Guess Who’s Baaaccckkk?! #LongestShortStoryEver

Oh hey there, world! It’s been a while! (Like, quite a few years… yikes! But I promise I’m going to be a more diligent and attentive blogger!)

Things sure have changed over the years, eh? In my case, for example, I accomplished quite a few things.

Firstly, I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Guelph. I worked my butt off to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Bio-Resource Management (majoring in Equine Studies– basically, everything to do with horses!). I made some friends, wrote cool things (such as this article I originally wrote for my school newspaper, this post I originally created for my Agriculture Communications course, and most importantly, this university-published newsletter I wrote!), learned fascinating things, and found new interests.

Then I applied for a Master’s degree in a new Communications and Journalism program at the University of Western Ontario– which I didn’t get into, unfortunately. Apparently, for the first year, the program only accepted 30-40 students (I can’t remember the specific number), and there were more than 100 applicants. But hey, nothing lights a fire under your butt more effectively than failure and fear of the unknown! So I applied for entry into Centennial College’s Public Relations and Corporate Communications post-graduate program, (and got in, might I add!) and whipped my communications skills into shape. Ten months of intense practical skills development, 14 courses, hearing the words “Project Fusion” about 3 trillion more times than I wanted to, multiple events, and one awesome placement in a local hospital’s public affairs department (which included writing one of the best and most heartfelt pieces I’ve ever created) later, and I officially “graduated” with a post-graduate certificate in all things communications and public relations-y!

And during this whole stint as a student, I also worked for a transit company (see my initial post about it here) as a student bus driver. Fun times! (Well, the crazy irregular shifts aren’t fun, but I made enough money to pay tuition for both my entire undergraduate degree and my post-graduate certificate.. so, pros and cons, my friends!)… I also eventually re-applied to be a regular part-time driver while I looked for work in my field, and have been doing that ever since.

Fast forward to today… and things are still a bit of the same. I’m still a part-time driver, and I’m still looking for an entry-level position in communications/ public relations.

You’re probably wondering why I’m still looking for work, a year after completing my post-grad program. Am I a terrible writer? Why aren’t employers interested in hiring me? Am I useless? Am I a horrible person? Do my cover letters and resume suck that bad? What have I been doing to actually find a job?

Horribly negative thoughts, I know, but they pose valid concerns nonetheless. The truth is, it’s a mixture of settling, complacency, lack of motivation, and depression/rejection.

  1. I settled (a bit). I am paid quite well to do what I do at my part-time job. It’s not a glamorous job, nor is it entirely mentally stimulating (I like puzzles, and no offense to transit drivers everywhere, but driving circles while picking people up and helping them get places is definitely no Sudoku puzzle). But nonetheless, bus driving pays the bills, keeps me connected to my community, and gives me a schedule that I can usually fit my life around. (It changes every two or so months though, which is both a good and bad thing… let it never be said that bus driving doesn’t teach one to be adaptable!)
  2. I became complacent in my application efforts. I am extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to still live with my parents, and before I went back to bus driving, I was even lucky enough to not have to pay rent or buy groceries, etc. My parents were trying to help give me the time to spend looking for a job, and for that I’m forever thankful. But when you’re trying to put out 3-8 job applications a day, and all the postings you look at are asking for the same qualities/skills/etc., you start to repeat yourself over and over and over and– well, you get the point. And after a while, you’re just hammering out cover letters without any personality or creativity– which for people looking for positions in communications/PR, is not a good thing. You need to demonstrate your skill with words in both a technical and creative sense… and I just wasn’t anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I know for a fact that my cover letters were technically correct (spelling, grammar, sentence structure, etc.; I had multiple writing wizards look over my work just to be safe, and I became best friends with all my Canadian Press style writing guidebooks), but they lacked a human voice, a personality. Or maybe they didn’t lack those qualities at all, but maybe they were just missing my voice, my personality. Maybe my cover letters just depicted me as a desperate job seeker who didn’t care enough to personalize my ‘monologue’ (if you will). Maybe they went into way too much detail about my resume when they should have talked about my skills/abilities and the STARs that would demonstrate them, which are things you don’t usually have room to expand on in your resume. Or maybe my cover letters were just way too long and not always keyword-saturated (I always kept them at one page in length, but boy oh boy did I ever go to town with the margins! I even ended up putting my cover letter in Adobe InDesign so I could change the tracking and kerning, play with the fonts, and adjust spacing more intricately). In short, a robot could have written these cover letters I was putting together.
  3. Job hunting is a full-time job in itself. You spend so many hours each day crafting your cover letters, tweaking your resume to fit the job posting, attempting to find out who the hiring manager is, and so on. And when you’re not job hunting, you feel guilty that you aren’t, which just ruins whatever non- job hunting activity you’re doing. You start to really hate having to spend so much of your day on it, and you start to procrastinate. And since I didn’t have the impending threats of bills and debt hanging over my head (thank you Mom and Dad!), I didn’t necessarily feel as much pressure to find a meantime job as, say, someone who’s about to get kicked out of their home because they are four months behind on rent, or someone who doesn’t have enough money to buy groceries for the week. The pressure was there of course, but it wasn’t quite as life-threatening as other situations I could have found myself in.
  4. Finally, rejection and depression are pretty much part and parcel with the whole job hunting thing. Obviously, only one person will ultimately be given the job out of tens, hundreds or even thousands of applicants. But when you’re given maybe three or so chances (re: interviews) out of fifty applications to prove that you’re the right candidate for the job… well, it’s disheartening. I know I’m a great writer. I know I’m quite awesome at using Adobe’s Creative Suite. I know I’m social media savvy. I know I’m a passionate storyteller! And I know I have the right attributes to make me just the independent but collaborative, engaging, caring, savvy creator these employers were looking for. But I’m apparently also susceptible to the crushing heartbreak that comes with nobody even replying to my applications. After a while, the depression sets in. I don’t think it’s necessarily clinical depression I experienced, but I sure wasn’t feeling sunshine and rainbows and all the other positive emotions I naturally exude.

So about four months into the job search, I realized I couldn’t continue with this path I was on. It was unhealthy and unproductive. My methods weren’t working, and I had nothing to show for my efforts. So I got back in with the whole bus driving gig.

