Archive for the ‘Building Experience’ Category


February 12, 2018 Leave a comment


mass noun

  • The ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience or following injury.

The idea that our minds are not just set, unchangeable, static, makes so much feel possible.  I have grown up in a world that encourages us to believe that talents and abilities are innate, that we are “gifted” or “a natural”.  Further, if we have to work too hard at something it is an indication that we are not naturally gifted in that area and therefore are unlikely to every become really good at it.

Josh Waitzkin states, “The moment we believe that success is determined by an ingrained level of ability we will be brittle in the face of adversity.”  I agree entirely with this statement and see it play out on a daily basis with the students that I council.  If we believe that struggle and effort are indicative of inability, then we will give up when things get hard.  Instead, if we believe as Rick Hanson asserts, that “Failure is the most essential step to success” then we will be able to embrace adversity as a necessary part of growth.

Furthermore, if we use our mind to change our brain, to change our mind for the better, then we will be able to harness our full potential and become resilient when we face challenges.  Hanson, refers to this sort of thinking as self-directed neuroplasticity.  This concept feels very liberating and empowering to me as it allows us to defy what seems to come naturally and instead to master, whatever we set our minds to – quite literally.

I have started talking with students about neuroplasticity.  It is interesting to observe how few of them have heard of this and how many of them hold onto the belief that struggle and effort are a sign of inability and weakness.  Having this dialogue with students I have seen an instant impact on their ability to look at the next week of exams: the struggles, the doubts, the hard-work that lies immediately in front of them, and to see it not as an exercise in futility and self-doubt, but instead as an opportunity to transform their brain, in meaningful ways.  To literally form new neural connections, and pathways, to impact the chemistry, structure and function of their brain in a way that sets them up better for learning, success, and resilience.


Nothing Comes From Nothing

December 16, 2013 1 comment


At this time of year we are bombarded with advertisements trying to entice us to buy more, get this, give that . . . My favourite marketing strategy is the ‘buy one get one free’ or ‘buy two get two free’.  “Come listen to this presentation and get your free paring knife.”  We are led to believe that there is such a thing as free.

The reality is that nothing in life is free.  Someone is paying – whether it be the workers who are paid a pittance, the environment, or perhaps you are not paying with money but with your time listening to a marketing ploy. “Nothing comes from nothing and nothing ever could” (yes, I just watched the Sound of Music).  I have found that if I allow myself to accept this as a fact, I am much less easily manipulated.  If something seems too easy, if someone is telling me that something is free, I should be sceptical.

As a society we are constantly looking for the easy out, how we can get something for nothing.  We want to lose weight without exercising or solve financial hardship by winning the lottery.  The reality is, as Thomas Edison stated, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

When it comes to finding your ideal career, it is an upward climb; it is, indeed, hard work.  Just pulling together a decent resume can take days.  To be successful in a career search, you have to simultaneously be uncomfortably introspective and outgoing.  You need to take the time to understand yourself, your needs, skills, values, and passions, and then look for where those align with a company or a career.  You can get advice and tips, but ultimately no one can do the work for you.  You have to be willing to put yourself out there time and again and risk being knocked down.  Then you need to pick yourself up, brush yourself off and do it all over again.

Sound terrible?  Yes, indeed it may be.  There will be moments where you feel like you are a failure, like you have wasted your time, like you have done everything right and yet everything is going wrong.  You will feel that you deserve it this time around – and you might.  But still you don’t get the job.  And then, just when you think you can’t get up again, you can’t stand submitting another application or preparing for another interview, just when you are ready to quit, you try again because you remember those cheesy quotes that “nothing worth having is free.”

And in that moment between overwhelming exhaustion and opportunity is when things start to look up.  That is when you realize how hard it is to beat someone who never gives up.  (Babe Ruth)

So, in this New Year that is filled with cheap promises of easy comforts – do not be misled for nothing comes from nothing and nothing ever could.

