Where am I going?
Who doesn't ask this question? The nature of sentience itself demands we pay attention to it. Our minds are able to see life subjectively outside of the present moment, giving us the ability to both reach into the past, and look deep into the future.
Where am I going?
I'm not sure, but I know where I've been. It starts with a hero complex. Yes, I know I'm not special. This is a common trend that manifest itself in my generation. The important thing is that it plays a central role in my life's story. It began with books. I had these picture books that asked "Why?", "How?", "When?"...you get the picture. One book asked, "How did the dinosaurs die?", and that's when I learned about meteor impacts. Cue death anxiety and intense sorrow for the eventual demise of the human race and everyone I hold dear (a really sad thought for an young kid to have everyday). Luckily I had awesome parents who listened to my fears and taught me that each person can make a difference, and that I had the power to become a scientist who could protect the human race from disaster, if I choose to do so. Talk about pressure.
I thought a lot about my future. I would imagine my funeral, and think about the ways that I'd want to be remembered. I wanted to be famous, world famous, for something really amazing. I wanted to be a force for positive change. It's at about this time that we read The Giver in school. Whew. What a novel for a young kid to read. The question of extremities, of comfort vs wisdom. Here was this one person in the community that could be counted on to shoulder the burden of knowing for everyone else, someone who would accept the memories of the good and the bad and use it for the greater good of the community. I really identified with this idea, and decided that to achieve my goal I would have to search for wisdom.
I would need to know everything, I didn't realize it at the time, but I beginning to think critically about everything, too critically. I was always judging situations, always testing. I realized that I knew so little, and I wanted so badly to understand the human world around me. But as a beginner I had no ability with communication and connection, and I never felt like I could fit in. This usually made me pretty awkward, because I would try to apply some information or perspective I had learned elsewhere into a new situation, and at that age it never translated well. It lead to feelings of separation and depression.
The only thing I could kind of understand was the infinite amount of time that would pass after I died. What a scary thought. I thought about it a lot, because it seemed like the only time life would get worse, because it would be so much lonelier than my life already was. I wouldn't even be there to console my own sorrow of not existing! I didn't sleep much those days. There was always something to worry about. Night time break ins, house fire, meteor impacts, environmental destruction...Death was always there, knocking on my brain.
We'll fast forward through the awkward teen years and meet 17 year old Kevan. Man, what a time. I was a kid who had everything, and nothing at the same time. I was killing it at school, I had a girlfriend who was kind and frisky, and I had awesome friends who I could get high with and talk about philosophy and other cool ideas. I may not have been the most popular kid around, but I had good people in my life, and I was on a good path to the future.
Well, at least that's how it looked from the outside. I was a jumbled mess inside. My life was never good enough. I had created such high expectations of others and myself that were never met. I would look in the mirror and pick myself apart piece by piece. I would cry all the time about how pointless it all is, and the "awful" life that I had. I would write in my blog and take on a holier than though attitude, because I honestly believed that I was the only person on this planet who really gave a shit about anything. But the truth was that I was disconnected from reality, so into my own self that I couldn't see beyond the fog. I thought I saw truth, because I was smoking pot and discovering life, but the reality is that I didn't see other people's pain, I didn't see their hard work, I didn't see anything except what would reaffirm my own feelings about life and myself. What a obsessed, critical and cynical asshole I was. Luckily, the universe intervened and introduced me to it's medicine.
Psylocibin found it's way into my life, and showed me that there were so many new ways to look at reality. The first night I took it I was sitting in the basement with my two close friends, and even though they weren't on it, my mind was open to asking questions and we all got on the same train of thought. We talked about our perceptions, about our fears and anxiety, about the way we see each other, and what we discovered was that we were the same. No one felt great about life, no one felt secure and confident, we were all just confused teenagers trying to make sense of it all. Just hearing that other people saw my life as way better than I thought it was was enough to make me rethink my identity. I remember going to the mirror and seeing myself for the first time. I looked deep and didn't hate what looked back. I saw a young man with a big heart, a young man who wanted the best but didn't know what that looked like. I saw my family, my friends, and realized that I was incredibly fortunate. I was truly happy and at peace in that moment. So, mushrooms saved my life.
