My own little Dream Love Cure (mostly love) project

My mom passed away the year Rob [Dyer] and [Skate4Cancer] did their first trip, from LA to Toronto. I found out about what they were doing, bought a shirt and mailed a little note about my Mom in with the money. When I got the shirt there was a response note that Rob and the Skate4Cancer crew had written for me, telling me to never give up and that this shirt was a symbol for the change he was trying to bring. Rob’s changed my life and is definitely my biggest inspiration. Thank you so much!

This quotation is a comment that my brother, Nick, left on the Skate4Cancer Short-Documentary Official Trailer #2 on YouTube three days ago.

I had met Rob in passing a handful of times while I was a student at Ryerson; he was a server at the campus pub when he wasn’t out skating the world and repping Skate4Cancer. I knew who he was, but I didn’t want to bug him while he served my friends and I food and pitchers of beer. It also seemed like the wrong time and place to talk about cancer and loved ones dying, even in a positive way, which Skate4Cancer is known for.

But I had always wanted to tell Rob how much he and Skate4Cancer had inspired Nick. Whenever I saw him on campus, it was all I could think about.

So when I found out I would have the opportunity to produce a video blog for work featuring Rob, of course I had to jump on it. And I had to do something for Nick.

Even though I knew Rob is possibly the nicest, most humble person on the planet (not exaggerating at all), I was a bit shy about asking him for this favour. Talking about my mom is still very difficult for me, and it becomes even harder at work where I like to feel very in control of everything.

Luckily, Kate, who pitched the video blog to me, was able to bring it up and getting it rolling. Rob was totally into it and helped us set it up.

Nick, I have a surprise for you...

Kate wrote on the whiteboard while I took down the equipment from the shoot and moved some furniture around. Rob took my picture.

Nick, thank you for all the love and help over the years

Rob wrote his own text and I took his picture. He also hugged me countless times and seemed genuinely happy to hear the story and to hear how one little thing like that note could make such a difference in a kid’s life when he’s dealing with the loss of a loved one from cancer.

Nick loved the photos, so a HUGE thank you to Rob and Kate for being open to making this happen! It means so much.

This week I also bought Nick and I tickets to the Skate4Cancer short documentary premiere at the Mod Club on Feb. 19. As I’m writing this post, tickets are still available for sale here.

You can also support Skate4Cancer (and the future Dream Love Cure Centre) by following the organization online on Twitter and Facebook, buying t-shirts at West49 or buying t-shirts and other cool merch online (the prices are super reasonable), volunteering, and, eventually, donating money when they get the whole charity thing sorted out.

Continued…

*I wrote a much longer post and realized I should probably just get to the point at the top instead of the bottom (I guess that’s my journalism training kicking in), so the rest of the original text is below if you want to read it.

When our mom died from cancer in May 2004, he was 12 years old. Not exactly a child but not quite a teenager yet either. I was 18, and her death was the hardest thing I had ever endured. If I’m lucky (and I don’t say that lightly), it will end up being the hardest thing I have to experience in my entire life.

So I can’t imagine how difficult it was for him.

While I can say with confidence that it brought us closer together in some ways – we were the only kids we knew going through this horrible thing at that time – it was also the beginning of a somewhat unnatural sibling relationship where I became responsible to him as a sort of substitute parent. I felt responsible for continuing to raise an amazing kid into a smart, caring, productive member of society – to pick up where my mom left off. I didn’t want to let him down and I sure as hell didn’t want to let her down.

However, less than a year and a half later, I left home to attend Ryerson University in Toronto and, aside from spending two summers at my dad’s house after first and fourth years, never really looked back. I worried about him a lot, about what kind of person he would grow up into with neither me nor our mom around to guide him.

For both of us – for our entire lives, no matter where we lived – home meant Mom. And once she was gone, it felt like something was missing. Her lack of presence has lingered more strongly than the presence of the people in our lives who are still living, even in places she had never been. They’re not kidding when they say dead loved ones will always be with you.

I was worried, and many people in our family were worried, that her death would have such an impact on him that he would never be “normal.” He refused counselling while she was sick in the hospital and after her death (as did I, until I sought it out when I experienced emotional breakdowns for a brief period during university), and no one pushed it on us.

Today, though, he’s in his second semester at Conestoga College studying something that he loves. He’s known as a great guy. He’s kind, he’s intelligent, and he’s going to have a great life. Everyone, including me, is so proud of him and I know our mom would be too.

A lot of his ability to cope and overcome that experience has to do with the solid foundation that was laid by my parents when he was a child, but I also know that he’s found a lot of inspiration elsewhere – in friends, in girlfriends, in music, and in people who make a difference in the lives of others in one way or another.

His biggest inspiration in that respect has always been Rob Dyer, the founder of Skate4Cancer. Rob lost his grandmothers, mother and best friend to cancer within a year of each other, and in early 2004 set out to skateboard from Los Angeles to his hometown, Newmarket, Ont., to raise awareness about cancer – and has done so through various initiatives, including other skates, ever since.

My brother always loved skating and he was inspired by Skate4Cancer from the outset. He probably would have been interested in it as a normal kid who loved skateboarding, even if his mom hadn’t gotten sick and died, but it made it that much more important. Once he received that note from the Skate4Cancer team with his first t-shirt, he held onto that connection and will probably cherish it for the rest of his life.

While that first t-shirt was probably trashed long ago from wear and tear (he would wear those tees until they were full of holes and coming apart at the seams, like any self-respecting teenage boy), he still has that note. He still beams about Rob, whom he’s met at various events over the years. He’s bought countless t-shirts since; I just gave him one as a gift for Christmas and he loved it.

Rob is one of his personal heroes.

You don’t deserve to be hired if you don’t have that “thing”

Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in this post are my own personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

I know it’s tough for students and recent grads. Thanks to my job, I know the difficulties my peers face while they make that transition from school to work.

Over the last two years, I never imagined myself being on the flip side of that situation or feeling compelled to comment on Gen Y entitlement. In general, I think it’s been discussed to death and usually consists of much Baby Boomer finger-wagging and head-shaking.

I am not a Baby Boomer. I’m Gen Y. I live and breathe everything Gen Y. I think we’re the most educated, skilled generation to date and, if we get our shit together, we could make the world an amazing place and make money while we’re at it.

But I’m starting to feel frustrated about Gen Y entitlement.

I’ve recently been interviewed by a few young journalists regarding my thoughts on unpaid internships because students are becoming frustrated by them.

To sum up, I don’t think they’re ideal, and in some cases they’re unethical, but they’re the reality of the current job market and to succeed in many industries you have to complete one or more unpaid internships.

I’m a realist. I’ve both completed unpaid internships and hired for unpaid internships as an employer. I try really hard to make TalentEgg’s internships, both paid and unpaid, as meaningful as possible. I don’t think unpaid volunteers should replace full-time paid workers on an ongoing basis, and I don’t think a company should live or die by its unpaid interns.

But this post isn’t about employers. It’s about interns.

Just because you complete a (paid or unpaid) internship with an organization does not mean it is obligated to hire you. This is why:

  • If you don’t make yourself so valuable to the organization that it can’t live without you on a full-time, permanent basis, then I don’t think you deserve to be hired.
  • If you haven’t demonstrated initiative, autonomy, innovation, vision, passion, and that you can be trusted with responsibilities that are core to the business (at the very least) during your internship, then I don’t think you deserve to be hired.
  • If you can’t do your job as good as your manager can (or better!), then I don’t think you deserve to be hired.

Harsh? Maybe. But I would not hire someone who didn’t embody each of those qualities.

So far during my short career as a Gen Y manager and a manager of Gen Y, there has only been one intern who I would have begged my boss to hire; who I could trust with really important projects and tasks; who I knew was making the company bigger and better and stronger; who worked as hard as my colleagues and I, or harder.

We’ve had a lot of great interns. Amazing people. Good workers. I’m not putting them down by any means and I am so, so, SO grateful for all of their hard work.

But did they all have that THING I just couldn’t live without?  I don’t think so.

