Monthly Archives: September 2013


You Are What You Are Reading

We’ve all heard the phrase “you are what you eat,” right? Lately I find what I’m reading is showing up in my life way more than anything I’m eating is showing up in my appearance. And it’s really cool…


Example #1: This One’s Pretty Obvious.

After reading several books on managing money (authors like David Chilton, Gail Vaz-Oxlade, David Bach, Robert Kiyosaki, Dani Johnson, and George S Clason; also, listening to mp3s by T Harv Eker) I’ve begun making some serious positive changes in the ways that I handle my finances. I was pleasantly surprised that my piece on the dollars-per-use shopping rule was so well-received, but I never thought of myself as someone who others would ask for money advice from until very recently. Now maybe it’s not surprising to most of you that after I became more educated on a subject, evidence of that education began appearing in my life (I paid off one credit card this year and I’m on track to being debt-free by age 30, yay!), but read on…


Example #2: Now it Gets More Interesting!

I’m finding that biographies are impacting my daily life too, like when I read Kitty Carson’s biography on Oprah Winfrey this summer. I’m well-aware of Oprah-the-lifestyle-guru-and-media-mogul, but reading this book taught me a lot about Oprah-the-broadcaster-and-interviewer, and all of a sudden – seemingly out of nowhere – I was given the opportunity to do a live webcast interview of Destra Garcia, during one of my best weeks in recent memory (which I also blogged about). I’m not under any illusion that I’m on Oprah’s level because of this one gig, but to have that experience with one of the biggest soca artists in the world sure made me feel I could do some pretty big, impressive, Oprahesque things!

A great live interview with DESTRA

A great live interview with DESTRA


Example: #3: From Interesting to Awesome.

Let’s talk about Dorothy Dandridge. I love her story and her image and her legacy so much that it’s on my list to do a blog piece just about her, but here’s a quick synopsis for those of you who don’t know the name and haven’t already left me to go Google her.

The beautiful, elegant Dorothy Dandridge

The beautiful, elegant Dorothy Dandridge

Dorothy Dandridge was an African-American singer and actress who rose above numerous personal tragedies and professional obstacles to become the first black person nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award (1954, for Carmen Jones). After the nomination, her career plateaued and then declined, and just as it seemed she was on the comeback trail again, she died of a drug overdose. She blazed a trail for hundreds of other performers, including Halle Berry who played Dandridge in the HBO movie Introducing Dorothy Dandridge and eventually became the first African-American to win the award for which Dorothy had made history by being nominated.

Here she is again! Just gorgeous.

Here she is again! Just gorgeous.

So what does this have to do with me? I kid you not: things in my life have started to pop up which mirror things I’ve been reading about in her life. (I read Donald Bogle’s biography of her three times before  returning it to the library this month, and did some online research too.) For one thing, the descriptions of the Dandridge Sisters (Dorothy, her sister Vivian, and their friend Etta Jones) harmonizing together and getting rave reviews definitely stuck with me because, as some of you know, deep down inside I would love to be part of a small singing group. Oooh, how exciting it must have been to sing with the big names of the time, like Nat King Cole or Jimmy Lunceford and his band. I would want to be the girl in the middle, like Dorothy was. And then what happened? Again seemingly out of nowhere, I was offered the chance to harmonize in a trio as backup for Lorne Morris, with several very talented musicians accompanying us… and guess who was in the middle?

L to R: Etta Jones, Dorothy Dandridge, Vivian Dandridge

L to R: Etta Jones, Dorothy Dandridge, Vivian Dandridge

L to R: Kelly Holiff, me, Kate Etienne, Lorne Morris

L to R: Kelly Holiff, me, Kate Etienne, Lorne Morris (Gareth Parry is on guitar in the background, and the DOP Martin is behind Lorne with the Steadicam)

Another similarity that made itself evident was the acting connection. Dorothy always had her sights set on a career as a leading lady of the screen. I felt for much of this year that my own career was at a plateau, but while reading and rereading the biography, I found myself going to multiple acting auditions per week. (My Carmen Jones hasn’t come along yet, but hey, it didn’t happen overnight for Dorothy either!)

And finally, one of the most triumphant periods in Dorothy’s career was her travelling nightclub act – she sang and gave wonderful stage shows, which the audiences loved night after night, accompanied by talented pianists like Phil Moore (another African-American groundbreaker in the arts and entertainment scene). And wouldn’t you know it, last weekend I signed a contract to perform for two months at a resort in Dubai as part of a duo – the other performer being a talented piano player who also sings – whaaat?!? Awesome!

I’ll release more details on that gig later, and will most definitely be blogging from overseas. But all this to say, even more than what you watch on a screen or hear in your earbuds, I find that what you read in a book in your hands has a way of showing up in your life in ways you weren’t expecting. (Whether this also happens when you’re reading my blog, I have no clue lol – you’ll have to let me know!)

