“Both personally and professionally you have to learn to accept yourself and forgive yourself. You’re never going to be perfect…”
Sarah Davis was born in Saint John, New Brunswick, and is the youngest of four children. After moving briefly to Chicago while her father completed his PhD, then to Montreal, her family eventually settled in the Greater Toronto Area, where Sarah attended high school in Port Credit.
After completing a Bachelor of Commerce degree at Queen’s University, Sarah worked as a Chartered Accountant at Ernst & Young, and then moved into telecommunications where she held roles for both Bell and Rogers.
In 2007, Sarah left Rogers for a Financial Executive position at Loblaw Companies Limited. From 2010-2014, she served as Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Loblaw’s, and currently serves as the company’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO).
As the mother of three daughters, Sarah’s managed to find some balance between her personal and professional roles. However, she emphasizes that it is hard to do everything well, and has learned to accept herself, forgive herself, and recognize when she is doing the best that she can.
“I certainly had some feelings of guilt when I thought that I wasn’t the mother who was going on the field trip or who wasn’t going to the school and volunteering.
Sometimes that made me sad. That I couldn’t be that mother.
But I think you just have to decide how you are going to be and then accept yourself or else you just feel guilty all of the time.”
Particularly while she was going through a divorce at the age of 32, Sarah was motivated to work hard and efficiently in order to support her daughters at home. Throughout her career, she has made it a personal goal to eat dinner with her family as much as possible, and tries to avoid bringing work home. As her two oldest daughters are away at university, Sarah currently lives with her second husband and her youngest daughter (who is in Grade 12).
Despite having reached a high level of career success, Sarah never placed heavy expectations on herself to achieve specific promotions. Instead, Sarah always “thrived on doing a good job” in whatever role she held.
“From a career perspective, you have to recognize that your career is really long. So don’t worry if you don’t achieve everything all at once.”
In this episode, Sarah talks about accepting herself as a mom and a business professional, the challenges and opportunities for women in the business world, and learning not to worry about “things you can’t control.”
“It is only YOU who gets to make the choices about your own time and what you do…and you need to make the time for what DOES matter. It’s okay that that may not be what everyone else says matters…”
After growing up in Burlington, Ontario, Heather Cheeseman completed a Bachelor of Commerce degree at Queen’s University. In the fall of her fourth year, she was recruited by the international tax, audit, and advisory services firm, KPMG, and became a Partner in KPMG’s Canadian Mining practice by the age of 32.
Over the course of her career, Heather has visited over fifteen mine sites on six continents, and has significant experience providing internal and external assurance and other services to companies at all stages in the mining life cycle. Although she’s experienced tremendous career success, Heather still struggles with a sense of “impostor syndrome” in the workplace.
“No matter what success you reach or no matter what you do, you always think that someone else is going to figure out that you’re really not that good at what you’re doing.”
During her undergrad, Heather also met her husband, Dave, while they were both working in their hometown of Burlington for the summer. As Dave attended Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, Heather and Dave maintained a long-distance relationship for a few years before eventually moving to Toronto where they both currently live and work.
“I think the thing with love…a big part of it is seeing beyond all the good stuff and seeing them for who they really are and accepting that…and knowing you’re not perfect and they’re probably not perfect, but accepting that about them… and being there through it…
…The good stuff’s easy.”
Despite her busy schedule as Partner for KPMG, Heather has learned to balance her personal and professional lives and make room for other things that are important to her, like spending time with her family and friends, traveling, drinking wine, and going to the gym.
“There’s always more work to do if you want to do it….so it can be A LOT if you forget about what else is going on in your life.”
It has taken her several years to establish boundaries at work but Heather believes that letting go of “work that doesn’t actually need to get done” so that she can put herself first has actually helped her to perform better at work. It has also improved her relationships, as she has learned to invest her time and energy into the people who matter the most to her.
“I’m just one person trying to leave the world a little better than I found it.”
The seventh episode of the Inspiring Women Seriesis my conversation with Megan Valois, a high school teacher in the Ottawa Catholic School Board and a longtime friend of mine.
Since she is one of the hardest working, most caring, and most positive women that I know, I feel fortunate that Megan was willing to share her story, insights, and passions with me.
Megan grew up in Ottawa, Ontario, where she currently lives and works. As a young girl, she was inspired by her father’s commitment to volunteerism, and became dedicated to community service herself.
