On Doing the Kentucky Bourbon Trail (When You Don’t Actually Like Bourbon)

Acquired tastes, I’ve learned, are the real deal.

My personal evolution includes deciding to clean my bedroom, learning how to handle hot sauce, and being able to sip sparkling water (though its existence continues to puzzle me). Still, when it comes to harsh liquors – scotch, bourbon, tequila, and so on – my ability to appreciate is stunted. Give me a pinot grigio any day of the week, but whiskey on the rocks will quickly cause my face to scrunch up in pain and confusion.

My boyfriend, as you can see below. does not feel the same way.

And so we began a week-long quest to try, try, try to add bourbon to my list of acquired tastes.

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I tried, you guys. I really did. We even had a couple friends join us for the mission, including a fellow non-bourbon drinker. It was quite a trip, one I recommend to anyone reading with a week off and an affinity for adventure.

Together, we visited 10 distilleries over the course of a week, 9 of which make up the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail. This distinction doesn’t mean much (one of my favourite stops, Buffalo Trace, was not technically a “bourbon trail” distillery), unless you are really into free t-shirts.

I am really into free t-shirts.

So, with no bourbon knowledge to guide me, I planned the tour almost exclusively around the Bourbon Trail in an effort to earn my t-shirt.

Kitschy? Yes. Silly and perhaps a bit pathetic? Double yes. Or it would be, were the bourbon trail not such an incredibly well-curated learning experience.

Seriously, how cool is this?

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Enjoying a taste of the distillery experience (no, really, they let us taste the bourbon in those vats). I have never been so interested in science.

We had our bourbon trail “passports” stamped at all the participating spots, then proudly presented them to a bored-looking tourism representative in Louisville. She handed us unflattering grey shirts which proclaim we finished the trail in “2016.”

I wouldn’t even care if it was 3 sizes too big and said 1996I love my bourbon trail t-shirt.  

More specifically, I love having something to remind me of our journey across central Kentucky. Of how we arranged and rearranged our itinerary, how we navigated detours and winding roads. Of the unique Air BnBs we visited (including one with 4 dogs!) and our two night stay above a historic tavern in the Bourbon Capital of the World. We had an amazing time at the distilleries, made better by side trips (seeing the horses at Keeneland, touring the Louisville Slugger Factory), long naps, and some fabulous meals of local specialties and bourbon-based cocktails.

But the question stands: Did I acquire a taste for bourbon?

Perhaps a close look at our passports can answer that question.

Ian’s passport:

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I asked him what “LOL proof” was. He said those are numbers. I am skeptical.

My passport:

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So very sophisticated.

That said, I am currently sipping a Jim Beam and Coke (heavy on the coke, light on the Beam).

Perhaps I’m compensating for the fact that I handed off my samples to Ian at our last bourbon tour stop, then unable to stomach any more distilled fermented corn.

But maybe, just maybe, Kentucky rubbed off on me. Even if it’s just a little bit.

Our Big (Scary) Announcement

It’s a ring!

It’s a house!

It’s a baby!

No, it’s…two unemployed twenty-somethings living out of a used Pontiac.

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Our last night with a fixed address…for now, anyways!

Our announcement seems a bit different than other “settling down”-themed news from couples at this age and stage, but I think a lot of it comes from a very similar place. Like many people, my boyfriend and I met, dug each other, and started building a life together. We got big kid jobs. We decided what our goals were. We saved, saved, saved. We planned and replanned.

Then we gave notice on our lease.

Then I quit my wonderful job in marketing.

Then we sold our furniture (not that we had much, anyways).

And now, here we are. No babies, puppies, or mortgage payments in our near future. But still—trying to build a cool life together, investing in solid goals.

The only difference is our goals look a lot like this:

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Yeppers, turns out when two history students hook up, it is only a matter of time before they leave reality behind and attempt a big Civil War themed road trip.

(We. Are. Huge. Nerds.)

This is about more than a single trip, of course. Long-term, I’m taking the plunge into fulltime freelancing. Essentially, I’m starting my own business. Rest assured: I’m terrified.

“But you had a job-with-benefits-and-RRSP-and-and-and…”

…and I loved that job. I loved almost everything about it, but I needed to try this. Maybe fail at it, maybe not, but I needed to try.

I don’t know much at this point in the game, but it seems to me that getting super-skilled at the (lucrative) things you love is a good way to go about career building. So even if I fail, I want to spend at least the next couple years becoming amazing at what I really enjoy–writing, content strategy, digital marketing, and back again.

It’s half entrepreneurial, half sabbatical, and all scary.

This is a we decision, of course. A bit more career mobility on my end gives us the opportunity to live closer to the Niagara farm my plus-one runs with his dad–he can actually come home at night, and I can awkwardly pretend to help. It opens us up for future winter trips before we actually set down roots. It’s a step towards the life we want to build together, which is pretty freaking cool.

Admittedly, this isn’t what I thought partnering up and creating a career would look like. My mental image growing up was a little more white picket fence and a little less laptop-wielding nomad. And maybe we’ll do that someday.

But for now, this is what life looks like. After months of saving and preparing, we’re here. I couldn’t be more excited.

