Illustration by Christy Lundy

Continuing Education

Don't Be Boring!

7 tips to build an interesting career (and life)

By Therese Kehler; Illustration Christy Lundy

June 24, 2021 •

Zain Velji, ’10 BA, has built a career and a very busy life out of forging connections, whether as a civic activist, campaign strategist, podcaster or community volunteer.

Velji believes politics is at the heart of creating stronger communities, and he has a knack for connecting people to make that happen. 

On the politics side, he is the moderator of the popular political podcast The Strategists and was campaign manager for Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

In the community, he is city lead for the Banff Forum, a public policy organization for young leaders, vice-chair of the YMCA Calgary board of directors and president of the Canadian Children’s Book Centre. He’s also very involved in Calgary’s Ismaili community. In July 2019, he co-founded Everyone’s Canada, a national organization that celebrates diversity, pluralism and multiculturalism while fighting emerging xenophobic narratives.

Oh, and on the job he’s partner and vice-president of strategy at the digital marketing agency Northweather. 

We asked Velji, who was a 2020 Alumni Association Horizon Award recipient, to share his advice for a new grad — or anyone, really — who hopes to create a similarly stimulating life and career. 

1. Know your limitations 

Knowing your strengths is one thing, but also knowing your limitations allows you to double down on your strengths. You’ll have a sharper sense of where you can add value.

2. Generalize, don’t specialize — yet

The broader your skill set, the more unique you will be when you do hone in on a specialty. Nurture a liberal arts mindset. That is: have many interests, specialize in a few and continue to grow your knowledge base. 

3. Nothing that interests you is a waste of time

If you’re into it, it’s not a waste of time. Your interests are what make you distinctive. The more textured you are as an individual, the greater your ceiling for personal and professional success.

4. Spend time with smart people

People who are smarter than you are not your enemy nor are they to be envied. You can learn from them.

5. Don’t be boring

Boring people suck (and there are so many of them). If you want to be interesting, be interested. This applies to your own interests and to those of others. People will find you more interesting if you genuinely engage with what excites them.

6. Don’t downplay your soft skills

Knowing how to deal with people, massage conflict or ascertain intent are essential skills. Technical skills can be automated, but nothing can replace your ability to navigate people.

7. Surround yourself with diverse people

I don’t just mean people who are culturally or socio-economically different from you, though that is important. Surround yourself with people who have different ways of thinking about the world — they are the ones who will sharpen your perspective.

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