as a person. Maybe the same held true for my friendships and relationships; maybe I personally felt I was doing all the right things but maybe I had it all wrong. So I started looking for signs. And in doing so, I saw my insecurities manifest from thin wisps of possibility into a corporeal monster that tore away at everything I held dear. Something had to be done. Something had to be done now.
So I went to see a psychiatrist. Re-opened my case with my counsellor, who, after a session, recognised where I was and wanted someone who specialised in mental health to help me. I’d been on the medication for about a year, but I apparently should have been getting infinitely more benefit from it than I was.
The assessment consisted of a one-hour booking which turned into a near two-hour session with me, my counsellor, and a young psychiatrist. I think I threw him a little by being so on the ball with my own mentality, and after an extensive fleshing out of my childhood, my cross-continental uprooting, my traumatic experience of a “marriage”, my amazing but heartbreakingly ill partner and my increasingly toxic work environment, he decided I “didn’t fit any one mould.” I learned that within classifications of the various mental illnesses any one person could have, there were “cluster A, B and C trait” characteristics, each subsequent one being less common than the last, but still possibly present. I didn’t have a textbook anxiety disorder. I definitely didn’t have social anxiety, which explains why I felt so out of place in the ten-week program I attended a year ago. I didn’t have generalised anxiety either, but I did have B- and C-cluster traits of a “non specified anxiety disorder”. Additionally, I had the same for borderline personality disorder. He made it very clear I didn’t have BPD – but my heightened concern about others’ perception of me being “good enough” and continual fear of abandonment fall into that realm.
The fact that I didn’t fit neatly in one box didn’t surprise me. I never have in any area of my life, and only recently found peace with simultaneously being a fiercely passionate creative with a love for arts and language and an enormous sci-fi, psychology and science nerd with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. I never have been typical, and this plagued me for most of my life. But I think I’ve learned to embrace the uniqueness – and so the diagnosis, as it were, didn’t upset me. He recommended a change in medication, some mental exercises, and to check in with my doctor and counsellor regularly over the next couple of months.
“There is nothing less romantic, literary, or lyrical than the language of pathology, diagnosis, symptom checklists. As I read through these checklists over and over again I was struck by the harshness, the crudeness of the terminology. And once the evaluation process began, more and more distinctly unpoetic terms were added to the lists, as the problems quickly grew in scope and seriousness.” — Priscilla Gilman
It’s hard to put this stuff out into the world, to admit that you’re flawed, but I want to remember the journey. I’m not scared of being judged for it because I know I’m really doing something about it. And I tell myself that makes me brave. On top of that, I am so much more than a diagnosis. I’m someone who takes action when things get sucky, I’m someone dedicated to bettering myself, I’m someone who makes goals and follows through on them, and I’m someone who feels the fear and goes ahead and tries anyway. I’m someone who sees beauty in the universe and feels so very deeply, and I’m someone who’ll be a brilliant friend if you’ll let me. I am so much more than a diagnosis, and this is merely a stop on the map that will lead me to where I believe I’m supposed to be. I know a lot of people are reluctant to turn to medication when it comes to issues of mental health, usually due to the strange notion that becoming dependent on them is both terrifying and bad. Is it so terrifying when one has something as terrible as cancer and “depends” on medication for a better quality of life? Why the double standard when it comes to issues of the mind?
So it’s been a couple of weeks. The first night I began the new meds I was promptly knocked the hell out for a good fifteen hours, and struggled to stay awake past 8 PM for the next few nights. But that very first day, I was blown away by how quickly I felt so much better. It felt like I’d been living with my heart in a vice that had finally been released and allowed to breathe. I felt free, and it felt strange – it felt like the continual physical tension and weight of anxiety and worry I hadn’t even realised was there was gone. I was just about to go into a brand new job, and I found myself excited, without a trace of fear. It was beyond bizarre. But I couldn’t be happier. This freeing has left me with a sense of urgency – to dive into the world around me and do all those things I’d set out to do, knowing how much easier they’re all going to be. Knowing that the joy and adrenaline will finally outweigh the fear. My first week at work is going swimmingly, and the plan is to get up and perform at an open mic within the next two weeks (without throwing up afterward).
I think this is the start of brilliant things.
I’m only in my second week of the new year and my life has already turned upside down. I say that in the best way possible.
The change began over the Christmas holidays, over which I couldn’t get the nagging little thought of work out of my mind. I’d had my annual performance review right before buggering off for two weeks of hot chocolate and Every Christmas Episode of Everything Ever (Community in claymation was the clear winner of the awesomeness category), and it hadn’t gone as I’d hoped. I’d submitted my self review about a week prior, and finally felt proud as I handed it in, seeing real achievements listed throughout. I’d built a network that spanned across the country, initiated and developed regular newsletters and communication pieces that engaged people, managed a social media presence, become chair of the global LGBTA steering committee, spearheaded a regional employee recognition campaign to promote organizational values, and been chosen as one of only fifteen worldwide colleagues to represent the company at a 3,000-strong attendee summit for corporate diversity. I’d been told they’d never had anyone like me, and I handed in my review (along with several areas for improvement, of course) with a real sense of pride. I’ve always had issues with self-doubt and feelings of not being good enough, but I was confident this year, I’d made some pretty big strides.
But apparently not. In 2013, I was to be spending less time on communications and more time on filing and learning the Canadian pension system, studying handbooks and learning the legal terminology needed to draft complex invoice schedules. I was to be more passionate about clerical duties and less about issues that are important at a corporate level, but have been lacking at a local one. I was to stop bringing forward new ideas and remember my position. And that haunted me for the next two weeks.
I’ve known for a while there’s been a discrepancy between my values, passions and strengths and the ones expected in my current position. I’ve tried desperately to bring forward what I believed was valuable and much-needed change, but there’s only so much you can do from an entry-level position. Everyone around me has always told me I need to be somewhere creative, somewhere that plays to my strengths and allows me to do what I love most of all: writing, design, social media, communications, and building a culture of respect, diversity and inclusion.
So over Christmas, I tried to find one. I found a position I felt would be perfect, but didn’t hold my hopes too high. Everyone and their dog makes the new year’s resolution of finding a new job, and the market would be saturated. It also asked for a professional qualification and several years’ experience in an industry I didn’t really have, but I applied anyway.
Then I was asked for an interview.
Then I was asked if I was interested in an even more ideally suited position: Communications Manager at a magazine/publisher. I spent 45 minutes talking with someone who saw everything I stood for, who was on the same page when it comes to relating with a team, building a culture of respect and creativity, who valued my efforts as key communications ones, not administrative “extras”. We talked openly about my anxiety and how I was continually trying new things to tackle it. We talked about psychology – he’d been researching the Myers-Briggs personality model hours before my interview because he, too, felt people work better together when they understand each other. I may have done a happy clap at this point. The next day I was called back and offered the position. I was told told one of the main reasons for the decision was because he’d read my blog the previous night. This very one right here, where I write about my struggles, my goals, my dreams… ironically, this very blog which a current colleague had forwarded to my supervisor in attempts to get me into trouble became the very reason someone else wanted me around. It was everything I’d ever wanted in a work environment.
So I accepted! I gave three weeks’ notice on Monday, and was blown away by the plethora of e-mails from people all over the world telling me how much of an impact I’d had. How integral I’d been to people and how much I’d done to stand up for what’s right. I had people in other countries I’d never even met telling me how much they’d miss me. And on a day where I felt scared, nervous about taking a leap into the unknown and questioning my ability to live up to what I hope to be, it was exactly what I needed.
I start the first week of February, leaving me a whole day off to transition. But that’s okay. I didn’t want to leave my girls here in the lurch, and I wanted to leave in good faith, despite the challenges over the past eighteen months. Because this place gave me opportunities. I met lifelong friends and I got to travel and be surrounded with thousands of souls committed to making the corporate world a better place. I got to put Winnipeg on the map, and I learned truly what I should be doing. And as if to solidify exactly what that is, I received an e-mail this week informing me I’m going to have my first work of fiction published in a literary magazine!
I can’t wait for this next chapter. I’m terrified, but I refuse to let that dictate my actions and mentality. I’m incredibly grateful, and more than anything, I’m excited. It’s kind of what I’ve wanted my entire life.
Well, I’ve been back in Winnipeg for about three weeks now since heading to Baltimore last month. I was pretty scared to go to begin with, and the hurricane didn’t do much for alleviating that fear, but the fact that I’m here writing to you should be a good indication of my not dying or getting whisked away to Oz.
