A Thousand Tiny Moments

My mind is a curious place.

I’ve never been inside anyone else’s so I can’t say for certain how others’ brains work, but mine works much like a smart phone, collecting videos and images and random data that contribute to my unique point of view in the world.

I can think back to when I was two years old, riding through the picturesque prairie countryside in the back of my fathers’ red trailblazer, our new husky puppy curled up in her kennel beside me as we took her home for the first time. As I sat there, a toddler overcome with joy by my new fuzzy companion, I attempted to share my excitement with my parents by exclaiming how we’d gotten “a husky.” Instead, the word came out as one, “Askia, Askia!” and my parents decided then that was what we would call our little black and white puppy from that day on.

When I was four, we were in Lisbon, Portugal for the 12th World Gymnaestrada, a gymnastics event that brings together over 20,000 participants from all over the world to perform and share their love of the sport in a non-competitive environment. I remember walking down hot, cobblestone streets with my dad while my mom was out training with the team, sitting atop his shoulders as we made our way through unthinkably large groups of people too vast for my young brain to comprehend. I remember meeting some girls from Africa who thought I was adorable and gave me a water bottle for my tiny Canadian pin. I remember a group of performers launching tiny dolls into the audience at the end of their number (I caught one and still have it to this day) and I remember tripping on a grate hidden in the stony back alleyway, effectively scraping up my knees and acquiring a giant goose egg on my forehead just minutes before the girls were to go up to perform.

As a third grader, I remember that first day in Mr. Krahn’s classroom when he gave us each our own writer’s notebook and told us we were to bring it with us everywhere, filling it up with our thoughts and words, decorating it however we liked. I wrote my first poem that day, sharing it proudly with the class and anyone who would listen. I remember how I broke my forearm a little more than a year later, how third grade had been filled with happy moments and fourth grade was decidedly not, but how even then, even in amidst many challenges, there was light. There is always light. I remember a cute boy signing my cast and falling into my first mutual crush, how he’d write me notes every day and stick them in the little bin underneath my chair. His “old geezer” impressions made everyone laugh, and it was nice to be noticed for once.

Life was simple, and it was beautiful. In many ways, it isn’t all too different, even now.

My mind is filled with a thousand of these tiny little moments. They are so vivid, for me, they play out like a movie. The hard ones, the good ones. Moments of joy and moments of pain or sorrow. This is my life’s story, and I am adding to it all the time – every day, every month, every hour. Sometimes I long to go back to certain moments. Sometimes I long for time to slow down.

I have found myself sitting with the notion of time frequently of late, growing increasingly aware of its passing. Time, I am finding, is a funny thing – it is rigid and elastic, mechanical and cyclical and uncontrollable all at once. The passing of time occurs with or without our permission. As such, it is often touted as our most valuable resource, and I am acutely aware of how I am spending mine.

Time, time, time. We think about it all the time. What are we going to do with our time, with our one precious life on this earth?

A few weeks ago, I saw a contemporary dance show that was fundamentally mind-blowing and opened up an entirely new world of possibilities for me and what I could become. The artist was Akram Khan – in his last solo show, Xenos, he spends much of his time alone on stage, accompanied by five live musicians. The cinematography of the show was simply stunning. You could feel how every single detail had been thought out, how nothing was there without purpose. I was sitting in the middle of the front row and I could feel his presence. He was absolutely, one hundred percent there with us, his audience of many. It was breath-taking.

For me, as an artist, this presence is the most important factor in any performance I observe. When you perform the same show over and over again, day in day out, it is easy to let what is essentially magic become quite mundane. When the artists are not fully present, the audience feels it. I have been to many shows where I have seen the absence of life in the artists’ eyes, and it absolutely breaks my heart. To be a performer is a gift – to one’s self and to the world. To forget that is to take art for granted.

Akram, at 43, was confronting his own mortality with this particular work of art. His body had seen many years of hard work and hours of dancing, and he knew he could not continue much longer in the capacity he had performed as a young man. Classically trained in ballet, contemporary and Katak, a form of traditional Indian dance, he drew from the sacred of the East and the West, in movement and stories and song.

Yet when he spoke with us, the audience, at the end of the show, he answered our questions with a humility I have come to recognize in many great artists. In spite of the already high calibre of his work, he continues to play and go deeper every time he steps out on stage. He shared his aim with his work and the stories the work grew from. He spoke of philosophy and history and time. His work has a purpose, and that is the kind of work I have always known I long to create. Now I had one more living example as proof to my theory that art can inspire change in the hearts and minds of many if used as the vessel that it is. Now I just have to go out and carve my path.

In January, I began a formation in contemporary dance, something of a pivot from the circus career I was pursuing last year. Until the end of March last year, I saw my life taking one very distinct path. But that path, I’ve slowly grown to realize, is not the one for me. Sometimes you see images of the people you admire, and you think that is the life you want to live. You never know the full story, however, until you live it.

We forget that we are not our heroes, we are our own people – and what makes someone else feel happy or fulfilled will not necessarily do the same for you. So we must find the courage to be honest and always choose our own stories.

I am finding a joy in the world of contemporary dance that I lost for much of the last decade of my life. My teacher has pushed me to ask questions and be curious, inspiring me to push my boundaries and search for every opportunity to learn and grow into the best version of the artist I want to become. I have found myself with new friends who make me laugh more than I have in a very long time. My days are challenging but thoroughly enjoyable all the same, exhausting but ultimately rewarding.

In the last week or so, I’ve come to realize I am only going to walk this particular journey once. Only once. I spent so much of my teen years miserable in pursuit of some far off goal, never once stopping to realize why it had to be so painful in the first place. My brain is not wired for skills. My brain is wired for creativity – I long to explore and shift and try new things every day. Otherwise, it is so easy to get stuck in a rut. As Akram explained, we need to maintain that sense of child’s play, that sense of curiosity and question. Life is so much more interesting that way.

And so, ever so slowly, my vision for the future has begun to shift. If I am going to go on this journey only once, I want to enjoy myself every step along the way. Some moments will be hard, no doubt. But I am learning, as Harry Potter’s mentor Albus Dumbledore once said, “Happiness can be found in the darkest of places if one only remembers to turn on the light” (JK Rowling).

There is always light.

I am learning to show up and be fully present for all aspects of my life, to fully enjoy the ride rather than simply working to get to the destination. Some days, however, I still pass idle moments combing through my memories, projecting my life’s story on a widescreen in my mind. Sometimes I wish I could upload this film to the minds of the people with whom I’ve connected. I want them to know where I’ve come from because stories have the power to connect us in ways unlike anything else.

Our past is not everything, but it does make up much of the stain glass window through which we view the world. My world may be different from your world, but in some ways, our worlds are so very much the same. We’ve both loved, we’ve laughed, we’ve lost. There is something so beautifully interconnected about the human experience that is so easy to forget when we meet a face we don’t recognize. But even in the unfamiliar, there is something familiar to be found.

This is what it is to be human.

Forget hate and discrimination and politics and walls. Forget xenophobia and racism and sexism. Forget violence. Forget wars. To be human, to be fundamentally human is to connect. To share. To love. To be a light. My story is your story. Your story is Our Story, the story of humanity. Share it. Remember that it matter. Our story matters. Every little piece of it.

That means you, too.

2019.

This is a 6-minute read.

It’s 2019.

We are nearly a month into 2019 and I am not entirely sure how that happened. I feel like just a moment ago, we were in the midst of the scorching summer heat and I was complaining about the fact that it was 35 degrees in my new apartment before I was able to get an air conditioning unit in the window.

