It’s been absolutely zonks since we featured a Successful Brit in Toronto, maybe because we’ve all been caught up in the excitement of the Pan Am Games or something.
What made you decide to choose Toronto as a city of choice? Did you plan a permanent move, or wanted to “try it for a while and see how it goes” and it turned out to be longer than planned?
My decision to move here came at a time when I was searching for “more” — more from my career, more ways to see the world, and more opportunities for myself that I knew wouldn’t be possible from my relatively small Scottish hometown.
It’s been nearly two years now and I’m excited to see what’s next!
What steps did you take to land your first Toronto job? Did the infamous “Canadian experience” hinder you in any…
I am lucky enough to be under the direction of a group of passionate, ambitious individuals who want nothing more than to see their business – and its people – excel.
I strongly believe that the first step to being successful in a business begins with having the same values and goals as those who lead. During the first few minutes of my interview, my director said: “This is not a nine to five job.” And I thought, “good.” Because that wasn’t what I wanted.
For me, work is not, and never has been, sitting in front of a computer and counting down the hours until you get to go home. In order to be good at something – really good at it – you have to believe in it. You have to believe that every single minute you spend in front of that desk is valuable and rewarding and worthwhile. It’s highly unlikely that you’re going to want to be really good at your job if you hate it.
So where do you start?
1. Don’t let negativity drag you down
One of my directors lives by a saying: “don’t let toxic people rent space in your head. Raise the rent and get them out of there.”
That person who’s complaining about having to do overtime? Ignore them. What’s so terrible about having a few extra hours to help you keep on top of your workload and a few extra dollars in your pay check the next month?
Negativity is contagious and if you let the trivial gripes and grumbles of others get to you, it can have a damaging effect on the way you feel about work – and, ultimately, yourself.
2. Surround yourself with positive people
I have at least four close colleagues across the span of my company that I know I can always count on for a positive attitude and a helpful idea.
How can you tell how those people are? They are the people who leave you feeling energised and motivated after a conversation – not worried and overwhelmed. Even at the busiest, most demanding times, those people will offer a helping hand or a fresh approach to a problem. Strive to be one of those people and they will gravitate towards you.
Do your best to keep these colleagues close – they are invaluable to your company and to you. They are going places, and you might just get to go with them if you try hard enough.
3. Be your own brand
We are the Twitter generation. But don’t let the deluge of articles about “lazy millennials” tell you otherwise – this is not a bad thing. Stop tweeting about your weekend regrets and start filling your feed with industry news, interesting articles, and occasional updates on what your company’s been doing.
On social media, we are what we post – whether we like it or not. You don’t have to censor yourself (too much) and you definitely don’t have to lose your personality – you just have to use it properly. Be engaging, responsive, and genuine; you’ll soon build a loyal following of like-minded people who are interested in communicating with you and hearing about what you do.
If you’re serious about doing this, you can use TwitWipe to erase your Twitter history (don’t let the questionable name put you off). Once you’ve done that, get yourself set up on Klout or Buffer, where you can curate relevant content and schedule your tweets to post at times when they are most likely to be noticed.
This doesn’t stop with social media, though. In “real life” conversations, be a positive ambassador for your company and yourself and you’ll soon begin to see the benefits.
4. Persevere – even when you feel like giving up
Have you ever woken up and felt like crawling back until the covers for the day? I have.
Even if you love your job, there are days every now and then when, for whatever reason, you just don’t want to drag yourself out of bed. Make a cup of coffee, get it together, and walk into the office with a smile on your face.
Being reliable and consistent helps to build trust with your colleagues and lets them know that they can count on you. With any luck, they’ll return the favour!
5. Learn how and when to say, “no”
If you are proactive in taking on additional work or are often the first employee to step forward to lead a project, others will begin to see you as the “go-to” person when they’re looking for extra help with something. This is an achievement – it means that people view you as helpful, capable, and supportive.
But there will be times when a colleague asks for your assistance with something and you’ll know that while you’d like to jump in and save the day, you already have too much on your plate.
It’s instinctive to want to help in such situations but agreeing to do so can often have an adverse effect – it isn’t worth taking time away from more pressing matters to your detriment if you can let someone else with more workload flexibility step in and be the hero.
