Monday, December 31, 2012

On 2012

Dear 2012,

In many ways, you were an amazing year, full of blessings and discoveries. However, in just as many ways, you, 2012, were a year filled with life experiences that forced certain life lessons to be acknowledged, accepted and learned. Hopefully, for the last time.

In 2012, I fully embraced a new position in the sports communications industry. I helped put on an incredible outdoor sporting event. I didn't get to go to the London 2012 Olympic Games, but I applied to go to the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games. I made new friends, new contacts, and learned from new mentors. My life went from 200 kilometers per hour with a million items on my to-do list and lots of positive stress to a screeching halt this summer, still with a million items on my to-do list, but mostly negative stress and anxiety.

2012 was the continuation of late 2011's legacy of exciting new experiences that ended up not working out, or at least not working out nearly as close to the master plan as expected. 2012 was the year of learning who my friends really are, and, most importantly, who I really am. With so many options after this summer's change of plans, I had a tough time figuring out which path to take next. Thanks to a lot of guidance from new and old friends and colleagues, as well as lots of time spent by me, thinking about me, and what I need and want out of my life, I think I have a more or less clear view of what I need to do to live happily.

However, as 2012 taught me, no plan is ever rock solid. My volunteer teaching experience has helped me accept that, and even embrace it - Hello, tossed out lesson plans! I now know that life is no fun when it takes place exactly as expected, although I'm pretty sure everyone will agree that certain key elements make life much more satisfying when they are constant. We're talking living space, career, income, lifestyle, and love. The "big five" I've learned are most important to me in ensuring my own happiness. It should be noted, however, that income is simply on the list because of the type of world in which we live - if you can't afford to have positive experiences without constantly worrying about your banking statement, you're probably spending more time being anxious than enjoying your everyday life.

In other words, 2012 was all about teaching me about balance. What type of balance? The work-life balance, family/friends-alone time balance, eating out-eating in balance, working out-injury balance, spending-saving balance, school-work balance... And, of course, re-learning how to literally keep my balance when re-starting physiotherapy for my chronic knee issue. Hint: proprioception exercises are a pain, but they do work!

So, 2012, it's with a balanced light and heavy heart that I bid you adieu, and thank you for the lessons you taught me. Here's to a safe, entertaining celebration to mark your parting - PSA: DON'T DRINK AND DRIVE!! - and let's welcome 2013 with open arms! May the lessons learned this year be much easier to handle, and lead to much more exciting prospects! The end of 2012 certainly seems to indicate that 2013 will be a wonderful, energizing, fulfilling year, with many warm and fuzzy moments to fill my days - and hopefully yours!

Happy New Year!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

On working in #sportsbiz

The hardest thing about working in the sports industry is breaking in. There are a ton of blogs that tell that tale, so I will skip over that part of my experience. All you need to know is that I worked hard in multiple internships and contracts in the media industry, from newspapers to live sports broadcast production to earning my communications stripes through volunteer non-profit positions. The only internship I didn't do was one with a sports team, which would've been an asset, but as my other jobs put me in direct contact with team executives, I learned a fair bit about the inner workings of a sport organization through observation and interaction.

When I landed the Director of Media Relations position with the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs, I was both surprised and relieved. I was surprised not because I wasn't confident about my skills, but because I had interviewed for several sport communications positions in the past few years and never gotten that call. This position was a more senior role than those I had previously applied for, and though I knew I had rocked the interview, I still was apprehensive at my chances. But my hard work and persistence paid off, and I was hired.

Whether it was a case of "right place, right time" or simply because it was my time does not matter. I got in. Finally.

That's when I discovered the second hardest thing about working in the sports industry. The chaos and fatigue of working long days (and nights). I had known that this was the reality in this type of work - and in all media work, actually - but living it in this scenario felt different. Plus, if you're a perfectionist like me, that also means a lot of sleepless nights worrying about how to get things better organized so that you can do the best job you are able to do.

Needless to say, when I was let go in June after a tough season jam-packed with major events and new promotions, I was shocked. I felt like I was still recovering from the past season, and well on my way to setting up the next season so that it would be far less chaotic. I was also hurt and confused. I felt like I had sacrificed so much to finally get my shot at rocking the sports media world and was cut short from doing truly awesome things with the team.

