As a graduate from Trent University, my worldview has been broadened in the one year I have spent in the workforce. My journey has not been a traditional one; it involves a lot more failure than success. I was lucky enough to graduate and attend the 2014 convocation ceremony where author Joseph Boyden addressed us.
As we sat there, unsure of our place in the world that we were about to enter, Boyden addressed our anxious spirits, “I’ll be dead honest with you right now, I’m scared a lot. I fear failure a lot.”
“Every time I sit down to write something for others… Whether it is as lofty as giving this commencement speech to you dear graduates, or as benign as sending a text to a friend, I feel a sense of fear. That what I do, what I create, will not be good enough. And this, it suddenly dawned on me, is the advice I’m going to share with you today: You’re going to fail.
Sorry, it’s true… Yes I know, aren’t these graduations supposed to be about positive messages and happy thoughts? But I tell you that you will fail at some point and probably more than once. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want you to fail… But failure, especially at something important, builds strength. It builds resolve.”
His words inspired reflection upon my first year at Trent, which was a rough one. In a way, our failures haunt us, but what Boyden said that day about failure could not have been more relevant for me, and how I got here.
As many of you know, in a town like Peterborough, full-time employment is hard to come by. However, I consider myself lucky that I was able to find two jobs: one as a cashier, the other waitressing.
It’s a hard world out there for young people; it’s an endless barrage of defending your degree if you aren’t employed in your field. Even though it wasn’t writing, at first I was proud of myself for securing a way to provide for myself in these dire economic straits.
Unfortunately, coming from a culture where expectations are high, this was confusing to some of my loved ones in Toronto. By not pursuing greater career moves, my motives for staying in Peterborough were always subject to scrutiny. This made me feel that somehow I was failing even though I wasn’t.
I said at first I was proud of myself and it almost sounds like that pride was lost. It was more as though I had lost myself; running myself ragged to and fro to get enough hours between these part- time jobs. After working for a few months, I hit a new low. It became all too reminiscent to my first year at Trent, when I felt like I was drowning.
One night, after a particularly hard day at work, I was biking down Hunter Street. I spotted the band members of I, the Mountain hanging outside of the Red Dog. I’ll never forget the conversation we had. Matthew Rappolt, as most of you know as an editor of Arthur Newspaper, said to me “You know, we’re still waiting for your contribution.”
In that moment it was as though I had woken up from a sad dream. Arthur. Had I become so overwhelmed with my new life as a graduate that I forgot who I was? Arthur was the medium that allowed me to explore the depths of this community and fall in love.
I had always wanted to run for Editor. However, that moment made me remember why. Arthur has always had a power, and I found that power to be its ability to be in its inclusivity. The environment and news it fosters is almost impossible to encapsulate here, but it is there, in Rappolt’s words.
I don’t think he’ll ever understand how important this exchange was. It was as simple as asking for a submission. What makes me wonder is if I hadn’t run into him that night, if I hadn’t proposed an idea of a simple food blog, if he hadn’t said that it was a great idea, would I have started a food blog? Being a writer was always something that I wanted to do, but I had given up. I gave up before trying.
If I didn’t have positive, inspiring people, many of them being past editors, my life would have been quite different. If Pat Reddick hadn’t encouraged me to write for the paper three years ago, if co-editors Jasmine Cabanaw and Sara Ostrowska hadn’t published my first piece on the front page, I never would have known that someone thought my work was good enough to take up that space.
I do know this: If I hadn’t been encouraged to think that a food blog had a place in Arthur, then maybe I would not have written a piece on the Community Butcher Shop. My editors were proud of this article that Jack Smye and I collaborated on, an article that went viral.
If you had told me in my first year one day I would help found the Trent Feminist Society, or that I would be editor of the very paper that helped me realize myself, I would have laughed. It’s true; we all get so frightened of failure that we let it define us.
I’ll end with one last quote from Boyden.
“Imagine if we all succeeded all the time at everything we tried. There is no true understanding at the exhilaration of the heights without that intimate knowledge of the depths…
And isn’t that it in a nutshell? It isn’t failure that’s dangerous. It’s the fear of failure. How many times have you decided not to attempt something because you were afraid you were going to fail? That is the tragedy, the not trying.”