Breaking Up with Facebook

It’s not you, it’s me. No, actually it is you.

Breaking up with Facebook

I did something amazing this weekend – I quit Facebook! I finally deleted my account. Well, technically I deactivated it which means I shut it down for an indeterminate amount of time – hopefully forever. Deactivating puts your account on hold but keeps all your stuff (photos, contacts, etc.) if you ever need to go back and it keeps other people from taking your name and impersonating you – another one of my great fears.

I had a long chat with my sister at brunch on Saturday and I realized during our conversation that deleting Facebook was the right move for me. And while I was at it, I also abandoned my Instagram account.

I’ve thought about deleting Facebook for a long time. It has been on my list of New Year’s Resolutions for ages and I am so happy I finally did it. I love reading The Minimalists blog and their ideas have stuck with me for a long time, and I can’t wait to read Essentialism by Greg McKeown. I realize that the only things I want in my life are the things that make me happy and I really believe that I already have everything I want and need. And, Facebook and Instagram are really doing nothing for me.

Why Did I Quit Facebook?

1) I hate Facebook.

2) Facebook adds absolutely no value to my life in any way.

3) Facebook is a colossal waste of time and energy that could be better spent on other things I actually like and find interesting.

4) I am too interested in my own life to care what anyone else is up to.

Facebook and  Instagram are both perfect examples of what I like to call Fake Life. That carefully curated collection that you put on display for friends, family, strangers, etc. Everything you put on there is fake. I can see what you’re doing and you’re not fooling me. So, I’d rather just step away and not engage any more.

Friends?

It took me a long time to get to this point. I’ve been on Facebook for over nine years. Are you kidding me?! If something is going to occupy almost a decade in your life, it better be worth it.

So that is that. I truly feel like an incredible weight has been lifted off my shoulders and I am so looking forward to this newfound freedom.

What about you guys? Do you think you’ll let Facebook take up space in your life for much longer? Let me know!!

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The Power of Boredom

How to use boredom as the ultimate lifehack.

The Power of Boredom | Paper Clips by Maggie de Barra

I listened to such an interesting podcast this week: Am I Boring You? from the Freakonomics Radio podcast. This is a really great show and I highly recommend it. They aways have interesting content, and they are great storytellers.

Boredom has been a huge interest of mine for a while. Earlier this year I asked: Would you rather be busy or bored? I think it’s a fair question. Would you rather have too much on your plate, or nothing at all? This podcast asks a series of very good questions: What is boredom? Why do we get bored? Does everyone get bored? And, what does it mean?

My takeaway from the show is as follows:

Boredom is an emotion that has developed over time, similar to other instinctual emotions (fear, love, hate, etc.). These emotions are mental triggers that lead us to act. For example, when we are afraid we summon the power to either fight or take flight. Boredom is an emotion that is caused when our brain recognizes that what we are doing has no purpose.

You have mental resources, they’re scarce and they’re really important and valuable, and boredom develops as this signal that mental resources are not being used wisely, they’re not being used on valuable pursuits. -Amanda Markey

You will feel bored when you are in a situation that does not stimulate you, either mentally, physically, spiritually – whatever you wish. When your brain recognizes that you are wasting your time, you will feel bored!

Evolution gave us emotions for survival. So, fear is useful. Anxiety is useful. And even boredom is useful, because you don’t want an organism who just does the same thing over and over again without learning anything. It would be good to equip that organism with an emotion, an urge to move on when they don’t think that they’re learning anything new. -Angela Duckworth

It makes perfect sense. You may be sitting there, wasting your time away, feeling restless and bored and you just don’t know why. It’s because you are not learning anything new! Because you are not challenging yourself! Because you have become stagnant! Your brain recognizes this and it’s trying to tell you something!

The key is to recognize the symptoms of boredom and use it to change your life. The next time you feel bored, you need to stop what you are doing and get out of that situation! Think about what you are doing at that very moment and why you are not learning anything new. And then make a change. Never put yourself in that situation again. Change your attitude. Course correct. Do something that enriches your life, that makes you happy, that makes you feel like you have a purpose.

