What’s in a decade?

I thought I’d sit down and take stock since, after all, just about every social media feed has been telling me to do so for the past couple of weeks.

I clicked open my Pictures file and scrolled down to 2010. I then opened up my journal and wrote Last Decade at the top of the page and 2010 in the margin. I began viewing the photos and writing down the highlights of each year: trips, graduations, sports events, publications, relatives…

Once I’d finished, I mulled over the list. Wow! I realized that the past decade was rich in learning and insights, mainly around three themes.

#1. The Value of Life

In 2016, my husband Vincent went into the hospital for a day operation. The doctors wanted to do an angioplasty (insert stents into the arteries). When Vincent was wheeled back to his room, he said, “They have to keep me at the hospital. I’m going to have an operation this week”.  Less than three days later, he had multiple by-pass surgery. While he was in the ICU, I realized that life is as close as a heartbeat away. One millisecond it is there; the next it may not.

We both came away with a different point of view on life, and a new drive to make every moment count.

#2. The Value of Family

The same year, in 2016, I had the wonderful privilege of meeting biological relatives on my father’s side in England in 2016 (I was unable to meet my father since he had already passed away when I found him). It was amazing to feel the connection that we had even though I hadn’t been brought up with them. It was palpable. My husband and sons couldn’t deny the metaphysical link that they saw especially between my aunt and cousins.

A year later, in July of 2017, since my biological mother had moved back to Montreal, she accepted to meet me for the first time ever. During the three days we spent together, we went out for coffee, went shopping and talked about so many things. It was precious – doubly- so since I lost her to cancer less than two months later.

That was painful because I had just found her. But I take comfort in the fact that I was able to meet a number of other biological relatives on her side of the family that still live in Montreal.  

Hers wasn’t the only death I experienced this past decade. I lost two brother-in-laws and an uncle, too. Death separates us from family members we love, but life continues and gives us the wonderful opportunity to keep strengthening the bonds with those we still have.

#3. The Value of Breathing

This has undoubtedly been the decade that I learned the importance of breathing. Through learning and practicing mindfulness, meditation and Bodyflow (a combination of TaiChi, Pilates and yoga), I have experienced the amazing the healing and restorative benefits of breathing deeply: heightened awareness, more powerful stress management skills and greater emotional balance.  

Learning to breathe changes everything! The more I learned about it from books, practice and courses I took during my certificate in Developmental Psychology, the clearer I became on who I was and what I wanted. I retired from teaching in the school system and embarked on a career change process (which was ironic since I only just officially earned my teaching permit in 2011, after over 20 years in and out of various teaching capacities.) I just didn’t want to work in an environment whose values didn’t match my own.

I am now trained in mindfulness meditation and coaching so that I can help others develop their own mindfulness lifestyle and experience the benefits.

In conclusion, my backward look leaves me with the insight that it isn’t the trips, nor the professional, personal or academic achievements that give me the greatest buzz. It’s being able to look forward to celebrating 30 years of marriage with my husband Vincent in three weeks, seeing my sons Nick and Olivier develop and thrive in their personal and professional lives, and helping others live mentally healthier and happier over the next ten years.

What about you: what are your greatest take-aways from the past decade? And what are you looking forward to in the new decade? Drop a comment! I’d love to hear from you!

Cheers, and keep learning!  

Claire xx

[Photo Credit: Nacho Juarez/Pexels]

Just be real!

Reclaiming humanity in the workplace… that sounds interesting!

A student and I were checking out the website of one of the keynote speakers at the upcoming Best Business Practices Tradeshow to take place in Montreal. Her name is Patty Azzarello and is a northern New Jersey native who has risen to become a Silicon Valley CEO. She also has a couple of books to her credit and now tours as a speaker.  

Reclaiming humanity in the workplace was the title of the TEDTalk posted on her site that caught our attention, so we clicked.

We had time to watch a few minutes before the class was up and being interested in anything that has to do with authenticity in the corporate world, I was curious: How does she propose to bring humanity back into the office?

