Lessons from my solo travels

As you may know, I recently went on a solo trip to Europe – it wasn’t my first, as I had completed a semester abroad in the past, but it was definitely the best. I went, on an unplanned, complete whim of a trip to Portugal, Spain and, randomly but beautifully, England!

Now, I’m definitely not the only one who has traveled alone, and there’s a million posts out there giving you tips and trick about traveling. However, as many as there might be, I don’t think there’s any harm adding my ideas to the pile.

Here are my top four tips for solo traveling. 😉

1. Pack as little as humanly necessary. I took two large suitcases, and a backpack. For a 2 week trip. Yes, I completely and totally regretted this as soon as I landed in my first destination. I ended up ditching my large suitcase temporarily in a hostel locker in Faro, Portugal and I learned a big lesson: all I need in a 2-week trip is a BACKPACK, not a suitcase, and enough clothes for ONE week, simple jewellery that goes with everything, 2 good lipsticks, concealer, and mascara. I strongly recommend against a suitcase because many roads/streets are cobblestoned and rough…and you may be far from an airport or train station. It’s just a hassle. Oh, and bring soap and such. That’s about it – the less you carry, the more freedom you have. Less to worry about, easier to get on flights. You can wash things at hostels / laundromats on the way, and trust me, no one is going to care that you’re re-wearing things. Least of all you.

 

2. Gain a balance between planned and spontaneous. It would be a huge understatement to say I was rather unprepared for my venture. All I did was book flights there and back, and book the first hostel. Other than that, my plan was to get there and *then* decide what to do. This worked in some ways – for example, I was able to have the freedom and flexibility to go to Seville, Spain and London, England – both places that I hadn’t planned to go. However, it also paralyzed me a little: I had to make decisions in the moment and I was afraid to make the wrong ones. I wasted time not knowing where to go and what to do because I hadn’t planned it. I would suggest striking a fine balance: know where you’re going to go, and have a general idea of what to do, but don’t feel the need to plan everything to the T. You want to be able to feel flexible to take a random boat ride, or go to a crazy grungey party everyone seems to know about.

Check out this crazy party I went to in Faro, Portugal 😉

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“She’s not even THAT pretty…” – A Story of Self-Hate

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My dear fellow ladies…

I hope you’re doing very well. It’s a Saturday afternoon and I hope you’re spending it rejuvenating yourself, relaxing with friends and family and catching up on your favorite shows.

I also hope you can join me in reflecting on yourselves.

Recently, I was talking to a colleague of mine about a beautiful girl we both know. I said something like: “She’s gorgeous and stylish! I can’t imagine being that put together all the time!”

My colleague’s face turned kind of sour, and she said, “That’s all makeup – she’s totally plain without it, I can tell.”

That one comment totally shattered my opinion of that woman as a confident, self-fulfilled individual. It brought me back to high school days where cattiness was the name of the game.

So many women I know are guilty of saying something like this:

  • She’s not even *that* pretty…
  • It’s just her makeup
  • It’s just her clothes and hair
  • She just edits her pictures
  • She tries too hard

We just have to stop doing this. Like, now. No, seriously. Please stop.

The truth is, when you do this, it’s so obviously rooted in jealousy and envy. Otherwise, why in the world would you say something like this? Especially because it’s about looks, something we largely have exactly zero control over.

There’s another reason for why we just should not be doing this.

When we engage in this behavior, it hurts US more than it hurts THEM. Doing this not only makes us look blatantly jealous, which is not a cute look on anyone…it also makes the standards for women ever-higher… including for us. So now, we can’t just be beautiful and stylish – we have to be just as beautiful WITHOUT makeup, WITHOUT attractive clothing, and stop using flattering instagram filters. Or it doesn’t count?!

This whole thing is ridiculous and completely tiresome. A related note: personally have been criticized for posting too many selfies, apparently, and I spoke to a friend about it. She said something that totally changed my view of selfies and many other things women do.

“Society tells us as women that our image is incredibly, all-consumingly important. Yet, when a woman takes a selfie, something she can use to control her image…she gets criticized.”

I honestly think this applies to so many of the things we do. Whether it’s wearing makeup, spanx, flattering clothing, instagram filters, whatever the case is – it’s a small effort that women take to control our image. So please, other women, stop judging each other about such dumb stuff…

Hope you can understand. I say this because I care about you,
Shveta

The Benefits of Meditation

We live in an increasingly fast-paced world. We want our coffee quicker, updates faster and internet at speed of light. We are preoccupied by things and woefully disconnected from the moment. It’s no surprise that we are more overwhelmed, stressed and depressed than ever.

This is a catastrophe facing humanity.

However, I know a solution. This solution has hundreds of benefits, with scientists finding more every day. Ancient religions allude to this solution, and there multiple ways to use it. It will heal your soul. What is this solution?

It’s meditation.

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When you hear ‘meditation’, you may think, “What new-age baloney!”

