The Buck Starts Here…

November 30, 2009 § 11 Comments

The more I continue to learn and observe and grow and share, the more apparent it is to me that there is at least one fundamental, undeniable truth about life. That anything in my life is happening because of me.  I really am at the centre of my own universe.  That isn’t meant in an egotistical way… but everything that I am, everything that I believe, every choice that I make impacts my path into the future in some way.  And just as I have the control to create certain scenarios in my life, I also have the control to stop them.

Part of being in control of my own life and my own destiny is being aware of myself, my triggers, my actions, my desires, my needs, my wants, my current situation and where I want to go, the disconnects, the bridges built, celebrating successes, appreciating the present and still moving towards the future.  Everything is so interconnected, and it all flows out from one place.  Me.

Granted, there are elements outside of my control that contribute to where I am in a particular moment.  But I truly believe that what is crossing my path today is a result of something I put out into the world yesterday.  With this thought in mind, the choices I am making today reflect where I want to be tomorrow.

I ran into an old employer once who asked me how I was doing and my reply was something along the lines of “still changing the world.”  He laughed and responded “young people always think they’re going to change the world.  Let me know how it’s going in another 10 years.”

Well, it’s not 10 years later, but it’s 2 years later.  And I think I’m changing the world more now than I was then.  Because each of us has an impact on where the world goes. I’ve been surprised recently with the changes others are inspired to make in their own lives as a result of the changes I’ve made in mine and my willingness and openness to share my experiences as I’m doing them.

And so, I’m moving forward, at the centre of my own universe, making positive changes in myself that then ripple out and change the world around me.  And those changes create new situations and present me with new paths to explore and new choices I can make. All because I figured out that the buck doesn’t just stop here… it starts here too.

Generations and inspirations

November 23, 2009 § 5 Comments

It’s a rare, rainy October night. Usually by now, there’s snow covering the ground, no rain drops falling against my window in a steady stream. It’s about the time of night, although not the time of year, when I would wake up to the sound of big, wet rain drops hitting the eaves trough outside my window. I would lay there for a few moments, just listening, and then I would grab a blanket and head upstairs and out the backdoor. I loved watching for lightning and listening to the rain with my Dad. He was usually already out there.

We didn’t usually say anything, my Dad has never been much of a talker. But we would sit and listen, for what felt like hours at a time. I found so much peace in those moments… such rare, wonderful moments.

It’s that same feeling of inner peace and contentment that I feel now, wrapped in the silent blanket that the wee hours bring. I always find inspiration in these moments, and the memory of listening to the rain with my dad always finds its way in too.

He’s part of what inspires me. His caring strength, and quiet nature have taught me to find a different kind of appreciation in observing the details, and keeping them as they are, the way nature intended, following the natural flow and evolution of what’s come before them.

That, I would say, is one of the corner stones by which I live my life, by finding joy and beauty in the details. My Dad has taught me to take a step back when nobody else thinks to, to contemplate what’s in front of me and not take it for granted. And to always find a way back to myself, back to where I’m peaceful.

It all makes a neat little circle. Observing the details, finding rare moments, being at peace.

So if you ever find yourself caught up in something, look around you, is anyone else paying attention? Maybe you’ll find a little piece of the world to capture as well, a piece that’s just for you. Your anchor to a moment of inspiration, or calm. Take a look. See what you find.

Retreat, Recharge, Resume

November 19, 2009 § 13 Comments

As much as I love to work, there comes a time when I want nothing more than to seek shelter from everything that is swirling around me and do a complete shutdown. There are a couple of favourite places for this.

These are not far off, exotic locations, although they have become more distant since I returned to Alberta.

And I had the wonderful experiencing of returning to both of them in October while on vacation.

One such place is the Lake Superior region, which I described in my Ode to Lake Superior (found below). It was published in 2008 by Diane Sims in her book Rider of the Clouds. I wrote this piece before relocating back to Grande Prairie in 2007. At the time of its writing, I did not know yet that my career would involve a return to this community.

The other place is Ripley, Ontario, where my mother-in-law lives.

No, she is not standing over me as I write this!

Ironically, entering the village, there is a sign that proclaims: Ripley, Ontario’s Natural Retreat.