The World Has Changed: Here Are 15 Things We Wish Educators Knew

When I left school and entered the “real world,” I had no idea what I was doing.

I mean, no one really did. Maybe no one ever has. Still, I can’t help but feel that despite the best intentions of our educators, my peers and I felt lost in a lot of avoidable ways. Our concept of career focused on a dwindling supply of Occupations, as opposed to centering on Skills. Skills which, frankly, a lot of us lacked.

The world has changed since the last time a lot of our educators had to get started. And since we spend the majority of our time before age 18 being prepared for “life” by adults, I think we owe them – the teachers, curriculum creators, parents, and role models – some feedback on what we face in the big bad world.

So I turned to communities of friends, entrepreneurs, and job-seekers on Facebook (through personal and Bunz networks) and asked for their feedback on what they think educators should know about the “real world these days.

These are their experiences.

  1. We have no idea how to do our taxes. We live in a world where 15% of people are self-employed, where side hustles are the norm, and where deductions are all over the place. Doing taxes is simple enough if you have one revenue stream, one home, and no major deductions. But add in being a self-employed person, a student, someone who depends on tips. So many of us are playing a losing game with taxes, and that’s wrong. This is such a basic part of our civil responsibility and financial lives, and it isn’t even mentioned until our first return is due.
  2. Also, our personal finance knowledge leaves something to be desired. Often, we teach kids a big fat nothing about money management, then hand them a credit card and student loan and 18 and say “be smart!” In a world of bank fees and buying on credit, an unprepared young adult can make some bad decisions. And in an economy like this, those bad decisions can cripple a person for years and years (and years and years) to come.
  3. We can’t cook (and it’s sucking the life out of us). The year after I left middle school, they scrapped Family Studies class in favour of more English and Math. The result? A lot of people simply never learned how to cook. If schools won’t step up, this should be a priority for parents, after-school programs, and really anyone who helps prepare young people for adulthood. Our physical, mental, and financial health depends on it.
  4. For many of us, the answer to”What do you want to be when you grow up” is “It doesn’t exist yet.” Slotting students into traditional occupations (doctor, teacher lawyer, tradesperson, repeat) ignores the very real changes in our technology, society, and marketplace. Shifting the focus to marketable skills instead a small selection of Jobs will prepare students for the unpredictable future. Career & Salary negotiation coach, Kathryn Meisner, worded it really well when she wrote “I think it could help everyone involved if we acknowledged that careers are not really linear anymore, post-secondary education may not always be relevant (gasp!) and shifted to facilitating career exploration.”
  5. What we can do/make often matters more than what we know. Sure, knowing how to use certain programs and perform basic tasks is desired by employers, but most are hiring you to do something, not just know something. A couple tangible examples of our talents and abilities would go a long way in winning over potential interviewers. Many of us graduate with nothing to show for our practical skills (or worse, no practical skills period) and that’s a problem.
  6. Experience matters. Volunteer opportunities, co-op, and any other resume-ready experiences are pretty much necessary to get your “foot in the door.” Getting something interesting on a young person’s resume (mine was volunteering at a local TV station in high school) can save some serious scrambling later on.
  7. We need to be good at more than one thing. For those of us who went to University, the idea that we need to hyper-focus on one subject is often burned into our brains. The rest of the world, however, is much more suited to a multi-disciplinary education with a lot of soft skills sprinkled in. So sure, young people should find what they like and become GREAT at that. But unless it is highly in demand, tunnel vision can kill off many social and professional opportunities. Stay curious and well-rounded.
  8. Stories, mentors and role models make a difference in our lives.  Growing up, we are exposed to the stories of our teachers and family members every day – which is great, if we want one of their careers. But if we want to do something different, it can seem impossible if we have no one to look up to for direction. Having uncles and aunts in Communications and Marketing influenced my decision to study those things. Meeting a blogger at age 20 is the reason I am a blog. Real people, real stories, and solid advice show us what is possible and how to get there. Being exposed to mentors from many different backgrounds would make a big difference for many otherwise aimless young people.
  9. Collaboration is everything. All day, every day, I have to work with someone else. My partner. My parents. My co-workers. Some account manager in Chicago. All of us need each other to reach our goals, and it isn’t always easy. Learning  patience, communication, and accountability will help in every aspect of your life.
  10. …but so is knowing your boundaries. In this collaboration-centric world, knowing what you are able to handle from others and what you are able to give of yourself is hugely important. There are toxic workplaces and relationships. You do have the right to move on from a bad situation. Socializing kids to have respect for authority or to work in difficult groups isn’t terrible – my teacher needed to corral us somehow,  and learning how to handle hard situations is worthwhile. But long term, finding workplaces and relationships where you feel comfortable and respected should be a priority.
  11. We don’t know our rights. When the boundary thing gets really ugly, this is important. Many of us don’t know our rights as tenants and we don’t know our rights as employees. Even if we do, we don’t know how to go about defending those rights. Since we are thrown into a world where we have to find an apartment and a job, a working knowledge of this basic legislation would be invaluable to many.
  12. Social media is a part of our life – for better or for worse. I was warned a great deal about the dangers of social media growing up, warnings that were very important. But I quickly learned that while posting the wrong things could stunt my career, posting the right things would jumpstart it in a big way. Networking and self-expression online is neither fantastic nor horrible. It’s just different, and we should be taught about both the opportunities and the challenges it presents.
  13. We really, really, really need to be able to write emails. Applying for an job? How about a grant? Trying to network? So much of that happens online now, and being able to express yourself through a keyboard is a big deal. My parents used to roll their eyes at all the time I spent on MSN messenger (remember msn!?) but chatting with my friends online taught me how to communicate in writing. This has been invaluable in making and maintaining good impressions and just plain getting things done.
  14. We know mental health matters, but we don’t always know how to cope or find help. We learn most of our coping skills at home. That’s great if our role models at home have experienced similar challenges and know how to cope themselves. Otherwise, it can cause more harm than good. This issue isn’t unique to our generation, but the fact is we know too much now to ignore it any longer. By addressing these issues early and working to provide resources, young people can identify mental health issues and know address them. That will save lives, build empathy, and create a healthier society.
  15. We need to be able to negotiate. In high school, I questioned a grade for the first time. It was scary, but soon I started asking for explanations for grades regularly. I realized that opening a dialog and taking interest in how I was being graded always ended well for me – it gave me information on how my teacher marked, taught me how I could earn more, and made sure I wasn’t losing out unfairly. I am incredibly grateful to the teachers who engaged in those conversations with me, because out here in the real world, negotiating your worth is kind of a big deal. Encouraging students to engage with authority over things that matter can lead help them negotiate for fairer compensation in the future.

