25 Things I’ve Learned at 25

25 things I've learned by 25

It’s no secret that I love birthdays. Especially my own birthday. Every year I set super high expectations that this is going to be “BEST BIRTHDAY EVER”. Some years, I surpass those expectations and have a really memorable and amazing birthday (22 was the last “exceeds expectations” birthday, FYI. My mom sent me 22 cupcakes from Sweet Jane’s and we played party games in my apartment). Other years, my birthday is a crapshoot and I just have to hope the next year will be better (My 18th birthday was my first day of university and I had a broken femur and no friends in my new city – total bust).

No matter what, every year I feel like my birthday is a major life turning point and I like to take this time to be a little be more reflective. Turning 25 is kind-of-a-big-friggin-deal, so here’s a round-up things I’ve learning in these 25 years.

1. Your whole life can change drastically within a really short period of time.

This point has really been driven home for me over the last year. There are a lot of aspects of my life that are in no way the same as they were as this time last year. There are moments in life that challenge you and shake up everything you thought you once knew, but at the end of the day, you don’t have much other choice but to just deal with it and figure it out.

2. Being afraid of screwing things up will hold you back.

Sometimes I don’t do something because I’m afraid of “Wreck-it-Gab” syndrome, where I colossally fuck-up something beyond repair. But you know what, it’s really unlikely that I’ll ever screw something up to the point of  “beyond repair”, so why not try, right?

3. “Say yes and figure it out later”

I once wrote a blog post on this and it’s probably my favourite quote in the world since I discovered it. Logistics and inconvenience shouldn’t be the things that hold you back.

4. There’s a lot more out there than what’s in your own city.

Moving to Toronto earlier this year to attend HackerYou was one of the most life-shifting things I’ve ever done. And I was *thisss clossseeee* to not doing it.

5. Your job isn’t everything.

Work/Life balance is a real thing and it’s an achievable thing. Learning to say “no” when it comes to bringing home work from the office and not answering emails after work hours unless it’s super-urgent is not something you should feel guilty about.

6. Actually listen when people are talking to you.

Active listening and engaging in what someone else is saying is noticeable: people can tell when you actually care about what they’re saying. Also, when you get busted when you’re not actually listening, it sucks.

7. Speak up when you’re not into something.

This goes for a ton of things and is generally applicable everywhere. If you feel like something you have to do is unethical, dangerous, or just plain dumb you can be like, “Hey, nope. Not doin’ this”  and yeah, people might get mad but at least you still have your dignity/integrity/well-being.

8. Decide if you want to your hair to have bangs or not.

Half grown out bangs are annoying.

9. Exercise makes you happy.

I’ve known this for years but I only realize it after I turn into a major grumpypants after missing a few days of workouts.

10. If you don’t work at friendships, they kind of just fade away

This is a scary one. As I’ve gotten older it’s been harder to keep in touch with friends: having different work schedules and living in different places has a way of doing that. Even if you don’t keep in touch ALL THE TIME, you still have to check in with your buddies.

11. Don’t let people make you feel embarrassed about something you shouldn’t be embarrassed about.

Embarrassment is the weirdest emotion ever because it’s not about how you feel. It’s about how other people feel concerning you. Which sucks, because peeing your pants in a room by yourself isn’t embarrassing. But for some reason peeing your pants in a room full of people is super embarrassing.

12. Fake it til you make it.

I actually hate this phrase. But it’s totally true so I’m just going to deal with it.

13. Nobody else knows what they’re doing.

Everyone else has “imposter syndrome” just like you and is waiting to be busted. This is why “fake it til you make it” works.

14. Weigh the risk before you take the risk.

I lean more towards the impulsive side when it comes to making decisions. If my gut tells me it’s good, then I’m on board. This has worked out occasionally, and sometimes its bit me in the butt. You learn.

15. Don’t treat your body like a garbage can.

You only get one body and it has to last like 90 years! Don’t mess it up more than necessary!

16. Remember where you came from.

It’s part of who you are and trying to be something else just won’t work out.

