Be the change – part 2: Go out and vote!

My Vote

Tomorrow – Monday, October 27, 2014 – is election day in Toronto, Brampton, London, Barrie, Ottawa and pretty much every other city and town in Ontario.

It’s a day many have been waiting for. Will the soap opera of the Ford reign come to an end? I don’t have to provide a hyperlink on this one. Everyone in the world knows what I mean!

Will Brampton see a change in leadership with Mayor Susan Fennell caught in quite the spending scandal? What is it that they say? Fool me once, it’s your fault. Fool me twice, it’s mine. Fool me a possible 200+ times?

After 36 years of being mayor of Mississauga, who will replace the unstoppable Hazel McCallion, now retiring at the age of 93? Talk about persistence and determination (and being blessed with good health)!

These are only some of the questions that will be answered tomorrow, and for those of us in Ontario, we can be part of what exactly those answers turn out to be. All we have to do is go out and vote! It’s one of the easiest ways we can have our say and be the change, choosing leaders we feel have the best plan, attitude and interests of our city/town at heart.

Being a political nerd, I’ve had many debates with many people about politicians, political parties and elections. I know how easy it is to become disengaged, apathetic and desensitized by politicians who get involved in scandals and demonstrate a lack of accountability and integrity. I also know that if we don’t vote, we give up our voice, our choice. Why complain when things aren’t working out?

Voting is one of our most fundamental democratic rights. In many parts of the world, we have seen people risk their lives, and sadly, lose their lives, to gain the right to vote. We have seen people on the news who are willing to die for the right to vote – to have a say! Many of us will not know or cannot fathom what it’s like to live in such a place of desperation, because we don’t have to. Because people before us fought for that right, preserved that right. All we have to do is take our voter registration card to our nearest voting station and exercise our right.

If you don’t know who to vote for, check out your city or town’s website. It will have a section dedicated to voting, a list of candidates and more information about them, and places and times you can vote.

If you need more reasons on why you should vote, Elections Canada has compiled a simple list on its website.

May the best candidates win!

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Be the change – part 1

Yesterday, all eyes were on Canada as we watched the shocking attack that took place on our nation’s capital. We had never before experienced something of this magnitude on Canadian soil, and for many of us, it was simply surreal.

It’s too early to know what the full impact of yesterday’s events will have on our nation; though, it feels like something has changed. Like we have arrived at a crossroads of sorts. Do we choose to live in fear? Do we allow ourselves to be intimidated? Do we give up certain freedoms to be safe?

I work in downtown Toronto, each day travelling to Canada’s largest city by commuter train into Union Station, the busiest public transit hub in Canada. Do I worry for my safety? Should I be anxious about who I’m sitting or standing beside? I feel safer seeing law enforcement and extra security on the streets and in our subways, but do we want this to be our new, permanent reality?

I know I’m not alone in asking these questions.

CN Tower - TO

View of CN Tower in downtown Toronto.

How we choose to react, in the aftermath of yesterday’s events, as a nation, and as individuals privileged to live in our great country, will undoubtedly alter the fabric of our nation, for better or worse.

What I know is that I don’t want what happened yesterday to make us forget that there is good in our country and in our world.

I don’t want us to forget that we can also do our part to be part of that good.

The late author and poet Maya Angelou once said,

“Someday we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally into you.”

Every word of appreciation we say, every word of encouragement we speak, every word of comfort we bestow adds to the good of our world, even in times of upheaval and uncertainty. I’d say even more so in these times.

This morning, as part of my organization’s United Way campaign launch, a young man came in to speak to us about the impact the United Way has had on his family. He described the sudden horrific health emergency his mother experienced 20 years ago, and how in an instant, his life as a 10-year-old was turned upside down. He then went on to tell us, with tremendous appreciation, about the incredible support his family received from numerous United Way partner organizations that were funded by donations from people like you and me. On this somewhat somber-feeling day, this young man’s story reminded me that it doesn’t take much for any of us to make a positive difference in someone’s life.

