When the Kids are Away, the Grown-ups Will Play


“Think through your leisure time. People are generally good about setting work goals, but we’re not as good about personal ones. Planning a few fun events gives you something to look forward to.” 

– Laura Vanderkam, I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time

As many of our kids head off to sleepover camp, or to spend time with grandparents this summer, that leisure time will be (strangely!) kid-free. And we may have four, five, or even six weekends – and many weeknights if we’re feeling wild! – to fill with…well…adult stuff! While I’m not personally embarking on a kid-free summer (I will have two at sleepover camp for 4 and 6 weeks each, and one at day camp in the city), I know many parents who are – including my sister and brother-in-law, whose girls, my nieces, will be devouring s’mores and bunk-hopping with my two at Camp Walden, East-North of Bancroft, Ontario.

In fact, I was inspired to write this piece because after her first kid-free two weeks last summer, my sister noted that she and her husband often woke up on Saturday morning with no plans…they simply weren’t accustomed to all the free time! No 9 a.m. soccer. No 12 p.m. hockey. No 4:00 birthday party.

Just a wide open weekend….and no, they weren’t dreaming.

While everyone needs a few lazy days here and there, I’m with Vanderkam who suggests: “Time passes whether we choose what to do with it or not. Creating memories is often about creating opportunities for memories, and sitting on the couch in front of the TV creates fewer opportunities than using the same time for a ‘beach and marshmallow roast.’”

So whether you’re on the all-kids-packed-and-ready-to-go team this summer, or you have one of more kiddies hanging with you in the city this summer, I believe we all deserve/need adult time to nurture ourselves and our connections with loved ones. Don’t take my word for it. According to a 75-year Harvard study on living a fulfilling life “The clearest message that we get is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.” Okay…noted!

Even though we have one little munchkin with us the whole summer, I’m confident with the help of my parents – who will jump at the chance to babysit anytime! – I can sneak in some leisure time with my husband and friends that doesn’t involve packing goldfish crackers or worrying about bedtime. And things should be extra lively this summer as we celebrate our beautiful country’s 150th birthday!

A twist on the popular resource Toronto4Kids, I’m dubbing my list Toronto4Adults. Here are few ideas for us all to make great summer memories (without having to wipe dripping popsicle juice off those cute little hands and faces). Many of these adventures are new to me too…so I’m right there with you, exploring for the first time.

For those not in Toronto, perhaps some of the suggestions will spark your own ideas where you call home. And for those with cottages…well…I’m jealous.

While some of these outings and adventures are certainly kid-friendly, there’s something special about exploring with a loved one and friends, without little people (with big demands) in tow. And maybe it’s just me, but when I bring my kids to a farmers market or (attempt to) enjoy a stroll through a cool neighbourhood, it’s not long before the whining begins. Sigh.

Bless their little camp-going hearts…hey are those the camp buses I hear pulling up?!

Here’s to making great memories in the summer of 2017…

Biking, Hiking, and Walking  

While I’m sometimes guilty of wanting to stick close to home (mostly to avoid traffic, to be honest), I know there is so much to explore in and around the Greater Toronto Area. Here are a few resources that look pretty awesome. And if you’re like me, try to avoid the roads during high-traffic times – like Sunday evenings when cottagers are returning to the city.

Picnic in The Park 

Pick a park, any park! Toronto has no shortage of green spaces, ranging from High Park to Edwards Gardens. At the time of this posting, there is no ferry service to Centre Island, but hopefully it will resume soon and we can all enjoy this little gem in our city, and pop into the delightful Rectory Café.

Sports, Music, and Theatre

More of a splurge versus a picnic in the park, but if you believe the message in articles like this one, that experiences, not possessions, ultimately make us happy, then these are a few good ones to choose from!

Farmers Markets

I always enjoy these. And dare I say…even more so when I’m not with my kids. It’s not their fault these things make them cranky…they just don’t appreciate a good, giant beet as much as I do!

Neighbourhoods & Festivals 

While we’ve done less of this since we’ve had kids, my husband and I love exploring cool neighbourhoods, window shopping, and grabbing a bite to eat (and an iced coffee for him!) Here are a just a few on our list…if we make it to two or three, I’ll be thrilled!

Speaking of coffee, throwing these ones in for the java lovers out there:

As for festivals, this piece seems to have them covered:

Finally, for a third consecutive year (we haven’t made it yet but plan to this year!), Adelaide Eats (formerly Front Street Foods), will return to the second floor terrace of Adelaide Place (150 York Street).


BlogTO and NOW Toronto have us covered – or open to the sky:

Wishing you all a wonderful and safe summer. Here’s to making memories, nurturing relationships, and filling ourselves up with good times…and the best iced coffee in town!

And Happy 150 Canada!


4 Communication Tips For My Younger Self


Over the years I have spent time mentoring university and MBA students and young professionals. It’s been 12 years since I completed my MBA at The University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and over 17 since I started my first full-time job as a copywriter at a then-digital marketing agency (today, if you’re in marketing…you’re in digital!) Despite the time that has passed, I still remember how I felt as a “newbie” in the professional world. On my journey, I have learned many lessons through on-the-job challenges, interviews, and transitions – and I am still growing both personally and professionally. Not a week passes that I don’t acquire new knowledge or insights – sometimes through successes, other times through failures. Oh, and if you haven’t heard, failure is all the rage these days. So go ahead, embrace it. These 12 famous people have.

Sharing what I’ve learned over the course of my career in a candid and honest way is one way I enjoy giving back. And since I often find myself sharing similar guidance with different audiences, I’ve summarized the tips that emerge most often in hopes they inspire, encourage, and most of all…remind us all that we’re not alone. Believe it or not, even big-time executives don’t have all the answers! And if you ask me, we can all use a cheerleader in our corner – and ever better if that cheerleader has some tips up her sleeve to help you shine even brighter!

Now pass me the pompoms please…

4 Communication Tips For My Younger Self 

1)   Give people something to react to

Many years ago, “Dealing with Ambiguity” was on my development plan. If I didn’t know all the answers, I didn’t feel like I knew where to start. If I couldn’t provide an answer with 100% accuracy, I was hesitant to provide anything at all. Thankfully, I wasn’t totally paralyzed and I did provide my managers and team members with content when I didn’t have the full picture; but it probably took me longer than it should have and I likely wasn’t as confident as I could have been when I shared information and recommendations.

Then someone shared this little gem:

Give people something to react to.

And it stuck.

What does it mean? When someone asks for information – a data analysis for example – use the material you have (and don’t be afraid to ask colleagues for help!) to formulate a response as thoroughly as possible. If there is data missing, make an assumption and state it clearly. Or make a few assumptions and provide high, medium, and low scenarios. Or complete the part of the analysis you can with the data you have and acknowledge that you require more information to complete the task. Or…you get the picture.

