Overcoming “Stranger Danger” with the Power of Conversation

“Stranger danger” is a catchy phrase coined by Keith Rollag in his 2015 book, “What To Do When You’re New”. It’s what some people experience whenever walking into a room full of strangers at a conference, event, or meet up.

Of course, there’s that nagging added pressure from your boss, reminding you to “make good connections”.

Susan Jeffers, the Guru of Fear,  was an American psychologist and in her popular 2011 book , “Feel the Fear … and Do It Anyway, she delves into the different types of fear and how to handle them.

So what’s the price you’re willing to pay by not introducing yourself to someone new who could help with information that might lead to a first job, a new job, a change in career so that you can do something passionate day in, day out?

 

And what’s the price you’re willing to pay by not walking up to someone who could be a potential mentor and shaking hands and instead you end up staying lost in a sea of indecision and quandary?

What’s the price you’re willing to pay by not meeting and greeting potential clients who could become your clients so that you can turn your business around?

That price is steep. How can the power of conversation help you connect better with someone new? “Fearless Networking: Connecting Creatively and Confidently” is our half-day professional skill-building workshop at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies and open to everyone! Learn how our “Five Hacks for Powerful Networking” can help you handle “stranger danger”.  We’ll also take a closer look at your current network and learn how to make it more effective. Why not register and jump in on a Saturday morning session – Feb 23rd or Jun 15th?  Discover and then boost your networking IQ!

The Art of Conversation – The Toronto Dream Network

Dream Network #7 – JANUARY 16, 2019 

Our groups have been averaging 6 or 7 which turns out to be our sweet spot.  We were 8 this drop-in #7.

Fun fact – 3 of us were born in Canada – Ottawa, Toronto, Moose Jaw and the rest were from Sri Lanka, S. Korea, Moldova, Iran, Pakistan!

An interesting map of all the places we discussed and

DYK …

  1. Not only is the AGO free after 6 on Wednesdays but also AGO is free for students AGO Free After Three  for youth ages 14 to 25.
  2. One of our members got his first full time professional job in Canada at OMD!
  3. We toured Singapore, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka over the holidays via slide show of  spectacular photos taken with a new Google Pixel 3 XL of family, tea plantations, food, and the Lexis Hibiscus in Port Dickson, Malaysia.
  4. New friends, a Chem rockstar from SDZ Ryerson and an Iranian Azeri now living with his roommate from my hometown Moose Jaw and working as an engineer in Vaughan. We heard a fascinating tale of true grit chasing a dream of becoming a helicopter pilot.
  5. Another member took time out from working on her Master’s in Public Health and her practicum at Baycrest Centre . Lots of talk  on how to take care of dogs, big (Ridgeback) and small (Maltese) and the most unusual and remarkable thing that dogs can learn how to do.

Introducing the new $245 m Calgary Public Library, East Village near Downtown Calgary Dec 2018

  1. Drone pilots might be the trending skill in demand.
  2. It’s been almost a year since two of our members attended my networking workshop: “Hacking the Networking Code” at U of T SCS. Renamed “Fearless Networking – Connecting Creatively & Confidently”, our next workshop is now a new half-day format on Feb 23rd from 9am to 12:30pm.
  3. Two more upcoming networking events which I’ll be facilitating:
  1. Our friendly barista at AGO Espresso Bar is a also Psychology student at York U and is  a musician who loves to help people. He traveled to Chang Rai, northern Thailand, 4 years ago and volunteered for 4 months at “New Life Foundation” a mindfulness support center set up by a Belgian entrepreneur for those who are recovering from addiction.

Thanks everyone for sharing. Our next meetup is February 27, 2019 and an invite will be out soon. Guests are most welcome.

The Power of Time – Good-bye 2018, Hello 2019

“I can buy anything I want but I can’t buy time,” Warren Buffet counsels Bill Gates. Bill was in awe of his friend of 25 years as Warren flipped through the pages of his paper calendar. There were days with absolutely nothing on it!

We fill every minute of our days, wrestling with our priorities and schedules. “Sitting and thinking may be of much higher priority than what a normal CEO has with their demands,” Bill ponders. We choose.

