Careers 101: Navigating Downtown Toronto Like a Boss

First things first, congratulations! Maybe you just landed a position at a company after months of balancing your studying with intensive interviews and last-minute cover letter revisions, or maybe you’re still going through that process. Regardless of where you’re at, you should feel proud of yourself. You’re essentially putting yourself through this time-consuming and emotionally draining process so that you can take the next steps towards finding your dream career or discovering what it is you want, and that deserves celebrating. 

I’ve been at my co-op placement in Downtown Toronto for about two months now and let me tell you, this is where the real journey begins. By that I mean, learning how to navigate work-life is a whole different experience than learning how to conduct the perfect interview. I read so many guides and books to try to prepare me for my work term, but there are definitely some things that the authors, and other people, did not expand upon. After going through two different internships, here are a couple random pearls of wisdom I picked up that are specifically catered to working in Downtown Toronto. 

1. The commute is like the present you don’t want.

When you open a present, you don’t know what goodies to expect. That is the perfect description of Toronto transit, except it’s less of a cute holiday present and more of a lottery draw - you never know what to expect. You’ve probably heard all the horror stories about the transit system in Toronto, and I’m here to confirm that all of that is indeed true. But get this, it’s so unpredictable that you can’t even pinpoint which transit method is better. Last year, it would take me 45 minutes just to get through three subway stations but all my fellow co-workers that used the GO trains would rave about how smooth the commute was for them. This year, it’s vice versa. There are almost no delays on the main TTC subway lines (good job TTC!), but GO train customers are now suffering. Always plan to arrive extra early in the first week of work, so you can gauge what the transit system is like and if there are frequent delays. From there, you can plan the rest of your commute schedules accordingly to avoid being late for work.

2. Google Maps is useless for certain areas and hours.

I’m someone who has never been good at directions. I’m in my third year of university and somehow, I still get lost on my tiny campus from time to time. So that naturally makes Google Maps my ultimate best friend and number one support system. Unfortunately, even your best friends cannot be there for you every minute of the day since they also have lives, and Google is no different. For some reason, around peak hours like lunchtime or in busy sections like the Financial District, Google Maps just doesn’t cooperate. You’ll be following your GPS and suddenly end up in China because of the low navigational accuracy during those times. So, if you’re also directionally challenged, know your streets and screenshot the map routes ahead of time as a precautionary measure!

3. Use the underground paths!

Almost everyone who works in Toronto knows about the famous pathways you can take indoors to get almost everywhere (except me, because as I mentioned before, I am directionally challenged). If you’re working in the Bay area, the chances of you getting from one company to another company to a food court and mall are quite high! Definitely take advantage of these pathways if you can, it’s a convenient way to avoid the cold weather in the winter and it can probably save you a significant amount of time versus if you were to walk outdoors. 

4. There’s an abundance of apps for ordering lunch.

In our generation especially, it seems like we have more commitments than we have time for. Whether it be off-campus clubs, workshops or trying to exercise, biting off more than we can chew has now become our daily routine and our work-life balance has become more work and less life. Luckily for us (but not our bank accounts) a lot of businesses have capitalized on this by reducing our cooking time to zero. There are so many apps out there for ordering lunch, all of which are designed to help reduce wait times and increase options. This is amazing for anyone working in Downtown Toronto since everything is in such close proximity to each other you can get your lunch in just a couple of minutes! “Ritual” and “MealPal” are some of the apps that come to mind, but they are definitely not the only ones. If you’re going to be picking up food in the underground pathways, I recommend going early in case you get lost.

5. Toronto is the city that never sleeps.

It always surprises me how Toronto is becoming more like New York City every single day. We may not have the iconic yellow taxis or Central Park, but we have annoying traffic jams, financial districts and an overload of people who can magically drink coffee and rush to work at the same time. Both cities also always have something going on. Whether it be a free astrology workshop, a new bubble tea innovation bar, a luxurious spin studio offering rider deals or the opening of an Instagram-worthy art installation, there is always something going on in Toronto. It’s one of my favourite things about this city - you can never get bored. So if you’re working in Toronto, take advantage of everything the city has to offer! Even if you don’t have much time after work, you can still explore some cool places nearby during your lunch break.

6. Bathroom counters are evil!

Let’s keep this one simple: Whatever you do, do not lean against the sink counter when you are washing your hands in the restrooms. Just trust me on this one. Unless you want the front of your pants to be soaked and have to walk back to your desk like that (it sucks even more if your pants are light-coloured). This somehow happens everywhere, especially at the workplace. Just don’t.

7. Get used to commuting in the dark.

I hate walking in the dark, it’s probably one of my top phobias. Sunsets are one of my favourite things in the world, but once the sun is finished setting, you will almost never catch me outside. If you do, I’ve probably begged one of my friends to walk with me. But depending on your industry and work hours, it’s very possible that you may have to work overtime. We make the necessary sacrifices needed in our jobs, but because of that, you’ll probably need to get comfortable with walking or commuting alone in the darkness. If this freaks you out, have a friend or family member you can call. Just having someone (or a voicemail) to talk to can really calm you down and make you feel more comfortable!

8. Slow walkers will become the death of you!

Back at Laurier, slow walkers didn’t really annoy me much. There didn’t seem to be many and I liked the brisk walk to campus, especially during the summer. But let me tell you, when you’re put onto narrow and cramped sidewalks with way too many bustling pedestrians, it won’t take long for you to change your mind about that. Especially because most people (including you) are rushing somewhere - whether it be catching the last GO bus or trying to get to work on time. So I recommend trying to get to work earlier in order to get some peace of mind. 

All in all, I hope my light-hearted tidbits can help you navigate the city a little bit better. Toronto has so much to offer and it really is such a vivid and beautiful place to work in, so I hope you love it as much as I do. And don’t stress about your job, it might be the beginning of your journey but it’s a pretty wild adventure so just enjoy the ride. You also get to walk around the streets of Toronto like you’re in the cast of Suits, so that’s always a plus!