What are the times in your life that you experience the most growth? Perhaps when you go through the most change? Maybe when the most devastating events take hold of your life and force you to either re-evaluate your current situation or shut off completely. For me, it’s that sweet spot between 22 and 25.
You see, when I was 22 I finished my second year at college and I burst into the environmental movement. It all started at a public rally, Defend our Coast, in 2014 against the Enbridge pipeline. Well, not really. People always want a specific date, time or place where everything changed for you, but the reality is, there are many dates, experiences, and moments of realization that shift you from one trajectory to the next.
Whether it was switching schools, getting arrested as a teenager, doing a community outreach project, or living abroad, each experience is only as valuable as the learning I harvest from it.
In the last 3 years, a lot has changed. I went from an over-indulgent waitress to an art program coordinator; I transformed from a bright-eyed student to a resentful backpacker, and I swapped my business school savvy for a shot at the environmental movement. So what knocked me off my track? Or rather, what knocked me onto my path?
I wonder about this a lot. Was it the people, the places, or did something just click? What I’ve come to accept (for now) is that it was a matter of space. When I started to truly enjoy life was when I slowed down from my two part-time jobs and multiple volunteer roles, and just moved to 25 hours a week and one volunteer position that I really loved, my entire world opened up. It was as if the universe was unfolding for me. Every person that I met was kind and appreciative, long time friends spilled their adoration for our friendship to me and everything just seemed to work out best. When things didn’t work out, I had the headspace to see my mistakes for what they really were — opportunities — instead of being swept up by my emotions. I embraced the world around me and it embraced me back.
Sounds unreal right? Well, it didn’t last. When I left that phase and embarked on a seven-month journey to Germany, South East Asia, and Australia, I had some hard times in store. Here, I learned all about how important my own space could be. Now, without getting too existential, I’ll explain it like this: as the world was changing rapidly all around me and I was being exposed to a deeply disturbing reality, I had no place or tactics to ground myself. I realized just how important that space was, because as I became more and more resentful when I finally arrived at home all of the emotional baggage I was carrying on the trip swept through me like a wave. At that moment I realized the importance of two things: integrity and privilege.
That’s when I really threw myself into the environmental movement. Out of shame and out of sadness for the injustices that so many people were out of touch within this bubble of an island in B.C. That’s also when I started my third year of business and in the Gustavson program at the University fo Victoria, it translates to your first year of business by any other measure. To make up for the basics of business education, the University makes up for with quantity, and for the first time in my life, I found myself enrolled in 7 mandatory courses at once. Talk about a lack of space.
So what did I do? I fought harder. I took the team lead role and focused every spare ounce of my being on starting the Dogwood UVic Club. It was a lot of work, but while the club and my studies flourished, I did not. I was sad, exhausted and I couldn’t even remember how to use humour. But I held on so tight to what I was building so I could feel like I was doing something to make the world a better place.
Then I went to Mexico, reluctantly albeit. And it was like my whole life got a reset. All of a sudden I had so much time, I had to find new friends, and find a new community in a different culture. And so I wrote a poem:
Just the unsilent self
Looking for a way out
Creativity, passion, tears, and doubt
Expression is a travesty that seeks no clout
Seeking exposure like a peacock on display
a hundred watching eyes
No hiding it’s full array
You can only choose how it surfaces:
A breath of fresh air
Or a gut-wrenching tare.
Widen your eyes to the 3rd in its cave
Beneath your skin but that doesnt mean it’s not there
It’s always awake
It masters your mind when the rest of you is chatting
It comes out ugly, it wants the attention that your not getting
Because it is you
In fact, it is much more than you and your compromised identity
That split person is constantly distracted
While your true consciousness unfolds.
Aware and ever present
Tap into her.
Shes waiting for you
Shes profound and loving
Shes who youve been looking for your whole life
Shes not on Facebook
She doesn’t have a big following
She’s silent but not submissive
Shes the love youve always wanted
She is you.
And that wasn’t the only poetry I wrote. I picked up my paint brush, I started to rock climb and for the first time in months, I started to feel at peace. Why? Because I had some space to do so.
So my lessons learned from these last few years are two things. One, slow down and find some balance. You won’t necessarily accomplish as much but you’ll be so much happier that your life and those who share it with you will only become more enriching. Two, take action from a place of love. Shame, guilt, and anger are exhausting and thus unsustainable. Although anger and sadness can be motivating, it won’t keep you going, and if what we’re aiming for in the world is sustainability, we better be willing to live that value ourselves.