Thursday, 8 December 2016

5 rookie mistakes you're making at work

Entering the workforce can be a scary thing.

Nothing helped me realize this more than landing a job in my field before graduating. Except running into a former classmate of mine in my new place of work just a few months after I started there myself.

Despite only having a few months head start, I saw so much of myself in her and it showed me just how far I’d come in my own personal and professional growth. And while I was not yet an expert, I was able to empathize with the terror of beginning and offer her a few tips and tricks on what to avoid doing as a new professional.

So whether you’re a student, a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed graduate, or no stranger to the 9-5 lifestyle, there are a few rookie mistakes we’ve all made at some point that should be avoided at all costs. Here they are.

Negative self-talk

I learned how negatively I talked about myself the hard way. During my training, I would often joke about my lack of luck, how likely I would be to fail at something, or laugh at how long it took me to understand things. While it was really just my way of handling the stress of adjusting and learning so many new things at once, it was a terrible self-perception, and more importantly, a series of terrible, and even untrue self-proclamations.

The way that you talk about yourself is directly correlated to how people perceive you. Use more positive words. If you don’t understand something that’s already been explained, ask for one more explanation, make notes, and then try it on your own. There’s no point getting down on yourself—or trying to make a joke of something as serious as your livelihood. It’s not cute or funny, just unnecessary and potentially damaging.

Being overly emotional

When a colleague of mine became (what I felt was) overly-critical of my work, I found myself deeply bothered by it. As weeks went on, I realized that I felt more anxious and on edge when he was around. But as I continued to apply his criticisms to my work, I realized that I was becoming better at what I did.

If someone is critical of you, allow yourself a moment to detach your emotions from the situation. This doesn’t mean you should let people walk all over you, but it does mean that you should take whatever advice and criticism you can get and apply it to your work without being emotionally affected by the situation.

Not building connections

One of the most important things you can do to maintain your network and your reputation is to build solid relationships. Get to know the people you work with. Ask them about their day, their weekend and their families if it’s not too invasive.

And don’t be fake about it either. Some of the most meaningful friendships can grow from people who work in the same environment as you because they understand the daily stresses you endure better than anyone. Don’t be afraid to make friends.

Not appearing confident

This goes hand in hand with number one, but the effect comes, and can be far-reaching before we even open our mouths.  

Dress appropriately. Even if you work behind the scenes, dressing like you don’t care about your job can give the impression that you don’t. Look certain of yourself, look like you belong and most importantly, look comfortable in your space.

When you speak, speak objectively. Replace your question marks at the end of your sentences with periods. Phrase your questions before you ask them, sometimes you’ll find the answer without even asking it (and you save yourself from looking a little silly).

Not doing the work

It might seem obvious, but you wouldn’t believe the shortcuts people take in the name of doing less work. But the thing about work is, we go there to do just that. We spend years of our lives and thousands of dollars to get good jobs, and when we do, we can’t be lazy.
So do the work. Go above and beyond the call of duty. Sooner or later your work ethic will begin to speak for itself and you will always have solid references to count on.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Will the government's new tactics really help students in debt?

Today, the federal government rolled out it’s plan to help make student loan repayment more manageable for post-secondary graduates in Canada. Those who don’t earn at least $25,000 annually don’t have to start making payments.

While the move is bringing a sigh of relief to hundreds of thousands of Canadians, for most people planning to take advantage of this opportunity, it will just keep them in debt for longer.

The thing is, graduates know this. But the trade-off of making smaller monthly payments for being in debt longer is a choice many are forced to make. For those living on their own, those who have yet to secure full-time jobs and those who have dependents, the benefit that this will bring is that it offers more flexibility in repayment. It alleviates the stress of having to manage rent, groceries, insurance, other fixed and miscellaneous expenses and student debt simultaneously. It gives them more room to breathe in a society where millennials are suffocated by debt.

With average student loan debt in Canada in excess of $25,000 for university graduates, and provinces like Ontario and Saskatchewan paying some of the highest tuition in the country, the government’s solution fails to address the root issue of soaring tuition costs, crippling student debt and meager job opportunities for students entering their respective fields.

The average cost of one year of university tuition in Ontario ranges anywhere from $5,000 to $10,980.

But these highly sought after degrees land graduates in a job market where for the most part, they are still only deemed qualified for low-paying, entry-level jobs, sometimes outside of their field.

So why are these degrees so expensive in the first place?

Perhaps it’s because university degrees are reported to earn students an extra $1-million over the course of their career, in what's called the "million-dollar promise". But in order to see this potential increased cash flow, we have to start getting ahead some way, somehow. Instead, student debt is causing a generational backup.