Go To Class

July 12, 2013 Leave a comment
remembering Jeff

Gazette article that I wrote the year after Jeff died

We are at that time of year when students are frantically selecting courses for their upcoming year of university.  I love getting to talk with first year students about what courses they want to take, what they hope to do with their degree . . . Best of all, I love the students that come in well prepared and excited for all of the courses.  Those students that say, “I can’t choose, there are so many that sound interesting.”  When I hear that, I know that that student is going to do well.

On the other hand, there are the few students that have not yet found their passion and some that just don’t seem to want to be here at all.  When I ask “what courses are you most excited about taking?” and the response is “whatever course is the easiest,” I think, “Wow, you are in for a lot of lessons in the subject of life.”

I learned those lessons when I was going into my second year of university.  A friend of mine, Jeff, was a year behind because he had been diagnosed with cancer and had been going through intensive chemotherapy during what should have been his first year.  I spent many days up on the cancer ward visiting Jeff.    During my second year, Jeff was able to register for his first year courses and on the days when he was up to it, he would rally all of his energy and go to class.  Jeff was told that his diagnosis was terminal and that there was nothing more that they could do for him.  Jeff knew that these were the last weeks of his life and his priority was not to go sky-diving and visit exotic lands; all he wanted to do was be a regular 20-year-old and go to his first classes at university. Jeff would have know that he was never going to graduate and yet he was able to see the value and gift that education was and spent his last few weeks learning.

While Jeff was learning about Chemistry, Physics, and Calculus, he was also teaching me an important life-long lesson – Go To Class!  It seems un-profound, but really he taught me the importance of taking full advantage of the basic things in life.  The best things in life are not those rare moments that are exceptional, but those everyday moments, the routine that we create, the regular ways that we occupy our time and build our life.  If we can find inspiration in the everyday, we will be present and engaged in ways that will invariably lead to success and happiness.

Jeff passed away on October 10th of my second year. He only made it to his first month of university.  From that moment on, I saw each class and assignment differently.  When I started to feel overwhelmed, tired and stressed, I would think of Jeff and it revitalized me. I have always gone to class.  It is a simple way that I pay tribute to Jeff’s strength and honour his memory. Although I graduated many years ago, I am committed to life-long learning.  Every year I take another course or attend a conference. I happily engage in the routine of my life and am grateful.

As you chose your courses and as the school year draws closer, think of Jeff.  When you are too tired, too stressed, too bored, too confused, . . . think of Jeff, pick yourself up and Go To Class.

Overeducated and Underemployed?

February 20, 2013 Leave a comment

you-can-never-be-overdressed3There has been a lot of coverage recently of the high youth unemployment rates in Canada.  The national unemployment rate is 7.2% while the youth unemployment rate is 14%.  If these statistics have not scared you enough, what about the $23.1 billion in lost wages that Canadian youth will experience over the next 18 years? (According to a TD Economics report)  To make it even worse Martin Schwerdtfeger, senior economist with TD writes that “being unemployed at a young age can have a long-lasting impact on an individual`s career prospects.”

I read, hear, and watch these media reports and understand exactly why students are flooding into my office looking horrified about their future prospects.  I see why the anxiety, stress, and depression levels are high in this population.  Not only do we live with the constant threat of impending doom from terrorists and swine flu’s but, to top it all off, the current generation are going to spend thousands of dollars on an education and will end up unemployed or underemployed and broke.

If we send young people out into the world of work with expectations of disaster that is exactly what they will get.  I prefer a less defeatist approach.  After all, people are more likely to hire recent grads is they are full of energy and optimism.

So let’s turn it around.  Great News, 86% of youth are going to be employed soon after they graduate!  That seems like a not so bad number and the chances of ending up in that category are likely pretty high if you are taking the time to read this post.  It means that you are dedicated to doing something about your future, taking action, and getting results.  In fact, a report from the Certified General Accountants of Canada entitled “Youth Unemployment in Canada: Challenging Conventional Thinking“, points out that:

  • The highest level of youth unemployment (15.2 per cent) during the recent recession was noticeably below that experienced during previous recessions when youth unemployment swelled to 19.2 per cent in 1983 and 17.2 per cent in 1992.
  • Nearly half (46.8 per cent) of unemployed youth were able to find a job within 1 to 4 weeks in 2011 while the average duration of unemployment experienced by youth did not exceed 11 weeks in that year. In fact, the average duration of youth unemployment in 2011 was well below the shortest average duration ever experienced by young and mature workers over the past 30 years: 12.5 weeks in 2006 and 16.2 weeks in 2008 respectively.

