The Prism Effect

When I was first introduced to the Social Venture Institute (SVI) community, I felt like I’d uncovered a secret door that opened up to an amazing new world – a world where collaboration was queen, and the first question out of everyone’s mouth was “How can I help?” I made a wish last year that I would find my way to Hollyhock, the motherland of SVI, and last week my wish was granted.

When deciding how to make the long trek to Cortes Island, I was told The Caravan was the only way to travel. The Caravan is a group of vans full of strangers en route to SVI – people who sign up for an adventure, people who understand that the journey is as important as the destination. Several email threads later, I asked my Caravan of six how they felt about themes… and then I proposed we dress as pirates, a most unusual request for a business conference! To my delight, everyone not only agreed, they showed up ready to play. Community building starts right off the bat – it is how you show up that defines the experience. Six strangers – dressed in pirate garb, given odd looks by people on the ferry – now connected. Three ferries and seven hours later we arrived at Hollyhock, storming the castle and bringing laughter with every Arrrr.

Community can be born or it can be grown. It can grow slowly over time or it can be accelerated with the proper soil. Hollyhock is the magical fertilizer in the soil of the SVI community. It is a place with deep roots and a strong connection to the land. It is supported by people who respect and cherish what it brings to so many lives. It is also a place where reality is suspended, and that can bring challenges along with beautiful awakenings.

SVI is not really a business conference, despite it’s best intentions. It is a place where awareness is sought after, and challenges are brought to the surface. It is both personal and professional – because the majority of the people there do not see the distinction. Our work is personal. It is why we are social entrepreneurs. There is no clear division between who we are and what we do. It’s the ‘Why’ that is leading us forward.

The challenge I came with was around growth: How can a business grow while maintaining the intimacy and personal connection that defines its experience? This question around ‘Scale versus Depth’ seemed to be in the air all week. Judy Wicks, the founder of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), said it best when she was discussing White Dog Cafe and her strategic decision not to replicate or expand but rather to sink in deeper in support of the local economy.

The simple act of deciding what are the roots and what are the branches can lead you to your own answer around scale versus depth. The roots represent our history, knowledge and experience. The roots are where we come from and they feed what we do. To choose depth means that we want to sink our roots in deeper, drawing more knowledge, wisdom and expertise to strengthen our position in the market. The branches represent our connections, impact and reach. They are where we are going and they bring inspiration into our vision. To choose scale means that we want our branches to reach further, impacting more people in different ways so that we can expand our position in the market.

Why do you need to choose one?

Leadership was a big focus of the SVI week. I so appreciated the public acknowledgement that leadership is about recognizing ‘the whole’ – from balancing teaching with learning to dancing with both the masculine and feminine, true leadership seeks both the branches and the roots. In an unconventional exercise, we sat with a person we did not know and asked them over and over again: “What is the next step you will take toward becoming a leader?” It is amazing what you begin to reveal around the 20th time of being asked the same question, and how you realize that becoming a leader and being a leader are two sides of the same coin.

Building a community is like building the mythology of an organization – you have to take into account all of the different voices and perspectives that come into it, as well as the different ways people experience it. I often share with people an analogy that I call The Prism Effect. A brand is made up of common experiences and connections – that is the core of the prism. Yet each person experiences it in their own way, and they share that in a unique fashion, like a prism shining and refracting light out in different directions.

When I walked into the Hollyhock store, I found this prism and I decided that it would hold my SVI experience. I was told to go down to the ocean and cleanse it, removing the prints of others. I was resetting it, and allowing it to capture new experiences. I realized in that moment that the prism was the SVI community – we all came together from various places, bringing with us our own perspectives and points of view. Together, we formed the gem that was SVI for five whole days, and then we left, reflecting our individual experiences out to the world.

My SVI prism now dangles in my office, catching the light in different ways, reminding me of the power of community and the beauty of diversity.

