“Don’t prejudge what’s ahead, take your life in sips, swallow slowly and it will all come together.” Jo Ann Langer
Invisible Mentor: Jo Ann Langer, Senior Retail Executive
Avil Beckford: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Jo Ann Langer: I’m an American now living in Canada. I was born and raised in New York and left two years ago with my dog to come to and live in Toronto. I survive with my puppy, and I like the city, job and I maintain relationships and friendships as best as I can back in the States including a very special boyfriend. I’m a senior executive for a large retailer. That’s basically where I sit today.
Avil Beckford: How do you integrate your personal and professional life?
Jo Ann Langer: It’s one and the same. I find that as I get older what I find is that they are so inter-related that it isn’t even funny. If I appreciate a challenge I appreciate it in both, I appreciate support in both. Whatever it is for me, my work is part of my life and my life is part of my work. My biggest issue that I mentioned earlier is about finding that balance but they both are very important to me and one begets the other. So while I’m shopping, I’m looking at things that might me work-related for me. If I read a book, I might read a book about work, about leadership or something like that. And I think about what it has to do with my personal life. It’s all pretty integrated day-in-and-day-out. There aren’t big divisions for me. I don’t have a family or children so I don’t have those responsibilities when I come home. I think somehow that may force a bigger blend than if I had to come home and totally change who I was and what I was thinking if I had other responsibilities in my household but I don’t.
Avil Beckford: When you have some down time, how do you spend it?
Jo Ann Langer: Because of my moving, I spend it with my boyfriend and friends. I also love photography. I love to cook and entertain and I also love fine arts and music. So in my down time I spend a lot of time doing those things. Some of these require solitude and the other require interaction with others, so there is a little bit of both.
Avil Beckford: What are five life lessons that you have learned so far?
Jo Ann Langer:
- It’s not so hard to be tall. I thought it was going to be gruesome growing up.
- The meaning of life is more about what you feel than what you think it ought to be. It took years and years for me to understand. I created goals that I didn’t even want to achieve, I thought I needed to have goals about certain parts of my life, and how I measured success, so that was important.
- Losing people close to you, and I’ve lost a few. Everyone has taught me something and I look for that. Whenever I have a loss, I look at what I’m going to take from them with me to make me better so that has been an important lesson for me because some times we forget that when people leave, they leave behind life lessons and that’s been critical for me in my life
- I learned the importance of family.
- Self-confidence is important.
Avil Beckford: What process do you use to generate great ideas?
Jo Ann Langer: I’m very spontaneous so there isn’t a process. Someone asked me that question in a different way, “Why did you do that? How did you think of that?” I don’t really know. It’s not like I go home and draw a plan and figure it out. I’m very spontaneous so for me I’ve got a pretty good right and left side and they seem to come together quite nicely most times. Most of my creativity, and most of the process come from my gut first and then my brain second, and that’s how I run my life, good or bad.
Avil Beckford: What’s your favourite quotation and why?
Jo Ann Langer: I don’t have one, but I picked up something that I thought was interesting and it’s, “If you could write a book about your life, and you could write the last sentence first, what would it be?”
Avil Beckford: How do you define success? And in your opinion what’s the formula for success?
Jo Ann Langer: I define success when I feel good about myself and the world around me. If I feel good about myself and the world around me doesn’t, I’m miserable. I’m very interconnected personally with lots of people in my life as I’ve said before. It’s not about how much money I make, it’s not about the stimulating job, it’s not about a pretty apartment in Canada versus taking risks. It’s about what makes me feel whole, and when it all comes together that’s how I feel – pretty darn good.
That’s my measure of success and how you get there – unfortunately it has to do with the passage of time, and the rest has to do with absorbing what’s around you and paying attention to it and prejudging life. Don’t prejudge what’s ahead, take your life in sips, swallow slowly and it will all come together.
Avil Beckford: What are the steps you took to succeed in your field?
Jo Ann Langer: You have to look straight ahead and you cannot look backwards too often. Don’t rely on history too often, you have to keep that creativity, and you cannot go back to the well too many times. You have to look to the left and to the right but in the end you come back to looking straight ahead. You don’t look behind because you get caught in history, and in the past and you can’t go forward by dwelling in the past.
When I met my boyfriend I was widowed, and my husband’s name was Joe, so they called him anti-Joe because he was so different – the way he looked, sounded, what he does. And I started judging what he wasn’t instead of trying to figure out what he was. Don’t worry about the past, just keep moving forward and keep your eyes straight ahead.
Avil Beckford: What advice do you have for someone just starting out in your field?
Jo Ann Langer: I would give the same advice as what I said above, don’t over-guess yourself. Take it in and pay attention. Don’t try to figure out what you’ll grow up to be. I think that’s an issue with management, with people who are dealing with young people – we need the freshness, we need the newness, and we need that looking forward because we get bogged down in history because we’ve been around for so long. What youth and talent bring to the table is about moving forward. It’s not about moving backward, and stick to your guns and slowly and surely move into your space in your own way with certain acknowledgement and appreciation for what the environment and what you can bring to it, but don’t become one of them, become the next one.
