Friday, January 30, 2009


I was interviewed by the lovely Karmyn of Dreaming What Ifs...

#1 - You have been writing about living Fearlessly. What is the biggest obstacle you face to accomplish this?

Well, the most obvious answer to that would be “fear” is the biggest obstacle. But to get a little more specific, I think a lot of it has to do with self doubt. When I’m afraid to confront staff members, it’s mostly because I doubt whether I am blameless enough to have removed the log in my eye before addressing the speck in theirs. And I doubt whether I will offer as much grace as I need to. And I doubt whether I’m strong enough to handle their rejection and their calling out of my own flaws. When I’m afraid to try new things or take risks, it’s because I doubt my own abilities and I convince myself I will fail. When I’m afraid to take risks on new friendships, it’s because I doubt whether I’m an interesting enough person to make it worth their while. To be honest with you, I think self doubt is also a little about pride. I don’t want to tarnish my image by falling flat on my face. So this year is as much about challenging my own self perception (and recognizing how that gets in my way) as it is about fearlessness.

#2 - What is the most important lesson you wish to instill in your children about life?

There are a lot of things I want my children to learn, of course. One of my first responses to this kind of question is often “boldness”, but lately I’ve been thinking that integrity is more important than boldness. If they can live with integrity, being true to their values, true to themselves, and true to the global community, I will be happy. I think integrity is a pretty big word, because I think it also has elements of humility and servitude that are really important for each of us as global and community citizens. If I have to pick an area that I was particularly influenced by both of my parents, I think it would be integrity, so I just want to live in a way that passes that on.

#3 - If money were no object, where would you travel to?

Oh… there are SO many places I want to go. It’s always tough to narrow this one down. I’ve been lucky enough to already go to many of the places I’ve dreamed of, but there are still lots more. I just finished reading Honeymoon with my Brother (about 2 brothers who travel around the world after one of them is jilted at the alter), and it instilled a whole lot of new dreams in me and made me relive the really pleasant memories of backpacking in Europe with my sister (back in 1992 – can you believe we’re that old ccap?). One of the places that intrigues me (partly because I did a science fair project on it somewhere around grade 6, and more recently because of the book) is Brazil.

#4 - If you could meet any Leader, alive or dead, who would it be and why?

Hmmmm… This is another tough one. I’m trying to think of someone who wouldn’t intimidate me – who I could sit with in a congenial manner and have a really good inspiring conversation. I really hate those stilted conversations when you meet somebody who’s a celebrity or significant leader, and you just feel stupid and tongue-tied because you feel some pressure to be brilliant and live up to the moment. (In my past job, I met several big muckity-mucks like the 2 former Prime Ministers, Ken Follett and John Ralston Saul, and I didn’t enjoy it that much.) So my inclination is to pick someone who’s pretty down-to-earth. I think someone like Rosa Parks, who was just an ordinary person who made a decision one day that enough is enough. I am most inspired by ordinary people who make bold steps toward change. (I love the quote on this t-shirt.)

#5 - What is the one meal you cook that your family RAVES about?

Well my kids LOVE my homemade oven-baked mac ’n cheese. My husband is pretty tired of the mac ‘n cheese (as am I), but he loves my Thai noodle stirfry. (And if he reads this, he’ll probably beg me to make it for supper tonight.)

Thanks Karmyn!

Anyone else want to be interviewed? Leave a note in the comments, and send me your email address if I don't already have it.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The amazing technicolour dreamcoat and other photos

The jacket that spoke to me in Toronto... (My daughters' reaction? They prefer not to comment on the grounds that it may incriminate them. Let's just say it's not preteen fashion.)
Nicole's first band concert (that's her in the centre front with the clarinet in her mouth). Their band instructor is a miracle-worker who can make grade 7 first time musicians sound good, and grade 8 jazz musicians sound even better.
And this is just a teaser for the next fearless post...

The year of living with a camera in front of my face

My creation
After buying my new camera at Christmastime, I started trying new things and looking around for ideas to inspire me. One of things I decided to do was the 365 project on Flickr. Starting on January 13, I'm trying to take at least one picture per day for a year. Unfortunately, I picked a rather challenging time of year to start such a project, because the daylight hours are all when I'm at work, so most of my photography is limited to what I can capture without sunlight. And these days, even when we have sunlight, it so flippin' cold that you don't want to risk frostbite just to get a picture.

