A New Reality

On to the next one.

As always in life, a lot is always changing; forever moving and evolving. In the last two and a half-ish years, I’ve evolved almost into an entirely new person. Much like my personal website summarizes: I define myself as a productive rebel. Meaning, I am part of a group of change makers who challenge the status quo and have an action plan for change.

This is my story towards productive rebellion.

Act 1: The Matrix & Law School

In May of 2011, I was sitting in my family home of Brossard — a suburban town on the south shore of beautiful Montreal. A week prior to returning to the town reminiscent of the American Dream, I had just finished my final exam at the University of Toronto. I was a war-torn soldier, in the intellectual sense. Three years of studying philosophy and politics was the equivalent of enduring neuro-psychological Chinese water torture. Let me explain: Learning that we as human beings really know nothing and that the world we live in may really just be a perception created by a small man living in our brains (I’m not making this up) — simply f*cked me up. Or my personal favourite, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, which recounts the story of a man in a cave who is convinced the shadows on the wall are ‘real’, until he crawls out of his cave into the world, which contains a burning Sun and bountiful amounts of colour. He discovered that his entire life was a God damn misperception and ultimately, a lie.

The scariest part, I realized? We are all living in this cave. Everyone holds core beliefs they believe to be ‘true’ but at any given moment we can realize that we were simply wrong. This really turned my brain into scrambled eggs. How could I ever have an opinion on something, knowing that I was probably just an asshole preaching about my own shadows?

Looking back at it, each summer I would come home to Montreal to work, I probably seemed more and more insane to my friends. I was questioning everything, challenging everyone on their beliefs and curious to dive deeper into understanding if I was really just living in a matrix. I probably came off as a prototypical obnoxious and entitled arts student but I was really taking intellectual LSD, so give me a break.

Anyways. Let’s get back to me sitting on my couch on the humid May afternoon, slouched over and in my boxers. I was getting more and more depressed because my fast-paced life of living in Toronto with some of the coolest human beings I had ever met, had come to an abrupt end. It was back to the childhood bedroom and lifestyle. Things were getting worse because I had hedged my future on law school and a few had already rejected me. What happens if I don’t do law, I thought? Well that fear was quickly quashed when I received an email from Université Laval, telling me I had been accepted into their program.

I don’t quite remember my reaction, but I remember trembling with happiness and doing a fist pump on my couch. I wish I had the video so I could laugh at myself. I had won.

Or so I thought.

Attending ULaval meant I would need to move yet again but to a much smaller and more francophone Quebec City. My only experience of Quebec came from my visit in 2008 on St-Jean Baptiste Day, where me, my brother and friends drove up to celebrate our fête nationale. My brother, Osman Haque projectile vomited (sorry bro) on the historic walls of the beautiful city, so all in all, I was alright with the town.

Quebec City. So Beautiful. So Cold.

Overall I was fearful since I would yet again be leaving my family and friends and I knew I would need to learn law in another language. But I love embracing this type sensation of fear and going all-in when it hits me. It usually means I’m about to evolve by falling and scraping my knees and getting back up ten times stronger to try again. Yes, it’s painful. But so are the most beautiful things in life.

Poetry aside, law school was a massive knee scraping but maybe for unusual reasons. I thought it would provide an exponential increase on the intellectual stimulation I had received in Toronto but I quickly realized I was studying something more akin to trade school. Let me explain: the Province of Quebec is a mixed legal system that is legislated under the powers of the Quebec Civil Code (or the Cee Cee Cue for my law amigos) and a form of Common Law. Canada, which holds administrative dominion over the province (I’m a staunch nationalist so easy with the jimmy rustling there) operates exclusively under the powers of Common Law. In short, Quebec developed a succinct computer algorithm for it’s legalese, while Canada allows its laws to live in a more abstract ocean of jurisprudential decisions.

Unravelling the computer algorithm that is the Quebec Civil Code is perhaps one of the most tedious and un-rewarding exercises known to man. Law exams are literally a less attractive and more mundane version of IFTTT. Wtf does that mean? Here’s a quick example: Did a fruit from your tree on your land fall onto your neighbour’s land? Did he come and eat it or claim it as his own? How to resolve such a riveting issue? Well turn to the property law section and, much like a priest, recite section 931. If it involves a more complex issue that seems like a grey area, you probably just need to cite another section of law, and if you’re feeling really crazy, cite a small passage of a decision.

Yes, I’m salty. And, as you can guess, this journey into this binary and static world of law did not make me question my province, my country or myself. I was literally being buried into one of Plato’s caves and carving out my destiny as the dumber version of the IBM Watson for Law. Which is actually being built right now. Start swimming faster, my lawyer amigos.

I (foolishly) thought transferring back to Montreal to pursue my studies would lead to a better outcome. Wrong. What did indeed inspire me was a fresh start and the introduction to the McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship.

IBM Research’s Watson, Absolutely Crushing Top Jeopardy Opponents.

Act 2: Acceptance, Igloos and Renaissance

By transferring back to Montreal, I decided to also take a chance and send out an application to McGill for their Graduate Management and Entrepreneurship program. Best decision of my life (so far). I was accepted and started off by taking one math class, in rotation with my full-time legal studies.

I leveraged my student ID Card and number, which allowed me to trojan-horse my way into the walls of the university and start exploring the stimulating environment reminiscent of UofT. I learned of an entrepreneurship program being run in tandem with MIT and that students with business ideas could apply, pitch and get a chance to build their dream.

Holy shit, right?

I started recruiting a team to pitch an insane idea.

We got crushed.

What an enlightening moment. To want something so bad, and just realize how far I was from even being close to achieving it. I started browsing the web to see what I could do better. That’s where I first saw Thibaud Marechal, part of the first-ever cohort from Canada, who had built his idea Uniiv, the summer prior to this. I watched him pitch, looking for inspiration and motivation. And as he now knows, I wondered how the f*ck he and his idea made it through. Sorry ValentineDessertenne and Toby Lorne, I loved the hustle and team, just from an outside perspective — I mean wtf? It’s ok though, I didn’t even get to go. As a matter of fact, I had to fly out to London that summer since I had trouble finding work in Montreal. Joke’s on me.

Despite being crushed, I was motivated. I joined the McGill Dobson Centre as an ambassador and started hustling. I was invited to help assist with the pitches at the McGill Dobson Cup — a sort of Dragon’s Den for McGill entrepreneurs.

This changed my life. It’s where I first saw Margaret of ANANDA pitch her heart out to the judges. Her idea blew me away. She was working on a nano-device that made drug discovery faster and cheaper. She showed a diagram of how, with her device, neurons in the spine could start reconnecting. I had an adrenaline rush and my heart was fluttering. I was in love with this technology and with entrepreneurship. In fact, I was in love with the knowledge that someone was attempting to pursue their dream and make the world a better place. Lol don’t care if that’s cliche.

My next decision would change my life forever, and ultimately lead me to the world of Virtual Reality, San Francisco and Arctic Bacteria.

My complete story, Act’s 3 and 4 will be published soon. Sit tight for more.