My International Women’s Day Story

This day is so much more for me, over and above celebrating the women of this world, how far we have come, and the journey that lies ahead. This day symbolizes a pivotal part in my own personal journey. I want to share that with you today, as it is not something I have publicly spoke about in detail.

On International Women’s Day 2017, the slogan was #beboldforchange. The words alone ignited a fire in my belly, a feeling still very present to this day. I remember the morning clearly. I was sitting on my couch, sipping my coffee, reflecting on my journey as a woman through the adversity of the corporate world. I was proud that none of my career accolades had been handed to me. I worked my tail off to get to where I was and I was incredibly proud of myself for what I had achieved. I was 10-20 years younger than most of my peers, most of which were men. Yet none of that made me wonder whether or not I could stand alongside them as an equal. I commanded the respect by showing up powerfully with my own presence and confidence in what I had to offer. I took up the space that I knew I deserved to be in. Still, I wasn’t blind. I fully recognized that men had a much higher representation in middle management, and even more so at the Senior and Executive levels. The statistics are very real and it needs to change. Yet, I never doubted my ability to reach great heights as a woman. It was never if. It was when.

I remember going into deep thought that morning about what mysterious code I must have cracked in order to accomplish these types of things with a seemingly large amount of ease. Was it who I knew? Was it the extra hours I put in? Was it my ownership of results? My ability to lead and influence? My ability to get from point A to point B as efficiently as possible? Was it my brutal honesty in meetings? Was it my ability to engage my teams and drive results? Was it the fact that I never allowed myself to feel intimidated by the powers that be? Maybe it was a combination of all of the above. Yet none of it held a candle to the sudden and profound realization I had that morning. I had an ability to succeed at whatever I put my mind to, because I stood firmly in my own power, as a woman. Whether the odds or statistics were against me or not – I stood tall and I stood strong. For such, I was rewarded greatly with whatever I chose to lock my crosshairs onto. Some call it manifestation. I see it as more of personal commandment of worth and deservingness.

I could hold my own in a volatile board room of up to 90% men with 4x the experience I had, the same way I could hold the hand of a woman on my team while she found her footing through her divorce.

I could engage a room full of 6-figure to multiple 6-figure business leaders in a conference room, the same way I could engage my employees in a team building obstacle course in someone’s back yard.

I could stand firmly against a policy and take on the responsibility of building a new one, the same way I could take on the responsibility of misstepping and experiencing failure.

I stood in my power through all of it, even when my style of leadership often raised an eyebrow. I spent time helping my team manage personal road blocks that were ultimately creating professional road blocks, and in turn negatively impacting their own metrics. I incorporated personal development tools, team building activities, reflection days and a whole other arsenal of unorthodox approaches in a world of black and white business. I had an ability to see people in an entirely different way, and as a result, I lead them with an entirely different approach. I had operated this way since my first leadership role at the age of 21, and I stood firmly in my approach for the next ten years.

So there I was on my couch, still in my housecoat with a half drank cold cup of coffee, beginning to feel something huge unfolding. I had paved the way for myself, and now I needed to pave the way for others. For the women who had not yet discovered their own power, or understood the value and rewards of standing in it tall and strong. Then came the realization that without a natural ability to stand in one’s power, a safe container for growth needed to be created. An environment where women could feel free to cultivate the power that already existed within them, until they felt bold and strong enough to stand in their power on their own. I felt the excitement rising within me.

By this time it was around 9am, and I had taken note of the fact that my organization had not recognized International Women’s Day. Hmmm… There was nothing in our e-mail. Nothing in the online portal and no discussions or events taking place for the women in the organization. My excitement was slowly being replaced with a sinking feeling in my stomach because I knew what I was being called to do. Be Bold for Change.

Our Value of Diversity: International Women’s Day was the title of the e-mail. I felt the irony of it all hit me like a ton of bricks when I typed the names of those who had the power to help me inflict this change in the “To:” box. They were all men. Every single one of them. There was not a single woman in any of these senior and executive positions that would have any steering power for the change that needed to occur. With a deep breathe, I began to type. The e-mail was crafted in such a way that provided both education and solutions (and a slight touch of: it’s time to wake up, gentlemen…). I entered into some sort of vortex that I came out of two hours later as I reviewed the e-mail one last time before hitting send. It was the most powerful piece of writing I have ever created, even still to this present day. My mind was clear. My heart was full. I was proud. And…I was also not naive. I knew that by hitting send, it would be up to me to withstand any backlash that could come as a result. And so I surrendered.

