Monday, December 18, 2006

Are you ready?

That's the question I keep hearing as I rush around trying to finish my shopping. This year the holiday season seems to have crept up on us and I, for one, am WAY behind.

Usually I have the cards ready to go around the time of the Grey Cup, but this year I am still writing them. I always like to enclose a letter, especially for those overseas and equally enjoy getting one back. Some letters are so humourous and you can just picture the scenes described. Others seem like a testimonial and it leaves you wondering if anything real ever happens in those households. And others send photos which helps you visualize your friends in other parts of the world and they don't seem so far away.

It's a time for family, friends and fellowship. Yet, for those who have just lost a loved one, it can be a heart-wrenching period, with their loss so raw and painful. We have some friends who have just lost their second daughter, two deaths within a short period of time. It doesn't seem fair and you just know this will be a tough time for them. As the mother of two daughters myself, I can't even begin to imagine their pain.

For others, it may be job loss or a divorce that changes the family dynamic and for some people who are always alone, this time of year is no different for them.

Many of us can afford to do something beyond our own family. This year, we became the secret Santa for two children who'd stayed at Nellie's, the shelter in Toronto. It was fun to shop and choose gifts that you knew they'd enjoy and yes, it does make you feel good; that you're doing something concrete to make some children happy.

We can all do something - dropping change into the Salvation Army Kettle; helping a family in need or inviting someone on their own to join you for dinner... Whatever ... let's get into the holiday spirit, because the true joy is in giving, not receiving.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

This week I had an ‘aha’ moment.

For a few months now I have been struggling to determine the best direction to take Company of Women. Of course, we could just stay the course, but I’ve never been one to stand still.

Expanding to other communities is one option and I certainly get my share of requests, or we could offer more programs to service the members we already have and to some extent this fall we have done that. But it doesn't seem enough.

It wasn’t until I was in a conversation with a couple of members about ATHENA, that the light bulb went on. As our talk evolved about the importance of young women learning leadership skills, I realized that what was missing for me in both my volunteer work and in Company of Women, was my need to make a meaningful difference.

Later in the week, when I was interviewing for new interns, I could see that we had a role to play in mentoring these young women, helping them to gain the confidence and skills to succeed. Powerful stuff.

End conclusion - Company of Women doesn’t need to grow bigger or broader – it needs go deeper. Personally I need to see first hand that our involvement is making a difference – whether it is through a mentoring program or a special award for a young woman entrepreneur or establishing a business hub that supports women new to business – the ideas are endless. So stay tuned… and if you have some ideas to throw into the pot… let me know.
Last week we had Marg Hachey of Duocom as our guest speaker. Her topic was adapting to change and as she outlined the changes in technology that her business has faced, you knew she'd walked her talk.

From selling overhead projectors to web-conferencing, Marg's company has transformed itself several times over, changing to adapt to the different needs of its customers and the growing reliance on technology as a global communication tool.

As she outlined her strategies, it was quickly evident why Marg is #11 in the top 100 women entrepreneurs in Canada - she's savvy, she listens and she stays ahead of the trends. But what the audience perhaps most appreciated was her down-to-earth, common sense approach.

Her story is inspiring. Married at 18, a mother of two sons by 23, she wasn't sure what she wanted to do when she had both the boys in school. She started off selling Avon and discovered she had a real talent for sales. Soon she was heading up a large team of sales staff but she knew she needed something more.

It was then that she started selling overhead projectors... for someone else. When she started her own business, it quickly grew and she now has eight offices across Canada and her technicians can be found at most of the major events in Canada. When her sales reached $52 million, she decided it was time to sell which she did to a US firm. Within three years, they had bankrupted the company and Marg knew she had to rescue her firm, so she bought it back.

The entire family now works in Duocom - her husband and her two sons. This truly is a family business and with Marg at the helm, you know they are destined to succeed once again

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Just one more day to go and I will hand over the reception reigns to someone else. It feels good. While it has been fun to escape from some of the demands of Company of Women and to take on a different role, I am ready to get back to my own life and my own business.

Working the two shifts has been a stretch, but I've learned a lot too. I've been reminded how much I like being with people. When you work at home, the four walls can close in and you get tired of your own company. I've learned a new software program, and tested the old grey cells and was pleasantly surprised to discover they're still able to take in something new.

But most of all, I have watched my friend blossom and grow as she gains confidence, not only in her ability to run a business, but that people want to access her services. We all get doubts, especially at the beginning, when we don't know what we don't know.

So Monday I will be back at my desk, back in my comfort zone but back with renewed respect for all of you who live these double lives - employee by day, entrepreneur by night - now that takes energy, passion and commitment. Kudos to you.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Imagine sitting down with your personal chef to discuss the menu for dinner... Sounds wonderful right? Well that was my lot in life last week during a two-night stay at the Hillcrest Valenova Inn in Port Hope.

What an amazing experience. Robin Dines, owner of Hillcrest and a Company of Women member, had invited me as her guest to sample the pleasures of being pampered at her retreat.

The timing couldn't have been better, as after a hectic fall, I was more than ready to get away, switch off and just hand myself over to the massage therapist and esthetician who worked wonders on my tired body.

I went with a girlfriend and we had fun reconnecting, sharing stories and talking about our lives. And back to the chef.. the food was a gourmet delight. This isn't a carrot juice type place althought the food is prepared with your health in mind.

My thanks to Robin for encouraging me to go, for making my visit outstanding and for creating a haven for women (and men) where you can regroup, re-energize and reconnect.

