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August 2018

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6 Benefits of learning a second language

Ten people are sitting at the boardroom in their Montreal office discussing their day-to-day business. As I am sitting there attending for the first time, I immediately become aware that everyone is juggling between English and French with ease. One moment the conversation is in French, the next it switches to English for no apparent reason other than any given idea or topic may be better said or comes more easily to mind in one language as opposed to the other. I better get used to the way this meeting is going right away. Both official languages are used equally and interchangeably and find it so fascinating to be speaking Frenglish.

A linguist by background and speaker of three languages, I am used to being surrounded by other multilingual speakers, who whether by birth, studies or time spent abroad, have come to appreciate the resourcefulness that comes with multilingualism. Over the years, through reading on the topic and swapping notes with other polyglots, I’ve enjoyed the immediate benefits of multilingualism as a traveller—I can order a cerveza at the bar of a Cuban resort, I can ask and receive directions to la Tour Eiffel, I understood why the waiter in Italy laughed when my husband mistakenly asked for cane (dog) on his pizza rather than carne (meat). However, to know that there are many science-based benefits to speaking more than one language, fills me with a renewed pride. Let’s explore what they are:

  1. Improves perception: According to a research of the Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, speaking a foreign language changes the perception of the world. Speakers of more than one language view the world and think differently. In other words, the perception of the world is determined by the wealth of vocabulary one has in store: the more words, the better the perception.
  2. Makes you better at multi-tasking: This is something that really speaks to me. In fact, I’m a professional juggler. The ability to switch between different vocabularies mirrors the ability to juggle multiple tasks. Bilinguals seem to be more adaptable and flexible when it comes to shifting their attention on to a different task and refocus. In the corporate world, this skill is considered a sign of adaptability and flexibility.
  3. Improves your native language: This is not an obvious benefit when you think of it. English speakers rarely stop to think why we say things like “The dinner is on me”. This idiom immediately evokes the image of a clumsy waiter pouring chicken noodle soup all over you. If a speaker of another language asked you why you say that, when you mean you’re going to pay for dinner, you’d probably just say “because this is the way it is.”  In other words, you take what you know for granted. However, the moment you start dipping your toes into the unknown waters of a foreign language, you may find yourself pondering on grammar rules.
  4. Improves memory: A research from the Wallenberg Academy Fellow Umea University, states that being bilingual improves working memory. Multingual speakers often consciously inhibit words that are not relevant to the language they use in any given conversation. They draw from different vocabularies to make selections. I can say dog, chien, cane, and perro to mean a member of the canine family. It’s like getting a workout for the brain. That is to say, treat your brain like a muscle to keep your working memory alive.
  5. Helps make better decisions: This is in my opinion the most fascinating fact. A research has shown that people tend to make better decisions when they think in their second language; reason being is the native language is loaded of emotional content; therefore, decisions do not come from a place of rational thinking. I’ve always thought that I am more rational in English. Emotions like upset or fear suddenly bring me back to my roots in the Bel Paese. Research conducted by the University of Trento in Italy and the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom suggests this is because the part of the brain that processes the native language is more intuitive while the part of the brain that processes other languages is more rational.
  6. Experience later onset of Alzheimer and dementia: This one gives me hope. Research conducted at the bilingualism centre at Edinburgh University shows that being bilingual staves off dementia and Alzheimer by four or five years. If that is true, and I still get Alzheimers, what excuses would I have?

So there is more to bilingualism than being able to order a beer in another language and quench your thirst.

Premier Ford’s approach to sustainability: A call to social consciousness

 

On June 7, the province of Ontario held its provincial election which saw Kathleen Wynne lose to Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford. The Ontario Progressive Conservatives also managed to win a majority government. With the pendulum swinging from left to right in Ontario, it has left many people wondering how big the changes are going to be under Ford. While the issues are far ranging, the focus here is going to be on Premier Ford’s approach to sustainability. The earth is getting hotter every year with more and more extreme weather events. That is why sustainability and environmental protection are such a vital topic. Premier Ford has already axed a number of green programs. If there was any doubt before the election about Ford’s approach to the environment and sustainability, there isn’t now: the proof is in the actions he has already taken.

Let’s rewind to the Harper government and their approach to science. To say that there was a contentious relationship between the two would be an understatement. Under Prime Minister Harper, not only was funding to scientific research cut, but scientists were muzzled from reporting their findings supporting climate change and steps to prevent it. How relevant is scientific data in the face of massive development proposals that stand to make a few people very rich? Not very relevant to Harper and the PC. This highlights the PC Party’s willingness to ignore science and data in the face of profit. When Doug Ford was Toronto city council and his brother Rob Ford mayor, the dynamic duo was very outspoken about their preference for cars over bikes. After all, oil companies can only make money off of cars, not bikes.

During his campaign for Premier, Doug Ford made it obvious that environmental protection is not a priority. At one point, he proposed opening up Ontario’s protected green belt to developers, something he almost immediately flip-flopped on due to public backlash. That is a disturbing look into Ford’s mind and priorities: profit over sustainability. Of course, there was also the usual rhetoric about slashing gas prices, which is to be expected of Ford and the PC Party. The right wing refuses to give up their fossil fuels. Ford was also outspoken about wanting to get rid of the cap and trade program that has provided companies a financial incentive to reduce their carbon emissions. Because preserving the earth for future generations is not a good enough reason. Add to this, his general lack of platform in the final days of his campaign especially regarding environmental policy.

Over two months have passed since Ford was sworn in as Premier of Ontario and he is already making big waves. He has scrapped the GreenOn initiative. The program was meant to encourage people with financial rebates to make their homes more environmentally friendly. Gone already is the cap and trade program. Even though his actions do imply he is waging a war against green initiatives, there is hope and progress. The Trudeau government, which is dedicated to green causes, has poured money into research aimed to understand and mitigate climate change. This includes monitoring and protecting the oceans and creating greener technologies. So even though the Ontario government has taken steps backwards, the federal government is light years ahead of the previous Conservative government.

Even though the new provincial government is a far cry from what an environmentally conscious person would want in power, private citizens can make their voice heard keeping the public discussion open on social media channels and contributing to the reduction of carbon footprint. Driving a car in Toronto is already an unpleasant experience; therefore, it’s much easier to take the TTC or ride a bike. Just imagine every time you take your bike or the public transit you are sticking it to Doug Ford. Every time the premier slashes another green policy or implements a destructive one, citizens have to respond and take advantage of the fact that Canada is a country where the people can express their views. When the government fails to provide and protect, it falls onto the citizens to enact positive change.

Dubai: A concrete jungle or a cultural hub

 

Exactly three years ago, I crossed the Dubai border from Oman with my family in our sedan. I have always looked forward to visiting this wonderful emirate, and finally, my wish was about to be fulfilled. While Oman was a developing country with little towns and rich heritage, I had no idea of what to expect in Dubai save for the concrete jungle, and Burj Khalifa. All that revolved in the mind was whether Dubai would appear to be a vast concrete jungle or a cultural hub.

As soon as I caught a glimpse of the Dubai skyline, I knew that this trip was going to be expensive: Sports and luxurious cars parked on the glistening ribbon of road and magnificent rows of buildings that reached for the sky. Every shop stood apart from the other in offering an array of commodities.

I had a couple of days left in front of me, and I knew that the best way to explore was on foot or by public transport. Deira – a traditional commercial centre is where I began my visit. With many locals and foreigners, I climbed aboard the water taxi to cross the sea water flowing between Deira and Bur Dubai. Seeing the city from the water crumbled my misconceptions about Dubai. The luxurious and sparkling city was just an outer cover that enveloped the cultural diversity borrowed from millions of outsiders who now called Dubai their abode.

Bur Dubai was a different experience. It wasn’t sleek and stylish with restored historical districts and traditional souqs (marketplace). The whole place was enveloped in a community spirit that could rarely be found elsewhere in Dubai. After a two-hour long souvenir shopping spree, I walked into an ethnic eatery to munch on some traditional delicacies. Stuffing my tote bag with the souvenirs, I boarded a metro from Al Fahidi Metro Station to The Dubai Mall.

The Dubai Mall, also known as the world’s largest shopping mall, was breathtaking with Burj Khalifa situated next to it separated by a fabulous fountain. Though I couldn’t climb up to the top level of the world’s tallest building, I was content with having caught a glimpse of it. Dubai had everything to keep the richest, and the poorest of the people happier. In fact, the place was built of things that put it over the top.

