Finding your passion

I noticed this morning that my LinkedIn contact Elan Divon has launched a website for his new initiative, The Initiation, aimed at helping people find their passion and achieve their potential.

In the site’s “my story” section, Divon writes of his own circuitous journey. He left a promising career to return to school, but changed schools and academic direction after a year, and ended up delving into the subject of personal transformation, becoming an author and motivational speaker.

There’s a lot to read on his website, and I can relate to much of it, especially now that I’m in transition after being downsized.

I wasn’t looking to leave my job as a reporter at The Canadian Jewish News this year – I loved working there – but I find I get a charge out of the writing I’m doing for my blog and, little by little, from seeing my book-to-be develop.

Years ago, when I was in university, I didn’t hear much talk about following your passion. It seemed decisions were based more on practical concerns – what subjects students did well at, what fields offered the best career opportunities. Some of my friends who didn’t know what they wanted to do ended up studying law, because there were no prerequisite courses. It was a good decision for some of them, and I wondered for a long time if I should have done the same thing.

My parents encouraged me to study what I liked, although I wasn’t convinced it was the best advice at the time. I loved languages and was intrigued by psychology, but statistics – a requirement for majoring in psychology – turned out to be my nemesis, so I ended up majoring in French.

Eventually, I came to writing and journalism via a job at a large insurance company, where I worked in the department that published a monthly newspaper for employees.

After I was downsized this year, one of my first thoughts was that it would be a good time for me to work seriously on the book that – I don’t know how else to describe it – started writing itself in my head a few years ago.

Not long after that, I began to think about blogging, in part as a way to keep writing, and in part to work through the post-downsizing process. A friend told me to write about what I like, so in addition to writing twice a week about writing and journalism, I also started writing about food. In August, I added a fourth day, when I write about chocolate.

A funny thing happened when I began writing about food. People who’ve known me for a long time said they didn’t know I was a foodie, or even that I liked food so much. Lately, people have started asking me for information and advice, and sharing thoughts about food and cooking. I’m enjoying it a lot.

I don’t know at this point where it will lead, but I have some ideas to take it further, although I haven’t ruled out a conventional job, and I’m still working on the book. I’m relying on instinct, and hopefully a bit of serendipity, on my post-downsizing journey.



What to do with photos?

In last Thursday’s blog post, I wrote that I’d made measurable progress sorting through the notes and paraphernalia I brought home when I was downsized after 22 years at the same newspaper.

I’m determined to work my way through all the boxes and bags, and to dispose of the items I need to dispose of in a responsible way.

This week, I started going through my pre-digital photo collection – a daunting task.

It sparked some discussion among the friends I walk with, after I expressed doubts about whether it was okay to put photographs – especially those with a shiny finish – in the recycling bin.

I checked the City of Toronto’s recycling guidelines, which mention nothing about photographs per se. The website specifies, however, that paper “not contaminated with food or chemicals” can be recycled.

I decided to call 311, the city’s non-emergency phone number, for a definitive answer. I was advised that photos could go into the regular garbage, but that I might want to contact a photo shop for more information about recycling.

A couple of days ago, I called three stores, and got three different answers.

1. All photo paper – shiny, matte, colour, and black and white – has chemicals, which are used to develop the pictures, according to the first person I spoke to. He suggested calling a hazardous waste disposal company. Groan!

2. The second person advised ripping up the photos, and throwing them in the garbage.

3. Apparently some photographs may be okay to recycle, even though the city says no. Groan, again!

I also found this website, which offers further information and ideas about recycling.

Meanwhile, I’m still sorting. I think it’s decision-making that takes the most time.

My first job fair

I attended my first job fair on Friday – a JVS/Emet Employment event, held at the Joseph & Wolf Lebovic Jewish Community Campus.

I didn’t find a job there, and didn’t even end up giving my resume to any of the employers. But there were other reasons I’m glad I went.

1. It was a good impetus to polish my resume.

2. Two recruiters suggested I look at their respective company websites for communications jobs. I knew in advance that Starbucks was looking for baristas and other employees for their outlets, which didn’t interest me as a downsized community newspaper reporter. As it turned out, Scotiabank was also looking for branch employees only. But it was good to talk face-to-face with their recruiters. It was good to reinforce what I’m interested in and what I’m not, and to leave knowing I haven’t hit a brick wall.

3. I spoke to an employment counsellor from JVS Toronto, even though I’m not sure I need or want career counselling at this point. However, once I told her my background, she gave the name of one of her colleagues, and seemed to think that this woman in particular would be able to help me. I intend to follow up.

4. Because there were no actual jobs for me at the job fair, it was a bit of “practice” for me, an opportunity to gain confidence talking to employers about my background and what I’m looking for.

5. A couple of my friends also attended the event. It was nice to see them, and we were (are) able to provide context and support for each other.

Another milestone in the post-downsizing journey.

