Carolyn Klassen


What is it that empowers you most?
Knowing that it’s normal to feel fearful even, or maybe especially, when I am being brave.  When I can hold space for uncertainty and discomfort without seeing those as a signal to stay small and silent, I am empowered to use my voice.

What is it that you love most about yourself?
Funny how hard it is to answer a question like this…there can be such cultural pressure to downplay one’s own strengths.

I would have to say I love that when life has dealt me adversity, I get determined to somehow “make lemonade out of the lemons” I’ve been given. I like the challenge of finding ways to create beauty out of the ashes. I want to live a life of not accepting the ugly as the end point…I will find a way to create beauty out of it.

I also love my laugh…it is big and hearty and free. I laugh easily and often.

What makes you feel most beautiful?
I feel most beautiful when I’m with people who love me…when I know I am being loved. When I can tell I am making a difference, and that another’s life is better because I have been in it, I feel beautiful.

Who is your biggest role model and why?
I have had coffee with a mentor/friend, Mary, pretty much every Thursday morning for 11 years.  She’s a little ahead of me in life and so I have heard how she parents her children, relates to her adult children, now her grandchildren before I get there.  She shares her wisdom, her faith, her life with me.  I watch her struggle through things and that teaches me how to struggle. I witness her growth and creativity and that inspires me to grow and be creative. Meeting with the same person weekly give us an uncommon candidness with each other…and the right to ask the tough questions or express a difficult truth to the other. We laugh a lot too.

Who are your favourite cultural heroines and why?
OK..this question doesn’t feel fair.  I grew up reading biographies of strong women and I could list off dozens and dozens. I loved Amelia Earhardt’s sense of adventure before her time. I could weep at the poetic truth in Maya Angelou’s writing. Viola Desmond, who challenged racial discrimination in Nova Scotia in 1946 inspires courage. I could go on for pages about all the women of history and currently, that inspire me. Athletes, politicians, women who fought for the vote, and so on.

Maybe just one that stands out: I hung out a lot, as I was finishing my Master’s degree, with the woman in the Bible whose story is recorded in Mark 5. Funny sometimes, how women we only read about can be so inspiring, it’s almost like they become friends of mine.  We never learn her name (though, as a friend of mine, I call her “Faith”), but I learned of the courage she had to break cultural rules to pursue her own healing, of the way she was acknowledged as a powerful role model at a time when women weren’t even considered people. She was revolutionary! She had such strength and audacity to acknowledge herself as a rule breaker when she didn’t know what would happen.  She had such chutzpah…she’s grown to be a major inspiration in my life.

I’d love to tell my 12-year-old self to not define my value according to cultural standards.

If you could pick one fictional female character to be for a day who would it be and why?
I have 5 sons…and a popular question of debate around our house is “Which superpower would you choose?” The desire to fly consistently ranks high!  So, I think I would love to be Wonder Woman so I could let my family all know what it is like! (Though I’d wear a comfy oversized sweatshirt and tights to be comfortable and fully enjoy the day!)

What is your biggest life goal?
To change lives.  To make this world a better place.  To leave this world a kinder and gentler place because I was in it.

That might sound like a lofty goal…Perhaps I sound a bit like a beauty pageant contestant whose platform is “World Peace”.  I’m not so naïve that I believe that I will impact this world in a significant place so directly.  But I’ve always loved the idea of The Butterfly Effect, where a seemingly insignificant change can, over time, eventually change the course of the world.

With my work as a therapist, and as a public speaker, I work to create spaces for shifts inside of people to make choices that better align with themselves…their connected, creative courageous selves. I like to think that even simple kindnesses to others at a grocery store, or looking into the eyes of a man on the street as I give him a loonie can have a positive impact. As the people who know me might live life even a little bit more fully, they will impact those around them, and they will then impact others. Some of these people may be in a position to better parent a future premier, or be an inspiring teacher to someone who then grows up to cure cancer, or confidently coaches a child who will go on to negotiate peace treaties.

I believe that I can change lives. I believe we can all change lives. And that can change history/herstory!

What is your biggest accomplishment?
The easy answer is my kids.  I do love them, and they are great…but they are fascinating people in their own right, so I’d rather not take credit for them as an accomplishment.

I think Conexus Counselling is my biggest accomplishment.  I never fancied myself a business person, or a manager, or a public speaker…but the necessity of becoming a single parent pushed me into terrifying territory where I found out my own strength and abilities were greater than what I might have imagined.  We have two locations, 10 therapists, full-time administration and a great website that features my writing on a blog. I have really cool opportunities (including this one) that I might never have guessed would come my way.  I’m so grateful for friends and family who believed in me and gave me a hand up when I needed it.  Conexus Counselling has helped thousands of people be more connected with themselves and others, improved marriages and families in meaningful ways that delight me.

What is your favourite quote?
My own personal mantra that I adopted about 5 or 6 years ago is that “I am not allowed to say no because of fear”.  While I do say no because of time constraints, or areas of expertise, I always say yes to interesting things, even those that terrify me. That has gotten me into some wonderful trouble a couple of times!

The quote on my screen saver right now is this: “Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn't have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid.” Frederick Buechner

If you could tell your 12-year-old self one thing what would it be?
I’d love to tell my 12-year-old self to not define my value according to cultural standards…that the glasses I wore, or the books I always had in my hand, and the out-of-fashion clothes I had didn’t make me “less than”. I’d want her to know that she’s not a loser because she isn’t interested in the fashion magazines, or because she’s not a star on the volleyball team, or because she doesn’t have a boyfriend. I’d love for her to know that her value lies in who she is…and that comes through in her big smile, in her deep friendships, in her full laugh, and in her honest tears.  That when she just lets herself be who she really is most authentically, she is at her best!

What does feminism mean to you?
To me, feminism recognizes that everyone deserves to have a voice at the table. We all have an enriched experience when all voices are valued. Feminism recognizes that because of the historical and cultural pressures, extra effort and dialogue needs to take place to ensure that all voices are validated. Feminism means I will value my own unique voice at the table…and work to make other women heard.  Because I understand the pain of not always being welcomed at the table, I think feminism also cues us to be aware of the way voices can be silenced because of race, sexual orientation, age and other factors and empower those as well.

Carolyn is a counsellor in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada