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Lessons from My Third Rotation at TMX Group

Lessons from My Third Rotation at TMX Group

I was very fortunate to be given the opportunity to lead the Change Management of TMX’s migration to Google for Work as an office tool suite – it was an unforgettable experience with lessons that will stay with me for life. Now that the 6 months are over, and I have just completed my 3rd rotation (as part of TMX’s Associate Program), I am writing this article to share with you some of those lessons.
Always Deliver Your Best
Let’s back track to the time the Associates were giving a lunch & learn to the organization on the topic of leveraging mobile apps for corporate use & the importance of social media. The first presentation went very well, so we decided to host another session for those who were interested and missed the first one. At this second presentation, the crowd was much smaller, with about 40 people in attendance – of which, included the Director of IT Corporate Services. The presentation was a success. Shortly after the session had ended, the Director called me for a meeting to discuss the possibility of doing my 3rd rotation with IT Strategy as part of the Google project. It was this presentation that sold him on the capabilities I could bring if I worked for him. Lesson: this experience taught me to always deliver your best, regardless of how big or small the task. I understood the importance of not underestimating the power one opportunity can have in creating another. Despite having already done the presentation once, and having to do it again to a smaller audience, I was determined to deliver a strong performance because I knew that in preparing to secure my 3rd rotation, I would have to prove to stakeholders of TMX what I was capable of.
If It Doesn’t Challenge You, It Won’t Change You
To be honest with you, I wasn’t sure what to expect from working in IT. I mean, I had a finance degree with all previous work experience in finance-related roles. To make matters more interesting is the fact that I had no Change Management experience, but I knew that my boss believed in me and wouldn’t have extended the opportunity if he didn’t think I can measure up to it. I was now energized with over-inflated self-confidence, a healthy positive mindset, and an unlimited pool of motivation – what I wasn’t ready for was the amount of uphill battles I would eventually face in being part of the single largest IT transformation initiative at TMX. The Google project team was no bigger than a 10-person team, servicing approximately 1,200 clients (or internal employees), so as you can imagine, we had our work cut out for us. Lesson: stepping outside of my comfort zone, and doing something totally different, something that I wasn’t necessarily prepared for, pushed me to new heights and growth areas. I learned the importance of always believing in yourself, no matter what anyone says, and having the confidence that you can achieve anything you set your mind to if you work hard and never give up. Knowing that pressure creates diamonds reassured me of the fact that if it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.
Expect Nothing, but Accept Everything
Before my official start date, I had a meeting with the Google Team to better understand what my role entailed, what the expectations would be, and what I was going to be evaluated on (with respect to deliverables). I came out of that meeting feeling excited, but also a little nervous. The description of the role was a little vague, and the forecasted evolution of my role was very ambiguous. This was mainly because the role was new in nature, the project was just getting off of its feet, and the Team itself was newly assembled. In brief, I was told that I would be in charge of most change management activities, user adoption & training, and communication & marketing of the project (the creative, user-facing arm). Being an optimistic opportunist, I focused only on the upside and began figuring things out as the days unfolded. I was grateful to have a very supportive, knowledgeable, and experienced team that played a huge role in making my transition smooth. What I thought would be 6 months of sitting behind a computer screen, answering phone calls, and working with people through their issues, turned out to be one of the best work experiences I’ve ever had. In these 6 months, I was able to travel across all our offices in Canada and some in the U.S., was privileged to meet many TMX colleagues in different regions, and was given huge responsibilities that provided priceless learnings. Lesson: this was one of those life experiences that really made me understand the concept of not judging a book by its cover. The big takeaway here is to aim high, to reach for the stars, but to not have very rigid expectations that would leave you disappointed if they don’t pan out. People in the team recognized my contributions, the work we did was meaningful and challenging, and the opportunities were limitless. Once I learned to expect nothing, but accept everything, was the moment where doors began to open. ____________________________________________________________________ I’m excited to move on to my 4th and final rotation, where I’ll be working with the Global Sales Team for TMX’s Equity Capital Markets division. Notwithstanding the 3rd lesson I just mentioned above, you can definitely expect an article on the many lessons I am looking forward to learning in the coming 6 months!

Lessons from the movie ‘The Dark Knight Rises’​

Lessons from the Movie 'The Dark Knight Rises'

I recently re-watched the movie ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, and I have to say, it is by far one of my favorite movies to date. The uses of symbolism is what makes this film easy to relate to and resonate with on a deeper level. If you know me well, you know that I like to extract lessons from practically anything and if it’s good enough, share it with my community. So, here are 3 lessons that stuck with me:

“No one cared who I was, until I put on the mask”

Every morning when I leave the apartment and make my way to work, I observe the people that walk near me, past me, and the looks on their faces. Seldom do I find someone smiling, who is happy going to work, or to be alive for that matter. In comparison, people who do well in life i.e. succeed, figure out a way to avoid being mediocre – living a complacent/common life. Successful people make a conscious decision to put on a ‘mask’ that’s unique to them, that unleashes their inner strength, and allows them to amplify their full potential. The remaining masses also make a decision, and go on living the rest of their life being average, pushed around by the currents of societal pressures, like a lost fish at sea. This ‘mask’ could be anything, it could symbolize your career (what you’ve done and are doing), your character (how you behave), your value (what you have to offer), your leadership (setting a positive example for others to follow), etc. The point is, do something or be someone that people take notice of, care about, and respect because you’ve made the decision to play a role in leaving the world better than the way you found it.

“You do not fear death. You think this makes you stronger. It makes you weak.”

Many people are alive, but they are not living. Often, it is our environment, circumstance, situation, or experience that leaves us feeling sad, hurt, angry, depressed, where we forget that time is not on our side. We wake up every morning and navigate through our daily routines as if though we’ll have another crack at life, like immortals with no end date. I often make reference to the fact that on average, we have 28,000 days on earth, because by breaking down something so large, it helps put it in perspective. Using this hypothetical equation for the sake of getting my point across, it would mean that I, as a 23 year old, have about 20,000 days left. Why is that relevant? Because being reminded of my approximate due date helps me cherish every moment, value time with my family/friends, and live every day as if it were my last. By fearing death, you will be stronger, because you’ll begin to focus on the things that matter, disregard the things that don’t, and optimize the little time you have been given to do great things for this world.

“Then make the climb. As the child did. Without the rope. Then fear will find you again.”

One of my favorite parts in the movie was when Bruce Wayne was trying to escape the prison. To do so, he would have to climb up to a certain height and make a long-distance jump from one ledge to another. He would tie a rope to his waist and make the climb up, attempt the jump, but fail to make it to the other end. He would try again, and again, but he always failed. He then asks an old wise man, who was also a prisoner, how he should attempt this impossible task. The old man looks at Bruce and says: “As the child did. Without the rope. Then fear will find you again.” The point here is that Bruce wasn’t afraid of dying because he was tied to the rope, and if he missed the ledge, there would be no consequence – he can just try again, and again. To overcome his lack of fear, the wise man asked Bruce to attempt the jump without the rope, ensuring that when he goes for the jump, he’ll have to do it like his life depended on it (literally). From now on, when you attempt something no matter how big or small, whether it’s for the first time or something you’ve already done, give it your all, give it 120% of your effort, and do it like your life depends on it – or don’t do it at all.

Technology Is Not a Generation Thing

“Millennials, it’s so easy for them to adopt technology, they were pretty much born with an iPad in their hands.” – everyone.

I’m writing this article to propose the position that, to me, technology is not really a generation-specific thing. Here’s why:

Millennials don’t always prefer technology

I am one of them. To this day, I still prefer going to Indigo and buying a physical book. Sure, Kindle is convenient and not paper-based, but the feel of opening a book for the first time, smelling the aroma of the pages being exposed, and having a memorabilia representing an accomplishment once the book is complete is a very satisfying experience that only the tangible can offer.

Socializing is inherently a human aspect, not a technology one

With the advancement of online communication platforms like WhatsApp, Hangouts, Skype, Facebook, etc. it may seem like our generation will begin diminishing the need for face-to-face connection. Despite the many benefits (and I mean many) of such platforms, the need for humans to talk in person, shake hands, observe non-verbal cues, and just socialize will always prevail. Using such platforms to talk to people in different countries who would otherwise be unreachable is definitely a plus, reaching a wide audience and getting in touch with many people at once is also another benefit, but the effectiveness in communication is lost through the medium i.e. quality versus quantity.

Millennials don’t always understand the technology behind the technology

Sure we’re quick at keeping up to date with the hottest trending apps, downloading them, and fearlessly start using them in our daily lives, but how many of us Millennials actually know and understand the technology behind the technology? Take Instagram for example, I use it very actively (to further my brand around fashion, motivation, and inspiration) but don’t know how to code using JavaScript Technology – one of the computing languages used to code this App. Now of course, since the internet boom and surge in technology, more and more graduates are entering the space of engineering, computer science, big data, etc. but it is erroneous to generalize that all individuals within a generation actually understand the technology used to make the technology they use.

Millennials may be fast at adopting technology, but it doesn’t mean they’re the only generation that can adapt to change

Baby Boomers who were born sometime in the early 50’s were in store for lots of changes to come – the television, penicillin, polio shots, frozen foods, Xerox, contact lenses, credit cards, ball-point pens, air conditioners, dishwashers, FM radios, tape decks, CDs, etc. All of these inventions came after Baby Boomers were born, that’s a long list and there’s much more in there I left out. The difference here between our generations is that by the time technology began to settle in, mature, and spread out in our day-to-day lives, it was more difficult for Baby Boomers to get accustomed to and learn it. For Millennials and the next generations to come i.e. GenZ, it’ll be much easier, because our schools are now tailored to educate for this new industry, universities are investing lots of money in events, workshops, classes, accelerators, and hubs that pertain to the startup and technology world, and companies like Facebook, Amazon, Google, and LinkedIn have become the funnest places to work.

Using technology in a personal setting is different than a corporate one

I was fortunate enough to join the project team that was leading TMX’s migration to Google, where I was tasked to lead the Change Management arm (the user-facing aspect of it, in charge of user adoption). During the phase where we were still introducing our plans to move to Google, people (especially Millennials) said “this will be a really easy change for me, I already use Gmail in my personal life.” I would often reply “how many emails do you have in your personal account? Now tell me how many emails you have in your corporate account.” A lot of people (regardless of generation) quickly realized that the use of an office tool suite at work is completely different from the use of it at home.

