2020 has been quite a year. It’s an understatement to suggest it’s one we’ll never forget. On a macro level, it’s been filled with more bad news than good and we’re probably looking forward to grinding our way through the balance of this year and getting on with what will, hopefully, be a better 2021. Nonetheless, as we approach Thanksgiving, as Canadians, what are a few things for which we can be thankful? Here’s three people about who I have learned a bit about in 2020 and for whom I am thankful. These three individuals share several characteristics. None of them were born into their positions. Their upbringings were modest and typical to that shared by most of us. Each have transcended their beginnings to achieve remarkable things. They have achieved while having families. They have maintained a consistent approach to personal growth throughout their lives. They serve as role models to each of us. We can, hopefully, learn something from them.
Chris Hadfield. Hadfield grew up in rural Ontario. His family lived and operated a small corn farm. He was introduced to the value of self-reliance early on in life. Hadfield was exposed to operating equipment and learned how to fix things with his own hands. On a summer evening in 1969, as a young boy just 9 years old, his family was holidaying in Ontario’s Cottage Country. He was part of a group huddled around a small TV in someone’s cabin where they together watched the US put the first man, Neil Armstrong, on the moon. It was a formative moment. He knew this was something special. He decided that evening it was something he wanted to do. Even as a young boy, he recognized the difficulty and virtual impossibility of becoming an astronaut, especially for a Canadian. Nonetheless, Hadfield accepted he would do his part. He couldn’t control whether Canada had a space program, but he could work hard, develop his intelligence, learn to fly, and put himself in places where others learning this craft would be.
From this amazing aspiration, Hadfield viewed virtually any decision against his goal. From deciding what to eat, to how hard to study, to what extra curricular activities to sign up for, the decision was made based on will this move me closer to my goal of becoming an astronaut. If yes, then the decision was to pursue something. If no, then not. Hadfield became a cadet and learned to fly. His brothers and father were also into this activity and it became a naturally supportive environment. From being a cadet, Hadfield joined the Canadian Air Force becoming a test pilot and learning to fly over 70 different types of planes. That’s incredibly complex on its own yet he was able to achieve an Engineering degree concurrently during his military time. Hadfield earned a master’s degree in aviation systems in Tennessee some years later while at a military exchange program between the US and Canada. In his early 30s, Hadfield was accepted into Canada’s astronaut program, one that didn’t even exist when he decided to dive down this path. Commander or Colonel Hadfield (he holds several ranks) completed three missions in space totalling over 166 days. As an astronaut on the ground, Colonel Hadfield has travelled the world. He spent time in Houston and in Star City in Russia.
At each step of his journey, he seemed to and continues to strive to do more in order to be more. Not be more in terms of personal status, but be more in terms of be capable of contributing more. A relentless pursuit for improvement and learning driven by curiosity has been his modus operandi since being a boy. As an astronaut he was able to communicate many of his unique experiences with the world with the help of one of his son’s and social media. He brought space to many of us in an entertaining and understandable way. He continues to do so now as a speaker.
If these accomplishments aren’t enough, Mr. Hadfield holds the distinguished honor amongst our three esteemed Canadians of being the only one for whom a mini-lego figure has been developed. Well, that and having received the Order of Canada as well.
Leslyn Lewis. Mrs. Lewis threw her hat into the leadership race of the Conservative Party of Canada which kicked off in the heart of COVID this Spring and wrapped up at the end of August. The party restructured its leadership race to make it more difficult for people to enter. The prior race four years earlier had resulted in 16 candidates whereas this time around only four could meet the stricter standards. Mrs. Lewis was a virtual unknown when she entered and was barely acknowledged as a candidate. She was the only one of the four candidates who has never held a political office.
Lewis grew up in Ontario arriving as an immigrant from Jamaica when she was five years old. Lewis has impeccable education credentials. She holds four different degrees. She has earned more letters to present after her name than a can of Alphagetti. Lewis received all of her post-secondary education in Canada beginning with a undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto. From here she achieved a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies from York University while focusing concurrently in Business and Environment from the Schulich School of Business. She then pushed forward earning a law degree and a further doctorate in international law, both from Osgoode Law School. Mrs. Lewis is Dr. Lewis. Each of her post secondary educational achievements are respectable on their own, but, collectively, she’s in rare air. Moreover, the educational background is about as relevant to the world we live in and the priorities that have been put forth as most important in recent years which are trying to protect and preserve what seem to be competing objectives, the economy and the environment.
Dr. Lewis applied her robust education to the business world by becoming a lawyer where she has practiced for over 20 years. She is a partner in a firm she established. Dr. Lewis’ legal career began developing her craft servicing corporate clientele on Bay Street in Toronto. She then established her own firm that provides a wide range of legal services. She remained an active contributor to articles during her practicing years and became involved in various community initiatives before dipping her toes into the political arena.
