Opening A New Door

I had this really weird dream once where I was being chased through a long, narrow hallway filled with doors. The rooms in between each set of doors were small, and I had to decide whether it would be faster to open the door in front of me and keep running, or lock each door behind me as I went.

Of course, since I was being chased, it would make a lot more sense to lock each door behind me, so that whoever was chasing me couldn’t get through the doors. I don’t remember if this occurred to me in the dream. What I do remember is waking up and thinking to myself, “Wow. There were a lot of doors in that dream.”

This anecdote may seem random, but I promise you that it’s not. I wanted to write about doors today; not literal doors, like the ones I ran through in my dream, but the figurative doors that symbolize the opportunities that exist in our lives.

Imagine, if you will, that life is like my dream: a long hallway filled with doors. However, unlike my dream, the hallway of real life is not a straight line. It’s filled with twists and turns, and often there isn’t just one door in front of us, but multiple doors. Some may look identical; others may be painted different colours, or attract us in some other way.

These doors represent the opportunities in our lives. Sometimes we have to make a decision and pick one of the doors to walk through. But other times, we have a different decision to make. We can choose to stay where we are, or we can choose to open a new door and explore a new opportunity.

As I’ve written before on this blog, I think it’s vital to seek out opportunities that scare us a bit, because those are the opportunities that allow us to grow. Be like the traveller in Robert Frost’s poem: take the road less travelled (or, perhaps, the door less opened). It may, as Frost wrote, make all the difference.

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Seven Reasons Why You Should Start a Blog

As I’ve written many times before, when I first had the idea to start a blog I had no clue what a blog even was. Now, three years later, I not only love blogging but I love helping other people learn about it, too. Since starting this blog, I have started a blog for my high school, created one for the organization I did a co-op placement at, and have encouraged numerous friends to create blogs of their own.

If it’s not already clear, I think blogs are awesome; and if you don’t think so, then allow me to try to change your mind. Here are some of the reasons why I love having a blog, and why I would encourage others to give blogging a try!

1. Blogging helps you figure out your opinion

Sometimes when I sit down to write an opinion-based blog post, I don’t really know what my opinion is. Of course I have a general idea, and some sort of opinion that has motivated me to write the post; but I often flesh out the specifics of my argument while I am in the writing process. This gives me a greater awareness of world events. It also forces me to consider the other side of the topic I am writing about, so that I can mention counter-arguments in my post.

2. Your words get an audience

I use the term ‘audience’ lightly, because it can mean whatever you want it to mean. Having other people read your writing can seem like a big step to take (side note: if you need some inspiration to leave your comfort zone, check out this post). You can make your blog private if you really feel it’s best for you. However, I would encourage you to open your blog up to the world. Interacting with other bloggers and reading comments on my posts has been one of the best and most rewarding parts of my experience as a blogger.

3. You have an opportunity to say something

In journalism school, something I have to do quite often is interview strangers on the street. I am often surprised by the answers I get to my questions. Everyone has something to say about some topic, and blogging gives you the perfect outlet to share what you have to say. Social media does this, too, but there’s definitely a difference between voicing your thoughts in a 140 character tweet and in a 500 (or however long you choose it to be) blog post. I love Twitter, don’t get me wrong; but when it comes to sharing my opinion, I prefer blogging.

4. Blogging isn’t just about writing

To me, blogging is actually all about writing; I started this blog so that I could get more experience writing, and develop my writing skills. But so many other types of blogs exist. You could create a photography blog, or one centered around videos (perhaps a YouTube channel would be better suited there). Even if you do decide to write your posts, you have so many options. You could write short blurbs; you could write essays. You could write articles in list-form (like this one!); or you could write in prose, or verse, or in a completely made up language (craft it the right way, with lots of humour, and I’d say you have the potential to go viral with that one). Whatever style of storytelling or communicating you enjoy, there’s a way you could create a blog centered around it.

5. You can write about anything and everything

If you’ve spent any amount of time looking through sites on the blogosphere, you could attest to the fact that the subjects of blogs are incredibly diverse. Some bloggers review books, or beauty products, or everything in between; others use their blogs as outlets to share poetry and creative writing; and others use their blogs as online journals where they document their lives. Again, whatever you enjoy and are interested in, you can blog about it.

