Networking in the City: It’s About Who You Are, Not Who You Know

Every post-secondary program is served with a side of advice to network aggressively.

“It’s about who you know, not what you know,” we’re told, “so you’d better start marathon shaking hands”.

Well, not so fast. Sure, people with an extensive network boast a unique advantage when it comes to landing jobs. They can save time by sending resumes to people they know will look at them. But for the most part, if a hiring manager or executive doesn’t believe you’ll vibe with their company, chances are you’re not getting the job.

Don’t believe me? Consider this: according to 67 percent of consultants surveyed by Workopolis, the top reason people don’t get the jobs they want is because they fail to set themselves apart from the competition. 

Let that sink in for a moment. The top reason isn’t lack of experience or a company insider’s referral: it’s a compatibility problem.

The Importance of Values in the Startup Scene

But what exactly does this mean? Differentiating yourself isn’t about standing out by any means necessary. If this were the case, we’d all be showing up to interviews drunk, toting a karaoke machine with every intention of using it in the name of making an impression. Clearly, companies are looking for something specific. And that something specific is:

Whether your values are aligned with theirs.

Nowhere is the urgency about values stronger than in the startup scene, particularly in Toronto’s flourishing tech ecosystem. Ninety percent of startups are expected to fail. With a fun statistic like that, startup founders are more interested in working towards their vision than convincing new recruits that their vision is great. Teaching you company policy takes the work of a week. Teaching you to share a company’s convictions, while not impossible, can take forever and even after that investment there’s no guarantee you’ll care. Consequently, who you are and what you value is very important to companies.

Companies Are On the Lookout for People Who “Get It”

The recent TechToronto Meetup powerfully drove this point home. The beauty of this monthly meetup hosted by TechToronto is the mini-presentations given by members of the tech community – just enough variety to leave you satisfied, but short enough to keep you engaged. The most recent event was a veritable smorgasbord of speakers ranging from a marketing manager in a biotech company to the married co-founders of a beauty review site to the hilariously straight-talking, potty mouthed CEO of a healthcare tech startup. While on the surface they could not be more different, what they all shared in common was a strong belief in the importance of people with shared values for the success of an organization. In each presentation, the speakers emphasized the importance of company culture and building solid teams.

Of course, a shared passion for eating is not going to overcome the fact that you don’t know how to code if you are applying for a developer position at a food delivery startup. On the other hand, if you have the necessary hard skills and demonstrate a commitment to creativity, user experience, and healthy eating, it’s clear to the person doing the hiring that you get what the organization is trying to accomplish.

At the end of the day, everyone’s just looking for people who “get it”. It’s why couples with seemingly opposite interests can work so well: they likely share core values about communication and personal growth. And it’s why an organization with teammates who fill different roles – technical, public relations, sales – can come together to make something greater than the sum of its parts.

The TechToronto Meetup and afterparty takes place every month for those looking for a job, those looking to hire, and those who just love learning about tech. The next event takes place December 5. Early bird tickets are $12, regular tickets are $20, and you can buy them at the door for $25.

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Featured image via Pexels

The Power of Positive Affirmations for a Happy, Successful Week

By: Neya Abdi | @neyaabdi 

It pays to be positive. It’s been said that positive thoughts lead to positive outcomes, and a large part of changing your circumstances is about changing your attitude towards those circumstances.

Instead of waiting for productive change to happen overnight or for a supportive somebody to fall into your life, you can act as your own catalyst and your own cheerleader. Say affirmations out loud to yourself while you’re getting dressed in the morning or repeat them in your mind if you’re in a social situation where you feel less than adequate.

The great thing about affirmations is that they are unapologetic. They make no qualifications. We have a tendency to tack on exceptions to all of our positive thoughts or statements.

“I’m a great, funny person even though I’m a little annoying…”

“I’m gonna get a lot done this week, unless I wind up being lazy as usual and do nothing.”

Thanks in large part to their simplicity and straightforwardness, positive affirmations can be terrific for:

Boosting self-confidence.

Repeat as needed: “My high self esteem enables me to respect others and beget respect in turn.

We would never let others speak to us the way we sometimes speak to ourselves. If anyone ever told us we were a fraud, not beautiful, or not good enough, we would instantly become defensive.

If there is truth to a negative statement, repeatedly telling yourself that “you’re not good enough” is not doing anything to make you better. Identifying where you think you’re lacking and actively working towards bettering yourself (whether it’s as a student, friend, or employee) is the proactive (and preferred) approach to take. The beauty of affirmations about self-confidence is that you eventually try to live up to the positive things you’re saying about yourself.

Improving your work ethic and self-discipline.

Repeat as needed: “I’m the kind of person who just doesn’t stop until I reach my goal.

Student have a terrible habit of repeatedly saying that they are lazy, that they procrastinate, and that they are full of shit. I have been guilty of this, too. What’s the result? You end up in a situation where you constantly allow yourself to be lazy, a procrastinator, and full of shit.

