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Woman of the Week: Sharon Vinderine

Sharon Vinderine wakes up at 5 a.m. every day, makes herself a cup of coffee, and reads a minimum two chapters of a business book.

“It’s a struggle to constantly try to build up your information base,” she said. “But, if there is some tiny tidbit you can learn, you’ve gained a whole lot.”

Vinderine is the founder and CEO of Parent Tested Parent Approved (PTPA), a seal-of-approval award for products that were reviewed by real families. She has worked with a number of iconic brands like Johnson’s Baby, Gerber, and Harlem Globetrotters among others, to help promote and market their merchandise based on the experiences of parents who actually tried their products.

The idea behind peer-endorsed products was the result of Vinderine’s experience with her first child. She spent a ton of money on products she saw on television or in magazines she thought would work the best. Turns out, the products were less than perfect. “I then called friends and asked what products you can’t live without,” she said. “They were the best products!”

With that idea in mind, Vinderine started working on the PTPA Seal of Approval. An entrepreneur herself — she invented the Kangaroo Towel, a bath towel that acts as a pouch to hold your wet baby, as well as helped found MIPPS, one of the first wireless Internet providers in the 90s —she understood the challenges of promoting a product. She actually submitted the Kangaroo Towel to a U.S. company for review and certification; yet, the only feedback she received was “it was a pretty colour and very soft.” The certification did not include marketing or inclusion in press releases.

“I remember sitting at my kids Gymboree classes and starting a plan of action: I was going to develop a program that was going to actually accomplish all of the things that a new entrepreneur needs — a better way to market, differentiate your product, a better way to get your product on magazines or TV. I wanted to change the way moms were shopping, which was not based on what advertisers say.”

According to the PTPA website, 54 per cent of consumers say the Seal of Approval has a positive impact on their purchasing decision. Over 80 per cent say the seal made them feel more confident about both their purchase and the brands associated with it.

How does it work? Parents are given products for free in exchange for detailed feedback that is shared with manufacturers. PTPA will also provide help in magazine and television advertisements, as well as other forms of creative marketing techniques that are affordable and effective. Vinderine and her PTPA seal-approved products, was featured in over 150 shows, including The Rachel Ray Show, Extra!, The Steve Harvey Show, as well as ABC and Fox.

“From a business perspective, I feel like we are really impacting the way consumers are shopping,” Vinderine said. “When a mom sees our seal of approval on a package, it is almost the equivalent of her calling 20 of her best friends and asking what they think. That seal of approval says it all.”

PTPA now has a database of about 85,000 parents to pull from. Vinderine said that helping families, especially those with a low income, is one of the biggest benefits of the business. Based on one of her favourite quotes from her dad — “I don’t care what you do in life, but whatever you do, make sure it has an impact on the lives of others” — she would try to find low-income families to test cribs and dressers. All products are delivered and assembled, and families can keep them for free after the review.

Vinderine said that launching her own business was a challenging experience. How do you convince people this new seal is important? How do you convince television shows to feature your products? Vinderine encourages entrepreneurship through mentoring, but urges young businessmen and businesswomen to consider the reason behind their idea.

“If you are doing it to launch a second source of revenue, that is not a good enough reason. If you are passionate about what you are launching, it will get you through the rollercoaster of launching a business.”

Vinderine was recognized as one of RBCs Canadian Women Entrepreneurs and one of Canada’s Rising Stars according to Profit Magazine. The PTPA Seal of Approval is one of the three most recognized awards in the U.S., leading to seven new certifications such as “Santa Tested.”

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Reforms allow women in Saudi Arabia to be entrepreneurs

The government of Saudi Arabia announced Sunday women will be able to start their own businesses without permissions of a male guardian. The announcement was made over Twitter by the Ministry of Commerce and Investment, saying “No need for a guardian’s position. Saudi women are free to start their own businesses freely. #NoNeed.”

This degree is part of prince Mohammad bin Salman’s Vision3030 plan, which aims to alter the economy so it isn’t so reliant on oil. To do this, the prince hopes to reduce female unemployment in the country and raise the number of women in the workforce from 22 per cent to 30 per cent.

