Life lessons: Michelle Shephard

The Canadian investigative journalist shares words of wisdom.

Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star shares her wisdom.
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Michelle Shephard is the national security correspondent for the Toronto Star. As a journalist and author, she has won two of Canada's top journalism prizes and her latest book, Decade of Fear: Reporting from Terrorism's Zone, chronicles 10 years of stories from New York's Ground Zero, through Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, including 23 trips to the notorious detention centre Guantanamo Bay and on a "spy cruise" with former CIA directors.

1. Stress about only what you can control. Try to tell this to my brain during my 4.17am insomnia sessions, but it is a lesson I try to learn. The problems of the world will overwhelm you. Work at what you can realistically make better.

2. Healthy body, healthy mind. I have jogged the red hills in Butare, Rwanda, gone to spinning classes in Nairobi and Guantanamo Bay and done push-ups and tricep dips in my Mogadishu guesthouse. It seems indulgent, but it's the cheapest therapy you can get on the road.

3. Never forget your sun cream. I know how important this is. I knew it as a blonde, fair-skinned kid growing up in Hawaii. I knew this during my teenage years as an outdoor lifeguard. But when you're packing last-minute for Yemen, it's easy to forget the basics. Covering a four-hour midday protest on the high elevation streets of Sana'a equals wicked sunburn.

4. Never judge. The luggage we check in at the airline counter is not the only baggage journalists bring on assignments. Sometimes it takes a concerted effort to go into an interview completely open-minded, shedding past biases, perceptions or the feelings you formed from the interview an hour before.

5. You're not as smart as you think you are. This lesson comes easily to me because I usually think I'm wrong. But keeping that creeping I-know-best attitude in check is important because there's always someone who knows more than you do, and when you think you've heard it all, you stop listening.

As told to Jemma Nicholls