friendships as an adult | a mid-20s reflection

Thank you to everyone who takes the time to read! As always, feel free to message me your thoughts after, I always love to hear them.

Life update: I moved to Vancouver in June! Moving a few hours away from most of my closest friends seemed like a fitting time to write about what goes into these pivotal relationships.

In our mid to late 20s, gone are the days where friendships are fostered mainly out of convenience – like seeing each other every day on the same university campus. Now, a certain amount of intention is imperative for the majority of our friendships. With this comes some thought as to what a friendship should look like which I’ve found is different for everyone.

The unspoken rules of friendship

Whether meeting at a party, an orientation, or through mutual friends, all relationships begin during those first interactions. Funnily, a friendship in one person’s mind may simply be an acquaintance to someone else. Over time, we have all experienced our familiarity and vulnerability with people grow – the underlying drivers of friendship.

I have heard of “categorizing” friends. Not just in the more traditional sense, like categories of closeness, but in other ways. For one, categories of how you communicate. 

I have some friends who we schedule a FaceTime catch-up every couple of months to get filled in on each other’s lives. I have others where we text sporadically but thoroughly. With some friends, we message often without filters – whatever comes to mind and it’s all welcome. I used to think only the frequent, filterless communication style were my “closet” friends.

However, frequency of communication does not necessarily indicate intimacy.  How I communicate with friends depends on what the relationship has been like, what it’s currently like, and each person’s preferences. In reality, I usually communicate most often with the people in closest proximity to me or my life stage. For other friendships, we describe seeing old friends – the good ones – as like pressing play after hitting pause. You “pick up right where you left off”. This phenomenon indicates some sort of intimacy that is not limited by if you live near each other or speak often.

Those friendships that feel like “pressing play” are usually the ones that draw us right in to the here-and-now, making years apart feel more like weeks or even days. Life gets busy and new things become the focus: career, partners, family. Seeing friends every single day in university turns into weekends and maybe some evenings. Adult friendships exemplify the value of being in the present moment with whoever you are with – maximizing the time you do have.

When I was younger, it felt like friendships had stringent rules. To be friends, to be close, you needed to do certain things.

Friends go to the mall together, or friends post pictures together, or friends text all the time.

It was all arbitrary. And completely based on culture, trends –  a multitude of factors that don’t actually matter.

Friends can sit at home on the couch and never take any photos together. Friends can never text or just have a phone call every few months.

Friendship can look so many different ways.

As straightforward as it sounds, what matters is that all individuals involved feel good about the dynamic. All of the often silent but agreed upon bounds of what your relationship is and how you sustain it are unique for every friendship. As soon as one person starts to feel like it’s not quite enough, the friendship starts to dwindle. Or contrarily, if one person consciously (or sometimes subconsciously) loses the zeal they once had – the friendship fades.

Friend groups

Friend groups are a whole other bag of worms. A friend group to me exists when there’s not only a group of people that spend time together. They are propelled by individual relationships between all members of the group. This is the fuel of what to me, makes a group feel close. It’s what keeps people coming back at the end of the day. Comfort with not just one person but a number of people in the circle is a special feeling. It’s nice to have banter with almost all if not all of the group you are with. This is much preferable to clinging to a one or two people you truly feel close to. It’s a feeling analogous to safety. 

No new friends?

“You have not met all the people you will love yet.”

Especially entering your mid-late twenties, making new friends seems to be less of a priority. Most people have childhood friends, high school friends, undergrad or grad school friends, and at that point start to close up shop when it comes to making new ones. We feel comfortable with the circles we have. You also might feel too busy to keep up with current friendships, let alone new ones.

Still, within the last year in particular, I have met people that I feel I connect with almost instantaneously. People that I can talk to for hours at a time. These were not in moments where I was looking to make friends but it just happened. I try to remain quite open to new people and it’s for this reason.

Kirsten, one of my newest friends who exemplifies someone I could easily talk to right away

Once in a while, a casual conversation unveils a compatible connection that you did not plan, you just happened to be open to it. Not everyone is as extroverted or social but I do believe everyone has the potential to adopt this mindset towards strangers.

I am currently working through The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer and one chapter is dedicated to the concept of “staying open” rather than following the tendency to close ourselves off:

Excerpt from The Untether Soul by Michael A. Singer

As someone who just moved across the country, part of why I leaned towards this decision was because I subscribe less to the mentality that at some point we should just stop making friends. Moving felt like a great opportunity to meet even more new people.

There is always the initial growing pains of a new place but with time, you can watch as your friendships shift and deepen. One perk of making new friends as an adult is this understanding: in each new stage of life I have always managed to build a community and this will continue to happen. Your life thus far is evidence for yourself of what is possible. With patience, true friendships will be made again and again, wherever you start over.

When friendships end

If we think of friendships as on their own lifespan, I’ve discussed new friends, ongoing friends, but I am yet to discuss when friendships end.

Perhaps I shouldn’t call it a lifespan but just a friendship spectrum. With every human you interact with, you have this spectrum of familiarity and/or a spectrum of closeness. Both of these can ebb and flow from complete strangers to best friends and then shift all the way back to essentially strangers if we drift from someone completely.

We will all experience having friendships evolve. Yet, it still surprised me when some of my friendships changed dramatically over time. It is hard to imagine your relationship with someone potentially dissolving, especially when you’re at your peak closeness.

Sometimes it can feel as painful as a loss or heartbreak.

But just like with grief, I’ve found that life often expands around that gap if you let it. When a close friendship ends, I will find myself closer to other people over time; growing in other relationships as my closeness to someone else fades.

While we may try to reflect and salvage what’s left of a friendship, especially our strongest ones, sometimes that energy isn’t matched. And sometimes you just don’t have the compatibility you once had. 

I feel very lucky that several of my childhood or high school friends, while we have all grown up, experienced life, and changed, still feel aligned to me in a lot of ways. We have grown in parallel rather than in opposite directions. We can talk candidly about how we’ve changed as we have all been there to witness it. The friendships we do sustain through each new chapter of life presents us this opportunity to reflect and look back together.

Adult Friendship Philosophies

I have touched on a lot aspects of where friendship and adulthood intersect so I’ll leave you with a few of my core thoughts:

  1. Friends can’t read your mind, you have to let them know if you have an expectation. The make-or-break of all relationships is communication. Letting someone know how you’re feeling is the advice I give others and receive from others all the time. We all need the reminder sometimes. If you do not care enough to share how you feel or if you have and it feels unheard, see # 2
  2. Friendships change. Sometimes dramatically. We all change and so naturally so will our relationships. Everyone can think of a couple people that come to mind – how you were before and how you are now. I used to think these changes were evidence of huge strains on my friendships. Sometimes they are but often, it just means you are both comfortable and still love having the other person in your life, just in a different way. There do not have to be rules. Things just are how they are in any given moment. It is also okay for a friendship to change a healthy amount as life does. If your friend gets a new job, a new partner, has a child, naturally these things will take up space in their life and require time. Priorities shift.
  3. Stay open. There are people you have not met who have the potential to impact you greatly. Friends can be our greatest teachers. Friends can become chosen family. Arbitrarily choosing a time in your life to not be looking for that anymore feels silly to me. While we may feel like our plate is full from all the relationships we balance, this can be countered by the fluidity that comes when we do not put stringent rules on how often we communicate with people to consider our relationship, a friendship.

Until next time! – Iku

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When did everyone become so alike?: A social media reflection

Welcome back to my passion project – it always feels good to write. I hope that you feel my honesty in this one. Let me know what you think! It might take a bit to get back to you which you will understand if you get to the end.

The irony is not lost on me that the way I am going to share this is via social media. 😉

Social Media & Detoxing

Growing up with it + falling in love with it

I always say my generation grew up in a special time. A lot of people must say that about when they grew up, but the Internet really has prompted an undeniable shift in society. It is a change that will be spoken about for generations to come.

My adolescence feels marked by the uptick in social media platforms. I can remember my first Instagram post – it was not even of me. It was of two of my close friends taking a selfie in my high school cafeteria. If you scroll back on my profile, you can still find it. This has always been my favourite part of Instagram – scrolling back. It is one of the biggest reasons I like to post.

Claiming to be a saint when it comes to social media use is not my goal. I am in an exciting stage of life right now. And that has correlated to an increase in social media use compared to my routine baseline this time last year. From graduation trips to graduation itself, it has been a time for taking photos and videos – and of course wanting to share them.

Life lately!

Not only is it fun to share, I also do want to see what the people I love are doing. (This works well when you are happy for others’ livelihood but falls apart when you are envious.) It makes us feel connected even when we’re physically not – I haven’t decided how I feel about this: it’s neither all good or all bad, like everything in life.

Social media culture shifts

But with this lies some dissonance. Gradually, my screen time has become the highest it has been in a long time. Insidiously, I have felt more unsettled. And I have been a willing participant.

Not great stuff

Social media boundaries that I used to have – not checking my platforms first thing in the morning for one – are blurring. I have noticed how different time feels when I am more immersed in social media. It feels like I do less and like I have less time overall. Part of this can be attributed to being out of any sense of routine. Between moving and travels, I feel like I don’t have a true home base.

The current energy I am exposed to on Instagram seems to be more rooted in “authenticity”: posting less frequently, no filters, more photo dumps/albums, and surprisingly increased use of stories. Jokes on us – it’s still “a highlight reel”. I have no idea how my last few months have been perceived, but I have had some rough days filled with big emotions that I feel swept up in. You’ll never see or hear about them when they’re happening. Sometimes, I’ll share a photo on those days and I feel far from authentic. Social media has become one of my favourite adult pacifiers.

I remember when Instagram stories first came out and everyone used it to post their snapchat handles. Now, it seems to be the most desirable use of the app. But with it, comes the nagging element that stories are only up for 24 hours. If you’re not on in that window then you miss out. When I have taken breaks from social media, this is the most difficult hurdle to overcome for me personally – letting go of the idea that I am “missing” things. From memes sent by your friends to stories or even breaking news.

Trends & Identity

The tempo of society

Social media setting the pace and the pulse of our day-to-day is the new norm.

Even as I get ready to move to Vancouver for residency and I plan out my bedroom decor, I’m influenced. When did it become normal for everyone to have the same monochromatic furniture and white puffy couches? Or maybe this is just the niche that I am exposed to on Pinterest and Instagram.

Since the 2020 BLM Protests, social media has also become a steady outlet for cycles of outrage. In some ways, I do feel more aware than ever. In others, number than ever. I feel like I cannot begin to sort through it all anymore. The ability to tune some of it out by deleting a few apps and going about your day is a privilege that should not be lost on any of us.

When did everyone become so alike?

Another qualm I have with social media is this growing sense that I do not have my own likes or dislikes, my own views or taste. These are core aspects of what I would consider my identity. This sense overwhelms me most when I spend large portions of my day on these apps. I feel like I have to sit down and remind myself of who I am, what I enjoy, and what I believe. Something I can only really do during long breaks away from so much information input.

I begin to ask myself , “Do I even have a unique thought?”. Whenever I write, I also ask myself this. It is a question I first heard in reflection from an influencer, Michelle Reed – I know, the irony.

It always feels like I am toeing the fine line between inspiration and assimilation. For example, I love clothes and finding new pieces that feel very “me”. I think I do a decent job of wearing what feels good on me however I also feel very much fed the trends/style of everyone around me. Yet, I also am a firm believer in things being popular for a reason – like Aritzia, which I alongside many am a sucker for. I wear a lot of my items from there year after year. I enjoy the consistency. And I am willing to admit it’s basic. It’s a constant back and forth with myself: branch out or stay in line.

Maybe it’s okay

There is a grace I give myself rooted in that this might be how it has always been. As in, we – humans – are all a compilation of what has been showed to us and shared with us. While social media is an evolution of this, people have all always been a summation of the trends of the times. The thoughts I share here are another permutation of lessons you can likely find somewhere else. I like to believe it does not make it less meaningful to the people this does reach. Overall, I try to give credit wherever I can for the thoughts and lessons I have stumbled across.