If you get a chance, check it out for yourself. You will be glad you did.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Well I am still living a double life. Receptionist by day at my friend’s salon, business owner by night – probably not unlike many of the Company of Women members who have day jobs while they build their businesses on the side.

It’s a full and tiring life isn’t it. I have new admiration for those of you who do this on an ongoing basis. But I have to say there are aspects of being the receptionist that are quite fun. One elderly lady told me I was doing a great job, and believing I was just a temp (true) and looking for a job (not true), touched my arm and told me she thought I’d get snapped up, and not to worry about finding work. Good to know.

Most of the clients have been quite charming and I have enjoyed the interaction with them, but just as in any business there have been a few who have been less respectful and demanding, believing your only role in life is to serve them.

I’ve even mastered the computer program so hey – I can add this to my resume. But most important of all, I’d like to think that I’ve been there to support my friend. It’s scary starting a new business and I know for myself, having friends around to give you a boost, helps you get through the day. It’s also good to have someone to bounce off ideas as while the end decision rests with the business owner, getting input and encouragement, makes you feel less alone.

So as we recruit a full time receptionist for the salon, and my stint ends, I know I am going to miss my “regulars.” Being with and helping people reminds me of the part of Company of Women I like best – interacting with the women involved.
We always imagine that someone who is successful, made a name for herself would never have self-doubts. Yet at the 10th ATHENA Gala, guest speaker, Susan Aglukark – Canadian singer and songwriter, shared that she often questioned whether she was talented enough to be successful. As her beautiful voice soared and she explained the meaning behind the songs she sang, there was little doubt in the audience that she not only had the talent, but had the wisdom and depth to succeed.

Why do we question ourselves? I was one of the organizers of that event, and behind the scenes a couple of things went wrong that potentially could have spoiled the evening. I had spent hours co-ordinating the event, making lists, checking the lists, and yet my first thought when each problem came up, was that I had somehow screwed up, I had forgotten something. As it was, we were able to resolve the situations and no, I was not to blame- the responsibility rested with others.

Keen to enhance my writing skills, I am reading a book that gives you different exercises to do to stretch yourself. One was to write for ten minutes on what I remember, and then on what I don’t remember; I know and I don’t know; and I am and I am not. Once again, I found the pen just flowed when it came to the negatives and I struggled more with coming up with the positives.

Ironically, our next breakfast meeting will focus on staying positive, managing our self-doubt – topics that the women in the group chose – so clearly I am not alone, and clearly I need to listen and take notes too!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

This week I am helping out a friend who has just opened up a business. It has been interesting to realize how many steps are involved in just getting started, and all the paperwork required. I guess much depends on the type of business, but when you are opening up a store or retail business, there is so much more to consider than starting a home office.

Right now I am learning her computer system, which given my own challenges this fall, is somewhat ironic. This may be the blind leading the blind, but it makes for a change in the routine and by taking this on, it frees up my friend to do what she does best. I just hope I don't totally screw up and double-book people for appointments, etc. The computerized cash register also takes some getting used to and the first time the drawer sprung open, I just about jumped out of my seat!

So, all in all, I think this is going to be a great learning experience and provided I don't manage to put her out of business before week end, it should be fun. However, I know... I won't give up my day job.
There was not a dry eye in the room, even our speaker, Barbara Underhill shed a few tears as she shared her story. As she said herself, she'd experienced the highs of success as a skater and the depths of despair as a mother whose child had died in a bizarre accident.

Yet she used that tragedy to turn it into something positive - not just for herself - but for Canadian children. Through her work with the Stephanie Gaetz Foundation, children in Ontario have the opportunity to learn life-saving water skills, so that should an emergency occur, they know how to cope, and more importantly how to survive.

She's also found that when you give love, you get it back tenfold. Everyone was touched by her gesture of giving us each two angels. One for ourselves, and one to give to someone else who is hurting, and needs an angel.

Her other key message was around the importance of keeping your sense of humour, no matter what. When she showed the last clip of her skating with Paul Martini, just a few months after her daughter had died, you could see and appreciate the belly laughs, as she accidently pulled her partner's pants off during a skating routine. It was just what she needed, and it worked. It helped her turn a corner; to realize that life does go on.

While Barbara only talked with us for half an hour, she gave us a lot to think about and her message brought home the importance of relationships - family and friends. None of us lives in isolation, nor should we.

Monday, October 09, 2006

I'm back. How was your September? Mine was a whirlwind which resulted in my silence. After the 60K walk, we plunged into programming with three major events in eight days. What was I thinking?! Clearly not enough to recognize that this would be a drain on our resources and our energy levels.

And if that wasn't enough, we've had our share of technical problems. My computer crashed (and died) leaving me bereft and all at sea for four, l-o-n-g days after which I had to grapple with new programs and you all know about me and learning curves!

Then there's the printers - our main one keeps asking for a change in personality - would gladly oblige if it meant we got one that co-operated, and our back-up printer is out of toner which Staples tells us is back-ordered until November! Even our Moneris printer has been coughing and spluttering So you get the gist... there's a black cloud over all that is technical in our office.

Talking of personalities - no, not the printer's - we've had our share of difficult people too. Must be the full moon or something. So all told, I'm glad to see October.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


It's been a tough week. Tired from the walk and frustrated with my computer which died on me last week. You don't realize how much you rely on accurate, consistent information until you don't have it on hand. My techie guy was great - I can't fault him - and I am sure at times he was despairing my lack of knowledge.

On the other hand, without easy access to email, I had to do business the old-fashioned way - ie by phone. Not a bad thing all told as you at least make a more personal connection. Being without a computer also forced me to slow down a bit for which my body was likely grateful.

