I started the 2016 calendar year with the usual cliché mindset that a new year brings – new beginnings. And in my case, it made sense, because the end of 2015 was timed with the end of my cancer treatments. So it was very tempting to discard the past - close the door and lock the key, and move into the future without looking back. But I know all too well that it’s our past that shapes the next leg of our journey. Besides, experiences provide the foundation for great stories, and with my first novel completed and awaiting decisions, I was looking for inspiration for my next project.
The first week of January brought me the acquaintance of a new client who is motivational speaker and workshop facilitator who works with youths. She recently published her own story in a memoir called If You Played in My Playground, a painfully shocking story about life as a foster child in the projects of Toronto. I have to admit, I didn’t begin reading the book until after I met her. By that time, I had formulated a view of a well put together, professional and articulate entrepreneur who met with me over coffee to discuss some publicity for her work. She explained that her story was the foundation for her motivation. “From pain to purpose” she said to me. Ok, I thought. Sounds like a good message.
Only when I started reading the book did the picture unfold. If we relied on statistics, the girl in the book would not have been the woman I met. But as I consumed page after page, I realized the accuracy of her message and marveled at the courage it took to turn a painful past into a purposeful future.
During the month, we were both invited to attend a lunch hosted by a dear friend and former client who is a tireless advocate of public education. We met in 2010 when I volunteered as a media advisor on his political campaign, which led to many freelance gigs and some of the best learning experiences of my career. He was the instigator who introduced us and has a knack of putting random people together to watch creativity unfold.
A fourth participant at the table was another friend who was embarking on a new career after receiving his PhD last year in Indigenous Studies. The friendship with Bob, aka Great Bear, began a few years ago while on a canoe trip to Centre Island via Lake Ontario. As he sat resting beside his hand-made kayak, he explained that he was close to completing his PhD in Indigenous Studies which he started while in his early 60s.
Today, doctorate completed, he is preparing for a new role as a speaker who will share stories of his own past to students across Toronto. Technically, he could have retired over five years ago. But there’s still much left to do and many tales that needed to be told about growing up in Toronto as an Aboriginal man.
As we sat around the table eating homemade burritos and jalebi for dessert, stories emerged, experiences shared and plans unfolded. Despite the differences in careers, ages, races and religion, each one of us were bound by a common element – we all chose to build on our past experiences and develop a means of earning a living by following our hearts and our passions. Ironically, the talk of money or earnings never made its way into the conversation.
I was inspired by the courage, and yet, the 21 days still brought more.
Earlier in the month I was fortunate to meet a videographer who spent his free time chasing solar eclipses around the world. Another independent entrepreneur, he had built a career doing something he’d loved since he was a kid – even before video technology had emerged. By middle age, he had built a successful business where his efforts were spent on the experience rather than the monetary end result because he knew it would work itself out.
As I marveled at his accomplishments, looking for some words of encouragement for my own journey, he looked at me, smiled and said, “Fall. And the net will appear.”
If I'd been given that advice a few years ago, I would have laughed, deeming it impossible. But it's the first three weeks of 2016. What better time to fall?