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Hurdling: A Metaphor For Life

Do you remember your biggest goal in life when you were in high school?

My biggest goal in high school was to be a track and field star.


I was a hurdler. Although I wasn’t the fastest runner, I learned that if I committed myself to training, I could improve my time significantly. I trained 3-4 hours a day, 6 days a week and learned that if I committed to my training program, and set specific targets, I was able to consistently achieve personal best performances.  My coaches taught me how visualizing myself tackling the hurdles one by one, easily and at top speed would help me improve my performance. It was my first experience with goal setting, and it worked brilliantly.


I self-identified as an athlete, so as you can imagine, it was devastating when I had a serious knee injury when I was 17, and I learned that I couldn’t run at all anymore. It was the hardest thing I had ever had to face.  It was a major hurdle.


I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was lost.

Fortunately, I had always worked hard in school too, and had the option of choosing a number of excellent Universities. I decided that I wanted to be a French teacher, since I was always enamored with my French teachers, Sue Mountford and Marianne Sergeant who incidentally, I am still in touch with over 30 years later.


I chose University of Toronto since it was close to my family, and I had always wanted to live in a Toronto, and be immersed in the culture of the big City.


I loved living in Toronto, but still found myself floundering. I gained more than 20 pounds since I wasn’t able to run anymore, and had taken to taken to eating giant muffins and entire bags of cookies in one night of studying during first year university. I was struggling to pay my way through university working at restaurants and nightclubs at night and going to school during the day. On top of that, I was lonely and homesick most of the time; another emotional hurdle.


I had to make a change.


In third year, I decided that teaching wasn’t for me; my heart just wasn’t in it. I was too practical to stay in University if I didn’t have a purpose for being there. I dropped out of University to work in some of Toronto’s hottest nightclubs, while pursuing a career in real estate.  Many people would have seen this as a failure, but I saw it as an opportunity to do something exciting with my life, and what did I have to lose anyway?


At 21 I got my real estate license, and started my career as a real estate agent. I have no idea how people took me seriously. I drove a pink 1976 MG, selling real estate by day and bartending by night in the City.   I guess these days you would say I had “a unique personal brand.”


Fortunately, a very kind gentleman in my real estate office, named Bruce James, took me under his wing and asked me some tough questions. Bruce asked me questions like: why are you in real estate? (to make money) What is your purpose in life? (I had no idea) How much money to you want to make? (any money at all is good, thanks!). Lastly, he asked, what do you want to do with your money? (travel the world, attend concerts and live theatre, and buy a Porsche).


Since I clearly had no idea why I was doing what I was doing, Bruce took me through some training that he called Purpose Quest.  Bruce helped me to set specific, measurable goals, which he said were actually attainable (although at the time I did not believe him.) Bruce had me envision my dream life. What did it look like? What did I do, where did I live, what car did I drive, how did I dress, what were my relationships like, how did I look and feel?


What Bruce taught me was very similar to what I learned as a hurdler in my late teens. If you focus on a clear, measurable goal, your likelihood of achieving a result is much greater than if you had no vision at all.  I was right back to visualizing myself tackling the hurdles one by one, easily and at top speed.


At the time, I was very focused on achieving financial results so that I could acquire stuff, travel and enjoy cultural experiences.  Bruce helped me design the life I wanted to live and how much money I needed to make in order to achieve my goals. Bruce helped me establish very specific goals which were aligned with a personal mission statement which I committed to studying and reciting daily.

Bruce also introduced me to motivational books and courses.  I attended seminars with Tony Robbins, Zig Ziglar, and Tom Peters just to name a few. I became a motivational book junkie at a time when self-help sections didn’t even exist in bookstores. I devoured the books and courses, and stuck to the program that Bruce helped me design. Before long, I had earned more money than I ever dreamed possible for a 23 year-old, and achieved the goals that I set out to reach. At the time, my goals were very focused on acquiring materials possessions. I NEEDED a Porsche, a Rolex watch, and other “things”. Well, I got them. But as my Mother has always said, you have to be careful what you wish for. I managed to crash two Porsches and left my front teeth in the dash of one of them. When that happened, I CRASHED HARD. Physically, financially, emotionally.


Another bloody hurdle. I learned.

I learned 3 things:

  • I learned that having a bunch of stuff wouldn’t make me any happier, and that I didn’t NEED a Porsche to make me worth something. I am not identified by the car that I drive. I learned that am worth more than that.

2- I learned that taking responsibility for ourselves and all of our actions is a better way to live. I chose not to take legal action in the car accident where I was seriously injured. I could have sued for a significant amount of money, but it would have ruined my friend’s life who was driving my car at the time. I am proud of this choice, always have been.


3- I learned that I couldn’t sit around feeling sorry for myself. I had to get up, dust myself off and keep moving forward.


