Working with business coaches, the first thing they’ll ask you is about your why – why do you do what you do and why should people hire you to do that instead of anyone else.

I have struggled with this question. Why do I do what I do? Because I love doing it. I love politics, I’m interested in policy, I’m passionate about creating change and doing good.

Reason 1:


I bought that in Washington and it now sits on my desk, reminding me.

The reason that I’m passionate about creating change and doing good? Because I worked for Jack Layton, and Jack Layton taught me that we can create change and we can make the world a better place, and the reason we do that is because we owe it to the next generation.

Reason 2:


That’s my daughter. She’s six and she’s full of rainbows and big ideas. I love everything about her, and I want her to know good. I want her to keep having big ideas, and believing in them.

But why should people hire me? That’s harder to answer. Because I want to earn money and help support my family and give that little person up above all of her needs and some of her wants. But that answer doesn’t mean anything to the people who might hire me.

So why hire me?

Because I am good at what I do. Don’t take my word for it, I have lots of colleagues who have been willing to speak up for me. It feels really good asking three people if they’ll act as references and getting back three quick replies of “Absolutely.”

I am good at what I do because I love to work. I love delving into a problem and not stopping until I find a solution. I take criticism and I adjust. I work efficiently and get things done quickly. I lose myself in work.

You should hire me because I will not stop until the job is done. Jack taught me that.

Why do I do what I do? Because I believe in politics, and I think other people should too.


Dotting Is and crossing Ts

April 25th, 2016 | Posted by Amy Boughner in Issues | Learning - (Comments Off on Dotting Is and crossing Ts)

I’m working on a grant application today, putting into action all the things I learned from helping my father finalize many a SSHRC proposal.

Those who work examining such applications are looking for reasons to deny your application right off the bat. If they can deny your application, they they have a smaller 20160425_111237pool to work with. If you want to be one of the last ones in the pile you have to make sure you have crossed your ts and dotted your is.

Use their language, answer all their questions with no more and no less information than is required, put all the checkmarks in all the right boxes. Do all the math and then do it again to make sure you did it right, and then do it again just in case.

And this is why there are professionals who earn a living getting these proposals exactly right for clients.

This is not going to be quick work, but it can’t be if you want to get things right. And you won’t get your grant if you don’t get things right.

Right now I’m focussed on taking it step by step, reading the guide to the application as I go, and highlighting sections I have to come back to when I have more information.

Slow and steady.


Manning Centre Conference: On Comms

March 1st, 2016 | Posted by Amy Boughner in Issues | Learning - (Comments Off on Manning Centre Conference: On Comms)

I had the opportunity to attend the Manning Centre Conference in Ottawa last weekend. A conference like this is a great opportunity to sit back and listen to how others approach certain issues. A bit of opposition research if you will.

The first and possibly most interesting session was a journalist panel that touched on lessons that communications officials could learn from the previous government.

Panel moderated by Jim Armour, with Mercedes Stephenson, Anthony Furey, Chantal Hebert and Paul Wells

Panel moderated by Jim Armour, with Mercedes Stephenson, Anthony Furey, Chantal Hebert and Paul Wells

The Harper government tended to see the media as the enemy. They developed an issues management structure where top stories were treated as crises. Mercedes Stephenson, from CTV’s Parliamentary bureau, said that young Conservative staffers would rarely contact the media while other parties were reaching out. She pointed out the importance of the relationships being built by other staffers while Tory staffers only reached out when there were problems.

By not talking to the media when the media needed them, the Conservatives made it much less likely that the media would listen when Tory staffers needed them to.

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In fact, the whole panel touched on building relationships and telling positive stories.

Anthony Furey raised another important point – when you want to talk to the media about your issue, you need to have a story to tell. You need to be prepared to explain what you mean and why it’s important.

That, of course, is excellent advice for anyone in any kind of communications trying to get across any kind of message.

Three Words, 2016

November 22nd, 2015 | Posted by Amy Boughner in Issues | Learning - (Comments Off on Three Words, 2016)


It is early to be doing a post about my three words to focus on in the New Year, but the semester is coming quickly to an end and there are things I’ve learned over the last part of this year that I need to transfer to the work I’m planning to move into in the second half of 2016.