Myth Making

Working as a solopreneur can be a lonely road. Sure, we do our best to attend networking events and social gatherings, we join co-working spaces (like the fabulous HiVE Vancouver!) and meet friends and collaborators for coffee or lunch. We might even get a dog so that we have a reason to go outside on rainy, dreary days! Yet despite all of our supporters and their good intentions, we really are our own best cheerleader.

Enter: The Business Coach

I am a goal-setting, vision boarding, kick-my-own-butt-into-gear kind of gal, so I never really thought I needed a coach. And, like any woman on a mission, I have trouble asking for help. I have worked with coaches in the past, and I have gotten a lot from the experience, but this time was different. This time, I wasn’t questioning where I wanted to go or how I was going to get there – I realized that I was doing exactly what I wanted to do and I was exactly where I wanted to be…and that scared the heck out of me!

I kept asking myself when will the other shoe drop?

I first met Lisa Princic at a LOCOBC event, an organization that connects values-based businesses to help grow the local economy. A mutual friend introduced us and told me how Lisa had helped her dig deeper into her business vision and get more out of what she was already doing. Yup, that sounded like something I could get on board with! Working with a coach can be a bit like looking into one of those magnifying mirrors – the more you look, the more you notice every line, spot or imperfection. You start to see what needs attention but you also learn to appreciate what is already there. You see things clearly.

Lisa was my New Years Resolution, or at least the experience she helped me create was. My goal was simple (or so I thought): to deepen my own practice and make my business more sustainable. In other words, figure out how to hold onto that awesome feeling you get when you are doing exactly what you love! Now came the tricky part – holding my business up to that darn mirror…

Over the course of 20 weeks, Lisa and I chatted every 2 weeks. We discussed the goals and challenges I laid out from my previous sessions and she helped me set up new ones. It was more than holding me accountable – she made me realize that in order to go deeper and become more sustainable I would I have to allow my business to transform. Transformation. That’s it, that’s what I was afraid of. I had finally arrived at a place in my career where I felt safe, valued and respected…and I wanted to hold onto that. But I soon realized that the part of my business that I loved the most was pioneering into new territory: learning new skills, meeting new people and allowing my perspectives to change.

I came into Lisa’s coaching process with a strong vision and sense of purpose. While I may not have realized it at the time, she opened my eyes to the fact that I was limiting myself by trying to hold onto things just as they were. I was blocking the road, and all along I thought I was driving free and clear.

I spent the past few months exploring my true vision for Narrative Communications and everything kept coming back to the word Story. When I first called myself a Storyteller, people looked at me with confused eyes and a crooked grin. “You mean, like sitting around a campfire kind of storyteller?” No. I meant the deeper stories that exist inside each of us. Jung calls it our Collective Unconscious, Joseph Campbell spoke in Archetypes. I have spent the past 10 years exploring the world of myth. From reading books by Robert Bringhurst, Lewis Hyde and Annette Simmons, to taking courses in narrative psychology, to learning how to facilitate and build community. I have been redefining, mostly for myself, what a storyteller is.

My passion is to harvest and gather stories, to weave and share stories. What I do is bigger than storytelling. It is bigger than any one single story or any one single person. It is about connecting personal experiences with universal themes. It is about tapping into a larger narrative that exists inside each of us and within our collective communities.

It is myth-making.

All of this brought me back to my first passion: Folklore. Fairytales. Fables. The stories we read when we are little and the stories that resonate when we are adults. The stories we feel we have heard before. The stories that are full of nostalgia and brimming with cultural memory. That was why I set off to study a Masters in Mythology at the University of Edinburgh many moons ago. That was why I moved to Ghana, West Africa to host storytelling circles. That is why I set out to start this business in the first place. So what I am?

I am a Brand Mythologist.

There. I’ve said it. It is bigger than storytelling. It is bigger than strategy. It is everything that connects us, it is everything that we are. Let the transformation begin!

 

 

Sunset at the End of the World

A story is a gift – best to open it slowly, careful not to peel away the layers too quickly, often finding something you may not have realized you needed. That is what happens when we share our story – we offer others insight into our world and we give permission to each other to find common threads and obstacles.