Another observation is with regards to the use of social media, and in particular the recognition Millennials get for being so gifted at it. The point I usually make here is that, sure it’s easy for a Millennial to take a selfie, Instagram their lunch, or write a status about how much they hate Trump on Facebook, but using social media in a business context is an entirely different beast. Building your personal brand, selling a product, marketing a service, directing traffic to your blog, promoting an event, etc. these are business-related uses of social media that a lot of Millennials don’t necessarily know how to do well.

I am more likely to be a proponent of the idea that generation and technology have a correlation, but not necessarily a causation effect. Personally, I still enjoy listening to Frank Sinatra, wearing bow-ties and suspenders, writing in my journal, and do many other things that would seem unconventional for a ‘Millennial’. That’s why I often joke with people and say:

I’m actually a Baby Boomer stuck in a Millennial’s body

Unleash Your Genius

At one point in our lives, we have all heard people feed us with lies about what we should do, how we should act, the person we should be, the career we should pursue…the list never ends. If you had immigrant parents, as I did, you also know that being anything other than a Doctor, Lawyer, or an Engineer is considered “failure”. The sabotaging beliefs of self-doubt leave you feeling useless, valueless, and helpless.

The objective of this article is to convince you that what you believe is what you become and show you how to overcome the peer-pressure of conformity. 


“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein 

I. know who you are

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I once asked a Vice President, “what are your 3 words?”, meaning if someone were to describe you using just 3 words, what would they be? I got a look that displayed a mixture of confusion, surprise, and humour. Try it out yourself, you’ll probably get the same response from everyone you ask this to. I find this very odd, that people spend countless hours developing their knowledge of what they do (work, hobbies, etc.) and very little on who they are. It’s not a waste of time to sit down and reflect. It’s an investment, one that should be exercised daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly – forever. Continuously reviewing your thoughts, your goals, your objectives, all to achieve the purpose, the reason of your being.

My awareness was achieved by a combination of reflecting and exploring different avenues of life, activities, and adventures. Every time I tried new things, I observed carefully how it made me feel (was it empowering or disabling? fun or boring?) and if it was something that I really wanted to continue doing, I would reflect on what it is about this that kept me coming back to it? For instance, I enjoy communicating (one of my 3 words) but I also like doing it using different channels i.e. public speaking, blogging, and social media. I enjoy communicating because it allows me to connect with people (one of my 3 words). My ultimate purpose and end goal through communicating and connecting with people, is to make a positive impact (one of my 3 words).

My 3 words are: communicating, people, and impact.

II. build the courage to become who you’ve always been

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You see, I always knew who I was, but was too afraid to live in my own skin. Living in my own skin meant that I had to neglect the common consensus, tune out the voice of peer-pressure, and become comfortable with the abilities I innately possessed.

Once awareness is achieved, the real action, the real test lies in the courage of acting on this realization – becoming who you come to know you are. I can spend hours upon hours talking to you about how to achieve this, what techniques to use, etc. but really, at the end of the day when you rest your head on that pillow, ask yourself are you happy? Simple question, are YOU happy? If your answer is yes I am, but….then you need to go back to step I and come back to this step, stop making excuses, get your bum off the couch, and start living – on your own terms and in your own skin.

III. focus on your strengths 

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I believe everybody has a superpower, an intrinsic quality embedded in one’s DNA, something they are naturally apt at doing. I have also come to learn and respect different ways we, as humans, can display our geniuses. When you know what you are really good at, I encourage you to over-index on those facets and invest more time developing them, rather than dwelling on what you are not so good at. Time, is a depleting asset, one that is extremely valuable and priceless, so what you do with it determines your outcome. You can place your focus on what you wish you had, or zone in on the weapons you are already equipped with and leverage them to further your success.

I’m a big fan of focusing on your strengths because I am a firm believer that if you’re going to be successful, you’ll have a much better chance if you apply your strong suits doing things you like and make you happy. If I was forced to become an Engineer, a profession that requires lots of analysis, mathematics, physics, etc. I would have failed miserably. Even if I applied my crazy work ethic, outworked everyone, studied day and night, I would still be average. Why? Because that’s not me. I know myself very well, and know that I do much better in business, thinking strategy, building relationships, communicating with people, sales, etc. In a context where I am free to apply my strengths, my genius is revealed, and in a context where I am forced to develop my weaknesses, my genius is demolished. 

IV: keep your eyes on the prize

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The above picture speaks for itself. On the one hand, you have a champion, one of the most decorated olympians in history with 23 olympic titles and 28 medals, focused on one and only one goal, to win. On the other hand, you have his competitor, who became more concerned with where his opponent stands and less on winning the race. At a moment so critical, an event which defines your legacy, and where winning is sometimes determined based on milliseconds of a difference, all that it comes down to is how rigid your focus is.