It was brilliantly written, Sarah. Did your husband help you write it?

The responses that came in over e-mail and in person over the next 2 days had me in a state of shock. Disbelief. None of it was intentionally malicious, but it was a glaring state of ignorance at best. It left me questioning everything. Was I proud? If I wasn’t proud, was I actually successful? Is the corporate ladder really what I wanted to achieve? Am I actually being responsible by clinging to my career? Words escaped me, which was rare for someone as outspoken and as bold of a career woman as I was. It’s like my throat chakra slammed itself shut in order to protect me from the anger, confusion and ugliness that was brewing within me. I was beginning to realize that without the confidence to stand in her own power, career dreams for a woman would be unnecessarily difficult due to societal and corporate ignorance alone. There was a reel of women flashing through my mind, never achieving their dreams in a system that wasn’t set up for their success unless they had the courage I had. This realization extended far beyond my own organization, as I was beginning to see how very real this issue still was in 2017. It was dizzying. My higher self recognized that my usual bullet-proof level of emotional intelligence was eroding by the minute and I was on the verge of erupting. My husband and my parents took the brunt of it all for a good 48 hours as I released the steam that had built up at an alarming rate.

Throughout the chaos, I heard this little voice. It was as faint as a whisper, but I heard it loud and clear. Save your energy, Sarah. This isn’t the fight you’re meant to be fighting. There’s greater work to be done.

I knew after this emotionally volatile experience, I was changed forever – yet at the time I didn’t know what it all meant. I just knew there was no going backwards now. I was being called forward for something as a universal force flooded me with broken record that kept saying: Be the change. Be the change. Be the change. Be the change.

BE the change?! I would exclaim back to this invisible voice. What does that even mean?! 

This isn’t your platform, Sarah. A platform?! What is a platform?!

The next few months were a haze. I entered into an all out war with myself. My higher self was calling me forward to create large scale impact in a way I couldn’t even yet see, as the societal definitions of responsibility, success & achievement kept me trudging my angry ass to work every day. It wasn’t long before my mind gave up and could barely form a thought, let alone a strategy. My soul was exhausted from trying to get me to listen and my body was physically wrecked from a poor level of self care.

I wish I could say my big leap was inspiringly smooth. It wasn’t. It was messy AF. If I could draw it, it would look like one of those movie scenes where someone is running away from something terrifying, and then they trip and fall and end up rolling and tumbling down a slope, bouncing off of trees and rocks for what seems like an unnecessarily long period of time before coming to rest at the bottom, questioning whether or not they’re awake, asleep, dead or something confusing in between.

I recognize this now as the inevitable breakdown, before the beautiful breakthrough. There was so much within me, so much coming at me, and only flames of fear spilling out of me. Little did I know at the time, that I was in the midst of the greatest awakening I had ever experienced. I had done so much personal development work that I had worked myself right into a corner, knowing that only I was responsible for fixing this and stepping into the highest level of power I knew existed within me. A level of leadership and responsibility that terrified me beyond words.

In January of 2018 I started my business with nothing other than a Facebook group (Shout out to the Life Intentionally family!) and this little voice in my mind that told me to just trust myself. By March, a new seed had been planted, unbeknownst to me. I had embarked on a women’s empowerment weekend in California, feeling shocked to meet so many Canadians I had never heard of before, who were all doing incredible things. Why did I have to go all the way to California to come to know so many epic Canadians? Why don’t I know them already? Why isn’t there a platform for Canadian women? It was a thought that stuck to my soul like Gorilla glue, and the little voice came back with a vengeance. Create it. This is it. The leadership responsibility of representing and taking a stand for Canadian women to claim their own power felt like the weight of the world. Who am I to do this!? A week before launching, my fear almost convinced me to change my brand name entirely to Soul Hustle. Can you imagine?! After a short but effective lecture on fear from my little sister (which I had given her in the past) it was decided. On July 1st 2018 also known as Canada Day, The Great Canadian Woman brand was born. This is your platform, Sarah. The little voice whispered with a sign of relief, knowing that I had finally figured it out. Sometimes it takes me a while. I am a Taurus after all…

Through empowerment coaching, business consulting, live events, blogs, books and the Great Canadian Woman podcast, this platform has impacted thousands of women directly, and one can only estimate the reach of the ripple effect. Women have launched businesses, left jobs that don’t feed their soul, asked for their worth in pay and received it, left toxic relationships, discovered their own worth and love for themselves, established the highest levels of self respect, shared their stories, grown their businesses, helped other women start their businesses, and the list goes on…

On International Women’s Day 2017, I was spitting flames, trying to push an idea onto a group of people who weren’t ready to understand it. Today, just two years later, The Great Canadian Woman Podcast was chosen to be a part of Apple’s Inspiring Women campaign for International Women’s Day 2019. The Great Canadian Woman platform is the safe container for growth that I was attempting to build back in 2017, but that little voice was just telling me to build it somewhere else, and make it a little bigger. 😉

Be the change. Command the change. I had to. We all have to.

Happy International Women’s Day 2019! May you all be blessed with #balanceforbetter

The Science & Art of Business & Leadership

By Sarah Swain

This is an open letter to all entrepreneurs, visionaries, side hustlers, executives and middle managers alike. There is an art and a science behind what we get to do. The science is the business and the business is in the numbers. Metrics, formulas, trends, graphs, trajectories, projections, performance, growth, productivity, losses, profit and anything else you can measure. It’s black and white, or should I say, black or red. The business is either running, or it isn’t. The business is either producing results, or it isn’t. The business is either growing or it isn’t. The business is either profitable or it isn’t. The results of the numbers tell us this, our feelings don’t. There is no grey area here, and how we feel about our business doesn’t have a line on the profit and loss report. This isn’t cold. This is business. The warmth of business lies in the art; the art of leadership.

Here’s the deal though, being a business owner does not make you a leader by default, just the same as being a leader to a group of people doesn’t mean you can run a business. Titles don’t generate leaders, behaviours do. Inspiration and feelings don’t produce results, performance does.

Through my observations of working for billion dollar companies, running my own business, and watching others run their own platforms, there is one thing I know for sure. In order for business, or anyone in business to survive, they must respect the balance between the art and the science. I have seen great business minds fall down as a result of their poor leadership skills and I have seen great leaders fall because of their lack of business fundamentals. I have seen visionaries quit their own vision because business feels too cold for them, and I have seen brilliant business ideas flop because of something as simple as a lack of interpersonal skills.

Successful, sustainable business is a dance.

The best business models I have ever seen, possess this ideology – If it isn’t good for the employees/clients, it isn’t good for the business. Meaning, if the employees and/or the clients and customers are not happy, the business has a decision to make: listen and change, or ignore and fail. Because guess what? Businesses with happy, engaged employees and happy customers win every single time. If you’re making decisions for the business, without consulting the input and overall experience of your team, clients & customers, your business won’t succeed in the long term. On the flip side, if you’re allowing emotions to create knee jerk reactions and decisions for the business without proper planning, strategy and roll out, you’re still heading for a metric face plant. Its’ a dance.

One thing I did at the beginning of 2017 when I knew my craving for entrepreneurship was nearing it’s breaking point, I did what most people wouldn’t. I asked for feedback. I surveyed over 30 people I had worked with or had personal relations with over the past decade and asked them for their feedback based on their experience with me in the categories of leadership, communication, business & interpersonal skills. In exchange for their honesty, I committed to not rebutting any of their comments, or engaging in any type of justification for why they may have had a sub-par opinion. Why did I do this? Well, it’s easy for us to get caught up in what we think we are really great at and ignore some of the tougher interactions that may suggest we have room for improvement. Naturally, we don’t like to acknowledge our weaknesses so we tend to steer away from those lanes. However, if you’re going to engage in business in any form, I can’t stress this enough. Your weaknesses are your blind spots because if you don’t familiarize yourself with your blind spots, it makes it that much easier for threats to your business and reputation to enter in through the spaces which you cannot, or choose not to see.

