Success Starts in Coalhurst, Alberta

When I was living in Canada a good friend of mine announced that his friend, Marko, would be cycling from west coast to east coast with a deadline of three months. That journey would be from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Toronto, Ontario. The land border between Canada and the USA is 8,891 kilometres, which would mean he would have to cycle over 100 kilometres a day. Or something like that.

With his work visa rapidly running out, there could be a chance he would be cycling across the country illegally if he didn’t make his flight from Toronto in time. But despite everyone’s concerns, he set out to cycle across the second largest country in the world. He checked in everyday to let everyone know he was still alive. His safety was the biggest concern. But he called undeterred, even after spending the night alone in an abandoned warehouse in Crowsnest Pass, Alberta. But by the time he reached Coalhurst, he was exhausted. He sold his bike and got a bus to Lethbridge, where he worked bussing tables until he had to be in Toronto.

At the time we all thought he was crazy. He had a bunch of luggage that needed to find its way back to his homeland of Croatia, but that didn’t bother him so much. He was so focussed on his trip that he let his friends deal with it. The only thing he had to do was cycle, eat, use the bathroom and sleep everyday. The harsh, isolating expanse of the Canadian highway hadn’t even factored into his plans. He would be free.

I think about that story often.

We still joke about it now. How he had these grand plans to cycle from coast to coast. Three months isn’t even enough time for the Terminator to cycle across Canada, and he can time travel. See, there was no way he would ever finish the trip. I think deep down he knew that, but he wanted to try. He wasn’t afraid of failing. He still cycled across one province and halfway through the next. I won’t cycle anywhere near that distance in my entire life. But he did. And he did it alone.

What I admire the most about Marko’s journey was that he knew when to stop. He didn’t give up. He simply couldn’t cycle the insane distance in the time frame he’d established. He realised it was going to be impossible for him to do. He knew he had reached his limit, so he stopped. He didn’t care that people might label it a failure, because he didn’t fail at anything.

A lot of my downfalls in life have been because of my refusal to admit failure. I just won’t do it. I will keep going even when I’m unhappy. This stubbornness has seen me stay in relationships that far exceeded their sell-by-date. It saw me working for one company for five years and quitting two months before they went bankrupt. Heck, I lived in Canada for longer than I could mentally cope. I never used to be like that. I would walk away if my work load was too much or if I was unhappy with who I was dating. I could tell myself enough was enough. I would follow my gut. That’s how I used to be.

I used to be like Marko.

Day 2
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I’m Not Young Anymore

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I have been a bit lazy when it comes to updating this blog. I started this blog looking for an outlet during a very difficult time in my life. When I reached rock bottom I never felt the inspiration to write. But who wants to read about sadness times? Yeah, me either.

So, what prompted this sudden burst of blog posting? Young people. Goddamn perky young people. You know the type? Real go-getters who love the outdoors and do crafts and volunteer. The type of people who work at Camp America. Thing is, I kind of want to be one of those people, so I started my application for CA .

I don’t actually know if it is the right choice for me, but going through the application I had to fill out three skills that I could offer the programme. Luckily I was saved by the drop-down menu. I had to sit there and pick three things off that menu that I could sell myself on. That really got me thinking. The type of thinking that elicits rapid Facebook messaging to your best friend. You know, the messages that say ‘Omg, my life is not as good as I thought it was. FML’. And so on. So that best friend and I decided to work on the treatment for my for application video. After watching a few on YouTube he bluntly told me ‘you’re going to have to lie’. Damn perky young people.

What does all this have to do with blogging again? Seeing those videos inspired me. All those 19-year-old kids with so many hopes and dreams for the future. I used to be like that. I used to invite challenges and opportunities my way. I worked hard at things. I felt accomplished. Then a series of decisions lead me down different paths that didn’t make me happy at all. I was lost in the myriad of ‘what you’re supposed to be doing’ for so many years. Pressure gets to us all eventually, it’s how you respond to it that matters. And I didn’t respond to it very well.

