A Wisp of Smoke

It doesn’t take much.

It is my usual early Monday morning drive to work, Starbucks in hand as my car heads down Thickwood Boulevard, surrounded by trees on either side as I glide down the hill towards the juncture with Highway 63. My thoughts are filled with the week ahead – the must-be-dones, the should-be-dones, the things-likely-to-be-left-undone, just as every week begins.

I see it first as just a wisp at the top of the trees, a small shadow of smoke; as I draw closer, it becomes a column of smoke and suddenly, irretrievably and irrevocably, I am yanked back in time to the beginning of May.

It doesn’t matter that I know controlled burns are taking place as part of the FireSmart program. It doesn’t matter that the smoke is grey, not that black shade I will never forget as long as I live. It doesn’t matter that it is the dead of winter, snow covering grass and ground that would be resistant to flames now, unlike the tinder-dry conditions of several months ago.

None of that matters, because the connection between my brain and my heart has been severed by a thin column of grey smoke, and I can feel emotions that I thought I had put aside for some time beginning to rise.

I don’t feel panicked or afraid; I feel instead a form of nausea, a fundamental shakiness rocking me to the core. My head keeps telling my heart that everything is okay and all is fine and this is controlled and there is nothing to fear, and yet my heart is continuing to pound.

It isn’t until I reach my office and look out, seeing a clear grey sky with no smoke in sight, that I begin to feel normal again, because of course on May 3 what I saw across the river from my office was a wall of thick black smoke and bright red flames.

I do not believe I have PTSD, although I know others in my community suffer from this after the experience of May 3; I believe instead I have become hyper-aware of fire, sensitive to the sight, sound and smell of a natural phenomenon that I have contended with for as long as I have lived in northern Canada (now more than twenty years). I have always respected the power of wildfire, but now it is more than respect. It is an emotion for which I do not think a word exists, at least not a word I have yet been able to find.

There are experiences in life that alter you forever. I have experienced three.

The death of my mother.

The birth of my daughter.

The fire that I thought I might not survive.

And that is the truth, the real core of it all; on May 3, for the very first time in my entire life, I questioned if I would survive. There was no certainty of it; I remember watching a wall of flames and smoke and realizing how vulnerable I was. How vulnerable we all were.

And while I am here to tell the tale, to write these words, I will never forget that for a moment in time, no matter how brief it was, I questioned if I would be. And it seems that feeling will never leave me, much like the emotion I felt when I held my mother’s hand as she took her last breath and the one I experienced at the moment my daughter entered the world, altering my universe forever.

Life changes us. Experiences, the good ones and the bad ones, change who we are, how we see things and how we feel about the world around us. I suspect that no matter how many years pass, the sight of smoke will always trigger a cascade of feelings that were first felt on a beautiful sunny day in May that turned into a horror. And this is neither a “good” thing or a “bad” thing – it just is and will always be.

And that’s okay, too.

Over fifty years, I have learned that trying to suppress the changes experience has created is when you truly begin to suffer, as those changes do not like to be denied. You can pretend they don’t exist, stuff them down, try to shove them in a mental closet or the glove compartment of your mind, but they are always going to be there, lurking.

So, you may as well accept them.

This morning, a wisp of smoke forced me back to a day months ago, one that feels like it happened in another lifetime. As I allowed the feelings to wash over me, I focused on all the things I have learned since that day; most significant of all being sheer gratitude for surviving. Once again I felt deep thankfulness for those who fought the flames, a strong connection to the others in my community who lived through the same experience and a profound wonderment at how life can change so quickly.

All too often in life we cannot control what happens to us; our only control lies in how we respond to it. I will always be proud of how members of my community responded to a natural disaster that threatened us all. I will always find hope and comfort in the way we reached out to each other in those early days. I will always feel more deeply connected to my community as the result of an experience that impacted us all, each of us in different ways and with different stories to tell.

And I will always see a wisp of smoke and think back to a bright and sunny spring day when life as I knew it was altered forever. My heart will always take the lead in this one, because it will never forget that day, those moments or that experience; and I will treasure it as the time when I learned the true meaning of courage, resiliency, gratitude and strength.