Start telling yourself that you’re a hard worker, that you get things done, and that you follow through by finishing what you’ve started. Eventually, you’ll be compelled to make reality match your thoughts.

Letting go of debilitating emotions like jealousy and resentment. 

Repeat as needed: “I release and remove my envious thoughts.

You’ve heard the expression, “Resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Resentment, jealousy, and all their relatives are not helpful emotions. They hold us back and convince us there’s something to make us upset even when we’re feeling mostly satisfied and fulfilled. Most people know this, and want to shake this, but find it difficult to let go of injustices they feel they’ve suffered or disadvantages they’ve had to contend with.

In cases like this, affirmations are like a salve you can apply to an irritating rash. Whenever you feel the green-eyed monster creeping up behind you or the burning fire of resentment, repeat a few positive affirmations to push them out of your mind.

Helps You Recognize Your Self-Worth and Right To Be Present.

Repeat as needed: “I am a well loved and well respected person.

How many times have you been in a class where you were convinced everyone was smarter than you? At a conference or networking event where it seemed everyone was more interesting and more outgoing? These are not helpful attitudes, and they can prevent you from demonstrating your worth and brilliance.

In instances like this, whenever the cold grip of anxiety starts grabbing hold inside your chest or you feel yourself tempted to run away out of fear that you are a fraud, take a deep breath and repeat a few of these affirmations in your mind.

And if you just need an affirmation to get you though this week you can always go for the all-inclusive:

“This week I will work hard, be happy, and forgive myself for any shortcomings.”

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Featured image via Pexels

Why I Can’t Love These Raptors

By: Nikolas Theodorakidis | @nikolastheo

It’s not a secret that I love Toronto sports. In fact, talking about them is one of the only ways my family connects with me. I have an opinion on every team–except the freakin’ Argos–and I’m usually willing to share them with you.

But I do have a secret. One that I don’t like to talk about. That secret being that I don’t really like the Raptors in their current form.

I know, I know, blasphemy. Believe me, it hurts me to say it. Some of my earliest sporting memories include the 2000-01 Raptors run and my first taste of Toronto heartbreak was Vince Carter’s missed shot in Game Seven against the Sixers. The team holds a special place in my heart, so when last year’s squad set a franchise record for wins in a season and I could only think of their flaws, it was disheartening.

My biggest complaint is that as the play of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry goes, as does the team. They have the ball in their hands on almost every possession, and often the possessions end late in the shot clock with a contested mid-range jumper. If you look around the NBA, this isn’t a style that the most successful teams use.

To see how this style of play might not work, you have to look at last year’s playoffs. Yes, I know, they made the Eastern Conference Finals, but in how many of their games were the Raptors actually enjoyable to watch? I remember pulling my hair out watching the playoffs and seeing possession after possession of missed shots and broken down plays. Yes, they made the Eastern Conference Finals, but it all could’ve gone much worse. The Raptors struggled to put away the Pacers in the first round, and got through the Heat after they had lost their two top big men.

The team was very close to another playoff disaster and could’ve been a very different looking team this year. We know that head coach Dwane Casey would’ve been fired if the team had lost to the Pacers, and who knows if DeMar DeRozan would’ve left in free agency or if the Raptors would have let him. And this year has come, and the Raptors are playing the same way.

However, there is a possibility that I’m wrong and that’s mostly due to the play of DeRozan. Through seven games of the regular season, DeRozan is scoring 34.1 points per game, enough to lead the league in scoring. Inspired by a less than flattering ranking from Sports Illustrated that saw him listed as the 46th best player in the NBA, DeRozan has put up 30 or more points in six of the first seven games, something that only Michael Jordan and Bernard King have done before.

But I have to wonder if DeRozan playing this well can last forever. There are still so many shots that he takes where I find myself grimacing, only to relax when he makes them. If he slows down, the Raptors could be in trouble. That happened in the Raptors’ game against Sacramento this past Sunday, where DeRozan went 7-for-20 from the field and resulted in a five-point home loss to a team that is not expected to do much this season.

I won’t go as far as to say the Raptors are a bad team. That’s simply not true. They have the seventh best Net Rating in the NBA this season and look poised to fight for the division title again this year. But my point is that they might not be good enough and don’t show enough growth in their playing style to warrant belief that they will be able to make it to the Finals or even a repeat appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals.

So while the season is off to a great start, I can’t shake the feeling that it will have a disappointing ending like it has the past three years. I can’t shake the feeling that when it comes down to it, my head will be in my hands lamenting bad possession after bad possession.

For my sanity and the sanity of Raptors’ fans everywhere, I hope I’m wrong about these Raptors.

