If you didn’t know already, this past Friday was the third Steel Rails Sessions in Waterloo. It’s one of those events that is talked about all year because of just how awesome it is. I hope you are fortunate enough to have attended at least one. If not, do what you can to attend next year, you will certainly not regret it.
For me, I have been fortunate enough to attend the Steel Rails Sessions every year now, and although each one has been an incredible experience in its own right, the passing of each Steel Rails event holds for myself particular meaning and inflection.
In June of 2010, my life was very different than it is right now. I was still in University and kept my network focused on academics and student involvement. I wasn’t even aware of most of the goings on in KWAwesome at that point. When I attended the first Steel Rails that summer I was exposed to a world I didn’t know existed. There were so many amazing people doing so many amazing things. I met people that impressed the hell out of me because they were doing what they loved and what they loved was making the community better.
It was at Steel Rails One that I realized that anyone, as long as they meant it, could make a difference in their community. I got to know a lot of the people who were community and business leaders in their own right. Some of these people were casual acquaintances, some became very good friends of mine, but all of them were mentors to me. And it was because of them, that I decided that I wanted to make a difference and started to get involved myself.
The next year was a complete whirlwind, I involved myself in a variety of projects around the community and this passion for change also permeated into my academic involvement, carrying me to heights I never thought were possible, to where I was the head of two National Organizations. I say this not to gloat, but to recognize that the passionate people in this city changed me to the point where I realized that I could always do more. And these friends and mentors pushed me to achieve something I never thought was possible for myself.
By the time Steel Rails Two came out in June of 2011, I was travelling in the same community circles as many of those I knew only by name or reputation just one year previous. I was now working along side my heroes and actually becoming good friends with them all. I couldn’t believe what just one year of following your passion could do. It was at Steel Rails Two that I discovered that I was starting to become someone that people recognized and admired for my efforts in the community, and I couldn’t believe it. At Steel Rails Two I met even more amazing people, and some of these people became the closest of friends that I’ve ever had in my life.
This past year from 2011 to 2012 has been another incredible year. I’ve moved forward from working on community projects as a team member, to actually leading teams and events myself now. The confidence to make the jump came from knowing that all of the amazing people in the community would be supportive of me and my efforts and its only escalated my craving to get involved further.
This past year has also differed a bit from the last two. For the past two years my life had been on a steady incline with nothing but great things happening to me all around. It was, for lack of a better word, perfect. I was striving, achieving, and exceeding every goal I was setting out for myself and things were only getting better and better in every aspect of my life.
The past 6 months, things have not been going so well. There have been a lot of personal challenges I was not prepared to deal with at this stage in my life. I will not go into any detail here, but I will admit that the past 6 months have been the most difficult time of my life. The worst part of it is, no one knew. I hadn’t shared anything with anyone and kept everything locked away. I had been raised to always keep my best face forward even when things were at their darkest. And as I got older, I became quite good at it. The issues themselves were one thing, the worst part was not opening up to people when it became something that affected them. It is one thing to keep your best face forward and have a positive image, but sometimes your actions in life cannot coincide with the visage.
Things were starting to happen in my life where my priorities would need to suddenly change because of something like a poorly timed phone call. My ability to get involved suffered dramatically. And because I wasn’t telling people why I did things like cancelling team meetings, people’s perceptions started to change. My own perceptions of myself started to change. I still had a passion to get involved and would take on as much as I possibly could, but because life was unpredictable, I wasn’t able to contribute the way I intended to, and it hurt. It hurt me, and it hurt others.
Despite everything that has happened, my biggest regret is not letting people in when I should have. All of these amazing people who I think the world of would certainly have been understanding and supportive if I had just said something more about what was going on.
Moving back to Steel Rails Three, this particular event has again been a point in my life where I’ve realized something about myself and about others in this community. We may live in a region with over 500,000 people, but this is still by far one of the warmest and kindest places on earth, with people that would do anything for others. At Steel Rails Three I realized that despite everything that has happened, despite everything I have put some people through,people are always willing to rebuild and move forward.
This region is full of nothing but good people and it is this goodness that inspires all of the the amazing things that happen everyday in the region. Everyone can and should get involved in their community to help themselves grow, and to help others around them grow as well. If you have a passion about something, get out and help make a difference. The world can only get better if you do.