How do you define leadership?
Leadership is inspiring others with a vision and harnessing the energy of the group. A great leader stands on the front lines and inspires others to achieve their best in any given task. They also encourage others to realize their own personal power in the process.
Who encouraged you to be a leader?
Indirectly, I would say both my mother and father inspired me and in very different ways. They were divorced when I was three; therefore going between two households offered me a very different and profound set of experiences growing up.
As a young girl, I watched my mother struggle with bipolar disease and substance abuse. Then, during a second failing marriage, we further struggled to find peace and a sanctuary in a household fraught with violence. This encouraged me to seek answers within myself, to find a personal strength that can only come from within and in doing so I harnessed that strength for a greater good. My mom empowered me to look at people as if I were in their shoes—to spend more time listening rather than merely being heard. She would always say, speak your truth, tell your story and don’t give a sh*t what others may think.
My father was a single dad navigating the complexities of bringing up a tomboy daughter, who preferred to play with GI Joes than Barbie’s. After a while, he encouraged this and most often our playtime was going on adventures in nature. Often this included survival adventures, camping and getting dirty. He of course believed in discipline and commitment, but did so from a place of positive leadership. He taught me that for every action, there is an equal reaction. He also taught me that influencing others meant understanding their world, not just yours and that no man or woman is above or beneath you. If you make someone your equal and treat him or her well you will be rewarded.
The duality of my upbringing was not only profound, but a powerful motivator for my successes and continued progress—both personally and professionally.
Were you encouraged to think critically about the world? By whom?
From a young age, I always took an interest in the culture of our society. Because of the nature of my upbringing and thinking that I was “different,” I took an interest in underserved populations. While most of my friends would make fun of the “LD” (learning disabled) and ESL kids, I volunteered to teach English and reading skills to those students, and they are some of my fondest memories in high school. Volunteering with these students taught me a greater compassion for the human spirit and further reinforced the idea of looking at the world through someone else’s eyes.
As an adult, I wanted to travel, I wanted to see the world and I wanted to be ingrained in different cultures. This led me to look at the complexities and structure of different religions, traditions and the interwoven diversity of our global society. When others were reading “The Babysitters club” from the local library, I was learning about the African plains, or World War II.
Were the norms of your industry working against you?
In one word—yes! As a youth we didn’t have a lot of money, frankly I worked two jobs in high school to help pay rent and utilities at home, so any extra curricular activities like sports or arts were difficult to find the time for. But sport and play are essential to both kids and youth. It provides a necessary outlet for health and development, but it also teaches team camaraderie, self-confidence and self-development. Typically with budget cuts sports is the first to go and for the underserved populations it’s an expense that isn’t a priority. 1 in 6 kids in BC live in poverty; this means most likely 1 in 6 kid can’t afford to benefit from the experience sport and play can give, and I was one of those kids. My solution to this was to choose a sport I could perform solo with little equipment—I chose running!
Secondly, as an adult I chose the career path of being an entrepreneur in business, and had an interest in law enforcement. The majority of my jobs and career paths have been male dominated.
In March 2014 we welcomed 103 years of International Women’s Day and it is clear that women are transforming the world of business. But the gender makeup of business leadership has barely changed. Women still do not make as much as their respective counter parts, women hold less positions in government and policy making and the level C positions are predominantly held by men. The norms of our industry still work against us and in order for us, as women, to achieve our full potential we MUST change the culture of business and our society.
When have you had to think outside the box to overcome a challenge?
My entire life has been a think outside the box exercise in order to solve the numerous challenges I’ve faced. I have always believed that there are times when set parameters are necessary, but you must be strong enough to step outside that comfort and make decisions for yourself, that are in your best interest. Decisions that are not always obvious or easy but necessary in order to survive.
In 2006, I spent a month in Sudan, Africa in an all boys compound/orphanage in the middle of a civil war. Not the most safe of vacations, but certainly the most eye opening. That trip taught me a lot about courage. After I returned home, a couple years later my mom passed away, I was laid off and the apartment I was subletting was sold. I had no job, no place to live and was in a very dark place of grieving. Instead of throwing in the towel; which I considered; I chose to find courage in being humble and couch surfed with friends, and moved to the downtown eastside in a cheap apartment. I slept on the floor and ate broccoli and peanut butter for three months. It’s what you do—return to simplicity. During this time I remembered my trip to Sudan and what got me through this dark time was the courage these children had to endure during constant war times. The loss of their homes, families and friends, and the happiness they found in having very little and re-learning how to live after a devastating war. Learning how to be resourceful is one of my most remarkable out of the box skills I have learned.
Did you have any programs like PF available to you? How would a program like PF have changed your journey?
I’m going to date myself with this one, but as a youth I remember the matrix style computers – green letters, black screens and floppy discs. There was no Facebook and no online programs. Therefore, much of the resources I leaned on were in school; which were minimal. A student counselor was really the only option, and she was a great resource at the time.
Programs like PF are integral to the community. Young women and girls are entering a new era of world change and diversification. They will be responsible for taking on a plethora of social issues that are changing the paradigm of all industries where leadership, development and cultural exchange are paramount. If I had a program like PF during those influential stages of self-exploration as a young girl, I would have been better armed with certain skills designed for problem solving, decision-making and more importantly, community action.
What advice would you give your 15 year old self?
First off, I would tell her that it’s okay to feel angry, it’s okay to feel confused and it’s okay to feel different. Authenticity is part of your personal truth; it’s who you are. I would tell her that life may be full of adversity and challenge, but it will be filled with opportunity and success as well. She should never lose hope. I would tell her that going the distance takes courage and strength and even though she may not know it yet, it’s there and the more she looks for it, the more it will find her.
I would also tell her to eat her mother’s lunches, because even though she finds it hard to understand her life and her mother’s choices, it is what will become the foundation of her strength in this world and even though she may not feel it, her mother was always there for her. I would encourage her to travel, to see the world and to make friends with the “uncool” kids, because they usually have the best ideas. Lastly, the best advice I would give her is to tell her story. Don’t wait until you are in your later years; start your legacy now. Let the world know who you are, who has inspired you and who you want to become. Life is meant to be lived, so get out there and live it. (Disclaimer: remember you have a curfew; it’s stresses mom out when you sneak out the window—she always knows.)
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Sarah is what you would call a freelance do’gooder, a social crusader, a runner of amok of all things bucketlist and philanthropically inclined. Sarah is an accidental superhero who believes that inside every person resides a HERO.
Leveraging over fifteen years in the health and wellness industry, Sarah’s professional designation is as CEO and Head Coach at Moveolution, a Vancouver based health sciences consulting company, designed to compliment the clinical and performance fields by using corrective strategy, innovation and integrative evidence-based movement and cognitive science. Her vision is to elevate the potential of every active professional, to train for life, manage stress and make time for exploration and play in movement.