This announcement is intriguing and somewhat startling for a society that has oppressed women for so many decades. Of course, little detail was released about enforcing this new decree and the challenges facing women once they decide to open a business, such as banking, employees, and sales. There is also a lot of pushback from more conservative members of state.

Back in September 2017, King Salman of Saudi Arabia issued a decree allowing women to be given driving licences as of June 2018. Since then, a Middle Eastern taxi app has signed up almost 1,000 female drivers in February. Their goal is to hire 10,000 by the end of the year. The Ministry of Labour is also reportedly looking into subsidizing car sharing for working women, as public transportation is so scarce.

Both of these decrees are positive changes to Saudi Arabian society; however, until they are implemented, it remains unknown as to how much of an impact they will have.

Why is there still a Target-sized hole in my heart?

Sears didn’t mean much to me. It was just a shortcut to the rest of the mall, that is until it started to get really interesting, right before it went under. A huge banner advertised a new slogan “What the Sears?”. The store was constantly under renovation. There were suddenly shelves of reasonably priced housewares and a hopeful sign that read a café was coming soon. It was a desperate makeover to stave off bankruptcy — and it didn’t work. When Sears inevitably closed, I realized with a sinking feeling the Christmas tradition staple the Wish Book was now canceled.

It was one more blow to the seemingly bleak retail landscape.

While Sears was unfortunate, and my childhood will forever miss that giant book of toys and holiday possibilities, there’s one that really hurts­— the one that got away.

The store I made a beeline for every time I went to the States was finally coming to Canada! I trekked to the Cloverdale Mall in Etobicoke on Target’s opening day, but immediately something felt off. The huge store felt empty and the stock placement seemed random. I gave it chance after chance, but it never got better. It was a big debacle, and Target eventually went back to the States defeated, leaving behind empty real-estate and its big concrete balls.

Target shot its shot and lost. It came on too strong and took on too much too fast. In its zeal to enter Canada, it had taken over all of the leases of the now defunct Zellers and quickly discovered not all the spaces were suitable to be transformed into Targets. I wondered, did Canada also play a part? Was it Stephen Harper’s fault? When he ditched the beloved long-form census did it leave the corporation without enough demographic information to make proper expansion decisions?

Whatever the case, Target it’s-not-you-its-me’d itself right out the door, and I found myself at its funeral. I wanted to say goodbye in my own way, and see if there was one last bargain to score from the sad clearance wreckage. Mourners and a handful of media were gathered. Bagpipes played. A sobbing girl laid flowers. A protestor held a sign that read, God hates fake funerals. It was…something. I guess I wasn’t the only one looking for closure.

And then, suddenly, I was hit with feelings of nostalgia for another departed store. The company that was cut to make room for Target —Zellers. I felt longing for the sales racks I had combed through with my mom, the café where I had coconut cream pie with my mother-in-law, my hometown store where the teddy bear mascot beckoned, “Come ride with me! All aboard the Zeddy wheel.” I was so psyched by Target’s arrival, I didn’t even think to miss Zellers.

Stores promise they will always be there. They promise to help everyone, “live better.” So, there’s something uniquely traumatizing about seeing a store being liquidated to the bare studs, with everything for sale, including the fixtures. The space stripped of its former meaning. And going through this process again and again, store after store, what kind of damage is that doing to the Canadian spirit?

Will all these closures scare off potential suitors?

It’s not like I’m totally without selection. There’s places where I can shop for groceries and get a pair of pajamas. Well-lit pharmacies where I can pick up prescriptions and get 40 per cent off on a bestselling paperback.

But there’s something missing. There’s not one place where I can go to for everything, a place I can wander around and get design ideas while I shop for food, and look at clothes I actually want to wear, with sizeable departments so if I’m in a hurry I don’t have to run all over the damn place.

Maybe it’s time to move beyond brick and mortar stores and embrace the future. Order everything online? But sometimes, I just don’t know what I want until I see it.

How can retail be dead anyway when the largest online retailer in the galaxy, Amazon, just opened up a store? And there was a line up around the block to get in?

I can’t help feeling like there’s something missing. Target could have been the one. But, for whatever reason, it wasn’t, and now there’s abandoned retail space that to this day sits empty and in need of revitalization. For a company that has the imagination, there’s a Target/Zellers sized hole to fill. There’s an opportunity for someone to mend the retail therapy gaps. If only someone will just step up and try.

 

Featured Image by Mike Mozart

Is journalism losing its purpose?

Reporters used to be local — a journalist would be assigned a neighbourhood or a beat, focusing all their energy on collecting information, finding sources, and writing stories that truly mattered to the community.

Now, the media is becoming nationalized. Global News, owned by Chorus Entertainment, will be laying off 70 employees across the country, including camera operators, reporters, anchors, and control room staff. As a result, local news from the Maritimes will now be broadcast out of Toronto. The local anchors have been let go.

“Fewer journalists will be out gathering news from every region from Vancouver to Halifax,” said Unifor National President Jerry Dias, the trade union for communications and media workers. “If the Maritime newscasts now come from Toronto – how can you still call that local news?”

Unifor blames lax rules set forth by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). Last year, the commission softened requirements on local programming, no longer making it mandatory to have “feet on the street”.

Before this announcement, the Toronto Star announced the “suspension” of their internship program, which generally employed a number of journalism students and recent graduates in both summer and year-long contracts. The reason, they say, was purely financial. As a former intern in the Radio Room, (which luckily will still be operated by students), these kinds of jobs are critical to the professional development of young journalists. It is one of the few internships in which a student is expected to perform as a regular staff member, and gets paid to do so. Those kind of internships are few and far between.

It seems every few months more media jobs are being lost. What does this all mean? It means a grim future for journalism, in which the jobs are fewer and fewer, and those who are hired can’t expect any job security. It also means that local stories, stories that can only be told by having feet on the ground, will be lost.

What’s not lost on me is that the CBC’s frontrunner show The National is able to afford four anchors, but Global News can’t afford to have a single person broadcast out of the Maritimes. Reporters need to be able to have their feet on the ground and tell the stories that should be told, not being pushed to the brink with no resources and little compensation. It’s time for everyone to step up — the government, the media, and the public — to ensure that local, community journalism endures.

GM launches car-sharing service in Toronto

General Motors announced this week it will launch Maven, a car-sharing service, in Toronto. Maven is a mobility app that provides on-demand vehicle access, allowing members to enjoy the benefits of car ownership without actually needing to own a car.

Using your smartphone, a customer can choose a location or a car type, and then unlock the vehicle upon arrival. Vehicles are available by the hour and all reservations include gas and insurance (minus a deductable. Rates start as low as $9 per hour and users can choose from one of 40 vehicles, including Chevrolet Cruze, Malibu, Tahoe, Trax and Volt; GMC Acadia and Yukon; and Cadillac ATS and XT5. Each vehicle is equipped with OnStar, Wi-Fi, Apple Carplay, Android Auto, and SeriusXM Radio. There is no preliminary fee for renting a vehicle.

 

“Toronto has a unique spirit. Residents are constantly on the go and want more sharing and mobility options,” said Julia Steyn, vice president, General Motors Urban Mobility and Maven, in a statement. “Maven offers cars Torontonians want to drive to help them be there for the moments that matter.”

Toronto will be the first city outside of the U.S. to host Maven.

General Motors recently opened up a campus in Markham, something it is calling ” the largest automotive technology development centre of its kind in Canada” and will focus on innovation in mobility. “Bringing Maven car sharing to Toronto not only reduces congestion, but also represents the latest step in the development of General Motors’ mobility footprint in Canada,” said Steve Carlisle, president and managing director, General Motors of Canada. “…[it] furthers our ability to bring new solutions to existing problems and redefine the future of mobility in Toronto and beyond.”

