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]

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]

When saying good-bye is hard to do

There must be around ten people who have left the company lately‘, complained one of my students this week, as he went on to admit that he found it hard.  

As I asked questions, his colleague joined the conversation and I could feel the turmoil, questioning and well, sadness at the state of affairs.

Although we all agreed that employee movement is a regular occurrence at work, saying good-bye to a well-appreciated team-mate and fellow employee is never easy.

Memories of shared jokes, frustrations and achievements accomplished together add to the bittersweet nature of the event. On the one hand, you’re happy for the colleague who is embarking on a new professional adventure, yet on the other hand, their absence will be sorely missed.

New employees will come in with fresh ideas, different points of view and alternate ways to do things. A period of transition may affect the morale and productivity of the team.

Back home, I was working on translating a guide to grief. I couldn’t help but notice the parallels. I thought I’d share a few thoughts on navigating the post-departure phase of a friend and colleague.

Departures, much like death, are a fact of life.  Each employee, as each person revolving around a lost family member, had their own personal relationship with the co-worker, so each employee will therefore react differently to the loss. It’s important and normal to feel sad, just like in any grieving process.

Commemorating the event is a humane and essential way to mark the start of a new phase of life for the departing employee, but also the employees who are remaining at the job. 

  1. Take time to share ideas on how to best symbolize the departure of the employee. This will permit a variety of points of view that will reflect the different ways the departing colleague left their mark at their workplace.
  2. Allow people who wish to make a special homage or write a special message in a collective card to do it so they can express their feelings in a personal way.
  3. Remind colleagues that it’s normal and okay to talk about the person who has left in the days and weeks that follow. Obviously, the essential thing is that it doesn’t affect their work.
  4. Lastly, no-one knows what challenges a fellow employee is dealing with both at home and at work. A departure can be the straw that breaks the camels back, that triggers existential questioning and perhaps even bouts of anxiety and depression. In that case, it is important to ask the RH department for advice on employee help services.  

In case you were wondering if I know what I’m talking about, I myself had to say good-by to one of my favourite colleagues ever just last week over dinner and drinks. It was sad, but I’m happy for her considering she is going to take on a wonderful new opportunity in a new city with her beau. I’ll miss her for sure, but I’m already on the look out for new colleagues to develop close relationships with – not to replace her (no-one can do that!) – but just to enhance the workplace feels.

A departure needn’t disrupt workplace harmony and well-being. It can be an event that ushers in new possibilities and horizons. 

How have you coped with the departure of a colleague friend? What worked best for you? Share it in the Comments section below!

Cheers to you Charlie, and keep learning!

Claire :O)

Teachers, you lead your students, but do you lead yourself, too?

Brené Brown defines a leader as one who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes and has the courage to develop that potential (Dare to Lead, Random House, NY, 2018, p. 4).

That is what you, as a teacher, do every day. In and out of the classroom, during school hours and after, when the course is running or not, in front of students or away from them. It is inherent in your genetic make-up.

You just can’t get away from it: you care.  

You spend hours poring over material, lesson plans, tests and report cards – and even more hours wondering how your students are doing, hoping they are okay, trying to figure out ways to reach them and help them understand and to know you have their best interests at heart.

You can’t help it: you care.

You do your best to meet ministerial requirements, parental demands, administrative conditions and colleague criteria. You go out of your way to keep up to date, to adapt and adjust despite seasonal illnesses, emotional upsets, physiological trials and relational challenges.

You have no choice: you care.

Your determination is greater than your circumstances, your commitment stronger than your frustration and your calling more sacred than the beckoning pleasures.

No two ways about it: you care.

However, you spend a lot of time caring for others so they can reach their potential, but have you thought about how you’re going to lead and care for yourself this year?

Sharing is caring. Let the community know below. We’ll all be better for it!

Cheers!

– Claire xx

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