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WORK LIFE: The Book I Want To Write About My Career

hustleAfter years of struggle, I’m finally starting to see a bright light career-wise. I’m on track to end 2016 in a much better place than where I started, and in a much better place than I’ve been in a long time. This isn’t just related to how much money I’m bringing home, but a sum of all of the other things that come with work and how I function. I could write a book about my work experiences, so here are a few chapter synopses I’d have to include:

Chapter 1 – “You Don’t Even Go Here”: Being A Young, Black Woman In Middle Management

In all of the managerial positions I’ve held, I’ve either been the only person of colour, or one of two. I’ve welcomed people into boardrooms where I was about to lead a meeting, and had them give me their coats to hang and coffee orders to take. I’ve gone to external meetings and been ignored until my White male colleagues arrived, or met with the “Oh – she’s Black!” look of shock when I meet people after only speaking via phone or email. I’ve had to redirect meetings when my hair became the topic of discussion. I’ve had my blog reported to senior management, who called me a racist for writing about my experiences as a Black Canadian woman. I’ve had colleagues tell me they don’t think I belong, and I’ve had aggressively insubordinate staff treat me in ways that they never did to any of their former (White) supervisors. I’ve seen and experienced a lot, and a big lesson for me has been around being finding my voice to call out problematic behaviour versus letting it slide.

Chapter 3 – “Work Twice As Hard To Get Half As Far”: Learning The Game When The Game Is Rigged

I’ve lived this motto since I was a child – being pushed to work harder than my counterparts because we were never given equal footing to start off on. As a Black woman, it’s also about being denied room to be mediocre or fail, and knowing that while your failures will be applied as an expected generalization befitting all Black people, your excellence will be dismissed as a lucky break. I recently wrote about the Glass Cliff theory and saw this all play out in my life recently:

I was a new supervisor at an agency that ran group homes for adults with developmental disabilities. I was assigned 2 homes, and was eventually told that I was given the most disorganized homes with the worst staff in the agency. I was determined to turn those homes around, but at every step I was met with opposition or insubordination from staff – refusals to follow through, silence when I’d ask for their feedback on decisions, blatantly lying to me in order to trip me up, rumour-spreading, the works. I constantly addressed issues and disciplined staff, and escalated to my managers as needed – but senior management never seemed to take my concerns seriously. After going to the ER one day because I was sure the stress had caused a heart attack, I resigned. The day I handed in my resignation, I overheard two directors talking about me in the office, and one said “I guess she’s just not the shining star I thought she was.” I was floored. After all I had gone through and all the effort I gave, I was seen as a failure for not continuing to take the abuse and do the work. I immediately called for an exit interview with senior management on my last day, and made sure I had the last word. I recently learned that one of my most problematic staff – one who my boss swore was going to face heavy discipline for her actions – was recently promoted to a supervisory position. Funny.

Chapter 7 – “Protect Your Heart, 3 Stacks”: Protecting Your Passions & Keeping Side Hustles Safe

I’ve always toyed with the idea of going the full-time freelance/entrepreneurship route, but so far, I’ve said “Not yet.” I’m not ashamed of appreciating the perceived security of getting a paycheque every 2 weeks (‘perceived’ because I know these companies ain’t loyal), I’m not ashamed to say that I’m not 100% ready to take the risk of making my passion projects my sole income earner, and I’m not ashamed to say that not everyone needs to be their own boss – entrepreneurship isn’t a necessity to personal development. I still consider the thought and know that if circumstances change in any way, I’d take the plunge. But what happens if I start to hate the very things that brought me solace? What happens if I don’t like the way that obligation changes the way I view the things I do simply because I enjoy doing them? I don’t think I’m ready to find out just yet.

Chapter 9: “Bitch, Just Be You:” Removing The Mask, Playing The Game, & Being Authentic

Navigating the collective of corporate life can make it tricky to be an individual. There are games to play and masks to wear – and both get more complex the further you are from whatever the “norm” is in your field. Code-switching, considering if I should bring those leftovers my Jamaican auntie cooked for lunch, being aware of how I may be viewed as the Angry Black Woman in times when I’m not angry at all – these and other examples are part of why it’s so difficult be myself at work. A gift that 2016 has given me has been the room to be a bit more Bee in my career – both at my day job and in my side hustles – and see the payoff. Part of embracing that authenticity meant switching careers from my previous health/social services field to the communications industry. It’s meant presenting my personal style in a way that truly reflects who I am. It’s meant speaking more of my truth in my writing, and it’s meant going for opportunities I would have passed up before, because I believe in myself more now than I ever have. I’ve gone from playing the game to learning the rules so that I can bend, break, and change them as I go – so while those navigation skills are vital for perseverance, I now see how I can be more me through the journey.

This career life ain’t been no crystal stair, but I continue to learn invaluable lessons and receive affirming messages every day. What career lessons have you learned? What defining moments have shaped your career? Share in the comments! Now, about this book deal…

#MEDIAMAGIC: When Life Brings You Where You’re Meant To Be

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All photos in this post courtesy of Lawrence Kerr Photography

The synchronicity of life’s full-circle moments should never be taken lightly.

It’s in the power of those moments – when seemingly random pieces of your life story join together like interlocking puzzle pieces and suddenly illuminate a picture you didn’t realize was there – that you often uncover some key truths about yourself. These epiphanies either confirm a hypothesis that your subconscious was testing out, or reveal the true meaning behind something in your past. For me, both of these things happened on August 21st, when the pictures in this post were taken.

Earlier this month (on the 5th anniversary of my 1st blog post on ’83 To Infinity, no less), I got a call inviting me to participate in a photo shoot being arranged to showcase Black women in Canadian media. Inspired by an earlier impromptu photo of some of Canada’s dopest Black women in the industry, this upcoming shoot (by award-winning photographer Lawrence Kerr) was going to gather as many Black women in media as possible in one spot, and my presence was requested.

