Today I opened my heart – fully, to tell my story as an alumnus to the students completing the program I did at UBC. I spent weeks thinking about it – what would I say? How do I summarise 10 years of emotions into 45 minutes? How do I balance this with practical wisdom that may somehow make it worthwhile to listen to me ramble for 45 minutes? Most importantly, how do I leave space to hear their voices, to learn from them and feel a collective sum greater than our individual parts?

Indeed, my story is unique. Just like everyone’s story on this earth is unique. Yet what I realised is this: what we all search for is our purpose – we all want to be able to live out the truest, highest expressions of ourselves (Oprah, 2016…..yes I love her).

I believe that storytelling is one of the best ways to share in a collective journey. The art of describing a series of events is active, not passive, engaging the listener and the speaker. I love to learn from others, to understand how they interpret what I say, whether they feel the same, or how they differ. I learn as much as they do.

I told my story tonight to 40 people, some of who I didn’t get to speak to. Yet I could feel their love, their warmth, their connections.

My underlying themes involved the HEART, and the MIND. Indeed, we often battle between these – do we follow what we think, or what we feel? How are these the same? How do they differ?

One solution I’ve tried is to think about the HEART in three ways – calculated ambition and purpose, vulnerability and storytelling. The mind is often focused on our basic needs, but this can include the need for a network, for money and for knowledge.

When looking at future decisions, the two often clash. Tonight, I spent a lot of time trying to articulate how I was driven by the mind – to ACHIEVE, to WORK, to EARN. Yet I often ignored my heart, whispering to me in how I felt about the actions I was taking.

Something I didn’t say tonight came to me after the talk. A few students stayed on to ask me questions. A couple asked me about whether I would make the same decisions, take the same path, if I knew what I knew now. The answer is undoubtedly yes. Why? Because every thing that has every happened in your life is preparing you for some moment to come (yes, another Oprah gem!)

But it’s true, I will not compromise my authentic self at any cost… Before it was different. I learned that regardless of what you’re doing in life, if you can’t be who you are then you are compromising yourself. You compromise your talent, potential and aspirations. You might even compromise those around you. Love this link for inspiration.

Everyone deserves to be their authentic selves. For me, part of my journey prevented me from hearing my inner song. When I stopped hearing it, I stopped dancing. I forgot the words and stopped singing.

Now, slowly, I’m hearing that music play again. Tonight was an opportunity for me to be surrounded by bright minds, full of hope and passion. To remind them to always listen to their inner music and to follow that first and foremost. Spreading yourself too thin gets you no where, but exhausted.

I was overwhelmed after the event, first by the line of students waiting to talk to me, but also in the 15 emails I received in one hour after I got home.

GRS/LFS peeps – seriously, thank you so much. I am feeling so grounded and so loved. I really was nervous to be vulnerable in such a way, but I’m glad I put myself out there. Being with you is part of my calling: to share, to communicate and to teach. This is my flow. You are my flow.

I promise to follow up with more posts in the coming weeks, to give thoughts and resources for you, as I talked about tonight. If you have questions – post them here. I’ll reply. I’ll get back to all of you in due time. See you at the potluck!

You guys are the best.


Much love,



  1. Winnie Kwan 22/11/2017 at 10:53 pm

    Hi Ella,

    Thank you again so much for being vulnerable and present with us tonight, and sharing your journey. You were an incredibly engaging storyteller and presenter, and there was so much knowledge and wisdom that you imparted to us. I’m sure I was one of the many students in the room who were furiously taking notes throughout your talk. As a student in my second last year of studies, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to do post-graduation, juggling the priorities of career, and money and passion. And your talk tonight, as well as this follow up reflection, has really helped me to clarify, for myself, what ARE the questions I should be asking, so that I can determine the things that I want to prioritize most.

    I look forward to your upcoming blog posts, and thank you so much for what you bring to our GRS community.

    Bright smiles,

  2. Allison Gacad 23/11/2017 at 1:43 pm

    Hi Ella,

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for your vulnerability and honesty last night. It’s not very often we hear of personal challenges post-university (especially when coupled with the massive career success you found yourself in). I really look forward to hearing from you at future GRS classes. Your insight on the world of international development and even networking skills have been gold to me – I am incredibly thankful. I hope the GRS community is just as valuable to you!

    Wishing you all the best!


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