My dad and I have been going on a Father-Daughter Road Trip since I was 11. Every year, usually in the summer, we hop in the car and we drive. We drive North or we drive East, we drive over paved roads and gravel roads. We have flown in sea planes and small planes. We have kayaked, hiked, golfed, and white water rafted. We have travelled more kilometres than I can even count, and on every trip we offer each other the gift of story.

Growing up, people would ask me what my dad does. “Um…he’s an entrepreneur, I think. Yes, definitely an entrepreneur!” I would say. When kids would push back, asking exactly what that meant, I would stare them in the eye and with great pride say, “He gets to wear jeans every day and doesn’t have a boss!”

After our first road trip, I started to understand that what my dad did wasn’t a job title, it was a series of events that would lead him to an opportunity. Understanding what our parents do for a living can be a great challenge when we are young, especially when the job falls outside the traditional categories. We often believe we need to parcel things up in pretty little packages; a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher – we assume we know what each of those professions entails. But an entrepreneur? You don’t often see children’s books following the adventures of a Venture Capitalist! Funnily enough, now that I fall outside the traditional employment sphere, it has been amazing listening to others describe what I do for a living, often craving a title or concrete definition.

What we do for a living is not about a job title or an elevator pitch – it is about the everyday stories we collect and encounter. It’s about the people whose lives we affect, and it’s about what we hold onto when we are off the clock. When my dad and I started doing our annual road trips, it started as a way for a father and a daughter to bond. What ended up happening was so much more powerful – our stories started to weave together, and we got to see each other in a whole new light.

As far back as I can remember, my dad would tell me how he started his career with my mom – how the two of them moved around the world setting up different businesses, usually with ideas that were ahead of their time. Looking back now, every year I would gain new insight into my dad’s world, listening to his memories and the lessons he learned. His stories inspired me, and they led me onto my own entrepreneurial journey.

Last week’s trip was no exception.

This year, we decided to drive to Desolation Sound. I didn’t know much about Desolation Sound, only that it sounded far away and remote. Little did I know that it would be just far enough away that it would actually bring us closer to home. Waiting for the second ferry in Earls Cove, my dad ran into a neighbour named Garth Lawrence. Garth and my dad started chatting, and when I told Garth what I did for a living he gave me my first gift of the trip – he told me to read his son’s book. He said that his son, Grant Lawrence, wrote all about Desolation Sound after collecting dozens of stories from his own childhood as well as myths and folklore from the area.

When I got on the ferry, I re-read an email my friend Robyn Spencer sent me with recommendations on what to do in Powell River only to realize she suggested I read the same book “Adventures in Solitude” by Grant Lawrence. This was our first taste of synchronicity. When we arrived at Desolation Resort, we dropped off our bags and headed into Lund to grab a beer and some dinner. We found ourselves at The Boardwalk Restaurant, which once went by the name Sunset Restaurant at The End of the World. As the sun set in the distance it felt like we were on the cusp of something big, that point where the end becomes the beginning all over again.

As we do on our trips, we started talking with a man that sat next to us. He told us that he had recently been to his daughter’s wedding after not speaking with her much over the years. When he heard about our commitment to a road trip every year together, I think it inspired him to reconnect with his daughter. Our story now became a gift for someone else. We ended the evening at the Laughing Oyster restaurant, drinking port on the patio as the owner, Dave, serenaded us with old folk tunes beneath the moon light and meteors. His story, along with that of our waitress, warmed us on a cool summer evening.

The next day, we had a 6 hour kayak planned, and upon meeting Jordanne, our guide for the day, we told her about the Grant Lawrence connection and she just about fell over in her kayak! She knew about his book and used his stories as inspiration when she talked about the history of the region. We were invited to drop in on Garth for lunch and when we pulled our kayaks up to the giant rocks, we could feel the story deepening. As we sat at the picnic table overlooking islands that were once First Nations burial grounds and land that once housed homesteaders in the 20s and draft dodging hippies in the 70s, I felt a deep connection to this place. My story was now being woven into the fabric of the land. Garth gave us a copy of Grant’s book and that evening dad and I both started reading it, amazed at the many personal connections we now had to the people and landscape of Desolation Sound.