Sometimes the universe unfolds as it should, we just don't always appreciate it at the time.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Meet Anne Day - Marathon Walker! We did it. 60K over two days in the Weekend to End Breast Cancer. And our team raised over $24,000 for the cause! Over 5,200 walkers helped to raise $17.2 million for breast cancer research through this event.

There were six on our team (Chicks out Walking) . We were among the first thousand walkers to cross the fnish line and even had enough energy to boogie into the stadium - not bad for a group of "old broads."

It's been three days since we completed the walk, and I needed that time - not to recoup, but to reflect on all that happened and the whole experience.

For the past six months we have been training for this weekend, walking an average of 30K a week and during these walks, we've talked and shared stories of our lives and become closer as a result. We built our own support network.

What struck me most about the whole event, was how much people care. They really want to see a cure for this disease. From the dedication of the walkers of all shapes and sizes; the team of volunteers who cheered us on; to the people on the street, who came out to greet us, sharing food and nourishment. One elderly gentleman even provided a rose for each walker. You were made to feel cherished, as if you were doing something special for mankind and people kept thanking us for doing the walk.

On the Wednesday, together with another member of our team, I had the opportunity to be in the audience of CityLine where were got pampered, receiving many lovely gifts. We also heard from Dr. Marla Shapiro and Dr. Robert Buckman who talked about changing our vocabulary and attitudes towards cancer. In particular, I liked his sentiments about people who have had cancer. He didn't like the term survivor as it implied that others had died, and the survivor was just coping. He preferred the word "thriver" and I could relate to that.

As a breast cancer survivor, I found myself revered by the other walkers at this event. In the closing ceremonies for example, we had to walk through an aisle of honour where people cried, and reached out to touch you, which frankly was a bit overwhelming and made me feel somewhat uncomfortable.

You see I don't really see myself as a survivor. I think I am someone who, yes, has had cancer, but that is not who I am, nor does it define me in any way. I like the concept of thriving, because I've moved on. I have learned some invaluable lessons from having cancer - an appreciation of what is important in life and how I want to spend my time, but I refuse to get caught up in the negativity of illness or to hold a pity party for myself.

When a couple of friends told me that they were going to walk on my behalf, I realized that it was important for me to walk for myself. I wanted to prove that I could do this, that I had the stamina and health to push myself physically and emotionally. And I did.

Am I proud of what we accomplished? You bet. Would I do it again? Without question. It is all part of ensuring that our daughters never have to deal with this disease. It is all part of thriving, and it is a vital part of living life to the fullest.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Back to school

Next week hundreds and thousands of children will be heading back to school. No doubt their parents will have mixed feelings - glad to have the children back into a routine, but not looking forward to all that homework and the frantic driving from one activity to another.

I had my own taste of learning this week, when I tried to master the behind-the-scenes workings of our website. I've been on a steep learning curve and I don't like being a novice when competency is all important to me. There were times when I felt totally frustrated as I attempted to post something on the site, only to click the wrong button and watch it disappear.

And then there's time when I managed to get something up on the site, only to find when you clicked on it, it sent you to the wrong information! I guess we all have our skill sets and this isn't one of mine. However, I felt a true sense of pride when I did manage to change an icon on the home page - it didn't quite line up straight but hey... I'd figured out by myself how to do it.

All this serves to remind me that the next few weeks are likely to be just as scary, testy and frustrating for our kids as they learn new programs, master new skills and manage new relationships. None of us like to feel stupid and out of our depth, so some empathy and understanding can go a long way to supporting our kids as they grapple with these new situations.

In another life I used to teach a program called Your Child's Self Esteem, based on a book by Dorothy Corkille Briggs. In it she talked about how there are two things a child needs to believe - I am lovable and I am capable. Children rarely question our expectations so if they are too high, we are setting them up to fail and likewise, if they are too low, the outcome is the same.
Check your expectations. Are they realistic for the age and stage your child is at?

As an adult we tend to have high expectations of ourselves too, particularly when we're A types with perfectionist tendencies! This week has been a humbling experience and I am trying not to be too hard on myself. One thing for sure, in another life I am not going to become a webmaster - I'll leave that to others.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Thirteen miles... 20 K... if anyone had told me that I would walk that distance, I would have laughed in their face. But we did. And in 30 degree weather.

That's our latest achievement in our training for the 60K walk. I know - we have a ways to go , but just knowing that you can do 20K without too much difficulty is reassuring. Now I have to confess, I did have a nap when I got back.

Pushing yourself physically is very empowering. It is amazing what you can achieve when you set goals, and build in milestones so that step-by-step (sorry for the pun), you get there. And we've been preparing ourselves - doing the stretches, drinking more water and trying to eat healthily so that we are ready for the ultimate challenge on September 8 and 9. We've also become quite the support group for each other, looking out for each other on when one of us has a sore back, ankle or knee.

It's a bit like starting and building a business. When you set goals and work out how to attain them, you are half way there. Having checkpoints along the way, helps you to measure what else you need to do to ensure you realize your goals. Making sure you have the right ingredients in place also makes success more attainable and surrounding yourself with people who believe in you can make all the difference.

So while we may be training for a marathon walk, we're also learning vital lessons about life and business too.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Recently one of my members asked me to explain more about the mastermind groups we are launching this fall, and I was pleased to do so. When I finished, she encouraged me to spread the word and let people know what was involved and how it had worked for me, as she suspected, correctly I think, that people don't understand what they are all about.