The art of business & entrepreneurship is to know yourself, your triggers & your blind spots. The art is to acknowledge your strengths and your weaknesses. The art is to be conscious of how you’re showing up as and being seen in your community. The art is the willingness to listen to feedback and engage your emotional intelligence before responding. The art is to stay in your area of expertise and genius as often as you can, while simultaneously addressing skill sets or traits that may pull you backwards. The art is surrendering when it’s time for you to delegate to people who have the required skills that you don’t possess. The art is knowing when to take a step back and evaluate. The art is continuing to learn. The art is accepting that you don’t know it all, and finding excitement in knowing there is still so much more for you to learn. The art is your ability to lead because your ability to lead affects your business, more than your business affects your ability to lead.

Sarah Swain

Founder & Visionary, The Great Canadian Woman

http://www.thegreatcanadianwoman.ca

https://www.instagram.com/thegreatcanadianwoman

Entrepreneurship & Mental Health

By Sarah Swain

That face you make when someone tells you that you shouldn’t be stressed or depressed as an entrepreneur who gets to bring their vision to life.

FACT: entrepreneurs are more susceptible to depression, anxiety and substance abuse than traditional employees (source in bio for reference). .

Why?

Stress. Uncertainty. Social isolation. Personal and professional identity crossover. To name a FEW, of many…

Don’t let the world of Instagrammers living the dream on the beaches of Bali fool you into thinking something must be wrong with you and how you’re feeling behind the scenes of your business.

Gratitude isn’t lost on you for what you get to do with your life.

And it’s confusing as hell when you feel like you have it all, and feel like Hell all in one single moment.

There’s also nothing wrong with how you’re feeling. You’re not alone in your feelings.
Talk.
Reach out.
Talk to me.

Chances are I’ve felt what you’re feeling, too…and, we’ve got this.

And to all the entrepreneurs out there who make it all seem so easy, glamorous, and filled with nothing other than joy, beaches and laptops 👉🏼 This falsehood is harming people. This shit is hard! And sometimes it flat out hurts.

I have a full transparency e-book on Entrepreneurship Year 1 releasing in a couple of weeks and in it, I bare all this stuff – the behind the scenes funk, for this exact reason. It’s hard, it hurts, ands it’s lonely…all simultaneously along side joy, bliss, passion and excitement – the stuff that makes it all worth it !!.

Three articles below to help illustrate the relationship between entrepreneurship & mental health.

Sarah Swain

Founder & Visionary at The Great Canadian Woman

https://www.instagram.com/thegreatcanadianwoman/

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Is Your Story an Anchor or a Platform?

By Marsha Vanwynsberghe

We all have a story. All of us.  

The role that story plays in our lives is entirely up to us. We have a choice in how much power it has over us.

There are times in our lives where our stories are solid anchors, holding us down, stifling our lives and making our world incredibly small. We feel alone as if no one in the world “gets us.” We let our story literally dictate what we do or don’t do in our lives. The anchor is a heavy metal object that prevents us from drifting, moving or changing direction. It keeps us stationary, stagnant, and very small. We become victims of life, like a rag doll that takes a beating from the elements with no possibility of moving or changing the circumstances.  

I know this anchor.  I held onto and lived with this anchor for years.  As a parent dealing with teen substance abuse, that story defined me and the shame, blame and guilt that went with it meant I was carrying one massive anchor that held me down and stopped me from living in all areas of my life.  It took me years to realize and recognize that I was the one holding onto the anchor and if I wanted to change my life, I had to be the one to decide what role that anchor would play in my life!

For some of us, we hold onto that anchor as a form of safety, simply because it’s what we know. Honestly it’s no way to live, it’s barely a way to survive let alone even think of thriving!

Sometimes we learn to let go of the hold that anchor has on our lives. Truthfully, we always carry the anchor because our stories, experiences, emotions and pain shape us into who we become. We learn to let go a little, to embrace our stories, to own them, to acknowledge that they’ve contributed to who we are. In this situation, the anchor loses some of its pull, its power, its weight, and its ability to hold us down in our lives. We may even look at that anchor as a reminder of how far we’ve come on our journey.

