Don’t Take Tequila from Strangers & Other Lessons from Toronto

Last week, a few days after I wrote this post, the 8 boxes containing the contents of my life arrived from Toronto. For the first time in over a year all of my worldly possessions are in the same area code. I’m so used to be scattered – half of my things in Ontario, half of my things in BC – and living out of a suitcase that it feels strange but good to finally have everything in one place. With the ordeal of moving behind me I’ve had a chance to reflect on my trip to Toronto and the things I’ve learned during the 12 years I lived there. I spent the entirety of my twenties in Toronto. When it came to life lessons, the city was my teacher, classroom and evil principal all rolled into one. Here are a few of things I learned along the way.

(As scribbled in my notebook while waiting for my connecting flight home)

1. Sometimes it’s OK to be pushy, if it means sticking up for yourself. I grew up in a very non-confrontational family. On top of that (believe it or not) I used to be very shy. I learned pretty quickly that shy and non-confrontational doesn’t work in a city of 5 million people. If you don’t make yourself heard and stick up for yourself, there are 5 million other people ready to drown you out or literally push you out of the way. It’s been a process but I am a lot more confident and assertive than I was 12 years ago.

2. Your dreams don’t work unless you do: Oh this is a big one. I spent a lot of my mid-twenties under the impression that everyone was luckier or had better lives than I did. Sure, there is an element of luck that goes along with success, however the people I know who are successful have worked really hard for it – whether it’s by burning the midnight oil after their 9-5 job to turn a passion into a business or new career, or by having the courage to shamelessly promote themselves – they have paid their dues. You can’t expect to be “discovered.” You need. to. do. the. work.

3. Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing and stay focused on you.  As the business centre of Canada, it’s hard to escape the go-go-go rat race atmosphere of the city. Materialism is everywhere and it’s easy to get caught up in “keeping up with the Jones'”  i.e. who has more  connections/stuff/twitter followers/party invites than you do. Worrying about this stuff and comparing yourself to others is pointless. Once you stop, it’s amazing how much work you can get done.

4.  How to network like a pro: I lied – I actually learned how to network from an episode of Ugly Betty. However, it was in Toronto that I put it all into practice. What networking is really about is putting yourself out there and talking to other people about what you’re passionate about. It really is all about who you know – especially in Toronto – so, never underestimate the connections you do make. About 90% of my writing jobs have all been scored through friends and people I know. Stay in touch with people who are interested in the same things as you and nurture these connections. It’s likely that somewhere down the road you’ll be able to help each other out.

5. How to live independently on a budget: I’ve learned that $20 at the Korean grocery store on Bloor will score you enough veggies, tofu, noodles & hot sauce to keep you fed for a week, the Goodwill on Sherborne is a good place to score cheap designer cast-offs (hello, $7 Ferragamo sandals) and that everything is on sale at the Dufferin Mall all time making it a good place to shop if you’re willing to risk getting hit on by weirdos and teen thugs. Also, no matter your age, pre-drinking is always more fun than $18 martinis.

6. How to do stuff on my own: Yay for independence! From apartment hunting, to moving, to home repairs, I’ve had to learn how to do all of these things on my own with no help from my family. Being your own handy-woman is very liberating. Need me to put up a floating shelve or re-grout your bath-tub? I’m your girl!

7 “Never underestimate the kindness of strangers.” Toronto’s reputation as this big, bad, gruff city isn’t completely accurate. Maybe it’s because it’s a city full of people who’ve come from other places, but in my experience people are pretty helpful and friendly given the chance. From the friends who took me under their wing when I didn’t know anyone in this city, to my elderly neighbour who used to always offer to carry my grocery bags because he said “you remind me of my wife when she was younger…before she died” – Torontonians will reach out to you…even if it’s slightly creepy.

8. Not everyone has good intentions. This was probably the hardest lesson for me to learn. Yes, people can surprise you with their kindness but there are also lots of people who just don’t have your best interests at heart. It took a few really bad experiences (i.e. waking up passed out in the front seat of a Porsche with a guy’s hand up my skirt) for me to really hone my “stranger danger” antennae. FYI. It’s never a good idea to accept copious amounts of Tequila from strangers, even if you’re in Yorkville and the guy drives a really nice car.

9. The Jamaican Patty is a highly underrated specimen of culinary amazingness. These bright yellow, crescent shaped, buttery pastries that are filled with savoury meats, veggies and curries are sold all over the city and are a total guilty pleasure of mine. One or two patties double as a meal in a pinch. Don’t bother buying the frozen ones from the grocery store, the best patties are sold at little hole in the wall places and at subway stops.

