I’ll Tell You What I Know

As Canadians, we can picture the metaphor of walking through the snow quite easily. Every step is a struggle as you sink, sometimes a little, and sometimes right up to your crotch. Every time this happens your will to continue fades just a bit. It gets to the point that you stop looking in front to your goal and start either getting comfortable and secure in your current position, knocking others down who might occupy your space, or you start looking back to when you weren’t in the snow to a now fictionalized land of milk and honey that if only you could get back to, life would be so easy. The problem with both of these tactics is that neither gets you where you actually need to go. In fact, the result is often times that you end up knocking down someone who’s will could carry them to a shared goal, simply due to fear of them altering the certainty of your own footing.

I’m 28 years old now, I drink less, sleep more and work harder. I understand that I am still young and that these accomplishments are nothing in themselves all that spectacular. Context, however, produces the realization that I was and to a certain extent still am an immature child. I know I was only gone for a year and a half but breaking out to Western Canada, experiencing new cultures, a different scale of what’s important, even the hour commute to go 20km was in itself enlightening. This is also where I learned the importance of taking pride in what you do and that drive does not always equate to success.

These are the realizations I gained while spending the large part of two years cloistered in an apartment in South Edmonton with my wife and mischievous dog. It informs the way in which I currently handle most situations, work, life and even politics. All of this crystallized the moment I got fired.

Getting Across the Snow

I landed a job last year at a web agency. It was a great job, I enjoyed the work and the majority of the people I worked with. The job was a hybrid of copywriting, marketing and digital architecture. It was engaging and a lot of fun with unique challenges. The job, for which I likely wasn’t qualified for, was an eye opener.  I was able to take my ideas and really let them run. The world of the internet had always interested me, and for the first time I saw behind the veil, and the numbers and measurements that were at play astonished me.

Two things happened, however, which I now realize, were the reasons I didn’t make it through the snow.

It’s Not A Race

I cared about that job. Likely for the first time in my life, I invested a large portion of myself into my work. And boy, did I come out of the gate running. One of my core strengths has always been confidence. Despite growing up slow and chubby, I never believed that I was not capable of great things or great successes. In the blind arrogance of someone who blames other people or the snow for slowing him or her down, I decided to burst with whatever I had, full speed ahead. This tactic endeared me to some but not too many others.

When you start caring about something and apply yourself, it’s amazing what can happen and what you can accomplish. So, for someone who hadn’t done this before, the success I enjoyed and the feeling of accomplishment created a sense of snow blindness. I knew I was moving forward but completely unaware of the pitfalls that other people who weren’t so blind could have alerted me to. I, however, was so dedicated to leaving them in my dust that I didn’t care to notice that my skill set needed to catch up with my ambition.

If you’re on a snow packed trail, and your objective is to be the first to reach the end of that path, it can be easy to miss the signs that you are on unsteady ground. In my case, it was my lack of diligence brought on by years of not giving a shit. This lack of awareness was causing me to take strides that I wasn’t entirely prepared for. Also, when you are only focussed on yourself two things happen to those around you:

  1. People interpret your drive and ambition as a lack of respect and a threat
  2. You don’t see when people start trying to dig out the support from around you, which they can do without your knowledge

To be clear, I am not saying don’t have drive. You just can’t let it blind you to what is occurring around you. In a new position or the start of a project, or even when you are trying to do something for the community, you’ll always want to hit the ground running. The image of the goal is so cemented in your mind’s eye that you can be blinded to what’s going on around you.

I still fall prey to that desire to run across the snow as fast as I can. It’s likely that I will always fall victim to moments of snow blindness; however, I now make sure to try and catch myself before significant events and survey the ground around me. Do I have the skills and resources I need to move across safely? By breaking my path, who’s path does that effect? What are the consequences of these paths meeting? The answers to these questions can be both positive and negative. If you do this, you can limit the amount of uncertainty in your path, limit the impact, or have a more positive impact on the paths of others that you cross. Ultimately, it boils down to awareness. Sometimes you can’t avoid a fall, even if you see it coming. If you prepare for it and are not moving so fast that you missed all the signs, it is much easier to pick yourself back up and keep moving forward.

Be Prepared

The simplest answer to this metaphorical conundrum of trying to cross a snow filled field is simple, use some fucking snowshoes.

It’s blunt but true. By being prepared, supported and understanding that the ground beneath you will not always be solid, you are much more likely to be able to keep moving forward while others get stuck in knee deep snow or get frozen in place. Had I been more prepared and aware of my shortcomings and the people around me I would have likely continued to thrive in that environment. If a metaphorical snowshoe is a solution to the metaphorical traversing of a snow covered field, then here are the very real things that make up the construction of that snowshoe.

  1. Training. Dear lord this one is easy. You can never have enough of it. The best thing is it doesn’t have always to be formal either. Be it an online course to help you master a new piece of software or a full out multi-year program, there are no wrong choices out there.
  2. Learn from those around you. Paying attention to those around you has more benefits than just realizing when someone is about to screw you over. When you take the time to learn from those who have travelled the same path you have, you’ll be able to move a little faster and not be perceived as a threat to their stability.
  3. Pacing yourself. There will always be a learning curve with any new endeavour, regardless of your level of qualifications. You could be the most qualified person in the world; however, when you enter a new team, industry or community there will be unique challenges that come along with those changes, many of which are nearly impossible to foresee. So take your time get the lay of the land and figure out how to best approach those challenges.
  4. Keep your balance. Work / Life, Family / Friends, Ambition / Security all of these life aspects need to be engaged in what I can only describe as the most intense metaphoric game of Jenga ever conceived.

That’s it. That is all I can tell you. I hope it helps you in your journey across the snow. I hope it makes you look at your coworkers and even neighbours in a bit of a different light. Whether it is professionally, personally or politically we are all on a journey and are at times crotch deep in a snow drift. Hopefully, we will all take a little more caution and care in our paths as well as those of others.

That’s what I learned from getting fired and moving home.

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