Have you noticed that when travelling on the road of personal development, the detractors, the haters, and the doubters immediately show up? People, who are more concerned with bringing you down, crushing your dreams, and ridiculing your every move – because they can’t bear the thought of watching you reach levels they only dream of. This is why step I and II focus around knowing yourself and being courageous enough to act on this realization, because when you truly believe in yourself, in your abilities, and in your purpose, no person alive will ever stop you from getting what’s yours. If your beliefs are correctly aligned, your behaviours will pivot into a gear that’ll enable you to win. Don’t worry about what other people think or say, don’t worry about what other people are doing, you just keep focusing on yourself and be the best you can be.

Keep On, Keepin’ On

Before I start, I’d like to give a special thanks to Maria Fakhoury and Samiha Sher who gave me the idea on which this article is based on. 

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As we approach the New Year, and with millions of people recharging their resolutions list detailing what they intend to accomplish, I thought it was fitting to talk about persistence, resilience, and determination i.e. never giving up on what you set out to achieve.

I’ll share with you a story of an experience I went through and the lessons I learned. I hope from this, you can extract some value and apply it to your pursuits in life.

You’ll never make it: Man, if only I was given a dollar for every time I heard that.

I was in third year of university, when I was told about a top-tier finance competition called the Rotman International Trading Competition (RITC). RITC is an annual event held in the heart of Canada’s financial district, downtown Toronto, hosted by the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. The competition brings 50 of the worlds top universities alongside 6 of their brightest Finance/Accounting students. RITC utilizes simulated trading cases that closely mimic different aspects of real world markets.

Guess what I did….

….That’s right, I applied. The kid, who in high school was always underrated, doubted, and wrote off, the overweight, never serious, and always failing kid applied to one of the most difficult competitions to get into.

From the students who applied, a few were chosen for an interview which was meant to screen out the top 8 candidates. From there, the chosen 8 were to present a case that demonstrated ones applied knowledge. From the presentations, 2 would be cut from the list, leaving 6 final candidates who would attend the competition.

Given that I had good grades and was heavily involved in extra-curricular activities like being apart of many university clubs, attending various competitions, and working part-time at the Finance Lab, I was given the opportunity to interview for the competition with the Financial Lab Manager who was organizing and managing this competition. Guess what happened….

…I failed miserably. In fact, out of the 8 candidates who were chosen, I placed last. The interview was very, very difficult – it was one of those interviews that everyone dreads, where you are asked a sequence of complex logic questions, mental math questions, along with finance/economics/geo-politics questions.

1st lesson: there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Be optimistic, have faith, have hope, that one day, through hard work and determination, your plans will fall through. 

The 8 people who interviewed and were chosen had to prepare a presentation on a case that was provided by the Financial Lab Manager. This was to be done over the Christmas break and presented to everyone in the beginning weeks of January.

2nd lesson: the wolf at the top of the hill, is not as hungry as the one climbing it.

Going into the break, the thing I didn’t do was take a break. I put my heart and soul into preparing for this presentation, I woke up every single day, read a ton of books/articles/and anything I can get my hands on to help me prep for the material, and essentially outworked everyone else – because I wanted it more, I had to, and I was never going to give up, despite being #8.

We came back from the break, and it was time. Time, to present our cases to the team and from these presentations, the Financial Lab Manager would pick the top 6 who would eventually go on to attend RITC (the competition).

I gave it my all, I gave it 120%, and I was satisfied. Win or lose, sometimes what matters is knowing that at the end of the day, you gave it everything you had, everything you could have done, leaving no stone unturned, and going to bed with no regrets.

I waited patiently, diligently, and anxiously to see what the results were….

…..I made it. From #8 to #6, I was placed on the list of students who were to go to the competition. Thankfully, this was a happy ending, right?

3rd lesson: “all men are created equal. Some work harder in preseason.” – Emmitt Smith

But what if my story didn’t have a happy ending? What if I wasn’t chosen, despite all my efforts? Of course,  I would be disappointed, I would be a little sad/upset because after all I am human. However, this “down” feeling wouldn’t imprison me or keep me down in the dirt. Just like you train your muscles at the gym, you have to train your brain, rewire it, take control of it, and manually change your altitude so to alter your attitude.

You see, it’s never about how many hits you take, how many times you fall down, how big of a screw up you are, all that shit does NOT matter – what matters is today. Right now. This second. What can you do right NOW that will change your destiny, your life, and your future?

If I didn’t end up making it to the competition in my third year, I would have worked my ass off throughout the summer, to ensure I get a better chance at making it in my fourth year. If I also didn’t make it in my fourth year, I would take the lessons, knowledge, and maturity I gained during my experiences to do something else, like write this article for instance, where I can share my lessons and hopefully help others who may be going through a similar situation.

4th lesson: the magnitude of success is always hidden behind the little gems of daily repeated efforts.

Find Your Passion

First of all, I have to give credit to Cassy Aite, a good friend of mine, for providing me with the idea on which this article is based on.

“An article about passion and finding it. Something with a few clear exercises or actions to take to help make your passions clear to you.”

 

A wonderful question which is asked, yet seldom answered properly; what is your passion? To get started and for this article to be of value, let’s start by working backwards. Passion is the strong and deep emotion one has towards something. This emotion is enticed by an experience which was previously felt, usually in a positive state, which led to this feeling (or emotion) being embedded in one’s memory. For instance, you will often hear a motivational speaker say “I am passionate about helping people achieve their dreams and reach the level of success they set out to accomplish”. The reason someone feels strongly connected (or passionate) to such a desire is because it was done in the past, it felt really good i.e. dopamine was released, and it is a feeling that’s desired in the future.

 

Now, that we understand the backdrop of passion itself, let’s move on to defining one’s desire. The question I pose is; what do you want? To understand what you want, you must first understand who it is you are because you can only get to the end state if you know the position you are starting from. It’s funny, that despite our advancements in technology and the many complexities we display in our evolution, one of the diluting facets of humanity is the lack of self-awareness and emotional intelligence. Ask someone where they work and what they do, and they’ll answer it without a stutter, but ask them what really motivates them, who they think they are, if they’re truly happy, and nine times out of ten you will hear silence. Why? Because people spend most of their time avoiding difficult questions rather than investing the time to answer them – endlessly chasing the quest for meaning, happiness, and purpose while forgetting to open the map before starting.

 

Now that I’m finished my rant, I can get to the second part of this article which will give you tangible action items you can enact today to get you closer to living out your passion. 

 

  • Don’t force another person’s skin onto yours: too many of you are chasing things that seem “sexy”, “flashy”, “trendy”, but not necessarily things that make YOU happy. It’s funny, every second student I run into nowadays wants to become an entrepreneur. Which is cool, if that’s something you’re truly interested in, have thought about, understand why it is that you want to become one, etc. Another great example is people who just do things because the street (or the market) deems it to be right. Who can forget this: “yeah, I’m going to do my MBA right after finishing my Bachelors too!” I love looking someone in the eyes and genuinely asking them why is it that they’re doing what they’re doing i.e. give me the real reason and not the lies that you’ve sold yourself on. The difficult thing to do is to step on your ego, be true to yourself, get comfortable with who you really are, and leverage your strengths while downplaying your weaknesses. I’d love to have the scientific mind of Elon Musk or Neil Degrasse Tyson, but I don’t, and that’s OK. What I do have is the ability to connect very well with people, ability to think tactically/strategically in business (or street-smarts), ability to story-tell and communicate things in a way that everyone can understand, ability to market/promote/brand an idea/product/service, ability to motivate/inspire others, ability to not give a shit what people think, do what makes me happy, and work my butt off every single day etc. Point is, none us can do it all, we have things we shine in and things that we were never meant for – the importance here, is having the courage to accepting yourself as you are and starting to live life in your own skin.

 

  • Be curious, try different things: some people wake up with a voice like Adele, and others wake up really, really, really confused. I was the latter (although I do enjoy singing the odd Frank Sinatra song once in awhile). In high school, I dreamt of becoming a basketball player and practiced day and night. That was my dream, believe it or not, it wasn’t to be a suited-up business man whose a pocket square fanatic. Throughout high school though, I began realizing things I was good at and actually enjoyed. I was in the high school play “Annie” where I played a leading-role and yes I loved it (happy?). That play gave me the internal confidence of public speaking and communication that I hold to this day and really enjoy doing. The playing of different sports, practicing really hard, and losing a bunch of weight, provided me with the determination, persistence, hard work, competitiveness, and team-mentality that I leverage today in the business world. Point is, try different things and absorb all the lessons that come with them because even if you don’t end up doing that particular thing for life, you will be able to bring forth the knowledge into other facets that eventually become your life.

 

  • It’s OK to have multiple passions: who the hell said you can’t? This is not black and white, there’s no right or wrong with passion, so feel free to explore and adopt as many passions as you can possibly handle. Here is a list of some of my passions; social media and leveraging it to enact positive change, music and singing simply because it puts me in a great mood, investing/personal finance because I believe it’s important to manage your money properly in a way that creates sustained wealth, business and constantly thinking of new ideas/developing new projects (the entrepreneurial side of me), technology and keeping up with new and innovative ideas, reading/writing because it’s important to continuously learn and share your learnings with others etc. You get the point. All my passions inspire me, they get me up in the morning, keep me alive during the day, and allow me to sleep well at night.

 

  • Try to make your passion(s), your life: the ideal situation is if you were able to fully live out your passion in a way that you want i.e. doing something you absolutely love, while making enough money to live well. However, I understand that for most people this is not “realistic”, and as much as the optimist in me hates using that term, I will give you examples of how you can really try to live out your passion(s). One strategy you can try (which is something I’ve done and has worked for me) is to integrate your passion(s) in whatever it is you are doing, at work, at school, or anywhere else. For instance, one of the things I really enjoy doing is communicating/public speaking, and I also really enjoy stand-up comedy, acting, and practicing creative forms of artistic expression. To get the best of both worlds, I now try to bridge in some humour when presenting to lighten the mood, and speak as if though I was acting in a movie.  Now of course, not all of your passions can be directly bridged into your work, and if this is the case then find time outside of work to tackle them. For instance, I really enjoy meeting and talking with people i.e. networking, which gave me the idea of starting my podcast (Let’s Grab Coffee) after the excitement/joy I would feel by meeting with someone, learning from them, reciprocating some value, and then sharing those learnings with my community – either through a blog, video, or another form of a communication platform. I took a passion of mine that started off at work in a more formal setting and transferred it to my personal life where I can practice it on my own time and terms.