I understand – in a world full of hacks, it’s important to cut the bull. But to you skeptics, here’s the truth: Every human being would benefit from meditation.

There are hundreds of benefits, but let me provide you with three: Meditation helps with:

  • Better decision making.
  • Emotional healing.
  • Improving physical and mental health.

There are many ways to incorporate meditation. Here is a video of a beginner meditation that I’ve used, personally, that I think you should too.

To my friends, let me conclude with this. In this ever-speeding world, meditation helps us destress, think clearly, and connect to the present moment. There are many benefits, and many ways to use it. I urge you all: Do give it a try. After all, it’s free.

25 Lessons by 25 years old – Part Two

13. You can be a functioning mess. It’s not all or nothing. I learned this through the many beautiful messes I know in my life. Not only do they handle their lives like bosses, they also deal with some of the same crap that I do! The thought that I, and my life, was not perfect used to have me flat on the floor, fearful and full of despair. Instead, the beauties I know pull themselves up, knowing their strength, knowing they’re a mess and just moving on.

14.When you solve one problem, another one comes up. It’s like leveling up in life. Every time I overcame a challenge, I for some reason assumed that was it – life should be easier now. But it’s just not the case: life will consistently throw you challenges, progressively harder ones at that. That’s why it’s important to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, because this sh*t ain’t getting any easier.

15.First impressions are not accurate, important or as long-lasting as everyone claims. The ‘first impressions are so important’ line has always confused me. I just don’t agree with it – my first impressions are often SO wrong, and it’s only through getting to know people that you judge them. I mean, people often misjudge and misunderstand me at the beginning and end up with a completely different view of me than what they thought. It’s through repeated, consistent, confirming interactions that people form their opinion of you. Duh.

16.You can’t escape your true nature, but your true nature is far more glorious than you think. Growing up, I always felt like the weirdest, least likable mushroom in a field full of flowers. I tried to hide it, like I said before, and it did not work. I always got told I was too “extroverted, energetic, excitable, exhausting.” But the thing is…some people love mushrooms. And mushrooms can be magical. 😉 Accept your strangeness, but also embrace it. It’s what sets you apart.

17. When apologizing, ask yourself – is this coming from a need to feel reassured or because I truly feel sorry? I have had so many friends have ‘intervention’ type conversations with me about my over-apologizing. They say that they feel uncomfortable with having to constantly reassure me that everything is okay, and that I didn’t do anything wrong. I have such a strong ability to ruminate, to overthink and to just plain express myself that it NEVER occurred to me that my apologizing was exhausting people. I now try to apologize only when I feel I’ve done something truly wrong. It’s not just better for my friends, it’s better for myself. It’s really, really difficult. Like I said before, changes to behavior, especially when rooted in deep self-belief, can take years. At least I’ve gotten to the first step of becoming aware of my issues.

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18.Friends of convenience/surface level bonding vs. true friends. Once, when recounting a difficult situation I was having with a friend, a therapist asked me: “Do you like her?”…I was a bit confused. I said, obviously! However, my therapist was trying to see what exactly I looked for in friendships and how I CHOSE my friendships. It revealed something really nuts: I didn’t have too much in the way of criteria for friendships. I let people walk all over me. I was focused so much on what they thought of me, rather than focusing on what I thought of them. Since then, this discovery has made life a lot simpler. If I don’t enjoy being around someone, if they get me down, if they judge hard, if they give me a feeling of discomfort, I JUST DON’T HANG WITH THEM.Pretty damn simple. Took forever to recognize, though.

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19. Give yourself so much more credit for all the little things. Ugh, this is such a big one. Sometimes I look at my brother, or my friends, or people in my class and I’m just amazed by them. They are such accomplished, well-spoken, kind individuals. I wish it was more normal to tell people randomly how great you think they are (I still do tell people, though.) However, it kills me how people don’t give themselves credit for being A+ planners, amazing with punctuality, helpful as hell, balancing a job and school…I know it’s good to have high standards, but the amount of stress people handle and how well they do is truly remarkable to me. So please, give yourself credit where it’s due.
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25 Lessons at 25 years old – Part One

I recently turned 25 and I’ll be honest—it freaks me out. I don’t usually get hung up on age. I mean, for real, we all have the same amount of time to get to being a certain age so I don’t get the weird cattiness that sometimes surrounds age.

Until I realized, it’s not being 25 that freaks me out… it’s that I am not at the place I want to be at 25 that worries me. In the last year, I’ve moved back home with my parents, am back in school and am essentially unemployed. It feels a tad like I’m moving backward.

I can’t deny, though, that I have learned a hell of a lot in my life. However much of a hot mess I still might be (I could write a list of 100 for all the reasons), here are some lessons I’ve learned during my journey on this planet.