Just a wisp of smoke.

It doesn’t take much.

The Meaning of Social Media

I chose the title for this one quite deliberately, as it is meant to reflect two things: 1) what the existence of the social media has come to mean in our lives and 2) how it seems social media seems to be taking on an ever-increasingly mean tone.

I’m one of those dinosaurs who has been around since the very early days of social media. I was there when forums and chat rooms were all the rage, seen it evolve into Facebook and Twitter and then revolutionize once more with smart phone cameras and the rise of Instagram and Snapchat. It has been intriguing to witness, as just one generation removed from me, my parents would have been baffled by much of this as the technology just didn’t really exist when they were at an age when it would have interested them; and just one generation down, my daughter is a digital native, growing up in a world immersed in social media. And what I have noted over time is while the medium of delivery changes from chat rooms to Facebook, from forums to Instagram, what also seems to be happening is a progressive increase in truly nasty behaviour.

Don’t get me wrong – the internet “troll” has always been there, and these individuals continue to plague every social media site; but what is more concerning is that social media seems to have enabled other people, who are quite likely fairly normal individuals in other aspects of their lives, to behave in an aggressive manner online simply because social media has removed the face to face nature personal communication once required.

It seems a sad indictment that threats of violence or death are common place on social media now, enough so that seeing them is no longer shocking. The level of anger and hatred would be stunning if it wasn’t so routine. Demeaning and disturbing language and commentary are ubiquitous, enough so that some individuals are giving up on social media entirely and deleting their accounts; and spaces that once seemed “safe”, like Instagram, have begun to see a rise in this behaviour as users take their anger there.

It isn’t that this is entirely new, as there were always “mean people” on the internet, just as there have always been these individuals in every facet of life. It just seems that many people, including the ones who one would not traditionally consider “mean”, are dropping their inhibitions as soon as their fingers hit the keyboard.

It is, undoubtedly, a change in our social interactions. Few of us would have stood in front of our neighbour and said the aggressive and charged things we will say to others on social media. I suspect few of us would have argued for hours with him on his political or social views, and once things got intensely heated most of us would have backed off to preserve inter-neighbour relations. And very, very few of us would have issued threats of violence or death, or encouraged him to commit suicide; and yet these interactions are taking place on social media on a daily basis – often between complete strangers.

Why? Perhaps this is where the meaning of social media comes into play, as what it has come to mean is that we have created a world where anyone can speak to anyone, no matter the actual physical distance between them, leading to a world where interactions have few, if any, real-world consequences. No wonder our inhibitions have dropped; there is no reward or punishment for having them, because the truth is that to some degree we are untouchable online. Real life behaviour of this sort in our workplace, our homes and our communities would have dire consequences, but online? There are few repercussions.

I have begun to suspect that there will be a time when the pendulum will swing, and our interest in social media will wane. The digital natives will see the times before the existence of social media as nostalgic and perhaps long for the days when communicating with someone meant visiting their homes, meeting for coffee or even picking up the phone. Or perhaps the digital natives will pull their circle of interactions tighter, closing their own social media down and limiting their interactions to those they know, which may well defeat the positive aspect of social media that allowed you to interact with people from around the world. Or maybe it will continue just as it is, with social media continuing along this very same path.

There was a time when I extolled the virtues of social media: the ability to connect, the ease of use, the breaking down of barriers. I find myself now increasingly concerned about the dark side of social media, and how it has not only begun to change but form how we behave.

Recently I watched a tv series from the UK called “Black Mirror”. While not perfectly executed in terms of acting and direction, the series is an exploration along the trajectory of trends we see in our world as related to technology, and particularly social media. It is both intriguing and worrisome, as some of the stories developed are far closer to fact than fiction as our technology-train rushes ahead while our social norms and behaviour run beside it on the train platform, trying to catch up and hop on board.