Now, I would not actually choose to live there because I generally do thrive on a faster pace and ready access to any dining, shopping or services that I require nearby and, with a population of less than 1,000 people, Ripley is short on these.

That being said, when I want somewhere to go where I am bound to forget even what day it is, Ripley is the place to be.

Of course, I enjoy the company of my mother-in-law – my wife is not watching what I say – and other nearby family members. However, in this community, I have found I can just wind down and not even consider what will happen later that day, let alone what is in store in the weeks ahead.

I have asked friends and colleagues if they have such places. They do, although sometimes these are locales involving special people, too.

Lori Goodman, a workmate at the City of Grande Prairie, describes Jansen, Saskatchewan as the “best place ever in small town Saskatchewan.”

Jansen is where her grandmother is located and Lori enjoys returning both for the people and the sense of family. Like Ripley for me, Jansen has a slower pace and it’s a community where she does not feel judged, where people are not expecting something of you and there is a sense of trust with folks.

Sherry Lawler, a friend and colleague who operates Alpha Proofing in Edmonton, says these special places for her can be found along a trail in the mountains or by visiting her grandfather in Kelowna.

Do you have a special cove somewhere? A place where you can forget everything and recharge your battery for a day, a week, a month?

Here’s my tribute to my favourite place of all.

A Superior Power – My Ode to Lake Superior

Kersplash!

The waves thunder up against the beach along spectacular Lake Superior, pounding the shoreline, with the mighty force of nature. These roiled waters retreat, only to crash up on the rock and sand again and again.

I never get tired of this scene. Even in mid-winter, it plays back in my mind as vividly as if I were there in person.

It is no wonder Lake Superior is dubbed Gitchee Gumee. In the Algonquin language this means all-powerful lake.

As much as I love the breath-taking beauty and the majestic snow-capped mountains of my native Western Canada, there’s nothing like finding a favorite spot along this greatest of the Great Lakes to go and contemplate life.

Sometimes I sit and watch, closing my eyes and letting my mind go free.

On other occasions I walk for miles with my wife, or alone with my dog. When I look back, I see my fresh footprints fill up with water. Maybe this is symbolic for how my pent up thoughts have disappeared after I have left them behind.

Pancake Bay and other spots along this largest of the Great Lakes have provided that space many times to disengage a muddled collection of details. These range from what I have to do upon returning to the office to the more prevalent past events that I have dwelled on with no solutions, regardless of the amount of reflection.

For someone who doesn’t embrace the winter wonderland that can last up to five or six months at a time in this region, there are precious few weeks to visit these favorite haunts to let go of those thoughts that have build up in the crevasses of the mind over those long months of snow and ice.

Even pounding up against the shores as I contemplate what this lake means to me, these waves pose no threat. Not like they can – and have. The date November 10, 1975 is one fixed firmly in the minds of most locals. That is when the Edmund Fitzgerald was swallowed up in a storm nearby with all 29 crew members aboard.

Like a moody, but close friend, you have to know when to approach this companion.

It is difficult to fathom how those crashing whitecaps can transform into a surface almost like a sheet if ice at other times, as loons and other waterfowl take their turn visiting this friend. Or kayakers glide out to deeper waters, perhaps looking to dump their stresses in even greater depths.

On the summer visits I yearn for with great anticipation each spring, the waves are most often like extra playful friends, splashing up against you.

What I find most endearing about this friend is that no matter how busy it can be dumping water ashore or in perhaps its own pensive moments in those times of calm, I always leave knowing I have been listened to … the clutter is gone, washed away to the great depths of the Lake.

The shores themselves have special meaning.

They offer refuge from those oh so chilly waters – it takes until the dog days of summer to feel at all comfortable even wading in … Yet I always tell people who complain about this that I prefer this to camp along or to spend a day at the beach … I remind them that is nice to be able to look in the water and to see the sand bottom, versus the murky water at other Lakes.

And there is also nothing quite so refreshing after a hike on a steamy afternoon as diving into Lake Superior and having the dust and sweat immediately wash away.

The land against this enormous body of water represents a symbol of arrival to me.  I often wonder what the voyageurs must have thought when they climbed out of their canoes for a rest.

The shore here makes me think of a favorite passage in a verse I have posted in my office. It speaks of how if you help others across the river, you will get to shore, too.

It really is true!