The Out and Equal Workplace Summit was pretty incredible. I joined 34 other colleagues from offices across the globe along with close to 3,000 individuals all committed to workplace equality. I don’t even know where to begin – it was such an energizing week full of shared education, experiences, strategies, struggles and hope, and being part of such a large group of like-minded people was nothing short of inspirational.
I attended numerous workshops put on by big companies and learned about things like The Trevor Project, designed with the hope for a future “where the possibilities, opportunities and dreams are the same for all youth, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.” They are determined to end suicide among LGBT youth. Acceptance and inclusiveness are part of their mantra, and they are rooted in the belief that everyone should be treated like a human being. It Gets Better is another fantastic project started in 2010 in response to the suicides of teenagers who were bullied because they were gay.
I also had the chance to attend a session delivered by Google on LGBT issues in a global workplace. Part of their mission includes many diversity and inclusion efforts: “in addition to hiring the best talent, the diversity of perspectives, ideas and cultures leads to the creation of better products and services.” I couldn’t agree more. Throughout the workshop, I found myself simultaneously inspired and saddened. It was encouraging to see such a large company have strong Employee Resource Groups, strong local leadership and support from the executive level to ensure their colleagues are treated with the same respect as their clients – but it was also incredibly eye-opening to see just how much work there still is to be done. I sat behind a representative from a company in Singapore, and had to jot down his awesome comment: “It’s a very restrictive culture there. And I’m all about tearing that shit up.” Yes, we may work in restrictive, conservative cultures, but that doesn’t mean conformity is the answer. Nobody should feel pressured to hide who they really are, and personally, I believe it’s ultimately to the detriment of the offices that foster that sort of environment. When people feel afraid, judged, or reprimanded for bringing their true selves to the workplace, motivation goes out the window.
I also had the chance to attend an interesting workshop put on by Straight for Equality and PFLAG on navigating religion and LGBT issues in the workplace. As a straight atheist, I was highly intrigued to hear how these seemingly mutually exclusive topics could coexist, and actually left quite inspired. I’m not going to go into my feelings toward religion right now, but it was nice to hear of some churches actually taking steps away from judgment and exclusion and initiating things that promote equality for all.
As one of my colleagues stated, “as with every civil rights and equality issue, it’s only when the many come together that we achieve the power of one. There are no women’s rights, gay rights, ethnic minority rights or religious rights… there are only human rights.”
People at work are often afraid to speak up about LGBT issues, despite the fact that 8 out of 10 people in the US know someone who is LGBT. Reasons can range from being afraid of controversy, being opposed based on religious grounds, and being afraid of being thought to be gay – as was my experience when I hung the Pride flag in my office! Again, it was saddening to see these issues so horribly rampant, but somehow comforting realizing you’re not alone.
There are many anti-LGBT arguments out there that simply don’t make sense. Workplace benefits, the right to marry, and adoption legislation should be equal across the board. When they’re not, you’re effectively stating that some people do not deserve the same rights as other human beings. And the fact that this is considered an argument worthy of debate is beyond ridiculous. These are real people who live, breathe, work just as hard and love just as much as everybody else, and to deny them the same basic rights based on who they are is a form of discrimination no different than sexism, ageism or racism.
Before I left, I had an unsettling talk with one of my superiors about the discrepancy between some of the company’s values and the lack thereof existing at the ground level. I am proud to work for a company that promotes diversity, respect, innovation and inclusion, and I am even prouder of all the work that the LGBTA group has done for health and welfare benefits and US tax legislation. But there’s a difference between talking the talk and walking the walk. When I pointed out the incongruity, the response was a disheartening “you can’t change people”. Is that what people struggled against back in the day when fighting for race equality? Maybe deep down, it is difficult to change people, and maybe it’s not my place to do it. But you can change behaviour, you can promote strong values, and you can lead by example. That’s why we need to keep fighting the fight and standing up for what’s right. (I swear I didn’t mean for that to rhyme. I’d be a terrible rapper.)
The summit concluded with a glittering gala celebration, hosted by comedian Kate Clinton who reminded us of the safety and acceptance we all deserve in our workplaces. Guest speaker Brigadier General Tammy Smith, the first openly LGBT officer of flag rank in the US Army, shared her experience of successfully rising through the ranks while struggling to remain true to herself. Her resounding remarks illuminated the importance of each individual’s presence at Summit and future equality efforts. Addressing all attendees, sponsors, volunteers and staff, Tammy said: “If I am able to stand here as a soldier and as my authentic self, it’s thanks to you. Don’t stop, don’t even slow down in creating equal workplaces. I am in your debt.” I sat next to someone who recognised my name as “the one who’s done so much for the gays.” 🙂 And Sister actual Sledge performed!!
I spent much of the remainder of that evening crying instead of packing. If you know me personally, you’ll already know that crying is about as normal to me as breathing (I just feel really hard!), but that closing night, I couldn’t help but sob. It was a mixed bag of feelings – gratitude for having been given such an incredible opportunity, sadness after hearing so many stories of injustice and discrimination, fear of being too small to make the amount of change so desperately needed, inspired by the inclusion and diversity efforts of so many organizations out there, and the blessing of having met such an amazing group of brilliant world-changers.
In the words of a colleague and friend: “the conference sneaks it way into your heart and slaps you awake with its true relevance. Empowered by the passion and energy for human rights, educated and armed by workshops, panels and discussions, I am reminded of the privilege and duty I have to keep evolving as a man… as a gay man. I was touched spiritually and prayed with strangers in an exhibit hall. I was brought to tears more than once hearing others’ stories, witnessed true strength and courage of those that have formed friendships that fill a void left by families, and recognized the enormous sense of family and community. Thankful for the opportunity and the blessing. My love to all those who touched my heart this week and entered into my life. May we continue to empower each other.”
As of next week, I’ll be flying to Baltimore, MD (home of the grave of a certain Mr. Poe!) for a work trip to attend the largest LGBT corporate conference in North America. Close to 3,000 LGBTAs will be in attendance, and I, a little Winnipeg Administrative Assistant, was somehow chosen as one of fifteen colleagues from across the world to go. This wasn’t without its challenges – Administrative Assistants don’t usually get to travel, aren’t really supposed to take on extra-curriculars, and definitely don’t have corporate credit cards. When I was asked, the immediate response locally was a hesitant yes, on the condition that I did all prep work for it on my own time, and earned the hours in advance to cover the travel days. Nobody else had to do that. But because of the unusual circumstance of somebody at my level being offered this opportunity, I did. Which I reluctantly decided I was okay with – I wasn’t going to miss out on something this awesome just for the sake of having to work through lunch hours!
Something I’ve struggled with throughout my career are the limitations determined by job title. Possibly appearance, too, but I’ve talked about that before. I have a pattern of entering organizations at the administrative level – reception, admin assistant, etc. and quickly expanding the role as much as I can to reflect my actual capacity. I wasn’t given a brain to answer phones and file papers, and I’ve proven myself more than capable in writing/marketing/graphic design, social media, group facilitation, and all sorts of communications functions. At my last job, I initiated, designed and delivered entire curriculum for a series of workshops, gave corporate presentations to promote services, wrote radio/print ads, and managed two corporate videos from the ground up. Yet my title was not permitted to reflect how much more I brought to the role. I always suspected it was due to looking young, but now I’m experiencing it again, I’m certain it’s the case.
I’m 27 years old. I still get asked if I’m 18 and told how young I look. People joke that it’s a good thing – and I’m sure one day when I hit forty, it will be – but in the meantime, it’s a curse. People judge you based on what’s on the surface. They don’t take the time to read over your accomplishments or look at your work ethic. They don’t spend time investing in hearing your ideas or asking your opinion. They see someone who looks new to the workforce with an entry-level title. Someone inexperienced and therefore unworthy of being heard. I’ve come up with countless proposals, ideas and process improvements, I’ve expanded my network, I’ve initiated communications and social media strategies that have gone national. I’ve been asked to be part of a global steering committee for a corporate diversity network. Outside my office walls, I’m recognized and valued. But locally, I get the sense I need to stop thinking outside the box, get back in it, and stay there. Consequently, the flame on my desire to do more is waning. And how is that good for a company as a whole?