The trip brought more than just a vacation between father and daughter – it was a true exercise in storytelling. We shared our stories and by that very act invited new stories in. We came home full, from the people we met and the stories they shared with us. It also reminded me that sometimes we need to venture into the great wide open, unsure of what stories lurk in the distance. Grant prefaces his book with this quote, and I thought it fitting to leave you with this thought…

 

A Heart and Two Hands

Last night, I had the privilege of attending a LunaCircle at Lunapads. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Lunapads, it is an amazing organization run by two beautiful, socially-conscious women right here in Vancouver. While their products include a collection of eco-friendly menstrual products, it is their focus on empowerment, education and environmental awareness that first inspired me when I met Madeleine and Suzanne at SVI Vancouver a few years ago.

When I heard about the monthly LunaCircles they were hosting, I knew I had found my tribe. For me, storytelling is best served in a circle, since each story is given the same amount of energy and reflection. It is a powerful thing to witness, a story circle, especially with a group of women who are meeting for the first time and discussing something very personal: birth.

This particular LunaCircle was titled We ♥ Doulas, and I knew I had to find my way to the circle. Six months ago, a dear friend of mine found out she was pregnant, and almost in the same breath that she told me, she then asked if I would be her doula. Feeling honoured to walk this journey with her, the fear then set in. What does it mean to be a doula, and am I, a-yet-to-be-a-mother, even qualified? I knew that the LunaCircle would offer me insight and advice – and yet it ended up offering me so much more; a reminder that we already hold our own wisdom.

Suzanne, our hostess for the evening, began the storytelling by passing around a Russian nesting doll. She asked us to introduce ourselves, our mother and our grandmother as a way of paying tribute to our birthing history. She reminded us that when our mother was inside our grandmother, the egg that we came from was already formed. This powerful visual, of three generations of women being inside one another, brought tears to my eyes. It also reminded me of the importance of ritual; the passing of the doll aligned our energy and gave way to a beautiful evening of authentic, vulnerable conversations.

The lovely doulas from Fig Birth Services, Danika and Andrea, guided us through the many pathways of motherhood. They held the space in such an open way, including each of us: moms, expectant moms, daughters, and soon-to-be-doulas like myself, in rich conversation and a guided meditation. They also gave me a beautiful gift – they told me that the only thing a doula needs is her heart and two hands to support a mom-to-be. Everything else helps, but at the end of the day, if you are there with a loving heart and ability to help when and where needed, that is the best thing you can offer. Beauty lies in simplicity. By the end of the evening, I felt inspired, empowered and above all, grateful for such an open, honest community of women who share stories the way they were meant to be shared – with love.

For more information about LunaCircles and our experience yesterday evening, check out the Lunapads blog or gain another perspective from our evening of doulahood at WestEndGirl blog.

Btw: I am also working with Lunapads to build a Brand Narrative for their new venture, GDay Vancouver, which focuses on celebrating, empowering and educating girls as they come of age. Stay tuned for more as the stories unfold.

 

Stanford’s Design Thinking Lab

Summer can be a slow time for consultants, especially when you need to engage with your clients on a regular basis the way I do. If I haven’t already started on a project by July, clients are hesitant to start the deep Narrative process when vacation and sunshine beckon. While I do have several clients on the go, I am also taking this time to go deeper into my own story. For me, that means embracing my passion for learning.

I heard via Twitter that Stanford University was offering a free, 5 week online course around Design Thinking through their Venture Lab. My interest was officially perked. I enrolled and awaited the start date. Just finishing Week One, I have been amazed at the many ways the Internet can bring people together from around the world, engaging us in ideas that are applicable to each and every one of us. My group consists of 6 members: from Peru, Mexico, Russia, Netherlands, India and myself in Canada. We work in diverse industries, and yet we were all drawn to the idea of thinking outside the box so that we can engage ourselves and others in creative processes. The first week of assignments has been a general introduction into Design Thinking. After hosting several workshops, retreats and seminars, I know that the design is the most integral part of fulfilling a vision for success.

