The Intentional Life: My Toronto Blueprint

Anika Horn
8 min readMay 27, 2018

13. The number of times that I have moved countries. I some of them I found myself more often than others. Born and raised in Germany, this is what I often came back to; Australia and France always held a warm spot in my heart, others were one-offs.

Canada is a new one. When my husband first asked whether we could move to Toronto a little over a year ago, I hadn’t even visited. Over the last 14 months, we took a total of three trips to get a sense for this city with 5.5 million people, half of which aren’t even born (!) in Canada. With neighborhoods like Little Portugal, Koreatown, Corso Italia, Chinatown or Roncesvalles, we were in for a multicultural treat from the jump.

With this blank page of a new city and life in front of me, I have decided to be intentional about designing our life here and to build on my previous experiences of starting fresh.

Things that haven’t changed? My love for

  • Biking,
  • Coffee,
  • Writing,
  • Cooking,
  • Working out,
  • Connecting with people, and
  • Making a difference in this world.
Toronto Chinatown

I have put a bit of thought into what it means to settle in somewhere new and to find your groove. I started by sketching out all the things that make me feel like home, things that make me happy, give me joy and a sense of belonging. Along these four core areas of my life, I decided to dive a little deeper into why they matter and how I can put them front and center of our life here. They include:

  • House
  • Personal Life & Wellbeing
  • Community & People
  • Work

HOUSE

The most material and physical area that I associate with feeling at home anywhere. For the time being, we are renting a fully furnished house to give us some time to find somewhere to buy. Living in someone else’s house is more awkward than I remember. Back in the day of living and traveling solo, a furnished place meant a mattress on the floor and a hanging canvas shelf. Light fixtures, a TV or — heaven forbid— a functioning coffee machine were considered a luxury that you would pay premium for.

Nowadays, I have really come to appreciate having a functional kitchen that is mine; a place to chop, grind, boil and cook.

Dinner table turned desk

Workspace

Until we have a daycare solution for our five-months old, I will be doing 99% of my work from home. In this house, it means I have taken over the dining room table. With a baby, windows of opportunity to work are unpredictable and sparsely sprinkled throughout the day. So when she goes down for a nap, I need to snap into work mode instantly. I can’t do that without a dedicated work space and a ritual that gets me in the right headspace. While the current solution is far from ideal, I hope to join a coworking space such as the Centre for Social Innovation in the long run. Too bad social innovation does not yet include daycare.

PERSONAL LIFE AND WELLBEING

This area of my life is all about me me me. Me. But here’s the thing: If I’m not in a good place, I can’t give 100% in any other area of life. Which is why I need a few constants in my life that keep me grounded and happy.

Workout

Five months postpartum I fully enjoy working out again. Also, the Crossfit Regionals — qualifiers for the Crossfit Games — have been keeping me inspired and hungry for testing my limits. Add to that

a) a fitness challenge with my husband and

b) the Spartan Super in North Carolina that we signed up to run in early August.

For the next few months, I will be test-driving different workout groups in within 20 minute bike ride of our current neighborhood. Non-negotiables for a good workout group to me are:

  • Group exercise (I hate sweating by myself and love the camaraderie of workout buddies)
  • Functional fitness (being able to lift 180lbs is impressive but doesn’t help me run from a bear should I encounter one in the wild; this is Canada after all.)
  • Good music (You think I’m joking. I’m not.)
  • A healthy atmosphere (people having fun, friendly competition and encouragement)
  • Schedule (I love working out first time in the morning while everyone else is still asleep)
I have my eye on one of these beauties.

I would love to find a place that offers outside options and ensures I stay on my cardio game but that might be a lot to ask in a town that appears to be frozen over for the better part of winter.

This week, I started a 7-day trial with Philosophy Fitness and I have been getting my butt kicked — exactly what I was looking for. I, however, want to take my time and try different programs. Some seem more technical than others and I have always wondered whether I am cut out for Crossfit, so two crossfit gyms are on my list as well.

Biking

I love biking, it’s like walking only faster and much more fun. Until V is old enough to sit up comfortably I am a little constrained but I am hoping to get a cargo bike within the next four weeks so that we can hit the road together. Which brings me to my next point:

Shopping

… second-hand shopping to be precise. Let’s be honest, we consume SO. MUCH. STUFF. I love scouting second hand shops, be it at Goodwill or local consignment stores. With a little one in particular, we simply don’t have use for certain things for too long and it makes me happy to let other people enjoy our awesome baby stuff . The same holds for 2nd hand bookshops, outdoor gear, and so on. Let’s see what Toronto has to offer!