Have you ever felt like you belonged somewhere, but in the same breath thought “WTF? I belong here???” Imposter Syndrome set ALL the way in, but I still got myself together that fateful Sunday and headed to the shoot. Surrounded by women I’ve looked up to, women whose work I’ve admired, women who have become friends, and women who I met in person for the first time, it was an afternoon filled with warmth, sisterhood, upliftment, and real #blackgirlmagic.

It goes without saying how important it is to see a number of multi-hued Black women who are all doing work in various areas of journalism and media. For narratives to change and become more authentic, Black women need to be show hosts, journalists, producers, writers, creators, media entrepreneurs, and so much more. Unlike our U.S. sistren, we don’t have access to the same kinds of media outlets – mainstream or otherwise – that serve to celebrate, entertain, and inform. We’re forging our way in the Canadian industry, taking our rightful seats at tables and building tables of our own to do important work that we’re passionate about.

A number of amazing women were there in spirit only (would have loved to thank women like Traci Melchor, Rosey Edeh, and so many others – next time!) but I was so honoured to share space with the women who were able to be present.

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Do you see Arisa Cox, host of Big Brother Canada, in white in the centre of the 2nd row? She inspired my first ever solo event, Mirror Images – talking about diversity and representation from the perspectives of Black Canadian women in media. She wrote an incredible article that made me tweet “I wish someone would host an event with Arisa and other Black women talking about their experiences” – then I did it. Arisa – who lived in an entirely different province – made sure to be in attendance and provided mentorship for me and everyone who came.

Check the woman sitting 3rd from the left in the front row. TVO host Nam Kiwanuka is a woman I’ve admired for YEARS, and she was one of the first Black women I saw regularly on Canadian TV. I was so nervous inviting her to be on my Mirror Images panel, and literally did a happy dance when she accepted – and now, we’ve become friends who cheer for each other at every turn.

Reporter/Anchor Nneka Elliot (3rd from the right in the first row) used to hold events called The Media Huddle where I really started to get my feet wet in learning about the media industry. She’s since been a major supporter of me and the projects I work on, and is an inspiration to many.

Tracy Moore (beside Nam in the white) and Marci Ien (beside Nneka in the black) are media powerhouses who have both given me kind and encouraging words. Producers like Kathleen Newman-Bremang and Nicole Brewster-Mercury are behind the scenes, intentionally and determinedly crafting what we see on TV. Hodan Nayaleh and Patricia Bebia-Mawa have built platforms like Integration TV and AfroGlobal TV respectively, to create space for ethnocultural stories in media.

That woman sitting front row centre? That’s the inimitable Camille Dundas – TV producer, digital magazine editor, and media mentor extraordinaire, who pulled this whole thing together.

And do you see CTV reporter Andria Case in front in the fly yellow heels? A major piece of what led me to that photoshoot started with her. She interviewed me back when I modeled in Toronto Fashion Week, shortly after I started this blog. I used my married last name, Quammie, in the interview – and that was the catalyst to a strange coworker googling my name, finding my blog, and reporting me as a racist at work. I nearly stopped blogging after that, but didn’t. I never got to thank Andria at the shoot for unknowingly being part of one of the most important moments in my journey, but thank you.

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When I left the shoot, I thought about the day I contemplated not blogging anymore, then thought about how far I’ve come since then. In that moment I realized I needed to stop being passive about my journey through blogging, writing, and media. As much as I’ve played it humble and looked at myself as someone who was merely paying their dues, I’ve been putting in work – and I’m ready to own that. I’m ready to put in even more hard work and continue to carve out my space in the media world, whatever that may look like. Being included among these incredible women reminded me not to take my journey for granted and not to take my skills lightly.

As I walked back to my car on that exceptionally sunny Sunday, I realized I was meant to be there that day and thought, “The future has never looked so bright.” Here’s to lifting each other as we climb, celebrating the ones who came before us, and looking out for the ones who are on their way. #CanadianMediaSisterhood is real.

NEW MOVES: How My Side Hustle Changed The Course Of My Career

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One of the strongest memories of my years of playing the violin is when my teacher defined the “sweet spot.” It was that place and moment when your bow rested right in between the fingerboard and bridge, when you applied the right amount of pressure, and when you drew the bow smoothly and evenly, getting the richest sound. It took me some time to learn how to find the sweet spot but eventually I got it, and I was able to make some beautiful music – a metaphor I’ve applied to other areas in life. As I get older, I’ve come to believe that what’s meant for us is truly for us. Through some of my most difficult disappointments, I’ve only gotten through by clutching onto the belief that the right opportunities would come along and I’d find my sweet spot.

I’ve also come to strongly believe that the things we call coincidences aren’t coincidences at all. It’s my hypothesis that if we’re paying attention, we’ll see that synchronicities are all around us – dots get connected, links get made, and things that didn’t make sense suddenly become crystal clear when the other piece of the puzzle drops into place minutes, months, or years later.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about sweet spots, opportunity, and synchronicity – especially as it relates to work and where I see my career going. A few years ago at one job, I was (allegedly) called a racist by higher-ups because someone found this very blog and thought it was problematic for me to discuss issues related to being a Black woman in Canada. I eventually started job hunting, hoping to land a position in writing or communications or media or something that felt more in tune with my passions and interests (there’s a post in me about the issues of being a Black woman and an empath in healthcare/social work management, but that’s for another day). I had no luck landing that kind of dream job, but did get offered a similar management position at another agency in the same healthcare/social work field. Something told me not to settle for the job I knew I could do and keep waiting for the one I wanted to do, but I wanted a change by any means necessary, so I took it. A month in, I realized this may not be the job for me. 2.5 months in, I started job hunting again. This time I told myself I wouldn’t settle – if I wanted my career to go in a new direction I had to steer the ship – so I only applied for the jobs that I truly wanted to do.

