That morning, January 1, 2022, I woke up suddenly to the phone ringing. The palliative nurse was calling to see if I needed more painkillers for my dad. I jumped up from the mattress on the floor of his room, to check on him, and he wasn’t breathing. Still warm but no life there.
I told the nurse he was gone. She said she’d come right away. Looking up at the corner of the room near the window, I cried tears of relief and said in a whisper, “Dad, you did it. You made it.”
It had been a rough week for both me and Dad. The staff from the home had called me in Toronto on Boxing Day to say that Dad was not eating and it seemed like it was the end. He had a lot of pain, and they could send him to the hospital or a family member could administer pain medication. I booked the next flight to Saskatoon and prepared myself for the home stretch with Dad.
I’d been spending lots of time in Saskatoon for the previous 7 months, going for weeks at a time to take care of my Dad, make arrangements for him and clear out the house. He was very sick, dealing with a quick decline both mentally and physically as well as the change of moving into a home after being independent for so long.
However, in that challenging time, Dad and I managed to find joyful moments, tons of love and humour. It was hard for him to accept help, but he did. And I figured out ways to try to get some joy into his days, whether we could manage an outing or I just showed him my art, which he loved. I'd sit by his bed for hours, drawing and showing him my progress.
Us on one of our outings.
Art and creativity was something my Dad and I always shared. An avid hobbyist, he always made things with his hands whether it was woodworking, jewellery making, lapidary or any of the dozens of other hobbies he enjoyed over the years. I have treasured memories of him drawing pictures that I coloured when I was very young. As a teenager, he taught me how to make jewellery from scrap bits of metal in his workshop and I started a thriving business making earrings, necklaces and bracelets that I sold to my friends.
Here's early evidence of my Dad nurturing my creative side. This easel is one of the many things he built for our home.
This little high school side hustle grew as my much more outgoing friend became my first sales rep. In exchange for free jewellery, she'd take orders from the waitresses at her part-time job. She'd call me from the restaurant and tell me the evening’s orders. I’d make them and then pick her up from work where she'd collect on the orders. It was $8 for a pair of earrings, which sure beat the $6.50 an hour I was making teaching gymnastics. I’d had my first taste of entrepreneurship and I was hooked.
My Dad was totally wired for safety. He was an incredibly cautious person, with a lot of anxiety and depression. He came by it honestly, as his mother was severely mentally ill and as a result, he had a traumatic childhood. However, as a kid and teenager, I was always annoyed by his need for safety, and thought he should just chill out and live life!
Looking back, I realize that it was his security and stability that made me feel I could go off and have adventures. I think, if he could have had his way, he would have preferred I get a good union job (he was a tenured professor) so he wouldn’t have to worry about me. As it was, I chose the life of an entrepreneur with all the risks involved.
This is one of my favourite pictures of my Dad and me. I insisted on going down the slide. And he was there in case I needed to be fished out of the pool if my adventure got me in over my head! That's the way it always was with him.
In 1992, I graduated from Concordia with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, moved from Montreal to Toronto, and tried to figure out how in the heck to start a career. I had no idea how to apply for “career jobs” or where I might fit in. I knew I wanted something at least somewhat creative - maybe working in TV or for a magazine - but had absolutely no idea how to even apply. There just didn’t seem to be anywhere I would fit in.
Meanwhile, I was feeling out possibilities. I took a silversmithing course, a film course and finally a silkscreening workshop at Peach Berserk, which was run by the incomparable Kingi Carpenter. Her studio/shop was a small and crowded haven of creativity on the second floor at 313 Queen Street West, the coolest part of Toronto! There she printed fabric and made dresses, jackets and more out of her own illustrations. City TV and Much Music was right nearby and that meant TV personalities and VJ’s were coming in regularly to shop.
I was in heaven! Thankfully I had found a place where misfits fit in. I hung out at Peach Berserk as much as possible and it ended up being a launching pad for my creative career.
Somehow, I wrangled some part-time hours out of Kingi and that grew into a full-time position for a few months through a government employment program called Futures. Little did I know then the creative career that was in my future, all the amazing people I would meet and work with, and how much fun I’d have in fashion. I went on to design and make jewellery, sweaters and clothing, and to open fashion boutiques in Toronto’s trendiest neighbourhoods - Yorkville (Peachy Fresh - a partnership with Kingi!), Queen Street West, Kensington Market, the Beaches and Roncesvalles.
Kingi and I had many fashion business adventures together over the years. This pic was promoting a sales trip we did to Ottawa.
I also fell in love with the business side of things, and coached and mentored other designers and entrepreneurs, officially becoming a Business Coach as a side hustle along the way.
My passion for business coaching comes from the first hand knowing of how much pain often comes with entrepreneurship. I know how terrifying and lonely it is in the dark times - those late nights when you lay in bed and wonder how you’re going to make it through the month. How you’re going to pay the rent, or make the payroll. Or even how you’re ever going to get those first clients after all the work you’ve already put in. I know what it's like to be an entrepreneur full of inspiration and dreams of making the world a better place, only to face the realities of business, competition and all that goes along with it.
Dealing with my Dad’s illness and passing wasn’t the only stressful thing in my life in the last couple years. We all had the stress of the pandemic and all the uncertainty it brought.
I'd closed my stores in the spring of 2020. I was ready for a change in lifestyle and retail is a lot of hard work, overhead and responsibility at the best of times. The retail fashion business was in a steep decline with fast fashion and online competitors and the pandemic definitely was the final nail in the retail coffin for me. Closing the stores permanently and letting go of that business was hard as any major change would be, but it was also a relief.
Around the summer of 2020, I was feeling ready to get busy with business coaching again. All the loose ends of closing the stores were wrapped up and I was feeling ready for a new start career-wise.
However, the universe had other plans.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
This started a 16 month treatment plan that ended up including 4 surgeries, months of chemo and radiation. And yes, I lost my hair. My waist-long beautiful red hair that was so much a part of my identity.
Here's a peek at my hair journey. As it started falling out, I cut off most of the length to make it more manageable. The hair continued to fall out until shaving was the only option. About 6 months later it was growing back and I was loving every new millimeter!
Cancer, surprisingly, brought gifts and clarity to my life. Losing my hair was symbolic of committing to a fresh start. Circumstances can take everything from me, but nothing can take away who I am and my ability to create. Family became more important than ever, and I knew myself as stronger and more resilient than I ever dreamed. Of course it was a rocky road, with tons of fear and uncertainty, but it was also just another one of life's experiences that we move through.
Right after my treatment ended, my Dad was starting his decline and I needed to go to Saskatoon. That started the back and forth travel, and for months my main job was taking care of my Dad. During this stressful time, I poured myself into art - learning drawing, watercolours and other media. It soothed my soul and gave me an escape. I feel it saved me and got me through the hardest couple years of my life.
After his passing, I decided I would give myself some time for the first time ever. Entrepreneurship usually comes with hard work, long hours and extreme commitment, and my path was no different. I’d had a lifetime of skipped vacations and late nights working to pursue my dreams. Now, at age 52 and with 30 years of work as an entrepreneur behind me, I gave myself time to just relax, draw, paint and heal.
As the weeks and months passed, I simply did not feel like doing anything that felt like work. The idea of creating social media content and working on getting coaching clients - something I used to find super fun - just seemed meaningless.
I wasn’t depressed- in fact I felt the happiest I could remember feeling. I just loved drawing, painting, learning and could easily do it for 12 hours straight some days.
The more I did art and thought about what I wanted to do for the next phase of my career, the more I wondered, “Could I just get away with doing this for the rest of my life?”
Want to see more of my art? Visit www.theartfairy.ca.
I decided that with the blank slate that I had in front of me career-wise, I had a unique opportunity to create the business of my dreams. I could put my business knowledge to the test, and from scratch, create a business that feels like play, earns the money I want, and gives me the lifestyle of my dreams.
I’ve been building that business the last few months and having a blast! This has also re-ignited my love of coaching, as I’ve been coaching myself through the start-up, experiencing all the familiar pitfalls and dealing with them from a place of 30 years of experience.
My first art show at The Wychwood Barns Park in May 2022.
The best thing about entrepreneurship is that it has always allowed me to live a totally created life. I get to roll all my hobbies and interests into my business, work with fun and creative people that I love, set my own goals and have fun while I work!
Lately, I’ve been having the itch to write again, so I thought this would be a perfect chance to share some of my stories from my entrepreneurial journey - both current and past - in hopes that it will help others.
My art business is growing with new work and workshops. The newest offering is after-school programs for teens. My hope is to provide teen fashionistas a place to thrive creatively while helping them see career possibilities for their future.
I’m also testing my theory that sharing from your heart is the most powerful way to market, and my hope is that the perfect, right, dream coaching clients will simply fall into my lap as they get to know me through my story.
I hope you’ll follow along and get something for yourself out of my journey. If you see that I could be a huge help to you as your Business Coach, get in touch and let’s talk!