Lake Superior represents an even greater challenge than the symbolic river. When I have really thought about it, my most rewarding moments have come while working as part of a team effort or helping a younger colleague find success.

You realize important things like this when you stop and allow yourself to find meaning in life, that things do happen for a reason and, as Mahatma Gandhi once said, be the change you want to see in the world.

Lake Superior does not count amongst the Wonders of the World. It is not an exotic location or have a sophisticated name, or have any mythical stories attached to it.

I have come to know its healing powers on many occasions. When I have permitted Gitchee Gumee to take me in her grips, I have allowed those wasteful thoughts to be washed away for positive new ones.

Lake Superior, my friend, I knew the first time I saw you that we would be spending a lot of time together. And we have. I have delighted in even visiting for the day. We have brought friends and family from afar. They also marveled at you.

If I were ever to move to some other location, I know you would always be there. I would never forget the strength you have given me. I will always return.

Everyone should be blessed to have a friend like you.

The Journey Continues

November 10, 2009 § 12 Comments

Canadian rocker Tom Cochrane had it right: Life Is A Highway.

My blogmate, Wendy, won’t be surprised I’m using a musical reference in my blog. We both do that with regularity to explain things.

In her last post, Wendy described the search for herself as a long one. She wondered if she would stand still for a moment or if she’s destined to keep moving and to continue in search of herself along the way.

I’m certain Wendy’s journey toward more knowledge of herself will be ongoing, just as mine about me will.

Anyone who constantly looks for more out of life, who is not content with the status quo, is bound to wonder what role they play in the scheme of things. There is going to be an ongoing search of who we really are because we continue to evolve and grow with the new circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Yes, life is a highway. Mine is just significantly longer than Wendy’s since I am several years older.

Sometimes we can whip into fifth gear and zip into the fast lane on our life’s highway – things are going great and we haven’t a worry in the world. Other times there is road construction and we are forced to travel along at a snail’s pace – perhaps we are overwhelmed with competing life or work priorities that are bogging us down. Sometimes there is a blizzard and we are storm stayed, stalled from moving forward – a death has occurred in the family or maybe we’ve had a relationship go south.

Events and people along the way can serve as jet fuel to thrust us ahead while some individuals and circumstances can clog up life’s carburetor.  It is always a good idea to do a maintenance check to see our personal engine is firing on all cylinders.

In my case, I was flying through my 20s. I had the fortune of meeting my bride-to-be and my best friend by interviewing her for a profile while I was a newspaper reporter in St. Paul. I was married at age 25 and she has been my rock ever since. If I had any doubts, having my wife follow me across the country for my latest job when she loved her work and the people she worked with would have removed any questions.

My life euphemistically veered for the ditch when my father died in January 1989. Somehow I knew when I moved to Ontario, that I would never see him alive again, but you can’t live life on premonitions.

It wasn’t that my father and I were that close. We were alike in many ways – our work ethic, values, kindness, our friendliness once we get to know people, and our concern for the underdog. But we had little else in common in terms of interests, other than we shared the Montreal Canadiens as our favourite hockey team.

My father’s death became something of a Circle of Life moment in that we knew he had plans to come and see my son once he was born in April 1989.

Although I have never developed the prototypical work-life balance we are reminded to find, his untimely passing did underline for me that it is important to live in the moment.

I was able to launch my communications consulting business, The Write Stuff!, and have some flexibility in my life because my father had left an inheritance. However, I would give all that back to have seen him live longer. He was just learning how to enjoy himself when he died. In fact, Dad just attended his first NHL game on the night he passed away.

I have strived to find my own level of conformity with the work-life balance ideal, but I do love what I do, so it is not a 50-50 proposition to me.

So, I have found myself working hard like he did, but playing hard when it came time to see some of my favourite performers in concert. Between 2005 and 2006, I saw the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger live. I have also taken in numerous hockey and baseball games over the years.

After my mother died in 1991, it was back into the fast lane again. I refocused my career to move from newspaper reporting to corporate writing, editing and photography at the Ontario Lottery Corporation.  Five years moved by quickly and I learned a lot of things that would help me find opportunities down the road.

When restructuring began occurring in 1997, I knew it was time for me to revamp my career. It was in that year that I started my company. That led to my position with the Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board, which in turn, paved the way for my current position with the City of Grande Prairie as Manager of Marketing and Communications.

When I think back, my highway of life has been mostly bare and dry, allowing me to travel at top speed most of the time, changing gears as needed.  Setbacks, such as my diagnosis of diabetes in 1999, have not been debilitating.

When I found out I had diabetes, I said that the D word is a whole lot better than the C word – cancer.

My good friend and best man, Darrell Skidnuk, was not so fortunate.

He was taken from us after a lengthy battle with cancer in April 2004 at the very young age of 42. Darrell and I met as reporters at the Daily Herald-Tribune in Grande Prairie. He would become associate publisher of Fort McMurray Today. Darrell was the consummate professional, husband, father, volunteer and citizen.

Even though I believe in God, I have not been able to rationalize why He would let a great guy like Darrell suffer and perish when he had so much to offer the world. Many others hate their existence and wish to die.

Darrell was one guy I could talk to about anything, so it seems natural now to wonder when I am having a dilemma, “What would Darrell do?”

Another friend, Diane Sims, has ovarian cancer and multiple sclerosis, along with other related ailments, yet still has a strong spirit to continue writing and helping others through their pain.

Again, I wonder, “Why Diane?” Is it that there are certain people put on this earth simply to inspire others?

So, how does all this relate to me and my life?

I have been motivated by them and try to be better at what I do when I think of them.

Although I don’t know where my highway is taking me, I know my role is to make every workplace I have been to better and to encourage others to be the best they can be. I am here to foster better lives for others who have not had the same fortune as I have while constantly raising the bar for myself.

Wendy is right, we only have one shot at life. Darrell packed a lot into his short existence. Diane continues to fight the odds.

I haven’t always lived up to their standards, just as I don’t always heed the Serenity Prayer when I should.

But as long as I remember where I should be on that highway of life and follow the signs, I will enjoy a rewarding journey.

In search of myself

November 2, 2009 § 9 Comments

The search for myself is a long one.  I keep finding myself in so many different places and at so many different times that I wonder when I’ll stop and stand still for a moment… or if I’m destined to keep moving.. and keep myself in search of me along the way.

I once had a pretty specific belief about life.  I always believed that things would work themselves out how I had envisioned them.  The belief in whatever I was working towards just had to be strong enough.  If it was a relationship, my love just had to be deep enough.  If it was work, my desire had to be true enough to keep me motivated.  But somehow, what I pictured would come true.

People talk so much about life defining moments and how you don’t really know you’re in one until after it’s passed you by.  I think I’m in one right now, at my laptop, writing this blog post.  I’ve just finished writing up some other draft posts.  And there’s this feeling in my gut that nothing will be the same after tonight.

My life defining moments in my mere 27.5 years on earth have been few… in fact, there are two:

My first big trip overseas without my parents:  I went to Indonesia when I was 14 to visit a childhood friend who had moved there with her parents.  The experience of such a different culture in and of itself inspired further trips and led to my BComm with a major in International Business and a further desire to wander the globe.

The death of my brother in 2004: If ever there’s a way to flip somebody’s world upside down, it’s to experience the death of a sibling so young.  Not that I have any experience with losing a sibling when I’m older… but this event rocked me to my core and has influenced every single decision I’ve made since then.

The 2nd moment I would say has brought me the most mileage.  In the last 5 years, there hasn’t been a single aspect of my life that hasn’t been influenced by him in some way.  And yet, I continue to search, and I won’t stand still.  I often wonder if this is a direct result of that, and if someday someone will be able to stop me dead in my tracks and to be happy and content with where I’m at… or if that has forever shaped the way I view life, and my continual search for something more.  Finding purpose in my life, if you will.

I’m not sure what the outcome will be, but one thing I know, is that I’m continuously finding moments where I feel like I’m exactly where I need to be.  And it’s always in different situations and with different people, but that keeps me going… and because my circumstance is always changing, it keeps me in search of myself.

It’s also changed the shape of my belief on life.  There’s more to it.  But finding a happy and fulfilling life for me is about discovering the things I didn’t know about myself, finding the gifts I have to offer the world and maximizing that contribution, and being flexible and nimble enough to change my responses and actions based on the situation around me.  We’ve only got one shot at the life we’re living… what are you doing with yours?

Where Am I?

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