Self-Discovery Lessons from Politician Shari Lukens

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Did you see yourself as a politician or prime minister?

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Being born and raised in Ottawa, I am very familiar with the Capital’s political landscape. But my classmates and I often felt that no one on Parliament Hill would listen to our voices or take us seriously, as we were young people. Since then however, due to friends and family members’ involvement in politics, I have been fortunate to meet and connect with politicians from all parties; they have taught me that young people’s voices do really matter!

Since election night was exactly a month ago today, I thought I would introduce you to a friend, mentor, and politician who empowered me to use my voice to change the world and get actively involved in politics. Her name is Shari Lukens. Shari is a politician (the Conservative candidate of record for Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke and former Colwood city councillor), mental-health advocate, former competitive figure skater, and coach who has a blazing fire in her heart to make a difference in the world!

At an event last May, Shari encouraged me to get involved in politics. She asked me to start through joining her campaign team. We had a chance to talk; after hearing her life story, of course I said “yes”!  Shari’s story may change your life too!

To pass along some of the inspiration the team and I received from her over the campaign, I had to invite Shari to speak from her heart in my #FuelPersistence interview series about self-confidence, transition from sport, mental health, perseverance, and politics. My hope with this interview is that she will inspire you to go after your dreams as much as she has encouraged me. Thanks, Shari!

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received? Who did you receive it from? 

Believe (in yourself). Can’t remember exactly who gave me this wonderful piece of advice, but it is something that has stuck with me.

It is also something that I share with people I meet, should they be challenged with an upcoming event/competition. Visualization is very powerful, and believing (in yourself) empowers you to get there.

How do you practice self-care in your daily life?

A balanced approach to life is of utmost importance to me. I always ensure that there is time in a given day for ‘me.’ My belief is, without me, I have nothing!’

I often take long walks along the beach. I like the peace of the rolling waves and the sounds of nature. It allows me to be very centred. Meditation is a wonderful self-caring tool.

How important is mentorship in terms of your success?

I have been blessed to have many mentors in my life - both men and women. Mentorship is something that you may not even be aware is happening, until some time later there’s that ‘uh-ha’ moment.

Having left home at a very young age for competitive figure skating, I learned early the benefits of mentorship. It’s important to remember, mentorship is not about someone telling you what or how to do something - but listening and letting you discover how you should do it.

I’m grateful for the many mentors in my life who have enabled me to pave my ongoing road to success.

Shari and I at Elk Lake Boat House. (c) Shari Lukens.
Shari and I at Elk Lake Boat House. (c) Shari Lukens.

How do you motivate yourself to persist despite obstacles?

Self drive and determination are just who I am. It’s something that comes naturally to me. (I can blame my father for that!)

But there is always self-reflection; at the end of any given day if something has posed a challenge, I will take a step back and ask myself - is this the obstacle (or hill) that I want to die on?

Obstacles are opportunities. Loss does not mean failure. I learned that at a very young age through my competitive figure skating career, although back then it sure felt like it!

I’ve learned that it’s important to self-reflect on any experience both positive and negative to ensure that you know and have identified the learnings and opportunities.

But no matter what happens - when you fall down, you pick yourself up, you put a smile on your face, and you keep going. For me, it sets me up for the next obstacle I may encounter with even more determination.

What has been your biggest obstacle? How did you deal with it? What did you learn from it?

In my case, I’m not sure I’d call them obstacles. For me, they were truly life-changing events.

The first:  the ending of my competitive figure skating career when I was 16 because of a serious car accident with a drunk driver. The second: the loss of my husband in a helicopter crash. Both tragic and both life-changing.

After the car accident, I actually thought my life was over because all I had ever dreamed of doing was being a world class figure skater. I remember this day very clearly - even though it was so many years ago.

What I learned from this and the other major life-changing event in my life (thus far) is - always give yourself permission to grieve the loss no matter what it is.

Some losses are bigger than others, i.e., losing a job, losing a loved one, losing your car keys, not winning a competition - but in each instance take a moment to step back.

In the case of my career-ending car accident, I had no idea how to manage the stress or the loss. Nor did my parents. When I reflect back, my parents were there for me no matter what and I had a great support team of coaches and teammates who encouraged me and stayed in touch.

It was almost a year later that I picked myself up and started coaching full time. When I reflect back on that experience, it set the foundation for so many life events; I knew no matter what, I had the courage and strength to get through them.

People often say ‘give it time.’ My saying is: ‘time means nothing if you don’t do anything with the time.’

Do what you need to do to get you through. If you don’t know what to do, don’t be afraid to go and ask for help. At the end of the day I can tell you, I like my true colours. I like who I am and what I stand for. I did what I needed to do for me when I needed to do it.

And years later, as I experienced, things still didn’t feel quite right. I didn’t have the vim and vigour that I used to have. I knew something was wrong or definitely not right. I went to my doctor and was diagnosed with depression and PTSD.

I’m grateful to my family and friends for all of their support. But I’m proud of me for being in touch with who I am and having the courage to reach out for help when I needed it most. 

No matter what happens - when you fall down, you pick yourself up, you put a smile on your face, and you keep going.

How do you deal with critics?

I hear all of them … but some of them are just white noise.

I have dear friends who I can always turn to if I need to question something, and I know they will be honest with me.

I don’t ever take anything for granted. At the same time, by being true to who I am and knowing and believing in my ethics and values - I know I always have a good foundation to stand on.

How important is social support in overcoming obstacles?

My friends and family have been my saviours when it comes to getting through difficult times. And the older I get, the more I realize the importance of continuing to build my network and stay in touch with those close to me.

Most recently having run as a candidate in the federal election, the team that I had come around me was invaluable. The level of knowledge, skill, competence, and positive attitude made my job so much easier. I knew that they always had my back and were there for me. Grateful!

What advice would you give fellow athletes about the transition to life after sport?

Change is never easy. Whether you decide to make the change or if someone else does it for you, as was my case. If you are controlling this transition, ensure you have a plan. Set goals/milestones for yourself. It makes you feel like you are still contributing to society. Not having a plan for the transition can put you into a tailspin.

Life is different on the other side, as is the thought process. Once again, give yourself permission to embrace the transition. Be kind to yourself.

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What advice would you give to young people looking to start getting involved in politics?

Be sure to understand the commitment that is required of you no matter what level of government you are considering (municipal, provincial, or federal). This is not an understatement.

Talk to as many politicians as you can. Be sure to do your homework on why you are wanting to get involved. Be realistic. Know that you cannot make everyone happy.

Remember, it takes a team to make the world go around - it is not a one-person show!

Thanks so much, Shari, for speaking from your heart and, most of all, for inviting me to join your team! It was such an incredible experience that I will never forget. You lead by example and taught me the true meaning of mentorship, which “is not about someone telling you what or how to do something - but listening and letting you discover how you should do it.”

Thank you all for reading and for your presence at this beach retreat. You rock! 

After working with Shari and putting together this article, I was reminded how much of a passion I have for helping you all learn that your voices matter and that through being your authentic self, you can make a difference in this world!

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Did you learn something special from reading about Shari’s personal journey as an athlete, coach, and politician? Feel free to share in the Comments section below.  We can all learn from hearing your stories and advice.

See you at the beach!