Freelance Writer and Journalist: Michael-Oliver’s WorkStory

By Abigayle Walker, WorkStory Ambassador at University of Ottawa

Michael-Oliver Harding is a freelance journalist who writes for both print and online culture magazines and newspapers. His client roster includes publications such as the Montreal Metro, Exclaim, Elle Canada, Noisy, and Nylon Magazine to name a few. Michael writes about culture and the arts. He is most interested in “the intersection between culture and politics”. Working mostly from home, Michael says that there is a lot of freedom and flexibility in his schedule, which helps stimulate his creativity. Even though he is passionate about writing, he especially enjoys interacting with the people he interviews at events, via Skype, or on the phone.

As a freelance writer, it is necessary to be on one’s toes to initiate leads and to find one’s next employer. Michael says that his ambition and constant reading help him be a successful freelance journalist. Usually, Michael does cold pitches to the magazines that he avidly reads. He explained that cold pitches are when he reaches out to the editor of a magazine, without any connections or ties, with an idea for an article that he believes is going to be tailor-made for the publication. He not only sells his idea, but he sells himself as the best person to write this story. He emphasized that these ideas have to be timely and relevant to the readership of the publication.

While completing a BA specialization in Communication Studies, with a Minor in Spanish at Concordia University, Michael was focused on documentary production and producing short films. Even though he had always been passionate about culture and the media, he had never seen himself as having a career in Journalism. However, in his fourth year of his studies, he decided to write film reviews for one of the school newspapers. He found himself particularly enjoying interviewing filmmakers and musicians. To his surprise, he loved the writing component of this position. Unlike essays --  reviewed by person for a grade -- the articles Michael wrote allowed him to freely express himself. For the first time, his writing had a readership!  He soon became the editor of the school paper, and from there he started to pitch ideas to other publications.

After years of success in the journalism field, Michael is now pursuing an MA in Visual and Media Anthropology – in Germany! This program, he said, will bring him back to his original passion of documentary production. After years of writing about film, Michael says that he now wants to understand the interworking of the medium in a more in-depth way.

Michael’s closing words of wisdom for those heading into the world of journalism?

Write about what matters to you and take your cues from those who inspire you.

It’s good to write about everything, but it’s better to write about a few topics that you’re passionate about and that you know extremely well.

Read a lot. Stay updated in what’s going on in the field of journalism.

Follow the writers and journalists who inspire you. Stay up to date with what they write.

Getting a degree in Journalism is not mandatory! It is helpful to have a well rounded education in other disciplines.

Media Maven, Aicha Cisse

By Abigayle Walker, WorkStory Ambassador at University of Ottawa


Aicha Cisse is the Web Editor of MSN Canada, in charge of the Entertainment and Sports pages. Aicha is also responsible for the marketing of the Microsoft online store on MSN. She decides which Microsoft electronics or merchandise the site will promote and how it will be promoted. She likens her job to that of an Editor of an online magazine.

On a regular day, Aicha prioritizes any advertising campaigns that are running on the site. She works directly with advertisers on campaigns in order to generate a certain amount of clicks. If a campaign isn’t running, she focusses on keeping the site up to date with content, especially for the Entertainment and Sports pages. She sorts through the latest news stories from content providers like TMZ, Vanity Fair, and Vogue feeds and decides which source and content to feature on the site.

At Concordia University, Aicha originally majored in Biology. She soon discovered that the sciences were not the best fit for her; so she decided to seek assistance from her university’s career centre. The councillor gave Aicha a personality test, which revealed that she was well-suited to a career in Communications.  With this information in hand, Aicha transferred into the Communications program at Concordia University. After her program change, she found her passion for media and journalism. Beginning to work in newsrooms, Aicha learned that her niches were magazines and television.

Aicha started out as a writer for a start-up magazine, in the entertainment and lifestyle section. There she was able to build her portfolio and gain experience in the field. Due to the harsh competitive market, the magazine folded after the publication’s first issue. Being the go-getter that she is, Aicha pushed forward and found an internship at the CTV as a reporter for E-talk. Since this internship was unpaid, she searched online for work and stumbled across a positing for a Community Manager at Yahoo Canada.  Her responsibilities for this job were to moderate, screen spam comments, and to report abusive language that she found on the Yahoo Answer website. She developed an interest in further responsibilities whilst she was learning from her senior management team at Yahoo.  As people eventually left the company, Aicha was able to apply for an opening as a News Editor. From here, she gained a deeper interest in online news, social media, and  new technology.  She eventually got laid off from Yahoo, but through her strong networking abilities and experience in the flied, Aicha was soon hired at her position at Microsoft.