Quite frankly, Azzarello gave an inspiring talk. Here are her three suggestions:

1. Step out of the hierarchy and show up as a real person.

Being a real person has nothing to do with hierarchy; it takes place outside of the hierarchy, where, as human beings, we are all standing on the same ground, with the same needs, the same feelings, the same experiences. We are all the same.

2. Have a human conversation.

Here Patty challenges leaders to be brave enough to overcome the fear of doubt, dissent and opposition to their authority to ask the simple four-word question: What do you think?  What a demonstration of trust and belief in your colleagues. It is quite simply, the best way to work as a team – mobilizing the collective intelligence around a common goal. It’s a win-win situation for all involved!

3. Be genuinely interested in what the other person has to say.

When Azzarello said this, the audience laughed. Nervous laughter, perhaps? But so true; how many times do we ask another person their opinion, only to block out what they are saying and respond: “Oh, thanks. Guess that validates my solution.” – without even taking the time to listen or genuinely engage with the other person’s ideas.  Experiment: next time you ask your spouse their opinion, take a deep breath and really listen to what they have to say. You may be surprised by the outcome of events!

Azzarello then went on to explain how she applies these three points with her own management team. She meets with her employees and lays out the plan or strategy and then steps out of her position and says candidly: “This is what we want to do, but I don’t have all the answers. What do you think?” What ensues is a genuine dialogue about possibilities, fears and ideas. Together, they work out the details and the timeline despite the inevitable conflict and discussion. Everyone leaves feeling heard and seen, and she leaves, confident that her employees have had the opportunity to share their truth.  

Her mentor simply advised: Talk to everyone, and you’ll know what to do.

But where did this way of dealing with things come from? Patty describes how she met with her mentor when she was about to begin her first major executive position, terrified and insecure about her new role. Her mentor simply advised: “Talk to everyone, and you’ll know what to do”.  Patty took her mentor at their word, and as soon as she arrived in her new position, she scheduled 100 one-on-one sessions with the employees!  

Can you imagine? She sat and conversed with them human-to-human and asked them simple questions like:

  • What do you think?
  • What do you think I need to know?
  • What do you think is important?
  • What do you think is working, is not working?
  • What do you think we need to change?
  • What do you think I’m missing here?

What a payoff! Just sitting and listening and caring to what those employees had to say, gave her wings. (And you thought Red Bull was powerful! Just try asking questions!) She was able to go on and successfully lead that team (and new teams entrusted her as her career evolved) empowered by the mutual respect and trust of her co-workers.

The clincher is what she says at the end:

You don’t have to conform [implying becoming the stereotypical self-sufficient arrogant executive] if you don’t want to. And in fact, if you are willing to show up as your real self and respect humanity of others, you will actually be at your most powerful and most credible. (Patty Azzarello)

I guess the bottom-line is pretty clear: if you want to reclaim humanity in your workplace, then be human and others will be human with you, too. Show you care, and they’ll be there!

So, what do you think? Don’t be shy to leave a comment. Seriously, I’d love to know what you have to say – about this post, the blog, being human at work… Feel free!

  • Thanks for reading and keep learning,  Claire :O)

[TedxAsburyPark, August 8 2017: https://youtu.be/jEzqrnpgEe0)

Who do you choose to be?

Tomorrow is November 11, Remembrance Day; it’s a time to remember the soldiers that gave their lives to counter the forces that were jeopardizing the freedoms we take for granted today. As I ponder their sacrifice, I can’t help but see a certain, though obviously not so dramatic, parallel between the challenges they braved and the future described by the author I was reading today. Those soldiers, and so many civilians, courageously chose to stand up and fight impending disaster to provide a better life for us today.

During a discussion at university on Friday about the challenges of resonant leadership in the face of opposing values or ideologies, my professor dropped the expression islands of sanity as he explained that a leader in this kind of situation needs to focus on what they can do to change things, rather than what they can’t, to create a refuge of hope in a sea of disorder and chaos. Just like those soldiers did during the First and Second World Wars, and our armed forces continue to do throughout the world where freedoms are threatened today.

The expression, islands of sanity, is used by Margaret J. Wheatley in her book entitled Who Do We Choose To Be? Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity (published by Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2017).  I ordered the book online and was ecstatic to get it already today. I was mesmerized right from the first page. Here are a few challenging thoughts I came across while reading.