Those working 16- to 18- hour days may either fear job loss, financial loss, or perhaps identity loss. How do you tell them that work doesn’t define your worth? We choose.

I’ve observed some with the luxury of both time and money on their hands juggle between dipping a little further into their “deep pockets with their short arms” (their words) and holding back for fear that there won’t be enough money left so that they can live a little longer more comfortably, a paradox indeed. We choose.

Due to extreme health issues this year, close friends had to confront their mortality. Accepting this sudden loss of time has shaken us all. Incomprehensible is their presence once vibrant will now be their absence. We choose?

Doing the math (a calculation I learned from Sandra Shamas, a Canadian comedic actress) is quite sobering. Take the number of years you think you have left to live and multiply it by the number of days. As a feisty optimist, I’m staring at 10,000 days which doesn’t seem like a lot so I checked it again. Yep, that’s all, 10,000 days. So days turn into hours and into minutes and then into seconds and I am STILL I’m  short of a billion.  What can I do with 883 million seconds? Take Warren Buffet’s advice, “I better be careful with it (time).”

As the new year approaches, sit, reflect, and think. Then choose.

 

The Power of The Library

As the “Illustrator – ,  Writer – , Innovator – ,  Entrepreneur – , or Comic Artist – in – Residence” at the Toronto Public Library, we are privileged  to have and to hold a platform to help empower all library patrons from all walks of life and countries who come through our doors .

 

It’s been five years since I was the second Entrepreneur-in-Residence in the Small Business Program thanks to the good grace and kind generosity of the late Norman G. Hinton who left a large legacy for the Library in 2009. His remarkable story can be found here.

This week I was part of the audience and as I scanned the learning theatre and am reminded of the importance of our patrons’ perspective.  They are diverse and at times, our patrons come from (very) modest neighbourhoods and other times, not so modest. The entire world walks through those doors.

When did you last visit your local library? If it’s been awhile, you will be delightfully surprised to find that the Library has become a place for innovation, a place for story-telling, and a place for sharing knowledge. Branches may have a Fabrication Studio, Digital Innovation Hubs, a Writers’ Room not to mention free access to digital software, hardware, tablets, laptops, equipment such as light therapy lamps, Museum and Arts Pass, musical instruments, book printing service and so much more.

You might also notice that the Library is a safe and warm place, a sanctuary where the hinges literally have come off to facilitate open doors as reflected in the official Mission Statement and “provides free and equitable access to services which meet the changing needs of Torontonians. The Library preserves and promotes universal access to a broad range of human knowledge, experience, information and ideas in a welcoming and supportive environment.”

Having a residency or being a guest speaker at the Library is a humbling honour.

We are here to serve our patrons and be sensitive to their needs. It is their agenda we seek to help make successful and this requires a certain level of awareness, care, and compassion.

There is one thing that is not on loan from the Library and therefore, has no expiry date. When patrons leave the Library, they leave with a sense of dignity and dignity cannot be borrowed. At the Library, dignity is granted.

How Improv Can Help You Become a Better Networker

 

 

Sapphire neon tumbleweeds, 2016
Dale Chihuly (American GLASS ARTIST, b. 1941

Improv or improvisation is often thought of as comedy with quick and snappy witticisms and can be very entertaining. The Second City is “The World’s Premier School of Comedy”! Who else has alumni such as John Candy, Tina Fey, Mike Meyers, Alan Alda, Steve Carrell, Eugene Levi, Amy Poehler to name a few?

As a recent grad of “RewireU”, an intensive 2.5 day improv workshop at Second City this summer, I aspire to the next level of improv classes. And I have also made improv an integral part of our #networking workshops at University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies.

“Yes and” (The Second City mantra) here are the 5 ways that #improv can help you become a better networker:

  1.  Make friends with uncertainty and change – be comfortable with reacting in unpredictable situations.
  2.  Get clear value – gain clarity on how you perceive yourself, what you bring to the table, and how you describe what you have to offer, your “brand”, your value.
  3. Act decisively – make quick decisions and be comfortable in changing your decisions.
  4. Build self-confidence – learn to speak clearly. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Get comfortable with silence and the power of the pause.
  5. Know your physical presence – how do you stand? Where do you sit in a meeting? How do you enter a room?