In addition to titles and physical appearance, I’m sure some of this is generational. I always have been one of the youngest members of the office, and it is hard to “teach old dogs new tricks”. But how do you get those tricks to be acknowledged when the very position you’re in is the obstacle? I’m struggling a little with this trip. I’m going as a corporate ambassador, to promote the company and how it encourages diversity, respect, and innovation. I am proud to work somewhere that supports these values – I just wish there was something I could do to help them become more of a priority. Still, I am incredibly excited (and nervous!) for this trip. I’m going to be meeting colleagues from across the world I’ve been getting to know and befriend over the last few months. I’m going to be surrounded by people who have the same values I do, who share the same passion for equality in the workplace. It’s going to be incredibly inspiring. But I’m nervous about how to get my learning heard when I return home. I have felt disheartened – but one of my US colleagues encouraged me recently to keep doing what I’m doing. Keep standing up for what’s right, doing everything I can to promote inclusion, diversity and equality. He reminded me that I may only reach one person – but that that in itself is one more person touched than had I given up. I’ve tried to take that message to heart and keep it there for when things get tough.
At the end of the day, I don’t want to look back and say I was defeated. I want to stand strong, though perhaps having taken a fair share of knocks, perhaps a little scarred, and perhaps slightly saddened by the discrepancy between how the world is and how it could be. But I want to be able to say I never gave up. I know my capabilities, and I refuse to be caged by others’ resistance to change and innovation. And I know my intentions are always to better things around me. It’s hard, sometimes, when your efforts are stifled and quelled, but I think that’s where personal accountability comes into play: it’s easy to become the product of other people’s expectations, and it’s alarmingly more so to believe something just because it’s continually reiterated – but you have to find your own truth, stand your ground, and remember the wise words of Albert Einstein:
Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly.
I’ll update again soon – this summer/autumn have been incredibly eventful, and I have stories of tattoos, space parties, new kittens, love, ridiculous Halloween costumes, music, bookwriting and flesh-eating diseases to share, along with a post-conference update on how brilliant Out & Equal was. Oh, and why am I going to a giant LGBT conference anyway? No, to answer the colleague who asked my boss if I was “coming out”. I’m going because I’m proud to be an ally, and I want to do everything I can to change the corporate culture to one of equality, where people can feel comfortable, unafraid, and free to be their true selves.
Stay strong, stay real, and see you on the other side!
Edit: In a case of fantastic timing, I saw this article posted by a friend of mine today: When did Gen Y become Gen Y-Can’t-We-Take-You-Seriously? “I hate that adage that youth is wasted on the young. It’s so defeatist, and it comes with a whiff of patronizing bitterness and jealousy. Usually, it’s uttered by people who are older, who somehow resent the young – the beauty and possibility they possess, and the fresh intelligence that threatens those in positions of authority.” It seems I’m not alone after all.
“You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.” – Neil Gaiman
It’s seven o’clock on a Saturday morning, and after eight hours of tossing and turning, waking from strange, sporadic dreams every hour or two (one involving dating someone who wore salad for a beard, and getting upset with my parents for judging him on his choice of facial hair), I think I might be having a Writer’s Moment. A few minutes ago I was tucked away with a happy cat in my arms and an electric blanket warming my toes. Snug, but getting rather tired of focusing exercises designed to slow your thoughts and will you to sleep after every attempt resulted in nothing but more consciousness. So I found myself starting to form sentences in my head instead. I wonder sometimes if there’s something wrong with me. Is the inside of anyone else’s head so busy, so full of an endless rapid fire of thought after thought, feeling after feeling? I’m okay with being a deep thinker, but sometimes (usually around three o’clock in the morning), I yearn to be able to shut off the relentless stream of consciousness. Especially when said stream is composed of a rather irritating mathematics problem I’d heard earlier that day, which barged its way into my head, grabbed hold of every scrap of drowsiness, and proceeded to promptly punch each one out before putting its feet up, lighting a cigarette, and cranking the stereo. (Sidenote: thank heavens I have someone I can call at 1:30 in the morning to solve it for me. Hopefully I still will at the time of broadcast.) This morning was another restless one, and I found my thoughts wandering to where I was this time a year ago. I gave up on the idea of a lie-in and decided to write about them instead. This time a year ago, it was the night before my wedding, and I was sitting on my bed in tears with my husband-to-be, torn between calling the whole thing off and trying to convince ourselves we could make something so very wrong work.
A year ago, I was writing the following words. It’s hard not to see the signs from every direction pointing out the enormous mistake I’d be making:
It all started last Thursday night with the rehearsal dinner. The plan was to have everyone have a quick run through at the church, head out to a restaurant that’s usually one of my favourites, then head home for our last night as Mr. and Miss. And words cannot begin to describe how polarly opposite the evening went. The rehearsal itself was fine until the very end, as everyone was departing, when something very dramatic, very unpleasant, very… conniving, and very unexpected happened. It wasn’t the best way to head off to a dinner that was supposed to be a celebration, but we got there, met our friends and family, and ordered what looked to be a fantastic meal. Until the table became a battleground. And we were told they had no beef. Or wine. And it arrived over an hour late. One meal missing. And they refused to give us a discount. And then it broke into a rave. It was kind of beyond ridiculous… but after talking with some married friends, I found myself slightly reassured when I was told “I don’t think there is such a thing as a smooth rehearsal dinner”.
I then arrived home and thought I’d do one last Facebook/Twitter check before logging off for the weekend… when I was met with one of the most horrible things you could imagine two nights before the day you get married. An anonymous comment on my blog, held for moderation, on the post immediately following the one about Internet Trolls and the exceptional cowardice it shows when someone takes the time to invest in attempts at sabotage, and doesn’t have the balls to attach their own name. But since this person’s contact information was limited to “firstname.lastname@example.org”, I have no choice but to respond to it here.
“I wonder if you really should be getting married. You seem so ready to emerge as who you fully are. It seems to me that you could be traveling around the world, doing great and amzing things, playing the field, flirting with all sorts of things. If your married, day-after-day you’ll wake up with nothing to take you beyond yourself and your husband can only challenge you so much. Really, as exciting as it sounds, how is a theater production going to make you a better person in the grand scheme?
Maybe its just that we’ve all watched you grow so much in the last little while that it seems foolish now to throw all the opportunities that life has to offer to settle with one person in a cold city that really has nothing to offer. When your husband comes home after a long day of work, won’t that bother you that hes content living in a city with his family and you’re so far away from the amazing things you could be doing elsewhere?
When you say, “I do” it may be like your a princess but the very next day it’s just routine and a drag. You can’t be happy with that. I think that married life is going to stop you from growing into the person you’re becomming and I think you know that. You’re going to be stuck and I think you’ll grow to resent the fact that your husband is keeping you down. Well, its not him but its married life. You could be hanging out with so many interesting people, going interesting places. Instead you work (I presume) only 9 to 5 and write about music and doing drama. Already your relationship has limited you.
Sorry Emily but I had to say it. I fear this marriage might just put you in a rut. Every day, the same person… the same place… the same routine. That’s not the emily I know.”
To this day, the author’s identity remains unknown, but it’s interesting to see that despite everything around me telling me to turn around and run, I still went ahead with it. Yes, hindsight may be 20/20, but there’s something unsettling about having gone ahead with something when logic had been flashing neon BAD IDEA signs at every turn. I know there are thousands of people who make the same decision I did – who defy logic and instinct and get swept away in the pressure of having spent a great deal of time and money investing in something, in the fear of judgment, and in the idea that maybe true, fairytale, soul mate love really does only exist in stories and films, that nobody’s perfect, and that maybe this is as good as it gets. It’s unsettling to look back and see how I prioritised what was comfortable, despite knowing that what I longed for was so much more. How many people, I wonder, unwittingly spell their own life sentence of settling for something just because what’s comfortable is an easier option than the risk of never finding what they truly desire?
I had a conversation with The Professor recently, about our past relationships and how we’d both been subject to criticism for some of the decisions we’d made. In my early twenties, likely tying in to a bit of self-esteem issues, I went from relationship to relationship, not spending much time alone because being alone was scary, all the while knowing deep down inside that every one was wrong – that somewhere, I was always wishing for something more. Not the healthiest of way to spend a few years, but then again, perhaps going through the so very wrong allowed me to truly recognize what was actually right and acceptable. Perhaps if things had been too comfortable, I wouldn’t have had any motivation to get out, and the opportunity to meet the someone I was more suited to would have sailed past into the sunset, and I never would’ve known otherwise. Contrarily, he’d spent the same years doing quite the opposite – avoiding relationships like the plague because they never met the hope of what true love should be, spending years in solitude and breaking off potential connections soon after they’d begun because that nudging feeling of knowing they weren’t it was ever-present. It’s funny, the way people spend those first few years of adulthood, and how attitudes to relationships are formed, shaped, altered and evolved, and I don’t really know what it means, but I don’t suppose it really matters, because each path led to the here and now.