Every time I did anything – from painting my walls to putting together a free standing fan – my shins (yes, my shins) would immediately begin dripping beads of sweat and I found myself engulfed in salt water. Who needs a shower when you’re constantly wet? Okay, just kidding. I’m not sure I would have survived without my shower even though the minute I stepped out of the lukewarm stream I found myself sweating once again. But still. You get the picture.

They say time flies when you’re having fun, and this I have found to be true.

I’ve also found that the clock has this uncanny way of speeding up the older you become. These days, a week is nothing. We are all so busy so much of the time, who has a few minutes to spare to think, let alone look back on where they’ve come from? I used to spend hours setting elaborate goals and putting together a new vision board come December each year, but this year, New Years just felt like less of a big deal. It was my birthday in October that made me pause and think woah, I’m twenty? 

I’ve been around for two whole decades. 

How did that happen?

Regardless of the depths to which we go in order to ponder and plan, this time of year always incites a period of reflection and contemplation on the months to come and those that came before.

To be completely honest, I’ve grown somewhat averse to goal-setting recently. In my teens, I would set extremely specific and often unrealistic goals for myself and rarely achieve what I thought I wanted. So much can change in a year, so much both within and beyond our control. Opportunities can come up, ones we we are not even aware exist before they are thrown into our path. Obstacles can appear just as readily. Who we think we are gets challenged with each curveball life throws our way. We change. We grow. We adapt…or we don’t. We get stuck, stagnant as the air in a room with no ventilation. We yearn for the illusion of control, but the thing is?

There is no way to predict the future, no matter how hard we try. And I’ve tried, trust me. In the (somewhat painful) process, I’ve learned that clinging to our beliefs about the way things once were is the source of so much of our suffering.

In time, this list of unaccomplished goals began to weigh me down. I felt as though nothing I ever did was enough even though I did so much. I grew depressed, trapped in a prison that was my mind when all I could see were the things that weren’t quite right. So I tried desperately to control everything I could…until I couldn’t anymore.

I think back to a year ago, and back then time held a different quality for me than it does now. It passed quickly and all too slow at the same time. The clock had grown lethargic and I was living a waiting game, living on someone else’s terms rather than actively creating the life I wanted. I was stuck on those goals I’d created for myself, stuck in a box with stagnant air and too stubborn to realize how unhappy I was in the moment.

Cling, cling, cling.

It was all I wanted to do. But then my life began to unravel before my eyes.

Within the span of four months, it felt like I’d lost everything I’d worked for up until that point. I was raw. I was breathless. And still, I fought to find a way forward. Keep moving. Keep moving forward, I told myself. Keep breathing. Your heart is still beating? You’re here for a reason. You’ll figure it out.

So I started a “blog.” I started writing again, coaxing my broken heart back to life. I found a hand balancing coach and a dance teacher to help me grow. I took time off training for an injury and found a yoga studio that I love. I applied to some things, received some opportunities I thought I never would and met some wonderful people along the way. Slowly, step by step, I made my new city my home. And you know what?

I love my life in a way I never felt I could a year ago.

Sure, it’s lonely sometimes. Sure, there are challenges. But what life doesn’t have its challenges? In her book, Big Magic, author Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame recounts a conversation she had with a fellow artist. In it, she explains how every kind of work you will do in the world sucks a little bit. This may sound terribly pessimistic, but it actually relieves us of some of the pressure of finding that perfect job. “You just have to choose your flavour of shit sandwich,” Gilbert explains candidly, telling the story of an exceptionally talented writer she knew who never went anywhere because he wasn’t willing to put in the work. “It’s a choice.”

If every kind of work worth doing is going to suck a little bit, the question becomes: do you love it enough to put up with the parts you don’t like? Do you love what you are doing more than you don’t? If the answer is no, if you loathe your life more than you love it, it may be time for a change.

I guess I just had to find that out that hard way.

I say that life has a funny way of working itself out.

Life effectively ejected me from a situation I didn’t see was toxic, and I landed already having the tools to build my world from the ground up. I guess sometimes, we all need to have a little more faith in ourselves.

Over the recent holiday break, I was chatting with one of my closest friends about the intricacy of my story and how, had one thing happened differently, it is very likely I would not be where I am today. We imagined parallel versions of the person I’ve become. It’s a fun game, in way. It truly makes you appreciate the path you couldn’t see as it was being laid down before you.

Here’s one example: If I hadn’t stayed in gymnastics long enough to tear my ACL, I wouldn’t have chosen to do homeschooling for grade twelve. If I hadn’t taught myself grade twelve, I wouldn’t have had so much time to dedicate to training in what changed course from gymnastics to circus, and I wouldn’t have spent as much time creating art as I did. I then wouldn’t have met my acrobatic partner in my hometown and decided to train with him to audition together as a duo for the school I wanted to go to. And nothing would have been the same from there.

2018 was a hard year for me. Actually, I’ve heard it was a hard year for a lot of people. I am not saying that everything happens for a reason because sometimes things happen and they just really, really suck. Hearing that something deeply painful happened “for a reason” can be one of the worst things for someone who is grieving. So no, I don’t believe someone is pulling the strings from way up in the sky, making bad things happen to good people just to “teach them a lesson.” Everyone is allowed their own beliefs, and a spiteful creator is not part of mine.

That being said, I have discovered that purpose can be found in everything that happens, even the things that hurt.

So much of life is beyond our control but we always, always, always have the power to chose how we respond.

I can look back now and be grateful for everything I’ve experienced in the past few years my of life. Those experiences shaped me into who I am, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. I can be grateful for the people who came into my life for a time, even if those relationships didn’t last forever. Even if I still miss those people sometimes. Our memories keep us company in the moments we are alone. We carry pieces of every person we’ve ever loved with us wherever we go.

Looking forward into 2019, I’ve developed a new philosophy surrounding the things I want to accomplish. It happened subconsciously, as I learned and grew tired of clinging to things no longer meant for me. One day, I looked up and realized I had this vision for an extensive project I would like to create in the next two to three years. I don’t like the term “goals” anymore; in my head, this project just the thing I am doing now. And if that vision shifts and grows as I do, it’s okay. It’s okay. The most beautiful things happen when we dance between planning, taking action and surrendering to life, leaving room for serendipity and perhaps a little bit of luck to help us out.

So here’s to 2019. Here’s to a new year of learning, living, and laughing out loud – because life is always better when you’re laughing.

2019 is going to be a good year. I can feel it. Can you?

Deep Breaths (A Rant)

This is a 6-minute read.

Sometimes, existing in this world as a human being can be exhausting.

We exist within this single dichotomy: everything is simultaneously far too much and not enough to fit our definition of the way things are supposed to be.

I often get the sense that I am too much and not enough always, in all ways.

Too passionate, straying too far from the herd we are supposed to follow. Too vibrant, too full of life. Too many ideas on how to change the world. Not creative enough, not smart enough. Not focused on the right things. Not working hard enough to make a real impact. Not enough people know your name.

By the world’s impossible standards, nothing is ever enough. We could always be thinner and prettier and have nicer things. We should do more good in the community and volunteer overseas and spend more time with our families and friends back home. We should make more money. We should be vegan and live zero-waste lives. We should exercise and take 10,000 steps and vote and be tolerant of others all while living our best lives…oh, and you’re not doing enough to take care of yourself. Make sure you do that too.

Does anyone else ever feel as overwhelmed as I do? Who knew life could become so complicated in such a short span of time.

As a Very Curious Individual (VCI), I spend a lot of time learning new things. Life is fascinating. The world is fascinating, but there is also an overwhelming number of things to know. Data can be useless without action, and we are currently in an era of data overload.

