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Are You Following Your Passion?

Monday, 21 June, 2010

I was invited to talk at the BCIT Tech Writing Alumni lunch and workshop on Saturday about using social media as a self marketing tool, as well as taking the online conversation offline. One of the other speakers, Kemp Edmonds, talked about he got into the world of social media and education, and one of the things he mentioned as his career starting point was passion.

To me, this is such a key element to success, in whatever your field of interest. You have to identify your passion, and you have to have the guts, and perhaps a bit of selfishness (in the best sense of the word) to follow that passion. It’s what motivated me to leave full time teaching and begin the adventure of Meerkat Communications.

When I was heading home after the lunch, I thought about how much I love speaking, and sharing information and knowledge with others. It was great to talk to a room full of fellow writers and also to reflect on my own journey. It also reminded me of how good it feels when you are doing what you are truly passionate about. It is energizing and also reassuring; reminding you that you are on the right path.

It got me thinking, too, about the three words I chose a long time ago to sum up what it is I do, and that are the pillars of what Meerkat Communications does as a business.


There is something about words. About how they can roll off your tongue, how they can inspire or hurt, compliment or destroy, humour or surprise. I have always loved words, and have to confess that I even love swear words. There are also certain words that I just hate. They just hurt the ears and seem wrong. I love how certain words just suit their meaning, and how others seem to say the opposite of their meanings. I love word play and jokes, poetry and prose. I really will read anything, from trashy holiday novels to serious academic journals.

I love being able to use words to create and illustrate ideas. I love helping clients express what it is that they do, and promote their company or ideas through their websites and marketing materials. It’s all about finding the right words..

I love being able to also use words to share my own information and ideas, whether it be through articles, blog posts, emails, and yes, even real letters! I am lucky enough to have some correspondents and we actually write real letters. It is such a great surprise to find a real, hand-written letter in amongst the bills and it makes such a difference from the brevity and speed of emails.


I love that I get to pursue both my passions: writing and teaching. I love been able to help my students and give them “real world” skills, and show them how using proper business writing skills can help them reach their goals. I also love helping them learn to feel more comfortable presenting in front of others. I also use my love of teaching to help people advance their skills, in the workshop context. It’s great to see people’s faces when they “get it”. It’s incredibly rewarding and I love being able to pass on ideas, tips, resources, and anything else I can think of to help other people find and promote their passion.


Through speaking engagements, workshops, teaching, my volunteer work for Wired Woman, and also through writing, I love being able to help people make connections – whether with other people, or connections in terms of ideas.  If it helps or inspires them to find their passion, or take even one step towards reaching that passion, then I feel like I have really made a difference, and helped motivate someone.

It is so easy to let the humdrum of daily life trick us into thinking that we have to do something. It is very easy to follow the security (I mean, who doesn’t want to live free of the stress of uncertainty?), but if you deny rather than embrace your passions, the stress can actually be bigger and have more of an affect on your emotions and mental well being. It is important, too, to remember (as a wise person once told me) that just because you have an aptitude for something, doesn’t mean you have to do it. You may have many passions or abilities that you can pursue.

Personally, I have been really lucky to have had great support in terms of family and friends, and wonderful mentors too, who have never let me feel like I have made a mistake and who remind me that I am doing what I love and am good at. It does, however, also take a lot of self belief and a definite leap of faith to stay on the path of your passions. I have learned to trust my instincts, and also to let people know not only what it is that I do, but also what I need help with.

If you follow your passions, your rewards are that much sweeter, but don’t feel afraid to ask for help, seek a mentor, network and put yourself out there.

You will get there.


PS – If you are looking for inspiration, you can read my review of The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People by Carol Eikleberry. I highly recommend the book.

Building Community Through Social Media Event

Thursday, 17 June, 2010

Before I get into Monday’s Wired Woman event on “Building Community with Social Media“, I have to share this brilliant comic from The Oatmeal. If you haven’t checked them out yet, you really should!

I think it really does illustrate the difficulty with Web 2.0 and the social media explosion. How are you an expert? How did you build your reputation? And do you really know more than the next guy? It also ties in wonderfully to the Building Community theme (albeit in a humourous stab at the subject).