The truth of the matter is that there are people without jobs and almost as many jobs without people.  What we need to do is educate youth on emerging markets and required and desired employability skills.  So rather than sit back and wallow in self-pity, blaming the baby boom generation for not retiring already, do your research.  Take a look at where the jobs are.  What are the growth industries? What personal and technical skills do you need to succeed? And then start planning.  Be strategic, focused and dedicated.  Take a couple technical courses, volunteer with an organization to gain practical skills, attend networking events and, most of all, stay positive.  You are more likely to be motivated by working towards a positive outcome than by trying to avoid a negative one.

And when you have just been turned down for a job and are starting to feel defeated, take the advice of Napoleon Hill that “most great people have attained their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure.”

A New Student’s Guide to Career Planning

August 8, 2012 2 comments

At our fall and spring open houses I offer sessions on career services and planning.  There have been many times when I have been standing outside of the room encouraging prospective students and their parents to join me and I have been told “Oh, we don’t need that for another 4 years.”  This is exactly the mentality that results in a student sitting in my office a month before graduation feeling completely lost and desperately looking for answers to the question “What do I do now?”

You need to begin the process in your first year.  Here are some suggestions on how to get from admission, to graduation, to career.

Keep in mind that finding a career that you love is not a strait path from point A to point B.  It is a process of self-discovery, assessment, exploration and pursuit that requires you to re-cycle through these stages time and time again.

ASSESS – In your first and second year, in particular, you should be focussing on discovering your interests, skills, values, and personality.  Understanding yourself is critical to finding a rewarding career.

  • Book an Appointment With a Career Counsellor – Ask about doing some personality and career assessments that will start to give  you some ideas of career direction
  • Take a Look at Your Aptitudes – Your natural talents and things you are good at. We sometimes assume that something that comes easily to us comes easily for everyone, but this is usually not the case. Ask friends, family, and others who know you to suggest some areas they see you succeeding at or having natural abilities in.
  • Book an Appointment With an Academic Counsellor – For those of you in your first year you are going to need to start thinking about degree options and what you want to major in.  Get some help with this process.  An academic counsellor can advise you of your options and guide you to resources that will aid in making the decision.
  • Understand Your Values – The last place you want to be is in a career that does not line up with your personal beliefs and priorities.

Some questions you may want to consider:

  • Do you value security and consistency or variety and risk-taking in your work environment?
  • Is social interaction and being part of a group or independence and autonomy important to you?
  • Do you value achievement and recognition or being “behind the scenes”?
  • Is your work environment, pace, and/or location important to you?
  • Do you value financial independence? Status? Creative expression? Contribution to society?

I cannot over-emphasize the importance of self-discovery to career planning.  Usually when students are feeling lost it is because they have not spent enough time figuring themselves out, identifying their talents, what they enjoy doing, what motivates them.  Once you have an idea of who you are it will be easier to identify potential options, to network with confidence and to get out there and explore.

EXPLORE – At each stage of your degree you should be looking for opportunities to get involved and explore your interests and options and build your resume.

  • Get Involved in Campus Clubs and Organizations or Volunteer in the Community – This is a great way to meet new people and to build your hands-on experience.  Taking on a leadership position with a club or volunteering with a not-for-profit agency can help you with your project or event management, leadership and interpersonal, communication and organizational skills, just to name a few. These experiences will help you to get an understanding of different types of work and what elements of it you enjoy.
  • Participate in Career Development Workshops – Every campus organizes usually dozens of workshops each year that can help you develop your resume, cover letters, interview prep, networking strategies etc. Check with your career centre for dates, times and locations.
  • Attend Career Fairs – Regardless of whether you are at the point where you are looking for a job, attending a career fair will give you an idea of what companies are out there and who is hiring for what types of jobs.
  • Go to Employer Information Sessions – Throughout the year numerous employers will visit your campus to present information on working for them and what positions they are hiring for.  This is another great way to explore options and to begin networking and making connections.
  • Check out the Graduate and Professional School Fairs – Most campuses are now offering post-graduate fairs where you can explore what options are out there with respect to continuing your education.  You will likely be surprised at the abundance of options and may discover an exciting opportunity or program that you didn’t even know existed.

