Meet Badass Margaret

If I were a betting man, I would wager that this journey in pursuit of nirvana will bring me into contact with a variety of very admirable and interesting – in the most genuine sense of the word – people. I met the first such person last week.

Badass Margaret is a polished, charming, firecracker of a lady. She brims with friendliness but carries herself in a way very clearly confirming that her immediate surroundings are a perpetual bullshit-free zone. Inclined toward histrionics? Take them elsewhere, pal. Badass Margaret ain’t havin’ it.

I was introduced to Margaret by her niece, who is a friend of mine. This Badass Niece, having taken note of my nascent foray into the not-for-profit world, let me know that her aunt runs a large such organization here in Winnipeg. I confirmed that yes, absolutely, I’d love to have a conversation with the aunt, and so it was that I showed up to meet her on a crisp Tuesday afternoon in October.

Small in stature but offering a powerful handshake, Badass Margaret showed me to her office through the labyrinthine building that her organization occupies today. As we made our way through the office, I noted the buzz of the environment. People everywhere – coming, going, huddled together or on the phone or otherwise absorbed in their work. It wasn’t always this way: the Centre* was founded 22 years ago as a one-woman show.

(*Relax, Spellcheck; this is how we spell it in this country.)

In 1994, Badass Margaret was a recent immigrant to Canada, who – like so many other admirable new arrivals – showed up with a portfolio of credentials that would be enough to make most of us entitled natives blush, but being promised nothing in return. Admittedly, I wasn’t there to interview her on her academic or professional background, so I don’t know its full scope. But it did come up that Margaret has a degree in Corporate Law from a university in her native Poland, and a little bit of LinkedIn creeping reveals that – predictably – she is proficient in no less than four languages.

Badass Margaret the Corporate Lawyer founded a non-profit, by herself on a volunteer basis in a new country at a time when she (her words) “didn’t speak any English”, to help new immigrants to Canada/Winnipeg get set up with jobs and/or education.

Her enterprising spirit carried her through the first five years, during which time she passed a number of milestones. She got her first grant (on a date she can rattle off as easily as any person can state their own birthday), made connections throughout the local non-profit community and built the foundation for what was to come. The five-year mark was significant: that was the point at which she incorporated the organization, complete with a board of directors and a set of by-laws (which I’ve since read) befitting of the most professional of outfits. (Because of her professional background, she says, that part came “easily” to her.)

Today, the Centre employs a staff of 80, operates on annual funding well into seven-figure territory, is a pillar of the local community and helps countless people by way of a broad spectrum of programming. Again, the purpose of our conversation wasn’t for me to be able to profile her or her organization, but Badass Margaret did let on that her staff is replete with accomplished professionals (educators, social workers, etc.) who are paid well and love their work. The average tenure of her employees exceeds five years – uncommon, if not unheard of, in the non-profit world. She has a twinkle in her eye as she tries her best not to boast about the fact that the Centre runs extremely smoothly. By “taking care of” her employees, she points out, she avoids all kinds of problems that might otherwise distract from her ability to focus on more important things.

(Incidentally, while Badass Margaret might attribute her staff’s job satisfaction to basic economics, I suspect there’s more to it than that. Something tells me that if there was ever an instance of an employee’s behavior causing unrest in the workplace, B. Margaret would have stamped it out faster than a responsible camper disposes of a rogue ember. At one point in our conversation, I jokingly characterized the Centre as a dictatorship. She laughed a genuine laugh, then promptly changed the subject…without addressing my assertion.)

For my most salient purposes, my new friend was hugely helpful: she had much to offer in the way of advice, resources and spiritual guidance. (“Anyone can” do what she did, she claims. “You just have to be determined and accept that the first few years will be hard.” I’m not so sure she’s right about the first part, but would expect no less from someone who’s equal parts humble and…well, badass.) But it was actually everything other than what I was actually there to quiz her about that I ended up finding most valuable.

If a person can show up to a new country with a toolkit that contains little more than whip-smarts and a fighting spirit (and otherwise not even so much as the local language) and build what she’s built – from scratch – then what excuse do I have? If she has gone from one volunteer knocking on doors around town, to a bustling institution that assists thousands of people annually, then what better example do I need?

(Sidebar: I don’t know why it is that we – as a modern society – tend to revere the millionaire CEO as the exemplary model of success. In so many ways, this reverence is implied in our culture: the accomplished professional, who shoots up the corporate ladder from – typically – a middle-class upbringing or better, represents the pinnacle of modern achievement. I don’t mean to dismiss such achievement as unimpressive or trivial or somehow immoral. I’m simply suggesting that breathtaking success comes in various forms and that Badass Margaret is living, breathing, ass-kicking proof of that.)

Whether or not I achieve my specific goals in the years to come, I can’t imagine that experiences and introductions like this one will serve as anything less than lifelong enrichment for me. It’s these moments that confirm: no matter what, many good things will come of this adventure.

Nice to meet you, Badass Margaret.

Very nice indeed.


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