Today’s contributor: my aunt, Else Pedersen, owner/operator of Perceptive Edge, a thriving human resource consulting company. When I was a kid, I saw her as the free-wheeling, be-your-own-person aunt (as I recall, her motto at that time was “Live-Love-Laugh”). Today she is still all those things in spades, and as her story shows, those qualities have been important drivers in bringing her to a successful and satisfying place in her life, both personally and professionally, despite a few detours and bumps in the road.
Here is her story, in her own words.
Everything happens for a reason…so pay close attention.
I immigrated to Canada from Denmark when I was two years old, with my parents and three older sisters. Within a few short years, the number of my siblings grew to seven, making me a true middle child. We lived in small rural towns for my entire childhood and adolescence. The largest one, Zephyr, had a population of about 500 people.
In my younger years, I was extremely shy and lacking in confidence – I remember that my comfort zone was to be as invisible as possible. Thankfully, this changed as I grew toward adulthood. I suspect my mother would have preferred me to stay shy a little longer, instead of turning into the teen rebel that I became. Looking back now, I shake my head at some of the things I did. I was pretty naïve, dumb and lucky (see My fun stuff, below). But it was all part of growth and learning.
After high school:
I thought about college – university was not even on my radar – but liked the idea of getting regular paycheques better than going into debt. My objective at this stage was to move to Toronto, find a job, find a husband, return to the country, have kids, and be a stay-at-home mom.
I did move to Toronto and got a job within a week of graduating. After that, though, I got side-tracked from my original plan and never really got back to it. I accepted the first clerical job I was offered as a dicta typist in an insurance company. After a year, I applied to a law firm and was delighted when they not only hired me but promoted me in just a few months – I never expected to land a prestigious job as a legal secretary at the age of 19. I even took shorthand back then. I also worked in administration at Honda Canada (lots of party boys to play with – especially on the motorcycle side) and Universal Films (where one of the perks was to take home a 35mm film – but now I’m dating myself).
Moving into advertising is where my “job” evolved into a “career”. My advertising boss was a great mentor, though I don’t think he realized at the time that that’s what he was doing. He was tough and pushed me pretty hard, but also believed more in my abilities than I did. That experience, it turned out, was key to so much of what has followed.
After five years in advertising, I moved into a straight-commission position in the always interesting but sometimes unethical business of headhunting. I started in this role quite naïve and trusting and left with much more streets-smarts. Wow, it was great to be paid based on results, and my income expanded nicely over the next five years.
Then: wham, the ‘90s recession hit – almost immediately after buying my first (very leveraged) house. Almost overnight, the lucrative field of head-hunting dried up, and I was in trouble. I learned two things: first, with a big mortgage like I had, I couldn’t afford to get what my Mom referred to as a ‘real’ job (i.e., a steady, salaried job) – the math just didn’t add up. Second, I learned that recessions offer opportunities for creative thinkers who can give belt-tightening companies good value and alternatives to traditional ways of doing business. This is when I began my own HR consulting business, Perceptive Edge, which I’m still running and loving to this day. During the first few months, as I was building my business, I waited tables on the side – that sure gave me motivation to expand my client list.
When I started, I had to hide the fact that I was working from a home office. I targeted entrepreneurs as my niche. My business started out as offering recruiting services on an hourly basis as an alternative to head-hunters. I was fortunate to have a few key clients who had other needs in the people-related area which evolved into doing employee audits, dealing with sensitive issues and in general working as their sounding board and coach on an as-needed basis. It expanded nicely due to referrals and repeat business and I’m still having fun.
About the only downside of working on my own is that it can sometimes be lonely, without others to brainstorm with. Recently, to help counter-act this, I brought in a delightful young lady who is now working as my associate…so far, so good! I also addressed the isolation of working on my own by setting up a Mastermind group. This initiative bore fruit of more than one kind – one of the Mastermind members later became a very good friend and match-maker (see Life partner below).
My fun stuff:
My life started to get exciting when I was 17 and left home to work in a resort for the summer. One of my new and adventurous friends talked me into hitch-hiking to Florida, which I jumped at – I’d never been anywhere -this was my first chance at adventure!