Recently, I opened my email when I arrived at work and read a note from my manager requesting an analysis…by noon. It was an ad-hoc request, not related to any of my current projects. Early in my career, this might have given me a fright…and stopped me in my tracks. But that morning, I efficiently pieced together the requested information, using data I had plus insights from colleagues who were kind enough to spare a few minutes. Ultimately, whatever was in my manager’s hands at noon would be more than he had at 9 a.m. – so there was only upside. And if I gave him something (vs. nothing at all) at least he would have something to react to.

Next time you’re not sure where or how to start…just start. Whatever you jot down is one step closer to a solution to the problem you’re solving. Because even if it’s not theanswer…it promotes healthy dialogue, discussion, and debate. 

2)   Don’t ask…recommend

People don’t want more problems. They want solutions…YES, from all levels in the organization. Perhaps you’ve heard the advice about removing words such as “just” from your communications (give it a try…it works wonders!) I also suggest reframing questions as recommendations when it makes sense – especially when you’re confident your audience will agree with your proposal. For example…

Instead of:

“Are you aligned with moving the project forward and incurring the costs stated above?”


“I recommend moving the project forward and incurring the costs stated above. Please confirm by Friday end of day that you are aligned.”

Replacing a question with a recommendation (in bold font if necessary) is a great tool to showcase your leadership and highlight your ownership of your initiatives.

3)  Tailor your text

I always re-read emails I’ve drafted and remove wordy sentences and unnecessary content. For all communications – emails, presentations, and conversations – I ask myself a few key questions:

  • Who is my audience? (And who might they forward my email to?)
  • What do they know (or not know) already?
  • What do I want to tell them?
  • What questions might they have (HINT: anticipate them and answer them proactively)
  • What do I need from my audience? Approval? Information?
  • What am I going to do next? And when?

Our messages should assure our audience we know our stuff (and know what we don’t know), we understand what we need to move forward, and we’re confident in our approach.

True, this is a bit tougher when delivering negative news. But I used this approach to share an update with my manager highlighting a project’s unexpected delay. It wasn’t the best information he received all week – but by using this framework, I felt secure about the message I delivered.

4)   Questions are great…at the right time and in the right place

As a naturally curious person, my initial tendency is to want to know everything about everything (um…yes…I might have control issues). However, I have discovered that knowing more doesn’t always add value to an initiative. I have also learned to be more thoughtful about when I ask questions and to whom.

In recent months, I have participated in several meetings that feature some fairly technical content. As the business lead of the project, I don’t need to understand all the nitty gritty behind the scenes; I must know that the project is on track (and if not, why…and what are we going to do to get it back on the rails), and that we have done our due diligence in key areas (think legal, regulatory, compliance, and risk) before we go to market. In these situations and others, I hold my tongue and think before I ask:

  • Will my question and its response have a significant impact on the trajectory of the project?
  • Am I the only one who doesn’t understand something? Or would my question benefit a broader group?
  • Is my question better suited for a one-on-one conversation with the subject matter expert – i.e. can I and one or more colleagues “take it offline?” (Shame on me! I wrote a blog about those pesky corporate buzz words and phrases!)
  • Do I really, truly need to know the answer? (Surprise! Sometimes the answer is NO).

Like most things, it’s a work-in-progress to strike a good balance. For me, that means maintaining my natural curiosity and desire to be thorough, while holding back the urge to ask anything at any time.


Any ideas to add to my list? I would love to hear from you! Don’t know where to start? I’ll let you figure that one out.

In the meantime, I’ll be over here with my pompoms…and my control issues.  

Final Spotlight: 3 More Traits for Success and the People who Rock them


In the final segment of this blog series about Success, inspired by Richard St. John’s The 8 Traits Successful People Have in Commonwe meet three more Rock Stars who are focusing, working hard, and serving up awesomeness.

Just catching up? Check out Part One for a quick tour of the 8 traits, and Part Two featuring three personal success stories, overflowing with Passion, Persistence, and Ideas.

Once you’re up to speed, fill yourself up with more inspiration from a business owner who aims to serve her team first; a talent acquisition specialist who inherited his hard work ethic from his father; and an accomplished writer who defined her mission with the help of focus!

Ann Gomez, @clearconceptinc

Transformation Consultant and Founding President, Clear Concept Inc.; Author, The Email Warrior 


Some of history’s most transformational leaders embodied service. Think of Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King, Jr. They all lived with a driving purpose of serving others. And clearly, they each made a profound impact.

I launched my career at a company that believed in servant leadership. The leaders grounded every business decision in what was best for their customers. And this focus translated into an inspired, passionate team.

It is easy to see how businesses need to serve their customers. However, true service-oriented leaders are also committed to team service. As a productivity and leadership trainer, I strive to embrace servant leadership with my team as well, using six key principles:

  1. Doing the right thing

There are many grey situations in business, where a leader is called upon to make a judgment call. The correct decision for the “bottom line” isn’t always the best decision for the customer or team member. Should you waive a charge? Should you bring in extra support? Servant leaders reflect upon and move towards doing the right thing for others. Ironically, this leads to better results for the business in the long-term.

  1. Making others look good

Servant leaders strive to help their customers and team succeed. They provide solutions, opportunities, best practices and connections. This provides others with the resources to thrive.

  1. Helping others save face

There is rarely benefit (if ever) in proving someone wrong. Humans have an inherent need to be right. Servant leaders build on, rather than debate ideas. This creates a safe environment that encourages people to do their best work.

  1. Managing negative emotions

We’re all human but servant leaders are conscious of how their mood influences others. They strive to exude optimism and enthusiasm and set an energized tone for their team. In doing so, they eliminate needless drama and wasted energy.

  1. Asking rather than telling

Servant leaders solicit input from others. They believe the strongest ideas come from diverse perspectives and are not threatened by others challenging their thinking. This creates robust, creative and transformational solutions.

  1. Learning and supporting others’ goals Servant leaders support their team’s goals, resulting in more engaged employees who pursue work they find inspiring.


In my experience, servant leadership is a highly effective style to enable the best possible performance from teams. And when a team shines, we collectively are capable of doing amazing things.

Jared Tessis

Head of Talent at Klass Capital


My late father worked very hard – consistently and for decades. His work ethic and commitment were incredible. He built a thriving law firm and an enviable professional reputation. When I was a child, my father came home for dinner after a long day at the office – we ate together, he helped us with homework, and coached our hobbies. After my sisters and I went to bed, he continued to work well into the night, sometimes working at the dining room table until 2 AM. He loved his career and was passionate about helping people who were injured. He never complained. Although he dedicated long hours to serve his clients, he also spent time taking care of family members, coaching and mentoring young lawyers, and performing charitable work – and he was always a very active and beloved member of our community.