The more experiences that you can draw on the better prepared you will be for going after your career goals.  You will have a clearer understanding of what you would like to do, where and for whom.  This focus will enable you to pursue your goals with poise and conviction.

PURSUE – As you move closer to graduation it is time to start pursuing your goals.  This will involve Preparing, Planning, and Acting.  This can be the most intimidating step in the career process as it means that you need to really put yourself out there and accept that you are likely to get shot down a few times before you get the outcome that you are searching for.

  • Set Up Some Informational Interviews – This can be an extremely important part of building your network and finding a job.  Often people are interested in a particular career or corporation but do not have any contacts.  By setting up an information interview, you can make a contact, find out more about the company and the career, and get a foot in the door for future job openings. Talk to a career counsellor to get more information on how to set up an informational interview.
  • Review, Revise and Tailor Your Resume and Cover Letter –  The more time that you invest in preparing impressive documents and tailoring them to specific companies and jobs, the more likely you are to have success.  Attend a drop-in –session or set up a one-on-one appointment to review your resume and cover letter.  Be sure to bring a job description with you.
  • Book a Mock Interview – No matter how prepared you feel for an interview, you will always benefit from a dry-run.  A mock interview will simulate a real interview and you will likely be surprised at how nervous you feel.  It will give you a chance to sort out your thoughts, prepare your responses and get feedback and tips on how to best present yourself.  Most career centre’s offer this service.
  • Use Campus Job Postings – Most institutions have career/job boards where employers ask specifically to have positions posted.  This is a good place to start.  Be aware that often employers will post positions in the fall that they expect to fill in the spring or summer.  If you wait until the second semester of your 4th year, you may have missed out on a lot of opportunities.
  • Network, Network, Network – This is often the hardest task and yet is the most likely by FAR to result in you finding employment.  Like dating, you need to just get out there and do it.  Meet as many people as you can, be considerate, polite, and respectful and you are sure to see the results.  Check out your career centre for workshops and resources on successful networking.  You can also see if your Alumni Association offers networking opportunities.

If you get started in your first year by reflecting, deciding, and evaluating yourself and your career options, then you will be well ahead of the game.  Remember that this is not a strait path; be prepared for detours and unexpected turns.  Finding a great career is a combination of planning, assessment, determination and serendipity.  Put yourself out there with confidence and conviction and see what the world gives you back.

An open letter to employers (well…anyone, really) – Guest Blogger

July 23, 2012 2 comments

I am delighted to introduce my latest guest-blogger Jenn Nelson.  Jenn graduated from Huron in 2010 with a BA in History and Political Science and then went on to complete an MA in Public History at Western University.  She has a abundance of experience and expertise in the promotion of museums and cultural institutions through the use of social media.  You can check out her blog unmuseum at

I am writing this letter, on behalf of History graduates (both undergraduate and graduate) to explain the benefits, to you as an employer, of hiring someone with a History degree.

“[A] ny fool can make history, but it takes a genius to write it.”

Oscar Wilde

I am sure that you have read many resumes and CVs (hundreds if not thousands) during your time as an employer and have dismissed those who have had said History degree.


Firstly, ask yourself why you may have dismissed said application. Is your first thought, “What can someone who knows everything about the War of 1812 do to support and contribute to our business?” This is the first mistake. Don’t think about the subject matter; focus on the skills. As Historians, we can’t tell you everything that’s happened in History, that’s not what we do. Among other things, we study trends, theories and problems, that are very relevant to today, and communicate and interpret them.

Secondly, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that having a History degree means that we are qualified for everything.

Yes, for the most part (and I’m the first to admit it), Historians are HUGE Geeks, but most of us don’t love the History Channel (that’s another blog post in itself). That aside, we develop a wide variety of skills that are applicable to any workplace.

So, what are some of these skills?

