She stood alone on stage in front of a sold-out auditorium, delivering her inspiring message. As I sat amongst the crowd listening to her speech, I remembered a memorable poem by Linda Ellis entitled “The Dash.” My favorite part of the poem is:
“For it matters not, how much we own, the cars… the house… the cash. What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.”
The “dash” refers to the gap between the beginning and end of our life.
The young lady on stage continued. She made it clear to the crowd that the time you spend on earth is limited. Make it count, and don’t let anyone or anything deter you from pursuing your goals. If you closed your eyes and listened to her message, you may assume it was delivered by a seasoned adult who had lived a full life. At the time of the speech, this wise-beyond-her-years girl was 15 years old; Janaya Iverson. She turned 16 in December 2020. She still has plenty of her “dash” to live.
Ms. Iverson is from the Cree First Nation, and her parents raised her to love and treat everyone equally and with kindness. Like any young girl growing up, Janaya faced challenges, failures, and successes. One of the vivid memories that she talked about on my podcast, “The Authenticity Series: The Dandy Lion Perspective,” was when she repeated grade one while her friends moved ahead to grade two. Janaya was embarrassed by the public humiliation and felt like a failure.
Additionally, she felt like a disappointment to her parents. However, as time went on, she realized that it was the best thing that had ever happened to her. It taught her two things:
- How to be patient. There is no measuring stick on how fast we must learn things, and more importantly;
- It led her to be kind to herself.
Janaya shared a quote by Albert Einstein,” You never fail until you stop trying,” And indeed Janaya lives by that quote. She discovered the world of beauty pageants at age 14. Most of you know from media or following my various blogs over the years what a Pageant is, or at least the high-level concept. A Pageant is a contest using courtesy titles – Miss, Ms., and Mrs. to identify differences between pageant divisions. Traditionally the delegates are ranked on personality, intelligence, talent, fundraising efforts, volunteerism, and responding to questions from the judges. While attitude and poise are essential, gone are the days when Pageants focused on only physical attributes. The delegates must show kindness and confidence on stage.
In 2019, Janaya entered the Miss Teenage Canada Pageant. There is a skill set delegates must-have on stage. No matter what’s going on in your life behind the scenes, you must look confident, share a big smile and be bright-eyed. It doesn’t matter if some of the other competitors dislike you or are battling a personal challenge. Most of us know we are expected to show up with a positive attitude at work or with friends, and at times that means we will set our challenges aside for the sake of others and put on a mask.
For Janaya that day, she had lost her grandmother. She carried the burden of grief as she outwardly projected confidence on stage. But she missed her grandmother, the patriarch who was the glue that bound the family together in love and inspiration. A woman who taught Janaya the seven sacred teachings that would help her throughout life and, most importantly, this Pageant. The Seven Sacred Teachings (Niizhwaaswi gagiikwewin) are:
- Respect (Manaaji’iwewin): Use things wisely. Never take more than you need and always give away all that you don’t use.
- Wisdom (Nibwaakaawin): Do not live based on what you wish you are; live on what you are. It’s a gift.
- Love (Zaagi’idiwin): Look within yourself for love. You can’t love others if you don’t love yourself.
- Courage (Zoongide’ewin): You need the courage to face fears that might prevent you from living a good life.
- Humility (Dibaadendizowin): Learn not to be arrogant or think too highly of yourself.
- Honesty (Gwayakowaadiziwin): Be honest with yourself. See and accept yourself for who you are.
- Truth (Debwewin): It lies in spirit. Pray daily, under a tree, at sunrise if possible.
The wisdom echoed in her as she stood among ten other contestants to hear who the winner was. It was time to announce the winner. They all had big smiles, but this was their mask as I assure you, it felt as if their heart was in their throat. Janaya was the first runner up! Meaning she would now not proceed to the international level.
“Make it OK to fail, if you want to succeed” – Xavier Dagba.
One might say that since Janaya was not the winner that year, it was a failure.
On the contrary, she used this as a driving force to achieve bigger things. She wanted to honor her grandmother and not give up on her dream. Hence began her journey.
In mid-Feb of 2020, she entered the contest again. By competing in the Pageant, it was an opportunity to showcase her platform with a larger audience.
Janaya’s older sister, Candace, was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. Muscular dystrophy is an inherited disease that damage and weakens muscles over time. This disease can cause problems with walking, swallowing, and muscle coordination. Janaya saw how kind people were towards her sister and the positive impact this had. Janaya was inspired to find a way to spread the message of kindness. Her mission: To have people work together to expand the positive effects she saw happening with her sister by increasing kindness in the community. This girl is not “all talk and no action.”
On the contrary, She is driven to achieve greatness. Janaya is the founder of “Imagine a World of Kindness,” a movement to ignite random acts of kindness. And as we all know, Covid-19 happened. What did it specifically mean for Janaya? It meant no sponsorship for her new dream, plus she had to find ways to get support for her Pageant and continue volunteering with COVID-19 in the background.
Impact on her community
The pandemic drove the need to be innovative with her World of Kindness platform and the fundraising required to compete. She looked in the community and found a gap. With Covid-19, sanitizer and masks were essential. She decided to contact a local distillery called Back 40, which donated alcohol for the sanitizer, and she combined it with aloe vera and lavender. She labelled each bottle with a positive message handwritten to let the buyer know they were not alone. The message was positive and empowering. In her Camrose hometown, the support was surreal. Every local business that was open during the pandemic displayed and supported her hand sanitizer concept. The donations all went to The Children’s Wish Foundation, an organization that fulfills the wishes of children diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses.
Though masks were not yet mandatory, she visualized this becoming compulsory. She sold masks to “fit all needs” with her entrepreneurial mindset, including masks for individuals with one ear. She was in her glory when a gentleman with one ear bought her mask and told her how grateful he felt for the inclusion. The experience taught her how inclusion is a philosophy that embraces the idea that everyone has something of value to contribute, and every one of us matters. She reached her fundraising goal of over $11,000—an outstanding amount to raise during a pandemic. On her road trip to Toronto to compete in the Pageant, she stopped at destinations planting rocks she had painted with inspirational messages. Imagine, if you will, sitting on a bench in the park, beside you a rock painted with the message “You’re brighter than the stars!” and “Spreading Kindness rocks.” This is what she did in her travels. She continues to volunteer and impact as many people as she can.
Janaya has been fortunate to embrace her failures, challenges, and successes. She continues to advocate for the world to be kinder, as being kind is free to give but adds tremendous value.
During my Authenticity Podcast, Janaya said her best advice was from her teacher, who told her, “Find your north, find your passion and find your purpose” This changed her life.
I asked Janaya,
“What does it mean to you to be authentic?”
“To be true to yourself, never pretend to be someone you are not. Find your north and be authentic.”
Janaya will continue to stand in front of crowds to advocate her platform “Imagine a World of Kindness.”
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