10 Things That Lit My Fire In 2009

As 2009 comes to a close, I’ve spent some time reflecting on the things I’ve done and the people I’ve connected with that have given me that “warm ‘n fuzzy” feeling over the course of the year.  These are more than accomplishments – they are the things and people that I’ve deliberately engaged in and with that have energized me and made my corner of the universe that much nicer.  Here, in no particular order, are ten things that lit my fire in 2009.

  1. Dance – Taking my ballet class this year put me in a zone that I haven’t been in for years.  It was one of those things that I tossed around in my mind for the longest time, and then one day decided to just do it.  Less talk and more action.  The physical benefits are great, but the biggest return has been in the soulful boost from doing something that was a courageous move in my eyes.

  3. Authoring My Case Study – I’m always on the lookout for great causes to align myself with.  When I came across the Hot Mommas Project this year, it took only a nanosecond to figure out that I had to be a part of this great initiative.  Being a role model to women and girls by sharing my story of personal/professional challenges and “a-ha moments” gave me a real sense of purpose and fulfillment.  It was a therapeutic process as well for me because I spent a great deal of time getting to know myself all over again.  Learning from other case authors in the Project was the icing on the cake.

  5. Starting an Interview Series – I’ve met so many wonderful, dynamic women when I decided to launch the RedSphere Network Interview Series in the latter part of the year.  Though I’ve only met them virtually, it made me feel really great to both connect with them and learn about the amazing things they are doing, and then share that information with others.  Hearing about the things that they’re passionate about and how they are making a dent in the business world has really inspired me.

  7. Summer with the Kids – I’m a parent and business owner.  For me, being able to spend the entire summer with my children has been truly wonderful.  Now don’t get me wrong – it was, at the same time, incredibly draining on many occasions – but we came up with a great daily schedule that included going to the park, outings, playdates, colouring and crafts and a lots of reading.  I have had to become very creative during the summer months about how I operate my business during this particular time, but I am happy to say that it’s working out well.  I make a conscious effort to engage with and enjoy my kids because I know that I’ll never be able to recoup this time. It has meant so much to me, so I’m trying to capitalize on it and make it happen as much as I possibly can. 

  9. The Big Purge – I admit…this is still a work-in-progress.  But I can pat myself on the shoulder when I say that I embarked on a weekend purge and chucked some old files and documents, clothes I never wear, and toys that my kids don’t remember even existed.  It was a good start.  I’ve even lessened my interaction with people that have depleted me.  Yes, spending less time with people that drain my reserves has done me good.  Though you may not be able to avoid these energy vampires altogether, reducing time spent in this regard can do a person a world of good. 

  11. Twitter – Though there’s still much for me to learn about using this social media platform effectively, I have to say that through Twitter there are many, many people all over the world that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and interacting with- both online and offline.  This global experience has made a big impression on me this year on both professional and personal levels.  Ten Twitterers that made the biggest impact on me this year include Jeanne Male, Kathy Korman Frey, Karen Karnis, Maureen McCann, Daisy Wright, Wayne Pagani, William Arruda, Paul Copcutt, Chrysula Winegar and Althea Francis.  They are brilliant folks with big hearts to boot! 

  13. Workshop Facilitation – I taught in adult education for about five years in a former life and when I moved on to other things, I realized that I truly missed being in front of a class.  I don’t see myself doing the everyday teaching-thing anymore, but when I launched my Beautiful Brand™ workshop this year, I knew I was back on to something good.  The face-to-face interaction and group exchange brings me a tremendous amount of satisfaction, and I love hearing from participants of how positive the experience was for them too.

  15. Helping People– This one sounds like such a cliche in a “gag me with a spoon” kind of way, but it’s quite honestly the truth.  Whether it was sharing a resource with someone who was stuck, giving my insights to colleagues and business associates, lending my husband to my neighbour to shovel their driveway (lol!), doing some pro bono work, helping a friend with applying for a new job opportunity or simply acting as a sounding board when someone needed to vent, I wouldn’t be me or feel a full sense of purpose if I couldn’t be a support system to someone else.

  17. Writing – I started blogging a little bit more this year and I’m looking forward to picking up the pace with this in the new year.  But I’ve also written so many other things that have never seen the light of day.  And some never will.  Writing has proven to be very therapeutic for me and it’s pushed me that much more to expand my knowledge-base through researching.  If I’m typing away at the computer or sitting down with pen and paper (my personal favourite!), it is one of those activities that put me in a state of flow

  19. Saying “Thank You” – I have been blessed to be surrounded by people who have been tremendously supportive of my professional and personal endeavours.  These individuals have watched my kids while my husband and enjoyed a date night or while a ran out to a meeting, helped me out with business-related projects, gave me sound advice, made me laugh when I was down, driven my husband to and from work and/or supported his family commitments, or simply took the time to listen to me ramble.  I cherish these people like gold.  It makes me feel good to let people know, directly, how appreciated they are for their good will.  The power of gratitude is a remarkable thing, and it warms my heart when I know that they know they have made a difference. 