I left with CAN $100 in cash, no credit cards and no clue the US didn’t take Canadian money. Our first attempt to cross the border resulted in us being turned back – so much for telling the truth. We modified our story and were admitted to the US easily. We met some kind people who not only picked us up and asked if we wanted to crash on their floor – they also fed us and drove us back to the highway. It wasn’t until day #2 when we manoeuvred out of a bad ride in Atlanta, Georgia that we learned our Canadian money was more like monopoly money. Thankfully the two officers who found us roaming the streets of Atlanta towing large suitcases at 4 am took us to a local restaurant and fed and protected us until daylight. Our thumbs got us safely back home a week later, the same day my postcard from Florida arrived home, giving Mom only a couple of hours of worry.
During my 20s and early 30s I partied a lot with my carefree friends and played lots of sports with no real direction in life. I lived mostly day to day having fun with friends and with the young men who passed through my life.
In my 30’s, I thought I should find a man, settle down and have kids, but my actions were not in alignment with these loose goals. After lots of self-help books and a little therapy, I realized I was sub-consciously attracted to non-committal men – likely something to do with like attracting like.
Reaching 40 took the pressure off as I’d made a deal with myself that having kids was no longer a good option. Plus, what if cosmic pay-back happened and I had a kid like me?!
At 42, I met my current life partner, Chuck, who was very different from men I had previously dated – a good guy, though still with a small streak of badness to keep him interesting. Fourteen years later, I am happy to say it seems to be working out well – for so many reasons.
Chuck is an entrepreneur, is adventurous, pushes me outside my comfort zone when I need it, loves to play, and is genuinely a good person. He was divorced for seven years before we met which meant he knew how to cook, do laundry and was independent and not needing to live the traditional “couple” life. He has two delightful daughters and I now have a grandson – without doing the heavy lifting. We enjoy each other’s friends and he’s enjoyed being an uncle to my/our nieces and nephews. And we love doing grandparent things with our five-year old darling Ethan.
I rent rather than own. Thanks to my seven siblings, I have 15 nieces and nephews, plus eight (so far) in the next generation, that I love to borrow. Without having these many children in my life, there would have been a deep void, so a big thanks to all my sibs.
Friends are the family we choose. A girl needs girlfriends, and some men will never totally understand the importance of that. It’s important to me to spend weekends and sometimes weeks away with “just the girls”.
I love having people of all ages in my life, including friends half my age. I also love having diverse people in my life, as this broadens my thinking and tolerance.
One of the best life choices I made was to be a volunteer ski patroller for 21 years. I was an intermediate skier when I joined and knew nothing about the human body, so there was a steep learning curve. I met a bunch of fabulous peers of all ages, many of whom are now great friends/second family.
By patrolling, I had to stay in shape, had to ski on the awful days, got to cut lift lines on the beautiful days, made fresh tracks in the powder and of course, helped lots of injured skiers. Patrolling also gave me a place to belong which I found I needed being self-employed.
My life partner also found me on the hill – maybe he had a thing for women in uniform! He was actually referred to me by a friend and I was easy to hunt down. Some of the older guys on the patrol were like big brothers to me and checked him out to see what he was made of, and also pushed him on the slopes. He passed the test, and the rest is history.
Failing (I see it more as dusting off, learning and recovery):
So many people take the safe route. Thankfully, I’ve not been afraid of failure. I’ve often not landed where I planned but somehow the detours were interesting and often led me to where I was meant to be or to people I was meant to meet. I believe in coincidence. I’ve never believed that one needs to be specifically trained in an area before venturing forth. My natural strengths seem to continue to find me and the bumps I hit along the way offered lots of training. The school of hard knocks can offer a great education. I also believe bumps and scars develop into character.
Travelling to open your mind:
Before meeting Chuck, travel for me meant cookie-cutter trips to Club Med and ski resorts. Now, that has all changed. Our first trip was to the Grand Canyon where we hiked down and up in one day – he wanted to see what I was made of. We’ve since had many adventures to unusual places: Peru, China, Thailand, Cambodia, South Korea, India, a few countries in Europe and lots of travel to the US, where he spent the first half of his life. We also frequent the Caribbean on his boat, sometimes even during hurricane season. Travel is never dull with Chuck as my personal tour guide.
One very special trip (this one without Chuck) was to Arizona with my Mom and four sisters. It was great to see Mom enjoy being spoiled and to share beautiful Sedona with her, which is my most favourite place in the entire USA.