6. It can become a passion project for you

Sherinaspeaks actually started out as just that: a “passion project” assigned to me by my grade 10 English teacher. I had to pick something to work on over the course of the semester, and I chose blogging. Clearly, I have chosen to work on it long after the semester ended. In a way, though, this blog is still my passion project. It’s really fun to have a special project “on the side” of what I’m actually doing. I am a university student, working towards a degree in journalism; but I am also a blogger. When I want to take a little break from my work as a student, I can turn to my blog.

7. It will make you see the world differently

This is probably my favourite thing about having a blog: that I now look for, and find, inspiration everywhere. Whether I’m reading the newspaper or walking down the street, I am constantly paying attention to what I am reading, hearing, and seeing; because anything could turn into a blog post. I always have my blog in the back of my mind, and I love that I can look at the world and see ideas that inspire me to write.

What would you say to people who are thinking about creating a blog?

Taking the Leap

Approach a stranger and ask them if they have a second to talk. Hold your phone microphone up and conduct an interview. Ask if you can take a photo of someone. Then ask them for their full name and email address, thank them, and do this all over again. Sound scary? I thought so too when I first came to journalism school and learned that those were all real things I would have to do.

When I did my first streeter (an interview with a random person on the street), I was really nervous. I remember cringing as I listened back to the audio recording of my first interview; I was talking so quickly it was as if I feared my source would suddenly run away in the middle of the interview (though, judging by my nerves at the time, it was me who was more likely to run away).

It’s only been a few weeks since that day when I did my first streeter, but I have learned so much. Nearly every week, if not multiple times a week, I’ve done some form of a streeter. And it’s gotten so much easier for me—and so much more fun, too.            

I wouldn’t say that I’ve completely overcome my nerves about streeters and interviews, but at this point I’ve done enough to know that it always ends up being fine. I’m usually just nervous when I’m thinking about the assignment: when I go out and actually talk to people, I find that I really enjoy it. I had to get through the frightening part, the learning experience, to get to a place where I am more confident.

I’m glad I pushed through that stage of nervousness, though. If I had waited until I felt ready, I’d still be waiting. Sometimes you have to take the leap, and build your wings on the way down (I think Kobi Yamada said that quote, but Google is attributing versions of it to many different people).

As I was on my way to one of my journalism classes yesterday, a saying popped into my head, one that I remember reading on an old Lululemon bag: Do one thing a day that scares you. I’ve always loved the idea of pushing myself to take a little risk each day; and now that I’m in journalism school, I’ve had no shortage of opportunities to take those risks.

Whether I’m approaching someone to ask about their opinion on something, or to ask if they’ll allow me to photograph them for my photojournalism assignment, I am constantly leaping, taking risks and finding my wings on my way down. And, surprisingly enough, I love it.

What did you do today that scared you?

Canada, Keep Telling America It’s Great

Having lived in Canada for my entire life, I’ve always raised an eyebrow at the “Canadians are so polite” stereotype. I mean, sure, we’re nice—one time the cashier at Tim Hortons “accidentally” made my mom a medium tea and charged her for a small, and another time I ran into a moose on my way home from school and it complimented my snow shoes (kidding). Seriously, though, Canadians are nice. But from my experiences, we’re not nicer than people in other parts of the world; people just think we are.

Reports of our kindness have been greatly exaggerated. Canadians being polite is an easy trope for Canadian news stories to fall into, because it’s such a prevalent stereotype. Such was the case with the recent ‘Tell America It’s Great’ campaign, an attempt by a Canadian marketing company to infuse some much-needed positivity into the lives of Americans. It is easy for people to assume that Canadians did this to fulfill the stereotype of being Canadian and oh, so polite. In fact, this is exactly what the author of a Vice Canada article did.

After explaining that Americans don’t care about what Canadians think—news to me, and, I would think, to the Americans who were moved to tears by the video—the author proceeds to declare that the “campaign is a thinly disguised excuse for Canadians to pat themselves on the back about how nice they are.” Not to be rude, (I am Canadian, after all) but, um, pardon?

This isn’t about being Canadian; it’s about being human. It’s about the 46 per cent of Americans who, according to an ABC News poll, have found this election to be a serious source of stress. It’s about bringing a positive message to social media, which has been plagued by toxicity during this election cycle. It’s about having the opportunity to do something small to bring a smile to people’s faces.

