Millennial Spotlight with Kami

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Painting at JJ Bean Coffee Roasters, Toronto

10-min read

Kamelia Valkova (@thefungalnaturalist | LinkedIn: Kamelia Valkova)
Age: 26 | Profession: Nature Clubs Coordinator & Naturalist Teacher

Kami is an ambitious millennial that has a fiery, unstoppable drive within her to be a better person then she was yesterday. She is an extroverted, social butterfly with many interests. At the moment, she is enjoying her career after finishing an intensive research Masters of Education (amazing!). You can find her hiking at work, spending time with friends, rock climbing, and painting, reading or writing at a cafe.

Read more about Kami and her thoughts on our generation in today’s Millennial Spotlight.

Please Note
Answers provided by the participant in this interview are paraphrased.
All people mentioned in this post have agreed to use their names.

Kami, do you think you have any traits that you might share with other millennials?
First, I think of two traits: adaptability and creativity.

As a millennial, I need to be adaptable for the job market. For example, I think of networking as a valuable skill, so I actively go out and cultivate that. Networking helps me to find out more about what other people are doing. If they are a person that has a position that I am interested in learning more about, then I can pick their brain about how to get to where they are. I like having quality conversations with people and hearing what they have to say. People will very rarely say no when I reach out to them because generally I think that people love talking about themselves; that is to say, the things they are most passionate about. I will cold call people and they will usually be really open to meeting with me. It gives me, someone who is starting their career, an idea about how to cultivate it. I think, what’s the worst that can happen? People you contact can say no or not respond to you, but it’s not a big deal. It’s easy to see networking in a negative light as if it’s another obstacle, a hoop I have to jump through, but if you flip that script around and realize that it’s important and that you can use it to your advantage then you can really make it work for you.

For creativity, I think about making my cover letter and resume stand out so that I make myself stand out as well. Not only a cover letter and resume, but I think making a Linked In page, and working on a website that I want to launch, is creative in the sense that I will really put a stamp on my little corner of the internet. I’ll be like, “Here’s me!” Working on these things is a nice way to connect with people and share what I’m passionate for with others.

Then I also think about being eager and patient. I am doing my best to live in the moment while still investing in the future, so there’s a fine line there that balances both being eager and patient. I know that I am more than capable of freelancing my work or running my own business but I have a lot of learning to do. I am getting the most out of my job and really putting my all into it by doing the most learning I can there, but I am still on the look out for furthering where I am in my career. That’s where the eagerness comes in. Let’s say I decided to run my own business – it needs to wait because I still have a ways to go to get there, but in the meantime I need to put in effort to get to that point and not just sit on my ass and wait for something to happen. My partner and I want to move in together, so once that happens for us I will get to see him more often which will give me more time to volunteer, for example, and work towards growing my skills. Right now I really enjoy where I live in Deer Park with one of my oldest friends, and I’m just grateful for what this past year has afforded me in terms of personal growth.

That’s really interesting that you talk about CV’s, resumes and Linked In so passionately. I’m just wondering, why is that at the forefront of your mind?
My career is very important to me, and I am passionate about the things that I do. Your CV, resume, and Linked In are good tools to help you further your career. Since I am at the beginning of my career, I need to use these things to my advantage to help me stand out and represent myself in an accurate way. When you’re applying to jobs, you really need to put in effort and know what you want to gain. My strategy was not to apply to a lot of jobs, but apply to a few and put a lot of effort into them. I would do research on the company, tailor my cover letter, and really show that I’m passionate about the job for each application.

One of my first steps when I look for a job is to write down what I want out of it and what characteristics I want in a job to help narrow down my search. I have to strike a balance between applying to a few jobs and investing a lot of effort into those, but also not limiting myself to new opportunities that may not have the exact qualities I’m looking for. I spent time researching companies and even reading things like their annual reports, but there were jobs, like government jobs, that I didn’t even get a response for. With my current work, I started first as part-time, worked my way to temporary full-time, then I was offered a full-time position.