My dad’s work ethic was so influential on my own core belief system. From a very early age I equated WORKING HARD and WORKING SMARTLY with SUCCESS. Consistent hard work led to success. Cause and effect. As I grew and matured, this principle stuck with me. Still today, my inner voice repeats “work hard, work hard, work hard.” Naturally, I worked very hard in high school and university, and I continue to embrace this philosophy today, well into my career.

While I might not be the smartest person in the classroom or the boardroom, I can out-work anyone in terms of drive, dedication, effort, and consistency. In high school and university, I spent more hours in the library studying than my peers (but to stay balanced, I also made time to hang with friends…and this still remains a priority). In my first job, I always gave 150% and ensured all my projects and tasks were completed to meet the highest professional standards. If you are looking for someone who takes short cuts, look elsewhere.

I love what I do as a talent acquisition specialist and I am passionate about helping companies grow their teams. The organizations I partner with know I am deeply committed to helping them scale and attract and retain the best talent. I am relentless in helping them meet their objectives. I have always believed that where we focus our energies is where energy grows. As Tony Robbins says “where focus goes, energy flows.”

I know my dad would have agreed – the best part of success as a result of working hard is that it comes with a rewarding feeling of personal satisfaction that is tough to beat. Accomplishments and accolades feel better when you know you have worked hard for them.

Karin Eldor, @alwayskarin

Freelance Writer: Coveteur, Shopify, MyDomaine & More


When I left my full-time corporate job last April, I was beyond excited to dive into the entrepreneurial life head-on. I was hungry, I was wide-eyed, I was ready. But to be transparent: I was also super nervous! I mean, I was going from the stability and predictability of a steady pay check to the unknown world of freelance life. I was plagued with thoughts like What if I’m not busy next month? and Did I do the right thing?

Basically, a horrible four-letter “F” word: fear.

My solution? Say “yes” to EVERYTHING.

This meant taking on every contract I was faced with, from social media to copywriting. It’s a blessing to be busy, but the blessing quickly became a curse when I was on the verge of burnout. A few months into self-employment, and I was exhausted. The work-life balance I was craving seemed more like an elusive goal than a reality, and I quickly realized that I was running out of steam and more importantly: I had left my full-time job and still wasn’t pursuing my passion.

In the meantime, I met and connected with two fellow entrepreneurs (who I haven’t even met IRL yet, but our bonds are strong!)

One is Life Coach Andrea Crisp, who helped me realize that I wasn’t “living my purpose” and who continues to give me the tools I need to have courage as a businesswoman. 

The other is Belma McCaffrey, who created a program called Work Bigger. The program not only taught me the importance of defining my mission, but also how powerful FOCUS can be.

As a result of Work Bigger, I developed my mission (which is essentially, in Simon Sinek’s terms, my “Why”). Here goes:

My mission is to offer guidance and mentorship to women by aligning with brands that value self-expression, integrity and impact.

I decided to focus on writing (i.e. copywriting for brands and contributing to magazines that are in line with my mission) and let go of my social media projects. By focusing on writing, I was defining my niche and expertise, and maintaining laser-sharp vision throughout my projects and goals.

Focus allows you to:

A: Do away with distractions (which literally detract you from moving forward towards your goals).

B: Know which projects are a clear-cut “yes” and a definitive “no.” (I love how Tim Ferriss puts it: “If It’s Not a ‘Hell, Yeah,’ It’s a No.”)

C: Become an expert in one thing rather than be average at a variety of things. Focus is why Adele said “no” to the Super Bowl halftime show (it’s simply not part of her brand), and why Taylor Swift focused on making a pop album with 1989 instead of releasing a pop album that would also feature country songs. (I love this quote of hers: “If you chase two rabbits, you lose them both.”)

D: Eventually achieve more, by doing less. This is the basis of one of my favourite books, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown.

Focus leads to another “f” word: fulfillment.

Thank you Ann, Jared, and Karin – I am blown away by your journeys and insights.

To my readers, I hope this blog series on Success lights a spark…or better yet, inspires a Mission Statement!

Spotlight: 3 Traits for Success and the People Who Rock Them



Inspired by Richard St. John’s The 8 Traits Successful People Have in Common, I recently summarized these traits in my blog: 8 Ways to Rock: The Traits You Need For Success.

The book is based on 10 years of research and over 500 interviews with individuals such as Michael Jordan, James Cameron, and even Toronto real estate agent, Elli Davis.

In this blog, we’ll meet 3 Rock Stars right in our own community, who have earned that title. Not because their songs, podcasts, or videos have been downloaded millions of times (though I see TED Talks and podcasts in their futures…and do you EVEN HAVE TO ASK?? Of course I want a TED ticket please!!) But because they are kicking some serious career-building, freelancing, entrepreneurship, and building-my-business-and-life-my-way butt! Working hard, overcoming obstacles, inspiring others, and being awesome human beings, friends, and community members.

How’s that for a definition of SUCCESS!

While each of you probably rocks all 8 traits (and more to boot!) I asked you to FOCUS (see…I was paying attention) on one that has played a key role in your success. Thank you for sharing your stories and insights…keep on doing YOU!

Kim Smiley, @SapphoByKim 

Artist, Social Entrepreneur, Writer – The Empathy Effect, Kim Smiley Inc.


If you’re starting a job, relationship or even a social movement, begin by fuelling it with passion. But promise to make it unwavering.

Passion unleashes energy, unfurls curiosity and creativity, and paves a path forward. It puts fear in its place and neutralizes inertia. But most of all, passion illuminates. And as human beings, we will go to great lengths to be in the presence of light. That’s the scintillating allure of the charismatic leader.

Like many entrepreneurs and artists, my heart beats with passion. But this quality doesn’t differentiate me. The biggest breakthroughs in my life can be attributed to a force that’s tethered to my passion, but that transcends it by leaps and bounds. As intense as my ambition, nothing compares to my compassion. I pursued my graduate studies on this topic, putting compassion under a microscope in every religious tradition on earth. I studied every philosopher’s musings on the topic too. Way before I pursued the study of compassion academically, empathy was the driving force of my life, personally and professionally. 

We are living in an age of narcissism. But there is a genuine yearning to help others too, a longing to be connected through reaching outward and upward.  My work has satiated this hunger by offering a platform to inspire more empathy. What’s attractive about The Empathy Effect is that it’s shining a light on the profound contributions of others rather than the self. It’s counter-cultural because it’s harnessing a medium historically devoted to the holy shrine of the “Selfie” as a way to exalt the sanctity of the stranger.

We may be divided by religion, ideology, ethnicity and geography, but at the root of the root, at a soul level, we are inextricably interconnected. Eternally bound together. There’s no difference between us. My definition of success, philosophically, is melting away our differences and joining forces to repair a fractured but very beautiful world. I believe that success can be defined as standing in the shoes of the angels of our natures.

