Drinking from a fire hose.

Today is my one year anniversary since joining Element AI and “drinking from a fire hose” is the only expression I feel accurately describes my incredible ride over the last 365 days. Element AI was born as 8 people in October 2016, grew to around 60 when I joined last May and has now exploded to just under 300 outstanding individuals located in 5 offices across 4 countries. At a mere 18 months of age, the sun already never sets on Element AI. It is both a bit mind-boggling and simply outstanding; I am so grateful to be a contributing member of this audacious venture.

Intense personal growth is definitely the theme for me over this past year. Scaling at lightning speed means responsibilities increase even as one stands still; this is simultaneously exhilarating and destabilizing. Moments of high-flying confidence on one task can be followed by racking self-doubt on another. Achieving incredible team victories and surviving painful personal failures can happen on the same day or within the same week and are part of the learning curve. The polarity or volume of emotions experienced in myself and in all those around me was not something I had anticipated; a year later, I now understand this better. We all want to trust quickly and deliver reliably but the fact is that we are mostly strangers learning to work together. Even at an accelerated pace, trust takes time to build and our constantly evolving work environment with new recruits, role changes, and business reorientations makes it tricky; requiring tons of empathy and check-ins to ease frictions. As someone who prides myself on embracing ambiguity and bringing order to chaos, even I have been stretched into new territory resulting in tremendous and sometimes punishing personal and professional growth. Even at my age, I can confirm that there is still no better way to accelerate learning than falling on your face, dusting yourself off and giving it another go with hopefully a bit more wisdom than the last round. Luckily, Element AI is a safe place to test, fail and retry, that is if you can keep your ego at bay and let go of perfectionist tendencies.

I feel immense gratitude for the entirety of this experience. From the dark moments of profound insecurity and self-doubt to the liberating moments of self-assurance, where calculated risks yield moments of soaring glory. I know without an iota of a doubt that in a year, three years or ten years’ time, I will look back and view this period as extremely formative. To finally see failure as an option but to know it is not a death penalty; to continuously learn lessons in humility by confessing to not knowing the answer; and most importantly, to acknowledge that I am doing my best with the information available which means sometimes decisions need to strike a balance between facts and intuitionespecially in a fast-paced landscape like AI where much of the terrain remains uncharted.

I recently watched an incredibly grounding talk by Molly Graham, who helped scale Facebook, Quip, and the ChenZuckerberg Initiative. She outlines 9 lessons she wished she had known prior to her scaling adventures. Listening to her explain each lesson in detail brought waves of relief coupled with joy because she normalized many aspects of my seemingly unique experience at Element AI.

9 Lessons - Molly Graham

I highly recommend investing 38 minutes to watch this talk, especially if you are an employee of a rapidly scaling organization but even if you’re not, these lessons are cross-sector and everlasting.

Molly also summarizes 3 key mindset behaviours that will contribute to one’s ability to weather the changes inherent to scaling organizations. I deeply believe that the right mindset will make or break one’s performance at a startup like Element AI. As Molly mentions throughout her talk, our main job is the learn fast and to give away parts of our job as quickly as possible. There is no place for ego.

3 lessons - Molly Graham

What we all should remember

  • adding more people doesn’t make less work for you, it only enables the entire company to do more;
  • scaling may mean giving away part of your job at times, which can make you feel insecure, but it is an important skill to learn as it can make you extremely successful in fast scaling organizations;
  • letting emotions govern is a recipe to impede progress;
  • this is a cycle, as you get anxious or insecure, worry not, excitement is around the corner again as you will soon be tackling new challenges and opportunities.

For me, there is truly something magical about the shared aspiration at Element AI to build the next big tech giant, a lofty goal, I know, but one that I honestly believe we are striving to achieve. The sheer volume of brilliant talent circulating in our halls is admirable, it forces me to pinch myself almost daily. Never in my life have I had casual lunchtime conversations about algorithms that optimize drone surface distribution; the impact of style-transfer on art; how AI will completely disrupt certain industries or how explainable AI will be the path to trust. This is the magic of working at Element AI and it makes me so happy.

So on this my 1st year anniversary, I want to thank every single person at Element AI that has played a role in making my time here so wonderful. I feel truly blessed to always have beautiful minds to challenge and teach me, big hearts that keep me sane and feeling appreciated, comedians who make me laugh, gatekeepers that ensure I stay focused and caretakers who make sure I go home in a timely fashion, eat at the appropriate times and unwind at the bar on occasion. Thank you, thank you, thank you! ❤ I am grateful to each of you, and know that your actions mean more to me than you know!

Cheers to the next 365!!

And for those who want to experience this learning journey, I invite you to glance at our Careers page to get started. 

