By Tanis Helliwell
I was invited by the University of Winnipeg to speak to their 4000 first year students. What an honour and yet the significance was even deeper than I had realized. For three days I pondered on what to say and awoke on the fourth day shocked to remember that on my first day at university so many years ago I had been invited to welcome the first year students to the University of Toronto. My life had come full circle. I’d like to share my story with you because it is relevant to How to be a Successful Human.
You see I did not do well academically. I barely got accepted in university as I had only achieved 66% my last year in high school. By the time I got to my final year in high school there were few subjects that I could pass. My mathematics teacher the previous year had asked me not to take mathematics again, as had the physics teacher, and I never did try chemistry, nor geography.
Nobody in my family had ever gone to university and most had not even finished high school as ADD (attention deficit disorder) and dyslexia runs strongly in my family. The most my mother wished for me was that I could be a flight attendant for Air Canada but unfortunately I was too short and wore glasses so I was rejected when I applied. My father suggested a crash course in typing and bookkeeping so I could “at least get an office job.” Unfortunately I have mathematical dyslexia and reverse numbers and am a terrible typist so I couldn’t do that either. Many of my friends were going to university so, with few other options, I applied and to my surprise was accepted at the University of Toronto. So it was obvious even by age 18 that there were a lot of things I was not good at that lead to success both academically and for careers.
However, there was a ray of hope. In my final year in high school I’d been a member of a musical group that had toured throughout Ontario. We were all 17 or 18 years old and we sang, danced and did skits that we had created ourselves. Because the Dean of Victoria College at U of T knew of my performing background she thought I’d be able to speak in front of a large group of people at the welcome for the new students. She gave me a little speech that I was to memorize and say at the assembly. What the Dean did not know was that from an early age when I have to sing or act using other people’s words I am so terrified that I forget the words and become catatonic. At the same time I knew that I had to honour the Dean’s request as she had done me a favour in accepting me into residence with my substandard grades.
The dreaded day came and I was invited to have lunch before the event with Dr. Northrup Frye who would be speaking on the platform with me. Many senior students at U of T had told me that Dr. Frye was a Canadian icon and genius in English literature and you can imagine that this news only further terrified me. But an interesting thing happened during lunch. Seated beside this very quiet, introverted older man (who was approximately the same age as I am now) I realized that he was as nervous at the prospect of speaking in front of such a large group of mostly 18 year olds as I was of speaking at all. He hardly knew how to talk with me and I found myself having compassion for him and engaging him in conversation to put him at ease. Strange isn’t it? The younger, less brilliant person putting the older, brilliant one at ease. And was my speech a success that afternoon? No! Not if the criterion was that I remembered the words the Dean had asked me to say. I forgot them all even as I had feared I would.
But to myself I was a success as I had done the best I could and that was to speak from my heart about my gratitude and joy in finding myself at university despite all the barriers in my way. And sharing my story with you today I feel that same gratitude that I had those many years ago.
From this experience I would like to offer you the qualities that I think are important to become a successful human being.
1. Realize that your gifts are unique. Each of us has things that we do well and other things that we do not do well. When doors close in our face to a goal that we think we want that is because our talents and abilities are not in that area. We need to release the goals, which will not manifest and go through the doors that open for us. Don’t keep banging on the closed doors.
A professor at Sarah Lawrence University by the name of Joseph Campbell once said, “Follow your bliss and you’ll put yourself on a track that has been there all along waiting for you” That means do what you love. If you love something you’ll study it, talk about it with enthusiasm and you’ll develop an expertise in them. This will lead to a successful career sooner or later.
2. Pain in life is often unavoidable. Many of you are divorced or have come from unhappy families; many have already had painful illnesses. Others of you have fallen in love and the one you loved did not love you. Some of you have failed in many ways. We have two choices when confronted with pain. The first choice is to moan and groan about how life’s not fair, drink too much and use drugs to dull the pain. The second choice is to learn humility—which we never learn if we get everything we want—and forgiveness for others who hurt us, and compassion for others and ourselves because we realize everyone without exception experiences some kind of pain. This last approach makes us better human beings and draws others to us. It is the approach that Helen Keller who was born both blind and deaf took when she said, “Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing.”
3. There are no accidents. We need to embrace opportunities that come our way, no matter how strange or how scared we are of failing. To do this, we must be open and receptive and have courage to continually try new things. Yes, we risk failure but to risk we must because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing, which leads to a boring and mediocre life rather than one that is lived fully and full of joy.
True heroism is not found in reality TV shows where people eat worms. True heroism is becoming the best human being that we are capable of becoming. This might earn us wealth and fame and it might not. Others may love what we say or do and they might not. Ultimately we are our own judges of our life so we must follow our own deepest truth.
4. Be grateful for opportunities that are given to you and for people who are kind and generous to you. When I was 18 in my first year at university I worked one night a week as a volunteer in closed men’s wards of a mental hospital. It was a frightening experience and I was over my head but wanted to help these men who had not seen the light of day for over 5 years. The psychiatrist Dr. Jan Duxtra trusted me, as did a fourth year student who also was a volunteer and who is still my friend today. When you put two people together you either have more than two or less than two. so assist people who need your gift and ask for help from others who have a gift you need.
