A serendipitous leap into volunteerism

Following a very fulfilling 35+year career in marketing and PR for various high-profile corporations, it was time to retire. I needed to slow down, learn how to sleep more than 6 hours a night, and re-organize the life that I had, more or less, put on hold for much of the prior 20 years.

At first, I relished not having to deal with an infernal daily commute, hired a personal trainer, and gleefully purged my closet of power suits and high heel shoes. I read reams of books, organized my files, started painting but all of it somehow never quite filled the 12-15 working hours a day I was accustomed to. Was I bored? Absolutely not! Was I fulfilled? Not quite. Luckily, business trips were swapped for leisure travel and I finally felt like I was starting to enjoy the pleasure of “having time” to do what I wanted.

Then COVID hit. My gym closed, our many travel plans were obliterated, and it was the dull height of winter. We tackled an epic “to do” list we had put off for decades because it was not a priority in light of our work commitments.

But after two months of that, it became quickly apparent that this just wasn’t going to cut it. I needed something more rewarding. Did I want another full-time job? Not particularly.

While I was deeply pondering this conundrum, Pamela Jeffery came knocking. Not surprisingly, she had an idea and needed the support of like-minded hard-working women for a COVID-related Not For Profit (NPO). I have known Pam for more than 15 years; she always has great ideas and she certainly knows how to implement them.

I attended the initial Zoom meeting where Pam shared her vision with an extensive A+-list of female leaders. I quickly texted Pam after the call to let her know that I wasn’t sure if I was ready for this type of challenging start-up at this point in my life.

Was this a serendipitous moment? As I began to better understand the importance of Le Projet Prospérité’s (TPP) mandate, I realized that I had never had the chance to get involved and support something I personally believed in.

Sure, I negotiated some very important partnerships that were well aligned with our corporate mission and vision at the time. However, they were not necessarily what I would have personally endorsed.

I worked in male-dominated fuel and automotive industries for my entire career. I now had an opportunity to support women, but more importantly, women who, through no fault of theirs, are being seriously affected by COVID’s ruthlessness. Through advocacy and research, The Prosperity Project is implementing a discerning long-term action plan to incite government and corporate Canada to address some lamentable situations and make much-needed policy changes. It became quite clear that I wanted to be part of this complex equation that is valiantly aiming to ensure women’s prosperity, improve gender equality, and ultimately create a “better normal” for all Canadians.

While they have volunteered to get involved in The Prosperity Project, most of its 62 Founding Visionaries have challenging and highly demanding jobs. Since I had more free time, I raised my hand a few times to help out and before I knew it, I was asked if I’d consider co-chairing the Marketing and Communications, working group.

How could I even think of turning down this request when my co-chair would be Barbara Fox, a highly respected PR maven and CEO of Enterprise Canada? I was honoured, to say the least. Barb and her team orchestrated the planning and execution of the virtual TPP launch in May. I loved working with such savvy and driven professionals. Despite intense workloads coupled with endless back-to-back meetings, Barbara and several members of her team have since chosen to nevertheless continue to volunteer with TPP.

My previous work life was spent for the most part “out-of-office” and on planes. I know that many superwomen successfully manage a grueling full-time job, family obligations, eldercare, travel, fitness, board meetings AND find the time to volunteer. I’m not proud to say I wasn’t one of them.

For my first volunteer experience, better late than never, I get to work alongside extraordinarily accomplished women who have beyond impressive backgrounds. As awe-inspiring as their endless list of credentials is, their down-to-earth, roll up your sleeves, willing to help attitude has simply blown my mind. I have yet to witness even a glimpse of patronizing superiority, but I have repeatedly seen passion, mutual respect, and leadership at its best.

I am amazed at how much I have learned. I have always had excellent team members and much of the daily grind was handled by them. Working for an NPO, from home, without resources, one literally has to do everything. I have had to brush up on so many things and learn to become self-sufficient. Thank goodness for “how to” Google and YouTube videos. But more importantly, I have met and am getting to know some fascinating women and men who are exposing me to a whole new world.

I was able to recruit some really great volunteers to join our MarCom TPP team. However, I often have to remind myself that they have jobs and/or other personal commitments and squeeze us in when they can. Not being the patient type, I quickly realized that I couldn’t expect them to work at my pace and always be available when I needed them. Yes, the process is slower and, at times, a tad frustrating but it is inspiring to be working with women and men who choose to “donate” their time because they believe in our collective mandate. Imagine that!

Is it still volunteering when your mind is churning in your sleep because you have much to deliver and you don’t want to disappoint those who depend on you? In fact, it’s really no different than a full-time paying job. It’s about believing in and loving what you do. In my opinion, if you’re going to participate, don’t do it half measure. Getting involved in an exceptional cause and making even a small difference has been personally very rewarding.

TPP is a much-needed pan-Canadian endeavour with an ambitious agenda. For the women and men who are driving its important initiatives, there is still a great deal of work to do. I am personally convinced that TPP will, in many ways, build upon the commendable progress women have achieved in the last thirty years and as such, also benefit Canada’s economic future. The many TPP volunteers who have and will continue to lend their support and passion will make absolutely sure of that.