The most challenging part of the launch will be the parking, in terms of Maven’s park and pick-up model. Toronto city council voted to delay debate on a pilot that would have granted residential parking permits to car-sharing companies like Car2Go and Zipcar. Finding places to leave the cars during off-peak hours may prove problematic.

What do you think? Is there room for another car-sharing service in Toronto? Let us know in the comments below!

Woman of the Week: Alexa Samuels

Alexa Samuels is the founder of Mercartto.com, a Toronto-based, female-led e-commerce startup that helps connect people with handpicked artwork based on their personality type. With a background in Latin American art and an MBA from Rotman School of Management, Samuels knows what it takes to run a business. Her idea — to offer original art to those who may not know what to look for — sprang from her own personal experience and desire to fuse technology with culture.

Samuels responded to some questions from Women’s Post about how she founded Mercartto.com and what advice she has for young entrepreneurs looking to run a startup:

Question: Your background is in Latin American studies and art – when did you decide to make the jump into business – and what was your interest in Latin America specifically?

Answer: I went to McGill University not having a clue what I wanted to do. When we had to declare a major, the cross-disciplinary nature of the Latin American and Caribbean Studies program intrigued me. I’ve had a long-term inexplicable interest in Latin America since I was young, perhaps stemming from the region’s history/archaeology, art, music, food and languages. As for jumping into business, it just seemed like the thing to do. My grandfather built a successful toy manufacturing business, so perhaps entrepreneurialism is in the blood.

Your career is a bit all over the place – marketing, social media, non-profits – what drove you towards entrepreneurship?

Initially, my career began after completing my Master of Arts degree when I joined Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. I stayed there for over a decade until taking a Global Executive MBA that stoked my interest in going independent. In 2009 I felt the time was right to make the change.

How did the idea for Mercartto come about?

The idea for Mercartto literally sprouted from an “aha moment” when out with a friend for lunch.

Years ago, shortly after I moved from a tiny home with no wall space to a house with a two-storey front entrance, I knew I wanted a significant piece of art to make a great first impression. But, I didn’t want to spend extensive time searching for art, especially wading through art that was out of my price range or art that just didn’t resonate with me. I had also spent a lot of time (and continue to do so) contemplating my own art decisions: Why am I drawn to certain types of art? What are the common elements? Finally, I wanted to create an experience which surprises and delights the user, but within a selection of art that she is more likely to enjoy. Mercartto’s been evolving ever since that lunchtime epiphany.

In terms of your personality quiz – is there a kind of art that is most popular?

Our data set is still small, so it’s hard to make generalizations this early, but if I had to narrow it down I would say that landscapes have the edge. What’s more interesting to observe is how diverse our users’ tastes are. I can tell you that at current, out of the 31 different personality types, the most popular are the Sensory Collector, the Social Collector, the Visionary Collector and the Closet Daredevil. I’m also happy to observe that so far we have one Nonconformist.

How has the company evolved in the last three years? 

The last three years have seen the evolution from idea to a product. The most significant milestones have been:

  1. Narrowing down the Mercartto differentiator and refining the art personality quiz;
  2. Launching the beta as an iOS app in 2016; and
  3. Integrating tester feedback into an updated web version launched end of 2017.
Frida Kahlo her Wished For Child Arsema by Jane Murdoch Adams

Tell me about the scholarship aspect of Mercartto?

When considering who is going to be drawn to Mercartto, we think of someone who is interested in introducing original art into their space, whether for the first time or to build upon a small collection, but might be unsure about “the whole art thing”. Our mandate is to help people learn more about art, both from general concepts and from things related specifically to Toronto. We want Canadians to learn about themselves, and others to learn about us. Our blog serves as an ongoing repository of this information, and once a month we send our subscribers a curated newsletter summarizing the best content of the month.

What advice would you have for budding entrepreneurs? Did you experience any drawbacks or challenges in the creation of Mercartto? 

Ha! There are days (weeks!) when you’re an entrepreneur and everything you do feels like a drawback, challenge or learning experience. It’s especially difficult taking on a technology project when you don’t have the technical skills to build the platform yourself. If I had to narrow down my advice to a few points, I would say:

  1. There will be rough patches. Lots of them. You will make mistakes. Expensive, painful mistakes. If you want stability and predictability, work for someone else. But if you love the challenge of creating something the world has never seen before, you believe in what you’re doing and you accept that the buck stops with you and you alone, entrepreneurship can be very rewarding.
  2. It’s okay to change. Don’t be so rigid with your idea that you’re not willing to change. Really listen to others and not just hear what you want to hear.
  3. Listen to your gut. If something is gnawing at the back of your brain, there’s probably some truth to it. Honour your misgivings.
  4. Be very, very careful with whom you do business. As much as possible, set expectations up front. Deal directly with issues.

Tell me about #artistsneededhere.

#artisneededhere is our inaugural promotion to help build awareness. We’re on a mission to make your walls happy! Until Feb. 28, we’re giving people a chance to enter to win one of two prints by Toronto artist Jane Murdoch Adams’ wonderful Frida Kahlo series. Entry is done by sharing a photo of your sad, bare wall on a public Instagram account with the hashtag #artisneededhere, posting a comment to our #artisneededhere thread in Facebook, or signing up to receive our monthly curated newsletter. More details at http://ArtIsNeededHere.com.

Frida with Diego in Love by Jane Murdoch Adams

How do you help women?

I knew I wanted to build my business if not directly targeted at women, at least in a way that women would feel like it was made for them, but not at the expense of excluding men. It’s a true “feminist” approach: one that believes in equality for everyone. I am particularly interested in ensuring we have female artists represented on the site – again, not to the exclusion of men, but by at least making an effort to be consciously aware that female artists are being approached on an equal basis to males.

What do you do when you aren’t working?

I don’t understand the question (just kidding.)

If I’m not working, my time is generally spent with my husband, daughter, and extended family. Now that my daughter is getting increasingly independent, I’ve realized that I need to invest in spending time with myself, particularly doing creative pursuits like painting, writing, piano playing. And on Sunday nights you can find me playing hockey at my local rink.

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Former PM Kim Campbell denounces sleeveless anchors

In a tweet on Feb. 13, former Prime Minister of Canada Kim Campbell made a comment about television news anchors and their choice or wardrobe. “Bare arms undermine credibility and gravitas,” she said in the social media post, referring to female broadcasters who choose to wear sleeveless outfits.

The article Campbell references is a blog post written by Dr. Nick Morgan, a speaking coach, on his own private website. According to Morgan, a sleeveless outfit for women or a casual looking t-shirt for men will mean people won’t think you are as smart as you are. “We humans are pretty simple creatures,” he writes. “If you show up in front of us with skin exposed, we’re going to think about your body.  If you’re wearing lots of clothing, we’re going to think about your mind.”

The blog post goes on to suggest people should spend “real money” at “a high-end fashionista place” prior to an interview or speaking engagement. Morgan mentions a study that compares photographs of naked and half-naked women and asks people about how competent they think they are. Ironically, the article was then tweeted out by Informed Opinions, a handle that aims “to ensure diverse women’s perspectives and priorities are equitably integrated into Canadian society.” That is how Canada’s former PM found the piece.

Let us first address the research — wearing a sleeveless dress is different than wearing a bra and nothing else. Therefore, I don’t think the study referenced in the original article provides enough context for the statement made by both Morgan and Campbell. To do so proves that society objectifies women to such a degree that showing shoulders or your arm is essentially equal to a woman being stark naked while presenting the news. Most people would agree this is a ridiculous statement.

The public response to Campbell’s support of this statement was mixed. While it is true that most women are judged 60 per cent by how they look rather than what they say, that way of thinking is not something that should be perpetuated.

What interested me the most was the response from television stylists, who actually urge women to lose the traditional blazer or pantsuit for something more personal. There were others who argued that blazers and long-sleeve shirts were more professional, but the general consensus was that clothing wasn’t an indicator or success or capability. Here are some examples of the response:

Featured Image: Kim Campbell poses nude behind robes in this Barbara Woodley photograph from 1990. (Barbara Woodley/Courtesy Museum of Civilization)

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!