Avil Beckford: If trusted friends could introduce you to five people that you’ve always wanted to meet, who would you choose? And what would you say to them?
Jo Ann Langer:
- I would want to talk to my late husband.
- Rudolph Nureyev from the ballet.
- Alexander McQueen
- Madeleine Albright
To each one I would say something different but it really is about how do you lose your fear and move forward. Through all odds, how do you manage to maintain your individuality and your freedom of expression? And that’s very important to me. Most people that I would talk to would be more senses and not artists driven relative to the issue of being able to express yourself and maintain your individuality despite public opinion and all the things that we have to deal with based on what the world thinks we should be and what we really want to be when we grow up.
Avil Beckford: Which one book had a profound impact on your life? What was it about this book that impacted you so deeply?
Jo Ann Langer: The book was called Healing the Shame that Binds You by John Bradshaw, and if you want to talk about a turning point in your life, it’s a book that deals with the fact that most of us is born with good and bad shame, and maybe too many of us with bad shame, so there are many things that may not be the right things to you, and there are things that human beings teach us that maybe the right things but they tell us they are the wrong things so we grow up not feeling good about ourselves and what we bring to the table. Bradshaw is a Jesuit who went to a monastery. The book is an amazing book because he expresses the fact that you’re a part of a larger community and you’re born under the influence of the rest of the world, and it’s up to us to nurture ourselves in these environments and it was just one of those books at the right time at the right place and it was a huge awakening for me.
John Bradshaw – Healing the Shame that Binds You
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Avil Beckford: You are one of the 10 finalists on the reality show, So, How Would You Spend Your Time? Each finalist is placed on separate deserted islands for two years. You have a basic hut on the island and all the tools for survival; you just have to be imaginative and inventive when using them. You are allowed to take five books, one movie and one music CD, and whatever else you take has to fit in one suitcase and a travel on case. What would you take with you and how would you spend the two years? T he prize is worth your while and at this stage in the game there really aren’t any losers among the 10 finalists, since each are guaranteed at least $2 million?
Jo Ann Langer: I have to tell you that I’d have to bring a couple of lipsticks, I wouldn’t bring a lot of makeup but I need some colour on my face to make me feel good. I would pack the most indestructible clothes I could find and I would have to pack my camera, solar batteries and a way to manipulate and enjoy my photos. $2 million wouldn’t change my life but living on a deserted island would. That’s exciting because it’s life altering, it’s life changing! You are not stranded on the deserted island you have two years to do whatever you’d like to do and I find that very exciting.
The first six months I would spend getting used to living in the wild, developing some sort of rhythm and some type of routine. Before I start exploring I would make it a safe environment. I would have a hut, but I would make sure that I could feed and clothe and protect myself. I would take care of the basic things first however long that would take. As I grew comfortable, then I would start exploring. I would take paper and pencil so I could paint and write, and capture what I was seeing and feeling in some other media than my memory. I would explore and think a lot about the good things I’ve had and the challenges I’ve had and I would take in whatever I wanted to take in. I’d take the quiet time to do that and yet at the same time take advantage of exploring the challenges of a new world and a new environment.
- I’d bring a book written by St. Thomas Aquinas when he was imprisoned and it’s about being alone, and how he wrote novels in his head while totally being isolated and shut down for many years. I would bring that book with me because it has always fascinated me.(The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas (Five Volumes), Aquinas: Political Writings (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought))
- I would bring some John Irving books with me because I like what he does. He twists reality, and yet it’s still reality and I like the way he stretches your mind, at least for me he does, what’s real and what isn’t.
- I would bring a book on decorating on a deserted island if it existed.
- I would bring a book about cooking without carbs.
Music CD and Movie
I wouldn’t bring a movie because I’m not a movie girl. I go to movies but there hasn’t been one that changed my life. I would bring Maurizio Pollini doing Chopin as my music CD – there is no doubt about it.
Maurizio Pollini plays Chopin Nocturne no. 8 op. 27 no. 2
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Avil Beckford: What excites you about life?
Jo Ann Langer: People, People and People.
Avil Beckford: How do you nurture your soul?
Jo Ann Langer: With my photography, my boyfriend and I’m not saying these in order of importance. I love my space and I have a nice single space, whether I’m in that space be it with a book, or my photography. Sometimes I come home from work and I’ll cook the most amazing meal for one just because.
Avil Beckford: If you had a personal genie and she gave you one wish, what would you wish for?
Jo Ann Langer: I would ask to stay loved until I die.
Avil Beckford: Complete the following, I am happy when…..
Jo Ann Langer: I happy when I’m whole. I’m happy when I can laugh.
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Video Credit: John Bradshaw – Healing the Shame that Binds You Uploaded by JohnEBradshaw on Aug 4, 2010, Maurizio Pollini plays Chopin Nocturne no. 8 op. 27 no. 2 Uploaded by joynes89 on Jun 18, 2006.
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