Voices of Experience: Bringing Your Whole Self to Work

by guest blogger Rachel Lee, Campus Engagement Ambassador, Ryerson Career Centre

Last Thursday, I was at an extraordinary event right on campus. It was one of those nights when I wondered, “Whoa. Why didn’t I get involved with events like this during my first year? Or even my second year?” As a current fourth year student looking forward to graduation this April, I’m actively doing more on and off campus as I savour my last few months as an undergraduate student and Campus Engagement Ambassador at the Career Centre. Through this blog post, I hope I can inspire other students in the Ryerson community to become more active and further engaged on campus.

Voices of Experience is a speaker series that started during first semester. The series invites individuals from almost every part of the community: Ryerson alumni, employers, leaders in business, non-profit workers, and doctors. Each session has a theme that is common among the speakers, and the main objective is to share a conversation that gives attendees a walk through their career endeavours. I know that a previous session invited speakers with disabilities, while another session brought together a group of entrepreneurs. This particular session I attended brought together four speakers who identify as LGBT. One of the speakers, Catherine Meade, is a queer Black woman with tremendous success in law, human rights, and business. Another speaker, Dr. Ellen Hibbard, identifies herself as culturally deaf and queer. With Dr. Hibbard’s presence, there was a lot of sign language communication going on. Personally, I’ve never been to an event that had a sign language facilitator, and it was wonderful to see just how accommodating our school really is. It was also eye opening for me as I watched the facilitator, Dr. Hibbard, and other attendees in the room move through conversations with the use of sign language.

The moderator was none other than Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, a tireless community advocate for human rights, green public spaces, and the arts. Of course, her own sexuality is something that Torontonians know – because of media scrutiny and homophobia within our government. One of the questions that Councillor Wong-Tam posed was this: “How do people in the LGBT community present themselves in the workplace? How much of “you” is at the job?”

Danielle Araya, a trans woman who has been working at the 519 Community Centre for eight years, admitted that her job is “lonely work”, that needs people with tough skin to fight at the frontlines. “I have to bring my whole self (to work),” she said. I really loved that she said this. Despite emotional barriers and tough situations in the workplace, Danielle genuinely expressed the importance of being at work 100%, comfortable in her own skin. So to answer the question, “How much of “you” is at the job?” Danielle did not hesitate to say that her whole being is at work, without shame of who she is and what she can offer to others in the workplace.

Another notable moment of the night was when Catherine quoted Zora Neale Hurston (an American folklorist and author), “I am not tragically coloured. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes… No, I do not weep at the world — I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.” What does this even mean? Basically, never complain. Never feel sorry for yourself. Never be complacent. Sharpen that oyster knife (as sharp as you can!) to ultimately keep moving forward, and be on an upward trajectory. I know that this was something that caught my attention right away (I even approached Catherine at the end of the event to get the quote) because I believe in it. I’m too busy sharpening my oyster knife at every opportunity, relationship, and experience. Although sometimes I find myself complaining, or even feeling blue, I snap out of it. Or at least try to. Why? Because it’s fruitless.


The last speaker (but of course, certainly not the least!) is a brilliant man. Dr. Marc Narayansingh is a Neurologist and Sleep Specialist who endured 14 (yup, you read that right) years of school to do the medical practice he is doing today here in our city. When asked about who his mentor was throughout his years of school and work, he replied, “At every stage, I had a mentor. Mentorship is paramount, and I’m still looking for mentors who can push my life in other directions.” In my opinion, the man is rather humble. Although he could very much be a mentor for so many others (and probably is), he didn’t hesitate to say that he is always looking to learn from others, and be directed in ways that he wouldn’t be able to go on his own. Pretty powerful.

My after thought from this session is that we can all learn from just about anyone. It’s even better if it’s in a setting that is unfamiliar. Although I do not identify as LGBT, Black, deaf, or as a medical practitioner, I took away a handful of insights and inspirations about how I can be a better person throughout my career journey. More importantly, as I take off into the real world after graduation without the “student” title under my name anymore, my positive identity at work and awareness of my co-workers and colleagues will be even more valuable. Therefore, listening closely to unique experiences and various perspectives is something that is interesting and worthwhile for me to do.