A couple weeks ago, I was asked to speak at a local high school as it celebrated Women’s History Month. I was so impressed by these Eastwood Collegiate students, who took the time and effort to research different women throughout history who were empowered to make a difference not only for themselves, but for so many of us, and decades later.
It’s hard to think of June graduations amidst a mid-April ice storm, but they will be here before we know it. And another batch of young people will be setting out on their heart-led pursuits to uncover their gifts and find ways to let their lights shine. My hope, as I shared in my speech, was to inspire these young women and men to use their voices more. Because the world needs all of them. Here’s how I addressed those bright young Eastwood students:
“I grew up in Waterloo, about 10 kms from here. At WCI, my Politics teacher, Mr. Pavey, made me – and everyone in class – feel like we could make a difference. That was my goal. So after graduating from Political Science at U of W, I headed to Ottawa, to do just that.
I landed a job working with the federal government – well, first I landed a job at a shoe store, but then I landed a job working at Foreign Affairs. It was software testing – completely outside my field – and supposed to last for only two weeks. It lasted 3 months, and then I found another job at Industry Canada.
Now Ottawa’s a beautiful city, but I had such a hard time appreciating it back then because I was so gripped with inner turmoil. I remember sitting alone in cafes, writing in my journal – what do I want to do with my life?! And feeling so devoured and defeated by that question – not realizing the answer was starring me right in the face.
It was about writing. It’s always been about writing.
It took me a long time to see that. Why? For the longest time, I didn’t give that gift the credit it deserved. Do you ever do this?
So there I was…a student, like you, in high school, and while I found some subjects challenging, English always came easy. I’m sure there are subjects that come easy to you too.
Back then, I’d (wrongly) say to myself, “I’m not going to study that – it’s English!” And when I’d get 80s and 90s in English or Writers Craft classes, again, I’d (wrongly) discount my mark.
I didn’t give that gift the credit it deserved. Others saw it – my teachers saw it, thankfully. This is a card I received 28 years ago – from my English teacher, Mrs. Carter. She entered my writing into a competition, because unlike me, she could see my gifts.
Here’s what it says…
When I look back, there’s a writing-themed breadcrumb trail all throughout my journey. I just didn’t see it.
After Ottawa, I came back to KW feeling two things: one, I wanted to write a book but had no idea what to write about. Two, I felt pretty passionately about young people in the workplace. I wanted more employers to give us a chance.
One day, I sat down and in 45 minutes, pounded out something on the computer and mailed it to the Record. Three days later, an editor called me. She wanted to print my rambling into an article. She thought more people needed to hear about how an “energetic grad dreamed of changing the world until she bumped into corporate disinterest.”
Do you know what happened after it was printed? A bunch of companies contacted me about working for them. That’s how I landed my first role in Communications – 18 years ago.
So I took the job. And I kept writing. And I wrote more articles for the Record. A series here, a couple year-long columns there. I went back to school, to Ryerson for Journalism to hone my craft. And I kept on writing. I wrote for magazines and newspapers – I was even a restaurant reviewer – and all the while working in Communications roles.
And then my own writing slowed…as I spent years writing speeches for senior executives that would win them standing ovations. I’d write strategies, marketing plans, develop videos and create Centres of Excellence for other writers. I did all this behind-the-scenes stuff to make other people and companies shine but somewhere along the way, I lost my own voice.
Now, don’t get me wrong – behind-the-scenes roles are important. We need people propelling ideas forward. This brings harmony. Ms. Hunsburger-Shortt will tell you – we grew up in strings class together where I’d play the viola. I get harmony. But there came a time when I had something to say and I had to find the courage to play the melody too.
And there was this yearning to write a book that kept nagging at me. So after my 40th birthday, after 19 years of agonizing over it, I realized there was a mountain of fear standing in my way. I had spent so many years writing refined PR messages and I was afraid of standing out there and saying what I really thought. My imperfect, unpolished and raw truth. I was afraid of being seen, exposed and judged.
I had to find self-love and acceptance. I had to push through the fear. And wouldn’t you know it, but three months after sitting down and having the courage to face the page, I had the first draft of my book, She Has Risen, which is about stepping into the wisdom and power and divinity that we have – already coursing through our veins – and owning it, unleashing it and sharing it with those coming up the path.
I found my voice. Now I’m the one, not the leaders I work for, being interviewed by CBC Radio, 570 and CTV news and the Record. My book was front-page news on International Women’s Day this month. But I had to work through my fear before any of that would be possible. Oh, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive, by the way. Proof yet again that when you put yourself out there and you’re vulnerable with others, they can often relate and see themselves in it, and that forms some pretty powerful connections.
I had to have the courage to take up space. And we need more of that in this world. From me, from your teachers, from our community, country, world and especially from… YOU.
It starts by acknowledging there’s more to you and just you. There is divine energy coursing through your veins and you have gifts that you might not understand or appreciate, but you need to see them as gifts – as unique qualities that make you who you are. This is your voice. It could quite literally be your voice through singing or speaking or writing – or it could come through math, science, student council, art, a sport, your leadership– the way you break and fix things or encourage others. It comes through what you feel passionately about.
And the world needs you to share that.
Share your voice – share your talent – share your passion. Have the courage to push through fear and unleash it. It might take time – or it might happen overnight. I found it comforting to assemble a tribe of people (for me it was a sisterhood) who saw me, got me, supported me and inspired me. They helped me see my talents even when I couldn’t or when I was too afraid to.
And what comes with this sharing is something so euphoric. When you have the courage to be yourself, be vulnerable, share your gifts and be open to helping something bigger than you, you give permission and inspire others to do the same.
You have no idea of how your actions will influence others. Do you think Mrs. Carter thought I’d be sharing her card with all of you 28 years later?
Young people today are so inspiring. Thousands took to the streets to march this week in support of ending gun violence – I’m so encouraged by you. Children may be our future, but you are our “right now.” We need you to continue to find your voices and take a stand for what you believe in.
Because it’s your birthright. It’s what you were put on this earth to be. The world needs all of you. And as the mother of two young children, I’m counting on you to inspire them to let their lights shine too.”