The problem with brushing Canadians’ kindness off as, well, a side effect of our nationality is that it puts a shadow over the kindness. Obviously, one video isn’t going to instantly cure all Americans of the stress that they are under. But if it helps at least one person, which it clearly has, then so what? Why would you ever discourage someone from saying something positive?!

The moral of the story is this: be kind to people, and encourage kindness when you see it. After the horrible, hurtful things that have been said in this election cycle, we absolutely need more empathy and compassion in this world—no matter what our nationality is.

International Youth Day

What does it mean to be young in 2016?

I’ve been wondering about this for a while now, not just because it is a question which pertains to me, a teenager, but because it’s been written on my whiteboard all year. Long story short: in January I was planning to write for an online publication with that question as the focus of my article, so I brainstormed ideas on my whiteboard. The article didn’t end up panning out as I quickly became swamped with exams and applying to university. Nonetheless, the question remained on my whiteboard.

Seven months later, every time I look at it I am reminded that it needs to be cleaned. I rarely procrastinate but with this, I have. Today, though, I’m glad I haven’t erased my whiteboard of thoughts on what it means to be young in this day and age: because today is International Youth Day. I thought I would spend a bit of time reflecting on, well, being young!

I’d be willing to bet that when most people think about today’s teens, their minds quickly turn to technology and social media. The rise of the hashtag. The selfie craze. The fact that “tweet” is no longer the sound birds make at 6 in the morning when we’re trying to sleep, but a 140 character message sent out for the world to read. These things, in part, have defined today’s youth. There’s another important aspect of technology, though: communication. Not only are we able to communicate with people around the world, but we can instantly read and see news about what is happening all over the world.

With the changing face of communication comes an increased awareness; an awareness both of the good and grisly things in the world. We can livestream the Olympics in Rio from a screen in our palm, and watch cute puppies chase their tails—but we are also inundated with stories of murders, of poverty, of wars. The benefit to seeing these things, becoming aware of them, is that we can work to change them. I know I don’t only speak for myself when I say that I use the Internet to stay on top of issues I’m passionate about.

Today’s teens aren’t the only ones to have strong social justice roots. The 1960s Counterculture, for example, fought for women’s rights, peaceful resolution to conflict, and freedom. We are, however, one of the first generations to have constant exposure to what is happening around us, thanks to technology. Perhaps this, paired with the strong convictions already existing within teenagers, will lead to lifelong quests for justice and equality.

Jumping off of the brainstorming bubble on my whiteboard are the words “safe from war”. An arrow jars off that point, though, with the words “terrorism” attached. Today’s youth are growing up in a post 9/11 world: a world that tries to be hopeful, one that hides quivering fear behind a face of resilience. I am writing from my perspective as a Canadian teenager; the reality is, I am very lucky. While terrorism is a threat in developed countries, as it is in all countries, war is not. I grew up listening to O’Canada in the mornings at school feeling thankful to live in the true North, which is not only strong and free, but is also, for the most part, safe.

This is not a statement that all of the world’s youth can affirm, sadly. According to the UN Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth’s website, 14 million youth were displaced as a result of international conflict in 2011—the number is likely even higher today. Not only this, but over 200 million youth are living in extreme poverty (defined as living on less than one dollar per day), reports Advocates for Youth’s website.

So today, on International Youth Day, it is important not only to reflect on what defines the lives of today’s youth, but to hope for a better future for all youth. It is also important to celebrate the leadership of youth who are working to create this better future. Young people all over the world: keep being passionate about issues that matter to you, keep being leaders, and keep trying to change the world. One day, you will.

Look to the Stars

How has your life been recently? If someone asked me this question, a myriad of words would spring to mind: exciting, interesting, fun. A word I probably wouldn’t say, though one that I would certainly think, is busy. I try to avoid describing myself as busy – because really, we are all busy in some way – but I can’t help thinking it’s a good word to use to accurately sum up the past few weeks of my life.

From wisdom teeth extractions (and subsequent infections) to school event-planning, to French exams to essays, a lot has happened in the past month: and a lot is happening in the upcoming months as well. I’ll be graduating from high school in June, so I’m in the final stretch. The pages of my planner are full of events and to-do’s. With so much going on, it’s easy to get swept up in it all. I think, though, that these crazy times are the ones where it is the most important to take a moment to pause and reflect.