Introducing the 168 Time Budget

The fact that most of us budget money and not time has always intrigued me. Money is an elastic resource that is figuratively infinite. Time, however, is finite; we can’t make more of it, once it is gone, it is gone.

168 hours a week. That is all we have.

You, me, Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffet, Elizabeth Gilbert, Jack Ma, Malala Yousafzai and every other being on this pale blue dot has 168 hours a week to realize greatness. And even at that, the number of weeks available to us are also counting down. Time stops for no one.

So I ask you, how do you spend your time?

Prior to diving into my 168 Time Budget concept, I would like to introduce the following short story to create the right context. If you have read it before, I encourage you to re-read it now for full effect.

A teacher walks into a classroom and sets a glass jar on the table. She silently places large rocks in the jar until no more can fit. She asks the class if the jar is full and they agree it is. She says, “Really,” and pulls out a pile of small pebbles, adding them to the jar, shaking it slightly until they fill the spaces between the rocks. She asks again, “Is the jar full?” They agree. So next, she pours sand into the jar, filling the space between the pebbles and asks the question again. This time, the class is divided, some feeling that the jar is obviously full, but others are wary of another trick. Before they answer, she reaches for a pitcher of water and fills the jar to the brim, and asks, “If this jar is your life, what does this experiment show you?” A bold student replies, “No matter how busy you think you are, you can always take on more.” “That is one view,” she replies.

Then she looks out at the class making eye contact with everyone, “The rocks represent the BIG things in your life – what you will value at the end of your life – your family, your partner, your health, fulfilling your hopes and dreams. The pebbles are the other things in your life that give it meaning, like your job, your house, your hobbies, your friendships. The sand and water represent the ‘small stuff’ that fills our time, like checking social media, watching TV or running errands.”

Looking out at the class again, she asks, “Can you imagine what would happen to life if we had started with the water, the sand or the pebbles?”

Like so many, I too have let water and sand fill every crevice at many intervals in my life; not realizing that I left no time or energy for what really mattered to me. With distractions everywhere, I learned over the years to become mindful, vigilant and a fervent guardian of my time. I also started to gain an acute awareness of the elements that bring me joy. By applying traditional money budgeting techniques to time management, I now invest more of myself in things that make me happy. The time budget I created for myself is aptly named 168.

My 168 Time Budget concept is quite simple.

  1. Identify the “big rocks” that create great JOY in your life.
    • Health including sleep & exercise, family, partner, life goals, key relationships.
  2. List and prioritize the “pebbles” that add significance & meaning to your life.
    • Work including paid & volunteering, community, friends, hobbies
  3. Allocate a range of hours towards each rock & pebble totaling ~160 hours.
    • Leaving a few spare hours for sand & water is key, otherwise, the 168 budget won’t function in reality. Rigidity will derail new habit adhesion.
  4. Calculate the % of time each line item represents of 168 to check if you are indeed putting enough time towards the rocks, then the pebbles.
  5. Lastly, be kind to yourself if you derail slightly from week to week.
    • Social media, random articles or phone calls will likely steal precious minutes totaling in wasted hours but such is life.
    • Acknowledge, accept and aim to do better but most importantly, forgive yourself and move onwards and upwards!

Here is an example from my life:

  • 168 hours per week; totaling 61 320 hours in 2018.
    • 49 hours / 29% : 7hrs of sleep per night x 7 nights
    • 60 hours / 36% : 10hrs of work + 2 hrs of commute x 5 days
    • 10-20 hours / 6-12% : TEDxMontreal meetings & work
    • 8-20 hours / 5-12% : Time with partner & extended family
    • 10 hours / 6% : “Me time” to relax, read, write & let my mind wander
    • 8-12 hours / 5-7% : hanging out or speaking with friends /colleagues/ networks in person
    • 8-15 hours / 5-9% : conversing with friends online & social media
    • 3-5 hours / 2-3% : exercise (running, biking, other)
  • Cumulating in a range btwn 156 – 191 hours that ebbs & flows depending on the time of year.

The level of precision is up to you. It does not have to be granular down to the minute; the principle behind my 168 Time Budget is that it creates awareness around the time we spend (or don’t spend) on our life priorities. For those who desire precision, you can track Actual versus Budgeted time in a nifty time-tracking app on your phone but I have found this more useful as a high-level mental guide.

With finite time and finite energy during our time here, I hope my 168 idea will help you find time to invest in yourself, your dreams and your worldly ambitions. Each minute, hour and day, when channeled into purposeful actions can spark great change within us and ignite impactful change in others and the world.

So be great, be purposeful and be you, 168 hours at a time!

time flies

Accidental collisions of the human kind.

