Opportunity, or just an opening?

There’s a difference between an opportunity and an opening.

While pondering a change of employment lately, I realized these three things:

An opportunity pushes you to grow.

An opening just lets you continue being as you are.

An opportunity pushes you to do new things.

An opening just lets you continue doing the same-old tasks and projects.

An opportunity pushes you to take risks.

An opening just lets you play safe.

Either way, whether you choose to pursue the opportunity or the opening, there will be stress. Stress is an inevitable part of life – in fact it is proof of life. Living means moving and adapting. Moving and adapting means change. Change means stress. So, in terms of stress, you have no choice. A stress-free life simple doesn’t exist. 

However, you can choose the source of your stress. Personally, I’d rather have to handle the stress of taking risks and trying new things that will contribute to reaffirming the person I am becoming, as opposed to coping with the stress of having to face the same challenges I faced as a former self. It would be counterproductive to my personal development. Kind of like doing high school all over again!  

Did I leave my job then? No, for two reasons. First of all, my current position offers me new challenges continuously as the adults I teach present me with an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of needs and situations.

Secondly, my job leaves me time to pursue post-grad courses in leadership development and collective innovation.  

What about you? What key differences do you see between an opportunity and an opening? I’m intrigued to hear them. Drop me a line in the Comments section to tell me about it.  

Till then,

Keep learning!

Claire :O)

[Photo Credit: Avi Naim/Unsplash]

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]

From Arrested Development to Attested Development: 3 Simple Ways to Get Back on Track

“You come to the gym more than the average member”, the gym employee commented.

“Wow! Really? Thanks for the encouragement!”, I responded, feeling dissatisfied with myself all the same.   

“I guess the problem”, I thought, as I drove home,” is that I’m not seeing any progress”. In fact, after a very cold winter which made venturing out in the dark after dinner even less motivating, and a busy schedule that just kind of crowded out the time to go the gym, I feel like I’ve arrived at summer in a stodgier and heavier state than in previous years.

In fact, I like I’ve hit a state of arrested development. I’ve plateaued. So, what to do about it?

A video I saw recently came to mind. Angela Duckworth, a world expert in the area of grit, was giving a conference on deliberate practice.

She explained the following theory:

Talent X Effort = Skill 

                                             Skill X Effort = Achievement

What does that mean? If you have talent and make no effort, you won’t develop skill. For example, if you have a talent for music, but don’t practice, you won’t develop any skill. Also, even if you do have skill, you won’t achieve new heights unless you keep making an effort to develop that skill. You just won’t get to that state of attested development!

Okay, so to go back to my initial question: what do you do when you hit that plane of no progress?

The answer, according to Angela Duckworth, is simple: deliberate practice*. It’s the only way to break the curse of the flatline; you’ve just got to get up and get going! If you don’t practice speaking, you won’t make any progress. If I don’t go to the gym, I’ll become more and more passive.  

Here’s Angela’s advice:

#1.  Set your goals.

What are your goals? Be specific. Do you want to learn 5 new words this week? Do I want to go to the gym 4 times this week instead of 3? Whatever, the case, make sure your goals are challenging, too. If you consistently practice and make an effort, you will still hit that flatline. You need to intentionally increase that goal just a bit, so that it is just that bit further or more. Do you see what’s happening? You’re making progress.  

#2. Find your focus.  

When you are 100% focused, you’re engaged. You’re not doing anything else but working on developing a specific skill. Set aside 15 minutes of time alone to read an article in English or watch a short video. In my case of exercise, scheduling in time for specific workouts ensure that I am setting aside time when I am completely immersed in my physical activity. I can’t be doing anything- else! Picture being on a stationary bicycle and checking your social media on your phone, to get the idea! Whatever you’re working on, concentrate on that body, soul and spirit!  

#3. Get your feedback.

Ah, feedback. Correction. Yes, like you, I see a frowning parent, a nagging teacher, a never-satisfied coach. Maybe that was then, but this is now. Choose a friend or colleague (or in my case, a coach at the gym) to nudge you along and let you know how you can be just that little bit better. Would the Saint- Louis Blues have won the Stanley Cup this weekend without the guidance of Craig Bérubé? Would the Raptors have grabbed the NBA championship title without Nick Nurse advising them all season long?  