Researcher Alex Edmans explains how we are now living in a post-truth world in this TED Talk. When there is so much “evidence” to back up any opinion we may wish to argue for, it is easy to let our confirmation bias to lead us astray. Just because someone somewhere “tested” something, doesn’t make it true. To be pro-truth is to acknowledge that sometimes our initial ideas may be wrong, that there is a difference between opinion and fact, and we must fact-check our sources before sharing our latest findings with the people we know.

The problem is, sometimes we consume and regurgitate others’ opinions without even knowing it.  We are constantly consuming media wherever we go, and all this information can be…well, overwhelming. (I think that is my word of the day.) It can be a challenge to properly process everything we absorb. What do you do with the fact that we only have twelve years to stop global warming from rising beyond 2 degrees C, a tipping point beyond which there is no point of return? What do you do with the fact that these next twelve years determine whether we can learn to live in harmony with the natural world, or exist in climate catastrophe for the foreseeable future? I sure as hell don’t always know what to do with that information. Panic? That’s not going to get anybody anywhere.

Some days, I feel very small and extremely helpless. What can I, as one small person, possibly do to change this very scary prognosis? I want to yell at the world to wake up. I want to kick and scream and fuss until people start to take notice. I want people to take notice but more than that, I want them to care enough that they begin to make a change. A real, tangible change. A sustained change. Not just empty promises, but do everything we can to follow through.

We need little changes to add up to big changes. Every. Single. Day.

When I was little, I wanted to go to the Olympics for artistic gymnastics. More than that, I wanted to make a splash on the international scene. I wanted to be known by people, I wanted to be seen. In all honesty, a small part of me still longs for that platform, but it is not driven by ego or recognition or fame. In all honesty, I don’t think it ever was. To have your work be known and loved by thousands of people gives you a platform of influence, the opportunity to impact real change in the world around you.

To make a sizable difference in the world and connect with people on a deeper level. In all honesty, that’s all I’ve ever wanted.

I am a dreamer. I have big dreams for my life, and some days those dreams are overwhelming. Some days those dreams are terrifying, and some days they’re terribly exciting. It is easy for me to get caught up in this dream world where everything is possible, but then I remember, to achieve great things I must first begin. I need to take the first step. And so I breathe and I come back to the present moment and I get back to work. I learn a lot of things, and I’m just now learning how to put those learnings into action.

All my life I’ve been a dreamer, but this year has been about making those dreams a reality, one small simple step at a time. In the process, I’ve cultivated this new sense of trust in life and its ability to take me where I need to go. Where the world needs me to go. Some days, a lot of days, it’s not easy. I don’t always want to write or stand on my hands for two hours or learn about the devastating impact deforestation is having on climate change. Some days I just want to be twenty and watch Netflix for a few hours and forget about everything I’ve learned. Sometimes I do because life is about balance. And balance includes late nights and nonsense, every now and then.

Other days, life is stunningly beautiful. I look up at the clear blue sky or watch the stars at night, publish a piece of writing I’m truly proud of or come home after a performance and sit and appreciate my little apartment beneath the warm glow of fairy lights I strung up on the wall.

The more you begin to say yes to life, the more life says yes to you.

You’ll know when you’re on the path you’re meant to be on – when you’re living a life aligned with your deepest values, interests and abilities. It just feels right. There is no other way for me to describe it. You may not know what your life will look like three months from today. In fact, you often don’t. But that’s okay because when you are living the life you are meant to live, you are lit up and contributing to the world in a way only you can.

Author and civil rights leader Howard Thurman once said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

What makes you come alive?

Wherever you are today, whatever you are experiencing at this point in time, step back for a moment. Take a deep breath. Inhale for a count of four. Exhale for six. Repeat three times. Feel your mind drop back into your body. Feel the earth beneath your feet. Hear the people all around you. Feel the rhythm of your heart’s own steady beat.

You are okay. This world is okay. (For now.)

What will you do today? What small, yet purposeful action will you take? You are so much more capable than you dare believe. Remember that when you get overwhelmed.

Pause. Breathe. Grow. Repeat.

On Learning

Confession No. 04: I love learning. (One could even say I’m a nerd.)

From the time I was very young, I have been fascinated by many things. I think this is partially due to the fact that I grew up with a father who relaxes by expanding his brain – my dad loves to watch home and cooking shows as well as documentaries on TV, so I grew up watching HGTV more than Family channel, often missing the shows my peers loved to watch.

Before we even began learning the basic principles of multiplication in school, my father was teaching me my times-tables. I loved every research project I was assigned in class, especially when I had a say in the specific topic I would learn about. I would spend hours and hours finding recipes and exercise programs for girls I was coaching and loved to out try new recipes when I had the chance. Around the time I was sixteen, I began reading non-fiction books for fun because, why not?

Over the years, I have accumulated an assortment of facts and knowledge. You never know when a piece of information will come in handy, so I try to soak up as much as I can.

For me, research is relaxing. I am being productive (I tell myself) because even if I don’t use the information for this specific task, I am building my brain muscles and creating new connections between neurons. I love to discover the links between seemingly disparate ideas and pull them together in a way that makes them easier to understand. It is extremely satisfying, this kind of work, and I am lucky enough to get to do it every day.

One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received came when I read Liz Gilbert’s book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. Gilbert encourages readers to “follow their curiosities” and explains what this looks like in her own life. In this conversation with podcast host Jonathan Fields, Gilbert explains how people often think the opposite of depression is happiness, but it’s not. The opposite of depression is curiosity. The moment you stop believing that tomorrow will be any different from today, that is the moment you will lose your zest for life. Each day is a beautiful opportunity to learn something new, but it’s so easy to forget that.

The truth is, you will never know all there is to know.

I find this fact simultaneously thrilling, humbling, and utterly inspiring. If I will never know all there is to know, then there will always be something new for me to discover tomorrow. Your learning doesn’t stop when your formal education does; in fact, that is when the real learning begins.

This is not to say I have always loved the process of learning – there have been many times when I definitely have not. I am, by nature, a bit of a perfectionist, and learning can be quite messy at times. I have always had a bit of an aversion to being judged for my learning because I hate feeling like I’ve failed. I can’t say I hated tests and exams because I loved the feeling of satisfaction I got when I did well, but I definitely did not enjoy the criticism that came when I did not. Then again, I don’t think anyone does.

I did well in school because I paid attention in class and often found the subjects quite interesting. If I found the teacher boring or I didn’t understand what they were talking about, I would just do the research on my own. I didn’t really mind taking tests, but the minute my grades slipped below ninety, I would cringe; below eighty, I told myself to work harder – that wasn’t good enough.

Perfection was my highest goal, but that shouldn’t have been my focus. That is not what learning is about.

Learning is the process of growing, of becoming wiser and stronger than you were the day before. Everyone learns in different ways, and I’ve always learned best by doing things for myself. A teacher can speak for hours about a subject, but those formulas and theories will mean nothing to mean until I put them to use. I learned early on that I remembered things better if I wrote them down. The best way for me to understand a language or equation was for me to smash it into bite-sized pieces and repeat the steps over and over again.

These are the strategies that work best for me, but what works for me will not work for everyone. I was able to do well in school because I did the work and figured out how I learn best. This is not the case for many people, however, and it frustrates me to think there are people who leave school thinking they’re stupid. No person on earth is truly stupid – we are all intelligent in our own way.

For the last few centuries, we’ve spent our time focused on the wrong question. The question shouldn’t be, “are you smart?” based on some grades on a paper somewhere. School should be about helping each child discover their strengths and the places they need to improve. The question we should be asking is, “How are you smart, and how can the world benefit from that?”