I just realized this post isn’t going to end up being big on coherence, but since I’ve been a tad absent over the last few months, I felt a strong urge to write one last post before the year was out. A few noteworthy incidents have taken place recently – my job for one has turned out to be an absolute dream, and I can genuinely say I’d be happy to spend seven days a week there! I’m up on the fourteenth floor of the tallest building in the city (I think), and I arrive each morning to a view of downtown stretching as far as the eye can see, the sun illuminating an expanse of morning cloud cover in bright pinks and oranges, and spend my last hour of the day watching it retire as the lights of the city below slowly come out like stars. I work with a brilliant group of people who seem to accept, like, and even encourage me to be my nerdy self, and I’m somehow seen as the extrovert of the office. It’s become a safe environment for me to be exactly who I want to be, and I absolutely love it.
Six months past deadline, I finally checked off the hardest thing on my 26 Before 26 list – learning to drive. I’d written about it this summer after driving out of the city for the first time, spent looking at the biggest, most glittering night sky I’d ever seen, and the sense of accomplishment outweighed the fear I’d had for so very long. But then winter came, and dropped a whole pile of snow and entirely foreign driving conditions on top of me – three days before my road test. I panicked, but did kind of okay – took the test, parallel parked perfectly, and promptly failed – I got five points too many, for not knowing how to turn the windscreen wipers off. I was really disappointed and cried like an absolute child for a good half hour – I’d never failed anything in my life, and when you pride yourself on overachieving, it feels like the end of the world – but I made my second appointment, and will be trying again right before New Year’s Eve. Fingers crossed I don’t bugger it up this time – although getting into a giant car crash and totalling my boyfriend’s car last week isn’t exactly the smooth sailing I was hoping for. I was driving down a main street on the way to the last of the Christmas shopping when out of nowhere, somebody ran straight through a stop sign to our right and pulled out immediately in front of us. The road was icy, there was less than a second to impact, yet it felt like everything was in slow motion. I could see it coming, I could see there was nowhere to go, and we ploughed straight into the side of the other vehicle in front. The airbags immediately went off – and those are not the soft, cushiony things you’re led to believe will save you from rocketing headfirst out of the window – they’re a sudden, very solid punch in the face, and they emit some kind of smokey gas which absolutely suffocated me. I couldn’t breathe, and the door was jammed, so I couldn’t get out of the vehicle. I looked to my right and saw my love with blood all over his face from the smashed passenger window. I kept saying I couldn’t breathe and scrambling to get out of the car, the door not opening… when the other driver opened it for me from the outside. Apparently The Professor had been trying to help me get out of his side, which I don’t remember, and apparently I’d had the car in park and my foot pressing wildly hard on the accelerator while I struggled to get out… which I also don’t remember. I just remember panic, shards of glass flying into the car slowly as it filled with smoke, and ending up in tears in a fire truck next to my poor boyfriend, whose nose had bled all down his face and onto his coat and hoodie, unable to stop shaking. The funny thing was I knew the other driver – a rich older gentleman I’d done some design work for a few years ago – who gave me an enormous hug and apologized profusely. We exchanged details, and my dear in-laws came to pick us up and take us for something to eat. I felt terrible I’d completely wrecked somebody else’s car – a really great car, too – but was thankful it wasn’t so much worse. It hasn’t done wonders for my road confidence, but I figure now’s as good a time as any to get back behind the wheel – and hopefully we’ll be mobile again within a couple of weeks.
Oh, another noteworthy event – my tattoo! I got a beautiful old quill pen on my inner forearm a few weeks ago – an eternal reminder of my love for the written word, and to draw me to the activity I love more than anything in the world. I also spent four hours getting black out of my hair for good and going a bold red I really love. I finally feel comfortable and confident enough to carry it off. 🙂
Outside of work and big scary accidents, I really should write about something that’s been quite a prominent feature of my life over the last month or so. I guess it could fall under the category of “general health and wellbeing” – very much so, for reasons a handful of you know, regarding The Professor, but also in terms of really dealing with my anxiety. I think a number of factors contributed to it getting to a breaking point. The thoroughly traumatic dissolution of my marriage, the subsequent moving home, the new job… the letting go of everything that had become comfortable, and immediately focusing on forward movement rather than allowing myself time to heal properly was definitely a factor – and I’m at a point where I’m reframing how I deal with the world; retraining myself and rewriting my attitude to life in general. I’d always felt so strongly that life was short and no moment should be wasted, and only recently am I learning that an attitude I felt so positive actually caused a lot of harm in the long term. By not allowing myself time to deal with what happened and diving straight into creating a new future, the damage was never given the opportunity to be resolved in a healthy way. It began to affect everything around me: I spent every day in a state of constant worry, and subconsciously allowed the fear of history repeating itself to manifest and weasel its way into everything I did. I started getting upset for no reason at all in the real world, seeing tiny, insignificant things as the catalyst for what happened happening all over again, and reacted accordingly. I became an insane person. I’d get into fits of tears and despair over trivial things; I’d take out my worries on those I loved as if they were actually doing the very thing I feared most; I’d worry about being fired for not learning quickly enough at work and was shocked to receive a glowing review from my coworkers and bosses about how I’d done the opposite. “Not wasting time” and focusing so strongly on shaping the future right now prevented me from dealing with things healthily. It came out in disagreements, too – I’d want to move on immediately, when what was needed was some time to cool down, and my insistence on “making the most of the time we have” was the very thing that exacerbated everything. So for the last few weeks, I’ve called that into question. I think my tendency toward impatience definitely plays a part too. I started seeing a counsellor who’s helped me recognise the destructive thought patterns that had begun to take over, and provided me with tools and techniques to catch myself in my tracks, break bad habits, and make healthier choices. I’ve done a lot of work over the last few weeks, recognised my habits, and been able to react differently – and life has been so much easier. No longer am I consumed by worry, or desperate for reassurance. No longer do I fear being physically alone in my own company – something that had for a long time been a territory of fear and overthinking things, a place to allow my thoughts and worries to take over reality and lead to panic. I’m learning slowly to break the compulsions that almost destroyed everything, and for the first time, I feel genuine. All the endeavors at conquering my anxiety up until now definitely helped me in a way, but those unhealthy thought patterns were never properly addressed. I was building a house before laying the foundations – it’s no wonder everything came crashing down. So I’m starting again. I’m not just focusing on actions lining up with the person I want to be, but thoughts, too – that’s the hard part, but the important part. And at the end of the day, they’re just a habit. And habits can be broken, and new ones can very much be made.
So it’s a few days before Christmas, and after an eventful year, I have a feeling that things paved the way for what’s going to be the best one yet. I’m in a place where everything is clearer – the past, present and future are written in a language I finally understand perfectly, and 2012 is looking brighter than ever. I’m heading into it with more certainty, knowledge, and tools than I think I’ve ever had, and I think those are going to lead to more happiness, confidence, deeper connections, less worry, and a better person for people to be around. I’m not proud of how badly I slipped up, but what are mistakes if we can’t learn giant life lessons from them? The darkness does, after all, define where the light is. I’m looking forward to a holiday filled with real friendship, genuine happiness over obligation, seeing the looks on people’s faces when they open presents I have a sneaky feeling are rather awesome, the Doctor Who Christmas special – and course a good old EastEnders massacre. I’m looking forward to a year where every thought, feeling and event of every day shines a little brighter. I’m looking forward to more tattoos (thank you Frank Turner for the endless inspiration), more risks, more meteor showers, more writing, brilliant music, more laughter, more growth, and life truly, finally, being exactly what it was supposed to be.
Happiest of Christmases to you, and I apologise wholeheartedly for the lengthy ramble. I just felt I ought to note a bit of life as it is here and now before heading into the new year. 🙂 I hope 2012 is everything you hope and dream for. I started this post quoting my favourite author, and I think he’s pretty good for wrapping it up, too:
“May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.”
“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…
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 little while ago, I disclosed what it was I did for work. (I hadn’t realised this had been a secret until I saw all the “…so THAT’S what you do!” messages floating on in!) Working in the non-profit sector has been an amazing ride over the last two and a half years, a ride in which I’ve unearthed a passion for helping those less fortunate, been given an outlet in which to grow, and developed an incredible appreciation for everything I have. There are no words to describe the feeling of joy that accompanies watching someone’s life turn around in the span of a few months, and being in a position that exists to help rather than make profit is truly a blessing. But that’s not to say that every once in a while it doesn’t tug at the heart strings.
