Last night I ventured to the eOne headquarters at Richmond and Peter to attend a professional development evening put on by Pioneering Women: a Toronto-based organization that was originally founded to support women in the motion picture industry, and has grown to include members that span a variety of arts and media fields. It is a group that includes many women who’ve acted as important mentors in my life, and at their Best Self Forward event, I was asked to step into the role of mentor, alongside maxine bailey (formally the VP of Advancement at TIFF and founder of TIFF’s #ShareHerJourney campaign), Sandy Scholes (EVP Global Human Resources at Entertainment One) and Laura Quinn (Director of Communications at United Way Greater Toronto), wherein I had twenty-minute intervals to chat with attendees, share life experience, and problem solve together. 

It was an opportunity that allowed me to listen to about forty women share their concerns and obstacles in the workplace. Over the course of the evening, I noticed common themes: the desire to enrich one’s life (but a lack of energy and time to do so); a general feeling of malaise due to a combination of burnout and lack of upward mobility; or a frustration born from a desire to breakaway from corporate culture, but a fear of where that will land.

By the end of the night, my throat was parched from talking, and my head was consumed with thoughts. So much so, in fact, that I took a LYFT home, and upon arriving, I realized I had left my car in a parking lot. (Yes, that happened.) On the upside, my quiet trips back and forth across downtown Toronto, in the middle of the night, allotted me ample time to consider what was shared and compile the biggest career/life lessons to which I often refer.

1. Growth Happens When We Get Uncomfortable.

Change is scary, but in order to grow, we often have to get out of our comfort zones, shake up our routine, or wade into conversations that we’d otherwise procrastinate or avoid, because they elicit anxiety. In the next few weeks, do one thing that runs in the opposite direction to the current you’re used to, be it asking for that raise, finally addressing a concern with a co-worker or boss that has been keeping you up at night, forming stronger boundaries, or bringing forth a new idea that you think would provoke positive change. Once you’ve entered the unknown, stop, look around, and really take in how it feels. You may realize it isn’t as terrifying as your mind made it out to be. 

2. We are the best versions of ourselves when we practice radical self-care.

This can feel like the most overused statement of 2018, but there’s merit to it. Women have a tendency to be caregivers, putting everyone else’s needs before their own (I struggle with this all the time). When we carve out the time to properly care for ourselves—be it a fitness class, a solo adventure, or ten extra minutes in the morning of “me time” before kids wake up—it can shift our entire wellbeing. Health is paramount; without it, everything else buckles, and I’m referring to both mental health and physical health. Draw the line, with your partner or your boss, and let them know what you need in order to be the best version of yourself.

3. Figure out what fulfills you and incorporate it into your life.

Our jobs may provide stability and a certain amount of freedom, but sometimes they lack certain components that really fill us up. What is it that makes you feel good? Is it being creative? Taking adventures? Giving back to an organization you believe in? Being an active member of your community? If you can’t find it in your place of work because it doesn’t exist, build it from the ground up, or track it down somewhere else in the city. Toronto is a playground of opportunity. Whether you’re into politics, the arts, the earth, social justice, find a cause or activity that will give you what you’re not getting in your current routine.

4. Get comfy saying NO.

It’s hard. I struggle with this one daily, especially as someone who is naturally inclined to be a people pleaser. At a conference I attended recently, someone reminded me that “no” is a full sentence. Like a jigsaw puzzle, building the life you want is a constant exercise of seeing what fits, and what doesn’t. Where do you want to devote your time and energy? What is WORTH your time and energy? At certain times in our lives, we have more to give, and in other chapters, family and loved ones require more of our time, or we as individuals require more energy spent on ourselves. Keep playing with the puzzle. Practice saying no, and you’ll find your schedule will start to please you more, and you’ll also have less resentment. 

5. Get out of your bubble.

If finding time to include activities that fulfill you feels impossible, or if you’re maxed out and don’t have the energy to volunteer your time, start with small shifts that rewire your patterns. This can be as easy as taking a different route to work, populating your social media fields differently so that you begin to hear from different voices, reading a book by someone whose life is completely different to what you’ve known, or asking someone in your work building who you admire to join you for a twenty-minute coffee to find out more about their career/life. Be prepared that they may say no (see lesson #4). Then ask someone else, and don’t take it personally.

ALL OF THIS is so much easier to write than practice, but push yourself. When we move in a different direction to our usual, speak to people outside our immediate world, dare to tread into uncomfortable territory, and try new things, our perspective shifts. Doors that we didn’t even see will suddenly open. Walk through and see what happens.