It’s astonishing how often we’ve heard that question over the course of the last few years. In an age where everyone is moving a million miles a minute towards some still undefined future and everything from social networking to advances in lampshade design is labelled a “revolution” that will jettison old rules and paradigms forever, what possible value could be gained from sitting down to talk to someone about what they did yesterday, last week, or even forty years ago? Everyone but the thirteen year-old web designer or the fetal popstar is surely a dinosaur, right? Their opinions will reflect embarrassed and discarded truths that no longer stand up in the new world economy.

True. Well, to an extent. Yes, many of the people in our book entered their fields in times vastly different from today. In some cases, things were much easier then. You showed up at someone’s office, acted keen, told a few flashy lies, and got the job.

June Callwood, the legendary and dearly departed matriarch of Canadian journalism and activism, played up her female naivety to land her first job at the Globe and Mail. She got a writer from the competing Toronto Star to write her first article. Surely that wouldn’t work today.

Alex Colville managed to survive his early years as a working painter because there was a war on and the military needed War Painters. Colville had free reign to travel where he liked and paint what he liked. No fresh-faced artist straight out of OCAD or Emily Carr is likely to receive the same luck (if you can call a war luck).

Fine. Point made.

The world is a cutthroat, fast moving place, full of distractions and, in some cases, too many options to choose from. But that doesn’t mean that the experiences of those who got started in slower, less crowded times don’t hold out lessons to those of us trying to get our sea legs today.

To get through your twenties requires what Canadian underwater doctor and explorer Joe MacInnis calls “visioneering“: a way of creating “a 3-D mental map of where you are and where you want to go.” You need to be alive in every moment, conscious of the choices facing you, aware of how your evolving values inform those choices, and willing to take risks required to get where you want.

In the end, it’s a matter of overcoming the anchors of resignation and complacency, both of which are related to fear. In many cases, especially among our older interviewees, having cohones was more a matter of necessity than it is for us. Emerging from the Great Depression, or a struggling immigrant family, or huge physical and emotional set-backs, you have to take risks and lay everything on the line, because you desperately need to get ahead.

To those who see themselves as financially comfortable, it’s often more difficult to summon up the required resolve to go after what you want. Furthermore, with the world moving at the speed it does, with industries growing up and blossoming overnight, it’s increasingly difficult to devote yourself to one passion, one goal. It’s our hope, though, that the stories in our book will help inspire some of you to overcome the fear, complacency or confusion that are holding you back. We know they inspired us.

It’s a Book, soon to drop

January 30, 2008

Hello All, and welcome to Kickstart – a book, a web project, an idea we hope will soon escape its creators’ grasps and assume a free and vital form all its own.

Those creators are we: Paul Matthews, Alexander Herman, and Andrew Feindel.

We’re old high school friends. We used to like having absurd, eliptical arguments about Britpop, the Lewinsky scandal, and Dawson’s Creek. Or at least we think we did. It’s been awhile. When high school ended, we all went our separate ways. Paul dreamt and grew cynical among the spires of Oxford, Alex flew to Trinity College, Dublin and started sporting a Joycean monocle, and Andrew went to the Richard Ivey School of Business to learn how to support the rest of us.

A few years ago, as wide-eyed youths fresh from university and on the cusp of careers, mortgages, and all that loveliness, we met in an old haunt near our parents’ Toronto houses (where we were living at the time) to lick each other’s early employment wounds and address the big questions. Paul and Alex wanted to be writers – or at least that’s what they told fashionable girls at parties. They’d wrestled with novels and magazine pieces, but their minds were a mess of scattered and hilariously contradictory ‘what if’s’ and ‘I could nevers.’ Andrew was a burgeoning financial planner, but despite his initial success, he too was looking for answers.

Wasn’t success and fulfilment something you could just order?

As they navigated the standard, self-indulgent, quarter-life cliches, Andrew came up with an idea. That day, he’d taken a major player in Toronto’s financial community out to lunch. He had phoned his office, explained that he was looking for advice, and bammo, the man had agreed to talk to him. After sitting down to lunch, Mr. Man had spelled out his entire life story. And it was a good one. Not tedious at all. In fact, it was chock full of brutal honesty and the odd kernel of marvellous advice.

Was it that easy? You just had to pick up the phone? Maybe so.

So why not phone up some of the most successful Canadians we could think of, interview them, and compile their stories in a book?

The idea seemed a bit looney at the time, but Andrew kept pressing us to do it. In the end, Paul and Andrew caved. And they’re glad they did. Three years later, that book, Kickstart: How Successful Canadians Got Started, is about to hit bookshelves across the country.

It wasn’t always as easy as phoning. Sometimes we had to stalk folks and camp in front of their houses and offices. But, in the end, we managed to sit down with everyone from Barrick Gold’s Peter Munk and Dignitas International’s James Orbinski to astronaut Roberta Bondar and photographer Edward Burtynsky. For more info, check out our website.

It’s been a very nice little side-project for us – one that’s allowed us to learn an exceptional amount about what it takes to make your mark on the world from this often-ignored northern nation. In the coming months, we’ll use this space to tell you a little more about our process, the book’s participants, and a myriad other amazing, driven and talented folks we didn’t have the time to interview for the book.

Till then,