Sometimes I forget my love of learning. Sometimes I can only see all the ways in which life is hard. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer number of things I do not know and the uncertainty that goes along with being a new adult. But if I have learned one thing, it is this: no one ever really has everything figured out.

You can look at a stranger and think they have a perfect life, that everything must be so easy and they know exactly where they’re going – but I can almost guarantee this is a lie. You don’t know their whole story. The masters know the secret to mastery is to maintain a beginners mind. The more you learn, the more you understand there is so much more to learn, and so you must remain humbly open to anyone who might teach you something as you journey along your path.

As we approach the beginning of autumn and the start of a new school year, I have to admit it’s a little strange not to be heading back to school. The structure and safety of being in school are, in some ways, all I’ve ever known. They are things you take for granted until you step out into the real world and realize there is so much more at stake. Once you graduate from school, you are responsible for your one precious life. No one will make things happen for you if you are never willing to take the first step.

Sometimes, taking the first step means stumbling. Sometimes it means falling flat on your face. Notice I did not say that taking the first step can lead to failure because you never truly fail until you give up. If you learned something from the experience, you did not fail – you only added to your knowledge of what not to do next time.

These days, my days are filled to the brim with learning: learning about myself and my work and my world, how to process pain and cultivate joy and what it is to be alive on this planet that is just bursting with life.

It’s a beautiful thing, this kind of learning, no matter how challenging it may be. I wouldn’t exchange it for anything in the world. Every day is an adventure when you are acting as your own tour guide because the value lies not in the place you are going but rather the person you become along the way.

So take the time to enjoy your journey and rest assured – one step at a time, you will get where you are going one day.

Who Am I?

Who am I?

I feel like I have been asking that question a lot lately. Perhaps this is normal, given who I am. I mean, what else does an introspective young writer like to do with her time?

When I ask myself that question, a very standard response pops into my mind. It’s one I’ve often given to people I am encountering for the first time. The order may change on any given day, but the answer goes something like this: I am a hand balancer. I am a writer. I am a hand balancer who writes, a writer who loves to stand on her hands. The details of this description, of course, have shifted slightly over the years – but their essence remains the same.

No matter which way you put it, I am a doing. I am defined by the things I do and the things I aspire to do in the future, something that will inevitably change time and time again as I grow through life.

Life is a series of experiments: there are so many things one can choose to do or explore or become. As a young person, all these options can be quite overwhelming, yet somehow, society tells us that by the time we graduate high school we should’ve already chosen one. Growing up is confusing enough as it is, and the pressure to define who we are by our aspirations only adds to the pressure to get it right the first time around.

I am not sure when exactly I became a doing, or how I came to be that way in the first place. All I know is that this method we’ve developed for defining ourselves is entirely unreliable, which leads me to believe we should reach for a new way.

I am very good at letting others know they are so much more than what they do. When it comes to myself, however, I struggle to apply this same truth. If I am not a hand balancer, then who am I?

I have been doing circus and acrobatics for three-quarters of my life – for me, to be upside down IS to be alive. I spent my childhood at my mother’s circus studio and my grandparents’ gym. Many of my best memories and most defining moments happened there.

When I wasn’t walking on tightropes and swinging from the bars, you could almost certainly find me doing a series of cartwheels across the lawn of my elementary school. For my seventh-grade talent show, I performed a piece on the aerial silks. I missed school functions for gymnastics training and circus productions as opposed to the other way around. I was never like anyone else in my school, and so they never understood my discipline or devotion to my sport. As a result, I almost always felt separate, somehow left out.

In eighth grade, I discovered how to hold a handstand; because they take up almost the same amount of space as if I were standing, I could do handstands anywhere, anytime. And so, in typical Maia-fashion, this became my new obsession. Anytime I was bored in gym class or if a teacher left the room, upside down I would be found. Upside down was my favourite way to be. I felt safe upside down.

There have been times in my life when this part of my identity was taken away for a time, and I struggled to find any sense of grounding without the thing I defined myself by. These were some of the hardest times of my life so far – I felt as though my world had dropped out from underneath me and did all I could just to get my head above water once again.

When I was eleven, I injured my back and had to take a break from training altogether. Food became my solace, and I spent the vast majority of my time watching videos and reading magazines about gymnastics, plotting the path of my comeback and rise towards my Olympic dream. I gained a lot of weight during my time off, and coming back was hard, much harder than I’d anticipated. A year and a half later, however, I started to see some success. Gymnastics was still the thing that defined me. I can do this, I thought.

When I tore my ACL five years later, I spent the first six weeks convinced nothing bad had happened. It was just a sprain, a minor setback, and I would be able to compete in three weeks, just as planned. I may have been determined, but determination will only get you so far when it comes to a legitimate injury. When I finally saw a doctor, it turned out I’d been wrong – I had torn the ACL and damaged the meniscus, and I would need surgery to repair both. I was devastated and terrified for many reasons all at once. In an instant I knew this one truth: it was time to move on.

So I left the sport for which I had lost my passion and pursued circus full time. Circus had always had a playful energy for me, and I didn’t realize how intense it could become at the time. You can put unnecessary amounts of pressure on yourself anywhere, and over time my relationship to circus grew strained. I clung to my craft with fear, fear of who I would be without it, that I would lose the body I’d worked so hard to maintain.

When the pain in my wrist became unbearable, it had already been hurting for many months. I was overtraining with bad alignment and not enough strength training to support the skill-base I was working to build. And so for two months, I couldn’t do any handstands. Maybe it was good for the partner work I was doing, but I felt as though I’d lost a piece of myself. Who would I be without handstands? How could I ever be good enough?

Each time I was forced to step away from my “doing,” I spent the whole time focused on doing everything I could to get back what I’d lost. I never allowed myself to pause, to feel remotely happy for any reason – how could I with this piece of me gone?

I realize now this created a clinginess, an energy of fear that made my training an obsession as opposed to something I truly enjoyed. I grew so attached to this doing and becoming I never took a moment to step back and learn who I am at my core.

About a month ago, my body started talking loudly again. I’d been ignoring a nagging pain in my right upper body for about a year, and my body was telling me it’d had enough. At first, I was deeply upset – I’d made so much progress, wouldn’t I lose it all and be forced to start from the beginning again? I began seeking treatment and inevitably, have had to take a break from hand balancing again.

This time, the process is no less scary than it was before, but my approach to my healing is a significantly different one.

I’ve decided to give my body the space and rest it needs to heal, truly heal from everything it’s been through over the last number of years. Sitting still is not my forte, but I am learning – your body will tell you what it needs if you only listen. My entire right shoulder is shifted up, higher than the left; this lack of blood flow and strength has caused a tilt in my body that will not go away on its own.

Indeed, I do need to go back to the basics and teach my body how to move again. Frustrating as it is, I know this process will enable me to continue to do what I love for far longer than I would if I kept training on a maligned joint. I am learning to be patient because I know it will be worth it in the long run.

I tell myself, love, love, LOVE. I love you, even when you feel broken. You are healing, and you will be stronger and even more beautiful for it, just like those Japanese pots that have shattered and been pieced back together with liquid gold.

I am approaching my healing from a place of love: loving my body and all it does for me every day, love for my craft and who I am at my core. I can still be happy without all the doing and aspiring and becoming. I can be happy right here, right now because life is pretty damn beautiful, no matter where you are.

Last week, I faced that question once again: who am I? Doubt and Fear lingered like shadows around the edges. Who am I, if I’m not a hand balancer? Would people still like me and respect me and want me in their life? Or am I utterly worthless without this skill?

