KNOW-MO

It’s funny what happens when you start deciding not to be somewhere. We have all done it. New jobs, cities, hobbies, even nights in armed with tea and binge watching TV happen because we resolve not to do something.

You know what you are missing because you chose not to do it. It doesn’t matter what you are doing instead. From riding your bike with bums you know to selfies or cocktails or selfies featuring cocktails, you know what would be happening IF.
If you were there.

If you decided that the other thing was more important than the thing you are doing now.

But.

It isn’t.

You decided. You have to own it, but it doesn’t make it easy and this is where Know-MO comes in.

Maybe it was your bank account that motivated it. Maybe it was your desire to see the ocean every day, but whatever it was, it was more important than the thing you are kinda missing right now.

I say kinda, because you and I both know that you made a choice. That what is happening right now somewhere else isn’t your jam today.

It isn’t fear of missing out. You have no FOMO. You aren’t afraid. You made a selection based on some type of weighted decision criteria and something else won out.

When I decided to move across the planet I evaluated the pros against the cons. In typical Rory fashion I made a list.

Leave a job I loved in a city I loved with friends I loved for a city I didn’t really know, with a partner I loved to live a life I craved near the ocean with unaccounted for ideas of adventure that I couldn’t yet imagine.

The partner and the ocean weighed more than the job, friends, and city. It was a weird choice. I would have loved to have taken all the amazing things with me, but life is not about what is nice to have.

I chose to give up a life I loved for a life I didn’t know much about. It meant that I would have to accept that things I liked doing in places I claimed as my favs were going to happen without me. It wasn’t FOMO. It was KNOW-MO. I know exactly what I am missing every day.

For the last couple of weeks, I have headed back to visit cities I love, with people I love to hang out and do the things I’ve been knowingly missing and I find myself already thinking about home. I know what I gave up to leave and now I know what I am leaving to visit old homes and already find myself missing home before I have even really been gone.

Each time we leave something we love we make choices. It might be the city we grew up in or a home we selected to make our own, but at the end of the day it is something we knew in exchange for some type of adventure.

I freaking LOVE adventure. I love discovering new places and exploring. A couple of years ago I made a choice to leave what I knew in exchange for what I wanted and a slew of things I didn’t even know I wanted yet.

That is what adventures teach us. That what happens after you step outside your comfort zone might be better or worse than what is inside it. Even more importantly it is about the things we cannot even imagine discovering that begin to appear when we are open to it.

It’s weird to know what you are missing. You have to acknowledge it and move forward.

We talk about FOMO mostly in regard to a night out with your friends  versus a night in with Netflix and comfy pants (you only get to call them yoga pants if you actually do freaking yoga in them…let’s be honest here).

The last few weeks have reminded me that while I don’t consider places like Toronto and Atlanta to be like home anymore they are filled with loving friends, chosen family, and a version of welcome that cannot be adequately described without hugs, tears from laughter, and high fives.

Thank you to everyone who reminded me that I am loved, who went out of their way to renew my welcome, and who took time out of their very busy lives to shuttle me about and help me to arrive everywhere safely. My door is always open to each of you, just remember to bring your passport in order to clear customs en route.

What I learned from doing my MBA

I recall back to when I was researching grad schools I was frantically trying to find content that would tell me about the experience. I searched forums, youtube, and websites all resulting in next to no content.

I was so frustrated. Nobody was there to really tell you what they felt like as a student. I couldn’t figure it out. There was information before they started and information after they finished, but hardly anything about life completing an MBA.

I would change this! I promised myself that I would document the experience. Boy was I wrong.

The reason that there was next to no content about how life really felt during an MBA was because: THEY WERE TOO BUSY DOING THEIR MBA’s. I too failed in my personal promise to document the journey. What little I wrote can be found here.

Taking on an Executive MBA program while balancing family, work, and life means that there will be sacrifices. It’s been a year since I finished, and I have only managed to just lose the weight I put on from sacrificing fitness during the degree so that my other commitments wouldn’t completely fall by the wayside.

I gave up a lot of things during my degree like my fitness, movies with my partner, evenings visiting with friends and family, and relaxing vacations. I also lost some things which may never recover like friends I wasn’t able to keep regular contact with that have all but faded away.