17. If you know exactly what you want to be doing with your life, start doing that thing now.

Even if you’re only doing that thing that makes you happy as a side gig or a hobby, there’s no sense in waiting.

18. Love is hard work.

But, duh, so worth that effort.

19. Making friends is harder when you’re not in school.

Still trying to figure this one out. How do you do it? Become best buddies with your colleagues because you see each other every day anyways? Make friends at the gym without being creepy while someone is just trying to do few squats and forget about their day? Someone help me.

20. Spend your money on what makes you happy.

Buy cheap versions of stuff you don’t care about, spend on the stuff you enjoy. Hence, why all my “professional clothes” are from Joe Fresh and cost under $30 and why all my running gear is putting me in the poorhouse.

21. Always have a question when you’re on a job interview and someone says, “Do you have any questions?”

Because they’re always going to ask it and if you don’t ask a question it’s like, “why are you even here?”

22. Don’t be afraid of the phone.

Living in a texting/email world means that the phone is secondary. Which is great because phone calls can be really awkward, especially when you have to leave the dreaded voicemail message (UGH!). BUT, phone calls get shit done. Get a person on the phone and you’ll save way more time than emailing back and forth.

23. Reading for pleasure instead of self-improvement is one of the best de-stressors.

I started re-reading Anne of Green Gables last weekend while we were on the ferry to PEI and it was the most chilled out I’ve been in a long time. Malcolm Gladwell is great, but there’s nothing like a nice piece of fiction before bed.

24. Most of your assumptions are wrong.

Whenever I make an assumption, I don’t even think I’m making an assumption because I’m assuming that I’m absolutely spot on about something. Nope, everything is probably wrong.

25. The lists get longer as you get older.

This list took forever to write. I hope I’m not still making these when I’m 50.

What to Do When You’re Leading a Double-Work Life

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For the past two years I’ve always been doing some sort of moonlighting work as a freelancer.

It feels totally normal to have a 9-5 gig and then always be working on projects on the side. There are times of the year when I take on less projects than others (during the summer for example, when I want to be able to come home from work and immediately sit on a patio with a glass of wine for hours), but I’m almost always doing some form of design, development, updating, or just general consulting on the side.

It definitely helps that I absolutely love the work I do, and I’m always pretty eager to take on a new challenge.

But, occasionally I forget that my side gig is more than just a hobby – it’s real work. This happens when I come face-to-face with a side-project deadline in the wake of an extra long day at my day job. Or when I end up in a 2 hour client meeting right after work and I’m so hungry I could eat a horse and my brain is already fried from the rest of the day’s work. How do you keep enjoying your side projects when you essentially have two jobs that you’re trying to balance? It’s taken me two years to figure out some real answers to this question and especially since stepping up my freelance skills with web development and taking on more side projects than I used to. Since I can’t be the only person in this particular double-work pickle, I thought I’d share some tips that I’ve learned from managing a work-life balancing act:

 1. Choose your projects carefully.

There’s nothing worse than coming home after a long day and having to do more work that you don’t enjoy, or are tired of doing. When I worked in print/logo design I used to hate coming home after work only to log 3 more hours of print or logo work that evening. It just makes the day SO long. I’m finding it much easier to balance working in digital marketing during the day and coming home where I can sink my teeth into more creative projects. My creative brain is way less drained and I feel much more motivated. I’ve also been fortunate enough thus far in my career to say that all my clients were/are awesome, understanding, and generally amazing to be around. When you work with clients like that, it doesn’t feel like work.

2. Set clear project objectives and scope.

Ahhh, scope creep: when the client asks you, “Hey what do you think about this, do you think we can add this in?” and you’re like, “sure!” because it means more work, which = more money. This can also mean your project gets dragged out by a few months and never really seems to end. This might be okay if they’re a great client and easy to get along with, but it can be draining and frustrating as well.