10. My friends are totally rad. When I first moved to the city I didn’t know anyone. I was lonely and worried that I’d never meet any friends that I felt as close to as my friends back home. Surprise! It wasn’t instantaneous but it eventually did happen. My friends in Toronto are some of the most hilarious, quirky, ambitious, creative, loyal and caring people I know. Catching up with them over the 3.5 weeks I was there was so much fun.

There are things I miss about Toronto – late night Jamaican food, the sound of Soca and Reggaeton pouring out of the windows of cars in my old neighbourhood, all the places to shop and wear heels – but most of all I miss my friends. They are what make Toronto special to me and the reason I stayed in the city as long as I did.

I’m currently doing The Holiday Council with Molly from Stratejoy. The Holiday Council is basically this awesome group of women who are getting together (virtually) over the next few weeks to discuss, celebrate and plan for an awesome 2013. If you aren’t familiar with Molly and what she does, you should check out her biz.

One of the things Molly has taught us is that “you need to honour yourself and your journey.” I’ve heard people refer to Toronto as “Canada’s New York”  This is true in the sense that Toronto is a tough city that tends to eat it’s young. To quote Frank Sinatra,

“If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere”

The 12 years I spent living in Toronto were some of the best and worst times of my life. I got dealt a lot of blows but I rolled with the punches and lived to blog about it. I’m really happy to be letting go of the bad and taking with me everything I’ve learned into this new chapter of my life. If I end up back in Toronto in the future, I’m comforted to know I’ll be older, wiser and armed with the knowledge that me & Tequila will never be friends.

What have you learned from where you live?

  • john

    you look so bright eyed and bushy tailed at 19!! : )

    • Anonymous

      that’s because I was 😉

  • Love you for this post, Sim. You know how this dude right here LOVES the beef patties. One of the things I miss most when I’m travelling!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Case! Me too. Luckily I live within walking distance of Victoria’s one and only Jamaican bakeries where fresh patties are always available. Before this place opened there were many long summers spent craving a beef pat tie.

      • You’d think that with relatively easy access to patties I’d eat one pretty much every day, but I haven’t had one in literally MONTHS.

        You know what? I think it’s time to re-prioritize. For serious.

        • Anonymous

          Seriously Casey, you need to re-priorotize!

          At the very least, you need to go eat a patty for me, since I have limited access.

  • Really enjoyed this post! I am nearing 10 years of living in my city and I feel like my time here might be ending soon. You make me believe that change is a good thing. I am keeping faith in that.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks TG! Change, although unsettling at times is definitely a good thing. 🙂

  • Almost ashamed to say this, but at 30+, I’m where you were when you were a Toronto noob. Moved to the Bay Area almost a year ago, started from scratch, and I’m still finding my way. This post helps!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks hon! I’m glad that you connected with the post. And I’m sure you’re not in as bad shape as I was as a wide eyed 18-year old in a new city 😉

  • Which Toronto are you talking about? Americans have nothing but good things to say about it! Hahaha

    • Anonymous


  • Laura

    I have got to keep up with my Reader! I totally could’ve used your help last week with some floating shelves! lol After much frustration they’re up and don’t seem to be going anywhere so, phew! I think I got the terrible kind – with a hidden bracket on the back you had to blindly lock in place – and that was the cause of said frustrations. Oh the lessons of DIY projects!

    • Anonymous

      Oh man! I totally could have helped you with that. I’m a master at the Ikea LACK floating shelves. The trick is to use one of those laser leveller things to get them straight. Maybe I should post a tutorial on my blog 😉
      Don’t worry – I’m totally behind on my reader too! So nice to hear from you 🙂

      • Laura

        I didn’t think to check IKEA for floating shelves. What’s wrong with me?! lol PS – I meant to include in my original comment: I love your photos! So pretty!!

        • Anonymous

          Thanks Laura!!

          The IKEA floating shelves are the best. They’re affordable and relatively easy to install compared to other ones – probably because you install the bracket into the wall first which I think makes it easier to measure & more accurate.

  • “Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing and stay focused on you.” I need to remember this! It’s one of the ones I have a really hard time keeping in mind. Also, Jamaican Patty? Unfamiliar…

  • Love this post. As an East Coaster who moved to Toronto I found it intimidating at first too but ten years later I couldn’t imagine living any where else in Canada.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Ayngelina! I know what you mean – it can be a totally intimidating city however, once you find your groove Toronto’s awesome.