In exchange for my sacrifices I was given many things which I consider to be of higher value. Lessons like increased ability to problem solve and work with a team to think critically and deliver effectively. I also pride myself on my resiliency and ability to balance demands coming at me from all sides. Something I wasn’t aware of before I started in the degree.

In the end, my answer to those who ask is that it is a hard balance to take on a degree as a working professional. It requires you to be humble about what you can and cannot accomplish and forces you to make decisions about what matters most every day.

Sorry I wasn’t able to share these insights in real time, I was too busy doing the work, to write about how the work felt…. Now onward to another degree I’m just about to tackle an MA… maybe this time I will be able to better document the experience…. or maybe not.

An open letter of immense gratitude

As I began to write the list of acknowledgements for my graduate project I realised that most of my thanks need to go to many who will never read such a document. Gratitude this large and passionate deserves broadcast to an audience wider than just that of a paper filed neatly in a folder somewhere.

My life has changed a lot over the last few years. I have a new partner, friends, company, job and now a new country. The person many of you met was going through a massive change and I credit my success this far to each and every one of you.

I’ve finally started to become a version of myself that I respect, on my way to being the person I want to be when I grow up. Certainly, not the version someone else wants, but one I was seeing in my head and heart not so long ago. I jumped into a hurricane and ended up on a quest to this new life by walking the yellow brick road and meeting all of you along the way.

There have been scary times during this adventure I promise. I have made choices that are not at all popular and certainly unconventional but I have grown and evolved. Today I feel that it is time that I offer credit to all of you who helped me get here.

To my partner: you are my everything, my future and I am (literally) willing to follow you to the end of the world.

To my family: yes, I am different than what you thought I would be. No less flawed, but it is with the knowledge that you will love me anyway that I have had the courage to make the leaps I have so far and those I am merely plotting for the future.

To my support system and chosen families: you know who you are. You cheered me on, heard me cry, told me I WAS good enough, strong enough and smart enough. You pushed me up hills that I never would have challenged both physically and emotionally. You offered honest and sometimes hard feedback to help me grow and change and I am forever in your debt.

To my team, company and customers: it has been the act of working for you that has made me willing to forget about myself. Thank you for helping me to see the big picture.

To my scholastic colleagues and leaders: each day I spend with you in my life I become stronger and more capable to face what the future brings. I am lucky to know each of you and credit you among my nearest and dearest.

So, with a little love and honesty I need to offer credit to each of you for the massive dent that my bucket list has taken over the past few years. I credit your support for the fact that it has also more than doubled despite the long list of items marked happily with a strike through. You are helping to push me forward and for that I am eternally grateful.

Life Changing Septembers

I find it funny that my very favourite month of the year in Ontario (September) has become my month away from home.  For the last three years my September’s have been filled with life changing adventures, loaded with new ideas, given me new friends and sent me home to Ontario with fresh perspectives on life, work, and who I am.

Twenty Ten

Erin Burrell and Helene Fournier Lower Sackville
Last day of riding 2010 SNKCR

It all began in 2010 when I decided to ride my bike across Canada as a member of the Sears National Kids Cancer Ride (SNKCR).  I joined a group of strangers in Vancouver for a bike ride to raise funds for paediatric cancer causes and to drive awareness.  I had no idea that I would get so much back for my effort.  The group of volunteers and riders (approximately 100 people) come together for an amazing cause and became my family.

SNCKR 2011 Erin and Dan
Volunteers for a Cause

Twenty Eleven

In my quest to pay forward all that I experienced from the 2010 ride, I hopped on the bandwagon as a member of the support crew for SNKCR 2011.  Armed with the knowledge of what the riders were going through and the feeling of how much my volunteers gave to me, I headed across Canada again.  This time it was a different experience.  Many of the people there started as my family and each of the new riders and crew were a welcome addition to our world.

Twenty Twelve

Motivated by the last two years of giving back to my community I made the choice to give back to myself.  Enrolling in the Royal Roads MBA program was a big step for me in helping to move forward as a professional and as a person.  What I was not expecting was that this was another huge adventure.  School has been something I have thought about for quite some time, but not something that I was prepared to commit to.  I was sure that I would learn a lot, but I had no idea I would change as a person.  The program includes two residencies and a bunch of online learning and programs along the way.

