June 15, 2010

Change is never easy to bring about because most people prefer the safety of what they know to the uncertainty of what comes with change.

I’m not sure if it was the short time I spent couch surfing and sleeping on park benches as a teen, or the experiences I have had since, but I have learned that the one and only thing I can truly count on is change.

I remember hitting what I thought was rock bottom when I was just 15 years old. I was demoralized, alone, and realizing that I wasn’t the centre of the universe, and the people who passed by my huddled form in a doorway would go on despite me. It was then that I understood that change would happen with or without me, but the decisions I made would impact it. I could influence change, but I had to own the responsibility of making myself into the person I wanted to be.

I started pumping gas at the age of 16, and at 18 started my own company leasing service stations across Ontario. At 24, I won recognition as the top dealer in Canada and by the time I was 30 I had built a multi-million dollar company that focused on turning around failing service stations and making them successful.

The key to turning around each business came from changing the predominant attitude of failure to an attitude of success.

I wasn’t afraid to challenge the status quo; to change the way things had always been done. I was one of the first to bring a retail component, to break from the traditional products like oil and windshield washer fluid and bring in different items like chips, chocolate bars, and juice. I was highly criticized for it and taunted by my counterparts for being a silly woman who didn’t know what I was doing.

I persisted and eventually others realized that by adding this additional retail component to my locations I was offering convenience to the local area residents and attracting them back. Combine this with cleaning up each location and motivating the staff to be friendly, and it seemed a simple recipe for success.

But the fact is that bringing about change is never simple. It is one of the most challenging tasks one can do, but also one of the most rewarding. Service stations with stores are now common and it is in part because of my desire to change the way that industry went about doing business.

I launched Women’s Post Media, a business publication – in newspaper format – designed specifically for women. I believed that businesswomen wanted and needed something to promote and unite them. I went to industry experts to get their backing, but was told that my venture was a long-shot and not likely to succeed because women were more interested in gardening and fashion.

Again I challenged the status quo, and despite having no experience in the industry, I managed to build a successful company turning the newspaper into a magazine and building a large community of businesswomen both through the print and online publications. Today it is a highly sought after community and I am glad I did not listen to the “industry experts” and those who told me I wouldn’t succeed.

And yet, despite my desire to constantly challenge the status quo, in my early twenties I took up the hobby of restoring old homes and have never given up. Maybe it is the stability of returning an old home to its original beauty that attracts me to this hobby. The reassurance of knowing that despite the changes, what lies underneath – the strong foundations – will always remain. Having solid foundations is the key to navigating through the inevitable changes that life entails.

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