In the end for me the meaning has been to become ever more cognizant of my own behaviour online. There is room for debate and discussion, but when the pot begins to boil I’ve learned to step away. I no longer invest time or energy in discussions where others behave badly, as it just feeds into their behaviour and encourages it; and I don’t allow some behaviour on the social media I control, as limited as those powers might be. I can’t change or control the behaviour of millions, but I can change and control my own, and not contribute to the meaning – or demeaning – of social media.

I suspect in the future we will see more studies correlating a rise in anxiety and depression linked to social media use, as these have already begun to surface. The technology we hoped might create a global community may well instead contribute to global misery as we struggle to develop new social behaviour to adapt to a new setting; or, perhaps, the digital natives like my daughter and generations after may have already developed the adaptations necessary to navigate this brave new world.

It is one of those things that only time will tell; and some day, far from now, we may only begin to understand what the meaning of social media truly holds for us.

Person-ality

I hate personality tests.

They seem far too close to horoscopes to me, except of course that horoscopes are based on the alignment of the stars while personality tests claim to be based on psychology and research into human behaviour; for decades though I have rejected both of them as being more on the side of worthlessness than worth.

It really is just a personal quirk, as millions of other people, including those who work in HR departments, find these tests both informative and fascinating. And perhaps it is just in my nature to object to these tests at all, because according to the one I completed most recently, being put in a box of any sort drives me bonkers.

Yep, I took a personality test recently, and while the results seemed quite accurate, I was perhaps most astonished in that I have taken this test a few years ago, and it seems, somehow, my personality has changed in the intervening time.

This time my tests revealed me as an adventurer, someone who is fiercely independent and yet an introvert. It showed me to be unpredictable and someone who rejects tradition, convention and normalcy in favour of the untried, the untested and the unusual.

This is a far cry from what my test showed five years ago. And perhaps that is what bothers me most about these tests, as our answers very much depend on our true understanding of ourselves.

Five years ago I doubt anyone would have called me independent, let alone fiercely so; I was quite predictable and had been for years. I lived a very traditional and normal life, happy to be considered quite usual as opposed to someone who seeks things that are beyond the norm; and as such I expect I answered my personality test questions in that manner.

Five years ago, I may have still been an adventurer, but I suspect it was cloaked under who I “thought” I was or who I was expected to be; the wife, the mother, the quiet one who stayed at home.

And then, one day, almost as if a light bulb that had been dimmed for a very long time suddenly brightened, I began to remember who I was a long time ago, when I was far younger.

Unpredictable. Adventurous. Spontaneous. And frankly, always wise enough to know the consequences, but on occasion risky enough to play with them just to see where things might end.

I think that is the real trouble with personality tests; they require a firm enough understanding of oneself to answer not only honestly but with self-truth rooted in knowing who you really are, not who you may appear to others to be, or who you pretend to be.

Even when I did the recent personality test I objected to the idea of my unpredictability, arguing I was far too staid and set in my ways to be unpredictable; and then I reflected on all the crazy-ass, spontaneous, absurd, slightly bizarre, carrying-the-secret-to-my-grave things I have ACTUALLY done in my life and realized the truth of this trait, even if I was tempted to deny it.

And so, perhaps now, after fifty years on the planet and a difficult, occasionally painful but equally joyous journey of self-discovery and learning, I have learned who I really am, fiercely independent, unpredictable, adventurous and yet deeply sensitive.

Perhaps it is in learning who we are not that we learn who we are; this seems to have been the path I had to follow.

And while I now, grudgingly, accept that personality tests may well have some degree of accuracy, I have an even firmer belief that they are only as good as our self-knowledge, coloured by how we see ourselves and whether or not that point of view is accurate.

But unlike horoscopes, which will for me forever remain in the land of worthlessness, I can now read my personality test results and find some degree of worth, as glimmers of who I am shine through.

Do I think I – or anyone – can ever really be captured entirely in a personality test?

No. But do I think there is a chance that on occasion they can capture a glimpse of who we are, and perhaps even help us to see how we have changed?

Yes. And for me, that is a most unpredictable answer, too.