I later discovered that my dismissal was but one element of a major summer restructuring plan, and that I hadn't done anything "wrong". But as anyone who has been laid off can tell you, that doesn't make you feel any better.

My world was a mess. I didn't know what I was doing and where I was going. Eventually, I found out that the remaining executives still thought I was awesome and that my work was brilliant. My work ethic was exemplary, my ideas were awesome, and my strategies and execution were innovative and exceptional. That helped to lessen the blow. But I still felt like I had been stranded on a deserted island, with food and escape routes dangling just out of my reach.

I did what any smart young adult would do. I cut my losses - and my expenses - and went back into student mode. After all, I still had a Master's thesis to write. And as anyone who has worked full-time in sport communications can tell you, I didn't really have any spare time while I was with the Bulldogs. I therefore wasn't able to meet my lofty goal of finishing my thesis while I worked.

And now, I feel like I am back at square one, struggling to get a chance to prove my worth in the sports industry. No experience is ever wasted, to be sure, and holding a senior position in a professional sport organization, however brief that experience was, will certainly help me in my next endeavor. 

But frankly, I thought we'd done this already. I thought we were finally past this point. 

But in my passion and excitement, I had forgotten that the sports industry is volatile and so much of its stability depends on the attitudes of owners, commissioners, and yes, even fans. It is unfortunate that after all these years of pro sports development, its employees are still the ones with the most to lose, especially since having a well-rounded, experienced, passionate and dedicated team of staffers is key to ensuring a team's success in failing markets. After all, you can have the best players in the league, but if no one knows they're there, who's going to buy tickets? Ads? Merchandise?

It may be true that without athletes, there is no professional sports industry. But it takes a committed core group of employees to make it successful.

And so, it's a shame that breaking in to the sports industry remains the hardest thing about working in the sports industry, even for experienced professionals. Whether you've got one year under your belt or 20 years of experience in various positions and markets, this experience has taught me that you are never safe. 

But maybe this is the hardest thing about working in the sports industry. You never can never truly be comforted that your investment is safe and will yield high returns, or any returns at all. And that's why so many of us sail our boats away from the isolated island that is pro sports, searching for more stable waters. A long, fruitful career in the sports industry - in any industry these days, really - is no longer a given, once you've proven your worth. 

And I'm starting to wonder if perhaps it's time for me to sail away as well.

Monday, May 07, 2012

On the top 5 regrets of the dying

When doing my media round-up this morning, I came across this piece in the Toronto Star discussing things to know before you die. It sounds morbid, but it's not. Instead, I found it to be inspiring. With thoughts from big names in various industries, it makes for a quick, easy read. 

But it was the first paragraph that captured my attention. Australian palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware collected the thoughts of her dying patients and shared their wisdom and life lessons in a blog called Inspiration and Chai and then in a book entitled The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying.

Here's an excerpt, from the article, with Ware's comments:

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” 
-This was the most common regret of all. 
“I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” 
-This came from every male patient I nursed. 
“I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.” 
-Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. 
“I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.” 
-Many had been so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. 
“I wish that I had let myself be happier.” 
-Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice.
Bonnie goes into more detail for each of these top five regrets on her blog's Regrets of the Dying page. It's worth reading, and a good reminder that the goal of life doesn't have to be to make tons of money and live in a huge mansion full of stuff. Indeed, life's goal might just be happiness and success that comes from within.

I look forward to picking up Bonnie's book and being inspired by the wisdom of those who have led long lives and discovered the things that matter the most.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

On inspiration

Inspiration comes from the strangest of places.

There are certain places you expect to find inspiration, of course. In a good book, for example, or at a convocation address. For some, it might be watching a particularly pretty sunset that inspires you.

Sometimes, inspiration comes from within, too, but it often needs a spark. Recently, I have been finding these sparks in unexpected places and at unexpected times. When browsing Pinterest late at night, I often come across golden nuggets that make me pause, absorb, and then wonder at the world. Or, more precisely, I wonder at the moments that led to someone coming to that realization and sharing those words of wisdom with the world.

It's true, I've been known to have my very own moments of wisdom. I usually don't feel particularly inspired while dishing out my new world advice but in the following "pause, absorb, wonder" sequence, I realize that the thoughts I didn't really think about until they so eloquently flowed out of my mouth are actually quite useful and interesting. And yes, inspiring. In that moment, I am the spark.

