Designing your path takes boundaries and courage

Gray concrete pavement with yellow and white line

It has taken me most of my life to learn that setting boundaries and taking the time to dream and reflect before acting, are invaluable ways for me to move forward. It has allowed me to become more productive and happier as I continue on my personal and professional journey.

When is enough, enough?

During high school, I took every opportunity I could to fill up my time with extracurriculars including dance, improv, ultimate frisbee, and volunteering. When I started my undergraduate business degree, I fit everything I could into my already class-packed schedule. This included student council, Enactus, more volunteering, and pretty much everything I was asked to do. I had never truly acknowledged to myself that I didn’t have a good sense of my boundaries. Of course, we all do. Where did the need to be constantly involved come from? What I do know is that it led me to feel unaccomplished, lazy, and unproductive if I took time away, missed obligations or didn’t take every opportunity. I had set those standards for myself and, while no one would tell me I wasn’t doing enough, it still never felt like I was. 

In the spring of 2020, at the onset of the pandemic and at the end of my undergraduate degree at Memorial University of Newfoundland, I was suddenly sprung into a whole new world. Everything was either cancelled, postponed or changed and I felt grateful to just be able to finish my degree. After graduating, I entered what has been, so far, the most confusing period of my life. What should I be doing? I didn’t have any obligations to answer that question, and yet I found myself scrambling to find it. Venture for Canada’s (VFC) Fellowship Training Program was the only obligation that I had already committed to for the summer, and for that, I am truly grateful as I look back. I recognized that if you take the time to look around and not put the pressure of ‘hustling’ on yourself, you will notice and see things around you that will pay dividends down the road and benefit your future positively. 

An article I was really inspired by was Celinne Da Costa in Forbes. Here is a quote from it: “In a world that is inundated with distractions, there is merit in taking a step back and looking at the big picture.”  

Taking time back to make the right decisions: 

As I searched for my VFC startup, I had some time to really think about my goals and my path. I wanted my next step to be very purposeful. Reflecting on the following things helped me make my move. First, I looked at many different job openings and simply opened up their website. The tactic I used was if their mission wasn’t obvious from their homepage and I wasn’t immediately interested in looking further, that was where I stopped. It was critical for me to work for a company that had a social mission and one that I connected to. I’m not the only millennial/Gen Z who finds this incredibly important. According to a 2016 Cone Communications study, 76 percent of millennials consider a company’s social and environmental commitments before deciding where to work.

Second, I really tried to envision where I wanted to be two or three years from now. If my next step brought me closer to that vision, that was a good step, if not, then it wasn’t for me. Finally, I gave myself a lot of rest and forgiveness. I didn’t have to have everything figured out, I just had to do what was best for me. My boundaries were becoming clearer and I’m thankful for these learnings because I wouldn’t have found the right fit if I had rushed into it. 

Identifying when to take the leap:

For 10 months I worked at SucSeed, a small hydroponics for-profit social enterprise based in my hometown of St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador, as their Corporate Social Responsibility Lead. I thoroughly enjoyed the work that I did there, and learned an astronomical amount about the kind of environment, people and mission I best respond to. Even though I had the opportunity to continue long-term with this amazing company, my trajectory has always been towards graduate school. Considering that I am someone who is well aware of my passion and what I want to do in my future, I always knew I wanted to be a social entrepreneur. I am grateful that I didn’t have to look far to find the right program for me. Memorial University of Newfoundland announced a brand new program, the first of its kind in Canada, almost 3 years ago; Master of Business Administration in Social Enterprise and Entrepreneurship. I have set my sights on this program ever since. Fast forward to February 2021, consequently during a team meeting at SucSeed, I received the greatest news that I had been accepted into this dream graduate program!

A month later, my contract was coming to an end. My team, although ecstatic for my great news, informed me that they did not have enough funding to keep me on full-time until September, when my program began. I was given a choice to either continue to work full-time until the end of June or work part-time until September.

Putting it all into practice:

The idea of taking months off before going back to school is typically a desirable one, yet in a year of uncertainty, working has been our primary focus. Regardless of the year’s circumstances, I felt conflicted about taking “free time.” I started to worry about things like no longer being a part of the projects I was involved with at work and wanting to prove myself more before leaving. I also worried that I may be seen as listless by my peers. I worried about my ability to actually take advantage of that time off, and what would I do? But the more I thought about it and talked with friends and family, the more I realized that I knew in my heart that I needed that break. In fact, I’ve always needed one. Even just for two months, I could have no obligations. This was my choice and I wanted to make it.

Looking back, since being on my summer break before going back to campus for graduate studies, I have felt extremely happy with the decision I made. I’ve been enjoying summer, resting, taking up some new interests, and really getting into the mindset of going back to school. My mindset has been to take things one step at a time, revisit and reexamine my boundaries, and enjoy knowing I have a very exciting and bustling time ahead of me. For now, I am working on myself so I can go into this program as able and ready as I can be. 

Kristen Elizabeth Murray Kristen Murray is a 2020 Venture for Canada Fellow and an aspiring social entrepreneur...