On being … the true reward

By Ingrid Sapona

About a year ago a fellow in my building (I’ll call him Roger) came to my door to canvass for someone who was running in a local election. Shortly after that, I started running into Roger and his wife (I’ll call her Sarah) in the gym. One day, when no one else was around, Roger confided that he hopes to run for Parliament in the 2015 election, but first he must run for his party’s nomination.

Roger’s not a particularly outgoing type and he certainly doesn’t come across like a glad-handing politician. After chatting a bit more, though I’ve never supported a candidate or even joined a political party, I agreed to support Roger. Though he’s got many good ideas and earnestly believes he can make a difference, my main reason for signing on to his campaign is because I admire his willingness to put himself out there. I figure if there’s something I can do to help him try to realize such a significant personal goal, why not try?

A few weeks ago I ran into Sarah alone in the gym – it was the first time we had to chat one-on-one. I asked her if Roger’s always had political aspirations, or whether this is something she didn’t realize she had signed on to when she married him. She laughed and said she always knew he was interested in politics. I told her I admired her patience, as she sits through every meeting, hearing the same things again and again, and how she pleasantly greets each person. She said she enjoys accompanying Roger because they’ve met so many interesting people.

When I told her I admire Roger’s willingness to run and face rejection, she said that Roger has learned that you can’t take it personally. I said I think that’s easier said than done. She said that when Roger first seriously started thinking about running, they discussed it and came to the conclusion that it’d be a win-win. I’m sure I had a puzzled look on my face, so she continued, “You know, sometimes I don’t know what to wish for. If we win, we go to Ottawa and that would be really exciting. If we lose, well, we’ve met a bunch of really terrific people along the way and we’ve had fun!”

I told Sarah’s rationale to a few friends and each time I did, I prefaced it with, “I think this is going to be part of an On being …, I just haven’t quite figured out how it relates to my life.” Well, something I heard last night on the finale of Master Chef Canada reminded me of what Sarah said and helped me understand why it’s been tumbling around in my head for weeks now.

This is the first season of Master Chef Canada. I caught a couple of episodes early on, but I had a hard time understanding why people would put themselves through that. I know the winner gets $100,000, but the pressure of cooking on camera and having to smile as someone critiques your dish and then having to say “thank you chef” – no matter what they said about your food – seems crazy to me. Though I liked some contestants better than others, I always felt bad for the person who was booted off.

About a month ago I was in the gym when a commercial for the show came on. A woman on the stationary bike asked if I’d seen the show. When I said yes, she proudly said, “I’m on it!” I did a double take and managed to figure out her name was Marida. (That’s her real name, by the way.) Since the series was still on, I knew she couldn’t reveal who won, but I asked her about the experience.

She said it was very intense, but she loved it. When I asked if the contestants were at least well paid for being on the show, I was shocked to hear it was winner-take-all and none of them – other than the winner – received anything for being on. I told her that I like cooking, but I couldn’t imagine being judged by the chefs and the other contestants, or being subjected to comments on social media. Marida acknowledged that sometimes it was hard to take, but she learned a lot and she was very glad she did it.

Well, it turns out Marida made it into the finals. She was up against Eric (that’s his real name too) a 21-year-old Chinese-Canadian who quit his job as an engineer to be on the show. He was the youngest contestant and he often said he wanted to do well to prove to his family that he’s a talented enough cook to open a restaurant. At the start of the finale, as a surprise to the contestants, their families were brought out. After Eric’s father admitted to one of the chefs that he was proud of his son, Eric said, “I feel like I’ve won already”. (In the end it was very close and Eric ended up being named Canada’s Master Chef.)

Though it may seem odd to compare running for office to being on Master Chef Canada, the similarities became crystal clear to me the moment I heard Eric’s response to his father’s praise. The most obvious thing they have in common is that they’re both winner-take-all. They also involve high potential for rejection, which explains why they make me uncomfortable. But what Sarah’s win-win comment – and Eric’s comment after receiving his father’s praise – made me realize is that I often focus on the risk of rejection and failure, rather than on the true rewards, which are all the things you learn and the people you meet on the journey.