Now, in my 29th year on earth (because one day we’ll be living on Mars with Matt Damon), I have a lot to think about if I want to make year 30 and beyond really matter. Older people always say to me ‘but you’re so young, you have plenty of time’. Really? Because when people said that to me ten years ago I would agree. But ten years have passed, and that saying is kind of depressing, because in another ten years it won’t seem right to say to a 39 year old ‘but you’re so young, you have plenty of time’ because that won’t happen. It’ll be more along the lines of ‘you’re 39 and you STILL don’t know what you’re doing with your life? When are you having a baby and getting married and doing all the things you’re supposed to do? Get it together, loser!’ Yikes.

And from that simple enquiry into Camp America I decided to spend the next 365 days living as authentically as I can. Am I destined to be working as a receptionist with co-workers who always need to leave by 3pm to pick up their kids from school? Was I destined to be the most average worker Blockbuster ever had? Should I have stuck to being an amateur TV reviewer? Or maybe my destiny was always supposed to be in the kitchens of Paris. Will I make it to Camp America?

I hope you join me in finding out.

Day 1

 

Project What Next?

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My hotel room the night before I left for Canada. Everything was awaiting me, or so I thought.

Hands up who knows what they want to do with their lives? Anyone? Because I sure don’t. And I need some help figuring it out.

I remember a few years ago ITV2 had a programme about celebrities following their passions. Girls Aloud was the feature of that series. The band had been interviewed in a magazine about participating in the show and it mentioned Nadine wouldn’t be on it, as she was already following her passion: singing. ‘Wow’ I thought ‘I wish I was so passionate about something that I could stick two fingers up to the ITV bosses!’

My problem is I like a lot of things. Things interest me. I’m good at lots of things, but I don’t think I’m particularly great at anything, and I certainly don’t know what I am passionate about. But I often like to give things a try, or let my imagination do the hard work for me.

Some examples:

I lived in Canada because I thought it would change my life. But it was an experience I would describe as ‘70% fun and 30% crying the shower’. Some days it was 100% crying in the shower. I love to cook and be creative in the kitchen, so why don’t I move to Paris and study at Le Cordon Bleu like Rachel Khoo? Or like that American journalist whose book I read? Sweat it out in the kitchens of Paris. Oui! I love to watch good quality television, so I tried to be a TV reviewer for a friend’s blog. I did one review post and I hated it. MAYBE I hated it because I really love to watch comedy. Maybe I should be a stand-up comedian and be team-mates with John Richardson on 8 out of 10 cats does Countdown. We’d be such a good team! You see what I’m getting at here?

But what did I take away from that ‘life changing’ Canadian experience? Simple – I literally have no idea what to do with my life, and that no amount of Tim Bits and pountine was going to help me figure that out.  But I did come back rather broke and with an anxiety disorder. So at least I’m good at  some things: being anxious and not looking after my finances.

I always admired those people who knew what they wanted to do from a young age. They had a focus and a determination that dictated all the choices they made in life, the people they met and the places they went, ultimately leading them down their chosen path. Sometimes those people strayed from the path and sought out other avenues and stuck to those. Maybe those people stayed on that path for their entire lives. Whatever it was that drove them to their paths, it was something.

They all had passion. Just like Nadine.

 

 

Things never turn out how you want them to.

I often wonder why, exactly, I stayed in Vancouver. I mostly attribute it down to lack of funds to move elsewhere, but also down to a sheer stubbornness to try and fit in. I kept digging deeper  and forcing myself on this city.Trying to scratch the surface. Kind of like “Heeey, Vancouver, I’m here. Let’s have a good time. You kind of like me and I kind of like you. Let’s do this.” A city surrounded by mountains and beaches. An outdoorsy, yoga-filled lifestyle. What’s not to love? Well. Turns out a lot. I love beaches. But I don’t love gravel pits next to a tanker lined e-coli infested waters. I love beautiful scenery but I don’t like hiking through it. I can’t abide the smell of weed and this city is filled with weed dispensaries. I had never even heard of Lululemon until I moved here – I had to Google it.