So I began looking for answers. I genuinely do believe we are worth so much more than what we do, I’ve just struggled to define what that means for myself. Often when we let a problem sit in the back of our brain, the subconscious mind will come up with answers. A few hours later, my mind submitted a few tentative answers. A little later, I had a few more.

Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you make them feel.” It’s not always the doing that has the most enduring impact – sometimes it’s the simplest little things that count the most.

So who are you, deep down in your core? I challenge you to stop your doing for a second and just sit with this question. Because I promise you, doing things is important in life, but it’s not everything – there’s something more.

***

Something that has helped me in the past: VIA Strength Finders Test

Be You

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.

Alright, I’ll admit it: I have a great appreciation for quotes. I began collecting them when I was young. I spent hours flipping through inspirational books, folding over corners on pages I loved and highlighting ideas that struck me as true. They were things I wanted to remember. When I grew a little older, this time was spent on the computer, which I learned can be a bit of a rabbit hole in of itself. It’s funny, I began to realize, after a time many quotes began to say the same things, just in a different way.

Still, I continued to collect new ones. Quotes would be written down, transferred to notebooks and sticky notes and plastered all over my walls. There were quotes that became like mantras written on the inside of my mind – I would repeat to myself over and over again, particularly during challenging times. This particular quote was first said by Dr. Seuss, and it’s one of my all-time favourites. There is something in those words I find so comforting, even if I’ve struggled to validate their truth.

I would like to tell you I’ve never struggled to be myself, but if I did, I would be lying. Simple doesn’t always mean easy, and I seem to like to make things a lot harder for myself than they actually need to be.

My brain is like a sponge. I am constantly amazed by the amount of information it can soak up and retain. Sometimes this skill can be an incredible asset – I have endless amounts of data filed away for the day it might be useful, studying was never that hard, and I can pick up on new dance choreography with relative ease, so long as I am actually paying attention.

That is the key – focus. Our brains are truly powerful machines that process tens of thousands of thoughts every single day. How do you spend your thoughts? With so much going on in my mind at all times, I know I am very good at entertaining myself. This also means I am at risk of checking out of the present moment if I am bored by what I am doing and losing track of time if I’m interested. This is only sometimes funny when a professor asks you a question and you realize you were actually a million miles away, what were we talking about again?

At other times, my sponginess can be incredibly annoying. I can pick up on the fears, habits and beliefs of the people around me easily, without a conscious thought. You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with – we all are. I find I adapt and change in ways I don’t even notice until I do something completely out of character and someone calls me out.

I lose myself in others.

Speaking your truth and living by your values shouldn’t be difficult, but it often is. Not because these things aren’t important to us, but because we have an instinctual desire to be accepted by our tribe, by the people we surround ourselves with. The notion of stepping outside of that can be terrifying. Fear works real hard to get us to fit in, or at the very least do something sensible like following along some predetermined path, we can do that, right? Not always. There comes a point in any life where you have to leap without the assurance of what comes next. You have to live your own story.

It’s funny to look back on my goals from the last number of years, how they’ve changed and shifted course. I can see how the media I was consuming and the people I looked up to at any given point directly influenced the steps I thought I should take.

As a young gymnast, Nastia Liukin was my idol. I watched her fly to Olympic glory in 2008 and dreamed that I would do the same…one day. A little older, I watched acrobatic duos on Instagram attend one of the most prestigious schools for circus arts in the world and I wanted to be just like them…one day. When I discovered author Julie Kagawa’s series, The Iron Fey, I absolutely fell in love with the characters and the way her writing compelled me on a journey filled with romance and plot twists. For a while, my writing began to sound just like hers, but I never took note of this small fact. I would publish a novel and be successful just like her…one day.

I latched onto the dreams of others because admitting to my own dreams made me feel foolish. And vulnerable – too vulnerable. What if someone laughed at me or thought less of me because of what I aspired to become? It’s one way to live with your living, beating heart on your sleeve, and that my friends, is terrifying. So for many years when my dreams came knocking, I politely declined. I took steps on the paths others had laid down before me because, if it worked for them, why wouldn’t it work for me?

My own dreams do exist. They’re there. When I think about them, I can feel my face light up…but then there is the Fear.

I feared my dreams might seem selfish or stupid or insignificant in comparison to the aspirations of those around me. Even as recently as the last few months, I looked to the people who have inspired me to see how they reached their level of success. I considered going to regular university even though my gut told me otherwise. I tried on styles and patterns and platforms like one does hats – which one suited me best?

The answer, it turns out, was none of them. Often the road to our dreams can appear daunting – we see the goal looming over us on a snowcapped mountaintop, distant and far beyond our reach. We have no idea how we’ll get there. The path is unclear, riddled with fog and forks in the road. We are fully aware that some of these paths lead to dead ends while others will help us get further up the mountain. We just don’t know which one is which.

You could follow a path someone laid out before you. You could take every one of those steps and maybe you’ll find success…for a time. This option may seem logical or easy, but the truth is, life doesn’t work this way. The exact combination of steps that worked for others will not work for you because you are not them. You are your own person with your own experience, memories, circumstance and desires. Because you are your own person, you have your own journey to take. Yes, do listen to your elders and learn from those who have gone before you. But do not try to copy their story word for word because I can promise you this: it will not work.

If you can see the whole path laid out before you, it isn’t your path.

For much of my life, I have struggled. I have felt this constant pull: I am simultaneously too much and never enough to fit in. I’m a little different than the people around me, but never quite different enough to be considered a freak. I am a creative but I am also an intellectual…but I am also a hand balancer and baker and entrepreneur and friend. I am passionate about so many things it makes it nearly impossible to become too obsessive about any particular one, because if I spent my time feeling guilty for the time I spent doing handstands or writing or researching all the ways we can help reduce pollution, I would never get anything done.

No, I’m not the right combination of just enough and not too much to fit in or be anyone that I’m not. But I AM the perfect blend of elements to create a very unique compound: I am perfectly me. And you are too.

I hereby declare that you have permission to stop being anyone you’re not.

So go be you.

On Getting Unstuck

I am a writer.

It has never been hard for me to say those words. I am a writer, and I’ve been telling people I am a writer from the time I was eight years old. I know of many incredible writers who had trouble stating this same fact until they had something to show for it: a viable career, a substantial income, a few successful books published. When I was young, I never had this same need for external validation and I didn’t know the stigma attached to the profession, so I was never shy about the fact this was who I was, who I wanted to become. No one else got to decide if I was a writer. A writer is someone who writes. I write, therefore I am a writer. End of story. No questions asked.

We are who we are, simple as that…except for when it’s not.

I still consider writing to be a respectable profession – we translate stories and information for the world. I believe this is essential. But the world does not always agree. As I grew older, I became aware of this discrepancy, and so there were times where I have conveniently forgotten this vital truth. I got busy doing other things. I surrounded myself with people who did not understand this deeply intellectual side of me, and so into hiding it went.

The thing is, I am a writer. Writing is the thing I cannot-not do. It is how I make sense of my thoughts every day, how I connect and interact with the world. We are more than what we do and yet, so much of who we are is manifest in what we do. There are some things inside of us that just need to come out. To tell me to stop writing is like telling me to stop breathing. I cannot stop if I wish to live.

Perhaps I am being a little dramatic when I say I consider writing to be essential to life – I am sure I could go on living without a pen in my hand or a means to share my words. But if there is one thing I have come to know about myself it is this: a Maia who is not writing is an unhappy Maia. Sometimes the lack of time or mental space to write is the thing that causes the unhappiness, and other times I am certain the unhappiness causes the lack of writing. Either way, it is a signal that I need to take a step back and re-examine my life because something needs to change.

Writing is an extension of the core of who I am.

We all have something like this, some character trait or thing we do that is just quintessentially us. What is that thing for you? Some people I know are the funniest people in my world. If they stop cracking jokes, I get concerned. Others are singers or builders or they love to cook and have people over at their house to enjoy a lovely dinner. It doesn’t matter what your “thing” is, but I promise you there is something only you can do in the way you do it. And I know I grow deeply unhappy if that thing is not in my life.

In the last couple of weeks, I have been struggling real hard to get anything decent down on paper. I’ve tried starting many essays like this one here, only nothing I wrote went anywhere. I would sit there with my pen and paper for two hours and come up with nothing to show for it. Less than half a page of coherent thought and a million unused words later, I would give up and turn to another task.

It became something of a vicious cycle. It is hard not to feel like a failure when nothing you do feels good enough. I began to feel as if I was climbing a steep sand dune with the wind blowing viciously in my face, effectively preventing me from making any progress at all. One step forward, three steps back. Two steps forward, four steps back. On and on it went until this week I said ENOUGH. I am done with this stupid cycle and feeling sorry for myself.

All artists struggle with creative blocks from time to time. It is simply a part of our profession. I have found, however, that these blocks don’t just show up with some greater reason for being there.

It is so easy for us to get stuck in a loop of seeing all the things that aren’t working. Inevitably, the more we stare at these things without doing anything about them, the more they start to show up. It was like I was looking for confirmation that I am a failure. We have to be the ones to recognize when we have fallen into a rut. We have to be the ones to physically shake ourselves to get moving again, to get out of the space in which we are stuck. No one else can do this for us.

There are many reasons we can become blocked at any given time, but the biggest one is this: we fail to take care of our bodies, the home in which our creative mind lives. So often we take for granted all the amazing things our bodies do for us on a daily basis, things to which we do not give a second thought. They breathe without us asking them to and carry us wherever we need to go. They heal themselves when they are sore or broken, and enable us to take care of the ones we love most.

Our bodies can handle a lot, but they have their limits too. When we are approaching the edges of our limits, they will give us warning signs with increasing intensity until all at once they yell STOP. At this point, they will sit down in the middle of the road and throw a tantrum like a cranky toddler, refusing to go anywhere until you give them what they need.

Allow me to remind you of something we all like to conveniently forget from time to time: you need to listen to your body.

Sleep deprivation is not a badge of honour, and it really does matter what you eat. Our bodies were made to move, so make sure you move yours every day. Water – drink more water. If you are thirsty, you’ve waited too long. Also related to water, crying is good. Not crying means not dealing with your emotions and without release, where do you expect all that pent-up energy to go? No, working more is not the answer. I repeat: if you are feeling depleted or numb from emotions you are not dealing with, working more is most certainly not the answer. I am speaking from experience when I say, please find a way to let it out. Your heart will thank you for it in the end.

We need to take care of our hearts just as we take care of our bodies, especially after we face something as painful as rejection or loss. If we don’t, it can severely undermine our confidence moving forward.

I am especially guilty of this. The Japanese say, “Fall seven times, stand up eight.” For much of my life, I have worked to live by this proverb. When I faced injury or rejection, I always tried to see the opportunity within hours of the hit. I am not very good at staying down for long. I like to pick myself back up again and keep moving, keep busy, keep doing things and searching for new goals when an old one doesn’t work out.

I am not very good at sitting with emotional pain, but in the last number of months, I have learned. Emotions are funny things. If we do not deal with our feelings as they come up, they will get stuck in our bodies, potentially causing physical weakness or pain or injury. As I am working through a long-term physical injury of my own, I am learning to observe sensations as they come up, which effectively triggers memories. Sometimes someone would make me feel uneasy or angered by what they said. Never speaking up for what I was feeling, I would shove it down and hold tension in my right shoulder instead.

Most of all, I have been struggling with a lack of confidence in myself. Read: constantly standing with poor posture, slightly deflated to make my body seem smaller than it really is.

Ah, Doubt, my old friend. That little voice in your head that constantly undermines everything you do and likes to ask you if you’re really good enough. Like, are you sure? I saw this person over there and they’re way better than you at this thing you’ve only been doing for three years. I mean, yes, they have double your experience but anything you do is worthless next to them, so what’s the point?

Yes, I am a writer. But that phrase carries with it a little more doubt than it did eleven years ago. This is a curious phenomenon – I’ve put in thousands of hours into honing my craft and yet…Doubt sees my experience as nothing. Worthless. It has been a challenge for me to validate my experience because there are no degrees behind my name. I did not graduate from university with a BA in Creative Writing. I did not go to grad school to become a certified Poet or novelist or writer of creative non-fiction. I’ve opted to attend the school of life instead, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my education thus far. The best part is this: it’s never-ending.

I am a writer because I write. Not because I have some paper hanging on my wall that says I am a writer. In fact, it is entirely possible that I have more experience than some people who do. And I do not say that to be cocky, I am just stating a fact. I am a writer because I write and I will continue to write and share my writing for as long as I have things to say.

Yes, there will be periods where I am not feeling inspired. Yes, there will be hard days. But I can and will choose to show up anyway.

There is a fine balance between being kind to yourself and making excuses on a daily basis. I was falling into the later until this morning when I woke up and declared I would write (and publish) this essay. This is a balance I am continually seeking to find – life is changing all the time. If there is one thing these last few weeks have taught me, it is this: choose your commitments wisely. If you make a promise to yourself you will do something, the follow through is the most important part. This is how we build confidence in ourselves. This is how we learn to trust.

Give and Take

Confession No. 3: I am not very good at asking for help.

Does anyone else ever feel this way? I have a feeling I am not alone.

In his recent book, Give and Take, bestselling author Adam Grant shares that there are three kinds of people in the world: givers, takers and matchers. We all show up in different ways in the world, falling at different points along the spectrum in different areas and at different points in our life. Our tendencies can change, but we tend to have a default setting we return to time and time again, evident in the way we approach our relationships and interactions every day.

The names for these categories are somewhat self-explanatory. Takers go through life with the goal of accumulating more than everyone else, winning at the expense of someone else. They have no issues putting their needs before someone else’s. Givers do just the opposite – they habitually put the needs of others before their own. Givers give without the expectation of getting anything in return, sometimes without a thought of their own well-being and oftentimes at their own expense.

Matchers are the most common among us, falling somewhere in between. This is the way many people go through life, simply following others’ lead. When matchers are surrounded by givers, they too will become givers. When they are surrounded by takers, they will match that level of stinginess and look out for themselves, because who else will? Matchers operate on a kind of transactional basis, looking to get out of a relationship exactly what they put in – nothing more, nothing less.

For most of my life, I have tended to lean towards the giver end of the spectrum, but like anyone else, my relationship with give and take has been a complicated one.

In elementary school, I remember cycling through a few best friends, never really secure in my social status in the hierarchy that we all know exists, even at that age. I was never like the other kids – I lived a life that was very much foreign to my peers, and they could never understand me for it. Even as a child, I lived a life of discipline. Training and spending time with my family were the most important things, and I often spent my free time writing. I was fairly gifted at a number of different things, but I also worked hard to achieve a level of skill with intention. Both creative and mathematically inclined, my education continued beyond the walls of the classroom. My dad and I would practice numbers in our basement, and I loved to do research on the topics that interested me.

