Thursday, 1 August 2013

MIX: Yi Am Your Second Choice

Hence both my writing and math avatars
Time for another Yi entry, installment 4. This post is relevant for both writing and teaching. Picture the following, you see a message asking for help with 'X'. You think, hey, I can do 'X'! I've done lots of 'X'! But when you go to the comments, you see that everyone is plugging that OTHER guy you know who does 'X'. And so you wonder if you should even say anything.

In some sense, I find my Yi series uses my past to explain my present. If that's the case, then I predict that given a list of options (blogs maybe?), with me being an option on the list, it's unlikely that I will be your first choice. Because personal history shows...


I don't stand out.

Let me be clear up front that constantly being second (or for that matter third, fourth, etc) is not necessarily a bad thing, nor something I'm bitter about. It simply seems to be a characteristic that defines large pieces of my life. Perhaps even who I am! In other words, while I am often in the running, I'm rarely on top - unless the top choice is not presently available.


I referenced this in my prior entry, Yi teach. For while I was the top choice for a number of extended occasional teaching positions (in that I ended up teaching for them), the one that actually led to my contract was one where I was the second choice. I had interviewed for a certain math position to start the Fall of 2005. Didn't get it.

But then the guy who did get it had to leave the position; something had become available at a school closer to where he lived, might have even been a contract, I don't recall. Phone call to me to fill in, as I'd (apparently) been the next best choice. The thing that sticks with me the most is coming into a class of Gr 11, in trig, after they'd done a test. But they couldn't tell me precisely what they'd already covered.

Artistic representation of Trig.
Anyway, this turned out to be the event that put me in a position of being able to apply (in June) for a contract position at that same school the following year (in tech). Which I got. So, in a sense, I owe my career to a guy who had to leave this job. And to being second.


There is a theatre group on the campus where I went to University called FASS (Faculty, Alumni, Staff and Students). Every year, they'll spend eight months writing an original comedic play, one month (January) rehearsing it, and then three nights performing it. Involved with them since 1995, I was a Representative member in 1999, and decided to apply for Chief Scriptwriter (CSW) 2000-01. Didn't get it.

But then there were some problems with the guy who did get it; he wasn't in the area as much as expected in the summer to coordinate meetings, and his humour in preliminary drafts was offbeat. I was the Secretary at this point (having dropped my application down to that level), and after the summer retreat, was approached by the higher-ups. The CSW was stepping aside, would I be able to take over?

Thus, in what was probably closer to six months, I, along with a much more talented group of writers, pulled together a script on the theme which had been previously chosen. (I think SciFi, because the result was "2001: A FASS Oddity".) I spearheaded the writing for the closing scenes to Act I and Act II, because I'm good at tying up threads... and then there were the final rewrites to include extra characters.

I was later cast as the punster, Mel O'Dee. (Lie in the bed you make, people.) One of the last times for me to play my flute, come to think. Point being, I probably owe my greatest writing/editing achievement to date, to my inheriting that job. Because I came in second.


Some people can track their life back to a single point, to an event that defines what they do and who they are today. I am one of those people.

Shad Valley is a Canadian program for students in senior grades. It takes place in July at many Universities across the country (in parallel), involving themes of technology and entrepreneurship. I do not think I would make the cut today. But then, I didn't make the cut back in 1993 either.

You know where this is going.

I got a call a week before the program started - they left a message on voicemail. There was now an opening, was I interested. To this day, I have no idea why there was an opening. Someone else had a travel problem, a sickness, a change of heart? Blind fate? I think I know why they called me, at least. In addition to my living not far away, my dad had previously insisted on my giving follow-up calls to ask about the process and show my interest. I hate phone calls. But I did it.

So when they offered this spot to me... I turned it down. Provisionally. Boy, life is funny sometimes, isn't it?

At the time, I was part of my high school band, and while we normally have our end-of-year banquet during the school year, in June 1993, our teacher, Ms. Wallace, was sick. So it had to be postponed to just after school ended. Meaning I had a conflict, because the first night of Shad Valley was also the night of the Music Banquet.

So I told the Shad people I'd love to participate, and could be there for the necessary afternoon, but could I please have that evening to return home? That was also through voicemail. Got another call, a couple days before the program would start. Given the timelines, that was okay. My life is truly defined from that point on.

Because of Shad Valley:
-I had my parents get a modem, in order to keep in contact with everyone else. I became more interested in computers.
-I played my first Roleplay game, online, as Piel ran "Travellers". Also wrote my first "online" reviews (of Star Trek Voyager episodes).
-I made social excursions outside of the city where I grew up, to meet other Shads. I also met more when I got to University.
-I met my wife. Yeah, she was a friend of a friend who's a Shad. And she's also a Shad. Say what you will, this is pretty life defining!

On a lesser note, I still use Ed Jernigan's idea of "fruitspace" when I teach permutations and combinations today. Though I grant I'm just lining them up, not running pattern recognition. All this, collapsing back to one single event.

An event which wasn't even meant to be mine. The opportunity had originally gone to someone else.

Now, I'm pretty sure the reason that I'm never your 'first' is a mix of my eclectic hopping back and forth between interests, along with my inability to self advocate. Still, I often find myself reflecting on my place in the world, particularly when I see others lauding the skills, posts, and the abilities of people who are not me - despite me knowing that I HAVE DEMONSTRATED those very same abilities. I simply have to accept the truth. Those other people do it better.

That's why I am your second choice.

We are all at least partly defined by how others perceive us.

Final takeaway? Even if you don't think you're qualified for something, keep trying for it anyway. Post up that comment! You may not come in first, but someday, just maybe, it will still put you in a place that you wanted to be.


  1. Not only apply anyway, but be ready to jump on the opportunity when it arrives. My first contract after being laid off as a phone firewall, I was the second choice. I got called the day the job began because the number one choice found something else. The call woke me up, but I managed to push myself to get to the job site within the time I said I would. From there, the agency sent me to other contracts, which made my resume long but interesting.

    1. Whoa - thanks, another nice example, and well done. You know, I think part of the stress of job hunting (or substitute teaching) is you always have to be ready, never being quite sure when you'll truly have downtime.

    2. Contract work is a bit like substitute teaching, sort of. I think you nailed it - job hunting is a job in and of itself, but without any benefits like pay or job satisfaction.