Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Working with Friends: Brilliant Plan or Disastrous Idea?

by Ginella Massa

There are two rules in life:
1. Don't cut your own bangs.
2. Don't do business with a friend.
I've already broken both these rules.

When one of my closest friends and colleagues approached me about working on a short web series, I jumped at the chance. I had just decided to leave my full time job to work on my own media training business, and she was looking to forge her own path in the broadcasting world.

Having gone to journalism school together, and working on many late nights on school projects, we had always mused about how well we worked as a team, and how wonderful it would be if we ended up working in the same company. Funnily enough, that did happen unintentionally -- we both landed jobs in different departments of the same media outlet.

For more than two years, we shared fleeting moments in the same building as our schedules rarely overlapped and real lunch breaks were hard to come by in our deadline-driven business. Our work relationship consisted of waving at each other as we arrived or departed for our shifts, catching up during a synchronized bathroom break, or emailing funny anecdotes from our workspace throughout the day.

I was excited to finally be working together to on a shared vision that we could really put our stamp on. But I couldn't help but think of all those people who said getting into business with friend was risky. Even though this wasn't really a business (it was a small side-project that wasn't going to be generating any sort of income), we would be spending many hours on the phone, meeting in coffee shops, making decisions about how to make our web series interesting and fun for us and our viewers. Yet somehow, I wasn't worried that working together could ruin our friendship. I knew it was because we had already proven that we both knew how to effectively collaborate. In order to succeed, we would have to be sure to follow a few simple steps.

Communicate, communicate, communicate. 
A working relationship is just that -- a relationship. Trust and communication are the most important part of working together successfully. If one person doesn't express their reluctance or reservations about any aspects of the project, how can the other know? No one is a mind reader. Always say how you are feeling, and just as important is always listening to your partner's concerns.

Be prepared to spend A LOT of time together.
It's important to actually LIKE the person you're working with. We all have those friends or colleagues who we can only stand in small doses. They are fun to be around for a little while or in certain settings, but after a while it can be exhausting. These are not the type of people you should get into business with. Be honest with yourself about just how much time you can spend with this person before they drive you crazy.

Make sure the timing it right for both parties.
It's important that you are both on the same page when it comes to the time commitment for your shared project. If one is more committed to the project than the other, it just won't work. Also, be sure to communicate changes in your life that may affect how much time you can contribute to the project.

Play to your strengths.
They say opposites attract. Recognize what each person is good at and delegate tasks accordingly. Don't try to micromanage all aspects of the project together. Divide the workload and trust your partner to take care of the work they do best.

Know when to call it quits.
Sometimes projects fail. But its important to talk about how much time you want to dedicate to making sure that it doesn't. Pre-determine a date down the road when you will step back and re-evaluate the success of your project. And until that time, work as hard as you can to make it the best it can be.

Stay tuned for The Pulse - a 4-part web series debuting Thursday May 8th, 2014!

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Thursday, 10 April 2014


by Ginella Massa

For as long as I can remember, I have always been a YES man. I have a very hard time with the word NO. Whether it's saying I'm too busy to take on additional tasks at work, letting a store clerk weasle me into buying that extended warranty, turning down invitations to events I don't want to go to, or denying favours to family and friends. I've always struggled with saying how I really feel. 

I sometimes look at friends with jealousy when I hear them say they won't be doing something because they "just don't feel like it." Those words just don't exist in my vocabulary. I wish the guilt wouldn't eat me up inside when I get that urge to politely reject a request, but it does. I always agree to go above and beyond to help out, no matter how much of an inconvenience it is for me. As a result,  I'm the go-to problem solver, the one who will make time to help others, the generous giver who will put the needs of others ahead of my own. 

Except that it's all a rouse. I've thought a lot lately about why I continue to do this to myself, and I've realized it's not just because I'm a selfless and inherently good person (although I sure like to think so!) It's because that's what I want people to think I am. I'm worried that if I say no, they'll think I'm rude, that I don't care about their friendship, that I'm selfish, that I'm not willing to think about anyone but myself. So I'll do it with a smile on my face, even when I'm resenting every minute of it. I'm just a people-pleaser. 

The problem is when I do things to please other people, I'm doing myself, and them, a disservice. I'm being disingenuine by saying "really, it's no problem at all!" when it is. 

So I've decided it's time to be honest with myself, and that it's ok to be a little bit selfish. As Hannah Horvath would say, "it's very liberating to say no to shit you hate". 

I've made a commitment to focus on the things I genuinely want to do. Not just the things I feel obligated to do. I can't worry about what people will think of me. And sometimes, I just have to say no.

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Thursday, 27 March 2014

The Joys and Perils of Working from Home

Working from home definitely has its perks. Setting your own schedule, choosing the type of projects you want to take on, and not having to answer to anyone but yourself. Last week I said good-bye to the 9-5 grind and set off on an adventure to become to be my own boss. It was all very thrilling and nerve-wracking at the same time. 