Seniors well past the age of retirement still fill jobs that their predecessors are eager to take over, putting our job market at a virtual standstill. Those lucky enough to break in to it only get there through enduring a survival of the fittest type of competition.

And the idea that 65 is the age of retirement? Say goodbye to that. According to the Broadbent Institute, the average senior is overwhelmingly financially unprepared for their golden years. The three main causes of this are the cost of living, mortgage debt and less than desirable earnings.

How is it possible that in a country reported to be carrying $28.3 billion in outstanding student loans in 2012, has not found a way to ease the burden of going to school? Other than creating a seemingly more glorified Repayment Assistance Program, of course.

If the government has money to make partial interest payments on behalf of students, if the government has money to come up with more and more grants each year, why on earth can’t the government redirect that funding to the principle loans, or regulate the cost of post-secondary schooling?

Don’t be fooled by smoke and mirrors. Pay off your debt as fast as your situation allows you to, despite the "help" offered by the government. Because this was just another day of business for the government.

But for the rest of us, this is our life. This is our money. And this is our future. 

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Newsflash: Canada is racist, too

“Go back to f*cking India…you camel-riding mother*cker.”

“Did you ever wear a turban? You should. I think your wife would like you better.”

"When did you come to Canada?"

"Are you a Hindu?"

Those were some of the choice words hurled at B.C. lawyer Ravi Duhra during a filmed confrontation over a parking ticket. Duhra began recording when he saw the racist man becoming irate with a parking enforcement officer who was issuing him a ticket.

Before we act all surprised, and start pretending that there's no possible way this could happen in Canada the great, let's get real honest about racism in the north.

The video made rounds on the internet, garnering lots of attention on social media, with local politicians, comedians and A-list celebrities like Seth Rogen reacting to the online buzz on the confrontation.

Duhra says he felt sadness and anger at the time of the confrontation and was initially “shocked”, unaware that the man seen in the video would become so aggressive. The man repetitively hurled insults at Duhra before yelling “white power, motherf*cker” and beating on his chest.

“He actually threatened me,” says the parking enforcement officer, who refused to be identified on camera out of fear.

The situation has been brought to the attention of the Abbotsford police, as well as their hate crime department, and officials say the man in the video is known to police.

“There are people like this out there,” Duhra says. “If you don’t see it, you tend to think it doesn’t happen.”

But it does.

Ask any person of colour and they’ll share anecdotes. Maybe they’ll tell you that they get pulled over more often than their white friends. Black women might share the memory of being asked if their hair is real. Maybe someone will recount a coworker making a “harmless” joke in the lunchroom about their food. Or maybe their story will be as horrific as Ravi Duhra’s.

This video is a prime example of how far Canada is from the country’s reputation of being the safe haven that it’s reputed to be.

Sure, Canada is a great place. It is one of the most multicultural hubs in the world, and there are pockets of the country designed to be second homes for people from all over the world. But there are terms and conditions that come with living here, and people of colour often have the fine print read out to them by people like this man seen in the video. There are parts of Canada—and specifically, parts of the population—that represent the gap between what Canada is in theory, and what this place is in reality for people of colour.

Ravi Duhra graduated with honours from the University of Northern British Columbia. He did a double major in accounting and finance before obtaining a joint law degree at the University of Detroit Mercy and the University of Windsor School of Law.

Since graduating, he’s practiced real estate law and managed several businesses. He is currently the managing real estate broker for My Move Realty, with operations throughout the country.

Meanwhile, the man in the video hurling racist insults is described only as being “known to police”.

Isn’t that interesting?

You’ve got two men, both born here in this great country, who obviously went two different paths in life. One of them endured years of rigorous schooling and excelled, becoming a prominent lawyer, establishing businesses within the country that aid our economy’s growth, while the other ended up double (and illegally) parked in two reserved spots, in his pathetic and ridiculously enlarged four-by-four.

Why is it that the people who concern themselves with the ethnicity, the religion and the Canadianness of people of colour are in fact, the most non-Canadian of us all?

Why is it that the people who demand that immigrants, and in this case, non-immigrants, go back to where they come from, don’t hail from here themselves?

Why is it that the very people who say that young, unarmed black men get shot by police because they “do not follow the law” cannot humbly accept a $110 parking ticket for an obvious violation without committing hate crimes in the process?

Why is it that those who claim that people of colour are “ruining this country” and “creating race wars” are the ones that scare their own people so much that they can’t even speak publicly over fear of retaliation?

If you ask me, Ravi Duhra is an exemplary Canadian, as well as an overall smart, accomplished and peaceful man. He refused to engage in a verbal or physical altercation with this man, despite being severely instigated. And perhaps the most Canadian thing of all that he did is simply start recording out of his concern for the parking enforcement officer, who was also white.