That THING doesn’t have a name, but I like to think of it as the perfect storm of skills and qualities. Each organization and each manager will have a different recipe for that THING (which is why different people and different kinds of people are successful at different organizations), but we know it when we see it because it is so rare that it hits us over the head and slaps us across the face with its awesomeness.

I did not demonstrate that THING at some of my past internships and I know this because no one asked me to stay. I didn’t demonstrate that THING because I didn’t really want to stay.

But I know I demonstrated it at TalentEgg because I went from intern to senior management very quickly, and I’ve maintained my position while I’ve watched many others come and go without making any significant contribution to the company’s culture, growth or bottom line.

A lot of students and recent grads ask my colleagues and I how to find an awesome job. We usually try to offer some actionable tips, but I think the truth is that you just have be remarkable.

Everyone has a degree or diploma, or two or three. Everyone has a resumé. Everyone has connections. Everyone has access to personal branding tools and social media. These things might help you find a job or internship, but they won’t help you keep it. Your behaviour and your work will.

Thoughts?

Entry-level life lessons: How to protect yourself from bad things

I recently commented on a blogUT post called Lessons they should’ve taught you in high school… because I truly believe there should be more of an emphasis on managing your personal finance and career even as a teenager. Much more.

Well, I’d like to add a third item to that list: How to protect yourself from bad things!

I was awoken by my BlackBerry’s alarm at 7 a.m. one morning this summer, shortly after which I clumsily dropped my phone into about four inches of ice cold water. I pulled it out and jumped out of bed to turn on the light. My entire apartment was filled with water.

Both of my cats were using my bed as an island. My laptop was on the floor, under water. I grabbed it and opened it onto a towel on my bed; the towel didn’t do much good because water gushed out of the laptop casing, soaking my bed.

That day, there were a lot of frantic phone calls and tears and hyperventilating. It was seven weeks before I was able to live in my apartment again and, although I was able to recover the data from the laptop’s hard drive, my laptop was toast.

I didn’t have insurance.

Sorry, I should specify. I have insurance on my credit card and line of credit, and I have health and life insurance through work. But I don’t have tenant’s insurance. (Do you?)

My gutted powder room

So I had to suck up the losses. I wasn’t charged rent for the seven weeks I wasn’t able to live in my apartment, but I had to spend more money than normal to commute from Mississauga every day. I ate take-out a lot more. And I bought a netbook to replace my laptop.

I was lucky that I had family in Mississauga that I could stay with, and I was lucky that more of my stuff wasn’t damaged. I’d heard of tenant’s insurance, but I had never seriously considered it. What could possibly happen, right?

If you’re renting and you don’t have tenant’s insurance (sometimes called contents insurance), run, don’t walk, to the financial institution of your choice to apply for it. It’s not super expensive. Hopefully you’ll never need it. But I did.

How do you know when your high expectations are too high?

I find hiring people really challenging. I’m not going to lie. I was trained as a journalist, not as a manager; and as such a small company run by mostly young people, we learn as we go. And that’s awesome!

But I find the whole process awkward, kind of like dating or interacting with babies or old people (yes, I’m one of those people).

I’m never quite sure how to act. If I play good cop, I feel like I’m being too nice and basically begging them to work for me even though I’m not entirely sure I want them to work for me. If I play bad cop, it’s even more awkward because I’m waiting for the moment when they say, “This is bullshit!” and walk out of the interview.

I’ve made the mistake of hiring someone who turned out to be completely different than they came across in their interview in the past, so this time around, I feel like I can’t trust my own good judgment. I’ve asked a few people for advice IRL and I’ve gotten some good feedback which I’m eager to employ as I start interviewing candidates this week or next, but I’m still a bit worried.

Because I’m really, really picky. If things aren’t done right, I go all OCD and have to fix them on my own time. After a few times of someone not picking up on the fact that they’re not meeting my standards, I tend to assume they’re incompetent. If they can’t spell or form a sentence that makes sense: incompetent. If they run into a problem and assume it can’t be done instead of figuring it out by, oh…I don’t know, Googling it: incompetent.