Last weekend, my closest friend Rhonda married her best friend Amit. It was a hallmark occasion in our epic friendship and my heart was bursting with joy to witness their union. I write this post in celebration of their special day.

Back in the spring, Rhon asked me to speak at her wedding. To say I was deeply touched is true, but I also felt a profound responsibility to convey the joy I felt for my friend after 20 years of monumental ups and downs in both our professional and personal lives.

Those who know me, know that I can be entertaining, witty and relatively eloquent with little preparation on various topics but few know that I tend to shy away from expressing my inner feelings and thoughts publicly. I much prefer to discuss intimate matters only with those closest to me. So to speak publicly about my love for Rhon, in conjunction with the perfectionist pressure I put on myself, I felt nervous, in the truest sense of the word. Rhon tried to reassure me on Friday by saying my speech would be great even if I winged it, and though I knew this to be true, I still desperately yearned to get it right.

Unbeknownst to many, I had written two versions which I completely hated. A core essence was just missing, they felt generic and empty. Luckily, inspiration came knocking on Friday night at 2am. I woke up with a start, got up and started typing, words flowed magically from my hands onto the keyboard. Satisfaction came after 20 minutes. I went to bed, awoke hours later, read it aloud while recording myself, got verklempt and knew I had a winner!

So in honour of Rhonda and Amit (and with their permission), I would like to share my speech in celebration of their beautiful wedding last Sunday, September 10th 2017.

_________________

“The life we all lead is a result of timing, circumstance and accidental collisions between humans. As social beings, I am often dumbfounded by the serendipitous nature of events that lead to coincidental meetings that change the course of our lives forever.

Nearly 20 years ago today, good fortune brought Rhonda and I into each other’s lives as Freshmen at McGill where we definitely Gert’s Til it Hurt. In the decades that have followed, to say we have supported one another through life’s hard knocks is to undervalue the magic and mystery of our relationship and what it means to me. We have helped one another mature into wonderfully accomplished individuals both professionally and personally; we’ve learned immensely from the school of hard knocks and as we like to say often, “this too shall pass and if it doesn’t kill us… it is making us stronger, right?”

Rhonda is undoubtedly the hardest working, clever, funny, smart and beautiful person that I am blessed to call my friend, she is the sister that I got to choose for myself. And seeing her follow the right career move to Toronto was hard but we both knew it was the right decision to turn the page on Montreal. And as life is often about accidental human collisions, her move brought Amit & Miki serendipitously into her life, in the same magical way that Charlie arrived and I can’t remember seeing her so joyful.

Over the years we have borne witness to many life events, we have travelled the world, loved hard and fallen even harder. We have been blessed with one another and an incredible circle of friends & family that help us get back up again and shine on.  And as her friend, my ultimate desire is for her to find contentment and joy in her everyday life. And I know today that she has found this in her relationship with Amit.

What I love about this couple before me is that they don’t complete each other, they didn’t have gaping holes in their spirits before the other arrived. Both of them are strong, brilliant independent people that are whole in all of their beauty and imperfections. Their coming together just compliments each other. It’s incredible how their shared light shines brighter than the mere combination of two stars into one.

In a lifetime there are magic moments that get burned into our memories and my fondest one is a moment of pure joy emanating from Rhon as we drove with windows down, high above Santorini’s volcanic coastlines. As I hugged the curves of the narrow road in our little stick shift rental car, she had her arms extended out of the window facing the sea and she just bellowed out WHEEEEEEE so spontaneously, gleefully and free, over and over into the great expanse, all while the sunlight danced on her smiling face. I honestly don’t remember a moment where I have seen Rhonda as happy. That is until I saw her with you, Amit.

Rhonda, I am overcome with joy to see you so content, full of life and just plain happy. Thank you Amit for giving Rhonda lots of WHEEEE moments to date and also in all your future years together. I am grateful for you, and love you for bringing such joy to my dear friend, who means the absolute world to me.

So to conclude, I would like to ask you all to join me in celebrating Rhonda & Amit with the most joyful WHEEEE that we can all muster because as we have all lived through many dark moments, these moments of light and love must be celebrated.

So let us raise our glasses and on the count of 3, let us shout out WHEEEE to celebrate the happy couple.

1…2….3….WHEEEEEEE”

_________________

Thank you Rhonda for being my pillar of strength over the last 20 years and for decades to come. I feel blessed to walk down the road of life with you by my side, because as we both know, it is the journey that counts, not the destination.

I am eternally grateful for the accidental collisions of the human kind that brought you into my life and for the serendipitous collisions that brought Charlie, Amit & Miki into yours. I am so happy for you both. Mazel tov!

I love you.

The End of an Era.