Today is my birthday. It's as perfect a moment as any to search for inspiration and to evaluate the path that I'm on. It is also a perfect occasion to be thankful and count my blessings. Shelter. Water. Education. Health (mostly). Peace. Friends. Family. Democracy (in theory). Financial stability. 



Yes, it's about the time of year when I ask you to take a few minutes of your time to learn about the World Partnership Walk and the great work done by Aga Khan Foundation Canada. As you may know by now, the World Partnership Walk is an annual event that raises funds and awareness to help alleviate poverty and build sustainable solutions in the poorest regions of the world. Now nearly 30 years old, the Walk has raised over $70 million for international development longterm programs and initiatives that help people help themselves, making it the largest and most successful event of its kind in Canada! Last year, almost 40,000 people walked in 10 cities across Canada to raise nearly $7 million! 

And here's the kicker. This is my favourite part. The part that continues to inspire me year after year, day after day.

100% of the funds raised by the World Partnership Walk go directly to fund international development projects. That's right! Not one cent is spent on administration. Every single dime, dollar and penny helps to fund projects that are identified and implemented by local communities, targeting the areas they find to be of greatest need. All projects touch more than one area of need, like revitalizing a rural economy, ensuring access to clean water and sanitation, strengthening community-based organizations and educating new generations of girls and women, to name but a few.

Last year, I raised just over $2,000. This year, I'm simply hoping that my passion for making the world a better place one step at a time will inspire you to fuel my spark. Make a birthday donation to the World Partnership Walk. Inspire me to keep walking the Walk, year after year. Together, we can inspire the world to walk together towards a better future.

Join me on Sunday, May 27th, 2012 for the World Partnership Walk at Metro Hall in Toronto. Meanwhile, feel free to ask me any question at all about the Walk, my experience visiting some of the projects our donations help fund, or AKFC's approach of longterm, sustainable international development that helps people help themselves.

Any amount, from $10 to $100 will make a world of change. Click here to make a donation now.

Go ahead. Inspire me.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

On reaching the 100,000 tweets #milestone

Yes, you read that right. If all goes as planned, the link to this blog post will be my 100,000th tweet. One hundred THOUSAND! Now that's a milestone!

It's incredible. I don't know how I made it this far. Sure, it helps that I started tweeting on July 15, 2007. And that I used to live-tweet many sporting and breaking news events.

I'm also known for my high rate of retweets. If something is interesting, worth reading, or worth thinking about, whether or not I agree with it, I retweet it. It helps start a conversation that would not take place otherwise. And quite honestly, I've had some amazing discussions following innocent, innocuous retweets, and not always about easy topics.

But I think that most of my tweets came from my high volume of interaction, which, after all, is the whole point of Twitter. I routinely come back to my phone after spending time tweeting from the computer to see @NailaJ has 97+ mentions.

Clearly, I must be doing something right.

To me, it's not just about sharing with others but also responding to what others share with you. The basis of humanity is interaction, and since we're all so busy with our very individualistic work/fun/food/gym/sleep life routines, Twitter is a way to break through the isolation that has now become quite a normal affair.

When I first moved to Kingston, as I told Kingston Life Magazine in my first (of many?) cover story on social media, I found a community in Twitter. I learned all about my new home, and more than many native Kingstonians, through Twitter. I made friends that will last a lifetime. I helped build Kingston into a better community (I hope!) by contributing to the discussion about and in Kingston and promoting the #ygk hashtag with the Limestone New Media Group.

When I found out that I was moving to Hamilton, the first thing I did, even before looking up apartments - and y'all know how tough that would be for a house-obsessed person like me - is looking up active and influential Twitter accounts in the area. I started making a Steeltown list before I could officially announce my move. I started tracking the #HamOnt hashtag. And once the secret was out, I immediately started following local leaders on Twitter.

It's how I came to meet so many awesome local people and visit so many awesome local businesses in less than three months. It's how I learned more about the community that I am now actively attempting to connect with, and not just for work purposes. It's how I'm slowly starting to adapt to being a Hamiltonian. And it's how I will come to understand my place in this community.

I can't wait.

Meanwhile, I will keep tweeting and keep connecting through Twitter. And one day, I will make it to 200,000 tweets. Maybe. If you keep tweeting with me.

