One Year in YYC

Exactly one year ago, I arrived in Calgary.

I can hardly believe I’ve been here for a whole year. It really does feel like I just got here and I still tell people I’m new to town. I guess it’s true what The Magnetic Fields say: “Days go by too slowly and the years go by too fast.”

It hasn’t always been an easy transition, there were roadblocks, wrenches thrown in the mix, and some hard time blues. But, as I look back and reflect, It has no doubt been worth it.

What has happened:

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(+)  Classes, 1 year down! 
I finished up the first year of my masters with a 4.0 and some confidence in myself. For me, I thought the assignments, course load, etc was pretty easy. Which was surprising. Going forward into my second year, I am expecting some more difficulties as the courses get more specialized and my practicum gets more intense.

 

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(-)  Depression
My depression resurfaced for a bit in the past year and it was difficult to get a hold of. It resurfaced for a variety of reasons which I think are fairly average- feeling alone, feeling stressed, shitty relationship, shitty people in general, regretting the move, regretting the choice of school, etc. After losing about 30 lbs from stress and being unable to eat because of anxiety, my absolute best friend in the whole world stepped in. She encouraged me to get to the doctor and gave me some easy ways to tell the doc what was happening. That was a lifesaver for me and the moment things really started to turn around. That was about 5-6 months ago.

IMG_9945IMG_7542IMG_9161(+) New friends
I’ve made a bunch of new friends, which is strange for me. I’ve always found it difficult to make friends. But somehow, in the last 6 months, I’ve got a solid squad and they are all amazing people. I have beer friends, I have vinyl/audio friends, I have music show friends, I have bitch about school friends, brunch friends. I’m lucky to have such cool, supportive people in my life who actually like having me around and want me around.

 

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(-)  Obstacles
When I got here, nothing seemed to go right. I was denied EI, my apartment was a mess, my student loan took forever to come in. It was just one thing after another and it really frazzled me. I wish I had handled it better and it made me really negative about the move and the city. I felt like I had no one to lean on. But, I powered through as I always do on my own. Trying to not ask for help. However, some help did come in of its own accord and I’m grateful to those folks who decided to swoop in.

IMG_9683(+) Getting Back to the Things I Love
In the last six months, I have really enjoyed diving into the Calgary (& area) music scene. I saw some of the best concerts/shows I’ve ever been to in this time- Joel Plaskett in Canmore, New Bomb Turks at Dickens, Bob Log III at the Palamino, By Divine Right at the Ship, and Stars in Banff. Not to mention getting out to Bengough for Gateway Festival once again only to fall in love with Mo Kenney’s music. I’ve been to so many more shows, but these are the standouts.

 

IMG_7813(+)  Career
When I got to Calgary, I had zero jobs. Now… I have three! (1) I’m currently working for the City of Calgary as a social researcher. It’s just a summer term, but has it ever been a lifesaver as far as finances go. (2) My practicum supervisor asked me to stay on until next summer to complete my project. The project ends up with me having an academic article published. (3) I’ve become a sought after dog/house sitter. I started doing this for my brother’s girlfriend who has referred me to others, and I also gather clients just by chatting about my adventures in dogsitting. This income pretty much sustained me during the school year. I love dogs and I get to stay in fancy houses usually… it’s perfect.

IMG_8948My practicum supervisor sent me to Montreal for a conference that I usually would go to if I was working at the time. I got to see all my lovely young professional friends and hear about all the great things they are doing. I love those people and wish we got to see each other more often, maybe one day we will work together more closely.

When I got to Calgary, I had to come to the realization that no one knew who I was like they did in Winnipeg. It was humbling. But, I was determined to get my name out there. I made a significant cold call to a PhD in the faculty and sent her my CV. She instantly recommended me for 3 scholarships (one of which I won), made connections in the sector for me, and offered me a TA position (which I was unable to accept).

 

IMG_9480So… things have been looking up… WAY up over the last 6 months or so. I no longer hate Calgary. I actually kind of like it and I keep discovering new things and places that make it a bit more interesting. I do that through the help of a few people and a lot of curiosity. No more just sitting around watching Netflix and going to the SAME places over and over again! Change has been a good thing and there has been way more changes than I could have predicted. I thought my life would look a certain way when I got here, but it looked nothing like what I was hoping for. But, where I am right now is pretty excellent.

 

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News about the Imposter Syndrome

Good news- I feel a lot less depressed lately.

Less than good news- I feel very beat down in some aspects of my life.

I was speaking to a friend very briefly today about how I feel I’m not measuring up. How every time I think I’ve done something exceptional, it seems to come back to me as having actually done a stupid thing or the wrong thing instead.

And these thoughts got me thinking about the Imposter Syndrome.

“a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved.”

I’ve always said to myself and to other people with similar feelings “fake it til you make it, because no one else knows what they’re doing either.” But the latter part of that saying is the hardest to believe. Why does everyone seem to know more or be better at things? Why do I, and others with the same feelings, feel like we’re not measuring up all the time? I don’t believe it’s that we are not measuring up, but we are exaggerating everyone else’s success. Not to mention others are also exaggerating their own success to impress.

Interestingly enough, impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achieving women. Of course,  I’m not going to call myself “high-achieving” because I don’t see myself that way… and that’s probably a bit of that Imposter talking. But why, as women, are we constantly second guessing our success and intelligence? Is it because women are still earning 70-80% less than what men earn? Or is it because affirmative action is practiced and we aren’t completely sure if we were the best candidate for the job?

Case in point, when I have to do public speaking I always feel like a blithering idiot. I get so nervous! But when I hear the recording or watch the video of me speaking, it does not sound the way I thought it sounded when the words were spewing out in what I thought was a jumbled mess! I get compliments from people who were listening/watching and I just assume they are being overly nice and trying to make me feel better.