The theme of this year’s TED conference was The Future You. Its relevance was striking as I flew home from sharing a mind-expanding week in NYC with my beloved TEDx tribe. Over the course of TEDFest, during the moments between powerful talks, I was overcome with profound gratitude mixed with a deep sadness as I prepared to start my last week at Loto-Québec.

It has been one hell of a ride these last 8 years at La Société des Casinos du Québec. Never would I have anticipated that my “rebound boyfriend” job, after Maple Leaf Foods, would have been as formative and instructive for my career. All the positions I’ve held over these years have “under promised, over delivered” on teachings; gifting me with an empowering hands-on education second to none. And though I still have much to learn, I have matured, developed and grown significantly for which I am grateful.

The weeks since announcing my departure have given me some of the most humbling and rewarding moments in my life. I have been flooded by intensely touching stories in person, by phone, social media and email. Each story shares at its core, the desire to convey to me what our relationship and interactions meant to them. The stories are deep, personal and filled with such love and gratitude – I have laughed, cried and hugged with such intensity these past weeks that my soul feels filled to the brim, overflowing with gratitude for each person’s desire to share such vulnerable stories about us with me.

It has been difficult to put my finger on the emotions coursing through me. Yet, after crying during an epic TED session on refugees, it finally dawned on me what was causing me to stumble emotionally. To my surprise, the predominant emotion gripping me was grief. It’s as if I needed to fully appreciate and mourn the end of my career at Loto-Quebec before being able to turn the page. Once I knew this to be true, I spent a lot of time alone despite the bustle, reminiscing on all the good and bad times to get closure.

Ironically, all the expressions of gratitude I received and was able to convey to employees and colleagues felt oddly like being lucky enough to attend my own funeral.

The most touching and recurring themes from my staff have been their appreciation for my unwavering belief in their capacity to achieve greatness; how my vision for them often exceeded their own expectations of what they could accomplish. Many thanked me for investing everything I could to help them succeed; from defending them in sticky situations, to impromptu coffee breaks or late night chats on how to improve their attack strategies, presentations skills or political agility. Others wanted me to know that I had given them the confidence and desire they needed to excel – they trusted my judgement and had faith that perhaps I saw something in them that they didn’t see… just yet.

During the time I spent pondering my impact on others and vice-versa, a question began to haunt me. I started to ask myself how we got to the point where many of us no longer feel that people have our backs or are truly on our team, cheering and supporting us. Why has this become rare? Why have so many of us stopped championing for others? We all know a rising tide lifts all boats, yet why is the behaviour of doing all we can to uplift our fellow colleagues rarer than we’d like? This has got to change and I hope in a small way, my passage at the SCQ will leave that legacy. My hope is that we all pay this forward, uplifting each other to achieve great feats with the pride of knowing we did it together.

“If I accept you as you are, I will make you worse; however, if I treat you as though you are what you are capable of becoming, I help you become that.”

          ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I will now conclude with some words to my dear soon-to-be ex-colleagues:

‘It was an honour and a privilege to work alongside each of you. And though my chapter at Loto-Québec is coming to a close, I hope to start a new page with you soon.

For my outstanding teams – Thank you for the hard work, good fun, honest discussions and debates. I will miss our 1:1 and open-area chats the most. Over the years, we have witnessed each other grow and I look forward to seeing your progress continue. Know that I invested in each of you not because I was your manager but because I believed in your potential. This belief does not stop just because we no longer work together. You are still your incredible YOU! As always, you can count on me to bounce ideas or strategies with you, don’t hesitate to reach out.

To my teams, collaborators and leadership teams – Thank you for granting me the liberty to try new, sometimes kooky ideas and for generously tweaking, supporting and launching many of them. It has been an incredible journey balancing two levels of politics in a turbulent sea of public opinion while optimizing a ‘vice’ entertainment experience that provides essential public services. Building product management and other parts of the organization from scratch would never have been possible if not for the outstanding caliber of your individual contributions.

Above all, I feel blessed to have worked with such a passionate and dedicated bunch! Thank you all and most notably, to my manager Charles.

Charles, you were my lighthouse during many stormy seas, we made a great one-two-punch. I am grateful for all your coaching and championing; gifts I intend to pay forward.’

So it has been a blast folks, thank you for the side-splitting laughter, the head-scratching casse-têtes, the hard knocks and especially the opportunity to share a slice of our lives together over the last 8 years. I wish you all the best and look forward to writing a new page with you as I start my next chapter…

u can fly

Zero Inbox: Stop the Yo-Yo diet.

Current email weight: 700+ unread

Goal email weight: Zero

Attack plan:

1. Educate ourselves on how to eat email better – consume all forms of advicetips & tricks on how to better manage out the junk to focus on more quality email.