1. There’s no end-point to messing up – making mistakes. When I graduated high school and started university, I truly thought I’d done most of my messing up, and that I was going to be fabulous in university with very little problems. How wrong I was – the anxiety, the insecurity, the self-doubt only deepened in this environment. When I graduated university and got my first job, I thought the same thing – however, the hotbed of drama-and-stress omelette that my first job was did *not* stop me from messing up. I’ve learned that I will *always* mess up and it’s okay – the only tragedy in that is making the same mistake one too many times. (Done that, too.)

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2.  No matter what, your truth will come out – when I moved to Ajax from Etobicoke for middle school, I remember telling myself that things would be different. I would be popular, people would think I was cool and fashionable, and I’d finally be happy. I made up a name for myself – Sonya – and put on my coolest clothes and jewelry (I have the diary receipts to prove the details) and went to school. I said things to my new classmates like “that ring is *so* yesterday.” Yes, my whole body does cringe at this statement.

But guess what? The other kids saw through that immediately. I mean IMMEDIATELY. It took no time for them to realize that I wasn’t being authentic, and I went back to square one – or even square negative one. It was an early, important lesson and I can honestly say I’ve been pretty much authentically myself ever since.

3. Changes come from incremental shifts more often than huge life changes. Looking back, it has taken 5 years for me to overcome some of my body insecurities, for example. It wasn’t one therapy session or even one therapist that helped.  It wasn’t a series of conversations with supportive friends and family. It was (hell no) not the internet forums with others crying about their particular issues. It took time for the changes to take place, to my paradigm and my beliefs. I went from crying for hours at a time about my body to accepting what I have and feeling beautiful the way I am. Truly. I may get threatened or jealous, but I am happy with what I have, even if there are millions of girls with much more. What a total victory. I’m proud of myself

4. Mental health is still a really difficult thing for people to grapple with. It’s this mysterious force in life. Sad, but true—no matter how many Bell Let’s Talk pictures your friends share, and no matter how well-meaning they are, many people will just not be able to handle your issues, especially when you’re in a bad place. However, think of it as a filter: the few people who stuck by you are people you can depend on, and you have to deliver for when THEY need YOU. Due to my unique personality, not everyone’s going to like me, or be there for me, or value my time, especially when I’m in a bad place. While that sucks, and I do have some resentments when people let me down, I’ve gotten to the place where I can accept it. I’ve gone through things that have made me a more empathetic person.

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 5. Shaming yourself based on looks, body, sexual past= shaming others. I admittedly just realized this recently after a conversation with someone I met during my travels in Europe. I often judge myself for things I would never dream to judge others for. Not only judge, but actively berate and engage in self-loathing about things that I can’t control, like my body. This not only hurts me, but in actuality hurts the way I view others as well. When you hear someone thinner than you complaining about how fat they are, how does that make you feel? And you know what, it’s the same whether they are lighter or heavier – It’s just a judgey, negative space to be in. It’s not just unkind to yourself, it’s unkind to others too. It’s one thing to be a feminist outwardly, to denounce body-shaming, to preach redemption rather than punishment…but you gotta apply those standards to yourself first and foremost.

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6. No matter what TV says, it’s rarely the pretty but brainless girls who get the guys/the fantastic lives. It’s the bombtastic, confident, unafraid girls/boys who are the true babes on this planet. I’ve learned this lesson so many times. For a while, it seemed like a like – like really? Looks don’t matter? Oh please. But in actuality, when it comes to attraction it’s just a part of the package, and the truly amazing people know this inherently. I’ve seen it a thousand times. Continue reading

Why I’m A Good Hire

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How I feel when I try to brag about myself… Has to be done, though. 😛

 

21,500. That’s the number of students who will be graduating within the media and communications field in this country, according to Stats Canada.

Another one hundred and four thousand will be graduating in the larger business management and public administration context.

That is tough competition. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last year, it’s that there’s quite a demand for intelligent workers with strong writing skills, persuasive presentation abilities, and a distinct voice.

This demand is met by quite a bustling supply of graduates, enthusiastic and eager, ready to give work tasks their all. As entry-level students, we all have similar skills, at least on paper. We have the writing skills. We have the critical thinking skills. And thanks to experiences such as these, we have the presentation skills.

However, I am here to tell you exactly why I am a fantastic candidate for a position within this field. While I believe everyone has something to offer the world, I offer a unique blend of raw talent, self-awareness, and resilience that every organization would benefit from. I want to tell you today THREE of the MAIN reasons why you should hire me.

