Category Archives: General Musings

Our fascination with fame

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.

The hurdle of truth

Everything in my life seems to be moving and changing so rapidly at the moment it’s been hard to communicate where I’m at. When people ask how I am, it’s an hour-long conversation minimum and one that requires me to dig into the nitty-gritty and go deep.

I’ve been opening up so much lately, crying over the phone to friends and family, meeting a counsellor each week, and conducting my own emotional analysis, I feel both mentally and physically fatigued. I’m attempting to break through the walls I’ve built up over thirty-six years to uncover the truth, and in the process, emotions are leaking and spilling all over the place. Without my protective shield, I feel about as vulnerable and naked as ever. But I’m convinced to rebuild myself authentically, I have to break down the original foundations first.

Just as my injury slowed me down two months ago, recent events have pulled the mental rug out from under my feet too. I was desperate to secure somewhere to live when I returned to BC and ended up renting a cottage in the woods for the summer despite several red flags. The dream turned sour fast (thanks to the mentally abusive landlords and countless rodents), and eight days later, my friend Dave had to intervene and move me out.

Moving to an isolated cottage was an example of my extreme behaviour, choosing something out of the ordinary like hiking the length of America, paddling wild distances, or hopping from place to place to find or distract myself from whatever’s missing in my life. When I asked my counsellor why crazy shit always happens to me, she told me about people who perpetuate their own shame cycles by putting themselves in unfavourable situations. Oh my god, I thought to myself. I’m one of those people. I’ve been doing this to myself.

This revelation coincided with receiving feedback from my editor Betsy in New York regarding draft five of my manuscript. She had a lot to say, sixteen pages in fact, pointing out not only what was missing from my story, but all of the red flags I’d ignored during my hike along the PCT. It was an expensive counselling session, and although I was horrified by her feedback, she was absolutely right. She’d highlighted everything that was missing from those 300 pages, which I’d been unable or unwilling to admit.

What’s missing from my manuscript is the ‘why’. Why I was on the trail in the first place, why it was so crucial for me to reach the finish, and what motivated my decisions along the way. I know I have a compelling plot, neither Betsy nor anyone who read my blog would argue that. But the external plot isn’t enough. The story lies within the internal struggle, the belief I had going into the trail that was either proved or disproved. I haven’t allowed the reader into my head enough, and it’s because I didn’t know the answers to all of those questions until now.

Once the horror of writing a memoir for five years without a story subsided, I felt little regret. Memoir or not, Betsy’s feedback has allowed me to uncover the whys of not only the trail but the reasons behind so many major decisions in my life that led me to the trail in the first place.

So over the past two weeks, I’ve been reading a book called Story Genius recommended by my friend Sue, immersing myself in Betsy’s feedback, talking to my counsellor, and reading Brené Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection. I’m on an introspective acid trip, rummaging through all sorts of emotional baggage to see things from a different perspective.

What I’ve uncovered has been immensely rewarding, and without the memoir, it might have taken me months or even years of therapy to reveal this much. If I’m going to rewrite my story, I’ve got a long road ahead. But after sifting through the rubble of draft five, I’ll see what I can salvage before deciding if I’m going to return to mile zero and start hiking again from page one.

For those following my writing journey on YouTube (apologies for my recent tardiness), this video captures my initial reaction minutes after reading Betsy’s sixteen-page editorial letter.

Learning to be kind

Since I wrote my last post, I feel like a different person. I was in the midst of a mini breakdown, and until I fully self-destructed, I wasn’t able to identify the turmoil I was in and why I was acting so desperately.

The challenges over the past few weeks have been a blessing. I would never wish to repeat them, but I’ve learned so much about taking care of myself physically and mentally, I’m grateful for all the dark places I’ve been.

I was aware that landing back in Vancouver after a year and a half without a plan was irresponsible to my wellbeing. But I had no idea how cruel I could be or how much pressure I would put on myself until I beat my body into the ground and was forced to stop everything.

Thank goodness my hips revolted the way they did. It brought me to a grinding halt, and there was no way my mind could overpower what was happening. I could barely walk five blocks, so pulling out of the marathon was a given. I wouldn’t have even made it to the start line, which made the decision a little easier to swallow.

I learned a great deal about how we control the way situations affect us. The moment I pulled out of the race was a perfect example. I’d made such a song and dance about it in my head and sat with my mouse poised over the submit button of the form for at least five minutes before I caught myself over-dramatising. I was attributing so many emotions to this action, which had nothing to do with my desire to run a 42km race at all, and upon realising this, I pressed the button and immediately moved on.