Amy Laski, @AmyLaski

Founder and President, Felicity [Inspiring Communications]


I’ve always been an idea person. This trait has mostly led to positive outcomes; ideas for connecting people, solutions to problems where they weren’t immediately obvious, and fun things to do.

But, being an idea person can be a double-edged sword, because you can keep coming up with amazing ideas, and not follow-through on execution. Or, upon learning of a challenge, it’s tempting to jump straight to solutions/ideas without delving deep into the root of the issue. One time, my best friend approached me with a challenge. While the lightbulbs started going off in my head with solutions, she told me she just wanted me to listen. I’ve carried this experience with me because I know that listening and learning are so critical and can’t be rushed, that these may be the end unto themselves.  An idea isn’t a necessary output. 

I am not only an idea person, but I’m a realist and a doer as well.  So, when I come up with a great idea, I look at it through the lens of what is realistically implementable – and if it is, then how. And then, I don’t waste any time to make it happen.

Being an idea person led me to found my company five years ago, Felicity [Inspiring Communications], a virtual communications and content agency based in Toronto. The idea for Felicity was born after my experiences working in more rigid corporate environments of Coca-Cola Canada and two traditional PR agencies. The virtual structure of Felicity means clients invest in brains – media relations experts, journalists, social media strategists, bloggers, and subject matter experts to name a few – not bricks, buildings and “bored” rooms. I considered all the challenges I faced as a client and as an agency consultant, put these pieces together, and turned them into a business idea. My initial idea, coupled with an inherent curiosity, have led me to dig deep into my clients’ challenges and business goals, so my team and I can help them grow towards them.  We’ve been growing strong for more than five years, and my ideas, and empowering the ideas of others, has been a key driver of our success.

Jodi Kovitz, @jodilynnkovitz

CEO, AceTech Ontario; Founder Just Say Hello and #MoveTheDial


My parents (all 4 of them) spent much time nurturing my entrepreneurial spirit as I grew up. They supported and encouraged me to build my first company at 16 (Handheld Cards) and my first significant social venture at 19 (The Canada Trust MS Society Investment Challenge). What my parents taught me (and my siblings), was how to dream, plan and go after – very big things. Not to fear big dreams. And most importantly, how to stay at it, little bits at a time, even when it feels impossible.  PERSIST.

The card company was not profitable, but it changed my life. I acquired 25 customers going door to door. I learned to sell through the art of relationship building – now the subject of my passion, and joy project (and the topic of the book I am writing). The story of significant revenue (though low profits), an assembly line of staff in my apartment, and negotiating with overseas suppliers, helped secure my acceptance to Ivey Business School, which built the foundation for my career. And most importantly, I learned how to fail with grace.

Over the years, I have gained confidence, developed the courage to take risks, and I consistently set audacious goals I’m committed to achieving. People ask how I could possibly have started a movement to change the face of tech in Canada, or how I will raise $100 Million for Sickkids Hospital as part of the Capital Campaign Cabinet to raise $1.3 Billion over the next 5 years.  My response: it’s not that hard. Dream. Plan. Go get – with GRIT.

According to the brilliant Angela Lee Duckworth, grit is passion coupled with perseverance. (If you haven’t seen her TED Talk, I highly recommend it!)  Grit is eating the elephant even when you don’t want to. Grit is getting up at 5AM every day to move the boulder up the hill (which I do most days).  One step at a time, persisting, to achieve the “big thing.”

One of my two dads’ famous sayings is “don’t forget how to eat an elephant! One bite at a time.” My other dad has a “job jar” and works at the jar in 45-minute focused increments. My step-mom always made big things so easy, with a smile and a list. And my mom taught me the power of positive thinking and to believe in myself.

At 17, I staffed a 13-day canoe trip at Camp Tamakwa. I carried a canoe on my neck between lakes each day, including a 5.6KM portage. I completed that portage with a 50- pound canoe on my chaffing neck by repeating out loud, the entire time: “I think I can, I think I can, I know I can, I know I can.” Little engine…mind over body.

Set your sights high. Higher than you think you have any right to. Then plan your route. And just start. Take small steps. Stay the course. When the going gets tough, keep going.

Thank you Kim, Amy, and Jodi for your words of wisdom!

Stay tuned…3 more stories spotlighting 3 more Rock Stars…coming soon.

It’s a good thing I’m PASSIONATE about writing and storytelling. Eating this elephant (a.k.a. writing this blog series) has been great…but no 5 a.m. wake-ups for me!


8 Ways to Rock: The Traits you Need for Success


Favourable or desired outcome.

The attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, both are definitions of Success.

While each rings true on some level, the idealist in me prefers the first one because it relates directly to what the person or group set out to achieve in the first place. If Joe owns a local dry cleaning store, has happy customers, earns enough money to live the life he wants, and ultimately feels fulfilled, that is Joe’s success story. If Jane sets out to build a multi-billion-dollar organization and is quite content spending most of her time working and rarely taking vacations, Jane has achieved her own vision of success.

While I’m impressed by success stories of famous business moguls, entrepreneurs, celebrities, artists, and athletes (especially if they use their positions to make the world a better/kinder/safer/cleaner place), I’m equally fascinated by those right under my nose – friends and community members doing amazing things, pursing their dreams, and kicking some serious butt!

So when I eagerly read Richard St. John’s The 8 Traits Successful People Have in Common, based on 10 years of research and over 500 interviews with individuals such as Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and Martha Stewart, my mind went immediately to the success rock stars I know intimately, and how they’ve embraced these traits. And let me tell you…my mind was on fire! I consider myself extremely fortunate to know so many talented, smart, creative, and driven people!

In this 2-part blog series, we’ll first take a tour of the 8 traits. In Part 2 (coming soon!) I’ll share how 5 awesome leaders, right in our own backyard, have embraced these traits, with each focusing on the one that resonates the most. I know, I know…I’m keeping you in suspense. But the guy spent A LOT of time figuring this stuff out – I can’t cram it all into one blog! Okay…fine…I’ll give you a hint: KS, JK, AL, JT, and KE. That must be getting your wheels spinning!

By the way, all this started when Richard, a fellow Torontonian (Go Canada!), was on a plane on his way to a TED conference as an audience member. A young girl sitting next to him asked him what leads to success…and while he didn’t know the answer then, he set out to find it. Talk about persistence…hint, hint…that one makes the list. (He later packed the 8 traits into his own 3-minute TED Talk – check it out).

So here goes…if you want to take a moment to guess before reading on, now’s the time! Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

The 8 Traits Successful People Have In Common 


“I love writing these books. I don’t think anyone could enjoy reading them more than I enjoy writing them.”

– J.K. Rowling, Author, “Harry Potter” books

  • In a nutshell, LOVE what you do
  • Strivers and Seekers:
    • Strivers: people who know what they love and head right to it.
    • Seekers: people who don’t know what they love and need to discover it – Albert Einstein, Larry King, and Colin Powell are just a few underachievers who became “Superachievers” once they found their passion
  • Follow your heart…not your wallet. The money will come if you LOVE what you do. Essentially, the other 7 traits will come more naturally or BE your way of life BECAUSE of the Passion.