So... here we are. I figured this was one way to promote the program. I first came across mastermind groups when I joined Verity - a women's club in Toronto. Basically the group is made up of seven other women business owners and we meet on a monthly basis to talk and share issues concerning our business. The key is that they are not in a similar business and that there be a trained facilitator who can keep the group on track and ensure everyone "shares the air."

At the first meeting, we shared our issues and based on that discussion, set an agenda for the months ahead. Each month there would be a topic, and each month we would check in and discuss our views. Sometimes the focus would be more on one member, but it always seemed to balance out, as later the focus would be on someone else. And sometimes, you preferred it that way as you were not in the hot seat!

At the beginning of each meeting we would check in, sharing the highs and lows of the previous month, we'd cover the topic of the month, and at the end, do a check out, stating what goals we wanted to work on in the month ahead. Knowing that you would have to check in the next month, made you accountable and more likely to work on those goals.

For example, one of my goals was to find sponsors and in order to do that, I had to work on a sponsorship kit, which I did. Lesson one - leave your ego at the door. I went in thinking it was pretty good and the job done. Wrong. One of the women in the group had a marketing background and she gave me some sound advice and I went back and made the changes. The outcome - I recruited two sponsors last year. Would that have happened anyway? Maybe, but most likely I would not have got around to doing it. However, having declared the goal to the group, I was more compelled to get it done. I found the objective feedback truly helpful and it made me to look at my information package from a different perspective.

Based on my experiences in a mastermind group, I felt sure Company of Women members would also benefit and several of our business coaches have generously come forward to lead the groups. If you are serious about taking your business to the next level, consider signing up for one of these groups. It's two hours a month, $40/month (that's just $10/week) and you'll gain so much more from the experience. Think about it.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Imagine .... 40 women on a school bus. The noise level alone told you people were connecting, chatting and having fun.

Where were we off to? Over 80 women from Company of Women decided to check out the musical in town - Menopause Out Loud. Now I have to confess, I've seen the production twice, both times in Chicago, so I am definitely a show "groupie." However, I was thrilled that the Toronto production was just as good, especially since I'd persuaded 80+ women to join me.

Whereas menopause used to be a silent passage, after seeing Menopause Out Loud, you realize the whole process does provide fodder for a good laugh. And laugh we did. I am not sure what I enjoyed more ... seeing the musical again, or watching the other women enjoy the evening and laugh, sometimes hysterically outloud. Probably the latter.

Laughter is so good for you - you even burn calories - what better way to get slim?
The enthusiasm and excitement that this theatre outing generated among the women speaks to our need to let go and play. I got numerous emails from people saying how much they were looking forward to the event, and judging by the response last night, I don't think any of them were disappointed.

So let's build the momentum. Make sure you take time out to play - even if it is just for 30 minutes... you are more than worth it.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Every year we look forward to our annual visit to the Isle of Man. Never heard of it? It's a small island (just 32 miles) in between Scotland, Ireland and England. It's not an easy place to reach and often the journey takes over 20 hours depending on flight connections, and when you get there, you also travel back in time.

As a child growing up in Scotland we used to go to the Isle of Man for our summer vacation, and now visiting as an adult I can honestly tell you - little has changed. It's like a time warp and everything is locked into a time when the pace was so much slower and people took the time to chat with you. I think that is why I love going there. I almost feel my body unwind the minute I get off the plane.

The shops close at lunch time and some even on Wednesdays for the half day. It's not unusual to see a note pinned to the door explaining that they've had to close early because Susie's in hospital or something has come up. And the local radio announces stories of missing cats and items that someone wants to trade for something else!

But it's not just the people and the pace, it's the place itself. It has a rugged beauty which when the weather is fine (and it was) is pretty hard to beat. It's sort of a smaller version of Ireland and is often used in films such as Waking Ned Devine to appear like Ireland.

I feel very fortunate to have such a haven in my life. It's a place to retreat, regroup and re-examine your life and for a few days at least, operate on half a cylinder as you rest up and recharge your batteries for the year ahead.

Of course, now that I'm back and I wade through the emails, voice mails and mail, it all starts to fade into the background. But I know, next year, same time, same place - I will be back.

Monday, July 10, 2006


Just over two months ago I wrote about hearing Tobin Anderson and her amazing attitude in the face of terminal cancer.

Now, she never actually said it was terminal, but you were left with little doubt that she was fighting the battle of her life. Today I heard that she is at death's door. How sad! And what a waste.

Yet I know that her words will stay with all of us who heard her that day, and her message to live life to the fullest will be remembered.

My thoughts are with her family. May she go in peace.

Thursday, June 29, 2006


Last night was an A+ event. Our young speakers were awesome, amazing and authentic.

We invited three of Canada's young women leaders to share their insights and aspirations with us.

At 26, Jennifer Corriero is the co-founder and executive director of TakingITGlobal, a non-profit organization that fosters and strengthens the involvement of youth in global issues through the use of technology. The website currently has over 100,000 members, in over 200 countries and receives over 1 million hits each day. And when she's not working at this, she's travelling around the world to speak at conferences and events.

Last night, Jennifer proudly announced that she has just completed her Masters degree in Youth Engagement and Capacity Building Across Cultures at York University, which left many of us wondering... how does she fit it all in?

Next we had Tonika Morgan, 23, whose homeless experience as a teenager has empowered her to help others in that situation. Last year she received the Young Woman of Distinction Award and the Flare Magazine Volunteer of the Year Award for her work in this area.