This past week, news broke that NASA has confirmed the existence of 1284 new planets. Some of the planets are potentially inhabitable. The thought that there could be another Earth out there is scary – aliens, and all – but in a strange way, it’s also comforting. Our struggles on this planet, busy schedules included, seem less serious when you think about the fact the incredible universe that surrounds us.

We like to think, as humans, that we are important. I believe that we are important, that upon our birth everyone has value and potential. But we are also kind of insignificant, in that there are billions of us on this one spinning rock and maybe billions more on another planet. I think humans matter – you matter, I matter, the guy who served you your Starbucks coffee this morning matters, the homeless woman on the street corner matters.

Having said this, I think there are some aspects of humans, of humanity, that matter more than others. Love matters. Kindness matters. Happiness matters. In the grand scheme of the galaxies and stars and planets, those things matter. They deserve to be cherished no matter how insignificant they may seem. Some other aspects of our lives, like stress, seem less important when you think about the world out there.

If you read the opening paragraphs of this post and nodded along, perhaps thinking about your own hectic schedule and crazy planner, take a moment to think about who you are – not just who you are as a person, but who you are. You are more than the things that stress you out. You have value, to this world and the things beyond it (newly discovered or not).

This post is as much a reminder to all of you lovely people as it is to myself. As I wrote earlier, it’s easy to get caught up in craziness; but it’s these times that are the best for reflection – especially if that reflection is the one you see of yourself in your window, looking up at the night sky.

You Didn’t Come This Far to Only Come This Far

There are many ways to determine the importance of a moment. To me, one of the best ways is to consider how long the moment stays with you after it happens. There was a small moment I experienced a few weeks ago which seemed insignificant at the time, yet it constantly drifts in and out of my thoughts.

I was at the gym with my friend, taking a kickbox cardio class. Near the end of the class, the instructor said something that stuck with me: “You didn’t come this far to only come this far.” I’d seen the quote on Pinterest before, but it was different hearing it in that moment, when I was exhausted and sweaty and willing the clock to go faster so the class would be over. I had worked hard during the class, and I hearing that quote made me realize that I didn’t put in all that effort to give up in the last ten minutes, no matter how tired I was.

The more I thought about the quote, the more inspired I became by it. When, a few days ago, I was almost done checking off all of the items on my to-do list and was tempted to skip the last task, I reminded myself that I didn’t come that far to stop there. When I thought about the fact that I’m almost done high school, I reminded myself that I’ve come so far and am not done yet: I still have a few months to work hard and finish strong. I didn’t come this far to only come this far. In other words, it’s not over until it’s over.

Imagine you’ve finished 80% of a project. That 80% was made up of your best efforts, and it was hard work. You might feel inclined to put less effort towards the remaining 20% required to finish the project, since you’ve already worked so hard. But you didn’t work so hard for that 80% to skimp on the last part of your project – and it’s often that last 20% that’s the most important. It’s the last paragraph of your essay, neatly tying everything together. It’s Friday, ensuring you end your week on a happy (and productive) note. It’s the last sequence before the cool-down in an intense class at the gym. It’s the culmination of all of your hard work, and you shouldn’t throw it away.

In our fast-paced, results-driven society, I sometimes feel like there’s so much emphasis on reaching the finish line that the journey of the race gets muddled. When we near the end we speed up, despite the steady pace we maintained throughout the race. Sometimes when we see the finish line, the quality of our work becomes less important than the idea of finishing it. We see that there are five minutes left in the exam and suddenly we’re scribbling down anything that comes to mind. We notice that we’re almost done everything on our to-do list and we begin to get distracted. We’re almost done, so we figure that can stop working hard. When we have this mentality, we put less effort towards the last 20%;  meaning we jeopardize the hard work we put into the 80%.

In fact, there are even times when we get close to the finish line and give up. It’s easier, we may think, to stop what we’re doing than to work hard and finish it. Let’s say that the aforementioned project which you’ve finished 80% is a novel. You’re tired, or you’ve lost your motivation, and because of this, even though you’re close to finishing it, you give up. You didn’t write 80% of the novel to give up because you don’t want to work hard to finish it. You wrote 80% of the novel to keep going, to push through the frustration and to work hard so you can accomplish what you’ve already made so much progress towards.

When you work really hard for something, you should finish it the same way you started it: by working hard, not rushing towards the finish line, and not considering giving up unless it’s absolutely necessary. After all, you didn’t come this far to only come this far.