2016 – The Year of Gratitude and Grit

Last year was my “Year of Living Creatively”.  My goal was to familiarize myself with some of my old hobbies (painting, poetry-writing, handi-crafts, etc) and experience new ones. Although I didn’t ‘create’ (in the crafty sense) as much as I would have liked to in 2015, I did accomplish a few things:

  •  I finger-crocheted a scarf and have started crocheting an afghan (with the help of my daughter, the crocheting fiend <3).
  • I acted in a local theatre production with Dewdney Players in Okotoks, Alberta. I love theater and theatre peeps. Check out my post about that experience here.
  • I baked a pie. This might sound simple for some, but not for me. ‘Science made me do it’ and I overcame a lot self-doubt in the process. I posted a blog entry on the whole ordeal. Check it out.
  • My husband and I built a brand new house in the Foothills of Alberta. We also sold it six months later. Sigh. Quite a bit of creativity goes into designing, building, and decorating a house. But there is a whole new level of creative thought that goes into letting that home go after such a short time. (I tried to not get emotionally attached but…)
  • Finally, over the past several months, I settled into my new position with Monsanto Canada. This was quite a process as I had to do it remotely (from my home office in Alberta), away from my team of colleagues. That’s tough. I missed the day-to-day and face-to-face interactions. Added to that, transitioning from academia into working in the private sector is not easy.

It is also not easy to leave family, friends and move to another country…

That’s why I’ve dubbed 2016 “The Year of Gratitude and Grit”.  This year marks something new and exciting for us. Earlier this month, The Cowboy and I settled on a property in Missouri. From our new home, we will navigate the next leg of our life journey (and I will continue my work with Monsanto at the company’s head office in St. Louis). While we were so sad to leave friends, family (especially our grown son and daughter) in Canada, this new adventure represents exciting new opportunities for us. We get to explore a new part of the world, experience different cultures, see new sights and build relationships with people in a new community.

gratitudegrit

It takes courage and ‘pluck’ (as my grandma would say) to take life-changing steps like these and permanently plant oneself in another part of the world. That’s where the ‘Grit’ comes in. As for ‘Gratitude’, we are thankful for every experience that has led us to this moment. And we are grateful for every opportunity that will move us forward from here.

A few items to take note of…

Our new community in Missouri was hit by a massive flood over the holidays.  This situation reminded me of the High River flood of 2013. (#HellOrHighWater). And although it will take some time for the community of Eureka (and surrounding areas) to recover and rebuild, there has been a great deal of progress to date. As always, I am amazed by the resilience of people! #EurekaStrong #Grit #Gratitude

The Cowboy and I love our new property (pictured below). The house that we purchased is nestled on a handful of picturesque acres where our horses will have plenty of room to run.  The house itself is 50 years old and very charming but in is dire in need of a renovation. Most of you probably know that The Cowboy is a finishing carpenter / craftsman. When he arrives with horses and tools next week, we will be getting started on what will likely turn out to be 12-week home improvement project. Stay tuned as I will be tweeting the entire process from beginning to end. And maybe, just maybe, the social-media-shy Cowboy will let me take pictures of him in action! #Grit #Gratitude #RenoJunkies

property

“Grit is pushing beyond the platitudes, and finding authentic connections that will encourage you to embrace discomfort and embark on a journey that always seeks to push you outside the box.”

Chrissanne Long

Self-doubt and the fine art of solution aversion: my story

I am a self-professed ‘late bloomer’; in the academic sense, anyway.

In the early nineties, I was a single parent trying make ends meet. I worked 2+ part-time jobs to keep my daughter and son fed, clothed, healthy and happy.  My story isn’t much different than many out there. I leaned on the ‘system’ for a while (yes, had to). As an extension of that, I attended an administrative bookkeeping course sponsored through the provincial government’s social assistance program. I even took advantage of a provincial milk program offered for low income families. Believe me, an extra two gallons of milk a week makes a big difference when you have growing kids. I even made the odd trip or two to the local food bank to stock up when the cupboards echoed their food-thin song (usually around the holidays).

Times were tough. But always there was this niggling little voice at the back of my mind saying: “Cami, if you want to get ahead you really need to go back to school. You need to get a degree.”