2. Create a realistic plan with SMART principles to achieve and maintain goal email weight, which we equate to being more effective.

3. Execute plan.

Simple. Right?

Wrong. Something always tends to go horribly wrong in Step 3. We oscillate painfully between our current and goal email weights until the Yo-Yo diet is in full effect. With this comes the volatile emotions of celebration, pride, disappoint, and guilt. Ultimately this exerts a toll on our self-esteem.

So why do we do this?

Because zero feels so sweet – as desirable an idea as fitting back into “that” pair of old jeans.

But, zero is a short lived state. It is a temporary illusion of control. It is not comfortable. The waistline is tight and just one excess email can cause the zipper to strain or even the button to burst. Either way, the fabric is cutting into your skin. But here you are, at ZERO.

Bravo! You’re a Zero 😛

But not for long. You barely have enough time to boast to others about having achieved this elusive goal and presto you are no longer there. And so the Yo-Yo efforts continue.

We need to KILL the idea of THE ZERO INBOX.

emailzeroninja

This unrealistic goal is as toxic as the svelte models on covers of GQ and Vogue. It causes us to invest profound amounts of time and energy towards binge purging, extreme filing and often an overdose on automatic filters and rules. None of which are healthy.

I invite you to stop the Yo-Yo email diet and to set a more realistic email goal for yourself, one that will stop the email anorexia or bulimia we inevitably end up doing to ourselves to attain and maintain Zero. But first ask yourself if that goal is even all that important? Are we saving lives with our emails? I hope not. And if there is a do-or-die situation, I encourage you to call or text me. Immediately. Avoiding the email cemetery altogether.

So here goes take two…

Current email weight: 700+ unread

Goal email weight: <150 unread with all urgent emails processed.

Lastly, I am now going to find that old pair of jeans and donate them. I will also chuck all my Vogue magazines. No use in holding a goal over myself that is no longer relevant, realistic or even mine to begin with. Life is simply too short for this bullshit.

Have a wonderful day.

My Past, Present & Future Selves

For months I have been juggling a staggering multitude of projects, initiatives, and travel – at a level more than my usual hectic rhythm – to my own dismay, a couple weeks ago, I danced dangerously near the edge of my personal limits.

Even though many friends and acquaintances often remark that they have no idea how I do all that I do, I often feel that I am still just not doing enough. That somehow, I must do more, better, faster. It struck me today that my life goal of helping others succeed is merely the replacement of my previous quest for perfection. *Crap* And to think I was so proud to let go of perfection. It now seems I have just swapped one endless mission for another. So here I am again, back at Square damn One, hopelessly chasing down yet another horizon – I am bummed, to say the least.

So what does it look like this time around? My new mission is to help and uplift as many people as I can. Though impossible to attain fully, it is much more altruistic than perfection – which was just about me and my ego. Helping people is much more seductive and harder to limit due to the possibility of so many positive impacts. It makes letting go of perfection seem easy (and god knows that wasn’t easy). Reducing my efforts to help others is difficult because now there are faces and names to the things I can’t accomplish or fit into my schedule – perfection only impacted me. I must admit that helping and uplifting others gives me and my ego a boost, so it is a win-win scenario… when balanced. However, as someone with an “all or nothing” personality type, I often prioritize others’ needs to the point where I become blind, losing sight of my own voice and needs. This is the dark ugly side of my desire to help others succeed. Can you hear the pendulum literally smack the side wall of the clock? I need to remind myself that “overdoing it is just as ineffective as underdoing it” as said in this HBR article. I am learning. Albeit slowly.

Recently, I confided in a friend that the “present me” has to give the “future me” a break. Mainly because I realized that my “past me” was the culprit responsible for my over-scheduled life. He told me to tell PresentKaty that FutureKaty needs a favour. That way PresentKaty can still follow her tendency to put others first.

At first, I found his response witty, funny even, but when I started to contemplate the truth behind his simple reframed statement – his reply really hit home. I started to think about how seldom I practice what I preach with regards to putting time aside for oneself to think. To breathe. To reflect.

I often tell those who come to me overwhelmed or exhausted that it is not for naught that the emergency oxygen instructions on an airplane tell you to put your mask on first before helping anyone else. Can you imagine trying to help 3 children and passing out after helping the second one? Not cool. Yet strangely, I do not apply this to my own life. I know intrinsically that I can help more people by taking care of myself but my twisted ego wants to prove that I am unlike others, that I am special and can save not just the 3 children but the whole damn plane without the mask – this belief is a lie and it is hurting me.