My Action Items: 4 social media changes I am going to try out

It would not feel right to observe all of this and not have a plan of action. I’ll report back but here are some straightforward changes I came up with:

  1. Limiting my usage. The obvious. What is the how behind this? Quite simply, I am going to try to delete Instagram – the main culprit – and only download it on the weekends for a short period of time. For other apps – my goal remains to not to open them in the morning.
  2. Telling my friends about 1). This makes me feel less bad about not replying to their messages or memes.
  3. Reading about how to better manage our digital world – people have already looked into this! Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport has been on my list for a while. Reading also always tends to remind me of the one of many other ways I can spend my time other than scrolling.
  4. Quite literally getting a life, an extension of 3). I made a list. A list of things I like to do other than work and scroll. These ranged from movement (pilates, walks, biking), meditation, singing, and learning languages just to name a few. Big fan of lists as a “second brain” over here.

That’s all for now! I like writing these because as much as they may resonate with someone else, they are often words I need to reflect on and read myself. As always, I am only a DM away but I might not see it until Saturday.

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Until next time,

Iku

Chapters of Self-Love: Part 2 – How to Build Confidence  

Greetings from Iku – I say this every time (and will continue to) but thank you to everyone who reads these! Always love to hear what resonated with you so do not hesitate to reach out with feedback. 2022 has been more of a whirlwind than anticipated. The residency application process (and with it, medical school!) is finally over so I am back to blogging with the second part of this series!

Read Part 1 here.

Recognizing Insecurity [High School]

Prom 2015 (I will spare you all too many mid 2010s photos)

We left off in middle school where I felt unstable in my friendships. It was the classic experience of feeling lonely despite being surrounded by people, particularly at school. In many ways, I’m grateful for those years and that the best was yet to come. How I felt in middle school pushed me to apply for the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at Glenforest Secondary School in Mississauga. Thirteen-year-old me was looking for a fresh start. Glenforest was about a twenty-minute drive from my house and it was a school where I knew close to nobody.

Inadvertently, I put myself into an experience that taught me one of life’s greatest lessons at an early age – good things happen when you leave your comfort zone. That has become a common theme for me in my young adulthood – starting with a blank slate and finding my people. 

I am one of those people that loved high school. To this day, I give a lot of credit to the friends I surrounded myself with for who I am now. You could often find a group of us at Central Library. We were not always completely focussed but for the most part, worked hard towards our goals. They inspired me to take on leadership positions and as cheesy as it sounds – believe in myself and my abilities. It was an environment where we celebrated each others’ achievements, had big aspirations and held each other accountable to them.

With all this said, while I felt well-supported by my circle of friends, I did start to grapple with a lot of insecurity late in high school into early undergrad. Mainly about my physical appearance. At such a young age, I could not understand why.

Now, I recognize it was multifactorial – the rise of social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube paired with the universal struggles of adolescents from any generation. You assign worth to how much validation you get from your peers – and compare it to others. The likes, the comments, the chatter around you about this person or that girl and how desirable they are, can get to you.

I remember days where I would come home and not even look myself in the mirror. In some ways, I think I was trying to protect myself from picking how I looked apart. If I’m honest, I still have days where I bounce back to this habit. It’s a part of confidence I’m still figuring out.

We all have days where we don’t feel our best. Bad body image days come and go. Confidence is another spectrum that we navigate – from feeling great about yourself to feeling extremely down. Occasionally, avoiding the mirror for a day puts me out of a negative thought loop.

I strive for my reality to be always looking at myself and having only lovely words to say. I may not always be there but it’s certainly more positive days than otherwise. Progress isn’t linear – an image I love shows it as an upward trajectory with troughs and peaks:

Sometimes I’ll go through the ups and downs within a single day. You wake up feeling confident then insecure in the afternoon, and eventually having to hype yourself up for a night out with friends. 

I was still far from confident by the end of high school but honestly, who wasn’t? Confidence is also multi-faceted. Where I lacked confidence in my ever-evolving teenage physical appearance, I gained confidence in my abilities and my community. I hear it gets better with age and time. This was true for me in the coming years. Perhaps it has to do with a growing amount of indifference to the material or physical that comes with more life experience. 

Finding Confidence [Undergrad to Medical School]

In undergrad, I continued to feel unsettled at the start. The university environment can be challenging to navigate and this unfortunately can be even more true as a Black woman. “They Said This Would Be Fun”, a memoir by Eternity Martis does an excellent job of putting words to this experience. She shares moments like being told she was pretty “for a Black girl” and being fetishized in the dating scene. These often universal experiences do a number on your confidence.

To be frank, I think I accepted that I was probably “not an attractive person” and it stopped bothering me. I had my highlight reel life on Instagram and I am sure many were none the wiser to how I felt about my appearance.

It feels sad to write those words but interestingly it did not affect my day-to-day contentment. Confidence is weird – and like I said, multi-faceted. Despite these feelings, my confidence in my abilities was at an all-time high. I really enjoyed my time at McMaster. I made lifelong friends and really found my footing within student leadership.

Eventually, a combination of life experiences helped me to find confidence in how I looked as well. I did a lot of travelling after undergrad which helped me meet beautiful human beings from diverse backgrounds and take a notable break from the spaces that fuelled my insecurity. I found my personal style; loving what I was putting on my body, made me appreciate my body more. As did finding workouts that made me feel good!

Soonafter, I made the choice to see myself differently. As beautiful. This shouldn’t be an uncomfortable thing to see yourself as. And that solution – the decision to view oneself a certain way – is like a lot of philosophies in life – simple but not easy.

As unimportant as it had become to me to be perceived as beautiful on the outside, I insidiously started to really feel it for the first time in my post-pubescent life. I stopped comparing myself to others – my friends, girls on the Internet, etc. and just woke up every day grateful to be me.

The stability that comes when your self-esteem is not based on comparison is crucial. On the other hand, I also fill my social media feeds with Black women that I admire. This is not to compare myself – while I do learn a makeup tip here and there from some of my favourites – but as an intentional reminder to be proud of where I come from and what I look like.

Flash forward to medical school and to today, I am the most confident I have ever been. I have amazing friends from high school, undergrad, and now medical school. I found “my people” very early in medical school and just got to enjoy myself. They are all incredibly supportive and having people to remind you who you are (and how great that person is) can make a huge impact on your overall confidence.

Practical Tips to Build Confidence

On that note, I want to leave you on some more tips to build confidence. I talked about a few contributors from my personal experience – having a solid support system being a big one but here are three more:

1. Radical gratitude. Place your focus on what matters to living a fulfilling life. During my years of least confidence, I still found myself quite content with life. My insecurity was present but it did not consume me the way it may have when I was younger. I did not realize it at the time but I believe this is because I focussed on my friendships, my interests, and enjoying my life. Confidence came more naturally when I was operating from a place of gratitude. I also think this helps you attract and keep people in your life that will remind you how special you are.

2. Confidence can be practiced (like other skills!). While confidence will always be impacted by your environment and how people treat you, it is also at the end of the day an internal feeling. I believe in a certain about of self-determination when it comes to confidence. I practice confidence every time I get ready in the morning and think kind thoughts when looking in the mirror. I practice confidence by wearing things that make me feel good and unapologetically letting myself not worry about how I am perceived.

3. Match your actions to your desired identity. This final tip ties in to the previous one. If you want to be a confident person, you might not find that feeling when you are not acting in alignment with this. The actions that make me feel confident include investing time in my hobbies (reading, writing!), being social/meeting new people, getting dressed up, and movement that I love (running, pilates, spin!). Actions that do not make me feel confident include passing all my time indoors or – unsurprisingly – on social media .

Building confidence is going to look different for everyone. I would love to hear about others’ experiences and things that worked for you!

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Thank you for reading! Wishing you all the best on this seemingly never-ending journey.

– Iku

“Chapters of Self-Love” Part 1: Childhood to Middle School

I recently purchased the Self-Love pack from We’re Not Really Strangers (WNRS) after playing the original game a few times last year. If you have not heard of WNRS yet, it is known as a game that is meant to foster deeper conversations between people who play. I highly recommend it.  Many may not know that WNRS sells much more than their infamous card game – they have expansion packs, clothing, and other merchandise.

Over the holidays, I spent some time flipping through the cards looking for a prompt to journal about. I came across this card:

As a I thought about how I would answer this question, I realized that in order to name my current chapter, I was forced to reflect on all the previous chapters in my “self-love journey”.

I debated whether this would make a good topic for a blog post– mainly because I do not want this to come off as a cry for pity. I do not regret any chapter of my journey as it has ultimately contributed to the confidence I feel today. Assuming you’re reading this, it means I decided to be a little vulnerable. Here we go!  

I have always taken the “fake it, ‘til you make it” approach when it comes to confidence. Confidence like many other traits and skills can be trained. As a result, I like to think most people I meet believe I am someone with decent self-esteem. While this may be true these days, there have been years of my life where this was certainly not the case yet many probably could not tell. I faked it quite well. Many people experience this growing up and continue to experience it in life. Putting on a performance for others despite how you actually feel about yourself is a concept I share about a lot.

My Perspective on (and Dissonance with) Self-Love

Self-love and whether or not I want to focus on it is something I have struggled with. I know in mainstream culture, self-love is often lauded as the penultimate goal to strive for. Now, I will say that I think self-love is pivotal to finding contentment with our lives and not settling for situations that are harmful to us. Concurrently, I also think we should all prioritize opportunities to de-centre ourselves and contribute to a larger vision. And yes, I do feel some dissonance with saying this and having a blog named after myself and on my life. However, I try to use this blog as a space to reflect and work by myself while having various other pockets of my life dedicated to the service of others. 

Childhood, chapter entitled Bliss

Young & blissful

As a kid, I definitely would not have described myself as insecure. I remember loving elementary school. I immersed myself in school plays, even playing a lead role in grade 5, and had friends I adored. I will say, it was during my childhood that my race and its implications became part of my awareness. Over time, I realized some things like how my hair was different and could not be styled the same ways as other little girls. Sometimes I wished it did because “different” felt equivalent to “worse”. I have written about this time period in my 2020 BLM piece entitled Awakening:

I realized being Black was different and to some people, “a big deal.” I became awake to it. I did not grow up initially thinking my skin colour was something of note. The people I loved and admired the most were Black. Some people were also Black or not Black – it was that simple. Just like any non-Black person does not grow up thinking their race is going to be this definitive aspect of their identity, I grew up the same.

I was not awakened to this fact on one particular day of elementary school, but rather it was a compilation of what I saw in mass media and having other children comment on our differences. There were few Black characters or even Disney Princesses when I was young to dress up as in costumes. There has always been odd commentary when people try to dress up as characters that do not “look like them” – as if this really should matter. Suddenly, I was 7 years old and very aware of my Blackness.

Otherwise, I would say I lived in the bliss that is unique to childhood. This might be because I was lucky, the kids I interacted with were kind to me. Kids were not yet scrolling social media finding flaws in themselves and their peers.

Still, I was unaware of what was to come with everyone’s favourite time: puberty.

Middle School, chapter entitled Instability

Me, still blissfully unaware of what’s to come!

The beloved years of puberty. Fortunately, or unfortunately (depending on how you see it), middle school encompassed three of the worst years of my life.

I recently watched an Op-Doc by The New York Times. They interviewed adolescent girls on their experiences with the mental and physical changes of this life stage. Trust, through the generations, this time remains trying to say the last.

“It was never anything I thought about and then suddenly its become one of my biggest insecurities.” A statement made by one of the girls in the video, resonated heavily with my experience over ten years ago. The feeling of yourself changing, the belief that more eyes are on you, and the unrealistic societal expectations you learn can be a punch in the face for a once blissful child.

Puberty Doesn’t Turn Us Into ‘Aliens.’ We’re Just Girls | Op-Docs – The New York Times

Due to some boundary changes in my school district, I started middle school with a different cohort of kids than I had gone through elementary school with. All the friends I had grown to adore were no longer part of my day-to-day. Thus, most of middle school, I felt a lot of instability in my relationships.

