Dreaming Big, Part 2.

I was having a bit of an existential crisis today: wondering where I belong, where I’ll be in six months, if I’m studying/doing the right thing…essentially the questions that plague most humans in their lifelong search for meaning. I go through periods where my brain becomes a giant soup of commitments I’ve made and eventually I try to sort them out into some kind of manageable ordered list. This process is the bane of ambitious people. 

Here are some of the ingredients to the brain soup:

  • Mechanical Engineering (Bio-applications of solid mechanical design): Pursue graduate studies, Become a PEng. I’m thinking of doing a thesis project in fourth year as a nice culmination of all the technical skills I’ve developed in my undergraduate studies.
  • Business & Entrepreneurship: I am usually pushed into business-y roles, so I may as well develop more depth to these skills. Also, some sort of formalized training in these matters may help the next two points
  • Education: Become an educator in STEM, make STEM education more accessible to everyone, recruiter for engineering, work for women in STEM initiatives or start my own. I tutor math to arts school students and I’m constantly trying to develop new methods to inspire a good work ethic and interest in their science and math courses.
  • Strength & Conditioning: Open my own gym & revolutionize weight-training education for women. I’ve sort of started the beginnings of this baby with the founding of U of T Ironsports in March 2012.

After talking with my lovely roommates (and the dog I’m babysitting) and eating some matzoh ball soup, I feel like I’ve got something to the effect of an ordered list. That is, I need to stop concerning myself so much with the order in which I do things because I’m only 23 and really I could do them all. 

As much as we can arm ourselves with a plan, there is some beauty in trying many different things and seeing where you end up. As long as you are moving, you will learn and grow from the experience. Wise words from Jane.


An Engineering Perspective

Although challenging, I’m thankful for taking an advanced physics course that helps me appreciate music from another perspective. For everyone else – the video is still way cool!


Confessions of a Musician

If you identify as a musician you may (or may someday) remember that profound moment when you realized you were no longer playing one note after another in perfect time with perfect intonation. That moment – the gestalt – when you realized you were playing music.

There is something that happens that transcends my ability to put it in scientific language. I can’t decide whether it is something that passes into you or originates from within. 

You see the bass clef, you see the “e” two lines above the highest of the five. You hear what it sounds like on the inside. You’re thumb graces the back of the cello neck and slides into position at its base – your arm, your elbow in a familiar place you’ve practiced so many times before. Your index finger meets the a-string, you apply a little pressure with your bow hand. You move, and your instrument begins to sing. The pressure trails off in your bow hand as you complete the down stroke. Your index finger begins to vibrate to add dimension and character and personality into the note. You can hear and feel the overtones resonate in the instrument through the soundpost and pass into your body through all points of contact – between your knees, against your heart, and through both of your hands. You remember when this shift was scary. You remember trying to figure out the sweet spot and learning how to unlock the upper register of the cello. You remember being afraid of the note and in turn it sounding airy, the lack of confidence obvious. But today you make her sing to you. All of these motor-neural pathways and memories get stronger as you hear that “e”, as you feel it.

You go through that experience with every note and soon every music phrase. Your hands and limbs and body start to feel different – more meaningful, more purposed. You may not be sitting with a cello but your body can act out playing a piece you’ve played, you can hear it in your mind – and it feels like dreaming.

When you hear someone play something new you’ve never heard, there’s a part of it that feels familiar. If you’re listening on your iPod, walking to the bus stop for example – you start to become more in tune. You feel a cool chill along the outsides of your arms and between you knees as your body remembers the experience of playing those notes. As the music continues, you feel warm between the ears – the anatomy in charge of passing along auditory information to the brain understands it’s more than just sound. You become fluid. Your muscles relax. You can be surrounded by busy sounds of the city but all you hear is music. You feel suspended in time. 

It can sometimes make you feel like crying. Like bursting into tears.    Everyday you live you take in new sensory information. You learn how to design, to do math, to change the world. The constant influx of new information does not affect the part of you that will always miss playing the cello. You feel an extreme sense of longing. The sum of all the things you miss suddenly get compounded and it hits you all at once as you continue to listen. All it takes is one note for you to recognize the sound and for your entire composure to crumble.

 What non-musicians fail to understand is the emotional, mental, and physical investment that it is to learn music. It can be difficult to isolate the sorrow, the joy or avoid the submersion as you listen to the cello play.

