Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Success Is A Group Effort - A McMurray Musings Thank You

This past week I had a pretty amazing experience, one I am still both thinking about and writing about. I am talking about having the chance to see Malcolm Gladwell speak in Fort McMurray at the inaugural event in the Northern Insights speaker series from the Fort McMurray Public Library. I suppose the reason that post is taking me some time is because it all took on a very personal twist when I also had the opportunity to speak to Gladwell one on one, and to share some of my thoughts with him. Even more importantly, though, he shared his thoughts with me, in a way that has profoundly shifted some things in my world. And so I continue to plug away at that post, constantly being distracted when I am writing along and suddenly think "you do know Malcolm freaking Gladwell spoke to you, right?" and then I get all dazed and unable to write for a bit.

Maybe this all puzzles you because you don't know who Gladwell is. For the record he is an intellect, an author, a big picture thinker, someone who puzzles out the details to find cohesion, and someone who loves to learn, with an insatiable curiousity about the world. Perhaps I don't share all those attributes but like him I share that curiousity, and it is what inspires me to write. I think it's what inspires me to live, actually. Gladwell is an amazing person, the kind I would like to spend days with just talking, and I will write more of that in the future blog post, but today I would like to acknowledge something he said on stage at MacDonald Island Park on Wednesday night. Gladwell said "If success is a group effort why do we pretend it isn't"?

He was speaking about how when people "succeed" in their field, whatever it is, they have a tendency to forget that they did not get there alone. They were given opportunities along the way, helped by others, and, in many cases, experienced extraordinary good luck that helped form events to their advantage. Earlier in the day he had commented to a small group at a meet and greet that his own career was an accident, a series of preposterously lucky breaks. And while I think we are all responsible to some degree for our destinies, success or failure, I also acknowledge how right he is, because none of us get to where we are alone. So that is why today I am going to recognize some people that have helped me to get to where I am today, because Malcolm reminded me of something very simple - I didn't get here on my own. The success of this blog has been because of all those who helped me, and on this first day of February I am going to acknowledge them, because you know what? They deserve it.

Jack Caldwell

It's okay if none of you know who Jack is. Jack is a friend of mine, an engineer/lawyer who grew up in South Africa and now calls Canada home. Jack came into my life a few years ago a bit like a really brisk wind that comes in and blows around all the things you thought were nailed down. He is the kind of person who sees beyond the immediate, and the sort who is ceaselessly encouraging of those he thinks can do more. This blog, the whole idea of it, came from Jack. In fact he even helped me choose the name "McMurray Musings". Without Jack this blog would not exist, as he is the one who convinced me to write it at all.

Russell Thomas

Russell was one of the first people I contacted about this blog, asking him if it was okay for me to attend a press conference. He not only said yes he continued to make sure I knew what was going on in this community, and he welcomed me into the blogging world. He has been encouraging from the very beginning, something I have tried to "pay forward" when other bloggers come to me for that same encouragement. I know what it is like to approach someone and hope they welcome you as Russell did me, and so I try to do the same for others. Russell is the reason this blog continued.

Kikki Planet

Kathleen, or Kikki, is my friend, and deserves thanks for that reason alone. But she also runs a successful website in Edmonton called Kikki Planet, and  when we met over Twitter she asked me to write a piece about Fort McMurray for her site. It was an incredible opportunity for me, as it gave me a chance to say all the things I wanted the world to know about our city. I am still proud of this piece even over a year later, and I am incredibly grateful that she asked me to do it because I was able to stretch my wings even more as a writer, and advocate. And one day in April when a little open letter to the premier attracted a lot of media attention Kathleen was there to help me handle it, too, because I was in way, way over my head. She was one of those who pulled me out before I drowned.

Jerry Neville

Jerry convinced me to do radio, even when I was hesitant and it took months to lure me in. And then somehow he convinced me to add Shaw TV cameras to the mix, and because of Jerry I developed a comfort with microphones and cameras. I had no idea I would need those skills, but as it turned out the experience Jerry gave me was priceless. When provincial media came calling to interview me with big TV cameras and microphones, when I stood up to speak to Rex Murphy, in fact whenever I speak publicly or give an interview I thank Jerry - because he gave me the chance to develop the comfort level I needed. I still get terrified and knee-shaky every time I do an interview or speak in front of a crowd, but I also know I can do it - because he convinced me I could.

Everyone Who Ever Paid Me To Write

From a department at the RMWB who hired me to do website content to  Big Spirit Magazine to YMM Magazine to Connect Weekly to everyone else - these organizations and individuals helped me in ways they can't even imagine. Writers, like everyone else, improve with practice, and the chance to write helped me become a better writer so this blog could become better. And that they paid me to write meant they thought I was good enough to earn money at this, an incredible boost for my confidence. I am incredibly grateful to those who gave me the chance to write for them, and even those who do not pay me to write, like Huffington Post Alberta, have given me an opportunity that I couldn't buy - experience.

Those Who Welcomed Me

At first I didn't even understand what my role was in this community. I wasn't sure if I was media, as I had no credentials and no idea what being "media" meant as a blogger. So those who welcomed me made this transition an easy one, because they decided I was media, and began to treat me that way. From Keyano College to MacDonald Island Park to our non-profit organizations to our regional councillors to our mayor to others in media they welcomed me in, and they helped me define my role. I became more comfortable with the idea of being media, although in the end I still see myself as just a mom who started a little blog about life in this community. In the end that's all this was ever meant to be, and in the end that is what it still is - but those who welcomed me made it so much more, too.