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Featured image via Sportsnet

10 Acts of Self-Care For Your Extra Hour on Sunday

By: Neya Abdi | @neyaabdi 

We often put jobs, school, and even friends ahead of taking care of ourselves. Presumably under the assumption that those other things will pay off towards our happiness in the end. But small personal sacrifices in the name of a happy boss or a perfect grade can add up, and even have a detrimental effect on our life goals. Embracing your Sunday by performing these ten acts of self-care can help set the tone for a relaxed, healthy, and fulfilling week.

1. Prepare Healthy, Delicious Meals for the Week

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Eating healthy is so much easier when you cook your meals in advance. Do all of your shopping and cooking Sunday afternoon to prepare simple, grab-and-go meals during the week. In fact, you can limit the amount of energy you put into meal prep and planning. Think about which foods you enjoy eating most and then decide to eat the same meals every day. You’d be surprised how much time this saves, and the amount of energy it allows you to put towards things you care more about.

2. Put on a Hair Mask or Conditioner (Especially If You Have Curly Hair!)

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It’s not the case for everyone, but Sundays are traditionally the laziest day of the week. Put either a store bought or homemade conditioning mask in your hair so it can soak up some essential moisture. Leave it in for as long as you think your hair needs while you do other things like prep meals or clean your room. Making sure your hair is moisturized and conditioned is especially important for keeping your locks shiny and luscious if you have curly hair.

3. Read a Non-School Related Book to Unwind

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When you’re a student and you have hundreds of pages of dense academic articles to read each week, it can be easy to forget that once upon a time you adored books. Find a book that you enjoy simply for the sake of the story and dedicate an hour to reading it. Even if it takes you a month of Sundays to finish one book, you have a weekly reminder that books don’t have to be a stressful word count you’re obligated to plow through, but an enjoyable afternoon as well.

4. Get Your Nails Done

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Nails are an underserved part of our personal appearance that others often judge us by. You could have an entire outfit perfectly pulled together, but if there is dirt under your nails or they are chipped and peeling you run the risk of failing to make a good impression on that date or interviewer. Quality nail care doesn’t require a trip to the salon and a tip. Simply keep them neat, trimmed, and filed. If you don’t care for coloured polish, put on some nail strengthening formula or a clear topcoat.

5. Do Some Stream of Consciousness Writing

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We can get so caught up in our day-to-day responsibilities that it can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. You may be stressing over an assignment that is worth 10 percent when there are bigger academic fish to fry. And at times we carry around a lot of anxiety without getting to the root problem of what is causing our distress. Dedicating a few minutes at the start of your week to writing your thoughts without worrying about sense, sentence structure, or punctuation, can help you get all your plans and worries down on paper where you can tackle each issue head on.

6. Take a Walk Around the Block

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Fresh air plus physical exercise is a terrific combo and a tremendous way to clear your mind. It’s also a fantastic way to explore your neighbourhood. You’d be surprised at how little you know about your community, especially if you often zoom in and out of the area to work or school. A half hour walk around the block can help you discover little local treasures and maybe even say hello to a neighbour for some much needed community connection.

7. Remind Yourself of Your Goals and Dreams

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You may have gone into Environmental Science with a dream to change the world by starting an NGO, but now you’re up to your ears in course work that it’s grown difficult to see the forest for the trees. Each Sunday, take a moment to reflect on your higher level macro goals. Taking a step back to remind yourself of what fuels your curiosity can help re-motivate you to tackle your week of part time jobs and essay writing.

8. Take a Free Class at Your Gym

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If you have a gym membership at a place like GoodLife there are a number of classes that come included in your membership. If you’re someone who doesn’t like directing their own workouts or has no clue how to use any of the equipment, find a Zumba class or a group cycling workout to get those endorphins flowing.

9. Prepare a Weekly Budget

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This is especially important if you just got paid. Decide how much you are going to spend that week before the week really starts. If you are at a complete loss as to how to allocate your money, use the budgeting rule of thumb: the 50-30-20 rule.

50 percent of your income goes to fixed, necessary expenses like rent, utilities, and groceries (although groceries can be a variable, necessary expense)

30 percent of your income goes to variable expenses like unnecessary groceries, eating out, entertainment, your cell phone

20 percent goes towards saving for your future or towards debt repayment

Doing this on Sunday can help ensure you go into the week with a more mindful, purposeful approach to your money that honours the hard work you put in to earning it.

10. Spend Some Time With Your Family

Whether we live at home or on our own, it’s amazing how little time we actually get to spend time with our families. They may drive us crazy, make us laugh, or give us a hard time, but at the end of the day they are the people we come home to (even if we don’t live with them). You can even combine quality time with your family with some of the other items on this list. Do a deep conditioning treatment with your mom. Some meal prep with your dad. Or even choose something as simple as watching a show on Netflix. It may seem small, but these cumulative moments of bonding will mean a lot later on.

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Featured image via Pexels

 

How to Organize Your Shit Before You Lose Your Shit

By: Neya Abdi | @neyaabdi

When I was in high school there were times I’d look at the disaster I called my room and think, “I would rather set everything on fire and be forced to start from scratch than organize this mess”.