I leave you with a video of 7-year-old Caiden Perez, whose story I heard about on Toronto’s G98.7 radio station during its daily morning feature called “Feel Good Moment of the Day”. The “Feel Good Moment of the Day” is G98.7’s way of sharing positive and inspiring stories amidst the seemingly non-stop flow of fear- and stress-inducing news and information we see in the media each day. Let this video be a small reminder that good is alive and well in the world.

Express yourself: What a recurring dream about dirty public bathrooms was trying to tell me

For years I had been having a similar recurring dream.

I would enter a public bathroom and there would be rows and rows of stalls as if I were in a maze. Yet despite how many stalls there were and how many I opened, I just couldn’t find a clean one. And I had to go!

Each time I had this dream, I would wake up scratching my head, wondering what the hell this dream was trying to tell me. It obviously had to be something, because why would I be dreaming the same thing over and over again?

I was seeing a life coach in 2011. And in one of our sessions, the topic of dreams came up. My life coach explained to me that dreams is the unconscious’ way of communicating with us (very Carl Jung!). I told her about my recurring dirty bathroom dream and she laughed. Not what I expected, but she went on to tell me that it was a common recurring dream that had a very simple meaning: I was struggling to express myself. I needed a very specific environment in which I felt safe enough to express. Interesting.

I thought about it for a few seconds. I wasn’t too sure what she was talking about. I had always been very opinionated with my family and friends, so I wasn’t quite sure that was it.

My life coach pointed out that yes, from what she gathered, I was opinionated on many topics, but she questioned how I handled the hard stuff. I.e., the stuff that requires courageous conversations. The stuff that requires vulnerability. Eeeeek!

I had always thought of vulnerability as weakness. I didn’t like feeling mushy much. The thought of any conversation where tears could happen gave me nausea.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that my life coach was right. I had taken detours to avoid conversations that required courage and emotion (other than anger – I was pretty OK with anger!).

I didn’t really know how I was going to tackle what I had just learned.

I started out with one courageous conversation with one of my closest friends about how I felt our friendship had changed and the impact it was having on me. When I saw that the conversation, (as uncomfortable and difficult as it felt for both of us), cleared the air between us and transformed our friendship for the better, I knew I could do it again. And I did. Over and over again.

Over and over again turned into being able and OK to cry in front of people without shame or fear and even an improv class earlier this year!

I’ve learned that vulnerability is an incredibly powerful, freeing and beautiful thing, and I can’t see my life or living a life of integrity without it.

American scholar and research professor Brené Brown sums up the power of vulnerability and courageous conversations in this clip:

You may be wondering whether I still have the dream. Well, I do still. Except there’s one big plot change: I no longer have trouble finding a place to “go”.

If you’re interested in hearing more from Brené Brown, her 2010 TEDx Houston talk on vulnerability is a must-see. It’s a bit long, but totally worth it!

Gremlin, gremlin go away!

Gremlin! No – not the furry 1980s’ type. That one’s a bit too cute for what I’m talking about.

With Halloween not far off, this gremlin is far more sinister.

Gremlin

The gremlin I speak of can reek of fear, doubt and disbelief.

It can paralyze, confuse, rob and creep.

It can cause you to question the core of who you are.

It can stifle your creativity and keep you small.

It can hold you back from the dreams you seek, but…

Only if you let it.

See, this gremlin has no power except that which we allow it to have.

And it’s within us that we each have the strength to take the reins back.

Get to know your gremlin.

Understand how it works, why it says what it says, when comes most alive to gloat.

With your new-found knowledge, it’ll retreat to its bed.

And yes, it’ll awaken to test you time and again.

Each time it does, you’ll learn and you’ll grow.

It’ll learn of your power, awesomeness and soul.

Until that day it realizes you’re now the master of it. Ha!

Note: I heard of the term “gremlin” from friends who read Rick Carson’s Taming your Gremlin and A Master Class in Gremlin-Taming books several years ago. The term has since stuck with me, and I use it as a label for my inner critic, doubter and fear-monger-er. I’ve also heard the term “boogeyman” used and fellow blogger Alexis Odd used the word “spider” in a recent post.

The shiniest silver lining in the darkest cloud

Cloud with silver lining

Nanie passed away at age 87 at home just after midnight on a Friday in December.

