2020 ‘buy-nothing’ year update

In the hours before sitting down to write this blog post in November, I bought sweaters and dresses from Asos, an outfit from Aritzia and two dresses from Grass-fields. Did I mention this was supposed to be my ‘buy-nothing’ year?

I don’t need to tell you how challenging 2020 was: like me, you lived it. Every month presented new twists and turns, ups and downs, mask mandates and widespread closures. Not all of it has been bad (more about that later), but it hasn’t been easy. A few months ago, I shared an update on my buy-nothing journey with Brette Ehalt of The Women We Know, an Instagram page chronicling the everyday lives of everyday women. I began this journey inspired by another journalist who’d declared 2020 a ‘buy-nothing’ year. The rules were that you identified specific days—I chose my birthday in May and Black Friday—where I’d splurge on anything wardrobe-related. I unsubscribed from mailing lists, got rid of sales notifications and tried to shift my attention away from retail. Seemed easy enough, right?

When the pandemic hit, I was still ok. I didn’t fall off the wagon in March or April. As my birthday drew near, I began to plan for the things I wanted to buy. Then, the week of my birthday, George Floyd was killed and my life was turned upside down. His death is still having a profound impact on the work I do for the Canadian Association of Black Journalists: it was the catalyst for long overdue conservations about race and racism in journalism. Those conversations are still ongoing. I’m proud of the work the CABJ is doing and humbled by the folks I get to work alongside (like, CJOC) as we lead these important conversations.

For me, so-called retail therapy has always been my version of self-care and stress management. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised that, when things got crazy, I returned to what I’d always known. Much of what I purchased still has the tags on it now (because where am I actually going? Where are we going?? smh). I fell off the wagon in July and August. As for September and October…I mean…what wagon? Who said anything about a wagon?

The past ten months made me realize this attachment is about more than sales and the solace I find in them. This is as much a spiritual transformation as it is a physical one, so I’ve been praying into this fervently over the last several weeks. There is, after all, grace for those who try and refuse to give up.

So, that brings me to where I’m at now. Before declaring 2021 ‘buy-nothing’ year 2.0, I wanted to reflect on what this is actually about: buying less or becoming more? What I’ve learned is that if I just focus on buying less, then I won’t actually overcome this. After all, the buying is a symptom of something deeper; not a deeper problem but a deeper, unmet need. So, this year, instead of relying on willpower, I’m praying for the grace to simply overcome.

A change of heart

I used to think vision boards were a waste of time. How could a glorified arts and crafts project really help you stay focused on your future (cynical, I know)?

Despite my best efforts, the first thing that came under siege for me this year was my focus. The challenges came out of nowhere. Some storms in life brew on the horizon and, even though we try to ignore them, they come to pass (been there, done that, writing the book—literally). There are other storms in life you simply don’t foresee. The ones that hit when everything is going well and you’re doing everything right.

I can honestly say that, in February, I was doing everything right…but so much went wrong. There were many days I found myself speechless. One morning I woke up to pray, but there were no words. Some days it was just about getting through.

A young girl I used to mentor asked me if I’d come with her to an all-girls Valentine’s Day party. I thought the plan was just to eat chocolate-dipped fruit and paint our nails. I didn’t realize making vision boards was also on the agenda. I went because I care a lot about this young girl and I wanted to be there for her: to spend time with her, see how she was doing and just to support her. So, when it came time to make these vision boards, I put aside my cynicism and jumped in.

As I made the board, my mind wasn’t consumed with thoughts of the various situations percolating around me, for a change. The only thing on my mind was my vision. In that moment, everything else seemed like a distraction. For a few hours that night, everything came back into focus. Cutting and pasting images representing my short and long term dreams lifted my spirits. It was a different kind of self-love.

My vision board is now posted on the cork board in the room I pray in every morning. It’s the first thing I see: a visual reminder of where I’m going. I’m going to get there regardless of what I see happening around me. I whisper a prayer over every part of the vision board daily.

The storms haven’t yet passed, but I can see to the other side of them. I’m working on looking at things more through eyes of faith. It’s the kind of vision you need to stay focused. And if it takes glue sticks and some old magazines to help me do that, then so be it.

Disturb us Lord

While listening to a podcast this week about the art of leadership, Anita Gaffney, Executive Director of the Stratford Festival, spoke about a former artistic director she worked with who “couldn’t stand complacency.” While he wasn’t at all a religious man, Gaffney said his favourite prayer was ‘Disturb us Lord’–one I had to Google, as I’d never heard it before.

As I read it, it struck a chord.

Complacency is the enemy of progress. It is a very subtle state of being…one we easily slip into when we get to where we want to be–and that’s key. All of us want to get somewhere: to a certain position within our company, a city, we want to get married, we want to get rich. Time and time again, we’ve heard from thought leaders and pastors how getting what we want isn’t the key to fulfillment: you can get what you want and still feel unsatisfied. However, we often get what we want and settle into a comfort zone: another way to describe the state of being complacent.

Nadia CBC Calgary Flood
A shot from the makeshift set I anchored a newscast from during the Calgary floods in 2013. Hosting this show was WAY outside my comfort zone.

I (happily) left my comfort zone in 2010, when I left Toronto. It was, easily, the best decision I ever made. At the time, I thought the move marked the beginning of my professional journey. Eventually, I came to realize it was also the beginning of a deeply spiritual journey–a parallel journey. As much as I questioned my career–questions about the relevance of the stories we told, questions about race and representation in the industry–I also questioned my faith: what do I believe and why. I never would have asked those questions, never would have begun seeking, never would have found God and my purpose and passion, had I not stepped outside of my comfort zone.

I can honestly say I’ve been living outside of my comfort zone for almost a decade…and it’s the best place to be. I’m pursuing dreams that are bigger than me, trying new things and learning new things that challenge me to resist complacency daily. It isn’t comfortable–but it is invigorating. My hope and prayer is to always remain in this place: a constant state of growth, where the disturbances lead to fruitfulness (John 15:5 NIV).

Disturb us Lord

Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

More than just a Masters.

I had absolutely no interest in pursuing my Master’s degree in 2006 when I graduated from the University of Guelph-Humber. I just wanted to work.

I’d already been volunteering at Rogers Television in Mississauga: first behind the scenes as a floor director, then on camera as a reporter (and then as an anchor and talk show host). I was hungry to get into news and a master’s degree seemed, at the time, like a waste of time. It would take another 10 years before the timing finally felt right. It was just a question of what to study.

A trusted mentor (one of my former news directors) told me not to bother pursuing a master’s of Journalism. “What’s for?!” she asked, pointing out I’d already spent over 10 years in the industry. She was right: there was no point…and my heart was telling me no. I looked at programs focusing on women’s issues and political science, but none of them really struck a chord–not because these weren’t worthy or noble areas of study, but because my heart was pulling me in another direction.

I’ve always enjoyed volunteering: at my local church growing up, at Rogers Television and with Junior Achievement in both Calgary and Vancouver. There’s nothing more rewarding than giving back to the community. I knew I wanted my masters to intersect with my passion…a passion that recently underwent a shift by way of my faith. 2017 was a transformational year, leading me deeper into my walk with God. Suddenly, this wasn’t about volunteering, but about serving: giving of myself to my church and community in response to the awesome things God was doing in my life.

That year, I decided to send a ‘thank you’ note to someone who’d helped me very early on in my career. While looking up his mailing address, I came across Trinity Western University and decided to check them out. That’s how I found their Masters of leadership program. Immediately, I knew it was the one: I knew it then, and on my first day of classes back in January 2018…and even now as I’m midway through course #4.

There is something about studying Transformational Servant Leadership–leading like Jesus–and applying those timeless principles to your work life. The journey, so far, has been character building and deeply challenging, forcing me to examine my actions and decisions through the lense of my faith. To boil this down: am I doing unto others as I would have them do unto me (Matt. 7:12 NIV)? The honest answer is no. I know I can do better.

And this is what my leadership journey is all about: doing better. My focus is on nonprofits (more about that project in a future post) and it intersects with journalism. My leadership studies are preparing me for this next phase in the journey. Once again, the intersection of life, work and faith.