Annie. Early Life Experiences, Career Milestones and Road Blocks and Relationships

posted August 21st, 2009 by Janet Graham - One Comment

Early Life Experiences

I asked Annie to tell me about the experiences in her early life which she believes had the greatest impact on her work life and career. She said the experience which had the greatest impact on her was the fact that her father was quite domineering and very abusive, more particularly to her sister, brother and mother, less so to her but abusive nonetheless, and as a consequence her mother left him when Annie was quite young. She said they moved back and forth to England and eventually came back to Canada and settled in Western Canada but as a result of her circumstances her mother was very poor. Annie says her mother lived on welfare and she thinks that shaped her because she can remember being really young and thinking she didn’t want to be like her mother. She decided she didn’t want to live like her mother and she didn’t want to be dependent on a man and she thinks these early experiences shaped her drive and ambition, although it was all a very subconscious thing. She doesn’t remember consciously thinking about not wanting to be dependent on a man or about making a ton of money and being a success but she feels it made her work really hard, always feeling that she had to do a good job because there was nothing to back her up, no one she could fall back on, so she had to make a success of whatever she was doing.

She thinks the other thing that shaped her was that she got malaria when she was a little girl. She was eleven months old when she got it and she had it until she was eleven and it made her very tired. She remembers when she got sick it would make her sleep and sleep and sleep and she would be by herself a lot and she thinks it made her very introspective, if not at times introverted, but in her mind that was a good thing because she thinks out of that experience she became a very thoughtful person, comfortable with herself and in her own way able to rationalize and understand things. She thinks that was a big aid when she had tough and challenging times in her career; she thinks it helped her.

Career Milestones and Roadblocks

I asked Annie to tell me about her career, in terms of the milestones and roadblocks which stand out when she looks back and what she learned from them. She said when she finished high school she had scholarships to go to university but she didn’t go. She went back to England and stayed with her mum’s family and worked in a pub and had a great time. She says when she came back to Canada with no money and no scholarships, her dad was pretty upset with her. He said if she wanted to go to university, she was going to have to find ways to pay for it herself. Annie started working at a bank not thinking that finance or banking was a career that she was going to pursue; it wasn’t something she was thinking about but at that time in Western Canada, the early 70’s, the banks were desperate for talented people. It was a bit like the economy a couple of years ago and until just recently, in Western Canada and in Alberta, in particular when “if you found a warm body and you could prop it up at the counter you hired it”. She says that is how she started and because she was smart and worked hard which she says she always did, she started getting promotions and opportunities at a very young age which at the time was unusual for women. She reminded me it was the 70’s in Western Canada and she was being given these great opportunities and she never failed at any. She says she did make mistakes but she never failed at any challenge she was given. She was made a branch manager at twenty-seven and she was given a large commercial branch to manage a few years later. She was the first female credit inspector in the credit room in Western Canada and she says she had lots of opportunities. In the 80’s, the bank was looking for women to place in executive positions and she was again given an opportunity to do that becoming a Vice-President in 1988.

She says there were challenges along the way. There were a lot of men who were supportive but there were many who were resentful and angry because Annie was getting these opportunities. Sexual harassment and discrimination in the work place and with clients was sort of the way it was but for some reason she says she had the inner strength to not accept it but kind of know the battles that she needed to fight and where to back away from situations and issues and people where she knew that it was going to be hopeless. She says that was the challenge. And she says it was very, very, very lonely, once she became more senior. There were no other women for a long time. She would be the only woman in meetings and go to places to visit customers where she would be the only woman and sometimes it was quite scary. She travelled mostly with men and sometimes that was difficult but again she says she had the inner strength to cope with it and she looks back now and she thinks it was character building. She says she left the bank later in her career and went on to another opportunity at a different institution but she doesn’t think she could have handled it if she hadn’t had those early experiences.


I asked Annie to tell me about the relationships in her life which she believes had the greatest impact on her and in particular her work life and career. Annie said the greatest relationships she had in the early days were with the men who believed in her and gave her the opportunities she needed to grow. She says she felt best about that when she was given these opportunities not because she was a woman but because her supporters knew that she was going to be able to do the job. She was just a human being who was going to be able to meet the challenge that was being given to her. She says those men were terrific and although she never had a proper mentor, these men not only gave her opportunities they tried to coach her to be better and to be more successful. She says the approach to mentoring which is a more common practice today, where a person in the early stages of their career is matched up with somebody who is charged with being their mentor for a period of time wasn’t common or simply didn’t happen in the early days of her career.

Annie says later on it was the women that she met in her career that really impacted her. She says so many of the women were wonderful and supportive and she says if she hadn’t had them when times were difficult, to talk to and work through situations with, there were times when she probably would have given up. On the other hand, she says there were also women who had climbed up the ladder the hard way, the same way Annie did, but these women chose to roll the ladder up behind them and “there was no goddamned way that any woman was going to get ahead of them or it would be over their dead body”. She says these women were pretty much out to get other women and in her case there was one in particular who impacted her, but she says it was a good experience because it made her realize that this behaviour was just so terribly wrong and she was going to make sure that she never did that to another woman and if a woman was capable and ambitious then she was going to reach out her hand and help lift her up and even over herself if that’s what happened. She says in that way it was a good experience.

What Strikes Me?

Don’t pull the ladder up behind you; reach out your hand and lift another woman up

Challenges are great learning experiences

It’s possible to rise above childhood’s most challenging experiences

The enormous impact our parents have on us and the choices we make and the directions we take in our lives because of it

The importance of picking your battles

What Strikes You?
Please add your comments.

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One Response to “Annie. Early Life Experiences, Career Milestones and Road Blocks and Relationships”

Comment from Shelly
Time August 21, 2009 at 1:22 pm

Beautiful! Annie’s story is not only inspirational (from rags to riches), it speaks volumes about her attitude and, her commitment to ‘paying it forward’ … that’s just plain decent! How encouraging!

Love how you showcase the learning jewels in your What Strikes Me section!

Looking forward to more stories like this!

Thanks Janet!

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