Which is roughly around the time that things took a turn.

As it turns out, one of my awesome professors at Centennial College actually recommended me for a position at a great company that was looking for a social media person (Thanks Laurie!). I also got a few calls from interested employers, looking to set up interviews. There were issues with these opportunities, and mainly those issues were on my end. Firstly, that was also around the time when personal stuff was happening. Additionally, I had just recently started driving part-time, and I didn’t feel it appropriate to just up and quit within a few weeks/months of being hired. I know there’s a lot of time and money put into hiring someone, and all that would have been a huge waste of resources if I had just quit right after being hired… So my moral compass wasn’t pointing me in the direction of these opportunities. Also, these opportunities were located a bit too far away from home for me to make any of them work with what was happening in my life at the time. The one my professor recommended me for was on the west side of Toronto, and it would have cost me more in time and money to commute from my little city an hour east of Toronto than I could afford at the time. The other opportunities were actually in places I would have to move to (such as Barrie, Kitchener, etc.), and because of the aforementioned reasons, I wasn’t ready/willing to make the permanent move to a relatively far away place. (In case you were wondering, I applied to jobs in far away places in Ontario because at the time of sending in those applications, which were a good three to fours months before I got the calls, I was in a position where I could just up and leave.)

All in all, I just couldn’t justify pursuing any of those opportunities, and knew that if I wasn’t actually willing to commit to any of them, there wasn’t any point in continuing on in the application processes, and it wouldn’t be fair to those companies either. So, I backed out and continued to work part-time as a bus driver. Just my luck, eh? I go for months with no opportunities coming my way, and then just when I get something going, a bunch more pop up! It gave new meaning to ‘all or nothing’ for me.

Come March 2017, I decided it was time to get back in the game. I was in a position to make some big changes if I needed to for a job, and I felt that an acceptable period of time had passed since I got hired, so I felt okay with the idea of leaving my current job to pursue new avenues in my career. I learned from my mistakes from the first time around, and worked at writing better, more convincing and engaging covering letters. I even showed what I wrote for one application to TD Bank to a friend who works in HR; she was blown away by it, commenting how she could really sense how passionate I was about the organization’s work in my covering letter (FYI, true story about my love for TD Bank. I’ve wanted to work for TD since I was 16, when I started to really notice how much effort they put into their environment-oriented corporate social responsibility initiatives. I even did a huge group project on it with some awesome classmates, which might I add, we totally nailed!).

I applied to various branches of the Ontario government (mainly Ontario Parks, OMAFRA, etc.). I applied to organizations that run children’s camps. I submitted my application to Ubisoft (it was for an employee engagement position, a subject that I’m ridiculously super passionate about and would just love to base my entire communications career around!). I tried to get in with multiple universities (Guelph, York, U of Toronto, Ryerson, and so many more), and even at Centennial College in the Sports and Recreation department as a Sports Information Officer (essentially sports marketing for college sports). And of course, I applied at one of my favourite companies of all time, Cineplex (I’m pretty sure I keep them in business by going to see pretty much every movie they show.. Yes, I know I have a problem… But come on… MOVIES! *insert heart-eyes emoji here*).

I also knew that I had so much to learn still, which is why I applied for intern positions too. I’m not above doing what others would consider menial tasks, and I wholeheartedly believe in starting from the bottom so you can fully understand how to be successful at the top (after all, a huge part of your job as a manager/director/etc. is to help those in different levels of your organization do their jobs effectively, something you can’t help them do if you don’t understand exactly what it is they do or what challenges they face). I applied for internships at car companies like BMW and Audi (everyone likes shiny new cars, but these automotive companies have special places in my heart), and PR firms like Edelman, where I knew I would be getting the education of a lifetime. I got so excited for every opportunity I applied for, putting my heart and soul into each letter, doing my best to convey that I am passionate, excited, competent, talented, and ready to take on the challenge that these organizations offered in the jobs they were looking to fill. So many amazing opportunities!

And I didn’t hear back from a single one. (Actually, that’s not true. I got an automated message from BMW once saying that one of the intern positions I applied for had been filled.)

It’s one thing to not put much effort in and not get any response. It’s another to get nothing back when you’ve put your entire self out there, in the most creative ways you can think of, using your network to make connections and even just meet new people who can tell you what it’s like working for a company you’re interested in doing amazing things with. I understand that it isn’t companies’ jobs to cushion the blow of rejection for their unsuccessful applicants, but it would have been nice to hear back from one of them telling me why I wasn’t even considered. How can I get better and become a more viable candidate if I don’t know what I can do to be better? (And before you suggest that I do some self-help learning, I’ve been taking Liz Ryan’s words to heart, and have recently purchased her book!)

And so the cycle started again.

I lost some of my motivation in the face of all this blatant rejection, yet again. It’s hard to feel motivated when you don’t even feel like you exist in the career field you want to spend the rest of your life in. (Why won’t you let me love you, darn it?!) And with these feelings come the doubts, the lackluster moods, the apathy. And the panic. Am I even capable of doing the kind of work I’m interested in? Am I aiming too high for positions I’m not ready or qualified for? Am I going to have to be a bus driver for the rest of my life?

Thankfully, that last thought has figuratively reignited the fire under my butt. Kudos to all bus drivers out there, because you are all saints, and so funny and calm and sassy. But I can’t be, and I don’t want to be, a bus driver for the rest of my life, and I am going to do what I can to make sure of it.

Then a part-time dispatch position opened up at work. It’s a weekend gig, only 16 hours a week (with some opportunity to take more shifts during the week if I wanted), but it would be a step in the right direction for me. Firstly, it’s an office job, so I would be developing my office job-related skills (as opposed to my current position, where I pretty much only get to do some minor problem-solving and providing superior customer service. Yes, I know those are important skills to have, but connecting bus driving with comms jobs can be a bit of a stretch). Secondly, since it’s a weekend position (and we’re only allowed to hold one position at a time at the Region), I’d be free to have a regular 9 a.m. — 5 p.m. job during the week!

So I applied for the position, did all the testing (so much Excel, in which I am actually fairly competent!), and had the interview.