3. Keep your timelines realistic

If freelancing is your side gig, having 2 weeks to pump out a website probably won’t work for you. Set realistic timelines based on how many hours you think you can actually work during the week. This leads into the next thing:

4. Track your time

Because freelancing is your side gig, this is your free time. Track your time to know how much time your spending with each client and really consider what that time is worth. For a long time my freelance rate was really low and I justified it to myself because I had limited daytime availability and had a long turn-around time to clients. But when I looked at how much time I was spending on projects, I felt really silly. It’s my time that I’m choosing to work, and obviously, that’s still worth the same as if this was my full-time job.

5. Don’t forget to have fun.

When you’re moonlighting on the side, maintaining a good sense of work-life balance becomes crucial. I try not to answer freelance emails while I’m at work and I try not to answer work emails when I’m freelancing. Some days I might work late on a freelance project, but I usually try to limit myself and not spend the entire weekend working.

Most importantly, only freelance on the side if it’s something you like doing and you want to do.

If you’d be happier doing something else with your time and you feel like your time would be better spent doing something else, then by all means, go do that thing! Freelancing only works when you find satisfaction and joy in the work you do.

Reasons Why it’s Hard to be Productive in the Summer

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Being productive and tackling side projects, or starting brand new projects, or writing blog posts is tough in the summertime – especially if you’ve just gotten an invite to the beach. This summer, instead of feeling guilty about neglecting my blog and not working on any personal projects, I am all about embracing it. Instead, I am telling myself that I am incubating a bunch of cool side project/personal project ideas for the fall and winter when it’s too miserable to leave the house.

Here’s what’s been happening instead:

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1. Shovelling a bunch of dirt on the weekend.

My partner is building a shed in our backyard, but first we had to get rid of a raised garden that was in the way. I had planned to clean up my office (right now it’s pretty much my bike storage space) last Sunday and instead I ended up helping the demo and getting covered in mud while I was at it. If you’ve never shovelled dirt from one big pile to another for a few hours on a weekend, you don’t know how satisfying it feels. Seriously. You can channel any frustration and aggression into a shovel.

 

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2. Long bike rides into the suburbs

Some more successful than not. A few weeks ago I busted a tire when I was 12 km away from home and I had to get rescued. Still, it was a great adventure and I’m so glad I invested in a road bike. It’s taken a little bit of getting used to, but I finally feel ready to start seriously considering doing a triathalon next year.

 

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3. Day hikes into the woods

Standing on the top of this hill on the Musquodoboit Trail reminded me of why I love Nova Scotia. Look at those trees! The fact that you can drive for 40 minutes, hike for an hour and then see this is something special.

 

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4. Impromptu Beach Trips

There is no such thing as a productive day at the beach, which is what makes it the most wonderful and luxurious summer treat. I feel silly for saying this, but I almost felt guilty for going to the beach because I felt like I wasn’t getting enough done and I was wasting my weekend. Then I was like, “Wait a second, when was the last time I was at the beach? When was the last time I let myself just hang out in the sand and salt water?” I couldn’t remember. So I went to the beach.

 

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5. Cold evenings on the patio.

Halifax has been surprisingly chilly at times this summer. There’s been a few night where I’ve worn a fleece sweater and slippers outside on the deck for a summer barbecue.

 

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6. Ladies Learning Code/Girls Learning Code planning in full swing!

Ok, so I definitely haven’t been totally unproductive this summer. Back in June was my first Ladies Learning Code event as a Chapter Lead! The photo above is of Jeff teaching us how to photoshop Ryan Gosling on a sea turtle. Right now preparations are underway for Learn to Code Day (September 27th, be there Halifax!) and our first ever Girls Learning Code workshop (details coming soon!). Last week I mentored at an all-girls Computer Science camp  at Dalhousie where I taught 9-12 year old girls some HTML and CSS for an afternoon and it was SO MUCH FUN.

If you’re feeling unproductive this summer just remember: the days are long but the years are short.

The days are especially long in the summer when the sun stays out well past dinner time. Remember that winter is coming and if you’re one of those people whose mood is particularly affected by the level of sunlight you get (like me!), then get out there and shovel some dirt for a few hours and then feel inspired later on.

