On Growing Pains

On Growing Pains >> Life In Limbo

Remember when I wrote that moving to Toronto would be my next big adventure? At the time, I thought I was being kinda cute or kinda funny or something: I was moving back home after a few years of living abroad. I knew that this chapter would bring its own challenges, but how hard could it be? I’d navigated Korean grocery stores and learned to ride a motorcycle in Thailand and held my own at a massive Ecuadorian family reunion speaking only rudimentary Spanish, for heaven’s sake. Forgive me if I kind of thought, “I got this.”

Are you guys laughing? Because I’m laughing. Because I’m naive and young and I always seem to think, “I got this”, until I get some serious knowledge dropped on my head and it turns into a question: “Do I got this?” (Hint: no.)

I can safely say that the last six months have been some of the best of my life. They have been so rich with life, with love, with this beautiful feeling of community that I’ve craved for so long. I’ve gone home (way) more times in the last 6 months than I did for the past 6 years, which is such a blessing. I’ve spent time with my sisters, and my parents, and my grandparents. I’ve made friends with fellow entrepreneurs, with my baristas, with my colleagues, with strangers. I’ve gotten to work with so many amazing people, doing things that I am really passionate about. I’ve gained the kind of confidence that I didn’t know I was capable of. I have friends who feel like family to me. I’ve gotten so many incredible opportunities handed to me on what feels like a silver platter. So much so that one day a couple weeks ago I went to the park in the middle of the afternoon on a beautifully sunny day and I actually cried: I am so lucky. I am so lucky. I am so lucky.

On Growing Pains >> Life In Limbo

Here’s the thing though. The last few months have also pushed me, hard. Would you like some examples? There was the time my rent e-transfer got deposited into the wrong account and for two months I thought I’d lost a huge chunk of cash that I didn’t exactly have lying around. There was the time that my landlords sold the house I live in and I didn’t know whether I would have to move out. There were weeks of work days when I felt frantic and tired and over-caffeinated and hangry because I didn’t stop to eat properly. There were a lot of nights, especially in the winter, when I felt incredibly lonely because I realized that my friends in the city had their own busy lives and mine felt, by contrast, very empty. There were a handful of times that I got news that sent me reeling for hours or days. There was the frustration of trying – for nearly a year – to get some of my most precious items sent back to me from another country. There has been heartbreak. There have been a lot of tears. There has been a lot of growth.

My dear friend Sonja helped me reframe this once recently by saying:

“The pain and heartbreak you are feeling? these are growing pains.

Growing pains! The pain we go through as we grow. What we experience when we shed what we don’t want, to make room for what we do: the best version of ourselves and the best version of our lives. What I love about this idea is that it reminds us that it can hurt to grow. It can hurt like hell. It can push all our buttons and emotionally punch us in the gut and make us need to rage-walk around the neighbourhood listening to rage-y music. (Not to be confused with rave-y music, although to each their own.) In fact, as I’ve come to learn, the best kind of growth hurts us exactly like this, because it’s the kind that actually changes us, shakes us up, and improves our lives for the better.

There’s a piece of writing advice that I love which says that to be a good writer, you have to “kill your darlings”. In the context of writing, this means that you often have to cut out the sentences or characters that are the literary equivalent of My Precious: you love them maybe a little too much, and they’re ultimately not serving the story as a whole. They’ve got to go.

On Growing Pains >> Life In Limbo

I’m learning that in the context of life, killing your darlings means cutting out the people and the limiting beliefs about yourself or the world that are somehow Precious to your identity, in order to make room for the good stuff. Here’s the thing though: at the time you do so, killing your darlings REALLY does not feel like you’re making room for the good stuff. It feels – pardon my French – like shit. If you’re like me, you may have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the idea of killing said darlings, and you will not enjoy even one single minute of it.