I don’t think I ever really wanted to run the marathon, but I needed a focussed distraction and something to boast while determining the aspects of my life I didn’t have answers for. The marathon gave me a concrete response to the dreaded question of ‘what now?’ which I felt I needed because I was ashamed to have nothing I deemed as ‘impressive’ to report. I’ve spent so much of my life overachieving in my career and physical pursuits to quieten that frightened part of me that never feels good enough, I continually forget I don’t need to prove myself to anyone.

It’s taken a while to understand what slowing down means and to stop feeling guilty, worthless, or pathetic for doing so. At the beginning, I was terrified I was simply lazy, and if I allowed myself a week of respite, I’d get so used to doing nothing I’d never want to do anything productive again. These thoughts sound ludicrous when you write them down on paper, but they’re legitimate, and I beat myself up over them constantly.

Thankfully my mother helped me recognise I needed to restore my energy, repair my body, and reduce my anxiety before I could even begin planning for my future. I received so much great advice over the past few weeks through comment and emails, but it wasn’t until I called my mum in a fit of tears that I recognised something had gone wrong and I started to actually listen. She told me there was no way I could make any big decisions in the state I was in, and that my first priority was to find somewhere to live that made me happy and slowly build from there.

All the comments and advice I received gave me the permission I needed to rest. I’ve spent the last few weeks walking slower, noticing details of my environment and people I’ve never paid attention to before. I’ve taken the time to speak to strangers on the bus, in the supermarket, and along the street. I stop at every crosswalk before the light turns red, so I don’t have to race across the road in an unnecessary hurry. I take naps, I journal, I eat good food, I go to bed early, take baths, and admit that I need help.

In the process, I’ve started breaking down the overtly strong, powerful, independent persona I’ve created for myself over the years. No matter what I’ve achieved I’ve always felt there was something fundamental missing, and I think part of the answer is that I’ve disconnected so far from my needs and desires, I’ve been searching for something that was inside me all along.

The kinder I am to myself, the greater my capacity is to be kind to others. I can share and celebrate achievements, support my friends when they seek advice, and be present in conversations with the people I care about. I haven’t fully mastered any of this just yet, but I’ve caught a glimpse of how joyful a life without self-torture can be, and if all I need to do is be a little kinder to myself, I’m excited to explore this new path of self-discovery.

Accepting Defeat

The subject of this post is not something I’m well versed in. Once I’m driven to accomplish a task, the more challenges I face, the more determined I’m likely to become. This can work in my favour in times when I need to dig deep and find the strength to continue. But it can also be detrimental to my health because my mind tends to push my body further than it can or wants to go.

On the PCT, I was so determined to finish the trail I pushed through injury, pain, and weather conditions I’d never face again to cross the border. On the Yukon River Quest, when the foot pedal of my kayak snapped off, and I lost steering for half the race, determination saw me through to the finish line.

My latest challenge has been training to run a marathon, despite the fact I don’t actually like running. The furthest I’ve ever run was 21km when I was at the peak of my fitness in 2016. But after listening to a very inspiring interview with ultra-marathon runner David Goggins, I signed up to run the Vancouver Marathon on May 5th, believing not only could I finish with only two months lead time, but after listening to this powerful podcast, I was confident I could win the race on mind power alone.

This is where reality and my ambition began to collide.

On my first training run, I decided I would go for an hour and push as far as I could. One of Goggin’s quotes that struck me was that people often quit at 40%. So every time I started to feel tired I would ask myself what percentage I was at, and if it weren’t 100%, I’d keep going. Basically, I was convinced if I hadn’t vomited by the end of the run I wasn’t pushing hard enough, a statement that horrified my poor mother!

On that first day I ran 11km, sprinting up the last hill to pass another runner across my make believe finish line. I did almost vomit, but I was elated, grinning triumphantly because I’d successfully pushed past my 40%.

However, the next day I ran, I started to feel pain in my hips. Over the next four days, I continued training, but afterwards, I was struggling to walk and found staircases excruciating. I saw a physio back in Australia who prescribed me orthotics because my left leg is shorter than my right, and according to him, was the cause for throwing my pelvis off balance. He told me to take a week off running, get used to the new insoles and take it from there.

Cut to a week later, after paying an exorbitant amount of money I ran 8km and experienced even worse pain in my hips within the first few minutes. I was crushed, but assuming it might be the last time I would ever run, I ran the full 8km I’d intended, tearing up my feet on the useless orthotics in the process and limping home in defeat.

I spent the next two weeks on an exercise bike attempting to maintain some kind of fitness until I arrived back in Vancouver to visit my trusty chiropractor, Dr. Sam. I essentially went straight from the airport to his practice and after a descent readjustment, he told me to take two days off with no running before seeing him again.