Measurable progress

Before I stopped working in June, I borrowed three cardboard bankers’ boxes from a friend, and filled them with notes, pictures and other items I’d accumulated over 22 years at the same job. This morning, I was very happy to return one of the boxes.

Emptying out the last few items yesterday, I felt like I’d reached a milestone in my post-downsizing journey.

Although I’ve been chipping away at the other two boxes as well, having a completely empty box means that my progress is now measurable in a new way.

I didn’t give myself a deadline for going through everything, and sometimes I wonder if it’s taking longer than it should.

But, deep down, I believe that it will take as long as necessary, and the important thing is that I’m moving forward.

I didn’t blog on Tuesday (the other day that I post work-related thoughts) because I spent the day traveling home after a family wedding in Sacramento. It would have been easy not to post anything today too.

In my first post, on July 9, I wrote that I was starting the blog as a way to keep writing, bring structure to my day, and figure out – or evolve into – what’s next in my life. As well as focusing on writing/journalism and career paths, I planned to write about food, which I do on Fridays and Sundays (food in general, on Fridays; and chocolate specifically, on Sundays). I realize now that the blog is also keeping me accountable, and serving as a means to measure my progress while I figure out what’s next.

Leaving Anatevka

A couple of weeks ago, I ran into my former editor when I was shopping, and this past weekend I saw my former news editor unexpectedly.

It’s still strange for me to think that my former co-workers – my second family for 22 years – are not part of my day-to-day life. I’m starting to feel like an immigrant: surprised, happy, and a little wistful when I unexpectedly meet people from “the old country,” landsmen, to use the Yiddish term.

I think the analogy comes to mind because in June – for two weeks, as the final day of work approached for those of us who were downsized at The Canadian Jewish News – two people mentioned that the situation reminded them of the villagers preparing to leave Anatevka, the fictional shtetl in Fiddler on the Roof.

It was important to me to have that time before I left – tying up loose ends, deciding what to take home and what to leave behind, and bonding with my co-workers over coffee or tea, along with a seemingly endless supply of junk food and snacks in the office lunch room.

In a way, it provided closure for me, and helped me prepare to move forward.

As I fine-tune my resume in preparation for a job fair next week, I think about the  writing and journalism skills I honed at the paper, but also about the intangibles I gained – many of them in the lunch room, where there was, in addition to food, a seemingly endless supply of good conversation and lessons about life.


I’m not retired!

Two people asked me this past week how I’m enjoying retirement.

I wasn’t sure how to respond, other than to set the record straight, and add a few words about what I’m doing (blogging, and figuring out what’s next).

It would help if I knew what the question meant. Was it a comment on my (middle-)age? An attempt at humour? A euphemistic way to avoid saying that I was downsized (after 22 years as a reporter for The Canadian Jewish News)?

I suppose I’m old enough to retire, but it was never on my radar screen. I loved my job, and secretly hoped to stay there until my early 90s, circumstances permitting.

And yet, I find myself excited sometimes at the thought of doing something different. I attended a panel for freelance writers last week, and came home hyped about the possibility of taking on some freelance assignments.

I was also motivated to polish, tweak and fine-tune the work I’ve done on my book-in-progress after I attended sessions run by the Humber School for Writers at Word on the Street, an annual literary festival in Toronto.

I plan to attend a job fair later this month, and I’ll be taking a social media workshop too. I’m not retired… I’m in transition.


Personal vs. professional interests

The other day, a friend asked if I’d be attending a lecture that she thought I might find interesting. It’s almost three months now since I stopped working at The Canadian Jewish News, and the event is the type I would have covered as a reporter. It told her I wasn’t planning to go.

But I have to ask myself to what extent saying no was a knee-jerk reaction, because when I was working, I covered so many talks and events that I didn’t really have the time or desire to attend more of them. It’s odd to think about attending an event like that on my own, without my tape recorder or notebook.

I believe I got much more out of the events I covered than I would have if I weren’t there as a journalist. Reporting forced me to pay attention at times when my mind might otherwise have wandered, and writing my articles afterward helped me distil the information, as I sifted through my notes to pinpoint the most significant parts.

I was fortunate that intellectual stimulation was a built-in part of my job. Also, by covering issues I might not have delved into on my own, I exercised my brain, learned much, and, to a certain extent, went beyond my comfort zone.

Another friend advised me, after I lost my job, to write about what I like, which is part of the reason I blog about chocolate on Sundays, and more generally about food on Fridays. That’s been a more gentle “stretch” for me, as my food writing evolves.

Even when I was a kid, I would always start my homework with the easiest assignments. A lot of people like to get the most difficult item out of the way first, but I prefer to work my way up to more challenging tasks, sort of like warming up before a workout at the gym.

So I think I want to work my way up to attending the type of lecture my friend suggested – at least if I’m not going as a journalist.

I won’t be blogging on Thursday or Friday this week (more Jewish holidays!). Will be back on Sunday.



