heavy is the air in the g. ross park parking lot this evening. the park is still teeming with people, mostly families gathered for picnics and barbecues.
i am gentle with my lungs and my feet, walking in a restrained pace towards the steele corridor, along the pond where the bullfrogs mate and make noises fit for big brown ducks. i met an astrophysicist here a few weeks ago, who shared my amazement that such little amphibians could make such loud noise. he told me that he was planning to tackle denali next summer, if his ascent of the nanga parbat this october was successful.
it is still very warm and humid outside, hard to breathe, but it is beautiful and i find comfort in the stillness that is painted metallic by the sound of cicadas everywhere.
hard to believe that in the middle of the greater toronto area is such an oasis of greenery, meandering waters, herons and ducks, hikers, bikers, soccer and cricket players, sunbathers, even a lone fisherman or two, and now, me.
i arrived in one of the warmest aprils ontario has seen, according to the people in my building, who have lived here forever and worry about me because i look like i am way too hot, until they learn i am actually from alaska where we don’t get 30+ centigrades in any month.
what brought me here? what made me leave alaska?
these questions come so often that i now have a 15 second elevator pitch:
alaska was simply getting too cold, dark and monocultural for me. yes, we do have 90+ languages in the anchorage school district, and the most amazing scenery anyone could wish to have in their back and front yards, but i wanted more societal culture around me, more diversity, a different social attitude, more people who are actually willing and able to truly connect, and a new career. those who asked usually are satisfied with this answer.
alaska was enriching to me for many years. i learned so much here, grew so much closer to who i truly am, met some wonderful people, many of whom moved on, and was blessed with lesson after lesson, many profound, some painful. there was gain, there was loss, and a whole lot of gratitude from sunup to sundown.
but after a while, i became restless. teaching german at the university in anchorage was only satisfying in the realm of student interaction and mentoring. politics, and the order to let students pass so enrollments wouldn’t drop, took the joy out of teaching, and when “divide and rule” replaces “leadership”, there is no point in staying.
my summers were spent as an adventure driver guide, and then came an offer i couldn’t refuse – taking a busload of germans across alaska and western canada at the end of the season. it was worth ditching the uni gig, and to this day, i have not regretted, nor looked back.
although there was another job offer from an anchorage travel agency, i wasn’t sure this was the way i wanted to go – did i want to work in the travel industry for the next 10-15 years? but it would allow me to pay my bills until i found something more fitting.
however, life had another lesson and a turbo charge into change for me, and when the offer fell through, i was forced to take a closer look at what i really wanted to do, and find out right now. unemployment benefits would not allow me to pay my bills. the house needed to be sold, and i needed a solid and safe job, or go all out and do something entirely new, but something i really wanted to do.
It felt as if life was saying to me “look – you wanted to prove to yourself that you can make it on your own for a winter here, but it’s been three winters now. you are pretty isolated where you are, and your close friends are out of state anyway, and you have been saying you’ll sell the house and move to a city, so now go and walk the talk.”
and then i realized – i was no longer willing or able to compromise. i can compromise in relationships, in recipes, and in my garden, but not when it comes to purpose.
what would be the most profitable, honest, and fulfilling way for me to spend my next decade and a half as a working professional?
what helped me most in finding an answer to this query were countless reviews of job openings instate and outside, and the feedback I received after interviews. i learned to pay attention to what really felt good. visualizing myself at any of the advertised jobs… what made my heart jump? what made me smile? what made me get up in excitement, ready to plan, ready to go?
two assessments done by real estate professionals who were trying to place me properly in their organization were particularly revealing. spot on in assessing strengths and weaknesses, they assessed the best work environment for me, where my work would yield optimal production output, and value for the company. they did not hire me without a real estate license, but were immensely encouraging.
i took a lot of quiet time during the six months i was unemployed. i recalled teenage dreams of becoming a therapist-musician, only to remember how i replaced them with the real life experiences of being a mom and full-time student, a radio show host, an international event planner, a writer, photographer, foreign language instructor, an adventure driver guide, and a shareholder relations administrator for an alaskan native corporation. my humanities degree didn’t qualify me for any of these, and i trained on the job for each of them, and each were at one time highly fulfilling. memories of being excited about every minute of every day “working” remain about the radio gigs and traveling. teaching was fun, but what fulfilled me most was mentoring students, and empowering them in reaching their goals, not so much teaching german as a language.
i also recalled consulting with a career coach many years ago. i don’t recall much of what she told me, except that she saw me as a public speaker, and that i felt she wasn’t advising me enough. today, i understand that coaching is not about advising or mentoring, but back then i expected someone to provide me with effective prescriptions, easy recipes, and irrevocable guarantees for success.
in the early 2000s, there was a daytime reality show titled “starting over”. it was a voyeuristic approach to something i thought was ingenious – helping people attain goals, stay on target, and keep them accountable. the fact that it was on tv was the only downside for me. the starting over house was supposed to be a sacred space, and the journey of each of these women worthy of privacy and protection. what i learned about lifecoaching, however, stuck with me.
it was around november, after talking to a friend who mentioned she was in a coaching program, that i decided to look into this as a potential career for myself.
i found a company that is accredited and will certify graduates after a seven month training period. training takes place in several cities across the u.s., canada, and even in europe. i chose toronto, because it was the opposite of alaska in many ways, and i crave different from time to time for a bit of time. it was time. And then there is that one person who has been a friend for a couple of years and he says “i think you’d like it here”. he knows me well.
so now, i drive through major traffic to a crowded harbor-front just to see throngs of people and intricate architecture, walk through a little bit of italy to get through china to portugal, with persia and india always around the corner.
i love hearing different languages, and english spoken with accents, and i make it a guessing game where everyone is from. i love to smell fragrant foods from unpronounceable eateries, and stand in line with people who wear clothes that i wouldn’t even know where to buy.
i don’t know where all this will lead, and if i can stay here, or how, but i am not worried – i am learning to listen to life, and to take time and envision paths it offers. they all take me further, there are no mistakes.
i just know that coming here, and getting certified as a life and business coach, is the right thing to do now. i will take you along on my journey, and you are welcome here any time.