Downtown view from St Lawrence Market

Food shopping

Yes, I consider this a separate category because food matters. I’m not gonna lie. One of the appeals about moving to Canada was its French influence; if you have ever tried a croissant in the State of Virginia, you understand that the promise of a proper French pastry alone constitutes a reason to move to a more francophone environment. But I digress.

Food is a big deal to me. It wasn’t until about a year ago that I started to understand that eating well and clean is important to me. I am a sucker for farmers markets, blended juice bars, and a proper Americano. From food stalls on the streets of Nongkhai to Parisian corner stores supplying my nightly baguette and brie: exploring local food stores is one of the most insightful ways to immerse myself in a new culture.

In Toronto, my first trip to a supermarket was to Loblaws. And oh boy, was I unprepared. They have a cheese section that made my jaw drop and the Patisserie was nothing short of a macaroon fairy tale. And while a large supermarket like this is super convenient, I am curious to see what local markets and vendors I can find in the neighborhood.

Success so far:

And of course there is a long list of breweries, markets, cafes and patisseries, restaurants, bars and so on that I haven’t even started exploring. That alone should keep me busy for the next two years.

Toronto skyline from the Islands

Green spaces

I have never been intentional about finding green spaces in any city I lived in but looking back, many of my happiest living experiences were in cities that allowed me to wander through Botanic Gardens and experience parks through reading, swimming, walking, biking, hiking and picnicking.

In Toronto, I am keen to explore High Park, the Islands, Yorkville Park and Harbour Front.

PEOPLE & COMMUNITY

Settling in in a new city would be incomplete without people. I would go as far as to say that it doesn’t matter where you are in the world as long as you surround yourself with awesome people. The cities I enjoyed the least were the ones where I didn’t connect with good people. But I had the time of my life in the most random of places because I had found my tribe.

As far as Toronto goes, I am making a conscious effort to meet good people. To me that means leaving my reservations at the door, chat to people and be generally open to conversation and adventure. In short, I want to leave my comfort zone and show my true self to genuinely connect with people I meet. Which ties perfectly to the fourth element of this episode of Designing my happy life anywhere:

WORK

The people I meet through my work usually turn out to be my cup of tea. We all connect over the idea that business can be a force for good and that social entrepreneurship is a powerful tool to make the world into one that we want to live in. Over the years, I have become friends with many of the entrepreneurs and ecosystem builders that I got to work with. Turns out, if your values align, you have a lot to talk about and connect over.

Sunset Toronto downtown

In Toronto, I am particularly excited to learn about the Ontario social enterprise landscape. I want to interview support organizations for purpose-driven entrepreneurs and feature them on Social Venturers. I am keen to find out what models local social entrepreneurs deploy to be profitable and make an impact at the same time. I want to meet the entrepreneurs themselves, find out what they care about, what drives them, what their challenges are.Where do they see the purpose-driven economy in Canada in fifteen years? What do policy makers think? Who is driving the social innovation and enterprise train in Ontario and who are the most interesting passengers?

I can’t wait to start finding answers to my questions and see what wood social entrepreneurs and B Corps are cut from around here!

Starting points include MaRS Discovery District, Centre for Social Innovation and B Lab Canada. If you happen to know anyone in the social enterprise space in Toronto or Ontario — drop me a line!

Wherever you are…

This has been a fun exercise. And even if you’re not moving anywhere anytime soon, sitting back and creating a list of your non-negotiables for a lifestyle that makes you happy and fulfilled is a great deep-dive in itself. Are you spending your time on the things you value the most? Are you pursuing the things that genuinely make you happy? Do you KNOW what makes you happy?

Maybe hitting the pause button for fifteen minutes and asking yourself these questions allows you to see where you are from a new perspective. Remember, you are in charge of what your life looks like. And if you don’t like what you’re seeing, you can change that starting right now.

Learn more about my work and story on www.anikahorn.com

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Anika Horn

Ecosystem builder for social change. Founder at www.socialventurers.com Meet me over at www.anikahorn.com for all things social enterprise!