Being asked by your friend who has been diagnosed with stage four cancer to write something on life lessons for her blog is a breeding ground for self doubt. How would anything that I have purportedly learned possibly hold up when placed alongside the magnitude of what someone who has been handed this diagnosis is learning and dealing with on a daily basis? And I had to laugh at the instructions – a word I’m using liberally:
“You are such a talented writer would you ever do a guest post for our blog on lessons you learned per decade as I love how you write xoxox”
That’s it. Now, in the spirit of transparency, I’m really not that great a writer. But Karla makes me feel like I am. And after sitting with this request for a bit and bandying around a few hard-won lessons, I realized that my life’s take-aways all seemed to be wrapped up in Karla‘s own philosophies – and even her request that I write this post. As the saying goes, ask and you shall receive.
I’ve known Karla for over 30 years, and even back in university she believed in a straight shot to the point. She knew what she wanted and went after it. This is, after all, the same person who, while in second year university, wrote to the president of Kellogg’s asking for an interview. She would do anything, she confidently typed away on her computer keyboard – much to the envy of my typewriter-owning self – even ‘put the two scoops of raisins in your Kellogg’s Raisin Bran’. You can do that?! You can do whatever you want to do, opined Karla. So at twenty years old, I learned that you’re never too young to set goals and that nothing is off the table. In addition to Toronto, I’ve lived in LA, London, Hong Kong and San Francisco, partly because my housemate Karla helped to plant the seed that your life can be whatever and wherever you want it to be. You may not land on your feet at first, but every single experience in the sometimes scary journey counts and helps create the person you are at this very moment. I can’t, for example, precisely identify the greater role played by the telemarketing job Karla and I held at the Heart and Stroke Foundation, but I know it’s in the mix somewhere – even if just to have a laugh when I think back to how utterly hopeless I was. Karla, on the other hand, came off as an absolute rock star, obviously.
That leads me to lesson number two: fake it til you make it. Too often people are afraid of ‘confessing’ they don’t know how to do something. They don’t ask questions for fear of coming off as some kind of amateur, not the expert they sold themself as. They turn down opportunities, thinking they’re not worthy and do not deserve a seat at that particular table. Karla, however, is the queen of questions. I’m sure we have all been interrogated, quite literally, by Karla at one time or another. She knew early on that questions were more important than answers. I witnessed the power that asking questions gave Karla. People love talking about themselves and Karla, in turn, devoured everything people were willing to share. So taking a punt and proving myself on a job even if I was a few qualifications short has never done me wrong.
But while certain choices may have created opportunities, they also took me far from ‘home’. Lesson number three? Hang onto your friends. Just because you’re far away need not mean a friendship fade away. Good friends are forever, even if your geographical proximity to them lasts but a season. I have gone for long stretches without speaking to some friends, Karla included, but whenever we picked up again, whether in Etibocoke, Oakville or Prague, it was like we had seen one another yesterday, the time and miles that separated us melting away in an instant. My friends, near and far, have always played a starring role in my life and as I age the importance of that support base has only deepened. You need only look at The Circle of Strength, a glittering collection of friends from all corners of the world and every chapter of Karla’s life, to see how this plays out. Your friends are like doors that allow you to visit both your past and your future.
One’s entire life is a series of doors when you think about it. Some doors spring open and usher you toward a new experience or journey, others close gently as you walk through. Doors have just as often slammed shut in my face, locking as I try to gain entry. Sometimes, in times of grief or fear, it feels like you are in a room with no doors at all. Only four walls closing in on you. Ultimately, though, doors lead to passageways which lead to a deeper understanding of yourself and how you fit into this world. So lesson number five: open all the doors. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can only choose door 1, 2 or 3. I’d like doors 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, 6, 7 and so forth, thank you very much.
And last, but never least, don’t forget Fashion with a capital F. Karla has shown us all, time and again, that no matter how big or small the job is or by how much the to-do list grows, a fantastic outfit is never a waste of time. After all, you want to look – and feel!- good when opportunity knocks at your door.
~ Jo Kenny