Anyone who knows me well, knows I am a textbook extrovert. I thrive around people. Unstable relationships very quickly led to instability in my self-esteem. Over time, I just wanted to do anything I could to find approval or recognition from my “popular” peers.

I wished I could have the $200 Ugg boots other girls had instead of my $15 dupe from Stitches. (In hindsight, what a great deal.) I watched other girls in my grade develop much earlier than me and much more than I ever did – as well as the attention it brought them.

Looking back, the fact that I did not fit the description I thought was the “prettiest” or most desirable perpetually disappointed me. On the surface, this seems like a typical example of pubescent insecurity. In reality, I believe it was the manifestation of my desire to be surrounded by the safe friendships I had in elementary school.

Today, I have to be mindful of how much my affinity for staying close to my loved ones can affect my mental state. I mentioned in my last blog how fearful I used to be about graduating medical school and leaving my comfortable community in Kingston. Upon reflection, I realized it connects back to the same elements of my personality that affected me in middle school. My anxious attachment style, likely originating from the need of the first humans to develop strong bonds for survival, can torment me if I do not recognize it.

To Be Continued

In Part 2 we will tackle High School into Young Adulthood and how I found confidence. While we are ending off Part 1 on a bit of a low, I will preface by sharing that my middle school experience fuelled life-changing decisions I made in high school. Until next blog!

As always, thank you to everyone that reads these blogs! Please feel free to reach out if you enjoyed or have feedback.

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3 Lessons from 2021 | Routines, Rest, and More

I’m in an interesting season of life where most of my free time is spent writing my residency applications. (Wish my friends and I luck!) This blog is a much-needed break from that headspace. Thank you for everyone who reads these and thank you for any feedback!

It’s impossible to talk about 2021 without acknowledging the pandemic. Morale was low for the first half of this year. In Ontario we started this year in a lockdown and ultimately entered an additional lockdown during the spring.  While we’re still in uNcErTaIn times now and opinions on this topic vary, I want to personally acknowledge the magnitude that having the vaccines meant for this year especially with reducing severe illness. They are a monumental step in the normalcy we are slowly starting to rediscover. Okay – now no more COVID mentions from me.

2021 for me was the year of clerkship. For those that don’t know, clerkship is when medical students finally get to go into the hospital and do rotations in most of the specialties. We see real patients every day and start to learn more hands-on. Needless to say, after months of Zoom school, my classmates and I were excited for this change. Now going into 2022, we only have 4 more weeks of in-hospital time left and after that likely won’t be doing any clinical duties until July 1st when we start residency. Quite surreal.

I like that 2021 was a year dedicated to this experience. It was a year of firsts: first IV insertion, first 24-hour call shift, etc. Through any new experience, you are bound to learn some things about life and yourself. Here are three big takeaways I had:

Lesson #1: Routines might just keep you afloat through challenging periods of life.

Maybe it’s because of the digital spaces I find myself in, but I feel content on routines has become ultra-popular. And for good reason.

At 4:15 AM on a humid September morning during my Surgery rotation, I started my day the same way I did at 7:00 AM during my Family Medicine rotation in the spring. Everyone’s morning routine looks different. Mine always includes light music, getting my joints moving, and my absolute favourite part – coffee (with frothed milk and cinnamon) among other rituals. Routines work so well because over time they become automatic. I don’t have to think about putting on the Spotify “Jazz in the Background” or another curated playlist of my choosing when I wake up, I just do it out of habit.

Yet, the music concurrently cues me that my day has indeed begun at 4:15 AM or otherwise and helps me ease into it with a calm ambiance. The few minutes of movement help me to wake up my body and get rid of grogginess. My coffee is what gets me out of bed no matter how early; it’s what I most look forward to and I am not ashamed. It really is about “the little things” as they say.

Now let’s once again circle back to 4:15 AM. Between 4 and 5 AM is usually not a time people want to wake up. Myself included. And certainly not for weeks at a time. It gets tiring no matter much you may be enjoying your work. I do try to remind myself that there are Starbucks employees and even parents of newborns in the trenches with me that early. What makes being a morning person easier for me is having routines that include moments I enjoy and would like engrained in my day-to-day.

Similarly, I have an evening routine where I try to fit in my workouts and reading – two habits that I love and make me feel balanced. I think part of the reason my routines were so lifesaving for me was because I tried to concentrate habits that can be hard to start but make you feel great after. (This is in contrast to scrolling social media which is easy to start but makes me feel less grounded after.)

Without a routine to fall back on, I probably would have entered those mornings like a deer in headlights. When my mood was off or I was having a hard week, it was nice to be on a reliable autopilot as I rode those emotional waves. It was one less thing to think about. So yes, I cringe a little when people tell me they roll out of bed fifteen minutes before they need to be somewhere. Still, I do know that some people operate well this way, and I am in no position to put how I spend my mornings on a pedestal. Regardless, here are a couple of my morning favourites if you want some inspiration to shift your routine:

Lesson #2: Rest is incredibly productive.

In late October, I started a two-week reset period I branded as “radical rest”. Throughout the year, I “hit the wall” several times and found different ways to push through. By October, none of my usual self-care tactics worked. I couldn’t stop thinking about my never-ending to-do list but also couldn’t bring myself to start a task. How did I address this? I honestly had to embrace my lack of motivation and do nothing for two weeks. Other than my essential meetings and deadlines, I came home from my day and did almost nothing “productive.”

I didn’t study, I didn’t work on research, and I most definitely didn’t look at my to-do list. I remembered how to chill out with my friends, I read books, and I watched TV – ground-breaking stuff, I know. At first, I was going to just make it one week, but I was having so much fun that I decided to make it two. By the end, I felt so much more like myself.

I went two weeks doing very close to nothing and my world did indeed not fall apart. That to-do list that was in the back of my mind every day clearly did not deserve the weight I was giving it.

In my ideal world, I wouldn’t need to have these extreme rest periods to recover from weeks on end of not giving myself interspersed rest. I mentioned this in my blog post about self-care – this oscillation between extremes – and I am still working on it. I will disclaim by saying, part of this may be related to the fact that we only had one week of true vacation this year between the beginning of January and our Christmas Break.  

Discipline is incredibly important to me. I know that to be where you want to be requires dedicated action. But maintaining the stamina it takes to keep showing up also necessitates taking breaks. I am constantly reminding myself that rest is necessary. The need for rest is embedded in humanity despite how our bustling lives can make us feel. We can’t avoid the need for it and hopefully next year I embody this principle a bit more.

Lesson #3: If you cannot change your circumstances, try changing your perspective.*

I think this is my cheesiest lesson but it’s important.

Dr. Nadia Chaudhri was a professor of psychology at Concordia University. In 2020, she was diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer and earlier this year, she shared her palliative care journey on Twitter. I followed Dr. Chaudhri and every time she posted, she exuded a peace and ease that many hope to emulate. Not to compare struggles, but it does start to feel a little silly to complain about a daily grievance when Dr. Chaudhri could joke online about needing to prevent sores as she became bedridden from her cancer.  This year, she fundraised thousands of dollars to support underrepresented students pursuing science. Above all, she taught a pivotal lesson on the power of perspective through her own outlook on her final days.

Like many others in their twenties and beyond, I had days this year where I felt extremely overwhelmed. For instance, I was excited about my last year of school approaching but also scared at the prospect of leaving my comfortable bubble in Kingston. There was a point in time where I felt like medical school was never going to end and suddenly here we are… at the end. And let me tell you I don’t like endings or goodbyes.

Eventually, I did change my perspective. I reminded myself that I felt exactly the same way at the end of high school and undergrad, and each time I start somewhere new I end up just as happy if not happier in some ways. I experience the growth that only happens from big change. The friends I’ve made in previous chapters have not gone away, the ones that really matter never leave you – if you put the effort in. Now, I’m actually pretty excited. It is the definition of a bittersweet time, but I am not living in loathing of the day I have to say goodbye to the little family I have found in Kingston. Everyone’s heard this Winnie the Pooh quote but it’s a great example of changing your perspective:

As a bonus lesson: pay attention to the lessons in kid’s television and film – there’s bangers.

*And if changing your perspective doesn’t help, the systems we lives in may be at fault. Behind the improvements that come with shifting ones mindset is often a lot of forgotten privilege.

Bring on 2022

I learned plenty of other lessons in 2021 but I do try to keep these around 1500 words! Feel free to comment what lessons you learned this year, I’d love to hear them.

2022 is going to be a trip: graduation, hopefully some travel, likely a big move, and starting residency! It is always a pleasure to see how life unfolds and pushes me. I’m sure I’ll see you here next year with the lessons it brings.

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Recognizing If You Have “Imposter Syndrome”

Hi reader! I cannot say this enough but thank you to anyone who reads these blogs and reaches out to me after. It is very touching to hear your feedback.

I recently learned that Matt Damon wrote the first draft of his film Good Will Hunting when he was a student at Harvard as an English assignment . He later went on to win an Academy Award for the film. I started to wonder, how many Matt Damons are working on their dreams right now with a Good Will Hunting equivalent in their hands, but completely doubt that they will ever be where they hope to? How many brilliant people do not see themselves as brilliant people?

Confidence – what does it actually entail? The human experience is so much performance. We hope others, even our friends and family, perceive us a certain way at all times. Whether or not you notice it, life is often like theatre.

On a similar vein, I view Imposter Syndrome as a mismatch between what we may want to see ourselves as and what we think we are able to be seen as. The way that we believe that we are perceived by others often ties into this mismatch. As encapsulated by the term “looking glass self”, we think about how others see us and make this our identity rather than deciding who we are for ourselves. Some people have never experienced Imposter Syndrome and that is certainly a win. But for those that have or may not realize they are, this discussion may be sorely needed.

What is “Imposter Syndrome”, really?

I like this definition of Imposter Syndrome from the Canadian Medical Association: a psychological pattern of fear and self-doubt. It interferes with people’s belief in their own accomplishments and burdens them with the persistent, internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud — despite evidence of their abilities. I also personally expand Imposter Syndrome to include not believing in our potential for further growth.

However, an article entitled “Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome” was published this year to challenge the notion that Imposter Syndrome is rooted in one’s self-perception. Rather, it disproportionately affects certain identities more based on the way our world operates. This Imposter Syndrome phenomenon often stems from societal and workplace cultures that both explicitly and implicitly encourage individuals to doubt their abilities. It is no secret that women, racialized folks, people with disabilities, and more do not experience everyday life the same as those who may not identify as such. Living somewhere at the intersection of this as a Black woman has demonstrated to me quite evidently why this is. They are underrepresented and often questioned in a plethora of spaces and they may not be aware of the same opportunities as their colleagues.

Likewise, I will acknowledge that I am an able-bodied, neurotypical, high SES individual and that provides me my own reassurances navigating life. I wrote the following paragraph in my summer 2020 article, entitled Awakening: “Black role models have not been in short supply in my life. My parents are well-educated and self-employed business owners, my late maternal Grandfather was a well-loved physician and senator in Nigeria. I have physicians, engineers, nurses, teachers, and everything in between on both sides of my family. I think it showed throughout my life as I always knew and was often told how much potential I had and saw what I could achieve.” Despite these examples in my life, I still have struggled to see myself in certain positions where people who look like me are few and far between.

My Experience with Imposter Syndrome

I am a medical student in my final year. To the surprise of many, I only recently felt confident in the specialties I will apply to for residency next year. I told myself for months that the reason I was not sure what I wanted to specialize in was because I knew I could be happy in many things. This is definitely partially true however there was another larger reason I would not commit: fear. Fear is the underpinning of Imposter Syndrome. Coincidentally, my word for 2021 – yes, I am one of those people – is fearless. Yet, I spent most of this year afraid.

I was afraid I would never be able to acquire the skills needed for my choice in specialty.

I was afraid I would be completely giving up the lifestyle I want.

