An important element that I wanted to incorporate into my blog is celebrating female camaraderie. I, quite frankly, don't think we see enough of it and I don't think it's because it doesn't exist. I've been mulling over the idea of starting a monthly #girlcrush series for months now. I just loved the idea of having meaningful exchanges with women whom I admire and who I find inspiring for whatever reason. It's only right that I kick things off with someone from my own circle who I have a great deal of admiration for.
Cyndi and I met about 6 years ago through our boyfriends who have been really great friends since high school. We became fast friends, but not in a 'OMG-we-have-so-much-in-common' kind of way. We just...got along sensibly. Since I've known Cyndi I've seen her despair over failed classes and triumph as a Construction Engineer. Recently she opened up about family, work and the pressure to have kids. Find out why she's my #girlcrush.
AL: How has growing up the eldest of two sisters shaped you? And do you feel any pressure being the eldest?
CV: I knew you were gonna ask me this! I knew it!! You know that show with this Hollywood medium...Tyler something. He's a Hollywood medium...he's a young kid and everytime I watch it, I think if I ever got the chance to meet a medium...I get very emotional thinking about going through that process because I would want to speak to my older brother. I just have the sense of needing to know if I'm doing O.K. or did O.K...because it wasn't my position. It happened because he was taken away and then I became the eldest and I feel like there was always, and still is a pressure. And I get emotional when I think about it because I always feel like, fuck, did I do enough? Am I doing enough as the eldest? Have I failed my sisters? 'Cause I think about my parents, I know I'm a good daughter. But with my sisters I feel like sometimes I might have failed them in certain things...I don't know. And I don't ask.
AL: Because you don't wanna know?
CV: I don't know if it's because I don't wanna know or I don't wanna have that conversation with them or I'm embarrassed...I don't know. Recently, I've been having this feeling like...did I do enough for them. Especially with the youngest.
AL: What's your relationship like with her?
CV: I wish it was much closer. I feel like we didn't...with both of them...I don't know what happened but we could have been closer. And I know the youngest strives for it. I remember her saying..we were watching Kardashians and she was like "Why can't we be more like them?" and Chris and I were like...'cause we're just not. That doesn't mean we don't love each other. Doesn't mean we're not there when we need each other. It's...different. It's not that we're not close enough, it's a different relationship. When my sister left for Berlin, I bawled. I know she's a smart kid and she'd get through it but it felt like a part of me was going away. And with Kim too, when I was living at home and she would get home late I'd still be up. My parents always tell me, "you're like the third parent because you worry as much as we do about your sisters".
AL: And then how has that shaped you into the woman that you are?
CV: I think it just naturally made me more of the leader of the pack, I always make the first decisions...I think it's more the leader aspect. Being in the field that I am now and only in the last two years I realized that, you know what, I do like the leader position. And I do feel like it comes natural and I would be a good leader. That's because I've been doing it my whole life with my sisters. I've always been like, "Ok, this what we're doing...align". They've totally shaped who I am today. For sure.
AL: Do you remember any specific advice your mom gave you that really shaped who you are?
CV: OK. I'll try not to get too emotional. I might get emotional.
AL: That's ok. You're allowed.
CV: Just..to never give up. Never give up. My mom always said, "Don't give up you'll get through it, you'll get through this" and it's that perseverance. Seeing my mother persevere, seeing my mom go through the things...my mom is the strongest being I know. That's how she moulded me.
AL: I remember you telling me about this and we don't have to talk about it if you don't want to. When you were young and a teacher told you you had a learning disability.
CV: Yea. In high school I took some aptitude tests. My dad always had a fascination with medicine and he would have liked to study medicine and he used to talk about it, and obviously when you hear your parents talk about certain things, you wanna do right by them. So I was like, I wanna study cardiology. I wanna be a doctor. These aptitude tests showed strengths in different fields. So very strong in science and very strong in arts. It's very rare that that happens but every time I did these tests, it came out that way. Fifty-fifty. And I'd have to write down from all of the fields, which one I liked, architecture, medicine...and the teacher would be like "You're not good enough to be a doctor". I disctinctly remember she said, "You're not good enough. You'd have to work really hard and with your grades there's no way. I don't see it for you". And I had that experience again in my last year of CEGEP when I was in architecture, telling me, "Maybe you should go into interior design." Not that it's morons working in interior design but when I'm saying I wanna become an architect and you're telling me maybe I should strive for something else...that's not your job. That happened to me a lot where I had teachers telling me to my face that I was mediocre.
AL: Talk about your journey to becoming an engineer. I know it wasn't easy.
CV: (laughs) Now I'm gonna become emotional.
AL: If you want to. You don't have to.
CV: I did my tech in architecture. It was a three year program. It took me three and a half or four years to do it because it was really hard for me and I was going through a lot of things. I was really strong on the idea that I wanted to become an architect. That was my dream. When I was 12 years old I sent a letter to Frank Gehry and Norman Foster telling them that I wanted to work for them. I go to the University of Montreal, I didn't get accepted because it was very competitive. I raised my grades and re-applied and it still wasn't enough. I felt like everything was pushing toward 'no'. Now that I look back at it, it felt like it was pushing to 'no' but maybe it was pushing to something else. I remember one of my friends telling me, "You know what Cyndi, sometimes you gotta be flexible". And...TAH DAH! (motioning toward her boyfriend) He said, "You have a technical degree, why don't you just come to ETS*". It was really hard. I remember right before the last year I was studying like a maniac. I would stay 'til midnight at school. I do the test and I bombed it. Like every other test I was doing. None of my teachers could understand. Finally, one professor tells me, go see a specialist. I think it might be that you're not taking in the information like most people do. Maybe you learn a different way". It turns out I do have a disability that doesn't allow me to learn at the same pace as the everyday person. It takes me a lot more work and I learn differently. It was a very difficult process but I knew it was gonna pay off. And it's finally paid off.