Warning: This is no feel-good book; rather, it is a call to arms in an era that is increasingly VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous).

  1. Wise leaders are willing to give up the delusion that technology can save us, or that we can master the Universe. We must face the reality of decline and choose actions that support people, not technology. The choice couldn’t be more clear. Or consequential.  (p. 41)
  • A culture focused on individual freedom can only result in narcissism, polarization, conflict, estrangement, and loneliness. What is the meaning of life if it’s all about me? (p. 69)
  • We could have been anything we wanted, yet free-floating individualism has taken us far from community, contribution or connection, the very things that truly give life meaning and purpose. (p. 70)
  • Cultures focused on popularity have no depth or resilience. They are superficial and ephemeral: tastes change; fashions come and go; fads rise and fall. Always changing, such a culture increases our sense of uncertainty and vulnerability. We may be popular now, but beneath the surface our anxiety and stress keep growing. Will you still love me tomorrow? (p. 72)
  • More speed, new apps, artificial intelligence, more connectivity through technology is not the answer. Sane leadership is. (p. 74)

Certainly, we are not facing the same challenges as the generation that celebrated that first Armistice Day in 1918; however, we all have a choice to make in terms of who we desire to be and which values we desire to defend. Personally, I am thankful for the choices made by my own Grandfather Todd (WWI) and Uncle Tom (WWII), and feel challenged by the words penned by Wheatley to our own generation:

Who do you choose to be for this time? Are you willing to use whatever power and influence you have to create islands of sanity that evoke and rely on our best human qualities to create, produce and persevere? (p. 11)

How do these quotes resonate with you? Who are you thankful for this Remembrance Day? Share below.

– Claire :o)  

[Image: musicman/Shutterstock]

How’s your company’s heart?

No, I’m not talking about the profit margin, sales, or ROI. I’m talking about how your company supports employees when they are under the weather, down and out, or fighting an uphill battle. What’s the plan when a manager realizes that one of the employees in their department is no longer cutting it? It’s when the going gets rough, that the true heart of a company starts beating.

It’s when the going gets rough, that the true heart of a company starts beating.

This post was inspired by two encounters I had lately. During the first one, a friend mentioned a doctor’s appointment to discuss her state. She’s overwhelmed with a number of issues both in and out of work. She’s feeling fragile and close to a breakdown. I wondered if her manager had met her to discuss how she was feeling, what was going on, which tasks could be taken away to lighten the load. There was no mention of that.

Less than four days later, another friend told me about her progressive return to work, one day the first week, two days the second week, etc. Her supervisor met her the first day of the second week and asked point blank what her game plan was. Game plan? What game plan? For now, maybe one day at a time?

Game plan? What game plan? For now, maybe one day at a time?

According to a 54-page document published by the Canada Conference Board in 2016, entitled Healthy Brains at Work. Employer-Sponsored Mental Health Benefits and Programs, out of the 239 employers surveyed, only 39% (much less than half) had a mental health strategy in place. Yet the costs are exorbitant; the Ontario Chamber of Commerce states on their website that businesses dish out approximately $1500/employee per year to cover the cost of mental health issues.

Businesses dish out approximately $1500/employee per year to cover the cost of mental health issues. – Ontario Chamber of Commerce

Of course, the goal of a business isn’t to play psychologist, therapist or social worker, however, human capital is touted as being the most important capital the company has to work with. Without humans, no company can turn a profit.

In the equation for productivity and growth, where is the emotional variable? The human factor plays a huge role. It doesn’t take an MBA to know that employee retention is a function of engagement, and that engagement is in proportion to the meaning, belonging and support an employee draws from their work. Without empathy in action: care, counsel and compassion, the human factor can become a deterrent to the company’s success.

Without empathy in action: care, counsel and compassion, the human factor can become a deterrent to the company’s success.

It seems surprising that in this age of Bell Talks and so many other mental health campaigns, companies appear to still be in the dark as to how to handle this kind of challenge. A mental health strategy meets two goals: prevention and remediation.