  • Firstly, I am at the core a storyteller. I am deeply aware that creating meaningful content is at the core of what we do as PR professionals. I don’t take that responsibility lightly. Whether I’m writing a 140-character Tweet or designing a newsletter, I never lose sight of the incredible opportunity to communicate to my audience. I am intently aware that every part of this interaction counts and either builds credibility and trust in the audience or destroys it. This kind of inherent understanding and storytelling capability is what makes me a committed communicator.
  • Secondly, I have a very broad perspective which informs my point of view and strengthens my work. For example, I have lived in four countries, speak three languages fluently and originate from a drastically different culture. I remember arriving in each country for the first time, and recognizing that from this moment on, nothing would ever be the same. I had to learn the new slang, new language, new ways of being myself. I had to learn how to survive.
    This early forays into huge life changes have led me to develop grit. Over my life, I’ve displayed courage and resolve in situations I had no expertise in. Like, for example, just this past winter, I backpacked solo in Europe. Though it was fun, the experience was far from a lazy vacation –  It was work. I learned so much about the principles of how to survive and thrive in new and unusual situations. Since then, I’ve realized just how much my unique and broad perspective has been a strength. While sometimes, I feel like the odd one out, this varied vision of the world has been such a gift for me.
    I see things differently than everyone else, and it’s people like me you can count on things need to be shaken up.

 

And now, for my last point. No, I’m not going to end this with the fact that I’m a strong listener – which I am. And no, It’s not that I’ve already gained strong experience in this field – which yes, I have. It’s not that I’m a hard and tireless worker – something I’ve proven to myself and others many times. It’s something much bigger than that – maybe something that will surprise you.

 

  • It’s that I’ve always realized, quickly, exactly where I didn’t belong and what I truly sucked at. Now, this is important: it’s not just important for professionals to know their strengths and work with them… People need to be able to identify exactly what their natural weaknesses are, and what environments are toxic for them. As a professional looking to sell myself, why would I possibly end in such a negative tone? Because I believe this is one of the most important traits of a strong communicator. Truth is, every company would benefit from an employee who is self-aware and willing to be vulnerable enough to spot their own issues.They also benefit from an employee that knows exactly what kind of environment works for them. It’s only through recognizing both your strengths AND your weaknesses that you become a well-rounded communicator. If I didn’t develop this ability quickly, I would not be the kind of communicator every organization needs: one who knows her own brand, who knows exactly how her brand thrives, and how to work effectively with her strengths to avoid minefields and pitfalls.  

 

 It’s been a real joy expressing exactly what makes me a strong communications professional. I’ve told you how at the core, I’m a storyteller, and how I recognize that this is central to any job in communications. I’ve spoken to my background and experiences, which have helped me develop grit and a strong, broad perspective. And finally, I’ve told you that I know myself deeply: I know exactly the ways in which I suck and what environments are just not right for me. In this pool of candidates that all have similar qualifications, backgrounds, and experiences, how do I know that I am an excellent resource? These reasons, while being a little untraditional, and perhaps out of the box, are what I believe truly make me a stand-out.

So….When do I start?

 

How Seneca’s international students can keep their cool

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As a student of the Public Relations, Corporate Communications program at Seneca, I can attest to the fact that it is a rather challenging endeavor. The post-graduate program takes place over a year and contains seven communications and public relations-related courses per semester. The assignments are plentiful, the group work is grueling and the deadlines are hard to meet.

With the highest enrollment of international students in Canada, Seneca College’s student population represents more than 75 countries across the globe. As an immigrant myself and someone who works within the settlement sector, I was interested in learning about the various difficulties that international students face in a program like this.

The challenge of coming to a new country, dealing with culture shock and cultural differences and the lack of established support undoubtedly put a strain on these students. For example, friends and family are part of all students’ lives and help us get through some of the difficult aspects of the life.

Looking around me at Seneca, it struck me recently that international students are not afforded the luxury of being able to confide, vent and relax with their loved ones. Also, the language or dialect barriers that students face must be challenging at best and incredibly frustrating at the worst. While they can always make new friends, being in a new country with different rules, norms and values can be undoubtedly challenging.

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However, there are steps international students can take to improve their situation. In my section, there are two stand-out international students hailing from Ukraine. Bright, enthusiastic and confident, Iryna Zheliasko and Lina Murashka appear to be handling the pressures very well – in fact, they seem to handle it better than many Canadian students! Recently, I sat down with them to learn more about their experience in this program.

First, I wanted to know why they were interested in this program.

Zheliasko, 20 says “I’ve always viewed communications as the thing I want to do in my life. I majored with a Bachelor of Linguistics, and I wanted my postgraduate to diversify and add depth to my skills.”

“Public relations is my passion and that’s why I chose this program in the first place,” she adds. “Plus, it lasts only one year, which is very convenient after four years in university.”

Murashka, also 20, says “I was attracted to the program because I’m interested in how a company works with the different stakeholders from a communications perspective.”

“The flexible nature of Public Relations made it appealing to me. I enjoy working with people, and the skills taught in this program can be applied to many occupations, as they are desired in many different job opportunities. “

I asked them what misconceptions they had about the program, things that they were proven wrong about.

Zheliasko says, “I don’t think I’ve had any misconceptions of the experience. Honestly, everything is practically like I imagined it to be. As for Toronto, I totally didn’t expect it to be so green and beautiful!  I love the nature here.”