“His name on a bulletin board wouldn’t mean anything to a lot of people…but the people who did know him were greatly impacted by him, and that’s the type of person that I want to be.”
During high school, she volunteered at her church, was involved in her school’s Youth Ministry and Peer Helping programs, and spearheaded the Student Ambassador Program for Kids Help Phone in Ottawa. In 2002, she received the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award for her contributions to the greater community.
“It’s just the little things that, cumulatively, create a person’s legacy.”
After “fast-tracking” from high-school, Megan completed a Bachelor of Arts degree at Acadia University in Nova Scotia. Following her graduation, Megan moved back home and earned her Bachelor of Education degree at the University of Ottawa with teachables in English and History at the Intermediate and Secondary Levels. She also has additional qualifications in Special Education, Primary/Junior Education, and French as a Second Language.
Megan has been working as a high school teacher for 10 years and is currently teaching Grade 11 English and Grade 10 history, including a “sheltered class” which consists of only ESL students. As a teacher, Megan is passionate about differentiated instruction, Assessment for Learning, 21st Century Learning, and the use of technology in the classrooms. Megan moderates Canadian Ed Chat and has completed her Google Apps for Education training. In 2012-2013, Megan received the honour of being one of five teachers recognized by Queen’s University as “Associate Teacher of the Year.”
“I would love to do something that has a big impact on education.”
As she is very invested in ongoing professional learning, Megan uses much of her spare time networking with other educators online, preparing for conference presentations, and attending professional development workshops. However, since giving birth to her son, Ethan, just under two years ago, Megan has learned to balance her passion for teaching with her family responsibilities.
In this episode of the Inspiring Women Series, Megan discusses her passion for education, the unique challenges of being an “army wife” (her husband, Travis, serves in the Canadian Armed Forces), her desire to make a difference in the world, and the importance of surrounding herself with positive people.
“I thrive on positive energy because when you are around like-minded people who really want to make a positive impact, it really causes you to look inward as well and ask yourself: ‘Where is my passion? What is my fire? Where do I want to go? What do I want to do? What kind of impact do I want to have?'”
The Inspiring Women Seriesis a podcast dedicated to sharing the many stories of women who have inspired me in my life, or who have inspired others. Please contact me if you would like to nominate someone for me to interview.
“You have to stay authentic to what you really love, like when you were a kid, when you didn’t care what people thought…those weird quirky things…I think you should always hold onto those.”
For the sixth episode of the Inspiring Women Series, I had an insightful conversation with Louise Johnson, a Toronto-based writer and blogger. I’ve known Louise since we were kids, as both of our families spend the summers in the beautiful cottage region of Norway Bay, Quebec. I’ve always been inspired by Louise’s love for her family, her way with words, her creativity, and her courage to put her thoughts into cyberspace.
Louise grew up in Oakville, Ontario, a suburb outside of Toronto. As a young girl, her parents encouraged her to become involved numerous activities, like dance and soccer. Louise believes her incredibly busy upbringing has helped her to learn how to balance her day job with her dreams of being a writer.
As a business student at the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario, Louise spent her summers interning for Elizabeth Arden in New York. After graduating, she was offered a full-time job to work on the new Taylor Swift fragrance and starting making plans to relocate to New York City. However, two months before she was set to move, she was offered a position at Elizabeth Arden’s Geneva office and ended up moving to Switzerland for two years.
When she first moved to New York as an intern, Louise started the blog, Manhattan Maven, as a way of sharing her adventures abroad with her friends and family. She quickly realized her passion for writing and documenting, and the desire to pursue writing more seriously began to gnaw at her.
“It’s this invisible drive or voice inside of my head that I feel like I’ve always had. Sometimes it’s quieter than others, but it’s always there…and I just have to get it out.”
So, when she returned to New York after living in Switzerland, she assembled her writing portfolio and applied to grad school. Louise ended up getting into Harvard University’s Master’s of Journalism program and moved to Boston, where she fully committed herself to the craft of writing.
Currently, Louise is living in Toronto and working full-time as an in-house writer for an advertising agency. This allows her to pay the bills, write creatively on the side, and live closer to her tight-knit family after six years of living abroad.
“I value my family so much…I am just in a constant state of ignorant bliss when I’m with them.”
On top of her day job, Louise is freelancing for several websites such as Normale Magazine, Glamping Hub, and the Boston Day Book. Although she currently loves Toronto’s energy and social scene, she dreams of one day moving to a little cabin in the woods to write a novel.