Today she is Project Manager of the Women Moving Forward project, an initiative supporting young single mothers in the Jane-Finch community and a part-time student at Ryerson University.

At 27, Roxanne Joyal, was the oldest in the group and equally as impressive. Named by Maclean's magazine as one of the "Top 100 People to Watch Out for in the Millenium", she is an active volunteer with Leaders Today and Free the Children. She has travelled to and worked in several third world countries and in 1996 lived and worked in Thailand, helping mothers and babies in Bangkok's largest slum area.

And she's been no slouch in the education department either. She graduated from Stanford with an honours degree in International Relations and in 2001 was awarded a Rhodes scholarship, and recently graduated with a law degree from Oxford University. She is currently working as a clerk for the Supreme Court of Canada.

On paper, these young women sound most impressive and in person, they were even more so. Vibrant, caring and articulate, they gave voice to their concerns, shared their thoughts on the future and talked with passion about the involvement of youth in our society.

While none had met each other before, it was neat to see the interaction between them and how the kernel of an idea could be generated by one, and built on by another.

For example, throughout the evening, Roxanne had been strongly advocating mentorship and the power of women helping women. Tonika told the story of some of the women she works with who know they need to change their situation, but who find it overwhelming to take that step outside their comfort zone. Finding the funds and confidence to go back to school just seemed beyond their scope.

She had barely finished describing this situation, when Jennifer threw out a challenge to the group of sixty women in the audience. She pointed out that Tonika had 16 women in her program, and surely out of the 60 women present, 16 could come forward to become mentors. And some of them did.

That was the sort of evening it was. A dialogue and discussion between a group of women of all ages. We'd encouraged the mothers in our group to bring their daughters so they could hear and be inspired by our three panelists, and they did. It was wonderful to have a room full of women from 17-70+, all open to hear what the other had to say, all wanting to learn more about each other, and all celebrating both our unique and shared experiences.

It was suggested that we invite our panelists back in five years, so we can check in on how they are doing, and maybe we will.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Last week three of us treated one of our friends to a PJ party in Toronto. While it was her birthday present, it proved to be a gift for all us.

Momentarily we felt a touch of guilt as we sat on a workday having lunch and wine at an outside patio restaurant, but we were having so much fun, it didn't last long. Plus who should we see in the restaurant but June Callwood, someone we all admired. And our respect went even higher when we observed her getting into her black sports convertible. Aged 80+, we thought "You go girl."

Spending time with girlfriends can really lift your spirits. We shopped, ate, shopped some more and laughed a lot. When we checked into the hotel, the man at registration teased us as we requested four keys... just in case one of us got fed up with the others ... and wanted a break.

No fear of that. Mind you we didn't exactly stay up all night talking, which we'd planned... guess that worked when we were teenagers but now we need our beauty sleep. Instead we lounged around in the morning, catching up with each other and sharing stories of our youth, our families and whatever else we wanted to discuss.

After a quick visit to the Distillery District, we were homeward bound. Back to our everyday lives, to our daily routine and responsibilities. But for 36 hours (not that we're counting) we were free.

In the three years that I have been running Company of Women, only two speakers have ever received a standing ovation from the group, and one was Lesley Andrew who talked to us on June 13.

Lesley shared her story of growing up believing she was stupid because of learning disabilities. But instead of locking herself into victim mode, she took responsibility and found other ways to learn and strategies to help her cope with her learning difficulties.

She spoke eloquently and had many words of wisdom to share with us, but it was when she started to show the amazing and intricate quilts that she'd made, that you realized she was not only wise beyond her years, but extremely creative and talented too.

The icing on the cake was when she ended her talk... she sang for us. As a soprano she has sung all over the world and made three CDS. After her rendition of It's A Wonderful World, there was hardly a dry eye in the room.

So what did we learn?

1. take responsibility, finds ways to move ahead;
2. everyone has a talent or skill no matter what.
3. people who take an interest in you can make all the difference such as two teachers Lesley had who fostered her creativity
4. the power of having someone believe in you, like her mother

Hearing Lesley was a wonderful way to wrap up the season, and she gave us plenty to think about.

Friday, June 09, 2006

One of the things I love about Company of Women is I get the opportunity to meet and hear some incredible women.

Take the Power Within for Women. I received a complimentary ticket to attend this event, and so heard words of wisdom from women like Irshad Manji and Gloria Estefan, who were for me, the highlight of the day. Both showed amazing courage but in different circumstances.

Irshad Manji is the best-selling author of The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in her Faith. Given the arrests made this last weekend, her talk seemed even more timely. She is certainly someone who has become acclimatized to living in danger, with bullet-proof glass in the windows of her house, her car checked before she leaves and she even had a bodyguard at one stage when the death threats were at a peak.

As a young Muslim, she explained how she’d come to write her book which challenges the way the Muslim faith is used in some countries to mistreat women, such as the honour killings in Pakistan, or the stoning of lesbians in Algeria or the way women are treated as property being handed down from husband to brother in Saudi Arabia.

Today her book has been published internationally. There are some countries where it is banned, but following a suggestion from some youth, it has been translated and can be downloaded in pdf format from her website.

She urged the audience to have the courage of your confusion, to ask questions because only then will you find the courage of conviction. And she was a glowing example of how through courage and conviction, change can happen.

Change for Gloria Estefan was not something she sought, yet it seemed to follow her from an early age. Born in Cuba, she spent her early years in Havana but was uprooted and escaped to Miami when Castro came into power. Her father spent several years in a prison in Cuba and her mother did the best she could to raise her two daughters on her own until he was reunited with his family.