A note to any teachers reading this: Wow. I am amazed that you do this job, especially with all the crazy people like me trying to tell you how to do it. It can’t be easy getting us ready for this crazy world. For all the things the education system gets wrong, you get a lot right.

Thank you to the teachers who break through the BS to teach us the important stuff that may or may not be in the curriculum.

Thank you for the people working tirelessly to create a better system and keep up with this ever-changing world.

Most of all, thank you to everyone – inside and outside of education – who continues to talk about this stuff. The ones who question what is going on. The ones who keep an eye on the changing world and care about how young people are being prepared for it. The ones who share their triumphs and challenges in hopes of a better experience for the next generation. Thank you, especially, to those who responded to my awkwardly-worded questions on Facebook. I love that together, we get a far clearer picture of what’s happening (and how to make it better).

I am scared of this real world thing. I am ill-prepared for it, in many ways. But I am also ready in many ways, too. And for that, I am grateful, grateful, grateful. We all should be.

Why Donald Trump Scares Us: A Letter to American Voters From a Concerned Canadian

Dear American Friends,

A recent poll shows that, thanks to political rhetoric and false sentiments, 49% of Americans don’t think the United States has the largest military in the world.

This is shocking to those of us who are only too aware of the Unites States’ military might. It is also telling. It suggests that many Americans feel vulnerable. Maybe they feel  like they’re losing control. Based on who you have running as the Republican nominee, many Americans must feel angry, too.

Those are bad sentiments to combine with the largest military in the world. And while you might not know you have that kind of strength, let us assure you: You do. That’s why we pay so much attention to you.

Sure, Hollywood makes some nice flicks, but we don’t pay attention to the USA’s breaking news because you can sing and dance. We don’t pay attention because America is exciting and bold and free, either–the majority of countries around the world are democracies, and many arguably do a better job at it than the US does.

No, we pay attention to you because you have a lot of weapons and influence. Because you have a veto and you can blow us up. Because what you do affects all of us.

Every country you invade. Every industry you invest in. Every dollar of aid that goes into the wrong (or right) pocket. Every weapon you dole out. Every international plan you back (or back out of).

We don’t pay attention to you because you are a role model to our budding democracies.  We pay attention because you have nukes that could destroy everything the other 95.6% of us in the world have built.

I can’t speak for everyone, but as one of your next door neighbours (you know, the ones who spell “neighbor” wrong), last night really scared me

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PS. I love you, let’s stay friends no matter what happens, k?

When I judge a leader, I look at their job description. In Canada, our Prime Minister is just a glorified Member of Parliament–someone who shakes hands and does Buzzfeed shorts more often than the average politician, but whose vote is the same as that of the rep across the aisle.  The Prime Minister is part talent scout, assigning MPs to departmental leadership roles, and part host/diplomat.

Your vote for President is a little more intense than our MP picking party. Your leader has much more power in your country. Your leader has much more power over other countries. And so, when you vote for your President, I urge you to also consider their job description.

The President of the United States is Commander in Chief of the largest military in the world. Not kinda-sorta-maybe the largest military in the world. You might not believe it, but you have the absolute, no-kidding, borderline ridiculous largest military in the world. So naturally, it would make sense to pick the person who best understands defence, alliances, and global politics.

Yet yesterday, one of your candidates suggested that China invade North Korea, totally ignoring their alliance. He said he “hasn’t thought too much” about NATO. He believes multinational organizations make decisions based on offhand comments he makes during TV interviews.

The President of the United States represents your country on the world stage. Your international relations are in his or her hands; with a global economy and international debt, this is a more important and delicate a role than ever.

Yet yesterday, one of your candidates insulted the international community so incredibly that his opponent turned to the camera for on-the-spot damage control.

The President of the United States is responsible for presenting policy priorities, and for managing the celebrations and reparations which shape your nation. A solid knowledge of your history, economics, and laws are critical to lead it in the right direction.

Yet yesterday, one of your candidates championed trickle down economics, a system which has consistently failed throughout history. He went on to suggest protectionist trade policies, paying no attention to the bad track record of such policies and refusing to consider jobs outside of the manufacturing sector as real options for growth. He paid zero attention to very real and well-studied precedents.

I’m being generous here by picking at the policies he presented. There weren’t many.

The majority of his talking time was spent spewing factually inaccurate nonsense. He claimed that Clinton has both been fighting ISIS her whole career, and that she started ISIS. He couldn’t even get his personal history straight when questioned on Iraq and his involvement in the birther movement. His concept of timelines and basic American history is skewed, which is hugely disconcerting for many people in the international community. It feels like you’re on the verge of electing someone who knows less about American history and politics than a 10th grader in another country, and that’s scary to watch.

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Some Pew research, for what it’s worth.

I admit, this article is like a neighbour hearing yelling next door and giving unsolicited marital advice.  I know it’s out of place. I know our dissent will only fuel some opinions that Trump is in America’s best interest (because if it’s bad for the rest of the world, surely it must be good for you…or so the fallacy goes).

Normally, this would prevent me from writing anything. It’s why I haven’t said anything yet. Your election, your country, your problem.

But when the well-being of that neighbour threatens your own livelihood and security, I think it’s fair to say something.

I purposefully left out some of my private concerns about Trump, including his taxes, policies on domestic crime, and remarks about race/gender. I hope Americans talk about those things, because they are important to discuss. But I don’t think it would be right for me to wave around my opinion of them in this article because my opinion really, really doesn’t matter there.

But where economic realities, international relations, and military action are concerned, the international community has a stake in what’s happening. And while we don’t have a vote, it would be wrong of us to not tell you that we’re scared. We’re confused (so, so, so confused). We don’t understand how it got this bad.

Dear American friends, we want the best for you. Our economies, our people, and our politics are so intertwined that what’s good for America is almost always what’s good for Canada.

And based on what we saw last night, Donald Trump is not only bad for you–he’s dangerous for the rest of us.

Sincerely,

A concerned Canadian

 

I’m a University Success Story, and I Think Undergraduate Education is Completely Broken

I’m an unlikely person to be writing this article.

In many ways, I could be considered a university success story: I used co-op to break into the job market, became bilingual, made great contacts, and earned a degree that (combined with experience) has seen me steadily employed since graduation.

What’s not to love, right? Results as advertised.

But the system that helped me achieve these things is deeply, deeply flawed. It fails students every single day, and despite the fact I came out armed with a half-decent education, it failed me on the regular as well.

One of the things my BA taught me is how to write an essay. And while that is not so useful in the “real world,” I think it could be useful here. So here we go.

My thesis is “Undergraduate Education is Broken.”

My proof is:

1)      Students don’t give a shit.

2)      Professors don’t give a shit.

3)      The return on investment just isn’t there.

If you’ve been to University recently, you probably can see where some of these arguments are going. If not, please join me on a journey into the land of postsecondary education. Keep in mind this is all based on getting a Bachelor of Arts at a middle-of-the-road Canadian University. I’m sure students from other faculties and institutions have different experiences.

(I hope they do, anyways. Maybe you’re doing it right, and can help us fix this.)

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There are a few reasons students don’t give a shit.

It starts in high school, where we’re all told we need to go to University because that’s just what you do. Students who aren’t particularly cut out for academia, or who are unsure of their true interests and goals, apply. They get in.

Why do they get in, you wonder? Because it’s a fucking business transaction, that’s why.  Schools spend tons of money on recruitment, piggybacking on the university=job security myth. Once they convince kids to apply (because what else are they gonna do?), they squeeze as many students as possible into the freshman class. Admission decisions are usually based on grade 11 and 12 grades, which mean very little. Case in point: My grade 12 English teacher was a total hardass who (rightfully, in my opinion) gave me lower grades because she knew I could do better. Meanwhile, I met plenty of people in University who had high English marks but couldn’t string a written sentence together.

This truly sucked for both parties. Overprepared and underprepared kids generously admitted on the basis of super subjective grades is not a great start.

Here’s what happens after that:

Students who aren’t academically inclined go into crazy debt pursuing a half-interested “education” when they should be pursuing jobs or entrepreneurial ventures which actually match their young talent.

Students who are academically inclined have their passion stifled as they sit through (and pay for) required basic essay writing classes.

We all lose here.

This, combined with coddling in high school and cynicism about education in general, means a good chunk of students don’t give a shit from day one.

It may take a while, but (most of) the rest will stop caring, too.

Maybe they’ll stop caring when they first watch an employer scan their resume, and realize that coursework doesn’t cut it. Maybe they’ll be focused on hustling through 3 jobs to make their tuition payments. Maybe they’ll have a mental health issue and be discouraged with the lack of support.