#2: WORK

 “If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful after all.”

– Michelangelo,  sculptor, painter, architect, and poet

  • Work really, really hard
  • Successful people aren’t workaholics, they are “Workafrolics” – to them, work is challenging but it’s also fun, fulfilling, gratifying, and engaging
  • Sometimes people chalk success up to natural talent or a gift…however even someone like Mozart who was considered a child prodigy, worked “12-hour days for over a decade in order to produce his first acknowledged masterpiece.”


“I believe to do one thing well brings, not only satisfaction, it also brings a kind of confidence. We become very confident when we know we can do one thing well.”

– Norman Jewison, renowned filmmaker 

  • Focus on one thing, stop dabbling, be single-minded…but don’t focus too soon. Early on go wide and then when you figure out what makes you tick, FOCUS
  • Develop the ability to concentrate and eliminate distractions: “Warren Buffet became one of the world’s richest men by living in a state of no distraction – Nebraska.”
  • Attention Deficit Disorder is sometimes actually Interest Deficit Disorder – if you’re not interested in the subject, idea, or area of study, your mind wanders and you’re not focused

#4: PUSH

“Goal setting is not a mind game. It is a process of developing the internal will power to accomplish what you have set out to do.”

– Joan Samuelson, Olympic marathon gold medalist

  • Push yourself through tough stuff, like shyness, self-doubt (but keep the good things that come from shyness like reading, observing, and imagining)
  • Push yourself out of your comfort zone
  • Find a goal, challenge, or deadline to push you
  • Get others to push you (mother, friend, mentor, competition)


 “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

– Marcel Proust, legendary writer

  • Big ideas come from everyday problems – be observant, listen, ask questions
  • Borrow ideas and build on them; to create new ideas, make connections between disconnected things
  • Mistakes lead to failures which lead to ideas
  • Write ideas down before they fly away – always keep a notebook and pen with you


“I never pick up an item without thinking about how I might improve it.”

– Thomas Edison, Inventor 

  • Get really, really good at what you do…then get better!
  • Practice, practice, practice; repeat, repeat, repeat
  • Focus on strengths, not weaknesses – outsource your weaknesses


 “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.”

– Albert Einstein, Physicist

  • Serve others something of value – expertise, usefulness, entertainment, understanding, information, experience, humour, health
  • Serving others will give you: happiness, satisfaction, appreciation, contribution, a rich life
  • Do what you love, serve others what they love, and put yourself in other’s shoes; forget about yourself, focus on people you serve


“I failed my way right to the top.”

– Paul Haggis, Academy Award-winning filmmaker

  • Persist through time and unbalanced periods of life – success takes 10 years (there are no overnight successes!)
  • Persist through failure, mistakes, criticism, rejection – make failure your school, not your funeral (LOVE THIS!)
  • To succeed a lot, fail a lot; think of rejections as your badges of honour
  • Take small steps, never give up, embrace bounceability (bounce back quickly), be stubborn, be impatiently patient (impatient in short term, patient in long term)

Thanks for pushing through(!) to the end…please stay tuned for Part 2 coming soon!

In the meantime, wishing you success, happiness, and a bit of failure too 🙂

The Giving Gets Tough: 29 Gifts, Part 4

Give, Donate, Charity

My 29 Gifts journey continues, inspired by Cami Walker’s 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving can Change your Life. For a recap, please visit Part 1Part 2, and Part 3.

Okay, people…this is getting real. Hard I mean. Not hard because giving isn’t my thing. Hard because giving purposefully, mindfully, daily, consistently, and creatively really takes commitment. And don’t get me wrong. I didn’t take this on thinking commitment wasn’t part of the recipe. But I did underestimate how much focus daily giving really requires – especially since my intention was to try to change things up each day. A pinch of sugar one day, a sprinkle of cinnamon another.

While I’m proud of the past couple of weeks, I have lost a bit of steam versus the first 12 day – and actually missed a day of giving. But it’s all part of the process. And I’m still in the game.

Please enjoy a few of my latest gifts…and as always, I love hearing from you!

Gift #13: Thursday, March 9

After work today, with not too many options in the fridge for dinner, I headed to United Bakers Restaurant to pick something up. While paying, I noticed tzedakah canisters on the counter for Jewish charities, which have probably been there since 1912 when the restaurant opened its doors (and its pot of famous pea soup!) Well, I imagine they’ve been filled up and emptied many times since then….but you get my point. Those little canisters provided the perfect gifting opportunity. And they serve as a great example of what this challenge is all about. Often, at least for me, it’s about opening my eyes and noticing “new” things/people/opportunities…that have probably been there all along.

Gift #17: Monday, March 13

At about 8:00 p.m., with one kid in bed and two not so much (the bedtime debates and protests are a nightly thing, you see), my 10-year-old daughter, Lielle, was putting the final touches on a poster project for school, due tomorrow. Or so she thought. It turns out glitter glue kind of…well…sucks. Long story short, my gift today was patiently working with Lielle to help her create version two of her poster (no glitter glue allowed!) But I’m the one who received the best gift as I had the chance to watch how sweetly my 8-year-old son, Gave, willingly pitched in to cut, tape, and help Lielle bring her new poster to life. It was a proud mommy moment for sure. (Yes, I am well aware that cutting/pasting/helping was the ideal excuse for his late bedtime plot…this isn’t my first rodeo).

Gift #18: Tuesday, March 14

If you ever want to know how it feels to have someone look at you like you have three heads, do the following: pay for your coffee, and then hand an extra $5 to the barista and ask him or her to use it to pay for a customer’s drink at some point in the day. And walk away without too much of an explanation.

I know I’m not the first person to make this move, but I’ve often thought of doing it and this morning I did. At the end of the day, I popped into The Second Cup to ask Grace, the Barista, who she treated to a coffee today. Grace told me she used the $5 to buy a Green Tea Latte for one of their regular customers, an elderly woman named Irene. Just thinking of Irene being pleasantly surprised with a free latte put a huge smile on my face….and still does.

Gift #22: Saturday, March 18

Lielle was away for the weekend with a friend, so the boys and I watched Moana first thing in the morning. My gift to them was watching with no distractions (no phone, no cleaning the kitchen, no putzing around doing something that could be done later). Well, the truth is, I missed the first few minutes because I was doing nothing important on my phone. But for the next 104 I was very content watching and cuddling with the boys with our over-sized grey Costco blanket. If you haven’t seen Moana yet, it’s a beautiful movie with amazing music! But don’t do what I did, because those first few minutes are super important and useful when you’re trying to follow the story. Hint: there’s an island shaped as a woman (or is it a woman shaped as an island?), a curse, a Demigod, a green heart, and an ocean that “speaks” to a little girl named Moana. Actually, Moana and Esther have quite a lot in common…but I digress.