I didn’t get that position either, but it could have been for a number of reasons, such as seniority (something that is often the deciding factor where I work), sucking at the interview (hopefully that wasn’t the case, but I try not to over-analyze my interviews), not being as fast at data entry as my competitor(s), etc. I don’t know exactly what lost me the job, but I was told that my overall scoring was not very far off from the person who got the job. At least I was considered for the position, and tried my best. I’m a little dejected that I wasn’t awarded the opportunity, but there’s something satisfying about knowing that while you didn’t get the job, you did all you could and you put your in your best effort at the time. Okay, so the better competitor got the job. If the opportunity comes up again, I’m definitely going to try for it again, but I also know that there are things I can do to improve my application for next time, and you can bet that I’ll be doing those things in the meantime.

It’s also hard to see my friends and classmates succeeding where I’m not (way to go, Dion! I knew you’d get the job, you will totally rock it!), but I know that I just need to continue working at my own job hunt, and try not to compare myself to them either. We all have different journeys, and trying to mold mine to fit another’s path is not going to work.

So, to the figurative fire waiting to be lit under my butt: here’s your official notice– get crackling!

In the meantime, I’ve got things in the works. I’m working on a side project for a friend, I’m going to get back into trying my hand at 99designs again, and there are a few hobbies that I’ve decided to jump back into with newfound interest. I’m also going to up my photography game, seeing as I absolutely adore being a photographer and am always looking at things with a photographer’s eye. And of course, I’m going to continue with personal blogging. It gives me an outlet to voice my thoughts while also honing and testing my writing skills, and is a means of connecting with the world around me.

I’m choosing to look at my life up to this point as an adventure… Because we all know the best stories always include adversity! Nobody wants to hear about Jillian, the woman who did things that were easy and was given opportunities that she didn’t earn and never faced obstacles. Nope, in the end, I want people to want to hear about Jillian, the (figuratively speaking) Dragon Slayer and Challenge Obliterator! (Or something like that. I may pursue the pirate’s life, or be the next Doctor‘s Companion. We’ll see how life plays out.) So stay tuned, friends! I’m sure something interesting will be coming along soon.

Also, side note: After writing this post, man do I feel inspired! See, I knew blogging was good for something. #ToBeContinued


How To Write A Blog Worth Reading

So you want to write a blog.

Perhaps you feel a burning passion to express your views about important topics. Or, perhaps Facebook posts and 140-character-long tweets just aren’t cutting it for you. Whatever your reasons, you’ve made the decision to start chronicling your thoughts, ideas, and feelings.

Here’s what to keep in mind when blogging:

Firstly, have something of substance to say. It’s wonderful that you want to express yourself, but, like listening to that annoying person who keeps talking without actually saying anything, nobody wants to read a blog that doesn’t contribute to the conversation – any conversation. If you feel that David Tennant was the best Doctor, at least explain yourself, and try to give a new perspective that makes others see the situation in a new light. Just internet-yelling “OMG! David Tennant was the best Doctor because he’s hot” makes your reader want to leave a scathing comment about yourprofound mastery of debate and your true talent for typing while holding down the Shift key, instead of wanting to continue the conversation or read any of your other blog posts ever again.

Secondly, do your research. Can you honestly take a person seriously when they can’t get their facts straight in a conversation? Probably not. Why do you think professors hate it when you use non-peer reviewed references for your papers? How could you think your readers will take you seriously when you get the facts in your blog posts wrong? Wikipedia, while not a good site to academically reference, is a great starting point. If you’re wanting to build up your blog’s reputation as a credible source of information, fact-checking is a must. In most blogging platforms (such as WordPress), you can actually reference your facts directly; when setting up your blog post, you can make a word or phrase a link to another webpage. Using page-linking, instead of making a reference list, is both visually appealing and user-friendly.

Thirdly, for the love of all that you consider holy, write clearly, concisely, and correctly! I cannot stress this enough. Think of that drunk person who’s attempting to tell a convoluted story that just doesn’t make sense, slurring and yelling at you all the while. Again, are you going to take them seriously? No dice – you’d probably rather want to record their shenanigans, prank, and laugh at them mercilessly, or get them to bother some other poor soul. You can’t understand them, the whole shouting thing makes you want to cover your ears, and it feels like they’re harassing you. Well guess what: it’s possible to do this in blog form too – if you’re not careful. Keep your paragraphs short and organized, your sentences concise and straight to the point, your characters all in the correct case (As OpPoSeD tO wRiTiNg LiKe ThIs), and your spelling accurate. There is a difference between definitely and defiantly, affect and effect, are and our, and so on. Just like you hate when people get your name wrong (“It’s Jillian, not Julian!” is basically my life story), people also hate reading words used incorrectly.

Fourthly, and probably most importantly, have some tact, respect, and empathy. The world is rife with craptacular things: war, injustice, narrow-mindedness, death, terrible drivers, the cancellation of Freaks and Geeks – you name it.  How about this: rather than being a cynical sassypants, you could put a positive spin on what you have to say instead! Try to be tactful in expressing your views; you can express yourself without attacking others. Express your frustrations, but instead of just whining about them, come up with a solution instead. Even directing your readers to organizations and movements that are working to help improve the situation is better than whining about problems but not actually doing anything about them.

And, of course, make sure to tell others about your blog! One of the biggest mistakes in blogging is forgetting to let others know about your blog. Social media is a wonderful tool, and it’s just a miracle that you, an 18+ year-old member of our generation, are proficient in tweeting, posting on Facebook, and/or Tumblring (Le gasp! You, a social media witch or wizard? Imagine that!). Start using those mad skills, and get the word out!

So go on, social butterfly that you are! Let the whole world know you’re loud and proud of your opinions! Let the world know that you will forever be a Majora’s Mask diehard fan, or that you do keep up with the Kardashians (for philosophical reasons, of course), or that we are being gouged by Big Telecom companies!

Oh, and if you could just do me a little favour, that would be great: please learn the difference between there, they’re, andtheir. It’s really not that hard!

Originally published through The Ontarion, January 2015

The Do’s And Don’ts Of Dieting

With a new year comes new, or possibly the return of old, resolutions. You might be clinically obese and need a lifestyle change, feel the need to shed a few extra pounds of fat, or just want to be healthier. Regardless, you might think “I need to start on a diet.” Whether you’re considering the Dr. Bernstein diet, the Adipose diet, the South Beach diet, a juice cleanse, or any of the countless other diets out there, here’s some things to keep in mind.

