A Break

A few weeks ago I was in a meeting and something inside of me snapped. I was angry, really angry, for almost no reason and I immediately knew something had to change, and fast.

Within a few hours I had lined up some time off, a LOT of time off (for me anyway) – six weeks.

Jodi’s been trying to get me to see something for a few years now that I’ve been unable, or unwilling, to see: I have an unhealthy relationship with my work. It’s my last thought at night and my first thought in the morning, it invades my thoughts every hour of every day. It’s actually stressful to not be in constant touch with everything that happens with the team. My life orbits around my iPhone, my constant tether to the office.

So today I cut off all of my access to the office systems: social media accounts are controlled by someone else, email is being auto-deleted, Slack is gone and JIRA is gone. Right this moment I’m feeling a lot of anxiety around that in spite of the fact that it was my decision and I’ve had weeks to come to terms with it.

This all started to come to a head last year after we opened the doors to the roundhouse and it’s been getting worse every month. I knew it was coming too and I even engaged a coach to help me get ready for it. It still hit me like a ton of bricks. “You’re done Shawn, you’ve played your part in this big, amazing thing and now it’s over. The team has moved ahead of you and you’re playing catch-up. It’s time to choose, what are you going to do with your life now?”

I do my little bit in the community sometime I wonder if it’s only a distraction from work or is this something that I truly love? What part of that community sets my heart and mind on fire? Where does my passion intersect with my creativity and my utility? It’s time to look down some dark holes that I’ve been ignoring for far too long.

And what if this is just my lifetime companion making me feel this way?

Right now I only have questions but maybe the next six weeks will point me down the right path.

Here’s the part that’s going to suck: I’m going to miss the team intensely. I get to work with some incredibly talented, caring, intelligent people and that ain’t easy to leave behind. But my burnout is causing me to be short tempered and that’s not good for this team that I love (nor myself).

Monday I start seeing a councillor to try to help me deal with this shit and try to find out what Real Shawn looks like, because I only know Work Shawn now and that guy isn’t happy a lot of the time.

Let’s do this. Six weeks. Here we go.

Even the Dogs Know Ron

I’m not actually sure how long Ron was in our lives but I can still remember his face.

When I was a kid my folks broke up and my brother and I lived with my Mom. Dad was in the Canadian Forces and got transferred out west so it was just the 3 of us living together in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

My brother and I had Big Brothers for a while which was kind of nice. But after a while Mom met a really nice guy named Ron and they started dating (I guess that’s what it was, strange to think of my Mom dating now). I wasn’t even a teenager at the time but I remember spending time with Ron and I remember that he seemed to know pretty much everyone in the city, we couldn’t go anywhere without running into people that he knew and I only ever saw them greet him with a smile and a hearty handshake. My Mom used to say “even the dogs know Ron” regarding these frequent meetings.

I know now that having a man around when you’re barely 12 can have a formative effect on a kid. Ron always seemed like a stand-up guy and I’m sure that had some kind of impact on me.

And so it was for a while, Ron was often away as he worked in the oil industry doing exploratory drilling and he would be gone for many weeks and then back for weeks (I can’t recall the exact rotation) but it was good to see him return.

Then, in early 1982, Ron shipped off for another tour on the rig. It was the last time that I would see him alive.

At 7:00pm on February 14 his rig was struck by a rogue wave and his offshore drilling platform, the Ocean Ranger, was severely damaged. At 1:30am on February 15 the last communication came in, the crew was abandoning the platform. They were in the middle of a terrible storm just off the Grand Banks. There was probably never much hope for survivors, the Atlantic Ocean in the winter is an unforgiving place. All 84 souls were lost. Ron’s was one of the 22 bodies recovered.

Not long after a memorial service was held at the Basilica. I barely remember that day, it’s hard to know whether that’s just age or if it was grief but I do recall walking up to the side door of the church and seeing a dog, ownerless, quietly, sitting in front of the door.

A year after that Mom and Dad got back together and remain together to this day.

What’s the point? None really, I just woke up this morning and felt that I had to type that out.

(This whole blog is subject to change as I’m sure my Mom will refresh my 35 year old memories on this whole thing)

My Lifetime Companion*

I’ve lived with this guy for years. He & I used to have the most brutal fights imaginable. On 3 occasions he almost killed me.

When I was a teen he ruled my life. He was everywhere, all the time, screaming at me, insulting me, pulling me into the mud.

The first time he tried to kill me I got help and spent a month in the hospital. I decided that I had enough of his shit.

But there’s no shaking him. I’ve learned to live with him. Most days he stays at home by himself but some days he follows me.

Some days he’ll walks into the room when I’m laughing with my friends. Most days I’m lucky and he’ll just sit in the corner.

But sometimes he’ll whisper poison in my ear and sometimes he’ll slap me hard across the face. Fortunately not often.

And when my friends ask “what’s wrong” I’ll say “nothing” because that’s what we say isn’t it?

I’m on the wrong side of 45 now and I’ll live with him until I draw my last breath, because he is me. There’s no running away.

But knowing that gives me some kind of messed up certainty. I know there are fights ahead and I know when he’s in the room.

It’s taken decades but I’m stronger than he is now. I’ll have my moments of weakness and he’ll be there to take advantage.

But I’m a stubborn sunnovabitch and I’m not going to let him win. Of course … that’s the strong me talking isn’t it?

Tomorrow’s another day and I’ll face it as it comes. Because that’s life with my depression.

*I posted this on social media as part of Bell’s Let’s Talk effort but wanted to capture it here and World Mental Health Day seemed like a good occasion.

One Good Reason

A song just came up on my playlist and I felt compelled to write this.

Let me just say right away that I had strange taste in music as a teen (come to think of it … I have strange taste now too). My parents didn’t know who The Eagles were until the 21st century so I’m going to go ahead and blame them for that.

My recollection of all of this stuff is a bit foggy. Under the best of circumstances I don’t remember things well and these were far from the best circumstances.

As I’ve mentioned before, the 18th year of my life was bumpy, so much so that I almost didn’t have a 19th.

Immediately after my near death experience I drove to school and told my guidance councillor what I almost did. Not 5 minutes had passed and I was obviously in a pretty rough state. I told her what happened and she made a couple calls after calming me down a bit. Then we drove to the hospital.

I can’t remember a lot of the rest of the day but I checked in to the psychiatric ward. They probably asked if I’d try it again and I was certainly not in a state of mind to guarantee that I wouldn’t.

Over the course of the next 3 or 4 weeks I talked a lot and spent a lot of time by myself. I had a DiscMan with me and listened to music a lot but not a lot of music. I listened to one Paul Carrack CD for the most part.

Did I “get better”? No, not really. I was depressed and that’s not something that I’ve ever really left behind. There was no breakthrough from my time in the hospital, maybe all I needed was space. High school was a lot of noise, too many thoughts, too many pressures and my brain was ill-adapted to deal with all of that.

I checked myself out and got on with life. My friendships were never the same. Nobody knows how to deal with a kid who does something like that. One girl went so far as to write me a note saying that she needed to focus on her study and couldn’t deal with me anymore. That one still sticks with me.

I’ve had a couple of relapses since, including one close call a decade ago, but I live a very different life now. A rich life filled with excellent people, a fulfilling career and I’ve found a purpose.

The name of that Paul Carrack CD was One Good Reason and the chorus of the title song was:

Just give me one good reason baby
One good reason now
One good reason, I should
I should hang around

I have so many good reasons to hang around now. The darkness is only in the corners of my mind and heart now. Thank you to all of the wonderful people who fill my life with light and laughter.

And thank you Paul for keeping me company through the darkest time.

Death and Life

When you love your city you want it all to succeed. Every city boosting initiative, every idea that worked somewhere else, every person that has the energy and initiative to put it on the line.

They don’t all work. Many, or even most, fail and out of the ashes comes new energy, new ideas and new lessons.

Many people here in London have been aware of an initiative that’s been kicking around for years – a centre for social innovation for our city. I had the pleasure of meeting one of my role models, Mark Kuznicki, a few years back at Toronto’s CSI and have been excited to see this kind of space happen in London. Why? I hate silos. HATE them. And the city that I love is full of them. We need a space to bust up some of these silos and to get our very best and brightest working together.

We were invited to be an anchor tenant in London’s CSI a few years back. A number of locations were investigated, we were committed to the idea and wanted our skin in this game. Time marched on and our lease was coming to an end, things looked promising with the centre but we had to find a new home and we needed certainty. Backing out of the project was one of the tougher decisions that we’ve had to make.

We were very excited to hear the news this week about the pending deal for a home for the Social Innovation Shared Space (SISS).

This doesn’t come without some mixed feelings for me. Although we are gaining a potentially groundbreaking centre in our city we are also losing a century old retailer from the core as well. We’re at a crossroads of heritage, traditional retail and social innovation; all things I care deeply about.

Kingsmill’s was already up for sale but it always felt like it would be a long shot. It’s amazing that they had survived so long in this day and age of big box stores, suburban shopping malls and online retail. The clock was always ticking and we all knew it deep down.

So, while I feel a lot of joy at the birth of something extraordinary and celebrate that an extraordinary piece of our heritage will be preserved., I’ll also mourn the loss of something special.

Life’s like that.

A Moment of Clarity

Twenty six years ago I was seconds from death. I was speeding down the road in my parent’s car and as distraught as one can get. It wasn’t worth it anymore. I saw a huge truck in the oncoming lane and braced as I prepared to swerve and hit it head-on.

And then a moment of clarity.

The guy driving this truck doesn’t deserve to live his life with my suicide in his memory. Nobody does.

So I stayed in my lane and I drove to school to tell my councillor what just happened. I spent the next few weeks in the hospital “getting better”.

I’m not going to tell you that the years since have been all wine and roses, there have been some really dark times but there have been way more really amazing times. I should have given therapy a chance but never did. Life could have been much easier.

I cling to that moment of clarity, that millisecond that saved my life.

Maybe one day you’ll be there. That thought, that moment, grab it and don’t let go.


FYI: I don’t know what I’m doing

This is my journey.

My journey is to try to make my community better, to find other people that want to make this place better and to make others realize the potential in themselves to make it better. That’s it. Nothing else. I’ve no aspirations. Every project and group that I’ve ever belonged to have focussed on this single goal. Most have failed, a couple have had victories and one has met with some success.

There never was a plan (there still isn’t a plan) because I’m discovering the terrain as I go. Sure I could sit back and figure out every little detail, set a plan and execute it but I have chosen to live this journey openly so that others can share in it (not because I think it’s something remarkable but because I hope others will travel this path – hopefully for the right reasons). Every failure and success is out there. Every enlightenment, frustration and misstep.

As with all journeys you get to know people along the way. And on this particular journey you also get a peek behind the curtain. Some of it will make you happy, some will make you angry and lots of it will make you feel utterly helpless.

The anger and helplessness is enough to make most people avoid this particular path. After all, who invites this stuff into their lives? You’d need to care about something a hell of a lot to deal with this stuff.

And so I’ve come to discover how much I love London. And so I’ve come to discover how much so many other people love London. And THAT is what makes the journey worthwhile – in the end it is the people that make it awesome.

But the frustrations still get to me. The helplessness still gets to me. Sometimes I manage to keep all that poison inside and sometimes a little slips out.

Here’s the important bit: I’m just a regular guy. I have a hundred thousand faults and absolutely no plan. I’m fumbling my way through this shit as I go. I’m trying to expose myself to ideas and other valuable points of view that might help me along this road.

I choose not to look too deeply into the dark, ugly places. I choose not to be someone who looks on the bright side all the time. I choose to live with one foot in idealism and one foot in pragmatism. Depending on the day you catch me I might be more in one than the other.

If you happen to be on this road and we walk together for a while I’m bound to piss you off, confuse you with incomplete thoughts, champion your amazing ideas, cheer your victories and on the rare ocassion maybe inspire you to be a part of something bigger than either one of us.

But there’s no plan. I’m tryng to get better at the journey but I stumble, fall and backtrack all the time.

“Who does that guy think he is?”

I’m no different than you or anyone else. I have no more potential, intelligence, creativity or energy than you do.

I know the obstacles, I know the futility and I know the insanity of this journey and I hope you’re crazy enough to walk the road with me a while.

Didn’t ask to be this guy, didn’t want to be this guy but this is who the journey has made me (for better and worse).

How to completely fuck up your life.