I also love introducing my nieces and nephews to travel. Several years ago, I had a fabulous bonding experience on a trip with to the Banff area with a 15-year-old niece (who’d never been on a plane – from personal experience, I thought she should know there are alternatives to using her thumb to see the world). We were joined by two other nieces from Vancouver, and then dropped in on yet another niece living in the flat plains in Lethbridge. How great to have them all together!
More recently, Chuck and I have made other trips with the younger generation – once to a resort in Arizona with three nieces in their early teens, and once on the boat in the Caribbean with three nephews in their late teens. Both trips were an absolute blast, and a time I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. It also gave me a taste of what it might be like to be the mom of teenagers. With the girls, our first dinner consisted of watermelon, chocolate and ice cream (hey, we’re not their parents!). With the boys, we learned that at that age, they are eating machines but have no idea what to put in the grocery cart. On that trip, one learned to scuba, we all rode scooters and all were stung by jellyfish. Memories none of us will forget.
Being an aunt and a nana:
Years from now when the next generation will go to therapy, their gripes will be the parents’ fault and not the aunt or nana’s fault! I absolutely love having these kids in my life and love to push them outside their comfort zone while doing the best I can to make them believe in themselves and be confident. Because we were immigrants and didn’t have any extended family, this kind of encouragement was probably a void I felt in my life. So I want them to know they can do and be anything they want, and that having a few stumbles along the way is great learning. I believe there is real value that aunts, uncles and grandparents can add to kids’ lives. Sometimes we may give the very same message as their parents, but it’s received differently.
And because it’s such a treat to borrow my nieces and nephews, we go out of our way to find new and unique things for them to do. We love taking the kids out for Asian food and they know the rule is that they either use the chopsticks or pay for their meal. Funny how quickly they learn to eat with chopsticks. We’ve also taught them how to go up the down escalators, and how to find their way on the subway and in airports. I was a natural follower for years; I want them to be in the driver’s seat of their own lives.
Important life lessons and breakthroughs:
Through all of this, I have unearthed a few gems:
- Don’t blame others for my lot in life unless I want them to continue to control me – that was a big aha! moment for me. When I finally stopped blaming my Dad for many of my challenges in life, many obstacles left my path. I also stopped feeling the need for his approval. What took me so long!
- When life gets rough, remember that many others have bigger problems. While I sold my first house at a loss and waited tables while starting my business, my 30-year-old girlfriend was dying of cancer. When people asked why I wasn’t more upset about my financial situation, the answer was easy – the loss of my friend put it all in perspective.
- Alcohol was my sub-conscious crutch early in my adult life because it gave me the courage to overcome my shyness in social settings. Twenty years later, for health reasons, I quit alcohol, which was tougher than I ever thought it would be, but a great breakthrough because I then discovered my true self (no ‘numbing’ required).
- Fire clients I don’t like working with – no matter how much I may need billings.
As a non-rule girl, here are some rules I believe in:
- View hurdles as lessons and opportunities for character-building;
- Surround myself with interesting people of all ages, and always have young people in my life;
- Remember how to be a kid and act like one often;
- Laugh often;
- Be tolerant and accepting of those different from myself – who knows, I may learn something;
- Accept and love my partner for who he is – if I ask him to change, he may also ask me to change…and how prepared am I to do that!
- Get to the gym and work up a sweat – it always feels good when I’m done;
- Eat healthy foods – this includes foods that release “happy endorphins” like chocolate and ice cream;
- The older I get, the less important it is to be liked by others – giving me more freedom to be myself;
- I love Dr. Phil’s quote “we teach others how to treat us”.
Things I’m still working on:
- Remembering that just because it’s on sale does not mean it’s a good deal;
- De-cluttering unnecessary stuff from my life;
- Eating treats in moderation;
- Understanding why my summer clothes shrink a size during the winter season;
- Staying current on electronics – new stuff comes out faster than my learning curve.
To sum up:
Overall, life has been good with many great adventures. I feel fortunate for all the great people in my life. I love being the (self-proclaimed) “favourite” aunt, and love to push and embarrass the young ones while still offering them a safe place to fall. I love the freedom of having my own consulting business – couldn’t imagine battling rush hour traffic, working regular hours, having to shop during crowded times and only getting 2-4 weeks of vacation per year – yuck! There are times I’d like to work more collaboratively with others but not enough to give up my freedom. I’ve found there are plenty of ways to work around that – ski patrol, Mastermind, friends and family – and find my place to belong.
We have a choice to take the optimist or pessimist routes in our lives. I’m choosing to live life with my glass half full.