Another thing I did was join a Facebook Group called “Emerging Leaders in Biodiversity“. I sought out opportunities to further my knowledge of how to apply to jobs by going to one of their workshops to learn about job applications specific to the environmental field. Through that workshop, I furthered my knowledge of how to develop a resume that would really stand out. For example, one of the things I think really stands out is stating a quality about yourself and giving real examples to back that up. If you are saying that you are a team player, back that up with a real example from a past experience that demonstrates that. To me, being a team player means being flexible in the sense that sometimes you need to be a leader, work with people equally, or take a step back. I came up with a snappy way to say it – “I step up, step in, or step back”. This is really about self-awareness, and knowing your fluctuating role on a team. In an interview, I can speak clearly about myself and the skills that I have, but at the same time I have to get to that interview stage through my application first. The interviewers need a good reason to interview me!

I like your proactive attitude towards job hunting! Is this attitude necessary when you already have a secure job?
I’ve only recently been applying to jobs, and it’s something that I’m obviously not going to be finished with any time soon because I am going to be continuing my career for the rest of my life. I’m happy with the job I have now, but I just feel like sharing job advice because it served me so well and it’s something I think others would find valuable. I know it’s easy to get discouraged when job hunting because I’ve been there. I feel like this advice is universal in the sense that everyone can relate to this experience. I met up with someone recently who said that this information was really helpful for her. I know this is an intimidating thing to talk about, but I feel like if I’m going to be making these career tools work for me, then I’m going to do it really well.

What exactly do you do for work? And do you think your work experience relates to millennials in any way?
I work for the High Park Nature Centre which is a not-for-profit organization that connects people to the natural world in High Park, Toronto. I am really grateful for the friendships that this job has allowed me and grateful that it is a permanent position in a job market where many millennials struggle with having contract work or unpaid positions. What I personally value about the job is that everyday is different and I have a lot of freedom in how I teach. One of the things I think relates to millennials is that I put on a variety of hats meaning that I do many different things in my day-to-day work. This may be the nature of being a part of a not-for-profit where I am filling different roles when I am needed for the ultimate good of the organization.

There is true humanity with my place of work as everyone is really understanding if anyone is having a tough day or needs help. As someone who has experienced depression and anxiety, I feel a lot of support emotionally from my co-workers. My co-workers and I are open about our struggles – to the extent that we want to be – and open about how we want to be supported whether that be by a hug, words of affirmation, a lighter workload, talking, etc. This really connects to millennials because mental illness is something that relates to a lot of this generation and I think I have a work environment that is helpful in that way. It makes me think of other work places that might not be this way.

Would you have anything to say to millennials who may not be a work environment that is supportive when it comes to struggling with mental health?
I hope that for people who are reading who may be in a situation where they don’t feel adequately supported at work or whatever they are doing, that they find a way to open up about it and share how they are feeling. You may also want to consider finding a new place of work, if you have the ability, that is in your best interest if you have already tried working things out with your job but still don’t feel supported.

I feel that mental health in the millennial generation is a pretty prominent topic. What other perceptions might people have when they think of millennials? Would you agree or disagree?
It really depends on who you ask, but the two sorts of camps are the grumpy “millennials are lazy” one, and the one that recognizes the challenges that millennials face and appreciates how they rise up to respond to those challenges. I feel like it’s comparing apples and oranges in a lot of ways when you compare millennials to other generations because we are growing up in a completely different world. There are facets of our society that we are born into and just need to respond to. I just need to worry about myself and how I control going about my career and living a life that I enjoy and am proud of. Based on feedback from my friends, I am really good at motivating others to live their best lives through meetings like this for example.

I definitely don’t agree that millennials are lazy. Like yes, some people are lazy, but it’s not appropriate to apply that idea to an entire generation. It’s a blanket statement, and a little reductionist to say this.

As a fellow millennial, what does a typical day in the life of Kami look like?
There is usually a lot to balance. A typical day is heading out to the subway with a coffee in hand and lunch packed in my bag. That is literally how everyday starts when I go to work. When I am at work, I am off to the races answering emails, making a plan for the day, and checking in with co-workers about our schedule. My day involves teaching clubs or school trips with kids of all ages. I also coordinate nature clubs so you can find me intermittently throughout the day planning to teach sessions, making teaching materials (i.e. I recently made a giant mail box for a young kids’ club), checking in with staff and volunteers, and making coffee or tea in the kitchen. I usually take an occasional nature walk by myself or with co-workers. Since we are teaching people about the park, it is valuable to experience it firsthand and observe what is going on.

After work, you can usually find me heading home to my basement apartment which I share with my friend and roommate Katia. My evenings might see me making dinner or heading out to get dinner and catch up with friends, painting with watercolours, watching Netflix, reading books for my book club, or heading out to my parents’ house to pay them a visit.

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Painting with watercolours

My weekends are pretty exclusively dedicated to visiting or being visited by my boyfriend Alex, who currently lives in Burlington. Our weekends often include afternoon walks, visits to second-hand bookshops, coffee dates, meeting up with friends, or perhaps a trip to the ROM. I think that generally summarizes what a typical day looks like for me during the day, in the evening, or on the weekend.

I’m curious, what book are you reading? And what was last on your Netflix?
Right now, I’m reading a book for my nature book club. It’s called ‘An Enduring Wilderness: Toronto’s Natural Parklands‘ by Robert Burley. It’s about the history of parks in Toronto. In my personal time I was reading ‘My Sister, The Serial Killer‘ by Oyinkan Braithwaite. It’s basically about a woman who helps her sister clean up her crimes as a serial killer. The book is set in Nigeria and is written by a Nigerian author. It was the title and cover that drew me in, but it was definitely a big bonus to read a cool book from a diverse perspective and voice.

Alex and I just finished watching Brooklyn Nine Nine on Netflix, and now we’re really sad because we need to find a new show to watch.

It seems like you are very passionate for many things! You also recently started to build a website. Can you tell me about what made you interested in doing so, and what this website might look like?
My website is in its very nascent stages. I am working on it more so I can launch it soon. I have the domain name and everything! The real name is The Fungal Naturalist, which is a play on the words “The Fun Gal Naturalist” because I am a fun gal who is a naturalist but I also particularly like fungi. The main thing about the website is that I’d like for it to be an online presence that represents the things that I am interested in. It would be a nice thing to include on a resume – sort of like an extension of my resume that someone can interact with. It would be a place to showcase things I’m interested in like things from my nature journal, thoughts on books, and potentially something like interviewing people I find interesting sort of as you are doing in Toronto Millennial.

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An excerpt of Kami’s nature journal

Curating a blog would be the main purpose of the website. A second thing is that it’s a little bonus resume. In the future, it would be an opportunity to outline some freelance work or collaborate with people on projects. It may start with a nature theme but other things that I am interested in would end up on there, such as painting or rock climbing. Right now my job is as a naturalist, so it just makes sense as something that I enjoy doing for work – but no matter where I’m working, I would like to continue my passion for nature.

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Finally, what are some of the main thoughts/concerns on your mind right now?
Rent is expensive. It is really challenging to conceptualize renting in Toronto in the long-term. My partner and I are looking forward to finally living together after 7 years of being together, and we are in the process of developing plans for purchasing a home. Once we live together, it will be easier to make those plans and put that into action. Perhaps we will be open to living somewhere that isn’t in Toronto in the future. Right now, this is where we want to be because Toronto is exciting and we have many friends here, so we are trying to make this work but we are also open to living outside of Toronto.

Well, those are all the questions I have for you. Thank you so much for chatting with me! I want to do something new at the end of Millennial Spotlights, which is to end the interviews on a positive note. Do you have any final, positive thoughts to share with readers?
I would say not to give up. I was recently having a conversation with someone who was older than me and they asked me what my end game was, and to me that just seemed like that’s not what I’m about. I’m just going to keep doing things I love to do. The way I got to where I am now is saying ‘yes’ to the things that I love. I think about what I like, and what I want to keep around. If I don’t like something then I get rid of it in my life. There are only so many hours in a day that I might as well make them hours that I have something to show for, something that I enjoyed, and something that will be a positive memory.

1 Comment

  1. Frankus1122 January 28, 2019 / 10:48 pm

    That was wonderful.
    I was Kami’s grade 7 teacher. It is great to see that she still has the passion for life I saw all those years ago.

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