Personally, my breaking point was when I was repeatedly forced to choose between the challenging courses I truly wanted to take and the bird courses that would allow me to keep my scholarship or get into grad school. Sure, trial & error may be an important step in learning, but GPAs don’t really make room for that. Higher education is often sabotaged by the pursuit of good grades (or, if you get jaded enough, the pursuit of a passing mark).

You know how this story ends. By the end of their education, many students just don’t care about school and quite probably haven’t learned a whole lot. The power of the degree is weakened by the low standards needed to achieve it (sing it with me–Cs and Ds get degrees!), and once passionate learners are now serious cynics.

I can only imagine how much that sucks for professors.

Unfortunately, some of them don’t care either.

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There’s a story I sometimes tell about first year University, one that always makes people smile. During a 5:30 pm intermediate-advanced French grammar class, some fellow students and I started bringing long island iced teas in coffee tumblers to class. It was a perfect solution–our professor spoke terrible French, and the booze made us giggle at the many “etre” and “avoir” mixups on his powerpoint slides. When he didn’t show up, we would have a drink together and chat. He was late to nearly every class and missed a couple with no warning, so this was an important bonus.

I tell that story in a way that makes people laugh, but the reality is that it wasn’t funny. We each spent almost $800 on that course. Many of us had moved to this city and attended this school specifically to improve our French. It was my first semester at University, and this experience set the tone for how seriously I was going to take my education moving forward. We discussed making a formal complaint, but a couple senior students in the class were worried about losing the credit. All we could do was give him a bad review on our student evaluation forms. Following this experience, I dropped the French class I had signed up for the following semester.

Another particularly memorable communications prof often searched random theories from the textbook on YouTube, selecting the first relevant-seeming video that came up and treating the auditorium of students to what was definitely a high school student project lazily thrown together on Windows Movie Maker. A few other classes featured slides directly plagiarized from a textbook. Many students saw this as a “good thing” since they could skip the class. Personally, I wish I could have skipped paying the tuition and just bought the book.

To be fair, these were outliers. What was perhaps more common and unfortunate were the professors who were good researchers and terrible teachers–who had written great books and had stunning resumes, but had no interest in teaching and certainly no talent for it. Whether it was a heavily credentialed professor from afar who barely spoke English or a disinterested book smart scholar, we met a host of characters at the front of the classroom who were not overly interested in our education.

I should stipulate here that most of my professors were wonderful, though I’m sure a few struggled with the system themselves. A system which often keeps profs perpetually part-time, regardless of their teaching talents. A system which sees teaching as a side project. A system which churns out apathetic students who thwart any effort to be innovative. A system which often overlooks its obligation to undergrad students, focusing instead on graduate programs and research grants.

In so many ways, we are ripping both kids and their teachers off and fumbling a valuable piece of continuing education.

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The graduation face.

Now we come to the part about ROI (return on investment). I know corporate buzzwords suck, but I think this is the way we need to frame the conversation for it to make sense.

The first question we need to ask ourselves is a simple one: Does education need to be correlated with employability to be valuable?

My answer is no, education is valuable in and of itself.

Whew. I can already hear every dad at every University Open House loudly crossing their arms at me.

“If we’re going to be sinking 30k into this institution, my kid sure as hell better come out more employable than they went in.”

Guess what, worried parent #52? You’re right. Of course you’re right. We’ve already established that students are often apathetic, that solid course content and professors’ attention is a gamble, and now you’re telling me that the kid is going to graduate with shitty job prospects. How is that worth an average debtload of 26k?!

It isn’t. Unless you’re super dedicated to your field of study, it just isn’t.

And here’s where ROI comes into play: Education is worth an investment of time and money. But it just isn’t worth that much, not when students don’t even have that much to give and they need to create a life afterwards. Not when online and experiential learning offer plentiful alternatives to the University stream. Not when so many of the students aren’t even interested in a job in their field.

That’s not an exaggeration, by the way. Once, during a Q & A, I asked a class of second year History majors how many of them wanted to pursue a career in a History-related field.

Only two people in that classroom raised their hands.

Now, I think it’s awesome that people want to learn about History even if they don’t want to make it a career. I think that’s great news for democracy and society. It promises us more knowledgeable lawyers, politicians, and citizens in general.

But the price those kids are being forced to pay for their curiousity is way, way too high.

…Oh, right, this is an essay. I guess this is the conclusion. In University, I would have copy and pasted my intro to the bottom, reworded it, and made it punchy. But honestly, I don’t want to drive these points home. I don’t want to “reaffirm my thesis.”

I just want this shit to change.

I’ve written about why undergraduate education is broken, because it’s a subject I know well. But what I wish I could write is why, and how, we should fix it.

As someone who wholeheartedly adores education in all its forms, I just want this to get better. Ideas welcome.

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Why We Should Care About Paris. Yes, Especially With Everything Else Going On In the World.

I want to write about Paris.

I want to write in particular about the discomfort some feel with the attention this tragedy is getting, at least compared to other larger-scale violence in the world. Aren’t people dying violently every day? Isn’t there a refugee crisis on our hands? Where’s the outrage there?