First, don’t consider any program that has the word “diet” in it. Unfortunately, the modern meaning of the word has come to refer to severely restricting the types and amounts of food a person consumes in an effort to lose or gain weight. There are a range of diet programs; the combinations are quite elaborate. One problem with these diet programs, however, is that they do not actually account for all the nutrients and energy sources our bodies need. Contrary to what the creators of these diet programs say, you do need some amount of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.

Fat molecules, among other things, provide insulation and energy, and are absolutely necessary for the body to absorb certain vitamins. Proteins are found in all cells of the body and are made of amino acids. There are nine essential amino acids that the body needs to consume because it cannot create on its own. Proteins are also needed to form blood cells, and repair cells. Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy, are major components of the genetic molecules RNA and DNA, and play key roles in the immune system and reproduction growth.

When you go on a no-fat diet, you may be losing the pounds, but you’re also going to experience energy loss and an inability to stay warm. If your goal is to lose weight or even just to become healthier, the key is moderation. Make sure you fully understand what you are consuming as well as all of the good and bad effects these foods have on your body. For example, while carbohydrates are key to maintaining good health, some types of carbs are not healthy (think cookies and pop). Other than the truly bad stuff, don’t cut out any one nutrient just because excessive amounts of it can have negative effects. Again, the key is moderation!

Next, change your understanding of the word “diet” to its original meaning – think of it as a lifestyle change. If you try to lose a lot of weight really fast, you’re going to gain it back really fast. Your body needs time to adjust to these changes, and so changes – including habit changes – need to be gradual. Because permanently losing this weight is a long process, you aren’t doing yourself any favours by starving yourself of specific nutrients; you’re going to notice the negative effects of cutting those nutrients out of your diet well before you notice the weight loss. You might as well start on the long and never-ending path to consuming the proper amount your body needs of each nutrient to properly function, rather than jumping on the week or month-long eating programs that do more harm than good.

Keep in mind that, just as you’re taking in all this energy to fuel your body, you must also expend more energy than you’re consuming to actually notice any weight loss results. When your body takes in the energy from your food, your body uses what it needs and stores the rest. The loss of weight in your body comes from using more energy than what you’re providing your body with. It’s not enough to just start eating healthier; you need to be active and exercise as well.

Realize that you are unique. Your body has specific needs that are not exactly the same as that of another person. Whatever those differences may be, your body is different than others’. Why would you treat your body the exact same way as others do? The answer is, you shouldn’t. Go see a health professional who can help you design a unique nutrition and exercise schedule that fits your needs. Take your likes and dislikes into account—if you hate asparagus with every fibre of your being, don’t expect to be feeling happy about eating healthier when you’re forcing yourself to eat said asparagus all the time.

Finally, drink lots of water. It’s amazing how beneficial water is to your body!

Originally published through The Ontarion, on January 22, 2015

You’d Be Surprised By What You Don’t Need In Your Life To Be Happy And Successful…

The 21st century world is filled with some pretty amazing technology. From the television to planes and x-rays, there have been so many exciting and helpful inventions and breakthroughs that have enriched and expanded our lives.

However, excessive use of these technologies in our lives have had negative effects. I have had much time to think about this, both from my Computers and Society class, and because I have really become involved in living a healthier life (I only have one life, after all!); I started to reflect on things in my life that have become integral in my routine, but are not necessary for me to live a happy, functional and successful life. And so far, I’ve actually compiled a lot of things! I’m only going to list some of them though.

In our class, and from further readings, I’ve noticed the main argument seems to revolve around this idea that it has to be ‘black or white’ so to speak — essentially, all technology or no technology in your life.

I personally think anyone who is arguing fully for either of these sides is being quite naive and/or narrow-minded. If you think about it, you’d realize that a large majority of our world is technology-based, and many people do not know how to live without technology to make things easier. As well, a large majority of jobs are very technology- based. By taking away technology from our lives, we would be severely limiting ourselves (at first.. it may take a few decades, to figure out how to live fully on the land). However, we need those people out there who live by the land, to keep ourselves alive. Farmers are a prime (and most arguably, the main) example of this.

So what I suggest, is, like in all aspects of our lives, that we do everything in moderation. Technology has made so many things in our lives easier, better, and safer, but technology doesn’t need to rule our lives. Here are some of my suggestions, and reasons why I think we should follow them.

1. Stop being such good friends with restaurants and corner stores, and start getting to know your friendly neighbourhood grocery stores.

Did you know that most of the time, you can make that $15 meal at Wendy’s or Eastside Mario’s for less than half that price (and you get more, with less calories!) if you were to purchase all the ingredients from a grocery store, and made it yourself? Did you also know that the price you pay for the fast food could get you double the amount of food you’re getting from a grocery store? Crazy, I know.

I’m not saying that you should completely forgo that delicious plate of fries (gravy, ketchup, and a tiny bit of pepper sounds pretty good, right?) for the rest of your life, but honestly, those fries are not doing anything for you. Even your colon and stomach don’t really appreciate that kind of ‘nourishment’, as it’s really hard for your body to do anything with the food. However, you could limit yourself to one ‘quick meal’ or snack a week. Both your wallet and your body will appreciate this.

And not only does limiting your junk/fast food intake help your body be healthier, but you’re helping the environment by not adding to the pollution and garbage problem. Overall, you’ll feel better because you’re eating better, and you’re saving your money for the more worthwhile things, and you’re not killing the environment either. Stress levels will go down, and you will feel so much better! You’ll even feel like you have enough energy to finally get on that treadmill. Granted, you’ll most likely have to put in some time clipping coupons or scouring the newspaper inserts for good grocery deals, but it’s all worth it!

2. Legs are made for walking and standing on. You surprisingly have (up to) 2 of them… You could try walking places instead of taking a bus or a car there.

When I had my old 2000 Chevy Malibu, I spent about $45-65 a week on gas, depending on the rates. My tank would need to be filled up fully once, and given about 5-10 extra Litres during the week, especially if I was doing a bit more driving around than usual. Buses, while getting more people around than cars ever would in one trip, also burn lots of fuel each week. That’s a lot of pollution going back into the air!

