How does a girl from small town Saskatchewan, Canada, find her way through life and end up working at the headquarters of a multinational crop science company in St Louis, Missouri?
I’d like to tell you that it was a straight path; you know – ‘as the crow flies’. I’d like to tell you that it was intentional, planned, strategic.
But it wasn’t.
This is not your typical agriculture related story. This is my story; the story of my very unlikely journey that got me to where I am today. This story is one part navel gazing (so, yeah, I might brag a little) but it’s probably two parts heartache. I am going share some personal and surprising artefacts about my life. I will also share some learnings at the end.
I will begin with one key learning I’ve had: Life is a path. And there are only two rules: you begin, and you continue. You may not have the choice of how you begin but I’ve learned that you always have the choice about how you can continue – the paths you choose.
THE EARLY YEARS: I grew up the daughter of the Canadian prairies. A small-town girl from a farming community.
A dreamer, an idealist, a romantic.
My childhood was unstable in many ways. We were a nomadic family. My dad moved from job to job and town to town. Because of this, my grandmother became an enormously stable influence for me. Mostly because her place – near the family homestead – became a pitstop along the path of many moves.
This less-than-stable early upbringing probably led me to choose several wrong paths throughout my life (more on that later). To be sure, instability undermined my confidence. In fact, for most of the first three decades of my life I felt paralyzed by self-doubt and shame.
You see…I was that kid. The wrong one … or at least I felt that way. I was an accident – born an only child who eventually evolved into being the middle child of a blended family. I was a cliché. I was the author of “firsts” in the family: first to drop out of university, first to get pregnant out of wedlock, first to divorce, first to be a single parent…the list goes on and on.
Ironically, however, there was a wild and naïve ambition that drove me as a young adult. These ambitions were unrealistic, shaped by aesthetics, and a bit of insecure vanity. And for some reason, these things seemed wholly achievable in my mind.
This dreamer and idealist wanted to be an actress. I wanted to be famous.
And I suppose the genesis of what drove those ambitions was when I won a regional pageant in Saskatchewan and went on to compete in the Miss Teen Canada pageant in 1983.
When my mom remarried, we had settled in Nipawin, Saskatchewan when I was in grade six. It was there I’d finally found the “home”town I’d been craving all my life. I developed friendships. Lifelong ones.
I began to test the waters on who I was or at least who I thought I was. And while my hometown (Nipawin) still warms my heart, I suppose I was not much different than other 18-year-old pageant queens. I could hardly wait to get out of my hometown and move to the big city of Saskatoon.
SMALL TOWN GIRL, BIG CITY: Life was good. I started dating a nice young farm boy from Delisle, Saskatchewan soon after I arrived in Saskatoon. My experience in pageants lead me to modeling and acting. I joined a theater group and found a good agent in Saskatoon.
The next couple of years whizzed by at a rapid pace. By the time I was 19, I’d dropped out of university, strutted the runway in New York City, had won awards in a North American acting competitions, and auditioned in front of the casting agents for a well-known soap opera. My identity was wholly wrapped up in how I looked and, most certainly, not in my intellect. What I could do to contribute to society in a meaningful way was the least of my worries.
In late 1985, I auditioned for and was given the opportunity to take a lead role in a musical show for Expo 86 (Vancouver, BC). That was exciting. It seemed that all my dreams were coming true.But we all know that life is what happens when you’re making other plans. Because that same week that I got that role, I also found out I was pregnant.
I wasn’t devastated. I was willing to give up my ambitions for family stability and that elusive white picket fence. We were optimistic, that farm boy and me. We planned our shot-gun wedding and happily embraced what lay ahead.
We were incredibly broke but rich with optimism!
But our optimism was short-lived. Only a few months after the wedding, we were involved in a serious car accident…