But not really. It showed me what could be, but it didn't change me at my core. Back in sober life I continued with the same patterns that dominated my life before my experience with psilocibin. But now at least there was a light, and once again, a double edged sword. I had come to realize more than ever how fluid life was, and I wanted to excerpt my agency over it.
So let's do a quick recap.
I'm a normal, self-obsessed teenager who had just discovered how much freedom he truly had. You know what comes with freedom? Confusion and anxiety. When you see thousands of possible paths in front of you, and you've been raised with the idea of optimization, choice can quickly become overwhelming. What happened over the next 5 years was a lot of trial and error. I tried different degrees; jumping from science, to business, to development studies. I tried different people; new girlfriends, new friends, new jobs. The truth is that I always wanted something new, because it seemed to be the only way to figure out what I really wanted. Everything and everyone was seen as tools that I could use to discover myself. Fuck. I feel dirty writing that, but it's the truth. It doesn't mean that the relationships didn't have emotional value, because they certainly did, but my behaviour didn't reflect that. So that pretty much sums up my first 4 years of university. Once 5th year hit I realized that I had done nothing to really progress myself as an individual with real world value. Sure I had some work experience, but it was nothing compared to the students doing co-op terms with major corporations. I also didn't have any clubs experience, or any volunteer experience....my post-graduate options were looking grim.
Enter Spencer Madden. My buddy Spence doesn't know it, but he changed my whole life. I met Spencer in an accounting course through our mutual friend Mark, and we got to talking. Mark was going to join a business club named AMIO, and I thought to myself that it might be a good idea to get involved. Fast forward a few weeks and I'm hanging in the business club trailer, meeting new people, working out office hours, and talking about club events. Now, unfortunately I was still a huge dick at this stage in my life. I had confidence up the wazoo, and no common sense to go with it. Many of the women in AMIO were attractive, and I flirted a little too heavily with most of them. I also talked way too much about myself, and failed to realize how much people had begun to dislike me. Being the upstanding young men and women that they were, they were nothing but polite, but it took a conversation with my friend Sam to see the truth. Cue the most humbling moment of my life.
Sam was the president of AMIO when I was a member. One day he asked me to go to lunch with him at the grad lounge, and seeing as how I had nothing going on I agreed to meet him there after class. We sat down, and after a quiet minute or two he laid it out for me. What followed was an honest and straightforward critique of my behaviour, and how it had been affecting my relationships with other people. He told me about how uncomfortable people were to talk to me, especially the women in the club. He asked me to consider the impact this was having not just on others, but on my own life. Sam opened my eyes to the truth, and it hurt really bad. I wasn't the great guy I thought I was, I was just a blundering fool who failed to see what was right in front of him. I was so concerned with myself and my own journey that I forgot to include others. I'm not proud of what followed. I cut off most ties with AMIO out of embarrassment and shame, and sought a new opportunity.
My friend Nick Meehan was part of this club called AIESEC, and he was telling us one day about how they were about to sign a contract with a German company which would see a dozen or so students live in Germany for a year. He convinced me to attend an AIESEC recruitment meeting, and once again my life took another big turn. I walked in late to the meeting with Mark, wearing my big fuzzy hat. I miss that hat. We settled in the back of the room, and listened to the club's pitch. What followed was two hours of pure awe. I had found what I was looking for! Here was a club that was having a global impact, sending thousands of people around the world each year on international internships. They also gave students an opportunity to build their skills while working to make these internships a reality. The icing on the cake? Conferences. I was smitten. I decided to join right away. AIESEC really did change my life. I had found a group of extremely welcoming people, people with whom I could start a blank slate with. I focused my mind on being funny, outgoing, caring, and passionate; and people dug it. I won the "Most Spirited Member" award, and the general talk around the club was that I was going to do big things. I attended some conferences, which were a blast. Attending the NLDC conference in Ottawa had a huge impact on my life. It's where I first heard about the Impact! Youth Conference for Sustainability Leadership. I also had the opportunity to help plan a conference, which turned out to be an even bigger blast. I was so in love with AIESEC that I began to toy around with the possibility of a minor just so I could stay in school another year and continue working with the club as a VP, or perhaps even as president... I applied for president of the Calgary branch. This turned out to be a big turning point in my AIESEC experience. I wasn't sure if I should apply or not, seeing as how I had a busy schedule, and I would be done school halfway through the term, but I filled out the application anyways and sent it in. Out of everyone who had been speculated to apply, it turned out to be between Julie and I. I dropped out of the race. Why? I'm not entirely sure. I never really considered myself a quitter, but here I was, quitting. Some reasons: Julie deserved it more than I did; I was going to embarrass myself; was I prepared to take on the responsibility?; was I the right person for the job?. Looking back, maybe I should have stayed in the race and at least given Julie some competition. I tried my best to support her, attending the "election" and letting her know how excited I was for her. I even mentioned that I wanted to be vice-president in charge of human resources.
