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.