I asked them what they liked about the program and they said that they enjoy that the program is short. They also liked how the program focused on how to apply theory to practice. “It’s pretty much about problem-based learning, which makes it pretty much about life,” says Zheliasko.

When it comes to differences, they also mention preferring Ukranian supermarkets and being shocked by the transportation system. These are not, however, overwhelming problems.

“Still, I found out that there are lots of Ukrainian and Russian supermarkets here with imported goods, so now that problem is not that huge for me,” explains Murashka.

My conversation, so far, has taught me a lot. It seems these girls are doing very well in the program, with the courses fitting their expectations and without much shock from the culture. How did they do it? I believe their experience serves as lessons for all international students.

The women have been friends since prior to their arrival in Canada and are each other’s support systems. They also keep in close touch with their families and friends, through Skype and other social media. They were prepared for the program’s challenges and were well informed, not surprised by the pace, content and teaching style of the courses. They also enjoy Toronto’s nature and diversity of resources.

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I encourage international students to learn from these lessons. Clearly, taking the time to check in with friends and family back home, keeping surprises to a minimum and being proactive can help international students be successful in this program.

Additionally, I encourage students to enjoy the program by working hard and taking challenges in stride. I believe we can all overcome the challenges we face if armed with a good attitude.

Why listening makes you a much better communicator

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a PR and Corporate Communications student at Seneca College. For our public speaking course, our zany professor assigned us a reading from our Public Speaking textbook on Listening. I know – sounds pretty damn boring. But honestly, it opened up my eyes to the benefits of listening and how to become better at the skill. Here are some of the things I’ve learned from the text – I think it is useful for all people, both within and outside professional life!

Image result for listeningThere is a clear difference between hearing and listening. How many lectures have we all been to, when, lulled by a fairly boring professor’s tangent, she looks at you in the eyes and asks, “What do you think?”

You may have been hearing what she had to say, but perhaps it was hard to truly listen.

Most people are shockingly bad listeners. Even when we try, we usually grasp only 50% of what we hear.

When discussing the best approaches to public speaking, many of us focus on the actual SPEAKING part. Which makes sense. But it is incredibly important that we also understand what it takes to be truly good listeners.

Why is it important to be a good listener?

People in leadership positions and people who are fantastic at what they do are all excellent listeners. Why? So much of what successful people do depends on absorbing information that they hear. They need to do so quickly and accurately.

In our field of communications, listening is more important than ever. If you have this skill, you will guarantee to stand out.

Listening is also important to us as speakers – if you don’t listen effectively, you will pass on your misunderstandings to others. This is not good – especially in this day and age, with misinformation, fake news and people with a vested interest in confusing the public, it’s important to keep your listening skills sharp.

Now, there are four kinds of listening: Appreciative Listening, Empathic Listening, Comprehensive Listening, and Critical listening

Appreciative listening: Listening for pleasure and enjoyment. For example, listening to comedy, music or a fun speech.

Empathic listening: listening to provide emotional support for the speaker, like how a psychiatrist does, or when we listen to a friend in need.

Comprehensive listening: listening to try and grasp the message of a speaker. Examples would be listening in class, or listening to directions from a friend.

Finally, critical listening – this would be when we are listening to accept or reject a message: like a sales pitch, or a speech from a political candidate.

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When it comes to public speaking, communications, or the workforce in general, the two types of listening that are the most important are critical listening and comprehensive listening. They’re both tied deeply to overall critical thinking. You have to use your minds, as well as your ears.

Let us start with the FOUR DON’TS of public speaking:

NUMBER ONE: Not concentrating enough. This is simple enough, of course. An obvious tip. But one that is very difficult to overcome at times. Part of this is based on something called the “spare brain time”. Basically, most people talk at about 120 to 150 words a minute. The rate at which the brain can process language is about 400 to 800 words a minute. That means there is a LOT of spare time between people’s words for us to get lost.

NUMBER TWO: Listening too hard. Yes, you heard right. Sometimes we listen way too hard, turning into human vacuums, sucking up every word as if each word is as equally important. In the process, we often miss the speaker’s main point and confusing the facts as well. This happens often, actually, especially when we care. Think about the time when a guy told you a reason he didn’t want to be with you for example. The main point there and the one to focus on is that you aren’t the right fit for him. But often, we all end up over listening, and as a result, overthinking the whole thing.

 

NUMBER THREE: Jumping to conclusions. I think we can all say we’ve been guilty of this. This can take many forms – sometimes, we are guilty of putting words into a speaker’s mouth. In fact, many of us have communication problems to the people we are closest to, because of this reason. We are so sure that we know what they mean, that we don’t listen to what they’re actually saying. Another form of jumping to conclusions is prematurely rejecting a speaker’s ideas as boring or misguided. This is a mistake – most everyone has something we can learn from, that could change the way we think.