By about the third day, I was wondering "okay, so what am I going to take pictures of today?" There are only so many interesting things in my house, and the girls are growing weary of having a camera in front of their face every day. But I keep trying... and I keep longing for the Spring when things start to grow again. In the meantime, this experiment has already afforded me the opportunity to look at things from a new perspective - which is rather fun. (Have you ever laid down on the floor to take pictures of your daughter's feet?)

If you want to see what I've captured so far, go here. (I'm a couple of days behind with uploading - they're sitting on the camera waiting for me to have a.) time, and b.) a few moments when my kids aren't hogging the computer.) If you want to follow the journey, and you're a Flickr user, feel free to add me to your contacts list.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The year of living fearlessly - chapter 3

Just so you don't think I've mastered this fearlessness thing, I'm also going to try to post about the times when I don't feel fearless at all. Like today. There's some fallout or follow-through from the staff retreat over the weekend. Some people saw it as an invitation to open up old wounds to try to find healing for them. I'm not all that good at dealing with old wounds. Mostly I want to stick a bandaid over them and forget about them. But other people feel differently, and so I have to try to honour them.

Today I have a meeting that I'm not looking forward to. I suspect that some of it may be about the places where I've fallen short as a leader and probably even places where I've been the one to do the hurting. I don't want to hear about it. I just want to pretend everything is alright and move on into the future.

I've stolen a quote I found on Olivia's blog and printed it, along with her lovely dragon picture to hang on the wall beside my computer. I want to believe that the person who wants to confront me, a person whom I've sometimes let myself be intimidated by, is just a vulnerable soul like me.

"Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love."--Rainer Maria Rilke

And now I'm going to go for a walk and practice my apologies, my humility, and my boldness... "I'm sorry I hurt you." "I would like to ask you to address this directly next time, instead of letting it fester." "Please remember that we are all human and horribly fallible."
Update: The meeting is over. I am completely drained from the hard work of old wounds, fresh perspectives, other versions of truth, moving past the hurt, and living at peace with people whose world view is significantly different from one's own. Most of the hurts had not been inflicted by me, but as leader, I am at least somewhat implicated.
This "leading with integrity and boldness" thing? It's hard, HARD work.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The year of living fearlessly - Chapter 2

Note: My word for the year is "fearless". Throughout the year, I'm going to write periodic posts about my attempts to live a little more fearlessly. The introductory post and video can be seen here.
I fingered the silk patchwork jacket. My heart did a little pitter-patter in my chest. I wanted it. Badly. I’d often pictured myself wearing just such a garment. Colourful, eclectic, bohemian, artistic, bold, sassy – it said so many things about the wearer that I wanted to be able to say about myself.

I took a deep breath and checked the price. It was on sale. Less than half price. Almost what I could justify spending. Almost. But not quite. Still a little too much for our cash-strapped budget. Besides, did I really deserve something that extravagant? I left it on the rack and wandered the rest of the store, looking for something a little more affordable.

My feet kept taking me back to the clothing rack, however. Finally, after trying on rings, fingering scarves, and draping inexpensive bags over my shoulder, I took the jacket off the hanger. I had to at least try it on.

When I gazed at myself in the mirror, I knew I couldn’t leave the store without owning this jacket. In a few hours, I would fly home, and this would be my only chance. I needed to take it home. It spoke to me. It made me feel at least a little like the fearless and artistic woman I dreamed of being. “Don’t bother putting it in the bag,” I said to the cashier, “I’ll wear it. I have an important meeting to go to and I need a little boost.” And then I nearly skipped out of the store.

A few days later, packing for another trip – this time a little closer to home – I put the colourful jacket into my suitcase. It was a little dressy for the staff retreat I’d be attending, but I didn’t care. I needed the boost of colour and boldness.

I didn’t wear it for the first two days. Neither of those days called for bold, bohemian, or sassy. Neither of those days challenged my perception of myself quite as much as the third day – the day when everyone else would go home and leave me alone to lead my team through some difficult and possibly painful discussions. It was the day that would surely put my desire for fearlessness to the test.

In the morning, I went for breakfast in my new jacket. “That’s quite the jacket. Looks a little like Joseph,” said one of my staff members. “Yup,” I said, “it’s my coat of many colours.” “You remember what happened to Joseph, don’t you?” he chuckled. “Yes, he grew to be a bold and powerful leader,” I said, straightening my shoulders a little. “Yeah, but long before that, he got thrown in a pit. Let’s just say he had some road bumps along the way.”