AL: What did it feel like to graduate? Did you cry?
CV: Oh yea. I cried a lot. We had to choose who we wanted to give us the ring. And I chose the professor who told me to go see somebody. And when he gave me the ring and gave me a handshake and he gets closer and he says, "See what happens when you don't give up? See what happens when you persevere?" I sit down and you're surrounded by people who know you so you try not to get too emotional. I was surrounded by people but as I was looking at the ring, it felt like no one was in that room. It was the most satisfying...the best achievement I've had. So far.
AL: How do you like working in a male dominated industry?
CV: It's awesome! I love it! I love it because there's no drama. It's work. I'm not there to talk about my weekend. I'm not there to become best friends with you. We're there to have a good time and get the work done. That's it. I always look forward to meeting a new tradesperson because we always have tradespeople come and go. When they first meet you, that's when they size you up. They'll be like, "Ok, she's a girl, she's young, she's wearing a white helmet, she's not the boss of me". School can't prepare you for the reality of a construction site. Most of these men are uneducated, they have no respect for women. They're kinda the scum of the earth sometimes. It's not like when a guy goes on site. They're excited. When a girl goes on site, you have to deal with the fact that they're checking you out. Most of them are still of the mentality that this is not a field for women. You really have to have a thick skin.
AL: What's the most overtly sexist thing that has ever happened to you.
CV: All kinds. At one point we were extending a hospital and there was zero tolerance for dust. And I would tell them please make sure to clean up after you're done with certain types of work. And he was like, "You see the broom. Your kind is good for that". And I literally turned around and said "You should probably call your wife then". I felt bad throwing it back to the wife but I didn't think of anything else in that moment and it really pissed me off. He just looked at me and I said "I decide if you get paid or not". He just gradually started cleaning. I remember in one section of the trailer where we worked I had a new space that was just for me and by the afternoon I had bunch of penis drawings. But you can't stand there and cry. So what I did was, I downloaded a bunch of pictures of gay porn. And in colour. Printed it and then put in their trailer at lunch time. So they got it. They're like "OK, we're not gonna play with this bitch". (laughs)
AL: I remember you once said you're not a 'girls' girl'. What does that mean?
CV: After high school I just gravitated toward boys. At first, I'll be honest, I liked the attention. But it was also just easier. I have a brass personality. I'm loud. I'm very blunt. I say it how it is. It comes off different or badly with girls. With guys, it's funny, it's whatever. With girls you have to be a bit more delicate. You gotta choose your words, you gotta choose your delivery, it's a lot of work. My group of girlfriends, they know who I am, they know how I am and we've had moments where it's been a little rocky but we've known each other for thirteen years now so we're solid. New friendships, it's harder. They come and go.
AL: Now for the million dollar question. Now that you're in your 30s, do you feel pressure to have kids.
CV: Yes. I think I put the pressure on myself. Ever since I was young I always felt that I need to catch up because it took me a year longer to finish high school because we moved back and forth. It took me a year longer for CEGEP so I always feel like I need to catch up on those years. And now I just started a new job so I can't get pregnant because I need to wait a year, so I do have that pressure of when am I gonna get pregnant. But also, I don't know if I really want to. We're built to do other things than have babies!
AL: And you can have a fulfilled life without kids. It's just a different life.
CV: It's different. You don't know it until you have it. You can't miss what you've never had. I don't miss having kids. I don't know what it is to have a kid. I knew what it was to miss a dog and that's why we got another one. [Laughs] I don't know what it is to have kids and I don't really look forward to it right now. It is a constant battle that I hate that I have to live through but not my boyfriend. He's just like "Whenever you're ready!" It's so much easier for them. But I think if it really , really was in my plans to get pregnant, I would have been pregnant by now.
AL: Ok. On to the fun questions. I think you're super stylish. Who or what has influenced your style the most?
CV: For one, my mom. I learned from watching her not to give a fuck about what other people think of you. If you wanna wear something and you feel good in it, wear it. And my mom had, still does, the coolest style. I distinctly remember some of my mom's outfits. I still own some of my mom's purses, I still have some of her old clothes. My mom is the coolest. If I look at other influences, definitely Jenna Lyons. I think Olivia Palermo, but definitely Jenna Lyons. Because , that to me is effortless.
AL: Which country would you most like to visit?
CV: Egypt or Morocco. I think these countries are magical and mysterious and kinda sexy
AL: What beauty product can't you live without?
AL: Advice to your 20 year old self?
CV: Freeze your eggs. And have sex with that motorcycle guy. He's not the one you'll marry. And be patient!
AL: Who's your girl crush?
CV: This is gonna sound stupid but...Madonna. It's the "I don't give a fuck". I love that. And I'm like that. Sometimes I come off really insensitive because I'm like that.
AL: And finally if you could meet any female figure, dead or alive, who would it be?
CV: I think...Cleopatra.
CV: I have a fascination with Egyptian civilization and studied it a lot. And from what I've studied... this woman was epic.