Automation may be the future, but it hurts employment

I went to see a movie a few weeks ago, and I was shocked at what I saw when waiting to purchase my tickets — a long row of automated machines and a single employee. The employee was there to deal with cash purchases only. Everyone else was encouraged to use their credit or debit cards at one of these computers to buy their movie tickets.

It’s not just Cineplex. Shoppers drug mart now has a series of machines for self-checkouts (Debit/credit only) and you can order fast food at Macdonalds using a fancy touchscreen.

Metro, the grocery chain, announced earlier this week they will be testing scan-and-go technology so they can increase the number of self-checkout machines in their stores. The reason? To offset the higher minimum wages in Ontario and Quebec.

Metro already has self-scanning checkouts in 30 stores across Ontario, and plans to add more by the end of the summer, including a few at the Food Basics discount store.  After the pilot, more machines will be added, assuming it is successful.

Automation may be the way of the future, but it will have a drastic impact on the younger generation, most of whom get their first jobs at places like Cineplex, Shoppers, and Metro. If those jobs disappear, where will these young people go to make an income? Where will they gain valuable work experience?

A study written by the McKinsey Global Institute predicts that by 2030, as many as 800 million jobs could be lost worldwide to automation, particularly in middle and low-skill occupations. This will create a two-tiered labour market, according to the report, in which “stepping stone jobs” are eliminated while high-paying creative jobs are not.

“New jobs will be available, based on our scenarios of future labor demand and the net impact of automation,” the report reads. However, people will need to find their way into these jobs. Of the total displaced, 75 million to 375 million may need to switch occupational categories and learn new skills.”

At the same time, the report says that worries about future jobs are unfounded, as the labour market will adjust over time. The benefits of automation, which were outlined in a previous report by McKinsey, such as an increase in productivity and efficiency, will outweigh the dangers. “Automation of activities can enable businesses to improve performance, by reducing errors and improving quality and speed, and in some cases achieving outcomes that go beyond human capabilities.” In the United States alone, automation will equal savings of approximately $2.7 trillion in wages.

The key in these findings is that change occurs slowly over time. Replacing minimum wage workers with automated machines the year the minimum wage increases, is moving rather quickly. Other jobs need to open up for younger people before their traditional positions are eliminated. The unemployment rate in Canada may be relatively low at the moment at 5.7 per cent, but for youth, that number is 10.3 per cent. That number is going to increase unless companies make room for young people, despite their move to automation.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

Woman of the Week: Lisa Grybowski

Lisa Grybowski is a licensed customs broker and vice president of Hemisphere Freight and Customs Brokerage. Her role is mixed, everything from taking care of the company’s billings and government claims, setting up technology systems, troubleshooting issues with clients, and helping clear shipments for specialized boats and cars.

Hemisphere is a boutique firm with only three licensed brokers, but it prides itself on top quality 24-hour service. They take one-time clients, are fluent in US customs brokerage, and are responsible for a number of temporary imports.

“Our biggest competition is the large carriers like UPS and FEDex. As an in-house brokerage firm, they can do it cheap and increase prices in our freight where we charge per clearance,” she said. “We hold our own. We have five employees set up at home so they can clear shipping. Not 1-800 numbers. Why would I come to you if you are more expensive? You pay for service.”

Hemisphere is a family-run business. It was started when Grybowski was born in 1986 by her mother, Penny Downer. Downer was a secretary for a customs broker and, after a while, she thought she could do it herself.

“Hemisphere was her second attempt,” Grybowski said. “My mom is an incredible story. She started this company as a single mom with three kids, and in this industry, when she started she was one of three women in the entire industry in Canada.”

“She started it on her own and by the time Charles and I took over the company, she had tons of clients. They all ask about her.”

Downer was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and her health deteriorated quickly. Grybowski and her brother were thrust into the business, forced to learn the ropes quickly in order to keep the company afloat.

