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Some of What I've Learned in the Last Year

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We're all constantly learning, evolving and growing. With so much new information coming at us, not a day goes by without some new tidbit of insight. But there's a difference between encountering something new and ingesting it, making it your own, letting your actions -- big and small -- be shaped by it.

It's already November. Soon, we'll all begin looking forward to a new year, forming new hopes and goals around our calendar year. But, it's also a time to reflect on what we accomplished, to bank those new learnings and embrace the person we've become in 2012.

This isn't only about "big and important" stuff. Sometimes a little learning colours just a small moment in each day. But those little moments add up too! Here are some of the things that I learned in 2012 and that I'll carry forward to the next year.

(1) How to be greener
All of us are constantly learning about new ways, big and small, to make our lives greener, from composting to choosing LED Christmas lights... all of these changes add up.

This year, I learned a lot about Canadian-made biodiesel, and its positive impact on our environment. I was amazed to learn that biodiesel is clean-burning, renewable, and organic based. Not only that, biodiesel is produced from vegetables like soybeans or soybean oil and the finished product can be used in any blend of petroleum diesel fuel.

Right now oil and gas companies have an option to support Canadian farmers by buying biodiesel, but I also learned that they currently buy it from overseas... now that doesn't make much environmental sense, does it? Great Lakes Biodiesel, a Canadian company in Welland will be the largest supplier of biodiesel in Canada when it opens later this year, and it will be a great company to source local biodiesel from.

(2) How to enjoy tea like fine wine
A small thing... yet, how many of us shape our whole morning around that coffee break or daydream about Sunday mornings with a cup of tea and a newspaper or favourite magazine? Preparing and savouring tea and coffee are ancient rituals and completely meditative. I don't drink a lot of alcohol (maybe occasionally sipping on one cocktail for an entire evening -- Skyy Vodka on ice), so my tea rituals are very important, day and night.

I was happy to learn from David of David's Tea (yes there's a David behind the brand!) about Pu-erh tea. It's a rare variety of post-fermented tea from China and comes in brick or loose leaf form. Like wine, it is allowed to mature and you'll often see it labelled with the year and region of production. So, while others enjoy their single malt or fine wine, I'm happy with my fine tea!

(3) How to pose for a photograph
I had a photo shoot with Glow magazine this year and was wearing a SKIN TIGHT dress. Ladies, I know you'll imagine just how nervous and self-conscious I felt being photographed dressed like that. Indeed, so many of us feel nervous and awkward when a camera is pointed our way! But the photographer I worked with gave me some amazing tips for posing so you can be a skinnier version of yourself: Stand sideways with one foot forward, turn your hips forward and voila!! a streamlined and slimmer silhouette!

We were also lucky to have photographers like Caitlin Cronenberg, Dustin Rabin, Norman Wong and Patrick Demarchelier at the IT Lounge during TIFF this year. While I watched them shoot amazing portraits of celebs, I also took some pointers on how to pose. Watching these photographers work, I realized that it's often a matter of catching you in that moment when you're least self-conscious and not expecting it. I'll never be 100 per cent happy with my own photographs (who is?!) but the best photographs are often the ones when you're the most natural you and not posing at all.

(4) How to keep up with technology
New technology rolls out faster than most of us -- apart from the most dedicated technophiles -- can keep up. And while I'm still wielding a blackberry and struggling to upgrade to an iPhone, there are other technologies that I've more easily embraced.

2012 was definitely the year of Instagram, as far as social networking goes, and I loved following to see what my friends were up to (definitely motivating me to make that iPhone switch!) A picture, after all, can paint a thousand words and while we're limited to 140 characters on Twitter, it's sometimes easier to show than tell!

In the office, we all fell in love with Rdio for listening to all our favourite songs and creating playlists. With no ads, it's the perfect way to create a party atmosphere while we work. We're huge fans of anything that lets us have a singalong or office dance party! Right now, we're creating a festive holiday playlist, and you can create your own on the site. LOVE this!

(5) How to wake up looking refreshed
Ahh the elusive hunt for perfect skincare products! Our skin is always changing, so what worked on my skin last year is not necessarily what I need now. This year, for the first time (yes, I know I'm probably the last one!), I started a night skincare regime and discovered a magic formula (for me) by combining Kiehl's Midnight Recovery with Powerful-Strength Line-Reducing Concentrate. I wake up and my skin truly has a glow. I noticed a difference within the first week of using this combination at night.

No matter what skincare concern you have (men too!), it's important to take stock of your skin's changing needs. There's no one-size-fits-all regime, so make sure to talk with somebody who can understand and address your individual skin concerns. When my skin is less than perfect, it really impacts how I feel about myself and I really don't think anybody should have to live with products that aren't doing their job!

But while all these little things made a big difference to the quality of my everyday life, if I had to pinpoint one BIG lesson, I'd say it was this: Learning to not be so hard on myself. Writing these weekly blog posts has been a huge part of that! The privilege of sharing my thoughts here has really helped me reflect on some areas in my life that perhaps needed to be addressed.

At the end of the day, I've found myself being more forgiving because once I say things out loud (or write them down), I realize how hard I've been with myself in my own inner dialogue. It's true that we're hardest on ourselves and this year I've really learned to be more of a friend and supporter of myself. I can't say it's easy to switch off that critical inner voice (and, of course, sometimes I think being hard on myself makes me do better).

But, for the most part, we all do better and act better when we're kind to each other and ourselves. Now, I'd love to know: What have you learned this year that's changed your every day outlook?