Today we raise our fists high and put our hands together in celebration of our Feature Girl Warrior, Human Resources Professional, Mia Barkasy, with over 20 years direct experience in human resources and a lifetime of spreading kindness, compassion and generosity. Mia enjoys a passion for the outdoors, animals, her family and community. She is a Director for People Services in BC within the Canadian Red Cross and volunteer HR director for the Southern Vancouver Island Nature Trails Society. Mia is dedicated to giving back to her community, after spending the bulk of her career in the private sector. Mia is a mom to three wonderful humans, son McKinnley, and daughters Molly and Sophie. She spends her downtime on the trails with her partner Daniel, Founder of the SVINTS, with her family, and her furry friends (Romeo and Raven). Mia loves to adventure to hidden natural gems all over the island, exploring the breathtaking beauty of our environment. Mia says that the relationships she has with the women in her life, her mothers (she is blessed to have two), her daughters and closest female friends are the backbone to her success and strength as a woman. And to that we say a loud and joyous YES!
What makes you a Girl Warrior?
I feel like we are a little bit Warriors. In particular I believe my warriorness comes from a few places; my moms (I have two; my biological and stepmom.) Both have been around since I was little. I guess, my biological a little bit longer. These are two women who have done so much in their lives, each surviving cancer, financial ups and downs and my dad. My dad added to my warriorness as well. My parents have always been there for me emotionally, ever supportive while encouraging me to stand on my own to be as independent as possible. Going between two families can be tough and it can be even harder when the two families live in different countries. Going between the US and Canada at different parts of the year and from year to year, made me learn to make friends quickly and adapt to change fiercely. Although I was born in the US, living in Canada in my most formative teenage years along with my parents modeling and actions, help to shape what I believe to be to the most important character trait and human action; kindness. It is this that I have tried to instill as paramount in my children, along with resilience and accountability. To me, these traits make me a Girl Warrior; being kind while taking accountability for my mistakes and successes and resilient enough to keep getting up and finding happiness and success after 2 marriages (I like to refer to these as my training and practice marriages), 2 affairs, 2 career changes (I started as a teacher and then switched to HR), over 30 jobs and 30 homes in over 30 cities.
How did having a career make you a better parent?
I always knew I wanted children and I always knew I wanted to keep working. It was important to me to model to my children that they could have a family (if they wanted) and career or passion, whichever brought them happiness and fulfillment. Having a career where I felt like, and feel like, I have an impact on people – helping them in some way has allowed me to teach my children this and I see in them a drive to find and follow their passion and be whatever they want to be. Working has also allowed me to find a balance of playtime and being productive. Being with adults and working, solving problems and helping others all day then singing, playing and being goofy at night was just the balance that allowed me to focus on the moment I was in, truly experiencing and enjoying my kids, which I believe they felt and appreciated and still do.
What advice would you give to women who are juggling a career and parenting?
Building on the above, I would say by focusing on whatever you are doing you will find that the times you are with your children you will really be present. There will be times where your work will feel like it is taking you away from moments with your kids, and this in my experience will make the moments you spend with them more valuable and precious.
This, and it’s okay to make mistakes, just be sure you take accountability and tell your children when you mess up. Big or small, this will model to them that they can make mistakes and tell you, own up to them and the world will keep turning and your love will keep coming.
Why did you get into HR for Big Box Retail and why did you ultimately leave that industry?
When I started my HR career I was building my family and putting my (at that time practice) husband through school, my focus was on getting HR experience and earning a decent living. Believe it or not, retail management and HR pay really, really well. For years I convinced myself that it was okay because even though I was working in a very competitive, for profit driven industry where often the company’s success is made on the backs of its people, I was helping the front-line worker day to day. After over 15 years ‘convincing’ myself this was okay, I felt my soul slowly eroding. I could not, for one more day, stay in an industry where the reward to a store, whose salespeople met all of their targets and most often even beat them, was to increase the sales targets for the next year with the same budget for salaries. It was at this point I knew I had to make a change.
What led you to your current role with the Canadian Red Cross?
It wasn’t easy, and took me over a year, but I was able to find my dream job doing what I love for an organization whose values and principals matched mine. Although, I always also modeled to my kids that it was important to give back and be generous to those less fortunate, it was at this time of change I realized that it is also important to give back to the community, to truly be part of a community. My job with the Red Cross helps me live this every day.
While I was analyzing which industry I wanted to work in, I asked myself what is important to me in my work. I realized I wanted to work somewhere I could give back and be myself. This meant working somewhere where religion, race and political affiliation were not a consideration. It also meant not working in a government organization, as I know I cannot deal with bureaucracy and needed to be in a place where things move quickly, creativity is encouraged, and kindness is paramount. This is the Canadian Red Cross. After narrowing these things down as most important to me, I found a great match in the Canadian Red Cross.
What did you learn about yourself during the intervening period when you were switching gears professionally?
I learned that I needed to work in a place where I can be creative and practice kindness daily. I also learned that nothing is forever and everything is temporary so when things don’t work out, it’s okay because there will be more. From the time I was little society said: find a husband, start a family, find a job and stick to all three. I have learned many relationships do not last forever and that is okay, because we learn from them and develop new relationships and grow others we have from what we learned.