As a procrastinating student and bookworm there were loose papers, crumpled notes, and books everywhere. In the last few years, my collection of shit has been considerably reduced – I find throwing things out therapeutic – but I still struggle with keeping an organized space.

I know exactly where all my important day-to-day items are, like my keys and debit card and my non-everyday important items like my birth certificate and my passport. But challenge me to hang my clothes up when I get home, for five days in a row, and I’d fail even with my life on the line.

Keeping a somewhat neat space is something I’ve had to work extremely hard to do. But I’ve developed five key strategies that keep me (relatively) organized. You know…so that I don’t have to turn to arson.

1. Survey the Scene of the Crime and Make a Spot for Everything

As with most valuable life lessons such as “be nice to others” and “keep your hands to yourself”, the most important cleaning lesson I learned was in kindergarten.

“Everything in its place and a place for everything.”

For instance, deeming your desk “the space for only school related items” is the simplest, but most helpful step you can take towards gaining some semblance of order in your bedroom or apartment. Do this for every spot and category of belongings. And by the way, the classification “school-related items” does not extend to your keys, hat, and wallet. Keep it tight.

In fact, if your living space has reached an almost tragic level of disarray, this can be a great way to start actively tackling your mess without feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work you have to do.

Sit cross-legged in the middle of the room with chips, chocolate, or whatever semi-legal substance makes this activity easier for you and start surveying your space. Mentally decide where everything will go. This way, when you start physically cleaning, you will think less about where everything should go and put things away in a semi-automated manner.

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2. Clear All Your Surfaces and Start Sorting

If your entire space is a catastrophe and you simply don’t know where to start, clear every surface and put everything on the floor.

If everything is already on the floor, you can skip right to the next step which is to start making obsessive piles. Clothes, school supplies (textbooks, crumpled syllabi), clothes, toiletries. Make general piles. Don’t worry about throwing things out or hanging anything up just yet. Make sure you desk, dresser, and bed are clear.

(Especially your bed. If you decide you’d rather die than continue cleaning, your bed will be there to help you make the less tragic choice and take a nap in between making piles.)

After this is done, grab a garbage bag and start thinning out the piles one by one. Don’t think about the next one until you have removed the unnecessary crap from one. Tackle the entire collection of piles in circuits, starting with only removing obvious garbage before moving on to making more difficult decisions. Seeing your progress with each rotation will help you gain momentum and feel encouraged.

Once they are all in manageable groups, put them in the assigned places you decided on earlier.

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3. Put Up All Your Clothes with the Hangers Backwards

Most of us are unwilling to let things go: grudges, old souvenirs…clothes we’ll never wear again. When we try to purge our closets we convince ourselves that one day we’ll need that item and decide to keep it, and so on and so forth until the entire purging exercise becomes pointless.

Maybe what you need is a little verification that you will never ever return to that “Betty White Is My Homegirl” shirt you bought six years ago. Go to that pile of clothes you made earlier and hang them all up with the hangers backwards (whatever you consider “backwards” for a hanger). Each time you wear something, when you hang it back up, turn the hanger forwards. After six months, any clothes that are still on a backwards hanger go to people who really need them.

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4. Clean At Night – Especially At The Beginning

You’ve likely heard people refer to the “harsh, cold light of day”. It is a hella accurate expression. Once you leave the flattering light of your bathroom and head out into the street, you get real verification of whether you’re looking fabulous that day. Natural light can be the best light, but it’s also the most brutally honest light and it’s unforgiving of flaws. So when you’re in the first hour of tackling your mess, don’t throw open the curtains or blinds.

This may sound counterintuitive, but natural light will make your pigsty of an apartment look ten times more hopeless. Every speck of dirt, crumb, or ball of hair will be exposed. You want to be able to see those things so you can tackle them, but not until later when you’ve already cleared the larger debris. While you’re organizing everything clean at night with the lights on and then once it’s time to do a deep clean get to dusting and polishing in the day when you’ve made enough progress to stay motivated.

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5. Make Your Bed, Make Your Bed, Make Your Bed

This one’s a cliché, but only because it’s so so so so necessary.

Making your bed gives you an instant sense of accomplishment and as the focal point of your bedroom – even if it’s not in the middle – it will determine the direction of your cleaning efforts by setting a standard. And if you’re cleaning at night you get the (almost) immediate satisfaction of falling into a beautifully made bed after your day of cleaning.

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What You Need To Know About Toronto FC’s Playoff Run

By: Nikolas Theodorakidis | @Nikolastheo

It hasn’t always been easy to love Toronto FC.

Since the franchise was born in 2007, the team has put together season after season of disappointment. And not only were the results bad, they were often heartbreaking, with points being dropped in the dying minutes. TFC had become synonymous with failure in Toronto, but now it appears that might be changing.