Here are just five simple suggestions to maintain the company’s heart:

  • Hold workshops and training sessions on mindfulness, meditation/exercise and mental health;
  • Publish tips and ideas for well-being regularly on the company intranet or in the corporate newsletter;
  • Maintain communication with employees who are on sick leave to maintain the relationship and facilitate reintegration;
  • Actively work to dispel the stigma relating to mental health issues, like depression, anxiety and burnout;
  • Allocate corporate budget to provide HR with adequate resources to handle mental health issues in the company.  

What does your company do to keep its heart in great shape? Share it in the comments below.

Take care, and keep learning!

Claire :o)

PS For more resources, see the links below:

  1. https://www.conferenceboard.ca/temp/b87f9168-c10a-4b59-82e2-c14e513ae93b/7707_Healthy_Brains_Benefits-and-Programs_BR_EN.pdf
  2. https://occ.ca/mentalhealth/

[Photo Credit: Dragon Images/Shutterstock]

Outer mess, inner stress?

“Tell me something you don’t like”, I asked my student.

“I don’t like when things are messy.”

“”Really”, I responded, “why? “

I don’t know.”

“Okay, well, what does it make you feel?”

“No idea.”

“You just don’t like it. You prefer when things are in their place, organized, structured?”

“Yes, let’s say I arrive at someone’s house and it’s a mess. I feel like taking a huge garbage bag and shoving it all in! “

I wasn’t really surprised. She works in administration. It’s her job. But also, I surmised, a part of her personality. Someone who likes everything in their right place.

Right place. What a concept! Is it possible we polarize things right down to our belongings?

Reflecting on ideas I’ve been reading from Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach, Tsoknyi Rinpoche and from my Authentic Leadership course at university, I mused on that right and wrong reflex we develop from such a young age.

From what I’ve gleaned, our polarization is a prehistoric reflex we develop to ensure our safety and security; once we learn to distinguish the presence of objects outside of ourselves, we start categorizing them into good and bad, nice and mean, right and wrong.

Of course, we need to differentiate if something is good for us or not, however when it starts influencing our inner states of well-being or ‘rightness’, it may have become a little excessive.

Let me share one of my own typical personal default settings. When I get up in the morning, the first thing I do when arriving in the kitchen is to scan for orderliness and cleanliness. If it doesn’t meet my standards, I start putting things away.

Why? Otherwise I just can’t relax.

Okay, so you’re saying you’re the same as your student?

Yes, guess so!

You may now well ask: what can you do about it?  

I must admit it’s not an easy reconfiguration to make. However, my university class is challenging me: what belief does that discomfort stem from? What is the deep-down need that is being jeopardized?

Ouch! For me, I realized that I was taught: work, before play; you can go out once you’ve done your chores; you have to clean your room before you can go and play.  

Do any of these sound familiar to you?

Good work ethic, but is it always realistic, to keep everything in order, structured, under control? No, it would perhaps be healthier to learn to accept that I can’t always be in control, that there’s a time for everything.  

Upon deeper thought, I realized that that work ethic was instilled in me at a time that it equated acceptance and love, and a sense of security.

Yikes! Does that mean my OCD could stem from that?

Perhaps yes, perhaps not. I’m just saying our behaviors sometimes stem from a deeper belief that may not be entirely appropriate now that you’re an adult.

Does that mean anyone’s OCD stems from that?

Only they know that! Maslow’s pyramid of needs refer to physiological, security, love & belonging, self-esteem, fulfillment, and transcendence. Only they can know what need was at stake when they developed the automatic behavior, which instilled a foundational belief that would guide future action.

Final thought: when you’re getting all worked up from the visual chaos, you might want to ask yourself:

Why am I getting so worked up?  When did I start reacting like that? What is the underlying belief?

Maybe it’s time to let it go and be a little more realistic – and at the same time become a little easier to live or work with!   

Does your inner level of stress grow in proportion to the outer mess? How do you deal with it?

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Cheers, and keep learning!

Claire :o)

[Photo: Conrado/Shutterstock]

Three Questions & A Birthday

Why can’t I say Happy Anniversary when it is someone’s birthday?”, many an ESL student has asked me.

