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Follow You Nose

Follow Your Nose

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Does anyone really know, in their teens, what they want to do for the rest of their lives?  Rhetorical question.  High school guidance counselling gets “A” for effort, but the reality is, our careers (and life in general) are typically a journey with many forks in the road.  We start down the path that seems reasonable (usually something related to whatever subject we did well at in school) and then, sooner or later, we come to a juncture and have to decide which way to go.  My advice to my own kids and others has always been to “follow your nose”.  We’re all familiar with the advice that if we do what we love, it will all work out.  But we don’t know what we love until we have some life experience.  And what we loved 10 years ago may not be what we love today. So put the train on the most enticing track available to you and when you come to a junction, decide which way to flip the switch.

I’m sure I’m no different than 99% of the population (the other 1% being those special people that have a clear destiny).  In high school, I had a keen interest in architecture and was one of only a few girls to take a drafting course.  But somehow I developed the perception that architecture involved too much mundane design of wiring, plumbing, etc. so I went to plan B – I was good at math so I enrolled in a math degree.  Not understanding at all the many uses of a math degree, I assumed I would be a math teacher, or a “mathematician” (whatever that was).  Long story short, that math degree morphed into a major in computer science, back in the day when PCs didn’t really exist (let alone laptops, tablets or mobile phones). 


Eventually I realized that the rather introverted work of a (stereotypical) IT professional was not for me, and that I was really interested in the science of management (that proverbial junction) so I went on to get my MBA. And I've been following my nose ever since .....

To Have a Big Career or Not to Have a Big Career –

That is the Question

Find the balance that works for you


I started my career at the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) and this is how it happened: I applied for a co-op job posting at university for a business analyst role at the TSX (which sounded oh-so sexy!) and hit it off with the recruiter because I was from a farm and she had worked on a farm as a summer job.  That’s just how life works sometimes.  Never would this farm girl have guessed she would end up at the heart of Bay Street!


Five work terms and two degrees later, I found myself back at the TSX in a full-time role, where I got to experience, among other things, some very cool business trips that would have a lasting effect on me (see Travel & Adventure and Food).

My roles changed as I advanced through the company and then, 5 years in, along came children.  In those days (“back in the day”), working from home – and part-time to boot – was virtually unheard of.  But I just didn’t feel right about being an “absentee mother” … so I asked. You don’t ask, you don’t get, right? 


Surprisingly I got approval to work 4 days a week – 2 at home and 2 in the office.  I was the first woman at the TSX – and I believe one of the first in the industry – to strike that kind of deal. I took some flak for it for sure, but I persevered until it was time to move on to a new company.   There (in the trading room of a large investment dealer) I didn’t dare ask for the same deal.  And soon the pendulum swung to the other side; I travelled extensively in North America and was lucky to see my kids at bedtime most nights. I remember coming home from my bi-weekly trip to New York city, exhausted from pounding the pavement and entertaining prospective clients until the wee hours, to be greeted at the door by two young kids that couldn’t wait to have a fun night with me &^%.  

At some point during that leg of my career, I tore myself away from my work to attend my oldest kid’s Grade 1 mother-child “afternoon tea”.  The teacher served tea and pastries, and the kids read aloud verses they had written for their moms.  Most of them talked about how wonderful their mothers were for taking them to school, baking cookies, etc. – all the classic mom things.  But my kid’s words were different, and they’re seared in my memory: “My mom is away a lot.  I miss her and I wish I could see her more.”  Tears ensued and Kleenex was quickly passed my way.  I was heartbroken.

So just a year and a half into that new job, it was clear I had to move on, and as luck would have it, I was approached by an awesome new Canadian investment dealer for a role with minimal travel.  (More on that leg of my career in Why do many women not rise to their full potential? The Big Epiphany.)