It is pushing me past my limits too often. This lie feeds the second lie my ego tells me which is that by continuing to do more, my capacity will increase, that it’ll stretch almost infinitely. This is a sexy lie for someone like me who wants to be better all the time. Together these lies made it so that a couple of weeks ago, I hit a wall. Luckily, not the burn-out wall but it was the closest I had ever been. Like circling the sun, I got too close and singed my eyelashes. That close encounter scared the shit out of me – I have since recoiled and am taking stock.

So in order to start helping my future self live a happier and more balanced life, I have decided to write an instructional letter to my present self (the one in charge of the controls). I hope it will inspire you too to write a letter to your Present Self; one that your Future Self will ultimately be grateful for.

So here goes….

My dearest PresentKaty,

Please learn to say No more often. You need to think more about FutureKaty’s well-being. You know how awful it is when she is exhausted, tired, running on fumes from 7am until midnight and not seeing the people she loves nearly as much as she would like. I know it will be hard to turn down many of the incredible opportunities that will inevitably cross your path in line with your desire to help people succeed; but you need to rebuild your strength, rediscover your own voice, and integrate pleasure and your needs back into the curriculum. Know that it is not selfish to do this, so please go ahead and prioritize yourself more and tell your ego that you are not always going to be stronger, better, faster or more nimble than others. This is a lie that isn’t even worth measuring yourself against. It is ok to not always do everything under the sky for others – they too are strong and will figure shit out. Have faith in them, they will succeed.

You also need to stop putting so much weight and pressure on yourself regarding what you can contribute to the world. You are enough, you DO enough and even if you did a little less for others, it will still be awesome! So please take care when scheduling stuff for FutureKaty, make sure there is pleasure and space for her to relax and enjoy life – it really is too damn short for so much stress, and hell, you did not go through 49 sessions of chemo to be sitting here like this now did you? Let go. It’ll be ok. I promise.

With love and gratitude, 

Soon-to-be-PastKaty

P.s. Stop telling people that you don’t have a life besides Work & TEDx. You do. Please put in place a task selection criteria that asks “Does Katy want to do this for Katy?” and when the answer is yes, say YES!! and do it!

chletterfrompastself

Kindling the flames of epic friendships

Last Saturday night I spent the evening catching up with old friends and was struck by the beauty of friendships that span decades. I have personally enjoyed the pleasurable company of 3 extraordinary ladies for just over half my life journey. Since 1998, we have borne witness to each other’s lives. From trips abroad, nights on the town, new jobs, weddings, sickness, disappointments, heartbreak and even the birth of a beautiful baby girl who is now almost a woman – we have shared our lives openly and unapologetically over the years; with care and support radiating from a place of love.

Laced with life’s ups and downs, our friendship has evolved, stretched and repaired itself like a beautiful spider’s web – it’s resilience has enabled us to capture magical moments and bridge many of the obstacles that life sends our way. At times, the strength from our bond has helped me cross the darkest of valleys when I had no strength of my own to continue.

When I step back, I marvel at the serendipitous circumstances that brought us together during very different life milestones. Luck led us to work at the same retail store –reasons varied from a part-time stint while in university, to a full-time career in retail, and as a stepping stone during a brief career break – it is unlikely that any of us foresaw the creation of such a random, positive and long-term comradery back then. The uniqueness of our friendship lies in how incredibly distinct each of us are, all with careers in industries miles apart; to passions, lifestyles and friend networks that overlap but slightly. Yet the ties that bind us stem from our shared values –a thirst for living a life of kindness, generosity and love fueled by endless curiosity and self-discovery – and ultimately a desire to laugh and celebrate joy in our lives.

As we continue to grow older and life runs its course through habits and routines, I invite you to step back and marvel at the delicate yet resilient friendships born long ago, the ones you yearn to rekindle or maintain more often. I welcome you to look at them from a fresh angle, one where the light reveals the sparkle hidden in that old spider’s silk, which until perceived differently, had blended into the background, completely transparent. Perhaps it is time for us to see the beauty in what we may take for granted to always be there.

I encourage you to reach out to your beloved old friends – those with whom you’ve shared significant life milestones – those who have drifted, not due to a lack of commonality but due to a lack of action on both sides. Because life moves quickly and we sometimes lose grasp of important connections when our hands get too full.

The truth is that it will always be harder to connect with friends in different circles, life stages, time zones and industries. Why? Because it requires more effort and coordination. Because there are no happenstance occasions to bump into one another at the cafeteria, daycare or local park – it requires planning. But with just the tiniest bit of planning and desire to step out of our routines, we can choose to deepen these longstanding relationships with just one surgically-precise scheduled dinner. One that will reconnect and strengthen the strands of friendship so that the revitalized web can continue capturing new memories for us to cherish over a lifetime. There is great joy to come from reviving these relationships, I urge you to fight the divergence borne from inaction in order to rediscover the joy of each other’s company.