I spent the last three weeks in Victoria BC on my first residency engaged in team projects, outstanding classes and absorbing as much content as I possibly could.  During all of this academic learning came a great deal of personal growth.  Being in a safe place to ask the question “how does my action effect another person?” was incredibly empowering.  It helped me to better understand my own choices and to listen before making a judgement about another person.

At least the weather was good for crutches

The Lessons

Each year I have taken a number of personal lessons away from my experiences.  These lessons were not easily earned and in many cases came with many obstacles that I had to overcome before I could get to the lesson at all.

In 2010 I learned how to feel genuine emotion again by learning how to cry after years of thinking that tears were a sign of weakness. I became liberated by understanding that emotion is what makes us whole.  In 2011 I learned that the little things you do for another person can make their lives better in big ways.

This year was the biggest personal lesson so far.  I learned that asking others to help you is sometimes more of a gift to them than to you. Navigating the campus on crutches was hard, but learning that I can ask for help will last a lot longer than a broken leg.

Now I find myself wondering what life changing adventures are ahead of me next September…..The world is full of lessons if you are willing to show up on time for class.

Title Goes Here- (The Road to my MBA-Post 1)

This is my topic sentence. Anyone who has ever gone “back to school” after a time away from academia knows that the sentence above is funny.  Not funny as in “Ha! Ha!”, more funny as in “ouch…hehehe”.  This is mostly due to the fact that we as business professionals are more used to keeping our messages down to the most condensed bullet points that can be read in one screen view of a mobile device and less concerned with whether or not our overall communications have flow.

The idea of going back to school was not forced upon me, but has actually been something that I have been toying with for a couple of years now.  I am not sure when I decided that getting an MBA was a must have bucket list item, but I know that once I decided that I was doing it, it all came together very fast.  The school and the program type came to me organically as I rated and reviewed all of the programs available.  Once I decided on Royal Roads , all of the rest of the items just flowed right behind it.

MBA @ RRU

Life Changing

At the end of May I had a conversation with the Dean of the Faculty of Management and the program manager and knew that this was the right program for me.  With an outstanding level of academic achievement and a much higher than average age (43 versus 26), I was going to go to school with leaders from many different industries, and I was going to be able to learn from everyone there.  The other learners in the program would be leaders from every industry there was.  The perspectives and life lessons presented were going to come from talented professors AND every other person in the room.  I was going to learn so much in this program!

I applied… now what?

Much like anything in my life it all came together almost overnight.  Not quite “Erin Burrell please cross the stage” fast, but speedy, none the less.  From application to the first day of class, just over five weeks passed.  From the day I was accepted to today it has been less than two months, and here I am in the fifth week of the program.

Back in Class

The program is designed as a mostly online model, but includes two three week “intensive” residency sessions, the first of which I am at the end of day ten.  I’m tired.  My brain is so busy, that I’m not sure it is going to have room for the readings I have to do for tomorrow’s classes.  I woke up this morning unsure if the case study I read last night,  had been read thinking of the right course (for those of you who are interested… I was thinking strategy when I should have been thinking of organizational behaviour and yes, I re-read it).  We are busy, between team and individual assignments, reading and trying to absorb the materials most of the students, myself included are going from about 6am-midnight.

Over the last ten days I have had my writing and thinking processes ripped apart in order to make room for the new tools that my professors and fellow learners are giving me.  This exercise is not just necessary in order to help me grow as a leader, it is mandatory in order to help me to expand my notions of what it means to be a leader.  Each comment in the margins of an assignment is designed to help me to understand the lessons that my instructors are teaching me, don’t get me wrong…they still hurt a little but I am learning my ass off!

Have I mentioned my broken leg?

Oh… so…yeah, I fell and broke my leg practicing hits at roller derby.  When?  Well gee… I was in the hospital the morning of our first day of online classes, but it’s ok.  Yes, it is hard to get around a campus that has more than it’s fair share of stairs on crutches, but the entire campus is helping me!  Every member of the staff has gone out of their way to help make my RRU experience better.  It goes well beyond opening doors and offering me shortcuts, they have made the girl on crutches feel welcome and not even slightly out of place.