Please stay tuned for Part 5 soon…




Gold Medal Ribbon and Essential Oils: 29 Gifts, Part 3

My 29 Gifts journey continues, inspired by Cami Walker’s 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving can Change your Life.

For a recap, please visit Part 1 and Part 2.

Gift #9: Sunday, March 5

Today, I enjoyed most of the day alone with my ten-year-old daughter, Lielle. We didn’t have much planned, other than her 2:30 gymnastics class…so the day was ripe for giving. Our family is very active in The Village Shul and a fellow member and I spearhead the Welcoming Committee, with the goal of providing a warm welcome to new members with a small gift and a welcome phone call from a “buddy” at the Shul. Today, my gift was delivering a few of the welcome packages….with my daughter’s company and assistance. I have to give my husband credit as well – I sent a few packages with him to deliver on his way back from my son’s ski lesson. Side note: if you haven’t checked out The Village Shul on Eglinton, it really is an amazingly special place filled with so much love (and lollipops…and prizes…and kugel). Perhaps I’ll see you there soon…there’s a welcome package waiting for you!

Gift #10: Monday, March 6

On Monday nights my daughter has dance which ends at 8:30. Normally, my husband picks her up, but today he went to a much-anticipated event to hear Lior Raz speak, the creator and main character in the well-known TV series Fauda. With no one to watch the boys, I had to take them with me to pick up big sister – as you can probably guess, they weren’t complaining about the later bedtime. At 8:30, when the kids asked/begged me to take them for ice cream, the rational side of me said “umm…no.” But I wasn’t in the mood to be sensible….so an ice cream gift it was! Gold Medal Ribbon, Caramel Turtle Truffle, and Vanilla to be exact. Yes…vanilla…I don’t know whose child he is. But I’ll still keep him!


Gift #11: Tuesday, March 7

I absolutely LOVE watching women achieve success with new business ventures or personal goals. I could probably name a dozen cool, inspiring women right now who are doing what they love and pursuing their passions with…well…passion! You want me to name them…sure! Jodi Kovitz, Adrienne Gold, Kena Paranjape, Mary Monaghan Amin, Karin Eldor, Kim Smiley,  Ilana Rubenstein, Marnie Sugarman Adler, Rena Nickerson, Lindsi Hollend, Amy Laski, Ellie Bass, Jody Pettle-Berkel, Leslie Zborovski and Nancy Soicher. (Yes, I know that’s 15…I just couldn’t stop). If there’s truth to the idea that you are the company you keep, I’m feeling pretty great right now!

As someone who has pursued and dabbled in different initiatives and projects, I know how much it means to have truly supportive friends…people who are cheering you on from the sidelines (or sharing their thoughts on your most recent blog in a private email…yes, please keep ’em coming!) When a friend, Carly Cooper, offered to share more about her Essential Oils business with me and some friends, who was I to stand in the way of her dream! So, in the spirit of International Women’s Day tomorrow, today my gift was my support. I sent an email (if you weren’t on my list, I’ll forward it!) inviting friends to meet Carly and hear more about her passion. (And I hear women like wine too…so wine there will be!) While I know we are all over-committed and an essential oils class may not be at the very top of our to-do lists, I want to help support a fellow female with a passion…and I wish her great success. I know I would love the support if the tables were turned…and we women need to stick together!

Gift #12: Wednesday, March 8 

Happy #InternationalWomen’sDay (IWD)! Today I had lunch plans with a colleague/friend/mentor, Jenny. I booked a meeting room and we were all set to watch a live on-screen chat at work, hosted by some of the female leaders at TD, in honour of IWD. When we confirmed the plan in the morning, Jenny mentioned she would be coming straight from another meeting and wouldn’t have time to grab lunch. Perfect…lunch is on me! I went to Aroma in the downtown PATH to grab us salads (fellow downtowners, you know what I’m talking about…the one near St. Andrew Station). While in line, I bumped into another colleague, Michelle, also from TD. Michelle and I used to work on the same team and have remained friends. I mentioned my lunch plans (Michelle knows Jenny too) and Michelle felt comfortable enough to ask if she could join – and of course she was welcome! It was the perfect IWD gathering – three fellow female colleagues sharing career-related challenges, ideas, and advice. Bonus gift: at the end of the day, inspired by The Empathy Effect‘s IWD Facebook post today, I wrote Jenny a LinkedIn recommendation.

Please stay tuned for Part 4…




A Photo, Starbucks, and Snuggles: 29 Gifts, Part 2

A few days ago, I shared the first blog in a series I’m writing, inspired by Cami Walker’s 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving can Change your Life.

A quick recap of my first three gifts: A doll, two pink invitations, a Ziploc bag full of goodies.

My Journey continues with a girls’ night, a donation, a photo, Starbucks, and snuggles.

Please enjoy…and as always, I love hearing from you!

Gift #4: Tuesday, February 28 

Tonight, my gift is one I am giving to myself. I’ve had plans in my calendar for weeks for a girls’ night. For those who know me, you can be sure it wasn’t the head-to-a-bar-and-drink-my-face-off type of night. Quite the opposite. My girlfriend picked me up and we drove to another friend’s home close by. One friendship dates back 30 years to sleepover camp…the other to our first year in high school. In our sweats and Lulus, the three of us drank (tea!) and took turns sharing our challenge of the day/week/month/year…and good stuff too!

friendsWe talked, laughed, and supported each other in the way only let-your-guard-down girlfriends can. It was the kind of scenario that, in the movies, would have spilled over until dawn, with the three characters (I’ll be Katherine Heigl!) eventually crashing on the cozy couches, snuggling with an oversized knitted blanket. But alas…we all have kids/jobs/stuff so the tea party ended at 10:45. But it was just enough. Having learned just 24 hours earlier that my dear friend, Ramona, passed away after so many years of fighting, it was just what I needed. And perfectly fitting, in fact, because laughing and smiling are centre stage in my fond memories of Ramona from our childhood.

Gift #5: Wednesday, March 1

After saying my final goodbyes to Ramona at her funeral, choosing a gift today was easy. Ramona battled Cystic Fibrosis from the day she was born – so naturally her family’s suggestion was that loved ones make donations to Cystic Fibrosis Canada to honour her memory and support this very important cause. After everything Ramona gave to this world, it was the very least I could do.


#RamonaWordCloud created from the recent words shared about Ramona via Facebook posts.

