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A reflection on my birthday about another difficult year, plus book and music recommendations for the winter.
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Mission Creek after the first snow fall
Today is my birthday. For the past eleven birthdays, I have been sitting down to write about the last year and reflect on what has happened. Some have been easier to write than others, but this year I don’t feel like writing. It’s been a year of humbling events that has pushed me to further growth- or, at least, that is what I keep reminding myself after every event that happens to keep challenging me.

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Like last year, it is difficult to sit down and write this. I find this year to be even harder than last year, because the disruption to my life was more in my control which has lead to more disappointment. I felt myself sliding down at the end of 2021 and set out goals at the end of January with my post, Let’s Communicate, as a way to correct the course. I was feeling pretty good about them through the month of January, and then things went sideways with property management for me in February.

With property management in BC, people are required to have a license through a regulatory body. It was a big achievement for me when I first passed the course and exam in 2015, then found a brokerage to work with in early 2016. I felt fairly confident with the longterm success I would have in the first six months of the role after several discussions with the managing broker at the time and her administrative assistant. After six months, the work became increasingly more difficult and stressful to the point where I started questioning whether this was a longterm path for me. My license renewal came up after two years, and the decision was made to give it another two years to see where things would go. I had hoped they would improve.

In the second set of two years (year 3 and 4), a lot happened to me in the profession. I partially touched on the events in last year’s birthday post. The short story is after a year and a half (after renewal) of difficult situations with clients and tenants, my management contracts were purchased by a company I did not want to be associated with. I had to move onto another brokerage, starting anew. That lead to the second renewal (after year 4) and a newfound optimism about finishing my managing broker’s license. I pushed through the renewal process, rather reluctantly if I am being honest with myself now.

Most of the events that happened during the fifth year of property management were mentioned last year. Those events lead to me leaving that brokerage for my fourth brokerage in nearly five years of property management. The sixth year of property management ended up being the most challenging for me. I was cautious with writing about it last year because I was right in the thick of things. There are too many stories and situations to cover, most of which are rather boring compared to my stories working as a front desk agent at hotels. To be fair, nothing can compare to working a front desk shift and having a gun go off in front of the hotel entrance after the neighbouring bar closed.

The property management stories basically centre around verbal and emotional abuse, from clients and tenants. It Is a bit strange to sit here and remember that the main reason why I wanted to get into property management in the first place was trying to prevent the mistreatment of tenants by landlords. I still believe that tenants get mistreated often by landlords, but what I did not realize at the beginning was how easily and quickly both sides turn on you when things don’t go their way. 2021 had started with the most abusive attack yet from clients, which lead to a year full of it from both sides and not much support behind me from work. I thought I was weathering the storm fairly well until the fall, when I started to fall apart.

I wish I could write more about what happened during the fall to me, most of which I kept private from everyone else. Like I mentioned earlier, I was in the thick of it and could not process what was happening to me properly. Needless to say, it was the catalyst that ultimately pushed me away from property management, likely for good. I did not go through the third renewal for my license and gave up property management as a career in February of this year.

It’s been nearly nine months now. Nine months of regrouping, reflecting, and dreaming. And depression.

A lot of people seemed to have made similar shifts during the pandemic, between 2020 and late 2021. It hasn’t been written about much that I have read, but I think a lot of people in the middle (3-5+ years beyond University and set in a working career) used the time during the pandemic to think about what they wanted from life more. Some upgraded their skillsets, others moved cities, and others shifted how they worked. There was a lot of change as people discovered the work/life balance they were seeking or realized how miserable their jobs really were. A few local examples include a meeting I had with a man who left Australia on a whim to move to Canada to work at a hotel here in the Okanagan, or Courtney Valiquette who gave up her corporate job in wineries to pursue her design career. Both of them took time during the pandemic to think about what they really wanted from their lives and make the change.

The pandemic was slightly different for me, trying to sustain my career with all the changes going on and adapting to my daughter’s needs with the changing school days. I didn’t feel like I had that opportunity for a clean break from property management and kept thinking, “I can make this work.” This year though, taking a break from property management, allowed me to think more about what I wanted from my life. It also made me realize how valuable downtime is and being able to control the time in our lives. At the same time, it gave me a lot of dark days to live through.

Ironically, I wrote the ‘Let’s Communicate’ post on Bell’s Let’s Talk Day, the pseudo national day of talking about mental health, a month or two before the depression started to really hit my body. I had experienced low days through my life, as I am sure everyone has as an adult. I never thought I had experienced depression until this year though. I don’t think I need to explain how it feels. There are far better writers out there that can explain how one feels when they are battling depression, but I will note that it is beyond a mental experience. I felt it as deep physically as I did mentally, something which I was not quite prepared for.

