By James Keller
With over 25 years of journalism experience, numerous awards (including The Toronto Life Women of Influence Award and the United Nations Canada Award) two books and an extensive collection of television specials and events bearing her name, Pamela Wallin doesn’t include any of this in her definition of success.
"Lots of people think I’m successful because in our society we equate celebrity with success," says Wallin, who was in Calgary the day before attending the Women of Influence luncheon. "It’s true that I have a very good job and I love my work, but I think really what I’ve learned through my exposure to all these people is a different way to define it."
Wallin’s definition is indeed much different than notions of fame and fortune. Instead, she looks at success in terms of resourcefulness and the people who surround her.
"I’ve come down to two definitions," begins Wallin. "One, the ability to reinvent myself when a crisis happens. Second, because family and friends are so important to me, I judge my success on the company I keep–and I’m surrounded by amazing family and friends."
This notion of success, especially that of resourcefulness, comes partly from Graham Kerr, former host of the Galloping Gourmet. Kerr compares success to walking to the edge of a cliff and pulling yourself back using your own resources. His advice, while also important in her own life, is one of many interviews throughout Wallin’s career that comprise her new book, Speaking of Success.
The book, described on the cover as "Collected Wisdom, Insights and Reflections, is assortment of sound bites from individuals Wallin talked to in her years on numerous avenues from Canada AM, to the Toronto Star to Pamela Wallin Live. Coupled with her own commentary, the "guests" in the book share advice and perspectives on defining, measuring and achieving success. With people like B.B. King, Peter Lougheed and Pierre Trudeau gracing the pages, these words are not without experience.
Speaking of Success was the result of a meeting with a publisher who wanted Wallin to do a follow-up to her last book, Since You Asked–this time, with a focus on success.
"I said I didn’t want to write a book on success in terms of five tips to make your way in the stock market. I’m just not interested in that," says Wallin. "I ask people a lot of questions about their lives and where they’ve come from and why they think what they think, [but] television disappears–if you didn’t catch it at that moment, it’s gone. So I wanted to try and capture some of this so it would be there for other people to share."
Some experiences stand out more than others. Pierre Trudeau partly inspired the chapter "Doing Your Homework."
"I was going to do an interview with him and the liberals were very low in the polls at that point, and said to him that surely he’d lost the moral authority to govern and he should just resign," she recalls. "He quite rightly turned the tables and said, ‘My my, what an interesting theory of democracy you have Ms. Wallin. Would that mean if I was at 40 or 50 per cent in the polls I could just suspend elections and govern for life?’ which was the opposite of what I was saying really. It was a very important lesson–being humiliated on national television always helps you remember things."
Another more recent perspective-changing experience was her recent battle with cancer. Two months ago, Wallin had surgery to remove colon cancer. After a quick and successful recovery, Wallin already took the time to put the experience into perspective.
"[When I was diagnosed], I said to myself, ‘this can’t be true,’" remembers Wallin, who believes that most people would react in a similar way. "My way of dealing with it was almost a journalistic way. If this is a story, what would I do? If you’re going to talk to somebody, you need as much information as you can because if you have the information in your hands, you feel like you have a little bit of control."
This has also given Wallin a greater sense of her own mortality, which has made her appreciate the people in her life more.
"I think I’m a little more thoughtful. When you feel like you’ve been given a second chance, you cherish the time you spend," she explains. "People become way more important to you. I don’t know what it’s going to be like in a year or two years, so if I’ve got an opportunity to see them or do this or make that trip, then I’ll do it."
Wallin’s battle with cancer was also affected by the September 11 attacks in America, which occurred just days before Wallin’s surgery.
"I think it’s changed all our lives everywhere," begins Wallin, "but it really gave a new perspective on this. When you’re diagnosed with cancer that is in many respects all you can think about. And as I sat there and watched what was unfolding, it really helped me keep it in perspective."
Wallin believes that while the terrorist attacks were horrible, important lessons can be learned in their aftermath. "Anything you believed before September 11 and conversations you had would be totally different afterwards, and I actually think that’s a good thing," she says. "It’s a horrific way to learn a lesson, [but] it’s a chance for us to say, ‘maybe we were getting a little carried away.’ Everyone was getting back into that sort of ‘me, me, me’ mentality and I think it has really broken the cycle–we’ll all benefit from this."
Wallin says that the effects on people past and future are very similar to personal tragedy and we should treat it in much the same way.
"I’ve had a lot of conversations with people and it’s not like anybody would have imagined this, but sometimes we do need reasons," says Wallin. "Personally, sometimes you get a reason–you’re diagnosed with cancer, your marriage breaks up or you get fired from your job. It gives you an opportunity to regroup and decide how you’re going to live your life."