Watch Serena Michajluk confidently walk into a room, and you’d never imagine that her “past self” was a mere shadow of the person she is today. At 44 years old, Serena has finally found fulfillment in her career and her life. She has reinvented herself into the person she always knew she could be. She has found true love, overcome personal obstacles, and pushed herself to pursue her dreams. This is how Serena finally woke up after years of sleepwalking through life.
AT WAR WITHIN HERSELF
From a young age, elders played a big role in Serena’s life. She grew up close to both sets of grandparents, two of whom lived in the same house as her. On weekends, Serena would accompany her mom, who worked at a longterm care facility, to visit some of her favourite residents. Being around seniors, Serena felt most comfortable, and imagined she would be happy working alongside them. Intelligent and focused, Serena could have done anything she wanted. However, her lack of confidence prevented her from pursuing careers that required her to take charge. When she realized working with older adults required leadership skills, she pushed her dream aside.
This lack of confidence followed Serena into college. She remembers dropping classes if a presentation was required. “I was terrified of public speaking for most of my life. I was really hard on myself.” Eventually, Serena settled into clerical work at a law firm. While she convinced herself that she was content, deep down, her heart still yearned for something else.
I was terrified of public speaking for most of my life. I was really hard on myself.
MAKING BEAUTIFUL ART
Things took a turn in 2015 when Serena started hosting Paint Nite events in her neighbourhood. Always artistic, Serena decided it was time to burst out of her bubble. She started learning to take control of a room in smaller settings. As the Master Artist of her Paint Nite events, Serena guided attendees in turning their blank canvases into inspired masterpieces. Hosting these events was a pivotal, life changing experience for Serena. She attributes leading Paint Nite sessions to conquering her fear of public speaking, directly impacting her growth in self-confidence.
That class was about getting their energy and emotions out, and everyone enjoyed it. I’m very proud it had that effect.
Over the next few years, Serena made many progressions in her personal life. She fell in love, rediscovered her passion for singing, and, as a birthday present to herself, enrolled in the Therapeutic Recreation Assistant (TRA) program at Stenberg College, finally returning to her childhood ambitions. This marked the beginning of Serena’s journey to achieving her dream career.
FINDING HER PURPOSE
Serena admits feeling nervous about beginning the TRA program due to its online nature. She never considered herself a “techy” person. However, the unyielding support from her instructors helped her persevere, and she excelled. Instructor Cheryl Bain says, “Serena has been a leader and inspiration to her classmates and instructors throughout the program. She has a natural ability to connect. She constantly went above and beyond in her assignments.”
Succeeding in the program helped Serena grow her confidence even further. During her practicum, Serena led a workshop called “BEAT IT” at a long-term care facility. Here, she guided seniors to use pool noodles to drum on soft surfaces, an activity that became a resident favourite. She smiles, “That class was about getting their energy and emotions out, and everyone enjoyed it. I’m very proud it had that effect.” The same Serena who would have once dropped a college class for having a presentation component was now leading workshops to encourage emotional regulation in older adults. She knew she had come a long way. Having instructors who were champions in their field also inspired Serena. “They have first-hand experience and shared their stories. This is a very emotional job, but I knew I had it in me to do it. The knowledge and expertise they shared were essential to my success.”
They (instructors) have first-hand experience and shared their stories. This is a very emotional job, but I knew I had it in me to do it.
The program also featured specialized courses that allowed Serena to develop essential skills, such as listening with purpose. Now, as a Recreation Assistant at Cedarview Lodge in North Vancouver, Serena can genuinely connect with the seniors she supports, showing them she truly cares.
Serena’s hard work and success in the program resulted in her being selected as valedictorian for Stenberg’s graduation ceremony. She was truly inspiring when she shared her mantra, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” She now knows she is capable of anything and looks forward to making a name for herself in the world of Therapeutic Recreation. Nothing can stop her now.