My stomach was rumbling by the time I stepped out of Dubai Mall, and I was craving some coffee and snacks. I walked to the bus station and went straight to Jumeirah Beach. The place was lined with cafeterias and restaurants that served mouth-watering pastries, sandwiches, and beverages. I spent the evening on the beach under a palm tree reading a book that I had purchased before heading for dinner with a dozen other foreign nationals.

Yet another thing that impressed me was how safe the city was even during the wee hours of the night. Despite the enormous amount of riches, the majority of the people left their lavish vehicles unlocked. And the people were more than friendly to offer you rides, and to lend a helping hand at the time of need.

The place was much more than I had ever expected. The walks through the corniche, creeks, and countryside left me wanting for more. As we finally packed our bags with dozens of gifts to return back home, all I could do was look forward to my next trip to Dubai.

Woman of the week: Sue Britton

 

Innovation is a very popular concept for today’s global businesses. Change, supported by technology, is occurring at an accelerated and unprecedented rate. Businesses all over the world are looking for tools to perform their transactions in a more innovative and efficient manner. Sue Britton, Founder and CEO of Fintech Growth Syndicate Inc. (FGS) describes herself as “passionate about innovation.” Founded in 2016, FGS helps banks, insurance companies, and other financial institutions realize the changes that they want to make. Their clients can either outsource the whole project to them, or leverage from their experience, knowledge, and contacts. FGS, a 15-people technology firm, is deeply embedded in Canada’s fintech ecosystem.

As I talk to Sue, it is clear that she is very proud of her accomplishment—who would not be! And what’s more, she proves that it’s never too late to change career and start something from the ground up. Reflecting on her professional life, Sue says, “I’m turning 50 this year. I came to a point in my life where after a long career I felt like starting a new one late in my life. This is the first time I am doing something I love.” She holds a degree in commerce, worked for the Four Seasons for many years, then moved on to work for one of Canada’s leading financial technology firms before setting up her own business.

In a sector that is largely male-dominated, to find a woman who is a senior executive and owns her own firm is rare to say the least. Women are so underrepresented in the technology sector, even more so as executives of technology companies, that profiling Sue is an important and unique opportunity.

Mother and wife, Sue is quick to credit her husband for allowing her to pursue her career while he stayed home raising their three now grown children. She says, “It wasn’t the most popular thing to do at the time, but it worked for us.” After 25 years of experience in the corporate world, 47 years young, and driven by ambition, she felt frustrated with being limited in her professional life. She knew she was passionate about innovation. This passion led her to start her own company. Sue admits that setting up shop wasn’t as an easy enterprise to undertake as doing innovation within a company. However, “being an entrepreneur is an extremely rewarding experience.” Sue continues, “It’s what gets me up in the morning, solving problems that seem opportunities and making those opportunities in the financial services space happen faster.”

When addressing the issue of gender imbalance in the technology sector, Sue firmly believes that men and women need to be to committed to ensure that both genders are equally represented in public forums. Women have historically been off-stage more than on-stage. Sue believes that it is long overdue for that dynamic to change. Sue says, “When I am asked to speak at conferences, I will not entertain speaking if the female representation I’m with is less than 50 percent.”

Although, she is a living example that women can find their space in technology, there is still a long and winding road ahead. Her company tracks all the Canadian start-ups in the fintech industry. Out of thousands of them, female CEOs and founders can be counted on two hands. This is less a reflection of a dearth of women who have the right skills, as of the fact that women are doing other things and not working in the technology-oriented spaces. Men need to be part of the solution, and women must not be afraid of calling out on certain behaviours that perpetrate gender inequality.

That’s why her advice to women who want to pursue a career in technology is to behave as though they are equal to men and not to settle for a job that is not fulfilling. Also, Sue strongly recommends to reach out to the start-up community which is ”made up by a generous bunch of people” congregating online and offline in various meetup groups. There is even a Facebook group called StartupNorth whose members are heads of VC companies and entrepreneurs among others. Incubators and accelerators are also a good place to go, to talk to people who can make the right introduction.

Nutrition toolbox to help fuel your body

 

When I first started running, little did I know about properly fueling my body for training and performance. It wasn’t until after a few workouts I would feel depleted, that I realized I needed to change my eating habits in order to continue training. Although, I ate a well-balanced diet, I found myself skipping meals while my body was screaming for more fuel.

Did you know that according to Active.com, you will be burning an extra 100 calories roughly for each mile that you run? After learning this fun fact and doing more research on my poor eating patterns, I started to adopt a healthier diet that includes these essentials: carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals such as calcium.

Here are my top 8 ways to stay healthy:

  1. Breakfast – This is my favorite meal of the day, not only because I have the chance to burn the calories off, but because I like to include boiled eggs, multigrain bread, oatmeal and yogurt.
  2. Pre-Run – Before the run, I normally don’t eat. I will have my caffeine fix and a glass of water to keep me hydrated.
  3. Pre-racing breakfast – If I am racing, I will have a bowl of oatmeal with some brown sugar and fruit. Sometimes, I will have pancakes with fruit, about a couple of hours before the race. If there is no time to eat, I will bring a protein bar with me or have a smoothie.
  4. Lunch – Usually, I will have some soup or a salad.
  5. Snack – If I am running after work, I will bring an apple or any other light snack before the workout. This will sustain me until dinner.
  6. Water – I drink plenty of water, about eight cups a day. I make sure to drink enough water throughout the day. I like to find routes that have water stops along the way or I bring a water bottle with me.
  7. Vitamins – I take vitamin C each day to fight off any colds.
  8. Next day racing – I am racing the next day, I eat foods that I know agree with me; otherwise, I’ll end up with an upset stomach. I also avoid creamy sauces or spices. Making healthier food choices was key to improving my running and a quicker recovery.

I still enjoy having snack foods and I do have a sweet tooth, but I keep everything in moderation. Now I keep healthier snacks around like pumpkin seeds, so I won’t overindulge.

Saudi female activist faces possible death penalty

 

Israa al-Ghomgham could be the first female human rights activist to be sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia. On August 6, a public prosecutor in Riyadh recommended the death penalty for six political activists, including Ghomgham. She and her husband, Moussa al-Hashem who have been in prison since 2015, were sentenced to death on charges of protesting against the Saudi government and incitement to disobedience in the Shia-majority region, Qatif.

Ghomgham, 29, and her husband were arrested on December 8, 2015. She was one of the leaders of anti-government protests that started in Qatif in 2011, demanding the end of anti-Shia discrimination and the release of political prisoners.

At the final hearing, scheduled on October 28 2018, a judge will either confirm or reverse the recommendation for death penalty issued by the public prosecutor. If the decision is ratified by King Salman bin Abdulaziz, Ghongham will be beheaded by a sword.

Noteworthy is the fact that none of the charges against Ghongham relate to the use of violence, which under Saudi law warrants the death penalty. This indicates that the death penalty is being used in Saudi as a weapon to suppress dissent. Ali Adubisi, Director of the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) stated “It’s largely a revenge against the Arab Spring, and a punishment for Qatif, which witnessed the largest protests since 2011.” Adubisi continues “Sentencing a female human rights defender to death is a dangerous precedent in Saudi Arabia.” ESOHR’s latest count of people on death row in Saudi Arabia is around 58.

The verdict against Ghomgham has resulted in a social media campaign asking for her release and the release of activists arrested in the past year. The Shiite minority that lives in Qatif has complained that Sunni authorities banned them from practicing their religion, and that they are not given the same opportunities for work and education. The government has denied the accusations. According to rights advocacy groups, Saudi Arabia has executed Shiite activists in the past for political reasons. A recent UN report issued last June said, “Those who peacefully exercise their right to freedom of expression are systematically persecuted in Saudi Arabia, many languish in prison for years. Others have been executed after blatant miscarriages of justice.”

According to Amnesty International, Saudi Arabia where in 2017 alone, 100 people were beheaded, remains “one of the most prolific executioners in the world.”

The Thais that bind: Memories of exotic Thailand

 

Thailand is one of the few places that will always have a special place in my heart. The memories, the people, and the beauty of the country have made it worthwhile spending so much time there.

I decided to go on a once-in-a-lifetime kind of trip to Thailand. My friends and I didn’t know much about the country, but decided to go anyway. Once there, I met some new people, made some new friendships, and got a chance to step out of my comfort zone.

Anytime I saw something unique to the country, I had to try it out regardless of costs. I even thought about moving the return flight date further ahead. The air was magical and the cities were breathtaking. I didn’t know it at first, but I ended up exploring so much of the place that I could be someone’s else tour guide.

Let’s begin with Chiang Mai

My friends and I landed at Chiang Mai airport and quickly moved on to the hotel. From there, my friends and didn’t want to spend much money on travelling costs, so we either rented bikes or motor vehicles, then hit the road.

On the way over to the local spots, bars and nightclubs, I had some of the delicious local fish and curry dishes. The nightclubs in Chiang Mai were amazing and I met a lot of friendly locals that took the gang partying after hours.

Exploring Pai

The next stop was Pai, which was about 4-5 hours from Chiang Mai. I had heard a lot about this place, as it was a hippy playground where free-spirited people came to party. I thought this would be perfect! The mainstream hotels and clubs were quite commercially-oriented, and so I decided to venture deeper into the hidden gems.

I got a chance to see the White Buddha, visited Pombok falls, and had a great time meeting the locals. The Tha Pai Hot Springs were another brilliant adventure, and one that was unique to the place. Although a bit far, the Lod Caves were definitely worth the visit.

Ayutthaya and Sukhotai

These two cities were some of the most amazing ones on the trip. I wanted to explore the arts, culture and history of Thailand, and Ayutthaya gave me a peek. This was the peaceful part of the trip, as I just sat there with the monkeys playing around.

The temples, the museums, and the views were stunning. I remember a particular moment when a monkey sat next to me eating my banana. It was an surreal experience and something that doesn’t happen to me every day.

Partying at Koh Samui

My final destination was Koh Samui, the party capital of Thailand. It was a long flight in, but well worth the investment. The island wasn’t overpopulated as I expected, and I didn’t really see too many rough crowds anywhere. I dropped off the bags and headed over to Na Muang to check out the waterfalls.

Renting a bike from there was easy, as I headed on over to Chaweng beach. That’s where I met up with a lot of friendly locals who took me to beach parties that were away from the mainstream action. I spent my final night on the fine sands at Lamai and caught the flight back home the next day.

All in all, it was a great experience. I had a blast and Thailand showed me a different side of myself. I didn’t know that I had this inner adventurer inside of me. I didn’t know that I could say “yes” to things I had never tried before. I found itexhilarating, to say the least.

She The People: Laughter is a women’s movement #too

 

Spending time at a comedy club can be an uplifting experience that leaves one with a warm glow, but The Second City show “She The People” is also absolutely hilarious and brings tears to the eyes. As the subtitle suggests, ‘Girlfriends’ Guide to Sisters Doing It for Themselves’ it is a show for women, and men—I took my partner with me and he shook with laughter—acted, written, directed by women. If the purpose of the show is to demonstrate that women can do it by themselves, they totally succeeded. Not only are The Second City women capable of writing, directing, acting, singing, dancing, and putting a show together without male input, but they are equally capable of making the audience shriek with laughter while making cutting political statements.

The show is an edgy collection of sketches—I counted at least 20—that portray situations that women live through on a daily basis, in the attempt to deconstruct and highlight the sexism that still exists in everyday life. The show was originally conceived and written for the Chicago theatre before the #MeToo movement broke. The Toronto edition has been updated to better reflect the present time, a different geographical context and to draw inspiration from the #MeToo movement. It is unquestionable that the sheer number of women coming forward to speak out against sexual harassment and various shades of sexism could no longer be swept under the rug. The vast explosion of incidents worldwide have made us all more receptive to conversations highlighting not only the injustice in a largely male-dominated society, but the stereotypes that revolve around women, including racism and misogynism.

Carly Heffernan, director of the show commented “I do think the #MeToo movement has made audiences more receptive to a show like She The People. More and more individuals want to support women telling their own stories with their own voices. For She The People, the movement also directly affected some of the show’s content. The Second City, being a satirical sketch comedy theatre, should reflect the world around us, no matter how tough, unfair, or just plain absurd that world may currently be. Shining more light on uncomfortable issues is how we move forward and more than ever audiences are craving the catharsis that comes from that light being shone.”

Carly’s words are reflected in a sketch that sees one of the six female characters waking up following a ten-year coma and learning that all her favourite actors are sexual offenders, Bill Cosby, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey. But that is not all! Donald Trump is President of the United States. Every shock from receiving such astonishing news was measured by the water she was sipping being spat into the face of the unwitting deliverer of the news.

Another sketch sees the character of a school girl who complains to her female teacher that a boy pushed her. The teacher tells her that no one will believe her. After all who else saw! An early warning to prepare the girl to the reality that women are not to be believed when they speak out. Although, as the teacher adds, things are getting better, which also means they are getting worse.

Many aspects in the present culture include stereotypes  of immigrant communities. In this sketch, the character of an Asian woman is asked where she is from. It seems still common enough to assume that non-white people are from a faraway land. However, as it turns out, she is from Scarborough.

Which woman has not feared becoming like her mother? I have and overcame it, and so did the character in another sketch. After being confronted with the realization that she is more similar to her mother than she likes to admit, acceptance kicks in.

A few sketches address the issues of women’s looks, body image, outdated beliefs of femininity, and how women are depicted in adverts. Advertising still relies heavily on gender stereotypes, pressurizing women to attain impossible standards of beauty and perfection. Women are still judged based on their looks rather than what they say, states the character hiding under the guise of a dinosaur. In another sketch, a strip tease performance never ends as there are multiple layers of spandex to remove.

In the penultimate sketch, an alien has taken all men away, aside from Justin Trudeau whose mother fought off the invaders. With no more men around, what are women to do? How do they envision their life to be? Will they stop wearing a bra? Perhaps even wearing pants will be optional! They could have their first elected female Canadian prime minister! They will even ensure that the Ontario’s sex ed curricula stays the same. With a finale that sounds like a hymn for women to find self-assurance and self-confidence, the possibilities seem endless.

As Carly stated “it was an absolute joy to work on!” It certainly was an absolute joy to watch!

One of the best jobs I ever had

 

Dress for the job you want, not the job you have can be laughably out of step with reality for those who wear a uniform to work. Another old adage that seems eyeroll-worthy is work hard and have a good attitude at whatever job you can get.

If you must work a terrible job that you feel is beneath you, isn’t a heavy chip on your shoulder proof you’re not a failure? Doesn’t commiserating about the misery of your shared hell with co-workers prove it’s only temporary?

We are living in a brave new world when it comes to job availability and opportunities, not only much different than what our parents faced, but even compared to the experience of older siblings.

The work hours aren’t always traditional, the benefits don’t always exist. Tantalizing dreams of a side-hustle taking off, and the promise of virtual workspaces giving us the independence to travel the world are the reward for being unable to afford a mortgage like previous generations.

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to teach a woman the first formal English classes she had ever taken. She came to Canada for freedom as a Vietnamese boat refugee, and my classes were her first time to learn after decades of factory work. I was proud to teach her basic grammar skills, and see her writing, reading, and speaking improve so dramatically in a few months, and the pride she took in her hard work.

However, I wasn’t really suited for teaching. I needed a change, and wanted to try something new. I didn’t put any attachments or expectations on outcomes. I told myself that I would immediately move on when the time came.

The job I took was some called brand ambassador or hawker, I prefer newsie. I took a job handing out newspapers in front of the subway. I had had articles published in a paper before, and tried not to think of it as a downward step. One of the first surprises about the job is, that it actually paid the same as my other job teaching English as a Second Language.

I got up before the sun rose, put on my green apron, and did my best. A younger me would have hid behind sunglasses or scowled. I said good morning to every person who passed by, and was determined to hand out my quota of bundles.

On my first morning, I wondered what my co-workers would be like. I worked with a group, I stood in the middle of three fellow newsies. They were approachable and funny. Some were actors who appreciated the flexible schedule. Everyone had multiple creative projects, bands, and auditions.

There were people who walked by or got off the bus that I looked forward to chatting with every morning whether they took a paper or not. I learned I had a nice smile.

I was outside in winter in temperatures so frigid my hair froze, but I also got to marvel at some of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen.