Also, surprise surprise, walking is good for you! It strengthens tons of muscles, promotes nutrient flow in and out of our body’s cells, and improves our cardiovascular systems (to name a few benefits). You’ll feel good after you’ve finished your walk, both from the serotonin being secreted into your body, and from knowing you’re doing something to help you be healthy. So maybe instead of driving all the way from East Greater Toronto Area to DT Toronto, you could take the city bus to the GO Train Station, hop on a train to Toronto, and then walk the few blocks to your work. Carpooling is also a good alternative!

3. Stop focusing so much on virtual realities, and try hanging out more in your own real reality.

Video games (and I guess if we’re talking about alternate realities, books as well), are cool and interesting and exciting to explore. But focusing on other realities too much (or for intensely longer time periods) means your own reality is going to become more distorted. Sometimes this is good; you can learn a lot, and develop a totally new perspective, by other realities, and applying some learned principles from these virtual worlds to your own. But there are also many instances where fake worlds have negatively affected how you see your own world. I for example, after reading the Harry Potter books every time, feel a renewed belief in magic and the supernatural in our world. This in itself is not bad (as there is no actual proof that magic does or does not exist), but seeing as the majority of people in this world don’t come across any evidence of magic or the supernatural, I’ve noticed that I will get quite a few stares or changes in attitude towards me if I mention anything about these topics. It may be the difference between me getting a job or not, networking, etc.

We also tend to start seeing our world in more of a ‘black and white’ perspective, or start to expect to get rewards for every action we do. We may think that all people who do certain actions are evil horrible people (eg. a person who has killed another person), but there are the ‘gray areas’ too. I may have killed a person, but did I do it out of malice, or self-defense? If I do something nice for someone, they may not necessarily do something nice for me back, nor will others necessarily notice my ‘kind’ actions and give me something in return for my good deed. My cousin, who plays video games religiously (his favourites are the long Role Playing Games– RPG‘s), appears to have this distorted view of the world.

My suggestion: It’s okay to jump into other worlds occasionally, but don’t live another’s life so fully in a different reality that you forget about the wonders and intrinsic details of your own reality.

And here’s final tip for this post:

4. Try not using your dryer (and even your washer too!) as much.

The dryer is essentially drying out your clothes by removing the moisture. And, guess what? You can do this by hanging out your laundry too! And while this process may take longer, it is certainly way more energy-saving, and money-saving. My washer and dryer are in my basement along with my furnace/ Air Conditioner, so in the summer, the basement is too cold to hang dry clothes down there. We hang our laundry outside in the summer instead (sure you have to shake out the laundry to get rid of any sneaky bugs, but the pro’s far outweigh the con’s!). In the winter, when you can’t necessarily dry your clothes outside, if, like me, you have your furnace in the basement, you can hang your laundry on a clothesline, or on drying racks, and the heat combined with the dry air will quickly dry all your clothes. Use your dryer when in quick need of dry clothes, but try to save yourself the energy and money when you can.

(There’s also the added benefit of being forced to go outside and produce some Vitamin D in order to get and dry your laundry!)

Technology is supposed to supplement our lives, and make our lives richer, more successful, happier, and healthier. It is very important to evaluate the role technology has in your life, to make sure that technology is acting as your ‘wing-man’, rather than the Commander. Remember, if you take away all the technology, you can still function as a human being. But if you take away the human being from the technology, nothing happens! Technology needs us to be useful, but we don’t need technology.

This post has been re-posted here at, initially published by the same author at a different URL.  Original Posting Date: July 24, 2013

Why Everyone Should Play The Legend Of Zelda

The world is not what it used to be.

Gone are the days when the only sources of entertainment for children involved running, balls, imagination, forts, or any combination of these. Now, the main source of entertainment for children (and by children I’m referring to people up to the age of 17), and now generally people of all ages, comes from technology – video games, movies and television, cell phones and tablets, computers and the Internet (or as I like to call it, the interwebs). Now, this move from more physical to virtual entertainment can be said to have a plethora of negative effects on Homo Sapiens Sapiens. From obesity to poor sleeping habits to social and communicative interaction, technology has done a number on our species. Video games in particular get a lot of ‘flack’ for affecting people, especially children.

However, since I am also Homo Nerdus – that is, I am a nerd – I can come up with quite a few reasons for why I believe video games should be played by everyone. (At this time I’d also like to mention that I like to play and watch sports, and am an equestrian; I ride and work with horses, and I’m currently in an equine program at the University of Guelph. There are people out there who do so much more than just game their faces off during spare time!)

One game in particular that I believe everyone should play, at least once in their lives, is a game from The Legend Of Zelda series; any game from this series will work, although my favourites are The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time, The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past and The Legend Of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.

Here are four reasons why I think everyone should play The Legend Of Zelda:

4. You get intrinsic as well as extrinsic rewards.

In the Legend Of Zelda games, you have to solve increasingly difficult puzzles. Usually, these puzzles reward Link (your character) with some sort of useful prize: money, partial or full heart containers (these increase how much max health you can have), what I like to call ‘lock-and-key items’ (items that unlock another part of your quest that you couldn’t reach before; a great example is the Zora Tunic, which lets Link breathe underwater), and of course, Link’s weapons (eg. Magic Hammer, Boomerang, etc). Now, someone might say that completing/solving the puzzles purely results in extrinsic rewards. This person obviously hasn’t played any Legend Of Zelda games. I say this because getting the item from the puzzle is, to me, an expectation – a sure thing. You can’t complete the game or even go that much further in the game without getting the puzzle’s reward item. However, that satisfactory feeling of knowing that you were able to figure out how to actually solve that puzzle – now that is a great feeling (anyone who’s played Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time understands when I say that figuring out how to complete the Water Temple for the first time, without any sort of cheat sheet help, is a fairly huge accomplishment; when you’re 9 years old and you manage to figure it out, you feel like you should ask your parents to enroll you in a school for the gifted). And these aren’t all the same puzzles; moving blocks around, defeating a multitude of enemies with different attack and defense strategies, switch-flipping, and timed puzzles are just a few examples of what kinds of puzzles make up the challenges in the Zelda series. You have to look at all the possibilities, and question everything that you think is “impossible”, because often that “impossible” idea is actually the way to complete the puzzle.