Gloria Estefan is an international superstar and in 1989 was at the peak in her career, when a tractor trailer crashed into her tour bus, critically injuring her and breaking her back. Through faith, the love of her family and grit determination, she endured almost a year of grueling physical therapy to make an astonishing full recovery from injuries that should have left her paralyzed. She has since returned to the top of the charts, completed a nine country world tour and given birth to the daughter, they said she never could have.

As I listened to her telling her story, I could not help but think that she was a beautiful person, both physically and spiritually. She was very low key, yet you knew she had achieved much in her life – and not just the successful career – but her ability to fight back and reclaim her life, her long marriage to the same person and her two children. Unlike many celebrities, she seemed grounded and comfortable with who she was and where she was going. Like others who have flirted with death, she knew what was important in her life and worked to those priorities. A lesson we all could learn.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Tonight I attended the YWCA's Women of Distinction Award Dinner. What an inspiring evening, as we watched video clips about the women who were receiving the awards, and later heard from them in person.

Several were strong advocates for the rights of women - to live a violence-free life; to be an elected public official; to pursue a career in science, or to discover their unique and special talents. Each used their acceptance speech as an opportunity to speak further on issues of importance to her.

The most touching story was of Beatrice, who seemed to overcome tragedy after tragedy from sexual abuse as a child, to being a sex trade worker, to the death of her young son.

Today, she is training to be a community worker, helping other women to get on track with their lives, just as she has done.

I admire her inner strength to keep going, to keep striving for a better world, for herself, her family and other women.

It made for a powerful evening, one full of inspiration and a reminder to all of us that we still have a long way to go before women are equal in our society.

Thursday, May 25, 2006


May is Entrepreneur month and last night we had a panel of women entrepreneurs. Each had started her business at a different stage in her life.

At 31, Amy Halpenny, owner and founder of Ella's Pregnancy and Parenting Centre, was the "toddler" on the panel, having started her business just two years ago. While she may have been the "new kid on the block" we all could learn from her business accumen and focus.

Gail Friedlander, of Images that Suit was the seasoned entrepreneur, having started her business back in 1984. She has grown her business from the basement of her home to two locations in Mississauga and Toronto.

Last, but by no means least, Margaret Sarrasin of MJ's Fine Foods, shared her story of how she started her business at the age of 59, baking her flatbreads in her home kitchen. Today, her products are sold in 3,500 retail stores across Canada.

A pretty diverse group of women, yet there were many similarities in the stories they told. Both Gail and Amy have taken an innovative approach which has been part of their branding. They are very much customer-focused and intent on creating an experience rather than just provide a service. Both had gone that extra mile to provide the environment that makes the customer feel special and of value.

Human capital was also another essential ingredient in their success and Margaret emphasized the importance of treating employees with respect; valuing and recognizing their contribution to the company's progress.

But perhaps the most inspiring aspect of the evening was hearing how they started their business, realizing how far they had come, and that we too could aspire to achieve such levels of success.

Friday, May 19, 2006


Forgive my silence - I took off for a mini-vacation. I'm back now but still in holiday mode and reluctant to burst that relaxing bubble that has cushioned me the last few days.

We went on a cruise - a wonderful opportunity to relax, read and I confess ... people watch. With 2,400 people on board the ship, we had plenty of scope!

What did I discover? Sad to report, but my main observation is people can be quite rude. Whatever happened to the manners their parents tried to instill in them? Clearly it isn't working. Few ever said "please" or "thank you" to the staff who looked after us; others demanded immediate service and when they didn't get the answers they wanted to hear, they turned it up a notch and had a temper tantrum! Kudos to the staff on board who had to smile, be courteous and tolerate such behaviour.

Don't get me wrong, we had a wonderful time. We ate far too much, walked miles on the ship to counter the extra pounds we could gain, and truly enjoyed the break from the routine. As a mom, it was so nice to have someone else look after me. A gal can get quite used to all the pampering.

Now if I could just get my husband to leave a mint chocolate on my pillow... it would be a start.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


Tonight marked a new first for Company of Women. A group of us - around 80 women - went to see a provocative play in Toronto.

For many, it brought back all sorts of memories I am sure as we travelled into the city on a school bus. For me it was exciting to see members of our Burlington Chapter meet and mingle with members from Toronto. The play served as a catalyst to bring people together in a different way.

The play itself was thought-provoking. At first glance you would say it was about a woman in midlife who had an affair with a fifteen year-old, but as the actors played out their roles, it was more and more clear that this was about their marriage, their relationship.

And for Company of Women members, maybe it was also about broadening our relationship with each other too.

Monday, April 24, 2006


Today, along with 500 other women, I went with great enthusiasm to hear Gloria Steinem give a luncheon keynote. She'd long been a woman I admired, someone who led the way for so many others. I'd also heard that she was a great speaker so I was keen to hear her for myself.

There was an intake of breath and groan when the organizer explained that Gloria had hurt her back and was unable to come to Ontario to give her presentation. At first I thought he was joking when he said that this was every event planners biggest nightmare, but he wasn't.

Generously they offered to refund the money if people were not happy with the event, and he was quick to advise that they had found a replacement speaker. "Tobin Anderson" he announced. There was a buzz around the room as people acknowledged that they had no idea who she was or what was her claim to fame.

Well, in the ninety minutes that followed, an enraptured audience learned more about Tobin - her courage, tenacity and indomitable spirit as she faced her battle with cancer.

As Tobin herself declared, she was a strange mix for a motivational speaker when her opening lines were usually that there were two certainties in life - we are born, and we die!