I was afraid I would not be able to handle the training ahead.

I often thought to myself – I am not one of “those people”. I felt like I would somehow have to trick programs into accepting someone like me. “Those people” as in people who could acquire the skills; the physicians I looked up to who did seem to have the work/life balance I wanted and were doing the work I loved. I saw the people who were able to handle the training I knew I wanted to undertake. As silly as this may seem to people, I am sure there are others who may be experiencing these pervasive doubts about their aspirations.

One night, reflecting with my best friend, she said to me something along the lines of – “You need to look at the best people in the field, the people you know you want to be, and realize that you are going to be one of them.” Inadvertently, she had challenged me to start seeing myself as those people. This was a radical mindset shift for me. I started to see myself as exactly the physician I wanted to be. I looked at myself with pride and reminded myself of everything that I am currently capable of. I reflected on the work/life balance I already achieve and started to believe that I could bring those principles to any training that lies before me. I started to see myself as part of the thousands of talented humans in my specialties of interest rather than as a separate entity from them that would need to “sneak my way in”.

My example is from the perspective of being in medicine, but I am sure someone in any line of work can relate. 

Conclusions & Final Tips

As usual, I have sat on this blog post for a while. I’m told that I come off as someone who is self-assured, but I have moments all the time where I feel the opposite. While this is a work-in-progress, I thought I would share what I have figured out so far. Here are some final tips:

  1. Ground yourself in the present moment. For me, this tends to be the first step to facing many of life’s qualms. I usually have feelings of Imposter Syndrome when I am worrying about the challenges ahead towards reaching my goals or dwelling on how I got to where I am. It is harder to feel insecure when I am focussing on embracing where I am at and what I am doing. It starts with waking up grateful, showing up, and doing my best. I like to tell myself, the future you will wish you spent less time doubting yourself and more time enjoying your life. In addition, at the end of the day, being in the moment and working towards your goals will help you “prove” to yourself through your very actions that you are in fact who you might doubt yourself to be.
  2. Speak about your accomplishments as facts, because they are. I learned a lot about this from listening to the book Brag Better by Meredith Fineman. We can get into the habit of downplaying things we have done. While it is important to be humble, balance is key especially if you are someone who also struggles with Imposter Syndrome. You have done great things. That is nothing to be ashamed of. You do not need to wave your accomplishments in the face of others, but it doesn’t hurt to do it when it matters – like reassuring yourself or during a job interview!
  3. Surround yourself with confident people. I am guilty of seeing confidence in others and automatically labelling this as arrogance. Instead, I try to embrace the people in my life who exude a healthy confidence. It reminds me that I too, am allowed to recognize my strengths and feel the pride that comes with it.

Perhaps Imposter Syndrome as a term does too much to blame the individual rather than the systems at play. Regardless, I will always be a fan of putting words to universal experiences and opening up the chance to talk about them.

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Self-Care Is Not a Rom-Com: A Practical Discussion on Wellness and “Adulting”

Hi reader! I’m trying to keep it interesting here with the titles.

This one was heavily inspired by two videos:

  1. Stop Romanticizing Self-Care by Valeria Lipovetsky: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wX10H1Xe_5g&ab_channel=ValeriaLipovetsky
  2. When Manipulative People Weaponize Psychology Lingo by Ana Psychology: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4D4FCLxgLQ&t=1266s&ab_channel=AnaPsychology

I thought this topic was quite applicable and wrote the first draft just after our week of much-needed vacation.

Taking care of yourself is hard. I have a feeling someone out there needs the validation so I will repeat myself – taking care of yourself is hard.

If someone would like to tell me how easy it is for them to be a functioning adult, I would love to read a list of your secrets. For the rest of us, I will be honest and say that while I have a lot of good days, there are times when doing what I know I need to do for my wellbeing is exhausting. In the age of social media, everyone seems to have it together. However, as we all should know – social media lives are constructed.

Let me preface this with saying, I do love a good yoga session, listening to music, robes, and buying myself flowers. Still, as wellness becomes discussed more heavily in workplaces, education, social media, and other spaces, many are waking up to the fact that self-care is often overly romanticized.

Earlier this year, I felt myself entering a bit of a rut. My appetite was not the same as it had been prior. I stopped feeling well-rested after sleep. I just felt uneasy. With some reflection, I realized there were a plethora of contributing factors.

One major contributor was that I was on a three-month rotation outside of my home in Kingston. I was away from my usual environment and doing a lot of work from home or via phone. Being away resulted in me losing track of the basic habits I try to keep in my life, for example meal prepping. I also started to experience plantar fasciitis (a foot injury) and had to stop running which was my main form of stress relief at the time. I turned to endless scrolling as my primary form of de-stressing. Notice that the core of my issue was rooted in basic elements of my routine.

What is and isn’t Self-Care?

I would define self-care as choosing to look after oneself – simple I know. At the forefront of this is not face masks or other more artificial forms of wellness. The foundation of wellness in my eyes is within mundane life tasks. It is the decision to cook instead of watch Netflix or the decision to go to bed at a reasonable hour. The best thing an institution can do for its students is provide days off to use to get your car serviced, do your banking, go to the doctor, do laundry. These are often things you may not have or make time for if you work certain hours every single day.

When we brand self-care with all the bells and whistles of romanticized wellness culture, some of us find ourselves unsure why being “well” is so difficult for us. Unfortunately, a lot of what actually keeps us well is boring and tedious. Self-care forces us to “parent” ourselves; it is the crux of “adulting”. This may come more naturally to some depending on how much independence you had as a child.

Self-care is rooted in discipline. The choices we make every single day to create boundaries and routines for ourselves may have the inner child in us revolting. There are habits that I try to do almost daily that I do not always feel like doing but those are the days that can be the most important.

“We are what we repeatedly do.” – Aristotle

Although I may not feel like moving my body and exercising some days, I know it is something that is important for my wellbeing. Sometimes I may not feel like having quiet time in the mornings to journal or meditate, but I sit myself down and do it. On the other hand, there are mornings where I fail and scroll on social media for 15 minutes instead – and I feel a difference in my day. Overall, I aim for the days that I am taking good care of myself to overwhelm the days that I do not.

Still, wellness is not only caring about yourself. Self-care does not imply you as the only person in your universe. Yes, you are the “main character” in your life but we need to be aware of the potential selfish pitfalls of this mindset . This leads me into the next question:

Do we weaponize wellness culture?

There are so many benefits to wellness discussions becoming less taboo but in this age of (mis)information, there are ways that wellness is becoming increasingly weaponized in our day-to-day life.

As an example, you make plans with a friend. At the last minute, hours before you agreed to hang out, they let you know they won’t be coming anymore as they are “not feeling up to it” and need to cancel. While I agree this can be an example of setting boundaries, I do also think this is can be a signal to that one’s wellbeing may need some attention.

At a certain point if this becomes a repeated pattern of behaviour, it could also be appropriate for someone to respond by no longer making plans with said friend as often. We have all been there where we have needed the caring presence of a friend. The highly individualistic focus of wellness culture at times can bring out entitlement in how we treat our loved ones. It is okay for you to expect a certain level of engagement from someone you consider close to you.

It is important to not let what you define as self-care be at the expense of your relationship with others, the environment, and humanity in general. A self-centred approach to wellness can become a slippery slope of disregard for our impact as global citizens just because it slightly affects our comfort.

Finally, I have learned the hard way not to weaponize wellness culture against myself. As I mentioned before, sometimes I do not do all the habits I hope to. Sometimes I just need to have a day where I sit and binge a TV show. Or finish a box of chocolates. Some great advice I received recently is not to judge yourself. We humans tend to do things for a reason. When I am overworked, I oscillate towards extreme rest and relaxation mode. Ideally, I would love to stay in a realm of balance rather than oscillate between extremes, but I am working on that and I think that is okay. We will all get better at this self-care thing with experience.

My Top 3 Tips to practically Improve Your Self-Care Habits

  1. Consider therapy if you can afford it or have coverage. I truly believe anyone can benefit from it. It also may help you get to the root cause of any self-care issues you may be experiencing. For example, therapy may allow you to explore your upbringing and explain any issues you have with “parenting” yourself now. You may be better off trying therapy while you feel well almost as a preventative measure rather than at the peak of when you feel like you’re spiralling. There is something about getting your thoughts out to a third-party, who does not know you or your life, that can lift weight from your shoulders while being eye-opening.
  2. Add one habit at a time to your routine. It can be easy to set the goal of having the perfect combination of meal prepping, movement, reading, reducing screen time, etc. However, it can be very challenging to completely shift your life in one huge shift. You can try adding one or two things in for a couple of weeks at a time to set the habit, then try something else!
  3. Be mindful of how you speak to yourself and exercise self-compassion. This is coming from me who recently realized how judgmental I can become of my own actions. When I was experiencing difficulty with self-care, my first instinct was to blame myself. I asked why I was not thriving, rather than objectively look at my circumstances. Coming from a place of self-compassion allowed me to recognize what I needed and give myself the tools to feel better. I recommend self-compassion meditations if you are not sure where to start.

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Why We’re Wrong About Feminism: Career Aspirations, Modesty, and More

Hi reader! Long time, no write and I will blame med school for that one. I also was doing the thing where I sit on my writing for so long trying to make it “perfect” which will never happen so I am just going to feel my fear and post regardless. Thank you SO much to everyone that reads these. If you want to always know when I post a blog you can sign up for an email here.

At this time, I am writing from Katarokwi (Kingston) situated on traditional Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee Territory.

Content warning: sexual assault and violence against women, violence against Indigenous women and girls

The term women when used in this piece = anyone who personally identifies as a woman

Feminism is a topic that we’ve challenged for centuries at this point. The history of feminism is much vaster than I can reasonably go into in this single written piece. To snap us all to the present, we are considered to be in Fourth-wave feminism, which resurged around 2012 as social media exploded.

“Everyone should be a feminist” is a phrase that makes some people cringe. If we are being honest, many do not identify with feminism as it is sometimes rally-cried today. For me, being a feminist is a natural extension of my personal outlook on life: we all deserve to feel safe to pursue what fulfills us in this life without socially constructed barriers. Simplified, feminism focusses on how treating women inequitably can keep them from this freedom. Most importantly, feminism amplifies the need for women to be able to learn, choose for, and support themselves.

We may not realize how much better things have become because of feminist movements. For example, Factfulness by Hans Rosling (a read I will always recommend) features the following question: Worldwide, 30-year-old men have spent 10 years in school, on average. How many years have women of the same age spent in school?

  1. 9 years
  2. 6 years
  3. 3 years

The vast majority of people will answer this incorrectly. The answer is 9 years:

Source: Factfulness website

Things are better in some undeniable ways. Throughout the decades, we have seen women in societies around the world receive the right to go to school, vote, and own property. Over time, feminism as a movement has grown to include the conversations around the #MeToo movement, reproductive rights, and the gender pay gap.

With this said, feminism can feel distant for people who no longer fit the mainstream narrative – noting that what is “mainstream” is a subjective experience depending on what you are fed on social media. For women who choose to dress modestly. For women who still just want their basic needs met. For women who are racialized and do not relate to the priorities of white women in this movement. Where do they stand within fourth-wave feminism?

First thing I feel we get wrong: Being a “homemaker” or a stay-at-home mother does not intersect with feminism.

A little background on me because I always want to give you context on why I see things the way I do:

April 2021 marked 20 years since my family moved to Canada from Switzerland. My mom recently sent me a photo of when we first landed in December of 2000 before moving the following April. I was three years old.

Growing up in Canada, my mom was always around. My parents started their own business upon immigrating here and because of this, my mom had the flexibility to be at home. She was at every school play or band performance, made me pancakes for breakfast a couple of times a week, and came on school field trips. (She also reads these blogs so hello to her). Where I’m going with all this is that my mom had a profound impact on how I view day-to-day life. As time goes on, I surprise myself with how similar I feel I am becoming to her. Yet, with my current career trajectory, it’s unlikely I will spend my life the way she did. Still, I do not see the work I will do as any less significant than the role she played in my life. I am sure others who grew up with stay-at-home moms feel the same, even if that is not the path we may be choosing for ourselves.