Why not join us on November 3rd Saturday to learn more about “Hacking the Networking Code”? Discover how you can shift your mindset from seeing networking as a necessary evil to creating opportunities for growth and building quality relationships and an amazing network. “Yes and” click here to register now or contact Jean Chow at info@msbizwiz.com for more details.

On Boxes & Belonging

 

 

 

 

 

 

For a very long time I’ve been trying to decipher this quote by the wise Ms. Maya Angelou. 

 

Can you be in no place and every place? Looking back, I remember my first place fondly where I first belonged.

I was born in Canada in a small prairie town in Saskatchewan which from above appear as big blocks of green and pale yellow – the colours of canola and wheat.

My first home was this Hostess potato chip box. Quite ingenious of my Mom so that she could keep her eye on me as she and Dad worked in my Grandpa’s café.

Home was a small room in a boarding house near the café for a short while. I remain grateful that my parents were able to squeeze in a crib as I didn’t fancy sleeping in that chip box. But I should have known then what was in store for me several years later.

We then moved to what we all called “the BIG house” because it had to fit us all in: Mom, Dad, Sister, Brother, Uncle, Auntie, four Cousins, and Grandma and Grandpa!

After awhile each of our families moved into our own homes. And after graduating from college, my parents decided it was time for me to see the world. In other words, “You’re on your own now.” So I left where I belonged and closed the door to find a new one to open as my own.

Since then I’ve had many homes. I’m extremely fortunate to have lived and worked in, not to mention travelled to places, near and far, some exotic and exciting, some not so, some twice –

Here’s a list: apartments in Regina, Saskatoon, gated 3 bedroom row house in Lusaka, Zambia, a farm in Kemptville or I remember “UnKemptville”, more apartments in Ottawa, basement apartment in Vancouver, a gated palatial new 5 bedroom home in  Ujung Pandang, Indonesia, one room loft in Calgary, top floor of a heritage house minutes away from Lake Ontario in Oakville, and Toronto where I once lived inside my factory for 4 years when I had my food business. That one had plenty of boxes the same size as the Hostess chip-like box.

So many homes, so many places to belong, so much packing and unpacking….lots of boxes! Will I always be a newcomer … even in my own country?

Learning to belong is not easy and I’m sure you have your own stories. I believe this has something to do with what is known as “reverse culture shock”.

Lusaka, Zambia

Upon returning from working in Zambia for two years, I remember the feeling of shock and awe in a supermarket, trying to decide which toilet paper to buy – the choices seemed infinite – tough choices indeed. We only had this mossy dark green stuff in Lusaka.  Is this where I belong?

Ujung Pandang, Indonesia

Upon returning from working in Indonesia for three years, I remember the feeling of frustration, trying to find the right word in English after speaking Bahasa Indonesia for  three years. I would literally inverse the word order like coffee table to table coffee, bookstore to store book as we do in Bahasa. Is this where do I belong?

I also remember being equally frustrated if not more, in a business meeting in Jakarta, trying to find the right word in Bahasa but all I had were sentences starting with “Saya” which means “I” and sounding like a naughty kid in Kindergarten. “I am, I want, I need, I have…. Saya syndrome!

Ms Maya Angelou, what do you mean belonging no place, belonging every place, no place at all?

Finally I arrived at  my AHA moment:

Toronto, Canada

It was in June this year when I was attending as an instructor a convocation ceremony for adult learners. I  had recognized one of our Program Directors and went over to greet her. Alongside her was her guest and I extended my hand to introduce myself but she spoke first.

Her guest said, “No Ho Ma.”

I replied, “No Ho Ma, I’m Jean Chow. And I’m an instructor here.”

At this point, the Program Director jumps in and said, “Jean, we’re so lucky to have Nancy here today to help us celebrate. She’s the CEO of  a big law firm in Chicago.” Hmmm…I thought in that cloud that hovers above our heads, I’m thinking, “Nancy? Her name is Nancy?”all the while making small talk.

Still thinking in the cloud, “Of course, it is. But she said “No Ho Ma”. Oh my God. She was saying “how are you” in Cantonese to me but I can’t speak Cantonese!  I totally missed her kind attempt to connect with me.