Grybowski has a background in general finance, so she was able to take on a portion of accounting at Hemisphere, but she had to learn a lot on the job. She eventually completed a course and received her brokerage license. It’s her job to be aware of what is happening internationally with trade agreements and how it affects the Canadian dollar, a challenge with the current political climate.

Now, we just got a free trade agreement with the EU,” She said. “That has increased business for us because there are no more duties between Canada and European countries. A lot of our businesses importing clothing has drastically increased.”

Over half of the employees at Hemisphere are women, something Grybowski is proud of. “My mom was keen on giving women opportunities. I sit at her desk now, and I try to keep that in mind. Trucking and operating is still a manly world.”

Grybowski is a part of the Women Presidents’ Organization, which is made up of women who have ownership of a company or hold the role of President. “We do roundtable discussions each month and that is where we can start generating ideas on how we can help other women,” she said. “We can talk about if we have problems with an employee and everyone gives their two cents; what we give for bonuses or gifts for clients; what do we think of new taxes on small to mid-size companies; a lot of things. My mom never had something like that.”

Grybowski said that while she never hears from a female customs broker, and all of the executives she works with are male, she doesn’t like to think of those barriers. “I think you need to have a voice, show persistence, and not really think of any barriers like the glass ceiling or whether you are the only woman in the room…If I know what I’m talking about and I can do a great job for [these executives], they become loyal business partners.”

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Why I’m working for myself during my “year off” travelling

The phone call that determined my present lifestyle happened nearly two years ago in the midst of a bout of post-travel blues and a too-short adventure in Colombia. I had just come back from two weeks in Medellin and returning to the grind brought on a feeling not dissimilar to the familiar nag one gets upon putting off a major project. I knew I wanted to travel more extensively, but didn’t know when. When I expressed this to my nomad of an older brother, he gave it to me straight: “Before you look for your next job, just take a year or six months off.”

I have just taken that plunge.

If each job is a stepping stone, my latest move is the first block on a detour that’s taking me South, back to The City of Eternal Spring to travel and freelance from a new place. I‘ve left my job and rid my apartment of the possessions that made it more than just a configuration of walls and halls. My plan: say adios to Toronto and travel South America for a year – tops. This is not, however, a stunt to escape my line of work. I’m part of the group of people who love their work. I’m ambitious. I always was. Since journalism is well-equipped to be transient, I’m taking my assignments – and new ones – with me to Colombia.

During this chapter I’m my own boss, and that is equal parts thrilling as it is uncomfortable. This is week number one of a lifestyle I’ve decided to sample for 12 months. I’m leaving my comfort zone approximately 4,000 kilometres away because I’m curious to know what happens when you hit pause and realize the person you most have to answer to is yourself. Contrary to my routine up until this point, I’m the one who sets my pace and the expectations. I’m the one responsible for the re-evaluations that come with that too. I’m the one who creates the assignment, even if it’s daunting.

This is a decision that comes during an era where articles geared towards career-minded women like me reflect the cultural climate, using words like ”entrepreneur” and “side hustle,” but also terms like “burnout” and “imposter syndrome.” I’m still early in my career and yet I relate to all four of those terms. The first two empower and motivate. As for the latter two… not so much, and I’m not willing to be confined by them.

I’m part of the large group of women who love their work, but I’m also part of the large group of women who spread themselves too thin, self criticize, and go about their work giving more without receiving more, and then judging the final product too harshly. Call me a millennial, but I think that cycle begs for a revamp – and I don’t feel bad for saying that. There is so much I’m appreciative of (my physical being is healthy and intact, I finally have a degree and years of hard work to my name, I’m financially stable, I have a solid support network) that I now want to build upon that, pen stories that have an impact, and not let it go to waste.

In overhauling the day-to-day routine, you decide what you toss out and you move forward with what can make you better. Sometimes, that’s a tough call to make and yes, it’s often daunting, but rarely has succumbing to intimidation led to the best path.

On dark, quiet nights, I often sat alone at my desk after a long work day in commitment to the side hustles that padded the bank account and afforded me the chance to do this. My current exercise: making sure I don’t tear down what I built for myself in confidence.