The three words that will lead me through my Masters degree and back into my career are: Focus, Clarity and Specificity.

I have noticed, both in myself and in others, this effort to include the most information possible, to expand on things that we say to try and inform or appear informed. I actually had a conversation with one of my professors about a specific assignment that I had done well on, but I had also gotten lost in trying to explain too many aspects of the issue. I lacked focus.

The great thing about this program, and about working in politics is that shorter is better, succinct is desired. People don’t have the time to hear long explanations of the background and process by which you reached your recommendation. They want to know, in bullet points, what they should do and why.

They need clarity. Precision. Specificity. They need the question to be addressed in a document that they can read and make sense of in the car on the way to a meeting. If they need more information they will ask for it, and you should have it readily available. But in the moment they just need to answer what and why, and maybe who and how.

This will be my focus in papers for the rest of my degree and my quest in dealing with clients in the future. I will not waste people’s time.

Building my visually literacy

July 8th, 2015 | Posted by Amy Boughner in Issues | Learning - (Comments Off on Building my visually literacy)

Through some work I was very lucky to do a few years ago I learned about the power of neuroplasticity – the power of our brains to adapt and learn new things in new ways.

This summer I am using my neuroplasticity to work on some things to help me hit the ground running when I finish my schooling next year. I’m doing an online course in Project Management, I’m going to practice my French skills using Duolingo, and I’m working on my information skills with all the reading that I’m doing.

As Sunni Brown says in The Doodle Revolution:

“The reality is our brains are like giant, muscular vines, and they can wrap themselves around almost any skill we ask them to consider. … People using even rudimentary visual language to understand or express something are stirring the neurological pathways of the mind to see a topic in a new light.”

Reading this book has led to me playing with doodling again and I have discovered that playing with words and font-styles helps me brainstorm.

And, it’s helped me to turn the words of Sheila Watt-Cloutier into a reminder about the work I want to do that I can put on my wall:


Professional Development

April 29th, 2015 | Posted by Amy Boughner in Learning | Work - (Comments Off on Professional Development)
Summer reading

Summer reading

I have the summer off before my Masters program starts in September. This also means that I have two months off by myself before my daughter gets off school. I am very excited about this time because it gives me more time to think and focus and prepare for next year and then what follows.

I opted to go back to school so that I am better able to do the work I am passionate about. This summer is an opportunity to do all the reading and work that I did not have time for during the last school year.

This summer is an opportunity to revise all the work I’ve done with Shelagh about why I do what I do and how to do it better. It’s an opportunity to volunteer and connect with other people and their passions. I plan on reading books and blogs, listening to podcasts, watching the news and documentaries. And, of course, writing.

All of this professional development will help set my focus so that I am prepared to get absolutely every ounce of benefit from my graduate degree so I can hit the ground running when it’s all over.

There is something wonderful about doing all this learning when I know what it’s for. The first time I was in university I went because I tried to succeed in journalism and it proved a lot more difficult than I was prepared for. This time, I know what I can do, I know why I’m there and I know where I want to go when I’m done.

I am going to make the world a better place, working within the system we have to change the things that are wrong. Because that is what I have to do. This work is in my soul.

The Language of Campaigns

March 29th, 2015 | Posted by Amy Boughner in Learning - (Comments Off on The Language of Campaigns)

Joe and I spend the better part of the weekend at the Broadbent Institute’s Progress Summit. (Joe there for work, me there for self interest).

Two of the most interesting talks I saw over the course of the weekend were the ones featuring dissenting voices – Tim Powers and Monte Solberg, who are well-known Conservative pundits, and Philip Cross, an economist speaking out about austerity.

I enjoyed these talks partly because they demonstrated exactly where many partisans go wrong during their campaigns. While these men spoke there was groaning, booing, and heckling from the crowd.

The fact is that you’ll never get anywhere in your campaign if you don’t listen to dissenting opinions and address their concerns.

Tim Powers in particular pointed out that many, if not most, Canadians don’t think Stephen Harper is the devil incarnate.