Now, I have none of the degrees or formal education required for the jobs I applied for, but went for them off da strenf of the career I’ve created for myself using this blog as my launching pad. I’m not at the point of being ready to go full-time freelance or full-time entrepreneur, but I know I have skills and gifts and passions that need to be utilized. So I jazzed up my resumes and cover letters with help from friends, crossed my fingers, toes, and hair strands with each application, and waited for the calls to roll in.

For a while, I heard nothing but crickets. Then, an email to schedule an interview appeared. Next, a call for a phone interview, and after that, a call for an in-person chat. Slowly but surely, people were calling me – ME! – to come in for interviews for jobs I had really only dreamed of having. Even better than the interview calls were the offers that came. Long story short: I took one of those offers. I negotiated for what I felt I was worth, and got it. I handed in my resignation just before I left for Yale (OMG I HAVE TO TELL Y’ALL ABOUT YALE), and overheard two executives discussing my impending departure, saying (and I quote): “I guess she’s just not the shining star we thought she was. It seems like she can’t cut it if she’s leaving.” That further solidified that I made the right decision to go.

Let’s just say that the exit interview I requested with those two executives was a defining moment in my career journey.

But back to the new gig!

It’s just been a week and a bit in, but I’m honestly so proud of myself that I was able to secure a great job with an incredible organization solely off of the work I’ve done in my side hustle. Sometimes your side hustle stays protected as your side hustle, and other times it leads you in brand new directions. My blogging, writing, social media work, media experience and more are what landed me this job, and those are the things I almost canceled out of my life when someone decided they wanted to undermine my career by using it all against me. But guess what, bih? I have a new career now, and I firmly believe that my future is the brightest it’s been in a LONG time. I’m excited to see where this new journey takes me, and I feel a renewed shot of electric creativity flowing through my veins. I’m ready to grow and learn and be better at everything I love to do, so that’s the mission.

Make room for your gifts, and your gifts will create space for you. A sweet spot, if you will.

HOT EVENT: Mirror Images: The Culture Of Digital Content Creation

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My eyes were opened when I read this literacy study, showing that girls were drawn to digital media while boys preferred print. I was even more intrigued when I read further and learned that Black girls read the most out of any other ethnic group captured in the study, comprised of 32,000 students at 130 schools in the UK. I was a girl who loved to read and write. I’m now a grown woman who primarily utilizes digital media for communication. Children today are growing up in the digital age, and I can’t help but wonder what the future (both near and distant) will hold for this medium. With those thoughts in mind, my next Mirror Images event was born.

On Sunday, September 27th, I’ll be hosting my 2nd Mirror Images event, called Mirror Images: The Culture Of Digital Content Creation. After last year’s awesome inaugural event, I knew I’d be back with another topic to delve into – and I’m really excited about this one.

After reading stats like the aforementioned girls in digital media, and breaking news about the rising rates of entrepreneurship among women, I was attracted to the idea of talking with women who have their hands in one or both of those areas – women who are digital content creators, who have expanded into entrepreneurship, and who have done the research to understand how women – particularly women of colour – are utilizing digital media in unique ways. As a blogger and freelance writer, I constantly engage in conversations about digital media online, but with Mirror Images, we’re taking the discussion live and direct!

I’ll be moderating a lively talk with the group, while representing the blogging/freelance writing side of digital content creation. My incredible panelists include:

Emily Mills: A mom, wife, full-time media professional, and creator of How She Hustles, a network for women. With solely a social media presence – no website or money spent on advertising – Emily has turned her online network into one that thrives offline, consistently selling out her How She Hustles live events.

Nehal El-Hadi: A writer, researcher, media producer, and doctoral candidate in Planning at the University of Toronto, where she’s studying how women of colour engage online through social media.

Sajae Elder: A graduate of Humber College’s Journalism School, Sajae is a digital content producer with a passion for hip hop, film, and cultural identity. Currently, she’s a freelance writer, social media manager, and segment producer of the wildly popular podcast, Gyalcast.

Rochelle Brown: One of Canada’s most popular vloggers, Rochelle is the mastermind behind Crazylightskingirl on YouTube. After vlogging for just one year, Rochelle’s following has surpassed 110,000 subscribers on YouTube and over 64,000 followers on Instagram.

Dope lineup, right? I thought so. My sponsors SoulAfrodisiac and RFlavour are also helping to make this entire event pop.

If you’ve ever wondered about one or more of the following, raise your hand:

How do you start out in digital content creation, and how do you find your niche in what seems like an oversaturated area?

What’s the trick behind turning an online audience into a live one? 

How can digital content creation become an entrepreneurial income stream? 

What is the best way to capture – and keep – an audience or online following?

What are the top social media applications, and how can you use them to share content or build business?

In what ways are women – and women of colour – utilizing digital media uniquely?

To get the answers to these questions and more, take that raised hand and click here to buy your ticket for Mirror Images!

There will be mix and mingling time. There will be an interactive talk with my panelists, moderated by yours truly. There will be a Q&A session for you to delve deeper into some of the themes and topics that arise. Come to connect offline, and leave with ways to improve online!

Here are the details:

When: Sunday, September 27th at 2-6pm

Where: The United Steelworkers Hall – 25 Cecil Street (near College and Spadina – free parking at rear, and wheelchair accessible)

How much? $15 earlybird tickets available at http://mirrorimages.ticketleap.com/digital/ (but not for long! Prices rising soon!)

Questions? Want to be a sponsor? Media inquiries? Get in touch with me.

My 1st Mirror Images event was a great success, and I’m looking forward to the same on September 27th – one month to go! I hope to see you there, where we can connect, learn, and grow together!

LOVEWORK: 6 Tips On Mixing Business + Pleasure [via Chatelaine]

When HomieLoverFriend and I started working on our comedy show earlier this year, I didn’t realize how much I was about to learn about working with my spouse. We all work in relationships every day – but actually working in a business-sense with your significant other brings out new dynamics that need specific time and attention.

My latest piece for Chatelaine (Canada’s leading women’s magazine) covers this very topic – including tips from a real-life business couple and two of Toronto’s top couples’ therapists. Take a read!