My grades were always good and the teachers liked me, the quintessential “teacher’s pet.” I think this caused some jealousy and insecurity among my peers, who never seemed to stick around. One day I would look up, and the girl who I thought was my best friend had ditched me for someone else, leaving me alone once again.

There was never any explanation for this abandonment, and so I never really understood why they’d left. What had I done wrong? I thought I’d only been generous with my time and my energy and this was how they chose to respond?

As it turns out, many people don’t know what to do with this level of generosity. Receiving makes them uncomfortable when they don’t know what to give in return.

Things improved a little in high school. I still found myself in a number of friendships that didn’t work out, ones that would be there in the times that served them but chose to leave in the times that didn’t. For some friends, they found it easy to be around me when I was hurting but disappeared in the times I was going strong. Others turned to me when they needed a listening ear and left as soon as they’d figured everything out.

People will come and go as you go through life – only a few will really stick around. These are the true friends (I’m looking at you, Natasha!) who you can really count on, the ones you know have your back. But even within these friendships, I have always struggled to ask for help. I am much more comfortable being the helper than the one in need, much better at giving advice or holding space for someone to share their thoughts than I am receiving it. I don’t want to be a burden. I’ve always struggled to believe I deserve this love when in reality, we don’t have to do anything to deserve it. We all do, just the way we are.

In some ways, I find it much easier to be vulnerable with people I barely know. Once I reach a level of closeness with a person, I find it nearly impossible to keep anything from them and yet I fear what they may say when I do share my thoughts. I am terrified of what they may think of me, that they may judge me for my fears or insecurities rather than support me as I know I would them.

We are all our own worst critics. What we don’t realize is that the closer we get to another person, the more we blur the lines of seperation between how we treat them and how we treat ourselves.

Susan Piver describes the phenomenon in this podcast and in her book, The Four Nobel Truths of Love. The easiest example can be found in romantic relationships. Once we have been in a relationship for a while and have surpassed the infatuation stage, discomfort and conflict can and will arise. We grow frustrated with our partner for the little things we do, and it becomes easy to focus on every little thing that annoys us. In the moments we find ourselves angry or irritated, the natural course of action is to lash out. In reality, we should do just the opposite: take a step back and observe the problem from a distance. A relationship a mirror that reflects back to us what is going on inside. If we cannot be accepting and gracious with ourselves, how can we expect to be understanding of others?

In this way, the biggest thing we can do to improve how we show up in the world is improve our relationship with our self. Where do you need healing? Where do you need help? Learn to view yourself through a lens of understanding: sometimes you are strong and awesome, sometimes you are in pain or tired or weak. Sometimes you are a pain in the ass and other times you are not – this is the way it should be.

We could all learn to be a little more understanding of ourselves and the people around us, especially givers. With their willingness to put the needs of others above their own, givers often end up suffering at work and in their personal lives. They are at an increased risk of developing depression and eating disorders and even take lower salaries at work.

On the contrary, givers who can learn to fill their own cup and give from a place of plenty, these are some of the most successful people in the world. They thrive in the midst of fulfilling lives because they are willing to give so much of themselves in a way takers and matchers do not. People may feel slighted when takers succeed but they celebrate the success of givers. The attitude of abundance is contagious – and the world needs it now more than ever.

I am learning that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but rather the acknowledgement that you can’t do everything on your own, which you can’t – trust me, I’ve tried. Being vulnerable enough to ask for help shows the people in your life you trust them. Relationships are a balance of give-and-take that, like all things, takes time to learn.

Each day when you go out into the world, you have a decision to make. You can operate from a place of scarcity – where there is never enough to go around – or you can operate from a place of abundance. What do you choose?

To fear or to trust?

Chapters of Life

So much can happen in a single year of life.

I will never cease to be amazed by this simple fact. You can look out on a fresh year sitting before you, be inspired by the possibility and take your first steps in a certain direction – but there is absolutely no way to know what will happen next. No way! How foolish we are to think the universe will bend to fulfill our meticulously laid plans. Our intentions and deepest aspirations can manifest themselves in our lives if we hold them deeply in our hearts and do the work required to make it happen, but they will most often not show up in the package we first expect.

Certain points in our lives invite reflection on what has come before as we anticipate for what will happen next. We sense one chapter coming to an end and another about to begin, and time seems to slow out of reverence for the preciousness of life.

I have found myself in one of these periods most recently. This time of year has held significance for me for a long time, as it has always been the end of the school year and competitive season of gymnastics, a time for slowing down and simply being a kid. Last year held even more importance than normal: I had officially graduated high school, and it was time to enter the real world as an “adult.”

And so eleven months ago, I took a huge leap and stepped out on my own. I moved to a new city to attend the school of my dreams and left behind the familiarity of my childhood home in favour of adventure. This year proved to me that our late teens and early twenties are a time of great discovery. It is a time of firsts, irrational decision-making and a perpetually heightened emotional state. I’ve never much been a fan of failing or messiness, but it seems to be utterly unavoidable at this time of life. I have been on an impressive rollercoaster this last year, let me tell you. Fasten your seatbelts, ladies and gentlemen. Life is quite the ride.

I look back now and feel as thought I am a completely different person from when I first stepped off that plane into the stifling heat of July.

It was the first one-way trip I’d ever taken, and the feelings were bittersweet. I remember journaling as we flew through the air several thousand feet above the ground. I was starting a new journal, and I wanted every word to be perfect. Still, to this day I cannot think of a word to describe the unique blend of sadness, fear, and exhilaration that tags along when you move to a new place. Leaving behind the people I’d grown up this was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I knew it was what I had to do. Something in my gut told me I was making the right move.

For the first six months, I existed in disbelief and wonder at the richness of this new life I got to live. I was learning, growing, expanding to fill the space I had never felt back home. This new place became my home, and I hated the idea of leaving it for even a moment. I was surrounded by people who understood me and loved me for who I am – or at least, this part of me that has never before felt truly understood before.

I was attending one of the most prestigious schools in the world for the circus arts, and so the circus artist in my thrived while I neglected nearly everything else. I didn’t write a single poem for eight months, and the writer in me watched in increasing irritation as I failed to record a single detail from my life.

It is so easy for us to lie to ourselves at times, far easier than we like to admit. I viewed my life as one does a new lover: through rose tinted glasses that slowly, imperceptibly, deteriorate in time.

Yes, my fall semester was filled with beautiful moments and simple joys, with friendship and laughter and love. But there was also an underlying pain I was not dealing with, one I could only ignore for so long. I was tired all the time, fatigued in a way you cannot fully understand until you have experienced it for yourself, one even then I could not begin to understand. I played mind games with myself to get to the end of the week, and I spent much of my time looking forward to a weekend that never quite seemed long enough. I worked hard to squeeze myself into the mould the school had cast for me but no matter how hard I tried, I never really fit.

I was doing work that was, in many ways, extremely satisfying. Any kind of growth in that capacity usually is. I am incredibly grateful for that period of learning, and I have no regrets but for this one: I began going about my days in a way that was inauthentic and ultimately unsustainable, and I lost a large part of myself in the process.

The thing is, we are all multifaceted people – some are just more this way than others. I am not wired in a way where I thrive on a single-minded environment where nearly everything you do falls upon some pre-determined path. I do much better with the freedom to choose and simultaneously pursue a few different kinds of work aligned with my interests. Balance is key, I know this now. It took me many hard months to get here.

Sometimes people can see things in us we cannot see in ourselves; sometimes we are just too close to the problem.

Others can sense when you are lying to yourself, as a friend of mine once told me. There was a heaviness in my life that I was ignoring. Towards the end of the first month of the new year, one of my coaches approached me with a question that shook me to the core. In essence, she was asking one thing: are you happy? Is this really what you want to do?

