When I was asked to speak for honour roll evening at my old high school, I was honoured. I wondered if the people who invited me felt I have some level of success that could set somewhat of a good example for you, or perhaps inspire you in some way. But you're honour roll students! I wasn't even a full honour roll student in high school. I almost failed grade 10 math with Monsieur Kenny. You don't need me to teach you about success. You need me to teach you about failure. That I can do!
Well, one sunny Sunday morning, I was on my way to a gloomy gig in downtown Toronto. I was driving my compact car through a green light. A woman in an SUV decided to drive through a red light. I see her coming and remember my thought process so clearly:
I'm going to avoid this. Oh my G-D, I can't avoid this. I'm too young to die.
Then I saw the bright, white light so many people talk about in those near-death experiences. And I'll tell you what that bright, white light is: the airbag.
This woman smashed into me, driver side, pushing my car about 50 metres. A fraction of a second difference, I'd be dead. What? I have an expiration date? I'm not invincible? I'm not invincible.
She literally pushed me off my course, and figuratively pushed me onto another course. Because now my life had to have meaning. I made a plan. And planned to accomplish it quickly. I will go back to writing. I will be a national columnist. Then I will be a nationally syndicated columnist. Check. Check. Check. Done.
Then I wanted a radio show. I contact a big-name radio industry guy. "You'll never be hired as a talk show host. Try something else." Okay. So, naturally, a few days later, I apply ... to be a talk show host at CJOB. And just like that, I gave up a good life I had worked so hard to establish in Toronto, to return to Winnipeg. Even though I had no idea what I was doing. Sounds fearless, right? I was petrified. You see, I'm afraid of everything, but I'm not afraid to do anything.
I wanted to quit.
I can't do this. I don't know how to do this. I'm not like the guys at CJOB, and if I pretend to be, you'll know it. Worse. I'll know it. But in my panic, I realized, almost immediately, the more authentic I am, the less I screw up - and the easier it'll be to own my screw-ups. Well, okay. I'm all about social good. So this would be a social good talk show. It would have to create social impact! I just had no clue how to accomplish that.
But it accomplished itself, because of three things: I worked very hard, I stayed true to myself - despite what anyone said, and because of ...
The power of connection.
Your whole life people will tell you about success. The keys to success. Why you need to be successful. And if success is what drives you, you will push for that elusive perfection. And eventually you too may want to share your success stories. But we hear far too much about others' successes. We never ask about their failures.
I've spent my last three years asking people about their failures. Ironically - or appropriately - my talk show was known as the most positive show in the city. And not only did I learn from others' failures, but I also constantly failed in front of others - thousands of others - as I did my show.
Which leads me to my two biggest failures. And by default, my biggest successes.
Now, at eight-years-old, sadly, I already thought of myself as a failure. But a fortuitous moment on November 2nd 2014, turned that failure into one of my greatest successes.
So, I had just finished hosting a radiothon fundraiser at St. Boniface Hospital. A man named Stu introduces himself to me. When I was eight he was a counsellor at my camp. Camp Massad. The camp was run by a woman named Carol Leszcz. Stu told me Carol died almost exactly two years ago. Very sad. She was only 52. And I will NEVER forget what Stu told me next ...
At the end of Carol's life, the two of them reminisced about fun times in life and the children Carol had tirelessly worked with. And that's when they started talking about me. They remembered a night at camp when we were doing skits. I was in a skit, but it wasn't a speaking role. As Stu gave the scenario, I remembered that performance and remembered how upset I was that I didn't have lines - I wouldn't be memorable. At only eight, I felt like a failure. I played the part of a boring grandma and all I had to do was eat a stupid cookie throughout my scene. I was of course dressed as an old woman, and one of my accoutrements - or two of them, as it were - gave me ample bosom. As I was eating that cookie, crumbs kept falling onto my chest. Stu told me I spent the entire scene repeatedly taking a bite of the cookie then brushing cookie crumbs off of my old lady boobies. Apparently, Carol and Stu laughed right through my performance. I stole the show and didn't know it. But, what really gets to me: That snapshot from my life made Carol laugh at the end of hers.
And this moment that Stu shared with me on that November day, will now be one that I will never forget either. It's just that I will remember it for a different reason.
The power of connection.
Fast forward to my talk show at CJOB. I worked very hard. I was the content producer and host for the show. I regularly received lovely messages from listeners. Kind. Gracious. Thoughtful. Sometimes though, I was too caught up in the hustle and still felt unfulfilled. Was I really making the difference I wanted to make? I'm failing at the most meaningful thing in the world to me.
Then, a couple of days after my show ended, I received this email in the middle of the night, from a man I've never met. I'd like to share it with you:
I cannot sleep tonight. so I've decided to finally write you an email about you leaving Winnipeg. I'm not sure if you remember me or not, but it doesn't matter. To be honest I haven't listened to your show in two weeks because I've heard about you leaving, I can't describe to you how much this hurts, this is for very selfish reasons.
I know you are going on to bigger and better and you deserve it so so so so so so so much, but I can't help feel a little hurt.
Dahlia, I haven't had many role models that have worked out for me in my life, until I came across you. I can't describe to you how much you have truly changed my life. I started listening to you two and a half years ago, and I never expected to grow as much as I have by simply listening to a radio show host. The way you see things in life is absolutely remarkable.
I'm not dumb, you have tough days like everyone else, but how you can come to work everyday and be so positive about life is so amazing to me.
I just want to thank you for everything you have done for me, 3 years ago I did not want to live, and you have completely changed my life.
I'm happy, a lot because I listen to your show. I've boycotted your show for the last two weeks because I'm hurt you are leaving, I don't blame you one bit though, but I'm still hurt, but I mostly don't listen to it because I will break down and tear up. I don't want you to the get this email mixed up, I am so happy for you, but I just need you to know how much of an impact you made on my life, and I'm sure many others, I wish you the best of luck, and just thank you again for being you.
The power of connection.
You never know whom you're touching or how you're touching them.
You see, my biggest failure, has always - really - been failing to recognize my true capabilities. And I still can't tell you what my true capabilities are. You can't tell me what your true capabilities are either! Because you are always more capable than you think you are.
And you may never know your greatest successes - I was fortunate to have discovered a couple of mine through Stu and that listener - but you will always know your greatest failures. Please don't beat yourself up over them. Build yourself up from them.
Just know, it's not your failures - or even successes - that define you. Your values define you - and how you apply them. And how you apply them can turn your worst moments into your best moments.
But those greatest accomplishments will never happen in those moments when you're alone. They'll only happen when you're connected.