Road bumps. Yes, that seemed appropriate. This was the day for road bumps. Possibly even the day that I’d get thrown in the pit.

Later that morning, as we prepared for the hard work of the day ahead, I glanced around the room. The tension was tangible – you could read it in the way people sat. None of us really wanted to be there. None of us trusted the other people in the room enough to believe that this day could have positive results. Though nobody was openly hostile, after years of treating each other with some measure of distrust and mild disdain, mixed in with a little unhealthy passive aggressiveness, we weren’t bringing our best efforts to the table anymore. To call us a “team” was generous – we were more like a dysfunctional “group” working on the same things but not really pulling together. I couldn’t help but wonder how much of that I had responsibility for, as their leader. There were definitely other factors – like remote staff spread across the country, unique and sometimes challenging personalities, gender biases, age biases, etc. – but in the wee hours of the morning, when I carried the weight of self-doubt, I wondered what I could have done differently these five years to turn this around.

When the facilitator passed the figurative baton to me, I swallowed a gulp of air, and wrapped the jacket a little tighter around my chest. “I’m not sure where to start,” I said, “but I’ve been doing a little thinking, and I need to tell you about that. I’ve been thinking we have a bunch of great people on the team, but I’ve also been thinking we’re really suffering, and we’re not doing nearly enough to support each other. We’re sabotaging each other, we’re not trusting each other, and we’re not taking risks together. We have to do something about it.”

For the next half hour, I took a bold and vulnerable step and laid my cards on the table. I told them about my personal doubt about being an effective leader. I told them of the many times somebody had come to me to tell me of the hurt they were suffering because of another member of the team. I told them of the times we’d fallen far short of our potential because we weren’t working together. I told them if we didn’t change, we would cease to be relevant.

When I ended, the room was silent. I looked around at the faces to see what they would feed back to me. Would there be hostility? Hurt? Withdrawal? I had no idea what to anticipate.

After a few brief comments, the facilitator encouraged us to take a coffee break. I longed to run back to the shelter of my room. Instead I sipped tea and tried to make small talk while avoiding people’s eyes.

When we returned to the meeting room, there was almost an audible collective sigh as people settled into their chairs a little more comfortably than before. One by one, they began to open up. “I’m glad you said the things you did. It’s hard to hear, but we need to hear it to move on.” “I’d like to acknowledge that I have been hurt and I know that I have hurt others, but I want to try harder.” “I wish we could work on a greater level of trust and respect.” “I could do better work if I knew my team-mates were behind me.”

Throughout the day, there continued to be a gradual softening in people’s posture and their words. There were gentle but difficult truths offered up. There were risks taken. There was respect offered. There was accountability and positive challenge. All of these things had been lacking in our meetings up until that point. So many times we’d sat with the elephant in the room, all of us afraid to speak of it.

At the end of the day, I returned to my room weary but full. Full of the goodness I’d seen in people I’d stopped caring for and stopped trusting. Full of the respect I’d been given when I put myself out there in a raw and honest way. Full of the new light I’d begun to see in people’s eyes.

As I removed my colourful jacket, I wondered, “is this how Joseph felt when he was rescued from the pit and began a journey that would see him rise to more powerful leadership than he could have imagined?”

Sunday, January 25, 2009

No excessive noise

I've had one of those weeks that will take longer to process than it did to live. A quick trip to Toronto, a few important meetings, a couple of back-to-back staff retreats that sort of melded into one, a few moments that tested my resolve to live fearlessly, even more moments that exceeded even my wildest hopes, some spaces for new and blossoming friendship, some pure unadulterated fun, some gifts, some disappointments, some moments of living with abandonment and joy, an evening of creativity, a crazy broomball game, and an even crazier evening of African dancing and drumming.

I'll be back here to tell you more, but for now, I feel like I need one of these signs posted on my life.

Friday, January 16, 2009


When I am feeling strong, I remind myself of the bold things that I have done, like jumping out of an airplane, taking on a major project that required tricky negotiations with foreign bureaucracies, quitting a secure government job for one with less pay but more passion, traveling to places where there are bedbugs and threats of war, and sending my writing out into the great unknown world of publishing.

When I am feeling weak, I remember the times when I have backed down from conflict, not reached out to a friend because I thought I might get rejected, watched other people get hurt without standing up to the bully, not taken chances with my writing and art, and let exciting opportunities pass me by because I was afraid I would fail.

