When I was a student at the University of British Columbia in the late 1980s, springtime came as a blessing and a curse. It was a hard time of year as final exams were upon us and then the search for a summer job. The weather turned warmer and brighter in April, after the long dull, rainy dreariness of winter, and those of us in engineering were jealous of the arts students who would write just a couple of finals and then spend the days lounging in the sun and playing ball, while we studied to the bitter end. Our exams were always sadistically arranged so that we had two or three the first week, one the week after, and then nothing the third week, and then one last exam at the very end of the month exam period.
Trying to study while the spring blossoms lay heavy on every branch, and the flower buds are exploding in vivid, lush color all around you in synch with your roomates’ new romances, was indeed a tough slog. I lived on campus, so after breakfast and before buckling down for a day of tedious study of second-order partial differential equations, microwave telecommunications, or some such madness, I would walk over to a rose garden that looked out over the sea.
UBC is picturesquely located on the Point Grey peninsula of Vancouver, which juts out into the Strait of Georgia that separates Vancouver Island from the mainland, and this rose garden faced to the northwest across the opening of English Bay towards Bowen Island, a small suburban gulf-island a short ferry ride away from Vancouver. Looming behind was the coastal Tantalus Mountain range, their peaks still wearing their snowy caps in the spring sunshine.
And there I would sit on a bench looking out at this magnificent view, with the spring roses just start to come on in the garden just below me and swallows darting and dancing like playful lovers above me. It was a quiet time, since regular classes were over and exams were winding down for the term. I had time to think and get focused for the day. It was also somewhat calming, which was good for the stress of exams. On a non-exam day, I may also have let my mind wander to my future, wondering what it might hold….
Recently, I have started a similar habit on weekday mornings, in which I find myself temporarily unemployed, as the company I work for has put us on furlough for a short period during the Covid Crisis. I have tried to take better care of my health during this time (amongst other things) and have been going on short bike rides to a nearby park. The park has a view from a bench, a view which is different yet somewhat reminiscent of the UBC rose garden of 30 years ago.
Perhaps because of the time of year and the context of a morning routine, but sitting out on these mornings and feeling the world wake up around me, seems eerily similar to those days when I had so much ahead of me. It must have something to do with the calm of a bright spring morning, which seems full of promise and potential. It probably has something to do with pondering my future. As I did in engineering school, wondering about career opportunities and life goals, I again find myself wondering about what my future holds, on what seems like the dawn of a new era.
My employer, once a large, proud Fortune 500 company, is a mere shell of its former self, and perhaps on the brink of extinction. Every year I become more certain that it will be my last there, and yet, a year later I am still there somehow. Many times I have thought to leave, but perhaps comfort and familiarity, not to mention the fantastic quality of the people I work with, keeps me there.
Nonetheless, with the world’s economic situation threatened now by a worldwide health pandemic, it is hard to see the road ahead…What should I do next, simply find another job as a technical writer and instructional designer? That would probably work to keep myself out of the fire, but I worry that I’ll just end up in a slightly different frying pan, perhaps with contents that are not so tasty.
I must admit to fantasies of becoming a popular writer, but how do I get there from here? The last year has shown that I cannot even sustain a blog with monthly post while working full time, let alone ramp up my efforts to something larger. And everyone knows that writers always earn more than enough money to pay all the bills, right?! Haha.
I have, however, promised myself to rededicate myself to writing at least this blog once again. I’ve forgotten how therapeutic it can be.
With my interests in family history and technical expertise in document scanning, archiving, and Photoshop, I’ve also been exploring the possibility of starting a small home business in my spare time. I would help families sort, scan and archive their photos and documents. Perhaps if modestly successful, it could become something larger in my retirement, which I hope to achieve in ten years.
Ten years! When I was 21 and sitting in that rose garden, ten years seemed like a lifetime. Ten years would take me back into the mists of time to the mythology of my childhood, in which everything was possible for the golden-haired boy growing up in a sunny lakeside town in quiet middle-class North America of the bygone 1970s. Has anyone else noticed how much more innocent and simple life even in the 1970s now seems? At age 21, ten years forward would take me, at least in my imagination, to a successful, yet still young engineer buying his first home and starting a family. I always imagined engineers to have successful financial futures, but I did not know how much the world would change in the thirty years since then. I also did not know how much I would change in those thirty years. In fact, I quickly realized in the non-imaginary ten years after graduating that a typical engineering career and the life I thought I wanted to live, actually wasn’t…
Again, I seem to come to the conclusion that life is full of surprises and changes. I had naive thoughts of how the world worked back when I was young. I was always certain that hard work and honesty and persistence always brings you to success. I found that this is somewhat true, but you need to be careful what you think of as your definition of success, that what you think at age 21 is not necessarily what you think or believe at 31, 41, or 51.
It is indeed hard in such times as these to know what comes next in one’s life journey. However, upon this time of reflection, I can look at the good things that I’ve experienced so far in life. I have never gone hungry or not had some sort of work or school to occupy my mind. I have learned many things and been to many interesting places. I have had good friends, and I have a loving family that I’ve had extra time to cherish of late.
Who among us knows exactly what will come next? Do we ever really know? The world has shown us lately that what we think is fixed in stone, patterns and routines that are etched in time itself, can change in the blink of an eye. Things can and do change. Therefore, I am thankful for at least having the luxury to reflect and think about the question. And to dream. It’s important.