It has been said that if you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life. But for most of us, it’s not as easy as it sounds. For one thing, there are practical considerations. A happy career allows us to use our talents, skills and education to earn a livelihood (even if it isn’t a six-figure salary).
Then, there’s the tricky matter of narrowing down what we love. While some find their passions easily, others don’t. The aspiring ballerina may one day wear a lab coat instead of a tutu. The med school student may find himself acting his way across North America. Finding a passion—and figuring out how to make a living at it—can take time.
But, as these three MacEwan alumni show us, it can be done.
Finding a third way
There was no question that Darka Tarnawsky (Arts and Cultural Management, ’89) would go to university after high school—the real question was what would she study? “When I was in high school, everyone either went into arts or sciences,” she says.
Darka had always been good at science—she’d even snagged the highest grade in Math 31—and dreamt of becoming a doctor as a child. But she also had an artsy side. Darka had been a Ukrainian folk dancer since she was five and had talent to spare. As a young adult, she was invited to join the renowned Ukrainian Shumka Dancers. Nevertheless, she signed up for a Bachelor of Science degree without considering a career in the arts.
But early into her degree, Darka realized that medicine was not for her. Instead, she majored in psychology, which blended science and arts courses, in the hopes of becoming a therapist. After earning her degree, she landed a job with child protective services, reviewing cases. But she was miserable—it just wasn’t the right fit for her.
Everything changed when a friend mentioned Arts and Cultural Management at MacEwan. Although she’d done quite a bit of fundraising and tour organizing with Shumka, she didn’t realize that arts management was a field unto itself. It was a life-changing discovery. “This was a career where I could make a decent living and, more importantly, that I could be happy doing,” says Darka.
After working for the small music management company where she’d done her practicum, she struck out on her own and created Bottom Line Productions in 1993. Now she and her four employees promote organizations like Cavalia, Cirque du Soleil, Broadway Across Canada and Alberta Opera.
Although she wound up in the arts sector, Darka says her work engages both the artsy and science-oriented sides of her personality. The analytical abilities that made her so good at science come in handy when she’s strategizing for clients and running her business.
Now and then, she thinks of what her life might have been like if she’d followed another—possibly more lucrative—career route. But the moment is fleeting. “What I do is too cool.” She often tells her children that they need to make a good living, but be happy too: “We spend so much of our time working. It’s a shame not to like what you do.”
A thirst for knowledge
Unlike Darka, Steven Cretney (Audio Visual Communications, ’00) didn’t go to post-secondary right out of high school. Although his parents weren’t thrilled, he decided to expand his horizons overseas. For two years, he travelled around Europe, financing his adventures with manual labour jobs. “I realized that this wasn’t the kind of life I wanted to have forever,” he says.
By the time he arrived home, Steven decided upon a career in graphic design, since he was creative and liked people. To that end, he registered in MacEwan’s Audio Visual Communications program. After earning his diploma in 2000, he launched his graphic design career by working at MacEwan and freelancing on the side. That’s when Steven made another important discovery: broader communications skills—including writing skills—would help him grow his career.
“The visuals only get you so far. When you have a wider breadth of communication and understanding of how design fits into that, everything’s enhanced,” he says. He decided to build upon his education by earning a communications degree at the University of Calgary.
He continued his graphic design career in Vancouver, where he snagged a job at Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC). An avid outdoorsman, Steven says the job reinforced his passion for sustainability: “Being at MEC at the time solidified the fact that the work I’m doing needs to be grounded in improving the world—particularly sustainability.”
While he’d always been drawn to environmental causes and social justice issues, Steven made a decision to consciously focus his career on these areas. After he and his wife moved again—this time, to Nelson, B.C.—Steven began working part-time for the Pembina Institute (an environmental policy research and education organization). He also launched his own design company to specialize in communications services for companies with similar views on sustainability.
It was work he loved, but Steven wasn’t finished expanding his horizons. He wanted to understand climate science—and have the tools to bring about change. With their brand new baby in tow, he and his wife moved to Sweden, where they spent a year at the Blekinge Institute of Technology earning a master’s degrees in strategic leadership towards sustainability.
Now, Steven has “a communications background and a sustainability foreground,” and is more involved in strategic communications. “The work I’m doing isn’t just about making some poster look pretty—I’m actively involved in building strategies and finding the best ways to reach audiences.”
Those that can, teach
When Josh Languedoc (Bachelor of Arts, ’10) was six years old, his parents enrolled him in Stage Polaris, a now-defunct drama school in Edmonton. For three years, he took classes and acted in the school’s performances, becoming completely enamoured with theatre.
Like Darka, he continued to perform throughout his childhood and adolescence. And when he enrolled at MacEwan University after high school, he chose to study arts—but not drama. It was sociology that spoke to him. “It aligned with how I’ve always thought about the world and ignited a passion in me that was dormant,” he says. Josh became particularly fascinated by power structures and social justice issues.
He earned his degree without knowing where it would lead him. After graduating in 2010, he took on a number of different jobs—administering surveys for Statistics Canada and working in a daycare—as he explored his options. Finally, during a community theatre production, everything became clear.
The play was The Wizard of Oz and it was being produced in Sherwood Park. Josh, who played the Cowardly Lion, was acting alongside adults of all ages, youth and children. Although he’d been working at the daycare for a couple of years, he hadn’t had much opportunity to interact with kids in a meaningful way. But during the play’s rehearsals, Josh was really connecting with the young people—and loving it.
“Driving home one night, I thought, ‘I want to do more of this,’” he says. There seemed no better way than to become a teacher—specifically, a drama teacher. This spring, Josh will earn his education after-degree at the University of Alberta. He plans to teach drama to teens while continuing his theatre career on the side. On top of acting and directing local productions, he’s part of an improv group called Go 4 Broke Productions.
“I don’t want to work my way into the ground, but I want to keep my feet in both waters,” he says.
We acknowledge that the land on which we gather in Treaty Six Territory is the traditional gathering place for many Indigenous people. We honour and respect the history, languages, ceremonies and culture of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit who call this territory home.