There is a very telling aspect of this video, and it is how the irate man keeps repeating, “I’m not threatening you,” and tells Duhra, “don’t be threatened.”

That’s the type of racism that exists in Canada. That’s the type of racism that we have here. The type of racism where the offenders get to decide whether or not the victims get to feel threatened. They have so much power that not only can they oppress us, but they can also dictate how, and whether at all, we are permitted to feel threatened.

So, to the white man in the video, who needs a lesson in both humanity and humility, the question isn’t “where did he come from?”

The question is where did you? 

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Life after graduation: How I've settled into semi-adult life

On my vision board, I’ve got this picture of a birthday cake that says two numbers; 25 and 27.

According to the picture, 25 is when you’re at your happiest, and 27 is when you’re at your healthiest.

When I graduated university a few months ago, I didn’t know what to expect. How long would it take me to find a job? How much would I make at that job? Would I have to keep my current job to make ends meet? How much free time would I have? What would I do with that free time? How in the heck am I going to pay off these student loans? And most importantly, am I really going to be my happiest at 25?

This Thanksgiving, I did that really typical thing where you count all your blessings and think about all the things you’re grateful for. And much to my surprise, a lot of the worries and concerns that I had at the beginning of the year had disappeared without me even noticing their absence.

In January, tensions were high. I had to do a three-month unpaid internship while working full-time and taking a math course I found extremely difficult that was required in order to graduate. I had forked over some serious cash for a tutor who I would see whenever I had a second off work or school. I really wasn’t sure whether I’d make it to convocation in June.

There were several days I came home teary-eyed and defeated by 16-hour days. My parents, friends and even a few strangers heard all about it.

You get anxiety. Especially as a woman. Your biological clock is ticking. People are getting pregnant, engaged, married or all three everytime you blink. House prices are skyrocketing. All you want is a crystal ball that tells you you'll have it all in just a few years. But when that uncertainty looms in the air, it's hard to breathe sometimes.

Luckily, by the end of that internship, and certainly by the time I got that magical letter in the mail letting me know that finally, after six years, I’d satisfied the graduation sensei and was granted permission to graduate, things had worked themselves out.

First, I was able to land a job in my field just before graduation. It’s great pay, and I love the job I do. I take pride in it, I enjoy my coworkers, and I leave there everyday a tad bit more knowledgeable than I was when I arrived.

In terms of my student loan, living at home has allowed me to make significant dents in my payback amount, which was a whopping $22,000 just four months ago, and it currently sits at just under $10,000. According to my math, which like I said, isn't very good, that's $12,000 in repayment in just four months. Not bad.

Sure, it kills me to know that this money could be in the bank, but the cost of school was worth every penny. And strangely, I enjoy the challenge of trying to meet my deadline of full repayment by July 2017.

As I get closer and closer to the age of 25, I realize that maybe that’s the age Women’s Health magazine predicts us to be our happiest because while we are adults, we are still kids in a way.

My eye doctor gave me a “student discount” the other day despite me telling him I had finally graduated. Whenever I need something from my parents, I remind them that I’m in “repayment mode”, which prompts some sympathy and a hand with whatever task I’m facing.

But like I said, we’re also adults. I’ve set up RRSPs. My boyfriend and I have made a five-year plan that will hopefully result in home ownership, marriage, and some adorable, healthy kids.

I’ve heard people say that debt is just a part of life. I’ve heard people say that you can’t get everything you want. But I don’t want to be in debt. And I do want it all. To get that, I haven’t been able to completely part with those 16-hour days, and I’m limited to about one day off every two weeks. I’ve got a very boring social life, but people understand. If people truly love you and understand your goals and your mission, they understand.

One thing I’ve realized about life is that the things you want truly are yours for the taking. There’s obstacles. Tons. There’s competition. There’s lots and lots of “no’s”. But commitment, persistence and hard work can get you to the places that you want to be.

I wasn’t sure what to expect after graduation, and I’m not sure what to expect when I turn 25 in a few months, but I wouldn’t trade anything about my busy, tiresome, whirlwind days for anything that I could’ve imagined. And I truly believe that the best is yet to come.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Why I changed my mind about being a Beyonce-hater

The bigger a celebrity is, the less likely I am to like them.

So you can imagine how I feel about everyone from Drake to Nicki Minaj to Queen Bey.

When Lemonade dropped it was the topic of every discussion I had, overheard and avoided. I dreaded having to answer the question “Why don’t you like her?” because I knew people wouldn’t understand my indifference towards celebrities who I felt were overrated.