In the book turned film Little Women, we see the lives of sisters with vastly different aspirations. For protagonist Joe, she wanted to be a writer and have her work read widely. While her sister Amy wanted to be a wife and homemaker, supported by someone she loved and who loved her deeply. Both dreams were valid.

In the early seasons of Grey’s Anatomy (spoiler alert!), Cristina Yang pursues Cardiac Surgery and is unwavering in her decision not to have children. In comparison, her best friend, Meredith Grey chooses General Surgery and goes on to have three children. Again, both paths were valid.  

We are at a point where we have strides to make for women with Joe or Cristina’s aspirations and I can recognize this. We see women pushed out of leadership positions or deterred from seeing themselves in those roles likely due to various factors including Imposter Syndrome. There has even been a surge of women leaving the workplace in light of the pandemic due to the disproportionate pressures of home life on women, lower pay relative to their male partners/spouses, etc. However, we are also seeing more and more women facing shame if they do not choose a career. Women who may choose to stay at home, often sacrificing income, to do the full-time job that can be keeping a household afloat, and to be physically present for more moments of their children’s’ upbringing. 

I understand that we are not at a point where this some form of radical advocacy to be done to help women achieve their desire of being a homemaker. But I do think we are entering a phase in society where we are seeing rising costs of living and the norm becoming two-income households. Thus, women who choose to leave the workplace, or never enter it in the first place, are told that something is wrong with their decision. On a similar vein, women who choose to dress modestly whether that is for their personal, religious, or cultural beliefs are told that this desire must come from a place of “oppression”.

I feel a friendly societal reminder is needed that feminism is about giving women options. It is about widespread acceptance of our ordained right as human beings to make choices for ourselves. Reni Eddo-Lodge describes “bikini obsession” and “modesty obsession” as two ends on the same spectrum of obsession over women’s bodies and objectification. Whether the choice is to be a rising career woman who chooses to dress modestly, a stay-at-home mom who likes to show some more skin, or anywhere in between on these spectrums – normalize it all.

On a more personal note – where do I stand on these spectrums? For my career, I decided early on that I wanted a job that would give me ongoing fulfillment and financial independence. (No fairy-tales for me!) I often see people, specifically other women, questioning feminism because they believe a relationship and having someone to “provide” should be what women aspire towards. This may be true for some, but my independence contributes to my peace. There is little more important to me than being able to care for myself regardless of whether I have a partner in the picture. I understand other women may try different lifestyles for themselves and make a completely different decision than I have. Feminism has given more of us this choice.

Second thing I feel we get wrong: Feminism is just about advancing women in the workplace.

Gender equity in the workplace is often the first issue that comes to mind when people think about feminism today. Although the gender pay gap is a pressing issue for women in the workplace, I think for many people, this issue is not one they can identify with. Modern feminism focuses on the issues facing higher SES and often white women, rather than grappling with basic survival needs women still face in our communities.

These issues are in your own backyard. As a single example, we do not see nearly enough advocacy for women experiencing homelessness as we should. Homelessness for women also has implications for heightened risk of experiencing sexual assault on the streets. In Kingston-Katarokwi, Ontario where I live at the time of writing this, 55% of people experiencing homelessness identify as women. Additionally, 24% of people experiencing homelessness in Kingston-Katarokwi, identify as Indigenous. (Source) The intersectionality of these issues when we think about the still growing number of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada cannot be ignored. Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to go missing or be killed than any other woman in Canada. Indigenous women account for four percent of the Canadian population but were the victims in 28 per cent of all homicides perpetrated against women in 2019. (Source)

We unfortunately tend to ignore issues that do not directly affect our community or people we love. We have cycles of outrage and then we forget. Otherwise, we would be more alarmed when we hear stories like Tina Fontaine’s, a 15-year-old Cree girl who was murdered and left in the Red River in Winnipeg in 2014. Or Joyce Echaquan’s, an Atikamekw woman who faced racist abuse from Québec health care workers as she was dying in the hospital in September 2020.

Similarly, Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga describes experiences like this and more, sharing harrowing instances of lives lost and the impact on entire communities. I would argue that addressing this crisis is some of the most important advocacy we could be doing – especially for women and girls. Yet, Indigenous communities do more to rally search teams and support for their missing members despite their losses than our societal structure has ever attempted to.


In short, we need to be putting arguably more work into guaranteeing all women shelter, dignity, and safety than any other single feminist issue.

Third thing I feel we get wrong: Safety for someone to express their gender identity affects anyone else.

Gender expression is something we are all entitled to. Our perceptions of “masculinity” and “femininity” have always evolved with societal trends and even differ between cultures. Western culture is often amnesiac to the fact that we aren’t the only ones around. We also forget how long human beings have actually existed. In many Eastern societies, men wore skirts or sarongs for centuries – since ancient history. People today will scoff at Harry Styles for wearing a dress when just a couple centuries ago, people would be appalled to see women in jeans or trousers today. Go figure.

Some folks see feminism as a movement that discourages women to express their “femininity”. I think it is because many cannot conceptualize that perhaps, and I’m just spit-balling here, someone does not want to express this femininity by the definition you use for yourself.

On the contrary, feminism should give us all the empowerment to choose how we would like to outwardly express our gender identity in any setting. In medicine, we see women posting #ILookLikeASurgeon, a traditionally male-dominated field, in diverse attire of their choosing. We see AOC posting about looking her version of her best in her signature red lip while working in politics. All this to challenge the notion that:

a) anyone else has a say in how you choose to present yourself and

b) that certain settings or even workplaces can dictate how you should present yourself.

Within the medical field, I see health care as a fundamental right we all should have access to safely regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other labels. When we see medicine adopt principles often introduced by feminism, when we use terms like “people who menstruate” rather than simply “women”, we slowly make health care a more comfortable space for everyone to engage in without anyone else losing the safety they once had. We should do this out of love and respect for every human beings’ access to basic needs. The only belief system we need to make room for in health care is love. Talking about love in medicine should not make us uncomfortable – it is integral to humanity. Showing love to people irrespective of whether their lifestyle aligns with our own should not be a touchy topic of conversation.

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I hope I have been able to add some nuance to this conversation. I thought Why We’re Wrong About Feminism would be a catchy title but I do consider myself a feminist. Perhaps, some of you feel more open-minded to the idea and will one day call yourself a feminist if you do not already.

Recommended Reading: Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall. One of my first reads of this year that heavily inspired this post.

Thank you for reading! As always, take a screen break if you need. Walks, books, and stretching are encouraged on here.

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“Body Goals”: Building a Healthy Relationship With Fitness Culture

content warning: fitness, connotations around body image

Hello reader!

I want to preface this post by saying thank you to anyone who reads these blogs! I have loved hearing from anyone who has related to what I share so do not hesitate to reach out!

Disclaimer: I am not a fitness professional and this is all completely anecdotal. Consider speaking to a licensed health care provider prior to making significant changes to your lifestyle! There will be an excessive use of quotation marks in this post for terms that we see in fitness culture that are likely over-simplifications – i.e. “fit”, “toned”, “metabolism”, etc.

As a human who moves their body (yes, like the vast majority of us), this still feels like a personal topic to write about. We all have our own complicated relationship with fitness. I am going to focus on movement in this post. If we talk in-depth on eating, we’d be here all day. I view movement as a basic human need. I define being “fit” as having a consistent routine that involves moving your body and feeding it mindfully. To me, fitness should have little to do with aesthetics. Appearances sometimes tell you nothing about someone’s actual fitness level.

My Fitness Background and “Body Goals”

I included “body goals” in this title because we hear this concept colloquially all the time. Within social media culture and our personal circles, there is this notion that an ideal body should be strived towards. Although I do not feel able to comment on the experiences of masculine-identifying folks, I do know they are also not immune from societal standards on how their bodies should look. I will be focusing on my perspective as a femme-identifying individual.

I have always had a naturally “athletic” build. This next section is not to brag about my body type I promise, it is just important to understand my perception of fitness culture.  While my body may look “toned”, this absolutely does not correlate to my athletic abilities. I always laugh when people meet me and assume that I played sports. In reality,

  1. I am notoriously uncoordinated.
  2. Have never seriously played a sport.
  3. Did not take fitness seriously until the past couple of years.

Brief history on me since adolescence

In high school, I

  • Joined the girls flag football team and quit after one morning practice.
  • Regularly bought Timbits for myself at lunch.
  • Never went to the gym or the local YMCA. I was thriving off of my “high metabolism” which I think is an overarching term for “I can eat whatever I want and externally you wouldn’t be able to tell”.

In undergrad, I

  • Occasionally went to the gym but never even remotely enjoyed it.
  • Could barely keep up the one time I joined my housemate for a run.
  • Consumed an undergrad diet of lots of takeout, the occasional homemade pasta, and plenty of Eggos with Nutella.
  • Played intramural volleyball, as a way to make friends, and worked as a volleyball referee for two years, as a way to make money. However, you can ask anyone who has played a game with me and they’ll let you know I am typically elated just to get a serve over the net.

Yet, all these years, my body still looked essentially exactly as it does now. Now – when I work out 3 to 5 times a week and try to be mindful about eating healthy meals.  I will explore how I got to this point, but I have often asked myself: How can this be explained?

The answer is multifactorial. For one, genetics.

A superficial exploration of my own genetics!

I have the same body type as my mom has which is unsurprising – I am her daughter. We have curves and muscle in the same places as well as lack thereof in the same places. While this does not always reign true in families due to the complexity of genetics, it can often be the case.

There is also the psychological factor of growing up with my mom’s outlook on movement. My mom is dedicated to fitness and has been since I was a little kid. In recent years, she has run my age in kilometres annually for my birthday.

I have my mom’s habits in the back of my head all the time. When I decided to get more into fitness, it was easier for me to apply her habits to myself because I have my memories.

I remember my mom doing aerobics in the basement on the weekends. She would watch nutrition and fitness shows on TV.

We all inherit the habits we grew up with. Your childhood shapes your view of what normal things to do are. It’s why we have daily physical activity (DPA!) and recess integrated into elementary school. It can become a generational cycle of not knowing how to get into fitness if it is not something you saw in your home. I know people can get down on themselves when starting can feel unnatural or intimidating.

This psychological and developmental component of fitness cannot be ignored and yet, often it is. We forgot the adults who don’t know how to exercise were once kids who were never taught how to set that lifestyle habit.

The problem I have with “body goals” as a benchmark for fitness is that it leads to unhealthy habits for those who easily pass as “fit”-looking likely due to genetics, and an unhealthy mindset for people who may not look like those standards. The way I looked on the outside during my most sedentary years could not possibly have reflected my actual health.

Many can attest that when you tie your mindset towards movement to how you feel rather than how you look, it will be a much more enjoyable and thus sustainable way to live. This is easier said than done but here are a few philosophies that could help you get there!

Some Philosophies on Movement

A compilation of my experiences with fitness + advice I have absorbed over the years.

1. Find the movement you enjoy and simply do that.

Exercise does not have to be a high intensity workout or a long run. Exercise is just movement. You do not need to conform to anyone else’s fitness routine or take yourself too seriously tracking things (although some people find that fun and motivating!). For example, a walk around your neighbourhood is exercise. The moment I started shifting my workouts to just be moving my body in a way that I like, I slowly became that “fit person”, a lot of people may have in their heads.

In 2019, I found myself loving the cardio feeling, seeking it out at GoodLife and other rhythmic spin classes. At first, I found spin extremely challenging. But, by the end of the class, when I thought, “I’m never doing that again”, the endorphins would hit me and I would feel accomplished.

I would say spin was my first fitness love. However, I have never forced myself to be stagnant in how I choose to move my body. I started to love running as a form of meditative movement and simultaneously, a way to meet people. Running requires minimal equipment and gives me a chance to explore a new city.  