One area that struck me in this week’s course was examining The 10 Faces of Innovation. This is similar to Narrative Communications’ Archetypal Analysis, in which I take clients through a series of questions and frameworks to understand what archetypes are driving them, and their business forward. Not surprisingly, I connected immediately with The Storyteller:

The Storyteller captures our imagination with compelling narratives of initiative, hard work, and innovation. This person goes beyond oral tradition to work in whatever medium best fits their skills and message: video, narrative, animation, even comic strips. By rooting their stories in authenticity, the Storyteller can spark emotion and action, transmit values and objectives, foster collaboration, create heroes, and lead people and organizations into the future.

And yet I was also struck by the ways that The Storyteller engages with the other Faces of Innovation – The Cross-Pollinator, The Anthropologist, The Collaborator. We all wear the 10 Faces depending on the scenario we find ourselves in. This is actually quite different than the Archetypes exercise, since Archetypes lead us at a more universal level, whereas the 10 Faces seem to float in and out of our lives depending on circumstances. Both are excellent tools and resources for understanding how we work as well as how others work.

I am looking forward to Week Two and all that will be revealed as I dive into my own strategic design thinking.

Getting to “Why”

Why do you do what you do? 

It seems like a simple enough question, and yet so many people struggle with it. We know “What” we do, and we often know “How” we do it, but as Simon Sinek points out in his TED talk How great leaders inspire action, “…very few people or organizations know why they do what they do.”

Simon goes on to say, “And by “why” I don’t mean “to make a profit.” That’s a result. It’s always a result. By “why,” I mean: What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care? Well, as a result, the way we think, the way we act, the way we communicate is from the outside in. It’s obvious. We go from the clearest thing to the fuzziest thing. But the inspired leaders and the inspired organizations — regardless of their size, regardless of their industry — all think, act and communicate from the inside out.”

The idea behind brand storytelling is to dig into the Why.

My belief is that we all have stories that have led us to where we are and are driving us forward. We may not understand them, we might not even be able to identify them, yet once we start digging into our past, our present, our dreams for the future, certain patterns reveal themselves. I call these Themes & Threads, and they are the constants, the elements that exist at our core.

On Friday, I went to a beautiful yoga class taught by a new friend of mine, Dr. Thara Vayali at Sanga Yoga and something she said resonated deeply with me. The class was a ‘Core’ class, meaning our focus was on building core strength. Now, if you are like me, you imagine core to be your middle section, a strong abdomen. And yet, when Thara started talking about her perspective on ‘core’, a lightbulb went off.

She asked us to imagine our body like a tree. Imagine each root, each branch, each part of the tree that makes up the whole. She remarked that we often think of the trunk as the strongest part, like we do our own core. And yet, if you look inside a root or a branch you will find that they all have the core at their centre too. Just like our fingers, our toes, the top of our head – when we work on building our core we need to shift our perspectives and strengthen each piece as a part of the whole. Core strengthening is about working from the inside out, just like Simon Sinek’s The Golden Circle.

That is what I help my clients do. I put aside the pre-occupation with elevator pitches, sound bites and the ‘About Us’ section of a website. Understanding the story of your business is far deeper than any of that. We need to get to the core of why your business exists, and the best way to do that is to follow the root systems, the branches, the fruit, the insects that nibble away at that fruit, and ultimately the blue sky above – the very thing each branch is reaching for.

For me, story branding is about realizing that one single person cannot tell the story for an entire organization. We need to engage as many people as possible (the roots and the branches) so that we can identify the nutrients in the soil. Once we know ‘the secret sauce’ – that unique recipe that makes your organization authentic and distinct – then, and only then, can we start to share the story.

