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  • Loralyn Mears, PhD

Motivation Monday: Get Your Cape on!

This article was originally published on June 24, 2019 at

In need of Monday Motivation?

Then this column is right for you. Do you lament the end of the weekend? Perhaps you dread returning to the office and slog through your Monday mornings? No worries! You just need our  Motivation Monday quick tips. Grit Daily offers an avenue to connect with others like you. We’re here to help get your work week off to a good start. Pump your fists – it’s time for Motivation Monday!

As June wraps up, so does another Pride Month of celebration. We’ve covered a couple of interesting stories but few stand out the way that today’s story does. Read on for a Motivation Monday that will have you up on your feet applauding the unexpected journey and refreshing wisdom of a woman named Zahara.


I connected with an amazing woman, Zahara Dhanani, East York Toronto’s community superhero. Friends have been shopping at her Old’s Cool General Store for the last couple of years and suggested that I check it out. “But I’m traveling light, and I don’t need anything,” I said. “Nonsense!” was the rightful retort from my bestie, Jill. She insisted that we go because the store wasn’t about shopping. Whaaat?

Zahara has zeroed in on what people are missing in their lives. Moreover, she’s nailed it. Together, she and her partner have created more than a store: they have created a movement for kindness and connectedness.

Zahara took the time out of her day to talk to me, as she does for everyone who visits her store. She is genuinely keen on learning about the people in it. And she’s happy to impart her wisdom and philosophy on those who are open to hearing it. She taps into what people need, what they’re missing and why they’re really in her store.

The ~150 nearly 5-star reviews of her store aren’t the reward she speaks of. Instead, she reflects on stories about customers. In a recent example, a young girl asked her mother to take her to the store after a bad experience with bullies. Customers come seeking solace, community, purpose, and connection. Or they come seeking a lottery ticket. But they leave with full hearts. Of course, customers also leave with armfuls of wonderful local fare ranging from homemade tapenade to insightful books and comical socks.

Everything and everyone has cracks. That’s how the light gets in – and out.” ~My own words, based on a lyric inspired by one of Canada’s greats, Leonard Cohen, from his song, “Anthem.”


If someone in the community needs a little extra to get buy, Zahara is the first to organize a pop-up bake sale. She will then donate its proceeds to the person in need. She organized a neighborhood Family Pride Parade after a few of her customers lamented on how the city’s pride parade was too big and overwhelming for their young children. Zahara listened intently when she heard about the story of an indigenous woman's childhood. That First Nations woman survived one of Canada’s darkest pages in its history, Residential Schools.  On the the day that Phyllis, as a little girl, was ripped away from her family, they also took her favorite orange shirt, too which has since spurred a national movement, Orange Shirt Day. In response, Zahara organized a local Orange Shirt Day in East York to raise awareness.


Zahara lives this philosophy out loud: this is more than Motivation Monday, it’s a daily way of life. Everything that she does requires sacrifice and effort. And some days are harder than others. However, when members of the community share their stories, it sparks that sense of purpose that fuels her.


The message here is in regards to self-healing. It’s not indulgent to take the time for self-reflection to identify patterns and unconscious biases. Au contraire! It’s essential to do so for your own health and for the sake of all humanity. Good deeds are catchy…


Social media is pretty damn good at painting a rosy picture of all things fabulous. In contrast, those moments of internal pain and suffering are drastically under-represented. Zahara insists that failing is okay. Being mediocre is okay, too. Only a handful of the luckiest of the lucky gets plucked for something extraordinary. Focus on being a good person, being good and kind to yourself and others. The “standard” that exists out there is not real. Only YOU can establish the standard that you aspire to and hold yourself accountable for.


Zahara Dhanani was born in Tanzania, East Africa and emigrated to Canada as a young child. Her family moved around from Vancouver to Edmonton until they ultimately settled in Toronto. She’s lived there ever since she attended high school. Life wasn’t easy for her. Her father was physically abusive. And, as a Canadian myself, I’m ashamed to report that kids in school bullied and beat her, too. I thought Canadian kids were better than that and embraced diversity? Life’s challenges including poverty, beauty image, racism, exclusion, misogyny and more shaped her. They made deep cuts along the way. But she refused to let labels define her path.

Inclusion isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.” ~Zahara Dhanani


She embarked on a crusade for social justice and became a grassroots activist. Hence the need for a cape! Zahara recognized early that reactionary fights accomplish little versus a calm, clear, strategic and impersonal approach to battle society’s wrongs. She graduated as an attorney and took her message of settling disputes through respectful conversation to great heights for multiple non-profit organizations.

Her positivity drew her to her life partner, Mariko Nguyen-Dhanani. And it compelled her to take a break from practicing law to do something deeply personal for the community. The idea of opening an old school general store as a gathering place for trading stories, recipes and messages of hope appealed to her. However, Mariko was not convinced. Zahara said that she had always been intuitive and spontaneous so she hesitated at first. But this vision for a meeting place was so strong that she had to pursue it, even if Markio threatened 30 days of the silent treatment! Four years later, it was clearly the right choice. Check out Old’s Cool General Store on Facebook or make a point of visiting the store in East York, Toronto.

Will I see you next week on 5th Avenue at the NYC World Pride March? I’ll be there to support all my peeps so that they can love who they love – proud of them all for being who they are.

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