That turned out to be the nail in the coffin on my AIESEC experience. It started a few days before the election. I'm hanging in the office, and I can overhear Julie and Carol talking about who they'd choose as VPs if they were president. I never heard my name mentioned. Was it any surprise then that I was not selected after my application and interview for VP? Julie pretty much told me herself in the interview that she wouldn't take me. Turns out choosing no one was a better choice than choosing me. Saying I was upset would be an understatement. She said I could help with human resources, but my ego wouldn't accept that. Didn't she know that I wanted to achieve great things? Didn't she understand that I was in AIESEC to become a leader? Ugh. Looking back now, I'm glad I didn't stick around; but my attitude at the time sure was poopy. I have mixed feelings about the AIESEC experience, and the club as a whole, but I'm still grateful for the doors it opened for me.
Cue sustainability. Dear Kevan, you are invited to attend the Co-operators Impact! Conference for Sustainability Leadership. OH WHAT! A paid trip to Guelph, sustainability training, and networking with awesome people?! Impact made me feel like there was a reason for my inner hero complex and confidence. They obviously saw something special in me, something that differentiated me from the other 6 people I beat out for my spot. It was both invigorating and humbling. I felt like I didn't have to fake it anymore. I could be myself and be valued for it. It felt good. At the conference I met some really amazing people. So many of them were intelligent, hardworking, and thoughtful people. I heard about so many cool projects, and met big hearts. I found it interesting that many people I talked to had grown as a person thanks to psychedelics, and attributed their success to them. For the first time I felt like I had found a group of people that really understood my perspective on life, and my feelings. One awesome highlight of the conference was hearing David Suzuki speak, and I was in the front row. Pretty bad ass. Also, this marked the first time I connected vegetarian diets to sustainability, which would eventually lead me to take on a vegetarian diet myself.
So not only did I go to this conference, but it forced me to go back to school too. Only students were allowed to attend, so I figured I might as well go back to school for development studies (see how pieces are starting to fit together? That's the power of intentionality in action) Once again, cue a huge boom in perspective. Where sustainability had dominated, not it had become a small part of an even bigger picture of human development. This program asked us to consider so many different variables when talking about social, environmental, and economic issues. Because of development studies I was able to take on a new perspective on progress, which eventually brought me to the idea of singularity.
Singularity is the beginning of the path I am on at the moment. If the history of mankind is founded on progress, the use of technology to further our understanding of the universe and ourselves, or the use of technology to improve our comfort and well being, what does it say about us as a species? What does it say about connection, communication, trade-offs, destruction, philosophy, human nature? Development is the environment, development is the framework. It draws from our imagination, and our feelings, and creates a new reality around us. It is everything! And the more we understand technology, the more we understand ourselves. So now we come back to the question.
Where am I going?
Do I go into communication, as a way to discover what it means to be me, to be a human being? Do I go into technology, and learn about it's role in the human story, and it's future? Do I focus on sustainable development, and work for an NGO or a government to try to improve the lives of others through structures? Or do I find something that incorporates all of these? I'm about to head back to Calgary in 5 weeks, and a world of possibility awaits me. I could move anywhere and do anything. I believe I have the power to choose, and it is still overwhelming. Do I trust the flow, because it has gotten my this far? Do I take an active role in it's guidance? What comes first, family or career?
Guess I'll soon find out.