Be strong

It was 20 years ago that I graduated from university with an undergraduate degree in philosophy. I finished my studies in April 2002 and my convocation was in June of that year.

I can’t believe how much time flies. What I remember about that guy I used to be is how stupid, ignorant and loud he was. I was 23 when I convocated, and I was lost, scared.

Having grown up in a working class family I wasn’t sophisticated in how to navigate life as a professional adult, it took me a long time to figure it out.

I went to Humber College soon after thinking I wanted to work on radio. Didn’t like it, never graduated. Then I tried social service work, but didn’t like that either, so I didn’t finish.

I remember feeling so much pressure to figure things out, because everyone around me appeared to have done so. It was compounded with Keith’s family and friends, all WASPs with lots of money who were judging me for not being disciplined enough.

What I did know is that I wanted to travel, so I went to London, UK for two years where I worked as an educational assistant at special needs schools, which I have to admit, I didn’t like either, and to be fair, I wasn’t good at it. I don’t have the patience to be an educator, especially to children with special needs. In addition to my job at the school, I also worked as personal support worker for a teenage boy who had Cerebral Palsy. I stuck it out, and when my VISA was up I returned to Toronto.

We rented a one bedroom apartment at Yonge & Eglinton. Keith got his job at a Pickering High School but I was still floundering. I landed a job as an Education Director at Oxford Learning Centre, but you guessed it, I didn’t like it. Again, I stuck it out there while studying simultaneously at Centennial College for a marketing and communications certificate. I liked to write, and thought, well, maybe this would be a good fit, if I could get a job in the charitable sector. It never occurred to me to work for a for-profit company, even though the pay would be a lot better.

And so I started working in my ‘career’ around 2007 but that too wasn’t easy. I really struggled working with people who defined themselves, or over-identified with a job that was essentially meaningless. And the ridiculous business speech applied in every meeting was ludicrous to me. Why are people speaking like this? I figured rather quickly they did this because it made them sound intelligent. Or so they thought.

I worked with real-life losers, I’m putting it as bluntly as I can. They just didn’t have a clue who they were and thought that it was their occupation, job title, salary, whatever the fuck it was. I worked at Bridgepoint Hospital for two years, with morons who taught me nothing, and then moved on to a one-year contract at SickKids where everyone was going on stress leave because the leadership was shit. Literally, going on stress leave because someone landed a position of authority and made everyone’s life a living hell.

Many of the people I worked with were not well-rounded human beings. They only had their jobs. They lacked any introspection, self-awareness, understanding that other people exist outside the confines of their limited brains. But most of all, and I will repeat this, they were miserable. None of them liked their home-lives and didn’t want to return to them. If you go about your life not liking it, you’re not going to be a pleasant person to interact with.

Was this it?, I thought. Is this going to be my whole life? I didn’t have time for all this foolishness and stupidity. So after my SickKid’s contract I went to The Arthritis Society, where again I was surrounded by idiots. Then moved to CNIB, same thing. These people were all so miserable and unhappy and I couldn’t relate. Outside of my work I had an amazing life, one that I cherished and looked forward to getting back to.

I took 1.5 years off to figure out what it is I wanted when I got a job at Easter Seals Ontario where I stayed for 3 years. People seemed unhappy there but I had a really good supervisor who taught me a lot, especially as it pertains to editing. I am not a skilled editor, I can edit other people’s work, but not my own, which is typical of many writers I know.

In that 1.5 years I was off two of my essays were published by Canada’s newspaper of public record, the Globe & Mail, which I felt was a truly wonderful accomplishment. I could now say I was a published writer. But no one seemed to care very much, nor were they impressed. I learned that the only reason to reach for these goals is to make myself happy, to make myself proud. I couldn’t do any of this for anyone else.

Eventually I grew tired of my work at Easter Seals, I didn’t want to do another fundraising event, or sacrifice another shitty weekend for a really low paying salary. To be honest, when I ended at ESO I wasn’t even making $60k and I had real talent. I even wrote their direct mail campaigns after the department manager resigned, without extra pay, and those campaigns brought them a lot of money. But I never received any compensation, not even a thank you. But I was told those letters I wrote brought in millions of dollars.

So I took some time off again. I’m not one of those who believes you need to look for a new job while at your present one. I eventually found employment at Canadian Helen Keller Centre where I’ve been for over three years now and I plan to stay. Not only am I my own boss, but my pay is vastly better than what I was making at ESO. I really wonder how I survived with such little pay there.

What I learned and the wisdom I like to partake from those years of experience is if you’re unhappy — get out. Don’t let misery seep into your being, your soul, because ultimately it destroys you. I’ve seen a lot of so-called ‘successful’ people who are the most toxic, negative, malicious people you would ever want to meet. I never envied them, I pitied them and wanted to get as far away from them as possible.

Keep moving until you find the fit. I know it sounds cheesy, but that’s what I did, and I can only tell you that it ended up working out for me.

But what I had to do was block out all the noise. The shaming from others, the ridicule; I had to risk being a joke to them to find my place in the world. Too many people care about what others think of them and I find that is really limitiing. Many people thought I was stupid, probably still do, but I know I am not. I couldn’t let them dictate what I did with my life, because it is my life, it isn’t their’s.

And I have to be honest, I do compare myself to them sometimes and for me there is no contest. I have a lovely, wonderful life, and I wake up with a smile every morning.

I have people who love me, truly love me for who I am, and who are there for me through it all.

That’s a life worth living right there!

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