Aicha stresses that the industry she is in is extremely competitive. Her advice?  Work hard and hustle.  Be persistent. Develop impeccable writing and communication skills.  And above all else, know how to sell yourself! 

Making Connections! Erika Faust’s Communication Story

By Erin Annis, WorkStory Ambassador at University of Guelph

One of the most inspiring quotes I have heard in regards to careers is “You’re most powerful where your passion is.” Erika Faust has followed this guiding light to grasp her personal career success.

Erika is currently the Corporate and Internal Communications Assistant at Toronto Community Housing.  She is also a freelance writer and editor.  The path to follow her dreams began with her love for reading and writing.  Throughout school – at the University of Guelph-Humber – she had recognized her passion for writing and began editing her friend’s papers (even later on, editing her friend’s university thesis!).   Recognizing her love for editing, Erika became the go-to editor for her friends and family for whom she reviewed reports, resumes and more.

Her writing and editing skills became a key part of Erika’s career journey during her fourth year at Guelph-Humber, where she took Media Studies. During that year, she landed an internship in the Advertising department of her hometown newspaper, the London Free Press.  Her boss recognized such talent in Erika that when she left to start her own communications firm, she hired Erika right away to do freelance writing and editing for her (and has been doing so ever since!)

Prior to working at Toronto Community Housing, Erika worked both as a staff writer for the Fanshawe College newspaper “Interrobang” as well as an Internal Communications Coordinator at Goodlife Fitness.  These roles gave her integral skills pertaining to her career.  Her job as a staff writer allowed her to gain management experience once she was promoted to editor, managing a team of 20 students.  Her experience at Goodlife was a refreshing change as it involved duties such as administering the intranet site and even some event planning. 

The game changer for Erika was the big move from London to Toronto after her husband found employment there.  Although this involved “abandoning” the place she grew up in and jumping into a situation of uncertainty, Erika viewed this experience as a “big adventure”.  During this time, she didn’t lose sight of her passion and continued to do freelance writing as she searched for a new job. 

Periods of unemployment are a major struggle for young people.  As Erika put it “It’s scary not knowing if you’re going to be able to find a job, and it can be really disheartening.”  Here is what she focused on to combat this period of unemployment:

• Networking with people with interesting jobs. “I set up informational interviews to get advice from different people. We chatted about my options and they told me what they thought I could do to shine as a job seeker.”

• Continuing education. “I tried to use the Duolingo app to learn French – I didn’t get very far with it, but I did practice every day during the summer! I also attended several communications-focused webinars and took an online class in WordPress through Udemy.”

• Doing some freelance and part-time work. “It kept my skills sharp, expanded my writing portfolio and gave me something to talk about in interviews.”

• Volunteering. “I signed up to help out at some local events, and I became a regular volunteer at a local museum. Volunteering helped me get acquainted with my new city, and I got to meet lots of like-minded people – people who just like to help out and get involved.”

Starting September 2015, Erika began her current communications role with Toronto Community Housing.  One of the most rewarding parts of her job is the non-profit environment.  “Toronto Community Housing serves about 6 percent of the population in Toronto.  I really like knowing I am part of an organization that helps so many people.”

Erika’s key to success?  Making connections!

“My boss during my London Free Press internship gave me my first paid writing and editing gig. Connections I made while working at Fanshawe College have hooked me up with freelance work. A reporter I met while attending an event in 2013 eventually became a managing editor at Metro newspaper in Toronto and gave me a part-time copy editor job. My mom – who is truly a master networker – has introduced me to some really fabulous people who gave me a ton of insight and helped prepare me for future job interviews.”

Reaching out can be the most difficult, yet beneficial, move that you can make to enhance your career- but it is 100% recommended.

“If you see someone on LinkedIn who works at a company you admire in a role you’d love, reach out to them! It may seem a little awkward at first, but I promise, it gets easier every time you do it. People are usually flattered when you ask them for advice, and they often want to help you out – maybe their company isn’t hiring, but maybe they know another great place that needs someone with your exact skill set. Even if the connection doesn’t help you find a job, it can be a really valuable learning opportunity.”