This is what I think is so important to remember, and why I resonate so much with the idea that these are growing pains: big, important life lessons are often about both growth and pain. But if we forget this fact, we aren’t going to ever want to do the work. We won’t kill our darlings or break our patterns or do the thing that’s scary. We’ll think: this hurts, I don’t like it, make it stop, and go back to the way we’ve been doing things all along. Staying still is way easier than moving forward. Or, as I joked earlier tonight: “Oh, so this is what not settling feels like – it totally sucks. No wonder so many people avoid it by just..settling.”

The fact is that it hurts to stretch, it hurts to shed your skin, it hurts to get two inches taller overnight. We have to remember that it hurts for a reason, it hurts because better things are coming, it hurts because we are being remade.

25 Moments

The past year of my life was a beautiful blur. Do I say that every year? This year, it feels especially true. Writing these posts each year for my birthday is such a special tradition that I’m so grateful I’ve kept up. It gives me space to reflect on what was important to me during the year: what made me happiest, what made me feel most loved, and what made me feel like I was growing. I always pick the moments that I feel most deeply in my heart or that I have the clearest, most beautiful memories of. They’re often the small moments and the little things, but they’re what make my life so rich and lovely.

I probably also say this every time: I am so grateful to be who I am, to be where I am, and to be loved so deeply. I am unbelievably lucky and I feel luckier every single day. Ps. If you’re wondering, that’s what success feels like for me: feeling more loved and more lucky every day.

This year, I put my moments in chronological order. Enjoy!


The day that we celebrated my little Grandma’s 88th birthday. We hung paper flowers in the yard, made adorable food, played bocce ball on the lawn, laughed, and were together for the first time in what felt like ages. I can’t explain how grateful I am to have made a video of the day.

Celebrating Father’s Day with just my dad and sisters. We nabbed a table on a patio by the water, drank way too much (amazing) beer, and stayed a long time. After having lived abroad for so long, the simplicity of after-works drinks with my family was a little bit mind-blowing and was a big part of the pull to make Toronto my home.

The moment I realized that I wouldn’t have to get a job waiting tables over the summer because I might actually be able to figure out this whole freelance thing in a real way. This has been such a fun and interesting year for my career: I am so proud of myself and a little bit baffled that I’m still pulling it off.

Going to a Blue Jays game with my sister (who is so confident, beautiful, and way cooler than I was at her age), my BFF visiting from New York (who I never would have met had I not moved to Korea) and the amazing guy who once called me to give me my then-dream job as food editor at a magazine (and has since set me up with basically my entire freelance career). It was the most beautiful summer night with the most beautiful people.

My entire trip to New York to visit Katie and Nancy Sue was amazing – there’s nothing like summer in the city, right? They’re my people, and NY is one of the best places on earth. But if I had to pick one moment, it would be ending up at Marie’s Crisis singing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the top of our lungs at 2AM on a summer Monday night. That night, we’d also had a bunch of soju and of course the one true love of my life Goa Taco. I want to bottle this memory and keep it perfectly intact for ever and ever. It makes my heart feel like bursting.

Watching Rob Thomas and Counting Crows at Jones Beach. It was hilarious and amazing and such a gorgeous venue. And we caught some great Pokemon that night!

Our entire trip to Vermont with Katie’s whole extended family. Everything was great: the outdoor showers, the superb gin and tonics (thanks Jim!), the great road trip music, the jaw-dropping star-gazing, and even the incredibly arduous hikes. I loved it all.

The day we brought Bodhi home! So much frolicking in the grass. So many cuddles with a little ball of fluff. So much happiness. We’re still pretty smitten with him, even if he doesn’t look like this anymore.

Making the decision to move to Toronto. I can still remember all my long, long walks in the ravine by my dad’s house that I took in order to think and think and think. When I finally decided to “live out what I already knew to be true,” I was ready, and I have not looked back once. Six months in and I already know this move has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

One of the most meaningful moments of the past year was when my family came together for my uncle’s funeral. It was an incredibly sad time, given the suddenness of his death and the loss of his beautiful spirit. Yet having that time with my family was special in a way that few other moments are. I will always be grateful for those few days of togetherness.

Adrienne

Spending the weekend in the city with Adrienne after not having seen her for three years – and it was exactly the same. At the time I was in a weird place of transition and wasn’t yet living in Toronto, so having one of my best friends back in my life was a gift. I don’t really remember what (if anything) we did except eat and talk, but what else is there to do?

Moving into my beautiful little apartment on the first drizzly day of October. My dad carried boxes down the alley from where he was parked and my mom and her partner brought stuff in from the other side. I just stood in the middle and brought the boxes downstairs – and then they all left and I got to unpack, like really unpack, for the first time in nearly four years. Puttering around my new space finding homes for my things (and myself!) was such a joy.

The morning I woke up to an email in my inbox letting me know that an e-transfer I thought I’d lost for good due to technical difficulties was back in my account after 2 months. Hallelujah!!

Getting invited for dinner by my landlords, who have also become friends. It was early into my time living in the city, and having the chance to spend time with them was such a wonderful way to start to feel connected and involved with life in a brand new place. Some of those early weeks were lonely at times, and I remember this dinner being such a lovely moment.

The day that I sent an email that ended my work with a client I was not aligned with. It was such a freeing (and terrifying) experience to walk away from money but instead give myself the gift of good energy and better opportunities. Things have been more than fine financially ever since, so this was a good lesson for me in my first year of full-time freelancing.

Being surprised by my mom and Grandma showing up at my apartment one Thursday to take me out for lunch. I remember feeling so grateful to finally be living close enough to them for that kind of thing to even be a possibility. After so many years away (including my time at university!), it felt especially sweet to walk around my new neighbourhood with them and enjoy a long lunch together.

25 Moments >> Life In Limbo

Having a mini ‘high school reunion’ with my best friends from that time in my life. It had been years since we’d all seen each other, and we’d only kept in touch to varying degrees. But, just like always, showing up to the restaurant and seeing them was exactly like old times, as if no time had passed. We had so much fun and wound up (as always) back at Kelcie’s house, having long rambling conversations about anything and everything. Even though our lives are so busy and we’ve grown up a lot, in a lot of ways we’re all exactly the same as we were, and it feels good to have people who know you that well.

In a similar vein, there was a day at the end of December when my dad and his partner and my grandparents came to visit my apartment for the first time since I’d settled in. I sat them down (even though I didn’t have enough seating) and served them tea (even though I didn’t have enough mugs) and we sat around for a while. I remember feeling kind of amazed that having my family over to my apartment was a possibility for me now.

Homegoing

The first book club brunch we did at Fresh for the book Homegoing. We’ve had meetings since then and I’ve enjoyed them, but the first one was special for a lot of reasons. We had all read the book, we all had a lot of thoughts on it, and we had an amazing discussion over delicious food. Everyone was there and nobody had to leave early, so we had this lovely lingering brunch while talking about a good book. What could be better?

Going to my first Tuesdays Together meetup! I have a feeling that if I think about this too long I’ll get emotional, because this first event turned out to be a catalyst for so many amazing opportunities and joys over the months that have followed. The first meeting was serendipitously at my sister’s apartment building, which made me feel braver about going alone after a friend couldn’t make it at the last minute. We sat around a table and talked about systems and apps for our businesses and it didn’t take me long to jump in with ideas. My mind was boggled by all the interesting creative people who were there and I left feeling so inspired. I also met Sonja that night, who has since become a dear friend and partner-in-crime.

Red Tent Sisters

Both of our filming days in February with the Red Tent Sisters. We were producing a bunch of Ask the Sisters videos over two days at the end of February, and it was a blast. We spent the days talking about reproductive health and sexuality and all that good stuff, plus I also got to nerd out about our new studio lighting and the “set” we created in Kim’s bedroom. The weather was sunny and Spring-like so we got to take all our breaks out on the back deck in t-shirts. It was one of those days where I just kept thinking “I love my job” over and over again.

The day that the baristas at my favourite local coffee shop and I learned each others names and bonded over Riverdale. I have never been a ‘regular’ somewhere ever, so this was a big deal for me, and now the café feels like my second home. I go almost every day, have made friends with all the other regulars, and get life advice from the baristas. It’s pretty special and I’m pretty grateful.

Being asked to help at Nurture Retreats as the retreat assistant. I was so thrilled! I wanted to go like crazy but didn’t have the money, so to be asked to help out in exchange was like a dream come true. The retreat is in a couple of weeks and I can’t wait – it’s three days of self-care and creativity and good amazing food all rolled into one. Heart-eyes emoji.

Sarah Slean Metaphysics Party with Nurture Retreats

Getting to cater, create, and experience Sarah Slean’s album release party for Metaphysics (which just came out today!) with Sonja. Every aspect was absolutely beautiful: the 4-piece string quartet, Sarah’s voice, the stunning food, the signature cocktail (heyyyy), the calligraphy on the walls – everything. It was such a dream.

Dr. Shanker on The Agenda

Last week when I got to go to TVO studios (I grew up watching TVO and only TVO, so that part was especially cool) and watch an interview with the founder of The MEHRIT Centre, Dr. Shanker, on The Agenda. I was pinching myself that I got to accompany him and cover it for our social media channels, and again baffled at how much my career has grown in just one short year.

Honourable Mentions:

  • Every Lakeshore walk talking to Katie
  • Every time I went home to The Hideaway and hung out with Bo
  • Every time I listened to the Hamilton soundtrack
  • Every family dinner, especially the one at Pai

“Let whatever mysterious starlight that guided you this far guide you onwards into whatever crazy beauty awaits.” This quote will never stop being relevant to me – so much so that I painted it on a canvas and hung on my bedroom wall. Every time I try to think about how much has changed in just one year and how crazy-beautiful my life has been and is becoming, I am both humbled and awed. 2017 so far has been one of my best years yet, and I can’t wait to see what 26 has in store for me.

I love doing these reflection posts every year. If you’re curious, you can read about my favourite moments of 21, 22, 23 and 24.

Looking for the Light Today

Looking for the Light Today >> Life In Limbo

Today I walked down to the lake near my house and sat on a rock by the water. I needed to get away from my computer, from the endless articles I was reading, from Facebook, from the noise. There were hardly any people around and the lake was more still than I’ve seen it be since I moved in a month ago. It’s really cold today, and I wasn’t dressed for it, so sitting wasn’t a very attractive option. But I knew my soul needed to listen to the water, so I sat.

Like many of my incredible friends in the States and around the world, I am shaken by the results of the election. I keep reaching out to my friends, sending love, not knowing what to say.

It’s so stressful and startling to hear the things that we’ve been hearing. That the markets at one point last night dropped to lower than they were after 9/11. That my friends who are teachers are posting that their students are crying and afraid, worried for the safety of their family. That there was so much voter suppression during this election, and who knows how much that affected the results. That a Trump presidency may have horrific outcomes for civil rights. That people are joking about the fact that the Canadian immigration website crashed last night, which of course is not a joke at all for the thousands of rightly terrified people whom Trump threatened countless times during his campaign: immigrants, people of colour, women, trans people, people with disabilities, the list goes on.

As I sat by the water, I noticed that my hands were warm. My face was warm. The sun was so strong that the entire front side of me was completely cozy and warm, even as I still had – literally – shivers down my spine. A little ways behind me rushed the sound of cars speeding across (count em’!) more than 10 lanes of traffic. In front of me, quiet water with barely any ripples and endless blue sky without many clouds. Behind me noise, in front of me, peace. In front of me, light and warmth, behind me shadows and cold.

That kind of sums up how I have felt today as the day has carried on. I am turning my face towards the light, even as I feel chilled to the bone.

And there is light here. If you need some, let me share what I have with you.

Most importantly, there is this: Hillary won the popular vote. Not by the landslide we were hoping or even by a very large margin, but in this one small way, I feel calmer.

There is this map, that shows what the election results were for voters under 25. It gives me hope that slowly, surely, as a whole, we are moving towards the light.

I am heartened by my teacher friends like Katie and Nancy Sue, who are telling their students, in the wake of the fear and chaos, that they are safe and loved.

I am heartened by people like my friend Parker, who is using his (white, male) voice and platform to specifically share strong, true, unapologetic perspectives about what this result will mean for the huge groups of people who are oppressed in countless ways in modern-day America.

I am heartened by my bosses and dear friends the Red Tent Sisters who cried this morning over the results but were so galvanized and committed in knowing that their work for women’s health and empowerment is more essential than ever.

I am heartened by these words from Elizabeth Gilbert, offering us an invitation to step away from all the noise and ask ourselves “who do I want to be in this moment?”

I am heartened by this post from the MEHRIT Centre re-framing the stress, pain, and fear from a scientific perspective, and trying to use soft eyes of compassion and understanding when things feel confusing and upsetting.

I am heartened by the words of my acquaintance and State Senator of Nebraska Adam Morfeld, and to know that he, like undoubtedly countless other politicians in America are deciding to use this result as fuel and motivation to create the change they want to see in the world.

I am heartened that amidst the madness, beautiful things occurred, like that Nevada elected Catherine Cortez, the first Latina Senator in U.S. history, and that in Portland, Maine, Pious Ali was the first African-born Muslim ever elected to city council.

I am heartened that as the day wears on, I am seeing more of my friends sharing messages of compassion, love, understanding, and the strong conviction that most Americans are inherently good people, no matter how they voted. To repeat: people are emphasizing, again and again, that feeling hateful towards entire demographics is (while easy, automatic and may feel natural) ultimately unhelpful and inaccurate. People are almost always doing the best that they can in their given circumstances.

I am heartened by all of these things even as I am nervous about what the future holds for us. I am heartened even as I know there are millions of Americans who are not. I know I am so privileged because of my race, and the country I was born in, to feel heartened in any way. I know it is so much harder, if not impossible, for oppressed groups that feel afraid and targeted and are facing the kind of injustice that I have never experienced to be hopeful at all.

Today, I hope that you are taking care of yourself and your loved ones as best as you possibly can. I hope you try to turn your faces towards the light and let it carry you forward, because we have such a long road ahead.

Lots of light & love,

Steph

PS. PLEASE – if you have light of your own to share, write to me and send it my way. All shreds of hope, love and joy are welcome here. I’ll keep updating this post as I find more.

More Light

 

Inspiration: October 21

Inspiration October 21 >> Life In Limbo

This is what happens when you put Marie Forleo and Seth Godin in a room together (magic). So many truthbombs!

Do what you love, and then your friends will hire you.

Speaking of which, I made a Facebook page for my photography biz this week! I started out by posting a photo of my handsome doctor friend Nitai, who asked me to take headshots for his residency applications.

Dear America, you’re already great! Love, Canada.

I started following this Toronto-based Instagram account this week and so far all her recommendations have been amazing. Just in case you’re planning a trip here anytime soon!

How to read a lot more.

Every single time I hear Tony Robbins talk I learn something.

My friend Katie told me about these amazing apps for finding cheaper flights this week and we have been obsessed ever since. Hopper is great for “watching” flights for a given time period to a particular place to see if the price will drop, whereas Hitlist is great for finding you random cheap destinations to fly to (Curaçao for $400??).

Currently reading: Smarter Faster Better. I’m really enjoying it so far and getting a lot of interesting ideas about how to be all of the above.


Long time no write! Luckily, Seth Godin (see above) snapped me back into it by reminding me that writing is so important for observing and interpreting your life. So! Here I am, and here I’ll be. I’m all settled into my new apartment in the city, I love my neighbourhood, I’m trying to see friends as much as possible and go on lots of local adventures, I’m getting used to working from home and cooking for myself again. It’s all a process and I feel so blessed to have so many incredible people in my life, both here in Canada and abroad.

I’m dogsitting this weekend (YAY), which I’m really looking forward to. I hope you have a great weekend too! xo.