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]

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)

ESL Mixologist: What’s the deal?

I am never just teaching an English class! I am on the lookout for new insights or epiphanies I may have while talking about vocab, grammar or functional language.

ESL Mixologist is all about my journey as an ESL teacher who just can’t get over the serendipitous glimpses into the parallel universe of philosophy while teaching language learners.

It is an endless source of amazement for me to see how a verb tenses reveal psychological realities (example: Are you living in the present continuous or the simple past?!); word meanings disclose unexpected portals into past civilizations and faraway existences (example: courage comes from the Latin word cor meaning heart, or as Brené Brown explains, telling one’s story whole-heartedly); and discussion topics (example: If you were a star, what would you ask for from the show organizers?) open the mind to whole new possibilities and dreams.    

Just as a savvy mixologist combines sweet, sour and alcohol to create daring new taste experiences, ESL Mixologist takes you inside my language teacher’s mind where I experiment with continually changing combinations of syntax, semantics and pragmatics, to gain insights into some of life’s more major questions.  

Syntax (Structure)

Language: According to Google dictionary, syntax is “the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language.

Life: How can I get my life better organized for optimal enjoyment?  How does this all work?

Semantics (Meaning)

Language: Secondly, semantics (quoting the Google dictionary), “involves the branch of linguistics or logic concerned with meaning.

Life: What is meaningful to me? What is really important? What does this experience mean?

Pragmatics (Use)

Language: Finally, pragmatics (from the Google dictionary again) is “the branch of linguistics dealing with language in use and the contexts in which it is used […] text organization, presupposition, and implicature.

Life: What should I do? How do I deal with this situation? What do I say?

I never thought that teaching ESL could be so stimulating. It is so much more than vocab lists and grammar rules, handouts and tests. For me, it’s all about teaching (and learning) to initiate and maintain connections. What could be more meaningful than that?

Cheers, and keep 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)