Almost Forty

I realised today when it happened. Ageing that is. It happened when I finally started living a life that made me happy. Don’t get me wrong, I am not one of those people who appears to coast through life in a state of ease and joy. I’ve had more than my share of hard times as have most of us. But now, acknowledging the times that have come before makes me more grateful for today that I think I have ever been in the days leading up to today.

What strikes me most clearly is that as soon as I got genuinely happy and stopped being what other people wanted (or what I thought other people wanted) everything started to move as though on fast forward. The days, adventures, laughs, even tears sped up with an enthusiasm that would make roller coasters look like the lazy river.

Alice

Equally notable, is the snail’s pace that the hard times seemed to take, even in my memories. I’m amazed by how absorbed I was with how other people perceived me and how I wanted them to perceive me in my twenties. It seemed to last forever. It certainly felt like a millennium of repeated bad days.

The gaps between should be and perceived by cost me hours (weeks and months in some cases) of trauma that not only moved slowly, they seemed to trap me in neutral. Even when I reflect on them the scars still seem fresh. Normal, I suppose, but when contrasted with the laughs that happened just yesterday already fading away, it seems cruel.

That is the thing about the good times, they fly quickly and without the internet reminding us of fun moments we had back when we can easily forget they existed. Strangely, the moments of turbulence seem etched in my memory in a high definition familiarity I wish I had with today’s breakfast.

So that is what I am going to talk about. Questing for good times every damn day. I know that my life is flying past and that each second is fleeting and precious. Time is not on my side (Sorry Mick) and soon enough my almost forty will become one of the things in my not so recent history so I better get started.

Why today?

I asked myself this too. One answer is that I have the confidence to put my words in the universe because I don’t care if you like them. The alternate is that I am old enough to have experiences worth sharing to those who follow in my footsteps.

Both are bullshit.

Maybe you are asking why you decided to give moments of your precious time for this garbage. My ego tells me that you did because this tome is only going to be read by people who know me and most never made it far enough into this post to see these words.

That being said, if you are someone who gave money to travel the internet and somehow arrived here for my words: Thank you. Send me your postal address and I will mail you a card saying something clever about how you help me to be myself. I will probably need to write it out a few times, edit, and rewrite before I feel good enough to tell you such things, but that is the power of the voices in our heads.

In the fourth grade I wanted to be a writer, but… I soon realised that writers don’t often make a great living and so decided to go a different way.

Fuck You pragmatic ten-year old self.2017-09-24 08.24.24

Sidebar: I think I was actually 6 in this photo and the fat lip is courtesy of my older sister and the teeter-totter.

Seriously. Growing up in a world where struggling to make ends meet and “broke” stole a dream and traded it for self sufficiency is just plain old shitty. For the record: we need to do more to support the working poor.

Well here is the thing about being a grown up: You can change your mind if you want to so that is what I have done. I am now self-sufficient, I have gathered up some confidence in my words, and today I am going to share them even if it doesn’t make me rich, because satisfaction cannot be purchased at any price.

Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing-Benjamin Franklin

In the last couple of years I was inspired to start writing in a way I have always secretly hoped to. My friend Anna makes me feel good about the ideas in my head and the words I assemble onto uhm paper? Digital documents? Whatever. You get the idea. She said nice stuff, I gained confidence, I wrote more stuff. Now you are reading said type of stuff.

Why we face complicated ideas such as what and who we should be so early in life and follow that decision made in the midst of hormone fuelled chaos for decades is beyond me. Shouldn’t we be happy? Shouldn’t success be defined with experiences instead of things you can buy at a store?

So hey there ten-year old Erin, better late than never right?

Onto things of more value: My next steps

When I was young I used to think that I knew the path I was supposed to take. I was supposed to find a good guy, get a job that pays the bills, buy a house, live the life. Happily. Ever. After.

I did those things. I hated my life.

My entire existence was muscle memory the way you continue to read the instructions on a bottle of shampoo as you go through the motions in the shower each morning. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

That is decidedly not living.

Birthdays have been something that I have spent most of my life ignoring and just let them slip by. I don’t know exactly when, but at some point in my late teens I decided that they shouldn’t be such a big deal and that making yourself the centre of attention just brought on criticism.