During the early part of this battle, I started listening to an audiobook from a respected writer to help me understand what was happening to me and find a way back to normalcy. I found myself nodding along while listening to it, but this passage stopped me in my tracks:

“What if depression is, in fact, a form of grief—for our own lives not being as they should? What if it is a form of grief for the connections we have lost, yet still need?”

— Johann Hari, Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression - and the Unexpected Solutions

I have found myself thinking about that passage since the beginning of the year when I heard it. Approaching mid-life, it has me wondering if the depression, the feeling that our lives are not the way they should be, is the real trigger for the mid-life crises that people experience. Life in my 40’s has certainly been a humbling experience for me in multiple ways. Not being in a relationship, not having a secure home that I own, not having a secure career like my parents had, and so on. It is increasingly more difficult not to compare myself to other people my age, and now people who are younger who made better decisions or had different opportunities than I did.

What triggered the depression for me was feeling like a failure, again. I couldn’t make a career in property management work, just like how I couldn’t make a career in technical theatre work. I don’t blame God, the Universe, fate, however you want to phrase it, which makes it feel worse. There was a lot in my control that I failed to prepare for as best I could.

It has left me wondering, “What’s next?” and, “What do I need to work on?”

I wish I had a clear answer for myself.

Right now, for the next year, the focus is going to be on the hospitality consultant business I have been building for nearly 12 years. The last six years, it was tucked to the side while I focused on property management. Over the last few months, I have discovered that I really enjoy connecting with other hotelier professionals far more than I did with property owners or tenants. Sharing stories, helping them grow their businesses, discovering new things about the hotel industry, and learning more from various resources to improve my skillset. Property management felt like I was finding new ways to deal with crap rather than really building my skills and knowledge.

In hindsight, I should have heeded the words of Kelly Handerek, a directing professor at the University of Regina. It was the final year of my studies when we were having a chat about what was going to happen next for me. I told him that I was interested in pursuing theatre administration. To paraphrase his answer, “Do you want to spend every day dealing with toilet paper?”

After six years of dealing with plugged toilets; septic fields plugged up and backing up into showers; sump pumps plugged and backing up into basement suites; and so much other shit, the answer to Kelly’s question is a definitive, “I am done with shit.”

I am very glad this year is done and I can look forward to new challenges in life of my own choosing.

Adams River, BC

Read the previous birthday posts for myself and my daughter.

Book Recommendations

Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression - and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari. I have to start with this one since I mentioned it in the post. I listened to the audiobook, read by Johann, after seeing him on Real Time with Bill Maher and a podcast interview with Bari Weiss. Those discussions were about his latest book, Stolen Focus: Why You Can't Pay Attention--and How to Think Deeply Again, which I haven’t read yet. I enjoyed his interviews and decided to see what else he had written. ‘Lost Connections’ is his investigation into why the easy solution of taking medications for depression doesn’t seem to work for everyone, and what are the true causes of depression. I found it fascinating and encourage anyone struggling with their mental health to read it.

The Nineties by Chuck Klosterman is a book I wrote about earlier in the year. I really enjoyed going back in time to some of the major cultural moments of my youth and the lead up to my 20s. The audiobook was read by Chuck Klosterman, which makes it an easy listen. If you want a taste of the book without buying it, listen to his interview with Bill Simmons or Tyler Cowen (which includes a transcript).

Who by Fire by Matti Friedman. This is the story of Leonard Cohen heading to Israel during the Yom Kippur War of the early 1970s. He toured around the country, not to play for citizens, but to play for the soldiers on the front lines. The book is based on an unfinished transcript by Cohen and interviews with people. A truly fascinating, and unbelievable story in some ways. I can’t fathom Drake (who was a similar age to Cohen) travelling through Ukraine to perform for their soldiers on the front lines. Definitely listen to Matti Friedman’s interview with Bari Weiss about the book, which includes snippets of the songs Cohen sang on the tour and wrote immediately afterwards. It ends with a reflection on how popular Cohen remained in Israel years after his tour.

Escape into Meaning: Essays on Superman, Public Benches, and Other Obsessions by Evan Puschak. This book is a collection of essays written by one of my favourite video essayists. Evan publishes on YouTube under the Nerdwriter channel which covers a variety of topics. Everything from taking a part a piece of art to dissecting a style of film to how an actor acts. His first book of essays is equally as varied, but each essay flows nicely into the next. I think my favourite essays of this bunch are the beginning ones on the internet as our mind and the cyberpunk genre (think Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell).

Music

I listened to Meute every chance I could when I didn't know what to listen to. Their live performance in Paris is amazing. This is a good introduction to their sound.

And I really enjoyed the soundtrack for Rings of Power:

And, finally

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