I knew that getting an education would help me and my family out. So, every year, from 1993 onwards, I filled out an application to the University of Saskatchewan. Every year.  The sad part is that every year that envelope would sit on my dining room table – unmailed.

just not going letter

Change is hard.  Sure, we are pretty good at identifying problems (and we are great at complaining about them). But how good are we at acknowledging and acting on potential solutions?

A colleague of mine shared an interesting article with me a few weeks ago: Solution aversion: On the relation between ideology and motivated disbelief. The solution aversion model – introduced by Duke University scholars Troy Campbell and Aaron Kay – is tested as an explanation for why people are so often divided over (in particular) evidence. The study suggests that “certain solutions associated with problems are more threatening to individuals who hold a strong ideology that is incompatible with or even challenged by the solution…” Thus, people will deny the existence of a problem (a user-friendly overview of the study can be found here)


denysolutions

The human is my favourite mammal. 🙂  As problems present themselves, we humans are more likely to ignore solutions and move onto information or into spaces where our core beliefs are validated. Humans are also social animals. We like to seek protection within the ‘herd’; we are conformists. So we are highly influenced by the networks of individuals that surround us (see Dan Kahan’s take on this here). In Psychology Today, David Ropeik talks about perceptions of risk and the human response to the ‘feeling of losing control‘ (a scary pre-cursor to solution aversion):

“The more threatened we feel as individuals, the more we look to our tribe [or network] to provide a sense of power and control.”  

– David Ropeik –

What this means is that solutions to problems that counter our deeply held beliefs will be rejected or ignored in favour of our conveniently-shaped beliefs – no matter how factual, practicable, or moral those solutions are.  Rejecting or avoiding solutions helps us to minimize personal social and psychological dilemmas. In other words, it serves the dominant, primal human instinct to survive.

solution aversion cartoon

Where was I? Oh yes! It was the 1990s and I was busy passing up opportunities to pursue a post-secondary education (AKA, avoiding a potential solution). I steered clear of those opportunities for a long time mostly because of self-doubt and fear. I was afraid of failing. I was afraid that I would have less income (although it was hardly possible at the time). I was afraid of racking up debt. I was afraid I wouldn’t fit in and I felt that I was just too old to go to school (this latter bit makes me laugh now). At the time, I told myself “Things aren’t that bad, the kids are doing just fine!” or “I like the people I work with!”. For the most part, I believed that it was safer to stick with the status quo; to keep my head down and winnow my way through life working at low-paying, unsatisfying jobs. Friends and family did not really encourage the whole “go rogue and be a single-parent-student” thing either. They probably held some of the same beliefs that I did. And, for a long time, I allowed their doubts to reinforce my own fears.

There was a bright light though; an exception. A favorite aunt. Aunt S was one of my biggest fans. She knew me well (all of the faults, insecurities and possibilities). Aunt S applauded me every year that I filled out an application to the University.  With her encouragement, I actually mailed in my application in 1997.

Tragically, that bright light was suddenly snuffed out. Aunt S died later that year. As fate would have it, a letter of acceptance from the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Commerce arrived a few days after her funeral.

It was Aunt S’s words of encouragement and her favorite quote “Do one thing every day that scares you” that prompted me to mail the application form that year. But (sadly) it was her death that was the impetus for me to pull myself up by my bootstraps and get on with things. I made my way through and got not one but, two degrees. I worked hard, I played hard, I learned, I networked AND I looked after my kids. They were fed, healthy and happy and they got to their various activities: dancing, hockey, music lessons and school plays. In fact, we all survived. Beautifully.

mekids

Me and the kids and Rocky (circa ~ 1996)

Even when a solution is staring you right in the face, it can be hard to take the ‘leap’ and grab the opportunity.  It often takes a crisis before you re-evaluate where you are at, who you are and what you believe that you are capable of doing. I lost someone very important to me. This was a definitive point in my life; one where I had to hold the mirror up to my face, face my fears and decide what I really wanted for me and for my children.

The ‘road less travelled’ presents a bumpy ride.  Acting on opportunities and following through with solutions can represent huge investments in time, energy and resources. But the rewards can be huge. Today, my children are happy, active adults working at what they love and contributing to their communities. When my kids tell me how proud they are of me, of what I have accomplished, that is reward enough for me.