Sadly, I see so many people every day who’ve fallen victim to an array of sad life circumstances. They may be disabled, on welfare, in abusive relationships, or recently made redundant. Remember Greg? Heartbreaking, right? Often, they don’t have access to things like fresh fruit or vegetables, or even a telephone line. Sometimes, they may not even have a home address. The disturbing reality of wanting to help people is the fact that it’s a requirement for those people to need that help in the first place. At work, the testimonial I hear over and over again, however, is that the people that come here feel, often for the first time in a very long time, welcomed, cared about, and not judged. It’s so easy to judge a book by its cover, but taking the time to hear someone’s story and see them as a real person might just be the best give you could ever give them.
So last week, I had an opportunity to learn what it’s like to live like some of our clients have to every day. An e-mail was circulated amongst staff asking if anyone was interested in taking the “Poverty Challenge”- to live on a budget of $25 for seven days. That included all food and beverages, all personal hygiene products, as well as bills. You could earn a few extra dollars here and there by going without things like television $1 per day), mobile phones ($2 per day) or a shower/load of laundry ($1.50 per day). You had to go into it starting with absolutely nothing, and live on a similar budget to that of many of those on our welfare system. I knew it would be tough, but I like to think I at least attempt a challenge when it’s presented! Plus I thought it would go a long way in deepening an understanding of (and care for) many of the people I see every day. At the beginning of the week, those who’d signed up had a meeting. There were only five in attendance.
On the first day, I buggered up right away and went on a Starbucks run with my coworkers. After I’d paid my $5 I was mortified as my prior obligation immediately made its way back to the forefront of my mind. I resolved to be 100% diligent and disciplined for the rest of the week, went shopping, and spent $20 of my $25 on food that I hoped would get me through the next seven days. A loaf of bread could be used for sandwiches at lunch, as well as toast in the mornings. Margarine was a luxury anyway. A couple of cans of tuna would last several days for lunch, and a bag of plain oatmeal, though pretty tasteless, would be a good start to the day that would probably keep me full longer. Dinner was the tough part. I bought one jar of cheap pasta sauce and a box of spaghetti, two boxes of Kraft Dinner, and a carton of Hamburger Helper (SO gross), which I knew would leave me with leftovers for at least two nights. I calculated what was in my shopping basket to see if I’d have enough for cheese. Just about, but I’d have to ration it. And that’s what lasted me all week. No fresh produce, no soy milk, no multivitamins, no tea or coffee, no snacks, and no juice. Tiny little things I usually weave into the fabric of every day without thinking twice became luxuries I couldn’t afford. I had to “earn” an extra few dollars by skipping a shower or a load of washing a few times, or refraining from using Internet or television (hence a bit of an absence from the blogosphere!).
I learned a copious amount over the last week, and as difficult as it was, I’m glad I went through it. I found quickly that I was learning not to waste – instead of making a big meal and scraping what I didn’t eat into the bin for example, I’d make an extra effort to take only half, and save some for the next day. I found the most difficult thing was learning how to say no to things I generally take for granted – even simple things like going on a coffee run with colleagues was $2 I didn’t have, so I definitely felt almost… embarrassed at not being able to partake. Embarrassment was a feeling that manifested itself throughout the week, not just at the workplace (an aptly timed “breakfast meeting” at a restaurant took place part-way through the week) but at home, too – I had to turn down invitations for coffee, lunch and dinner with friends, and had to show up at a friend’s barbeque over the weekend empty-handed. I noticed a difference in my energy levels – not being able to snack during the day contributed to increased levels of fatigue, hunger and – shock, horror – irritability! I then realised I’d been rationing so much I had a whole box of Kraft Dinner left for the last day, and got incredibly excited – not a usual feeling about food, but very much so after going without so much all week. Not being able to take multivitamins in combination with the cheap brands of basic soap and shampoo took its toll on my skin, and I found myself breaking out more towards the end of the week too.
In summary, doing the Poverty Challenge was definitely an eye-opening experience. It’s so sad to know that so many people have to live like this, and my heart absolutely goes out to them for getting through every day, often with a completely positive attitude, too. This really made me thankful for everything I have, especially the little luxuries about which I wouldn’t normally think twice. I think I’m going to be more mindful over the next little while – asking myself if I really need that Starbucks, or thinking twice about the size of my meals, and being more aware of the possibility of making them stretch to a second day. I’ll take my time when eating, appreciating it if only for the fact that I didn’t have to struggle to get it. And I will make a conscious decision to try and spread what I’ve learned, to try not to waste, and always try to do what I can to help those in need.
Do you think you’d be able to take the Poverty Challenge? What daily things do you feel lucky to have, or be able to do without struggling?
This is the story of how I was involved in a life or death experience.
Some of you know what I do for a living. For those who don’t, I work at a non-profit organisation comprised of programs targeted to different demographics to provide them with assistance, coaching and training to help them find employment. My department is different in that it provides paid work experience to people on welfare that have little to no employment experience – we send them out to perform housekeeping and garden work for seniors and people with disabilities. They receive assistance with daily living; our people gain valuable work experience, as well coaching on job search techniques. Win-win. It’s a wonderfully fulfilling place to spend my days, even if it is in a rather dodgy end of town – subsequently, we see an enormous variety of people and have all sorts of adventures – but these don’t tend to end up as near-death experiences. Save for one I was directly involved with last week.
We usually start our days with a morning meeting, where we’ll provide job leads and give out assignments for the day. It just so happened that we’d hired five new people that day, each of whom was to be paired up with a worker currently in the program to shadow. Everyone was sent out on assignment as normal, until just after lunch, when we received a phone call from one of the new hires. We’ll call him Mark. We’d sent him out to be trained by one of our best – let’s call him Greg – someone who’s always punctual, always gets excellent ratings from customers, always comes in with a positive attitude and has always been eager to help others. When we received the phone call from Mark saying Greg was “drunk and passed out” in the middle of the afternoon, my initial reaction was one of complete disbelief. After discussing it with a colleague, we decided to drive to his apartment looking for him. We got there – no answer. We phoned him several times – no answer. Going on the assumption that Mark was somehow correct, we hesitantly drove around the area, even popped into a couple of seedy bars, and kept our eyes peeled on the streets – no Greg.
We were heading back to the office when we received a phone call from our boss, with two revelations: firstly, that he was diabetic, and secondly, that Transit had found him passed out on the bus and were holding him at a stop until we arrived before calling 911. We drove up and saw him being what looked like physically restrained, but on closer inspection, turned out to be physically held upright. His eyes were glazed over, he wasn’t responding to questions, couldn’t sit up, and didn’t seem to understand anything. This wasn’t intoxicated; this was something medically very wrong. We got him into the back of the car and drove straight to the hospital. He didn’t know if he’d eaten, stared off into space when asked questions, and said his emergency contact was his father – who’d passed away years ago. He signed a form with a series of circles, and seemed to be passing in and out of consciousness in the wheelchair. We told them we thought his blood sugar was low and that he was diabetic – they tested, and it was at 1.8. When I read that anything below 70 mg/dL is considered too low, my heart skipped a beat. He could have lost his life.
They quickly hooked him up to an IV and within ten or fifteen minutes, he regained complete coherence – but didn’t remember a thing after getting on the bus, which was terribly scary. We stayed with him until he’d had a sandwich and orange juice and seemed very much back to his normal self. It turned out he hadn’t been able to afford rent and groceries, had paid the rent – and had only eaten a banana for lunch. We ignored our boss’s instructions to just “head home once he was at the hospital, your job is done”, and my colleague and I snuck out to buy him some food for the next few days. We dropped it back off at the hospital, at which point he had just finished some lasagne and was incredibly apologetic – but we were just overwhelmed with relief that he was still alive.
If it hadn’t been for the fact that he was training someone, he would have been travelling alone, and when he started losing coherence and consciousness, people probably would have assumed he was intoxicated, and could have just left him on the street, where he could have died. The thought is terrifying and absolutely heartbreaking. Somehow, we were driving around the exact area he’d been found by people who didn’t just dismiss him – I am so, so grateful – his guardian angel must have been watching over him. The next day, we looked into getting a Medic Alert bracelet for him, and an ID card to carry in his wallet explaining what to do in the event it happens again.