Over the past couple of years, I have been thinking a lot about how one’s career path is formed. I have been lucky enough to have had some incredible teachers and mentors in my life.  I never thought of work as a career; I had been an entrepreneur most of my life and my work was a huge part of my identity.  You know what, though?  I’m not really as sold on that connection anymore, or at least not in the same kind of ratios I would have considered normal in the past.


It is during these times of transition in life that having a supportive friend, teacher or a coach makes all of the difference in one’s success.


In 2001, my friend Michelle helped me transition from serial entrepreneurship to the corporate world when she saw that I was ready for change and saw a light in me that I didn’t see in myself. Michelle helped me land my job at Rogers Group of Companies, where I learned a great deal about the corporate world. I am grateful for that.


In 2007, my friend and business coach, Todd Skinner, coached me out of my own business (again) into a government job as Tourism Manager of Durham Region. Todd also coached my husband Jason out of his own business and later into the role he has today at 360insights.


I must say that when we lost Todd, it hit Jason and I extremely hard. Not only had we lost a friend and an amazing human, we lost Coach Skinner. We were devastated by his loss, and still find it extremely hard to believe that he’s gone.


This was a major hurdle for both Jason and I and many of you who knew Todd. He changed and enriched both of our lives in so many ways.


Another mentor, whom I have immense respect for, both as an artist and a friend is Patty Bowman Kingsley. Patty is like a guardian angel, keeping a watchful eye over me, checking in and always inspiring me. I am so fortunate to be collaborating with Patty on some exciting plans to launch a super exciting program in 2017 that will bring art to workplaces across Durham Region. We will be working with corporations to design corporate team building and visioning sessions that will bring companies mission /vision to life through the creation of collaborative artwork.


I am so grateful for Patty for the role that she played in helping me get over my most recent hurdle and final one that I will share with you.


In February of this year, I transitioned from an excellent government job as an economic developer and tourism expert into a brand new career as the CEO at Station Gallery in Whitby.

Over the past year, many people have asked me why I would leave an amazing government with a pension and benefits for a brand new career in the art world?


It’s simple: I had to.

I had done everything that I could do to make a difference in my community in the role that I was in, and I had nowhere to grow. I was on a number of Boards, Committees, and was a guest lecturer at a number of Universities.


Then, just after the opening ceremonies for the 2015 Pan Am Games, an event that I had worked on for more than 6 years, and in the midst of the Durham Festival and undoubtedly the busiest tourism season we had experienced in 8 years, I hit the wall. I thought I was having a heart attack. It turned out to be an anxiety attack.


I crashed and burned and this time, it wasn’t in a Porsche. I had hit another hurdle, and this one really hurt.  It went beyond the physical – this time I had crashed my entire self, my very identity into the hurdle. I was off of work for several months. I felt helpless.  I was confused.  I was embarrassed. What was I going to do?


I took the time that I had away from work to re-calibrate. I read a book every week, I journaled, I practiced yoga; I consulted with medical doctors, therapists, chiropractors and massage therapists. I envisioned myself as a CEO, but I had no idea of what. I just knew that I wanted to be a CEO.  If you take the time to observe it in action, though, The Power of Intention is pure magic.


Not knowing what to do, or what my next step would be, I returned to work and was miserable.

Then, in December of last year, I attended The Unbeatable Mind Retreat with Coach Mark Divine. As part of the training exercises, Jason and I did Navy SEAL Surf Torture. If you’re unfamiliar with what surf torture is, it’s a training exercise that the US Navy does for its special forces unit, the SEALs.  The trainees link arms and lay on their backs, feet toward the shore and tops of their heads facing out to sea while the waves of the ocean wash in over them.  It pushes you way out of your comfort zone, and forces to trust your team. It gets you out of your head and into what’s really going on.

By the end of the week-end, I knew that I had to resign from my job, and my intention was to either start my own business again, or find a new job. Days after that, I was offered the job as CEO of Station Gallery.


The reason that I share this story about the importance of coaches is to say that I have been extremely blessed to have had some incredible coaches in my life.


But my #1 coach still remains my Mom.

I am grateful for her every day. I realize that the confidence that she instilled in me gave the courage to take risks in life. And, I have taken risks, I have had some incredible wins, but I have also fallen hard a more than a few times. But I wouldn’t change things. Every time I have failed, (and I do fail often), I learn. I get stronger. As Jason Atkins and many of my tech friends say, “fail often and fail fast”.




Here is my newest coach: Coach Justin

Duguay of Crossfit Dioxide.

I am turning 50 in December, and I choose to be strong and fit as a gift to myself. I realize now, that without good health, you really have nothing.  I’ve come to understand that self-care and good health are a valuable part of my self-identity, much more important than what I happen to do for work at any given time.


The hurdles we face in life take many forms; they can appear as physical injuries or unexpected bills or even in the form of other people.  The great thing is that the coaching and learning that we need is everywhere around us too, and it usually takes the form of some amazing people.

Q’s:

  1. What are your hurdles – physical, mental, spiritual?

  2. How do you picture yourself passing over the hurdles easily and at speed?

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