 You feel alive. You feel what it means to be a conscious being. You feel connected to all the musicians that have ever lived. Your breathing mimics the musical phrases. You peer at others on the subway as you sway in your trance and wonder if anyone knows what you’re going through.

 Your life can be chaotic, but music will always restore a feeling of calmness. You could be abandoned by those that love you, and music will always bring back warmth. Music breathes meaning into our lives and it is what makes us feel whole – beyond possessions, good looks, and money, and success. Once you learn to play music, nothing will sound the same again.



Dreaming Big, Part 1.

All people of the world at some stage in their life reach a point where they think to themselves “So what’s next?”. Most of us (myself included) like to avoid making life-altering decisions that’ll inevitably effect our future. It’s certainly a scary word, but I’m becoming more comfortable with it every day.

Two years ago I almost flunked out of my program (twice) and it was at this time I really gave some careful consideration about what I wanted to do with my life. The thought process started off with making a list of what I want to do and another list of what I need to do. I can understand why a young person would struggle with even making these lists, so I’ve decided to help whomever that is get started:

What I Need To Do:

  • Breathe
  • Eat
  • Sleep

I know you’re probably gawking at the profound piece of insight you just read (kidding)…but hey, that’s where I started. To fulfil the requirements of that list I realized I could either:

  1. Live with my parents (forever)
  2. Get a full-time job

Alot of people choose #1, but I knew I didn’t want to live with my parents indefinitely (sorry Mom & Dad, Love you!). My current need list looks like this:

What I Need to Do:

  • Make at least $1700/month so I can afford to breathe, eat, sleep and heck – live a little more comfortably
  • Finish my degree so the above may come by a little easier, and to not feel like I’ve wasted thousands and thousands (and thousands) of dollars.

Now here’s the fun part.

What I Want to Do:

  • Change the world by addressing the issues of the “unexotic underclass”
  • Live in Toronto & be close to my family and friends
  • Express myself creatively

That list came about by taking a step back,  looking at patterns of choices I’ve made, and recalling the moments of my life where I felt most happy and accomplished. It started empty two years ago & has slowly been changed and added to as I learn more about myself. The great thing is, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some really awesome people over the years that make me feel “boundless”. Entrepreneurs, artists, professional engineers, classmates, and my family.

The list is a good starting point, but I needed to find a way to put it into practice. That too has taken some time to understand but I finally feel like I’ve got it somewhat under control. To have reached this point, this moment of clarity, is an accomplishment in itself for a young person living in the 21st Century. We truly are condemned to choose where we end up, and for a lot of folks that level of responsibility is uncomfortable. I firmly believe (as a result of many, many experiences in the past) that discomfort ultimately teaches you more about yourself than something predictable, comfortable, and safe.  The hardest step is finding the courage to go boldy in a new, uncomfortable direction with hopes of landing somewhere on your feet.

So when I almost flunked out of my program, I fought for it – and they gave me another chance. I emotionally prepared myself for having to drop-out an pursue studies elsewhere. I worked my butt off, and it paid off. But then came third year, and it was time to face a new challenge: What next after graduation?

Traditionally students take this thing called “PEY – Professional Experience Year” where they work in industry for 12-16 months after 3rd year and develop a decent understanding of what it’s like to actually work as an engineer and to also establish employment connections for following graduation. The job search has truly been a heartbreaking process for me, mostly full of downs. I do have 8 months of industry experience that I acquired when I almost failed, and an additional 6 months of manufacturing experience with a whole selection of valuable extra-curricular experiences.

“The position has been filled, but I’d like to note you were one of our strong candidates. Good luck with the search!”
“Minimum B Average or 3.0 CGPA required”
“Must be willing to relocate”

I once performed a marketing presentation at an International Formula Student competition and convinced a panel of mock venture-capitalist investors to support production of 1000 of my team’s race cars. I placed 13th out of 78 teams represented by 24 different nations – the ONLY Canadian team to attend the competition & the second highest placing North-American team. I can sell a production plan for race cars. In March 2012 I founded U of T Ironsports, and we’ve managed to grow to over 100 members in our first year. I can sell you an awesome U of T club experience. I once delivered a lecture on Racecar Vehicle Dynamics to a bunch of electrical & computer engineers. The outcome was tons of questions & tons of interest regarding the subject. I can sell you why vehicle dynamics is a pretty interesting. 

The list is growing everyday, but there’s ONE item in particular I’m finding the greatest difficulty in selling – myself.

I (sort-of) believed I was the best candidate for each of the positions I applied to, but that wasn’t reflected in the language I chose or even my persistence to secure an interview. I’ve been to numerous resume & cover letter workshops. I’ve had it edited by plenty of professionals and friends. I took a portfolio course which involved a mock interview for a job & the instructors feedback to me was – You’ve done tons of awesome stuff, but you consistently undermine your accomplishments. I listened to the video and it made me cringe. I systematically project an image that I’m kind of crappy, when my actual experience and accomplishments speak otherwise.

It was tough news. I’m still dealing with it. Today I made the choice to finally follow up on an application I submitted – and hey, the position has been filled. I also decided to send an email to the President of a company I would actually really love to work for. Composing the cover letter felt natural, and even if all I end up with is a dead end – it was an exercise in “throwing myself out there” and it felt good to do it. (Oh you artists, I feel for you. I really do.)

The clock is ticking and time is running out for me to secure a PEY position for September, so I’ve taken a while some time to draft a plan B (and plan C, and plan D). It’s truly a blessing to be working in the MIE Undergrad Office right now & being able to consult the department counsellor (who played a pivotal role in my petition to stay in the program two years ag0) about what the process is for what I’m trying to pursue. Logistics surrounding any kind of deviation from the norm in a big university can be a nightmare, but I’ve got the tools and wonderful supportive people to handle it all.

The Plan:

  • Transfer to part-time studies for Fall 2013/Winter 2014 with the intention of returning to full-time studies in Fall of 2014 to finish off fourth year. The main advantage to this is that I get to work with some of my close friends & classmates (who are currently on PEY) on our final 4th year Capstone project. If I returned in September, there is a strong possibility I’d be working with strangers. It also means I get to rest my endocrine system a bit more, and finish up a few other things that have been sitting on the back burner.
  • Fall 2013: Take APS234 – Entrepreneurship & Small Businesses and CLA204 – Intro to Classical Mythology to satisfy part of my HSS & CS elective requirements to graduate. The advantage is that these are both evening courses, so I can work a full-time job simultaneously.
  • October 2013: Apply to the Next36 program. For those playing the home game – this is a competitive & awesome program that brings together 36 students from across Canada, matches them in teams, and gives them $80,000 to make a new idea happen. I live with one of the successful teams from the 2012 Cohort, and my boyfriend happens to be the lead developer for them. I have a little bit of an “in” possibly, so the feeling that this is something attainable is very exciting.
  • Winter 2014: Take APS432 – Entrepreneurship & Business Management and ENG235 – The Graphic novel to complete my HSS & CS elective requirements. The will reduce my course load in fourth year, and possibly give me more time to focus on the new company I create with the Next36 🙂
  • Summer 2014: This is when the main work/creating time with my Next36 team happens

Entrepreneurship was an option I never really considered until I met the wonderful folks of PenyoPal (Now also under the company names of Lean Pixel & Donor IQ). They are my roommates, my family, and have been there to always discuss crazy ideas and geeky interests at any hour. They make me feel like anything is possible. They have shown me, honestly, what it’s like to start your own business – all it’s challenges and rewarding moments. The possibility of making the big changes I want to, with a dynamic & talented team feels so close. I decided that if I want to be true to my list of “What I want to do”, starting my own business is a damn good vehicle for that. I feel so thankful & so fortunate that I live in a country that supports small business innovation, and that has programs like the Next36.

How does it all come together? Come fourth year, I will be eligible to attain a Bioengineering minor, Certificate in Entrepreneurship and finally – my Bachelor of Applied Science in Mechanical Engineering. If I’m really lucky, I’ll also have my own business that I can continue to grow upon graduation. If I don’t get into the Next36, I may need to re-evaluate The Plan, but for now the future seems pretty bright 🙂

I took an extra year to finish highschool, and an extra year to finish second year. It’s not a race. I’m all about quality of experience (without going too broke while doing it).

So what’s the big idea I’m going to make happen with my possible future team? Oh god, no clue – but part of me feels like that’ll come in time.

I’ll close this post by repeating some words of a favourite author that really resonated as I wrote this post & as I considered just what the heck I’m going to do.

Not all that glitters is gold. Not all who wander, are lost