You couldn't help but be impressed with her attitude and faith, and her touching sense of humour. This is a woman who has learned to laugh at herself. She finds opportunity in challenges - big and small. Not only has she battled cancer once, but four times and her last bout was only a month ago, but she is determined to go on. Her mission is to help other people face their mortality and find the joy in their lives, living each day as if it was their last.

In the eleven years since her first diagnosis, Tobin has packed in a full life. She gave up her stressful job as a designer for Guess, left a relationship that was hazardous for her health, and moved from Montreal back to Calgary.

But of all the stories she told, the most impressive was her determination to climb mountains in the Antarctica, having never done anything remotely like this before. It took grit and determination to achieve this goal, and she did it.

Tobin's closing remarks were to encourage us all to look deep inside, to foster our love of ourselves and listen to our souls. Be your own best friend, she urged.

By the time she finished, any thought about Gloria Steinem was long gone. Sure we were disappointed, but then if it had all gone to plan, we wouldn't have had the opportunity to hear Tobin, and that would have been a big loss. I am sure everyone left today touched and changed by what they had heard, I know I did.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


This week I was reminded of an important lesson in running your business - honesty is the best policy. When faced with a difficult situation, it is much better to be upfront, tell the truth, apologize and move on.

So often we prefer just to ignore what has happened or hope that it will just disappear, but does it really? As a result of getting back to the people involved, I believe I earned more respect for taking the high road.

Being a bit of a perfectionist, it's hard when events don't unfold the way I planned them. But what makes me think I am different from anyone else? Of course things can go wrong or off kilter. Contrary to my opinion, I cannot control everything. So learning to accept this and going with the flow is another vital survival skill.

Just remind me of this next time will you.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Yesterday I talked to a group of young mothers, complete with babes in arm, strollers and all that "stuff" you need when caring for a young infant. These moms get together once a week at a local restaurant in Toronto to have lunch and hear from a guest speaker.

Mothers in the City was the brainchild of new stay-at-home mother, Jordan Maher and her girlfriend Laurin Mayer. Together they run, a service that enables Toronto moms to get out and meet other adults with similar interests.

Talking to twenty mothers and at least twenty infants was definitely a different speaking gig. It reminded me of my early days as a parent, when together with four other mothers we started the Oakville Parent Child Centre. That was twenty-five years ago, but seeing those tiny babes made it seem just like yesterday.

My topic was starting your own business and there was keen interest in this subject. There were lots of questions, and even better answers from some of the women in the group who have already started a business. These bright young women were interested in finding some way to supplement their family income, while still being available for their children.

I've actually often compared motherhood to starting a business. There's that same sense of excitement, fear, intensity and self-doubt. When you're pregnant you read all the books, take the prenatal classes and maybe talk to some friends who have ventured before you, but they are not always completely honest and nothing really prepares you for being a parent. Bringing that baby home from the hospital has to be one of the most scary but exciting experiences in your career as a mother.

Likewise, when you start a business, you read a few books, do some research and maybe attend a few classes, but reality turns out to be somewhat different. No one tells you it can be lonely, or that the phone won't ring or that there will be days when you question your decision to branch out on your own. We follow that "if we built it, they will come" mentality but it isn't that simple.

So what's the answer? Just as Jordan and Laurin have found - getting together with other people who are in a similar situation. First you find that you're not alone. When you compare notes, you'll discover that some people have it worse off than you. Be grateful. With time, you'll find that the friends you make will become your biggest supporters, as a parent or a business owner. These people will be your cheerleaders, will celebrate your successes, and bolster you up and remind you of your unique talents on days when you doubt yourself.

Clearly I don't do well on my own. When I was a young mom, it was the Parent Child Centre, and as a new business owner, I started Company of Women. And when I am a senior - who knows what sort of support group it will be - maybe the raging grannies!

Get connected. It makes a difference.

Monday, April 03, 2006


Ever had days when you are just not productive, no matter what you do, no matter what how much work you have to get done? That was me today.

Maybe it was the clocks changing, and that lost hour of sleep is catching up with me. Perhaps it was the downpour of rain, but today was definitely a day to work IN the business, not ON it. No. No big picture planning today. In fact, I probably should have just given myself the day off!

Now it wasn't a total waste of time, as I decided to play with my new toy - a card scanner - and the routine aspect of inserting and scanning the cards just suited my frame of mind.

I guess a day like today serves to remind me that not every day will be at fever pitch, nor should I expect myself to perform 100% all of the time.

So I am cutting myself some slack. After all, tomorrow is another day.

Last week I had the distinct pleasure of hearing a young video journalist, Tara Sutton, share her story about working in war torn countries.

A heavy topic and some of the clips from her documentaries were hard to take over lunch. Yet we all need to face up to what is happening in other parts of the world; to the injustices and to the hidden truth behind the headlines.

Tara talked about how in North America we tend to honour and value celebrities, but in her travels she has met some individuals, she feels are more worthy of our admiration and respect.

Take the little boy she met in Ethiopia, who at eight, walked miles with his six-month old sister, so they could find food and comfort after their parents died of AIDS. He was a hero in her eyes.

As Tara shared her stories, you could not help but admire her courage, tenacity and honesty as she told it as it is. She is one of a growing number of freelance videographers operating in the Middle East, going to areas where the mainstream media are reluctant to send their crews.

Freelancers are usually self-funded, often have no insurance and no large corporation to back them up if they are captured or injured, and yet she continues. She shoots, reports and produces all her own work and has won numerous awards.