The thing about this city is that is wraps around you like a warm, suffocating hug. It doesn’t let you go. The folks here are simple – hiking, camping, getting stoned, taking part in seasonal mountain based sports is all you need to qualify to be a ‘Vancouverite’. Maybe head to a gig of the latest indie band to play the Orphium in the evening. That’s pretty much it. There was no to scratch. The friendliness I had encountered on the east coast of Canada didn’t exist here. It feels more like a small town disguised as a large city. It can be isolating both mentally and geographically. Friendships with locals are mostly fleeting, they’re always waiting for someone or something better to come along.

I often feel like I outstayed my welcome. But did I ever feel welcome? It’s one thing to change as a person and another to change into a different person in order to fit in. I realised I didn’t want to fit in. I don’t mind the occasional entry level hike. I don’t mind jumping on a ferry and heading to a quiet island for the day. But my free time is more for exploring a new neighbourhood or town. Camping and dropping acid in the woods and baking myself into a weed coma is not really how I choose to spend my free time. Each to their own, I guess.

Eventually, when I move on, I won’t think of all the things I missed out on – skiing, getting stoned, doing yoga on the beach. I will think of all the people that enriched my life and helped me to grow as a person. I’ll think back to the times we looked out for each other, the adventures we had, the jokes, the laughter and the experiences. The mountains will fade from memory, the beautiful lakes will glisten less, but the nights we stayed up late playing Cards Against Humanity and making plans for the future is what will remain. Sometimes it’s the people that make the place.

When you find your people, you find your place.

A list of things to do before I turn 30

In my previous post I wrote about how I’m trying to live my life on purpose. I intended to make a list of all the things I wanted to do between my upcoming 29 birthday and next year, when I turn 30. This list will most likely grow longer and I’ll be sure to update it as I go. I realise that some of these won’t all happen before 30, but that doesn’t mean they won’t happen!

  1. Write consistently – a new piece once a week
  2. Host a birthday party for a friend (done this past weekend)
  3. Learn to make cocktails
  4. Stay in a log cabin
  5. Visit all the Canadian provinces (I have only been to three so far)
  6. Visit Argentina and the Falkland Islands
  7. Live in another Canadian city
  8. Learn a new recipe a week
  9. Give home made gifts (have already started doing this)
  10. Appreciate people more
  11. Be debt free and stay that way (my first and last time in debt, hopefully)
  12. Visit a pumpkin patch
  13. Keep living within my means
  14. Print my photos
  15. Travel the east coast of north America for a month
  16. Live in a small town for a few months
  17. Visit wine country
  18. Have two zero dollar spending days per week
  19. Appreciate the place I live in more
  20. Try a new hobby

Living a life on purpose…or something close.

In three months I will turn 29 and I’m pretty terrified by it all. I remember turning 21 and everything was in front of me. I had kind of messed up the first part of my life, I thought. So I set about using my twenties as a way to make up for my crap school grades, being a collage drop-out and working in a dead end job as an administrative assistant. So I quit that job, starting working in my local Blockbuster (much to my nan’s chagrin ‘but you had an actual job, a respectable one’) moved out of home and went back to college. I was determined to go to university and if I wasn’t in college, studying at home or at work I was out partying. And boy, did I party hard. I was living with my best friend and was free to do whatever I wanted. I worked hard and partied hard. Life was great.

Then I started university and decided to slow it down and focus on working towards my future – to get my degree and move out of Cardiff and start a career. Then I met someone and stayed with him for four years. I moved in with him. Three months after moving in together I felt sad for some reason and I didn’t know why. When I finally left to move to Canada I felt a huge sense of relief and liberation. Thinking back on that time I realised I was unhappy but felt the pressure to stay because it was easier than leaving. The only thing I regret is that I lost a sense of who I was. Sometimes that’s worse than all the other stuff.

I did start a successful food blog during that time and I graduated uni with the result that I wanted. I got my visa to move to Canada, a life long dream, and I finally said an overdue fair well to my home town. I guess you could say it wasn’t all bad, but I did put on a huge amount of weight and lost all my self confidence and rarely saw my friends. So 50/50.