Do something. Do anything.

Listen to Am I Boring You?  and let me know what you think!

Would You Rather Be Busy or Bored?

Exploring the space between stress and stalemate.

Boring

People love to say they are busy. Often, it is a self-inflicted state. We do it to ourselves, to make us feel superior, more important, or more in-demand than others. In reality, most of us are not that important at all. So why do we do it? Do we really need to cancel on friends and family, or sacrifice eating or sleeping to finish ‘work’ or attend ‘events’? Or, are you simply packing your schedule to the breaking point so you can ricochet between these appointments only to breathlessly declare how busy you are. You’re not fooling me.

I have been busy before. The kind of busy where you say yes to everything even though you should not. It doesn’t always feel good, being at the mercy of the schedules of other people. What is productive or positive about losing sleep, or skipping healthy meals, or missing workouts, or rain checking quality time with friends, family, or yourself? Nothing is worth it.

Priorities

There are few things that stress me out more than looking at my agenda on Monday, and seeing something booked for every night of the week. That sends a signal to my brain that this is going to be a stressful week. That there will be no downtime, that I’m going to be doing a lot of traveling, and that I’ll have to be “on”, so to say. It means there won’t be time for family meals, or my favourite classes at Goodlife, or even just some time to finish my current book. And there will be feelings of begrudging anger because I did it to myself, by booking things in advance and taking up all my free time.

I have really made a conscious effort over the past few years to plan ahead so I can carve out my own free time. Days where I don’t schedule anything. Where I can either get all my chores finished, or do all the things I couldn’t do during the week, or just to do nothing at all. My motto is “Saying no to others is saying yes to yourself” and I try to push it on to all the people who I hear complaining that they are simply swamped this week, that this month has been crazy, and their weekend is going to be hectic. It’s as easy as planning ahead, allotting time for yourself to do the things you love and the things you want to do, or to simply do nothing at all. The choice is yours.

Now, sometimes it’s not always this easy. And sometimes things pop up unexpectedly and are unavoidable. But if you’re cultivating a habit where you make it a priority to schedule time for yourself, it will not be as draining when those truly busy weeks pop up, and you will appreciate your downtime even more.

Time

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have also languished in the drudge. I have quite literally been bored to tears in those mind-numbing, soul-crushing positions where there is nothing to do but count the seconds as they tick away slowly. Is there anything worse than waste? Waste of your time, your talents, or your skills?

Betty Draper

“Only boring people are bored.” One of my favourite Betty Draper quotes, but I disagree with her. I align closer to Laurie Helgo who said, “I am rarely bored alone; I am often bored in groups.” Just because I prefer a lifestyle that may appear boring from the outside, it does not mean I am a boring person on the inside. I see these as two separate issues. Just as a boring person can have a very full schedule, periods of rest can be either active or passive depending on the person. You can waste your time, or, you can cherish it by reading, writing, learning, or just existing. It is the sweet spot of being alone, but not feeling lonely.

Bored

My advice would be to start small. If you are in the habit of always saying yes to others at the expense of yourself, start by giving yourself permission to say no. That, in and of itself, is a huge step. As you begin to feel comfortable with that, start by picking a few nights each week where you schedule time for yourself. Pick one weeknight, and one full day on the weekend. Say Wednesday night, and Sunday during the day. If your friends want to go for dinner this week, any day but Wednesday is fine. If someone wants to grab a coffee this weekend, you can only do Saturday during the day. Stand up for yourself and put your foot down. Remember, each time you say no to someone, you are saying yes to yourself.

It will take time before this starts to feel natural for you, but once it does you won’t look back! Welcome to your newfound freedom!

The 100 Mile March

How to quantify your goals and measure your success.

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In like a lion, indeed. Here we are in March, I can hardly believe it. I have turned into one of those people who are genuinely shocked on the first of every month. As if it doesn’t happen 12 times every year. We’ve had a very cold and bitter winter. I’m battling a cold and there are blackouts all across the city due to freezing rain and exploding generators. I’m ready for the days to get a little longer, and for the sun to shine a little brighter.

I love experiments. Tweaking little things to modify results. Challenges like going to the gym 20 days in one month (hard – near impossible), drinking 4L of water a day (doable), meditating before bed (easy and pleasant), and giving up caffeine after noon (still adjusting). I’m always trying to find the best/easiest/fastest/most productive way to be and do. I have found that having something to work towards, a goal or number, makes the journey so much easier and satisfying to accomplish. And so, I present to you: The 100 Mile March.

My goal for March is to clock in 100 miles of running, which is roughly two marathons or 4 half marathons. It equates to around 3.2 miles per day, or a nice 5km. There is no real reason to do it, except why not? I remember a few years ago when someone asked me what my hobbies were… I had recently moved back to Toronto after university, and many of my friends were either abroad or still in Ottawa. I found college to be very easy for the most part and I had very little homework, so when I wasn’t in school or working, I was at the gym. That was my hobby. The person asked if I was training for something… I wasn’t. I just liked to run. I remember feeling that my answer seemed inadequate. Why do something just for the fun of it? Why waste the time and energy if you are not trying to achieve something?

One of my New Year’s resolutions in 2013 was to double my long run from 6 to 12 miles. I found along the way that a half marathon is 13.1 miles, so that became my goal. Each week I would tack on another mile and in just a few weeks, I had chipped away and passed 13.1 miles. It was a tangible goal with a clear plan. I loved seeing 13.1 displayed on the screen and I felt accomplished and proud. My mistake was that I didn’t plan for what was to come next. The logical move would be to either continue adding to the distance, or try to improve the speed. But I didn’t do either. I passed 13.1 and that was that. Back to the regular everyday grind.

I think 100 miles is both a realistic and challenging goal. Maybe a little aggressive, but why not aim high? I am young, willing, and able enough. I can do it, I’m sure, but it won’t be easy. If it was easy, everybody would do it.

I have printed out a table, 10 x 10 squares, to colour in as I go and to help me keep track of my progress. Now if only I wasn’t sick as a dog with this cold, I could be out there right now. I, along with every single person on the GO and TTC, seem to be fighting the same cold that just will not quit.

Paper Clips | by Maggie de Barra Nike Women's 15k Toronto

This 100 Mile March is good practice for the Nike Women’s 15k on June 14, 2015 on the Toronto Islands. A 15k race is a nice buffer between a beginner’s 5k and a half marathon (21k). To register, you first have to enter a raffle on March 9, 2015 and a random draw will be held to choose spots.

I can’t wait for the warm weather to sweep in so I can take my 100m from the treadmill to the park!

If you register and are chosen for the Nike Women’s 15k, let me know! And if you are brave enough to tackle the 100 Mile March with me, I want to know your progress!

See you at the finish line. On your marks, get set, GO!

If You Aren’t Outraged, Then You Just Aren’t Paying Attention

Ignorance is Bliss.

Not Afraid

I understand, I think, for the first time why most people prefer those sugar-coated, mind-numbing movies and TV shows packed with celebrities and other pleasant things.

Watching the National last night, I realized that Peter Mansbridge and his guests were not discussing the possibility that this is our “new normal” – they were confirming the obvious. An over-used term, but still applicable. These recent attacks, homegrown and ruthless, in Ottawa, in Sydney, and now in Paris are horrific and terrifying, to me anyway. I feel like we are all at risk now. This is our normal, we of the post 9-11 generation. Which city will be next and when? London, Washington, Berlin, Rome, Tokyo? Toronto has been spared for now, but for how long?

I remember learning in journalism school that therapists and journalists have higher levels of something like secondary PTSD. While they may not be experiencing these events first-hand, their exposure to first-hand accounts on a regular basis can generate a wave of similar symptoms.

Watching all these news programs, reading these articles (some fantastically well-written, answering the questions I didn’t think to ask), following the chaos of Twitter – it can be exhausting. I found relief last night during the commercial breaks of the National, with previews for silly shows about space, animals, and consumer trends. It was like a dose of comfort before getting back in the ring when the program started again. I felt like a character in Brave New World, but it wasn’t taking hits of Soma that made me feel better, it was television. And with it, the promise of a familiar-but-novel distraction, spread to the masses to keep us somewhat entertained, but mostly chained to our couches, away from the news, newspapers, books, and somewhere out there, the truth.

‘Tis Better to Have Loved and Lost

Than never to have loved at all.

On the eve of Remembrance Day, let us keep in mind those who have lost their lives in the service of our country. In particular, let us remember Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, both of whom were tragically killed in October.

Patrick Larkin

Personally, I am mourning the death of my grandfather, Patrick Larkin, who passed away on November 1, 2014. Words seem inadequate when trying to describe the loss of a loved one. The pain and sorrow felt this past week has been tremendous, but I would not have traded it.

Patrick Larkin

Grief, they say, is the price we pay for love.

Somehow, there is a silver lining. Just when I thought I had lost the last link to my Irish heritage, I heard Divine Providence knocking on my door. More, much more, on that later.

Aftermath of the Ottawa Shooting

United we stand.

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This has been a hard week, one of the darkest I can remember in some time. I have felt every emotion in the book, soaring love and pride and crashing fear and grief.

Calling them terrorist attacks seems to be the easy way out, a simple news phrase that is thrown around in the media so carelessly. When I think of a terrorist attack, my mind pictures a foreign invader, attacking some other foreign country, but definitely not my own. What do you call it when a Canadian turns his anger on his own country? This doesn’t fit my description at all. What is a terrorist? Someone who terrorizes people, uses acts of violence to create fear in an innocent group of people? This week I was afraid, and very, very sad.

But there were some positive things to come out of this week. Many stories emerged from those who were at the War Memorial, or on Parliament Hill on Wednesday morning. We were further reminded of the stoic heroism and selfless courage of so many Canadians. The images yesterday, at the War Memorial, and along the Highway of Heroes, filled me with so much patriotism and pride. I feel content in the knowledge that I am not the only one feeling grief, but also reaffirming my love for Canada.

My family and friends are safe, and I am so grateful for that. Our country is mourning the loss of two of our soldiers, and when this sorrow has passed, our focus will turn to taking the needed steps to ensure this never happens again.

I have been so touched by the expressions of condolence and solidarity from people around the world. In a perfect world, we would never have to learn of them this way, but it is nice to know that we are not an island, and that our efforts to build and nurture foreign relations have not been in vain.

My words will never be enough. But, I have been comforted this week by listening to the radio and reading the reactions of Canadians all over the country. To those who are also hurting I say, I understand what you are feeling, and know that I share those feelings too.

I will leave you with the words of Jack Layton.

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic.

O Canada…

The True North Strong and Free.

Parliament Hill - May 2013

We are in unchartered territory and I don’t really know where to begin. A situation that is still ‘fluid and unfolding’. My beloved Ottawa, my home for four years, in lockdown and under attack. One of the longest days. Watching, listening, following along feeling helpless and horrified. And now, more than twelve hours later, we are still in the dark.

War Memorial - Nov 11 2009

My former journalism student instincts have never really gone away. I love Twitter, and I continually browse headlines during the day to keep an eye on things. It makes me feel like an adult to have a basic understanding of and ability to form a valid opinion on current events. I have taken to reading news on the CBC website, one, because it’s still free, and two, it seems mostly free from partisan bias. Around ten this morning I gave the CBC home page a quick browse, and felt my stomach plummet. Quickly pulling up Twitter, what followed was one of the darkest hours I’ve ever experienced, filled with misinformation, graphic and disturbing photos, and several first-hand accounts from Canadian politicians and journalists on the ground. This whole day has been surreal.

Parliament Hill - Nov 11 2009

I am lucky to follow some truly fascinating people. Their collective commentary during any major event, be it an awards show, the Olympics, any major breaking news, Ferguson in the last few weeks, and now today, is always on point. My carefully curated group of journalists, politicians, key contributors, and news makers, and those who they follow, are always witty and informative. After spending four years in Ottawa, I am following a lot of folks on Parliament Hill, and too many of them were caught up in this fray today. They provided terrifying and viscerally real accounts of what they saw and heard. For me, Twitter is not filler, it is often the most up-to-date and reliable source of breaking news, much more than cable tv or radio news. These people are on the ground and they take their jobs seriously.