Maybe you’re an average person,

and maybe you go home at five, get dinner ready, clean-up, flip on the TV and go to bed a few hours later,

and maybe one day you hear about some ambitious, stupid idea,

and maybe you’re going to shake your head and say “that’s nuts, why would anyone do that?”

and maybe there’s a 95% chance that you’ll walk away and give it no thought,

and maybe there’s a 5% chance that you’ll have an amazing person in your life that will talk you into giving this ambitious, stupid idea a chance,

and maybe you’ll just be at that perfectly susceptible time in your life and say “screw it, what’s the worst that can happen?”

and maybe you get involved in this ambitious, stupid project,

and maybe you believe in it,

and maybe you get a friend involved too,

and maybe it fails,

and maybe you get your heart broken,

and maybe you find out why it failed and it was for a stupid, senseless reason,

and maybe you get pissed off,

and maybe you say “I did my best and this wasn’t my fault so I’m going to try again”,

and maybe you find another ambitious, stupid idea,

and maybe you roll up your sleeves and try again,

and maybe you meet a cool person who’s trying again too,

and maybe it works this time,

and maybe it doesn’t work out like you hoped but it worked,

and maybe you hang with this cool new friend,

and maybe you learn cool stuff,

and maybe you make a few cool new friends who’ve done other ambitious, stupid stuff,

and maybe some have succeeded,

and maybe some have failed,

and maybe they do it so they can try to succeed again,

and maybe they do it because of all their cool new friends,

and maybe they do it because of YOU,

and maybe they fail,

and maybe they succeed,

and maybe you don’t measure success like you used to,

and maybe one of these cool new friends turns into something much more,

and maybe you cancel your TV because you don’t have time for it anymore,

and maybe other people see that you were just like them not so long ago,

and maybe you inspire one other person to try out their ambitious, stupid ideas,

and maybe your life is full beyond your wildest dreams,

and maybe you’re out to dinner with a neuroscientist, an artist, a flute player, an ethicist, an entrepreneur, a writer, a photographer, and a bunch of people that you just want to hug for being so awesome,

and maybe you look across the table at your beautiful partner,

and maybe you think “I’m glad I tried”.


A Friendship Evolves

Seems like forever now but just a few years ago our company was just a code shop. We took designs from other firms and we made them work on the web. That was who we were and we were somewhat content.

Then we heard that someone was thinking about making a change. One of London’s most creative people was entertaining the notion of changing careers after 11 years. It would be a big step for a bunch of code geeks but we knew it was the next stage in our evolution. We took the leap.

While we knew this would have a profound impact on our company, I had no idea how much it would impact my life. Every relationship is complicated and forming a close friendship with a colleague more so. Share a small office with a good friend for 3 years and you go through pretty much everything together. You share your heartbreaks, victories and everything in between.

None of us were surprised when nik told us it was time to go. His girlfriend had a job of a lifetime opportunity and nik would join her in KW.

Now if you hang around with nik for any length of time it will become very clear that his real artistic passion is in his painting. There’s something in that work that he can’t properly communicate to the rest of us. It’s not a landscape, it’s something more – you can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice. He wisely decided to go freelance so he could spend more time with his art.

This move then was a fantastic opportunity for both of them.

Now I have some deep character flaws – some of those are self protection mechanisms. I’ve never had to deal with much personal loss much in my life – at my age it’s a bit like getting chicken pox – it’s devastating. So I do everything I can to push loss away and avoid it. It’s a survival instinct that serves me very poorly.

I closed up and put on a mask for 5 months.

Yesterday was my friend nik’s last day at our office. On Monday he begins a new chapter and today, as I knew it would, it’s hitting me like a freight train.

My friendship with nik has always had personal and professional very tightly intertwined and, while I hope our friendship will endure, I know that it will change. This blog is just a marker along the way.  It’s been a long road and not without it’s share of bumps but I’m glad for having the opportunity to share this part of the journey with nik.

Thank you nik for lighting the way, showing patience as I try to grow and for being my friend (I know it’s not always easy).

Love and respect, Shawn

A Resolution

“Being negative is easy. There will always be a downside to everything good, a hurdle to everything desirable, a con to every pro. The real courage is in finding the good in what you have, the opportunities in every hurdle, the pros in every con.” – Carolyn Hax

I stumble on this more than I care to admit to myself. If our community is going to be a better place it has to start with my own words and actions.

I’m going to try to find the patience and courage to see the good and find the opportunity.

It starts here and it starts now.

PS – I’m hyper aware that this blog is a bit too much “me me me” and I rewrote it a couple of times to get that out of there. What it comes down to is this … any change we want to see in others or in our community has to start inside ourselves. We have to accept responsibility for our own attitudes and actions and that starts with “me”.