Shannon Kelly, 29
Lives: Toronto, Canada
Nominated by: Karen Alexander
Shannon Kelly is a chameleon, a woman of many talents and many careers. She began her twenties fostering two career paths for herself: one in the world of sports as a commentator and personality and the other in the world of PR and social media.
Soon enough, Shannon found herself writing a popular blog called Wears Pearls to the Ballpark, co-hosting a sports podcast that got picked up by the CBC, hosting a lacrosse team and working full- time as the social media manager at the Toronto Real Estate Board. All the while she was recovering from a knee injury that required major surgery and endless hours of rehabilitation.
Something had to give and, after a particularly busy period, Shannon fell in a heap and decided to focus her energies on her first love, PR. She is now the PR and Special Events manager at Canada’s Wonderland, on the board of directors for Dancers for Cancer and teaches a part-time social media course at a local college.
Shannon’s story is about heeding lessons learned along the way, saying yes to things that excite you, no to things that don’t and accepting yourself as you are.
Oh and did I mention that Shannon was also a cheerleader for the Toronto Argonauts? Yes, she is that awesome!
Do you think your experiences of feeling overloaded and having to re-assess your path is unique in your career? Or is it something that potentially has to happen to everyone to help them define what they really love?
I think a lot of people go through that, especially when you’re so passionate about different things. I always go back to that passion piece because you should be passionate about what you’re doing everyday, otherwise why do you wake up? If I’m not driven to get out of bed than what’s the point? At some point you have to sort of say to yourself, ‘What am I doing this for? Why are all these things occupying space in my day when we only have 24 hours?’
I love sleeping, sleeping is a big thing for me and I have insomnia so if I can get a solid eight hours I am a much better person. But that leaves sixteen hours in a day. What am I doing with those? And if I’m not excited to be at work for the 8 hours a day I’m supposed to be there, why bother? It’s just a pay check at that point and I think a lot of people come to that point in their life where they have to kind of sit down with themselves and revaluate what’s going on.
I sit on the Board of Directors for Dancers for Cancer and we recently had a big event to celebrate the fact that we’ve raised $100,000 already this year on our road to $1,000,000 (we’re now at much, much more!). A lot of the women who are on our committee are young women, I’m the oldest at 29, and I take it upon myself to kind of give what I’ve learned, even in the short time that I’ve been in my career—whether its wanted or not, I’m not sure! But one of them was talking to me about accepting a job that she’s not excited about but felt she had to take because that’s what you do when you leave university.
I said, ‘Well, you’re putting yourself on your path so wherever you drop yourself that’s kind of where you’re headed, that doesn’t mean you can’t veer off it or drop yourself onto another path later on down the line, but where do you want to be now? How you start something is very important and if you’re just taking it for the $30,000 a year wage than you’re probably going to treat it like an entry level job, instead of a catapult for your career. I’m gonna tell you it’s probably better you work at Starbucks for a while and figure it out from there.’
As women we..think that we have to have all the boxes checked in order to get the job…but usually if you have about 60% and a lot of enthusiasm and passion and determination, the other boxes will eventually check themselves. So why not roll the dice and see what happens?
I remember applying for 200 potential ‘catapult’ positions when I was working in the Ontario government because I wanted out and I knew my job was going nowhere. If I didn’t apply to all those different positions, trying to figure it out, I never would’ve landed my next big gig. Was it my dream job? No. Did it get me to my dream job? Absolutely. Will this job get me to something else that will be a bigger dream job that I can’t even fathom yet? For sure. That happened because I aligned my path the way I thought it made most sense and I was excited to get up and go to work every single day and to me that’s the most important thing you can have.
So my next question was actually going to be what your distilled career advice would be but it sounds like your one main message to the younger generation coming up is start somewhere you are happy and see where it leads you?
I think so. I have a woman working for me and she’s very inquisitive and I love that about her because when I hired her this year it was something I was drawn to. I thought, What a healthy way of looking at your career and your life by asking a lot of questions. I think a lot of people get frustrated with young professionals who ask a lot of questions but a lot of the time it’s just because they want to know things, they want to know your rationale because they look up to you or they want to get a better understanding of where your head’s at.
Basically find something that excites you, something that turns your crank, because really at the end of the day life is too short but it’s also way too long to be stuck somewhere.
Also, as women we often doubt our abilities or think that we have to have all the boxes checked in order to get the job that we want but usually if you have about 60% and a lot of enthusiasm and passion and determination, the other boxes will eventually check themselves. So why not roll the dice and see what happens?
I agree. I especially agree with your comment about life being short but also very long. That’s something that I often think about.
So what’s your management style?
That’s a great question. We have 4,000 seasonal staff, they don’t report into me, but as someone on our management team I get to go and speak to them about social media and how to brand yourself online. One of the things that I’m adding as a little piece of advice is that we all need to start leading more with kindness because too often, especially when you’re young and in a management position, you lead with being assertive because you want people to respect you. But kindness doesn’t need to equal weakness, at least mine doesn’t, and I’ve always led with that belief.
I’m a work hard play hard kind of person. I put in a lot of hours sometimes at work, and work from home, I mean we’re in 2015, we’re well beyond punching the clock 9-5. I expect the same, but I would never ask someone to do something that I wouldn’t do because I don’t think that’s fair, which is why I lead by example.
So consistency, kindness and showing people respect, I think that gets you respect a lot quicker than demanding it.
I think women would rule the world if we helped one another to do so.
Absolutely. Being mindful not to mistake kindness for weakness is something that I brought into my life a while ago also, I’m 29 too by the way so maybe it’s a 29 year old thing!
I think that comes with maturity because when I was 22 / 23, I was not always kind, I was very much regarded as a ‘bitchy person’ and had kind of abrasive sense of humour (or so I was told). I actually got in trouble when I was cheerleading on the Argos (Toronto Argonauts) team because you have 40 women in one room, which to me, is my worst nightmare. It’s awful that I view being in a room of 40 women as that but it’s because many were just so different than me. They were your typical, perky cheerleader and that wasn’t my personality and it never has been and it never will be.
I tried to be the antithesis of that and was probably more abrasive than I needed to be and while I would never change my time with the team, I definitely saw a difference as I grew older. I didn’t need to be the loudest person in the room to be heard and that took me a long time to figure out (even though I’m still pretty loud, just nicer!)
It’s interesting that you bring that up, you see a lot of similar issues in all girls’ schools…what is it about women, do you think, that camaraderie can sometimes be difficult in a large group?
I’ve actually thought about this a lot. I think women would rule the world if we helped one another to do so. Men who want to be the CEO of a company will always take someone with them and say, ‘I want you to be my VP, I want you to be my right hand man,’ and that person is always like, ‘Yes, I am here to support you, I’ll do anything to make that happen because this is great. You are going to be a great leader and I will be a great leader as well but I will be underneath you and I have no problem with that.’ Maybe not in those exact words! But if you did that with two women, oh my god, neither of them would be the CEO or the VP because they would be clawing each other’s eyes out trying to assert themselves over one another! That’s a really shitty reality of our society but that’s too often the way it works.
When I was on the Argos, they had the Miss Argo competition. I thought it was awesome and being 20 years old that’s what you think because you don’t know that women will literally destroy you to get ahead of you. I won that year and all hell broke loose between our team. I just thought Why on earth are we, as women, being so destructive to one another? This is insanity!
Now I surround myself with women who are supportive and inspirational and successful and don’t really care what everyone else is doing because they’re competing with themselves, not with anyone else. The moment that we figure that out, all of us, where you’re not competing with every girl in a room, you’re competing with yourself to make yourself better, that’s it, that’s the answer. I hope we get there one day.
I think for me it’s just about being happy with all the decisions that I make and still loving what I’m doing even if it’s not what I’m doing right now.
I love Ivanka Trump’s site called Women Who Work. I love her messaging that you can have a family, go to work and have this kick ass career, work out, make dinner, whatever it is you want to do, whatever your all is, you can do it all.
That makes me wonder about what your ‘all’ is? What is your work / life balance like?
I used to live right in the city and I loved it, I’m such a city girl. But it also tears you apart because you’re tyring to be successful in your career and get your eight hours of sleep and do all these great things but, you can also go out every night of the week because someone is always doing something. After I got the job at Canada’s Wonderland, which is a 30 minute drive north of the city, I moved to the suburbs. Yeah, it’s not ideal, I’m 29 and single and living in an apartment on my own and I don’t get to do what the single city girls do. But I can’t live downtown based on the fact that I may meet someone, that’s not a realistic reason to live in a tiny apartment for a lot of money, and that’s not a way to build my life.
So now I’m up here and I’m a creature of routine, I get to go to work, then I go to the gym and I come home, and I can still go downtown if I want to but normally I get to come home and cook in the big beautiful kitchen I have. I can still do my blog and I can still write and do all the things that I crave to keep myself balanced. It’s nice.That’s great. Now throw yourself into the future, what does this life look like in ten years time do you think?
I don’t know. And that’s as honest as I think I can get. I used to hate that question when you apply for jobs and they say, ‘Where do you see yourself in five years? I’m like, That’s hilarious! I have no idea because I didn’t see myself here! So I think for me it’s just about being happy with all the decisions that I make and still loving what I’m doing even if it’s not what I’m doing right now. In ten years I’ll be 39, approaching 40, and I just hope that I still feel this excited about what I do and, you know, who I am as a person.
What do you think we should be talking more about?
I think how to accept ourselves for who we are. I think we all, as women, are terrible at accepting who we are for what we are right now. It’s always: I want to be better, I want to be thinner, I want to be healthier…it’s always this want, it’s not a need.
I’m guilty of that all the time. I went shopping today and bought a pair of pants and thought, Oh man I just wish I could squeeze into a smaller size. Instead of recognising that over the last two years since injuring my knee and having major surgery I have taught myself how to walk again and figured out how to navigate my way through this world with a knee with screws in it. Instead of embracing all of the positives and looking at myself in the mirror and saying to myself You are the strongest you’ve been in years, stop caring what size pants you fit into, get over it! That does not define you. You’re not running around with your weight tattooed on your forehead!
And if there’s one piece of life advice that you could pass on what would that be?
Live your truth, whatever that might be. It’s the most overused, yoga-kind-of-virtue these days, but I think it’s so overused because it’s true. Whatever is inside of you, whether it be good or bad or whether you’ve accepted it or not, live that because there’s only one you. There’s only one way to live and that’s by shining whatever the hell is going on inside of you outwards.
One final question, are you proud of yourself?
Yeah…I think I am. I think I’ve gotten there this year. Being 29 you look back on your 20s and wonder if you wasted them or not and so I’ve done a lot of that self reflection already this year wondering, Am I proud of what I’ve accomplished? Am I proud of who I am? And I always go back to yes…yes, with a caveat that I want to be better at that in my 30s and continue to be myself because that has served me well so far….
Thank-you Shannon Kelly!