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Courtney Symons | Ottawa | Passion & Purpose

Editor in Chief at Shopify

Ottawa - Ontario

Ever since I learned to hold a pencil, I’ve wanted to be a writer. And so basically every step I’ve ever taken has been in that direction, even though the journey didn’t take me in the direction I expected! I wrote a million terrible short stories and poems in grade school, I went to journalism school, I wrote a novel from a beach in Australia, I became a small town reporter then a business journalist—and somehow I landed at a then-small tech company called Shopify in 2013. I was hired to start a marketing team, which I had no business doing since I didn’t know the first thing about marketing, but they took a chance on me. That path has led me to try ghostwriting, building and leading teams, and recently becoming Editor in Chief. The amount of storytelling I get to do, coupled with my passion behind the mission of our work, makes this a pretty epic dream for me. One I never could have imagined when I was struggling to hold a pencil and shaping letters to form stories as a little girl. I keep myself creatively engaged with 100 Day Projects, committing to do one thing every day for 100 days and share it. I’m on my fifth project right now, and have written about how powerful these projects have been for me creatively.

What were the biggest initial hurdles and how did you overcome them?

Oh, self-confidence 100%. I oscillate rapidly between thinking, “I can conquer anything, I’ve got this!” to “What am I doing, why did they put me in charge?” I wouldn’t say I’ve overcome this; I’m still in the thick of it as so many of us are. But I’m learning that this is just a part of the human experience: doubting ourselves without cause. Optimistic nihilism has been an incredible help to me—the idea is that if nothing really matters in the end, since we’re just fleeting specks of dust in a grand universe, so much of the pressure falls away! Just have fun and go with your gut and work hard, and in the end, it’ll turn out okay. Also, nothing is as important or epic or as big of a deal as you think it is. That sounds pessimistic but it’s been an incredibly freeing mental model for me personally.

What books are you currently reading?

I just started The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne and am loving it so far. Other recently loved reads include The Overstory by Richard Powers and Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Love a good blend of fiction and non-fiction on my bedside table.

What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and recently wrote a bunch of lessons down for Past Courtney. Maybe it will be useful to you, the one reading this right now. But the lesson that rose to the top: Raise your hand. If you have a goal or dream, don’t keep it locked up in your mind or diary. Throw it out to the universe! Advocate for yourself. Make it known that you want something and you’re working towards it. Don’t assume other people will intuit your ambition. Make it known, and then make it happen.

What advice would you give to an upcoming youth or talents locally and internationally?

Do the thing you say you want to do. This sounds so basic, right? But some people spend so much time dreaming that they forget to actually do the thing. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but I can’t call myself a writer if I’m not actively writing, all the time, sometimes without agenda or structure—just to do it. So write, or film, or create, or speak, or plan, or do whatever it is you want to do, and do it over and over again so you can begin to perfect the craft. There are some things you can only truly learn by doing, and that includes fulfilling your life’s passion and purpose.


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