The fantastic speakers we had at our event definitely were not “Social Media Douchebags” and really did have a lot of insight into turning that online community into ROI, and gave us valuable tips, tools and insights. The speakers were:

  • Briana Tomkinson / Tenth to the Fraser and Fjord West – Co-creator of popular New Westminster blog, and Marketing Strategist with Fjord West
  • Carisa Miklusak / SoMedios – New media marketing, business development, and leadership consultant
  • Chris Breikss / 6S Marketing – Co-founder and Director, and Vancouver’s Social Media Innovator for 2010 with partner John Blown
  • Mhairi Petrovic / Out-Smarts Marketing – Social Media and Internet marketing strategist and CMO of Out-Smarts
  •  Sibylle Tinsel / Club Fat Ass – ‘Chief Executive Fat Ass’ Online Community Manager and social media co-ordinator

Everyone seemed to really enjoy the round table format and it generated a lot of discussion, with different women from vastly different industries coming together to add their insights too. One of the biggest lessons I took away from the event was the importance of listening. See what people are saying about you/your industry and start to build a following by answering their questions and finding your audience in the right places.

I came away with a lot of ideas and also a sense of pride that the event went off so well.

Now to get to the point were I really can add “social media expert” to my Twitter bio… 🙂


What the Heck Do We Teach Them?

Thursday, 3 June, 2010

If the jobs that most current students will do when they graduate don’t yet exist, and we’re supposed to be preparing them for the workforce, then what the heck do we teach them?

As you may know, I teach Business Communication part time at BCIT and earlier this week we had a Professional Development workshop for the department. We had some interesting speakers (including department members) and a lot of the discussion focused on teaching millennials. One morning session was lead by Jim Muldowney, a former instructor at North Island University, and he talked about the challenges of teaching the NetGeneration (to use a Don Tapscott term).

It was an interesting discussion and one point that I brought up (because of my experiences as a South African and a teacher in the Third World) was the fact that the majority of the research out there focuses on a lot of assumptions around access to technology, and centres largely on the First World. I would be really interested to see some research done on the same age group in places where technology isn’t as prevalent. Do the same types of values hold? Are the differences between generations less apparent? Do they have different abilities and principles?

An area that Jim addressed was around the assumptions that many researchers are making about so-called shared principles and abilities of the NetGen. One of the major inferences is that when confronted with all the information that is at their fingertips on a daily basis, the NetGen has the ability to think critically and analyse the billions of megabytes of data zooming at them. Not so true if some of the research papers I have seen over the years as a teacher can be taken as empirical evidence…

Having studied an MA, I am well familiar with the scornful “so what are you going to do with that?” questions. One thing that I can truly say that I learned in my years of study in Humanities was the ability to think critically, evaluate texts (of any kind – image or written), and select the best material for my purposes. This has given me frustration at times (I can often not watch movies or read books without overanalysing), but also great joy at the layers of meaning and information I have uncovered for myself.

These skills have also in turn, I feel, lead to a stronger ability to do the same with people, and have well prepared me for the path of an entrepreneur. I would not trade these skills for all the “practical, useful” degrees in the world. As the realms of information and technology, and education change, I agree with Jim; I think we are assuming a level of sophistication that just isn’t there yet. I know it certainly took me time, effort, passion, and engagement to reach a certain level of ability, and I had the guidance of instructors along the way.

To me, this lack of sophistication can be a good thing though, because as educators, we are working with a clean slate. However, the difficulty is always the fact that we have limited time and resources to try and get through a curriculum and also promote and instill these skills. In a culture that I have observed to be very entitlement-based, this is certainly a challenge. Add to the fact that I teach at a training institute and the challenge swells.

One thing that I took away from the workshops, though, was the need for us as educators to be adaptable. I think this is a vital skill in business too. Something else that Jim discussed struck me immensely; the students are a resource in themselves, and we should be talking to them about what they want. If collaboration is a sign of the new world of communication, then this needs to become a large part of what we do, for our own success, and theirs.


Building Communities Through Social Media: Wired Woman Event

Tuesday, 18 May, 2010

I’m really excited about an upcoming Wired Woman event. As you know, I am the Marketing Co-Ordinator for Wired Woman Vancouver and so here I am, marketing 🙂

Our event focuses on the idea of community in the online world and what that means. We’re having five exciting speakers and in a round table discussion, we are going to hear from them about what community means to them, and how they build, manage, and engage community through social media. There will be plenty of opportunity to add your input, ask questions and learn.