In this episode of the Inspiring Women Series, Louise discusses why she left her incredible life in New York to pursue her dreams of becoming a writer, her obsession with her family, and the importance of living authentically.
“It’s hard to put yourself out there and take judgement, but when you do, it’s so freeing. You just stop caring what other people think and you just do things that make you happy… It’s the best feeling.”
The Inspiring Women Seriesis a podcast dedicated to sharing the many stories of women who have inspired me in my life, or who have inspired others.
“My inspiration is in nature. It’s simplicity. It’s complexity. It’s beauty.”
For the fifth episode of the Inspiring Women Series, I chatted with Debbie Jenkins, an amazing woman who I had the pleasure of meeting while teaching in Pond Inlet, Nunavut. Debbie worked for 7 years in the Canadian Arctic as a caribou biologist, and is currently completing her PhD at Trent University.
Debbie grew up in North Bay, Ontario. She attributes her current passion for biological conservation to her active, outdoorsy childhood, a life-long gift from her amazing parents.
From an early age, she developed a deep connection with nature, and this relationship is at the core of everything that she does. An avid adventurer, Debbie takes every opportunity to get outside, whether that is through traveling, hiking, skiing, paddling, camping, or simply spending time alone on the land.
“At the core of who I am is this connection I have with nature.”
After completing her undergraduate degree at Laurentian University in Environmental Science, Debbie worked for Science North and then the Department of the Environment in Sudbury for several years. Eventually, her love of learning and commitment to nature pulled her to quit her job to follow her dreams of becoming a biologist and she began a Master’s Degree in Biology at Trent University.
During her Master’s, Debbie worked with elk that had been reintroduced in Ontario, and white-tailed deer, and developed a research interest in large ungulates. After graduating, she left the security and comfort of her work in Ontario, and moved to the Arctic where she lived and worked for 7 years.
“I always wanted to work in the Arctic. I always felt this passion for large, wild spaces and I couldn’t imagine a wilder space than the Arctic.”
As a wildlife research biologist in Pond Inlet, Nunavut, Debbie conducted population surveys of caribou and muskoxen, collaring projects, and community-based monitoring. She traveled all over the High Arctic and completed research projects in some of the most remote regions, many of which had not been monitored for 40 years.
Debbie is currently completing her PhD at Trent University and is using the data she collected from her time in Nunavut to inform her research. With many caribou populations declining, not only in the Arctic, but across Canada and globally, Debbie’s work is important for gathering information on the status, distribution and structure of caribou and muskoxen populations, as well as the potential impact of climate change on these iconic Arctic species. She hopes that she will be able to use the knowledge she gains from doing her PhD to communicate scientific research in a way that is meaningful and “palatable to people in the Arctic and to people around the globe.”
In this episode of the Inspiring Women Series, Debbie talks about her loves of nature, her partner, her family, and her dog, her passion for protecting the earth’s biological diversity, and her personal challenge to do new things even when she’s afraid.
“I quit two jobs to go back to school. I left a really comfortable job in Ontario to go up to the Arctic, and it’s not to say I was this brave person heading out, because I was scared to death when I did some of those things. But I did [them] afraid. You know when you think you can’t do it, when you can’t get past the fear, just do it afraid.”
The Inspiring Women Seriesis a podcast dedicated to sharing the many stories of women who have inspired me in my life, or who have inspired others.
“Every woman should have the strength to know herself. Yes, you will face obstacles, but you have to turn that obstacle into energy… If you have belief about your strength…if you have support in your life…then nothing can stop you.”
For the second episode of the Inspiring Women Series, I had a conversation with Lovely Zaman Shima, who I met while we were both in graduate school at the University of Ottawa. From the moment I met Lovely, I was immediately struck by her positive spirit, her confidence, and her determination.
Lovely was born in Bangladesh in 1979 and grew up in the capital of Dhaka, where she is currently living with her husband and her two children. After losing her parents at a young age, and being raised by her brothers, Lovely was able to find the strength to stay positive and work towards her dreams.
A turning point in her life was achieving 7th place out of 150,000 students in Bangladesh on her exam for the Secondary School Certificate (S.S.C.). Positioning so highly on this exam helped her to believe in herself and her own abilities. It also inspired her to dream BIG.