Since then both the big and little numbers have skated quietly by for almost two decades.

20 came and went to an unhealthy relationship and what I remember being a pretty massive fight. I recall coming up on 30 and after a friend made an absolute spectacle of their big day all I could think was how I didn’t want to be like that. Because of him that milestone went all but unmarked with a partner who forgot.

When I turned 30 I made the decision to redefine what I wanted my life to look like. What I wanted it to look like was not the life I had spent time building. It wasn’t a collection of pretty things or looking the part. It was experiences. It was people I loved that made me laugh so hard tears stream down my face. It was adventures and unexpected items around corners I got to explore because I was busy living life.

It was certainly not life on autopilot.

That being said, 35 was sucked into the vacuum of days at the start of my MBA and a new job, though there was a particularly fantastic meal at Jacob’s …..mmmm steak.

That’s what makes this year important to me to mark in some way. I’ve decided that it is not about the particular day, but rather how you fill the ones that aren’t as discernible. I am now a distance that can be counted in hours away from my next milestone and am doing everything I can to relish the moments that are passing in memorable ways. I’ve spent the last few months working to capture mental pictures of flashes that make up who I am today and who I am yet to be.

To start this next batch of ~3600 days I thought I would reflect a little on the growth that got me through the last decade.

  1. Physically: I have challenged my body by training, running, hiking, and endurance cycling. Even better, I haven’t once died or failed to find the finish line.
  2. Mentally: Yup, all it takes is three post graduate efforts and a little collection of letters after my name in order to remind me that I am smart enough.
  3. Professionally: by having a chance to expand my skills across countries and continents with people from different cultures and experiences, I am a different and more balanced person.
  4. Emotionally: learning to overcome the voice in my head that said I couldn’t as well as through pushing my own limits to discover empathy and human capacity that had long since been tucked away.

This type of stretching matters because we naturally become comfortable doing what we know, with people we know. Committing your life to remaining flexible means more than just being able to touch your toes.

It means that you are willing to try, to fail, and sometimes to flounder in uncertainty while figuring it out as you go.

Today we are faced with ever lengthening life spans and I don’t want the next sixty plus years to look the same. I refuse to allow myself to get too comfortable.

My promises to myself and you.

More languages and more cultural explorations

The goal for now is German, French, and Te Reo (Māori), after that maybe Japanese and sign language… we will see. I can’t guarantee what is coming up around the next corners and am prepared to adapt my plans on the fly as I go.

More physical challenges

Despite what the voice in my head might say I am strong and capable. Our bodies are something that with care can last the hundred or so years I plan to be on the planet, so if I treat this almost forty year-old body well, it will continue to serve me for the rest of my time. A couple of weeks ago I climbed to the top of a volcano in Indonesia. A few weeks from now I will tramp Old Ghost Road in New Zealand. I haven’t made too many plans for 2018 yet, but I promise there will be time spent exploring both new and familiar mountains, forests, and beaches.

Erin Burrell Mt. Batur Bali
This is what you do to welcome 40

More letters

I love learning and my academic endeavors are far from over. I really do want to be a polymath.

More words

I abandoned writing in my teens and have rediscovered a passion for sharing my thoughts and ideas in both formal and informal forums. That is going to continue for sure, you don’t have to read them, but I know that I do have to write them.

More collaboration

It’s not a secret that I am not a big people person. However, I love the way working together can create amplification and multiplication of ideas as smart humans build from one another. The world is full of complex problems and to start solving them we need people with broadly different paradigms to tackle them together.

More failures and confusion

Failing and stumbling are critical parts of learning and growth. Confusion is simply our brain finding ways to connect knowledge we have with new ideas or things we are being exposed to. Instead of considering confusion as something that shows us as less than, consider it watching your brain creating new pathways between what it knows about and what it is discovering in real time. (You want to try it right now, don’t you? It’s ok. I will wait…).

Growth as a feminist and advocate for personhood

No, I am not being cheeky. This is not about one thing. Feminism provides a foundation for humanity. It sparks the flame of true equality for so much more than just gender. Our world is not binary and nor should policies be. People need to be kind to one another regardless of things as defined by hashtags as gender or sexual orientation and as complex as socio-economic status. We are now responsible for embracing the realisation that most of us are becoming citizens without a base as we begin to face life as a global community.