In 2018, we will be celebrating 20 years of friendship and our web is certainly more beautiful now than yesteryear. I am eternally grateful for the circumstances that brought these lovely dynamos into my life and enthusiastically look forward to our next 20 years together!

Cheers ladies!! Love you to bits!

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Mental rumble-strips. Using the past and the future to stay in the present.

Since returning from paradise, I am slowly re-plugging myself back into the Matrix of everyday life. Fortunately, the Tico magic still lingers, continuing to gift me with profound reflections this week. Akin to fruit ripening after being picked from a tree, many ideas planted during my time in Costa Rica are slowly taking shape. One such idea is the notion of emotions being guideposts to keep our state of mind on the path of joy and contentment. Let me elaborate.

Most of us know that living in the present moment is a tremendous source of joy. The tricky part has always been how to keep the wandering mind in the present. Therein lies the rub.

Let us start by analyzing the moments when we are not joyful. Often it is when we are worried about the future or looking back into our past.  All the mental energy we spend wishing this or that had happened differently or thinking about the future generates stress. And we all know stress is a joy killer.

Since stress is a joy killer, and being present is a way to counter stress, then finding ways to keep us consciously present will connect us to more joy and happiness. “Wonderful!” you say, but how can I be more present? The answer lies in self-awareness. In our ability to catch ourselves mentally drifting.

In addition to experiencing emotions mentally and physically, they can be used as powerful indicators, showing us the state of our mind. When we can ‘step out’ of the emotion itself, we come into meta awareness, which is the difference between being angry and realizing that we are feeling angry. With this awareness, certain emotions can be used as the ‘painted lane lines’ on our happiness highway, helping us to drive within the lane of joy more easily.

On the lane’s left shoulder lies feelings of anger, resentment, inequity, guilt, remorse and regret – these are all emotions generated when the mind thinks about the past. When we mull over the would-have, should-have, could-haves, our minds have veered off the lane of the present onto the shoulder of the past. On the right shoulder are feelings of worry, anxiety, apprehension and fear – these emotions are signs that we are thinking about the future. We contemplate scenarios of which 99.9% will never occur, we roam the land of what-ifs, exploring all possible outcomes – successes and failures – with failures getting the lion’s share of our attention. Whenever we feel uncertain or nervous, this is a sign that we have drifted off the lane of the present, onto the shoulder of the future. And unless you have installed rumble-strips to warn you that you’ve drifted to the left or the right – the past or the future – you will have no awareness cues to get you back on track.

So with this knowledge, let’s install some mental rumble-strips. Let’s use emotions as cues to help us realize that we have veered off the lane of joy. The next time you feel the emotional suites of the past (anger, regret, remorse) or the future (anxiety, fear, worry), take action, grab your steering wheel and bring your mind back into the present, back into the center of the happiness lane.

Using these emotions as guideposts means we understand that the Present lives delicately between the Past and the Future. So don’t sit idly by letting time turn your tomorrows into yesterdays. Make sure you spend quality time on the smooth road of today because life has enough twists and turns in and of itself, that you don’t need to be driving on the bumpy shoulders of the past or the future until the end of days. You deserve to drive in the happiness lane for as much of the journey as possible. And hopefully installing these emotional rumble-strips will increase the amount of joy during the ride!

PastPresentFuture

 

Snap. Click. Capturing the moment.

Point, shoot. Snap, click.

I love pictures. I take hundreds if not thousands of them. I even pay for cloud storage so they can automatically upload themselves from my devices. Yet, in my desire to capture the moment, I have come to realize how often I unconsciously cut short the magic of the moment itself in order to snap a picture, or two or five…

While in Costa Rica, the irony of pictures really struck me. In wanting to create a memory for my future self to look back on, I actually step out of glory of the present moment. Funny, yet true.

This habit is even more apparent when I travel. I see tourists exert incredible effort or expense to arrive at a prime spot, pose for the perfect shot, to then leave immediately afterwards. It’s as if obtaining picture proof became the primary goal over the enjoyment of the experience itself.

Could it be that in our hyper-connected culture, the quest for likes has distracted us from living fully in every moment? Is instant gratification now all about achieving the ultimate great pic for others to acknowledge? Luckily no, we can all consciously take actions to keep this tendency at bay and strive for balance.

So the next time you are at an awesome place, I invite you to kick it old school and take some mental pictures. Savour the moment through your five senses. Taste the air, feel the sensation of the sun on your skin, hold your loved one tight. All without being in front of or behind a lens.

And then leave with the memory of it all captured in your mind.