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The husband/wife team behind Wedge15.com

There are few risks in life as precarious as going into business with your significant other, but more and more couples are taking the plunge. Couples like Lynda and Stewart Resnick (of Fiji Water), design power-couple Robert and Cortney Novogratz, and Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith (of Overbrook Entertainment) took on the challenge of mixing business and pleasure – and were largely successful. Think you and your spouse could go from bedmates to business proposals? Here are some things to consider:

Define your skill sets

Are you organized, great with numbers and a master public speaker? Is your partner a tech whiz with an artist’s eye? Knowing what skills you both possess is a crucial step when getting started. As you decide what direction your business is going in, having an idea of what each person is good at will allow you to maximize skill sets and avoid stepping on each other’s toes.

Gloria Roheim McRae and Ricardo McRae of Toronto-based social media company Wedge 15 have a unique strategy: “We take turns with our client projects,” says Ricardo. “Depending on which style our client prefers, Gloria and I will decide who is taking the lead and who is stepping back.”

“We have very different styles that work well together,” continues Gloria. “I’m the early bird who gets the worm, and Ricardo is the second mouse who gets the cheese.”

Keep work out of the bedroom

Nothing kills the mood like your other half crunching projection reports or revamping your company website when you’re ready for a little lovin’. Work has a way of creeping in on family and relationship time, and when you work with your partner, the chances of blurring those lines increase. Creating boundaries is imperative to the success of not only your business, but your relationship as well.

So how do Gloria and Ricardo carve out time for romance? ”We get our agendas out and discuss when we’re going on a date each week. It seems a little unromantic, but it’s great. Nothing in life just shows up — you have to be intentional,” explains Ricardo.

Gloria describes the priority pyramid that they utilize. ”We used to first plan business, and then the last thing on the list was us. We thought that was supposed to be right, and we didn’t feel it as much because we loved what we did and we spent the whole day together. But after a few months, we started to feel the impact.” The couple now reverses that pyramid by etching out personal time, then necessities like groceries and then business — finding that they’re not only more productive at work, but happier with each other.

Corinne Carter and Melissa Kroonenberg are clinical relationship therapists and owners of Whitby, Ontario’s New Roots Therapy, and they echo similar sentiments. “Sometimes couples tell us that it’s not romantic if they have to schedule time to be together – they’re under the impression that romance only happens out of spontaneity, which is just not true! Remember when you first started dating? You were probably planning everything – when to see each other, what to wear, what to talk about — and it was romantic, wasn’t it? Spontaneity is great when it happens…but when you’re busy running a business and possibly attending to other responsibilities, such as parenting, spontaneous moments can be few and far between.”

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Learn to swiftly handle disagreements

Have you ever butt heads with someone at work, and promptly vented to your partner upon arriving home? If you answered yes, you can see why that becomes a bit more complicated when your romantic partner is also your business partner.

“You have to talk about (disagreements) — debrief, debrief, debrief,” says Gloria. The couple also reiterates that when there’s so much “at stake”, in both business and relationship, it makes them fight harder for their work and for each other. Likewise, this mindset informs the way they manage conflict.

“We put a time limit on our fights — and you have to know how to fight. We take no longer than 30 minutes to deal with any arguments. We deal with it, then we move on and get back to work,” says Ricardo.

Trust is also a major component when it comes to decision-making. Gloria and Ricardo trust each other to make the best decisions — if they fall through, it’s used as a teachable moment, not as an “I told you so” moment. “We’re in this together,” they reiterate.

Corinne and Melissa remind couples that conflict is not inherently bad, and should not necessarily be avoided: “Conflict is most constructive when the focus is on learning and growing from the experience so that the same issues/concerns don’t continue to repeat themselves. Constructive or productive conflict is not about placing blame, attacking someone’s character/personality, or ‘winning’ the argument.”

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Three tips for mixing business with pleasure from New Roots Therapy:

1. Create a shared-vision for your business and your relationship.
Discuss your hopes and fears and come up with a plan, together, of how you want to make your vision a reality. By creating a shared-vision, couples can be more confident that they’re moving forward in a mutually-agreed upon direction, thus minimizing conflicts/issues and enhancing a sense of togetherness.

2. Make time to be a couple outside of the business relationship.
Have fun together! Try new things! Commit to having quality couple time in the same way you would commit to other appointments. In addition to this, it’s also very important to nurture your sense of individuality and make time for activities away from your partner doing things that you enjoy and that fulfill you.

3. Come up with a plan for handling conflict in advance of a disagreement.
For example, decide to address work-related issues during work hours and personal issues when you’re “off the clock”. Come up with a plan for returning to issues at a later time if it’s not appropriate to discuss them immediately (if a personal issue arises while at work, for example). Develop strategies for transitioning from work life to home life, such as rituals for reconnecting as a couple at the end of the work day, to help mediate conflict/tensions and more clearly define your different roles.

Do you have experience working with you significant other? What worked for you, and what didn’t? Are you considering doing business with your lover? What are you most concerned about? Would you ever even agree to mixing business with pleasure?

HAIR & THE HUSTLE: How I Embraced Natural Hair In The Workplace

Photo via Elizabeth Dungan

Photo via Elizabeth Dungan

Natural hair in the workplace is a discussion I haven’t had in quite some time. In all honesty, I’ve almost completely forgotten about (ignored? remained indifferent to?) outsiders’ perceptions and the intersections of me, my professionalism, and my physical presentation – but I was reminded of it all last night.

Thanks to Toronto’s humidity and recent torrential rains, I haven’t really been fighting whatever it is that my hair wants to do. A dry twist out from Sunday has grown into a majestic explosion of strawberry blondish kinks and curls that stretch for the sky instead of swinging down low, and I’m rollin’ with it. Some days, my hair will accept slight taming with a bit of water and a few bobby pins. Other days, my hair literally spits the bobby pins out onto the bathroom floor before I finish getting dressed. Today was the latter, so I went about my day and night with the big-ass ‘fro I’ve come to know and love.

My dope, smart, and hilarious cousin and her wife are moving away at the end of the month, and last night I met up with them and their friends to send them off well. It was a compliment from a new homie named Zee that got the conversation flowing.

She loved my hair. She asked how long I had been natural. She asked how my hair was received at work. And it was at that moment that I realized…I had pretty much stopped caring about what most people had to say.

During the time that I’ve worn my hair natural, I’ve held fairly senior executive/management positions. In my transitioning days, friends, family, and that little voice in my head all wondered if this new choice would have a negative impact on the way I was viewed at work. I moved from relaxed hair to kinky twists to a TWA with trepidation, always waiting for the moment where a comment or look would confirm that, yes – this choice DID have a negative impact on how I was perceived. It never came from the people I thought it would come from (see: older White men in leadership positions), but when I decided to apply for an internal promotion, I definitely got an earful from an unexpected demographic (see: other Black women). The position I applied for was a senior client-facing role that required the utmost in professionalism. If I had a dollar for every time a Black woman told me I’d never get the position “with your hair lookin’ like…THAT” – I’d have a lot of dollars. Despite their thoughts, I did win the position and went on to enjoy my new role. However, the idea of natural hair and professional perception stayed on my mind.

via naturallyrandom.com

via naturallyrandom.com

For my first few client meetings, I’d conveniently be in the mood for a flat iron. I didn’t want to admit that I was afraid to present myself to my clients with a head full of carefully coiffed kinks and curls, but that’s exactly what it was. Deep down, I knew I was concerned about “scaring” people or drawing extra attention to myself, and wanted to control the one thing I could to avoid all of that. Due to my name and telephone work voice, most people assumed that I was a White woman. When they’d later meet a 6ft tall Black executive who was often around the same age as their children, the reactions are jarring enough. I didn’t want my hair to be an additional She’s Different! red flag, so I consistently controlled that aspect.

Since those days, I’ve grown. I’ve learned to become much more comfortable with myself – the girl who’s almost always the tallest, youngest, brownest person in the room. Once I was able to accept and embrace the things I can’t change about myself, I learned to accept and embrace the thing I willingly chose to change – my hair. My hair has become part of the package of Bee – a thing I’m recognized by and known for, a thing that just is. I’ve changed my mindset around natural hair and professionalism, and no longer go to the default “straight hair” setting for formal or professional moments. I now know that my natural texture can be polished just as much as it can be wild and free, and find that my increased self-confidence hasn’t allowed much room to think otherwise.

Do I get questions? Sure. Do I get stares? Hell yes. Do I get people who are distracted by my hair and talk to my tuft of curls instead of making eye contact? Yup. Do those things make me say “Damn – next time I’m just flat ironing this sh*t and calling it a day!” or make me second-guess the way I chose to present myself? Not anymore. I’ve been known to stop business discussions and address the curly elephant in the room. I’ve been known to politely inform someone that the timing or phrasing of their question/comment is inappropriate and keep it movin’. I’ve been known to walk into business meetings with a sun-blocking Afro and not have anyone question my abilities or professionalism. I’ve grown lucky enough to reach a point where I am not oblivious to the implications of being a Black woman with natural hair in the workplace, but I’m not controlled by them either.  If anyone has ever assessed the intersections of me, my professionalism, and my hair – and had a negative reaction – I’ve been none the wiser, and they clearly haven’t been powerful enough to stop me from anything I’ve ever wanted to achieve. That pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it?

How do you view natural hair in the workplace? Have you ever felt the need to conform or change your look to a more “acceptable” one? 

BALANCING ACTS: Women’s Diverse Roles & The Impact On Self-Care [via UPTOWN Magazine]

In case you missed it – as of last month, I officially got on-board with UPTOWN Magazine as a contributing writer. Because I lost all power thanks to the crazy storm in Toronto last night, I didn’t get to finish the piece that I wanted to post today – however, I thought I’d re-up my first piece for UPTOWN! This is one that I have to repeatedly read to myself as a reminder to work towards better balance and self-care. Take a read and let me know what you think!

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image via shutterstock

The lyrical enchantress known as Erykah Badu once sang, “Been such a long time/I forgot that I was fine” – and for me in this moment, truer words have never been spoken.

In my hopeful naïveté, I always thought I’d be one of those women who would always have everything together. I thought that once I got all the pieces of life in place (happy relationship, fulfilling career, great friendships, healthy lifestyle, etc.), I’d be able to maintain and side-step the gaping hole of “letting oneself go” that I had witnessed other women tumbling into. That won’t be me, I thought – until it was.

With the New York Times reporting that women are more likely to be primary caregivers and are rising as primary breadwinners, women are redefining balance.  Increasing responsibilities, diverse roles, and juggling it all in today’s world means that it’s only natural for some balls to get dropped while focusing on all the others in the air. Thanks to life’s realities my naïve bubble has been burst, but I’m working on doing a better job with my own juggling act.

My mother is a key representation of balance – both the blueprint and the “Don’t try this at home!” model. As one of the key women represented in the NY Times article (a single mother, primary caregiver, and primary breadwinner in subsequent relationships), she exemplified the great ways to maintain balance, and imprinted in my mind the things I wanted to avoid. When she was bad, she was very, very bad – constantly taking on extra shifts at work, turning down opportunities to spend time with friends, and missing out on chances to do the things she loved like traveling and working out. When she was good, she was great – making time to pamper herself, enrolling herself in Continuing Education classes to fulfill personal passions, and finding time to enjoy the mature woman’s dating scene. Though her life’s motto was “Everything I do is for my kids,” my younger siblings and I found her so much more interesting when she did things for herself.

These days, I’ve got a lot on my plate. I try to be am an attentive wife, productive employee, consistent blogger/writer, engaged community builder, household financial planner, dope sister/daughter/friend, and more. Unfortunately, self-care and ‘me time’ have gone right out the window as I work to build an empire, keep bills paid and make others happy. Erykah forgot that she was fine, and I have too. I’ve also forgotten that I love Afro-Cuban dance, working out at home, getting dolled up for dates with my husband, and spending quiet time writing in my journal. So, what can I (and the multitude of women who are experiencing the same thing) do?