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Portraying him that way makes a campaign seem ridiculous and out of touch with reality. It’s an approach that’s never going to win over a moderate.

It can also silence the moderate voices who are on your side but fear getting the same outraged reaction.

You have to recognize and remember that some people actually just disagree with you, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re stupid or misinformed. They just have a different opinion that they have come to based on the information they’ve received and how it fits with their own views and values.

It all comes back to the most important thing Tim Powers pointed to in his presentation, the four elements of persuasion: establishing credibility, framing for the common ground, connecting emotionally and providing the right evidence.

The Worst Job I Ever Had

October 29th, 2014 | Posted by Amy Boughner in Learning | Work - (Comments Off on The Worst Job I Ever Had)


I was just reading this article on LinkedIn about ways to tell your job is a poor fit. My first job out of university is not something I talk about very much, but it was the worst fit I’ve ever had, and they knew it to because they decided by the end of my probation to let me go. And I was not surprised.

I started applying for jobs before the end of my classes at school and I was getting pretty desperate. I was working part time in an office and planning my wedding and was feeling very disheartened. You see, after I graduated college – one of the top students in my class – I applied for 60 journalism jobs before I got hired. I kept track of all of them. I had no desire to be stuck in the loop of cover letters, interview and no bites.

Finally I got an interview, and they liked me, and I got a call that they wanted me. It was great. I was hired on, with three months probation.

It didn’t take long before I felt like I was in over my head. I made mistakes. I couldn’t seem to do anything the Executive Director liked. He seemed to want me to understand what he was thinking, but I couldn’t because he could never express it to me.

I am programmed to want to do a good job, to want to please the people I’m working for. I work very hard.

But by the time we sat down for that review meeting I was a big ball of stress. It felt like I was constantly messing up but I couldn’t figure out just what I was doing so badly.

Like the article says, I was lost, I was disconnected.

Contrast that with the job I found a few months later: I was happy. I was energized. I had a boss that was critical, but constructively.

Being in the wrong job can destroy you. It’s such a big part of your life that it can send you into a spiral. Finding the right fit, with good, helpful people and your passion can change your life.

Do you mentor?

March 31st, 2014 | Posted by Amy Boughner in Learning | Work - (Comments Off on Do you mentor?)

Reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book made me think a lot about a lot of things. One of the most interesting things was her chapter Are You My Mentor? where she talks about what women are doing wrong when it comes to finding mentors.

“If someone has to ask the question, the answer is probably no.”

She says that when you find the right mentor for you it’s obvious. She says asking someone to be your mentor is a “mood killer.”

My question is: If you don’t ask, how can they say yes?

I have asked women to be a mentor to me in the past and have yet to receive any kind of bad response. I turn to women who inspire me in more ways than one. Women who work hard, are passionate about what they do, and live lives that I aspire to.

Just this week I had a conversation with a woman who is passionate in her work, has built a business, is an strong athlete and who spoke to me openly and honestly about challenges. So I asked her: Will you be my mentor?

Because if I hadn’t asked she wouldn’t have said yes.

Three words

January 1st, 2014 | Posted by Amy Boughner in Learning | Work - (Comments Off on Three words)

Last year and again for 2014 I have defined my three words for personal growth, but this year I have to define my business as well. I am growing and enjoying everything I’m doing. I have been networking, attending events and meeting new people. In 2014 I hope to continue in this new direction, and so a great three words for me are these:

Learning, Growing and Openness

Learning is an essential part of being a successful entrepreneur and serving my clients. I have a background in journalism and communications, but there is much more I can offer and I plan on studying to stay on top of things. (The first thing I’m learning is how useful a tool Evernote can be. I also have video courses on Photoshop and InDesign to watch).

Growing is an essential trait of a successful business, but for me this word is not just about a growing client base, but also about growing trust with my clients and growing as a person. Networking is a big part of this for me, as the more people I meet and the more new connections I make the better off I am.

Being open has been a big thing for me this past year. I have been open to change and to new opportunities. I have gone to events I was scared about going to alone, I have met people and built my business, I have tried new things, all with just a little push from myself.

Do you have simple, straightforward goals for the year ahead?

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