Monday morning I re-arranged my room, making space for a desk to set up my brand new MacBook. This would be my new office -- my safe haven to work and create without any distractions. It was all a great plan, except for one small problem: I live in a house with 4 other people. No, not roommates who I share the rent with and can expect to know the boundaries of co-living. I live with my entire family -- My mom, step-dad and two school aged siblings.

You see, I used to share an apartment with my older sister downtown. While she wasn't the perfect roommate (God forbid if she ever replace the toilet paper roll!) for the most part we had very different schedules and our paths rarely crossed during the week. It was the perfect set up. We stayed out of each other's hair during the week, then actually enjoyed each other's company on the weekend. But my dear sister met the love of her life, and got married this past fall.. leaving me to find a new living situation. 

After an endless apartment hunt turned up nothing but overpriced shoe boxes, strange landlords, and sketchy basements, I finally conceded defeat and decided it was time to move back home. My mother was thrilled. I was not as optimistic.

But as they say, everything happens for a reason. Little did I know, just four months down the road I would be leaving my job to take on some personal projects of my own, and I would never have been able to take the financial leap had I not been living with my parents. 

But as I mentioned, being at home permanently comes with is challenges, especially now that I'm spending much more time in my "home office" (aka bedroom)

My first week working from home went like this..


I'm working at my desk, trying to figure out my new computer. My 13 year-old brother comes into my room without knocking, as he often does. 

"Ginella, you have to watch this video. It's so sick!" 

I continue typing away, not looking up. "Okay, later. I'm busy right now." 

He's persistent as always: "It will just take a second. Look!" I'm getting annoyed because, as usual, he doesn't seem to comprehend the word "no". 

"I said I'm busy right now. And we've talked about knocking." 

He retreats to the door. "Okay, I'll knock. Knock, knock!" he raps on the open door with his knuckle, and asks in his sweetest voice, "Ginella, can I show you a video?"

I finally turn to give him my attention. "Ok, we're going to have this conversation once," I tell him in a gentle but firm voice. "Just because I'm home now doesn't mean its 24-hour play time, and you can come into my room any time you want. When I'm at my desk, this is my office. So I need you to respect that I'm working. Okay?" I know I have to set the boundaries or he'll trample all over them. 

He nods, "Okay okay, sorry. I'll come back later." I muss his hair and promise to watch his video later as he skulks off.   

I thought he was the only one I was going to have to give this speech to. But it was just the beginning... 


I'm on the phone trying to set up a meeting. But my 17 year-old sister is laughing uncontrollably in the hallway. "Ginella, come look at this!" she calls, exploding in a fit of giggles. 

I shut the door trying to drown out the noise. "Yes, Thursday sounds great," I say into the phone, trying to wrap up the call. But apparently she cant take a hint and opens the door, still laughing out loud. "Come look at what your brother is doing! Hahahaha! "

I give her an exasperated look and point to my ear. "I'm on the phone!" I mouth. 

"Oh sorry.. " she says, and sheepishly slinks away. 

I thought it was just going to be the kids, but my parents are just as guilty...


I'm working on my website, and being the technologically impaired person that I am, it's not going well. 

My mother comes into my room, without a knock. "Okay, I need to cut my hair. Can you help me?" (see my previous blog for more on this one!)

I sigh. "Mom, do I have to give you the same speech I gave your son? I'm working." 

"Oh." She replies. "I thought you were just playing on your computer."

Right. Because I quit my job and bought a thousand dollar laptop to play. I just shake my head and tell her I'll be out to help her in a few minutes. 

It doesn't end there.. 


My car is missing from the driveway. I find my step-dad working in his office. "Um, where's my car?" I ask.

"Oh, I told your sister to take it instead because it was parked behind mine," he says, not looking up.  

I just stand there, giving him a moment to let those words sink in. Finally, he looks up and sees my less-than-impressed face. 

"Oh, sorry. I didn't think you were going out." 

"I have a meeting," I reply tersely. It comes out harsher than I intend. My poor step-dad is about the become the straw that broke the camel's back. I want to scream, "I'm not on vacation! Why is that so hard to understand?" 

"Sorry, sweetie," he says, reading the frustration on my face. "Here, you can take my car." He reaches for his keys. 

I take a deep breath, take the keys from him and force a smile. "Thanks. Just check with me next time, please." 

I think I'm going to start spending more time at the library...  

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Sunday, 2 March 2014

Confessions of a Hijabi: The Quest for a Haircut

By Ginella Massa

Every couple of months I'm faced with a dilemma I can no longer avoid. I try to put it off for as long as I can, but eventually I can't fight it any longer and I must face the inevitable: I need a haircut.

My tresses have grown out into that awkward stage where the layers are barely distinguishable and the mop on my head is something akin to a mullet. I'm desperate for a decent cut.

