“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”Winston Churchill
Sarah Brigid Walsh was born on April 3rd of nineteen and twenty-three from the humblest of beginnings. Her life began in a small fishing village nestled at the end of a great fjord, a long, narrow, deep inlet cut from the sea set between highlands on both sides. Her home was in Fermeuse, a centuries old port-of-call for the Portuguese from the mid-1500s in what would later become the Dominion of Newfoundland, a country in eastern North America.
Newfoundland was not a part of Canada in 1923 when Sarah entered the world, that came years later in 1949. Then, it was a colony of the United Kingdom. These hearty maritimers were all loyal British subjects, a part of the greatest empire of all time, so vast in size that it covered 24% of the known world. Empires rise and fall with time and hubris, just as it did with Rome and the United Kingdom, and as we are seeing it all happen again with the harsh, chaotic plummet of the United States of America and the meteoric climb in stature of the Peoples Republic of China.
The headlines in The Telegram newspaper from the colony’s capital of St. John’s, bellowed loudly on the day of her birth, telling all of the pending marriage of Prince Albert, the Duke of York, who would later become King George VI. His betrothed was Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon, forever to become known as the beloved Queen Mother, of the current British Monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.
Sarah entered the world largely unnoticed by all but her own family.
While her birth was not noteworthy to the world, she did have a profound effect and influence on all of us whom she guided throughout life. Sarah was an indomitable force to be reckoned with; impossible to subdue or defeat.
Sarah was the epitome of persistence. A will so strong, that you dare not bet against her, for fear of the inevitable defeat that would surely result.
Was she a titan of business like Elon Musk – no she was not. Was she an inspired political figurehead of greatness like Nelson Mandela – no she was not. Was she a prolific inventive genius like Albert Einstein – again, no she was not. Yet, she had all of these same traits, and much more.
Not on any grandiose global scale like these great influencers, yet with her own unswerving sway, she radiated outward in every direction forming infinite ripples that continue to generate profound repercussions long after her passing. Her persona enveloped everyone within the reach of these cascading circles. Her life had unquestionable meaning.
“Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete? Proving nature’s laws wrong, it learned to walk without having feet. Funny, it seems to by keeping it’s dreams; it learned to breathe fresh air. Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else even cared.”Tupac Shakur
She was not always this way. She was not born with her profound greatness. She grew and evolved into who she was to become. Sarah was hardened and chiselled by the ebbs and flows of her life, especially from the years of Newfoundland and as a result of growing up during the Great Depression.
Sarah and some of her siblings (circa 1996)
From the outside looking in, her childhood life in Fermeuse was overburdened with hardship, even at the best of times.
Sarah’s Father, James Walsh, was a humble, seafaring fisher, commanding a small 40-foot schooner-rigged boat labouring every day to make ends meet. Mary, her stay-at-home Mother, worked any way that she could to help to raise the family’s eight children, including Sarah, a middle child, while utilizing her sewing skills to make outfits and knitting mittens. Her parents did whatever they could to make family life – a good life.
They had no electricity, nor indoor facilities, but they had a horse, cow, and a few sheep. The sheep provided wool for the knitwear. All of the children learned useful skills from their able parents. They were instilled with essential rural values and strict Catholic education in a one-room schoolhouse in nearby Port Kerwin.
She would share that they never felt that they were poor. She was always grateful for everything that she had, regardless of how small and insignificant it was to anyone else.
She left Newfoundland in 1943 during the height of the second World War years. Newfoundland entered the war early to support the British Empire, as did Canada. The United Kingdom was severely weakened during the war, so this set the stage for Newfoundland and Labrador to join Canada with entry into the Confederation of Provinces.
However, before Newfoundland joined Canada, Sarah had to immigrate from the Dominion of Newfoundland to the Dominion of Canada. As a British subject and with a British passport at the time, she was able to move to Toronto as a young girl of 19 and went to work for the T. Eaton Company Limited as a seamstress.
Without much of a formal education, she applied the domestic home skills taught to her by her Mother to find work. Later, in 1957, she settled in Stoney Creek, Ontario where she lived out her life and raised her family, mostly as a single parent with an impossible task to raise such a large brood of children. Just six children remain alive today.
It was these important core values that drove Sarah forward and guided her actions throughout her 88 years. They included a strong work ethic, respect for others, honesty, humility, positivity, loyalty, reliability, dependability, and most of all, persistence and focus on the success of everyone around her. It was not ever about her. It was always about everyone else. When you were with her, you were the most important person whenever she saw you.
These core values grounded Sarah, her parents, and her siblings to survive the Great Depression of 1929, that lasted well into the mid 1930s in Newfoundland. Life was hard enough in the Dominion, but the Great Depression broke too many of the weaker and imposed levels of grimness that few today can even contemplate. The pandemic of 2020 pales in comparison to the global disruption caused by the Great Depression.
“Life has moments that feel as if the sun has blackened to tar and the entire world turned to ice. It feels as if Hades and his vile demons have risen from the depths of Tartarus solely for the purpose of banding to personally torture you, and that their genuine intent of mental, emotional, and spiritual anguish is tearing you to shreds. Your heart weighs as heavily as leaden legs which you would drag yourself forward with if not for the quicksand that pulls you down inch by inch, paralyzing your will and threatening oblivion. And all the while fire and brimstone pour from the sky, pelting only you. Truly, that is what it feels like. But that feeling is a trial that won’t last forever. Never give up”.Richelle E. Goodrich
Sarah at the Canadian National Exhibition (circa 1946)
Sarah learned many valuable lessons from those difficult first 19 years of life in Newfoundland that she applied later in her life in Ontario.
