Loss: An Inspiration

Recently I lost a very dear uncle of mine to complications following a liver transplant. The transplant was successful, however other things developed afterwards that could not
be controlled. While I have lived away from both sides of my extended family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins) for my entire life and have not had the good fortune of having them be a part of my day to day life, they were always there. I remember trips to my grandma’s house where I would run up to my uncle and plop myself on his lap, braid his hair, do his makeup, play barbies, etc. As we get older we realize more and more the important roles our extended family took and how important they are. Often though, we don’t truly feel the impact they had on our lives until they’re gone. It is then that we realize what we have lost forever, what kind of person he or she was and how they have forever influenced our lives. As I listened to the eulogy and stories from family and family friends at this recent funeral it gave me both a warm fuzzy feeling and a sense of loss. It was good to hear this other side of him that I hadn’t seen, to hear about his trials and tribulations, the joy he brought to his family and friends and what a good person he was. On the other hand all of these things just made me miss him more, and made me wish we had had more time with him.

With every death you think that it’ll get easier but it just gets harder. As we age we will lose more and more people that are dear to us and things will get clearer and clearer when it come to leading a purposeful life. My uncle may have only had sixty-four years, but he “lived large”. He made the most of those sixty-four years. He got an education, married the love of his life (my aunt), had four kids, and then welcomed seven grandchildren. He had a booming social life and a purposeful career in the education system. He realized his full potential and aided others in finding theirs.

While he is no longer with us it gives me peace to know that he is no longer in pain – he has gone to a peaceful place. And now, while we are still unwilling, we must grieve and begin the healing process. He would want us to continue his mantra to “live large”, to take life by the horns and make the most of it, to squeeze out every bit of potential, and I intend to do just that.

Don’t simply exist, LIVE. And if that’s not quite enough to get you going think about what others will say about you at your funeral. Will they commend you for what you gave to this life or will they wonder why you didn’t do more? Will they talk about your accomplishments with awe? Will they see a family that is overcome with grief because of the truly remarkable person you were? I truly hope so. If you can make such an impact then you have lived life to its fullest.

And now to do this myself.

A New Year, a Continued Outlook

It’s the beginning of a new year.

I can’t tell you how many Facebook posts I read yesterday about losing weight or quitting this or that. Where were all of the empowering statuses?

It’s around this time of year, right after the holiday pounds have crept on, that people start to make their “New Year Resolutions”. Many of these resolutions revolve around weight; people vow to lose an X number of pounds, hit the gym every day, never eat chocolate again, cut out alcohol, whatever it takes. But is that really sustainable? Not really. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve vowed these same things in the past but it never got me anywhere. Restricting yourself from the things you love won’t do you any good, it’ll just make you hate the process, and you’ll end up reverting back to your old ways after that one “cheat cookie”. Then you beat yourself up and gorge on anything and everything you love to make yourself feel better. What a vicious cycle.

My philosophy: make sustainable changes. Yes, I have a wedding coming up in five and a half months where I’ll be the center of attention in an white dress, but at the same time, I know that if I crash diet it’s not only not healthy, I won’t be able to sustain it for a long period of time. Why work hard for something for months just to have your goal date pass you by and end up reverting to your old ways just because there’s nothing to work towards anymore? I’d rather build on something that I can keep improving upon after the wedding.

So here’s my plan for 2014:

1. Start making healthier choices. This includes taking an interest in what I’m putting in my body by planning meals accordingly.
2. Sit down on Saturday every week and write out the week’s meal plan. Healthy dinner ideas will help fuel the next day’s lunch for work.
3. Go grocery shopping on Sundays to stock up for the week. Make sure I’m using things I already have instead of buying new.
4. Be prepared with enough healthy choices to make a change midweek if the plan isn’t working for me.
5. Be active for no less than 30 minutes every day. This could include just a simple walk, but something is better than nothing. Work up to at least an hour.
6. Go to bed earlier. Sleep is important.
7. Going to bed earlier will help get me up at a decent time. Work towards getting up an hour earlier than normal so that I can actually sit and have a leisurely breakfast. Starting my day off in the right mindset will help fuel my day with positive energy.
8. By the end of 2014 I want to be able to do 30 push ups in a row and I’d like to be able to run a 5k without feeling like I’m going to die from my asthma.
9. I want to have arms I can be proud to show off.
10. I want to wear a bathing suit with confidence this summer.
11. I want to feel beautiful on my wedding day.
12. I want to work hard and be proud of my marks and GPA by the end of the year.
13. I want to work hard enough to gain admission to the Environmental Design program.
14. I want to work towards gaining a job that I really enjoy.
15. Save instead of spend.

