It was my 21st birthday. My whole extended family was there, all my aunts and uncles, cousins and a bunch of friends. It was noisy. People had to yell to be heard over the live music and boisterous children.
“He’s so ambitious.” Uncle Eric was speaking to my father. I could overhear them speaking as I examined my haul of beer tankards and the typical English 21st Birthday keys, symbolic of reaching adulthood. “I think that lad will go places.”
A year earlier I had opened a business on a shoestring, buying and selling drums and cymbals in the basement of a guitar shop. My business was the main topic of discussion at the party. Everyone wanted to know how things were going. I was filled with enthusiasm for what I was doing. I was making money and had rented a large apartment above the store. I felt good. I had made plans to travel the globe and was telling people about the journey I intended to make quite soon.
I felt optimistic. The world was changing. Mikhail Gorbachev was making changes in the Soviet Union and there was an optimism that the world was moving towards the end of the cold war. It wasn’t all rosy but the good seemed to outweigh the bad. It was the year of Live Aid and I was at an age when I believed music could make the world a better place in a practical way. And I worked in that industry.
I grew up in a poor and ethnically diverse family. My mother’s family were Anglo-Indian, of British heritage but had been born and raised in India of mixed-heritage parents and grandparents. My father’s family were typical working-class Londoners, eking out a living in the trades or labour.
The Anglo-Indians had a sense of destiny. Intelligent and capable, none had taken on a professional career. They loved music and art, philosophy and history but it was all armchair theorizing. The Londoners worked hard and lived simple but happy lives.
This culturally mixed childhood built in me a mixture of ambition and acceptance of fate. I expected to work hard to make my way in the world but I also expected that good things would happen to me.
I went to bed that night, thinking about my uncle’s words. I hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about what I was like. If anything, I’d say I was rather insecure. But someone saw ambition in me. I thought, “That’s what I am. I’m ambitious.” I thought about being a successful businessman. I thought about living in a fancy house with a nice car, travelling to exotic places. I’d be a success.
A year later I was in a desperate situation. My savings were gone and I was facing the end of my business. A downturn in the economy was difficult to weather but then the guitar shop closed down without warning and I was left with stock that was worth pennies on the pound.
I took a job in a music store in North London and moved back in with my parents. I sold anything I could; stock that I had kept, my car, my LP records. I was in debt and it looked bad for me. My mom and dad picked up the remainder of my debt, telling me that I was too young to be burdened with money problems. They wanted me to still go on my trip. It was the kindest thing they had ever done for me and I was released from my despair. Within six months I had saved enough money to travel.
It was my intention to circumnavigate the globe. I was to start in California where I would visit my Auntie and then trek up to Canada and visit old family friends. The journey got really interesting when I met the love of my life. Linda was beautiful and funny. She made me laugh and we found that we fit together like two puzzle pieces. She was grounded, smart and hard-working. I was creative, committed and ambitious. These characteristics complimented one another to such a degree that together we were a force to be reckoned with. More than anything else, though, we were deeply in love. After more than 25 years of marriage we are still loyal to that love, choosing to spend virtually all our non-working time together. We are best friends, enjoying each other’s company more than anyone else’s.
When we were first married we considered spending some time in London so that I could finish my education, but we quickly realized that a better quality of life and opportunities lay in Canada.
Living in rural British Columbia was quite different from Chelsea. The pace of life was slower and everywhere I looked was snow and ice. It took me a while to learn how to drive in these conditions. In an effort to do anything other than forestry I found a job in a newspaper.
I approached the Caledonia Courier, in Fort St. James, for a job in their print room. I had some experience with printing, having had a job in a print shop when I was 17. But the publisher was interested in my use of English. I took a test and the next day she asked me if I was interested in a job as a journalist. I had no experience and had never thought of myself as a writer. However, I took the job and had to start the next day. I was introduced to the editor. “So of course you know how to run a word processor?” he asked. “Sure.” when I got home I asked my wife what a word processor was, thinking it was something like a big dictionary. “It’s a computer,” she told me. “Why do I need a computer to write stories? Can’t I just use a typewriter?” That night we went to the school where my wife taught, and she showed me how to run a Macintosh computer.
The next day my editor met me at the office. He explained about the word processor being custom to newspaper work. “Yeah, I’ve really only worked on Macintosh,” I told him sort of honestly.
My career as a journalist was hugely successful. Living in a remote rural community I was the news. Anything that went on was my business and people brought me the strangest tales. It was a great career for an immigrant. I really knew nothing about anything. For every story I basically had to be educated on the whole subject before I understood the issues at hand. I loved the work and meeting the colourful characters that lived out in the boonies.
My job was really just one big adventure. I got to fly around in helicopters, ride down rivers in boats, and cross the country in big rigs, trucks and snowmobiles. I never shunned an opportunity and as a result my work was good. I got myself into trouble on a couple of occasions but it was well worth it.
A few years later I was working as junior editor in Hope, BC. The job was very different from my work in the north. I was putting in long hours and writing about things I wasn’t very interested in. However, I had had some successes in competitions, receiving awards and recognition for my reporting. But when things got difficult with my employer I quit, frustrated over internal company politics and the dog-eat-dog culture of the newsroom.
It was a bad idea quitting with no job in sight. My wife was expecting our second child and I could not find work. I searched vigorously at first, expecting something to turn up but as time went by my commitment to job searching declined.
Staying at home wasn’t all bad. I became the care-giver to our two daughters, Kyra and Emily. Spending that time with my children in their formative years was a wonderful experience. It also created a deep bond that continues to this day. It was a time of developing routine, engaging in play and providing healthy experiences for my family.
It was also a time when I decided to go back to school. I was 27 and needed to acquire some credentials. I decided to apply to the BC Institute of Technology to follow a program in Media Design for Business. I could see that having had my own business, my brief experience in printing and my knowledge of media would come together to form a career as a media designer. It was a pragmatic decision. It wasn’t a decision based on what was in my heart. It was based on what was in my head.
I recognized I needed to earn some money to pay my way through school. Two friends asked me to help their job-seeking clients write resumes. It was perfect part-time work, giving me time to attend school and earn an income. I told my friends that I was with them for the short term. I would need to leave them once a real job came along. My schooling was an interesting program. It included sections on management and one of the areas I needed to study was inter-personal relations.
During this class I realized something very important. When I was a journalist I most liked meeting people. Writing was okay and seeing my name in the paper each week was cool. But I really loved working with people. I realized that the job with my friends was filling me with joy. I loved helping people with their resumes. I loved talking to them about their job search. I loved talking to them about what it was they wanted to achieve.
I met with a program advisor and told her of my revelation. “I don’t want to be a media specialist; I want to be a human services worker, most probably an employment counsellor” I told the advisor. She was a lateral thinker; someone who can look at the whole picture and then offer advice. She helped me re-organize my courses, moving some required courses into electives and some electives into required. I graduated with a business certificate. But before I had finished at BCIT I had enrolled into the Employment Counselling Certificate program at the local community college. Studying what I loved was amazing. I knew so much intuitively. Having worked in the field for a few years, I had the understanding of theory versus practice.
Not long after I completed that program, I enrolled in the Provincial Instructor’s Diploma. This was also a great program and took me to new levels of understanding as a facilitator.
I had found my passion. I was an Employment Counsellor. I loved everything to do with facilitation. I was helping people. I was offering ideas and new ways of thinking about careers and job searching. I created lesson plans and work sheets. I developed projects with my colleagues and sought funding to work with the poorest members of our society. It was joyous to be engaged as a professional, advocate and activist. There were certainly challenges along the road but they were manageable because I loved what I was doing.
After 20 years in the field I noticed changes to employment counselling that I did not like. Services for clients became more about processing than counselling. It was also a time when I had moved more deeply into administration. Administrative duties were not fulfilling and I yearned for the engagement I found in facilitation. So I took a year off work. During that year I began writing this material and started presenting the ideas and strategies that I had developed over the past two decades to other case managers around the province.
My passion wasn’t going to change so I had to change my situation to fulfill my burning desire to keep doing what I truly loved. Writing this material has served my passion because it allows me to share what I have learned about passion and goal setting with more people than I can speak to personally.