Another step on the post-downsizing path

I’ve been thinking about this blog as a way to move forward after being downsized, but I’ve also been hoping – and actually feeling, in some instinctive way – that the blog itself would serve as a vehicle to move me forward. Writing clarifies my thoughts, and helps me figure out what I want and need to do next. Also, blogging provides structure to my week, keeps me writing, and keeps me focused on moving forward, writing and journalism (the subjects of my blog on Tuesdays and Thursdays).

But recently, my blog moved me forward in an unexpected way.

After reading an entry I wrote in late August, the ritual director at my synagogue invited me to speak at a Rosh Hashana service he was leading. He thought the subject of my post – the 80/20 rule, as it applies to time management – would be appropriate for the Jewish New Year.

I accepted his invitation, and he suggested that I talk for seven to ten minutes. I expanded on what I’d written, noting in my talk that this is a time of year for reflection and reassessment, and perhaps for making some decisions about how we want to spend our time in the year ahead. I also asked for input from congregants on some of their priorities for the coming year, and ideas for strategies that might help turn intentions into reality.

I finished by sharing some priorities and strategies of my own.

Aside from the content, a couple of other things were significant to me, on a personal level, about the talk.

1. Although I’d spoken publicly at my congregation and elsewhere (not often, but enough times that I didn’t hesitate to go ahead), this was the first time I’d be speaking as “just me,” not as a staff reporter for The Canadian Jewish News.

I like to think I retained my sense of self during my 22 years at the paper, but leaving a long-time job isn’t just a transition in life, it’s a transition in identity. Often, when I showed up to cover an event, someone would refer to me as “The CJN,” as in, “The CJN is here.” Even now, sometimes I find myself saying “we” when I’m referring to the paper – talking about it as if I’m still part of it.

2. A couple of friends have suggested that I might want to teach adult writing classes, now that I’m moving in a different direction. At first, I dismissed the suggestion, finding the idea daunting. I started to consider it more seriously after my daughter said there might be workshops or classes I could take first, to learn how to teach adults.

As I was writing my Rosh Hashana talk, I began to think that if it went well – speaking in public and sparking a bit of discussion, albeit on a small scale – maybe I should be more open-minded about the possibility of teaching.

I think it went reasonably well… another step on my post-downsizing path.

Too much stuff

Of all my colleagues who were downsized, I was likely the one who brought home the most stuff. I began to recycle old notebooks and sort through papers in my office cubicle in my final weeks of work. But on my last day, I still filled the trunk of my car with binders crammed with years’ worth of articles, stacks of notebooks, photos, and other odds and ends that represented 22 years at the paper. And it wasn’t the first load I’d brought home – although it was the largest.

Fast forward two months, and welcome to my dining room, aka my (temporary) office. It’s also still the dining room (as long as I clear the table and move my Canadian Jewish News stuff into the corner) – because meals with friends and family are more important than a perfectly tidy room.

But lately, I’ve been motivated to tackle the clutter more aggressively.

You have to love technology – I programmed a daily reminder into my iPhone so that I’d remember to go through at least one notebook, shredding any contact information I come across. A modest strategy, but it’s been working very well.

I usually tackle more than one notebook, and I’m convinced the pile of stuff is shrinking. If I chip away at it a bit at a time, the task becomes less daunting.

It’s good to get rid of things I don’t need. Somehow, it helps me feel that I am moving forward – toward whatever is next in my work life, and toward a more office-y office in an extra bedroom.

PS – No post tomorrow. Will blog again on Sunday.

My Little Orange Notebook

About a month before I lost my job, I bought a little orange notebook that has kept me on track since I stopped working.

In April, after the president of The Canadian Jewish News announced that the paper would cease publication, neither I nor my co-workers knew what was next for us. As it turned out, many of them are still at The CJN, because the board reconsidered its decision following a public outcry. The paper is being published again after a six-week hiatus, but about a third of the staff lost their jobs as part of a restructuring to make The CJN financially viable.

Meanwhile, I’ve filled 26 pages with ideas, as well as a post-work “to-do” list that I’ve been adding to as I go along.

Yesterday I spent time looking through my notebook. It’s a good yardstick for me, so that I can see how far I’ve come.  It also prompted me to dredge up some of the older items and give them higher priority on my to-do list.

My first entry, dated May 12, had to do with my new LinkedIn membership. “Add experience [to my profile],” I wrote.

“Start a blog,” was another entry.  I’d forgotten how much research I did before taking that step. I looked at the pros and cons of various blog hosts, and examined food blogs and writers’ blogs. I found out what I could about blogging, in general.

I considered various names for my blog, some of which were taken, but in the end opted just to use my own name.

The notebook also has entries related to a book that’s been percolating in my head for the past few years, and even a couple of ideas for more books.

As well, I have entries related to courses that could help me in my job search.

My biggest fear about losing my job was that I would have too many hours to fill, and I wouldn’t know how to use them well. My little orange notebook is helping to ensure that isn’t the case.