It’s simple. Make YOU a priority.

Far too often, we can feel that making ourselves a priority alludes to the neglect of others – and while it’s a hard function to re-wire in our brains, we must. A friend reminded me that when we fly, we’re instructed to put on our oxygen masks before we assist others with theirs – so life must follow a similar principle. When I’m not balanced, I’m not happy. When I’m not happy, I’m not of good service to myself or others.  I’ve resolved to make Bee a priority in order to restore balance, be happier, and have more to offer to the world around me.

This morning I laid in bed and wrote in my journal while singing to Teedra Moses. Next week I’m buying a new blender to get back to making my favorite green smoothies. Tomorrow I’ll be returning to my beloved Afro-Cuban dance classes. The sensuality and passion I feel from dancing will no doubt transfer to my current schleppy appearance. Bright colors in my wardrobe, flirty summer dresses, getting a much overdue  mani-pedi, and taking time to do my hair are all part of my new balancing act.

For many of us, the NY Times are just catching up to a reality that many of us (and our mamas, and our mamas’ mamas) have lived for ages. We’ve been caring for others and bringing home the bread, bacon, and milk for decades. Simply put, we’ve mastered that. We now need to master the art of balance, and ensure that we nourish all aspects of our lives – not just the financial/career/family obligations. Operation Find Your Mojo/Get Fine & Prioritize is on – are you joining me?

BEE’S BUSINESS TIPS: Working With Less Than 6 Degrees Of Separation

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Two weeks ago when I attended the Herbert Carnegie Future Aces Gala, something really interesting unfolded as the night went on.

First, I ran into someone who knew me from my work last year with the Caribbean Tales Film Festival.

Then, I ran into a fellow Battle of the Sexes Show panelist.

Then, I ran into one of the girls I mentored at the Ladies on the Rise program.

Finally, I ran into 3 sisters – two who attended Curls, Coils & Cocktails, and one who remembered me from hosting The Mystic Effect show.

Now, I don’t write this to exemplify my overactive calendar and various engagements, but to highlight an important point that is relevant for Toronto, if not other areas of the world.

This place is too damn small.

These days, we no longer need 6 degrees of separation between us. Social media has played a major role in tightening circles, but even without that medium, I find that it’s just too easy to know someone who knows someone who’s connected to you in some way. As I do more work with my blogging, writing, speaking, and other community building projects, I see that this fact is crucial to remember in a business sense. In Toronto, everybody knows everybody – so being aware of that will help or hurt you as you move about on your hustle.

For me, this 1-2 degree of separation reality we currently live in means that I have to stay on top of 3 major components: quality of work, professional conduct, and personality. I’ll break it down.

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Quality of Work

I understand that we live in a microwave popcorn society, where it seems like the people who make the most flamboyant show of doing absolutely nothing get put on to fame and riches. I get it and I see it, but for me, hard work always pays off. I feel I’m neither the tortoise nor the hare; I’ve taken the best qualities from both and have created a new animal that is diligent, dedicated, and hardworking – but is also strategic and doesn’t waste time jumping on great opportunities. I try to maintain that my quality of work is something I can consistently be proud of – I’m constantly learning and improving, but I try to remember one of Don Miguel Ruiz’ Four Agreements that states to always do your best. Whether it’s a blog post, a freelance piece, a speaking engagement, or an event – and whether I can do it with my eyes closed or it’s my first time out the gate – I aim to do my ultimate best at it. No short cuts or excuses are allowed.  When people link you with consistent good work, it will take you far. It may not happen overnight, but eventually you’ll stop to look back and think, “Damn. I really did come up, didn’t I?”

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Professional Conduct

Not everything is going to go swimmingly. You won’t get along with everyone or like their style of how they do their thing. Common sense is not common, therefore clashes in business are inevitable – but how you handle them is key. I got an email a few weeks ago from someone I was trying to do business with that had me ready to hit Reply and unleash a string of expletives in straight English and patois. I instead chose to vent to my husband, send some key friends “Can you BELIEVE what this MF tried to do?” text messages, and stepped away from my email inbox for a while. When I did respond, I did so in a way that clearly let the recipient know in no uncertain terms that I was displeased and no longer interested in working with them, but that could not be held against me as being over-the-top or unnecessarily harsh.  When it comes to business, I will get in your ass just enough for you to realize the error of your ways, but will not give you extra ammo to play the victim role with. Now, if I ever did have to go there and really let someone have it? I’d have to take responsibility for any consequence that may come from those actions. It’s not about being fake or a pushover, but it’s also not about blowing things out of proportion or inappropriately burning bridges either. Toronto consistently reminds me that you never know who knows who – so I move about my day ensuring that I can always stand by anything I’ve done or said.

In a positive light, maintaining professionalism just adds to your reputation. When people feel that they can depend on you and communicate well with you, that will push you to the top of the list for new opportunities.

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Personality

Hard work is crucial, and being professional is priceless. But if no one likes you as a person? You’ll be hard-pressed to find success. I’m much more drawn to people who have some personality, kindness, and sincerity behind the resume and accolades. When you’re aloof, egotistical, or downright rude, my immediate reaction is to overlook everything you do (no matter how well), and take you in for who you are.

At the Future Aces Gala, I ran into people from 5 different areas of life and business. Some of these people introduced me to other people who could be the gateway to new partnerships and opportunities, which is ultimately a blessing. Luckily for me, I have had all positive interactions with everyone I encountered, so I wasn’t worried about how I would be perceived to the new people I met. Simply put, being nice is worth it. Making positive impressions pays off. Having a unique personality means you’ll be remembered. Just ensure that you’re etched in someone’s memory for the right reasons.

