An ESL Teacher in Quarantine

I didn’t see it coming. But then again, did anyone?

The topic of the Covid19 came up in class. Or rather, the topic of how the company would react, preparing an emergency plan of action if an employee was found to be infected.

We all thought it was perhaps exaggerated. We logged onto the WorldMeter site and looked at the statistics. We watched videos showing in 3D how the virus spreads. We listened to a doctor telling us there was nothing to worry about.

But the headlines became more serious. The news bulletins changed tone.   

Then, it became real. A corporate email invited employees to work from home.

Oh, wait a minute! What’s a class without students?

“Could you offer online classes to my students over the following three weeks?”, HR asked me. 

I didn’t feel ready. I was rather tempted by the idea of having three weeks off. In my imagination, I was already seeing the spring skiing, having time to read, taking my time to prepare new recipes…

HR spoke to me on Friday. On Saturday, I did spring cleaning to prepare for life at home. On Sunday, the ski center was closed. On Monday, I was gearing up to give classes online, the only way to ensure a) my livelihood and b) my mental health because I love my students! To me, they’re not just students, they’re people sharing this road on this part of my life’s journey!   

However, what surprised me the most was reason c) this is an amazing opportunity to try something new. Every crisis comes with the possibility for innovative creativity.

As Kenneth J. Gergen wrote in his book, An Invitation to Social Construction:

It’s time to let go of the old and let in the new. Even for an ESL teacher, like me. As the laws of natural selection state: if you don’t adapt, you won’t survive. 

I’m choosing to adapt. How about you? How are you adapting to the new reality imposed by the Covid19 pandemic? Let’s get a conversation going in the Comments section below.

Take care, stay healthy and keep learning!

Claire :O)

[Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash]

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]

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]

The Call of the Open Road

No, I don’t know what I am going to do next, but that doesn’t bother me. It’s time [to go].”

A friend and I were discussing her recent discussion to leave her job. She talked about the subsequent reactions from friends and colleagues: surprise, consternation and wonder, bordering on envy. She told me she was comfortable with taking some time for self-reflection before jumping immediately into another employment opportunity.

When she said that, I read her the following excerpt from the Leaves of Grass poem by Walt Whitman I had seen just this week in Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

I exist as I am, that is enough,

If no other in the world be aware I sit content,

And if each and all be aware I sit content.

One world is aware and by far the largest to me, and that is myself,

And whether I come to my own today or in ten thousand or ten million years,

I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness, I can wait.

I couldn’t help but think that Dewitt Jones, former photographer for National Geographic, would agree with the sentiment.  In his TEDx South Lake Tahoe talk of January 3 2018 entitled Celebrate What’s Right With The World, Jones eloquently reminds the audience and viewers through awe-inspiring photos and a skillfully crafted narrative, that there is a world of possibilities out there, and that there is more than one solution to the challenges we encounter.  

I especially liked the way he summarized his main point: “Change your lens, change your life.

My friend has changed her lens. Her life is about to change. Who knows what she’ll do next? Does you always have to know? Regardless, it’s her life, her choice. I’m convinced whatever she chooses, will line up with her values, beliefs and personality.

I wish her well; I can almost feel the waft of freedom and excitement on my face as I see her in my mind’s eye walking out the door of this life to embark on a new journey towards new horizons.   

Walt Whitman was a man who obviously knew something about the abundance of possibilities and the exhilaration of exploration and discovery. He expressed it well in his poem Song of the Open Road.

Afoot and light-hearted, I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me.

The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune – I myself am good fortune;

Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,

Strong and content, I travel the open road.

Safe travels, my friend, and keep learning!  

  • Claire :o)

[Photo Credit: Dominic Lelièvre, 2019.

Poem Leaves of Grass: Walt Whitman in Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life, 10th Anniversary Edition, Hyperion, NY, USA, 1994, p. 35.

TedxTalk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gD_1Eh6rqf8

Poem Song of the Open Road: https://www.bartleby.com/142/82.html]