Mahatma Ghandi voiced a beautiful thought on leadership, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” The challenge for me, in the first decade of running a business, was that I didn’t wish to see any change, so I continued to lead from a place of fear.
Like most people, my childhood shaped the person I was to become later in life. My parents split up when I was 2 years old and there was a serious disparity in their incomes. My father was a businessman who had a knack for making money and began buying apartment buildings in our hometown of Miramichi, New Brunswick. When we spent time together, we would always eat supper at a restaurant.
My mother had a heart of gold and worked hard for every cent she earned. But, even with two jobs, pumping gas and working in a grocery store, mom couldn’t afford the luxury of taking us out to a restaurant.
Over the years, my father helped me appreciate business and become familiar with earning money. I suppose he was my first employer; when I was a child, he would pay me ten dollars to read a book. Early in life, I decided to emulate the traits I admired in my father. I wanted to have his business smarts so I could provide for my family and afford some of the luxuries in life without having to worry.
Had I been smarter, I would have also chosen to borrow a trait from my mother – her kindness. Adopting something that precious would have served me well, but I was destined to learn that particular lesson the hard way, and later in life.
Another person who influenced my formative years was my grandfather, a serial pedophile who sexually abused me for over two years, starting when I was only eight years old.
From the examples of my father, I learned ambition, resolve and what it means to never give up. He also liked to ask me questions and challenge me in our dinnertime debates, which taught me how to think analytically.
From the trauma of my grandfather, I was left feeling fearful, angry and bitter. He had stolen everything from me and created a pattern of anxiety that would haunt me for decades. I promised myself I would never again be controlled by a man.
The aftermath of my grandfather’s crimes was almost as devastating as being molested. My mother believed me when I finally worked up the courage to share my story but my aunts and uncles did what people do – they blamed the victim. They wondered how I had behaved towards my grandfather and even asked me what I was wearing. Their reaction shocked me and left me feeling hollow and unloved. I began counting the days until I could leave Miramichi.
The next major turning points in my life happened at Dalhousie University. Academic life did not come easily to me – I had to study my ass off to keep up and, because of my motivation, that’s exactly what I did. The source of my motivation was my family, but not in the way you might think. It’s highly motivating when your extended family tells you all your life that you’ll be ‘nothing’… and deep down inside you’re determined to be ‘something’.
The dramatic milestones I spoke of occurred when I signed up for a Marketing class. Not only did I fall in love with marketing, I met and fell in love with the sexy beast who would become my husband, Gary Meldrum.
How could I resist? Gary was the only nice guy I had ever dated: charming, funny, smart and at the heart of his being, a beautiful human being. I thank the big guy above every day for bringing this man into my life.
Flash forward to life after university. Gary and I were headed to Edmonton with ten boxes of clothes, a Visa with a $500 limit and $60,000 worth of student loans. Fortunately, I was able to secure a job with a recruitment firm almost immediately.
That lasted a year.
Then I moved to the exciting world of radio to work in promotions. Because radio offers a fun and dynamic environment, people make sacrifices to work there. I was working 80 hours a week and bringing home $27,500 before taxes.
That lasted a year and a half.
Clearly I was just too eccentric to work for anyone else. The only option was to start my own company. This epiphany came to me during one of those 80-hour weeks near the end of my radio career and without giving myself time to change my mind I came home and announced the plan to Gary. No surprise – his response was simply, “Awesome!”
I started g[squared]? out of our small home in Millwoods and literally knocked on doors to get people to hire me. I still remember my first clients: K-days, Walls Alive, Safe Kids and Carmella’s Perfumeria. Those were tough days – I hustled, I worked hard and damn it, I hustled some more.
My hard work began to pay off. Within three years of starting g[squared]?, I had achieved the business goals I had set as a young girl. I was on a path of my own creation and well on my way to ‘having it all’. I had married the man of my dreams, started my own business and was having phenomenal success. Our revenue at g[squared]? had grown by 1,300% in the first 12 years.
I had everything I wanted. And still, I was broken. I was sick, all of the time. Sleep usually eluded me and when I did manage to fall asleep, I would often wake up in a full-blown panic attack. Even when the company was doing well, for some reason I always needed more. Why? Because I was afraid of losing it, afraid that someone would take it away from me. Fear continued to drive me and I tried to escape by burying myself further and further into my work. My involvement in everything at work had mixed results. To the outside world, we looked successful; we continued to attract clients and the clients were pleased with the work we were providing.
The view from inside the company was a different story. As much as it pained me to admit it, g[squared]? had become a revolving door because of me. I had no sense of self-love and because I couldn’t love myself, I had no idea how to love or treat others. I drove myself hard, and I was there to drive the rest of the staff until every project was perfect.
Well, I drove them, all right. I drove them crazy and I drove them out the door. You think I’d be able to see what was happening, but I was having trouble even seeing who I was as a human being. All I did was work and behave like an ass towards people. On top of that, I was 40 pounds too heavy, and completely miserable.
With everything I had accomplished, and in spite of all the noise in my head, I could still hear the echoes of my relatives telling me that I was ‘nothing’.
The truth is – I was worse than nothing. I was a broken mess.
If I had continued on the same course, it’s hard to say where my life would have gone from there. By now, children had come into our lives and I was still managing to hold my precious family together, thanks in large part to the patience and understanding of my wonderful husband. But something had to change… I had to change, and through the most random encounter, an opportunity presented itself.
I had slipped into a Starbucks for a coffee and bumped into an old friend who was also a sexual abuse survivor. She looked great, but at the same time she was different in a way that I couldn’t explain. And then it hit me.
She looked happy.
It was such a foreign concept to me by now that I didn’t compliment her or react as most people would. I just stared and said, “Why? Why are you so happy?” Her answer was exactly what I needed to hear.
In two weeks – Part Two: the answer that would change my life, the difficult evolution and the most crushing blow of all.