Canada Day - 2012

I checked in with my friends who are still in Ottawa and who spent the day in lockdown (thankfully, they were all okay), and admired the quiet authority of Jim Watson, the Mayor of Ottawa, during the RCMP press conference. My news feed was overflowing, and I couldn’t refresh fast enough.

Canada Day - 2012

My Parliament Hill has a stray cat sanctuary, and free yoga on the front lawn, and concerts on Canada Day with accompanying light shows and fireworks. My Ottawa has a free skating rink running through the middle. My Ottawa is clean, beautiful, vibrant, and safe.

Parliament Hill - Gold Medal Celebration 2010

I had hoped that these foreign threats would never touch our shores, and now twice in one week, members of our armed forces have been singled out and murdered. We must watch in fear and feel helpless as our enemies walk through our front door. I feel flashbacks to the first few days of grade eight, when we came in from first recess with whispers of an attack. Where my teacher, Mr. Mele, sat at the only computer in the classroom trying to access CNN’s website. The computer was big, white, and clunky, and the internet was fledgling and slow. We couldn’t get beyond the homepage. We had no access to information and no updates and we were totally in the dark. When I got home from school, I sat in front of the TV in disbelief for hours, simultaneously mesmerized and horrified by the loop footage of the Twin Towers.

Today, I rushed home from work and have been watching television coverage for the past few hours. I am older, but still feel afraid. Unable to take my eyes away from the footage of my beloved Ottawa under attack.

Canada Day - 2011

I am of the generation called the Millennials. I am the post 9/11 generation. Raised on Harry Potter and MSN Messenger. Early adopters of new technology. Living under the looming threat of terrorism. You don’t have to tell us to ‘stay vigilant’. We get it. We’ve already had it for a long time. We’ve been maintaining constant vigilance since Moody warned us about the Death Eaters back in the day.

Doubting myself, wondering if my unfortunate heavy double dose of patriotism and sensationalism was causing me to overreact, I felt isolated and alone today. Nobody in my immediate vicinity seemed to know nor care about the situation unfolding in Ottawa. I feel like I need to divide the people and influencers in my life by our shared values. Today was an exercise in that. My close friends, and some fellow former journalism students on Twitter, shared my concerns and I felt comforted by their shared reactions.

I want nothing more right now than for Peter Mansbridge to fold the nation in his warm embrace and tell us all that we’re going to be okay, and that everything will soon be well.

Canadian Flag

❤ Ottawa ❤ Canada ❤ you too, Toronto

Tomorrow is another day, and we must remain the True North, Strong and Free.

Canada Day

* My apologies for disconnected and incomplete thoughts. Written after a stress-filled, anxiety-ridden, very emotional day, while flipping between CBC, CTV, Global, and TVO for six hours straight, heart aching, head pounding…

Birthday Reflections

Chapter 9: I Have a Memorable Birthday

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On October 9, 2014, I turned 26!! It didn’t hit me the way it did a few years ago when I realized I was older than all my favourite literary characters, or last year when, in the middle of a full blown quarter life crisis, I cut my own hair into a short bob. Luckily, I am skilled in the art of cutting hair and it looked quite nice.

This year was a quiet affair, dinner with family, lots of birthday calls and texts. As my friend list on Facebook shrinks, my birthday notifications are few and far between. Everyone who I actually keep in touch with has my phone number, or my email at least, and I much rather prefer to communicate that way. My reasons for keeping it around dwindle even further. I really hate that thing. If it were not for my friend Jen’s meticulous photo archives of the past few years, that I really need to get around to saving somewhere permanent, or the threat of missing out on social ‘events’, I would have been rid of it long ago. Here’s hoping for the courage to delete it forever. Maybe just a trial run. Maybe later.

The birthday weekend included tickets to The Book of Mormon (seriously hilarious but not for the faint of heart or the politically correct), followed by two Thanksgiving dinners. I got a lovely little Kate Spade watch to replace my broken vintage Casio. And this shiny new iPad, upon which I type this post.

The most overwhelming emotion that I have felt over these last few weeks is: contentment. There is a lot to be said for being happy and comfortable. When everything slides into place, the waters are calm, and things just work. I am, and have been, rather obsessed with my never-ending quest for self-realization, self-awareness, and self-actualization. All the selfs. Through years and years of deep and honest reflection about myself, my feelings, and my actions, I feel like I am quite tuned in. I know when my routines are working well, and when things are balanced. I think being content with your surroundings, pleased with your efforts, and honest about your progress is so important. A feeling of fond farewell to summer, and not regret over missed opportunities. A feeling of welcome and joy for autumn and all the beauty that it holds. And a distant excitement for winter and Christmas. Birthdays and New Years, seasons for change and for lofty goals of self-improvement. This year I’ll… All efforts to usher in a new year where our slates will be wiped clean and we can begin again. Lucky for me, I have found that by living the life I want to lead each day, I no longer have need for resolutions.

Meeting Hillary Clinton

Something wonderful happened yesterday.

I met Hillary Rodham Clinton. We talked. We made eye contact. She smiled at me. She signed my book.

My alarm went off at 4:00am on Monday morning. I, in typical fashion, snoozed until 5:00am. The subway was not even running yet, so I walked to the Indigo at Bay and Bloor. I was one of the first in line around 6:00am. I waited in line for an hour or so. A very nice lady from the Starbucks inside passed me a coffee. She said: “It’s our Blonde Roast!” I thought: “How are you so peppy right now?”

Among the other rules of the signing, you had to show up early, buy the book in the morning, get a wristband, and return in the afternoon to get a signed copy. I happily paid and put out my wrist for a bright yellow badge of honour.

I returned to the lineup at noon. The Indigo event staff, plus the security teams and Secret Service (indeed), really ran a top-notch show. Our bags were checked, I brought a handy stool to sit on, and the lineup was mostly pleasant. Sun News was walking up and down the line asking loaded questions.

Following her speech at the Board of Trade, a video of which can be found here, along with her Q&A session and her interview with Peter Mansbridge on the National, Hillary Clinton traveled to our local store for a signing.

We were led in groups of ten through the store, down the steps, and snaked through the bookshelves. Hillary was wearing a bright turquoise outfit, and she was smiling, laughing, and engaging with the folks ahead of me. She was flanked on both sides by aides and security, but they were in good spirits as well, smiling and pleasant.

I snapped a few pictures from the line, but we were told to put everything away and to have nothing in our hands as we approached. Somehow, she signed 900 books in one sitting.

There was one man ahead of me who had a nice chat with her. But the next person did not ask or say anything, so all he got was a signed book and barely a look. The trick was to engage her first, and ride the wave. I approached, trying to hide my beaming smile, trying to appear like a normal adult, and keep my fangirling to a minimum. I stepped up to the table.

“It’s such an honour to meet you. Thank you for coming here today,” I said. She signed my book with a blue pen.

“Well, thank you. It’s nice to meet you too.”

I was chuffed that she responded, and then started to mutter something along the lines of “Hope you enjoy Canada… ” and then went on my way.

I feel very lucky that I was able to be in the same room as one of my idols, heroes, and role models, let alone be able to speak to her face to face.

She is beautiful, poised, eloquent, friendly, polite, and gracious. Everything I could have hoped that she would be, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to meet her.

I greatly value the strong female role models in my life. Hillary Clinton has been one of these role models for over a decade. I remember being a university student, back in 2008, and watching her primary speeches, alone in the basement of my family home. I wept with pride and joy as I listened to her messages. She moved and inspired something in me that I carry with me to this day. I really wanted her to beat Obama, and I was so sad when she did not.

I am hopeful and excited at the thought of being able to listen to her primary speeches once more.

Clinton 2016. Let’s go.