 

I hope this article helps you figure out what your passion is, and wish you the best of luck in whatever pursuits you end up embarking on.

If you haven’t already, check out my YouTube video: Let’s Talk Passion

Whenever You’re Ready

It was grade 5, I was nervous as hell. Overweight, insecure, unconfident, and about 30 seconds from passing out, the teacher yells “alright George, whenever you’re ready.” As the words vibrated through my ears, I stared at the audience before me; their thoughts, their words, and their non-verbal cues echoed a wave of ridicule that shattered the little motivation I had left. Yet, I proceeded. That day marked the worst presentation I ever gave, one with constant stuttering, long awkward pauses, noticeable sweat stains on my newly purchased dress shirt, and jittery hands from the nervousness that electrocuted every corner of my body. I finished speaking, not a hand was raised, not a clap was heard, there was just silence. I stood there emotionless, awaiting the feedback from my teacher. She approached me, fixating her gaze into my now teary eyes. (sigh) “George, I don’t think communication skills are your strong suit, in fact I personally don’t believe you will ever be an effective presenter – at least you tried and the effort is what counts.” she said. Her words cascaded down on me like concrete bricks. I was devastated, took a seat, and never spoke a word again that day.

I once read a quote from the motivational speaker and author, Les Brown, that said“don’t ever let other people’s opinion of you become your reality.” Those enabling words were very important for me as I began realizing that one experience/situation, no matter how big of a failure it seems, was still an opportunity to learn and grow from. You see, failing in essence is just the consequence of trying and it not going your way. If you don’t try, if you don’t experience it, you’ll never be able to realize the opposite end of that stick, when it does go your way and you succeed.

My intention to start the article this way is to allow you, the reader, to understand that this was not just a gift, something I was immediately great at upon birth, it was to make you see that this was something I first dreaded, was terrible at, and had to gradually improve on (and still is a work in progress). With this in mind, I’d like to share some of the tips I am learning and using on my journey to become an effective communicator:

Get to Know Your Voice

If you ever observe an effective communicator, you’ll realize that they unleash a power when presenting, one that draws you, captivates you, and engulfs you, almost like a hypnotic illusion. This is not primarily due to the content they’re speaking about, but the way they’re delivering the content i.e. tone, mannerisms, gestures, movement, etc. Anyone who has seen me speak knows that I like to use a little bit of stand-up comedy in my talks. Doing this allows me to connect with my audience, create a one-to-one direct feel, and the ability to lower the level of seriousness/formality in the room so my delivery can resonate easily with people. That is something natural to ME, however, everyone has a different approach and that is what I mean by getting to know your voice, and applying it. Look at Morgan Freeman for instance, someone who narrates pretty much every documentary out there today, has a distinct voice, almost one with omnipotence, authority, power, maturity, and grandeur. That is why when we listen to him speak, even though his tone is low, serious, gradual, and fabricated, we hinge on every word he says – it controls our every thought.

Practice Makes Progression 

Perfection doesn’t exist, let’s start with this notion and get it out of our minds. I learn something new every single time I present, something I did wrong, something I should improve on next time; this craft is an ongoing cycle of constant progression –attempting to attain perfection will only create everlasting emptiness. Now, let’s also get something else straight, when I say practice, I don’t mean in front of your bathroom mirror with 100 cue cards in your hand, that’s not realistic and won’t get you more comfortable to actually doing the real thing – presenting in front of a live audience in real time – one shot, one go, this is it. A pilot, surgeon, business person can only learn so much from simulations or reading textbooks, because learning this way contains static variables, not the unexpected/unique/unseen variables that arise in the moment when you are least prepared, but have to improvise and find a way to navigate through it. So, what do you do?

Start today; all you need to do is take the initiative to step outside your comfort zone. Ask your manager to allow you to present research you’re working on in front of the entire department, be the first person to raise their hand when asked who would like to present first, say good morning to your neighbor in the elevator and start a conversation, get in front of a camera and create a YouTube video – the more you push yourself to do the things that make you uncomfortable, the quicker it’ll be to make those things become comfortable. You don’t have to be on the TED stage to “practice”, use your environment, everything around you, because it’s all in the small details that people usually overlook which you can use to your advantage.