Who Are You? Take the Test!

who-are-you-question-ha-011

Thanks For Visiting. The End.

It’s deja vu, of course.

Another celebrity, another fly-over, another agenda, another drive-by assassination attempt on the industry that fuels my community.

And thousands of words written and spoken and tweeted and Facebook posted and blogged, filled with outrage and anger, and in the end, what happens?

Nothing.

Nothing changes, as it’s a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing, just as it always is when celebrities decide to visit my community and express their “deep concern” over our industry.

It’s a vicious cycle, as they drop in, they stir up the hornet nest, the media reports, the locals go into defensive hyper-drive and then they fly away, never to be seen again in our community, and life?

Well, life goes on, theirs and ours.

Why do we allow them to do this to us time and time again? Why do we even dignify their visits with our outrage and our anger and our time and our emotions?

My chosen response is now this:

Dear X,

Thanks for visiting.

The end.

It’s all they deserve, no matter the song titles or movie credits attached to their name. They don’t deserve our ink, our words or our emotions, because frankly, we have other needs for those right now, like helping our community to rebuild and recover.

And in the future, they will come and they will go, their little journeys into the heart of our community driven by their own agendas and egos and money and whatever it is that motivates them to come here; and at the end of every single visit exactly one thing will have changed:

Nothing.

And if each of these visits results in exactly nothing, what should we be giving them in return?

Well, nothing. It seems like a fair exchange, really. Let them go through the effort of coming here, expressing their “concerns” and repay their efforts with absolute, complete and resolute indifference.

Because I suspect nothing is more infuriating than when their status is met with a total lack of response, and what they think is met with utter indifference because we know, with certainty, that it just does not and will not matter, not tomorrow, not today and not ever.

So yeah, thanks for visiting.

The end.

 

 

 

 

Platitudes, Panic and Pediatricians

The announcement of the impending departure of a local pediatrician this week would have been troubling enough in a community with a strong young family demographic but when he began to give media interviews indicating his reason for departure as concern over the safety of children due to the current on-call system for pediatricians at our local hospital, it became more alarming than troubling.

 
Physicians rarely give such interviews or make statements such as this publicly; these are serious allegations, and physicians who make them without grounds place themselves in serious risk of professional and even personal sanctions from their professional organization, their colleagues and the government. It is undoubtedly a bold move for any physician to do so, and one has to realize they are either deeply concerned in doing it, or deeply foolish.

 
When the physician in question is one who has garnered tremendous respect, with reportedly 5,000 patients in his care, it would be reasonable to assume he is more likely deeply concerned. And if a physician who is part of the medical system is deeply concerned, then as community members we should be, too.

 
I have been very fortunate in that I and my family have always received excellent general and emergency medical care in our community. Every visit to the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre Emergency Room has resulted in good care, and I have no personal complaints in this regard. However, as someone who has been impacted by the lack of specialty medical care in my community (in my particular case, a local or even visiting ophthalmologist), I am well aware that living in a smaller and remote northern community can be exceedingly difficult when you have a medical concern that requires specialty care. The loss of a pediatrician, regardless of his role as an on-call pediatrician for emergency services, is a concern, as the loss of every medical specialist has the potential to impact quality of life for the residents of this community. His patients, many of whom undoubtedly have specific medical concerns, have every right and reason to be alarmed by his departure, and his concerns over pediatric patients in the ER should not be discounted in any way, and yet Alberta Health Services, in responding to his media interviews, seems to take these concerns rather more lightly than one would hope.

 

This response, posted in an online AHS blog, seems to fall slightly more on the “throwing shade” side of defense than an actual articulate and reasoned presentation of the reassuring facts. Comments made that they were not aware of his departure and the 90-day notice a physician must give in order to move or close their practice seem more intended to distract from the real issue at hand: whether or not pediatric patients are at risk in our local hospital due to the current on-call system that sees practicing pediatricians pulled from their practices, offices and patients when an emergency requiring a pediatric specialist arises.