Not only that, she probably thought I was asking her “how are you?” too when I repeated it back to her when I was actually repeating it so I could remember her name. It hadn’t occurred to me how I looked to Nancy. She assumed I spoke Cantonese.

So Ms. Maya Angelou, I think I got it!  No matter where I live and work, I truly do not belong to any place but I belong every place because I will always be “new”, always a “newcomer”, and always be arriving, adapting, and belonging.

As two distinguished members of the Order of Canada would say:

“Very few of us share the same past but most of us will share the same future.” – Rita Deverell, Citizenship Judge

“As life long learners, we are learning to be, learning to become, learning to belong.” – Dr. Bruce Kidd, Former Olympian Runner 

Remember: there’s no place like “home” because home is where the heart is.

Small Business, Big Dreams

Her first flight took her 13,400 kilometres away from her home in Chennai ten months after her wedding day. Selvi Thambimuthu landed at Lester B. Pearson International Airport, Toronto on December 4, 2004.

Three Generations

“I felt really happy to see my new husband and new country but also a little bit sad leaving my family back in Chennai. I was also very curious about snow,” she recalls.

Now thirteen+ years later, Selvi and Siva, her husband, and their three handsome sons Pragadheesh (12), Harshan (10), and Vadhanan (8), are busy getting ready to open their second restaurant franchise next week in Toronto – “Starving Artist”!

Stars Align – A Love Story

A match made by both our parents and confirmed by 4 different astrologists, Selvi and Siva were married within eighteen days of meeting one another in person for the first time in 2004. They came to know one another long distance by phone and her first thought was “he looks just like his photograph”. Strong faith in family and even stronger faith in dreams bridged the distance then and now.

Living the Dream

“Work for your dreams. It will happen whatever you dream. It will come true. You need to believe.” she repeats to her sons. “I want my sons to have their own dreams and I will support them as my parents always supported me. Education is important, first and foremost!”

She remembers how her parents set her up for success, always reading, exploring, and fuelling her curiosity about the world. At age 12, her father gave her a black radio and brought the world inside their home each night at dinnertime.

Her earliest memory of Toronto was “Everyone on the subway was reading!” She used to buy “packages of books” for her sons and read Dr. Seuss’ favourites including “Cat in the Hat” twenty to thirty times a day.

Entrepreneurship & Education in Progress

It’s not clear if “Green Eggs and Ham” set the tone as Selvi and Siva bought their first waffle restaurant franchise in 2016 and opened “Starving Artist” in Midtown Toronto. It was also the year Selvi started (and now graduated!) George Brown College’s Office Administration – Health Services two-year diploma program. And 2016 was the year Selvi’s Mom came from Chennai to help them realize their dreams.

The entrepreneurial spirit thrives in their family. Her father once owned a machine shop in Chennai. And as all entrepreneurs know, you do what it takes to make things work so they live above their restaurant which makes a whole lot of logistical sense.

Soccer Dreams

Listening to Pragadheesh talk about his passion, soccer, with his eyes shining brightly, he is like most young first generation Canadians. They are strivers, strong-willed with extraordinary grit and determination.

When his father suggested they should book their tickets for the World Cup 2026 (Canada, U.S. and Mexico will be hosting), Pragadheesh reassured his father, “Don’t worry, Dad. I’ll be playing so I’ll have tickets for everyone.”

The Next Big Dream

And what’s next you might wonder from the lady who once pushed a stroller dubbed “The Rocket” by her co-workers to get her son to school on time?

Selvi now dreams about how she will furnish their next house, a much bigger house as their home as she remembers fondly her childhood home in Chennai, 10’ x 50’, where her dreams began. And now 13,400 kms away, I have no doubt this dream will also come true. Small business, big dreams!

We Women

“It’s not like you always recall your Dad cooking for you!” – Chef Victoria Blamey, originally from Santiago, Chile, now NYC.

I sat up a little straighter in my seat as I listened and watched the women chefs in Maya Gallus’ “The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution” last Friday at Hot Docs  Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto. One by one they shared their years of dedication in pursuing and perfecting their art.

But I wondered who are they? Why don’t I remember their names like I remember the male chefs? Blame it on the media, PR, the male chefs? Or us, we women?