The Intrepid Junior Blogger(s) And Sean

How can I not mention them, my long-suffering daughter and my niece who have been included in many posts? This dynamic little duo have shared many of my adventures, and they allowed me to include them in my chronicle of life here. I think their perspective added something this blog needed - the touch of a teenage mind and zest for life, so fresh and unjaded. And so too I must thank Sean, my partner in life for many years, who took on so many roles while I was obsessed (possessed?) with this new adventure in my world.

The Individuals Who Let Me Tell Their Stories

I have on occasion found exceptional people and knew I wanted to share their stories with the world. They could have easily told me to get stuffed - but invariably they said yes. And every single story added to the rich tapestry of life here, and every single story made me appreciate this community so much more. Every single person I have ever interviewed, in fact, has made me love this place even more because everyone fascinates me, from the homeless people at the Centre of Hope to our little hero Nathaniel Crossley to the Executive Director at our Food Bank Arianna Johnson to our local politicians. Without those stories I would have never had anything to write about, and having them let me into their worlds? Well, that is an experience you cannot buy, either.

The Friends Who Stood Beside Me Along The Way

They know who they are. They are the ones who heard my tales of woe, who shared with me my bad moments and my good, and who encouraged me every step along the way. From Toddske and Tito at YMMPodcast and that "twenties-something" crowd (as the IJB calls them) to my contemporaries to my long-time friends to my new friends to everyone in between - those who invited me to house concerts and dinners, cooking classes and meals, drinks and breakfasts, holiday celebrations and quiet evenings, the ones who sent me Facebook messages of encouragement - well, they kept me sane, and sanity means I can write. And they were always remarkably good natured about when they appeared in the blog too, never telling me to just leave them the hell out of it already.

The Twitter Crowd

These are the ones who make me laugh, make me cry, argue with me, and talk me off the ledge on occasion. They tell me things I don't know, and reinforce things  I do. Some of them I have met, and some I never will - but the daily interaction with them fed my thoughts, which funnel into this blog. I got many post ideas from Twitter, and from the people there.

And, Finally, All of You

Are you reading this? Then you are responsible for the success of this blog. Without readers a writer has just words. And while I write for the profound pleasure of doing so knowing that others care enough to read it - and to send me comments, and emails, and seek me out to discuss my ideas or give me new ideas or even thank me - is truly what has kept this blog going this long, almost two years. The people who read this blog, friends and strangers, are why it has been any sort of success. And that is why I share the success with all of you.

When I met Malcolm Gladwell I told him about this blog. He asked how often I post, and how many readers I see. He seemed impressed when I told him that this blog now sees over 20,000 readers a month, and then he asked me who I do it for - am I paid for it? Do I write it for anyone, he asked? He smiled when I told him I do not write it "for" anyone, that it is unpaid and that it is not about industry or environment but rather about life in this community. He seemed quite pleased that I write it so others can understand what it is like to live here, a little slice of life in Fort McMurray coming from someone who has been here for over a decade. He smiled even wider when I told him that for many years I was a stay-at-home mom who one day decided to start a blog, and he laughed when I told him that no one was more surprised than I by the success it has seen. And that is why when that night on stage I was so delighted when he was asked a question about how we share our story of life here with the world. I was taking notes at the time, my head bent, and when he answered by saying "well, earlier today I met this wonderful blogger" my head shot up in astonishment. The IJB jabbed me with her elbow and said "I think he's talking about you!" and I whispered to her "yes, I think he is". I sat there in amazement, because you see two years ago this blog did not exist, none of these words had been written, and no one knew who I was. 

Two years ago I was a stay at home mom, and on Wednesday I was someone who met Malcolm Gladwell, and made enough of an impression on him to be mentioned on stage in front of my community. I will not hide the fact that I cried later that night, so overwhelmed by that moment as I realized how my life has changed - and it changed not just because I made it happen but because of all the help along the way. It changed because of all of you. People talk about how Fort McMurray is a land of opportunity and potential, how anyone can be anything here, how you can succeed. And this is all true, because I know first hand. I know how true it is, because I am an example. It happened to me, and this blog is evidence of how Fort McMurray can make your dreams come true, with a little help from others and some lucky breaks along the way. I am living proof of the opportunity that exists in this place surrounded by boreal forest and under these shimmering northern lights. I am proof that you can succeed, but that you don't do it alone. Success is a group effort - and today I want to acknowledge all of you for helping me get to where I am today. And what else is today? Well, today is just the first day of the rest of my life, and so I eagerly await what is around the next corner because, as always, I remain ever curious, ready to leap on it and then share it with all of you, just like I did almost two years ago when I first opened a page and typed, "For some time a friend has been encouraging me to start blogging about life in Fort McMurray, Alberta...".


  1. I was at the Malcolm Gladwell event the other night, and to be honest, when he mentioned the comment about the blogger, my thoughts immediately went to you. You do our community a great honour and service by writing about the topics you do. What a wonderful way to acknowledge the people in your life! Happy Saturday.

    Silver from A Silver Snapshot