Whether you’re a pop singer belting out hits on the world stage, an astronaut reaching for the stars, or a celebrity finding her voice after decades of others speaking for her, there’s always some important lesson to learn from the experiences of others. As 2023 comes to a close, we put together a list of some of the best advice and lessons we learned from Canadian icons in the pages of ROB Magazine this year.
You can always reinvent yourself
As a kid, Sarah Polley was best known for playing the precocious Sara Stanley on Road to Avonlea. Her early acting career was so loaded with trauma (including a literally death-defying role in Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen) that she quit altogether, eventually finding her place behind the camera. At 44, the Toronto-based writer and director published a bestselling book of essays called Run Towards the Danger and directed Women Talking, which went on to win her the Oscar for best adapted screenplay in 2023. Just because you’ve built your rep as one thing doesn’t mean you can’t successfully pivot—and possibly even find your true purpose.
Good things do come to those who wait
Paul Sun-Hyung Lee
Actor Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, now 51, first played his iconic role as the curmudgeonly Appa for the Kim’s Convenience play at the 2011 Toronto Fringe Festival. But he didn’t get his big break on TV until he was in his mid-40s, when CBC adapted Kim’s Convenience into what became a breakout hit in 2016. Between the stage and the television adaptation, Lee went on to portray the character upwards of 500 times.
As a long-time Star Wars fan, it was a literal dream come true when, in 2018, the executive producer of The Mandalorian—who’d become a fan of Kim’s Convenience via Netflix—wrote a part just for Lee, as X-Wing fighter pilot Carson Teva. Mando is now going into its fourth season, with Teva reportedly set for a storyline of his own. Next, he’ll play Uncle Iroh on the much-anticipated live-action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender, due early next year on Netflix.
Stand your ground
Canadian-American celebrity Pamela Anderson never accepted a penny from the many offers she and Tommy Lee got to publish authorized versions of her sex tape. Unlike her Playboy photoshoots, which she’d chosen to do and found empowering, the private tape was stolen and released without her permission. She sought to set a precedent, putting privacy rights and consent at the forefront of her battle. The fact that she later dropped a high-profile lawsuit against one major distributor to focus on her family was widely misconstrued as settling.
When the Hulu series Pam & Tommy dropped last year, it purported to be a feminist retelling of the sex-tape theft scandal. But the show left Anderson out of the storytelling yet again, forcing her to reckon once more with a part of her life she’d hoped to put behind her. In 2023, she told her story on her own terms, having just released the book Love, Pamela and the Netflix documentary Pamela, a love story in quick succession. “We never settled on anything,” she says in the Netflix doc. “We just told everyone to get lost.”
Fight for what’s right
While captain of Team Canada, Christine Sinclair led a strike over pay equity—players on Canada’s 53rd-ranked men’s squad earned five times what the women did in 2021, the year they won Olympic gold. It was also due to budget cuts by Canada Soccer that would leave the team ill-prepared to compete at the World Cup. Sinclair and three teammates also delivered scathing testimony before a parliamentary committee in Ottawa—a brave move considering what typically happens to athletes who speak out against the powers that be. But it worked: The women signed a better deal with Canada Soccer soon after. She played her final game with the Canadian Women’s team on Dec. 5.
Give it all you’ve got
Pop superstar Céline Dion grew up in Charlemagne, 50 kilometres from Montreal, the youngest of 14 kids. When she was 12, her mother sent a cassette of her singing to impresario René Angélil. When they met for the first time, he famously handed her a pencil and said, “Here’s your microphone. Now sing as though you were in front of a sold-out audience.” She did, and Angélil ended up mortgaging his house to finance her first record (and yes, marrying Dion 14 years later). Dion, now 55, has sold more than 220 million records, and Forbes pegs her net worth at US$480 million.
Bring your ego
In his 1979 masterwork The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe describes the egos of aspiring astronauts as “so big, it’s breathtaking!” How else to believe—no, to know with absolute certainty—that you’re capable of pushing yourself and a multimillion-dollar machine to the limit, and being willing to risk death to prove it? The general rule is that the faster and more dangerous the machine, the bigger the ego—and Canadian astronaut and author Chris Hadfield made it to test pilot, the most envelope-pushing pilot gig there is. Then he got chosen as an astronaut, joining the 0.000007% of humans who’ve orbited the Earth. The man’s got swagger, and he brings it to everything he does, whether he’s flying or writing historical thrillers.