Facing adversity with a joie de vivre
By Arlene Mahood
For some, adversity is the impetus that helps them grow stronger. Jill Malleck is one of these people. Despite a number of challenges, she still greets life with sparkling eyes and a natural joie de vivre.
Jill is a successful small business owner, a mother of four, an active volunteer and a breast cancer survivor. We first met in the late 1980’s when we both worked at Manulife Financial, where she worked in Human Resources after completing a Journalism diploma at Conestoga College. With her customary enthusiasm, Jill put all that she had into building her career and raising her young family. Life was good, and Jill was thriving when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997. She had a mastectomy followed by six months of chemotherapy and four weeks of radiation therapy.
Once she had recovered, she returned to work at Manulife, and although she loved her job, she found herself questioning whether it was what she really wanted to do. Breast cancer can reoccur, and she was feeling her mortality. After some intense self-examination, she decided she wanted to continue helping teams to be more effective; however, she wanted the excitement and challenge of doing it with a variety of different companies. Should she strike out on her own?
She mulled this over during the summer of 2001 while she prayed for guidance. Jill says she felt that she was using the natural gifts that God gave her when facilitating, and “when doing work that’s right for your skill set, you will certainly succeed.”
A month before her fortieth birthday, armed with her intuition and a small nest egg, she made the leap and left Manulife to start her own consulting business, Epiphany at Work. Many felt it was far too big a risk, but Jill didn’t. Michael, her husband of 26 years, was very supportive, so that made accepting the challenge much easier. Her business plan: Take five years to really make a go of the business. If it hadn’t taken off after two or three years, go back to a traditional job. She hasn’t looked back.
At Epiphany at Work, Jill uses her extensive corporate HR experience to facilitate, train and coach individuals, teams or whole companies. When she is coaching, it’s all about who the person is and what they bring to the table. She helps them explore their natural gifts and talents, and develops customized solutions that accelerate positive change.
Jill was animated and positively glowed while she talked at length about the importance of the support she gets from Michael and her children. Her pride in their lives together is evident, and it is clear that she feels warmly wrapped in the security of their love. She describes herself as a “feminist living a traditional, conservative and stable lifestyle that holds a lot of appeal to me after my turbulent childhood.”
Jill is committed to giving back to our community, and, in 1994, she founded SOS – Send ’em Off Smilin’ – to provide school clothing and supplies for hundreds of local children in need.
Her inspiration for this came from reading about a similar organization in New York that helped build the self esteem of indigent children by providing them with new clothes and shoes for their first day of school.
Jill came from a large poor family and wore hand me downs for most of her childhood, so this article ignited a flame in her. Michael’s support and willingness to care for their young children along with the support of friends and family gave her the freedom she needed to run SOS for ten years.
I asked Jill what her courageous struggle with cancer had taught her. “When I was sick, I learned early to get the naysayers out of my life. I also learned to take better care of myself. I now ask my body, ‘how are you doing?’, and I listen.”
She discovered that it’s important to be a little bit selfish to find balance in her busy life. “If I accomplish one good thing in a day, I feel really satisfied with that.” And with an impish grin she added, “Although I often accomplish a million.”