I discussed all this with some family and friends over the weekend, and many of them told me my expectations are too high; that not being grammatically correct is the way the world works now; that hiring young people means they’ll need a bit of hand-holding; that I’m setting myself up for failure because I’m never going to find that one perfect candidate.

But why would I hire someone onto my team who isn’t exactly what I’m looking for? Maybe large corporations can get by with slackers and illiterates, but fast-paced “small businesses” (my boss hates it when we’re referred to as a “small business,” but I can’t think of what else to call us) can fall apart within a very short period of time if one person isn’t carrying their weight. Businesses like ours thrive on superstar-ness, and I think everyone on the team right now is just that.

If you’re not a superstar, I don’t want you. Is that discrimination?

I know, I know…not the best “manager” here. But I’m working on it. Maybe. The truth is I want to be one of those terrifying editors who make people cry and realize their own incompetence by way of my overwhelming meanness.

OK. For real. How do you detect superstar-ness? I know a lot of you out there are superstars, so maybe you know the secret that I just haven’t been able to figure out yet?

P.S. I know this is my first blog post in ages, but I’m now trying the whole “write about anything and see what happens” strategy.

Photo credit: Shooting Stars by stefanvds

Why I still don’t have Internet access at home four months later

Addicted by nataliej from Flickr

It’s been four months since I moved back to Toronto for work after a four-month stint living at my dad’s after graduating university and breaking up with a boyfriend.

Until four months ago, I’d had Internet access wherever I was living nearly continuously for over 10 years, maybe more. I feel like I’ve had the Internet for my entire life (or at least the half that I actually remember) and it’s been an important tool throughout my life.

If I hadn’t been so involved online over the last 10 years, I highly doubt I would be capable enough to do my current job.

But over the last year, I noticed the Internet becoming an addiction and a crutch.

I love consuming information and I could probably spend every waking hour of my life reading blogs, watching videos, listening to podcasts, checking out photos, etc. I know this is a good thing, but it’s also a dangerous thing if anyone actually does it because then you stop participating in all the other really great things about life.

And as my last year of university came to a close, and simultaneously so did my last relationship, I found comfort in focusing my attention on the computer because it meant I didn’t have to think about all the crappy stuff going on in my life at the time. It was a distraction and it became an instant wall between my ex-boyfriend and I when we lived together.

I didn’t want to talk, fight, clean up after him, open the mail, cook or do anything else that was an extension of our relationship. I wanted to ignore it all, so I did.

When I arrived at my dad’s last April, I didn’t really like anything about my life there either – I had grown distant from my family after four years away from school, my dad’s girlfriend had moved in, there was nothing to do in that town and none of my friends were there anymore – so, once again, I ignored all that in favour of the Internet. I sometimes worked all day and night. I read dozens of blog articles every day. I watched hours of TV online. Sure, I got out now and then, but not enough.

So, I finally realized that I had left one unhealthy situation for another and I needed to get out. Financially, I probably wasn’t ready, but I knew I could get by, so I moved to Toronto Sept. 1.

Four months later, I still don’t have Internet access at my apartment. I’ve found many reasons to justify it – Canadian telecom providers suck, I’m on the Internet at work anyway, I don’t want to be stuck on a computer all night after I’ve been sitting at one all day, etc. – but it’s starting to creep up on me. Sure, I have email and Internet access on my BlackBerry, but it’s not the same.

Sometimes I don’t leave work until 7 or 8 p.m. because there are things I still want to do. I’ve marked as read countless undoubtedly interesting blog articles in my Google Reader because I can’t spend my workdays catching up. I mostly forget about Twitter and Facebook in the evenings and on weekends. Until recently when I finally got a TV again, I’d mostly replaced TV shows and movies with podcasts I download at work and listen to at home.

The truth is, this extreme hasn’t felt right either, so now I’m itching to connect again, but I’m kind of scared at the same time. What if there is only one extreme or the other for me? Only being connected all the time or not being connected?

How do you balance staying involved online with staying involved in the rest of life?

P.S. Any testimonials for an excellent Internet service provider in Toronto that isn’t Bell or Rogers?

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