Her values and perspectives can help you too, regardless of whatever you are fighting to deal with: whether the current situation with the pandemic, loss of work, healthcare challenges, getting along with others during these stressful times, and generally, any challenge in life.
So, what follows is some of her sage advice from a member of The Greatest Generation.
Sarah was a lifelong optimist and only saw the good in others. Was she perfect herself, not really, she was human too. But, she was as close as you can get to perfection while here on earth. So, allow me to share some of the more inspiring quotes, thoughts, and philosophies that she held near and dear to her heart. She will make a great model for you too.
For example, it is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward. I always take the approach today to ‘crawl, walk, then run’ as a result of her approach.
And, true character consists of what you do on the third and fourth tries. Sarah’s view was to never give up. It will always be better tomorrow. So, keep trying.
You Must Plan
Unless a sincere commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans. Hope is not a strategy. Sarah was a serious planner and used strategy to its greatest advantage. Now, she was not well educated in the formal sense, but informally, she embraced learning continuously and felt she could learn from everyone that she encountered.
She would say, “It doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down. All that matters is you get up one more time than you were knocked down.” So, she tolerated failure and errors too. “One mistake does not have to rule a person’s entire life.” So, in this regard she was decades ahead of what we all commonly call, The Agile Method today – an iterative process aimed at continuous improve, driven by incrementally improving with each attempt. The Japanese call it, Kaizen. Kaizen is a Japanese term meaning “change for the better” or “continuous improvement.”
“Success is not the result of making one good choice, of taking one step. Real success requires step, after step, after step, after step. It requires choice after choice, it demands life-long education and passion and commitment and persistence and hunger and patience.”
I recall hearing her quoting Thomas Edison who said, “When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this, you haven’t.”
Sarah with some of her 11 children (circa 1986)
She often stated, “nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” To Sarah, the slogan “Press On!” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race. This was a popular WWII theme that is seeing resurgence today.
I think that she learned and quoted this previous quotation from a speech by Calvin Coolidge, the one-time United States President. How true it is today as well then. She loved how Coolidge handled himself with a gentle humour and simple, down-to-earth set of personal values. He was frugal and knew how to save money and Sarah felt that was a proper way to live life. She and Coolidge both endured the Great Depression, so being tight with money was a common ideal then. It is less so today. However, if this pandemic has done anything, it has hopefully curbed the general public’s ravenous cravings for mass consumerism.
Another of her favourite quotes was, “to persist with a goal, you must treasure the dream more than the costs of sacrifice to attain it”.
Failure is Okay
A sage Sarah tidbit was based upon a well-known Winston Churchill quote that offered, “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” She was never one to give up, she would never surrender. Today, people quit way too fast. This whole ‘fail fast, fail often’ thinking is not something that Sarah would have agreed with whatsoever.
Sarah felt that a sign of a person’s maturity is their ability to live with – even in – confusion. The average person meets the edge of confusion and turns away. She said that most people run from confusion at its beginning, at its first appearance. But, life is overloaded with confusion. It surrounds us all everyday. So, you must learn to embrace confusion and learn to live with it. It is not acceptable to seek an easier path away from confusion. To her, that was just another form of avoidance of your responsibilities.
She once told me that confusion precedes learning. The anxious thoughts that seem so puzzling or discouraging are actually your very gateway to understanding. Only by persistently doing battle with the things you cannot yet do, or that which you do not yet understand, can you ever hope to achieve what average people never accomplish. A continuously learning life is the only life worth living.
Pain is a Mighty Teacher
Whether you like it or not, you are committed to the human endeavor. So she refused to ally herself with the purely negative goal of avoidance of suffering. She believed that enduring pain and suffering is a chance you take by the fact of being alive. Today, no one really suffers very much. But, suffering is a mighty teacher.
Never Give Up, Never Surrender
She adored great thinkers and one of her favourites was the amazing Maya Angelou who she quoted often to me. Angelou said, “courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you cannot practice any other virtue consistently.” If Sarah had one trait that was obvious to everyone who met her, it was her indomitable courage. She believed that “there was no such thing as helplessness. It was just another word for giving up.”
One of her favourite movies was, “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”. A story of a woman of simple means thriving in life due to her indomitable spirit and joy of life. This film reflected her own values.
She contented that life was not some magical dream, and you are not the only one who feels like you do not belong from time to time, or that it is better somewhere else. She lived firmly in the present – ‘the here and now‘. And she always said, “the best part is you never know what is going to happen next.”
Sarah with some of her grandchildren (circa 2003)
One thing that she said a lot to me was that “success does not come to you; you go to it”. Your hardest times often lead to the greatest moments of your life. Keep going. Tough situations build strong people in the end.
Learn from the Past
All of these thoughts are powerful and useful guides to help each of us to live through these crazy times. To survive, and even thrive, during this never-ending pandemic. And, to embrace the myriad of dramatic changes that we are all facing today.
Optimism is normal, but some fortunate people are more optimistic than the rest of us. If you are genetically endowed with an optimistic bias, you hardly need to be told that you are a lucky person – you already feel fortunate.Daniel Kahneman
Sarah passed away on May 14, 2011. She may be gone now, but she is definitely not forgotten. And, if her innate passion and knowledge for how to best live life can help you, then she would be absolutely delighted. Her values are as important today as they were during her time.
About the Author:
Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for applications that use broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies. He is a business and technology consultant. He offers his services on a contracting basis. Over the past 15 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX). Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V). He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology. He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario. For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section. He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has earned 20 badges in next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, and more.