Are you feeling the ‘2 degrees of separation’ crunch these days? Does it change depending on if you work in the digital sphere or more face-to-face? What are your main tenets of doing business?

HOW SHE HUSTLES BRUNCH RECAP: Thoughts On Having It ‘All’

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This past Sunday, I attended my second How She Hustles Brunch, hosted by the amazing Emily Mills. Though this was the 4th annual brunch, it was year numero dos for me – check my recap of last year’s awesome brunch here.

Like last year, I spent a gorgeous afternoon connecting and re-connecting with some incredible women who are all hustling in one way or another. I met photographers, teachers, law students, singers, actresses, mothers, and more – and soaked up all the positive vibes they brought with them. At the lovely Hotel Ocho, 130 of us talked, laughed, hugged, exchanged cards, and snapped photos with each other while enjoying a delicious meal and an awesome event.

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Unlike last year, I’ve gotten much more comfortable with mixing, mingling, and networking with others. My shyness has dialed down a bit. Though my introvertedness will never go away, I’m much better at *gasp* making conversation with strangers and getting to know others without needing to assess the scene from the comfort of the corner of the room first.

Not only did I meet some great women, eat some great food, and win some great prizes (like a beautiful necklace by Nikki Clarke), but I got insight on something I’ve been thinking about. In the spirit of hustling, we often think about the age-old question of “Can women have it all?” ‘All’ is a funny concept, because the general discussions I’ve read/witnessed tend to assume that women are a monolith who all want the same things – and common sense would tell us that’s not true. Each woman’s ‘all’ is a unique and personal entity, and I was reminded of that in conversation with many of the women in attendance at the brunch.

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At its simplest breakdown, my ‘all’ looks something like this:

A happy, loving, passionate, supportive marriage.

Beautiful, healthy, and happy children.

A career path that fulfills both my spirit and my bank account.

Incorporating my passions and creative outlets into ways to diversify myself and my income streams.

Owning and maintaining a beautiful home.

Financial stability and prosperity.

Maintaining a thriving lifestyle centred around holistic health. 

Supporting my community, supporting my friends, supporting my family.

I could drill down and get extremely specific about what all of these things look like to me, but in a general sense, the above points encompass the ‘all’ that I feel I deserve, want, and can attain.

At the How She Hustles Brunch, I was reminded of just how diverse and unique we are as women – and I was again bolstered by the fact that there is no ONE right way to do things or move about life. I met women who are living some of the things I dream about, or are thriving through the some things I fear would be too challenging for me to handle. I met women who were defying convention or redefining convention, and it motivated me to release a bit of the pressure I’ve been putting on myself.

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To me, the debate around whether women can have it ‘all’ is a trick question. Are we placing a cookie-cutter mold on womanhood and our capabilities therein? Or are we accepting of the fact that not only can women have it ‘all’, but that their definition of ‘all’ and their game plan of how to achieve it are incredibly multitudinous? We need to beware of allowing the common threads that connect us as women to turn into strangleholds that tie us to perceptions that don’t actually fit. Do: Assess your values, dreams, and goals, imagine your ideal life, define your ‘all’, and create your gameplan to achieve it. Don’t: Compare yourself to another’s journey, follow a route that you feel forced to take, and focus too much on doomsday news reports and statistics. Create the life of your dreams, and live it well.

Were you at the How She Hustles Brunch? If so, how did you enjoy the event? Have you defined you ‘all’? Do you feel that it’s attainable? What’s your gameplan?

Special thanks to Samantha Clarke Photography for the beautiful photos!

HARRY JEROME AWARDS: 7 Questions With Award Winner Anne-Marie Woods

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The 31st Annual Harry Jerome Awards are one day away, and I couldn’t be more excited! As part of my official HJA blogger duties, I’ve been posting interviews with various award and scholarship winners – and today I’m hittin’ y’all with one more before the big night!

The Harry Jerome Awards celebrate excellence in the African-Canadian community in all different arenas, and today I’m highlighting Anne-Marie Woods, winner of the G98.7FM Excellence in Entertainment Award.

Anne-Marie a.k.a. Amani is an actor, poet, singer, writer, artist educator, producer, and creative consultant. With a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Theatre from Dalhousie University, Woods has used her talents to achieve some incredible feats. Performances at the St. Lucia Jazz Festival, opening for legends like Maya Angelou and Roy Ayers, and headlining at the world-famous Nuyorican cafe in New York City are some of the items on her resume. She is a resident Artist Educator at Young People’s Theatre, created a theatre outreach program for youth called Word Up and continues to give back to the community via workshops on literacy, anti-bullying, and diversity at schools and organizations around the world. Without further ado, let me take it away to Ms. Woods, who tells us a bit more about herself in my 7 Questions series.

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Tell us a bit about your business and what you do. Also, what is one interesting or little-known fact about you?

Imani Enterprises is the name of my company and it was founded in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1994 as a response to the need for positive cultural programming with an arts education focus. I moved to Toronto in 2000 and my company has continued to evolve over the years. We are now a Global Arts Education Service that introduces creativity as a means of communication and outreach. We provide creative and innovative services to individuals, schools, community based organizations and corporations. Our services are designed to help our clients realize that arts and creativity can add to a better quality of life and we make our clients part of the creative process. I am also currently in the middle of developing my third diversity presentation contract for TJX Canada/Winners Distribution Centre in Mississauga and Brampton, Ontario.

As a multi-disciplinary artist I am a: singer, writer, dancer, spoken word artist, producer and artist educator.  I started my company and often have to deal with the many misconceptions about what being a professional artist actually means. My degree is in theatre, I have an SEB Small Business Certificate, and years of experience as a professional performer.