I rotate in HIIT training, strength training, Pilates, or yoga throughout the week. Overall, I intentionally plan workouts that I love and genuinely look forward to. They help to break up my day and give me motivation or an energy boost. If I can get through a challenging workout then perhaps, I can make a dent in something else I have been procrastinating on.

Moving our bodies is something that we get to do. Moving keeps me healthy and improves the health of my future self. I see movement as essential to life as food, water, or sleep. Seeing movement this way has allowed it to be a seamless part of my routine. If you think of it as something that is just part of your day because it simply must be for your wellbeing, you make the time for it. It will take up less space in your mind and become a less daunting experience. Many describe this as a mindset shift: “I have to move my body” becomes “I get to move my body”. “I am exercising” becomes “There is exercising”.

Rooting movement in gratitude could be the difference you need to get yourself loving it.  None of this has to do with how you look. It is about how you feel in your own skin and being grateful for being at home in this body.

2. You do not have to do fitness alone.

When I moved to Kingston, I felt like everyone ran. Soon, I discovered the socialization aspect of fitness. This side of fitness was hidden behind all my sad solo gym sessions in undergrad so I never realized how friendly, fitness could be. This cultural shift and the expansion of my social circle to include people who liked to move – was everything.

Michelle Obama said in a podcast episode about health, something along the lines of “I will quit on myself but I will not quit on my friends.” This has reigned true for me. During the summer months of 2020, one of my good friends decided to start doing Shaun T’s Insanity workouts. Although I was running regularly, when he asked me if I wanted to join him and our other friends to try out one of the workouts, I reluctantly told him that I would try it – once. And wow – I encourage everyone to try Insanity at least once if you want to feel pushed by a workout. 

Similarly, to my first spin classes, I had those “I am never doing that to myself again”. thoughts. Yet, the endorphins I felt after the workouts were multiplied ten times over by being able to feel the gratification with my friends.

And watch them feel pummelled right beside me.

Throughout the summer, we started doing Insanity twice a week and having our friends join us on Zoom.

Two months in, we could not believe where our stamina once was, and it felt special to have witnessed all of us progress together. My energy level increase while running and hiking astounded me. And to this day, most importantly, I still hear Shaun T’s encouraging words in anything I do, exercise or in other areas of my life:

“Dig deeper.”

“We are pushing through this.” 

“Your body can do this.”

3. Make time for movement about time with yourself.

I know we just talked about not having to do fitness alone but there will be moments where you cannot find a workout buddy (or pandemic lockdowns that makes this harder). I have had to find ways to make solo workouts or at-home workouts a pleasurable time.

The best way I have found to do this is by making my fitness time, a time for me and a break within my day. It is not something that I dread but something that I look forward to. Movement gives me some time away from obligations and with my thoughts.

I curate playlists of my favourite music and sometimes just mute the workout video, follow along to the visuals, and enjoy my music. I know lots of people who use long walks as a chance to listen to an audiobook or podcast or simply take in the scenery around them. The very nature of setting aside time to exercise or getting a nice sweat on can be therapeutic.

From a vainer perspective, I love cute workout clothes. You can find confidence in just you being powerful, moving your body, perhaps wearing something you like. By no means do I think we need to subscribe to consumerism and purchase fifty pairs of leggings. All I am saying is if I take the time to put on a favourite matching set of mine, it is extremely unlikely that I will not roll out my yoga mat or hit play on my workout video.

Privilege in Fitness Culture

I want to bring up my various privileges here. I discussed the privilege of my upbringing at the start. However, we also live in a society in which a lot of this is harder to do when you are living with a lower income or have much less time between work, school, and life responsibilities. I am a financially secure student who is able to support myself without too much stress. Although, I interpret working out as a need, it is not actually a basic physiologic need. In accordance with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I am able to spend my free time towards personal esteem.

Source: Wikipedia

All those gym memberships, workout clothes, and fitness watches that many might access with ease are much more attainable with money and time. That said, YouTube is an amazing tool to get at-home fitness ideas and lots without any fancy equipment

My Favourite Fitness Content Creators: Sydney Cummings (YouTube), Lottie Murphy Pilates (YouTube), Linda Sun (YouTube), Shaun T (Insanity) and always accepting recommendations!

The next time you think about fitness or the serious concern that people are living increasingly sedentary lifestyles, perhaps you will also think about the privileges it can take to prioritize health and nutrition every day.

Move your body in a way that feels right for you if you can – because you can and that is a gift.

Until next time! Reminder to take a screen break if you need.

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What McMaster Health Sci Taught Me: Part 2 (ft. My 2015 Application)

In Part 2, we talk navigating burnout and medical school applications – enjoy!

Starting from where we left off:

Wouldn’t it be great if more people went to class to learn how to play again? We can look at an experience like undergrad and think that play should never intersect with it. Health Sci challenges that notion completely. I never heard anyone speak of the “yoga course” as something that other programs could and should adopt. Rather, it was sometimes used as a way to poke holes in the credibility of the program and its graduates. This leads me into my next lesson —

Lesson # 3: Undergrad burnout can and should be prevented.

I started med school with what I felt was less burnout than some of my peers who did other degrees. This left me with a sense of imposter syndrome. Did I only get accepted to medical school because my program was “easier”? Will I be able to cope with new stressors?  

Going to Health Sci or having an “easier time” in undergrad does not seem to be making me or any of my fellow graduates any worse a medical student or future health professional. The notion that this could be the case relates to an even bigger discussion – the normalization of burnout and a culture that feeds into it. With this being said, I do not think going through a more rigorous undergrad has made other students any less equipped to be a doctor either. No matter the route you take, your capacity to learn is not defined by the degree you chose to pursue out of high school.

Most people have nothing negative to say about Health Sci. I always remind myself that it was a privilege – truly like winning a lottery – to be accepted into this program. In Health Sci, many of your professors know you by name and the office is quite invested in student wellness – in a way a lot of other programs could take notes from. There was flexibility to take time off if needed and to reset deadlines when life happened.

The courses offered in Health Sci, especially the third- and fourth-year courses, were always dynamic. I, and many others, can remember the rush of course selection days, hoping my WiFi would connect quickly enough to secure some very sought after classes. Well-known courses among students and alumni alike include:

  • Inquiry
  • Artistic Explorations of Community Issues
  • Theatre for Development
  • Written Communication (the reason I write today!)
  • Work, Self, and Purpose
  • Body, Mind, and Spirit
  • Music, Health, and Community
  • Communications
  • Superbugs

Health Sci fuses the humanities and the arts throughout the curriculum of its courses. My exposure to this in undergrad is part of my belief that health and the humanities are inextricably related. How can we approach health and wellbeing without learning about people’s lived experiences? The arts are tools for story-telling, reflection, and seeing the world through someone else’s mind. The arts are for everyone.

Written Communication facilitated by the lovely Bob Spree is the reason why I started putting pen to paper again. You had to buy a notebook, preferably a moleskin, for this course. His class connected me to language without any pressure, strict rubric, or need to be told I was doing it “right”.

Communications was my first exposure to counselling and meaningful dialogue with patients or clients. It is a favourite among Health Scis for good reason and it was course that I was happy to see students in other programs be able to take.

My housemate and I made a verbatim theatre piece for Hartley’s Theatre for Development course that I look back on now with so much gratitude. It was a video reflection on our experiences in our house of seven – entitled House to Home. We recorded interviews with our housemates and then re-enacted them verbatim – right down to filming in their bedrooms. It remains a perfect reminder to me of the emotions I felt living in Hamilton. This class drew people way beyond their comfort levels. Another major assignment in the course was to act out a scene from a script we were assigned in groups of two to three. Watching my peers invest time embodying their characters, memorizing their lines, and finally performing was a special space to me as a Health Sciences student. Other than my time in Mac’s One Act Club, I had not performed like that since my school theatre production in grade 5. Theatre has great applicability to the “real world”. Even practicing in the mirror how you want to talk through a conflict with your significant other or your best friend is essentially a theatre exercise! Hartley also intentionally spent time highlighting prison theatre and how performance has been used as a rehabilitative tool. Drama and the arts in general expose the capacity for people to express and simply be – without judgement. Whether an incarcerated individual or a university student, theatre can be transformative.

Across the majority of Health Sci courses, the common element was reflection. If you ask anyone in Health Sci how many reflections they wrote throughout the course of their undergrad, the number is probably upwards of 20. Some courses had weekly reflections and lengthy exit meetings where you presented evidence of your progress to your facilitator. I will disclaim that students also do not have to fill their schedule with BHSc courses. The elective space gave students the choice to take more traditional courses if they decided to.

Not only did I come into medical school feeling prepared with a background in Anatomy & Physiology, Critical Appraisal, Health Policy, and other more traditional courses. I also came in with years of experience on the “soft skills” – you know, all the group processing, group presentations, and arts-based education. In addition to this, I had early, albeit skeptical, exposure to mindfulness practices (meditation, yoga, self-reflection) that I further developed since graduating. I have found that it has helped me come into my career with strategies to prevent burnout and maintain my wellness. I am thankful to have learned these tactics through formal education.

It is intuitive to many that we need formal education to understand basic sciences. Yet, it slips our minds that perhaps we need the same level of teaching on how to keep ourselves grounded. Just because topics are easy to conceptualize does not mean that they are easy to practice or prioritize intentionally. Someone could probably get 100% on a multiple choice quiz about wellness (conceptual) but would “fail” if they assessed how much they applied these skills in their own life (practice). This practice takes repeated exposure – it is why I stand by required reflections and non-anonymous group feedback sessions as practical tools to learn these skills.

Some may question Health Sci’s structure or we can admit that other programs should actually adopt many aspects of this teaching model as an option for their students. I understand the challenges of providing individualized support with the varying degree of resources allotted to program departments. Budget decisions are the main determinant of what becomes the student experience. However, providing students with a well-rounded educational experience and supportive staff should not be an experience that only some students receive. I hope sharing some of Health Sci’s strengths openly can equip student leaders or administrators to bring them to their faculties.

“Non-traditional learning” taught me just as much as more traditional courses. Facilitating a group dynamic meeting can carry on into any friendships in your life. Being able to write a journal reflection has helped me work through difficult circumstances. I wish more programs valued these skills – they are essential to success in the workplace and just life itself. I have no shame in graduating from a program that provided me with this skillset. I wish I appreciated that more in the moment and soaked it all in.

Conclusions, The Med School Debacle, and Equitable Admissions for Black Applicants

This is a long piece and there is still so much of the experience I feel I glossed over. However, I wanted to make sure I touched on the “pre-med” discussion that surrounds this program. The BHSc program has consistently stated that it is not a pre-med program:

From the BHSc Website FAQs.

When I was a student in Health Sci, it was known that the pressure to get into medical school was a large contributor to some toxicity in the program’s culture. From the outside, people see many graduates being accepted to medical school. Within the program itself, there are numerous students who apply without success their first few tries, students who choose not to write the MCAT or pursue medicine at all – and this is all okay. Discussions at the student leadership level were often on how to alleviate this pressure and improve the culture of Health Sci. I am sure this culture was not unique to our program but was certainly amplified by its smaller size.

Many say that McMaster Health Sciences students only get into medical school because it is easier to have a high GPA. Others believe it is because we had a lot of free time for extracurriculars. In my opinion, more than any single program factor, the most beneficial aspect of Health Sci was having friends within your class and in classes above you that were likely pursuing the same goal and were willing to help each other. The community is what makes the difference. We were quite aware of the types and variety of extracurriculars to get involved in. Students read over each other’s’ applications. When people had interviews, we shared preparation materials and had open practice groups. It still makes me grateful to remember practicing in the library with my peers and feeling included. We were all nervous but we were also there for each other.

Like anything else in this life – the connections you make are at the core of success. This privilege is not unique to a Health Sci applicant. When I look at anyone in medicine, I see not only them but also a pyramid of support underneath. Above all else – I encourage you to focus on this common denominator when we think about how people advance towards their goals. Critiques of Health Sci can be valid but we must also think about how students in other faculties can be better supported to level the playing field.