1. We analyze and interpret research. Throughout both of my History degrees, I sifted through hundreds (if not thousands) of documents; primary and secondary sources. I learned how to evaluate what research was valuable and what was garbage. I always had a back up to a back up and learned how to use these documents to my advantage.

2. We are awesome communicators. Personally, I’ve developed this from studying Public History (how we communicate the academic stuff to the regular Joe on the street, who has no knowledge or background in History). Historians develop key presentation skills when studying History. We learn how to speak in a concise way, as well as write clearly and to the point.

3. We pick up on the little things. We pick up on things that you might not event think of! We also develop this through years of writing papers and sifting through the research.

4. We analyze trends. As stated previously, we reflect on the present by referring to the past. This can be very helpful when looking at business success or failure.

I could go on…but this is a blog post and not a book.

Key skills to take away from this (I’m not saying every Historian will have these, but the majority do):

  • Effective communication skills (both written and oral)
  • Key problem solving and the ability to critically analyze situations
  • Independent thinking
  • Highly organized
  • Ability to work with others and on an individual basis
  • Manage time, stick to deadlines and work under pressure

…and the list goes on….

I’m not saying that studying other subjects can’t give you these skills, but sometimes you have to point them out when it isn’t so obvious 🙂

I’d also like to say, don’t rule out extra curricular activities and the skills that can be developed from taking part in them. Just because it isn’t paid, doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.

In conclusion, I hope I’ve shed some light on the skills that Historians develop.



From Classroom to Career – What Skills Will I Take With Me?

May 7, 2012 Leave a comment

backpack to briefcaseLast Thursday we hosted a Campus/Community Roundtable where we invited business and not-for-profit managers and leaders to join with faculty and administration to talk about Liberal Arts degrees and their transferability and applicability to the world of work.  Before the session we conducted a survey to discover what attributes are most frequently needed in order to be successful in a variety of fields including: education, insurance, banking, legal, not-for-profit, marketing, communications, business consulting, and government.

The skills that were ranked as “very important” included:

  • Communication oral and written (93%)
  • Teamwork (87%)
  • Problem-solving (87%)
  • Critical thinking (87%)
  • Ethical decision-making (87%)
  • Analytical thinking (87%)
  • Work ethic (87%)
  • Passion for excellence (86%)
  • Accountability (80%)

We also asked our community partners about the frequency with which these skills are used.  The skills that were cited as being used daily by the largest number of people were:

  • Communication written (87%)
  • Communication oral (80%)
  • Problem-solving (73%)
  • Critical Thinking (73%)
  • Teamwork (73%)
  • Time management (73%)

After reviewing the survey responses, we worked in groups on real-life case studies, where we looked at how the skills that students acquire during their degree and the teaching methods used, can help prepare our graduates to deal with a wide variety of work situations ranging from dealing with difficult clients in a call centre, to developing and running targeted promotional events.

What was abundantly clear is that the skills that you use to succeed in a liberal arts degree are the same skills that you will need to succeed in your career.  That being said, many of you do not realize or are not confident in identifying your value to employers.

As we have heard time and again, the careers that exist today are not the careers that will exist 5 years from now.  Even if the job title is the same, the type of work and how it is done is likely to change dramatically as our culture, economy, and technology evolve.  Thus, what employers are looking for most of all is someone who can learn and adapt quickly.  When you write a paper, or prepare a group project, when you participate in a community-based learning course, or deliver a presentation in a class, you are demonstrating and refining many of the same skills and attributes that you will be required to use in your career. It is the process, perhaps even more than the theories and concepts, that is important.  Whether you remember that on this date in 1429 Joan of Arc raised the siege of Orleans or that the protagonist in Much Ado About Nothing is Beatrice is not likely to have a dramatic impact on your career trajectory. However, your ability to work with others, conduct research, synthesize information and convey it in an articulate and concise manner will.

If there are other ways that you think a liberal arts degree helps prepare you for the “real world” or if you have a personal example, please post a comment.

For more information on skills that employers are looking for check out these links:

Top 10 Skills Employers are Looking For

Employability Skills

What Do Employers Really Want

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