Why is serving others spiritually transforming and life affirming?
For me giving to others who are in need feels good. We live in a society where so much of our worth appears to be based on finical status and appearance. To me these things are brought to many for the most part by luck. Luck of where you are born, who you are (race, gender etc.) and the opportunities presented to you. Yes, some can make these opportunities for themselves and some find a way in spite of their challenges, but for many there are no choices or opportunities. Being privileged enough to be born in North America and being white, I know to be part of a community, we all need to do what we can to serve others who are less fortunate.
What’s the difference between a calling and a career?
I think for those of us who are lucky they can be the same thing. I feel like I am made to help others. It is who I am in my DNA. It can however be a double-edge sword as at times I do too much and have to remember that to help others I must help myself first. If I am not in a good place emotionally and physically, I get easily drained, and then the help I give may not be what is needed or in the right way. Sometimes a calling, when it is also your career, can take up a BIG part of your life and it can be easy to get overly committed and lose a good balance of care for others and care for yourself.
What brought you to your volunteer position as HR Director for the Southern Vancouver Island Nature Trails Society and how can Girl Warriors help or get involved?
I first learned of SVINTS as my partner started the society, as it was his calling to bring more connected and accessible trails to SVI. He was also fortune enough to be able to turn his calling into a career. As an HR professional I have been able to support the society on the board with the HR needs. Also as an avid trail hiker I have been able to support in trail assessments and building. The Girl Warriors can get involved by becoming members, (which is free and can be done on our website), or by volunteering to trail build.
What is Ehlers-Danlos and how has hiking helped you cope with this debilitating condition?
Ehlers–Danlos syndromes are a group of rare genetic connective tissue disorders. For me this manifests in very loose joints, joint pain, stretchy skin and very slow pumping blood. Think trying to go down a water slide with very little water. Because I have little collagen, my blood pumps through my veins in a similar fashion. I have chronic joint and muscle pain, which is lessened by ensuring I hike with a climb on a daily basis; this helps oxygenate my blood and loosen my muscles. Additionally, many people with EDS, like me are Celiac and also have no ability to store ferritin (think very anemic) or collagen (thus the aforementioned issues). This means watching what I eat and ensuring I have enough absorbable iron in my diet.
What do we need to know “for sure” about finding our passion and work that has heart and meaning?
I think this will be different for everyone. For me though, it is through understanding that this is a journey and as cliché as it sounds it is not the destination but the things that happen along the way. Our best memories are often situations when things did not turn out or work they way we thought they would. Being open to what is around you and listening to your inner voice plays a BIG part of finding a place and work that brings you joy in your heart. It is hard not to be scared because we are so conditioned to be afraid of loss. We need to learn to embrace loss as part of the journey and what takes us to the next great place.
What would you say to your younger Girl Warrior?
It’s okay to be afraid. Don’t hide from it. Learn to be okay with it and allow yourself time to feel all of the emotions we so often try to run from. Fear and sadness, anger and jealousy are all normal emotions and we need to give ourselves permission to feel these the same way we do the more joyful emotions. We do not have to be tough to be a Girl Warrior. A Girl Warrior is a great model for boys, and men, to also learn it’s okay to be afraid and sad.
What would you say to future Girl Warriors looking for inspiration?
Strength comes from many places and it grows the most from giving and serving others. Sometimes it feels like life is unfair and you don’t know what to do to feel better. I promise, taking time to walk away from yourself and help others, you will always feel better. Helping others is like a super power, and the best part is the more you do it the stronger you get.
It is also important to help yourself and ask for help when you need it. Asking others for help takes strengths as well. And remember when you don’t allow others to help you you are robbing them of the gift of beings super hero too.
Who is/are your Girl Warrior hero(s) and why?
My moms and my daughters for sure. My girls give me such inspiration and strength. They are beautiful inside and out. They are strong and funny and use kindness as their guide. They help others and have learned (much younger than I did) to take care of their needs as well. They ask for what they need and give what they can to all those they meet. I also am blessed to have some amazingly brilliant friends who I consider my sisters. These ladies oddly all have names starting with the letter J and have been instrumental in my growth as a Girl Warrior.
Blue Sky it. No boundaries here, just limitless opportunities. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Living on a smaller island in a self-sustaining passive waterfront house with my husband. On a property big enough for a carriage house and workshop. Painting and crafts and walks and baking. Working as a consultant for the Canadian Red Cross as a facilitator and Family Liaison Officer. Having my kids (and one day their kids) come often for visits.
What makes you laugh uncontrollably? Cry out all the tears?
My dog Romeo makes me laugh, as he is a funny little awkward goof of a dog. Stupid puns also make me laugh way more than they should. My son is also always able to bring a smile to my face with his unintended jokes. I cry when I am stressed over just about anything and any slightly emotional movie, especially love stories, and movies about kids and people overcoming diversity.
If an adventure novel were written, inspired by your life, what would it be called?
You can’t make this s*%t up.
Connect with Mia on LinkedIn at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mia-barkasy-16b33b14/?originalSubdomain=ca
Follow her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/mia.monsour
And Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/mbarkasy/
To learn more about the Southern Vancouver Island Nature Trails Society head over to the website at: https://naturetrailssociety.com/