Why Taylor Swift is my 2015 Boss-Lady Inspiration

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There are a lot of superstar women I admire for their fearlessness and overall badassery: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Ellen Degeneres, Mindy Kaling, Sophia Amoruso, and, duhh, Beyoncé.

For a long time I didn’t even like Taylor Swift. I thought she was a sugary superficial pop-princess singing catchy tunes that someone else wrote about missing your ex.

At some point in 2014, before the release of 1989, but after “Shake it Off” came out as the album’s first single, I got really into Taylor Swift’s music. I don’t quite remember what the tipping point was, but all of the sudden I’d be about for a run and I’d catch myself singing along to every song from Red that somehow got on my playlist. I’d become one of them: A Taylor Swift Fan.

When I made my new year’s resolutions this year I had some common themes: be a boss, get stuff done, be a better friend, try new stuff that I originally wouldn’t have, and just to all-around keep my shit together. The more that I thought about it (while listening to 1989 on repeat, of course), the more I began to realize that the Taylor Swift brand is really well aligned with my new year’s resolutions.

Take “Shake it Off”:  it’s about doing your own darn thing and not giving a flying frog what other people think about it. Of course, it’s no lyrical Shakespeare, but in terms of a pop anthem, it’s perfect. It doesn’t have to be complex to be good. We can all use a little more shaking it off.

Towards the end of last year Taylor famously took her music off the streaming site Spotify, and it turns out, some people were kind of pissed off by that. While I love Spotify’s music service, I see nothing wrong with what Taylor did. Saying no to guaranteed revenue in order to take ownership of how your product is distributed is a ballsy move and for Taylor Swift, it’s a smart one. While it might be unpopular to some, she shouldn’t feel the need to apologize to anyone for putting her art and business first and refusing to compromise on what’s important. This is an idea I’m going to keep coming back to this year: am I making work that is of quality or am I just doing something kind of crappy for the money? If it’s the latter, then it’s time to change things. It also means taking on more personal projects that don’t necessarily mean more money.

When she’s not being an incredible artist and boss business woman, Taylor Swift still somehow makes time for her pals. If you follow her on Instagram you know what I mean. Taylor is all about spending time with her besties doing fun stuff. While I’m not expecting I’ll be able to haul all my girlfriends on a trip to Maui any time soon, I think I can make some more time in 2015 for kitchen parties. A few weeks ago I had a weird realization that I suddenly had become a bit of a hermit, which was something I never thought would happen to me as an extroverted person. I’m back to making a concentrated effort these days to make sure I get out in the world, see lots of people that I love and actually work on building stronger friendships.

Lastly, Taylor Swift’s style is killer. KILLER. Just look at how Taylor Swift influenced my Pinterest has become. I dream of matching crop-top and skirt sets, you guys. I feel like there needs to be another post entirely dedicated to Taylor Swift-izing my closet.

If you had asked me one year ago if I was a Taylor Swift fan I would have stared blankly as I tried to recall a single Taylor Swift song by name. Things change, ya know? Turns out, I had a lot to learn from T.Swift.

 

Photo credit: Jana Zills

Why I Left My “Safe” Job and Joined a Start-up

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A few months ago I left my (really) good job with (really) good benefits at a successful digital agency to go work for a start-up that I knew was about to do some seriously amazing things. Literally, minutes before I gave my two weeks notice at the old job, I was offered a raise. I turned it down and I quit – I felt like I wasn’t working on anything meaningful and I felt icky about the work I was doing. I took a leap, jumped ship, and got on-board with this start-up (Swapskis, btw!) and never looked back.

Since I started working at Swapskis, I’ve gotten asked by a few people what it’s like to work for a bootstrapping start-up. It’s understandable why people are curious, we’re in the midst of a huge boom in technology and start-ups are more ubiquitous in our life than ever. We live in a culture that is obsessed with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Airbnb, and (duh) Google success stories. We read the articles about the companies that provide free housekeeping services, catered lunches, scooters, a bikeshare program, an in-house gym, and unlimited vacation time to their staff. The perception of working at a start-up is that it’s all hackathons, free t-shirts, and staff boat parties.

I’m probably not surprising anyone by saying that working at a start-up is not all free t-shirts and scooters. In fact, it is not at all free t-shirts and scooters. What it is, is the most motivated working in environment I’ve ever been a part of. Entrepreneurs are driven, determined, creative geniuses and I don’t mind bragging about our crazy-awesome and multi-talented team. I’ve never worked in an environment where what I did had this much influence. I’ve never been able to dive deep into product development, user experience, design, and marketing like I am able to do at a start-up. The experience that I’m getting now is unparalleled to my days in my previous jobs when I’d struggle to fill a day with tasks to complete and the hours would creep by slowly.

The stakes are always high, everything hangs on getting the right people to invest in our team so that we can build the product we’ve dreamed of creating. We’re pulling long hours and snack-fuelled weekends to make some seriously awesome stuff that is hopefully going to knock the socks off people. But the best part? It doesn’t feel like work. It feels like what I’ve always wanted to be doing.