All this is not to say that women can’t work and have a family, or that they shouldn’t have the same careers as men.  On the contrary, I eventually realized that it isn’t so much the quantity of time that you give your kids, but the quality, that really matters.  As our amazing nanny/housekeeper Doris (see Special People) once said, in her view, I had a gift that had to be realized (I was smart and capable), and when I was with my kids, I was “real” – present and connected with them.  We all need to find the right balance between fulfilling our own needs or destinies and doing what’s right for our families (whether that’s our spouse, kids, parents and/or whoever we think of as family).  I eventually found that balance, and my now-young-adult children appreciate how they were raised – by two parents that shared the parenting- and household duties (in fact, dad did most of the cooking, driving to activities, etc. during the week and mom stepped it up on the weekends) and having a mom that was fulfilled enough to be content in life and happy to be their mother.



Why do many women not rise to their full potential?
The Big Epiphany

Save taking care of the little things for your home life, ladies!


While working at that awesome new Canadian investment dealer, there were some significant challenges: being one of the only people with kids and working on a trading desk full of mostly (single, young) men, being diagnosed with MS, and then enduring SARS and 9/11, to name a few.  The purpose of my role, in a nutshell, was to facilitate the implementation of new, innovative trading systems. Getting my ideas heard was often an uphill battle; the “Big Wheels” challenged me at every turn and even questioned my value.  I almost succumbed to the pressure.  But one day, when I went to the bathroom to cry, an older female co-worker happened to come in.  She was a tough cookie with a heart of gold who had learned how to get by in a man’s world.  She looked me straight in the eye and said (verbatim), “Wendy, when you come in in the morning, you have to strap on a pair of [you-know-whats].  When you go home at night, take them off – your husband won’t like them.”  I kid you not.  Not only did I stop feeling sorry for myself; that brief bit of advice renewed my resolve to fight for what I thought was right and for what I deserved.  Sometimes it’s just one person, or one experience, that changes the course of your life. 

Not long after that, I found myself in a difficult situation – my quarterly bonus was being gradually reduced.  Each quarter, I would ask why, but never got a straight answer.  I started to wonder if how I looked/dressed was a factor in how I was compensated, so I embarked on a little experiment.  First, I dyed my hair darker and started wearing very conservative clothes … but my bonus kept going down.  Then I went the opposite way – dyed my hair lighter and started wearing less conservative clothes, even showing a little cleavage (really not normally my style).  And still, my bonus continued to decline. Until finally I was told that the job I was doing just wasn’t quite as senior as the top executives had envisioned, so my compensation was being reduced to align with the work.  Gee, thanks for telling me, guys! 

I can’t stress enough what a sudden and seminal moment this was in my career.  At home that night, I fretted over why this was happening.  And then it hit me – I did it to myself!  I made it my responsibility to take care of all the little things.  Someone had to, right?  Wrong!  That, I believe, is a classic mistake made by many women in business.  Playing the “mother” role only gets you seen by your male colleagues as more administrative or operational – not as their equal (a strategic, innovative leader – a Big Wheel). 

The very next morning, I resolved to get myself back on track.  As it would happen, a draft document for a new venture was sitting on my boss’ desk.  I immediately knew what it was and insisted that I be involved.  After all, I was the one person in the company with the ideal experience and knowledge.  It was agreed that I would run with the project, and I poured everything I had into it.  I continued to do my “day job” but committed myself to letting the little things slide – someone else (more junior) would pick them up.  It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure.  Fast-forward several months, and the venture (a spin-off company) was approved.  Like the Big Wheel that I now was, I met with the CEO and urged him to find a CEO for the new sub and get the show on the road.  And later that day, he offered me the job!  Honestly, I did not see that one coming, but of course I said yes!! 

So what’s the lesson here?  It’s not that women have to behave like men to get ahead, although in some cases (like mine) that may be true. When I speak to younger women looking for advice/mentorship, I say this:  Determine what’s valued in the company you work for, and if you’re comfortable being that person, great; if not, move on ASAP to a company that’s aligned with your skills and values.