“…someone might say that completing/solving the puzzles purely results in extrinsic rewards. This person obviously hasn’t played any Legend Of Zelda games.”

I recently heard a podcast about a Game Design program where the teachers implemented their own optional educational video game spanning across all 4 years of the program; it was found that the students playing the game did much better than those who didn’t participate, both grades-wise, and getting more out of their education. The game didn’t have any extrinsic rewards, by the way.

And really, what do you get out of playing a video game? You usually don’t get any money for playing the game, or a job, or snacks. You do get the satisfaction of completing the game though! You also develop a sense of self-esteem / self-worth, pride in your accomplishments, better night-time driving vision, and improved ability to multitask.

3. You Don’t Need To Be Talented In Any Way.

I love soccer. I love horseback riding. I love hockey. Can I manage to kick the ball into the air more than 75 feet? No. Can I manage to ride a horse around a course set at 4-foot jump heights without almost falling off after landing each jump? I wish. Can I play hockey (road or ice) without managing to break off the head of my stick every time? You make me laugh (ha ha ha ha!).

But can I learn to play any Zelda game (or any game for that matter) and be on the path to success within minutes of getting into the game? Definitely. And that’s not just me who’s able to do this! My mom, for example, has never really played any video games, and yet, once I introduced her to Pokemon Puzzle League, she moved up to Hard level within a half hour, and had progressed to Very Hard in a measly 15 minutes after that. I’d also like to point out at this time that my mom doesn’t feel comfortable updating the anti-virus software on the computer. This should tell you how afraid of technology she can be.

The Legend Of Zelda games have been built especially to progress with the player. If you’re just learning how to use the sword, there’s no point in teaching you the most complicated of moves right away; you would be better off learning how to jab, slash, and just generally move away from your enemies. Likewise, the puzzles start off easy and not so time-consuming at first, then progressively get more complex. The aforementioned Water Temple is placed halfway through the game to truly test your patience, make you use your brain, be careful of how you manipulate Link in the game, and start to really set the tone for the rest of the game. There’s no point in making this dungeon one of the first ones, as you would easily get discouraged.

The only thing you really do need to be able to do is read. Since there is minimal to no voice-acting (a hotly debated subject in the Zelda-verse), you have to read the text on the screen to know where to go next or what to do.

2. You Learn Some Morals.

The main driving force behind Link’s quest is to find and protect the Golden Triforce – a magical sacred relic made up of 3 golden triangles (Triforce of Wisdom, Triforce of Power, and Triforce of Courage), that can grant the wish of the person holding it. This relic is in the center of the Sacred Realm (an alternate dimension/realm), and if the person who holds it is good and pure, the Sacred Realm will prosper; an evil person holding the Golden Triforce will cause the realm to become dark and evil.

The main enemy in the Zelda series is Ganondorf – a man who best personifies the Triforce of Power, and continuously seeks to claim the Golden Triforce; his greed and evilness usually end up making the world a horrible place early on in the games, and so Link’s main goal is to thwart Ganondorf’s plans and help make the world good again. Obviously, the main moral of this story is that too much power is definitely not good for you, or the world around you – there should be an equal balance of wisdom, power, and courage.

As well, Link, the best representative of the Triforce of Courage, is always a random boy in a small village. Obviously he is always destined to have a great role in life, but he wasn’t really blessed with any special gifts that made his life easy. He wasn’t faster than the other kids, or wiser, stronger or richer – he had to work to accomplish all his achievements. The moral of his story is that with a little courage (okay, with a lot of courage), you can achieve so many great things, and you don’t even have to be special to do so. As well, Link has to do so many tasks; some of them are plausible and fun, and others are just tedious. He still had to do them all to get what he wanted and improve. For example, Link had to do so many annoying little errands for various people to acquire his ultimate sword (which is actually not necessary to beat Ocarina Of Time). On top of that, you can’t even get this amazing sword until you have beaten half of the game.

“…with a little courage… you can achieve so many great things, and you don’t even have to be special to do so.”

Another lesson learned here: you’re not going to get the greatest things (which can sometimes be the most expensive things) in life right away. Work hard, get new life experiences, be kind and helpful wherever you can, and network with as many people as you can. It will pay off in the end in some way or another.

There’s many more benefits of playing this game, but I’m going to end this post with my final reason for why I think everyone should play The Legend Of Zelda:

1. The Legend Of Zelda Games Are A Fun And Great Topic For People To Connect Over.

In general, video games are something anyone can enjoy, regardless of age, gender, education, and background. It’s just like music – you have your preferences over which genres you like to listen to, but deep down you like music as much as the next person. Nowadays it’s a bit harder to label someone as a gamer; does it count if you like to play Draw Something or Farmville? Those are both games. My mom plays Bejeweled on her iPad, and I play Pokemon Puzzle League; these two games are extremely similar. Does playing one make me a gamer, but the other doesn’t? Frankly, it shouldn’t, and doesn’t, really matter.

       The Legend Of Zelda is one of those games that everyone can appreciate – from the graphics to the storyline to the music (by the way, in 2011 there was a Legend Of Zelda 25th Anniversary concert tour to celebrate the beauty and success of the Zelda franchise). It’s something that people from very different groups can really connect over. Case and point: I know someone who hated my guts until he/she found out that we both love The Legend Of Zelda, among other things. As well, my neighbour and I, as kids, probably wouldn’t have hung out so much if we hadn’t gotten into the Zelda games together and worked through the game’s puzzles as a team (two pairs of eyes are usually always better than one pair of eyes!). So even though the series’ games are single-player Role Playing Games (RPG, if you will), they have brought many different people together.

And yes, video games are time-consuming and make you not want to do your homework, but there’s so many good things about them too.

Plus, the games are just so much fun! And who can say no to fun?


(Apparently Grumpy Cat can.)

This post has been re-posted here at, initially published by the same author at a different URL.  Original Posting Date: May 29, 2013

My Summer As A Student Bus Driver: Part One

In Spring 2013, I was lucky enough to obtain a position as a summer student bus driver for Durham Region Transit.

