Seven years later

Nine days ago I sat down in an Edmonton cafe to write a letter to a friend. That letter took me 2.5 hours to write. And nearly four full sheets of paper.

The subject?

The “ordeal” I went through from May 11, 2009 until Oct. 23, 2009 — my brief but life-altering time living and working in Meadow Lake, Sask.

It was in that town (now city) where I first started this blog.

Anyway.

It’s been seven years since I hopped on a plane en route to Meadow Lake via Saskatoon. It was a very hard thing to do. I’d never been out on my own for real (university doesn’t really count, because that’s only four months at a time).

This was Tim living by himself, hundreds of kilometres from home, and having to care for himself and feed himself and pay bills and all that fun stuff.

And have a job — that job being the reason he was even out in Saskatchewan.

Now, looking back on that whole experience, I remain of mixed and confused thoughts.

On the one hand, it went so horribly wrong. I didn’t really know what to expect entering the journalism workforce fresh out of school. I didn’t realize the amount of work and pressure I would be under.

I had been a solid student journalist. I had acted two terms as a community newspaper editor-in-chief (Centretown News), albeit under the direction and tutelage of our professor. I had solid skills. I thought I could hack it.

How wrong I was.

Now, I am biased here, but I don’t feel it was all my fault. I received little to no direction and mentorship. My employer knew I was coming right out of school, and I believe the bosses knew I was from Toronto and Ottawa. Assuming that second point is true, it should have been clear I was entering a completely different environment than I had ever encountered before.

In the mid to late stages of my time there, I kept thinking to myself that they want too much out of me too quickly.

I was expected to arrive and hit the ground running.

But I needed some mentorship and understanding of my situation. I don’t feel like I got it.

Now, on the other hand, and this is the realization I’ve come to since moving to Alberta, is that Meadow Lake is unquestionably the best thing I could have done for my career.

Being new to the game, having my first job being a colossal disaster (as I interpret it) was perhaps the best thing I could have done. What better time to have your confidence shattered than right at the beginning, when you have a shorter distance to fall?

My time in Meadow Lake was integral to teaching me what it takes.

You need to get over your apprehension to cold calling people (but calling deceased people’s family and friends never gets easier).

You need to just realize you’re going to have to walk up to strangers and talk to them.

You need to get comfortable quickly with sticking a camera in a person’s face.

You need to learn to be creative with story ideas and how to get them.

Yes, I got some of these lessons in J-School. But there I was also taking other classes and I wasn’t doing all journalism all the time all day. Assignments weren’t three to four stories a day, on average. They were maybe three or four a month. Or week, at the worst.

J-School was a long time ago.

But, this realization didn’t come easily.

It came through failing at a job interview in Wakefield, Que. I mean, besides the fact I am not bilingual. Why did I apply to that gig if my French is garbage?

Anyway. The woman interviewing me was the only one who actually took the time to tell me what I needed to improve on to increase my chances of getting hired.

So, because I can, here is what she said:

«…perhaps your confidence took a beating from your experience at the newspaper in Northern Saskatchewan. If I were to make one suggestion: turn that bad experience into a good one when talking to prospective employers. Sure that gig went bad, it was not a fit; you and your boss agreed on that and you quit (no need to tell me he beat you to the punch). BUT you could talk about the fact that you still learned a lot (you could describe those things specifically) and mention that you would not make the mistake again of taking a job in such an isolated place. In fact, you could mention you’d work doubly hard in a place that you liked just to make sure it turned into a positive experience…»

That was the other kick in the pants I needed. In fact, that was likely the more important kick in the pants. It made me realize I had to find the silver lining in what was a really discouraging four months of employment and five-plus months of residing in Meadow Lake.

So here I am, once again. Seven years after I landed in Saskatoon and drove up to Meadow Lake, I continue to reflect on my short time there.

It was truly influential, and without it would not have met the people I’ve met here in Westlock, Barrhead and Edmonton.

I also wish I could say this post here is cathartic, but that letter I spent 2.5 hours writing was the true catharsis.

I think it’s time to move on, but that won’t happen until September, when we hit seven years since I quit that job, and Oct. 23 when we hit seven years since I left that town.

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