I was forced to face a decision I’d been lingering on for about a year, one that held with it the gravity of my entire world. I knew my answer would change everything, literally everything about my path, where I would go and how I would move forward. Terrified and shaking, I chose to do what my gut was telling me. I ended a partnership that had grown toxic, the same partnership that guaranteed my place at school. I took action, and then it was my turn to wait. And wait. And wait.

A few months later, things blew up in my face in a way I had not anticipated. I faced more rejection in four months than I thought one heart could take. And yet, the day after the finale of one spectacular supernova and a mere three hours of sleep, I looked healthier than I had in months. I had a friend tell me my face was glowing.

Life has a funny sense of humour. At times, Life is not very funny at all. Our capacity to move through grief lies in our ability to remain open to the lessons Life has to teach us in the moments we’re on our knees, holding in our hands the two halves of a heart that has split in two. Trust the process – there are some things you cannot know.

I see now that this life I get to live in this moment is much more in line with what I truly want to do. It is, however, also a life I could not have imagined would be possible before my initial plans all went to shit. My intentions were clear all along, I just did not know they would manifest themselves in this way.

Each life is a work in progress. We cannot rewrite the past, but we can change how we approach the future. We can choose to give ourselves space to feel whatever we are feeling without holding on too tightly to ideas of what tomorrow may look like, whether that be for better or for worse. The only constant in a constantly changing world is change.

One short chapter in my life is coming to an end, and I never imagined I would be ready to move on so soon. But I am. This next chapter is going to be a good one, I can feel it. Here I come.

The Beauty of Empty Space

Confession No. 2: I am not very good at sitting in in-between spaces, and I am also not very good at sitting still.

I mean this in the most literal sense of the words – I am incapable, it seems, of doing nothing. As I am placing these thoughts down on paper, I hold a rock in my hand that is not occupied with the task of transcribing the words that come out of my brain. I do this to keep myself busy in the moments my mind drifts off into the void as I try to figure out what it is that I’m trying to say.

There are two exceptions to this rule. First, if I am watching a movie or performance of some kind that has my mind fully captivated, my entire body becomes engaged in the act of absorbing every detail and I am unlikely to move around too much unless I become uncomfortable. The same could be said of watching the sunset or reading a fascinating book. Second, if I am curled up next to someone I love, I am often quite content to just lay there. When I am truly relaxed, I just let my body melt and all is well in the world.

There was a time when even these moments of stillness disappeared from my life as I became obsessed with the feeling of getting things done. It was the only time I felt at ease with myself, in the wake of work well done.

My mind is extremely task oriented. I didn’t always used to be this way – I’m not sure when exactly things changed, but it was probably around the time I was fourteen or fifteen when I became aware of how short life really is. This realization set off a blaring siren in my brain. I grew to feel guilty if I wasn’t doing something my brain perceived to be “productive” at all times. For a while, it got so bad I couldn’t even sit down with my family to watch an hour-long episode of our favourite TV show we liked to follow each week. I had to be stretching or doing rehab exercises as the episode went on, and if I wasn’t I would usually hate myself for it after.

Just before my seventeenth birthday, I had to have surgery to repair a torn ligament in my knee that I had injured months before. Any procedure of that magnitude requires much rest in order that your body may have the energy to focus on healing, but I refused to let a lame leg slow me down. Within the first three days after surgery, I was already stubbornly attempting to do any form of exercise I could for fear that I might lose my body if I didn’t. I would go for slow, hobbling crutch walks when I was supposed to keep my leg elevated. I would find ways to work out my upper body without jostling my knee.  If I wasn’t moving or sleeping, I was convinced I should be learning something so I read as much as I could. Even as I struggled to find my way to the washroom, I refused to take the time I should.

That third day, my body began screaming so loudly I couldn’t ignore it anymore. The hospital-grade painkillers had worn off, and I was in a lot of pain. I came very close to passing out in the night when I got up to use the washroom, and a few more times after that. It became clear I was trying to do too much. I had to slow down, sleep, and sit still for a while if I was to heal at all.

The older we get, the faster time seems to pass.

People have been trying to explain this phenomenon forever. One of my favourite theories that I think makes complete sense: the further you get into life, the relative ratio that every year takes up in your memory becomes smaller. In other words, the slices of the pie get thinner as we age. When you are two, a year makes up 50% of your life. By the time you are fifty, the percentage has been reduced to 2. Therefore, every year seems shorter by comparison than the one before.

I think these jumps seem bigger when you are young – going from 1/15 to 1/15 is a bigger jump than going from 1/40 to 1/50. When I became viscerally aware of the passing of time in those early adolescent years, I panicked. There were so many things I wanted to do and achieve and produce in my one precious life, I didn’t want to waste a single moment on trivial pursuits but live each day with purpose. In order to do this, I hopped on the hyper-productivity train and joined the crowd of people looking to the same.

How could we better hack our time in order to fit in everything we want to get done? New strategies popped up every day, and I consumed self-help literature voraciously. I learned to map out visions for where I thought I wanted to go in life. I made vision boards in order to help keep me on track. I had my big five goals, ten smaller deliverables and top five values to live by, and I tried my best to act on them every day.

What I learned in the process is that goal-setting can be an extremely valuable tool,  but it can also be extremely stressful. We often overestimate what we can accomplish in one week, and grossly underestimate just how much we can grow in a year – you will go places you cannot predict, so trying to map out every inch of your life is utterly useless.

Most of all, I learned that life should be more than just a to-do list. This is something I have only been able to appreciate in looking backwards at all the time I spent unhappy because I was trying to just “get things done.” I would set so many goals and tasks for myself, only to end up accomplishing one or two to full capacity. The rest would just sit there collecting dust on a shelf. It caused me anxiety to end each day with a list of tasks I couldn’t complete, and I delved even deeper into the literature to find out what was wrong with me when I knew all along.

Today, we are being constantly bombarded with two heavily conflicting messages by a society that can’t make up its mind. We are told to HURRY UP AND GET THINGS DONE, LIFE IS SHORT AND THE CLOCK IS TICKING AND WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIEEEEEEEEEE. At the same time, we are being pursued by a different voice, one encouraging us to slow down and live life in the moment, take time to breathe and be grateful for the things we have. The thing is, even meditation and gratitude lists can become just another item on the To-Do list. Even time spent with loved ones can be a source of stress if we approach it with the wrong state of mind.

Sometimes doing nothing is the most productive thing you can do. Life is all about balance – knowing where you want to go in life, and yet leaving space for the things to happen that you know you cannot plan for.

I have found I am happiest when I exist in equilibrium, between intention and going with the flow. When I wake up on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I know I am going to write. I train handstands six days per week, but my practice changes depending on how my body is feeling. Beyond that, I like to fill much of the rest of my time making art, doing good work, learning or spending time with the people I care about. But I also like to leave some room to breathe, to admire the beauty of empty space.

One of my most vivid memories is of one evening on the beach in Kailua, Hawaii, when my family took a trip there a few years ago. My dad and I just sat there in the sand as my mother wandered closer to the shore to dip her toes into the ocean. A comfortable silence sat between us – there was nothing that needed to be said. We watched the sky radiate brilliant colours as the sun inch its way closer to the horizon before it disappeared until the next dawn.

What a spectacular way to start and finish a day, to watch the sun put on a show in the company of those we love most and do nothing at all. This is the way I want to live my life: intentional work and beautiful moments that make my heart feel full.

Ever so slowly but surely, I am learning how to sit still.