Just hours before, I held her hand, kissed her and said “I love you” before turning in to bed. My usual ritual with her was to say “See you tomorrow” – I skipped that part that night. I think it was because I knew there wouldn’t be one.

Mom came to my bedroom to wake me up and tell me the news. She was holding up very well despite having been present as her mother took her last breath just moments before.

I stood in the doorway of Nanie’s room, watching her so peaceful on her bed. I knew 17 years ago when she came to live with us from Guyana that this day would come. It was one I had dreaded and now it was reality.

Nanie had had a difficult month. It was exactly a month to the day that we had to rush her to the ER. She was having trouble breathing. She had suffered two strokes in the past and had a number of other health problems that she always bounced back from. We all knew this time was different.

When daybreak came, I drove myself to the train station and got on the train to Toronto’s Union Station, all the while feeling a certain heaviness in my chest. I couldn’t manage to stay home that morning. I needed to leave and work of all places was my destination.

I walked into my office and sat down at my desk. I don’t even remember if I put on the computer or not. One-by-one my coworkers came by to offer their condolences. I had sent them a message earlier in the morning to let them know what had happened.

As I opened my mouth to say something, the tears began to flow. One particular coworker held my hand and just sat with me as I cried.

When I was finally able to speak, I was caught off-guard by what I had begun to say. I was feeling sadness and grief, but my words were saying something different. I was feeling terribly sad that Nanie was no longer with us – that I would no longer be able to have a conversation with her or see her smile, but in that last moment we shared together was a most beautiful, priceless gift:

I got to say goodbye.

This was a woman with whom I had the opportunity to spend countless hours over the course of 17 years, just keeping each other’s company. She taught me about love and the special connection between hearts.

This was a woman who on top of the numerous health problems she faced, endured the passing of her husband and three of her children with faith and unparalleled calm. She taught me about strength and resilience.

This was a woman who had 14 children, 36 grandchildren (and lots and lots of great-grandchildren and even a few great-great-grandchildren), and when asked who was her favourite in each category, would simply laugh and respond each time, “I love you all the same.” She taught me about family and fairness.

She had a smile that was contagious. Gentleness and generosity in spades. A heart that was full of so much love. She taught me that old people are cute and precious.

You see, my tears that day and in the days and weeks that followed were about so much more than just sadness and grief. They were most about gratitude – an overwhelming feeling of “WOW! I had the opportunity to live in her presence.”

The lessons Nanie taught us, the example she left, her love that still lives within all of us: My family is truly blessed. And for this, I am so, so thankful.

Nanie

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. What are you thankful for?

Accountability: So much more than just ‘I’m sorry’

Dr.Seuss

The term “accountability” is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as:

“the quality or state of being accountable; especially : an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions”

If you’re a fellow Canadian, you’ve become accustomed to taking responsibility for everything that happens to everyone. The other day, I was getting off a train when one man bumped into another. Guess who, without any hesitation, apologized? Yes, as you suspect, the bumpee apologized to the bumper!

Shaking my head, I couldn’t help but laugh, having been that nonsensical apologizing bumpee more than a few times. We Canadians sure know how to overapologize, don’t we? I think it’s part of our constitution, eh?

Accountability, though as humourously and misguidedly illustrated above, is actually an incredibly powerful term, which “I’m sorry” simply doesn’t do justice to. Corporately, it’s way too often referred to in the punitive sense, which only serves to make everyone in a room cringe in fear that they’re about to take blame for some major misstep.

While yes, accountability is very much about taking responsibility for our part in something that goes wrong, it’s also about taking responsibility for our part in something that goes right. That part for some reason seems more difficult to grasp, and probably because the word, for the most part, tends to be thrown out when things are going downhill.

I like to take another, more encouraging view of accountability:

Accountability and more specifically “personal accountability” is one of the most empowering concepts around. It’s a mindset, and it’s about ownership – of self: our choices, our actions, and the resulting outcomes we find ourselves in (negative and positive). It’s recognizing the incredible power we have to create the lives we want and to course-correct what we don’t want.

