By Nikoletta Erdelyi
It’s a crisp February morning and thousands of Canadian businesses are approaching the end of the fiscal year. Across all industry sectors, finance staff are crunching the numbers, marketing gurus are deciding on colour schemes sure to make this year’s annual report pops, and CEOs are reflecting on the year’s progress and milestones.
It occurred to me recently that so much of adulthood can feel like an endless performance report conducted by ourselves. In the same way that companies report their metrics, we often place ourselves beneath our own microscopes in an effort to measure how far we have come since we last set out goals to pursue. While this type of self-reflection is imperative for our growth and development, placing too much emphasis on grandiose professional achievements can lead to neglecting the bits of ourselves most deserving of attention. I, of course, am no exception to this rule, and wholly confess that being a wheelchair user adds a few extra layers of self-criticism. I am thoroughly invested in breaking societal boundaries in many areas of my life and, sometimes, when progress only reveals itself in small doses, I am the first to amplify the voices of defeat in my head.
A strong sense of ambition combined with impatience has always been my weakness. At 17, I landed my first job at a rehab hospital; at 20, I moved out of my parents’ home; at 23, I completed the manuscript for my first novel. With each of these milestones, I was adamant that I would challenge the alarmingly poor statistics for people with disabilities on employment and independent living, among other aspects, and often I was achieving these things even before some of my peers without disabilities.
At 27, my major accomplishments are more spread out, and I’m guilty of allowing professional highlights to be my primary metric for success. Whether it’s speaking in front of increasingly larger audiences about inclusive recruiting strategies as part of my day job, or landing interviews for senior positions in my field, I am constantly thinking about the next big career move and all the ways it will supposedly impact my life. And on one hand, we all should be actively invested in our professional development, contemplating where our skills and passions can align to make the most impact. Yet on the other, I have come to realize that our metrics for success are often misguided, overshadowed by false ideals and ambitions that we tend to associate with the corporate world.
But as I ponder the past year and measure my progress as a whole, I can’t remember specific spreadsheets and project plans that I’ve created; I can’t even tell you the exact committee meeting where I developed the courage to be more assertive. But I do remember the faces of the mentors who pushed me to grow; I remember the feeling of fulfillment last winter, after working full time for six months straight, and then hopping on a flight to Iceland in the dead of winter to spend New Year’s Eve bathing in the Blue Lagoon, sipping champagne while surrounded by snowy mountains. I remember the blissful train ride to an Ottawa conference and the early mornings in Toronto coffee shops, writing poetry before work. I remember becoming a better friend and more expressive artist, and making peace with the idea that not everything has to unfold on the tight project timeline built by my ego. Perhaps my heart has a more effective strategy.
Nikoletta Erdelyi is currently working at Ryerson University as the diversity projects lead for Magnet (magnet.today). She is a recipient of an Ontario Arts Council grant and is getting ready to publish her first novel, The Electronic Sticky-Notes That Saved My Life.