If one word could be used to describe my journey through life, it would be the quality highlighted above: persistence. Persistence is the ability to maintain action regardless of your feelings. You press on even when you feel like quitting. You press on until you are rewarded with success.
As former U.S. President Calvin Coolidge famously said:
Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “Press On” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.
Childhood & Persistence
My childhood was not an easy one. I grew up in a much different Canada when prejudice and discrimination were the normal order of life for First Nations people or “Indians” as we were commonly called in those days. Reserve life had its blessings but oft times life on “the rez” was unpredictable and dangerous. Violence, drinking, drugs, a feeling that life was uncertain, these were the dominant themes of my early life…My home life is something I still cannot talk too much about almost forty years later. Too painful…Just surviving these years was an exercise in persistence, although I didn’t know this at the time. I know this wasn’t everybody’s experience who lived in similar environments and things have improved in many ways but this was what I and my brothers went through at the time.
Nobody finished high school on “the rez” in my day. My mother was a residential school survivor and this was the generation just before mine. The best most of us could hope for was to finish grade ten and maybe go into a trade. But even that was aiming high. My saving graces were school and reading. School was a place to get away from the problems of home and community and reading took me to other times and places that left me dreaming, yes yearning, for something better. Movies, too…To Sir, With Love, seen on a small black and white TV late one night, planted in me the seeds to become a teacher as unlikely as that might have been at the time.
High School & Persistence
Persistence as a quality reared its head for me again in the high school years. I was kicked out of school three times and left three other times of my own accord. That must be a record of some kind! Yet, I was determined to finish and kept coming back. The words of an older person kept me going: “Finish high school then you can do whatever you want.” It wasn’t easy. I left home at fifteen years of age on a rebellious kick and ended up on the streets of the big city for most of the next three years. Staying here and there (“couch surfing” before this was a common term) and working odd jobs that were low-paying but which at the time sowed the seeds of a good work ethic. I supported myself working such jobs and finally got through high school at the age of twenty-one. Persistence had paid off!
Along the way was a battle with certain “substances” in my late teens. Yes, I ended up being involved with the very things I had hated when growing up, this as a direct result of “running the streets”. A turning point in my life took place in 1983 at the young age of twenty when I entered a substance abuse program for one month. I didn’t go for myself initially but for a beautiful girlfriend that I lost because of my shenanigans. She grew tired of my drug use and constant partying. We never did resume our relationship but I learned so much in that program and came out determined to be a better person, free of a destructive lifestyle. Again persistence was needed as I made a few slips along the way over the next couple of years. But as of 2012 it has been close to thirty years since I left that lifestyle behind.
Persistence in University Life
In 1984 I made it to university. I was thrilled to be there and was one of only a handful of First Nations people at UBC at the time. Celebration soon turned to despair, however, as I failed every course that first semester. This was a good learning experience for me. It would be eight years before I got another crack at post secondary education. However, I didn’t waste my years in the interim, enjoying many good experiences in the hospitality industry as a busboy, dishwasher, and finally, fine dining waiter at some nice hotels and restaurants in downtown Vancouver. Those were good years when my work ethic was honed even further as I hungered for another crack at university.
To make a long story short, I was accepted into UBC in 1991. I graduated in 1996 with a Bachelor of Education degree from the Native Indian Teacher Education Program. I graduated in 1998 with a Master’s Degree in History, also from UBC. I had the pleasure of doing three years of doctoral work at UBC in Educational Studies in the 2000s. I would be finished this degree by now but some good job opportunities got in the way. I have definite plans to finish this project in the next little while. Yes, it took persistence to complete this educational journey. It wasn’t easy but the work ethic cultivated in previous decades and the lessons learned from previous stumbles were invaluable in assisting me to push on and succeed in these endeavors.
Importance of Persistence in Family
Persistence has also played a role in my adult family life. I must admit that the first couple of years of marriage were not easy, as I was used to being a “lone wolf” of sorts, was happy as a single guy, and my wife and I were two very different people with very different backgrounds. But I wanted to have a good marriage, worked at it, and can say that I have been happily married now for almost a quarter century. I love my wife now more than I ever have.
Regarding my vocation, I finally realized my goal of becoming a teacher in 1997 when I accepted my first teaching position at Vancouver’s Native Education College. I thereafter was a faculty member at Douglas College and the Institute for Indigenous Government (now the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology). While working on my Ph.D. I accepted a position as the Coordinator for Aboriginal Student Services at the First Nations House of Learning at UBC. I thereafter was offered and accepted a promotion to Acting Associate Director of the First Nations House of Learning. All of this wonderful experience led to the current role I have at Simon Fraser University as the Director of the Office for Aboriginal Peoples. Persistence and a good work ethic, honed through decades of experience, have helped me in all of these roles. I’ve made mistakes but learned from them and moved on in life, with determination and persistence.
As is said above, “Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence”. Through my life’s experience I can certainly attest to the truthfulness of these words. Parts of the above story have not been easy to reflect on and relate. Yet, I hope lessons for others can be found in them. Hence, “Press On” friends and make your own dreams a reality!