The ability to put yourself out there is integral for making the best out of your career journey.  Erika is an exemplary model having followed her passion, staying open minded and continually making important career connections. 

Karli Steen Comes Full Circle as a Freelance Writer

By Annette Dawm, WorkStory Ambassador

Not everyone’s first job involves something that they are passionate about, but Karli Steen is one of the lucky ones! Karli is a freelance writer for, a website based out of London, ON. At the beginning of each month, Karli is assigned a wide range of topics to research and then she compiles list-based articles that are then edited and published on her Diply profile.

Karli’s position as a freelance writer allows her to work at her own pace from the comfort of her own home and her pajamas, which is enough incentive for Karli to go above and beyond her monthly submission requirements:

“The best part about working from home is that I can spend the day in my pajamas if I feel so inclined (99.9% of the time). I spend a good portion of my day on Pinterest, looking up the latest recipes, home decor ideas, and any other subject they need a piece on. My favorite pieces to do are the recipe ones, because although they make me hungry, a lot of them inspire me to actually make the food. When I am finished an article I put the link in my section of a Google spreadsheet and mark it green to let my boss know it can be edited and then published. If I've got extra time before the end-of-the month deadline, I try to put forth some of my own ideas.”

Initially Karli applied for a full-time job with Diply that would have required her to work in a downtown office, but she admitted that she “wasn’t exactly qualified”. Despite this, Karli’s passion for writing shone through in her interview which landed her the job she has now. “I was lucky because they saw my love for writing, and gave me the freelance position as an opportunity to grow and gain more experience”, Steen explained.

Prior to her work with Diply, Karli had been writing her own blog for some time, which now has over 7000 views! She also volunteered as a “WorkStory Ambassador” and wrote for this website, interviewing people who loved their jobs. Now things have come full-circle for Karli as she has found a job she loves as well. Karli relates her own WorkStory to the old saying, “no path is ever straight and narrow” and believes that “nothing could be more true” about her path:

“I had taken on an English degree at Kings University College, with the intent of going forward into a Masters of Journalism. After two attempts to get in the masters program, I knew I needed more experience. I started working alongside LEADS Employment Services to try and find work with the qualifications I already had.” Through LEADS, Karli came into contact with Dr. Natalie Allen, one of the co-creators of While working on her Masters application, Karli also wrote an autobiography and posted it on her blog which explains more about her path here.

Steen says that she is grateful for the opportunities that her previous writing outlets have provided her: “Both WorkStory and my blog were useful to me because I was able to show I was passionate about writing; in sharing my story, as well as others'.... My time with WorkStory still gives me encouragement, as a lot of the stories I wrote seemed to point out that one path often led to another that you might not have necessarily seen yourself going down before. I can't wait to see where mine goes.” Currently, Karli’s path continues at Fanshawe College where she is studying to teach English as a second language, but Karli Steen will always be a writer no matter where her path takes her.

“If I could give new writers some advice,” said Steen, “I would stress the importance of starting a blog about something that shows your passion. If you're not much of a blogger, you might even try poetry-- just something where others can see what makes you tick. Also, even if you feel like you might not be the best fit for a certain position, don't be afraid to apply, because it could lead to another great opportunity!”

To keep up with Karli, you can follow her on Twitter and like her Facebook page.

Lisa Charleyboy’s Fashion Mag Will Tackle Aboriginal Issues With Style

By Tiffany Hsieh

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    Photo by Sofie Kirk

Photo by Sofie Kirk

Lisa Charleyboy (BA ’10, York University) always felt like an outsider to her Tsilhqot’in community and reserve in Alexis Creek First Nation, B.C. What helped ground her while growing up in Abbotsford, a suburb of Vancouver, was her insatiable interest in fashion and magazines. At 10, she devoured Vogue magazine cover to cover. By Grade 10, she decided she would move to Toronto upon graduation to study fashion communication. But it was at York University that Charleyboy discovered her indigenous roots and her true passion, which paved the way for embracing her native culture through writing on fashion and all things lifestyle.

“At York, I was encouraged to explore my heritage through writing and assignments, to explore history and be more critical about aboriginal issues in Canada,” she says. “I was very engaged as a student and with the student paper. I really enjoyed my time at York. It was a fantastic experience.”