 
While AHS contends this system has been in place for decades, that alone is hardly reassurance nor a reason to think all is well, as simply because something has worked for a long time does not mean it works well now. In fact, this reasoning may be one of the greatest threats in every human endeavor and not just medicine, as it leads to complacency and an unwillingness to make changes.

 
What was lacking in the AHS response was three things:
1) Data showing that pediatric patients do not wait for excessive time periods to see a pediatric specialist in the ER and that pediatric patients in our community are “well served” as a whole
2) Evidence showing a lack of negative outcomes from the current on-call system (surely they must collect data of this nature, and if not then I have some questions as to how they can contend it is working)
3) Acknowledgement that this situation is deeply alarming for parents and residents of this community, particularly at a time when many individuals are still recovering from a traumatic year and assessing their ongoing quality of life in our community.

 
Platitudes developed as a PR response simple won’t reassure anyone in this situation. The fear, anxiety and almost palpable panic this has created in our community is clear when talking to parents and visiting social media pages they frequent; the departure of one pediatrician (and the rumoured departure of a second) is worrisome enough, but this is not the first physician who has expressed concerns about health care in our region (although most have done far less publicly) or who has left the community. In 16 years, I have been through 5 family physicians, not because I have chosen to change them but as they have left the community citing overly heavy workloads and their own quality of life as factors in their decision. I came here from a very small community in northwestern Ontario with sincere hopes my chronic eye disease would receive better treatment, and have been sadly disappointed to see those hopes dashed as my move from a community of 3,000 people to one of over 80,000 people resulted in no difference in care as I still travel to see a medical specialist and still have no local access to an ophthalmologist, emergency, resident or visiting.

 
And perhaps that is what bothers me most about the AHS response; in their assertion that pediatric patients are “well served”, I wonder if they think other medical concerns in this community are equally well served, like my own, or like mental health concerns for youth, or any of the other myriad issues requiring specialty medical care which are, quite frankly, NOT well served in this community. Does the phrase “well served” become the “home free” of this government agency funded through our tax dollars, and they believe they can walk away without addressing the concerns and anxiety that exists? And by not countering this assertion that we are “well served”, are we allowing them to believe this to be true?

 
Not so fast, AHS. Platitudes will not reassure in this case. Provide some data, discuss some facts and counter the claims this respected pediatrician has made in a manner that befits the alarm he has raised. If the facts support your assertion, provide them, and be prepared for a dialogue with residents of this community as we want to share with you our concerns regarding our own medical experiences, and those of our families. Understand that to some degree this is still a community in crisis, and it is not “situation normal” in our region as we continue to recover from the events of 2016. Tell us about your efforts to recruit new physicians, share with us the data you have developed indicating the system is working and if there are challenges, be honest and transparent about them, as we are already aware they exist. Show us you have a plan to address them, and assure us you will work with our physicians and us to ensure the kind of health care system that helps us to build a robust quality of life in our region.

 
For residents of the region with concerns over health care, pediatric or otherwise, I recommend emailing the Alberta Minister of Health Sarah Hoffman. Share your stories, express your concerns and ensure your voice is heard as the only way to effect change is to be part of making it happen.

 
This story is not over – and it is not even truly the beginning, as I have been here for 16 years and during that entire time health care and access to it has been an issue, particularly any form of specialty medical care. This is an ongoing issue that has flared and subsided over a very long time, and is likely to do so for a long time to come; but we have an opportunity at this point to ask for some answers as in this case some very serious, and very troubling, allegations have been made.

 
It is now up to Alberta Health Services to respond to them – and with something more than a blog post containing platitudes and hollow reassurances.

2016: Those Moments

Ah, New Year’s Eve, that date filled with both remnants of the past year and glimmers of hope for the one yet to come; an arbitrary dividing line we devised ourselves, and yet cling to as if it is written in the stars.

It has been interesting to watch as the end of 2016 approached, as there has been an outpouring of emotion against one set of twelve months that began on January 1 and ends tonight. There have been various reasons for this angst, those anxious to usher 2016 out the door and welcome 2017, and equally as interesting has been the reaction of those who have tried to convince those who declare 2016 an “annus horriblis” that it actually wasn’t a bad year at all.

The thing we seem to forget is that no one lived 2016 like we did. We each have our own experience of this period of time, those moments each as unique as we are, and no experience is exactly similar. The truism of this was brought home to me when 88,000 people evacuated the same city due to the same natural disaster and not one had the same experience.

Just as in that experience, our experience of the past year is unique to us, and no one can tell us whether it was a “good” or “bad” year – it was, after all, 366 days (being a leap year) of our experiences, not theirs.

We have a tendency to tell people how they “should” feel. And the mantra is often: Don’t be sad, don’t be angry, don’t be, heaven forbid, negative. Be happy, be positive – always!

I know the hazard of this approach very well, as after my mother’s unexpected death I denied myself the opportunity to grieve, only to discover grief would then manifest itself as a physical illness that led to months of medical visits, procedures and anxiety, until I finally learned all I needed to do to heal was to allow myself to feel what I needed to feel.

I am so very happy for those who had wonderful years in 2016; for myself, when a friend challenged me to rate it – was it 60/40 good vs bad, 70/30, 50/50? All I could respond is that it was a blur, an entire year in which so much happened both good and bad and happy and sad and entirely unexpected that it makes my chest tighten just thinking about it.

Nobody was with me when I stood in a field and watched my city burning, and nobody was in my car with me when I lived as a nomad for a month, just a travelling band of three confused but committed felines who, through the experience, have bonded to me like glue and can now be found within inches of me at all times.

Nobody but my daughter knows the words I said to her on the phone as I stood in that field, those moments when I was calculating my own odds of survival, and, for the very first time in five decades of life, realized they may be lower than I would like.

Nobody knows how I felt when I was finally reunited with her a couple of days later, my physical survival now ensured but my emotional compass spinning wildly as I began to comprehend what had happened to me and the community I have come to love.

Nobody was in my head for all the other moments, the highs and the lows, the laughs and the tears. Even if they were present, right there beside me, their experience differed from my own.

2016 was my year. And it was your year too.

However you feel about it – happy, sad or indifferent, you are entitled to feel it, regardless of what factors led you to develop those sentiments towards it.

I learned a lesson long ago when my mother died. I will never deny how I feel about anything and try to push those feelings down in order to feel the way others feel or think I should feel; they are not me, and I am not them. I will not tell them how they should feel, because their experience is theirs alone, and I am in no position to judge because I have not lived their lives.

And how do I feel about 2016 in the end? It was not the worst year of my life; it was not the best. It was a year filled with those moments, so many emotions that it would be difficult to capture in something as simple as calling it “good” or “bad”.

It was, in my lifetime, utterly unique, and for that reason alone I find myself strangely grateful to have lived it, because life is about experience, and 2016 was, barring all else, one helluva ride.

As 2017 looms large, I look ahead with optimism, because that is what I do and who I am, the eternal optimist; and I reflect on the past twelve months – 527, 040 minutes – with respect, with reverence, with joy, with sorrow, with happiness, with sadness and with immense gratitude that I was here to live them.

In 2016, one of my favourite Canadian bands played their final concerts. The lead singer, someone I have adored since adolescence, chose to cease performing due to the early onset dementia he suffers. Watching that concert vicariously through friends who were there was another one of those moments in 2016 when the emotions could just not be captured in one word. The band also happens to be responsible for my favourite New Year’s song, a bit dark and irreverent, and yet brimming with enthusiasm and somehow joyful, too.

Your new year will not be defined by this New Year’s Eve, or January 1. There is another entire year ahead, and it too will be filled with those moments – own every one of them, whether they are happy or sad or both of those and everything in between.

Because those moments, my friends? Those moments are life.

Happy New Year – and welcome, 2017. I stand ready for your moments.

Target Fixation: License to Drive

I got my driver’s license at the age of 33.

That’s one of those bits of information about myself that I tend to hold onto for those “ice breaker” moments at meetings when you are asked to share your name, role and “something nobody would know about you”. It’s innocuous, it’s mildly interesting, and it’s a bit unusual, so it works well in those settings and has stood me in good stead more than once.

One of the things I don’t always share in those moments is that I also took Driver’s Education – for the second time in my life – at the age of 33. Having done it before at the age of 15, but never following through with that whole pesky “getting a license” business, I thought it was wise to do a refresher course in driving with the driving instructor in the very small town I lived in at that time.

My driving instructor was undoubtedly more accustomed to younger pupils. He had abundant patience though, and lessons were going fairly well until one day, for about the fifth time, I found myself veering towards a large wooden bear-proof garbage bin while he yelled “brake, brake” before I could smash it into matchsticks.

There we were, stopped just shy of a garbage bin, when he mopped his brow and glared at me with frustration, the first time I had seen that expression on his face.

“Do you know what your problem is?”, he finally asked. “You don’t look where you want to go.”

I spluttered indignantly for a moment, astonished at this revelation. Of course I was looking where I wanted to go. The fact that I was steering towards the garbage bin (again) was just a freak coincidence, not evidence that I was in some way distracted or worse, looking at that garbage bin and allowing it to become my focal point.

He listened to my attempts at defense, and then said: “The truth, Theresa, is that you will steer towards what you are looking at. If it’s straight ahead, you will go straight. If it’s to the side, you will veer that way. And if it is towards a garbage bin, then you will head right for it.”

Look where you want to go.

It’s called “target fixation”, an actual phenomenon in which we will steer towards what we look at, and it took me until I was 33 and learning to drive to truly understand it.

A few weeks later, both to his intense relief and mine, I passed my driving test, without once hitting a garbage bin and having learned a powerful lesson about driving.

The reality, of course, is that my driving instuctor had given me good advice on both steering my car, and steering my life.

Perhaps this year, during times of challenge and uncertainty, this thoughtful advice has given me more direction than ever before. And I think it is sound advice not only for us as individuals, but for organizations, governments and communities.

Where do you want to go? Do you want to live in the past, enmeshed by the events of the last few months, or do you want to move into the future? Do you want to spend precious time breaking down the could-haves, should-haves, would-haves and rolling them around in your head, or do you want to explore what the future could hold?

It is your choice, and yours alone. And where you look will undoubtedly direct where you will go.

If you look into the past, there is a terrible chance you will end up mired there, unable to move ahead. If you allow yourself to be distracted by the endless side shows that exist in our world, the incessant “hey-lookit-me’s” then you will find yourself headed towards them and steering off your path.

But if you truly want to steer into the future – to move on and to move ahead – then you must focus on it, and look to where you want to go.

It’s a pretty simple concept, but it’s one we quickly forget when it comes to our lives, even if we practice it daily when we drive. We find ourselves looking in directions we don’t really want to go, and almost against our will we find ourselves steering towards them, not even understanding why we are heading that way.

And it is because we have chosen to look in their direction, into the past behind us or the dead-ends or the paths meandering far away from where we actually want to be. It is normal and it is natural and it happens to all of us from time to time, because we forget that in the end, 100 percent of the time, we will steer towards the direction we look.

Life goals, employment goals, community goals; all of these can be attained by simply holding fast to our course and looking towards them. As soon as we look towards the garbage bins of hopelessness, negativity, anger, frustration and despair, we will head right for them.

If we are lucky, we hit the brake before we hit them. If we are not, we collide with them, and the trick becomes steering our way out of them.

I wonder if my driving instructor ever realized that those words, meant to help a 33-year old woman finally get a driver’s license, held far more significance than simple driving advice.

It was sound advice for driving a car – and a life. And it’s sound advice as we move from a year of challenges into another year that will undoubtedly hold new challenges, too. If we continue to look where we want to go, we will steer towards it and one day find ourselves at the destination we have chosen.

Or we can end up in the garbage bins, surrounded by a place we didn’t want to go and unsure how we ended up there in the first place.

The choice is ours. You hold the driver’s license.

Now look where you want to go. 

And hit the gas.