Money & Career

Five successful women share their pivotal career moments

Sure, hard work and determination will get you to the top. But sometimes finding your path is the result of happy coincidence.
By Chatelaine
Five successful women share their pivotal career moments

Photo by Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images

Pivitol moments

"I couldn't find a parking spot"

Martina Sorbara, Juno Award-winning lead singer of Dragonette

I got back from a year hanging out in Italy after high school and thought college was just something I was supposed to do. I got a tiny scholarship to study music at York University in Toronto. On the first day they did this test on general knowledge of music theory, which for me was literally zilch—I couldn't even properly read music and I thought, "Holy sh-t, I am not supposed to be here!" Then on the third day, I was circling around trying to find a parking spot and thought, "This is not my idea of university; it's more like a shopping mall. Get me out of here!" I grabbed a friend and asked him how I could de-enroll. I went home, told my parents I wasn't going to university and spent the next year making a guitar. That's when I understood my relationship to music: I had to play live shows and make songs. For the next couple of years I made guitars in between gigs, put out my first solo EP and went from there!

Five successful women share their pivotal career momentsPhoto by Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images

"There was a gap in my class schedule that I needed to fill"

Dr. Sherry Cooper, former chief economist, BMO Financial Group

It was serendipity that led me to economics. I needed a 10 a.m. class in my second year of university. I decided to take Econ 100 to fill the hole and then fell in love with economics. I switched my major and went on to graduate school to get a PhD. I knew I was absolutely in the right field, and I've never regretted it.

Five successful women share their pivotal career momentsDr. Sherry Cooper

"I had to admit I was a complete failure"

Sarah Prevette, founder and CEO of

The moment my career turned around was the moment I admitted my business was failing. I put on a brave face at work, even though I was terrified: I was barely making payroll. It's ironic—I'd set up an online company to help entrepreneurs find support building their businesses, yet I didn't reach out to the community I'd created. I dreaded making the announcement and was surprised to find out how passionate people were about my company. We had offers of help, and funding came flooding in. Post Media Network bought us and helped rebuild the business. I never thought such public failure would help me find success! I've since left to pursue my next idea.

Five successful women share their pivotal career momentsSarah Prevette; Photo by Sarah Dea

"I sent an indignant letter to a newspaper columnist"

Dianne De Fenoyl, editorial director of Rogers Publishing

I was in my first year of university and I was mad as hell, because it wasn't what I thought it would be—the campus was ugly, and it wasn't the radical experience I'd hoped for. One day I was reading a column in the Globe and Mail by Richard Needham, who I thought was cool because he'd visited my high school and caused a disturbance. In the column he was lamenting the fact that he'd invited students to come visit the newspaper, but they hadn't, and what a lazy, apathetic bunch they were. I wrote a letter saying, "If I'd been one of the students I would have shown up." I still don't know why I did it. I think I wanted something to happen in my life, but I didn't know what. I remember walking over in the cold to the mailbox and, as my hand dropped the letter in, thinking, "You shouldn't have done that; that was stupid." Then I went back to my normal, boring university life.

A couple of weeks later the phone in my residence hall rang, and I heard someone shouting, "Dianne, it's for you! I think it's an office!" It was Richard's secretary calling to say he'd like me to come and visit. I went, and it was the most extraordinary day. There I was in the newsroom of one of the most important papers in Canada. I remember walking up to his office, seeing framed front pages of the moon landing and reporters all clattering on their typewriters, and thinking, "This is so much better than school—this is where life is." Richard was eccentric and provocative (he referred to his secretary as Luscious Lindy).

I started working there on weekends. Every Friday he'd send a cab to pick me up after French class. Then his secretary said she was leaving, and he asked me if I wanted to replace her. I quit school and worked for him—and that's the only reason I'm in journalism.

Five successful women share their pivotal career momentsDianne De Fenoyl

"A stranger helped me save a language"

Dr. Keren Rice, professor of linguistics, University of Toronto, winner of the $100,000 Killam Prize for work on the Slavey language

I came across the language that I ended up helping to preserve almost by accident. I was studying linguistics at the University of Toronto when I was told about a visitor to the city who was fluent in Slavey, a dialect spoken by the Dene in the Northwest Territories. We met the visitor and ended up securing a grant to study the Aboriginal language. A trip to the Mackenzie River 39 years ago left me fascinated by the language and its people. Real enrichment comes from living in a different culture and understanding what it is to be an outsider. Our work on standardizing the dialect was the basis of the Dene dictionary and all the school materials that have been developed since. Slavey is now incorporated in the school system and is an official language of the N.W.T.

Five successful women share their pivotal career momentsDr. Keren Rice


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