The five excellent speakers are:

It is going to be a fantastic event, with a very reasonable price tag for Wired Woman members (and WW membership if free) and non-members too. We’re very lucky that UBC Robson Square in downtown Vancouver is helping sponsor the event by hosting so see there on:

Monday June 14th


UBC Robson Square, 800 Robson Street, Vancouver, BC.

You can also check out the Wired Woman website for more information, and to sign up. All men are welcome ( I mean, c’mon, a room full of smart, successful women, AND excellent speakers on a hot topic?) You’d be crazy not to come!).


Resume Tips Article: 10 Phrases to Ban From Your Resume

Thursday, 13 May, 2010

Found this great article today with some very clear advice on the kinds of cliche’s to avoid when putting together your resume.

You can view the article here:

Something I would add in terms of top things to avoid in starting your job application letter are:

1. “Attached please find my resume” OR

2. “I am applying for the position of…”

It is a given that 99.9% of resumes will begin like this and it becomes SO boring for the recruiter. Show your personality, enthusiasm and creativity by starting with a hook. Highlight your three main strengths; use quotes from the ad; pose a question…ANYTHING but the above!

Some examples:

“With 10 years experience in accounts payable, a proven ability to function in stressful environments, and a Diploma in Financial Management from X, I am the perfect candidate for the Accounting Manager position”

“Your ad on for the X position caught my eye. My experience in … and my X years in … suit the position and I believe would help your company reach its goals of … ”

Think of the fact that someone has to read all these applications, including resumes. Make their lives easier! In both the resume and the cover letter, highlight measurable achievements e.g. “Increased sales by 25% in the first quarter”; “created and maintained the current website, showing 67% increase in traffic in a year”. Use tangible results that  anyone viewing your resume can understand easily, and also see how it would benefit them.

Remember, if you need any help building your resume or cover letter, please email me:


Connecting vs. Networking, and Other Stories

Wednesday, 14 April, 2010

Last night I spoke at The Connected Woman’s monthly Mix and Mingle, and met a great group of women in a diverse range of industries, with a wide palette of experiences and enthusiasms. The focus that Cathy Kuzel (of Connected Woman) keeps within the group is on the idea of making real connections, not just gathering business cards, which is something I strongly believe in.

In a smaller group such as this, there is the opportunity to learn more about what each person does, who they are beyond that, and what it is that they might be looking for. While my talk concentrated on using business writing skills to get your foot in the door, the advice and discussion from the group added different layers of information and input.

One of the woman at the group was Emma Cooper, of Clarity Jane Personal Organizers, who also volunteers for Dress for Success. DFS is a wonderful organisation that runs worldwide and is a “non-profit … dedicated to improving the lives of women located in 85 cities across the U.S., Canada, the U.K., the Netherlands and New Zealand. The professional clothing, employment retention programs and ongoing support that we provide our clients symbolize our faith in every woman’s ability to be self-sufficient and successful in her career.” (From: Dress for Success website)

DFS is putting on a great event, the Impact Event for Change, at Birks Jewellers in Vancouver on April 20th. There will be fantastic speakers, including women that have been through the DFS program, free wine, silent auctions and more. You can check out the Vancouver location website for more information and to book tickets.

One of the things that I tried to emphasize in the talk was ensuring that you have a purpose when communicating, and that you aren’t afraid to ask for what it is that you want. Emma was very clear that she was there to promote the DFS event, and therefore it was easy to help! A reminder that we shouldn’t be afraid to go for what we want, or to ask for help when we need it, instead of pretending everything is fine.

So not only should you create business messages with proper planning, purpose and intent, but it is really useful to employ the same skills while networking, to achieve your goals and make real connections.


Upcoming Talk: The Connected Woman Mix and Mingle

Thursday, 8 April, 2010

I’m really looking forward to speaking next Tuesday, April 13th, at a fantastic event run by Cathy Kuzel of The Connected Woman. I’ll be joining Cathy and other female entrepreneurs and networkers, discussing the topic, “Getting Past the Gatekeeper”. I’m going to focus on using business writing and communication skills to connect effectively and get what you want.

The event will take place at:

Cheers Restaurant

125 East 2nd Street, North Vancouver, BC, Canada. 6-8.30pm.

You can register, and find out more about the event on the Connected Woman website.

Hope to see you there!


Spring Fever

Wednesday, 3 March, 2010

We have been so lucky to have an unseasonably warm winter and a very early start to the spring. Although from the perspective of  VANOC and the rest of the Olympic organisers, it was one of the headaches experienced during the two week fiesta that was the Winter Olympics 2010, the magnolia and cherry blossoms, daffodils and rhododendrons are coating the city in soft pinks and yellows and it has been beautiful out there.

Personally, I stayed away from the Olympic madness as much as possible and enjoyed the sunshine and the break from teaching. It was nice to have two weeks of catch up. It is also nice to finally have things back to normal, though there was a definite infectious buzz. A lot of things seem to have been postponed during the Olympics, which is no surprise considering the volume of people in the city and the impossibility of negotiating the downtown core without hours of spare time. It seems eerily empty and quiet now; possibly a lot of sore heads and hoarse throats out there!

Here at Meerkat, we have new web copy projects on the go, and I will be speaking at an upcoming The Connected Woman Mix and Mingle Networking Event on April 13th on using effective business writing techniques to “get past the gatekeeper”. The Connected Woman is a fantastic organisation run by the dynamic Cathy Kuzel and is aimed at creating meaningful connections and  focuses on “the reciprocal process of exchanging knowledge, experience and expertise”. For more information, you can take a look at the Connected Woman website.

I have also been working with a lot of clients one on one, helping them with building a solid resume and cover letter. If you’ve put this off because of the Olympics or any other reason, you may want to consider refreshing this vital “sales” document. Contact me if you would like help with creating a targeted resume or cover letter. It never hurts to keep this updated, whether you are thinking of changing jobs or not.

You can also check out my latest article, Tips for Better Business Writing, on the Entrepreneurial Woman website. This online magazine is a great resource for any business person.

On a final, personal note, I have been pursuing The Artist’s Way, and am finding the process enjoyable and rewarding. It is going to be a very busy month or two coming up, so I am going to try and stay dedicated to the process.

I leave you with this great quote from Carl Jung:

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.”


Tips for Better Business Writing

Monday, 22 February, 2010

I’m pleased to have my latest article appear on a great online magazine aimed at female business owners, Entrepreneurial Woman. In the article, I talk about five essential steps to follow to improve your business communication, saving you time and helping you get results. I’ve also included two short examples; one of a weak email, and the other of an improved version of the same  email.

You can read the article that appears in the How To section on the Entrepreneurial Woman website:

Happy writing!


Spring Cleaning?

Monday, 22 February, 2010

Hard to believe how time is marching on. Here in Vancouver we are right in the middle of the Olympics, of course, and so things have all but shut down everywhere as the crowds take to the streets and everywhere it’s red and white!

It’s important to remember, though, that life actually does go on and so you can’t ever really ignore those things on the to-do list. Tax time is coming up, there are articles to be written, I have midterms to set for my Business Communication students, and a lot of other things big and small to accomplish. The gorgeous sunshine we have been having (I hear the warmest winter in 114 years) makes it very hard to sit inside and do all these things as it feels like spring already out there. The cherry trees are blossoming and by tomorrow or the next day, I will have bright new daffodils in the garden. How can I possibly think about taxes at a time like this? 🙂 It’s all about balance though.

I’ve decided to attempt to do The Artist’s Way course again. About five years ago I started the book, and I have always been a ‘journaler’ and try to take myself off on Artist’s Dates as often as possible, but I really would like to try the various other activities Cameron suggests. I’ll be interested to see how it goes, and perhaps, as an accountability exercise, I will try and blog about my experiences. I also need to remind myself not to beat myself up if I don’t get through things, remembering that balance and the importance of being good to myself.

In other news, will be having an article published on Entreprenurial Woman; a fantastic online magazine aimed at female small business owners. I’ll also be starting on a new writing/SEO project soon, working in conjunction with the fabulous crew from Spectramedia. Its going to be a very busy next few months, but looking forward to it.