10,000 Hours

There is an awesome book by Malcolm Gladwell called Outliers, and one of the “that-makes-total-sense-so-why-am-I-almost-surprised-to-read-this-in-print” revelations I took away from it was his “ten thousand hour rule.” In summary, Gladwell points out that 10,000 hours of dedicated practice are required to become a master at anything, and he uses numerous examples (most notably Bill Gates, who spent more than 10,000 hours programming before launching Microsoft, and the Beatles, who spent more than 10,000 hours playing together in Europe before launching in America) to prove this point.

If this huge amount of time and effort is such an important difference between someone who is really really really good at something and someone who is great at it, I wondered, how do I stack up? Good news and bad news: I have no idea.

As a singer, there is no way I could tell you how many hours I’ve spent singing, whether for fun or for practice or both. I started in the church children’s choir; let’s assume that was 30 minutes of practice per week for one year for about 1,500 minutes, or 25 hours not counting performances (I’m lowballing all of these estimates). I remember schoolyard singing competitions and that’s probably worth another 10 hours; at least 100 hours from the time I sang in a gospel band and 40 from the Jazz Ensemble at Baythorn and 150 or so from actual in-class singing at the same school over two years. Plus 20 or so for other performances; I was in the arts program, after all. That’s 345 hours before I started high school. Between the Concert Choir and the York Region Children’s Chorus and Voices of Praise, my high school gospel choir, there had to be another 360 hours for a total of 705 hours of instructed singing time, plus performances. I was in university by the time I started with a vocal coach and got thorough one-on-one vocal training … at least 300 hours’ worth … which finally puts me past 1,000. A tenth of the way there.

This pic is from 2007 (the one up top is from 2009). Even back then I felt like “Um, I’ve been doing this for a pretty long time already…”

Since then, I’ve added hundreds more hours in the form of rehearsals for musical theatre productions, a TV shoot, and dozens (maybe hundreds) of live shows. But what about the (literally) countless hours I spent just singing, not gearing up for any particular piece or performance? In the car, in the house when no one else was home (my favourite), doing dishes, leading youth services, sitting in the pews, at auditions, at the club, at fetes, playing mas, playing with my cousins and friends, writing songs, recording songs, teaching songs to other people, watching movies, learning dance routines, waiting to be picked up from work, waiting to fall asleep? And wait, wait — Gladwell points out that the Beatles played those 10,000+ hours together and it made a big difference. Does that mean I have to discount the hours I spent singing with other singers, or singing along to a radio or album? Or only count the hours I’ve spent singing my own songs that I wrote myself?

Okay, maybe it would be easier to count something other than my singing hours. Like writing; I’m better at writing than I am at singing, in my opinion. But when I considered that math, I stopped before even starting. And I concluded, as I have many times before, that my chosen professions are not linear so it usually doesn’t make sense to try to define or measure my progress in a linear way.

I remember feeling vaguely disadvantaged by this when I was younger. People who want to be chefs or architects or marine biologists have narrower career paths, from what I can tell — although I’m sure students in those paths have to stress over their grades way more than I ever did, so I’m not saying they have it easy at all. What I am suggesting is that when you have to learn on the run and make up a lot of it as you go, the trip might take longer than you thought it would and that fact itself is often enough to slow you down a little bit. The goal may be as bright and visible as it ever was, but the mountain range standing between you and it would be less intimidating if you had, say, a clear map. Or a tour guide. Or a clicker to track the amount of steps you’d taken. Because to the naked eye, your goal still looks very, very far away.

Lofty goal? For sure. Let's see how close I get in the next 12 months =)

Lofty goal? For sure. Let’s see how close I get in the next 12 months =)

Back to the timeline: I wrote my first song in 1996 (it might have been 1995, but again, I’m lowballing so nobody can accuse me of blowing things out of proportion when I’m a big deal) and that’s when I decided to become a famous singer-songwriter. As a kid, I figured I had all the time in the world to get over being shy, learn to sing better, lose weight, master the on-camera interview. Now, as a trained, educated, hungry, hardworking, and (luckily) photogenic adult with hundreds of original songs but no deal, no placements, one incomplete album, and only one radio single, I do have moments where I grope for something “real” to convince me that I’ve made a good amount of progress, distracted though I may have been by things like getting a degree and paying bills. It’s in moments like these that I turn to rules like Gladwell’s, and then turn away again. After all, I’m not yet convinced that I need to become a “master” pop artist, and quite frankly I don’t want to become quite as big as Bill Gates if I have a choice in the matter. So 10,000 hours, while they will accumulate in time, really don’t need to serve as a marker of how far along the path I’ve come.

But it’s good to remind myself that I still have some walking to do.

This top cost me $1. Yes, $1. And these headshots will be viewed a bazillion times!

Your Wallet can Thank Me Later

I’m about to do something rare: I’m going to give you some financial advice.