Did you notice that none of these resolutions were to “lose weight”? Losing weight isn’t the answer, being happy is. All of these things will contribute to my happiness. All of these things are about adding positions to my life, not eliminating weaknesses. I was watching the documentary “Hungry for Change” last year when something they said really resonated with me (not a direct quote):

Don’t try to cut bad habits out of your life, introduce good habits. Eventually, the good habits will outnumber the bad, and the bad habits will naturally fall away.

What a simple and yet powerful statement. I’ve been trying to follow this ever since. Having one bad food day or a day without exercise isn’t going to throw you off if you don’t let it. It’s about making small changes towards a brighter future. Slip ups are natural. Everyone is going to have them. Don’t beat yourself up! Just pick up those good habits again and keep going.

Here are some things that motivate me:

1. Oxygen Magazine. The magazine went bankrupt last year and my heart completely broke. Where was I going to get all of my good advice? Concrete solutions to my problems? Magazines like Shape pad their pages with “Better Sex” workouts and makeup pages. I wanted a fitness magazine about fitness not teenage girl crap. I’m so glad that Oxygen is back! They have a new publisher now and while they’re still getting back on their feet content wise, it’s such a huge breath of fresh air compared to the other “fitness” magazines for women. Oxygen focusses on getting stronger, making good, concrete, lasting choices and better yourself from the inside out. This is what I want to focus on! Thank you Oxygen! I will be a subscriber for as long as I possibly can! (I’m hoping it’s forever!)

2. Fitness and clean eating pages on instagram. A few of my favourites are @nicolemwilkins, @wayofgray, @fitness_recipes, @deliciouslyfitnhealthy, @fantasticallyfit, @censkiii, @loriharder, @chlooooejade.

3. My friends personal fitness gains. I have a friend that is also getting married this year (one week after me!) that is trying to lose weight. Her triumphs show me that I can do it to. She’s also not the type of person that does things out of spite – she shares what has worked for her and we brainstorm things together. She’s definitely been a rock for me. Find a friend that you can take your journey with!

4. My clothes. Looser fitting clothes will always motivate me more than a number on the scale. A number doesn’t matter. It’s about how you feel and look. Two people could be the same weight and look radically different due to muscle mass and body fat. I want to focus on gaining muscle and losing body fat. If that means that I end up at 150lbs, great. If it means I end up at 170lbs or 130lbs, great. It doesn’t matter as long as I feel strong and beautiful.

What are some things that motivate you to continue towards your dreams?

All in all, make realistic resolutions this year. Goals that you can be proud to say that you completed at the end of 2014. Leave me a comment and tell me what your goals are and what motivates you!

Life Decisions Upon Turning 25

On September 5, 2013 I turned 25. While I am nowhere near old, the recent onset of welcoming a new quarter century has really made me start reflecting on life so far.

I never thought I would be where I am today at 25, and I certainly never thought that I would be going back to school at 25. I’ve always been a person who has enjoyed learning, whether it was in school or in life. I’ve always lived by the mantra that knowledge is power. The more you know the better you can equip yourself for multiple situations. But at the same time, I thought I would be finished school and would be establishing myself in a career. Unfortunately, while you may have an education and experience, that doesn’t always mean that there is a job out there for you. And more often than not you realize after graduation that you don’t have all of the qualifications, credentials and experience you may need. And then you have to make the difficult decision to go back to school at a time when you should be making money, thought you would be buying a house, getting married, having kids and progressing through a career.

I often wonder what life might have been like if I hadn’t made the decisions I made after high school. What if I never moved to London? What if I had stayed here and gone to the University of Manitoba right off the bat?

I moved to London, Ontario just before my 17th birthday. Although I had done extensive research on Fanshawe and London, I had no idea what to expect at the time. I was flying by the seat of my pants, chasing after the dream of becoming an interior designer. At the time, I hadn’t watched a lot of design TV shows and I still had a pretty naive outlook on the life of an interior design. No, I wasn’t expecting fame and fortune, I wasn’t even expecting it to be glamorous, but I was expecting it to be fulfilling, and I really honestly thought it would come very easily to me and that I would be successful in whatever town or city I eventually started my business in. I can admit these things now, as I look back, because while these were naïve thoughts at the time, they did help fuel my passion and did propel me forward with the hope of one day making my dreams come true.

For most of high school I struggled with what to do with my life. What did I want to be? I had, and still have, so many interests. Too many interests. How was I to choose? What was simply a hobby and what could I turn into a career?

I had a good friend throughout junior high and high school whose mother was an interior designer. She and her husband, who was a lawyer and a very good carpenter, flipped houses in the surrounding neighbourhoods. I remember her taking us to a few, most notably in the Beaumont and Fort Garry areas, and while at the time they were stripped back to the studs with cans of paint, tools, nails, screws and everything in between scattered throughout the houses – I loved it. I loved seeing the process. I loved being on the job site. I loved seeing how you could take something so basic and make something so spectacular. I loved taking detours to design stores when she would be driving us around somewhere. I loved peeking in her office to look at her design schemes. I loved the idea of taking something that wasn’t loved and making it into a house people could live in, raise a family in, and ultimately call a home.

In grade 12, after a tearful goodbye to my then-boyfriend (now fiancé) who was moving to London, Ontario to go to the University of Western Ontario, I started making some decisions. My boyfriend and I continued a long distance relationship, and through our communication he came to tell me about Fanshawe College in London, Ontario. I jumped on it. It was the opportunity I had been waiting for to move out, to gain some independence, to get the hands on college education that I wanted, and to finally be in the same city as my boyfriend again. What could possibly be better?

The program looked amazing – very in depth, great hands on experience, co-op placement program for work experience – everything I could have dreamt of. Plus, I could live in residence and really get the college experience. Perfect.

What I didn’t understand at the time were the qualifications I would need in order to practice Interior Design in the future. I didn’t know that I would ultimately need a degree to practice in Manitoba and possibly other provinces. I didn’t know that a college diploma wouldn’t be enough. Would I have chosen differently at the time? Probably not. I was listening to my heart, not my head. Do I regret it? No. It gave me some of the best experiences I could’ve asked for, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world.

I now know that I will need an undergraduate degree, and most likely a master’s degree in order to really do what I want to do with my life. It’s taken me a little while to come to that revelation, but I finally feel ready to pursue the education needed to advance in life and that realization has given me a sense of calm that I haven’t experienced in the past.

While I applied to the University of Manitoba for the Fall of 2006, I ultimately ended up going to Fanshawe. At Fanshawe I lived in residence for two years and met some great people. One of which introduced me to one of my current best friends, and matron of honour.

My former roommate was from Burlington, at Fanshawe to study Hotel Management. She was fun and we would hang out often. She sometimes had friends come from Burlington and Toronto to visit, and during one of those visits I met Marla. To be honest, we didn’t really get to know each other then. It wasn’t until after the school year ended and Brian and I made the big move to living together that I really got to know her. She announced in June 2008 that she would be moving to London, Ontario to be my former roommate and her boyfriend’s third roommate in the building just across from ours. Eventually, through constant visits, we became good friends.

