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June 01, 2021

Advice for your middle-school self

What advice would you give your middle-school self? How have the skills you learned when you were younger influenced your career path?

Bill Ramsammy, Director, Brand and Marketing Communications, CPP Investments
“Meet, greet and beat the problem!” Something my dad taught me when I was younger. I used this slogan in my high school valedictorian speech and to this day, I reference it when identifying an obstacle, analyzing the situation and finding an insightful solution.
Dan Gallagher, VP-Risk Manager, BMO Harris Bank N.A.  
Be curious, ask questions, read about the topic you are interested in, and read broadly about many topics. I found that many ideas I came up with to solve business needs came from focused as well as random reading and conversations.
Denise Tran, Planner, New Product Launch, Apotex Inc.
As much as you can, try something new! You’ll never know what works for you unless you give it a go. When you actively look for new experiences, your way of thinking changes. You become more adaptable and train yourself to see problems in a new light.
Don’t be afraid if you fail the first (or even the twentieth) time. Our successes and pitfalls are all learning experiences, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. Listen to what others say and accept critiques. Sometimes, your biggest challenges or failures can become the platforms to new, creative ideas.
Faiz Bhatia, Project Manager Stantec Consulting Ltd.
My advice to my middle-school self would be to identify two things: What do I do well? And what am I actually interested in? Often, the two are synonymous, which is great! But sometimes, we can be timid or nervous to learn about new material or new subjects that we think would be interesting.
In an age where information is available at our fingertips (I didn't have Google in middle school), it is important to stay informed and engaged with the latest trends and technological advancements, so that you can continue to identify where your interests lie as the world changes around you. That way, when you are faced with career-defining decisions, you are prepared to act upon those two things: what do you do well and what are you interested in?
Joan Tripp, Senior Advisor, Legal, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board
I would tell my middle-school self to be kinder to myself and not worry so much about what other people thought or were saying about me. My best friend once asked me when I was upset about something someone had said about me, "do you like that person?" When I said no, he responded "then why would you care what they say? If they don't mean anything to you then their opinion should not mean anything either."
I've kept that in mind. There are always bullies, doubters and people who just want to pull other people down because they are unhappy. Remember to listen to your own voice and stay true to yourself. Be kind to yourself and those around you.  
I've done that through my career. When people said that I couldn't do something or wouldn't succeed, I've listened to my own voice and gone ahead. Most times I've succeeded.  Sometimes you don't but if you don't try something you'll never know. And sometimes you just need to try a few times to get it right so that you do succeed. 
Always remember to be kind to those around you as well.  Sometimes, success requires a helping hand so be willing to receive and assist when you can.
Kajal Palan, Sr. Director, Operations Finance & Strategy, Apotex Inc.
One piece of advice I would give my middle-school self is to learn chess at a young age. Chess helps your brain to understand the big picture. What are your options? What should be your next move? How will your opponent react? This is strategy. When you learn to think like this, you will learn to anticipate problems and you will look for solutions. Some people focus on the problems. Others focus on solutions. That is the difference.
Jo-Ann Conrod, Executive Assistant, Deloitte LLP
Be patient. Don't be a know-it-all. Be willing to accept criticism. Think outside the box. Go that extra mile to be on top of your game.
Michele Colley, Transit Advisory Consultant, Stantec Consulting Ltd.
Be open to every learning opportunity even if it isn't exactly what you're looking for. You will grow the most when you step out of your comfort zone. Each educational and professional experience will help you develop transferable skills like teamwork, critical thinking and communication. Each will be necessary for your future career. You may even discover a new passion while you're at it!
Caleigh Silmser, Senior Manager, Brand, Cadillac Fairview
Don't let perfection get in your way. Getting ideas out into the world early will help you figure out where your gaps are and how you can improve. People actually LIKE being asked for their advice and help!
Allison Pasique, Senior Manager, Campus Recruitment, CPP Investments
Be brave and take more risks! I was risk-averse as a teenager and although I always had a lot on the go, I should have diversified my activities more. I was always an A+ student and little did I know that all subjects, even those that I thought added zero value to me or my future profession, would shape my problem-solving ability. Be a sponge! Learn as much as you can and don’t forget to enjoy the ride!
Bash Balogun, Senior Manager, CPP Investments
Don't let discomfort or fear of failure get in the way of trying new things. The more things you try, the more knowledge and experience you get. You’ll get over that hump of discomfort and fear of failing and you’ll become more confident in your ability to overcome obstacles and make the most of new situations. You will realize that some of our worst fears are really all in our heads.

Growing up, I had the opportunity to explore both my analytical and artistic sides. Even though I consider myself to be more analytical than artistic, my appreciation of both sides comes through in the way I design solutions and my significant interest in the human side of things, along with the systems and technologies used to solve a variety of problems – from where to invest to how to optimize resources.
Also, my family moved a lot when I was younger, which meant I got some good experience being the “new kid.” I am now comfortable with showing up in a new space, finding my groove, forming relationships, managing conflict, and influencing others positively – skills I use every day in my job and throughout my career.
Bryan Solan, Staff Software Engineer, Lookout
I wish we had the internet when I was in middle school – as much information as you want on practically any subject in the world! Nowadays the amount of information available is probably overwhelming. There’s so much that you could never hope to take it all in.

My advice would be:
  1. Find things that sparks your curiosity and then start digging deep. Keep learning and growing a little more every day. A little regularly is much better than a lot sporadically. Try to teach what you learn – then you’ll know if you really understand it!
  2. Don’t go for the safe option. Longer-term benefits come from taking on more challenging tasks, where you might fail or not do so well, but where you learn and grow a lot more in the long run.
  3. Really understand the core principles. For the extra upfront effort it takes, the core principles are much more valuable than trying to learn everything by rote. For example, for math, be able to rediscover proofs again from scratch rather than memorizing them.
Caleigh Meehan, Director, Organizational Development, CPP Investments
Don't sell yourself short – your only limitations are the ones you put upon yourself. Being curious about people and the world around you, asking lots of questions, being kind to others, having the courage of your convictions, trying things and failing, taking chances, being open to feedback and trusting your inner voice will open many doors and will lead you to where you are supposed to be.
Lexy Weinberg, Rotational Analyst, Fundamental Investments, CPP Investments
The three core key pieces of advice I would give my middle-school self are:
  1. When doing something, whether it is working on a new idea or project, participating in a club or extracurricular activity, or spending time with friends, commit wholeheartedly to that activity. If you block out the noise from distractions, you will get the most out of each experience.
  2. Surround yourself with people, friends, family and mentors who challenge you to be your best self. Prioritize relationships that motivate you to learn and be intellectually curious and nurture those relationships over time.
  3. Try many different roles in your areas of interest (such as through clubs, extracurricular activities or summer internships) so that you can make the most effective decision about what to pursue long term. Create a scorecard for yourself based on your values and interests and score each role to help determine what most aligns to what is important to you. Iterate and refine the scorecard over time. 
Paula Myrick, Office Experience Manager, Lookout
Don't be afraid to fail! I often would not take on projects that were beyond my current capabilities. I really liked being a straight-A student and wanted to keep it that way. My personal growth was slowed by going for the easy A instead of trying something new and challenging.

See failure as a learning opportunity. Most famous inventors failed A LOT: “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” ― Thomas A. Edison

And, if you are lucky, your failures may be the road to success. Penicillin, pacemakers, microwave ovens, superglue, and so many more products were mistakes that the inventors capitalized on.
Tim Wyatt, Chief Scientist, Lookout
It's not always obvious how to use the tools that you are given until you find a problem that they solve. Don't hesitate to ask more questions about what those problems might be – it can open up a whole new world of understanding why things are useful and even fun to understand.
Ashley Vogeli, Director, Strategic Communications, CPP Investments
Be proud of yourself. You are doing a great job! Any insecurity you feel today is a natural part of growing up and it will fade over time. I spent a lot of time doing speech and debate as well as model United Nations and playing on sports teams. When you work with others and learn what it means to be a good teammate, that helps you be a good employee and colleague too.
Candace Harris-Parker, Delivery Project Manager, Cadillac Fairview
Advice I would give my younger self is to be confident.  Being confident doesn't mean having all the answers – it’s okay not to know everything.  Essentially be confident enough to ask questions and seek out information and experiences that will increase your knowledge base.  Also, it is okay to make mistakes along the way. Your failures are actually opportunities to learn.  Don't be afraid to ask for help.
Catalina Vargas, Manager, Innovation & Strategic Initiatives, BMO
Laugh at yourself! Over the years I learned this was something very useful to embrace whatever came my way. I started being more open and sharing with others what was on my mind and that led to really interesting conversations that otherwise may not have happened.
Christopher McIntosh, Vice President, BMO
Try everything, make mistakes, listen to those who wish to share wisdom. Think bigger than yourself; even the smallest acts for others can make huge impacts.
Dale Baker, Senior Relationship Manager, BMO
Don't be afraid to speak up, try new things, or say "I don't know, but I'd like to learn." When you show curiosity and question the status quo, that is where growth happens. Adopt a growth mindset and instead of saying "I can't," say "not yet." Always keep trying, learning and growing. Don't be afraid of failure.

Last tip:  Participate in and practice math! Numbers, information and people shape our world. Get involved in class, talk to parents, mentors or teachers about things like saving money, budgeting or managing family finances. This will help you in the long run if you start early!
Elisa Costa, Associate Architect, Stantec
Do what you love. It’s so much easier to be motivated to learn and innovate about a topic that you are passionate about.
Jeff Simmonds, Senior Manager, National Specialty Leasing, Cadillac Fairview
FOLLOW YOUR PASSION! Pay attention to the things in which you are "overly interested." Learning this at a young age can help to set the tone for how your adult life will unfold, be it your career, how you raise a family, what you do in your spare time, etc.

Life will always throw curveballs and pressure your way. If you stay true to your passion(s) and remain your true self, accomplishing goals will not only seem easier but will be more fruitful!
Kristina Balaam, Senior Security Intelligence Engineer, Lookout
Ask lots of questions about what career(s) your interests could help you find! Often, we're pushed in the direction of the same few jobs – doctor, lawyer, etc. And while those are wonderful careers, there may be a job you didn't even know you wanted but that would allow you to learn and grow in all the areas you're interested in.
Get lots of feedback from different adults to help you make the best decision about what kind of work you might one day like to do.
Natalie Selfe, Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability Intern, Deloitte
Follow your passions! You don't always have to do what your friends are doing. Middle school can be really challenging, it's the weird in-between time from primary school to high school and I personally struggled a lot.
I wish I wasn't as embarrassed to have hobbies and academic interests that were different from my friends (from loving math class to wanting to play soccer at recess, or even dressing up at Halloween when my friends thought we were too old).
Stay true to your heart, and always try to pursue your interests without caring what other people think of you. Easier said than done, but doing what you love will make school and extracurriculars that much more enjoyable!
Nicole Tryhorn, Sr. Manager Project Lead, BMO
Experiment with everything! Even if you think you won't like something, just try it. Also, every subject I avoided I ended up taking in university so, even if you aren't good at something, it is better to face it than run away... it might eventually catch up to you!

Sheli Gelman, Personal Banking Associate, BMO

The best advice I could give my middle-school self is to remain open-minded to opportunities that are presented and remember that focusing on your personal values will make any opportunity the right one for you.
When I first started working as a bank teller, I assumed I would only do this job part-time while studying in university to become a psychologist, and once I was done university I'd ditch this career. I felt as though I hated what I did for work because it didn't align with my dream of being a therapist, even though I felt pretty good and satisfied while I was at work.
Over time I started to realize that my biggest motivator was actually the desire to help people and make sure they're feeling positive and successful, and I noticed that I was doing this every single day at my job.
Once I clued in to the fact that my personal values were at the forefront of what I did every day, I started to love my job, saw the benefit I provide to my clients on a daily basis, and decided to pursue a full-time career in banking. Every day, I make sure to apply my personal values to my role as a banker. I provide all my clients with the tools to be successful, treat them with unconditional empathy and respect, and provide them the opportunity to express themselves in the way that feels best. I find myself going home every day happy that this opportunity found me and that I didn't give up on it just because I never originally dreamt of being a banker.
Shahzana Ahmed, Advisor, Campus Recruitment, CPP Investments
Get curious about as many topics as possible. A good way to get exposure is to join your student council. No role is too big or too small and student council positions help develop leadership and communication skills!
Erica Chan, Senior Advisor, Campus Recruitment, CPP Investments
Always ask questions and actively listen. Develop a list of topics you want to learn about and seek more information from others. People don't know what you want to learn, so you should lead the conversation by asking. There is never a silly question!
Always raise your hand for new opportunities. You don't know what you like until you try it! Whether it's joining a school club or a sports team, you could learn a new skill or make new friends.
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