Look for Value, Not Validation

You are concerned about the wrong things; it’s not about what people think of you that matters, it’s about making sure that what you deliver has importance and adds value. Don’t forget, when you are on stage, have the mic, and the lights are on, everybody in the audience is investing time from their life to hear YOU and only you. It’s a power that should never be taken for granted, that should never be misused. Ben Parker, in the movie Spiderman, said “with great power comes great responsibility.” Your responsibility is to prepare, because if you fail to prepare you prepare to fail. One of my favourite tools I use to help me get ready for the big day is visualization. This ability we have is tremendous and extremely effective if used properly. I visualize best when I walk, put on my headphones and play soothing instrumentals in the background. Doing this, allows me to play the entire presentation in my thoughts, how I’m going to speak, where I’m going to stand, how much I’m going to move, what I’ll be wearing, observing the reaction of the audience, sitting in the audience’s seat and watching myself present, and it goes on and on and on – I see every single detail before it manifests into reality. Of course, I also rehearse the content over and over again till I fully understand everything I’m presenting which is why you’ll also never see me with cue cards, notes, or anything other than a freshly pressed suit and a colourful handkerchief. It’s my belief that in the moment you’re given this power, you’re job is to speak to people, look at them, face them, connect with them…not your paper – doing otherwise, shows that you haven’t prepared well enough and you don’t value your audience’s presence.

Sadly, public speaking is one of human kind’s top fear, up there on the list with flying and heights. The fear, false expectation appearing real, is only a creation of things youexpect to happen, but haven’t yet occurred – it’s for this reason I say, look for value NOT validation, because when you seek to align every person’s thought of you with qualities that make you comfortable/happy, you will never be satisfied. The reality is, you will never be able to please everyone, no matter how great or gifted you are, even Lebron James has his haters (albeit being the highest paid basketball player who recently donated $41 million for scholarships to underprivileged kids). To reassure myself when I do feel this nervousness, I say worry only about the things you can control – it is in my control to deliver a strong performance and add value to those listening, that is on me. Remember, Lebron isn’t the highest paid basketball player for his looks and charms, but for his ability to deliver, execute, and perform at an impeccable level when it matters most i.e. scoring the game winning shot, with 4 seconds on the clock, in the other team’s home court.

Thoughts on Personal Branding

Cut the Shit, Attack the Bull.

The first and most important thing is to really understand who you are because if you don’t start with self-reflection, you can’t communicate or exemplify your brand to those around you. Your brand is not about what people think about you because what they think is a subconscious decision made based on many factors that may or may not generate accurate facts (and which is outside of your control). What you can control is YOUR branding, the communication channel in which YOU are the CEO i.e. making executive decisions around what people hear, see, and feel. It’s a channel that allows you to communicate your narrative, your story, your character, morals, values, and standards to every stakeholder in your life; that’s what personal branding is about.

Do you remember a time when you had a presentation and you walked in the room feeling like “I have no idea what the heck I’m about to say”? You didn’t study the material, rehearse well enough, and prepare and you see a crowd of 100 people staring at you, the lights are on, you start sweating, and the moderator says; “whenever you’re ready.” Branding is the exact same thing. If you don’t self-reflect, understand yourself, know what you’re about, and what you want to communicate to the world, when you get on that stage i.e. social media and exemplify your personal brand, you’ll be putting up an act, faking it, bullshitting people, and/or being someone you’re not. To avoid this, you have to cut the shit and attack the bull.

Social Media Isn’t the Problem, You Are.

Every tool can be used for good or bad intentions. A knife can save or end a life. Social media is a tool that works in the same fashion. I find it entertaining when people say how stupid the Kardashians are. I usually comment back by saying, “then we must be even stupider for allowing them to be stupid.” The last I checked, Kim had 82 million followers. The reason why these platforms have absorbed our focus and attention is because we now have the ability to look inside the world of anybody who chooses to make theirs visible – this is something our predecessors never had at their disposal. What you choose to use it for is completely up to you i.e. you can use it to take pictures of your food, dog, clothes, you can use it to make people laugh or use it to motivate people. Social media isn’t the problem, you are.

Guard Reputation with Your Life.

As soon as you walk out of your front door, the lights are on; people see what you’re wearing, what you say, how you act, your mannerisms, and your nonverbal cues which go towards forming the personal brand people associate you with. What people think about you is correlated to the things you do and the things you say. Warren Buffet said it best, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and only 5 minutes to ruin it.” Guard reputation with your life.

Lessons from My Second Rotation at TMX Group

I just finished my second rotation with Business Development/Product Management, and still can’t believe I have been with TMX Group for almost a year now – time really does fly fast! As always, with the end of each rotation, I’ve made it a tradition to share some of the lessons garnered:

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” – Benjamin Franklin

I owe a big thank you to my manager for being such a great role model in showing me how to stay organized, prepared, and always ready. During our weekly status meetings, she would always have a neatly-stacked folder where she would keep each team member’s documents/and updates. Crisp, clean, and concise was the name of the game and she demonstrated it impeccably. Shortly after, I followed suit. In product management, everyone thinks you have a very flexible and lax schedule, that is until the deadlines fast approach and you are met with the battle of completing all projects on time.

I particularly enjoyed our weekly meetings, and is something I will definitely take with me to other departments if not already present. The fact that I had to be prepared every week to communicate/present what I’ve been working on and the progress of each of my items was quite daunting at first. Once I started dancing to the Jazz, I immediately saw the effectiveness of these meetings. It allowed me to stay on track by breaking down a big project into small actionable items that can be completed within reasonable time. I always had a plan for every week, detailing exactly what needed to be done, who I would need to speak with/meet, and prioritize important tasks to complete first. To those who love complete freedom/flexibility, I assure you I do to – in fact, being more prepared and having a weekly plan allowed me to stay calm, collected, and focused. Even as big deadlines arose, even when I had to present my projects to very important people in our organization I always had control of the ball because my eyes were always on the net.

