Matt Tod: Today’s Notable Young Professional

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Today’s Notable Young Professional is life and business mentor Matt Tod, who also works full-time as Associate Director of Training & Development at Free the Children. Here’s how he’s found the perfect balance of work and life, and what advice he would share with other young professionals…

Elevator Pitch: Describe your job in a nutshell.
I help young leaders, entrepreneurs and change-makers be their best when it matters the most.

Why did you start working at your company? What was the inspiration for this career route?
The work that I do in addition to my full-time gig at Free The Children (as their Associate Director of Training & Development) really started for me about 8 or 9 years ago. I had gotten a job right out of university but very quickly realized that I wasn’t happy, and that in order to be happy I needed to be doing something that I could really give myself to fully. When I took some time to reflect on what I needed to be happy, it came down to three things: 1. Doing work that gave me purpose and meaning 2. Working with youth (as a young person myself) 3. Being a positive role model (which not only helps others, but also keeps me accountable).

What is the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? The most challenging part?
The best part of my day to day is that I’m fully using my strengths, skills and passions in a way that, I feel, makes a positive difference in the lives of others. I get to help individuals and organizations reach toward their fullest potential. I feel pretty fortunate to be able to say that.

The most challenging part is two-fold: personally, I can get pretty engulfed in the work I do and, at times, neglect some of the important people around me. I’m working on getting better at that.

Professionally, the most challenging part can be helping people get past their limiting beliefs and old paradigms. It’s challenging to work with people who say they want to create change but aren’t willing to create the change within themselves.

What is one sign that you’ve seen over the years to suggest that your work/life balance is off?
This is something I’m extremely passionate about. I’ve spent the past year and a half really focused on getting this in control and sharing this with others. I don’t actually believe in work/life balance as much as I believe in integrating the two in a way that provides significance and sustainability. Since my son way born, I’ve had to really step back from time to time and reflect on what’s important right now, 6 months from now, a year from now, and in the future. 

Something that’s worked really well for me is getting clear on what my non-negotiables are. For example, my health and wellness are non-negotiable. I’m not willing to give up taking care of myself for anything! That might sound harsh, but what it really means is that as long as I’m making sure I’m eating well (and consistently), getting enough sleep and being physically active on a regular basis, I find that I can rock it in many other aspects of my life, including family, work, and social relationships.

Once I know what my non-negotiables are, I go through an activity every Sunday where I set up my week and prioritize those non-negotiables, create some goals, and schedule the important things into my calendar. This has quite literally changed my life! 

Where do you see yourself in five years?
It’s interesting; I did some major planning at the beginning of this year in regards to where I want to take my career, my life, and how I want to continue to build career capital. 

If I looked five years into the future, I’d likely be doing many of the same things I’m doing now but on a larger scale and with a larger team to help engage and empower more young professionals and organizations. I’m doing more coaching now so I can see myself having really built that out. I’d be continuing to speak and train individuals, companies/organizations with a focus on millennial engagement, and leadership development. I’m spending a lot more time in that area now.

What is one major challenge that you’ve had to overcome in your career? How did you overcome it?
I think one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is the feeling of being stuck. It happens on a regular basis and, at times, can be debilitating. I think a lot of young entrepreneurs feel that at some point. Often what I do when I start to feel this way is I step back from everything, sit down with a pen and my journal, and I write. I write about where I am, what’s challenging me, and why I feel this way. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back and looked at my entries and thought to myself, “Wow, I can’t believe I thought that was a problem.” Journaling has been one of the most important tools I’ve used in both my personal and professional life.

What does success look like to you? Does Money = Happiness?
I talk with people about this a lot. I think that success really has to be defined by you and by your values. To me, success means being of value to others and I often measure my success by the quality of the relationships that I have in my life.

I think that money does influence happiness, but only to a certain extent. We all know that money doesn’t buy us happiness, but it does help facilitate experiences. It can help us improve the quality of our lives and the lives of the people around us.

What is the most memorable milestone in your career?
One of the most memorable milestones has been being able to take this work internationally. I’ve had the incredible opportunity to travel and meet incredible people (with incredible stories) all around the world (from small town Ontario, to Lebanon, to Kenya)

Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
Know yourself and grow yourself.

Understanding your values, your strengths, what drives and motivates you, is so important when it comes to sustaining ourselves and thriving in our careers. Continuous learning, reading books, taking courses – do all of these things now. The skills and knowledge you develop now are going to be what sets you apart and gives you the advantage in business. Never stop learning and applying that.

Also, I think that it’s so important that we create habits and routines in our lives that focus on self-care. Often that’s the first thing to go when we get busy and we justify it by thinking that if we just get one more hour of work in that we’ll be more productive. Everything I’ve read and researched about this is telling us the opposite.

Where is your favourite place to wine/dine in your city and why?
I don’t have one favourite place but I spend a lot of time in Cabbagetown so I love Stout (on Carlton/Parliament) or House of Parliament.

When you’re not working how do you love to spend your “Me” time?
I don’t really conceptualize work time and “me” time as much as I used to. For me, learning, reading and creating is “me” time as much as it is work. When I’m not doing that, though, I love to play. Play is a huge part of what makes me happy. I love spending time with my three-year-old son, Hunter. It’s at that age where he’s really imaginative, playful, and just super fun to hang out with. I also like watching people awkwardly run across the street… 

Where is your favourite place to travel? Why?
Really depends if I’m by myself or with other people. I did an incredible train trip across Canada about five years ago that is up there with my favourites. It was amazing to see our incredible country like that. I really enjoyed travelling to Jordan, seeing Petra and floating in the Dead Sea! 

If you had to choose a theme song, what would it be?
“Hit ‘em High!” by Monstars (from the Space Jam soundtrack). Not only is that arguably the greatest rap/hip-hop compilation of all time, there’s a great story behind it when four of my friends and I did a big road trip. The end result of that trip was that I listened to that song every morning for 30 days to get me pumped up. It was weird. 

If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what would you be doing?
I have no freakin’ clue…watching a lot more Netflix maybe?

Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is that important to you?
Well, I work for Free The Children, one of North America’s largest youth-led charities and educational partners, full-time so I’m not sure if that counts or not. Other than that, I really do my best to support local organizations that work with youth. There’s such huge potential in youth and I really respect and admire those people who put all of their energy, time and passion into helping youth realize their potential. I’ve worked with a lot of really great organizations that do this so I’m hesitant to just name one.

What to you is notable?
Awareness creates choice. Choice creates change.

That’s my mantra. I think that awareness is foundational to success and happiness in life. When we become more aware of the challenges we face, we can more easily recognize the choices we have. When we take action on those choices, that’s how we create change.

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