…but if this sounds a little extreme, here are some baby steps for a happy medium.

First, savour the moment wholeheartedly, then create your digital memories after. Since most of our favourite memories are driven by emotions, taking the time to cherish the greatness of the experience will increase the quality of your pictures when you look back at them in the future.

So cheers to us living fully in each moment. And cheers to us capturing it on camera after experiencing the glorious emotions generated by being fully present.

And with this awareness, cheers to us snapping to our heart’s content.

Roxilla - Playa Hermosa - April 2016

Roxilla and I enjoyed a beautiful sunset walk at Playa Hermosa in Costa Rica. After the ride, she jumped wholeheartedly into our selfie session, pushing her way into the camera 😛 , I loved it. Then we walked into the ocean together. It was magical and hilarious.

 

Costa Rica – Living in the moment

This is my third trip to Costa Rica in 3 consecutive years. As a world traveler who loves to see new places, my numerous returns are a testament to the beauty and splendor of this place. The tico magic has cast its spell on me and I am smitten.

One word: Nature. It is everywhere. Even waltzing across my screen as I type these words and nibbling on the crumbs I’ve left on the table next to me. The sounds of life, without the city, of birds, insects, trees, waterfalls and monkeys. And the lush visions of green everywhere I can see.

When I am here, I live in the present moment. Every minute is now, every second too. Time slows down so I can appreciate every flap of a bird’s wings and marvel at ants marching down trees. I watch clouds stumble over the peak of Arenal Volcano as they make their way across the glorious sky, backlit by the orange embers of the setting sun. And in this moment, I am grateful to be alive, to partake in these beautiful interactions with nature.

I depart Arenal and La Fortuna tomorrow and make way to Montezuma by way of a small plane from San José to Tambor. I am excited to return to Anamaya, a place where I feel at peace with myself and nature. I’ve missed their Costa Rican coffee with coconut milk and the incredible view of the ocean off their yoga deck. My home sweet home away from home ❤

Rio de la Fortuna Waterfall

Me at the foot of the Rio de la Fortuna Waterfall after 500+ steps down (and back up 🙂 )

Dust 201: My return to Burning Man


Burning Man Tickets & Vehicle Pass – Check!

Flights to Reno – Check!

Hotels in Reno – Check!

Dust bunny buddies – Check & all accounted for!

Anticipation & Enthusiasm – Totally Unchecked 🙂


 

The manic Main Sale for Burning Man tickets this past Wednesday turned me into a lucky lottery winner when I got the chance to purchase 2 entrance tickets and a vehicle pass to this coveted experience. With 70 000 registered buyers for 30 000 tickets and 10 000 vehicle passes, Burning Man 2016’s main sale wrapped up in just over 30 minutes, leaving many Burners out in the dust.

It was surreal, intense and exhilarating to be online with my Burning Man tribe from Duane’s Whirld and my mini-tribe of TEDxers as we live updated each other on our waiting line progress. When the clock struck noon PST, a little walking man on a progress bar became the guardian to our fates. Watching him inch slowly across the screen with his green progress trail was agonizing. I had my PC, my Macbook Air and my iPhone all entered in the race. All that was missing was the voice of a racetrack crier announcing which “horse” was in the lead. My iPhone crossed the finish line first, with my Mac at half way and my PC at a dismal quarter way there. So content was I to spend $980USD, almost $1400CDN to buy my entrance into Davinci’s Workshop, Burning Man’s theme for 2016.

With tickets in hand, I am proud to say that I took care of my flights and hotels in & out of Reno today, leaving nothing to chance in matters I can control. Last year, I participated in the frenzy of the Man burn on Saturday night and departed the morning after. As a contrast in 2016, I am looking forward to experiencing the solemnness of the Temple burn on Sunday prior to departing with the exodus on Labour Day Monday. It will be a proper close to what I am sure will be an incredible week of exploration and pure amazement, I already can’t wait to go home!

For those who want to embark on this adventure, I invite you to check out the STEP and OMG ticket sales dates to roll the dice for remaining tickets.

If you are a first-timer or just plain curious as to what it’s all about and what it takes to survive 10 days on the “Playa” in BlackRock City, please refer to the amazing prep material provided by the Burning Man Organization.

Last year, the BM Survival Guide was the ultimate reference for me, it prepared me psychologically before I stepped foot onto the Playa. Although, nothing can really adequately prepare you for your first BM experience, it does do a great job despite there really being no words to capture all that is Burning Man. You just have to be there and live it to truly understand its beauty and mystery.

It’s going to be awesome folks, I can feel it in my bones! I look forward to seeing y’all on the Playa in August/September 2016!


Burning Man Tickets