So here I am… just around 5% of the way through the program and couldn’t be more pleased that I made the choice to come.  I will do my best to share my journey along the way, but really… both you and I know that I should be doing homework right now.  Conclusion goes here.

Adventuring New Zealand

For four weeks in Dec 2011-Jan 2012 I travelled around New Zealand in a camper van.

While I did do quite a bit of research in advance of my trip, you can never really know what is going to make or break a trip and I like to have some resources on hand during any adventure.

For this trip I trusted the 2011 Rough Guide NZ-purchased in Canada for pre trip research and lived on the dash for most of the trip and the AA Travel Atlas (yeah I know only my mom uses a travel atlas)-purchased for $25NZD on day one and used every day.  Living without a data plan on my phone meant that I had to actually navigate with the atlas and this one is well designed.  It also includes some cool highlights and was how I discovered things like the Top 10 Parks and Pancake Rocks.

Going into the trip I had a list of must do items and a rough idea of when I wanted to tackle the items.  Most weren’t really that complicated.

I wanted to walk on a black sand beach

I wanted to bungee jump.

I wanted to see penguins in the wild

I wanted to hike

I wanted to ride my bike 

I wanted to get some real New Zealand Merino wool to make a blanket

I wanted to wade in the Tasman Sea

I am not a complex or demanding traveller.  I prefer to be free to discover things I enjoy (flat whites) and to walk away from the things that don’t inspire in me what they might have in others (Moreaki boulders).

I don’t like to have a tight schedule that involves being stressed or rushing to and from places so that means that I don’t travel in big groups or go on a lot of organized tours.

Fiordland NZ

Things I would do again 

Pancake Rocks

I would love to see these at sunrise or sunset.  I found them inspiring and magical in the sunshine, but I anticipate that I may discover more by visiting without a crowd of tourists on Christmas Holiday

Mountain Biking: I did highlight some of the areas that my bike and I got a bit of a work out, but honestly I would ride anywhere in the country.  It is outstanding.  I will post all about MTB NZ in a separate post in the near future.

Drive through Arthur’s Pass

One of the most amazing locations in the country!   In the space of just a couple hours you see ocean and mountain, cross multiple weather systems and more.  The scenery is spectacular…the sand flies (Canadian Black Flies) were awful though.

Te Papa  

The museum is beautiful and you really can’t do it in just one visit.  It also reminded me that access to our history and culture should be free.  People should be able to take their children to these activities at no charge.

Weta Cave: Hell Ya!  nuf’said

We decided that he should keep the fishOne of the coolest exports from New Zealand is the gift of technology to the world of movies.  Weta is famous for participating in such epic movies as District 9 and Lord of the Rings, but it is also the largest producer of realistic looking chainmail for actors to wear in movies and a number of other assorted secrets that I just can’t tell you.

Go!  It is FREE and while tiny I promise it will spark a layer of your imagination in a way not many places can.

Bungee Jumping:

New Zealand
the “bounce”

Kawarau Gorge is a 43 M bungee jump.  Not the largest around, but it was more than large enough to inspire fear in this girl.

Oh.. and do it with AJ Hacket.  The invented bungee jumping as it is done today.  TRUE STORY

Stay in Top 10 Holiday Parks

There is always a place in my heart for a five star hotel, but these are the best of the best when it comes to living the campervan lifestyle.  There are spotless bathrooms -playing music and armed with hair dryers.

They average about $6-10NZD more per night than their competitors but are worth every penny.  The landscaping is lovely, spaces are designed for giant campervans and the staff are willing to go out of their way to support your needs (can you say extension cord?)

An added perk is the fact that almost every one of them offers at least some free WIFI which is pretty few and far between in NZ.

See the penguins!

Yellow eyed penguins are super cute and tiny.  They spend the summer on the south island of New Zealand where the babies are raised until they are strong enough to go to sea and hunt for themselves.  We had to wait for a few hours to see the parents come in from the ocean, but as the babies got hungry they started to pop out of their dens and I can’t tell you how adorable they are.

Visit Fiordland

Glaciers and mountains make good company, but couple them with rushing waterfalls and dense ocean forest and you have a set from a movie.  There is about a 2 hour drive to get into Milford Sound from the last real town (Te Anau) and I could do it everyday for the rest of my life.

Along the way you will see wildlife and hear birds chirping beside rushing streams and waterfalls.  Stay the night and surround yourself with magic.