Gift #6: Thursday, March 2 

Tonight my cousin, Sarena, and I joined a few dozen fellow Jewish woman for Loaves of Love, a Challah bake at Toronto’s Village Shul – to knead, laugh, bond, and pray for good health for members of our community. I suppose my prayer was a gift…and an incredibly important one. But I will share one more mindful moment of giving. As the event was wrapping up, I asked one of the organizers to take a picture of us posing with our shaped dough. Sarena, who lives in Toronto, is originally from Ottawa where her mom still lives. Her mom is not in optimal health, and recently lost her own mother. And her husband, Sarena’s dad, passed away almost ten years ago. I suspect her mom worries about her daughter and misses her dearly – and I had a hunch a photo like this, with the two of us bonding and baking, would warm her heart…and my mom’s too. I texted the photo to both of our moms (who are first cousins and share a special bond). It cost me nothing and took five seconds. Her immediate response: “You 2 look so cute (insert Emoji happy face). Have a good Shabbat. xoxo.” And of course my mom was equally delighted. It’s always the simple things, isn’t it?


Me and Sarena with our #LoavesofLove

Gift #7: Friday, March 3

While we enjoyed a full Shabbat table tonight with 20 family members in all (a delicious potluck dinner was topped off with a “Talent Show” performed by the young cousins), these Friday night festivities were planned weeks ago. Actually, the show was a spontaneous addition…but semi-coordinated-but-always-entertaining performances, featuring “tickets” and name tags, have become a regular thing in our family! The point is, as much as I loved hosting my family, I’m not counting Shabbat as my gift. Early in the afternoon, I went onto the Starbucks website and sent my hubby – a very loyal Gold Star member! – a $5 e-gift card with a sweet note referencing a relationship talk we attended a few weeks ago, Love is a Verb.

starbucks-logo-1Did he need more Starbucks bucks? Um…no….he thoroughly enjoys his pre-loaded, beloved app, stars, and perks. Did it feel great to give him something I know he’ll use and love? Yes! Bonus: it’s a 2-for-1! He loved receiving it today…AND he’ll experience a second boost when he redeems it (thinking of me of course), and sips his Venti Iced Coffee…light on the ice. As my 5-year-old son would say…BAM!

Gift #8: Saturday, March 4

While today was full and lovely (Shabbat morning at the Village Shul followed by a delicious Shabbat lunch at a friend’s house), as Hockey Night in Canada sounds filled our family room, I still hadn’t offered a gift to anyone or anything. As I was tucking my spirited five-year-old in for the night, he gathered three books for me to read. Ready to wind down myself, I negotiated down to two and he agreed relatively easily (I suppose he was a teeny tiny bit tired at 9:30 pm). After reading the two books, I offered my gift: “Do you want one more?” I asked as he nestled in closer, sweetly sucking his thumb. “Yes!” he replied swiftly, his eyes opening widely in pure delight (thumb still in place).


Three books turned into four and my gift was complete…no bow necessary. As cliché as it sounds, his joyful expression and the twinkle in his eyes when he heard mommy was snuggling for a few minutes longer, were the real treasures of the day!


More gifts coming soon…please continue to follow my journey.



Why I’m Giving Away 29 Gifts in 29 Days

I recently read a book called 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving can Change your Life by Cami Walker. As a new bride in her early thirties, Cami Walker was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Feeling overwhelmed with negative thoughts, Cami filled an unusual prescription from a friend, an African medicine woman named Mbali Creazzo: Give away 29 gifts in 29 days.


“By giving,” Mbali told her, “you are focusing on what you have to offer others, inviting more abundance into your life.” The gifts, she said, could be anything, but their giving had to be both authentic and mindful. 

When Cami inquired about the significance of 29, Mbali didn’t know, but offered to dig up the answer from another source. But Cami chose to keep it a mystery…so a mystery it remains.

Even though many of her gifts were quite simple (a phone call, spare change), the positive effects were dramatic…and a movement was born: 29Gifts.org

A few days ago, I decided to embrace this challenge. Thankfully, I don’t have a disease; but I do have a desire to live a life of gratitude, and I am always seeking new ideas and tools to fill me up. Please follow my journey…a few gifts at a time. If you would like to join me, please be in touch!

I am dedicating my 29 gifts to Ramona Blinick. While she faced countless obstacles, her giving was infinite. May we all bring as much Light into this world as she did.

Gift #1: Saturday, February 25

My husband and I have 3 kids (10, 8, and 5) and we are often giving kid stuff away to clear the clutter. But today I wanted to offer something specific to someone special. I chose to give a once-loved-but-now-tucked-away-on-a-shelf Journey Girl doll (with my daughter’s permission of course…she hasn’t played with it in a few years) to a little girl I just met yesterday. Her name is Whinslet. 

Whinslet is the 7-year-old daughter of my nanny’s friend. Yesterday, when I came home from work, she was at my house with her mom, as her mom was asking my nanny for advice on paperwork she needed to complete for her upcoming maternity leave – Whinslet is going to be a big sister! Whinslet was shy at first, but within minutes, she was playing soccer, tag, and “horsy” in the basement with my 5-year-old son. They hit it off right away…so silly, goofy, and cute together! I love that about kids – they can click and have the best time within minutes of meeting each other!

So today, I found the Journey Girl (and her wardrobe and accessories which, thanks to my nanny, were neatly packed away) and asked my nanny to invite Whinslet and her mom to come over again. They live just a few minutes’ walk away and were available…perfect! I added a puzzle, a book, and some crafts to the bag. Whinslet was so appreciative…she even called me Tita, the affectionate Filipino word for Auntie. And when she left (not before more goofing around with my kids) she embraced me with the sweetest hug. img_1929

I could not be happier that Whinslet will enjoy this adorable doll, instead of Ms. Journey sitting on a shelf longing to be loved.

Gift #2: Sunday, February 26

Yesterday, I was in full (early) Spring cleaning mode and I came across a bag full of Bar and Bat Mitzvah invitations from my days as a pre-teen. I knew I had them and in fact just peeked at them a couple of months ago, showing off the sparkling, glittering, and oh-so-90s collection to my own pre-teen daughter. 

I snapped a picture of the invitation from a girl named Jessica who I’ve recently reconnected with as I am staring to think about planning my own daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. Jessica works for a company that provides music entertainment (and more!) for events – with Bar and Bat Mitzvahs being their kosher bread and butter. I texted the picture to Jessica. Her reaction: “NO WAY!!! That’s unbelievable!!!” I proceeded to take photos of her Save the Date card and Kids Party invite and shared them with her. It turns out she has her own copy of the main invitation but not the other two pieces.

Today, I woke up and texted her saying the two pieces are my gifts to her! She was thrilled! Later in the afternoon, I dropped the precious pink cards at her house. While I’ve seen her on Facebook throughout the years, clicking and liking don’t compare to a real, live hug. And I was excited to hear that my gift inspired her to frame all three pieces and display them on her office wall. The perfect “art” for someone in her biz! I wonder what other random items I have stashed away that could make someone’s day?img_1839

For privacy reasons, I’m sharing a piece of the invitation only – umm…did I mention it was in the 90s?