TFC are in the playoffs for the second straight year after not making it at all in their first eight seasons. The Reds followed up a 3-1 victory against the Philadelphia Union in the knockout round with a 2-0 win at home against New York City FC this past Sunday in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Things are finally starting to look up for TFC. And if you weren’t a fan before, you should start right now. Here’s what you need to know.

The Matchup

As mentioned, TFC won the first leg in their matchup against New York City FC this past weekend with the second leg taking place in New York on Sunday. Late goals from forwards Jozy Altidore and Tosaint Ricketts gave the team a 2-0 victory and put all the pressure on New York going into Sunday.

For those unfamiliar with how the MLS playoffs work, the Conference Semifinals and Conference Finals are two-leg matchups with the team scoring more goals on aggregate going through, with away goals serving as a tiebreaker. TFC’s 2-0 win means that they are through if they win, draw, lose by one goal, or lose by two goals (a 2-0 defeat would however send the matchup to extra time). There are a lot of ways TFC could progress and it’s highly likely that they will, but there are still reasons to watch.

The first leg was a tense one with multiple scuffles breaking out throughout the match, 31 combined fouls, and 6 combined yellow cards.

One of the biggest incidents was New York forward David Villa kicking out and hitting Toronto’s Armando Cooper in the back of the knees. What should have been a red card for Villa went unseen by the refs and Villa went undisciplined. This week, it was announced that Villa would not be suspended for the kick, which could lead to even more tension between the two teams this week.

Key Players

It’s no secret that the key to Toronto’s success over the past two years has been the play of Sebastian Giovinco. The Italian forward came to Toronto from Juventus before the beginning of the 2015 season and has cemented himself as the best player in the team’s history.

Giovinco still led the league in goals plus assists this year while missing time due to injury. That’s a repeat of what he did last year when he won the MLS MVP award. However, he will not repeat as MLS MVP this year.

The list of finalists for the award was released on Tuesday, and Giovinco’s name was not on it. The three players that made the cut were New York Red Bull’s Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan along with New York City FC’s David Villa.

Now Giovinco will take the field on Sunday going up against Villa with a chip on his shoulder. The best player on Toronto FC and debatably the best player in the league, now with something to prove, seems like a recipe for Toronto’s success.

Atmosphere

It’s not guaranteed that there will be another game at BMO Field this year, but if TFC advances to the Conference Finals, you won’t want to miss that home game.

The atmosphere at BMO is unlike anything else in this city. Being outdoors with thousands of fans that sing loud and jump around so much that the building starts shaking is something that needs to be experienced by any Toronto sports fan. Especially since a matchup against the rival Montreal Impact is on the horizon.

Yes, it will be cold. But if you put on a TFC scarf and wear some gloves, you’ll be fine. Don’t let a little chilly weather stop you from seeing Toronto’s best chance at a championship this year.

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Featured image via The Globe and Mail

Why I Chose to Leave School (And How I Strategically Planned My Departure)

By: Kiera Dinsmore | @kieradinsmore

These past few months, I’ve seen a flurry of back to school posts on every social media platform. They feature everything from new haircuts to school supplies, class schedules, degree countdowns, and “back-on-track” goals for fitness, self-care, and the ever-elusive straight A average.

I give these online declarations a big thumbs up, hoping to encourage my peers as they hit the books once again. However, I feel a slight tug whenever I do so knowing that this time around I am not joining them.

This fall, I did what many of my peers consider to be the unthinkable – I didn’t go back to school.

During the first three years of my degree, life was an absolute roller coaster. There were times when I absolutely excelled in my studies, soaking up knowledge and theory like a sponge.

And then there were the times that outnumbered those shiny, happy moments – long periods of feeling rushed and anxious as I watched my mental and physical health swirl down the proverbial toilet bowl of life.

“I need a break.”

This year, I took the plunge and studied abroad for six months in Brussels, Belgium. I thought it was such a phoney, cliché thing to come back and be “a changed person”. Those people who “found clarity” made me roll my eyes at the predictable “eat, pray, love” endings. I was certain of who I was and what I wanted my life to look like; no plane ticket or trip of a lifetime was going to change that. 

Nevertheless, I uprooted my life. I left my relationship, my friends, my family, my jobs, my apartment, and my little campus – all the things that made me feel secure. I moved into a crappy, overpriced apartment in a rainy, cold city that I didn’t like all that much in a country I knew practically nothing about.

I spent the next seven months living in french, learning about journalism and migration and European parliamentary decorum. I made new friends entirely different from the crews I had back home. I experienced firsthand the ways in which a country and its society responds to acts of terror. I lived out of a backpack as I travelled to eleven countries, throwing myself into cultures and traditions totally foreign to me.

As I felt my time abroad coming to a close, I grew increasingly nervous about the thought of returning to my old routine as an entirely different person. I wasn’t ready to give up my risk-taking, unorthodox ways just yet.