That’s a great question and one that merits a post about to explain the answer – especially since I just attended a very special birthday celebration for someone close who was celebrating 90 years (name withheld to protect the identity of the person in question. Don’t ask!)   

Here’s the deal. The definitions of the words will help us out.  

Question 1: What’s the difference between the words birthday and anniversary?

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, an anniversary is defined as: the annual recurrence of a date marking a notable event.

In English-language culture, this applies to notable event such as the following: the founding of a company, a wedding, a graduation, a natural disaster… however, it does not apply to a birthday! (Unless you want to say: Happy Anniversary of your birth!)  

A birthday, by definition, again according to the online Cambridge Dictionary is: the day that is exactly a year or number of years after a person was born.

So, if you want to wish someone well on the day they are born, the term that is used is birthday, not anniversary.

Question 2: Are there any other ways to say Happy Birthday?

Ah-ha! Another great question. You could say any of these:

  • Best wishes for the day!
  • Enjoy your day!
  • Have fun on your special day!
  • Many happy returns (British)!
  • May your day be filled with love, laughter and joy!

Of course, there are as many ways to wish someone a happy birthday as there are people. I won’t even try to list them here (just google Ways to say Happy Birthday for more).

Question 3: Are birthdays really that important?

I added this as the third question because the person who we celebrated this past week would have preferred us not to celebrate their special day, especially not talk about the number of years being celebrated.

My answer to this question is a resounding yes! Yes, yes, yes! Please celebrate your birthday and the birthday of those around you! A life is important, precious and unique. There is only one day in the entire year dedicated to celebrating the presence of that person on this planet and in your life.

Each person arrives in our existence for a reason. Yes, I believe that those skeptics and cynics may smirk and scoff. What reason you may ask? There is no one-size fits all answer.

The answers to that precise question lies in what makes you so incredibly unique. Your contribution, albeit by your mere presence in the lives of those around you are what make celebrating your existence so essential.

  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your special abilities?
  • What are your talents?
  • What makes you laugh?
  • What moves you to tears?
  • What kind of music makes you want to get up and dance?

Your contribution, albeit by your mere presence, in the lives of those around you are what make celebrating your existence so essential. The number of years is inconsequential to your specialness.

I’ll leave the final point to Dr. Seuss, who always knows how to say things so eloquently!

It basically comes down to the fact that celebrating your birthday is a day to honour you, not your achievements or non-achievements, that you are, not what you are or aren’t.

Thanks for dropping in to read. What do you think: Why are birthdays important to you? Or are they? I’d love to hear what the youer-than-you has to say!

Cheers, and keep on learning!

Claire :o)

How can grammar improve your summer work experience?

My students wandered in — late, fewer than usual, not as bright and bouncy as usual, but faithful to their weekly summer English class.

“What are the advantages to working during the summer?”, I asked them, perhaps a little precociously. They looked at me like I was out of my mind, so I explained.

“This is the first time in 15 years I’m working during the summer. As a schoolteacher, I usually have the summer off”. They leant in. I continued.

“So, I was thinking about it the other day and was thinking about what was positive about working while others are on vacation”.

I listed as an example, socializing with colleagues, having fun listening to music or playing games while learning, having an extra reason to get up and get dressed in the morning…

The two answers they gave me were a) money and b) there are no positive sides to working during the summer.

Oh boy! Back to the title of the article: how can grammar improve your summer work experience?

What about a little lesson in modals? Let’s take the three-letter modal: can.

What can you do?

I agree, it’s no fun when you have to pick up after your colleague who’s gone to Italy for two weeks, or have lunch in a cafeteria that’s quieter than usual, or go the coffee machine and realize you’re standing there alone instead of having a great conversation about cars, the kids or your latest purchases at Costco.

But on the other hand, if you look a little closer there may be some perks to working in semi-isolation:

You can concentrate more, you can get to know a new colleague or two you hadn’t noticed before, you can catch up (WOW! Yes!), you can find a new way to do things, you can enjoy your lunch outside, and the list goes on.

What do you think? What do you find you can do during the slower summer months that the frantic pace of the fall-winter season would never allow?  

Cheers, and keep learning!

Claire :o)