© 2014 Ingrid Sapona


On being … bucket list-less

By Ingrid Sapona

There was a sad/uplifting story in the paper the other day about a 64-year-old woman who last fall received the heart of a 21-year-old nursing student who was killed in an accident. After her parents donated her organs, among her things they found a bucket list she had written. It seems it was a fairly long list (especially for a 21-year-old) and, unbelievably, one of the items on it was that she wanted to save a life. Well, her organs ended up saving more than one life.

As I mentioned, the article was really about the woman who received the heart. It turns out she’s a retired nurse and she’s had a bucket list of her own that she’s been working on over the years. Before receiving the heart she had already accomplished many of the things on her list and, with the strength of the new heart, she’s been able to continue crossing items off her list. 

But the story doesn’t end there. Somehow the donor’s parents met the retired nurse and learned she too has a bucket list. Ironically, when they compared lists, they realized many of the items were on both lists. As a tribute to the donor, the retired nurse has decided to tackle the donor’s list, as well as her own.

The story was very moving, for sure. But, when I finished reading it, I had the same unsettled feeling I always do when the topic of bucket lists comes up. Though you always hear wonderful stories of adventures people have had ticking things off their list, having one has never appealed to me. I’m sure part of what puts me off about bucket lists is the idea of death as a motivator. I know that’s a pretty negative way of looking at it, but that’s how I see it.

In wrestling with my discomfort at the thought of having a bucket list, I wondered whether by not having one, I’m missing out on. To analyze this, I started reflecting on adventures and experiences I’ve enjoyed that some might figure would be on a bucket list, if I were to have one. A number of different experiences came to mind, but I’ll only mention a few.

The first I thought of was an experience I had just a couple weeks ago at a glassblowing workshop a friend and I went to. The whole thing came about when my friend came across a coupon for the workshop and asked if I’d be interested in going with her. I think she knew that glasswork is one of my favourite types of art and so I don’t think she was surprised when I immediately said sure!

The seminar was really neat – unlike any other craft I’ve ever tried. I’m really glad she heard about it and asked me to join her. But, in thinking about whether the seminar’s the type of thing I’d put on a bucket list (if I had one), the short answer is no. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it gave me an even greater appreciation for something I already love (glasswork), but it’s not an experience I would have ever thought to look for. It was, however, an opportunity I recognized as worth taking when it came up.

The second example came to mind thanks to a novel I’m reading about a lighthouse keeper in Australia in the early 1900s. I’ve always been fascinated by lighthouses. I find them majestic and oddly romantic. The story immediately reminded me of a unique experience I had in Australia years ago when I visited a friend who was on sabbatical there. She and her husband had travelled around a fair bit before I visited them and they found a B&B in a former lighthouse keeper’s cottage. She asked me if it was the type of thing I’d be interested in. With no hesitation, I said yes! It was fantastic. The cottage was quaint and the setting – a remote ledge where earth meets ocean – was spectacular.

In thinking about that experience, I again considered whether it would be on my bucket list. Objectively, I could see how you’d think it would be. But the thing is, it wasn’t an experience I sought out, which seems to me to be a hallmark of a bucket list item. In contrast, the girlfriend who found the lighthouse B&B recently mentioned that she was doing some research on-line trying to find architecturally interesting or unusual places to stay – like treehouses and caves. I’m guessing she and her husband have a bucket list!

Another example of a once-in-a-lifetime experience I had that one would certainly think is bucket list-worthy was a three-day winter adventure near Algonquin Park. A friend of mine had been on the trip and it sounded so fun, I got the name of the outfitter and booked myself in for the following winter. It was a truly memorable trip, the highlights of which were guiding a sled pulled by six excited huskies and our mountain-man tour leader showing us how to build a fire in the snow and then setting up a reflector oven on which he baked us chocolate chip cookies! 

Each of these experiences have enriched my life and left me with wonderful memories, but I didn’t really seek any of them out. Instead, they kind of came to me. The way I see it, as long as you keep your eyes and ears out for interesting things and you’re game to say yes when opportunities arise, no bucket list is required…

© 2014 Ingrid Sapona