 

Woman of Distinction

Last night, I had the privilege of being in a room full of passionate business women at the 30th annual YWCA Women of Distinction Awards. Not only was I pleased to attend, I was thrilled to be nominated in the Entrepreneurship category. The description for the award category was as follows:

Award Category – Entrepreneurship: She has taken an innovative approach to solving a problem, filling a need or breaking into a new market. Her drive, ingenuity and solid vision for her business separates her from her competitors. She has made sacrifices and taken great risks to successfully launch, revive or manage a business or product. 

When I really thought about this description, it was exciting for me to see my storytelling practice, which was once a far off dream that started with my passion for mythology and folklore, now being recognized as a successful business. We solopreneurs often forget to take the time we need to celebrate our wins and bask in the light of success. Last night was the perfect occasion to break out my heels (I’ve been wearing rubber boots these days, walking our new puppy in the rain!) and rub shoulders with some of Vancouver’s most passionate, committed and successful women. Madeleine Shaw, of Lunapads, coined the hashtag #VancouverPowerBabes when she realized just how many amazing women (including herself I might add!) graced the event last night. I couldn’t agree more!

For me, the YWCA is more than a brand association; it is a place where stories are created and recreated as women aim to transform their lives. A dear friend of mine that I saw last night, Marnie Marley, dedicated her career to the YWCA, starting and nurturing programs like Crabtree Corner.  She retired a few months ago after working with the YWCA for 23 years and it was amazing for me to witness the impact her career has had on countless lives.

At the end of the day, being a Woman of Distinction for me means that we consider our community, both locally and globally, in our business strategy and we aim to make a positive impact on the world around us. It was an honour to be amongst women who feel the same way about business as I do.

As Christy Clark, Premier of BC, said in her speech last night, we are the ones setting the examples for young girls today, and we need to ensure that there is no glass ceiling in their future. And so, my ask of you is, if there is a woman in your life who has made an impact, please take the time to tell her so. It is amazing to hear how our own stories have positively affected others, and remind us all to persevere because, as the award category stated, we have all made sacrifices and faced risks when we decided to challenge the way things were once done.

Women & Wellness

“Mental wellness is something that we all struggle with – so many things in our lives pull us in different directions and consume our energy. At the end of the day, if you aren’t taking care of you, nothing else really matters. For me, a reminder to refocus my energy internally rather than sending it out into the world is one of the most powerful tools I have learnt.”

 

 

 

Last night, I had the honour of being the “Lift Your Spirits” speaker at the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Women and Wellness event. When I was invited to speak, I thought carefully as to what story I would share. I have experienced mild depression in the past, and I have friends who have battled mental illness in many forms. Yet, rather than focus on what separates us, I wanted to focus on what connects us.

For me, wellness includes being centred, balanced and connected, both with yourself and with your community. This is something that we all battle – the ability to feel whole when so many aspects of our lives compete for our attention.

I spoke about my Life Pie in a previous post (Women Giving Back), and I used it as a central theme in my speech last night. Over the years, I have come to the realization that the Wellness slice of pie is THE most important part, because without it all of the other slices burn out. As I was getting ready for my presentation yesterday, I realized that my wellness was suffering due to work and social commitments. I found a park that held meaning for me, and I sat in the sunshine for 45 minutes. I took long, deep breaths and I reconnected with a part of myself that had been missing for a few days. I felt so much better after that, and it changed my entire perspective as to what is really important.

I closed my speech last night by saying, “It doesn’t take much to remind ourselves to feel grateful for the life that we lead, but for me it does require an intention –  a reminder to pause, reflect and appreciate the ripple effect we can each have on the world around us.”

I’m glad I was able to recognize this ahead of time and walk into a room full of amazing women feeling connected to myself.

