I’ve started a new casual job in a tasting room at a local brewery, discussing, pouring, and cleaning up after people drinking beer. It’s nine hours on my feet, lifting, squatting, stacking, bending, and pacing. I’m basically getting paid to work out and talk about beer. It’s not exactly working for the Olympics, but it’s a pretty sweet gig.
An interesting thing happened to me at work today. A woman I was serving told me with a hint of scepticism I was the fourth Australian she’d met this week. I responded with equal distaste, telling her I thought all Australians had been detained in Whistler and that I was under the assumption I was the only one who’d escaped. The woman squinted at me through her red-rimmed spectacles, dismissing my joke as she tucked her cherry-coloured bob behind both ears.
“So what brought you to Canada in the first place?” she probed suspiciously.
“The Winter Olympics in Vancouver,” I responded with a sense of pride.
“Oh,” she said, her tone and body language shifting. “Were you an athlete?”
I paused in the glow of her admiration, gaining the attention of both my colleague and the customer behind her.
“No, I only worked on the games,” I responded, leaving out the details of the two and a half years I spent planning the torch relay across Canada.
“Oh,” she said with obvious disappointment. “I was going to ask you to sign this napkin.”
The woman set the napkin down beside her and pulled out a shiny black wallet from her handbag instead, and without another word paid for her beer and left without leaving a tip.
It wasn’t until this evening, sitting on the couch in my quiet little cabin thinking about my unfinished memoir, I wondered what the hell our obsession with fame is. Would being an athlete or an author make me a better person, more deserving of love, respect, and belonging? Was I more deserving of these things when I worked for the Olympics rather than for a brewery? And how about walking the length of three countries, climbing mountains and paddling 715km down a river? Do any of these things make me better than anyone else?
Thankfully, due to my recent weeks of counselling and acute introspection, I have reinforced the notion that what we do is not who we are. Our achievements don’t alter what’s at the core of our being, our characteristics, or our values. It’s just if we’re not standing at the top of a podium, our positive traits often go unpraised. But even if our efforts go unrecognised, it doesn’t make them any less worthy of attention. Much like a tree falling in the forest with no one around to hear it. In my opinion, the tree still makes a sound.
I used to think having a published book would make me more deserving of love, belonging and respect, and that the success of my book would define my worthiness as a human being. I sometimes still believe this because I’m imperfect and I can’t help but attach my worthiness to my achievements. But neither the book nor finishing the PCT or other trails changes who I am as a person. Sure, I would have loved to sign that woman’s napkin at the brewery today as much as I would like to have a published memoir sitting on my bookshelf. But even if I were a best-selling author, I’d still be the exact same person sitting here alone on my couch tapping away at my laptop at eleven p.m. in the evening.
It’s hard to believe what we bring to the world is enough when the people being recognised are the record holders, the prize winners, the first-time creators, or the influencers with thousands of followers. But the real winners are the people who don’t need recognition to feel worthy, or praise to recognise their unique contribution to this planet. Perhaps we need to take away the medals and podiums to have a better chance of believing this, and maybe in addition to banning plastic bags, we should remove all napkins from the workplace as well.