On the second visit a week ago, he gave me the all clear to run, so naturally, I went straight to the gym, signed up with a personal trainer, invested in a concoction of protein powders, supplements, and electrolytes and hit the treadmill.

Kyle my trainer told me what I was attempting was ambitious, to say the least, but for the first few days, I think I had us both fooled. I transformed my diet, went to the gym for at least three hours each day, and walked out with a huge grin knowing I was moving one step closer towards my goal.

Then yesterday I did my first 10km run since my initial training, and within the first few minutes my hips flared up again. Of course, I ran the entire 10km, but I went straight back to my chiropractor who merely shook his head and asked if there was any way I could get a refund for the race.

Somehow I was not prepared for this response and had to hold back tears while Dr. Sam completed his treatment. At the end, he told me to rest for the weekend and see him next week, and by the time I left his practice I was an emotional wreck, crying the entire way back to my friend Sue’s house while biking through Vancouver’s persistent rain.

At that point, I had to question why this race is so important to me.

The truthful answer is something far deeper than my conscience drives me. Whether it comes from a place of fear or insecurity or a desire for attention, I don’t know, but it’s in my nature to follow through on things I say I’m going to do. It’s a part of an identity I pride myself on, and when something goes against the grain, it throws my entire sense of character into chaos.

The other answer is the marathon is the only concrete element in my life right now. I’m homeless, jobless, and have just moved back to a city I’m not even sure I want to make my home in. I want to be self-employed and set up a business in one of the most expensive cities in the world, and in the midst of searching for accommodation, considering living out of a van, and debating part-time dog walking jobs, I’m spending my savings on personal trainers and protein powder, trying to gauge whether I’ve completely lost my mind.

Compared to my other objectives, the marathon is a rather straightforward affair. It has a specific date, a set distance, a defined course, a cut-off time, and I have a nutrition and training plan to follow. It would almost seem ‘easy’ if my body would just cooperate.

So as I sit here with an icepack on my hip having waddled up the staircase of Sue’s apartment, I’m still holding onto a small thread of hope that somehow in twenty-four days I’ll be ready to run 42km. Though it seems unlikely as I can barely scuttle across the road to beat traffic, if I do have to accept defeat on this particular challenge, at least I’ll be satisfied I didn’t quit at 40%.

The Doughnut Dilemma

I found myself in an intriguing psychological conundrum this morning as I walked home from Starbucks with a coffee and doughnut in hand. The doughnut was from the supermarket, and the only reason I had this jam-filled, caramel-coated, sprinkle-dusted treat, was because I received an instant win token from the store the previous day and was collecting my delectable prize.

Now, as I exited the store, I debated about when to take my first bite. There were seats outside facing the parking lot, but my pastry deserved a better view than that. I began walking home with my doughnut in a napkin, salivating at the thought of biting into its colourful, sugar-glazed flesh. But halfway home, when I figured a view wasn’t necessary, and I didn’t need my feet up to enjoy my delicious treat, my heavy-handed conscience stepped in and chastised me for my lack of restraint.

There’s an insightful TED Talk called, Don’t eat the marshmallow! from a few years back, which presents research conducted on a group of young children. The experiment was aimed at measuring each child’s ability to exercise delayed gratification, meaning, to see if they were prepared to ‘suffer’ in the short term for future gain. In summary, from what I remember, the kids are left in a room with a marshmallow on a plate and are told if they hold off eating the sweet for fifteen minutes, they’ll be given another marshmallow as a reward.

Some kids eat the marshmallow before the time is up and some don’t. The ones who display self-control and wait, are proven to have experienced greater success in their later years compared to the ones who ate the marshmallow straight off. Take this evidence with a grain of salt, but if I were one of those kids, not only would I have left the marshmallow on the plate, when a second marshmallow was offered to me, I would have stuffed it in my pocket, and taken them both home for dessert.

During Easter, when I was a kid, I used to save my chocolate eggs like a squirrel preparing for winter. At times, I kept them for so long the chocolate turned white and became inedible. So here’s a question for you TED, is it possible to delay gratification for so long it actually turns out to be negative?

Most of us are terrible at celebrating success and enjoying what’s in front of us in the present. When we reach a milestone, we shift the goalposts and focus our attention on the new target before even taking a breath. I wondered if this principle applied to my doughnut. Should I be enjoying a bite while the desire is there, or would the temptation destroy my self-discipline for the future?

I know I have a tendency to overthink things, but it’s my nature to be curious and regimented. At least now I’m home I can put my feet up and look out the window because my doughnut’s still waiting to be eaten.