By Alumni: Kimberley Kennedy, Class of 2021

Halfway across Pickerel Lake to The Pines we found ourselves tipping in a canoe. With water above my ankles and soaking wet from head to toe, the rain started to stop as we paddled out of the pickerel river. Watching Chris shift in his seat I thought that was it, I thought we were going for a late September dip in the lake.

This pandemic has been tiring on so many levels, and in the summer of 2020, the last thing I wanted was any additional responsibilities or commitments, I just wanted a break.

I waited until the last possible moment to apply to the 2020/2021 Class of Leadership Thunder Bay because I really didn’t know if another commitment was doable. I’m not sure what it was that made me decide to apply on the day that the applications were due, but I’d like to think it was something inside of me, diverting me away from what could’ve very well been the start to my quarter-life crisis.

The program facilitators, Kari and Margaret, as cliché as this will sound, guided us on this journey, where based on our own goals, we would gain the skills needed for us to grow in our careers and in our personal lives. Luckily, the week prior to this canoe trip, planned for my 25th Birthday, we had a two-day retreat where we learned about communication styles and personality dimensions. Thinking back to the day before my birthday, sitting in that canoe with Chris, inches away from flipping, if we hadn’t discussed communication style, I 100% would’ve reacted in a way that was neither helpful to the situation nor to our relationship, and we probably would’ve ended up going for that late September dip.

Knowing that Chris processes information based on facts, he needed to know why the canoe was tipping and exactly how much water was in the canoe, it would not be helpful for me to lead with my emotions, screaming to get to the nearest island out of fear, I kept it as calm as I could, and waited until we got to shore before having my brief meltdown. Communication is a funny thing – if we can’t articulate exactly what is going on in the moment, in a way the other person requires it, we can find ourselves in a sticky—or in our case, wet, situation.

As time went on during the program, I learned how to say no, how to prioritize work-life balance, how to find my voice, and how to use my voice proactively and productively. We learned about issues in our community, what organizations and our local government officials were doing to solve the problems, and by far, the greatest part of the experience was that we were able to connect with individuals we probably would never get the opportunity to connect with elsewhere. After a year into the pandemic, the social connection was something that I, as an extravert was seeking. Though the year was done virtually, it was a day every month that I looked forward to because I benefited from exactly what I was able to put into the program, and it was extremely rewarding.

Thinking of my experience, you don’t need to be in a leadership position to develop leadership skills, those skills can help you regardless of where you are in your career and how you respond to the challenges of everyday life. I don’t think that I would’ve enjoyed my 25th birthday as much if I didn’t learn how to adapt my communication styles. We spent the evening on a small island, nestled in with a beautiful view, two swans, a tetra of wine, and an experience we will remember for the rest of our lives.

Since finishing the program, I took a step forward in my career, went back to school for a post-graduate certificate in fundraising management, received my designation as a Certified Fund-Raising Executive, and started a business. I’m not sure if I would have achieved all of that without the support and reassurance I had received from my peers while going through the Leadership Thunder Bay program.

As for Chris and I, we developed a love of backpacking, adventuring without the canoe, and as for the canoe, it’s safely in storage at the XY Paddle Company in Atikokan where surely Chris’ uncle will not lend it to us again.