A Choice Just For Me

Taking a time out from school carried a huge appeal for me.

I could take a break and really refocus where I wanted to direct my studies and efforts. I could be sure that my time in school wasn’t rushed, and the massive amounts of money and time and energy paid off with meaningful knowledge – not just a piece of paper.

I could pay off debt that I had accumulated from the last three years of studies and a very expensive travel season. If I was successful, I could spend my last period of study breathing easier about my financial obligations.

I could work in my field, or even just try my hand at gigs I’d never had the guts to pursue. I’d gain some more experience in the working world before graduating and having to “get serious”.

I could finally dedicate time to accomplishing goals and developing skills that weren’t covered in the classroom, like how to play the guitar or obtaining my TEFL certificate.

Keepin' it in the family 🍀 #Madden #clan #Ireland #acanadianabroad #heritage

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The Nagging Voices 

Ever since I was about 13 years old, I’ve felt like there was a “track” I was supposed to stay on. Finish high school, get into a reputable university, graduate, find a job that paid well and pushed me further up the career ladder, make waves in my field, and retire happily as part of the loyal legion of an XYZ corporation.

I already started university a year after I was “supposed to”. I didn’t excel or pass all of my courses like I was “supposed to”. I was watching my friends head towards graduation and real life, knowing I would never really catch up. Why was I trying to move at a pace that didn’t work for me?

Yet, I worried myself sick about a decision I felt so instinctively confident about. I started to doubt myself in every way – was I making a terrible mistake?

Would I be able to find a job that paid the bills? Would I make enough to cover my OSAP and other loan payments?

Did I want to be 25+ when I graduated? Was I putting off my “real adult” life?

What if I didn’t go back to school? People warned me I would lose motivation, that once I stopped it would be so difficult to restart. Would I lose momentum forever?

What about the technical aspects of school? Would I be kicked out? Would the university honour the work I had done before my time off? Would I be punished long-term and be forced to retake credits?

Would the workforce stress turn out to be worse than academia for my health?

Would I lose touch with the school community? With my academic, professional, and personal contacts?

And the thing that generated a heavy guilt…

Would people think I had failed?

That I was too stupid to work through school like everyone else? That I was lazy? That I wasn’t ambitious? That I had given up at the first sign of something difficult?

I was doing something unconventional, that people don’t talk about or see as a viable option.

Office views

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A Promise to Myself

I knew that even if university and I were on a break, I would need to fulfill my curiosity in other ways and eventually finish what I had started.

I promised myself three things:

  1. I would give myself a minimum of one year off, and then re-evaluate.
  2.  I would pay off my debt first and foremost – if I didn’t have the financial stability to support myself, then I would defer my studies until it was feasible.
  3.  I would commit myself to learning in other ways – signing up for yoga classes, guitar lessons, and TEFL courses as soon as I could afford to do so.

I threw myself into the job hunt – found recruiters, sent out stacks of resumes, pored over job postings, scoured Facebook ads, and pounded the pavement until I scored a string of interviews.

It’s All a Process

All of my hard work paid off as the mess started to fall into place.

I worked at a tour agency and a bar throughout the summer, with unconventional hours and jobs that filled the financial quota until I could find my dream job. Ultimately, I made incredible friends and finished my summer with ridiculous anecdotes and memories.

I now work a 9-5 dream gig in a high rise building in travel and tourism. I use my second language every day. I put away my savings, chipping away at bills as I go. I have a routine and purpose and an obligation to an enterprise and consumer base I believe in.

I’m learning and living outside the box of standard student life, and frankly I’ve never been happier.

Ultimately, I’ve learned that dreams have no expiration date, and it’s better to enjoy and trust the process than fret about the final product.

I will make it across that convocation stage one day. Maybe wrinkled and weary, but content and experienced just the same.

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What to Watch Now That the Jays are Gone

By: Nikolas Theodorakidis | @nikolastheo

It’s official: the long cold baseball-less winter is upon us.

Despite any amount of hope fans may have had, the Blue Jays were unable to rally back from a 3-0 deficit in the American League Championship Series last week.

But the end of the baseball season means we can now turn our collective attention to the other teams in this city. And, for what it’s worth, this is turning out to be as good a winter in Toronto as we’ve had in a few years.

Raptors

Let’s start with Toronto’s most successful team as of late. The Raptors ended last year on a high having made it to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. Although the team was outmatched by the Cleveland Cavaliers, there was some joy found in taking two games from the eventual champs in between four blowout losses. Winning a playoff series was the main goal last year, and, though they struggled to do so, they won two of them.

This year, gauging the team’s success might be a bit more difficult.

A repeat trip to the Eastern Conference Finals would be appreciated but can hardly be expected. Multiple teams in the East have improved in the offseason, including division rivals Boston and New York, so the Raptors shouldn’t be considered a lock for anything like last year.  But a first round elimination would feel like a step backwards for a team that overcame so much in terms of shaking the franchise’s monkeys off their backs.