"Seeing things blow up and people being shot has never been what's interested me. The human story is always what I've been interested in." And you can see that, particularly in her feature Baghdad Kids where she interviews children to find out how they feel about the fighting in their country.

I left that luncheon in awe of this young woman, proud that she is Canadian, and once more, impressed with the integrity and skills our young women have to offer us.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Why did you start your business?

Did you see a need that wasn't being addressed? Were you following a passion? Or were you just plain disgruntled with life in the fast lane, and decided to get off?

I've just started to read Barbara Moses' new book - DISH - Midlife Women Tell the Truth About Work, Relationships and the Rest of Life. It's a fascinating read. Barbara surveyed hundreds of women and asked her "nosy" questions - her word, not mine, to get the scoop on how women in midlife are feeling about their lives.

You get the sense she's truly captured what is reality for many women working in the corporate world, where they have to wear a mask, play the game and juggle... fast. She describes so many women who are unfulfilled, unhappy at work and at home; and who feel trapped and unable to break this pattern. It's sad.

Being authentic becomes more crucial as we enter our 40s +. Our work and our values must fit. Reading the book reminded me of why I started my business. I was working for government at the time, focusing on women's issues. I'd just received an award and part of the prize was to attend this conference in Denver. One of the speakers, Bonnie St. Jean Dean, spoke eloquently about being authentic and her words hit home. I realized I wasn't a bureaucrat and no matter how I pretzled myself, I could never fit that mold.

However, just as we were leaving the conference, I got a call from my daughter. My mother had had a stroke and they didn't think she would make it. All of a sudden nothing else mattered. I had to get to England as quickly as possible. She lived on a small island, so it was not a quick or easy trip. It was touch and go, but amazingly she pulled through. It was quite the emotional roller coaster, and I returned to Canada drained and changed by the experience.

Suddenly life seemed too fragile, too precious to be spent working where I didn't feel I was contributing in a meaningful way. Between Bonnie's words and my mother's brush with death, I realized life was too short to be working where I didn't belong. So I left and started my own consulting business. And the rest, as they say, is history. I love what I do and I don't think I could ever go back to working for someone else. I am too used to being in charge, and I like it.

When Barbara Moses asked women where they can be most authentic and happy? About 80 per cent of the women said self employment. However, when she dug deeper, it was clear, as many of us know, working for yourself is not for everyone, and for some women who uprooted themselves from the corporate arena, the adjustment was hard. As she points out women "who have had a long corporate career are unaccustomed to the lack of structure, taking risks, hustling to make a buck..."

When I give workshops on surviving the first year in business, I am often asked how do you find balance, and my response has always been - you don't. Certainly not in your first year when you're establishing your business.

But then, when it's your passion, it doesn't feel like work.

So what's your story? What propelled you into the world of entrepreneurism?

We're in training.

Company of Women has its own team for the Weekend to End Breast Cancer Walk. We're calling ourselves "chicks out walking". There are seven of us, and several of the team are breast cancer survivors which probably speaks to the high percentage of women who are impacted by this disease.

We have to walk 60 km in two days, which for someone who maybe at a stretch will do the occasional 5km walk, will be quite a daunting feat (no pun intended).

Friday marked our first official walk, and five of us could make it. I can see this will be one of the challenges when some of us live in the same neighbourhood, and others don't. Most of us own a business, but a couple don't, so they cannot be as flexible as to when they get out walking, but we know we need to practice.

It was a lovely day and we walked down by the lake, enjoying the scenery and the company. I can see as the weeks progress, we're going to get to know each other very well as we chat and walk, walk and chat.

And on Friday we sure covered a range of topics, from children and parents, to husbands, politics and sex, and not necessarily in that order!

While I've known and enjoyed a friendship with two of the women for years, the others are more recent acquaintances and I welcome this opportunity to get to know everyone better and in a more meaningful way.

To me that will be one of the bonuses of this adventure.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


Welcome to my blog. This is my first entry. I'd been thinking of starting a blog for some time and wondered how I would fit it in to an already busy schedule. I'm not alone I am sure.

But last night at our Company of Women meeting, I heard an amazing speaker who inspired me and whose wisdom I wanted to share with all who could not hear her.

Carol Denman is someone who has won all sorts of awards - Canadian Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award, Canadian Women Mentor's Award to name but a few. She's grown her business to become one of the PROFIT 100 Top Women Owned Businesses.

Yet she stood before us last night and shared that when she won those awards, there were times when she felt like an imposter, and that soon everyone would discover who she really was.

But much of her talk was focused on her most recent achievement - getting her pilot's license at 50. What does that have to do with running a business you may ask? Plenty. It takes courage, a sense of adventure, and just as when you start a business, an element of risk.

Carol shared that in flying "take off" is optional, but landing is imperative. Just as the women in the audience, mainly business owners, had taken off in their businesses, none of us know for sure just where we will land! But she encouraged us to stay the course. Often she found that when the going got tough and she was about to give up, she turned a corner.

In business as in flying, Carol advised us to face our challenges head on, to work through our problems with integrity. When you're honest and upfront when you've made a mistake, it goes a long way to rectifying the situation and helps you build a reputation as someone who cares and can be counted on.

Since starting Company of Women, I've had the pleasure to hear many successful women share their stories and I have come to realize that the stories that stand out are the ones told with humour and honesty.

These women, like Carol, are real. While many have achieved great success, they have not forgotten their roots, nor have they got a false sense of who they are.

So as I take off with this blog, I hope you will stick around to see where we land. It could be a fun trip.

Anne Day Posted by Picasa