5. The fifth quality in how to be a successful human is having a good sense of humour and the ability to laugh at yourself. Take yourself lightly and you’ll bounce back on track quickly.
6. Realize that there are many kinds of intelligence and being smart. Students who get the highest marks at university have high IQ, which is intellectual intelligence. If these students work hard they may be able to go into masters and doctoral programs and from there into careers where academic success is essential. My stepson Chris has this intellectual ability and graduated from high school with grades in the high 90’s and was given a scholarship in his first year of university.
Chris went to UBC where he lived in residence. When he started at UBC he was so introverted that he could not engage in conversation. Chris took up smoking various things and drinking and only got half his credits his first year. He left university and worked fulltime serving tables at White Spot Restaurant in Vancouver. During those two years he developed EQ, or emotional intelligence, and his conversational skills, interest in people, ability to form friendships increased quantumly. Chris is now in his mid 20’s and for the last several years he has been working part-time at White Spot putting himself through university without a scholarship. His grades are excellent once again and he finally knows what he wants to do and is applying for a graduate program in landscape architecture next year. Do you think Chris wasted those years? I don’t.
Lest you think having emotional intelligence is not as important as having a high IQ, data indicates that emotional intelligence is one of the highest predictors of success in both life and work. In my final in high school I’d taken Latin, as it was the only subject available that I had any chance of passing. Beside me sat Alan, a real nice guy, who was well liked by everyone but whom, like me, was having difficulty academically. Every time that Mrs Glynn, our Latin teacher, asked a question Alan and I would freeze like deer caught in the headlights, and we’d pray that she wouldn’t ask us. Somehow we both squeezed through and graduated. Alan did not go on to university but started his own business. At our high school reunion 15 years after graduation there was only one millionaire amongst us and it was Alan who by the way was still a nice guy. The secret of his success was high emotional intelligence.
7. The seventh quality that is needed is to commit to doing the best you can. Each of us has a different starting place and no one but us knows how much we have given to achieving our goal. I did not commit to doing my best as an undergrad. Yes, I went to class, read the books on the course and turned in my papers and graduated with a B from a 3-year general arts program. However, I crammed for my exams and never committed to excellence because I was afraid that I’d discover that I wasn’t smart enough to do well. After graduation I hitchhiked around Europe for a year and still didn’t know what career I wanted, so I ended up back at university doing a make-up year in only English subjects to see if I could get into a Masters English program. During that year I did the best I could academically and ended up two marks short of the 80% that was needed to be accepted into a Masters in English. Although I had failed to reach my goal, I achieved another goal. I had done my best. Whether others think you are a success is not nearly as important as your pride in yourself that comes from showing up fully and doing your best.
8. The eighth quality needed to be successful and one that I learned at university is never to give up. When Thomas Edison who invented the electric light bulb had just seen the thousandth failure of his invention, he said to his assistant “Well that’s one more thing we don’t need to try.” Perseverance and optimism about life are very important to success.
9. Tell the truth and be honest. You might disagree with me as everywhere we see evidence of corruption. On the news we see that politicians, religious leaders, and scientists have lied to get more money, more power, and more prestige for discoveries. At the same time we see people like David Suzuki, Mother Theresa, Stephen Lewis dedicating their lives to a better world for us all. We have free will to choose what path to follow. The first path of me, me, mine, is one of greed and has led to my generation leaving the younger one with polluted air and denuded forests, bottled water and poisoned earth and food. On behalf of my generation I ask the young ones to forgive us for leaving this legacy. The second path, however, is a path of hope and optimism. I strongly believe that the millions of people around the world have the range of gifts that will take humanity and the Earth into its next stage in evolution.
10. The tenth quality is alignment to the natural and spiritual laws on which our world is founded. It is dedicating our lives to make a positive difference in the world in whatever profession or work we choose. This quality I call SQ or spiritual intelligence. It is realizing that we are not alone. Whether you wish to call this God or subatomic physics doesn’t matter. What matters is that we have reverence for all life human and non-human and realize that we are guardians on this planet Earth and each of us, old and young alike breath the same air every day and share our life together. Let us share it in love and gratitude and develop wisdom of the heart as well as wisdom of the mind. This is the last key to being a successful human. I wish you a journey full of joy and learning.
Tanis Helliwell, a mystic in the modern world, has brought spiritual consciousness into the mainstream for over 30 years. Since childhood, she has seen and heard elementals, angels, and master teachers in higher dimensions. Tanis is the founder of the International Institute for Transformation (IIT), which offers programs to assist individuals to become conscious creators to work with the spiritual laws that govern our world.
Tanis is the author of Summer with the Leprechauns, Pilgrimage with the Leprechauns, Embraced by Love, Manifest Your Soul’s Purpose, Decoding Your Destiny and Take Your Soul to Work.
For information on our courses and services please visit www. iitransform.com