 

NUMBER FOUR: Focusing on DELIVERY and personal appearance. This is also a common problem – we often judge people by how they look and speak rather than what they’re saying. We could focus on their dialect, their outfit or any number of things and get distracted. While this is common, it’s pretty unfair as well – not only to the speaker, but ourselves! What if we judged by appearance one of my most beloved heroes, Gandhi? We would’ve missed critical human lessons from an incredible, revolutionary man.

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Now, I would like to give you FOUR dos on how to become a better listener:

NUMBER ONE: Take Listening Seriously. Much like ANY skill, the first step towards improving your listening is to give it the seriousness it calls for. Chapter 3 in our textbooks, on page 54, has a self-evaluation checklist to see exactly how you could improve your skills. Try it out – once you know what your problems are, it’s easier to overcome them.

NUMBER TWO: Be an active listener. We’re often listening passively to our parents, our iPods, our Podcasts and our television sets… it’s a habit. But what will make us excellent speakers is ACTIVE listening, which is to give our undivided attention in a genuine way to speakers. We can do this by taking notes, suspending our judgements,  and being mindful in our listening.

NUMBER THREE: RESIST DISTRACTIONS: Let’s be real – in this world, we cannot eliminate physical and mental distractions. Whether that be construction work, or a classmate chewing and chomping on their gum loudly, there’s not much we can do to stop these distractions. What we CAN do is things like putting our phones away, sitting comfortably, reviewing mentally what the speaker has said to make sure we understand it.

NUMBER FOUR: LOOK PAST APPEARANCE/DELIVERY: Some of our best speakers, including Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Hawking, and as I mentioned before, Gandhi, are all people who did not have very impressive or cultivated appearances. If we had all judged them by this, imagine just how much poorer the world would be. Try not to let negative feelings about how someone looks distract you. Instead, focus on the message that people are conveying – if necessary, look behind the person at the wall!

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I want to leave you with something personal, something that has helped me become a better listener. Once, someone whom I admire read aloud the following quote by a beloved author of his, Oscar Wilde.

Wilde was a fabulous writer, and it sometimes takes a good listener to understand the message he wanted to put out there.

At first, I didn’t understand the quote. I frankly thought it was mumbo jumbo. The dear friend asked me to close my eyes while he read it to me. It amazed me how closing my eyes erased many of my distractions and allowed me to focus, and therefore understand.

“People say sometimes that Beauty is superficial. That may be so. But at least it is not so superficial as Thought is. To me, Beauty is the wonder of wonders. It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is visible, not the invisible.”

This taught me that improving my listening skills helped me gain a deeper better understanding of the world around me: I learned to check my assumptions, erase my distractions, and focus.

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Experience of a Hairy Girl

When I was about 10 years old, I got the distinct feeling that the way people-and more specifically, boys–looked at me had changed. Prior to that, the closest I’d gotten to any male attention was when my mother dressed me in a crop top and hot pants at 8 years old, and one of the neighbourhood boys (who were still my buddies) said I dress like a ‘bad girl.’

I was very confused at the time.

At 10, though, things changed. Boys were becoming less friendly and more mean, and both boys and girls were grouping together in little cliques. I felt left out for the first time in my life. Little did I know, this would be a common theme of my girlhood – my sensitivities and a certain ineptitude in social situations would be a self-fulfilling prophecy in my life, making me feel like an anxious lil loony toon.

No, at first, I was surprised. Why were people leaving me out? Why did I feel so bullied all of a sudden? Why was I getting cold whispers from the girls and evil guffaws from the lads?

Then, I moved to Canada. By this time, I have changed a lot physically. Once a cute little kid with dimples and curly hair, I changed into a hairy, bespectacled chipmunk with a very strange sense of style.

See:

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Yes, that is a pink frilly top with a weird emo choker. With beads.

But anyway. Coming to Canada was a game-changer. Once a slightly spoiled girl in a well off family, complete with daily maids and nannies, I was now hearing daily arguments between my parents. My parents never made me feel poor, and their story is incredible, but the difference was stark. My mom, once a stay-at-home wife and mother, now worked 7 days a week as a telemarketer. My dad juggled part time jobs.

Me? Well, I became a very unhappy, lonely, insecure little girl. With a full grown moustache and unibrow to top it all off. The bullying was pretty intense.

“You ugly monkey!”
“Shave your moustache!”
“You have really hairy arms.”
“Ewwww, I can see your nose hairs!”

were just a few comments I would hear on a daily basis. My crying and weird protesting just made things worse. (This is not when I learned that my reactions are of utmost importance, and that I need to keep myself together – that lesson has barely registered even recently.)

My mother wouldn’t let me thread or wax my eyebrows until I turned 16, so one day I took matters into my own hands and shaved my face. My mother was busy and tired and didn’t notice at first, but when she did notice, her gasp of shock and her subsequent look of pity and anger made me sick to my stomach. I begged her to let me wax and thread the offending areas, but she wouldn’t budge.

“It’s barely noticeable Shveta! If you start now, you will regret it, the hairs will get thicker. Just leave it to grow! And ignore the people who tease you.”