Women have been cooking forever. Women have been the ones that have been cooking for the chef or the man that became the chef. Usually it’s like my mom used to make this for me so ok …Women have been cooking all this time but you can’t make it to the professional side? That’s the irony of this, you know what I mean?”Chef Victoria Blamey, ready for her next adventure after Chumley’s, NYC.

“There’s a saying. Men cook for glory. Women cook for love … but as a chef, you really want to be judged on your work. Your gender has nothing to do with it.”Chef Anita Lo, 2nd generation Malaysian American, Annisa, NYC.

“I’m a chef. I don’t really attach importance to the fact woman or male chefs. We are all chefs.”Chef Anne-Sophie Pic, known for her 3 Michelin star restaurant, Maison Pic, SE France.

“I always say I wasn’t harassed because I was a woman. I was harassed because I was a human and chefs are equal opportunity ass-holes. They’ll harass anyone they see who’s weaker than them.” – Chef Amanda Cohen, owner, award-winning vegetable restaurant, Dirt Candy, NYC.

I won’t forget them now.

In NBA player San Antonio Spurs’ power forward/centre, Paul Gasol’s recent open letter about working with female coaches like Coach Becky Hammon, he sees no difference in coaching.

Growing up near Barcelona, Gasol’s father is a nurse and his mother is a doctor. “In 37 years, I can honestly say I’ve never once thought of my mom as a “female” doctor. To me, she has always just been … a doctor. And a great one, too.”

So why are we women still be pushing that same rock up the mountain forty years later? Maybe it’s time to put that rock down and just build our own damn mountain. What we need is a voice, a more united voice, a louder voice. Maya Gallus used her voice. Pau Gasol used his voice. Now is the time. Find ways to use your voice – blog, tweet, speak, share, educate, discuss. We need to care, we should care, do we care?

Wanted: New World Leaders

“Mom, when I grow up, I want to be the leader of the world,” says her four-year old daughter. “And we’ll be her advisors!”, chimed in her two older brothers. “Why not?” encouraged their mom, Tammara.

Indeed, why not? “Out of the mouths of babes” just in time to honour our moms today. Who are our young sages? Tierra (4), Kai (7), Kian (10) are our strivers and our future. They are Canadians who make us proud to be Canadian!

Tammara is one of our #Gals with Grit, a new movement launched this year on International Women’s Day to recognize newcomer professionals who are parents. We share their stories to inspire new newcomers and also leave a legacy for the next generation. You will know them as parents working sometimes at 2 jobs or running their own business while studying, or recently graduated post-secondary in Canada. They are remarkable people, everyday heroes, leaders in their communities, and also potential leaders on the world stage (if not already) as Tierra, our four-year old protégé exclaimed earlier.

We met four years ago while chatting at Eglinton Station waiting for the next train during rush hour. By then Tammara had already been to Canada, twice, the first time at age 6 years when her father did his Masters degree in Environmental Engineering at the University of Manitoba and again at 17 as a York University student. A couple of weeks later I was invited to her home for a very fine and full Indonesian lunch and met her young family – her husband and their two young sons. The “world leader” had not yet arrived. In complete awe of her amazing ability to do it all (studying for her PhD, working full-time, caring for her young family), I wondered who she really was and how she developed this remarkable fortitude, grit as we call it.

Fast forward four years, now a mom of three, with her PhD in Urban Planning, and also a Trudeau scholar, Tammara agreed to participate in our “Gals with Grit” project. Earlier this month, in our first interview, I asked her to describe for us her journey so far:

Tammara, can you please share with us some defining moments and who has made an impact in your life?

“When I was 13 years old, my parents sent me to visit my Great Aunt Irid, my maternal grandmother’s little sister. She is an accomplished public speaker. You see, I was very shy and was absolutely terrified to look her and anyone else for that matter, in the eye. My eyes were always downcast and I kept covering my face with my hands. When I was young, I was bullied and was very self conscious about my appearance, in particular, my weight. I believed someone was always judging me for one thing or another. Those few days with Great Aunt Irid helped me put my hands down and lift my head up and keep my eyes straight ahead, steady and confident.