It’s tough at times, but because I love what Swapskis is doing, that makes everything worth it to me. I wouldn’t be able to go work at just any start-up and dedicate this kind of energy. If there’s one piece of advice I feel like I’m able to give about working in a start-up, it’s that you have to believe in the company. You have to totally believe in what you’re doing and you have to know why you’re there. If you’re just looking for a change of scenery and a comfortable 9-5 then maybe start-up life isn’t for you. However, if you’re ready to get excited about making something that was once just a seed of a cool idea into an actual thing that could maybe actually change the universe, then yeah. Join a start-up.

 

Hello 2015!

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I don’t know about most of you, but I was really happy to say goodbye to 2014 on December 31st. The last 2-3 months of 2014 completely blew past me (which is why I haven’t posted anything on my blog since October!): between starting a new job in October, running one Ladies Learning Code/Girls Learning Code event every two weeks for a while there, and holiday festivities, I feel like I am only recently catching my breath. Instead of opting for the typical alcohol fuelled end of year celebrations, we spent the last days of 2014 and the first days of 2015 holed up in a cabin in the woods at Windhorse Farms where the lack of running water, electricity, and technology was just what I needed to reset my brain.

In the days since New Year’s I’ve broken out my new 2015 planner and gotten a start on some much needed to-do listin’. Last year was the year I skipped having a daily planner and ugh, what a mistake that was. If I can get a little metaphorical here for a sec, I feel like my life last year was this weird little snowglobe that someone else was in control of. Every time the dust started to settle in my life, it would get completely shaken up all over again. I find it hard to believe that certain parts of the past year were even real, it all feels so long ago. There were moments in 2014 that really tested me, moments that I’d like to forget, and some of the most memorable times I’ve had in my life so far – but I’m really ready for something new.

I’ve got some fun ideas for blog posts coming up this year – considering how neglectful I’ve been on this space in the last few months I’m long overdue for some sharing/oversharing.

In the old days of having this blog I’d use my first post of the year to share some of my goals for the year in an attempt to make myself feel more accountable to achieving them, but this year my goals feel a little bit more personal than they have in the past, so I’ll be keeping them close to me for a while. They might spill out as the year goes on, but for now I’ll just say that I want 2015 to have less worry, more light, more movement, and more kindness. I think that covers it.

Happy New Year!

 

It’s Never Been Easier to Learn to Code

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I spend a lot of time on this blog writing about how awesome it is to be a web developer. This is going to sound incredibly cheesy but I’m gonna say it: now that I’m a developer, I see the world differently than before. I’m a better problem solver, a better communicator, and I can look at things analytically and break them down into smaller pieces. A whole world of doors open to you when you have a general understanding of how the internet actually works on a really fundamental level.

Just over a week ago was National Learn to Code Day with Ladies Learning Code. Over 750 women (and men) gathered in 16 cities across Canada to learn HTML and CSS – that is HUGE. I helped organize the Halifax event and it was an awesome day with around 50 learners building their first ever multi-page website.

 

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Look at this room! It was so awesome to see so many enthusiastic faces show up on a Saturday morning ready to learn. Along with organizing the day, I also helped out as a mentor. One of the biggest barriers for learning to code that people have is a fear that the material will quickly go over their heads. Ladies Learning Code focuses on hands-on learning, so there’s typically 1 mentor for every 4 learners, making sure that everyone gets the attention that they need.  Learning to code is not like sitting in a lecture hall, taking notes and absorbing the content: you have to dive in, get your hands dirty and play with the code a little bit to really start to get it.

 

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Our volunteer mentors were amazing and they truly were the rockstars of the day. Having an enthusiasm about web development (which sometimes people think can be a dry subject) really helps keep up the momentum and the energy of the day.

 

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Photos like these are the magic parts of Ladies Learning Code workshops that make my heart like, explode with happiness. I love seeing learners at the workshops helping each other out after they just learned something themselves.

Above all, one of the best parts about a Ladies Learning Code workshop is that you will learn a bunch of really applicable 21st century skills in one day. You will go home with a product that you can actually use. At the end of an HTML and CSS workshop you have built a multi-page website, and after a CSS Fundamentals workshop you’ll have a beautiful online resume that you can actually use and knock the socks off your potential employer. It’s a win-win-win: you get to learn a brand new skill, leave the workshop having built something you can actually use, and you get to meet new people and have fun in the process. It’s a brilliant, low-barrier, social way to dive deep into something you weren’t sure you could do, and that’s so awesome.

I’m going to be teaching CSS Fundamentals later this month in Halifax and there are still spots available! You can register for the event here! If you’re not in Halifax, but you are in Canada, then there is probably a Ladies Learning Code chapter in your city. Here’s a full list of upcoming events across Canada.

25 Before 25: The Last Update

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Just shy of two years ago I wrote a list of 25 goals I wanted to achieve before the age of 25 and last year I wrote an update on my progress of these goals. Now that I’m 25, I figured it’s about time I follow up on these. It’s really funny to re-read these goals, because some of the goals that I actually accomplished I really didn’t expect to. Similarly, some of the goals I thought I would easily accomplish I haven’t even started on yet. Turns out, a lot can change in two years in terms of priorities, but this was still a really fun thing to try.