Perhaps the team’s success will be determined by the actual product on court, rather than the mile markers the team passes on their way to being eliminated. The team, and particularly newly minted Olympic Gold Medallists Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, have been criticized for playing “hero ball” in the past that has been a detriment to the team. If the team can play in a more effective way – one that doesn’t leave fans burying their face in their free giveaway t-shirt – elimination won’t feel as bad and might provide more hope for the future.

Leafs

The Leafs have not been must-see TV for a few years now. If you opened up the fridge of Toronto sports and all you saw was the Leafs, you’d complain that there was nothing to eat. But this year’s version of the Buds is already way more appetizing.

The only thing the Leafs have won in recent memory was the draft lottery at the end of last season. With that came the arrival of Auston Matthews. The 18-year-old American centre has been anointed the saviour of the Leafs and so far, he’s lived up to the high praise. In his first NHL game, Matthews scored four goals, a feat that had never been accomplished before by anyone in their first game.

And he’s not the only youngster getting in on the action. Mitch Marner has also been turning heads, notching three points through five games, including a great goal against Boston in the Leafs home opener. And William Nylander has nine points through six games, including a two-goal night against Chicago this past Saturday.

Unfortunately, the goal scoring has not led to success for the Leafs as of yet. They have just one win this season and have blown third period games in four of their six games so far this season. But at least they are starting to look relevant again, right? A team that scores goals but can’t prevent them is more enjoyable than the opposite any day of the week.

Toronto FC

And finally, we have TFC. The butt of many jokes in Toronto sports, TFC have actually put together their most successful season to date. Gaining a franchise high 53 points, the Reds have secured a home playoff match for the first time in the team’s history. They will take on the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday night at BMO Field in a win-or-go-home match with a spot on the Eastern Conference semi-finals on the line.

Once again, it has been a spectacular season for Sebastian Giovinco. If it wasn’t clear after his first season with the club, we can say for sure that he is the best player in team history after his second. He scored 17 goals and racked 15 assists without even playing a game in September.

A win on Wednesday and a somewhat deep playoff run could finally give TFC their fair share of the media attention. It’s hard to think that a team sitting near the top of their conference for most of their season and an MVP candidate on their roster – kind of like the Blue Jays of the last two years – would be relegated to the middle of the sports section or to the latter part of a Sportscentre broadcast, but that’s where TFC often find themselves. TFC have the best chance to bring the city a championship and deserve to be treated that way.

Featured image via Toronto Star

Should I Take a Second Language as an Elective?

By: Neya Abdi | @neyaabdi

Most discussions about electives revolve around two main questions:

  1. Is it easy?
  2. Will it make me more attractive to employers?

To be honest, the best approach to electives is taking courses you are interested in. You are more likely to show up, do the work, and find practical applications for the course material when you care about it. But I digress.

Conversations around electives routinely involve a discussion on the value of the elective. It’s a course you don’t have to take, so if you’re going to take it it should either boost up your CGPA or help you win jobs post-graduation.

Learning another language satisfies two of the most worthy considerations we’ve mentioned: it’s both lucrative and it’s a course that can be enjoyable. While learning a second (or third or fourth) language requires work, it can also be rewarding and impressive giving students more incentive to pursue it.

There are Thousands of Languages in the World – Which One Should I Learn First?

There are more than 6,500 spoken languages in the world, but roughly 2000 of those languages have no more than 1000 speakers. Of the remaining languages, only a few are offered at the university level.

French is one of the most popular languages for native English speakers to learn. Before English took over the global scene, French was the superstar. Today, it is still one of the official languages of a number of prominent international institutions (the United Nations being one of them). It also holds the cute title as the “language of love”.

For Canadians, learning French carries special importance. As one of our two official languages there is much to be gained from learning French in terms of employability. Those interested in a career in public service likely already know that the federal government is the largest employer in the country. And many other industries are increasingly interested in landing candidates who are English/French bilingual.

Look to Your Desired Industry and Your Interests When Choosing a Language To Learn

Of course, there may be some readers who are uninterested in the french language or who have no intentions of finding work in a field that requires French/English bilingualism. In that case, what are the best languages to learn?

There are several factors you should take into consideration in this case. Interested in pursuing a career in international affairs, global security, or energy? Arabic may be the language you want to pick up. There are numerous non-commercial reasons to learn Arabic, including its beautiful script and rich history. From an economic perspective it can also be a very lucrative language to learn considering our contemporary geopolitical climate.

But sometimes it is not just about the commercial benefits of a language. For instance, there has been growing conversation about the benefits of learning Mandarin. Some parents are rushing to put their children into schools that teach Mandarin to make them more competitive in a world that is witnessing China’s growth as a superpower. Other observers caution that parents (and students) shouldn’t be so hasty.