References:

  • Campbell, T.H. and Aaron C. Kay. (2014). “Solution Aversion: On the Relation Between Ideology and Motivated Disbelief.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Volume 107, No. 5. 809-824.
  • Kahan, Dan. (2012). “Why we are poles apart on climate change.” Volume 488. August 16.
  • Lewandowsky, Stephan, Ullrich K. H. Ecker, Colleen M. Seifert, Norbert Schwarz and John Cook. “Misinformation and Its Correction: Continued Influence and Successful Debiasing.” Psychological Science in the Public InterestDecember 2012  13 no. 3106-131. Available online at: http://psi.sagepub.com/content/13/3/106.full.pdf+html?ijkey=FNCpLYuivUOHE&keytype=ref&siteid=sppsi

Attestation

at•tes•ta•tion (ˌæt ɛˈsteɪ ʃən) n. 1. an act of attesting. 2. an attesting declaration; testimony; evidence. [1540–50; (< Middle French) < Latin attestātiōn- (s. of attestātiō). See attest, -ation]

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I started researching both sides of my family tree when I was doing my doctoral research over a decade ago.  Digging into the past and through ancestry and genealogical websites proved to be a gratifying distraction from the (often) mentally tiresome pursuit of academia.

Over the course of three short years, I amassed hundreds of bits of family history and photos.  Near the end, I slid into some form of ‘genealogical fatigue,’ but – by then – had thoroughly documented seven generations on both sides of my family tree.  

All of this research stimulated an interest in the World Wars for me. In particular, I became fascinated with the Great War – World War I – and with those that we had lost there.  My great great Uncle Augustine “Gus” Fehrenbach was one of those casualties.

gus photo

Augustine John Fehrenbach (circa 1912). This photo shows what I can only imagine to be a pair of snapping blue eyes set above an aquiline nose and sculptured jawline. My grandpa Jack looked a great deal like him.

Gus Fehrenbach entered into service in May of 1916, recruited into the 188th (Saskatchewan) Battalion.  He was 31 years old at the time and a bachelor. Gus lived with and supported his elderly, widowed mother Johanna. After a few months of training, Gus traveled to Liverpool on the SS Olympic (October, 1916) where he was transferred into the 46th Battalion in France. 

attestation paper gus

We know very little about great great Uncle Gus and his experiences in the war other than what has been documented by the Veteran Affairs Canada and through the War Diaries.

Who were his friends in battle?  Did they share moments of easy camaraderie amid the mud, the blood and the blast of gunfire? We will never know.

What we do know is that Private Fehrenbach died on October 26, 1917 on the first day of the Second Battle of Passchendaele.  Battlefield conditions were horrific:

“On the morning of October 26, the battle began…The men, weighed down by wet and mud-caked greatcoats and slipping and falling in the muck, made progress, but at great cost. The 3rd and 4th Divisions suffered more than 2,500 casualties, gaining less than 1,200 metres of territory. Machine-gun fire from the pillboxes was deadly and the slow-moving Canadians were easy targets for the German gunners. The 46th Battalion suffered an appalling 70 per cent casualties in the advance.” – Canada in the Great War

753px-Second_Battle_of_Passchendaele_-_Barbed_wire_and_Mud

Mud and barbwire and the Second Battle of Passchedaele. Source: Wikipedia

Many of the soldiers were killed by ‘friendly’ fire:

“…At 5:30 a.m. of the 26th the Barrage started and remained 8 minutes before the company started to advance.  This barrage was very irregular in fact it was impossible to tell where it was supposed to be resting.  Many casualties were caused by our shells falling short before the 8 minutes were up.”  – War Diaries, October 1917.

war diary Oct 25 26 1917

missing in action missing man

Today, we are left only with military records and the odd photo here and there as evidence of what men like Gus Fehrenbach sacrificed serving our country and the Allies.

The last surviving Canadian World War I veteran, John Babcock, died in 2010. As time moves on and more generations separate us from these important historical events, will we forget? 

“We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie in Flanders Fields.” – John McCrae

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Good resources:

Veterans Affairs: http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/collections/virtualmem

Book of Remembrance: http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/collections/books