As impressive as her academic and professional accomplishments are, Dr. Lewis drew respect and interest in her candidacy as a result of two separate, unrelated factors: Her courage and her calmness. Throughout the leadership race, Dr. Lewis consistently presented her positions. She effused praise and support for other candidates against which she was competing. She realized they are all ultimately on the same team and would need to work together to have any hope in a future general election. She avoided criticizing and throwing mud. Moreover, not only did she exhibit class in acknowledging others in the Conservative leadership race, she did similarly against other political parties. She didn’t draw on the frustration or base level anger so many party members may have felt. She wanted to take a higher road and present her vision for how to constructively make Canada a better country for more people. This, sadly, is all too rare in politics today. What’s even more remarkable is that Dr. Lewis was able to manage this while holding some personal convictions which are relatively rare. She made no effort to water down her personal convictions or evade questions. She confidently presented her views. Whether one agrees or, especially, if one doesn’t, one can be confident that Dr. Lewis is trustworthy. In a world where politicians rarely offer an intelligible answer, she provided direct responses which reflect a principled conviction. At least we know where she stands. At least we can be reasonably confident that when she says something she means it.
Finally, Dr. Lewis penned an op-ed for the National Post in mid September after the leadership race was over. She wrote of her reflections on learning in 2020 in the midst of a pandemic. Her takeaways weren’t related to personal ambitions but tied to gratitude for the additional time she was able to spend with her kids.
Jordan Peterson. Peterson grew up in a small, rural community deep in the North of Alberta. It was a town like so many others that existed in a hostile climate for many months of the year and subsisted primarily on agriculture and oil and gas extraction. Peterson’s family was a normal, typical family where he was the oldest of three siblings. His father a teacher and mother a librarian, books and reading were a natural part of Peterson’s environment. Peterson’s formative years occurred during the Cold War era between the US and USSR. This topic was of interest to Peterson as a young boy. His curiosity pulled him into learning about things most other kids weren’t even aware of. In his early teen years, he developed an interest in politics and did work with the Alberta NDP party where he supported efforts of the father of recent premier, Rachel Notley. Peterson pursued post secondary education beginning at a regional college studying political science and literature. He has earned two B.A. degrees, one in political science and one in psychology. He achieved post graduate degrees at McGill and has a Ph.D in clinical psychology.
Dr. Peterson has taught at Harvard and at the University of Toronto. While being a professor, Dr. Peterson continued to operate a clinical practice as well. Many of his lectures have been recorded and put on Youtube. Millions of normal folk have stumbled across his lectures and driven these videos to be very popular. His metamorphosis from stereotypical, awkwardly dressed, professor to polished presenter is remarkable. He has devoted his life time to absorbing as much information in his areas of interest as possible. He is remarkably well read and very meticulous in both his writings and public speaking. Hundreds of thousands of people welcome his message and have flocked to his presentations in recent years. His book 12 Rules for Life has become a multi-million best seller in a number of countries. His contributions haven’t been without controversy and he’s received plenty of criticism. Throughout his efforts he has endured suffering within his own family as a result of health issues and has been afflicted himself personally. Through it all, he maintains a concerted commitment and consistency to the development of his perspective which he shares.
Each of these three remarkable Canadians are great reasons for us to be proud. They separately showcase skills which we would do well to emulate. As fellow Canadians we should be proud and grateful that we share our nationality with people like these. They each evidence lifelong learning across a wide range of subjects. None of these individuals are one-dimensional. None of these fine folk were born with a silver spoon in their mouths. None had a family history or connections to their chosen fields. Universities weren’t lining up to draw them in. They each come from humble, normal, middle class families. Their families loved, nurtured, and encouraged them. Their backgrounds are far more similar to those of our own than different. Though, none of what they have accomplished was given to them, they have each earned their spots at or near the top of their respective fields by their own focused, consistent, and committed efforts. They each are committed to serving within their areas of expertise. At the stage of their lives where they could be easing off the gas pedal and taking it easy, they continue to push forward improving themselves and their communities. Each of these three remarkable individuals serve as solid role models for all of us. In spite of their personal accomplishments, their greatest satisfaction and commitment stems from their devotion to their families. Their achievements are incredible yet they remain intent on improving in their respective avenues of pursuit. They aren’t doing so out of ruthless, selfish ambition, aspiring not to accumulating additional accolades or wealth, but because of their curiosity and commitment to making a constructive difference in their fields.
Whether thinking of Hadfield, Lewis, or Peterson makes you grateful to be a Canadian, I hope you can find your own reasons to be proud and look forward to the future of our country. Happy Thanksgiving.