There is more on my list to be sure, but these are the road markers that will remind me that I am progressing when I feel insecure and less than. Goals are complicated things that should be written down and reviewed regularly. I keep a list of them with me and while many items stay until I can tick them off the list, others get removed as I evolve.

So.. that’s it. Happy almost birthday to me.

May we all spend our moments creating sparks for the fires that will warm us tomorrow.

 

 

Uphill both ways

When I was a kid my dad used to tell me a story about how when he was my age he had to “walk uphill both ways to school”. Occasionally this was combined with an aggressive slamming of his baseball mitt sized hand to his chest with a sidebar of “..and the snow was this high! You don’t know how good you’ve got it.”

As an adult I know that he meant this as a story that would motivate me. What I’ve since realised is that often the way we interpret things can be dark and scary OR overwhelmingly motivating. It is all about how we chose to take it.

The words he was saying were about how life could be hard and that likely someone nearby had it worse than I did. In hindsight this isn’t a bad lesson, though I wish he had placed a little focus on what I could be doing to make that other person’s life a little bit better, but he wasn’t that type of guy. Most of his stories roll up to being about looking out for number one.

What troubles me is what the kid in me heard when he told that story. I heard that life is always going to be a struggle. I heard that nobody was going to help you find a shorter, easier way. I heard that you should not complain and just trudge through.

This lesson served to damage a little seed inside me that was trying to grow into something soft and kind and it has taken a long time for me to release that outlook. Today I hear a very different message from his words and this is the one I want to share with you.

If the road in front of you is hard, do not be afraid, be brave and optimistic. The laws of physics are on your side. No route should be uphill both ways. That is not to say that your path will be an easy one to travel. Life is only as hard as you make it. If the track you are on says that you should suffer, stop and question everything about it.

Ask yourself if there is a different way over, under, around, or through. Ask yourself if this was the way you wanted to go in the first place because sometimes a left turn takes you to where you should have been heading all along.

Do not accept the status quo. Learn from things that do not go your way and choose not to allow things not going in your favour to stop you on your journey to greatness. 

Make the decision that you are the only one who can change the rules for you and those who come after you.

One choice, one decision, one mistake, one obstacle will not make or break you, but sitting down and letting the world crush the seeds of awesome inside you will. Sometimes plans don’t go our way. Sometimes we need a better plan, or better yet we need to collaborate with awesome people to create a new way forward all together.

My dad told me a story that was supposed to lift me up and it crushed me for a while. That is a reality of how each of us interprets the things we hear and see. It took longer than it otherwise might have for my little seed to push past these obstacles and bloom.

I consider myself lucky that I was able to hear it differently today because so many hopes and dreams are lost in these situations of misinterpretation.

In light of our global political climate, I want to remind everyone that this single setback should not serve to crush the seeds of hope that have been planted. It may delay the blooms the way a late frost might, but I am here to remind you that summer is coming and together we can make a more beautiful world.

Join me in a left turn towards greatness.

A blog by any other name

I’ve been blogging for a long time now. I originally started in 2009 for a charity project I was working on and discovered a passion to share my ideas with the world (even if most of them were only ever read by my mom-Hi Mom!).

On this forum alone my posts go back to 2011, many of which are still relevant today. While I should admit I am highly critical of my evolution as a writer, I have never been afraid of to have confidence in my ideas no matter how flawed the delivery might have been. I credit this confidence in my words to the passion of my early years: journaling, and to the professors who give me good grades on my work.

So today I am wondering what the value my contributions and those of others are making on our culture and the digital space as a whole through the act of blogging.

Creating community and sharing ideas

The internet and all that lives on it from blogs and forums to ratings and reviews are about connection across time and space. Sharing ideas with people without regard for their time zone is something that makes blogging special.

Bloggers like Luis Suarez discuss the idea that this community and collaborative lifestyle is our right as citizens of the world. Kathleen Asselin also speaks of this interactive lifestyle and momentum in growth in her thesis (reference here: sadly not available outside of a library).