Yes, personal accountability as a mindset does mean the stakes are higher, but then so too are the rewards. Yes, it means that when we fail – and it’s OK, we all will some time or another – we accept our role in it. We get back up. We learn. We adapt. We move forward. And when we succeed – that no doubt will happen too – how great is it that we can accept responsibility for the choices and actions we made that led to that success?

Food for thought.

Aligning words and actions: A how-to and a short story – the story comes first

footsteps

I have a confession to make. I am a recovering Coca-Cola addict.

For years, I’ve been talking about quitting. When I was in high school, I drank at least a can a day, every day. Yikes! As a health-conscious person, I feel unhealthy (and slightly ashamed) just thinking about it.

It’s been a number of years since I graduated high school, and I got myself down to 3-4 Cokes a week, which I think is still too much. Each New Year’s that’s gone by, “quitting Coke” has been at the top of my resolutions list. I would talk, and talk and talk about it, but actually doing it? Not so much.

I’ve been attending regular boot camp classes for the last five years (yes, I know, I must be slightly insane) and drinking the stuff just contradicts a whole lot of good, hard work. Add to that, feeling gross, like I’m inviting diabetes with each sip, and most of all, hypocritical and a whole lot disappointed for going back on my word.

At the time of this post, I am proud to say that I am 17 days Coke-free. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but for someone who has tried and failed in this pursuit way more than I care to count (I lost track), each day that goes by is a small victory. One day, the sum of those small victories will amount to a big victory.

We all have habits, patterns and behaviours that we would like to change. Things that we’ve said time and time again that we’re going to change, that we commit to changing, that we begin changing only to find ourselves back at square one and feeling like a failure and like we’ve let ourselves down.

The Coca-Cola example is a relatively small one. I would argue that aligning words (what we say we want to do) and actions (what we actually do) begins with the small things. It’s only when we learn to practice alignment with the little things in our day-to-day lives that we can tackle the bigger things and then really big things with more confidence and fortitude.

Aligning words and actions has been the most challenging practice I have taken on to date. It’s messy. It takes time. And sometimes (OK, maybe more than sometimes), I’ve been left wondering why the hell I’m doing what I’m doing when the words were all there and clear.

So why take on this practice if it’s such a challenge? Simple. It’s the practice that has given me a greater sense of accomplishment than any other. I feel good and strong and proud when I succeed, and I want to see others experience the same.

From my own experience, here are some pointers on how you can better achieve alignment of words and actions:

1. Remind yourself of what’s important to you.

This is a good time to take a step back and ground yourself in your values, so you know what it is you’re intending to achieve.

2. Ask yourself what causes you to slip back into old ways.

This is a tricky one, because many times, the reasons are purely unconscious. It’s an opportunity to deepen your self-awareness on your beliefs about yourself and the world around you. There are many great authors, bloggers and websites that provide advice on how to uncover the things that lie beneath (check out “Martha Beck’s 3-Step Plan to Defeat Self Sabotage” from the February 2014 issue of O Magazine and “Beating Self-Sabotage” by MindTools). Oftentimes, answering the “why” can be like discovering a new land with opportunity beyond what we previously imagined.

3. Recognize that it takes time to change.

I said this earlier, and I can’t say it enough: Change. Takes. Time. Bold and italics were used for overemphasis. We humans are complex. We are creatures of habit. There will likely be many false starts and sudden stops. Be compassionate with yourself as if you were supporting a friend going through the same process. Chastising yourself is a no-no.

4. Set yourself up for success.

Anyone else out there like to do too much, too soon? *both hands shoot straight up* How does that work out for you? Other than the very few occasions where the stars aligned (that pun was so not intended), I know I can say for myself with all honesty, not so well. Recognize and accept that effective, sustainable change is a step-by-step process. Treat it like you would climb a ladder, one rung at a time, being aware of your surroundings and how you feel, and moving up to the next rung only when you’re ready. One day you will reach the top.

As a side note: I have unfriended New Year’s resolutions. They are a recipe for failure. Other than a change of calendar year and freezing cold weather, January 1 doesn’t mean a thing. It will take as long as it takes. Just trust the process and yourself.