Gift #3: Monday, February 27 

I live in Toronto and I take the subway to work downtown. Most days, when I emerge from underground, there is at least one homeless person sitting in the walkway where men and women in suits walk past, headed to their corporate jobs. Often these homeless individuals are in the same spot when I return at the end of the day, as I am heading home to see my family.

I often keep granola bars in my bag to offer, hoping this small gesture will help in some little way. Today, I went a bit further. Before I left for work, I assembled a package in a large Ziploc bag consisting of a challah bun, 2 granola bars, a delicious scone from our favourite bakery, an apple, and a hand-written card. Just as I was about to zip the bag and head out the door, my 10-year-old daughter, who knows about the 29 Gifts project, asked me to wait and rushed upstairs. She returned with $4 from her allowance to add to the gift. What a proud moment!


On my way home, I offered the bag to a man who I’ve seen many times –  he sits outside the same subway station each day. I can only hope the package added a bit of light to his day.

I regret not asking his name…but I think I will ask him the next time I see him.

Please stay tuned for Part 2…



5 Life Lessons from a Tech Jam (from a non-techie)


A couple of months ago, I spotted a link on the TD employee intranet home page for a “Tech Jam” – an internal competition to create a mobile app concept, sort of like a hackathon. A few days earlier, I had created and shared my 2017 career development plan with my manager, featuring my goal to lead projects and initiatives with a strong focus on the digital and mobile space.

“I’ll just click and see what it’s all about,” I thought, contemplating the Tech Jam link, vaguely recalling a colleague participating, and earning the top spot in a similar competition last June.

Fast forward to mid-February. My team, including six fellow employees – who a few days earlier had never crossed paths – claimed the third place spot out of 19 teams for a concept we presented science-fair style to TD mentors and Executives. (For more on the event, check out the TD Newsroom).

A month later, the top 3 teams were invited to present our concepts to a larger audience, including senior TD leaders from various areas within the bank.

How did I get here? And what lessons came out of spending 25 hours in a warehouse-style space (boasting exposed brick walls of course!) with 120 other competitive go-getters, some of whom were younger than Justin Bieber?

Here I share my five key takeaways in hopes that they will inspire others, and serve as reminders to myself the next time I’m faced with an opportunity or challenge that may, at first, seem out of reach.

#1: Take the shot

Much of this experience was about me breaking out of my comfort zone and taking Wayne Gretzky’s famous words to heart: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” This mantra, featured on the lunch room wall at my kids’ school, gave me the confidence and push I needed to go for it. Plus, there was literally only upside. I could expand my network, try something new, probably have fun doing it, and add new skills to my tool belt. OR, I could have sat this Jam out and (maybe) thrown my hat in for the next one. I’m glad I chose to put on my gear and pick up my stick.

While I had the courage to take the shot (click on the link), first I had to have noticed it. And I must have noticed it because I was looking around with my eyes and ears open. I saw, I clicked, I registered. I talked about the upcoming event with colleagues and friends, secretly using the principle that states we’re more likely to keep a commitment if we publicize it (yes, I was a tad bit nervous). I joined a team with people I didn’t know, and then, finally, I showed up ready to jam.

The next time something crosses my path that might not seem “me” at first, I’ll remind myself: It’s “me” if I decide it is. And I’ll lace up my skates and get on the ice.

#2: Focus on what you can contribute, not on what you can’t

I’m not a coder, I can’t fix your phone, and you won’t find me in the IT department. With a resume highlighting achievements in marketing, product management, and customer experience strategy, where did I fit in at a hackathon? I was officially on board as an “Idea Generator,” one of the five selections available at registration (there were many of us which was reassuring!) But I saw myself as more than that – so I brought more. I came with my ability to bring new people together in a fun way. I compiled ice breaker questions for our first night, and brought a suitcase full of amusing props for our final presentation that helped us stand out, and drew in participants and judges. I helped keep ideas flowing when the well dried up. Three hours into the first night, I quickly grabbed a sharpie and jotted down words like shopping, fitness, travel, and friends to help spark new ideas (and to ensure we had our customer hats on). One of those words ultimately planted the seed for our concept.

While my team members brought their amazing technical skills (there is some serious talent in this organization!), I think I made Dr. Seuss proud by offering my own unique experiences and expertise. As he affirmed: “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than you.”

#3: Accept help when it’s offered 

Throughout the event, mentors (fellow TD employees) were on deck to provide guidance to help teams polish their concepts and pitches. At 6:00 p.m. on Friday (the deadline was noon on Saturday) our team was hunkered down at our home-base table after plugging away in different corners of the floor for a few hours. We were joined by one of the mentors. After an hour and half of debating, discussing, and constructive challenging, we arrived at a focused and polished idea – one that was very much embedded within the concept we were already pursuing, but at 7:30 p.m. our approach was laser-focused.

Had we not been open to listening to our mentor’s insights and suggestions, or open to having a productive dialogue as a team, I suspect the final outcome would have been very different….and our bronze medal would have been awarded to another, well-deserving squad.

#4: The roller coaster feeling is part of the process…don’t fret 

One of my teammates and I spent quite a few hours researching statistics about market size and consumer behaviour to help support our concept. In the end, only two numbers were featured in our pitch. Yup, only two. We had a good laugh about that slide, calling it the “five-hour-slide” but at one point, we (or at least I) felt those five hours had been “wasted.” For a few minutes, I felt deflated and frustrated. At the same time, it was an exciting turning point as we had aligned on a crisp concept (see point #3), thus needing only those two powerful numbers.

I quickly reassured myself that the twists, turns, and unexpected dramatic drops, are all part of the process. I was reminded of a quote by Nelson Mandela: “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

We fell and we rose a few times and I see now that each hour spent thinking, researching, and debating was ultimately a necessary step in our journey to our final destination.

#5: Laugh a lot…and pump up those around you

While competition was certainly in the air, my team members and I kept the mood light and fun. Two of us had a serious belly laugh developing a script for our two-minute video. We didn’t even use most of the content we were howling about (see Tip #4…it’s part of the ride) – but it didn’t even matter.

And when more serious junctures arose, like when my teammate felt a moment of insecurity after our final presentation to all the participants and judges, I made sure she knew how stellar her performance was! She smiled and hugged me, and expressed how much she appreciated my kind and sincere words.

So there you have it: five life lessons…or should I say hacks.

Thank you to my awesome teammates for helping make this experience so memorable and inspiring: Mike Brusilovsky, Tommy Lee, Aashish Malhotra, Ryan Song, and Pranati Suri – I hope to have the opportunity to see your talents in action again soon! And a special shout-out to Tae Moon, Mentor extraordinaire!

If you’ve ever taken a shot, what other lessons ‘stick’ with you? I’d love to hear from you!

In the meantime, perhaps there’s a link out there waiting to be clicked.