So what are my plans for 2010?  Quite possibly more of the same along with finding other ways to create a work-life strategy that makes my heart sing.  I have made a promise to myself to identify those things that light my fire and then make more deliberate, intentional choices based on that knowledge.  I realize there will be more ups and downs in the year ahead, but manouvering through it all is all part of the fun.

So, what lit your fire in 2009?

Interview Series: Lori Mitchell, Tomboy Tools Canada

What do you get when you take a vibrant, part-time stand-up comedian from Manitoba with an appreciation for women’s inner “do-it-yourselfer” and mix in a big dose of entrepreneurial spirit?

Meet Lori Mitchell, President and CEO of Tomboy Tools Canada. A finalist for Manitoba Women Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2007 and 2008 and a recognized speaker on women in business and achieving your dreams, Lori knew she was on to something when she read an ad in the newspaper about an interesting start-up company out of Denver. She was so intrigued by what this company was up to that she set the ball in motion and quickly made inquiries.  Within months Lori had secured the rights to Tomboy Tools Canada.

Tomboy Tools boasts the world’s first pink power tool – an 8v Pink Impact Driver, and their Pink Hammer was featured in the October 2008 edition of “O” Magazine. In my interview with Lori, she tells us a little bit about how both she and her company have evolved and how tools, of all things, are bringing Canadian women to tears.

“Good is the enemy of Great”

What is a “Tool Party” and how is it different than other party a woman might host or attend?

We’ve all been to home parties. A Tomboy Tools – Tool Party is very different from the other home parties out there. Guests have the chance to try the tools, ask questions, share stories and learn a few Tomboy Tips all in a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere. Everything is done on demo boards, so there are no concerns about making mistakes. The intimidation factor that can sometimes occur is gone… so if you don’t know the name of the squared headed screw – just ask. Our guests try something they may have been afraid to and leave with a sense of empowerment, accomplish and that they can take on the projects around their homes that they have always wanted to. They can now turn the place they live into the place they love.

What were you seeing that made you think, “I’m going to start Tool Parties just for women?”

I read an article over coffee one Sunday morning in May 2002 in my local newspaper. It was a filler article from the Associated Press about a new start-up company out of Denver called Tomboy Tools. I looked over at my husband and said: “I am not the only one!”. I had a very strong reaction to this whole thing, so I sent an email to them to see what was happening in Canada. The next day the president of company called me…two months later I flew to Denver, met with the three founders and spent the weekend with them…and returned home with the rights to a company for Canada. I knew that the products were top quality, the message and method were solid and that this truly was a pioneering moment. Eighteen months later we launched Tomboy Tools Canada.

What typically happens at a Tool Party?

Fun and laughter! Our Tomboy Consultant takes you and your guests on a journey through the world of Tomboy Tools. Most of our new hostesses choose our Tool School 101 as their first party. We explore the old and the new. Old tools, old conceptions and the amazing changes that Tomboy Tools has made to make all the jobs around the house easier and faster. Our parties are every interactive and everyone gets the opportunity to try the tools first hand. Using our magnetic head hammer and starting a nail with one hand is always a crowd favorite. The stories that are shared – good ones and home repair horrors – make the evening full of laughter and sharing. You find out you are not the only one who may not have known what a Robertson tip is. Our guests leave with a sense of accomplishment and ready to take on the world – or at least their corner of it.

Some women might think, “But I married my tools. Why would a Tool Party be something for me?”

For some people it is a shift in thinking. Yes some people have handy partners and that’s great! Single women are outpacing married couples in the first time home buyer category and for the most part, women have the most influence on projects being done in homes. For many women it is discovering their inner designer diva that brings them to needing tools. They want to put up a curtain rod or a shelf, or install a closet organizer in their son’s bedroom. Our homes are a reflection of ourselves, so the creative side of home ownership appeals to many women. Many couples work together these days as well, and traditional tools are not made based on our bodies. With Tomboy Tools everything has been weighted, sized, balanced or gripped based on a woman’s physiology. Our hand size is smaller, upper body strength is less, muscle mass is less and centre of gravity is lower. By changing the design, we can increase functionality of the tool… making the jobs were are already doing around the house easier and with that ease comes the empowerment and desire to try more.

What type of projects can you work on at a party?

We offer a number of Project Parties including, “Going Green”, “Say it with Paint”, “Style with Tile” and our most popular party – “Tools School 101”, to name a few. We encourage our Tomboy Consultants to be creative with the types of parties they can offer to hostesses and parties like mosaic tiling, garden projects, and car awareness have been conducted.