Lately, I've been recognizing more and more often the many times that fear has stood in the way of opportunities. This year, I want to be a little more fearless.

When I am fearless...

(song by Martyn Joseph)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A moment of respite

(Alternate title: missing Michele while sipping chai latte at the Forks)
With the temperatures hovering around -40 Celsius (with the windchild factor) at least the ice castle won't melt.
(I took the day off to go with Maddie on her field trip to the Children's Museum and took a little extra time for myself at a favourite Winnipeg destination.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Found wanting

I want:
- Sand between my toes
- A hot bath
- A break from being a leader
- A good hair day
- A little less self-doubt
- A respite from the cold
- A new pair of shoes
- An empty in-box
- A resolution for a tough problem
- An hour in a bookstore
- Hands that don’t feel like sandpaper
- A hot water bottle that doesn’t leak
- A laundry genie
- A fresh mango
- A moment of inspiration
- A few carefree hours with some close friends
- A chai latte
- A warm hat
- A trip or event to look forward to
- A positive outcome to next week’s meeting
- An end to the basement renovations
- A handful of cashews

Monday, January 12, 2009

Where am I now?

This is a bit of a housecleaning random blog post. Just some thoughts that need to be cleared out with the cobwebs in my mind.

- I don’t have a lot of desire to blog anymore. I’m not sure what to do with it – give it up, or try to re-invent it. Or just take a hiatus. Now that I’m having such fun with my new camera, I’ve considered transforming it into more of a photo blog.

- I decided to write a book. And then I told you about it. And now I can’t seem to write anymore. Something is stopping me. I think it’s fear. And of course, the lack of time. But sometimes that’s just an excuse that’s masking fear.

- I’m facing some tough decisions at work. One in particular. The resolution is finally coming clear to me, but it’s a tough road to go down and I want to stomp my foot like a little child and say “No! You can’t make me go there! It’s much safer over here!” Once again, it’s probably fear that’s holding me back. Okay, it’s DEFINITELY fear.

- A while ago, I decided that I needed to reach out to more friends, because I just wasn’t giving enough attention to that area of my life and I was feeling a little lost. And unsupported. And distrustful. The past few days, I’ve had some wonderful conversations with friends – some new, some old. It is reminding me just how good it feels to be known and trusted. And to give someone some truth that you’ve protected. And then they honour it, caress it like they would your tiny baby, and give it back to you a little more beautiful than it was before.

- My oldest two daughters did a lovely thing for their three-year-old cousin. She loves videos and pictures of people that she loves (and, like any three-year-old, pictures of herself). They spent all evening making something special for her and it just fills me with such delight. I’ve never been close to my cousins, so when I see my kids bond with their cousins (like they did at Christmas, with those who don’t live close by), I get all warm and fuzzy.

- I started a yoga class on Saturday. It’s the first time I’m trying it, and I HATE being the new kid on the block (most of the people in the class are seasoned veterans), but despite that, I think I’m going to enjoy it. The nice thing about facing the “new kid on the block fear” is that once you’ve stared it down and done it anyway, you don’t have to go through it again, because before long, you’re one of those seasoned veterans.

- I’m working on a little project. About fear. (Are you sensing a theme here?) I’ll share it with you soon.

- Okay, maybe I’m not done blogging yet.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

I want a snow day

We've had quite a bit of snow around here and WAY too much cold. The snow is pretty, but the cold? GRRRRrrrr!!! Life goes on, though - we still have to go to work, school, soccer practices, etc. We're hardy folks and we've got a snow-clearing system that's built up so many years of experience, it can get us up and running in no time.

It seems like, if we have to put up with all of this, the least we could ask for would be at least one decent snow day that shuts down the city so we all have to stay cosily cocooned in our homes. Just one day. Please!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Thursday, January 01, 2009


It's been an oddly quiet holiday season this year. Though we had larger family celebrations before and after, the three normally bustling days (Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year's Eve) were spent quietly at home with just our little nuclear family. It's been nice. Delightfully boring. (Though some of us are getting a little restless by now - Maddie has draped her bathing suit over the couch, hoping it will subliminally convince me to take her to a pool.)

We've all found plenty of time to enjoy our gifts and some of our favourite pastimes (or is that pass-times?)

The book lover...
The art lover...
The music lover...
And the other music lover...
Watching them enjoy their new toys gave me plenty of opportunity to enjoy mine.