Hiking Webster Falls
I became interested in hiking after moving to Canada, and Gatineau Park was my favorite destination when I lived in Ottawa. Relocating to Toronto presented an opportunity to find a new hiking destination, so my friend and I gave Webster Falls a try last summer. Hiking through the woods to the plunge pool was challenging but mostly enjoyable; the scenery and time spent with my friend made for a beautiful experience. After spending some time at the plunge pool we had two options for returning to the top of the cliff – either hike back through the woods or climb the rocks using ropes. The hike was the safer option but would require a longer time, while the climb was less than 10% of the hike time and would be a new experience. Despite never having climbed before, and not knowing what lay ahead, I decided to give the climb a shot!
Half way through, the difficulty of the climb and my inexperience at making the required maneuvers dawned upon me. I became anxious and my instinct was to return to the bottom and hike back instead. I told my friend how I was feeling, and he provided some useful tips, but I could not shake off the fear. Just as I was about to decide to resume hiking, the fear of quitting prevailed. I had always prided myself on being tenacious, having scaled more daunting challenges, and I decided that I was not going to become a quitter now. I decided to see it through, watching my friend’s maneuvers and learning to apply them. Once I made the decision not to quit, a significant portion of my fear subsided, and I became more comfortable climbing. I completed the climb and overcame the challenge, even if it took a little more time than anticipated.
As I reflected on the climb, I realized that overcoming a fear of the unknown is the first step to expanding one’s horizons. If we do not venture into the unknown, we will never discover anything new. I have since imbibed this in all aspects of my life, never hesitating to try new things that would help me develop new skills. With every challenge I face, I remember how I overcame Webster falls and I put these principles to play in achieving my goals.
Arriving in Canada
In September 2015, I arrived in Ottawa, Canada – my first time out of Africa and the first time any member of my family had left the country for a long duration (2 years). I moved to Canada in pursuit of a higher education and an opportunity to explore the world beyond my home country. Despite having read about cultural differences between Nigeria and Canada, and how to bridge the gap, the reality of the experience was different. The cold was harsher than expected, and the social norms and expectations were much different than I had anticipated.
To experience Canada beyond my education, I decided to volunteer with EnviroCentre – a chance to merge my passion for the environment and interact with different people. However, despite my enthusiastic efforts, my sign-up numbers at outreach events were low. I conveyed this concern to my supervisor and her recommendation was to slow down my speed of speaking. I had not realized that most people struggled to understand my Nigerian accent, made more difficult by my pace of speaking. Determined, I practiced speaking slowly and rounding my syllables– a change so fundamental that it took me conscious effort for many weeks. The sign-ups started increasing; I became a better presenter and was soon invited to lead the volunteering team!
I realized that adapting to a new culture provides immense opportunities to engage with other people and share one’s culture and experiences but often involves changing some very fundamental things about oneself. Reminding myself to speak slowly also made me observe other facets of my personality from the perspective of a new culture, and I was able to transform several aspects about myself to truly imbibe the Canadian culture. Soon, I secured an internship with the Government of Canada, and the country and its culture became even more dear to me – now my true home.
Winning the Service Award at Guaranty Trust Bank
After graduation, I joined Guaranty Trust Bank in Nigeria for its superior professionalism and top-notch service that made it the biggest bank in Africa. However, I soon realized that the culture of the department that I joined was not positive. My team was considered a cost center, so in spite of a heavy workload, long hours, and poor work-life balance, we had a much lower rate of promotion compared to profit centers.
I saw this as an opportunity and decided to challenge the status quo. I started thinking out of the box to see how we could add value by improving turnaround time and automating some processes – aiming to reduce costs so that the ‘cost center’ became exciting to senior management. Over multiple conversations with the technology team, senior team members, and my manager, I demonstrated a sound ROI analysis to convince them to invest in automating over 50% of our processes by showing the savings we could get thereafter. This led to 25% faster turnaround, saving $10M for the bank – and I won the prestigious annual service award for that year.
My manager decided to increase my responsibilities, and I became accountable for the quality assessment of our entire department. Once again, I followed the same principles of challenging the status quo, and going back to basics by redesigning several processes and protocols, thereby achieving high quality results and faster turnaround time with lower resources. I won the annual service award for the second time in a row and was promoted 2 years ahead of schedule.
This experience taught me to always seek opportunity amidst adversity and to be audacious in imagining bold solutions. It increased my confidence to always share my ideas and to be brave in execution.