Saturday, March 6, 2010

Please secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others...

As a Canadian living in the US, my friends often underscore parts of my "Canadian-ness" that I take for granted. And being friends, they do so in endearing ways that make me consider these things from a new perspective.

One of these things is my bilingualism. It's often the first thing that people ask me when they find out that I'm Canadian. "Do you speak French?"

So I was tickled when a friend recently gave me two handmade badges that she said reminded her of me. These little badges were sweet but in fact, they weren't things that I would have necessarily coveted, and they weren't particularly "me" in their colour or style. Rather, they reminded her of me because they had French words on them: "oui" and "non".

I liked that.

I pinned them to my tote bag and they made me smile every time I looked at them.

They made me smile because the French reminded me of my Canadian roots but they were also a symbol of the new life that I've made in Chicago. It's a life filled with friends, with art and with love and laughter and I have appreciated every minute.

How I came to live in Chicago is an interesting story. Sort of. (I don't want to build it up too much or anything...)

I had visited Chicago twice. Maybe three times. (Hint: if you can't remember, it was unmemorable.) And that was more than ten years ago. And while I guess I enjoyed it at the time, I never really gave the city a second thought. (Oooh, the irony!)

New York? San Francisco? Those were American cities where I wanted to live. Chicago? Yeah, I've been there.

But one morning in April 2008, I woke up from a vivid dream in which I lived in Chicago. I couldn't shake it! The whole day, I was distracted by this feeling, to the point where I was forming a plan to call contacts to ask them if they knew of any jobs there for me.

At around 3:00, I received a corporate communications message via e-mail. Normally, these contained information about things that I didn't really need to know (server upgrades, construction in our building and the like) or, because of my role in. strategy, contained substantive information about which I was already aware.

(I didn't usually open them.)

But that afternoon, I felt unusually compelled to open the message.

I couldn't believe it. The first link was a job posting for a newly-created position in Chicago. I just about fell off of my chair! A job in Chicago! (I don't think I even knew that we had an office there!)

I submitted my c.v. and the rest, as they say, is history.

Moving to Chicago has meant that I've made sacrifices, both personally and professionally. Looking back, though, I know that I made the right choice in taking the path that was laying itself before me.

I don't really tell people this story very often, because it makes me sound flaky, which I suppose I am, in some ways, though in an endearing way? I hope? Please say "yes." (One professor wrote as much on my first midterm in his class: "you always struck me as a blithe spirit-so carefree, but in a likeable way..." Translation: He thought I was a flake!)

When I did tell someone this story after living here for several months, she said simply, "well, you just have to trust the Universe."

Huh. I guess I hadn't thought of it in these terms. For the first time, I realized what that expression meant. She was right. You do have to trust the Universe.

Which brings me back to my little badges. Oui and Non. Someone asked me about them yesterday. He pointed to my bag and said, "is that French for 'no'?"

I told him that it was. I then noted that it was a gift from a new-but-dear friend, and how disappointed I was, when - after only owning them for a few days - I lost the "oui" button from the set, but that "non" has hung on. I wryly commented that I could not be a yes-girl, anymore.


That was when it dawned on me. That's the Universe talking to me again! It is reminding me that I can say "no", that I don't have to agree and that I don't need to give to everyone who asks for my time and energy. One thing that I really admire about my friends here is their ability to say (and to accept) no for an answer.

And for that, dear Chicago, I thank you.

To the person who found my 'oui' button: I hope you enjoy it and I hope that you use it well. This is its story. The Universe sent it to you so you would be open to new experiences, new friendships, new opportunities and challenges. Maybe you'll learn a new language. Don't forget to say no sometimes, too, though. It gives you more energy to say "yes".


  1. ... that's a great story, Chris. I feel now that I've come to know you a little better and like you a lot more. It also has helped me to understand a few of my other friends a little better, too. Thank you for sharing it.

  2. You're never coming back to Acacia, are you?

  3. I already knew you were flaky, in that endearing way, and I never heard that story.

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  5. As a fellow Canadian living in my new American home, I can relate to listening to the Universe. And couldn't be happier for it. I love that story, Chris, and your epiphany about "non". You're one smart cookie.