Things I wouldn’t recommend 

Moreaki Boulders: 

They look cool in pictures and are really quite easy to get to, but I wouldn’t make a special trip.  Unless you have some passion for alien eggs (which is what I think they look like up close), I wouldn’t go out of my way.

On a secondary note I was very saddened by the signs stating that the stream that was feeding into the ocean a few hundred metres down the beach was not safe due to pollution.

Visiting over Christmas Holiday

While taking advantage of Christmas and New Years gave me three extra vacation days I paid a premium for the trip because of the time I was in the country.  On average the campervan ended up costing about $250NZD a day for a service which is worth about $150 in the off season (after Jan 15).  It is also the prime season for campervan parks and they up their rates by as much as $10-20NZD a day during the season as well.

Trying to see everything in less than four weeks.

While attempting to see a large amount while in the country is definitely worth tackling, don’t try to squish everything in at once.  Take time to relax and enjoy the scenery.

Watch a Kea tackle the rubber around your car window (this really happened).  Enjoy a random chat with the locals at a gas station (yup talking to strangers Sorry Mom)

Have a coffee in a proper cup and enjoy it.

Start and end in Auckland

While we had a place to land as a base camp while in Auckland doing both the north and south island can be done more efficiently end to end.  What I also learned along the way is the fact that most tourists that travel one way do so from Auckland to Christchurch.  If you are willing to do the reverse your campervan rental rates will be lower because the rental companies need to get the vans back to Auckland anyway!  You will also save on the abundantly expensive ferry which is about $600NZD round trip for two people and a campervan.

Ride Your Bike-New Zealand!

On a recent trip to New Zealand I had the chance to do some mountain biking in some of the best* parks I have ever been in.

The best part about the journey I did around NZ other than the people was the changing scenery and landscape and I have to say that the trails and parks followed the same feel.  There are parks and trails operated all over the country and I only had a chance to sample a few, but I anticipate the flavour and outstanding level of maintenance is not localized, but national.

Trails are maintained by great local mountain bike clubs and the Department of Conservation and are proof that the entire country definitely seems to take pride in both the sport and the beautiful land that trails are built on.

This is where we stopped for a snack. Can’t beat looking out over the lake from the trail-Photo Credit Rowan Hick

Queenstown-Seven Mile

Seven mile is a no cost series of trails just outside of Queenstown.  We were lucky enough to steal a local friend to escort us because I promise we would have never found the nondescript parking lot along side the lake without a guide.

While trail levels vary they are all fed by a climb up to the top of a spiderweb that feeds the trailhead.  My Canadian (Ontario specifically) self was used to not really having to climb for very long and I have to say I was fully warmed up by the time we finished the climb to get started.  After a few lighter trails we started to get moving and spent a few hours weaving our way in and out of a beautiful pine forest with tightly packed dry singletrack.  Filled with trails at every skill set I would love to have had more time to explore.  That being said I loved a coulple enough to do them more than once.

Trails were in great shape and the forest was absolutely free from any debris that didn’t belong-proving once again that mountain bikers are lovers of nature and the environment.

Kudos to the Queenstown MTB Club for it’s efforts on this great park.

Auckland-Woodhill

While the only pay per use park ($7NZD/day) I rode in New Zealand, Woodhill is a beautiful forest full of everything from family friendly tracks all the way up to a pretty wicked (looking-I didn’t try any) trick park.  About 30 minutes outside of Auckland this was also the longest we had to drive to get to go for a ride, but the drive was definitely worth the effort.  Locals did speak of a route to the park via open trails but the ride there and back would have been longer than the couple of hours we had available to ride.

With a very sandy base this park is a bit hard on your drive train, but we were lucky enough to visit it after a couple weeks of rain and found it in a pretty good level of packing from the water in the forest.  Great trail markings and maps in different locations made it easy to figure out where you were and to shift easily from a harder trail onto an easier one (or vice versa) with little slowing you down.  I didn’t find the park suggested route flowing quite as nicely as some others I have ridden, but I think that with some time and experience in the park there is lots of flow to be found and more ways than I can count to challenge yourself as a rider.

