A few weeks ago while in South Africa on holiday, every time I passed by a bookstore I stopped to check if they had a copy of “We’re Going to Need More Wine” by Gabrielle Union. But from Johannesburg to Cape Town, the book was sold out. And so, as soon as I was back in Canada, I wasted no time trying to find a copy of it in my local library.
The book did not disappoint. Union describes the relentless advocacy needed when you are trying to support children of colour through the school system, gives advice to get over heartbreak, explores why Hollywood is so white, is honest about the power differentials that arise when you have a different income from your partner, describes the pain of miscarriage, talks about importance of investing in people and curating gatherings that matter, shares why you need to find your voice, value yourself, and be brave, and urges her readers to recognize that comparison and tearing people down does nothing for you in addition to many other topics. Overall, Union covers a lot of ground in this book, and reading it felt like spending a weekend or several hours with a wise, honest friend who is not going to hold back in her advice. I loved it.
What stuck with me the most from this book however, is Union’s reflections on career. Over the past two years, I’ve spoken to hundreds of students about building a career of meaningful work, and for me, this book was a reminder that when it comes to finding work as a person of colour, your experiences are not determined solely by what your resume looks like or how good your networking skills are. How employers make space for you and respond to you plays a role in your employment experiences too. And so, given that the average career book does not offer advice on how to navigate the job market as a racialized person, here are five take-aways from the book to help you both navigate the world of work as a racialized person or a co-conspirator trying to support the career journeys of others.
Hurrah for public libraries
What does it mean to not be a mother? Who does such a life look like? This question lies at the heart of Sheila Heti’s extraordinary, deeply intimate and also strange book titled “Motherhood” and published in 2018. In the first Seriously Planning podcast episode of 2019, I share six reflections and take-aways I took from this book.
Democracy requires us to do things
Last week I was in the emergency room of my local hospital being poked and prodded with needles, having more blood drawn than I was comfortable with and hooked up to various machines as doctors tried to figure what was wrong. During those several hours, I kept thinking about Democracy Xchange 2019. I had been invited to participate in DXC19 by the Inspirit Foundation who generously supported my attendance, and I had been looking forward to the conference for weeks before my sudden emergency room stay. So a few days after that hospital visit and after one of the hardest weeks of my life, I boarded a flight to Toronto for Democracy Xchange unsure whether it was a good idea to go, but hopeful for the possibility of healing and learning through a new experience. It was an incredible weekend, and here are some of my take-aways from the conference.
November has been a full, challenging month that has left me depleted, and so this weekend my husband and I saw the Disney film “Ralph Breaks the Internet” because our time together this month has been limited. From the trailer, the film looked like a great medium for jokes about technology and the way the Internet mediates our lives. And it was. More than a funny film though, the movie was an exploration of love, friendship and work, and felt like part 2 of the Pixar film “Inside Out” because it led to conversations about being aware of our own fears and emotions as we walked home and had a post-date cup of tea. With friends I’ve been thinking and reflecting recently about how love is not ownership, and this movie echoed that theme.
Here are some of my take-aways about attachment styles, work, fulfillment and love, from “Ralph Breaks the Internet”. If you’ve seen the film, please do share yours.
Rogers Arena, October 2018 (Ellen Show0
Beyond being the voice of one of my favourite characters, Dory, I don’t follow talk-show host Ellen. She doesn’t talk about or address race or intersectionality in her work, and from what I’ve seen of her show, it’s not political. But on October 19th, Ellen came to Vancouver for a moderated discussion at the Rogers Arena, and I won tickets to hear her speak. And so I went, curious about why people would spend so much to hear a moderated conversation, and curious about the content of the conversation itself. The show itself had much to critique about it – the speakers weren’t diverse and Ellen kept speaking about visiting Africa instead of describing what she actually did, which was visit Rwanda to see its gorillas. But I had expected all of that, and so instead of being an upsetting experience, I heard something in the show I wasn’t expecting. I heard a description of Ellen’s career and the career lessons she had learnt along the way.
These are some of the career lessons I learned from Ellen during her Vancouver show:
It’s summer time and there’s no better time to find great books, support your local bookstore and open up your bookshelf to authors you wouldn’t normally try. Below, a haul of (some) books during a recent trip to Toronto and my thoughts of a book that is quite possibly my favourite read of all time.
Connecting. (photo cred: Matt Hanns Schroeter)
Over the past few years Ramadan has been in the summer months, and every year, I feel nervous before the month begins. A few days before the month begins I ask myself, “Is it possible to go through the long summer days and fast”? And every year, as soon as the month begins, tranquility descends. The temperature drops, clouds roll in and provide shade and something that didn’t seem possible to do feels doable and full of mercy.
The power of performance (Hari Kondabolu, The Neptune Theatre, December 2017)
In an interview, it is impossible to anticipate every possible question you will be asked. You can prepare by thinking of possible questions and practice ways to structure your answers, but even with the best preparation, you still need to be comfortable with uncertainty. Without that comfort, it can be difficult to access your creativity and thinking skills at a time when they matter a lot.
Investing in your skills is one way to practice. But when I speak with students in advising appointments or in workshops, learning to be confident in unfamiliar situations is a recurring theme in our conversations. And because of the frequency of these conversations, I’ve been curious recently about how to become more flexible and confident in interview situations. To learn more, I recently went to an improv class for people of colour hosted by the incredible and welcoming Blind Tiger Comedy.
I don’t like change, and to be at ease, I need to know exactly what is going to happen so that I can plan for it. In other words, uncertainty is my least favourite thing. Improv on the other hand, is all about working with the unexpected and creating something meaningful, so taking this class (something miles outside of my comfort zone) was the best way I could think of to simulate what an interview situation might feel like.
Here are some of the things I learned through the class:
Jay-Z (Vancouver, Dec 2017)
A few weeks ago Jay-Z came to Vancouver to perform for his new album 4:44. I’ve never really listened to his music, but my husband is a fan, and so off we went for my first stadium concert experience.
As I was sitting in the audience trying to figure out what was going on (despite trying my hardest I just could not decipher any of the songs), what came to mind was appointments I’ve had with students to prepare for interviews. Often the students I see have researched the company they are applying to and have read tips on how to conduct a good interview, but when we practice questions like “why are you the best person for the job?” or “why are you special?”, a lot of people freeze up. It doesn’t feel natural to claim that they are better than other candidates or that they are unique. They themselves aren’t sure whether they are the best person for that job. This feeling or conviction makes it difficult to answer the question with confidence.
Sunflowers rise with the sun (August 2017)
How do you move in the direction of your dreams? And how do you actually discover your dreams? Though those questions are the topic of many a cheesy self-help book (*judging from the spines of book at the library), they are also questions that are important. To help develop my skills in supporting others and myself in answering these questions, at the end of November 2017, I spent three days in an appreciative inquiry and appreciative coaching course. It was fantastic. I’m always hesitant that courses will be not inclusive/not diverse but this course surprised me and surpassed my expectations.
This is not an exhaustive list, but here are some of the things that I learnt during that three-day experience: