My little daughter Nova turns two in just a few days. Over the last week, I’ve found myself googling “best gifts for two-year-olds” searching for the perfect gift for her. It’s silly really — she’s two. She couldn’t care less about gifts, and she has enough wonderful people in her life to ensure she’ll be sufficiently spoiled on the big day anyway.
But I also don’t want her birthdays to become all about the planning, cake, party and gifts. I want her birthdays to be a celebration of life — her life. As all of our birthdays should be. What a miracle, to be here, to exist! I want her to feel the glory of that, every single year. So I’ve decided, I’m going to write her a letter. Every year, I’m going to write to my Nova.
In a few days, you will be two years old. I have experienced so much joy watching your personality unfold (or really, be revealed). I remember when I was begging you to say mama (papa, piggie, cheese, you’d say it all, but no mama!) and now I hear it non-stop. It is like music to my ears (most of the time). You are full of love, laughter and delight. You smile and wave at strangers, hug and kiss your mama, papa, friends and family freely, and you dance and sing at the very top of your lungs.
You are free. You might not get to decide when to go to bed or what to eat for dinner, but your little spirit is young and free to feel that all-encompassing joy that most of us lose as we grow.
In the last two weeks leading up to your birthday, I participated in a roundtable with the Prime Minister of Canada and spoke at a #movethedial event, an organization that promotes advancing women in tech. Both events were solution-oriented and focused on highlighting and discussing challenges that women in business face. We see a lot of events like this these days. In most ways, it is so wonderful. To see women supporting women and men stepping up to support women is a beautiful thing. As we know, empowering women (through education, jobs, access to health care and the freedom to make choices) leads to higher economic growth, lower infant mortality and (I don’t have statistics to back this up, but I would imagine) happier families and communities as well. I support these causes fully. But sometimes I wonder if we get a little lost and even (unknowingly) hide behind them.
Growing up on the east coast of Canada, I was definitely a visible minority. And by minority I mean that in sixth grade I was just one of two non-white students in my class. I was also a girl. But the experiences that made me feel “less than” weren’t because of my colour or gender. They were because of certain people who made sure that I felt “less than”. These people weren’t “rascist” or “sexist”, they were people who for whatever reason felt better when they were making someone else feel bad. Sadly, people like that exist among every race and among both genders (Anyone who has been to an all girls or all boys school can attest to that!).
As I grew up and entered the workforce, I experienced the same thing. I never felt that any of the roadblocks I hit were because of my gender or race. For most of my business career, I was surrounded by other women. And I can say that there were many times I didn’t feel supported or appreciated for who I was. Just as women feel that they need to conform to fit into a man’s world, my experience was that I needed to conform to fit into my working world. It is an easy story to say that in general it is men that are holding women back. I won’t argue that in some industries this is very certainly true. But from my personal experience, this has not been the case at all.
I guess what I’m saying is, we should ALL be expecting more from one another. We should all expect and ask to be seen, respected and not judged for our differences. We should all ask ourselves how we are judging others, not just on race or gender or sexual orientation but on speech patterns, or style, or accents, or haircuts, or cars we drive, or jokes we laugh at or music we listen to.
Being “inclusive” shouldn’t just mean having a sign on your businesses door or a paragraph in your employee handbook that says we welcome people of all genders, race and sexual orientation. To me being inclusive means to respect others personalities, opinions, natures (extroverted vs introverted for example), style of dress, body type etc and to not rashly judge those that are different from you. A cry for inclusivity should not just be declared with posts on Instagram or Facebook but by cultivating real community connections. Let’s make friends with the people we claim to include and with those we have still left out.
Nova, as you grow, I want you to focus on being you. On powerfully shining your light. Quietly or loudly, however it suits you. I want you to recognize the truth that there are good people and people who have been led very seriously astray all around you. Across all genders and all people. I want you to think critically and for yourself. And never let your gender, or socioeconomic class or race be an excuse for any poor behaviour or for not doing the best you can. Which is much more than you realize…
I want you to avoid being quick to judge others when their views are different from your own.
Instead, understand that we are all connected and reach out to find the similarities vs focusing only on the differences. You will find them.
I hope you don’t vote for a woman just because she’s a woman.
Instead, vote for the human you believe to be honest and true and whose values align with yours.
I wish for you not to go through life thinking you are less privileged or less powerful because you are female or different in other ways.
Instead, uncover, nurture and embrace your natural powers and never be afraid to use them.
I wish for you to avoid getting so caught up with what’s happening in the world that you lose yourself.
Instead, know that positive change starts with you. Take full personal responsibility for yourself. The way you live, how you treat others, the example you set for your family and community. This has greater impact than you realize.
Please don’t allow yourself to get too caught up in the negative. No doubt, there is a lot out there and for good reasons.
Instead, leverage your powerful positive force to shift the worlds energy. Find the good, gather it around you and keep moving. It will grow, gain momentum and make an impact far greater than you can imagine.
I know that these words won’t mean anything to you for a long time. But as I sit here writing to you, I imagine you sixteen years old, reading the letters your mama wrote to you. And while I tear up thinking of you at the age of sixteen (my baby!), I feel a great responsibility to protect and nurture that free, loving spirit of yours. I hope these letters will be a source of strength and light for you one day.