When the job eventually ended, I don’t think the job of handing out a newspaper even exists anymore, I knew more about my preferences. I could be an early riser, and I liked being a teamplayer.

We can embrace the future or fight it. A lifelong career at the same workplace may no longer be possible, but it isn’t necessarily a punishment. It is practical to be open-minded. Instead of justifying all the reasons why something isn’t the right fit for you, or how a job doesn’t match your career plan, just gather experience without judgement, and be open to what can happen.

My fear of navel-gazing

 

As a young adult, I created a bucket list of things I wanted to do in my life. I started with wanting to build a multimillion-dollar company, sidetracked by the idea that money was important. It took a few years and gaining a bit of success to realize it was an empty pursuit. So I focussed on finding a life partner and having children. As I learned more about the world, built my company, found love and had children, my bucket list grew. My life expanded and I found myself wanting to have a bigger impact on the world—to find a way to make it better. I found that the daily act of trying to make it better gave me a sense of inner strength.

I noticed that those who were guided by the desire to make money, as I once was, were also limited by it. They didn’t grow much beyond it and seem to shuffle through life, terrified of failure and constantly worried about what people might think of them. They take fewer risks and fear the bigger world beyond the mighty dollar. Sadly, they never end up making a real difference in the world.

When I think about people who have made the world better by their actions, I am drawn to those who lead and force positive change to happen—people like Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill and recently Malala Yousafzai. They stood up to a society that shunned their ideas at a time when the world needed leadership, and were guided by a strong moral code. These are the people everyone knows; however, there are so many others I am blessed to have met, who are determined to make a better world through their actions and words. They make a difference every day in the way they choose to live and in the way they help those around them. They don’t help others to gain recognition, but to make a positive impact on the world. I’ve noticed that people who want to make the world better are more focussed on the world around them—they look outward rather than becoming absorbed by their own inner drama—they aren’t sidetracked by their own positions.

This drive to focus on the world outside them allows them to find love, experience success and failures—and grow from both.

I’ve found that those who focus inward often become consumed by their own inner issues, they fear change and refuse to gain experience in the world beyond their door. Sadly, they often wrestle with depression, and the positive impact they might have on the world never gets realized. It’s a terrible cycle some people get into and I am beginning to wonder if one can slip from focusing outward to focusing inward? So my bucket list has grown to include items that force me out into the world from moving to another country, to trying to make the world better in my own small way.

I have travelled to a lot of places, but the area I’m drawn to again and again is the Caribbean for its beauty and its people. Unfortunately, tourism has pulled the population away from all other industries, to the point where manufacturing and local food production is almost non-existent—take, for example, the island of Barbados, where agricultural production is unable to sustain the local population, which now relies on importing most of its food.

Realizing that the greatest need in the Caribbean is to improve local manufacturing and food production, I began to research the best ways to inspire leadership in these areas. Time and again, I came across innovation hubs, places where artists and entrepreneurs collaborate. Cultural centres, shared work spaces, technology hubs, all create a culture of productivity and collaboration. The key to building a successful innovation hub is to sustain it long enough to spark and fuel productivity.

As I did more research into tourism, I came across changes happening in the hospitality industry. Airbnb was educating travellers to the benefits of renting homes and experiencing local communities. More and more travellers want local experiences and the opportunity to immerse themselves in local culture, from food to arts and environmental experiences. By studying the changes happening in the travel industry, I realized the the trend for all-inclusive resort experiences had peaked and the new wave just building in the industry is experiential travel. From glamping—glamorous camping—to luxury tree-house suites and ultra-luxury canvas habitats. Travellers want to experience the local culture in a natural luxury setting.

My objective is to develop a boutique-hotel concept focused around an innovation hub. We will offer travellers unique opportunities to experience the local culture with the boutique hotel sustaining an innovation hub for local artists and entrepreneurs. I have managed to build a great team to work on our first proof-of-concept site in Barbados—Canvas and Cave. My goal is to prove that the innovation hub sustained by the hotel will have a positive impact on local manufacturing and food production. At the end of this month my family and I will move to Barbados to work on this project and begin this adventure. We have the land, we have formed a consortium of investors, and we have the construction team; but I know that I’ll need more help as we grow.

If you would like to get involved, please contact me at sthomson@canvasandcave.com