Today is International Women’s Day.

As my business grows and I meet new people, I get asked about the role gender plays in running a business, and the difficulties and obstacles I face as a woman in the workplace.

The answer I usually offer is that when it comes to business, I don’t want to define my entire work philosophy around my being a woman. I focus on my work as an individual who gets compared to peers regardless of sex. That said, my gender has a profound effect on how and why I make decisions, personally and professionally – specifically in terms of luck and power.

I won the female lottery

I was born into an environment that raised individuals, not girls. I grew up around ideas of equality, financial independence, and freedom of choice. I was surrounded by strong female role models in my family: business owners, professionals, and war heroines. I knew women were capable of doing absolutely anything by watching my mom raise two children in foreign countries on her own.

By virtue of travel, good education, and exposure to unusual childhood experiences, I knew very well that I was among the privileged group of women who possessed an education, had access to proper health care, and consequently the chance of having a prosperous future.

That was luck.

Competence is power

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Several weeks ago, a friend was having a hard time following some personal and professional letdowns. She asked a very simple and poignant question: “How come no one fights for us?”

I had no answer for her, and a defeatist sentiment permeated my skin and sat heavy on my heart for weeks. The haunting possibility that she was right kept me awake for some nights. I started looking closely at everyone around me to see if any of them could be my “great defender” – a coworker siding vocally with my opinion, a friend arguing most vehemently on my behalf, an inamorato who won’t let me just happen. I felt despair at the absence of pistols being drawn at a moment’s notice in my honour.

So absorbed was I by the idea that the world was largely indifferent, that I didn’t think of asking an important question: why should anyone fight for us?

Without an answer in mind, I reconciled myself to the fact that we would have to do our own fighting for all the days to come. I was going to share this realization with my friend; tell her that she’d need to commandeer her army of one and fight for herself, because that’s just the way things are. Continue Reading

The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha is Cervantes’ powerful story about an unrealistic idealist. The main character, Quixote, is mostly well-intentioned but often misguided when trying to rescue the world from itself. He is also at times a disturber of the peace who unwittingly (and only occasionally) manages to do some good. One of the ideas behind the book is that morality, tradition, and courage are not universal in their definition. The story also warns those who take up causes in the name of virtue about the damage they could be involuntarily inflicting along their righteous path, often creating miserable circumstances for those around them.

I don’t see myself as a quixotic person, but I do “fight” regularly for what I believe in – both in personal and subjective realms like arts and culture, as well as in more fact-based professional disagreements. I feel particularly strongly about championing my ideas, I suppose in no small part because of the highly scrutinized and questioning environment and industry I work in.

The idea of how much fighting we do as individuals has been circling in my mind for a while now. And a small matter that unfolded at work today brought into light the questions I’ve been having about the interplay between conviction and common sense. Continue Reading

“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.” – Victor Hugo

There is no authority in the universe that truly has the ability to impose upon us what we must feel about anything or anyone. Despite this fact, we grow up with rules and traditions designed to help us navigate through life in ways that have worked for others; sometimes a few others, or sometimes thousands, millions or billions of people. Well-intentioned as they may be, these rules can become stifling restrictions, turning what should bring us joy and pleasure into a source of frustration and displeasure, as piano quickly became for me when my desire to lead with my heart began to overrule the desire to follow my head.

The many years of formal music education I received focused entirely on faithful recitation of original works. We were taught the right way to play and were required to do away with personal whims and fancy.

Those in charge did exactly what was expected of them: they taught hundreds of students the proper tried and tested techniques and pieces for the purposes of either passing the Royal Conservatory’s examinations or performing at concerts. Music, we were told, is the highest form of art. Talented pianists were supposed to perform flawlessly, meticulously recite the work, and strive to evoke strong reactions from the audience.  Continue Reading

I came across an obituary written by the individual who passed away. He wrote a brief paragraph where he mentioned his loved ones, gave gratitude to those who made a difference throughout his life, and thanked his fortune for having had the opportunity to live exactly the way he wanted for as long as he lived.  

It was the most interesting, real, and moving obituary I’ve ever read. I feel that he intended to leave a note of appreciation and love to the world, and highlight the celebration of his life in the way he saw it: full and happy.  

Naturally, I got to thinking about what I would write if I were to think about leaving my own obituary for the world to see. First, an important note: this is not an exercise in coming to terms with one’s mortality or the finite and transient nature of those we love; rather, it’s a pause to reflect on our final act of farewell and my thoughts on this memento mori written by a stranger and found by me in a newspaper.

I mulled over what I would write for mine…“I enjoyed everything, and tried to live without boundaries”? “My home is everywhere, and my heart is everywhere”?
Then I thought, maybe: “I didn’t let people happen to me”?(BTW, the last one is a reference to a Harvey Milk quote that stayed with me).

What did those first drafts have in common? I realized that they were bullshit. Why? Because everything we feel is true today about our existence in this world could be an absolute lie tomorrow – by virtue of controlled or uncontrolled circumstances.

So my working obituary draft as of this moment reads: “I’m a journeywoman; I’ve been on this interesting road for a while, but now it’s time for me to change direction and destination – at least for the foreseeable future.”

That would probably be the most honest and truthful obituary I could write.

For now.

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