 “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them” – Albert Einstein

If you enjoy comfort, then a rotational program is not right for you. After 6 months of becoming comfy with your departments, colleagues, and work-lifestyle, just when you think you‘re settled in and are relaxed, it’s time to move to the next rotation. This means physically moving into a new atmosphere, new desk, new department, and working with new people – all of which require a mindset that embraces change.

So, how did I prepare for it? Well, I spent my first week just observing. I observed what time my manager and colleagues came to and left work, the level of formality used when they communicated with each other, the things my manager disliked/liked, etc. The point was to understand, very clearly, what was OK and what was NOT OK. After learning how to best fit in, I then pursued the opportunity to sit with my manager and ask her what she expected out of me. Once I knew what the benchmark was (status quo), I spent the next 3 months really understanding what the department does, listening during meetings, and completing all the activities assigned to me. Once I began feeling somewhat in-tuned with my work, it was time to crack status-quo and find extra ways of adding value. The easiest way to start adding value, is to come into work every morning with the “how can I make your life easier” attitude. If your manager is in a meeting, and you find yourself starring out the window, pull out a notepad/or laptop and take meeting minutes. Additionally, value can be exemplified by being innovative – find better ways of doing, thinking, and acting. Once you understand the workflow and really map out the processes involved within your department, it is easier to pinpoint weaknesses, gaps, and inefficiencies and leverage the strengths you possess to improve them.

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you” – Dale Carnegie

I think the best way to becoming a team player, to gain people’s trust, and to get people to like you is to genuinely have an interest in liking others. What do I mean by that? I mean don’t just engage in small fluffy talk with your manager because you have to and you’re trying to sneak in that extra point (for when bonus/promotion day comes). When you talk to your colleagues, managers, executives, your attitude should be one of sincerity/appreciation (someone regardless of who they are is taking time from their life to talk to you, so always respect that person’s time and get something positive out of it by listening to what they say, taking interest in their stories, and reciprocating the sharing of information). Although it was a small team, I truly enjoyed working with this department because we all became good friends (even as we kept it on a professional level at work), if everyone executed on what they promised, got stuff done, added value, and took care of their piece of the puzzle, no conflict ever arose and we were able to foster great relationships with one another.

During these 6 months, I legitimately invested time on each and every one of my direct teammates, managers, and surrounding colleagues to get to know them on both a professional and personal level. Why? Because I know that I spend most of my day at work, that on average humans live 29,000 days, and that life is way too short for me to be miserable at work. If I’m determined to come to work with the right mindset, positive attitude, and value-adding determination, then obviously I need to be part of an environment that is friendly, welcoming, and trusting. Also, not all work environments may be like this at first, so instead of being reactive, become a proactive initiator of conversations. Be the one responsible for creating relationships – not the person who waits for the perfect time, or creates excuses like “that’s just not the way things work around here.”

Life Is Not an Excuse

“You can only give to others what you have in yourself.” I love that quote for one simple reason; it opens doors you’re meant to walk through and closes doors that you should avoid. That quote is descriptive of what self-awareness is.

Since I was a kid, I realized really quickly that I had an insane ability to connect with people. I honestly just love people, I receive great energy from those around me, and equally give it back with my own energy. Whether it’s making people laugh, inspiring people, getting people motivated…it all comes back to being around people, connecting on a deeper level, and generating a positive result.

Knowing this ability now has prompted me to do something good with it. That’s why I enjoy writing to you articles like this because I’m able to show you my world, my thinking, and hopefully having you resonate with my story. I believe that the key to life is understanding your purpose, hopefully sooner than later. One of the things that comes up a lot when I talk to people older than me is regret and how doing the things you want (and are passionate about) early on is a catalyst for a happier life in the future.

The worst thing you can do is live in excuse. “I can’t lose weight because I don’t have money for a gym membership”, “I can’t study because I don’t have time”, “I can’t learn a new language because it’s too hard”. We are all at fault when it comes to excuses, including myself. So being aware that this happens and working on mentally stopping yourself when excuses come up is a good solution.

The CEO of Netflix didn’t look at his situation and say, I can’t build the largest online video streaming website because Blockbuster exists. He saw an opportunity where others saw challenges/hurdles/competition.

If you decide to constantly live in excuses, by default, you’ve accepted that your life is an excuse in and of itself. Why can’t you do the things you have in mind? I urge you to look in the mirror once in a while and ask yourself if you’re living up to the standards you dream of. If not, don’t give an excuse, just find a way to make small changes that eventually lead to bigger results.

Don’t wait for the perfect time, perfect opportunity, perfect situation…perfect doesn’t exist. Life can never be perfect because perfection is a subjective and never-ending pursuit of desire that has no defined limit/benchmark. Instead of making yourself feel shitty, reduce excuses one day at a time. Say today I’m going to eat ONE healthier meal, I’m going to go for a small run around the neighborhood….just be practical and find a way to fit your goals into your daily life.

I can go on and on about this…but I think you get the point. Hope this helped.