Rotorua-Whakarewarewa

The Whakarewarewa (faakka-ray-wa-ray-wa…yeah that was hard for me too) Forest is as close to my soul as a forest outside of British Columbia can possibly get.  I was born on Vancouver Island and the giant redwoods of Whakerewarewa made me feel at home.  Rich rainforest like ambiance filled with signature silver ferns on the forest floor and a stream that would rival any storybook combined with a tall canopy that filtered in this amazing gauzy green sunlight and made you feel like you were wrapped in goodness.

Access to the forest is free but the local bike and tourist shops do sell a very cool microfibre waterproof trail map for somewhere between $5-10NZD.  Money well spent as there are over 100km of trails for all skill levels as well as multi use trails for everything from prams to trail running.

Some of the trails were in rough shape because of recent heavy rain and while I did successfully manage to come out reasonably clean, I did have to navigate some trails a bit slower than I would have liked because there were some massive divets from run off that were almost exactly the width of my tires.  What I enjoyed most about this forest was the fact that it was a mere 6km from the downtown core and we were very easily able to ride to the park rather than having to drive to a destination before going for a bike ride.

*This is my first season as mountain biker.  I do have a fair amount of kilometres under my wheel on a road bike, but am no pro.. hell I am no amateur, but a passionate newbie at best.  I do not mean to consider myself an expert on what makes a great trail, but I follow the logic of the smile test and feel that it can be the best definition of any sporting experience.  

The smile test: In sport it is said that it doesn’t matter what level you are performing at, but if you finish the run, ride, swim, wave etc with a smile on your face that is the definition of a good experience.

You can have a flowy piece of singletrack that just makes you feel happy and even if it wasn’t technical you can consider the run worth the time.

You can enjoy a downhill ride with a tail wind and consider that a great day cycling.

You can have a run with the perfect breeze, ride the softest wave and more.  Athletes that enjoy the time they spend should not always question whether or not it was their hardest or most challenging effort, but if they enjoyed it.

Joy can be defined in so many ways..don’t question how you found it.

Special Note also goes to the Queen Charlotte Track.  I am coming back to ride you one day on a road bike!

The “I” Statement

“I” is much more powerful than we often give it credit for being.  This is not something that another person can even debate.

Think about them.  Short.  Powerful.  Defined statements.

I love you.

I am hungry.

I hate Mondays.

I don’t love you.

This isn’t a “We Should” conversation.  “I” is about one person’s needs and views only.

A few weeks ago I wrote an I list.  Things that I want/need to accomplish or experience, a bucket list only better.  It is not comprised of all selfishly focused items, but it is very clearly about my needs and desires.  Writing the list I took into account no budget, partner, employer or regionally based limitations.  I wrote it freely as though any one item could stand alone.

It wasn’t a list of tasks or items that could be checked off one by one (though some can) it is more the bricks of a foundation of what my master vision of who I am and who I would like to evolve to being.

Rereading it you know this is all about me, almost too much so.  Reading my own list I was overcome by my own selfish approach to the rest of the world.

It does not factor in a single “We”  statement and that reality is big for me.  It took me a long time to realize that many of the “We” items of my life had crushed or overshadowed any “I” items.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t believe in becoming completely self centred EVER.  Some of my I statements include items like volunteering more of my time etc., but to the causes that I believe in.  Not causes for my friends or family or employer.

My causes.  My needs. Me. Me. Me.

This week I had a conversation with a friend about a fight with her partner.  It had included many I”statements from both parties.  These strong messages left the two on their own islands wrapped up in their selfish demands.

So how does a person balance sharing a message that is almost overpowering with what they can acceptably say without making it all about their individual needs?

We don’t.

My list of “I” statements is for nobody but me.

When and if I discuss these items with another person I will balance the  “I” focused needs with those of my environment.  I will weigh in the desires, feelings and limitations of my friends, family, locality, partner and/or employer and make a comprmise statement that includes softening factors like “would like to” to each of them to make them more palatable.  It won’t change my list item, but it may leave me in a place that does not abandon me on the me island that these conversations can often deliver us to.

So the next time you hear yourself crafting an “I” statement in your head, decide if it is an “out loud”message.

There is a profound weight associated with words.

Feel the following:

I love you.

I don’t love you.

I leave it to you to deliver your own I list as you define is best, but mine will stay for my eyes only.