Some of us take it one step further and use our story to help others, to ease their pain, to give meaning to our own suffering and to heal. When we’re at our lowest point, sometimes it’s the reminder that others are experiencing even more pain that reminds us, it’s not all about us. Truthfully, it took me a long time to get there, it was not an overnight trip!

Finally for some of us our anchor becomes the fuel for building a platform of the lessons from our stories and that platform becomes a coaching, speaking or writing business that serves, supports, and impacts others. It literally becomes a lemonade stand and it means that on some human level there’s a meaning behind our pain. “Pain is inevitable . . . suffering is a choice.” ~ (~ Unknown). It eases our pain, the pain of others, and helps us all heal. It collectively raises the vibration and becomes the ultimate story of people helping people. No judgement, more kindness, more collaboration, and ultimately a little less isolation and pain.

We have a choice regarding the role the anchor plays in our life. An anchor that:

  • Holds us down
  • We carry with us, and it weighs less than it used to.
  • Becomes the fuel to help ease the pain of others by supporting them in their journey.
  • Ultimately becomes a platform to serve, support and impact others. It may even become part of a larger mission and impact in the world.

Even if you never build a platform, create a business or coach and speak to others about your story, you deserve to have an anchor that weighs less or has less of a hold on you. An anchor that you may carry, yet it has no hold on you.

How does that sound?

How would that feel?

Does the word “light” come to mind?

If yes, it’s time to do something with your story. At the very least, it’s an anchor you carry, a badge of honor for what you’ve overcome. Here the anchor loses its hold, its pull and the weight it carries in your life.

That is my wish for you.  That you learn to embrace, even express some gratitude for your anchor and the role it has played in your life to make you who you are today.  Remember, we cannot choose what happens to us, yet we definitely can choose to control how we react and respond what life brings us. That mindset shift can completely change everything in your life!

Marsha Vanwynsberghe

Author, Speaker & Life Coach

www.marshavanw.com

I Wanted to Give Up

By Marsha Vanwynsberghe

Where I am today is not where I was many years ago. And where I am today is not where I’ll be years from now.

Change is constant.

Although for many years it felt as though nothing was changing. The first few years of fighting with substance abuse in our home with our teens were truly some of the worst years of my life. Playing small became my coping mechanism. I hid from everything and everyone. Work, family, friends, home . . . everything was hell. I honestly wanted to give up because the pain of watching the gong show was too hard to bear.

I lost the fighter in me. She was tired of fighting and of faking her way through life. That’s what I was doing. Faking everything – my smiles, my emotions, and my words. One big fat lie.

I’m glad I lost the fighter in me because she was the reason I was so stuck. The fighter was the one trying to control and fix everything. She was fighting a losing battle. She was spending every single ounce of energy on trying to fix something she had no ability to fix and ZERO energy on the things she could control. That being herself. Sound familiar? I know I’m not the only one who’s done this.

I literally felt like I split into two people and I had to, in order to see it.

When I broke down, and laying there on the floor begging for answers, I heard a voice say, “Stop.” I listened and over and over, I kept hearing the words “stop.”

I realized that the energy I was putting into fixing everyone around me was not being utilized at all AND it was taking away from any energy I could give back to myself to create change in my life. . I was the one wasting the energy and I was the reason I was on the floor. No one else. I had to chose to do something differently if I wanted a different result. Trust me, I WANTED a different result.

I am grateful I gave up being the fighter. Now those of you who know me are going to say a big BS right now because I am still a fighter. I will battle for a cause or an injustice but I’ve stopped fighting battles that aren’t meant for me to battle.

When I decided to add a purpose to this chaos, EVERYTHING changed. My mindset, my words, my energy, literally everything. I had hope for the first time in years.

I also realized that we can’t teach on anything we haven’t experienced or learned. I learned so much over these years and I understood that these lessons weren’t for me. They were for me to share to lighten the load for others. I didn’t have many people to help us in our early years because no one wanted to talk about drugs, boundaries, kids, and families. No one. That’s how I found my voice.

You can find your voice too . . . when you are ready own your story, create your boundaries, and let go of the fighter in you to finally find peace in your life, then you will be ready to rewrite your story.  Sometimes we have to give up “our way” in order to find a better way.

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Marsha Vanwynsberghe

Author, Speaker & Life Coach

www.marshavanw.com