Cheryl Johnson: Today’s Notable Young Professional

Cheryl Johnson is always full of pep when you meet her, which is astounding considering her busy schedule. She is a young professional superhero whose day job consists of working on policy for climate change and environmental risk management within the energy sector. Outside of work, Cheryl maintains her YYCShows page that functions as a one-of-a-kind event listing for concerts in Calgary. As if her day job and keeping up with the music scene in town weren’t impressive enough, she also invests her time in a variety of volunteer projects like the Cyclepalooza bike festival and Meals on Wheels. This girl is going places!

Where did you go to school? What did you take?
I’m from Calgary but attended Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario. I did a Bachelor of Science in Integrated Science & Policy with a minor in Math, and a Master of Arts in Public Administration concentrating in Innovation, Science and the Environment.

Elevator Pitch: Describe your job in a nutshell.
My career has two spheres: music and environmental policy. My passion project is YYCShows, a comprehensive Calgary concert listings website with links to bands and ticket sales, a show calendar, venues, blogs and promoters. In the daytime I work in climate change policy and environmental risk management in the oil and gas industry.

Why did you start working at your company? What was the inspiration for this career route?
YYCShows launched in summer 2013. I love attending concerts, and believe it’s a great way to be involved in your community – especially seeing local acts. When I came back to Calgary last year, I found that while there are impressive music resources, the information is widely spread. I started keeping track of upcoming shows and sending my friends bimonthly mass texts on concerts. This went on for about eight months, when I decided that the real value was in the sources for finding out about shows and the listings that I was tracking. If I had all this information in a document, I might as well share it with other Calgary music fans.

What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
Hearing from people who have been introduced to a new show through the site. And particularly because the site is so young, I get a thrill whenever a venue or band reaches out to me with concerts to add.  

The most challenging part is time, balancing building YYCShows with my day job. Climate change is a critical issue and I believe it is vital that government and the private sector take action. Maintaining the site, such as doing the research and social media, takes a lot of time.

What is one sign that you’ve seen over the years to suggest that your work/life balance is off?
I am guilty of resting a lot of my self-worth on my professional life. People that work in the environment and sustainability industry generally have professional worlds that complement their value systems. That can make it difficult to step away from your work and focus on balance, because success at your job also supports your personal goals. It’s a work in progress, but I am trying to disconnect some of my professional progress from how I value myself. I want to affect positive change through my career, but I am trying to focus more on my volunteer and personal experiences to give more weight to the “life” part of the work/life balance.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
I want YYCShows to be the one-stop-shop for Calgary concert listings. I would like the site to be what my friends would have told me about when I moved here and asked about shows in Calgary.

On the environment/sustainability part of my life, I would like to have an understanding of the barriers to sustainability in the energy sector, to better identify and advance opportunities for change.

What is one major challenge that you’ve had to overcome in your career? How did you overcome it?
How to apply my concern about the environmental and social impacts of energy to a career – identifying what jobs are available and what working in environmental policy actually means. I’m still overcoming that.

What does success look like to you? Does Money = Happiness?
Similarly, I’m still figuring out what success means to me. In many ways, I feel successful right now. It’s an easy answer that money does not equal happiness, but stability is important to me, including financial stability.

What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
The first time that someone knew about YYCShows when I hadn’t introduced them to it was a huge milestone. In my day job, a memorable step was managing policy services in my previous position as a consultant with The Delphi Group. It was an amazing opportunity and I don’t think I would have learned as much and as quickly as was possible with Delphi.

Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
The best driver is an intention to make your community better. Take initiative, recognize opportunities and embrace them. A woman whom I greatly admire also told me: when you say yes to something, think about what you’re saying no to.  

Where is your favourite place to wine/dine in your city and why?
I’m going to twist this back to Calgary music and answer with my favourite venues. The Hifi Club brings in incredible acts and always offers a good dance party. You can also count on a great time from many genres at the Palomino, and the most welcoming hosts and atmosphere from Calgary House Gigs.

When you’re not working how do you love to spend your “me” time?
My “me” time right now is dominated by maintaining and developing YYCShows. It’s probably obvious that I attend a lot of concerts. Politics is my family’s sport and I adore and am often frustrated by it. I’ve always been a big reader and often indulge myself in truly terrible mystery novels. My week’s highlight is usually a Friday night in listening to music, reading or disappearing into Netflix… and wine.

Where is your favourite place to travel? Why?
In another life, I spent time in New York City and it was an amazing growth experience. 

If you had to choose a theme song, what would it be?
This is probably the question that I pondered the most. In an extremely specific reference, if my life could have the energy of when Library Voices cover Neil Young’s Unknown Legend, I would be a very lucky woman. A track that really resonates with me, both blatantly in the lyrics and the overall sentiment of the artist, is This is My Prairie by Corb Lund.

If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what would you be doing?
Fashion. I love making outfits, plain and simple. I think about it all the time, I love talking about it, and if you want to spend an afternoon going through your wardrobe and talking about outfits, that sounds like a perfect day.

Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
I used my move back to Calgary as an impetus to start being a better citizen. Some very remarkable people have helped facilitate that. I am on the steering committee for Cyclepalooza, a do-it-yourself bicycle festival held every June. I was also a volunteer coordinator for Doors Open YYC. Doors Open is a weekend when buildings all over the city “get naked” and open to the public for free, offering behind-the-scenes looks at the facilities we pass all the time but don’t have access to.

I’m very politically engaged and have had some of the best volunteer experiences of my life on political campaigns. This year during the municipal election, I tried something a bit different and worked with the CivicCamp elections forums planning group. We organized councillor forums in every ward, a mayoral forum, and forums for the public school trustee races.

From my university world, I am an external reviewer for ISEMA: Perspectives on Innovation, Science and the Environment. ISEMA is a student-run annual academic journal publishing work related to sustainability from Carleton’s School of Public Policy & Administration. 

My first (and ongoing) volunteer position upon returning to Calgary was acting as a prospect researcher for Meals on Wheels.

What to you is notable?
People who want to make their community
better, and take the action to do so.

BlackBerry, iPhone, Android, or Other?Android. Google knows everything about me. Unfortunately my Samsung Galaxy S finally gave up this fall, so I am using a previously-appreciated BlackBerry at the moment. I’ll be back soon, Google. 

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