In the 90’s I  founded the Imani Women’s Artistic Project, a theatre program developed for young women in Nova Scotia aged 16-25 to enhance their self-esteem through theatre and performance art.  In 2011 during my Artist Educator Residency at Young People’s Theatre I started I started the Word Up Spoken Word and Theatre Youth Outreach Program and have directed three productions – the first two at YPT and then the last one this February as part of Kuumba at Harbourfront Centre.  So, the question is: how do I earn my living when I do so many different things?  To me it’s simple. I teach, write, act, produce, perform and create. I will focus on three major projects a year and I make sure that my work is excellent which is why I have recurring clients.  I have been teaching theatre at Young Peoples Theatre for five years now and have also done work for various schools and school boards repetitively since I moved here in 2000.

One interesting or little known fact about me is that I have been on my own in every way since I was in grade 12. So, I know the true meaning of success through hard work, of finding a way to be able to put myself through University and finding my way from a very young age. It’s why I have that fighting entrepreneurial spirit to this day.  Another fun little known fact is that I started out as a rapper and won the first major Rap Contest in Nova Scotia held at George Dixon Community Centre in 1986.

What was your first reaction when you heard you won your Harry Jerome Award? What did your family/friends/colleagues think?

My reaction getting the news was probably a bit out of the ordinary (just ask Angelina [Harry Jerome Award Chair] who called me). I was taking a nap because I had a performance that evening for the Viola Desmond Awards. My phone rings and this lady says “Hi, this is Angelina Williams and I’d like to congratulate you for winning the Harry Jerome Award for Excellence in Entertainment!” To which I responded…“huh?” so she repeated herself, and then I said “What um uh…is this a real phone call?” She laughed and assured me the call was real. So, I was definitely completely thrown off guard, and I stayed that way for a few weeks – probably until the actual Media Launch in March. My family is proud of me, including my siblings in Nova Scotia and my family back home in Trinidad. I have had emails and support phone calls from various key members of the Black Community in Nova Scotia as well.

My cousin who has never been to Toronto is coming up to support me the night of the event, my niece will also be there and 2 of my good friends bought their tickets right away. My really good friend Tara was also proud, and the youth that I work with also gave me props. It’s been an interesting journey for me. But the praise I also listened to was the congrats and well deserved comments from the many mentors in my life…that was definitely a good feeling. And of course the public congrats from Diaspora Dialogues on Twitter and their website and also from the Playwrights Guild of Canada made me smile deeply when I ran across them online.

The one feeling I didn’t know I would have was a bit of sadness having lost a sister to lupus and my mother to breast cancer, and it made me sad to think they aren’t here to experience this. However, that soon passed and I feel that their spirits will be with me on the 27th smiling and cheering me on.

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Have you been to the Harry Jerome Awards before? If so, what was one of your top memories of the event?

I have never attended the event outside of being a performer, and that is primarily due to me being self-employed. In the year 2002 I opened up the Harry Jerome Awards with a poem I wrote for the event called I Am Canadian. It was a take on the beer commercials that were on at that time, but I made it about African Canadian History. That poem earned me a lot of recognition in Toronto and I performed it at many galas, conferences and events for the rest of that year, and to date I have integrated into one of my artivational speeches “Why Black History Month is for Everyone”. I remember being nervous because I opened up the entire award show… but I had the full support of the audience for that performance and it was exhilarating!

What are you most looking forward to at this year’s awards? Is there anyone you’re looking forward to meeting?

I am looking forward to sharing this special night with my cousin and niece and my good friends that will be attending. I am also looking forward to sharing the night with the other recipients and hoping to really be able to connect with them though we represent so many different walks of life. When I was at the Media Launch in March what I truly loved about the recipients was that amongst us there are those who are well recognized for their contributions and there are a few of us that are unsung Sheroes and I really liked that element… that perhaps some of us who are involved in grass roots work may not be the type of person that is normally recognized.

I also hope that there will be youth in attendance who will find each of our stories motivational and inspirational.  As far as looking forward to meeting anyone, I really am just looking forward to living, breathing, and taking in the entire experience because it is a true blessing.

What do you feel is the significance of the Harry Jerome Awards in today’s African-Canadian community?

Having also performed at the Awards last year, as well as having to look up the history of Harry Jerome, I feel that knowing our history is so important. A few ladies in my church were friends with Harry Jerome so since this happened I got to hear about the type of person he was, how he truly cared about community and was humble. I feel that by recognizing individuals through his name we are keeping the history of his story alive in Canada. It is so important to let our HIS stories and HER stories continue to live!

What does winning this Harry Jerome Award mean to you personally?

Personally, this means that for those of us who are self-made, and who may have been voted least likely to succeed when we were younger because of our skin colour or behavioural issues, that we can persevere through anything and gain recognition. It means that the little girl who came to Nova Scotia from Trinidad that they wanted to kick out of nursery school for telling the kids scary stories had a future after all. It means that dedicating my life to performing and working with youth and always being diligent and excellent in my artistic endeavours has proven to be a good thing. It means that I am glad I have always faced my fears or else I would still be sitting in a room in Nova Scotia dreaming about many of the places I’ve traveled or performed or taught. I have always been one to face my fears even when I was truly afraid to make that phone call or pursue that festival or showcase – I would never let that fear stop me. Finally it means that even when we think no one is paying attention…someone out there is, so always be mindful of what messages you are putting out there. I am a product of my family, my culture, Nova Scotia, Trinidad, my education and my miseducation. So it means that if I can live dreams especially doing this on my own, then anyone can!

Finally, what is your key to success?

My key to success is my sticktoitiveness, my perseverance, and my ability to never take no as an answer. My key to success is also having faith and a huge sense of humour to get me through the challenging and difficult life moments. I believe in what I’m doing, have done and will continue to do.  I will continue to be organized, focused, driven and never see my confidence or the successes that are yet to come as a negative. And I will continue to live by my daily Mantra “Work Hard, Play Hard, Rest Hard, Pray Hard!”

Keep up with Anne-Marie via her Imani Enterprises site! Will you be at the Harry Jerome Awards tomorrow night? If so, make sure we meet! If not, keep up with my Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram as I capture the night – and tune in to Caribbean Connections TV for a live feed of the blue carpet at the awards! Stay tuned for more awards fun! 

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