Then my mother got a job in Winston-Salem, North Carolina so we all moved. This is where the biggest change happened in my life. I was 15 at the time.  My amazing American teachers were creative, innovative, and encouraging, which was different from the learning by rote which I was used to doing in Indonesia. I was very polite and was keen to learn, so my teachers helped me thrive and believed in me. I won the “Student of the Year” two years in a row!

I hope to inspire my students at the University of Toronto to believe in their potential,  just like my teachers inspired me.

What’s on the radar for you these days?

I wore a hijab on and off after I came to Canada. However, I decided to finally wear my head covering permanently a year after I became a Trudeau scholar in 2014. I felt more confident and less concerned about having to look a certain way to gain approval from others so my hijab felt empowering to me as a scholar. It also often sparks conversation and learning opportunities about the role of Muslim women in academia.  Now as an expert in my field, I sit at the table with CEOs and Ministers and I realized that I have opportunities to make a difference.

We need to dispel the stereotypes found in Orientalism and its monolithic framing of diverse Muslim cultures  as “ancient”, primarily middle-eastern, and “backward.” As a mother, a muslim and working professional,  I believe it is important for me to maintain a balance between the academic and spiritual aspects of my life so that my children continue to believe that women leaders are not unusual. There is no doubt in my children’s minds that a woman could indeed become world leaders.

Well, I know one four-year old who already has her eye on the job! Thanks, Tammara, for sharing your story and being a true “Gal with Grit”. Happy Mother’s Day to you and all Moms around the world!

The Power of Being a Newcomer Professional

Some see networking as a necessary evil. Having worked with newcomer professionals from all over the world, I don’t doubt they would agree – wholeheartedly. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Shifting perspective, having empathy, and being courageous goes a long way. In Daniel Pink’s 2016 convocation address to the graduates at Georgetown University, he asks them to do a simple test, drawing the letter, Capital E, on their foreheads. Not meant to be overly scientific but a quick snapshot on perspective-taking and how we see and communicate with others, take the test here.

In my networking workshops, I use two examples of how empathy can help shift perspectives for newcomer professionals. As learners living and working (hopefully) in a new cultural environment, they see themselves in a new light as they are constantly tested and face seemingly insurmountable barriers of communication.

In my first example, I set the scene by asking our learners to imagine themselves at a reception at an industry conference. Someone new approaches them and they stumble through a self-introduction. I ask, “How do you feel when this person is trying so hard to take the first step in introducing themselves?”

With our second example, I ask them, “Now how do you feel when someone asks you for help? Depending on the context, most likely, you would be open to helping them, right?”

“Now how would you feel if the situations were reversed?” I.e. how do they think the person listening to them would feel if they stumbled through a self-intro and that they were being the ones asked for help. Why would it be any different than when they were the listener?

Stories about my overseas experience working in Africa and Asia also as a newcomer professional has given me invaluable insights in relating and sharing with newcomer professionals to our country and whose English is their second/third language.

While living and working on a somewhat remote island, Sulawesi in Indonesia, all I could do was smile when I arrived, not knowing how to say “good morning”. In my first month, our project team leader sent to Yogyakarta for intensive language training, one-on-one with university students as tutors in a professional language training school, eight hours a day, and living with a home stay family for three months. I knew how it felt to speak like a kid in kindergarten when what I needed to express were concepts a bit more complex to my Indonesian staff.

Our newcomers in Canada have the added pressure of trying to find a job mid-career and maybe changing careers while providing for their families in a new country. It is a major sacrifice they have made for their future generation and is not for the faint-hearted but for the whole- smart- and brave-hearted.

What newcomer professionals bring to the workforce is untapped global talent and we would be remiss if we do not listen, engage, and be open to someone who is different from ourselves. Living in a digital age, the barriers will and are falling away more rapidly but our mindsets must also adapt and be agile enough to realize the potential and power of different points of view.

As Stephen R, Covey, the bestselling author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” wrote, “Valuing the differences is the essence of synergy – the mental, the emotional, the psychological differences between people. And the key to valuing those differences is to realize that all people see the world, not as it is, but as they are.”

Perspective, empathy, and courage are essential for powerful networking not only for newcomer professionals but also for us to connect with others and also for us to help others connect. As newcomer professionals, network, introduce yourselves, and be of service to others are the first steps in building great relationships and being a part of a kinder, wiser, and more giving global community.