We take so much for granted, sometimes. Eating a meal in the evening, or grabbing a Starbucks in the morning is second nature to so many of us, we don’t even think of being able to do these things worry-free as a blessing. So many people in our own communities don’t have enough money to make ends meet, or they have a health condition that requires careful monitoring night and day. Yet they face the world with a cheerful spirit and a smile on their face. None of us had any idea what was going on behind the scenes with Greg – he always showed up with such a positive attitude you’d never expect anything out of the ordinary. Not disclosing his medical condition almost cost him his life. Today, even just for a second, please take a moment to count your blessings. Or if you’re struggling with something, don’t be afraid to ask for help – so someone can be there for you if you need it. I know so many of you reading this right now find no greater joy in life than helping others – and by not admitting we may need help sometimes, we deprive others of being able to do the same thing. Let someone be there for you. Know your friends and family and colleagues, and what to do in case of emergency. Let them know the same about you. Wear your medical ID if you need one (I finally ordered the Medic Alert bracelet I should’ve been wearing for the last couple of decades), and confide in those that love you. You never know when you might need it.
Over the last few years, I’ve become ever more interested in the world of psychology – how our minds work, how personality types determine our social functioning, and the reasons behind why a comment made to one person may get laughed off, and made to another may cause them to break down in tears. I’ve been spellbound by the behaviours of introverts and extraverts, and lap up anything I can get my hands on that leads to a better comprehension of myself, and of the world around me. More knowledge leads to more understanding, which leads to more confidence, right? Throughout childhood and adolescence, I didn’t understand why people did the things they did, and my natural reaction was one of opposition. I’d like to think that now, halfway to thirty, with a bit of education as my weapon, I can face the world a little more prepared, understand actions a little better – and deal with situations in a much more adult way.
But for all the studying and human understanding in the world, there will always be something that lies beyond the realm of our control: our genetic makeup, and how the world reacts to it. It’s no secret I have issues with body image. It’s no secret that the majority of people do. My problem is that I it’s something I can’t control. With relationships, personal struggles, fears or inner monologues – everyone can consciously make a choice to deal with things differently as the situation requires. We even do it subconsciously every day – we’ll leave the office wishing our boss a delightful evening, in our button-up shirts and pencil skirts, only to get home, change into pyjamas, and start cursing like a sailor, because our target audience is different. We act differently depending on who we’re with so we can best fulfill the image we want the other person to have of us. But what happens when it’s something you can’t control?
For my entire adult life, I’ve encountered one situation repeatedly: Based on how I look, people think I’m far younger than I actually am, and consequently react according to their preconceptions. I don’t get taken seriously. I’m almost a decade over the legal drinking age and get ID carded every time. In my early twenties, I worked a reception job, and had people come in asking if I was “the boss’s daughter”, thinking I was on work experience through high school while someone else ran the show. A couple of years later in a similar position, I even had someone refuse to deal with me “because I didn’t look old enough”, and actually request someone who was “at least forty” – who gave them the exact same information I already had. In facilitating workshops, or teaching classes, I have the hardest time because all my students are older than me – but an even harder one because I have to fight their initial impression that I can’t possibly be old enough to be a) in a position of authority, and b) know what the heck I’m talking about. It’s been my biggest roadblock my entire professional life: looking like I’m younger than a high school grad makes people not take me seriously.
I try to look more “adult” in the workplace. Where others are in baggy jumpers, I wear blazers. Where others are in palazzo pants, I’m in pencil skirts. Where half my colleagues can shop at Giant Tiger across the street and still get taken seriously, I make regular stops in my overdraft spending money on business staples that will hopefully give the impression that I’m just as much a professional as anyone else. A couple of years ago, I took over a Coordinator position for someone going on maternity leave – and though continuing the position identically, my title somehow converted to “Assistant.” Why? Because you have to appear older to qualify for a more impressive job title? I keep my hair long and dark, because with it up or short, I look even younger. Once recently, my supervisor caught me reapplying red lip colour. “Are you wearing lipstick?” she asked, in a manner reminiscent of a mother catching her child for the first time with a face full of her blusher and blue eye shadow. This past Friday, a government official was on a tour of our office, at the end of which she took the time to ask how I was in this position, because I “barely looked fifteen.” On our honeymoon, when booking a spa day, several members of staff actually asked me how old I was. What, because I looked like a child that couldn’t possibly have got a trip to an adults-only resort on my own? I’m sure no other guest was asked their age on that resort, just as I’m sure it wouldn’t even be mentioned if another member of staff were reapplying their makeup.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons I write, and I encourage real-life people to read my blog, too. It feels like if someone can see I actually do have something intelligent to say, or an adult opinion worth reading, then somehow they’ll take me more seriously. It’s almost like I want my writing, and what’s inside to make the first impression, because the reaction to the phsyical one isn’t what I want it to be. People always laugh, and tell me I’ll “be thankful for it when I’m forty”, but what about now? What about the CV full of job titles that don’t accurately describe the responsibilities I have, or the lower salary I’m paid because I appear younger than my colleagues? What about the years of having to work twice as hard to earn people’s respect, just because I look like I’m fresh out of high school? For years, studies have shown that women are paid less than men. I’m certain the same goes for those within the same sex who differ based on how “mature” they look, too. A growing body of research also supports the notion that physical appearance is directly correlated to job success, and managers are basing hiring decisions somewhat on how somebody looks – and not just in the outfit department. Women are being fired for being overweight, underweight, not attractive enough, not mature looking enough, and even too attractive and “distracting” to other members of staff. Perfectly qualified people in their mid-twenties are being overlooked because they look younger, and therefore less qualified, for jobs they can do just as well as – if not better than someone twice their age. But of course, nobody admits this is going on. Nobody wants to admit that important decisions affecting the course of somebody’s life can be based on something so frivolous as physical appearance.
So what’s a late bloomer to do? I can’t control the fact that I’m short or small any more than I can control people’s reactions to my genetic makeup. I can buy all the business suits, high heels and push-up bras in the world, but it’s not going to change the fact that underneath it all, my face is a traitor to my age, experience and intelligence. How do I get people to see me for what I really am, and not what I appear to be on the surface? How does what’s inside emerge victorious in the realm of the first impression?
Last month, I was away for a few weeks as a result of a nasty injury to my hand (sidenote: Dragon is proving absolutely invaluable), and since then, it’s come to my attention that I may have omitted several incidents that took place then that would probably be worth mentioning.
The first of which involves work, when late one morning, the head of the entire organization comes down to my office to inform me that the building was going on lockdown, and that we were not to leave or allow anyone else to leave or enter the premises until further notice – because a man with a gun was threatening to open fire. I know. Being in the closest office to the door outside, I immediately started panicking, dead certain that if anyone was going to get shot first, it would definitely be me. I paced the floors, closed the blinds, my heart racing the whole time, my thoughts darting between “what if this morning was the last time I see my husband?” and all the people I wanted to tell how much I loved them. Of course, this was entirely self-induced panic, as the boss had told us it was just a precaution – and the likelihood of it actually happening were slim-to-none. But if I’m good at one thing in this life, it’s Worrying Unnecessarily, and for about twenty minutes, I think I can say I had a near-death experience! Everyone was fine – except me, two days later, when I was informed this man was coming back to the building between 7:30 and 8:00 that morning. Being the one who generally arrives half an hour before everyone else, I was asked to stand guard (at the completely transparent glass door), keep the door locked, and only let in people who I knew were supposed to be in the building. Me. The 5’3” waif of a girl who could clearly take on a potential assassin before any other staff arrived. (Sidenote: I did take jiu-jitsu for several years, but that was over ten years ago, and throwing a big scary man is slightly different from throwing other twelve-year-olds.) Thankfully, he soon arrived with police and security, and all went on as normal. Phew.
The other noteworthy incident took place at home, and sadly, involved my little cat. I’m usually the first one home on weeknights, and I generally arrive to Miss Rose Kitten racing to greet me at the front door, meowing excitedly as if she’d been estranged for over a week, at which point I pick her up, take her out with me to pick up the day’s post, for all two minutes of which she soaks up her brief and glorious encounter with the outside world. This day, however, was different. I opened the door. There was no cat. I immediately thought she’d been accidentally locked in a room, so I quickly threw off my bag and coat, when I saw her coming down the stairs, strangely slowly. The usual mad dash was replaced by slow, cautious steps, and her head seemed to be hanging low – as if she were carrying something in her mouth. I didn’t have my glasses on, and my first instinct was something to the effect of crap, we must have mice, and she’s bringing me a present – until she got to the bottom of the stairs and didn’t look up.
Now, I should probably mention that Rose is pretty much the most fantastic cat in the world, and has an extensive repertoire of excellent qualities (case in point) – one of which most definitely isn’t her determinedness to stick her head in every glass of water, try and drink from it, then knock it over, spilling water everywhere. I turned the lights on, and to my horror, she had stuck her head in the glass carafe from the coffee machine (the lid had broken off months ago) while we were out, got said head firmly stuck with the mouth of said carafe around her neck, jumped off the counter in presumed terror, and smashed the glass on her head and all over the floor. This hadn’t removed the problem of it being stuck around her neck, and she’d spent the rest of the day in a chokehold with the spikey glass remnants sticking out around her face. One life very much lost. Thank HEAVENS she hadn’t cut herself, and I managed to get it off her quickly – but she’d probably been stuck like that for hours, unable to eat, sleep, or do pretty much anything. She was thoroughly traumatised, and I spent the rest of the evening keeping her cuddled close – until she saw a fresh glass of water on the coffee table. Head went straight in. At least we know her ordeal was short-lived…
Lately, it seems in all walks of life I’m coming across the same message: in order to be successful at something, you have to find your niche. I’d started thinking about this after our work retreat on teamwork a few weeks ago – we’d gone through six “indisputable laws” of successful team building, and the one I’d had the most trouble with was Law 3: The Law of the Niche. It stated that all players have a place where they add the most value, and if you weren’t working in an area you are naturally gifted and passionate about, you’ll never be as successful as if you are. If you try something you’re not naturally talented at, you’ll only ever be a 5/10. But if you work in your niche, you’ll hit 10s every day. This initiated a gaping chasm of worry in the pit of my stomach – all I’ve been trying to do for the last year is dive into things that make me uncomfortable, riding on the hope that repeat exposure will eventually make them totally fine. The idea being presented, though it made complete sense, was entirely contrary to everything I’ve been trying to do. Said chasm was further widened when we were all asked to go around the room stating what our niche was, and were we working in it? “No,” I thought to myself – “but how do I declare that to the boss who just gave me a new position, in front of all my colleagues?”
Initially, I thought my niche was a given – what I love doing at work is working in roles that allow me to be creative. Writing, designing, directing videos, creating advertising, doing radio – these were the sorts of things that were part of my job before the term ended. Now, the majority of my position involves things that aren’t quite such a natural fit: group facilitation, spreadsheets, and reports. Not so within my comfort zone. As we were going around the room, before they got to me, one of my (teacher) coworkers spoke up. “I don’t think of it as teaching,” she said, “I think of it as encouraging people to want to learn.” Now that really hit home. The thought of standing up in front of a class still makes me nauseous, but with practice it’s getting easier. Regardless, I don’t think it will ever be my “niche”. Encouraging others to want to learn however… has my name all over it. I’d always wanted to be a teacher throughout my adolescent life, before I realised I was afraid of public speaking. I’d always adored learning, too – I remember reading Jane Eyre in the hallways one lunch time and being stopped by an impressed English teacher and feeling awfully proud, wishing my classmates could experience this great piece of literature but saddened they seemed more interested in whose party to go to that weekend. I’ve always loved learning, so when I heard it framed like that, I thought maybe I am in my niche after all. I have the freedom to create curriculum, to design slideshows, to write cover letters and resumes and to encourage people to learn. And looking at it like that made me feel a whole lot better.
Finding my niche in the blogging world has been similarly difficult – mainly due to the fact that I refuse to have one! I see lots of blogs evolve from a collection of diverse thoughts into ones that limit themselves to one or two topics, and have their readership skyrocket through the roof. It continually baffles me – if you want to be a “successful” blogger, you have to be confined into a handful of areas if you want to keep the traffic coming back. But I’ve seen it work all the time. Lately, I think I’ve come to the realisation that it’s perfectly okay to write about what I want to write about regardless of whether or not people are going to be interested. If I’m going to lose readers because I write about Star Trek or obscure music one day, so be it. Why keep your passions hidden, and say what you think other people would rather you say? I feel like a bit of an outsider in the blogging world sometimes – everybody seems to know the ins and outs of each others’ lives, because a lot of people tweet and write about the goings-on of their hour-to-hour existence. Trips taken, friends visited, meals created or books read. There’s nothing wrong with this at all – this is how I keep in touch with many people I care about! I guess I just don’t know if my everyday life is really worth writing about. I don’t know if I could be proud to write about the cookies I baked last week, the invitations I printed on Sunday, or the toys I bought for my little cat. Because in reading about what I did, you’re not reading about me. Writing about my thoughts, however? That’s a different story.
This blog is more than a journal. More than a chronological account of what I did over the last few years. It’s an all-encompassing chronicle of my thoughts and opinions, hopes and dreams, loves, loathes, fears and passions on top of the things that filter into my day-to-day existence. I sometimes wish we could all walk around with personal profiles attached to sandwich boards draped over our shoulders. Creative. Animal lover. Nerd. Bookworm. Longs for Home. Artistically Inclined, but Lover of the World of Science. Hopeless Romantic. Wants to Make a Difference. None of us can walk about the world and trust that the right people will just fall into it, but by writing what I do on this blog, I can put myself out there. People can look at my words and see my journey, my story, my thoughts, wonderings, hopes and dreams. Individually, they may be haphazard, random, irregular and about as cohesive as Paris Hilton’s recounting of The Canterbury Tales, but in total, they make up me. All of me. Not one part of me put on show for the sake of “that’s what’ll make me popular”.
I’ll never be a niche blogger, or a subscriber to the rules of “successful” blogging. At any moment of any day, the best friend I haven’t met yet may come across my blog – do I really want my first impression to be one-dimensional? No. I want to be known as someone with real thoughts and feelings, whose heart, interests and passions aren’t caged into a cookie-cutter mould to please the masses. I want to write when I’m passionate about something, which may be three times a week, or may be twice a fortnight. I’d much rather have something substantial than post just for the sake of having something new. I want my blog to be genuine and real, because I want my relationships to be the same. I’m not going to limit myself to the things that’ll increase traffic. I don’t want it if it’s drawn by something that isn’t the real deal. I’ve always been a hearts-on-sleeves kind of girl, and if that means not fitting in, I’ll take it. As the Bard once wisely said, “this above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” In twenty years, these blog posts will be in the archives of history, the commenters will have moved on, and all that remains of this chapter of your life may be the words you wrote. Wouldn’t you rather know, from the bottom of your heart, that they reflected you?
As you might have gathered from a certain post last week, part of the culture where I work is to have fun. So much so that it’s number three on the list of our Principles of Operation. I’ve worked there less than two years, but in that time I’ve seen costume competitions, Spirit Weeks, bridal showers, gangsta rap progress reports, bake-offs, company-wide April Fools pranks, and, once per year, an annual company retreat. Each retreat has a different theme – and last year’s (my first), “making your dream a reality” was nothing short of life changing. It may actually be one of the single most influential things in shaping the course of this last year, and truly inspired me to go after my biggest dream, proving that with the right combination of factors, it really can come true.
This year’s theme was teamwork – not just in the workplace, but more importantly, in life. NOT your average (excruciatingly lame) corporate teambuilding exercise in the slightest. Each and every person we choose to surround ourselves with becomes a member of our “team” – and the seminar, based around John Maxwell’s book The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork, was full of lessons that can apply just as much to daily life, friendships and relationships as it can to the workplace. Last year, before the retreat, our boss asked us all to complete an assignment: write out, in one page, our biggest dream. “Dream really big,” he’d said, “bigger than you think you can even achieve yourselves.” After two days of study, reflection, exercises and sharing (on top of rock climbing, hiking, and Scene It sessions late into the night), I left feeling inspired. This year, the session was just as personal. Not uncomfortably so, but I think more so than you’d expect from a workplace. And (on top of the geocaching activity – do I look like a hip-waders type of girl? :)), I think that’s the reason it had so much impact.
We all have “teams” in our lives. Knowing how to build the right ones can be the difference between achieving your goals and remaining stuck, or stagnant. It made me think of something I’d been pondering recently – of the hundreds of people on Facebook to whom we grant access to our lives, how many can actually be counted on on a deeper, more meaningful level than a poke or a status comment? Even in social circles, is every person you have on your team going to be reliable? I think sometimes we keep people in our lives, on our ‘teams’, as it were, because they’ve been there for a long time – when in reality, people grow apart, they form opinions and other people enter their lives, loyalties waiver and the closeness that may have initially been there can weaken through the years. Yet we don’t let go. We keep them around because there’s nothing to say they really shouldn’t be – but in the end, they’re not really on our team any more at all.