I know. What? Does she have any background in that? Not really, although I’ve been reading some awesome books on it. But as far back as 2009, I’ve been sharing this one rule with people who promptly laugh at me, then stop to think about it, and usually end up telling me it really works. It is one of the tools I am using to become free of consumer debt by March 3, 2016. (Now you all have to hold me accountable to that goal, okay? Thanks!)

When you want something but you’re not sure if you should buy it, there are many tried-and-true methods to determine whether to get it or forget it.

David Chilton, author of The Wealthy Barber, suggests stopping to figure out how many hours it took you to earn the price of the thing you want, and ask yourself if it’s worth that much of your time. Rapper Xzibit said in an interview for VIBE Magazine that if you can’t buy three of whatever it is you’re considering, you shouldn’t buy it, and I think that’s brilliant (yes, even for huge purchases like houses).

Where the hours-to-buy-this rule fails me is that my cash flow is often sporadic, things like royalties and residuals make it hard to say what my hourly wage is, and many of my purchases are things that contribute to my money-earning capacity. Xzibit’s rule is awesome for medium and large price tags, but when the small buys add up — “Oh, these earrings are only $9.95 a pair, of course I can afford three” — you can be fooled into thinking you’re a smart spender when you’re really bleeding to death by pennies.

So what do I do? I look at the price and forecast how many times I’m going to use the thing. The amount of times I will (not might) use it needs to be equal to or greater than the amount of dollars I pay. (NOTE: I realized after writing and editing this piece that Gail Vaz-Oxlade, whose work I admire, has touched on this rule and published it before I did. But my version of the rule, while similar, is better *sticking my tongue out* so keep reading! And if you’re familiar with Gail’s “‘how much per use’ calculation” keep reading anyway, because I’d love to hear how you think this stacks up against it.)

A dollar per use. It’s so simple, but it works. Say there’s an all-white party coming up and I see a gorgeous white clutch. It’s on sale for $19.99 and there’s no tax. Should I get it?

“Well, I’ll wear it to tomorrow night’s party for sure. And maybe to one more all-white thing this summer, and I have a couple of other outfits it could go with” … If I cannot see myself using it 20 times before it gets dirty, lost, ruined, whatever, it goes back on the shelf.

This blouse is a great example. It cost me less than $25 and I’ve worn it to numerous meetings, at least 2 auditions, at least 2 dates, at least 2 performances, a news taping, a party (probably more than one), a family reunion, plus literally countless other times. And I still love it!

Not only does this curb impulse shopping, it helps you focus on quality over quantity of stuff. Shopping for fall boots on a budget? Don’t get the adorable expensive suede ones, because you can’t wear them on wet or muddy days and they’ll be back in the closet before you know it. Shopping for winter boots instead? Here in Toronto, you can easily wear those 100 times in a year, so you don’t have to be as frugal — especially if they’re good enough (waterproof, warm, comfortable, the heel doesn’t wear down easily, etc) to last you several winters. If you’re buying a new piece of equipment, seriously considering how many times you’ll use it before you upgrade again. It might be worth getting the better model now, especially if you make money with it and you’ll soon receive from it more money than you paid to get it.

Honestly, how many of you have closets full of clothes you’ve only worn once, drawers full of gadgets you never use, things you bought to go with other things that ended up just draining your bank account? Stop it. Your money is worth more than that.

If you’re shopping for children, I advise using this rule even more. Sure it’s back-to-school season and everybody wants new stuff, but will she grow out of that jacket before she wears it enough times to make it worth the purchase? He asked for this game for his birthday, but does he tend to get bored with new games after a week and never play them again? We’re all going to spend and we’re all going to shop, but if we do it more carefully we can feel better about it after.

I’m a big fan of dollar stores, especially since adopting my rule. Most things there work just as well as their other-store counterparts. When my designer classes case got really beat-up from living in my purse, I found a new one at Dollarama. Cost: $1.13, taxes in. Uses: 760 and counting.

As with all rules, there is an exception. When pictures are going to be taken, or video, you have no way of measuring how many people will see you wearing or using that purchase, so go nuts. I plan on getting married once; I don’t expect to find a wedding dress for $1. But I think you’ll find if you use my rule regularly, you’ll also get better at not going over-the-top when it comes to your other spending.

Let’s look at this pic again. The top cost me $1. Yes, one dollar. And these headshots will be viewed a bazillion times!

Now, my dollar-per-use rule does have a serious flaw when it comes to buying food and buying experiences — clearly most meals are only eaten once (although I adore leftovers) and I don’t have the knowledge or the desire to figure out how many different muscles and organs will “use” a plate of food; and how am I supposed to know whether the trip to Puerto Rico will be worth that special sale price? These are times when David Chilton and Xzibit’s rules will probably serve you best.

But I do advocate this from years of personal experience. The amount of times you will use it should be equal to or greater than the amount of dollars you pay. (Convert from other currencies if necessary, lol.) Try it out for yourself and let me know how it goes!