Changing styles: Why design entrepreneur Cobi Ladner pursued teaching.

By: Matthew McGrath

The first day of school

It’s early September at the Humber College Lakeshore campus. School has just begun. In room B301 of the B building, a diverse group of 28 young men and women are waiting for their research class to begin.

It’s the end of their first week of the Professional Writing and Communications program. It’s a program they all hope will teach them essential communications skills and help them jumpstart their careers.

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Humber College Lakeshore campus.

At 12:35 pm, a confident, 6-foot tall, red haired woman walks into the classroom. Suddenly, all eyes are on her.

“Hi everyone, my name is Cobi Ladner and I’ll be your instructor for this course,” she says. “Now since this is a research class, why don’t you learn more about me by looking up my name on Google? Just shout out some facts about me.”

Fingertips descend upon keyboards; eyes scan webpages; one hand shoots up.

“You were the editor of Canadian House and Home magazine,” says one student.

A young woman at the back of the class also raises her hand: “It says here you have a degree from Ryerson University in Radio and Television.”

Ladner nods.

A young man at the front of the class pulls up the website Cobistyle on his computer screen, Ladner’s lifestyle brand and company.

The class continues to list off Ladner’s resume. But there’s one thing they won’t find about her on the Internet: Today is her first day as a teacher.

Like the students she is about to teach, Ladner is beginning a new chapter of her life. Over the course of her 26-year career, she has learned that you’re never too old to try something new.

H&H and Cobistyle

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An issue of H&H Magazine published the year Ladner left the organization.

 

Ladner’s first major challenge came in 1990 when she joined Canadian House and Home Magazine as its design editor. At the time, the modest magazine sported an editorial team of five people and a readership of 600,000.

It was a respectable organization, but it wasn’t getting much public attention.

Within three years, Ladner was promoted to editor-in-chief of the magazine and, over the course of 15 years, she grew the magazine into one of the top five monthly publications in Canada with a circulation of 2.5 million readers.

In 2008, Ladner left H&H to pursue another personal challenge – building her own brand. Using her status as one of the top décor experts in Canada, Ladner launched Cobistyle, her own website, blog, business and décor brand.

With Cobistyle, Ladner has been building and pursuing her vision for eight years. But in 2015, she found she was not fully satisfied with the venture.

The problem with having a vision is that you often have to rely on other people to execute it. And when you have to compromise that vision to get something done, what do you do?

“The vision that I bring to something ends up very watered down by the time it actually comes out the other end,” says Ladner. “I get paid for my work, but I’m not getting a lot back in any way other than monetarily. It’s a bit of a grind.”

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Cobistyle: Ladner’s personal brand and company she established in 2008.

A change in direction

Ladner asked friends and family for advice. The consensus was – if it’s not making you happy, then why are you doing it? Try something new.

So she did.

“What can I do that would honour all this work that I had done over my career?” says Ladner. “I thought about the idea of teaching.”

Not accustomed to the world of post-secondary education, Ladner researched local educational institutions and sent out her resume (the first resume she had created in 26 years) to several schools. Humber College was the first to respond.

Ladner has been teaching since September 2016. In that time, she has taught classes such as research and project management at Humber College.

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Teaching has presented her with a whole new set of challenges. Everyday, just like her students, she is learning something new.

The biggest lesson she’s learned, and a challenge she is still trying to overcome, is how to present the material she’s teaching in an engaging way.

“I think if you’re a really skilled teacher who’s been a professor your whole life, you can take on a course that’s outside of your expertise,” says Ladner. “That is an art and a profession in and of itself, and I’ve got to give myself a bit of time on that.”

But Ladner is the first person to admit she can be impatient. She’s still trying to find her perfect fit: a course that is within her professional field, so she can pass on what she’s learned during her career to her students.

Learning how to do this

Back in room B301, Ladner approaches the podium, turns on the overhead projector and displays her PowerPoint presentation.

This one-hour lecture has taken her hours of work to prepare (something she still finds unbelievable).

“All right guys, today we are going to learn how to make a preliminary research report.”

The class sits back and listens.

Ladner is still unsure if she will pursue this career choice. She’s weighing her options and will make a decision at the end of the semester.

“I’ve found it challenging but not in a bad way, I think I would be bored if it wasn’t challenging. As I go, I’m just learning how to do this.”

Nothing beats the classics: Writing with a pen and paper

In this digital age, many people still have a nostalgia for physical media. They want that tactile experience. Hardcore music fans prefer to listen to a vinyl record instead of a MP3 on their mobile device. Book lovers crave the experience of picking a book off their shelves, opening it up and turning the pages, instead of reading it off a tablet.

I’m one of these people too. I like books on my shelf, records on my turn table and a pen in my hand.

For me, when I’m writing, nothing beats the pen and paper. This is especially true when I’m working through ideas for my next article or blog post. Brainstorming on a Word document just doesn’t work for me, no matter how hard I try.

When I’m brainstorming ideas, I will go through pages upon pages writing out whatever ideas come into my head. Typically, only a couple of those ideas will be used in my article, but they’re enough to propel me through the writing process.

I’m not sure why, but ideas just flow out of me when I write with a pen and paper. I’m a pretty erratic, non-linear thinker. The freedom and flexibility that a pen and paper allow may just be better suited for capturing my chaotic thought pattern.

When my thoughts become more ordered, linear and concrete, then I can get in front of my computer and begin to write a structured article.

There’s a special quality about the pen and paper that a screen and keyboard just can’t replicate. It’s a siphon for creativity and ideas we didn’t even think we had.

The computer is integral to writing out the final article, but for me, if it wasn’t for the pen and paper, the idea for that article would never exist.

Letting it go

The deadline is in 15 minutes. My dog is standing behind me, whining, waiting for me to take him out. In the dining room, my girlfriend is asking me when I’m going to come and sit down for dinner. For the last hour, I’ve been in front of my computer, editing the article I’m writing. It’s almost done, but not quite yet. It just needs one more edit.

Soon after that “final” edit, I take another 5 minutes to edit it again. And then again, and again.

I’ve always found finishing an assignment harder than beginning one. I’m good at starting an article well ahead of its deadline. My research, interviews, transcripts and notes are all finished well before I’m ready to sit down and write it out.

The process of writing can sometimes be slow and laborious for me, but I give myself plenty of time to think through the article and write out a first draft I am comfortable with.

For me, writing is a relatively smooth process. But as the deadline approaches, my stress and anxiety levels skyrocket. It needs to be perfect when I send it in. No typos, no anecdotes or pieces of evidence missing. Perfect.

Inevitably, an article that should have been finished well before the deadline is now being sent in with a couple of seconds to spare.

I’m relatively new to the field of writing. Letting go of an assignment and making peace with the fact that an article won’t be 100 per cent perfect is something I am still struggling with. But day by day, article by article, I’m slowly learning to let it go.

I finally send in the article I’ve been trying to finish for the last hour. I submit it to my instructor, take my dog outside and have dinner with my girlfriend.

A few days later, I get the assignment back. I see that I’ve lost one point because I spelled “of” instead of “off.” But you know what? I still received a great mark. One mistake isn’t the end of the world.

Mistakes happen. Things will always slip through the cracks. That’s why we have editors to catch these little typos when they make it past the writer’s radar.

Next time, I tell myself, I’ll do a few edits and then send it in. When the next deadline comes around again, I hand it in with 5 minutes to spare. Slowly but surely, I’m learning to let it go.