Charleyboy is now a writer, fashion blogger, social entrepreneur and actress. She graduated from York’s Professional Writing program after a stint in fashion communication studies at another university didn’t prove to be what she desired. While a student at York, Charleyboy wrote fashion columns for Indian Country Today, was a fashion editor at York’s Excalibur, an intern at Lush magazine and a weekly contributor at on beauty, fashion and lifestyle. She also started her popular blog Urban Native Girl as a way to engage in writing and social media, and connect with native peoples from across North America.

When Charleyboy was approached by York to work as an aboriginal recruitment officer upon graduation, “It felt way off path,” she recalls. “I wanted to go into fashion magazines.” However, after the University approached her a few times, she decided it was a good opportunity for her to engage aboriginal youth about pursuing postsecondary education at York and following their dreams.

“There’s a native belief that if you are being asked to do something three times, you have to really give it some careful thought and consideration,” she says. “I took the job. I got to travel and meet people. I was involved with the native community across Canada. The job changed my focus to indigenous issues.”

During her two years in the role, Charleyboy helped York build relationships with First Nations communities all across the country. Among her many accomplishments, she helped to bring renowned author and York alumnus Joseph Boyden to campus for a speakers’ series. Not only has Boyden been a mentor to Charleyboy ever since, but he’s contributed to an anthology about indigenous youth that she co-edited. The book, titled Dreaming in Indian, Contemporary Native American Voices, was published last fall by Annick Press.

“The job at York shifted my life and opened my eyes,” she says. “Had it not been for this experience, my magazine would be more fluffy.”

Urban Native Magazine, an online publication Charleyboy launched in 2013, bears a mission to be “the go-to destination for current articles on indigenous fashion, art, culture, entertainment, lifestyle, news and business.” Despite the stark reality of print media’s continuing decline, her magazine’s first quarterly print issue is scheduled for launch this winter.

“I want my magazine to inspire indigenous youth. I want to distribute the magazine in northern communities, where there is limited access to smartphones and computers and not a lot of magazines in this realm,” Charleyboy says. “One of the things I hope to explore is fashion through [photo] shoots for my magazine and to showcase aboriginal fashion designers.”

Aside from being one of Canada’s most popular bloggers, Charleyboy was selected as a 2013-14 DiverseCity Fellow, one of North America’s leading urban fellows programs for rising city builders. As part of the fellowship, she has worked on an aboriginal youth media training initiative in Toronto. In her free time, Charleyboy has also been working on a book about urban native millennials, writing a “native chick lit” novel about a young woman in a big city looking for love, and filming a 13-part television documentary series called Urban Native Girl, which follows her as she takes her blog and turns it into a native lifestyle magazine featuring aboriginal fashion. The documentary is scheduled to air on Aboriginal Peoples Television Network in fall 2015.

“Fashion is always with me,” says Charleyboy, who recently moved to Vancouver to pursue a master’s degree in business administration. “Even though I never thought I’d be a writer, I have transformed my love for fashion through my love for my culture and writing. It’s been an incredible journey.”

This article appeared in the Winter 2015 edition of York U, the magazine of York University.  Reprinted with permission. 

Look What They Have Become: Jamara and Darryl’s Film Making Journey

As told by Jamara Forbes & Darryl Ayles to Annette Dawm, WorkStory Ambassador

 Darryl Ayles is rarely seen without Jamara Forbes and his orange hat. Put all three together and you have Orange Hat Film Productions, an independent film company based out of London, Ontario. Recent grads of Fanshawe College’s Advanced Filmmaking Program, Jamara and Darryl are working on their biggest project yet: Look What You Have Become, a novel and a mini-series and they want you to be a part of it!

What is your job?

 Jamara: I currently work retail during the weekdays and on weekends I lead my second life as production manager, writer and director at Orange Hat Film Productions (OHFP). 

Darryl: I am basically just working on Orange Hat business as my full-time job. So I’ve been working behind the scenes day to day, keeping everything up to date. I’m also the Director of Photography and part-time Director for our upcoming project.

 What do you love about filmmaking?

Jamara: I think what I love most is the camaraderie that grows when working in small crews, independently. More recently, I have found the writing/producer role to be extremely satisfying. There is something so incredible about watching [the] characters you’ve developed literally come to life and tell your story.

Darryl: Honestly, I really think being there every step of the way, from when my idea is just a pipe dream to when I see it projected in front of a crowd, that’s the best part.

What path did you take to get where you are?

 Jamara: Fresh out of high school, I applied to Music Industry Arts at Fanshawe College to pursue my love of editing/mixing music. After being waitlisted, I figured film editing would be the next best thing. I could incorporate all that I wanted to with music only with a video track on top. I fell in love with film noir, theory and filming and never looked back.

Darryl:  Well, it all began back in grade 10, when I believed – as any child does – that they are destined to be the lead actor of every film ever. After discovering that I had no acting talent, I began to work behind the curtain. There, I received what I would like to call a college-level education in theatrical lighting and sound. After many years, and many friends, I decided to continue the path and apply for college. That’s when I chose Film Studies as a backup. Although my backup may not have been my first choice, it ended up being the right one. After only a few classes, I knew that I wanted to be behind the camera-- and on top of it all, that I wanted to be in charge. After completing Film Studies, I entered and completed Advanced Filmmaking, (AFM) which has been one of my biggest accomplishments to date. Finally, through a classmate, I started helping on an independent film based out of London called Theories and I was able to make a lot of connections. Not only with a lot of actors that ended up in the mini series, but with a couple producers, Mike Tyrrell and Dayna Pearce who have been a huge help as we move forward in production.

How did Orange Hat Film Productions start?

Jamara: OHFP started officially the day of last year’s Advanced Filmmaking “First Take Film Festival”…. we were no longer confined by project outlines and creative constraint from profs or peers. Our first OHFP short film was Conscious, which we filmed in three days on our own time. After AFM taught us the filmmaking formula and steps to follow, we’ve easily adapted this style to all our following projects.

What makes the two of you a great team?

Jamara: We make a great team because of the time we’ve spent learning the same material. We are able to communicate with fluidity about paperwork, production, and post-production. We speak the same language thanks to the three years we spent with wonderful Fanshawe College profs who drilled everything into our heads….

Darryl: We started dating one year before Orange Hat was established and our great communication and love for cinema just fit. Together, we tag team every process and trade off when the going gets tough.

 How did you come up with the Look What You Have Become mini-series and book?

Jamara: We graduated August 26, 2014, and the first version of our script was finished September 17th. We had a blast during the last semester of school filming four short films with friends. The loss of school really gave us a kick in the pants to keep the constant flow of filmmaking going strong. After Darryl wrote the outline we each took turns writing the screenplay and three seasons later, we’re still writing and developing. Adapting the screenplay into a novel started as my side-project, but soon [it] showed more potential than we anticipated. It turned out that film—being a visual language—translated effortlessly into novel format and the voice of Shadow Sellers, [the main character] is quite a strong one.

Darryl: ….I didn’t really feel the need or urge to film anything any time soon…. About three weeks [after graduation], the urge set in and I found myself coming up with crazy concepts for storytelling…. I had developed a backwards-style story and the basic concepts of how I wanted to write, film and release it. 

Why did you choose to shoot the mini-series in black and white?

Darryl: Well, it was not an easy decision by any means. I had a meeting with our producer, Mike Tyrrell a couple months before going to shoot and we talked about all the pros and cons of shooting it in black and white. Soon enough, the pros were heavily outweighing the cons, and by the end of the meeting, I was more than confident in solidifying my decision. Some of the main reasons we stuck with the choice were to save time and money, especially in post production. The camera we chose to use allows us [to create] small file sizes, making our episode turnaround time shrink dramatically. This would all not be possible working with the cinema standards of today….  Instead [we’ve] created a … project that will be perfect for viewing on anything from a mobile device to a home theatre. Above all else, I like to think, “What if we were doing this exact project ten or fifteen years ago before digital was acceptable?”… Without a big production company backing us, 35mm film (theatre standard) would not be an option, and to complete a demanding mini-series on a low budget, there would only really be one choice: 16mm, black and white [film]. I like to believe that our 16:9 1080p files are a perfect digital substitute for the size and feel of 16mm [black and white film].

 What are you most excited about with Look What You Have Become and where can we see the mini-series when it’s complete?

Jamara: I’m most excited about our plan to screen all seasons in succession at London’s Hyland Cinema Theatre. I think it’s a wonderful idea and when the time finally comes, I can’t wait to sit back and watch our story come to the big screen!

Darryl: I’m honestly just most excited to receive a response—not only from the novel, but episodically, every single week and be able to pinpoint where we succeeded and where we failed in a more specific way than ever before. One risk in particular is that we are shooting everything in black and white. I’m a little nervous about how it will look from time to time, but I have faith it will turn out in the end. In addition, I’m so excited to break away from short films and music videos, because taking on a project of this size is kind of like my final test to know that I can handle the responsibility of directing a full-length film in the near future.

Jamara: When we complete this project it will be released episodically online, either on YouTube or Vimeo. I mean, the dream for us right now is Netflix, but there’s nothing wrong with dreaming big!

 Darryl:  ...I think that it’s a matter of people seeing this material regardless if they’re paying or not. That’s why I think the YouTube approach is the smartest for our mini-series.

 Where is the mini-series being filmed and how can people get involved?

Jamara: The majority of filming will take place in London, Ontario with a few days for out of town shooting. Please, please, please get involved! Submit to us any artwork, music, graphic designs and we would be honored to feature your works in an episode or more! My main goal was to make this project a collaborative effort from all my friends, peers, associates, and neighbours. We want our story to speak to you in a familiar voice.

Darryl: If you are interested in being a camera assistant, PA, gaffer, stills photographer, or script supervisor, we could always use an extra helping hand on set. We have a great team right now but sometimes an extra hand is needed. Please email us at We would love to get in touch.

 To learn more about Jamara & Darryl’s work have a look here and here

Living a Working Poet’s Life: Holly’s Story

By Holly Painter

Facilitated by Elyse Trudell, WorkStory Ambassador

 If you had asked me as a child what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have answered "teacher". If you had asked me as a teenager what my plans were after high school, I would have answered "teacher's college". If you had asked me as an early twenty-something what my passion and future career was, I would have answered "teaching". So as my 30th birthday approaches, you might naturally assume that I spend my weekdays in a classroom, standing in front of a group of students discussing important topics and curriculum material, preparing them for the next test, essay, exam, grade. If you assumed all of this you'd be half correct, but I bet you'd never guess my job title: I'm a poet.

Poet? I can imagine exactly how your forehead is wrinkling at the thought. Poetry, as in the boring stuff studied in school? Who would decide to do that as a job? How is it even possible to make any money? And how is that in any way related to teaching?

I am a spoken word artist. I perform poetry, writing and rehearsing my poems before sharing them on stages (and in classrooms) across the country. I began performing at poetry slams (after battling my fear of public speaking), and eventually my hobby became my job. Correct that; my hobby became my passion that pays the bills.

I run the London Poetry Slam, a space and stage open and welcoming to creative writers and spoken word artists of all ages. Right now, over fifty percent of our performing poets and audience members are youth under the age of 21. Poetry is alive and well, and it's all the things you never knew from English class: it's energetic and engaging, it packs a room once a month on a Friday night with 150 excited people, eager to share their own and listen to each other's stories. And youth love it.

The basic messages of spoken word poetry in London are "Speak Your Truth" and "Show the Love". These messages I carry with me as I speak at schools across the province at assemblies or in classroom workshops. The poetry actually becomes secondary to the themes of being open and willing to share personal experiences, and listening and being respectful and empathetic as people do. You would think high school would be the last place you would see this type of thing happen. But I see it every week. Youth relishing the opportunity to share their thoughts, feelings, experiences, and passions with their peers, to write, create, and speak freely, and to snap their fingers in support and acceptance as they hear and connect with what others are going through.

I may not be a full-time classroom teacher, but I wouldn't trade my job as poet/public speaker/arts educator for the world. What I have learned about youth through listening to their poems are the fundamental things I believed about them when I felt the tug at my heart to be a teacher; young people are artistic, articulate, and altruistic. They are passionate, perceptive, and powerful. They are enthusiastic, empathetic, and engaging. They are artists, advocates, activists, and teachers just as much as they are students when given the chance to open up, speak, and share. Often they just need a way to express all of this and someone to throw them the ropes and listen when they take hold.

If you asked me years ago how to help students become all of the things listed above, I guarantee you I would not have answered poetry. Funny what happens when you try something new, ignore doubts or fears, and encourage young people to realize the power of their words.

For more about Holly’s work check out

A version of this piece originally appeared in the London Free Press on March 6, 2015 


Matt O’Brien: Serious About Comedy

By Annette Dawm, WorkStory Ambassador

Matt O’Brien is serious about comedy because that’s his job! He is very passionate about what he does and he loves “everything” about being a stand-up comedian

“I love making strangers laugh, the travelling, hotels, the road food, the hanging out with other comics, the partying, the down time, the constant feeling that I'm very, very lucky to be doing what I'm doing for a living.”

Matt may seem familiar to you, and that could be because of the award-winning comic’s appearances on Video On Trial, Comedy Now, and the prestigious Just For Laughs Festival. You may have also seen him late at night on a subway in Toronto with a video camera because that is where he filmed his own talk show; appropriately titled, “Late Night Talk Show on a Subway”. You can see many of his above mentioned performances on his YouTube channel. Matt can also be found on iTunes. His “Rehash” podcast has been featured in the “New and Noteworthy” category and you can purchase his first comedy album there. Live in a Basement in Front of 20 People reached #1 on the charts in 2014. His awards include: “Best Stand Up” at the L.A. Comedy Festival and “Canada’s Next Top Comic” by Sirius/XM Radio.

O’Brien recalls his time on Much Music’s Video On Trial as an “awesome experience” and says that he really misses it:

“When it was on the air, it really was the launching pad for a lot of comedians and I feel really honoured to have been a part of it. It sucks that it’s cancelled now because I felt it was great for comics [to get] exposure. Also, it was a fun writing exercise, making fun of videos [and] having to come up with pages and pages of jokes.”

The London, Ontario native studied Journalism at Durham College in Oshawa and when asked if this program influenced his comedy and writing style, Matt replied:

“Journalism absolutely influenced me. When I applied to Journalism, I actually didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career. It absolutely led me to doing comedy. I realized I didn’t really like writing about news.... [I] enjoyed more laid-back, fun articles about the best breakfast sandwiches on campus and stupid stuff like that.”

“When I was in journalism one of my professors suggested doing improv or stand up to be more comfortable with crowds and speaking in front of a camera. I tried it and realized I wanted to do stand up more than anything else.”

Matt often returns to London to perform, which for him is a “weird feeling” but it is “still fun” to see his old stomping grounds: “[It’s] funny to think that I’m hired to tell jokes to these people now.”

O’Brien advises that if you are serious about comedy (as a career) then that’s what you should do – take it seriously: 

You really have to make comedy your entire life. It’s fun but there are a lot of ups and mostly downs. It is the hardest thing I’ve ever done but because of that, it’s also the most rewarding. If you’re thinking of doing comedy, move to Toronto and go out to open mics every single night of the week.”

“Someone asked me what my hobbies are and I couldn’t really think of anything because I literally go to shows and write all day, every day. I guess that’s the most ideal situation to say ‘my job is my passion and my hobby’.”

Matt O’Brien’s “ideal situation” is now his reality and he is very fortunate to be doing what he loves for a living. His many accomplishments came from “years of hard work, practice and open mics.” Although Matt is a stand up comedian, you can apply his work ethic to any occupation:

“Like any passion, it takes thousands of hours to be good at it, and I have absolutely worked thousands of hours to be good at what I do. Even when it was really tough, I never thought about giving up.  I guess that’s how I knew my job and my passion were the same thing—and I feel very lucky for being able to say that.”

For more information on where and when you can see Matt, you can visit his website and follow him on Twitter.

Look for the open doors!

By Rachel Gardner

Rachel Gardner headshot.jpg

Hashtags, Twitter handles, video editing and Facebook posts are a part of my daily job at the Council of Ontario Universities (COU). My path to this career was not straightforward, but I am certainly glad to have ended up where I am today.

COU is a membership organization for the 20 provincially-assisted universities, advocating for policy issues such as research, accessibility, jobs, and graduate studies. As the Communications and Public Affairs Officer with COU in Toronto, I wear multiple hats, doing everything from updating social media to managing the organization’s website and editing news releases, reports and government statements. It is a rare occasion indeed to find some spare time in the day!

The journey to get here has been not been without its twists and turns – I graduated from Mount Allison University in 2012 with an honours bachelor of arts in international relations, and a double minor in economics and environmental studies. I was interested in everything, but especially loved writing, editing and journalism. I had spent two years on staff at my student paper, The Argosy, first as the political beat writer and then as the news editor, and loved the thrill of chasing a story. By the time of my graduation, I had accepted an offer into the master of journalism program at Carleton University.

The summer after the first year of my master’s program, I took an internship with the Council of Ontario Universities, using my journalism skills and knowledge of the CP Style Guide in a role as a communications intern. Though I had originally intended to spend my summer in a newsroom, I had difficulty landing a paid journalism internship and decided to learn more about what a career in communications would be like. My employers gave me a number of projects to spearhead, including the launch of a student career site, creating short videos and managing the organization’s social media. At the end of the summer, they offered me a full-time job with the organization. Despite it being a tough decision, I decided to put my schooling on pause and have now been happily with the organization for just over one year. No regrets!

If I could give one piece of advice to students searching for their own career path, it is to be open to new opportunities. Get involved in student clubs and extra-curriculars to explore the areas where you are most passionate and find the greatest challenge. See where your talents best fit with those of others. Be open to trying something new, and don’t limit yourself.

There are lots of possibilities out there – look for the open doors!

How I came to be an ESL editor

By Allison Whalen

My ESL editing career came to life by accident, inextricably linked to the recession, coconuts and rock ‘n’ roll music. I’d obtained an MA from Carleton U and found that the cozy, bookshelved world of the grad student was nothing like real life, otherwise known as Ottawa in an economic recession.

What did they mean, the government wasn’t really hiring? Students of the double-cohort demographic were finally filtering out of the school system and into a local job market that couldn’t accommodate them. And yes, I’d looked on; we all had, evidently. It seemed like half the city was out of work.

 Fortunately, my husband was working as an ESL teacher-trainer with United TESOL at the time, and had the opportunity to pilot a teacher’s training program in Costa Rica. Did I mention it was winter? I happily ditched my resume obsessing for this “once-in-a-lifetime,” seasonal opportunity.  We packed our swimsuits and hoped for the best.

I taught English in small communities for a local eco-tourism organization, Peninsula Papagayo, where I was eventually hired to edit brochures, newsletters, press releases and web material. There wasn’t much competition for editing work there — I had the best English skills in town. And oh, the beaches and the coconuts! (For more on my ESL teacher experience in Costa Rica:

When we returned to Ottawa and got over the reverse-culture-shock, the job market hadn’t changed much. I was back where I’d started. It was when I was sniffing out editing work at Carleton that I got hired as an editorial assistant for submissions to The Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World. This job married two of my great loves: modern music and the written word, but the real emphasis should have been on the word World.  In short, my job was to tidy up each article while maintaining the foreign author’s voice. I learned about everything from German Krautrock to Greek bouzoukis in many variations of ESL English. Common error patterns in sentence structure began to reveal themselves, and I learned to coax a unique voice out of a mess of misused words. Working on my own time at a location of my choosing proved to  be wonderfully addictive, too. 

When I moved to the health administration sector, I began to take on independent clients as a second job, editing graduate theses in an ESL context. The patience, time and methods required to carve messages out of miscommunications were challenging, but because I had already gained some unique skills in the area, it seemed logical to continue.

More recently as a full-time freelancer, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many ESL writers from Asia and the Middle East. Meeting with Chinese and Arabic speakers has helped me understand a given culture that influences the writer, right down to the order in which they present their ideas. Having a sense for my client’s background has definitely made my work easier, and sometimes bonuses come in the form of exotic food! (I actually have sugar dates all the way from Al Qassim, Saudi Arabia, in my fridge right now. You’re not getting those from a client in Ottawa!)

Compared with other languages, English is pretty wordy and complex, so to understand where a writer is coming from (literally!) is crucial to understanding their meaning. Getting lost in specific words tends to be beside the point and can add extra hours to a difficult project. It’s often necessary to read an entire sentence, or paragraph, to distinguish between important and useless or misused words.

See? ESL editors do exist! I may have had unconventional experience, but it led to a lucrative and interesting position. What started with a frustrated response to an economic recession turned into a career, and I’m pretty excited to see where it will take me next.


Originally appeared in  
Reposted with permission.