I hear you. And while I don’t agree with all the discourse, here is what I hope we can all agree on.

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First: A human life is a human life is a human life. Country of origin does not make your life more or less valuable.

Second: Death is, excuse the word, total shit. As someone who has dealt with her fair share of it in the last month, I know the heartbreaking ripple of pain any death leaves. And deaths which are particularly senseless, or violent, or bred out of hatred? They’re the worst. They’re so bad, we have laws and systems in place to stop people from causing those deaths.

Third: In some places, you can count on those don’t-kill-each-other laws to make things a little safer. In other places, not so much. The system in place to protect citizens from brutal, unnecessary violence is a little more dependable in some countries than others. That’s one of the reasons we have a refugee crisis right now; people would prefer to live in a country where they have chance to survive, thankyouverymuch.

The fact of the matter is, the whole “law” thing isn’t really working in every country. In many places, there are broken governments, really bad neighbours, powerful extremist groups, and all sorts of corruption standing in the way of peoples’ safety.

Now, I can’t speak for how individuals feel when they hear about people dying in these less-than-safe countries, but here are two things we probably don’t feel: We don’t feel overly surprised. And most of us don’t feel like there is a whole lot we can do.

It’s a little different when people die violently and senselessly in countries that are supposed to be safe. A shock pulses through the world because it is, well, shocking. There is confusion and horror and, oh yes, headlines and hashtags. If that country is democratic and has a decent economy, there is an increased urgency from the general population; a feeling that we can do something, that we should do something, that we have both the responsibility and the resources to keep this country safe.

And if we don’t? Well, then, the fear is that there is no such thing as safety, or law and order. If this brutality can penetrate Paris, where does it stop?

These might seem like hyperbolic questions. I get that. But this is where the outpouring of coverage and discourse is coming from. Everyone feels a little less safe in a place where they are supposed to feel safe. A place sought by refugees because it was perceived to be free of the violence they tried to escape.

After all, if the whole world becomes unsafe, where would these refugees go?

NOW, let’s get back to those things we agree on.

1) Every life is valuable;
2) Death is shit;
3) Some places are, sadly, safer than others. 

With that in mind, it is appalling to me that anyone would use this as an opportunity to keep innocent people out of safer places.

There are serious questions facing our governments right now: How do we separate the victims from the perpetrators when they knock on our doors? When we take people from a place suffering from chaos and hatred, how do we keep them from bringing some of that chaos and hatred with them? Safe countries, after all, have an obligation to keep their current citizens safe. And so I understand temporary measures put in place to find answers to these questions before accepting more refugees.

I understand them, but I do not accept them as a long-term “solution.” Letting countless innocent people die by permanently locking down borders is not the answer. That only adds to the already devastating number of victims.

Let us mourn the deaths of the Paris attack.

Let us work together to keep our countries safe and secure.

But let us not allow our fear to unnecessarily raise the headcount.

On Being Uncertain.

So, this is where a few years of obsessive blogging brings you.

I’m back in the marketing world, this time as an office-dwelling big kid. This means that my nine-to-five is consumed by high-fiving puns and dropkicking typos–emails, blog posts, tweets, ads, and back again.

It’s a pretty sweet gig for someone who wrote 141 posts (that added up, didn’t it?) on this not-so-little-anymore blog during University. But writing for work, it turns out, is not the same thing as writing for fun. Not even close.

I missed you, blog community. I missed the idea-sharing, the 2 am brainwaves, the way words can temporarily smooth out the messes (and there are so many messes). I even missed the trial and error; that awkward feeling when no one seemed to read my latest blog, or the joy when the comments rolled in.

I miss not worrying about keywords and metadata and messaging. Mostly, though, I just miss having something to write about. 

The uncertainty that comes with graduation is a bit paralyzing. Turns out, I only know how to write about things that I’m somewhat sure of–and right now, I’m sure of almost nothing. As of the end of September, I will have moved twice and worked three different jobs since I ended school in May. How can you write about your life when it looks like that? I can barely keep up.

But I miss this enough that I’m going to try. I’m going to try to write about the uncertainty a little. We will see how it goes.

Rocking our best
At my grad, trying out my new trademark “uh, what now?” expression.

When my plus-one and I went out for sushi a couple days ago, I was struck by how many young faces were in the usually empty-ish restaurant. “University’s back, eh?” he hypothesized. My stomach sunk a little bit in response. I looked around the room, then leaned over and whispered:

“I…feel like I should still be one of them.”

(To answer your question, yeah, I felt I needed to whisper that information. It was top-secret, apparently.)

“Two years.” He said, leaning back. He sounded so freaking sure. It caught me off-guard.  Also, I had no idea what he meant. Two years what now?

He continued.  “Two years until you get used to not being a student anymore.”

I usually wince when my boyfriend alludes to our three year age difference (I’m an adult, dammit!), but this advice was helpful. I don’t know where he was getting his stats from, but it felt good to have an answer, even if it was kind of a bullshit one. Usually I am all about discourse, debate, questions. Not that day.

