Searching with intent

How James Orbinski, head of Dignitas International, found that something

As hordes of unwashed young people (including Kickstart’s very own Alex Herman) dust off their lunch boxes, don their squeaky new jeans, and head back to school this week, and the nation’s newspapers run their all-too-predictable pieces on how parents can survive their little angels’ first year of high school, university, or college, I thought it appropriate to deposit my two to four cents and raise that ever-neglected question: what’s all this education stuff really about anyway?

The question brings to mind something James Orbinski, the head of Dignitas International, told me when we were putting Kickstart together. Orbinski’s early education and experiences meant that, even as a boy, he was highly attuned to his social responsibilities. He was a bright and curious kid with a desire to do good – a kid who was looking for answers.

When he attempted to complete his CEGEP, Orbinski left school twice: first to try to establish a hotel with some friends in the Laurentians, and later to travel west across the country.

When he finally got to university (the University of Trent), he took every course on offer, believing that subjecting himself to the full gamut would ensure not only that he was a better-rounded, well-informed, and more fully engaged person, but that he stood a better chance of being struck by something – a passion, a calling, something.

At first, the thing that struck him was psychology. When a less than marvelous post-university job disabused him of that idea, he gravitated to medicine. Finally, on a trip to Rwanda (a trip that most of his cohorts warned him not to go on for career reasons), Orbinski discovered that something. And his life has never been the same.

James Orbinski describes the action he was engaged in during his high school travels and his bachelors degree as “searching with intent.” He was throwing himself at every possible possibility – at every school of thought, at every opportunity to live and learn.

He wasn’t following a road map through his life and studies, but he wasn’t sitting on a friend’s grungy chesterfield waiting for inspiration either (though I’m sure he saw his fair share of grungy chesterfields). He was engaging with the world around him.

As I remember my first week of university – arriving in a wholly alien country, scared silly by everyone from the owl-eyed professors to the doe-eyed girls – I can’t help but wish someone had put Orbinski’s words and example before me.

“You’re a searcher, son. Go out there and find your something…”

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