Sadly it's not as simple as walking into the nearest Supercuts, or making an appointment at a chic salon downtown. As a hijabi, I cover my hair in front of men who are not related to me. So I'm left with two options: find a private female-only salon. Or... gulp... cut it myself.

Over the years I've had various encounters with female stylists. I've driven out to Rexdale where private salons have popped up to accommodate large Muslim populations in the area. I've been referred to friends of friends who run businesses out of their basements. I even found a trendy salon in Mississauga that offered a private section away from the prying eyes of passers by.

But between distance, price, or quality of haircut, I have yet to find the perfect hairstylist for my grooming needs.  As a woman of colour, I also have the added stress of finding someone who knows how to deal with my particular hair type. A few years back I thought I'd finally found THE ONE - a little corner shop in Scarborough run by an Ethiopian lady. Good price, good location, good cut. But sadly, she closed down after a few years and I was back to square one.

Some of the best haircuts I've had are ones that I got while travelling abroad. In Dubai and Istanbul I was able to get great styles at great prices -- the Islamic influence in both countries make private salons, and other female-only services like gyms, spas and swimming pools, easy to come by. I remember getting an awesome cut and colour in Dubai (yes, hijabis colour their hair!) and wishing I could freeze that moment in time. I knew it would only be a few months before it was gone forever and I was back in Canada looking for someone to recreate it for me.

As children, we've all learned the #1 rule in life (some of us the hard way): never cut your own bangs. Unfortunately I've broken that rule time and again. Every once in a while, annoyed and desperate, I reluctantly search for a YouTube tutorial (thank God for the internet!) and reach for the trusty pair of haircutting scissors I purchased a Walmart. For a while, I became the resident hairstylist in my family, offering trims to my mom and sisters, with varying results. Luckily, we can hide the not-so-great haircuts under our hijabs while we wait for them to grow out.

The last hair cut I got was just a few months ago. The stylist seemed afraid to cut too much off, even after I'd asked for it to be short. "But why short?" She asked. "It's so nice!" Just the opposite of most stylists who get a little scissor-happy when you ask for "just a trim". As a result, I left paying for a cut that barely looked like it had happened.

As I write this, I still haven't figured just what to do with my current mess of locks. "What's the big deal?" Some may ask. "No one's going to see it anyway." And it's true. But I'M going to see it, and so will my family and female friends. Any girl who's ever painted their toenails in the winter, only to cover them up with socks and boots knows it's more than just showing it off to others -- It's about feeling good and doing something for yourself.


What's a girl to do? Maybe I'll just shave it all off. After all, it's just hair, right...?

Shate your haircut horror stories (hijabi or otherwise) in the comments!

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Sunday, 23 February 2014

Why Muslim Communities Need Media Training

by Ginella Massa

Being part of the Muslim community, I hear all the complaints about our "negative portrayal in the media". Muslims as terrorists, oppressing and abusing their women, reluctant participants in western society. Though we can't deny that there are sectors of our religion who fall into this stereotype, for the most part, Muslims in the west are just trying to live regular daily lives as parents, students, doctors, teachers etc. while committing to their faith.

But how often are Muslim community members reaching out to media, making ourselves available for comment on stories that affect us, and proactively pitching stories to show the true face of Islam? From personal experience working in the field of journalism, it's very rare.

Throughout my career as a producer for a national news channel, and an assignment editor for local news, I've been tasked with finding Muslim guests to speak on stories like the Niqab ban, opposition to Muslim condominiums being built, or allowing prayer in elementary schools. The results were very disappointing. Finding Muslim leaders and community members who were willing to speak on camera has always proven very difficult. Many are reluctant to comment, and turn down interview requests mainly because of fear and lack of understanding of what news organizations are really after.

So how can we as Muslims use news media in our favour and take control of the message being put out about us? I'm making it my personal mission the help get community members educated through media training on how to be in control of the conversation.

Here are a few tips to get started:

Be proactive, not reactive
Don't wait for a news organization to come calling. When there is a story that affects the Muslim community directly or indirectly, reach out to local stations and offer up guests to comment. Be available and flexible, which takes me to my next point..

Act quickly
News is deadline driven. With 24-hour news channels, and newspapers operating online, information and articles need to be written almost as immediately as an event happens. When journalists are under pressure to submit their story as quickly as possible, they won't take the time to find the best person to speak, but rather go for the first one who returns their call.

Think globally, act locally
An issue or event doesn't need to be happening in your city for you to comment on it. FIFA's ban on hijabs in the soccer field may be halfway across the world. But what does it mean for Muslimah soccer players in Vancouver who may strive to reach international level success one day?

Think visually
To tell a story well, reporters need interesting visuals to go along with it. In the case of the FIFA hijab ban, a group of young girls called hijabis to take part in a soccer game and invited media for a "photo op". It proved very successful in getting the story covered on television and in newspapers.

If you would like to get more information about media training or set up a workshop for your community group, contact

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