That day, I just took his answer as fact because why the hell not? I wanted a fact. I wanted one so badly.

It’s not hard to see why. The exciting-slash-scary thing about adulthood, about diving from an academic background into the subjective land of marketing, is this: Right and wrong answers are almost totally gone.

Not completely gone, mind you. Grammar is still a thing. I could still put a typo in a tweet, forget my keys, press “reply all” instead of “reply.” Sure. But life is loaded with creative decisions–what campaign to run at work, which neighborhood we should move to after farming season, how much money to put away for retirement (cuz hey, that’s a thing now).

And there’s no guidebook. Nope. Doesn’t exist.

This isn’t a brand new thing, of course. I’ve had to make creative, impactful decisions before. We all have. I had to pick whether to go to University after High School, then which University to go to. There was no right or wrong for that, either. I pored over guidebooks, spent hours on forums, tracked down potential professors to ask hard questions.

I made a choice–one I considered the “best” choice.

Maybe it was just a “good” choice. There’s no way of knowing, really. All I know is that I had a helluva time and learned a helluva lot in Ottawa. That’s all that matters, really.

In hindsight, I was probably a little caught up with the idea that there was a right answer, there was a formula that would magically turn into success and forever and ever and ever happiness and that I needed to find it NOW.  But there wasn’t. There still isn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of joy in the uncertainty. It’s rewarding to work for things. It feels good to pick yourself up after a failure, or to see things work out in a way you didn’t expect. At the same time as I’m desperately Googling for answers, I’m reveling in so many incredible learning experiences every day. It’s fabulous. It’s exciting.

But as much as I miss blogging, the truth is that it’s really, really hard to write about. 

And you know what? I think that might be okay.

queenston

Well, this is new.

I’m not busy anymore.

queenston
Though, granted, views like this keep me mighty preoccupied. Oh, Niagara.

I still have the busy brain, of course. The rushing, the worrying, the overthinking…that hasn’t gone anywhere. Still, if a change in scene is going to help me wind down, this is certainly the right place. Everything around me seems to be saying “CHILL OUT LADY. JUST ENJOY THE RIDE.”

And I should, I really should. I live in a little one-room home with a fireplace and a big tub, shared with my hardworking farmer boyfriend. We have a P.O. Box in a teeny-tiny village, the kind that has less than 10 streets. I help out on the farm, and am looking for a job in writing/marketing. For now, I have time to cook dinner, to read, to follow shows and sports. Our place is surrounded by trees and trails. I’m living a dream of sorts, for sure.

It’s not my dream per se, at least it wasn’t originally. Small towns and shacking up were not on initially on my radar. But here I am. Here we are. And my brain, my buzzing, scaredy-cat brain, it’s still adjusting.

But I need to stop buzzing, I do. The overworked, underpaid student life is not sustainable. When I left Ottawa, my health was on the floor. I lived in a basement apartment in Vanier with thin walls and two yippy dogs upstairs (I loved that apartment, but a freshman lease turned into four years underground awfully quickly). I had friends, but the majority of people I’d met during school had since moved on with their lives. In short, I was ready to move on. And so I told my boyfriend I would move with him, back to his hometown. I wanted to leave Ottawa while I was still in love with it, before all the construction and job-hunting took its toll on me. He wanted to work the land with his father.  It was a good move. It made sense. It still does.

Hopefully, my  city-stained self will be able to fully embrace that soon enough.

ForShaunaColour

Can We Rebrand the Humanities? (Spoiler: Yes. We need to.)

As someone who studied both marketing and history (and who finds her history degree a super valuable part of that mix) the question often crosses my mind: “How can I sell my history degree?”

It shouldn’t be that hard, really. As a history undergraduate student, I just came out of a program with intensive research and written/oral communication training. I can mine through data about almost any topic, large or small. I can draw conclusions. I can organize the information. The list goes on and on.

When I see the words “B.A. in History,” I see all that.

I just don’t think employers always do. That’s a problem.

Employers often have no understanding of the transferable skills embedded in a liberal arts education. It’s like they see my degree and the only thing that comes to mind is their boring high school history teacher from 1971 droning on about the pyramids.

(…I mean, I do also know a whole bunch about the pyramids, but that is beside the point.)

So, here I am. Here we are. Looking at a job market which increasingly demands innovative, engaged, realistic, and skilled employees who can work with people and technology. Wanting to raise our hands and yell “THAT’S ME!” because really, it is. Our degrees should communicate all these competencies to employers. We just spent years building an understanding of processes, politics, humanity itself.

So how do we fix this perception?

It won’t happen right away. But I think there are a few subtle changes that institutions, professors, students, and graduates can make to help us rebrand some of these so-called useless degrees.

Here’s a start:

  • People who studied the humanities and are using skills from those degrees in their jobs should make the value of their education known in the workplace. When someone compliments your writing style, your note taking ability, or your problem-solving skills at work, do not shy away from giving honourable mention to the fact that you honed those skills through a liberal arts education. All the humanities grads making things happen in the world should be walking examples of the value of these degrees.
  • We need to create more portfolio-oriented curriculum. Many of the educational paths which are considered more “valuable” in workland get that reputation because their graduates have something tangible to show employers. Encourage students to research and/or present their research in a way that is accessible to those outside of the discipline. Give them something to show at a job interview.
  • Change the concept of specialization to include methodology and skillsets. Very few employers care that I “specialized” in 20th century North American cultural history…but a lot of employers care that I specialized in using digital tools and blogging to share information, or that I understand how communications and business have evolved over the past century. Did you become an expert in writing, in using a particular primary source, in different types of research or analysis? Consider recognizing these things as your area of “expertise” when speaking with employers.
  • Academic institutions need to realize that not every student wants to continue in academia and that’s okay. Professors automatically assume that their brightest scholars are immediately destined for academic greatness. But what if they are more interested in business, entrepreneurship, or the public sector? If every professor said to themselves “My students are going to come out of this class with one tangible thing to add to their resume” (it could just be introducing students to one new technology or method or communication skill) they would be preparing their students for success wherever they choose to go. Which is very good news, because if we lock all good humanities scholars up in Universities, they will have less of an impact on the world. Who wants that?
  • Speaking of entrepreneurship…we also need to encourage students to create their own projects and jobs. A liberal arts education helps us understand the culture, economics, and needs in our communities. These are certainly the kinds of people who are equipped to see the direction people are going in (and to make money on that direction). Let’s make sure are given the resources to make that happen!
  • We need to encourage interdisciplinary models in our academic institutions. One of my professors recently suggested putting spaces/resources frequented by engineering students (such as 3D printing labs) in liberal arts buildings on campus to encourage interaction. I think he is onto something. I would love to work with software engineering students to develop an educational app, or a design student to create a better website to showcase research. Fostering mutual respect and collaboration between fields should be a priority.
  • We need to connect students with the community. There are so many organizations who could use the skills humanities scholars have, or who could offer unique resources and projects to students. Working with organizations outside of their school helps students establish networks, explore their own career paths, and build their portfolios/resumes (see point #2). It also allows the community recognize the value that these students have, which can translate into a change in perspective for potential employers.

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We have the resources and technology to rebrand the humanities. Through the internet, we have the ability to connect with each other like never before. We can talk about the value of our humanities degrees online. We can teach students to recognize exactly why their degree is valuable, and prepare them to sell it to an employer (or to create their own business). We can develop interdisciplinary courses and programs which will encourage collaboration and help a humanities student’s degree appeal to a wider audience after they are done.

We can rebrand the humanities. We need to. Because it’s not just our students who are missing out on jobs…it’s our employers who are missing out on awesome workers who can take businesses (and society) to the next level.

moving-boxes-top-photo

Moving.

I’ve been here before, but it still feels new. Slowly packing my boxes as I prepare to leave the place I call “home.” It’s the end of an era, I guess. Finishing college and making this move is a game changer.

I’ve been here before, of course I have. My mind immediately jumps to five years ago, when I took off for University. It’s a familiar story: By the end of high school, I had messily carved a suburban teenage “self” out of high school essays, basement parties, and bad attempts at French cuisine. The time had come to challenge that identity. So I moved to the City (mine was Ottawa; my friends scattered all over). I remember leaving my parents’ house in 2010, taking pictures off the walls as my younger brother prepared to take over the space. The process of packing up your old life, even if you’re truly ready for it, is necessarily emotional. It was emotional then, and it is emotional now.

It’s good emotional, for the most part: I’m excited, I’m ready. My family and career and soul will all be better for this.  I sat down with a friend from first year yesterday and just vomited out all the cool stuff I want to do with my life: “I want to make this website! I want to make that app! I want to run this Twitter account! I want to make education better! I want a dog and a house and a panini press!”

Sidenote: The panini press has been secured. Thanks, Celine!
Sidenote: The panini press has been secured. Thanks, Celine!

It’s time to challenge the identity again. That’s how I see these big moves. I’m attracted to the idea of putting myself in a new environment and seeing how my outlook and personality change…and how they stay the same.  “Finding myself in college” wasn’t about “doing new stuff” (though that was cool, too). It was about figuring out what parts of my identity were who I was, and which parts were just a product of where I was. Would I still like History when I left the guidance of my high school teachers? (Yes, it turned out, I fell even more desperately in love). Would I still adore my high school friends after a few years in a new place? (We had a wicked party last month, actually). Would I hold on to my lack of religious beliefs, my relationship, my bad habits? (No, no, and I’m sure I’ve traded them in for some more).

The move helped me. It didn’t save me, it wasn’t a one-size-fits-all “solution.” It just helped, for the same reason travelling or “trying something new” helps. It’s powerful to see that there is more out there. And it’s powerful to see how you respond to that. Embracing new space can show you what sticks when you shift the environmental factors—the social pressure, the family dynamics, all that. Whether you love the new place or hate it, the whole experience can give you a much more solid grasp on who you are and what you want.

And what I want now is to move forward with my life, which means leaving Ottawa. It means reclaiming a Southern Ontario “self” (this time as a job-seeking big kid) and shedding some of the capital city student life. Just some of it. I’ll still be me, of course. But with this move, I’m hoping I will get a better idea of what that means.