Authenticity and Resiliency: You Only Live (and Work) Once

Be yourself and do what’s right

Throughout my career, three very strong themes have emerged.  First, I love to solve problems and find better ways to do things, and just will not settle for the status quo. I can’t really explain why I’m that way; all I can put it down to is DNA.  Everything I’ve done has been consistent with that theme – inventing new products/services, modernizing securities regulation, helping to build an innovative new association, etc.


The second theme is my inability to do anything other than what’s right.  An early example is my first role with the TSX (selling a computer system to other stock exchanges) – a dream job for a few years, but it soon became clear to me that we had sold all we were going to sell, and it made no sense for the company to continue paying me to do the job.  So I submitted a business case to eliminate my role.  I have yet to meet another person who has done that; people quit / move on, but telling your company they’re wasting their money on you?? That’s either brave or stupid (or, as someone once pointed out, the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive).  As it turned out, my business case was very convincing, but luckily, my superiors appreciated my candour and common sense, and gave me time to find another role in the company. It was a gamble for sure; I could have found myself on the street looking for work.  That would have been okay – I was young, the job market was good, and my skills were marketable.  But clearly I was in a unique situation; not everyone in a dead-end/pointless job has those luxuries. 

The third theme: I refuse to be someone I’m not, or to think of myself as better than anyone else.  I could say it’s because of my humble upbringing but that would be an oversimplification.  Lots of people grow up poor and/or with a strict moral code, but that doesn’t stop them from playing games or doing morally questionable things to get ahead.  I just couldn’t do it; I couldn’t even think about doing it.  Eventually I realized that this was in fact my “secret sauce”; being human – admitting I don’t know everything, acting goofy, making friends with colleagues regardless of their level or status – is what set me apart from many other leaders.  And so it’s the way I continued to be, and always will be. I often wonder how others do it: put on airs at work, then go home to their families and (I hope) be a different person altogether.  It’s got to be so much work !&^%

On the flip side, I also refuse to think of myself as lesser than anyone else.  So many people are intimidated by others that have higher positions or make more money.  If I’m describing you, give your head a shake!  We all put our pants on one leg at a time.  Just because someone is more (financially) successful than you, that doesn’t make them “better”; in many cases they’re probably just luckier … and maybe not nearly as happy as they appear.  But that’s beside the point.  Relationships with our fellow human beings shouldn’t be dictated or defined by our “social status” or wealth.  I have friends from all walks of life, and I appreciate what each of them brings to my life.  And in my career, I was never intimidated by those more senior than me, just as I would hope that those junior to me don’t feel intimidated by me.

My career hasn’t been the biggest, most glamorous one (I know lots of people with “bigger/better” careers) but it’s been successful by most measures: I did work that really interested me, had many awesome experiences (including plenty of business trips and even a few media features), periodically made a real difference, developed some great relationships, and made a good income in the process.  But it did not come without its setbacks.  Twice, for example, I’ve been packaged out.  The first time this happens to you, it’s perfectly normal to assume you were the problem – you did something wrong / you failed in some way.  But eventually it becomes clear – business decisions have to be made, and the casualties that ensue are just that and nothing more.  Many people will be one of those casualties at least once in their life, but it’s not necessarily a reflection of their value.  Stuff happens to the best of us.  Go through the grieving process, pick yourself up, start your next chapter and show the world what you can do!



Outsourcing, Baby!

Why stretch yourself thin if you don’t have to?


I’ve often been asked by younger women how to achieve that elusive work-life balance, especially if you have kids.  Clearly there’s no easy answer, but by gosh, outsourcing has to be right up there!  What do I mean by outsourcing?  In a nutshell, don’t try to be Superwoman.  Many people (men and women) want and indeed need fulfillment outside their homes.  If you’re lucky enough to have a job that provides a decent income, why stretch yourself to the point of exhaustion? It really defeats the purpose (and does your kids a big disservice). There will always be plenty of things you have to do outside of work, but why saddle yourself with the big, boring, time-consuming tasks if you can afford to pay someone else to do them?  Some examples (in order of priority, in my opinion):

  • House-cleaning: Absolutely number one! Unless you have a partner/roommate that keeps the place clean and tidy, or you get some perverse pleasure from dusting / vacuuming / cleaning toilets, pay someone! Bonus points if they do the laundry too.

  • Meal Prep: As I explain in Food, I’m a big fan of meal-kit delivery services. They alleviate a lot of grocery shopping, and the stress of worrying about what you’re going to feed your family every night.


  • Shopping for Clothes: Okay, this one is a stretch for most people, but it was life-changing magic for me.Let me start by saying that I hate to shop.Don’t get me wrong – I like having nice things; I just don’t like searching for them. At a silent auction many years ago, one of the items was a two-hour wardrobe consultation.  I started the bidding with the minimum amount ($75) and to my surprise, no one else bid.  The consultant (one of the loveliest people you can imagine) came to my place and led me through a serious purge of my wardrobe. That started a relationship that lasted many years.  She got to know my style, body shape, etc., gave me expert tips on ways to combine clothes I already had, and regularly brought me new clothes, shoes and accessories to try and buy – all at normal retail prices (she made the difference between wholesale and retail).  Eventually she moved on to a different role, and I really don’t need to maintain an awesome wardrobe now anyway. But I tell you, if you want to look like a million bucks at work (post-COVID) and don’t love to shop, hiring a wardrobe consultant (or “stylist”) is the best thing since sliced bread!


  • Decorating: Ditto for home decorating. Again, I like to have stuff, but loathe the process of finding it.  It literally makes me tired. I’m sure you can find someone to help you furnish your home for about the same cost as (or maybe just a little more than) you would spend on your own ... but with the added bonus of their expert advice.

Big Career or Not?
The Big Epiphany
Authenticiy & Resiliency
Outsourcing, Baby!

The Lost Art of (Business) Writing

Keep it simple!


I’ve spent the last several years letting the written material I’ve seen (business documents, emails, texts from friends and family, etc.) drive me CRAZY!  It’s a sort of obsession that I’m trying very hard to kick – not because my view is wrong, but because I realize it’s a losing battle. It seems everything we learned in elementary school about spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, etc. went in one ear and out the other of most people. E-communications are obviously a big factor in the demise of the written English language, and we’re all guilty of cutting corners.  Typos are cool now, even if they render the message completely unintelligible, so that battle front is hopeless. But professional documents are another story. 

In today’s business world, with the proliferation of information available to us and the limited time we have to consume it, the ability to communicate concisely and effectively is critical.  Sure, there are plenty of readers out there that wouldn’t notice an incorrectly-hyphenated expression (case in point) so who cares?  The many other readers that know a good sentence when they see one – that’s who! 

To be clear, I’m not holding myself out as perfect; if you’re a professional writer or editor, or just a very good writer, I’m sure you’ll find plenty to criticize in my writing.   At any rate, here are some simple tips to help you raise your game.

Less is more

Ironically, as written information becomes more and more important to the smooth functioning of businesses, people are less and less willing to read, so we need to be concise:

  • Use words sparingly.

  • Cut out the florid prose.

  • Avoid long, meandering sentences.

  • Get straight to the point, say what you want to say, and be done with it.


Avoid “official speak”

Put yourself in the reader’s shoes and write like you (and they) speak.  Phrases like “in respect of” and “with regard to” can easily be replaced by “regarding”, “for”, etc. – terms that are less foreign to the average reader.


Write once and check twice

Proofread immediately after you write, and then again a little later. Typos happen to the best of us, but people judge you for those mistakes anyway.  Again, put yourself in the reader’s shoes; think of an example of a poorly written email or résumé you received and how it negatively affected your first impression.

Except in time-critical situations, always give yourself time to set your writing aside and come back to it later. The brain is tricky and will ignore errors that it’s just made; some time working on something else will give you the detachment you need to catch typos, errors in tone, etc. before anyone else reads them. Alternatively, ask a colleague to proofread your work.

Avoid common mistakes

Many of the mistakes I see these days are things we were taught in elementary school but have somehow forgotten.  Maybe it’s because we’re so acclimatized to hastily written texts. You could argue (and I would likely agree, because I’m trying to kick this obsession) that casual messages don’t matter.  But when our sloppy writing shows up in the business world, the rubber hits the road.  One of my biggest bugbears is hyphenation.  I’m not sure how it happened, but the whole world seems to be doing the exact opposite of what they should.  If someone can explain that to me, please do!

Here are some basic dos and don'ts.

Lost Art





























General Punctuation

















General Grammar



Avoid the temptation to capitalize words that are not titles or proper nouns just for emphasis (or for no apparent reason).

Some (not all) prefixes and compound words need a hyphen.




Multi-word adjectives, and compound words used as nouns, should be hyphenated.



Phrases that are otherwise hyphenated (as above) should not be hyphenated when used as verbs or adverbs.



In a list of bullet points, the wording of each item should flow directly from the lead-in.






No need for a comma or semicolon at the end of each bullet; it’s implied.







A comma should go before “and” or may not be necessary at all; it should never go after “and”.




Two separate thoughts should never be joined by a comma alone.  They can be connected with a:

  • semicolon

  • period (for 2 distinct sentences)

  • comma followed by “and” or “but”


To form the plural of an acronym, number or capital letter used as a noun, add an 's' to the end, with no apostrophe.


To form the plural of an acronym with periods, a lowercase letter used as a noun, and any time an 's' alone would be confusing, use an apostrophe and an 's'.

Verbs should always apply to the main noun in a sentence.




In the case of multiple nouns, each noun should stand on its own (such that the sentence would still be correct if the other nouns were removed).

Incorrect Example

  • solve complexity for our Clients by …

  • conduct an accelerated Review of …

  • self expression

  • in house

  • signup


  • best of breed solution

  • follow up assignment

  • sign up sheet

  • top down buy in

  • Our solution is best-of-breed

  • We will follow-up with a review

  • Please sign-up with …

  • Company X enables transformation by:

    • analysing the firm’s strategy

    • conducting a review

    • final recommendation

  • Company X enables transformation by:

    • analysing the firm’s strategy;

    • conducting a review; and

    • making a final recommendation

  • We analyse your strategy, conduct a review and, make a final recommendation.

  • There are several phases in the program, the first is a thorough analysis.

  • The global CCP’s are developing …

  • Enterprise KPI’s and KRI’s will …

  • Mind your P’s and Q’s

  • the late 1990’s

  • several M.B.A.s are …

  • The xs in the equation

  • one of the CDSs

  • A group of people were protesting …

  • The real draw of this restaurant are the desserts.

  • Bob and me went to …

  • Please let Chris and I know …

  • was given to Sandra and I

  • it’s Jennifer and I’s idea

Correct Example


  • solve complexity for our clients by …

  • conduct an accelerated review of …

  • self-expression

  • in-house

  • sign up or sign-up (see below)

  • best-of-breed solution

  • follow-up assignment

  • sign-up sheet

  • top-down buy-in

  • Our solution is best of breed

  • We will follow up with a review

  • Please sign up with …

  • Company X enables transformation by:

    • analysing the firm’s strategy

    • conducting a review

    • making a final recommendation

  • Company X enables transformation by:

    • analysing the firm’s strategy

    • conducting a review

    • making a final recommendation

  • We analyse your strategy, conduct a review, and make a final recommendation.

  • We analyse your strategy, conduct a review and make a final recommendation.

  • There are several phases in the program; the first is a thorough analysis.

  • There are several phases in the program.The first is a thorough analysis.

  • There are several phases in the program, and the first is a thorough analysis.

  • The global CCPs are developing …

  • Enterprise KPIs and KRIs will …

  • Mind your Ps and Qs

  • the late 1990s

  • several M.B.A.’s are …

  • the x's in the equation

  • one of the CDS’s

  • A group [of people] was protesting …

  • The real draw of this restaurant is the desserts.


  • [Bob and] I went to …

  • Please let [Chris and] me know …

  • was given to [Sandra and] me

  • it’s Jennifer's and my idea

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