I like to think that I am a fairly un-distracted driver (though I admit to being a radio/ music adjuster), and a very good defensive driver in general, so in the winter of 2012, I decided to apply for the position for student bus driver and test my abilities…

After all, how hard could it be to drive a bus?

Looks easy, right?

Looks easy, right?

I could drive my own car one-handed, and often with many distractions present that I have little or no control over (unruly and silly friends for passengers being one of these distractions). I know bus drivers have a bit more on their plates, but picking up passengers and driving slightly under the speed limit shouldn’t be too hard.

Bus driver, Washington State

Bus driving has definitely changed…

I remember taking the bus all through high school and college (as early as about 7 years ago), and when I started my job, I immediately started to compare my experiences in the past on the bus to what I’ve been learning in my training as a bus driver. I also started to compare the technology (or lack thereof) in buses that I remember in the past, to today’s technological improvements. I’ve noticed many new features that are quite handy for passengers; many of the improvements positively affect accessibility, mobility, and seating. Others make necessary driver-passenger communications much clearer and simpler.

For example, over the years, ramps and the ability to make buses kneel have been added to buses, making it easier for those with wheelchairs, scooters and strollers to get on board. Furthermore, seating arrangements have been adapted so that people in wheelchairs and scooters, as well as strollers, can be safely secured to the bus, via collapsible seats and safety straps. Now transit buses have two sets of doors, which also helps the flow of human traffic on the bus move much more smoothly. There are bike racks on the front of the buses so that cyclists can hop on buses and bring their bikes with them as well:

The buses are wide (8.5 feet wide) and much longer than they used to be (transit buses in Durham Region are 40-42 feet in length), and so can fit more people.

Passengers can request the bus to be stopped at certain bus stops on the route by either pulling on a string that runs around the inner perimeter of the bus, or by pushing any of the buttons on the bar handles, instead of having to come up to the front of the bus or holler at the driver to stop. For the driver, the radio communications systems have been updated, so that drivers can change the channel to pick up different headquarters locations’ radio channels; this is useful for buses that are used at different locations. For example, a bus may be based at the Oshawa location for the winter, and only run Oshawa routes, so it wouldn’t need contact with the Ajax location’s radio channel, but then the bus might be brought over to Ajax for a few months, and wouldn’t need the Oshawa location’s channel. Additionally, inter-city buses need to communicate with the GO Buses for transfers and the like.

And, of course, bus drivers are no longer required to personally handle fare payments; there is a cash box for passengers to insert their cash payments, a slot for the paper tickets, a garbage can for transfer papers (although this is not a new technology improvement), and a ‘tap-and-go’ payment method for people with a specific payment plan (in Durham Region, we are using a system called Presto, which is also used by GO Train/GO Bus systems). Transfers are printed out with a time stamp, and are valid for 2 hours from the time stamp, in any direction; this saves time and paper, as well as avoiding confusion with transfer time validity!

Drivers too, are reaping the benefits from technology advancements. Over the years, bus drivers have developed work-related injuries from the strain of sitting for long periods of time in an uncomfortable, poorly adjusted chair and with an awkward steering wheel. Now though, these strains have been greatly reduced, and even eliminated. The seats have what’s called Lumbar Support, which involves the driver being able to adjust how much support his or her back has, what angle they sit back at in the chair, the height of the seat from the floor, and the distance from the pedals. As well, the steering wheel can be angled back towards the driver’s lap, and lowered or raised to suit the height of the driver. The drivers also use easy-to-push foot pedals for directional signaling, instead of a handle; this greatly improves how much space the driver has, as many of the bus’s controls are on either side of the wheel, and a directional signal handle would just get in the way. As well, bus drivers are constantly having to move the wheel to adjust the vehicle, use a specific handle for operating the doors, and many other actions that require both hands. (Also, the left foot isn’t doing anything else when you’re driving, so why not use all four limbs for driving?)

Buses have also been equipped with 2 mirrors on each side of the bus, to help the driver see beside the bus and slightly behind it too (this is done using convex mirrors). These convex mirrors aren’t all-seeing, unfortunately, but they really do help the driver position the bus, monitor the traffic behind them, and also monitor pedestrians, cyclists, and oncoming/leaving passengers.

Left Side Transit Bus mirror view


The braking system in buses run on air, and provide multiple advantages, especially when the driver needs to stop the heavy vehicle in an emergency. Air brakes have the service brakes (in a car, this is the regular brakes) and a spring brake (in the car this is the backup parking brake), and since air is used in the air brake system and is compressed, an air leak would not cripple the system. In the hydraulic braking system that smaller vehicles use (cars, trucks, SUV’s, etc), there is no compression, so if there is an air leak, the brakes are rendered quite useless. And since buses are so big, they can carry multiple air tanks (which are able to fill themselves with air outside) to supply the bus with air for various functions. The brakes have gotten smoother since a decade ago, although not as smooth as the brakes in cars; this is due to how the brake system works in vehicles with air brakes. While there is some graduation of how much you are pressing on the brakes, even the slightest bit of pressure is extremely noticeable to both the driver and passengers. From my own experiences in the past on the bus (and because I get intense car/motion sickness when I’m a passenger in a vehicle and the driver brakes roughly—this is my empathy shining through), I have made it my mission to provide smooth braking so others don’t suffer…. And because I don’t want to be the one who wears down the brakes too much!

There are so many sensors on buses that I can’t even count them all- sensors for the spring brakes, the service brakes, compressor governor cut-in and cut-out settings, air brake loss, fire, overheating, bike rack, windshield wipers, doors, signals, and so on. So if something is wrong with the bus, often the bus’s sensors will detect the problem before the driver can sense that something is not right (as long as all the necessary checks and tests have been completed before operating the vehicle). This is important, as bus drivers are usually not trained on advanced mechanics of buses, only rudimentary stuff such as the daily brake tests, identifying key parts, and doing a ‘circle check’ (and even then, the operator is only supposed to report the issue and check out another bus, while a mechanic works on the defective bus). And there are also so many controls on a bus that I can’t even remember them all at this point (and thankfully I don’t really have to use even half of them even semi-regularly!).

Overall, buses are pretty loaded with technology. The first time I drove a transit bus, I was pretty overwhelmed with the amount of gadgets and settings I could control, just from the dashboard alone.

And from evaluating other bus drivers and myself during my training, I’ve come to the conclusion that a good driver really has no way of incorporating physical technology distractions such as cell phones into their driving habits, without hitting something or someone, or missing multiple stops (admittedly, the previously linked article does focus on school bus drivers, as opposed to transit bus drivers, but the idea is the same). As a bus driver, you’re just way too busy:

–          Looking ahead 15 seconds along your path/route

–          Monitoring pedestrians, vehicles, and cyclists

–          Watching out for the next bus stop

–          Maneuvering in traffic around corners and tight spaces

–          Helping customers with various questions, minding when they want to get on and off, and dealing with irate customers

–          ‘Rocking and Rolling’ in the seat to give yourself better views of your surroundings and angles in the mirrors, and to avoid your blind spots

… and that’s on a regular day in regular traffic!

I can honestly say I have a new-found respect for bus drivers (and I highly suggest that everyone else take any chance they can to try bus driving, or at least the training for bus driving! It’s surprising to see how different and challenging bus driving can be), and have noticed my driving habits and road courtesy habits have drastically changed too. I always make room for incoming buses, make sure I stay far enough behind them (and transport trucks for that matter) so that I can see the vehicle’s mirrors (which in turn means those vehicles’ drivers can see me), and have become much more patient and defensive while driving.

And overall, I find driving regular vehicles much easier now that I have learned to maneuver buses in tight areas with heavy traffic.

This post has been re-posted here at, initially published by the same author at a different URL.  Original Posting Date: June 27, 2013

Want To Adopt A Horse? Read This First

We all love the idea of having animals in our lives, and feel enraged to see animals in dangerous living conditions; we adopt these animals into our homes and lives, thinking, “anywhere else is better than their current situation” and “I could provide a better home”. But unfortunately, the large majority of adopting families have no idea of the level of commitment needed to provide a safe, and happy home for these animals. Adopting families do not understand the level of commitment required of them because it takes effort to obtain the information, and adoption organizations don’t provide a comprehensive breakdown/schedule.

Each year, Equine Guelph aims to educate the public and equine industry members on various topics. 2013, for example, has been about recognizing, treating, and preventing colic; in 2014, Equine Guelph will be launching their Equine Welfare program, targeting coaches, commercial and non-profit organizations, and medical and industry professionals to help the campaign reach as many current and future Canadian horse people as possible.

When Gayle Ecker first told me about this program, I thought, “why hasn’t this been done before?” There are so many people that want to adopt and keep horses in their backyard, but don’t realize just what horses need. Equine Guelph’s plans for yearly campaigns on important topics in the equine industry are brilliant and necessary. Gayle mentioned to me that “everyone wants to work in the horse industry, but never on the horse industry”. This is so true; there are so many issues holding the horse industry back from growing and thriving more. And the first place to start, is with education.

This post has been re-posted here at, initially published by the same author at a different URL.   Original Posting Date: December 1, 2013

Why You Should Really Think About Studying Agriculture After High-School

Money is the main reason students can’t study post-secondary education. Most summer and part-time jobs available to high-school and undergraduate students do not pay enough to cover all the costs they face each year; the average costs for an undergraduate university degree and various living expenses total over $11,000 annually. And that’s only for students who manage to find summer jobs. Fortunately there are financial aids, which are actually quite plentiful and accessible to every student. However, students don’t take the time to apply for them, often because they are not aware that these aids exist, or think that they wouldn’t qualify.

Recently, CABEF announced that this year’s graduating high school students interested in pursuing an agricultural education will have the opportunity to win $2500 in scholarship money. Still think you’re not going to be awarded enough scholarship money? My best friend applied for over 60 bursaries, grants, and scholarships for her first year of university, and received over $13,000, and also received $10,000 for her third year alone. She applied for everything she thought she would and wouldn’t qualify for; she got many of the awards because nobody else applied for the money. And because she made enough money to fully pay for her education’s tuition and living expenses, she was able to buy a new car for fourth year.

I think scholarships and other financial aids should be a main strategic part in getting more people to study agriculture. If someone told you that you could not only be pretty much guaranteed a great job out of post-secondary school if you studied agriculture, but that you would have to pay significantly less money (or any money at all) to do so than to study anything else?   It just takes effort and dedication, and organizations like CABEF make the process so rewarding.

This post has been re-posted here at, initially published by the same author at a different URL.   Original Posting Date: November 24, 2013

“Ag in Canadian Provinces” vs. “Ag in Canada”

What do you think of when someone asks, “What do you know about Agriculture in Canada”?  You’d probably respond, “British Columbia produces the most seafood”, and “Saskatchewan produces the most crops” and so on. When asked about Ag events in Canada, you might mention how the Royal Fair is Ontario’s biggest Ag event (let alone one of Canada’s), and then remark on your province’s event being the best though.

But every Canadian Ag event is a great opportunity to share ideas, knowledge, and products with the local communities and nation alike.

While researching for these blog posts, I’ve noticed a pattern: each province boasts about their production/etc statistics, and how important that particular province is crucial to the country’s success in the Ag industry. Rarely (if ever) are there details about inter-province collaborations.

I’d like to see more of provinces working together to achieve success and awareness. We should see headlines/event booths/farmers/etc: explaining how specific Saskatchewan grain and Alberta cattle farms are creating symbiotic partnerships; Ontario university students collaborating to create educational events/programs to get more Quebec youth into Ag; Agriculture Exchange Programs across all provinces, both for kids with and without Ag backgrounds.

Inter-province partnerships are key to bringing the country together to create a thriving and passionate industry. People don’t feel very motivated to aid others when they don’t have personal interest invested (a sad truth). Imagine getting, for example, Manitobans to discover cheaper, efficient ways to farm and fish in Northwest-Territories. No more focus on inter-province competition; let’s focus on helping each province contribute to the Ag industry the best they can, and celebrating these collaborative achievements.

This post has been re-posted here at, initially published by the same author at a different URL.   Original Posting Date: November 17, 2013