While there is some disagreement, the consensus is that Mandarin is a notoriously difficult language for native English speakers to learn to speak (and even more difficult to learn how to write). In an article for the Harvard Crimson, Jorge A. Araya talks about how the cost of learning Mandarin will likely lead to a global situation where native Mandarin speakers are more likely to pick up English. While the actual difficulty of learning Mandarin could be argued back and forth (difficult for whom, exactly?) sinologist David Moser confirms how tough the language is in his hilarious, slightly bitter article “Why Chinese is so Damn Hard” that tackles the linguistic and cultural gap between East and West. In the case of Mandarin, students must have a distinct interest in learning the language because purely monetary motivation will only get them so far.

Languages Are Fun and Rewarding to Learn, Whatever the Motivation

Then again if ease is what you are looking for, consider learning how to habla espanol. For English speakers, it is considered an extremely easy language to learn. The shared cognates and the relatively simple grammatical rules make the language accessible. And Spanish just sounds sexy, even when you can barely speak it, so the motivation to become fluent will be extra strong.

Whichever language you choose to take, selecting any language as an elective is a great choice to make. Learning how to communicate with a million (or in the case of Mandarin, a billion) more people than you could with only your mother tongue is a beautiful thing. And a nice way to supplement a well-rounded, global education.

10 Solid Strategies for Beating Study-Stress

By: Francesca Kennedy | @FrancescaK_GL

With the beautiful fall colours inevitably arrives the dreaded midterm season. It’s overwhelming, and always comes much sooner that you think it will. However, there are ways to manage and even overcome this pressure. With a little practice, this stressful season gets easier.

Sleep

Late night study sessions tear deeply into important sleep time. It may seem like the assignment is your first priority, but your health should always come first.

Train yourself to put down assignments at a cut off time like midnight, and set a morning alarm to start working again. If worse comes to worse, look at the late penalties and weigh it against the quality of your writing. Is it worth getting no sleep and handing in an average paper on time, or a solid sleep and a great mark with a minimal late penalty?

Eat (mostly) Right

Keeping on the health theme, eating right will also help you manage that study stress. Eating high-protein meals will help boost your energy levels. For snacking, turn to fruits and vegetables. Preparation in advance is key to making sure you don’t slip and order pizza for the third night in a row.

That being said, everyone deserves motivational awards, so keep a box of your favourite cookies on hand for those pick-me-up moments.

Take Study Breaks

Some people follow the 50 minute work, 10 minute break rule. Others the 10 minute work 50 minute break rule. While the latter may not be so productive, study breaks are essential to keeping yourself sane and de-stressed. Walk your dog, go out to your local Tim Hortons for a coffee. Anything to get a change of scenery.

Be Visual

Different planning tools work for different people, but having a clear visual reminder of the work you need to do helps you plan your time and avoid procrastination. Calendars hung over your desk or to-do lists posted on your fridge are something physical to remind yourself to work. I would also avoid using electronic to-do lists or calendars in this case. Even though you can set alerts and reminders, it is easy to click “ignore” or simply not open the app.

Prioritize

The key to surviving midterm season is prioritization. Look at your list of assignments, and deconstruct them. Factors you may want to consider are:

Due dates: Which assignment is due first?

Assignment length: A 15 page paper may need an early start date more than a 5 page paper.

Assignment content: Is it research-based? A report? Opinion-based? Certain types of work require more or less time. Plan accordingly.

Group work: Group assignments inevitably take longer than planned.

Don’t forget to always allow for more time than you need!

Stay Active

Sitting at a desk writing all day is not good for you. Even if you don’t go to the gym or enjoy running, take five minutes every now and then to go for a walk. Wander around the neighbourhood or even pace around the house to alleviate writer’s block and avoid that stiff neck you’ll get tomorrow.

Get Social

Midterm season often translates to students locking themselves in their rooms, pouring over a pile of textbooks. Humans aren’t meant to be away from others for long periods of time. If you have group projects, try to meet up rather than use group chat, go visit a friend, or even phone your parents and talk about non-school related topics.

Find Space

This one is hard if you’re living in residence or a bachelor apartment, but well worth the effort. Try to separate your study space from your social or sleep space. Don’t work in or next to your bed because your stress will seep into other aspects of your life. Go to the library, use a study room, or even try a coffee shop for some distance.

Be Health-Proactive

Check in with yourself. Learn to recognize destructive stress patterns and find solutions that work for you. Mood-monitoring apps are a great way to do this, but so is simply having some “down-time”. Buy a book that is completely unrelated to your courses, download a new album, and dedicate some time each day to relaxing.

Celebrate

Midterm season is long and overwhelming, so don’t forget to celebrate each little accomplishment! Each step is a progression towards your success. Met your reading goal? Page goal? Assignment complete? Take a moment to give yourself the praise you deserve, and maybe one of those cookies you bought earlier.