For more information, see the article in the North Shore News :)

 

Down the Rabbit Hole

“Going to SVI Vancouver last year was like finding a door into a wonderful, new world – every person I met understood the power of collaboration and community. I have since worked with many people I met during those magical three days, and I also received tremendous support and advice for my own growth strategy and business development.” – Megan Sheldon

Last year, I walked into the Vancouver Public Library without a real sense of who, or what, the SVI community was. Three days later, I felt like Alice, somehow inhabiting an entirely new world.

Vancouver has often been dubbed ‘No Fun City’ and has been criticized for a lack of community and connectivity. My experience as an entrepreneur the past few years has poked many holes in that theory, and SVI alone has played a large part in dispelling the myths of how Vancouverites connect. Since SVIVancouver last year, I have connected with hundreds of people who all feel the same way about business as I do – we want it to matter. We want it to matter to ourselves, to our friends and family, and to our community. This values-based approach seems obvious, and yet it is a constant challenge to make wise business decisions that continue to steer you down this path.

Last year’s SVIVancouver consisted of a day and a half for women entrepreneurs only, and a day and a half with both men and women. While the latter was powerful and thought provoking, something magical happened when 80 female social entrepreneurs came together to collectively discuss how we can change the world.

My small community grew three sizes that day.

This year, Hollyhock heard our call and has responded by hosting a 3 day conference in Vancouver for women entrepreneurs. SVIWomen kicks off today and I know it will not only invite more game-changing women into my life, it will also continue to expand my definition of what it means to collaborate and build community. On Friday, I will be giving a workshop to the SVI Women on Brand Storytelling and I am looking forward to sharing some of the stories that I have collected under the Narrative Communications umbrella. Most of all, I am looking forward to continuing to chase the rabbit down the rabbit hole…it always seems to lead me to places that feels like home.

 

All my stirring becomes quiet…

My time at Connecting4Community was powerful in the sense that it allowed me to shed my layers and connect with people instantly at a deep level. We were all there for the same reason, to create community. It also helped that I didn’t have to explain what I did or why I did it – everyone got it right away. It was a powerful three days, and while it was a rollercoaster of emotions, it was a safe place for my gentle soul to weep.

On Friday morning I received news that my dear friend Samantha lost her battle with cancer. Sam entered my life years ago when I was working on Uganda Rising and UNICEF’s Unite for Children, Unite Against AIDS. I connected with Sam’s story instantly because she lived from a place of authenticity. Everything about Sam was pure and real. She was running a successful agency in Montreal when she was first diagnosed with cancer at the age of 31. She initially beat the cancer and decided to follow her heart and her passion by becoming a photographer, or as I called her a Visual Storyteller.

Sam had a gift for seeing people. She saw me, and for that I will forever be grateful. Sam and I reconnected a few years ago when I ventured into the entrepreneurial world as a fellow storyteller. She was so supportive of me chasing after my dreams, and I looked to her for wisdom and support. Together with our friend Gabby, we would walk along the beach or in the forest every chance we could. On the walks, we shared our stories, our hopes and fears, our questions and our answers. Those walks kept me afloat in times of turmoil, and nourished my soul in times of gratitude. I am so grateful for those precious moments with my dear friend.

When I found out Sammy had passed, a flood of emotions swept over me. I was far away from home, and yet I was with a community that embraced me. I shared my loss with a few people and was amazed at how deep my new connections travelled. Sam’s story was now impacting their lives too. I left the conference and found myself wandering aimlessly through the streets of Cincinnati, searching for quiet to reflect and remember. I found my way into a church, one of the last places I expected to go, and as I was sitting alone in the beautiful cathedral, I cried. There is something powerful about a shared space that holds the stories of people, the memories of loss and joy. I felt connected to Sam by the simple fact that she instilled in me a passion for stillness.

I miss my friend dearly, and I am reminded that her life will continue to impact mine in every thing that I do. She gave me the gift of friendship, and in return I promise to hold that friendship close as I travel along my own path fueled by the passion, courage and peace that Sam so beautifully embodied.

Sam’s favorite poem is holding my heart today, and everyday:

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.

Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,

and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.
Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.

After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move.

-Wendell Berry