A Super Simple way to pull yourself out of a funk

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We all go through times when we feel like our job is the pits. We’re uninspired, going through a dry spell, or a project that we worked on didn’t live up to our expectations. While hopefully these down times are few and far between, sometimes it can really come out of nowhere and leave you feeling a little lost.

After getting back to working full-time since I was freelancing all spring, I was feeling a little scatter-brained and mildly unproductive with my personal goals over the past couple weeks (I think I went to the gym a grand total of 3 days out of 14 and I haven’t written a blog post in 2 weeks). Then I remembered a small ritual I had started doing before I left Toronto (that I learned from Sarah of Yes and Yes fame) and I hadn’t really picked up again since returning to Halifax. This is where my notebook, pictured above with my favourite Winston Churchill quote, comes in.

At the end of each day, I find a few minutes to take out this notebook and open to a new spread. On the left side, I write a list of all the things that made me happy that day including, but not at all limited to:

– What my favourite part of the day was

– A conversation that was meaningful

– Something I ate that was amazing

– Something new that I learned, or that I taught myself

– A thing that I accomplished

– An act of kindness that made me smile

– Something funny that happened

– An opportunity that came up

– Anything that I am grateful for

This list recharges my brain if I find myself drowning in a pool of negativity at the end of a long day. Some days the list is longer than others, but it’s still uplifting, no matter how short. Finding the goodness in every single day can be tricky, but it’s so valuable.

On the right side of the book, I write a list of goals that I’d like to accomplish the next day. This list really varies in length, some days there’s only one goal in mind, other days I like to break down every single task I want to achieve the next day and use it as a sort of checklist to guide me through the day.

It’s an astonishingly simple act, yet reflective, and still productive which makes it a perfect end-of-day task to make sure I’m going to bed with my head in the right place.

 

 

 

Why Entrepreneurs Should Have a Blog

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Sometime around mid-February of 2011, I was a design student about to graduate from university and I knew that I needed to have a place on the internet where potential clients and employers could find me and view my work.

My website began as a portfolio site for my design work and my blog was something that I just considered an “add-on”. However, after about a year or so, I started to notice that it wasn’t my actual portfolio that was bringing me in my client work – it was my blog posts. Clients felt way more at ease in reaching out to me because they had already “gotten to know me” in a way via my blog.

People are only now beginning to realize that blogging isn’t the navel-gazing, ego-centric pastime that it’s often made out to be and that blogs are actually really important tools for communication. Beyond just being a place where I post interesting/relevant content that I think other people might like as well, my blog is pretty much my only form of marketing and PR as a freelancer. It also serves as a community-building tool: I’ve found so many people with similar interests or people who share some of my experiences by blogging. It kind of boggles my mind to think that if I never started blogging, I probably wouldn’t have this community.

The most common response I get whenever other freelancers and entrepreneurs ask me if I think they should start a blog (the answer is “yes”), is “But I have nothing to write about!”

To answer that, I have a theory (a completely non-scientific, 100% anecdotal theory that has absolutely not been vetted by anyone ever, but a theory nonetheless). That theory is that by age 25, everyone is an expert in something – anything. You may not be an expert in any “this-is-so-practical-must-immediately-apply-knowledge-this-changes-my-life” kind of way, but you do have some sort of knowledge that you can share with others and someone will find it useful, especially if you’re an entrepreneur. Sharing your knowledge via blogging also isn’t “giving away your secrets”. If you don’t share it, someone else will.

The second most common response I get when I tell other entrepreneurs how valuable blogging can be to their business is, “But I don’t have time like you do to put into writing.”

Contrary to what some people may think, I do not spend my days waxing poetically about my next blog post. I am a reasonably busy person as much as anyone else. Blogging is the same as going to the gym, you just gotta do it and stop complaining about not having time for it. Often I’ll publish a blog post when I’m half-asleep and my post will be riddled with spelling mistakes. But who cares, this is the internet. People will either not notice, not care, or they tell you that you goofed up your grammar and then you can change it. Win win win.

Publish something, tweet about it, build a community. Don’t overthink it.