For clarity, go surfing

Nathan PetersenGenerations, Succession, Vision

Almost nine months ago I took a leap of faith when I decided to leave Stronger Philanthropy and sell my condo in downtown Toronto. Like many, the pandemic left me feeling depressed, burnt out from endless zoom calls, and confused about life both socially and politically. The worldview that I entered the pandemic with did not stand up to the cosmic scrutiny that it was subjected to. I knew that I had to do something to take back control of my life. A voice inside my head kept hammering away louder and louder with a single simple idea. It said, “Go surfing”.

Personally, I subscribe to a spirituality of the natural (expressed through my Celtic Christian faith) and surfing has always fit seamlessly into that structure. There is something profound about the action of playing in the waves. For me, the overarching metaphor is that we can either fight against the force of the ocean (life), or learn to ride the waves while laughing, cursing, fist-bumping friends, and fighting with everything you have to catch the always elusive perfect wave.

It wasn’t until my sixth week in Nicaragua that I could even articulate the issues that had caused such an extreme and foolish exodus from a life that I had been building and a job that I was excited by the potential of. In my dilapidated yurt that backed onto the shoreline fish market of San Juan del Sur, I journalled about my longing for clarity. Simple enough, right? Wrong. Clarity, I discovered, is not a simple thing at all. It’s not simple because the road to get there is not linear or uniform. Sure, there are steps to get there, but some steps are bigger than others and we often need to revisit step one even if we’re on step four.

Firstly, one needs to determine what the goal is. What am I aiming for? Next, through research and conversations with trusted friends, one must identify the different paths to get there. Choosing a direction is probably the most daunting part of the journey. Then, and this is the bulk of the work, we must refine, refine, refine. Clarity, I’ve learned, is quite a complex undertaking mostly because it is a job that is never finished. We can always strive for more clarity just as we can always strive for more efficiency, more understanding, or more love.

Surfing in Nicaragua was just the beginning of my nine-month hiatus and pursuit of clarity. I went on to study Spanish in Medellin, Colombia for two months, have a quiet winter in New Brunswick complete with countless bonfires, and work as a deck hand aboard my aunt and uncle’s boat in Miami for a month (whatever glamorous image that brings to mind is far from the reality). Overall, the only constant was my thinking about Stronger Philanthropy. Without meaning to, I would catch myself daydreaming about the societal function of charitable giving or imagining the potential for the sector if we were all determined to engage with charities from a place of clarity and with a proactive approach.

I couldn’t escape the fact that I was made for this work. It’s beyond a job and even beyond a passion. It’s a vocation that I’m thrilled to now dedicate myself to wholly. Even though I’m still and will always be ascending and descending the steps toward absolute clarity, I did discover a truth that this work is built into me. That is all the clarity I need to dedicate myself to a better functioning sector for the benefit of both charities and givers alike.