In these circumstances, it’s best to first ask how urgent the task in question is. Can it wait until next week? If so, great! If not, now is the time to:
Explain that you don’t feel you have sufficient time to dedicate to completing the task with the care and effort it deserves
Discuss the opportunity with a trustworthy, willing colleague and suggest that he/she gets involved instead
Saying “no,” when you should will eliminate a lot of unnecessary stress and your colleagues will respect you for having the responsibility and foresight to delegate when you need to.
When we were children, our parents and teachers told us that we could be anything we wanted to be. As we grow older, we begin to realise that this isn’t entirely true – but it isn’t far off the mark.
You can be amazing – or more amazing than you already are – at what you do. It takes a lot of commitment, a lot of hard work and, if you’re anything like me, countless late-night Starbucks sessions: but you can.
And if all else fails – I’m pretty sure you can find an article on the Internet somewhere that will tell you how to be really good at being a human burrito.
I overthink every single minuscule, seemingly unimportant detail when it comes to things I care about.
I care about work, so I always strive for perfection in everything that I do. If I’m pushed for time, I fret over being unable to proofread a proposal as many times as I’d like to before I’ve turned it in – even if I know that the spelling is perfect and the concepts are sound. If I’m pitching a new, slightly “out there” idea, until I hear feedback telling me otherwise, I worry that my colleagues will think it’s unrealistic or unattainable – even if my gut tells me that it’s good and I should believe in myself.
I care about writing, so I check over blog posts, reports, and even emails several times before sending them on their way. Before I began writing this, I spent ten minutes Googling whether to use “overthink,” or “over-think.” Seriously. (Thanks, dictionary.com!)
Overthinkers often spend time and energy planning for potential problems which never come to fruition. The upshot is that once that thing you’ve been getting worked up about has passed without complication, you ask yourself, “why was I so worried about that in the first place?” – but don’t. The act of overthinking can be invaluable in business and in life if you learn how to make it work for you, not against you.
Using your tendency to overthink to prepare yourself
As someone who meticulously weighs up the possible impact and effect of every conceivable consequence before making a decision, I know that overthinking can be a burden that rests heavy in your head – especially when you are faced with tough choices. (I’m not talking about having to make a split-second decision on whether you want a vanilla latte or a caramel macchiato when you’re one person away from the front of the queue at Starbucks – you’re on your own with that one.) However, a propensity for scrupulous planning and constant balancing of “what-ifs” can work to your advantage.
Overthinkers always have a contingency plan if something goes wrong. When a potentially problematic situation arises, I am rarely left wondering, “how do I handle this?” – because I’ve already considered an infinitude of ways in which a situation could develop and thought about how I would resolve or alleviate the result of those developments to create a positive outcome.
When you find your mind frantically cycling through the pages of an imaginary flipchart titled, “Things That Could Go Wrong,” step back and take a breath. For each of the potential issues that you’ve identified, think about what you would do to counteract or eliminate them. You can even write your ideas down if it helps you to organise your thoughts.
Knowing how and when to prevent yourself from overthinking
Overthinking can be draining – particularly when the subject of your excessively analytical attentions is something which is out with your control. The problem with overthinking is that you can’t just turn it off – if you are an overthinker, you will know that it is going to take time and discipline to learn how to stop yourself from being sucked into the quicksands of senseless stress every time something has you veering into imaginary flipchart territory.
The first step is learning to realise when your overthinking has shifted from productive to pointless. I figured this out the hard way years ago after spending several sleepless nights obsessing over an impending meeting then having to quickly gulp down three double espressos beforehand to get myself through because I was so tired.
Now, when I realise that I’m beginning to become consumed by futile overthinking, I try to distract myself and use my energy in a more positive way by:
Get comfortable in a tidy room with no distractions and lose yourself in the pages of a book. Write down unfamiliar words and look up their definitions. Scribble quotations in the back of a notebook and come back to them the next time you need to settle your mind. The benefits of reading are rich and plentiful and time spent with a good book is never time wasted.
Go walking. Go jogging. Go uni-cycling, if that’s your thing. Exercise is great for forcing you to focus on one thing, and one thing alone (which for me, means concentrating on not dying in a breathless heap while running through the streets of Toronto).
