Learn about his unlikely transition into academia, and the life lessons you can pull from his journey. Spoiler: he’s walked an opening ceremony at the Japan olympic games.
Michael had mentioned during lectures (he’s my professor) that he took time off between high school and his undergrad, so I was curious to know for what. I thought it would be interesting for all of us to learn that you really can take your time and still end up successful.
But my jaw dropped when, during our sit-down, Mike recounted his early-to-mid twenties to me. This man has walked the opening ceremony at the Japan olympics. He’s run a non-profit, and his own business. And his view of the world is so refreshing. This is a must-read.
Dana Iskoldski: Tell us a bit about yourself and your personal interests.
Michael Wood: I am an assistant professor at the School of Environment, Enterprise and Development. My interests are broad and evolving. They include skiing, snowboarding, birding, and home renovations. I’m also a beekeeper, and I like fixing things. I’m also in the process of getting a falconry license, so that I can have a hawk. But my family comes first, so everything else fits around that.
DI: What did you do in your 20’s?
MW: After high school I worked in Banff Springs Hotel doing valet parking, and I snowboarded every other minute I had. I always wanted to move out west and be a ski bum. It was fun, but after about 7 months of the lifestyle I could see that I wanted more.
So I came home and went back to a ski shop I worked for in late high school, as an assistant manager. Then I worked some more jobs. Some would say I was commitment-averse, because I changed jobs a lot, but I just got bored quickly. After about a year in one place I would decide it was time for something new. So then I worked at an auto body shop in Guelph, with a guy that had a really strong reputation for being an excellent builder of classic vehicles. He taught me how to run a business and manage a work-life balance.
After that I started my real trajectory in organizations. I became a sales rep for a snowboard company, where I serviced shops all the way from Ottawa to Thunder Bay. I would drive around with a car full of samples, and it was a highlight for me because I loved sales.
Then the Canadian Snowboard Federation took me onto their team, because they were looking to grow, and I became their first paid staff. I started out doing administrative work, but was quickly promoted to executive director. I was with them for 4 years, and helped them set up the olympic team and develop a snowboard program. It was an exciting time. I got to walk the opening ceremony in Japan.
Later, I started my own contracting business and ran that for the next eight years. It’s how I paid for school.
DI: How did you transition into academia?
MW: It was always a part of the plan, but for a long time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And since my mom is a professor, it’s something that’s always been familiar to me.
I’m glad I took the time to figure out what I needed. If I had gone to university right out of high school, with my personality, I wouldn’t have put as much effort into it as I did. I came into it with a different set of perspectives and experiences than my classmates, many of which were 18 and hadn’t even had part-time jobs yet.
Having been to the olympics, run a non-profit, and having sat in a room with top executives, I had a different perspective on it all. I’m not someone who can learn just by reading books, so having experiences I could ground theory in made everything salient to me. I could see the applicability of what I was learning.
DI: What personal characteristic of yours do you attribute to your success?
MW: My desire is to always be challenged. I’m naturally inquisitive and I like seeing how pieces fit together. So I’m always looking for experiences, my own or of others, and trying to understand the complexity piece of how people behave and why.
Another part is that I’m a perfectionist. If I’m going to do so something I want to be the best at it. Not in comparison to others – if I end up last that’s fine – but it’s about giving my all at every opportunity I have.
DI: What life lessons has this journey taught you?
MW: Don’t worry about what’s next; be present in what you’re doing and ground yourself in the now. It’s about going into every moment with full attention. Live into the world you want to be in.
DI: How has your idea of success evolved over the years?
MW: At 20 I was very financially motivated. That makes sense in your early 20s, because you want to get established and start your life. But it’s changed now. It’s more about experiences and trying to embrace connections. It’s about being able to enjoy and work through challenges, not about seeking pleasure all the time. I don’t want a piña colada beach lifestyle. Success is about constant improvement, revelling in the struggle, and betterment of self.
There you have it, folks. Three coffees down, ninety-seven more to go. Hope you learned something. And to Michael, thank you for warming up the academic sphere. Universities need more people like you.