1. Travel to Iceland and Greenland alone or with a partner.

2014 was supposed to be the year that I went to Iceland, but instead all 2014 has been is the year my life got flip turned upside down a-la-Fresh Prince. Iceland 2015. It’s gotta happen. I’ve wanted to go to Iceland since I was 17 and the 6 hours total layover time we spent in Reykjavik back in 2012 does not count.

2. Sew a cool quilt.

I came embarrassingly close to actually achieving this, guys. My fabric is chosen. My squares are cut. I dragged my heels for a long time, I know, but now I finally see how calming it is to sit in my studio listening to This American Life while cutting little fabric squares and it’s just lovely.

3. Take circus lessons in trapeze and aerials.

I did trapeze and aerial lessons in 2013 and learned that I lacked serious upper body strength, which actually surprised me (I like to think I’m Wonder Woman and that my strength know no bounds). I’ve since changed my focus to be being able to do an unassisted pull-up at the gym.

4. Do the colour run or a similar style race.

This race was the Most Fun Ever. Every race should be a rainbow.

5. Finally be able to do a handstand in yoga.

I think I have a fear of leaving the ground. But 2 weeks ago I actually, like, yippee’d out loud at my otherwise silent yoga class because I was so proud/surprised of being able to balance in crow and then jump straight back to chaturanga. #noregrets

6. Have a booth at a crafters fair.

Two years ago this was a thing I was super eager to do. This is one of the goals where my priorities changed and I just lost interest. I still love shopping at craft fairs though.

7. Do an overnight camping trip by bike.   

DONE! We biked to Peggy’s Cove in June of 2013 and it was so fun and perfect.

8. Travel across the country.

I made it halfway!

9. Print a scrapbook of photos from the last 10 years.

It turns out finding photos from the last 10 years is a hard thing to do. Last year while I was off work to have my wisdom teeth out I made a scrapbook for Ryan’s Christmas gift that was 60 pages of photos from the past 3 years. I feel like that counts because it was such a massive undertaking. I used blurb.com and it was really easy and awesome quality. I’m thinking of doing an Instagram book next.

10. Throw a pop-up dinner party.

This one was so hard to organize! I feel like it’s one of those things only fancy bloggers do and not real people. Still, it would be fun.

11. Bake macarons.

Every time I look at a macaron recipe I just feel discouraged and already defeated. Sticking with chocolate chip cookies.

12. Visit a vineyard.

No vineyards yet but lots of apple orchard visits happened!

13. Go to a psychic and have my fortune told.

The first time I had my tarot cards read it kind of felt inauthentic because it was only a 3 card reading for $5. This summer I made the leap and had a half an hour reading a few weeks before my 25th birthday. It was interesting, to say the least, but it was also a little bit of hogwash.

14. Take a ceramics class.

I would still really like to try this but I’m finding it difficult to commit to a time that works best for me.

15. Write and submit a grant proposal for the Web DIY Workshop.

I’m crossing this off because this goal has manifested itself as a part of my involvement with Ladies Learning Code. Being a part of a non-profit that helps close the gender gap in coding is amazing. It’s something you just can’t do on your own, but when you have a community behind you, you can achieve so much.

16. Go on an artist/yoga/inspirational retreat.

This one happened early on when I met Jeanne Beker at Oceanstone resort in 2012. I still reflect on that weekend sometimes and how it affected me and helped give me a fresh perspective.

17. Spend at least one full month living in a new city.

I have to say, if there was one goal on this list I didn’t think I’d achieve by 25, it was this one. I did it, though. Living in Toronto from January – May of this year was one of the hardest things I’ve done but also one of the best things I could have done for myself at the time.

18. Learn a secret talent.

But how to choose a talent to learn? What’s a good party trick these days?

19. Donate blood (I can’t believe I’ve never done this!).

I’m so ashamed I haven’t done this.

20. Create a budget that works for me and stick to it.

So mint.com is amazing, if you’re not already using it. Also, being a freelancer has really helped me understand money now!

21. Make pasta from scratch.

This time last year I rarely ate pasta or much of any grain at all. I’d like to re-open this goal and maybe on a lazy winter weekend I can actually do this.

22. Watch all of the Star Wars movies.

To be honest, I just forgot about this. It’s actually more interesting to be the person who’s never seen Star Wars, though.

23. Write an e-book about something awesome.

I’ve got all kinds of ideas for this. This is totally just in the cooker right now.

24. Throw one really elaborately themed party.

Did I mention that for my 25th birthday we had a “Frosh Week” themed party? Turns out, Frosh parties when you’re 25 are way more fun because all your friends are sensible enough to not get black out drunk but kegs and jello shots are still fun. There was also a pretty elaborate murder mystery party about a year ago that was one for the books. We spent the whole evening in character, even during dinner.

25. Do something I thought I would never do.

I never thought I’d become a runner and be able to run half marathons. I’ve done two half marathons and a bunch of 10k races since I started this list. I never thought I’d become a web developer, now it’s my jam. I never thought I’d move to Toronto. I never thought I would actually like Toronto. I never expected to be working with some of the awesome and exciting clients that I’m working with right now. I’ve been surprised a lot.