Finally, as a Black woman in the program, I was one of 3 or 4 in a class of almost 200. Health Sciences recently announced their Equitable Admissions for Black Applicants pilot project. I attribute so much of who I am as a person to my experiences in BHSc. I am elated by the prospect of other Black students entering a program known for its great office supports and a comprehensive curriculum. Moreover, if we are in the discussion of upstream changes to see more Black folks in medicine or health care in general, a program with a reputation and community like BHSc is the place to start.

Thank you Health Sci – for the community support, the interdisciplinary approach to health, and most of all, the tangible wellness education I will keep forever.

Thank you for reading and reminder to take a screen break today if you need. Until next time!


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Bonus: “Why?” from my Grade 12 Application in 2015

Whenever I reread my application, this answer sticks out to me because I still agree with my 17-year old self!

Why? (Please note: This question is simply one word: Why? It is for you to interpret as you see fit.) * NOTE: There is a 1500 character limit for this short answer question (spaces and punctuation are included in the character count). If you exceed this character limit, your application will be rejected. See the ‘Help Notes’ for more.

Every action seems to define the reason we are at our current point. Life can seem based on chance rather than the decisions we make to utilize any possible action. Many do not realize the component surroundings are to how we get to pivotal points in our lives. I excelled to my current point because I changed my outlook on choices. Rather than take actions to make myself appear better, I chose people and places that made me feel that there was nothing better. I went from a point where I felt no connection to my environment to seeing the promise of who and what I had been given. I was motivated, and motivation creates momentum and eventually turning points.

Turning points are the center of why I am in my current position. They are the only way you push past lows, they are the new opportunities. I came into high school without expectation of acceptance or growth. Glenforest Secondary School is my most substantial turning point. My extra-curricular involvements have propelled me to do and expect more of myself. As I expected more of myself, I decided I wanted more from my surroundings. My experience in the last four years seems defined by a single turning point and thus actions may also seem dependent on luck, I say no. I trust I would be satisfied with my high school experience regardless of my choice to do IB at Glenforest because of my adaptability. I am here because I use any turning point to define my surroundings and create the momentum I need to snowball my potential.

What McMaster Health Sci Taught Me: Part 1

I started writing a piece on this topic 2 years ago after I had recently graduated from McMaster Health Sciences (BHSc) – which I will colloquially refer to as Health Sci. I am glad that I waited until now to share this reflection. The last 2+ years have been a time for me to see how my undergraduate education manifests in my everyday life.

I usually save this discussion for conversations with my closest friends and  primarily those I met in Health Sci. Now, I think my experiences in Health Sci can be used to share lessons I learned from a program that is often seen as a “Black Box.”

This piece ended up being quite long so I will be splitting it into two parts. Here is Part 1.

Choosing The Black Box 

This notion of not completely understanding what happens within Health Sci is part of why I accepted my offer in the first place. Part of Health Sci’s shtick seemed like being ambiguous from the outside. Besides the medical school admissions stats, word-of-mouth promotion, and excellent work done by the BHSc office over the year, this seemingly elusive branding may be one of the program’s recruitment strengths. When I received my offer in May 2015, it only took an afternoon making a pros and cons list with two of my best friends at a quintessential Starbucks, for me to make what seemed to be the best decision for me. As worried as I was about starting university, there was a sense of exhilaration I had about finally getting to see what made this program so amazing. I had heard it all:

“You get to do yoga in class.”

“You never have to worry about your grades.”

“Golden ticket to medical school!” 

Yet, I was skeptical as to how magnificent this program could actually be. People made it sound like everything and more. The first day of our Health Sciences courses, psychobiology and cellular/molecular biology, I was ready to be wowed.

Term 1 of First Year went by and I can dispel a few things:

  1. I really missed my friends from home.
  2. I had seen no yoga.
  3. I felt very challenged by our group essay project in psychobiology.

By no means am I saying Term 1 of first year was the most academically difficult. In fact, I was probably working harder in first semester of grade 12 than I was at the start of first year. However, as a first year BHSc student, the program did not somehow remove the feeling of missing my friends and eliminate every aspect that makes transitioning to university challenging. Moreover, when reflecting on first year with other students, it is astonishing to hear the individual tribulations that can be faced. Some found out quickly that a one-size-fits-all “bird course” does not exist, their high school chemistry knowledge was insufficient, or that falling behind on discussion posts and homework can manifest itself on your performance before you can get a hold on it. These confessions from Health Scis came later, in my opinion, because many did not want to admit when things were difficult.

Eventually, I learned what most people learn in undergrad: how to hold myself accountable, meet deadlines, prioritize my time and overall take care of myself. Most importantly, I learned to be open with my parents, roommates, and other loved ones when I was struggling.

Here are some other life lessons, Health Sci gave me during my time in the program:

Lesson #1: Group dynamics are not just reserved for school or the workplace.

Thinking of my undergraduate housemates as I write this one and I am sure they know why. Every university has a different culture when it comes to housing after first year. At Mac, most students who lived in residence in first year, find a group to form a house with from second year onwards. I was no different and lived in a little house on Sterling street with seven of my girl friends – 6 out of 7 of us were in Health Sci. 7 girls. 1 kitchen. 2 bathrooms. And plenty of my best undergrad memories.

No one thinks about living with 7 people and says “that sounds easy!” It was easier than you may think but also had its expected challenges. When you put 7 people who grew up in different parts of the country with completely different upbringings together in a small house, you are bound to have some conflict.  So, how does Health Sci play into this at all?

At the beginning of our time living together, all of us noticed that something was not working. Things were being left unsaid and expectations were unclear. What did this group of mostly Health Scis do? About a month and a half into living together, we scheduled our first house dynamic meeting. This meeting completely flipped the atmosphere of our house moving forward. The conversation we had took a lot of vulnerability. Not everything was easy to hear and that was okay. Why did we do this? We did this, at least partially, because we were taught how to do it extensively in first year Health Sci.

Throughout all four years, Health Sci students are placed in several groups (much like the real world!). Almost every single Health Sci course has a group component or the option to do final projects in groups. In first year alone, you had your Psychobiology group for two group essays. We also had our Inquiry course groups, including a Cell Biology group where we completed the once infamous “UNSIN Project” – formulating a drug to target one of the seven deadly sins. These groups were never just about the final product, “it was about the process.” At the start of each new group, we set expectations and group norms. We were also expected to have several check-in meetings with each other. These meetings were to give open feedback and discuss our group dynamics. I remember being in first year and thinking all of this was so “fluffy”.

These skills were far from fluffy when they were applied to our housemate relationships. They improved our living situation for the better. In undergrad, your house is definitely an integral part of your day-to-day happiness. We knew how to facilitate a meeting that encouraged listening, honesty, and resetting of expectations because of having these discussions regularly in our courses. I cannot comment on how other housemates deal with conflict. However, I believe we would not have felt as prepared for this type of discussion without our undergraduate experiences to date.

This is not to say we were perfect housemates from then on or always saw things the same way. We didn’t – but we did know how to go about important conversations. We all joked about how funny it was that we were doing something so “Health Sci”. I look back and see that this was the reason we learned this skill at all. Skills in class became skills for life – part of why I love the BHSc curriculum even more in hindsight. It is easy to see soft skills as a waste of time. Yet, we would be remiss to ignore that even by talking about group dynamics or by just writing a reflection, we enhance our understanding of ourselves and others.

My undergrad housemates.

Lesson #2: Adults need to play.

I give complete credit to Hartley Jafine, someone I truly admire, for teaching me this one. I think every program, no matter the field, needs a Hartley. Hartley is a Professor/Facilitator in the BHSc program, Arts & Science program, and within medicine at McMaster. He has a focus on theatre and arts-based courses. I wish everyone got to take classes as enchanting as his are in their undergrad. He is someone who has a gift for making learning less daunting – he showed me how much of everyday life can be our textbook. Recently, he started a course based on the TV show Survivor – “to engage in critical conversations about a diverse range of topics, deepen reflection and develop an awareness of often unconscious assumptions that may impact our own lives.” That sounds special doesn’t it. Some may hear of a course like this and their first instinct is to think “that must be an easy class.” I think about how it probably entails hours of fully-engaged, device-free group conversations, multiple written reflections, and plenty of play.

The Health Sci “yoga course” a lot of people used to reference was a course called HABITS – Health, Attitude, and Behavior In Transforming Self. In this course, we had yoga during one week of it, yes. However, we also had meditation sessions and most memorably, played games in tutorial. I remember playing “What Time is It Mr. Wolf?” for the first time since I was a kid. The fact that it was pass/fail also provided some relief during an otherwise stressful second year.

Hartley discussed in HABITS that for some reason, unbeknownst to many of us, we become adults and we stop playing. I have never forgotten this.  According to Dr. Brené Brown, play is the opposite of work. It can be defined as time spent doing something for the sake of enjoyment. We hear jokes about how much “adulting” is not fun. We reminisce on being children without a real grasp on how the world works. Health Sci reminded me through HABITS and in many other courses, that the people who played as kids are the same people we are now – the choice is ours. Today, some of my closest friends in medical school are people I met through play, a game we all threw ourselves into. The ability to do this – to be present in what others say is “purposeless”, to have the courage to choose play over work, is a skill I started to learn in Health Sci.

Wouldn’t it be great if more people went to class to learn how to play again? We can look at an experience like undergrad and think that play should never intersect with it. Health Sci challenges that notion completely. I never heard anyone speak of the “yoga course” as something that other programs could and should adopt. Rather, it was sometimes used as a way to poke holes in the credibility of the program and its graduates. This leads me into my next lesson —

Coming in Part 2!

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3 Tips To Become A Better Leader | Leadership

Hello reader!

I bounced the idea for this blog post back and forth because I was not sure if I felt qualified to write this. Some people who know me might look at me and think, are you kidding? And some people might really think that I am indeed unqualified (which is too bad because here I am writing this).

I decided that while I know I have a lot to learn as a leader, I have spent the better part of the last 5+ years involved in student leadership. In that time, I have learned plenty of lessons that I think would be worthwhile to share. This is all to say – we are all constantly progressing towards being better in our respective spheres. If you have wisdom to share, you can share it and let the recipients decide if they like the advice! 😉

Tip #1: Remember and use people’s names.

Yes. None of this “I’m so bad with names” or “I’m a faces, not names person.” I think this is a general respect tip beyond leadership. It is so important to try to remember people’s names. When I think back to some of the best connections I have made, a lot of them came down to having conversations with people. These pivotal conversations tend to happen more often when you are not fumbling around in your mind, unsure of the name of the person you want to speak with.  I do not even mean conversations at networking events; just speaking to a stranger or a friend-of-a-friend and remembering their name the next time you see them can be that next important connection.

I remember reading somewhere that everyone’s favourite word is their own name. You may not agree with this at first, but think about it – does it make you immediately more comfortable with someone when they remember your name? This is especially true for people who have been told they have “more difficult names”. People get so comfortable not knowing names that the phrase “I’m not even going to try” has become acceptable in many settings.

One of my foundational leadership experiences in undergrad was leading the orientation week planning for my faculty. When I was a Welcome Week leader during my second year, I did not go into it thinking I would potentially run to be Coordinator the next year. The skill I realized I had that pushed me to decide to run was my ability to connect to first year students and other leaders by simply remembering their names – as well as a bit about them. I noticed that many students and leaders seemed to appreciate this simple act of friendship. Bonds are the foundation of being able to lead a team. As a leader, your goal should be to highlight and develop the skills of the people you are working with. To achieve this, people need to trust you, see your vision for the group, and feel supported. You don’t feel this way about people who do not even care to remember your name.

I was confident that as Coordinator, sure, I would have the ideas and organization skills to take on the job. Most people can handle that part or learn on the job. More importantly, I knew I would be intentional about knowing all my team members by name and getting to know as many first year students as I could by name.