5. Celebrate your success.

Recognize and appreciate how far you’ve come with each step you take. You are that much closer to alignment and that is reason to celebrate. We are all too often our own worst critic that we forget we can more appropriately be our own best cheerleader. That was corny, I know. You get the point.

With each habit we kick or pattern we redirect, we learn that we have it within ourselves to do what we say. It becomes a muscle that gets stronger each time we exercise it. We respect and trust ourselves more. We become bolder. And sooner or later, other people notice and want to get in on the action.

Values: Your personal blueprint

values

What’s most important to you?

Knowing what our values are helps us to create a blueprint for the kinds of relationships and experiences we choose to have, and ultimately, how we live our lives.

When we think about what’s most important to us, many of us will pretty quickly rhyme off such things as love, family, honesty and so on. Beyond these, we may need to do a bit more soul-searching and reflection.

Here’s one exercise that may help you gain some insight:

1. Make a list of some key, memorable experiences you’ve had.

You will want to choose experiences from your life that really stick out – events and interactions that had a real impact and roused emotion. For the purposes of this exercise, pick five to 10 experiences.

2. For each experience, reflect on what was positive or negative about the experience.

You may want to ask yourself such things as:

  • What worked for me in this experience?
  • What didn’t I like about it?
  • What excited me?
  • What frustrated me about what happened?

The purpose here is to understand the impact the experience had on you.

3. Identify patterns.

This is where you’ll begin to see your values come into focus. Take a look at your responses and circle any similarities that you see. For example, you may notice that in many of your experiences the theme of “helping others” emerged and so “contribution” could be one of your values. If you’re having difficulty identifying patterns, jot down a few more experiences and go through the reflection questions again. Sometimes finding the right word to define a value can also be challenging. Here’s a list of 400 Value Words from blogger and leadership coach Barrie Davenport that may help.

4. Make a list of your values.

Now you have a clearer idea of what’s most important to you. Prioritize your list, and make it visible and accessible to you as a reminder in all that you do. If you find yourself in a situation with alarm bells going off, don’t be surprised that you may be, based on our values, off course. Use your list to make decisions to get back on track.

With our values now defined, we can make decisions more confidently and with clarity, and we’ll have better insight into what situations to stay away from, while saving ourselves from needless suffering. Instead, we can live our lives knowing what we stand for and create fulfilling experiences. That’s a powerful thing!

An inside-out job

integrity

Three years ago, my director arranged for me to have some one-on-one coaching with a leadership coach to learn more about how to effectively lead without a manager’s title.

The leadership coach, Cynthia Barlow (who has now become a friend and one of my biggest supporters) asked me a pointed question as part of the “getting-to-know you” part of our session:

“What do you want most?”

I took a few seconds to let this question sink in and almost immediately my body began shifting towards a sense of ease as if I had been waiting forever for someone to ask me this very question, so that I could answer:

“Authenticity. That’s what I want most. I just want to be me.”

What happened for me that day – in that moment – was that I became fully committed to what I call “an inside-out job”. In that moment, I committed to being done with everyone else’s expectations of me, with staying quiet and not speaking up, with allowing myself to live small – saying I wanted A, B and C out of life and instead doing X, Y and Z just so I could shrink into the back of the room and not be seen.

You see, until that point, I had lived a lot of my life acquiescing to others, and I hadn’t a clue as to who I was and what I stood for. I saw myself as wishy-washy and without a backbone.

Then that question came along and just as I had made a commitment about what I was done with, I made a commitment to what I was ready for.

What I have learned in the past three years is that living with integrity, or at least my recipe for it consists of:

  • Defining values – what’s important
  • Words and actions that align
  • Accountability
  • Managing the inner “gremlin”

Over the next several posts, I will explore each of these ingredients in greater detail.

If you’re looking for a more formal definition of the word “integrity” than the swanky (ehem self-made) visual at the beginning of this post, I came across an excellent blog post “The Source of Integrity” from leadership coach and consultant Lolly Daskal via Twitter that does so very articulately. You may also want to check out this short video from motivational speaker Sam Spry: