A Word from CEWIL

January 2023

January is often a time for reflection and new beginnings. Traditionally, I have never celebrated a new start in January. After years of school, then University, then working in post-secondary, and now with kids in school – September has always been the start of new projects, adventures, and a time for new beginnings. I am sure many of you can relate.  But here we are, it’s January and I am preparing for big changes, and reflecting on the journey to my next role, as CEWIL’s Associate Director, Indigenous and Canada North Relations.

In the Fall a friend challenged me, as someone who never makes January resolutions, to choose a word to live by as we start 2023, and the word I chose is ‘authentic’. A word I have used time and again when coaching students on job search, interviewing, career exploration, but one which I have never truly embraced. How does that saying go, do as I say and not as I do?

In talking to students about the importance of being authentic, I have shared a little anecdote about an interview gone wrong back when I was first embarking on my career. As the story goes, I had applied to be a flight attendant with a major airline and was being interviewed on the 24th floor of a hotel in downtown Vancouver. The interviewers had just asked me my greatest strength, to which I responded ‘the ability to remain calm in a stressful situation’ because I thought what better strength to have for working as a flight attendant? And then there was an earthquake. A big one. The building was swaying, the power was glitching. And I did NOT remain calm in a stressful situation. I don’t recall exactly what happened but there was a lot of screaming and very little calm. Needless to say, I did not get the job. I’m sure not only because I was spectacularly unqualified to be a flight attendant, but also because I demonstrated a stunning lack of self-awareness in believing that was my greatest strength. The moral of the story, as I tell students, is to be yourself -  don’t recite what you think they want to hear – not just because the Universe may make a liar of you, but because it’s important to take the time to consider how your own real  strengths and competencies will be a good fit. In real life, the interview marked a crisis of confidence for me. I spent my life thinking I wanted to be a flight attendant and when that path seemed unachievable I really had no idea what my next step should be.

As I entered the world of co-op and career, working in various capacities for the last 17 years, I often thought if only the University I did my undergraduate degree had a co-op program where I could have the opportunity to learn more about the world of work, how I fit into it, and try out some different career options. And while I still wholly believe co-op programs and access to co-op programs are not just a benefit but an incredible opportunity, I now understand that there are many paths to learning this vital information, and what all of those paths have in common is self-reflection.

And so I am taking this opportunity to reflect. And to share, in the spirit of my new goal of authenticity.

I am Labrador Metis and Inuit on my mother’s side, and grew up in rural and remote communities in Labrador, Nunavut, and Newfoundland. I was the first person I knew in my family to attend University. I had to leave my small fly-in-only community to live far away from home and family and my support system in order to access post-secondary education. These are not the parts of my identity that I often share, or that I used to even think much about. But they absolutely shaped who I am and how I have approached life and education and career. These are parts of my identity that provide me with a unique perspective to offer when we talk about removing barriers, and about engaging Indigenous youth and communities in work-integrated learning, and when we talk about what work-integrated learning looks like in the North. But it is only one perspective, as these issues are complex and multi-dimensional, much like identity itself.

I am excited to bring this perspective to my new role, not just because it’s an opportunity to do great work, but it is an opportunity to learn and grow and continue relationship building, which are things I find the most fulfilling about the work we all do.  

It's also an opportunity to connect with and learn from so many inspiring and knowledgeable people doing this work across our nation. I am excited to live authentically as I take on this new role. To bring all of me to my work – as an employee, a mother, a daughter, a friend, a person who spent my formative years in the North. I challenge you to find a word to live by for 2023, and also to consider bringing all of you to the work that you do.

Jennie Nilsson

Associate Director, Indigenous and Canada North Relations

CEWIL Canada