Sound advice, but I was an approval-seeking, anxious, unhappy little girl who had not a friend in the world and plenty of hairy-girl-haters. I used Veet next and was left with many burns.

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….

Many years later, I’ve blocked much of this out.

I’m speaking to a friend at a party at my house. We’ve drank about 4 shots each and have eased into the music of the night, feeling great. I’m feeling restless and inspired, enjoying the good vibes all around. The night’s gone well, with a ton of dancing and only a few hilarious mishaps.

Let’s name my friend Anuradha

Anuradha is the prettiest girl I know. I’ve known her for years. She slays my whole existence with simple beauty and daring style. She has an amazing figure that I fantasize about…having. haha. She inspires me so much, whether it be taking care of her whole family financially, or dealing with life so maturely. I’m proud to be a woman when I’m around her. She means a lot to me.

A few weeks ago, Anuradha said to me: “dude – I’m so grateful for how tough my parents raised me. They made me strong by holding me to intense standards.”

I reflected on that. It was true – Anuradha had always dealt with things in an inspiring way. She was the true definition of caring, empathetic, but didn’t give a hoot what people thought about her.

It struck me that she and I both shared the same Indian background and came to Canada at about the same age.

I asked her, “Did you feel bullied growing up?”

“Yeah, but who hasn’t?” she shrugged. “To be honest, I was teased pretty badly about how hairy I am, but that just made me stronger.”

She recounted how, many times, when boys teased her about her moustache, she threw it back at them, saying they were just jealous.

“How could they not be? I’m so f***king hairy, I used to measure the length of my hairs.”

I gasp. Mirth filled my body and tears filled my eyes as I almost died laughing. “Me too!” I said.

“Our land is fertile. By that I mean, our pores grow hair amazingly well.” she said, killing me further.

After several hairy girl confessions and jokes, I looked at her. I had never once found her less than absolutely gorgeous. I pictured her whole body being so hairy that things got caught in the strands.

I pictured that her body hair got all matted and gnarly. Did I think she was ugly?

After many more ridiculous jokes that made everyone around us uncomfortable, I felt a bit in awe. I knew the age old sayings and mantras about accepting oneself and ignoring everyone’s opinions, but I never felt strong enough to do it. The fact that Anuradha was able to do so with such ease showed me that she had the guts to withstand emotion and learn lessons during the hard times.

Instead of hiding in the sand, avoiding emotions, lashing out or trying to change to please everyone else, she stood strong. I can see this trait, this history of reacting this way to problems has shaped her into the beautiful woman she is today.

Since then, my friend’s radical self-acceptance has inspired me to judge myself less. And especially about the hairy part. I got good hair, brows, lashes due to these hairy ass genetics. It’s all good.

How do you write an honest, authentic, complete biography of yourself?

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A small foreword: I’ve been tasked to write an autobiography a lot, lately. I found that it’s rather difficult to write about yourself without sounding boring, self-obsessed or inauthentic. It’s important to me that any autobiography or description I write needs to be realistic, authentic and interesting. Here, I’ve written out a short autobiography that I hope accomplishes my goal.

I am an up-and-coming PR and communications professional. I was born in Chennai, India in March.  I lived in three countries before I moved to Canada with my family.

As it is often with immigrant children, things were difficult in elementary and high school. I was bullied by my peers and it was difficult to find my tribe. I spent many hours of recess and lunch reading my books and listening to music alone. This affected my mental health severely, as I was naturally a very outgoing child.

Then, I found musical theatre. This changed my life by improving my confidence and through meeting similarly-spirited peers. I made friends, earned good grades and was able to regain happiness and joy.

In 2010 I graduated from high school and started a business program at Ryerson University, majoring in marketing management.

The program was decent and taught me a lot, but paled in comparison to an experience I undertook in my third year: an exchange semester in Lille, France. The semester further bolstered my confidence, as it was the first time I lived independently. I was able to practice my French and enjoyed the experience overall.

Upon graduating, I found a job in a sales company. At first, the job seemed fantastic: in a very fancy building downtown, with a great pay and sophisticated colleagues. However, it turned out to be a toxic working environment where employment essentially bullied employees to make as much profit as possible with little regard to ethical considerations. After spending close to two years in the role and making a lot of money, I quit the job and started working at a nonprofit as a program assistant.

It was this role, which consisted of assisting six social workers with their elderly clients that made me realize I enjoy working in this sector. The role encompassed a lot of aspects of communications and internal relations, which I performed well in. I had always been interested in the public relations and communications space, and so decided to apply for Seneca’s Public Relations, Corporate Communications program. When I was offered the role, I was delighted to accept.

I am currently in the second semester of the program and enjoying it tremendously.  I hope to learn and achieve a lot more before the completion of the program. I live in Rouge Hill with my parents.

Things I learned from Stand-Up

Lessons from Stand Up
As many of you probably know, in Summer 2016, I decided to join a Second City stand-up class. I’ve always loved watching comedy and felt this was a real exciting challenge.

I’d done a lot of improv and enjoyed it tremendously, so it shouldn’t be too different…right?

I was wrong.

The thing about stand up is that it is like 180 degree shift from improv – it’s prepared material told on stage by yourself to an audience that may or may not ‘get’ you right from the beginning. With improv, there’s an element of team spirit, the ability to switch gears if things aren’t working for the audience and the chance to ‘tap out’ if need be. It’s also not as much of a memory game.
Outside of learning that it is a more challenging endeavour than I expected, I also learned some other life lessons. Of course! I’d like to share some with you…
I owe Russel Peters an apology

When I first heard of Russel Peters, I was amazed by the guy – hysterically funny, pushing the envelope and an Indo-Canadian like me. I hadn’t heard the kind of racial, racy jokes he made and found him edgy and fresh.

Then I started to really dislike him. He kept making those same Indian jokes over and over, and it started to sound cheesy. He relied too strongly on the fact he was a Desi, and when he started starring in awful films like 2011’s Happy New year, I told everyone I could that the man had sold out, that all he does is make Indian jokes and bank on the Indian accent and that if he was really funny – he would not need to make race-based jokes at all.

Since then, many comics since then have been making race-based jokes and I have judged them as well.
After my first experience in stand up though, I’ve definitely had to take back some of them fightin’ words…because guess what? The grand majority of my jokes were race-based!

They came out of the wazoo and seemed to write themselves. The fact is, things like race form a huge part of who we are, and it’s the easiest and most relatable thing out there for many of us. When I was writing my jokes, these seemed to ‘need’ to come out. I made loving fun of my aunt and dad’s accents, spoke about racism from Indians and even broached ancient Indian religion.

While I still believe Russell could, by now, just chill on the race jokes, I totally get where him and all other comics are coming from when they make racial jokes – it’s a familiar and authentic place to pull from, and as long as it’s not hateful, it’s perfectly a-ok.

 

 Ride, don’t hide from, the awkward waves
When my jokes weren’t going over well with the audience, like maybe they didn’t laugh much at the parts I’d been banking on, my nerves went all over the place.

I wanted to hide, so I’d speed my speech and nervously laugh and try my best to move on too quickly.
However, after watching that clip it becomes apparent to me that if I’d just ridden the wave of awkwardness it would have been much better.
I’ve seen plenty of comics do this – they make a joke and it doesn’t hit well with the audience, then they just stand there with their hands on their hips and a wry expression, and maybe elaborate on the joke a little. Somehow their confidence in their own awkwardness ends up winning a ton of points.

It’s a lesson for life – the more we can ride the waves of unpleasantness, the better off we’ll all be.

 

You’re not that slick
I’ll be the first to admit that when watching this clip, there is a bit of a cringe factor.

The jokes are pretty mediocre and like I mentioned before, my nervous laughter and inability to handle silence is pretty off-putting.
What’s worse, though, is the three or four times I peek at my hand quickly, as if I believe no one can see me.
It’s like that Friends scene, where Joey performs his magic trick for his friends, and :

Joey: All right, all right, all right, all right, all right, you really wanna know how I did it, I’ll show ya. When you handed me back the card, what you didn’t see was, I looked at it so fast that it was invisible to the naked eye. (picks up a card and quickly looks at it) I just did it. (does it again) I just did it, again. Here, I’ll slow it down so that you guys can see it. (looks and the card in slow motion)

Clearly, I had written some of my material on my hand in an effort not to forget my jokes. Unfortunately, though, this didn’t really help me. I should’ve realized it’s far better for me to just go with the flow and say whatever jokes I remember. Relying on my hand made my memory actually worse in the end. It also looked silly as well, because it was so darn obvious to anyone who had eyes.

These are just a few of the lessons I learned from this experience overall – the last one being try some new things!!! You’ll learn so much more about yourself.

 

Welcome to my Personal Hell

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In response to the promise I made to myself to do more enriching things in my life, I signed up for a workshop in something I was mildly interested in. It was located at a cool agency in the city and was designed to give a high-level overview of the topic at hand, and an opportunity to network with like-minded folk. I signed up with the goal to meet new people, learn something new and just be in a new environment.

After work, which wrapped up at around 5:30, I was speaking to a coworker/good friend and decided to grab a coffee and a chat. By the end of the day I’m usually so wired, tired, emotionally and physically zapped that I’m a delight to be around. Not. But this friend loves me, so we grabbed a coffee and chatted, whilst I kept an eye on the clock so as not to be late.

But even though I was making a good effort not to be late, I found myself running down towards King Street, then grabbing a streetcar.  Triumph!

Until I saw the streetcar battling the rush hour traffic. Then, something happened, something extremely toxic, yet extremely common. Something in my brain and body was revolting against me…

I became severely anxious. Sweating, with my heart beat racing, I thought:

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