Thus, she enrolled in an undergraduate program at the University of Dhaka where she met her husband. They quickly fell in love and got married, and Lovely became pregnant with her daughter at the age of 21. Instead of seeing her pregnancy as a barrier to finishing her studies, Lovely “turned the obstacle into energy,” and completed the program during her pregnancy. Afterwards, she completed a Master’s Degree in International Relations at the University of Dhaka.
Following her schooling, Lovely joined the government service as Assistant Super of Police (ASP) in 2005- one of the most prestigious jobs in Bangladesh. As ASP, she worked with Bangladeshi women to help them overcome situations of oppression.
When her husband, a diplomat, was posted abroad, she traveled with him and her family, first to Malaysia, and then to Canada. While in Canada, with the encouragement of her husband, she started a second Master’s in Women’s Studies at the University of Ottawa. Shortly, she will begin a PhD, which she hopes will help her to represent Bangladesh in the international arena.
In this episode of the Inspiring Women Series, Lovely describes how every woman should have confidence in her own inner strength. Rather than perceiving obstacles as barriers to personal growth, Lovely views them as a source of energy which women can use to gain strength and push themselves to reach their goals.
I interviewed Lovely over Skype from Colombia while she was in Bangladesh, so the connection gets a little fuzzy at times, but it’s definitely worth a listen to learn from her wisdom and courage.
In light of it being Valentine’s Day in North America (in Colombia El Dia del Amor y La Amistadis celebrated in September), I thought I’d write about self-love. (After all, the longest relationship any of us will ever have is with ourselves!)
Sadly, though, we live in a world that makes it difficult to love ourselves. From a young age, we are taught that we are never enough. Beauty is purchased. Happiness is pursued. Bodies are shaped. There’s always someone smarter, fitter, faster, stronger, more beautiful than us. In my grade five class, I’ve been alarmed by the number of uber-thin girls who have told me how fat they are, and the boys who have broken down in tears after receiving 9/10 on their Math quizzes. As high-achieving ten-year-olds, they are already striving for perfection in every aspect of their lives.
But I did the same when I was their age. I was constantly complaining about how fat I was compared to the other girls in my ballet class and would wear baggy sweatshirts to hide my curvy figure. While I never developed an eating disorder, like many other dancers and female athletes, I struggled with exercise addiction until my mid-twenties (and arguably still do). I’d push my body to the point of injury and would beat myself up if I missed a day at the gym.
I’ll admit, there was a day during my undergrad when I taught three fitness classes and then played 80 minutes of rugby. I’d always opt for a Sunday morning run over Sunday morning cuddles with my boyfriend. In addition, I over-scheduled my life with clubs, activities, and leadership roles to fulfill a compulsive need to be the best at everything I did. But it wasn’t entirely my fault: “busy-ness,” over-achievement and perfectionism were glorified in the culture of my university. I even won an award at my graduation for outstanding contribution to athletics and student government. I’m sure my Dean’s List average, long list of extra-curriculars, and high-achieving résumé helped me land a grad school scholarship.
However, my extensive involvement and over-scheduled life came at a cost: time for myself. I went years without going to the doctor, was often running on little sleep, experienced several chronic injuries from over-exercise, and took some of the relationships I valued most in my life for granted. I missed a few of my good friends’ weddings. I had to skip out on Thanksgiving at the cottage (my favourite family time of the year), and wasn’t able to be there for friends who were going through hard times. Also, I never made time for creative pursuits, like writing and photography, which add joy and meaning to my life.
It took a tough and painful breakup alongside the professional heartbreak of not receiving funding for my PhD research for me to realize that the compulsive need to be busy all of the time, as well as perfectionism, come from a place of fear of not being enough as I am. I was forced to confront the fact that I’m human like everyone else, and this means accepting that I’m deeply flawed and ultimately, imperfect. But, as a good friend wisely told me, my beauty lies in my imperfection: my inability to close cupboards or doors, my awkwardness in big groups, my terrible sense of direction.
One of the hard lessons that I’ve learned from being a teacher is to practise self-love in both my personal and professional lives. This means, putting myself first and being okay with saying “no” to people who need my help.
Most of my teaching experiences have been in low-income, “at-risk” communities, like inner-city Toronto and London, and on First Nations reserves. So I’ve worked really hard in my role as a “helper”: helping students believe in themselves, helping them overcome adversity, helping them reach their potential when the odds are stacked against them. However, the amount of energy I spent in investing in others came at the expense of helping myself. Since I was on the road most weekends coaching basketball or rugby, I struggled to make time for the people and passions that I loved. This led to frustration and burn-out. It’s no wonder that nearly half of teachers leave the profession within their first five years of teaching.