But it wasn’t until I asked myself why I really didn’t like her that I realized that actually, I really did.

It all started when I stumbled into work the other day just before seven in the morning, groggy-eyed and not nearly prepared for the day ahead. My vivacious coworker was blasting Beyonce from her phone. I had half an hour before the safe would beep, so I paced around the room trying to avoid the music.

Before I knew it, I was singing, humming and doing all the ad-libs to Halo.

“I thought you didn’t like her,” my coworker said to me.

“I don’t, but I used to have this song on my iPod.”

Then, songs from Lemonade started playing. And I listened. I really listened.

A few weeks ago, my friend and fellow writer Talia Leacock wrote an amazing piece about celebrities who risk it all to be what she calls, and what I have also come to call “black black”. You know, unapologetically and fearlessly black. Like what Colin Kaepernick is doing with his anthem protest. And what Beyonce did with Lemonade. Here is an excerpt from her piece so that you know just what I’m referring to:

Remember when Beyoncé put out Formation and white people realized Queen Bey was black? I mean they obviously knew she was black. Her pretty brown skin and the occasional slang term in her lyrics were dead giveaways. But after she sang, "I like my negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils" and sat on top of a sinking New Orleans police car, they realized she was black black. The kind of black that doesn't bite their tongue and hide their accent and pretend they don't agree with Black Lives Matter. They realized she wasn't Stacey Dash black, or Raven Symone black. She was black-looking and black-minded and she was here for black people. Remember how pressed they were about that?

I was so turned off of Beyonce by the time Lemonade came out I never really gave it a chance. I watched it mindlessly, so pre-occupied thinking about the things on my to do list that I really missed the point that she was making in that very powerful and political release. A release that featured the mothers of slain black men who had been killed by cops. A release that had dealt with some of the most recurring issues head-on.

But when I heard it this time, with no choice but to listen to it, I realized that I had no right to dislike her. I also realized the damage that it does to pretend not to like her, especially as a black woman.

Questions fell from the sky like fat raindrops on my head.

Why are we so quick to celebrate women like Taylor Swift? Even after she lied outright on Kanye West?

Why are we not aware of the double-standard of her being able to couple up with whoever she wants in Hollywood, knowing that if it were a black woman she’d be slut-shamed?

Which brings me to my next point.

See that new movie coming out with Bridget Jones? The one about her not knowing who her baby daddy is? I wish I had a nickel for everytime someone said “Maury is for black people.”

Why are we so quick to idolize Lady Gaga for her outlandish and avant-garde style and music, when we have black women who do the same damn thing and receive little to no recognition?

Why are the Kardashians always trending when they bring little to no political or social awareness or contribution to anything, ever?

And why is there only one Beyonce? The obvious answer is because she’s Beyonce. But if you think about it, she’s one of the only black female powerhouses in Hollywood because Hollywood says there can only be one at a time. Meanwhile, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus, Ellie Goulding, Kelly Clarkson and all the rest of them can co-exist.

Certainly it’s not because there aren’t an abundance of talented black women. Ask Fantasia. Ask Jennifer Hudson. Ask Jazmine Sullivan. As a matter of fact, sit in on a church service, a black black church service on a Sunday and tell me you don’t have enough singers to make the whole of Hollywood black.

As I paced around the room, listening to the lyrics and the voice ooze out of this superstar, I realized what my real problem was.

Being a Beyonce fan meant I also had to stand by her political messages, her social messages. You can’t like someone’s music but not the message. Not when it’s that powerful. In denying her, I was denying my people and I was denying what needed to be said.

In all honesty, Beyonce put her fame on the line when she released Lemonade. She put her fame on the line when she decided to be black black.

And who am I to object to that?

Here is a woman who has never been involved in a scandal. She’s been with Jay-Z, another black powerhouse, for almost twenty years (and they even went to the Trayvon Martin rally together in 2013). She dedicated herself to her career, married the love of her life and even had time to have a daughter, who became the centre of a media witch-hunt at the age of two for the way her hair was styled.

I know I'm way late to the party. But this isn’t just about liking her music. This isn’t about judging the extent that her fans go to let her know she’s love and revered. This is about giving respect to one of the most-deserving women in Hollywood and arguably in the world.

This is about a black woman who has truly risen to be an artistic voice, but also a social and political one on an international stage for black people. And there are a ton of people who will probably refuse to listen to her music now. Or they’ll say they liked her old stuff better. They’ll say they don’t understand. Maybe someone else will pop up and take over shortly.

But there can only be one Bey. And whoever musters up the courage to try and compete with the success she’s acquired will fall short. Shorter than Britney Spears’ performance after Beyonce’s at the VMAs.