Monday, February 13, 2012

On the 2012 AHL Outdoor Classic

The highlight of my past three months with the Hamilton Bulldogs has got to be the delightfully successful organization of the 2012 AHL Outdoor Classic at Ivor Wynne Stadium on January 20-21.

It was a whirlwind of an event, from planning and preparation to putting on both game days to the wrap-up and all the follow-up needed to ensure that the event was truly successful. A once-in-a-lifetime affair to remember.

My daily to-do list was so extensive, it was hard to imagine that I would ever get through it all. That the day would ever arrive. Eventually, I did, of course, and it did. But it wasn't an easy process. The cameras made it look amazing, but a lot of work went into creating what you saw if you watched the broadcast on Sportsnet or on the NHL Network. A lot of sleepless nights, too, which lead to frustrating conversations in office hallways. But at the end of every overwhelming day, we were all friends again.

In the end, it was all worth it.

It took me until mid-way through the second period of Saturday's game between the Bulldogs and the Toronto Marlies to realize that we'd actually done it. We had put on an Outdoor Classic. All the accreditations had been beautifully designed, assembled, properly distributed; press releases written, spellchecked, printed, sent; food ordered, placed, consumed. Media happy in the press box? Check! Media requests were planned, unplanned, re-planned. Broadcasters accommodated? Check!

Somehow, through all the madness, it all went flawlessly. I still cannot truly understand how that happened. I don't know if I even believe that it did. From the beginning of my time with the 'Dogs, it was all Outdoor Classic all the time. Oh, and, you know, normal everyday regular season activities too. But still, through it all, the focus was the Outdoor Classic. And then, just like that, in 48 hours, it was done. All wrapped up in a pretty little winter package and sent off to live in posterity in the memories of the thousands of fans who populated the stands, and the thousands more who watched it on TV.

Wow. We did it.

I am so proud of our team for putting this on. I am so happy and excited and fortunate to have been a part of this spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime event. And I am absolutely ecstatic at all the positive feedback we received from members of the media, league officials, fans... Amazing. Fantastic. Fabulous.

Thank you all for being a part of it, in your little ways. Whether you attended, watched, participated in helping me brainstorm or listened to my late night rants... Thank you. You were all part of the success of this event. And I couldn't have done it without you.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

On moving forward

In case you haven't heard the news, the last month or so has been a whirlwind of change. My life has undergone a complete transformation. I went from a grad student looking for my way to the Director of Media Relations for the Hamilton Bulldogs.

Yeah. Crazy stuff!

So, naturally, I had to pack up all my stuff and move to Hamilton. In about a week and a half. Thankfully, I'd found an apartment just before my trip - yes, I knew way back then but had to keep the secret - and I had also started the process of purchasing a car at that time.

I spent the first week in this adorable retirement home that was basically across the street from Copps Coliseum, aka Work, aka My Second Home. Seriously, I spend lots of time at the rink. But I love it. I really do. I'd forgotten how much I loved reporting from a live game, and live tweeting a game, and most importantly, media planning. Plus, I got thrown right into the middle of things with a huge press conference about the 2012 AHL Outdoor Classic game taking place here in Hamilton on January 20-21st, 2012. SO very excited to be a part of this amazing, exceptional, historic, once-in-a-lifetime event.

But it hasn't been all coming up roses. I've had my share of negative experiences since moving to Steeltown - mainly involving cars. Hilarious (not) stories that I will some day shake my head at and laugh at when I tell them. It's been mostly positive, but as with all transitions, there are always bad moments and good moments. Like realizing I have noisy upstairs neighbours again, or that the work on my apartment wasn't completed before I move in.

But as I have learned, in the grand scheme of things, that's not important. What's important is the people that you surround yourself with and who make a difference in your life. And I have a fantastic network of family and friends. My Kingston friends have been incredibly supportive, and my newfound Hamilton friends are proving to be wonderful as well. Plus, I've had amazing feedback from all my non-local friends. It really does make you feel blessed.

Most importantly, the past month has put me in a whole new frame of mind. Some of the things that used to worry me are no longer at the top of my concerns list. And again, I've learned that I need to let go of things I cannot control.

So my goal for 2012? I resolve to bring only the positive with me into this new year, and leave all the toxic, negative thoughts and experiences behind. I'm excited!! :)

Happy New Year!