Did I have it all figured out when I moved to Canada? Hell no! I ended up moving to a city that was so far removed from normality (think everyone being young, golden, athletic with rich parents) that I still had no idea who I was. I made friends with a lively bunch of Australians who were up to try new things and experience new places and party (is there any other kind of Aussie?!) and I thought this was the person I was supposed to be now. Then I thought I was a person who should go hiking every weekend because that’s what people here do.

I also dated some local guys and every single one of them was an asshole. Then I dated a REAL asshole who was such a narcissist that he truly believed he was the best thing ever, and I got out as soon as I realised what was happening. I also had it pretty bad for a friend who sent me an unending wave of mixed signals. Turns out he just wasn’t that into me after all. A huge lesson learned on all accounts.

So what does all this have to do with almost turning 30? Well recently I had a revelation: I wasn’t doing things that made me happy. I just went along with things in the hopes that they would get better, because everything worth having is supposed to always be a shitty before it gets good, right? Wrong. I worked jobs where I was micromanaged and treated like crap and naively thought that the next job would be ‘the one’ and I got fired from that after two weeks. But did that job make me happy? Nope. But I kept working there because it would look good for my career, apparently.

I had to learn from getting fired. I was trying so hard to conform and go along with what I thought was expected of me. During my unemployment I realised that I needed to go back to basics and not to rely on anyone or any job. What did I like doing? What did I like to spend my money on? That was what I had to ask myself. I then took on a full-time job working as a box office assistant at a small comedy club where I spend the majority of my time working alone. I couldn’t be happier.

My days off are for me now. I don’t plan to do anything major. I just think of a few places or activities that I love and then decide on the day what I’ll do. I don’t stress myself out making plans with friends and what we should all do together, I just go do it. On a recent day off I called a local spa on the off-chance they had appointments and went for a massage. On the way home I bought a doughnut and went to the library. And then it clicked, this is what I enjoy doing, I did everything I wanted to do. I had no obligations and it felt great.

I recently read this article about how to live life on purpose. What stuck out for me was the idea of making a list of things to do by the next birthday. I am going to continue to do things that make me happy and to leave situations that I no longer want to be in. I am going to learn and do all the new things I want to do. If friends want to join me, then that’s great. I still don’t have it all figured out, but I’m at least at a place that makes sense for me now.

(list will be published next time)

Life is unpredictable. Let’s keep it that way.

Temping didn’t exactly work out. I had one temping job in the two weeks I attempted to ‘figure it out’ and I spent more time in temping agencies being interviewed than I did at any actual jobs. Every time it became more about what they could get out of me than I could get out of them. One asked more questions about where I had applied for external jobs than what I was capable of. It was more effort asking them for work than it was to find a full-time job. I was so unsure of what I wanted to do next that I would’ve just gone with whoever offered me a job next. So that’s what I did.

I didn’t figure anything out during my unemployment. I sat and stared at my laptop for most of the time. I read books, sought out new music, new films, podcasts. I absorbed myself in the things I love. It made sense to get back to basics. When I had started my ‘dream’ job at the video game studio I thought I had everything worked out: pay off my debt, breathe life into my savings and plan trips and adventures. Getting fired was the best thing that happened to me. I had been coasting along and the new job was just that mirage I had created to think that that’s where I wanted to be. What I wanted to be was free of the office and free to enjoy myself again. I was never going to fit into that environment and I never will. I thought temping would provide me with somewhat of a steady income and more control over my schedule. That didn’t work out the way I planned either.

I have learned from all this though. I’m not here to forge a career in an office setting. I am here to work and travel. I’m not here to make a home and settle down. I’m here to experience what life is like outside of my comfort zone –  a zone I had jumped out of and then back into these last 18 months.

This past weekend I had no concrete plans and it was perfect. We shopped for a present for an impromptu wedding, caught up with a friend, who lives in nearby Seattle, and her adorably German parents. Went to a small but beautiful wedding and headed to a party for someone I had never met. What was special about all this was that none of it was in my immediate plans, it just happened. The weekend was full of laughter, adventure and love.

Perfect.