It sounds counterintuitive, but opening up your laptop and working through your emails or researching information for a new project can help you to regain a sense of control and can also be beneficial to your career. You can also scope out opportunities to assist a struggling or snowed-under colleague – and that’s a situation which works out well for everyone.
And even if nothing I’ve talked about helps – the world will always have double espressos.
For the past couple of months – and I’m willing to bet that this is true for almost every Scottish person who has Facebook – my newsfeed has been overflowing with posts about the upcoming independence referendum.
We’ve seen posts about “yes,” and posts about “no,” and even posts about “maybe.”
We’ve seen posts about war, posts about bombs, posts about borders and posts about changing.
We’ve seen posts about banks, posts about jobs, posts about coins and posts about staying.
We’ve seen posts from those who want everyone to know which way they’re voting and why. We’ve seen posts from those who want to convince people to switch to the other side.
Comment sections have become platforms for discussion between “yes” and “no,” where facts are stated and links are pasted and we declare which way we’ll vote.
Debates take place on our screens and in our bars, in our offices and in our cars. The momentum travels through us and inspires us to educate ourselves about the possibilities that lie before us. A fever grips us and we are aflame with passion because we love and care for our country and its people.
In our minds, we hold our thoughts. In our hearts, we hold our hope. In our hands, we hold the power to decide our future.
This, all of this, is why I fell in love with politics. It’s why I became a member of a political party. It’s why I volunteered at local elections in my hometown.
It’s why I’m deeply disappointed that I can’t vote in the Scottish independence referendum.
I chose to pursue a chance to do the job I love in another country and although I have only been here for a year – with a short-term visa – I am deemed ineligible to vote in the referendum because I will not be living in Scotland on 18th September 2014.
I could write pages upon pages about that issue but instead I’ll say this: your vote is yours and yours alone. Respect the opinions of others but have the confidence to believe in your decision.
Ultimately, what is important is not whether you choose “yes” or “no.” It’s that you have the chance to steer your country towards the future you envision for it – and for you.
You were the person who helped me to realise that I could make a foreign country my home. I arrived fresh off the plane, anxious and excited, at an apartment which I had only seen in iPhone photos and you were there, keys and “Congratulations on Your New Home!” card in hand. That meant – means – more to me than you will ever know. You taught me that the people are always more important than the place and that is something I will always remember.
You were never just a colleague, never just someone I worked with. You were always more and you will always be more; it’s simply in your nature to be more, to give more.
You were fair, you were kind, and you were there – through everything.
You know how to motivate people to be better; how to inspire them to improve and achieve what they thought they couldn’t.
Perhaps more importantly, you know how to chug a superhuman amount of cocktails, tequila and vodka without hitting a whitey (until the next morning, anyway).
I will miss hearing you sing one line of every terrible ‘80s song in existence from your desk in our office and I will miss Friday evening cocktails that turn into Friday night shots that turn into Saturday morning hangovers and “OH MY GOD” texts accompanied by lines upon lines of “there are no words for this” emojis.
I will miss your support, your guidance and your advice even though I know that you being in a different country will not change how generous you are in offering it. I will miss you constantly reminding me that I am valuable, that I am worthwhile and that I deserve good things.
I will miss you.
But I’m not sad (although I did spend the entire evening after you left sitting on my balcony eating chocolate ice cream, drinking whisky and sobbing while staring dolefully at the sunset).
I’m not sad because I know that whatever you do next will be just as brilliant and just as wonderful as you.
Keep them in your mind and keep them in your heart. But most importantly, keep them in your contacts list so you can call them at 2.30am sobbing uncontrollably because your favourite character died in that TV show you’ve been obsessing over for the past few months (sorry, Mum).
2. Do nice things for other people.
Hold a door open for a stranger. Buy a sandwich for a homeless person. Surprise your colleagues with Monday morning coffee from that little place down the street. Doing things that make other people happy makes you happy.
3. See the funny side.
When something humiliating happens, it’s a lot easier to deal with if you can just get on board and laugh at yourself. For example:
I failed my cycling proficiency test in Primary 7 because I was concentrating too hard on riding in a straight line and I ended up running the examiner over.