I don’t have any answers on how you can feel less like a failure in life. But, when you start getting those feelings take a minute to step outside of your head and really take a look at yourself and your perceived failures. Also, remember that many of the people you may be comparing yourself to could be “in the middle of their story” while you’re “only at beginning of your story”. I often find I’m comparing myself to people 10 years older than me because we are colleagues or I respect them, their intelligence, and what they do. That’s really not fair to me when they’ve had an extra decade to gather knowledge and have learning experiences.

If all else fails, listen to April Ludgate.

Anyone else feel like an imposter sometimes? 

Is Good Work Enough?

UntitledFor those of you who don’t know, I am a community social worker administering services in the form of a community development model. All this really means is I am a well-informed friend and cheerleader to people who don’t have anyone else to play that role for them. I work with some of the most vulnerable and troubled people in the City. I see and hear of violence, addictions, serious mental illnesses, trauma, physical health issues, systemic racism, and many more things on a daily basis.

Those things take a terrible toll on the folk I work with everyday. But, as much as I hate to admit, those things have taken a terrible toll on me over these last three years. I’ve begun to take these things too personally, like these things are happening to a family member or friend. I’ve let my boundaries come down as I’ve gotten to know these people over years and I’ve gotten too close to many clients.

I wouldn’t normally consider this to be a problem in the type of work I am currently doing. As a social worker, trust and positive relationships can be difficult to come by. I am thankful I’ve been able to break down barriers and provide accessible service to those who are mostly forgotten by other systems.

But, back to the problem- recently, I’ve had to deal with the deaths of two clients I became very close with. One was expected and I found easier to deal with. The most recent was very sudden and it has really hit me hard. I visited her in the hospital two days before she passed, she seemed in decent shape and I was really looking forward to her recovery when we could do more things together to increase her quality of life. I thought this trip to the hospital might actually be a good thing as it would force her to address her neglected health and get her the services she didn’t want to admit she needed.

After all the work we did together- renovating her rooming house, planting gardens every year, endless chats, problem solving, and so much more… I find myself wondering:

“what good did it really do? I couldn’t convince her to address her health
conditions. I couldn’t get her think of her future. I couldn’t save her life.”

So, is my good work really enough?

I know people will step in when I relay these concerns and tell me that what I do really does make a difference in lives. But when the vast negatives overshadow those teeny, tiny victories it really makes you question yourself and the systems you work in. Is all this heartache and acquisition of vicarious trauma really making the world a better place for anyone? Am I working myself into burnout for the good of others? If someone benefits, I’m happy to take on the work and the trouble. But, how will I ever know?

How will I know that good work is enough to make a difference in these lives?

What I’ve learned in the past 30 years

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See that? That girl with the huge smile and overplucked brows? Yeah, that’s me about 10 years ago when I was 20. This photo was taken in the middle of a huge convention centre during an Oktoberfest celebration where I was standing in what seemed to be two inches of spilled beer, pant cuffs soaked. I’m cheek-to-cheek with my then best friend, whom I have since lost touch with.

Since that time in my life, things have happened and changed- I’ve moved about eight times, been engaged, worked eleven or twelve jobs, lived on the side of a mountain, put myself through University, etc. etc. etc. I have learned way more about myself and the world than I would have ever imagined while drinking warm beer out of plastic cups that September.

Here we go…

Fake it til you make it.
I used to think everyone had it figured out, except me. I’d ask myself, how do all these people have their shit together? Truth is… everyone is asking themselves that question. No one knows which way is up, but no one wants to admit to it. I’ve learned that if you appear to know what you’re talking about, speak confidently, and not too much then you come across as one of those people with it all figured out. Example- this week I am giving a presentation to a ton of big wigs in government. How the hell did this little girl get a chance to speak at the Legislative Building?!? She faked her way through it, now she doesn’t need to fake it so much… Maybe just the confidence part.

Trust your gut
If something feels off to you, it probably is. I’ve always given people the benefit of the doubt that they are being honest and good. But, truth is… not all people are as trustworthy as I am. When people make you feel uncomfortable, say something. Don’t just assume you are being too sensitive or making things into something they are not. It isn’t necessarily you. Things need to be said when you don’t feel right about a situation. You don’t deserve to feel uncomfortable in your workplace, relationship, or anywhere else.

Travel far, travel often.
There is nothing better, in my eyes, than traveling. Getting far away from your everyday life and creating new experiences. Experiences are better than things, better than money. Traveling alone is one of the greatest things I’ve ever done and will continue to do for the rest of my life. I’ve learned more about myself on road trips and flights than I did in the first seven years of my 20s. Don’t put it off til you’re ready, because chances are you’ll never have the right amount of money or timing won’t be perfect. Then… it’s too late.

Grudges aren’t worth the energy they take.
I’ve learned that forgiveness is one of the best tools to have at your disposal. It takes a lot of effort to keep a grudge going for years. It doesn’t do much of anything for you besides preoccupy your psyche, damage relationships, and make you look like a bitter ass. I’ve had some pretty devastating things happen to me in my 20s, but I’ve forgiven those who committed them, even when I thought it might be impossible. The forgiving wasn’t to make them feel better, but so I could feel better and move on from the hurt.

Risk it. You could be rewarded.
Hop that plane! Kiss that boy! Apply for that job that’s way out of your league! Risks are there for the taking and if you don’t take them… what is there really? There is just dull, day-to-day life and I know I don’t want that ever again. Fear of the unknown is silly. Worrying is even worse. I’ve only recently realized that regretting having done something sit much better in my mind than regretting something I was too afraid to do.

 

What have you learned in your 20s?