I love teaching, but I’ve learned that to thrive in the profession, as well as maintain my health and sanity, that I have to constantly practise self-love. I have to put myself before my students. As my amazing and inspiring friend and fellow teacher said, “It’s like being on an airplane. You have to put on your own oxygen mask before you put on someone else’s.” This means making time every day to exercise, prepare healthy meals, and get to bed early, no matter how much grading I have. I give myself permission to have shitty lessons every now and then. I give less assignments that I have to grade myself and have more peer and self-evaluated assessments. I continue to be involved in extra-curriculars but I don’t coach EVERY sports team or run EVERY club.
Prioritizing self-love in my professional life has also helped me in my personal life. I say “no” to social events I don’t want to go to and have stopped trying to please other people. I make time to pursue my passions like writing and travel. I’ve stopped investing in friendships that don’t make me better or add substance to my life and instead, spend the bulk of my time with the people I really care about. While I still exercise most days, I schedule time for my body to rest and recover, and I don’t beat myself up when I skip my workouts.
While I spent the bulk of this Valentine’s Day alone, I didn’t feel sad or lonely. I went for a beautiful run in the morning and shared a traditional Colombian lunch with my friend. I spent the afternoon writing in a café, practiced photography with my new camera, and then enjoyed una cerveza y solwith another friend. I felt free to do what I wanted with who I wanted because I didn’t feel the need to achieve, or please, or meet any sort of social expectations.
This Valentine’s Day, I feel lucky to have spent the day loving the person who matters most in my life: me.
But I have very few pictures of London itself. In fact, I don’t have a single photo of the places cinco minutos de mi casa (five minutes from my house) that I saw every day and developed a connection with.
No photos of the old Victorian buildings.
Or of the cobblestone alleyways.
Or of the artsy cafés & bars (where I’d go to write my blog, inspired that Oscar Wilde may have once sat down to write in the same places).
Or of the designer consignment stores, like the one where I bought a funky shirt-dress for five pounds, which my students decided was a hideous fashion blunder and claimed made me look like a cupcake/sumo wrestler.
Or of the many electronic shops on Tottenham Court Road that I walked by every day but never stepped inside.
Maybe I didn’t take as many pictures at “home” because it’s harder to look at the parts of my life that go deeper than tourist shots. I started to see a London that captured all of the joys and heartaches that come with living.
In my neighbourhood of Fitzrovia, I developed strategies for coping with struggles at work, like rainy runs in Regent’s Park, or a Turkish Wrap at the Camden Lock Market, as well as rituals for celebrating success, like pints at the neighbourhood pub, or spontaneous dance parties followed by late-night Korean food.
I learned to feel the pulse and beat of the city (“Do you hear that sound? It’s London, calling…”, an old man whispered to me after last call at a pub he’d been frequenting every night for the last 40 years).
I discovered the most efficient routes for navigating public transit (don’t fall asleep on the last train from Clapham Junction and avoid night buses at all costs!) and the etiquette for using it (avoid eye contact, keep to yourself, become as stressed out as possible, and most importantly, “mind the gap”).
My relationship with London was definitely love-hate. It inspired me to live wildly and deliberately. It broke me down and drained my bank account. It’s a city that brought out the best and worst in me. It’s left me with a hopeful yearning that, perhaps, if we’re lucky, our stars will eventually align and we might have another shot at each other sometime in the future.
My passionate affair with London pushed me to those moments of agony and ecstasy that sometimes get lost in the monotonous grind of daily life. Ultimately, it forced me to grow and become stronger than I was before because I wouldn’t have survived if I’d stayed the same. That’s what the best relationships do: they change you.
My relationship with Manizales, Colombia, is still fresh–I moved here in October 2015. So, it’s too soon to know which parts of it will stay in my heart and which parts I’ll want to leave behind. But with all of its cafés, vibrant culture, and easy access to the outdoors, I can easily see how it’s been voted as Colombia’s best city to live in.
In light of my regret about not documenting my life in London, here are some photos of places in my new neighbourhood in Manizales: spots that are all cinco minutos de mi casa. I’m still in tourist mode, though, so let’s see how intimately I come to know them in the future.