The theory and practice of leadership has long fascinated this girlaboutOtown, and it’s a concept I continue to contemplate regularly. In particular, I’m amazed at the power everyday people have to influence others through conscious action. Today’s post features one such Ottawa woman, Pamela Tourigny, Community Manager at Canada’s first big-box eco store Terra20.
Like so many girlaboutOtown readers, Pamela juggles multiple personal and professional demand. She also cares deeply about making a meaningful contribution to the world around her. Fortunately, Pamela has been able to shape her life – and earn a living – by aligning her career with her core values. Her concerted effort to find fulfilling work sets a great example for anyone wondering if it’s really possible, and her dedication to being the change she wants to see is inspiring. Read on to learn more about Pamela Tourigny, her career path, and how she juggles her very busy days.
We’ve covered your occupation. What about your preoccupations? Vegan food and lifestyle, animals (we have three cats, one dog, one hamster, all rescued, and we foster baby squirrels through the Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary), sustainability, sustainable fashion, and outdoor exercise.
Tell us a bit about your back story. How did you end up in Ottawa? I grew up in rural Tweed, Ontario, as a police officer’s daughter. Career paths are a bit limited in rural areas like Tweed, so I always expected to leave. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but a journalism degree seemed to offer a good balance of theory and practical. Not long into the program, I realized I would not be very good at being the “impartial observer” reporters are supposed to be, but I still didn’t know exactly how that would manifest itself, career-wise. PR didn’t seem that appealing either, since there are a very limited number of companies that I would feel comfortable being a mouthpiece for. Career aside, I’m married to a talented board game designer/public servant, and have two step kids.
Aside from being really good at your job, it’s clear you really love what you do. How did you find your way to terra20? After graduating from Carleton University’s journalism program, I became the editor for some local construction newspapers, which was a real trial by fire. It was a subject matter about which I knew very little, and there were few other women around. After two years, I was hired to write marketing and advertising features for the Ottawa Citizen.
At the time, I felt the need to become more involved with the community and in promoting sustainable lifestyle choices, so I became the founding President of the National Capital Vegetarian Association (from 2007-2011). My decision to become vegan more than a decade ago was rooted in my love of animals, but also realizing the environmental impact of raising animals to be food. I brought the organization to life and co-founded Ottawa Veg Fest, which had more than 3,000 people attend our most recent event in 2012. I put in anywhere from 5-25 hours a week of volunteering during that time period. I spent six years with the Citizen before leaving in spring 2011, with no job in place. It was a huge risk, perhaps the biggest of my life, but I just knew it was time. I was hired on contract by a major government department to write their communications strategy, but then the government-wide workforce reductions kicked in.
Fortunately I learned about terra20 from a friend, and applied for the Community Manager role. I hit it off with the hiring director Rachelle from the moment we met, and I started at terra20 just a couple of days after my government job ended. Sometimes it scares me to think of what could have happened had this position not come along exactly when it did, but that very fact also contributes to the sense for me that it is exactly what was supposed to happen, and the direction I’d been moving towards for years without even realizing it.
You’re happy where you are, but are also quite driven. What are you ambitious about for the future? I want to be a part of bringing a terra20 store to every major market in Canada, if not North America!
Was there ever a time when you knew exactly ‘what you wanted to be’? I spent much of the period between 2009 and early 2012 job hunting, and very uncertain as to what I wanted to be, or at least how I could monetize what I wanted to be. I was often asked, “If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?”, and I always responded the same: If I could be paid to be doing what I was doing for free for the vegetarian association, it would be perfect. The work included community outreach and development, media relations, promotions, event coordination, writing, and business development. At the core, I was helping people in their journey towards a kinder, more sustainable life. When I read the job description for my current position with terra20, my heart and mind were racing because I knew it was exactly what I wanted to be. I am so grateful that the executive team at terra20 seem to agree with that assessment!
What have been the hardest lessons for you to learn? Set your own boundaries, because nobody else is going to set them for you. Also, tying in with that, when something isn’t core to your life (as family, friends, work, and well-being are), and it ceases to be fulfilling, stop doing it.
What does ‘work-life balance’ look like in practice for you? Does it exist? Should it? For years, I’ve tried to achieve work-life balance, but I am utterly terrible at it. I can’t remember the last time that my work and personal life were totally separate. Recently, I all but withdrew from my previous volunteer commitments because my involvement had run its course, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to find that so-far unattainable balance. Yet, I find myself feeling directionless, brimming with energy, and in need of new and fulfilling projects. I am starting to accept it may just be how I’m wired.
What advice do you have for women looking to better align their personal values and professional lives? I am pretty much the luckiest person in the world to be working in a role that lets me align my values with my professional life, but at the same time it truly was the culmination of many years of different efforts to make myself more marketable in the workforce. This included a significant amount of volunteer work, becoming bilingual through classes, and what felt like endless self-study. I’m not sure I would whole-heartedly recommend the “dive in head first and work yourself to exhaustion” approach to everyone. Certainly not over the long term! But, I’ve come to believe that if your actions flow from your beliefs and you’re strategic about your involvements it’s far more likely to lead you to the end result that you’re looking for.