My posts started as essays on topics I was faced with in the workplace. They are littered with challenges of offering great customer experiences in eCommerce and digital marketing, topics, which were the reason I started erinburrell.ca. Here and there I would throw in a few accolades for those doing great things, but it quickly morphed into business commentary and hard-won survival tips with a sprinkling of academic content added for good measure.

Creating reach to new content and topics

As a student and scholar, I have access to publications most people only armed with Google and an internet connection will never see. Content under the badge of being scholarly and peer reviewed is often highly researched, validated, and edited for quality but sadly read even less than my personal blog in some cases.

Part of that fault is, of course, the desire for people to be paid for their content. An idea which with just a smidgen of understanding what it takes to publish an article makes sense. I have access to a great deal of paid content because I pay tuition and rich library access is included in my fees. I agree that content creators should be paid for their efforts, but I am sad that many publications and ideas will never reach people who could benefit from them.

Unfortunately, that means that the ideas we are all exposed to at no cost in some cases are….. well…. Let’s just call them poorly researched and not well cited to be generous.

Heidi Estes discusses the idea that blogging makes space for personal commentary and criticism in academic efforts and helps to round out the ideas of a scholar (here’s hoping).  Sadly her blog was not in the first few pages of search so the closest I can offer you for free is the abstract of one of her articles discussing the topic in more detail.-You can purchase instant access to the entire article for about what Netflix costs you each month.

Finding the balance: Freemium content

Freemium is one of my favourite things about the digital age. I could dedicate more than one post just to the value I think this adds to the digital economy, but for the uninitiated, this means that you have access to a product or service with limits. If you want to live life without limits you must pay for the privilege-somewhat like TV in the 90’s.

Great content providers in the entertainment, business, and journalistic space have embraced this idea. Harvard Business Review will let you read a little, as will People.com and the New York Times, but after you reach the limit it’s pay to play. I wish academia would embrace this, but I suppose it will be scholars like me that can change the face of publishing if we want to.

Freemium in my opinion, is the best of both worlds. Creators get paid and if they are producing content people really enjoy, in turn they pay for a subscription or buy what they want in an a la carte pricing menu.

So who am I to direct you?

Today I would call myself a scholar-practitioner. I study a number of topics and currently practice in the space of information technology and business strategy. My content is free and without the burden of extra ads and marketing because I pay service providers for blocking additional noise from my words.

If you like something I share or dislike it for that matter, you are welcome to comment, like and follow me. Or not. Your call.

I will continue to share my thoughts because I might be able to offer connections between the dots of concepts that you wouldn’t hear about without me.

I do ask you to forgive the gaps that may occur between posts. I am currently working toward my second masters degree, work full time and have lots of hobbies that keep me busy.  Plus, we all know that I actually pay for the chance to talk to you through this forum (domain registration, ad suspension, web hosting), not the other way around.

Then again delays could be that I am randomly surfing YouTube watching the cat videos that make the internet great.

Head to the archives and see what else I have to say.

The Path to Good Intentions

I have a friend who is absolutely brilliant.  He has opinions that make you think.  He inspires conversations that stay with you.

He used to blog.  It was clever and challenged your perceptions and preconcieved notions of everything from bacon to music.
Last year he came up with an idea.  It was amazing.  He was going to redefine his blog and create an entire brand surrounding it.
He kept the concept pretty quiet.  He wanted a bold design and layout ready before he made the domain public.  The only reason I got to know about it was because he wanted to bounce the brand and concept off someone who wouldn’t judge it before seeing it live.
I just discovered that he never finished the design and let the domain lapse.  Life, it seems got in the way of his execution.
Now the world will not get this chance to know how smart he really is, and since he neglected his old blog for the last year they have mostly forgotten his older very clever posts.
So the question I have to ask is if you have a seedling of an idea do you plant it and water it in a pot that you know it will outgrow just so that it can at least start to take root?
The challenge it seems that those of us with big brands behind us in our day lives face is the need to “go big or go home”, when just going would have been enough to start.
So I allude to the path of good intentions.  We can get detoured along the way, but there is nothing to say that we can’t still start.
It is never too late to begin a great project that will help you to grow and evolve, even if you have to start it just a little bit smaller than you originally intended.