While formatting a document with my new manager looking over my shoulder, I was leaning my elbow on my desk and resting my chin on my knuckles. My elbow/hand/entire arm slipped from underneath me and my face ended up having a very unfortunate and unexpected meeting with my laptop.
One lovely May morning, I was woken by the doorbell ringing. I peeked through the curtains to see who it was. It was the postman and he had a box in his hands which, I realised, was probably the birthday present I had ordered for my friend a few days earlier. I scrambled to put my dressing gown on, holding it closed with my crossed arms as I rushed to get to the door before he left. I got there on time and all was going well until I stupidly reached out to take the clipboard from him to sign for the parcel and my dressing gown fell open. It is at this point I should inform you that I had been sleeping naked.
Though embarrassing at the time, moments like these are insignificant drops in the wonderfully strange ocean of life. You’ll tell people about them and they will laugh, and you will laugh too – eventually. (Or you will smile proudly, feeling content in the knowledge that you have made an elderly postman’s day.) 4. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
It’s easy to be overly critical of your work, your choices or your body.
Everyone has woken up after a night out and thought, “I wish I hadn’t done/said/drunk that.” Everyone has left an important task until the last minute then scrambled through it, knowing that it could have been so much better if they had started it earlier instead of wasting time swiping through stories and updates senselessly. Everyone has looked in the mirror and wished that part of them was smaller or bigger or thinner or taller.
People are imperfect and prone to mistakes by nature. Our quirks, habits and eccentricities make us who we are; embrace yours and those of the people around you.
5. Stop letting the little things trip you up and drag you down.
Bad day at work? Move on. Silly fight with a friend? Forget about it. Don’t carry the weight of problems passed with you; they will bruise your heart and cloud your head.
Tomorrow is a new day and with it will come new opportunities to be better, to be kinder – to be happy.
Breaking Bad is many things. It’s funny, it’s inventive and it’s intelligent – but most of all, it is human. There are lots of reasons to love Breaking Bad. These are mine.
1. Well-placed and often visually stunning time-lapse shots.
2. Wonderfully imaginative camera angles.
3. Walt Jr.’s unshakable, unbreakable devotion to the fine art of breakfast. Boy’s bacon game is on point.
4. Badger’s profound interpretation of life and all of its complexities.
5. Every single thing that Mike Ehrmantraut says. Also, when he loses the top part of his ear in a gunfight and he just ROLLS HIS EYES because he is a badass and that’s what badasses do when they lose body parts in gunfights.
6. The fact that they’re not rocks, THEY’RE MINERALS. JESUS, MARIE.
7. The frequency and creativity with which the word “bitch” is used.
8. Those Gus Fring moments that make you want to gasp/cry/whitey.
9. Jesse and Jane’s brief and beautifully destructive relationship. You knew it was never going to end well but that didn’t stop you from sobbing uncontrollably and comfort eating for days afterwards when it did. (That wasn’t just me, was it?)
12. Walt’s harrowing transformation from struggling Chemistry teacher to legendary meth kingpin and all of the horrifyingly gripping speeches he makes along the way.
13. The terrifying ruthlessness of “the cousins” (also known as “those spooky Mexican bastards”).
14. The echoes of father and son in Walt and Jesse’s relationship and the rare vulnerable moments they share.
15. Saul. Fucking. Goodman.
16. Hank’s epoophany (sorry). This is, without doubt, television’s – nay, THE WORLD’S – most important jobby.
17. Ding ding. DINGDINGDINGDINGDINGDINGDING.
20. And, of course, this:
But the very best thing about Breaking Bad? By the final episode, Walt has betrayed, hurt and killed countless people, both innocent and guilty. We’ve seen the full extent of his greed and his cruelty in his relentless quest for power.
But still, we root for him.
We catch glimpses of the cancer-stricken Chemistry teacher desperately trying to build a future for his family. Reflections of Heisenberg slide across surfaces of lab equipment while Walt bleeds, wounded by his own gun, knowing that he has fulfilled the duty which set him down this path in the first place.
We part carrying the message that sometimes, when we want something badly enough, we let it take over. We let it seep into our veins and creep into our minds. We lose sight of ourselves; of what we believe is right and wrong.
We part wondering if Walt’s death was a way for him to atone for his sins or just another way for him to avoid capture.
We part knowing that it’s never as simple as “good” or “bad.”