My fiancé Brian had moved to London, Ontario to study Opera (vocal Tenor major) at the University of Western Ontario and had started working at the on-campus food services there in the fall of 2006 when he met one of his best friends and his best man. Oddly enough, after constant handouts, in 2009 Brian’s best man and my matron of honour started dating. I often wonder if this would have been possible if I hadn’t moved to London too. Brian was already there so it was inevitable that he would have met Matt, but if I had decided differently, Marla may have never existed to me. Thinking about how one decision can affect so much and so many people’s lives is mind boggling. I am so glad I made the decision to move to London because my life would be incomplete without Marla’s friendship. I also know Matt and Marla’s lives would be incomplete without each other and I’m so glad that Brian and I were able to help them find each other simply by making the decision to uproot our lives and move to another province. I will never regret moving to London because it meant gaining lifelong friends, great work experiences at the City of London, office furniture supply companies, and Michaels Arts & Crafts.

Leaving London, Ontario was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. We moved back to Winnipeg in early 2012 after suffering from a tough economy in London. We left our best friends, the independent life we had built together, and the city we had come to love to move back in with our parents and get our feet back on the ground in a better economy. Fortunately, it has been the best decision we’ve made yet and has fueled plans for the future more than ever.

I hate to think that Brian and I might not be together if I hadn’t moved to London. There’s a possibility he would have moved back to Winnipeg after his second year at the University of Western Ontario as he left the University after two years to pursue the Culinary Arts, however there’s also a possibility that we would no longer be together. It makes me sad to think that he might not have been in my life, so I’m grateful again for my decision to move.

While there is a long list of positives to moving to London, there would have been a long list of positives to staying in Winnipeg – positives I’ve only realized in the past few years. While I needed the adventure of living away from home, I would have saved tens of thousands of dollars by staying in Winnipeg. If I had stayed I would have graduated with a Master of Architecture last May instead of my proposed plan of 2019. That’s a seven year difference that will affect the amount of money I could be making, my housing, my school experience, my career advancement opportunities, and my family. I could be interning as an architect right now; working towards my certification examinations.

The upside to the delayed school timeline is that I am now in a better place in my life when it comes to accepting a school workload. I’m in a better mindset now, I know what I want, and I know how much work I’m willing to put in. After three years of thinking about upgrading since my graduation from Interior Design in 2010, I finally feel ready to move onwards and upwards, and I couldn’t be happier. I now have real world experience behind me. I’ve lived on my own, in a residence, and with a partner. I’ve packed up and moved to a different province and lived without the daily aid of my parents. I own a cat now, which to most wouldn’t be a big deal, but when you’ve grown up in a family devoid of pets it’s a big learning curve taking care of something that can’t care for itself. I’ve worked in commercial design and in an office furniture company. I’ve been offered a full time interior design position and turned it down. I’ve gained friendships and lost friendships and grown stronger from both. I’ve travelled to six of Canada’s provinces and a handful of American states. I’ve had four grandparents pass on without really knowing much about them. I wish I had taken a greater interest at a younger age. I’ve had many personal experiences that have prepped me for this next stage of life, and many experiences still to look forward to in my future.

I look forward to completing my education, one class, one semester, one year at a time. I look forward to putting every effort into earning and maintaining a great GPA. I look forward to marrying my best friend next June. I look forward to accomplishing my fitness goals. I look forward to walking across that stage and being handed an Environmental Design degree; then walking across the stage to receive a Master of Architecture degree. I look forward to interning in an architectural firm, and gaining residential design experience. I look forward to travelling the world, taking in different cultures, people, architecture, and most importantly the experiences and memories that come from seeing the world. I look forward to becoming a residential architect. I look forward to seeing the smiles on people’s faces when I walk them into their complete dream home. I look forward to having kids someday, whether it’s two, three, or four. I look forward to designing my own dream home. I look forward to teaching my passion to others in a university setting someday. And most importantly, I look forward to living my life one day at a time, always learning and achieving, and maybe someday inspiring those around me.

Our choices really do shape our futures. Choose them carefully because you never know where your choices may take you – you may end up finding more than you ever imagined you would. If my aunts can study for Master’s and Doctorate degrees while caring for my cousins then who knows what I can accomplish. I will always look up to those in my life that have propelled me forward and encouraged my dreams. Thank you to that friend’s mom, my aunts, uncles, and numerous friends and family that have encouraged me to always move forward with my dreams. I can do it too!

How do you think your life would be different if you hadn’t made some of your life choices? If you could change a part of your past what part would you change?