Woman reflectingWhat does it take to be extraordinary? It may take less than I thought.

The YWCA’s Women of Distinction Awards honour women who have contributed significantly to the advancement of women and girls in Canada and beyond, through their work, their art, and their unique commitment to women’s issues. The 2015 Awards were distributed on May 21, 2015. Among them was Marilyn Emery, CEO of Women’s College Hospital in Toronto.

To many in the world, Marilyn is the model of success for any gender. From humble beginnings with a passion for nursing, she rose in ranks through an honest desire to help people rather than a desire to be in charge of people or anything else. To many, Marilyn is a powerful leader, a unique force in the health care sector. To many, she inspires respect, and awe, and despite her small frame can even be a little intimidating given what she has accomplished.

To me, Marilyn is my daughter’s Tutu (which means grandmother in Hawaiian – kind of a long story), an avid dog-owner, and a devoted coffee drinker. She likes cheap icing on her cakes, instant noodle soup when she’s sick, and fudgesicles when she’s well. To me, she is just a woman.

Not just a woman, but you know what I mean. The everyday Marilyn is accessible to me. She leaves dishes in the sink sometimes, wakes up with bedhead, spills coffee on her shirt. The Marilyn I see in the private sphere is completely unintimidating. She is an ordinary women who has done undoubtedly extraordinary things. Knowing her makes extraordinary things seem possible, likely even. Knowing her is inspiring in a whole new, accessible way.

It is easy to imagine that the people who change the world are special in everything they do, with perfectly ordered lives, taxes filed on time (by someone else of course), perfectly confident in their ability to handle the daily challenges that people like me struggle with- the body image issues I face as I get dressed, the trouble I have keeping commitments with my family, or staying on top of my medications. It is easy to imagine that people like Marilyn Emery, are not people like my mother-in-law.

Everyone’s lives are filled with the strange interplay between ordinary and extraordinary. I am an ordinary employee at an extraordinary organization (The Canadian Women’s Foundation). My partner and I are ordinary parents of an extraordinary child, whose name is Gracie. I was born of the same ordinary parents as my extraordinary sister (a partner at Stockwoods LLP Barristers, recent winner of the Precedent Setter’s award, adjunct professor at Osgoode Hall, Master of Laws candidate, parent of two). No wonder I have always felt like I should aspire to be more than just who I am.

We are all six degrees of separation – or maybe just two or three – from the people who influence our collective well-being, change life circumstances, set precedence on a grand scale. Marilyn is just two degrees from me, busy running the only women’s hospital in Ontario, changing the face of healthcare in our city. She has done a whole host of extraordinary things in her lifetime, the likes of which relatively few women have or ever will do. I figure she’s got twenty odd years on me, which means twenty years of doing many, many ordinary things in and around the extraordinary ones.  

I can bake my own cakes, make homemade noodle soup, and I rarely spill my coffee. So maybe it is only a matter of time and circumstance before I do something extraordinary too.