My boss had an interesting thought: in organizations, there’s usually a Board of Directors who meet once a month or so to ask how things were going, offer advice, solutions to problems, and generally listen to how the company was doing and ask what they could do to make it better. But what if we had a personal Board of Directors? For our life? A group of people who wanted to be in your life for the very same reason: to make you a better person. It often takes a crisis or some life-shaking event to realise who your friends truly are. The ones who are genuinely on your team will show themselves when things get tough. It’s a very reactive process. What if, instead, we took a proactive approach – instead of “you’re dying, what can I do to help,” asking “what are your goals, and what can I do to help you get there?” I don’t think the Board would have to be very big. They just have to be people whose values align with yours, and who see who you really are, help you get to where you want to be, and generally make you a better person just by being around. My boss said his was comprised of three people: one guy who’d let him vent and get everything out of his system when things were hard; a genuine rock of support. Another, the “tell it like it is” guy. Straight-talking, no-nonsense, no-sugar-coating – someone who truly has your best interests at heart, and isn’t afraid to show you the reality to make sure you’re on the right path. And the third – the wise sage sort of team member. A bit older, wiser, more experienced – a calming force who’ll always keep you grounded.
I’ve never been one to have a big social circle. People have come into and exited my life at various stages, but, I realised at this retreat, there are a very small handful of people I’m blessed to have on my team. People who’ll let me rant and rage when I’m stressed over something and always be the cheerleader in my court. People who’ll check in to see if things are going okay, just because they care, and be at my doorstep with a bottle of wine and a Doctor Who DVD if they’re not. People who’ll give me food for thought, engage in intellectual debate, and show me all sides to every scenario – even if they might not be the ones I’ve chosen. People who’ll give honest feedback with never an ill-intention – knowing that it’s for the best. People who know my heart and soul inside and out… and remain steadfast and loyal friends. People who’ll help me become a better person just by being who they are. They may be few in number and scattered across the world, but I think life is so much better with a handful of genuine, good-for-you friends, than ten or twenty whose loyalties are never quite 100%. And for my little team? I am truly blessed, and eternally, eternally thankful.
This Personal Board of Directors idea could really be onto something. Proactive relationships rather than reactive ones. Ask yourself today. Do you have a solid team in your life, or is it time for evaluation?
So, I’m usually a Monday and Wednesday morning blogger. This morning, there was a significant lack of new stuff. But not without a very good reason. See, for the last few days, when I usually write? I’ve been doing this.
The boss of our entire company very conveniently went on holiday for the week of his fiftieth birthday – and birthdays are a big deal around here. I’ve seen offices toilet papered, supplies and phones tacked down to desks, chairs and tables kidnapped only to be replaced with furniture made entirely of cardboard boxes... But the Big 5-0 called for something a little more extreme.
Behold! My boss’s executive, newly space-age office! Every office supply and single Post-It note wrapped… shiny, metallic chairs, tables, bookcases and wall hangings, complete with glittering aluminium welcome mat. Because nothing says “Happy Birthday” quite like 400 feet of tin foil. Good job he’s such a good sport. 🙂
And what kind of blogger would I be if I didn’t give you all a quick tour?
I’m not going to lie, this week and last have been lots of things, but the victory prize goes to exhaustion! Not in a bad way – work has been packed with learning, meeting new people, and creating copious amounts of curriculum leaving little time for anything else. Except that what little time has been leftover, I’ve been filling to the brim with STUFF. Theatre (the city’s enormous Fringe festival is in town. Read: 155 plays; sleep is on the backburner!); friends from far away staying with us for 2 weeks; weddings, new experiences, and family stuff. It’s left me running on adrenaline, excitement, nerves and of course, way too much coffee, so I think I may be taking a bit of a break from blogging until later next week when I have time to gather my thoughts. So much stuff has been going on that today’s post is a tad disjointed, so please forgive me!
The Winnipeg Fringe is seriously my absolute favourite time of year. Huge theatre companies, solo shows, musicians, contortionists, comedians… you name it, if it can go on stage and entertain people, it will happen in Winnipeg in July. Each year’s Fringe also has a theme – we’ve had the frightfest “Night of the Living Fringe”, James Bond, Vegas, a Fringe “Factory”, Cowboys, and this year – everything Science Fiction (I KNOW!). The Exchange District is a BEAUTIFUL part of town, full of old buildings, ornate architecture, and little boutiques full of vintage clothing and music. But it’s also sadly one of the dodgier areas for most of the year, bridging downtown and the North End (think crime and poverty), and, for the most part, deserted. Streets are empty and a slight feeling of danger lurks in the air (maybe because I’m a bit of a girl when I walk alone at night!). But in July, everything changes. Hundreds of artists take over the city; dance halls, upstairs book shops, pubs and even the streets become performance spaces, home to a thriving community of arts lovers. Colour and creativity radiate from every corner, and every conceivable surface is turned into prime advertising space for shows ranging from the hilarious to the moving, the haunting to the incredible, the brilliant to the downright bizarre. This week, I’ve seen a one man riot, a brilliant true story of one man’s joke gone wrong that shot him to international stardom, two actors playing one man as they deliver spitfire comedy in Freud vs. His Ego, Cirque du Soleil-esque 19th century pirates, a stunning romantic tale told through tin can radio, described as “part fairytale, part vaudeville routine, part old-fashioned love story… the theatre show The Decemberists would create if Roald Dahl directed them.” This weekend we have one of the funniest men I’ve ever seen on top of a parody of everything Europop – it’s my favourite two weeks of the year, and this year I’m thrilled a good friend of mine (who visits every year doing shows) happens to be staying with us. All this culture is fantastic, but I’d be lying if I said my sleep pattern hasn’t been affected 🙂
In less than two weeks, I will be heading home to England with Sweet, for his first time to Europe. We’re chiefly going to visit family and friends that won’t be able to make it over for the wedding (it’s a long way, a lot of money, and December in Winnipeg pretty much qualifies for Arctic conditions) – so they get to meet him, and so he gets to see home! I have mixed feelings about the trip – I’m so excited to go home, see friends, see sights and castles and stock up on Angel Delight – but I’m also nervous. I had word earlier in the week that my Nan, who most of you know was in hospital from late 2009 – early summer, doesn’t remember being in there at all, neither does she remember my Dad’s visit from earlier this year. One of my biggest fears is a loved one losing memories of our time together, and worse, forgetting people – my Dad says she remembers we’re coming to visit, but I’m terrified one day she won’t remember me. It breaks my heart to even think about, and this trip is going to be one of mixed emotions. If you could spare a thought or prayer for her, I’d really appreciate it.
These past few weeks have also brought about big changes in terms of socialising. I’ve always been a big advocate for putting things out into the Universe, and an even stronger believer that the Universe is pretty amazing when it comes to delivering. I don’t want to alienate anyone by talking about something that’s very personal to each and every individual, but let’s just say I’ve been very blessed on a number of occasions over the last few months in which I’ve prayed… and my requests have been fulfilled. I believe more and more that there is a path that’s set for each of us, and sometimes we don’t understand why things happen… but there are certain things that are meant to be, certain people we were meant to meet and share experiences with, and certain people who we’re better off without. Recently I’ve experienced both.
Finding meaningful friendships and people who were genuine, who’d be around for the long haul, was something I’d wished for back in the Spring, and since then, people have arrived in my life who have welcomed me with open arms, talked and shared and listened like good friends, and have just felt 100% natural, fun and comfortable to be around. I am so lucky to have crossed paths recently with so many awesome people. On the other hand, people who had been around for previous chapters in my life, who, though still present, brought with them unnecessary disputes, stress, and a feeling of uncertainty, have recently had those doors closed. When we’re younger, I think we place such importance on popularity, sometimes at the expense of sincerity – we’re more content with lots of people who may turn their backs at the drop of a hat than we are with a small handful of amazing souls who’ll stand by through anything. I have a feeling I’m experiencing the tides turning, and I’m beyond excited to be able to start a brand new chapter.
Work! My first month is almost at an end, and it’s been full of training and learning and opportunities to create new and better ways to serve people, to empower them, and to contribute to the community. That’s not to say there haven’t been a few fits of tears worrying about not being good enough, or learning quickly enough, but I have to remember we’re all in the same boat, and we all have the same goal: to work to make people’s lives better. I’m so incredibly fortunate to have been given this opportunity, and though quite possibly the biggest challenge yet, I’m ready for launch come August. I can’t wait to see everything that happens over the course of the next year.
And lastly, there’s less than a week to go until the Weddingbells contest ENDS!! I have been in this competition for eleven months and words cannot come close to doing justice to how much I’ve appreciated everyone who’s stuck by me throughout this journey. Six days left, and trust me, after being in the semi finals I know how quickly a big lead can turn into a close call – I have so much love and appreciation for all your votes so far, and if you could keep spreading the word over the next few days, I promise I’ll never ask you to do anything again! 🙂 You have been absolute STARS!!
I’m off to spend the week soaking up the arts – see you all next week. Have a great one 🙂