What is some of the most interesting or surprising feedback you have heard from women who have attended a Tool Party?

We see women visibly excited and we constantly hear words like “finally” “it’s about time” We met a woman named Tammy at a party who wanted to try our drill. After achieving a successful result, she began to cry and we were quite confused. Tammy shared her only other experience with a drill. Years ago, as new home owner she borrowed a drill to put up some shelves. She had no experience with a drill and thought she could figure it out. No matter how long she held it to the wall nothing happened. No one had told Tammy you needed to put a bit in the end to make the holes or drill in a screw. She had not picked up a drill since that experience…until our Tool Party. She purchased a drill that night and has been enjoying it ever since.  

Other than hosting or attending a Tool Party, how else can women get involved with Tomboy Tools?

We provide a fun, flexible and REAL home based business that is unique, groundbreaking and unlike anything else available today. Becoming a Tomboy Consultant does not mean that you have to be at a contractor level with tool knowledge. In fact, the reverse is what most of our Tomboys are. Women who have a passion for their homes, design, renos or crafts who want to share their stories and help others make excellent Tomboy Consultants. We offer ongoing training and support to all Tomboy Consultants and now have several Leaders across Canada who also provide ongoing support to their teams. Tomboys earn sales commissions, as well as training and leadership bonuses for growing their teams. Our international convention in July is held in Denver and our trip to Puerto Rico this February are some of the other incentives offered to Tomboy Consultants

Tell us a little about your life before becoming CEO of Tomboy Tools Canada.

At the time that I go the rights to Tomboy Tools for Canada, I was an executive with a large payroll and HR company here in Canada and had been in that position for 5 years. I came from a senior management position at our local telecom provider where I had been for 5 years. I spent most of my adult life in the corporate world. While I was growing my executive career, I also had two sons, a husband, and a large dog! All of which, I still have.  

What was your first inkling that entrepreneurship was for you?

I don’t think I ever really thought of it that way. I was raised in an entrepreneurial home, where my parents owned a Shell station and then when I was 12, they sold the station and started a landscaping and landscape supply company. We had the office in our home (which, in the 1970’s was very rare), and I was expected to be able to answer the business phone, answer customer questions and take orders with payment. I got about 5 minutes of training. I assumed every 12 year old had to know how to do that stuff. When I was in university, I started my own off shoot business where we worked on yards, and provided bagged soil to local garden centres. Later, after my second son was born, I started my own consultant and training practice specializing in quality initiatives and customer service improvement. Even in the corporate management roles I had, I still thought of my department as my own little company. To me, the definition of entrepreneur is “willing to take full risk, responsibility and actions to achieve excellent results”.

Who has been a role model to you?

As corny as it sounds…my father. Most of how I operate as a business owner is drawn from him.

Are you involved in any philanthropic activities?

We are totally committed to giving back to the communities we serve. Since 2006, we have been involved in raising money for breast cancer related organizations. We have donated thousands of dollars to the Breast Cancer Society of Canada and this year our partnership is with Willow Breast Cancer Awareness (www.willow.org). We also have ongoing support to Habitat for Humanity in the form of product donations to build sites, as well as items used in fundraising and volunteer time from Tomboys across the country. We also support programs and initiatives through Skills Canada. Finally, we say “YES” to any charitable cause that contacts us for donations for things like silent auction items etc. It is a lot more fun to say “YES” than it is to say “NO”.

Your Heart In a Headlock

One of the best parts of taking ballet classes for me is capturing all the individual moves we have learned into one consolidated, beautiful routine.  I’m still flopping around trying to get it right (it’s rather comical at times), but getting to practice it in class gets me very excited. 

I think that the song our instructors chose for our routine is key.  The song, called “Headlock” by Imogen Heap, is one of those pieces that kind of makes your heart flutter.  Never heard of it?  Neither had I.  From the first moment they played the song in class, I was in love!  It’s not a song you would think is ballet-like.  It doesn’t have the typical classical sounds of Chopin or Mozart, nor does it sound like anything from the Nutcracker.  But some of the unconventional things about the class – from aerobic warm-ups to bits of jazz infusion and choice of song – make it a lot of fun for me.

I looked up the lyrics to the song too, and ironically I found myself in them.  Lyrics are always open to vast differences in interpretation, but it really resonated with me.  When I listen to the song, I hear a story about wanting to get out of a present life “funk” and making changes for yourself.  I take away from it the idea of not just having plans for change in your life, but then taking active steps to make those changes a reality.  We’ve all been through periods of “funk” or stagnation….I know I have.  Mustering up the courage and carving out the time to take my dance class is one way I have moved from thoughts to action.  I feel this is one way I am walking the walk. 

I enjoy the song so much that I bought and downloaded it to my iPod and listen to it regularly.  Then I found the video on YouTube and thought I would share it with you.  The song may mean something entirely different to you, but in the end, it’s just a really cool tune.  Hope you enjoy it too!

Interview Series: Natalie MacNeil, She Takes On The World

According to a report by CIBC entitled, “Women Entrepreneurs: Leading the Change”,  it is predicted that by 2010 one million Canadian women will own a small business.  Reports aside, one could easily scan their own networks and recognize that entrepreneurial women are, indeed, a strong presence. 

As an entrepreneurial women myself, I am constantly on the lookout for resources that will support me as a businesswoman – and is one of the reasons why I started the RedSphere Network.  A few months ago, I came across a website that truly captured my attention as a woman biz owner.  The name itself was enticing enough – She Takes On The World is a blog authored by Natalie MacNeil, a Canadian entrepreneur who is passionate about helping other women business owners. 

Natalie MacNeil - photoHaving travelled to over 50 countries to date, Natalie was once Ambassador to Canada and has represented the country all over the world.  One of the greatest highlights of her travels was meeting the President of Tanazania Jakaya Kikwete and his wife Mama Salma Kikwete at their presidential home. 

Her latest passion, She Takes On The World, is a finalist for Blog of the Year at the 6th annual Stevie Awards for Women in Business and Natalie will be heading to New York in November to attend the gala event.  I was thrilled to have the chance to interview Natalie about her life, her work and her inspirations.

What was your inspiration for creating “She Takes On The World”?

I was inspired by the fact that women are starting businesses at twice the rate of men yet only a fraction of business and entrepreneurship blogs are written from a female perspective. I created SheTakesOnTheWorld.com to provide women with resources, articles, and support to start and grow a business.

I love the name of the site. How did you come up with it?

The named used to be Taking On the World in 4 Inch Heels which was more of a personal blog about my adventures traveling the world and starting a business. In mid-2008 I decide to relaunch as a blog for businesswomen and women entrepreneurs and I rebranded it as She Takes On The World to put the focus on women entrepreneurs from all around the world.

The “Blog Carnival” seems to be a popular feature on your website.  Tell us a little bit about it.

Blog carnivals are a way of communicating across the blogosphere and connecting with people who cover similar topics as you do. I started the blog carnival for women entrepreneurs as a way of connecting women (and some men) who write articles that are relevant to women business owners. People submit articles and I find helpful blog posts and articles and put them together as one publication. It’s a great way of hearing other people’s perspectives and sharing other blogs that my readers may find interesting.

What are some of the other ways women entrepreneurs can benefit from the site?

Besides being able to access some really great articles and posts written by women entrepreneurs, for women entrepreneurs, there are many great resources to help women start and grow a business. There is a free directory for women-owned businesses to gain more exposure. We also feature the success stories of women in business and entrepreneurship as part of our interview series, In Her Heels, to inspire women around the world to create their own destiny. 

When did you first realize that you were meant to be a business owner?  Was it a childhood experience?

I always say that ever since I set up my first lemonade stand as a kid, I was hooked on entrepreneurship. I started my business in university so that it could become my job for when I graduated and that’s exactly what I did. I like knowing that my success and my destiny are in my own hands. I think I was born to be an entrepreneur.

I’ve read that you’re involved in several philanthropic activities.  Which ones are you currently active in?

It’s important to me to be involved in the community. I’m passionate about helping people start businesses so many of my volunteer efforts are entrepreneurship-oriented. I’m active with Junior Achievement, Ontario Small Business Centres, Summer Company program, and Waterloo Region Business Education Partnership. I also volunteer to speak at a number of schools, events, and seminars.

Who has been your greatest role model, and how has it manifested in your professional and personal life?

I don’t have one role model but rather a group of people who inspire me. I really feed off the energy and passion of others. Entrepreneurs that care about making a difference are the ones I have the most respect and admiration for. People like the late Anita Roddick, Bill Gates, and Oprah Winfrey have used success to drive change. I see entrepreneurs as change agents and that’s the path I want to follow in.

What energizes you about the work you do?

Well, getting to develop new media every day is incredibly energizing! I love that I get to connect and work with so many amazing people. It makes me want to jump out of bed in the morning and start working. Being in the media industry is exciting because we always get to work on interesting new projects and every day is different.

What energizes me about the blog is the feedback and messages from people. I got a lovely letter from a woman who told me that after following my blog for 6 months she was inspired to finally start the business she had wanted to start for over 5 years. That’s why I blog!

If you could share your “words of wisdom” with other women business owners, what would they be?

Don’t be afraid to take risks! Studies show that women entrepreneurs tend to stay in a comfort zone and they don’t take the big risks that lead to big rewards. Women are much less likely than men to get to the $1 million revenue mark. I was at a business show last week and the speaker was talking about the fact that the majority of big accomplishments we have in our lifetimes are achieved outside of our comfort zones. Make the conscious decision to step out of your comfort zone and take more risks.

Thank you, Natalie.  We’ll be rooting for you at the Stevie Awards in New York!

The View: Confessions of a Working Mom

by Nancy Rigato

I think it was back in my University days, specifically in Developmental Psychology class. I remember hearing about young women who bear children, also having the maturity level and stamina to play and run after their rambunctious kids, whilst women who bore children later in life had the patience and the intellectual wisdom to rear their offspring in a calm and controlled manner – all naturally speaking of course.

Well – I’m days away from my 40th birthday with twin toddlers and a 5 year old to boot. Truthfully speaking, despite my patience and wisdom, I wish I had the energy and stamina to keep up with the rug-rats.

If you’re familiar with the saying “Its not how old you are, its how you feel”, I’ve consciously thrown that theory out the window after the birth of my children. Kids are supposed to keep you young, but I feel like I’ve aged 10 years since their birth. My twins are 2 1/2 and they keep us running in circles 24/7 and the 5 year old craves constant attention.

Like most working moms, I put in a full day at the office, sit in traffic sorting out the dinner menu, arrive home, prepare dinner, clean-up, give everyone a bath, read a story, put everyone to bed, collapse on the couch and do it all over again the next day. This is also the part where I must confess. I do have a live-in nanny who is a huge help and I can’t imagine life without her, but nevertheless its still a lot to handle.

Its funny how life works out sometimes. I was a latch-key kid and I grew up just fine…or did I? I think because of societal pressures and current parenting trends, I am made to feel guilty for not having the energy or devote an adequate amount of time to play with my kids. I pay someone to watch my kids while I’m at work, I also pay someone else to spend one hour, one day a week to challenge my eldest academically and to read a story with. Someone else is teaching them swimming, ballet, gymnastics, as well as hosting playgroups.

Could I be subconsciously avoiding my kids or maybe I really don’t know how to be a devoted parent?

What I do know is that I love my guys to death and I want nothing but the best for them. And if that means a mom who is not overwhelmed, stretched out too thin or stressed, so be it.


RedSphere-Nancy-photoREVsepiaNancy Rigato is a Human Resources Manager, wife and mother to three beautiful children.  She is a Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from York University.

If My Fridge Could Talk

Last week I missed my dance class….and  I was ticked.  That evening was sheer chaos — running around trying to find my kids’ clothes for School Picture Day the next day and no one was helping me out.  Everyone just seemed especially “naughty”, arguing and bothering each other to no end.  I was upset I missed the class because it is the one thing I had set for myself that is completely for me.


The apologies came one by one, little heads hung saying their sorries and giving kisses.  After calming down, I went into the kitchen and glanced at the array of kids artwork plastered all over the fridge.  I couldn’t help but notice all the little drawings of me smiling and dancing.  Then I remembered that the very people I got upset with are the same people that support me endlessly.  And along with my husband, they are consistently my own personal cheering squad.  Yes, if my fridge could talk, it would tell a very vivid story.

Giving yourself permission to do the things that energize you is a monumental first step, but having emotional support from your family is the icing on the cake.   My kids readily share their pride and encouragement with me (and even with people we meet on our daily errands).  But my husband Jeff – as reserved in nature as he is – is also a key support system.  When I decided to become an entrepreneur – another outlet for expresing myself – he actively helped me figure out how we could make it work.  When I come home from dance class, Jeff is always the one at the door waiting to hear how it went….and we have a hoot! 

My husband decided to join a dance class this year too – a little hip hop for daddy!  While I can’t say it was his “passion for dance” that led him in that direction, he did it because his little girls wanted him to.  They wanted us to dance together as a family and we thought, “why not,  it’ll be cool”.  Every weekend we all gather in the living room and we each take turns demonstrating what we did the past week in our classes.  It’s what we look forward to. 

It’s pretty clear, at least in our family, that having a supportive spouse is good for each of us on a couple-level, and beneficial to the family as a whole. Hardly rocket science, I know, but it sadly seems more theory than practice.   We have friends that live nearby who really seem to get this concept.  In fact, when I asked Jeff to name a couple in our circle of friends who seem to be in tune with one another, Meredith and Derek were the first ones that came to his mind.    They are very family-oriented but are also each others’ best friend.  Married for 16 years with two children, they giggle like teenagers when they know they’ve carved out time to chill out and play video games together.  Just the two of them.  When I asked Meredith about why she thinks the two of them are so “in sync” with each other, this is what she said,

The more I think about it, the more it occurs to me that it is all about respect.  He respects my opinions, he respects my choices….and I respect everything he does and the decisions he makes (even if I don’t always agree).  To say something that would make each other feel “less than” would never occur to us because there is just too much respect.  I think that is what makes us “in sync”….we are definitely each other’s cheering section and priority.

How cool is that?!  When I look at what drives me, the groundwork is definitely rooted from within.  However, the support, encouragement and respect my family gives me both fuel my fire and pave the road ahead for me.  My hope is that Jeff and I are also being good role models to our kids of both the value of engaging in the things that energize you and the importance of supporting your family emotionally.  We think it will serve them well into adulthood. 

Lessons Learned:  Yes, there are days that I feel like running away with the circus as crazy as it gets around here, but all I need to do is look at my fridge – and it always reminds me otherwise!

Week #2: Twinkle Toes Has Landed

I remember as a kid I always wanted those classic pointe shoes you see on all professional ballerinas….all pink and satiny.


Okay, I realize they aren’t very practical at this point! 

I’ve been going barefoot the last two classes but have come to the conclusion that I just will not be able to progress much further without something on my feet.  I just kept sticking to the floor and it was really quite frustrating.  One of our instructors said that we need to build up callouses on our feet.  Um…..yeah.  I know she meant well, but quite honestly for me as I get older, mega-moisturizing is a daily MUST.  Without it, I’d crackle like an old autumn leaf.  I’ll forgo the callouses, thank you.

There was a sign posted in the classroom for a  local dance accessory shop, so I decided to make a trip there this week.  One of my classmates bought some canvas ballet slippers at the store so I thought I’d check them out.  I visited this store and let me tell you…..I am not sure if the salesgal knows what customer service is.  She was rather abrupt and did nothing to make me feel that I should buy anything from the store.  So if anyone knows of a really good dance shop in the Greater Toronto Area (preferably Peel Region), please share it with me. 

So I came out of the store with nothing in hand, and figured what I’ll do is just roll down my socks so that they only cover my toes and balls of my feet.  I gave it a try last week towards the end of class – a suggestion made by my instructor – and it seemed to work well.  It was better than bare feet let’s just say.

We devoted a little more time this class to warm-up before diving into the five ballet positions and other basic leg routines.  I have to say that my recoup time was not as much after the second class.  I already feel a bit more flexible too.  Now if I can figure out what to do with my footwear I’ll be set.  Let’s see if my rolled down socks will hold up for an entire class next week!

Lessons learned this week: If you can’t look like a pro, you might as well stick to having fun!

Interview Series – Patricia Eales, Social Media Marketing Specialist

My first taste of social media was about 4 years ago.  An organization I sit on the executive committee for used Facebook to promote their events and I remember asking, “What is Facebook?”  I laugh at that question now as I don’t think there are too many people left that haven’t heard of this big player in social media (even my 72 year old dad knows about it, despite the fact that he still sometimes mistakenly refers to a Blackberry as a “blueberry”). 

I was off Facebook almost as quickly as I signed up simply because I couldn’t manage it.  The “join this group” and “so-and-so poked you” was too much for me to manage, so I deleted my account.  Then after becoming certified as a personal branding strategist, I learned that social media is not just NOT going away anytime soon, but that it also has far-reaching value.  The fact remained, however, that I needed to learn how to manage it effectively.

Whether for business or for pleasure, women make up an astounding proportion of social media users.  An article on Wonderbranding.com cited research conducted by ShesConnected that said 59% of women check sites such as Twitter and Facebook multiple times of day.  While the personal reasons for using these applications seems quite obvious, the profesisonal value still leaves a question mark in many women’s minds.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Patricia Eales, Social Media Marketing Specialist.  She shared her personal and professional insights into this ever-growing phenomenon. 

Why is social media such a hot topic for professionals who want to effectively manage their career or business?

Social media is definitely the new media.  It’s a hot topic for professionals as it provides them with a no-cost to low-cost platform to showcase their expertise in their sector.  It’s an opportunity to make their firm unique and to differentiate themselves from other firms in their market. Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Blogging and YouTube are a very important part of doing business in today’s market and all business owners need to understand how using these tools effectively can provide added value to their marketing campaigns.

How did you get involved with social media?  How did you feel when you first started using it?

My first foray into social media was about 3 years ago when my daughter signed me up for Facebook.  At the time, I didn’t see the practical applications for business, and viewed it solely as another way to connect with old friends and colleagues.  When I started my Virtual Assistant business, I was able to see the value of social networking, and have since become a Certified Social Media Marketing Specialist to better serve my clients needs in Social Media.  I am a self-confessed social media-aholic.

What are some of your favourite social media sites, and how do you use them?

My two favourite social media sites are Facebook and Twitter.  Facebook is coming out with new applications almost weekly that help you link up and streamline many of your social networking platforms, as well as providing opportunities to promote and advertise your business.  I use my Facebook Business page to share articles that relate to my business, share my blog posts, as well as other practical tips that can help those who follow my page. 

Twitter is about building relationships and allowing you the opportunity to showcase your expertise and show how you can provide value to your followers, as opposed to promoting your business.  I use Twitter as an online networking group.  As you build your relationships, you can become known as a “thought leader” in your sector which can translate into business growth.

I have also incorporated blogging into my social media arsenal, as this is another fabulous platform in which to showcase my expertise.

Some people may feel that social media is just yet another distraction from “life” that would take up too much time.  What are some tips you can share to use it efficiently yet effectively?

I agree that social media, if not effectively managed, can be a huge time waster.  However, if done correctly, it takes no time at all, and can provide many benefits.  My recommendation is that the first thing you do is review what you or your business wants to accomplish with social media, set goals, and create an action plan.  You definitely need to set up profiles in the “big 3” (Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn), but there are many other platforms that are sector specific that are definitely worth looking into.  The first steps involved in setting up your social media profiles can take some time, but once you have set your goals, done your research and created an action plan, the maintenance of your social media networks should never take you more than 15 – 20 minutes a day. 

The main key is to be consistent.  Set aside time each day in your calendar, and connect!  As a Social Media Marketing Specialist, I can handle some or all of my clients Social Media needs.

Patricia offers a free 1/2 hour consultation and is working on a soon-to-be released e-book on Social Media.  Stay tuned for that!


Patricia Eales is a Certified Social Media Marketing Specialist and founder of Your Extra Pair of Hands. Known to her clients as the “go to girl”, Patricia quickly built a strong Virtual Executive Assistance support service and has over 20 years of experience in business networking. You can follow her on Twitter at @PatticakeGirl.

Global Women's Leadership Forum: personal summary

The Global Women’s Leadership Forum was held last Thursday at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, and I had the pleasure of attending this inaugural event.  Organized by Community Microskills Development Centre, the event was dedicated to empowering all women to pursue leadership roles.  It offered a great panel of Canadian women leaders from diverse industries.

Having worked with internationally-trained women professionals for several years, I recognize two key career management challenges this demographic faces:  lack of social capital and lack of self-confidence.  Although one could argue that all immigrants to Canada face these hurdles, women have the added barrier of the glass ceiling.  And if you are a mother, the “maternal wall” is also present.  Now that I work with women using a personal branding methodology, I see significant value in career development strategies that encourage ultimate self-awareness and a self-marketing plan that both boosts self-confidence and downplays the negative stigmas that plague global women.

Getting back to the conference, I met many wonderful women there– chatting with some informally at lunch and listening to several panelists speak about their personal leadership journeys.  Unfortunately I missed the opening speaker – Jean Augustine PC, BA, M.Ed, LLD (Hon) who was the first appointed Fairness Commissioner for Ontario in March 2007.  If you were at the conference and heard her speak, please leave a comment with your takeaways from her presentation.  The specific women I had the opportunity to listen to were:

  • Noelle Richardson, Chief Diversity Officer, Ontario Public Service
  • Carol Poulsen, Senior Vice President, Head of Group Architecture, Innovation and Solution Delivery Services, RBC
  • Puja Subrun, Director, Process Excellence, TELUS Mobility Business Solutions
  • Amanda Collucci, President, Clean4ME
  • Lisa Smecca, VP, Employee and Volunteer Resources, Kids Help Phone
  • Mary Anne Chambers, Former MPP, Retired Banking Executive

These business leaders offered their personal insights and some practical strategies that women can employ to become effective leaders.  It may come as no surprise that many of the women had similar advice.   The following is a summary of my takeaways from the conference on essential leadership skills for women and includes some of my own suggestions for further reading on the subject matter:


  •         be your authentic self
  •         ask others for feedback
  •         know what’s important to you
  •         don’t try and be someone else because you cannot sustain that
  •         don’t compare yourself to others

Authentic Self – Do Who You Are

360 Feedback Assessment Tool (for assistance with launching and interpreting your 360 results, you can contact me here)


Identify and Promote Your Strengths

  • believe in yourself and take personal responsibility in achieving  your goals  
  • own your success, celebrate your victories
  • don’t assume people will automatically know what you want…articulate it
  • play up your strengths

StrengthsFinder 2.0

Using a SWOT Analysis in Your Career Planning

Making it to the Executive Suite: A Woman’s Guide to the Art of Self-Promotion


Lifelong Learning

  • never stop learning
  • be willing to acknowledge that there are things you don’t know and make a commitment to lifelong learning

State of Learning in Canada: No Time for Complacency

The importance of lifelong learning

Build Skills


“Others” Awareness

  • make a conscious effort to respect others
  • learn to communicate effectively, both one-on-one and in groups
  • adapt your style according to who you’re interacting with (Situational Leadership Model, Ken Blanchard)

How To Demonstrate Respect at Work

Ten Tips for Small Group Communication

What’s Your Communication Style?

Situational Leadership


The keynote speaker was Constance Backhouse, university professor at University of Ottawa.  She is also a legal scholar and writer.  Internationally known for her feminist research, she shared the story of Viola Desmond  – a very courageous woman in Canadian history who is often referred to as the Canadian version of Rosa Parks.  Her story was one of the most publicized incidents of racial discrimination in Nova Scotian and Canadian history.  But as someone who took several women’s studies courses throughout university, even I had never heard of her until the keynote address.  It is clear that we need to bring to the forefront all those who have stood firmly in the name of a cause, contributed to our country’s history and helped pave the way for all underrepresented groups.  Their stories inspire others and serve as important role models.

The event provided an opportunity to attendees to get to know each other and build our own networks. In fact, the final speaker panel consisted of several thought leaders on the topic of networking.  Those of us who work in the field of career services agree that networking and relationship-building is of paramount importance to a person’s career success.  For women, it is even more important.  In the book Through the Labyrinth: The Truth About How Women Become Leaders by Alice H. Eagly & Linda L. Carli, the authors state that building social capital is a significant challenge for women as they often fail in not developing crucial professional relationships through networking.  This results in fewer opportunities and paths to high level positions than men.   

A nice bonus gift all attendees received was a book called “Networking Edge: Building Relationships for Success” written by Audie McCarthy, President of The Marrek Group.  It is a very practical guide to the concept of networking, a true life skill that all women should work on honing.  You can find more information about the book here.

The theme that resonated with me the most at the Global Women Leadership Conference – and one that should never be forgotten – is the importance of women supporting women.  We are all charting a similar course and I think it is so important that we help one another navigate our way to personal and professional success.  I feel energized when I see a woman succeed in something she wants, and even more thrilled when I have played some small role in having that success realized.  I am looking forward to seeing this event occur annually.  Having role models is known to be directly related to women’s career success, and I believe we need further opportunities to gather, share and learn from one another.

Ballerina Rockstar

This past week marked my return to ballet in more than 30 years.  As a child, I loved ballet although I only took it for about four years.  I remember loving my ballet slippers….eagerly eyeing the the box of rosin that girls who moved up to pointe shoes would use to ready their footwear, hoping one day I would get to do that too.  I recall the smell of the class, watching myself dance in the mirror and the beautiful music played by our accompanying pianist.  And I will never forget my beautiful teacher.  I wanted to be just like her.  She was always smiling and very encouraging…a far cry from my very first ballet teacher who was, shall we say, rather evil!

For many reasons my dancing came to an abrupt stop, and it saddened me.  So some 30 years later, as I await celebration of my 40th birthday this year, I have returned to the wooden floors to reconnect with what I loved to do once upon a time.  My first class this week was both thrilling and incredibly painful.  In fact two days later, my hamstrings feel like big balls of knots!  To mark the beginning of this new phase for me, my dear friend Karen bought me this t-shirt that says “Ballerine Rockstar”.  It was a total surprise receiving it in the mail, and I was so touched by her thoughtfulness.  Naturally, I thought it was most appropriate to wear it to my first class. 

ballerine rockstar

There are 15 other women in my class, many of whom are in and around my age group.  I wonder what their stories are?  Why are they taking this class?  Hopefully throughout the next few months I will get to know that.

Getting back to the actual class, there are many things that are different between my childhood classes and the present.  The pianist has been replaced by a boom box, my mature and poised teacher that I looked up to is now a set of two, very young (but very sweet and eager) instructors who look more like they should be my daughters.  Pink leotards and tights are now yoga or sweat pants.  And I can speak for myself when I say that my fresh, enthusiastic face of 9 years of age is now replaced with a tired, red-eyed yawn from a long day of running a business and a household with three young kids.  But it’s all good.  If you had asked me even a couple of years ago about whether I would have taken a ballet class, the answer would have been, “Hell, no!”  For some reason I am ready now….and even moreso I am excited about the whole darn thing.  I don’t know where it will take me, if I’ll get quickly bored with it once the novelty wears off, or if I’ll injure myself to the point of needing long periods of recoup time (did I say my legs are killing me???).  All I know is that I need to do this, right now.  For the timebeing, I am a Ballerina Rockstar.