My first real "gig" in the newspaper industry was an internship with the Prince Albert Daily Herald back home in Saskatchewan.
It was the middle of December 2011. On my first day in the office, I was tasked with the most "intern" job imaginable — flipping through stacks of newspapers, compiling the paper's annual Year in Review.
At the time, it was a mindless effort. I had no frame of reference for the stories I was looking back on. They were just headlines I had never seen before, to which I had no connection.
I stayed on as an intern at the Herald for eight months before heading back to Regina for my first semester of journalism school.
But during Christmas break the following year, my former editor invited me back to work a couple of holiday shifts for the paper.
My first task? Year in Review, of course.
The process was very much the same — flipping through stacks of papers, jotting down headlines and highlights — but somehow this time was different.
I recognized the headlines, the photos and the stories. Many I had written myself, but every one of them brought back some memory or other.
The second time around, it wasn't mindless at all. It was reflective, enlightening and useful, and by the time I had finished I felt oddly at peace with my place in the world. I still don't fully understand why.
I doubt I'm alone in saying it, but these days, I don't have much time for personal reflection. Life is one big rush to the next immediate task, responsibility or deadline; it's all taxes and bills and alarm clocks.
It's an at-times stifling routine that is seemingly building to some ill-defined, unimaginable end.
Sometimes it's hard to feel like anything more than just another speck in the void.
But it's difficult, too, to fully appreciate the depth and breadth of the lives we live as the days and weeks are whipping past.
It's only when we take the time to reflect that we see things for what they really are.
So as I dust off the Pique archives for yet another Year in Review, I don't bemoan the task.
I enjoy flipping through the hardcover archival books, fingers blackening from the aging newsprint.
I love seeing the covers, reading the headlines, reliving the year that was.
Not all of the memories themselves are great, mind you.
I'll spare you the finer details of the past 12 months, but let's just say there were some completely embarrassing mistakes to go along with a handful of self-important triumphs.
Throughout the year, there were dramatic scenes of failure that, in the moment, felt quite literally like the end of the world.
But with time, and placed within the context of a human life, those epic flameouts appear in retrospect as little more than specks of ash.
When I look back on them, it's far easier to see them as bullet points of learning and growth than the life-ruiners they were in the moment.
Not everyone has a newspaper archive that can be perused at will, and not everyone works in an industry that provides for such retrospective ease, but if you ever feel like an irredeemable loser (as I did at times this year), my advice is this: pull your head out of the void and try to put it all in context.
Life is the longest thing you'll ever do, and it's not likely anyone will remember that awful mistake in five years time so long as you're prescient enough to not repeat it.
But as enlightening as it is to reflect on the past, it's just as crucial not to dwell on it.
I've adopted a new thought exercise in recent years, wherein I try to head off any creeping anxiety with a "so it goes" mentality.
What is simply is, and to worry about it will only make things worse. The best I can do is to acknowledge my mistakes and weaknesses, and work from this immediate moment to fix them.
We've got all the time in the world to improve ourselves, our lives and our communities, so long as we start right now.
If the past is set in stone, the future is a giant bucket full of wet concrete — messy, unformed and grey, and waiting still to be set.
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