This week’s going to be a great week. I’ve got some objectives (specific and challenging), I’ve blocked off time (three of them to be exact!) and I’m going to enlist the aid of a personal trainer (at least for a consultation to begin with!)

How about you? What are your secrets to keeping off the arrested development plateau? – Claire :o)

*https://www.coursera.org/lecture/positive-psychology-project/3-3-deliberate-practice-fhwtq

Need a shot of chutzpah?

I’m thinking I sure do!

Chutzpah is that zingy Hebrew word that means gall, effrontery and sometimes outrageous audacity. It’s the stuff that entrepreneurs, politicians and every-day go-getters have loads of.

What does it look like? How about not taking no for an answer, daring to ask why when everyone else is frozen in stunned silence or anxious passivity, or thinking ‘what the hell, why not?’ and jumping into a situation without any guarantee of the results – but being without-a-shadow-of-a-doubt sure of what you’re aiming for. 

Chutzpah is just one of the concepts illustrated in the numerous stories of entrepreneurial success described in the book Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, by Dan Senor and Saul Singer (M&S, 2009). The tour guide on my recent trip to Israel and Jordan highly recommended it as a resource for getting a better grasp of the innovative Israeli mindset and culture.

He was so right. Not only is it enlightening, but it is inspiring. Wix, Waze, Teva… these are just three examples of Israeli start-ups. When considering the fact that Israel boasts the highest per-capita density of start-ups in the world, you can’t but help be intrigued by the success of this New-Jersey sized newborn state.

So how does chutzpah play out? What can a language teacher or student learn from it?

#1. Chutzpah means asking questions.

Senor and Singer explain that Israelis learn from the get-go that ‘assertiveness is the norm, reticence something that risks your being left behind’ (p. 31). This means that whether it be at home, school, in business or the army, they are taught to ask questions.

To me, the practical application is a gentle reminder to forget being shy and speak up when a question is warranted. What do you want? What do you need to know? Ask. Don’t be shy!

#2. Chutzpah means taking the initiative.

Soldiers in the Israeli military are trained to act with the understanding that all performance is value-neutral, meaning that whether positive or negative outcomes are treated equally. The priority is to learn from the ‘errors’ and to take risks intelligently.

So, speaking up in class, possibly making all kinds of syntactic errors is no big deal. What can you learn from it? Or, as a teacher – or writer, trying out a new activity or form of writing and seeing it fall flat, does not mean you are not made to be a teacher or writer, but that you have something to learn. Learn from it and do better next time!

#3. Chutzpah means arguing when necessary.

 Four guys are standing on a street corner…

An American, a Russian, A Chinese man, and an Israeli…

A reporter comes up to the group and says to them:

‘Excuse me… What’s your opinion on the meat shortage?’

The American says: What’s a shortage?

The Russian says: What’s meat?

The Chinese man says: What’s an opinion?

The Israeli says: What’s ‘Excuse me’?

  • Mike Leigh, Two Thousand Years (p. 23, Senor & Singer)

That Israeli guy had some chutzpah! And you know that a debate probably ensued. That guy was ready to defend his opinion.

Elsewhere, the authors of Start-Up Nation quip that when you have two Israelis, you are most likely to have three opinions! My own personal thought when I was in Israel, upon observing the way questions were asked and debating was welcomed, “It’s no wonder there are so many Jewish lawyers and business-men!”

If you believe in your idea, either as student or teacher, defend it – calmly, logically and creatively. The entire class will benefit from the discussion!

Final Shot

I’ll leave the final thought with Alan Alda.

Nothing important was ever accomplished without chutzpah. Columbus had chutzpah. The signers of the Declaration of Independence had chutzpah. Don't ever aim doubt at yourself. Laugh at yourself, but don't doubt yourself. - Alan Alda

Shabbat Shalom! Have a great weekend! – Claire