How can you get better with names? (Other than reading name tags!) Social media makes this a bit easier, follow people or add them on LinkedIn after you meet them if you’re comfortable! This helps reinforce their name. Start a note on your phone of events you have been to and who you met there. Sounds creep but could work for more “Type A” folks. When you forget someone’s name, apologize and just ask – or ask someone to remind you before you go up to them. Then, next time – make sure you do not forget. “The best apology is a change in behaviour.”

Tip #2: Learn who you are. Do the internal work.

Out of all three tips, this is the one that requires the most effort. You need to learn who you are in order to lead other people. Why? Many reasons. For one, people who are not in tune with themselves are prone to projecting. Leaders who do not know who they are often find reasons that the world is against them, instead of looking inward. When you look inward, you can quickly recognize your own mistakes, admit fault, and change direction if needed. When you only look extrinsically, there will always be someone or something to blame.

How does internal work help to prevent this from happening? It is important to know what internal work is. For me, internal work is integrated into my routine.

Journaling

I journal often. I have one journal where I write freely about what is happening in my life. Seeing your life on paper can be pivotal to helping you recognize where you may need to take responsibility. Taking the time to sit down and think about your life, long enough to write down your thoughts is a mental exercise in itself. For example, I realized how often I romanticize interactions in my head – filling in a lot of details about someone’s thoughts when I have no basis for it. We remember a lot less than we think we do, writing makes it is real.

I also use The Five Minute Journal (special thank you to my best friend for buying me this!) which grounds me every day and night, allowing me to lead with gratitude. This is a great option if you do not think “full-on journaling” is for you (yet!). Gratitude helps me reduce my bouts of insecurity. It makes me much less prone to project onto others.

Reading

Reading could be a much better use of your time than binging another Netflix show. I find reading helps me get into another human’s experiences. This includes fiction books. You always get to know a character or person that is facing struggles similar to those we face in real life. Reading can be the deep dive you need into topics that are critical to humanity – racism, feminism, history, etc. Knowing more about how people live will only make you a more empathetic leader. Start a GoodReads to keep track of books you might want to read and perhaps set a really easy reading goal for the year – 1 book every 2-3 months.

The Importance of Vision + Do the work. Don’t just read about doing the work.

Bringing this back to my outlook on leaders, leaders have a vision. The difference between those who lead and those who do not is being able to see the end goal. Leaders can see the win before their team does; they are forward-thinking. This end goal is achieved by helping your team members transform into “winners” along with you. It is difficult to do this if you are someone who constantly shifts blame, is insecure, and loses sight of the vision for yourself.

The most important point to remember here is do not just read or listen to people talk about doing the internal work – do the internal work. I sometimes end up binging motivational videos or podcasts and before I know it, I have spent 3 hours learning about productivity instead of actually being productive. Whatever the internal work looks like for you – the meditation, journaling, time spent connecting to religion or spirituality – schedule the time in. Literally – add it to your calendar.

Still, the internal work also includes learning about how to do it effectively. I will share a few podcasts, videos, and books I like here but try not to go overboard – you’ve been warned!

Side note: 10% Happier Meditation App – Free Access for Frontline Workers: https://www.tenpercent.com/care

Tip #3: Be consistent. Be the same person you are when you first meet someone in every interaction thereafter (even when you think no one “important” is watching).

It’s satisfying to see people you admire achieve their goals and dreams – and it never really surprises you. Why? Because these people who have left you with that feeling of admiration in your one-off interactions are likely the exact same in the majority of their interactions.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

– Maya Angelou

We remember how people make us feel. It is easy to be selective on when you “turn it on”. We see it all the time. Many people think it is harmless to only be your best around people you want to impress the most. In reality, being your best self in the moments that seem to matter the least are the most important. “You play like how you practice.” These seemingly mundane moments set up who you are habitually. They make “turning it on” in the moments that matter most to you – easy.

This ties into my previous tips. If you never remember people’s names in your personal life, how can you expect to bring that amazing habit into your professional life? If you are always late with your friends, how do you plan on being on time at work? This is not to promote hustle culture or productivity culture. We are not always going to feel our best and that’s okay – be honest with people. Be tactful about what you take on. Be on time. Submit work on time. Whether it is in-person, virtually, a planned meetup, or a random encounter – embody the leader you want to be at all times.

Some inspiration for this tip is a Twitter thread that recently received a lot of appreciation over on #MedTwitter. It was about a medical student who displayed the impact of maintaining integrity in every interaction:

This is how we describe people who stay the same – even when no one is watching. We gravitate towards them.

Conclusions: Just be a good human.

That’s all folks! I hope these tips were a bit different from what you usually find. Being a leader is about being a person. It does not have to be complicated.

Thank you for reading. As always – take a screen break if you need. Chat soon!

Cheers! Sign up here to be notified when I post next. Always on a Tuesday.

Why Pixar’s film Soul Is So Important: 3 Lessons to Take Away

Spoilers?: There are technically spoilers in this. I discuss crucial themes and I mention scenes vaguely, however I do not explicitly break down the plot.

This is best read after watching Soul but if you need a push to watch this movie, this may be the post for you.

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Christmas Day is always a relaxing day for me. This year was no different considering the downsizing of festivities. I found myself watching the film Soul, expecting nothing less than marvelous from what Pixar does best – the existential.

Inside Out had a similar feel. The overall message we got from Inside Out was that we need to let ourselves feel sadness and work through all of our emotions to experience true happiness. I think it ties in with the ideas of Soul perfectly. Pixar gave a phenomenal Christmas drop.

I am sure there are already numerous interpretation videos and articles out by now but I will share my take through 3 main lessons I was reminded of:

Lesson 1: How to Really Be Happy + A word on Black stories

Film scenes I thought about here: Joe reminiscing at the piano. Dorothea Williams speaking outside of the venue about the fish looking for the ocean, in the ocean.

We are all seeking happiness. We all want to “make it”, finally having things figured out and “living our best life”. But what if living your best life is actually your current life? As Dorothea expresses in the film – what if you are looking for the ocean…in the ocean? What if you could be mindful of how happy you are already are? There are so many emotions we can feel more deeply, if we just notice them more.

For some, “your best life” is the one you have been living since childhood: Did you ever get sad as a kid on the last day of school because that’s how much fun you were having? That was how much you loved your classmates and teacher? As we learned in Inside Out, feeling sadness in life is a necessary component of understanding happiness – it gives you perspective. Did you ever have a tight-knit friend group, constantly sharing belly laughs when you were together? Did you ever get to go on an incredibly fun road trip or distant vacation spot? Childhood may have been a very happy time, and we may not have fully known it.

Graduations, formals, weddings – these are all cornerstone joyful experiences in our lives. Yet, we sometimes cross these milestones, barely taking them in, charging towards life’s next coveted landmark. I would analogize it to going on an amazing European vacation and stopping in Rome. Instead of leisurely taking in the sights, smells, and sounds – you rush to get to all the tourist attractions for photos on your social media feeds.  We live but sometimes we don’t really live. We sleepwalk.

Soul is in many ways a Black story – fun fact: Kemp Power, co-director of Soul, is the first African-American to co-direct a Disney animated feature. I like to acknowledge firsts like this because they matter. These firsts tell Black people everywhere that someone has paved the way; someone has made space for us. As this story is told through the soul of a Black man, I reflect on other Black stories. When I watch films on Black history in America – whether during slavery, segregation, or present-day hardships – I see an underlying resilience and will to live. I know the word resilience is thrown around a lot, it is a crux of wellness. I will bring in my definition of resilience (I think it’s important to take “buzz words” and redefine them for yourself, in your own words –  to make sense of them and how they make you feel). What we call resilience in my eyes, is the ability to redirect to this baseline: There is a life to live and it can be beautiful in every moment. There are people who were born and died in bondage. Yet, was every moment of their life filled with sorrow? Or were they able to rejoice in something? In each other, in friendships, in flowers, in blue skies, faith in a higher power – anything. Whether it is, Remember the Titans or The Help, I see the sentiment of choosing joy through injustice, in every story of Black hardship.

Important disclaimer: This message is not to take away from the very real mental health struggles that people experience. Nor is it to belittle the role of trauma in people’s life experiences. However, my hope will always be that people who have experienced this in their lives, will eventually recover and move forward with life. Sounds like a wellness cliché but I mean it, as always.

December 21st was the day that Black people were supposed to acquire superpowers. The punchline, for those that missed it, is that we already have superpowers. It is a superpower to inherit the resilience of your ancestors – the ability to find joy in hardship, lead change, and build community in every generation.

Lesson #2: The Impact of Our Inner Voices

Film scenes I thought about here: 22’s mind storm as a lost soul. Joe speaking to his mother through 22.

The external voices or statements from the people we surround ourselves with become our inner voice. One of my inner motivating voices is my mom’s. I can remember her telling me how brilliant she thought I was. She was always proud of my achievements. She was at every assembly if I won “Student of the Month” in elementary school and elated alongside me when I graduated undergrad. Her support was consistent. How different would my life had been if my inner voice was discouraging voices from my mom? Or other members of my primary support system? Through the experiences of the character 22, Soul spoke to education and upbringing. What happens when we push kids or “people looking for their spark” to the point of insecurity?

If we want people to be well and realize their potential, we need to match our words and actions to that intention. This requires a depth of compassion and awareness that many do not recognize. It calls us to be mindful of what we say to each other. We need to always let the people we love know that we believe in them and apologize when we get it wrong.

Lesson #3: Vulnerability Draws People Closer

Film scenes I thought about here: 22’s speech at the barber shop. Joe speaking to his mother through 22.

The final theme I noticed was vulnerability. I am guilty of closing myself off – I often take a long time to let people in on the struggles I am facing in my life. I try to work through things on my own. I think it’s okay to have a balance of privacy and vulnerability in life however, Soul reminded me how important it is to be open. Your loved ones cannot read your mind. (Read that again!). They cannot always figure out why you are making certain decisions or what you are going through inside. We have to communicate that with them. The moments where 22 divulged more than Joe would have normally shared resulted in people Joe thought he knew well, pressing closer to him. From the barbershop to his relationship with his mother, vulnerability helped Joe have his epiphany about what actually mattered in his life. (P.S. Epiphany is my favourite song/scene on the soundtrack.)

Is there someone in your life you should open up to more? Are there things you are experiencing that you do not think anyone else would understand? I will paraphrase a meditation exercise that I heard from Dr. Shauna Shapiro, Clinical Psychologist and world-renowned mindfulness expert. It is on how to respond to our negative feelings and emotions:

  1. Recognize what you are feeling.
  2. Think of what you would tell someone you love if they were experiencing the same thing.
  3. Think about all the other people who are experiencing/feeling the same thing that you are.

This exercise is a reminder that when you love someone, you would offer them words of support through what they are feeling. This is the same way our loved ones want to help us, if we choose to let them in. And this was displayed beautifully in Soul.

Another layer to the exercise is remembering that there is someone in the world who has felt how you are feeling. The more vulnerable we become, the more likely someone you encounter will admit that they have felt the same way as you before. This is an aspect of this blog that I love – hearing from people who have read them that have felt or thought the same way as me. Having people open up to me who otherwise would not have is an experience I do not take for granted.

Conclusion: Animated Films are for Adults

I don’t know if kids will gravitate towards this movie as much as Pixar’s others. But I think that’s okay. Animation is not something that always has to be targeted towards children. I think adults needed to see this one after the year we had. It reminded us how simple life can be through it all. Studio Ghibli and several anime shows figured that out years ago so this is not a hot take. Still, the monopoly that Disney, a children’s brand, has on the market of animated moviemaking has led many to believe that adults cannot gain something from this medium. However, that kid you have always been is still within the person you are today. That kid never has to go away. They are right there inside of you. You can be the person that is drawn to the fictional yet relatable characters and crisp visuals that only can be achieved from pure imagination.

I hope this piece helped you take even more from this incredible film. Thank you for reading!

As always, this is a reminder to take a screen break if you need. Book, walk, meditate – whatever you choose.

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