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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ten things I've learned about leadership

Sometimes (like when I've had to do another round of performance reviews and have to listen to the same complaints and witness the same resistance to change or self-improvement year after year) I feel like a complete failure when it comes to leadership. At those times, it helps me to remind myself what I've learned about leadership. It usually turns out I know more than I thought I knew.

1. Most of the well-meaning leadership books out there are crap. Okay, they’re not TOTALLY crap (some are actually pretty good), but they can lead you down a dark and narrow passageway that makes you feel like you can’t possibly succeed if you don’t do x,y, and z from one book and a,b, and c from another. Read too many of them and at some point you will throw up your hands and say “I really SUCK at this leadership thing!”
2. You have to learn to trust your heart, not the leadership books. More than anything, remember to be authentic. Show them the real you. People will follow an authentic leader, not the one who’s mastered the art of imitating what’s in the books.
3. If you’re a person who needs a lot of affirmation in order to succeed, don’t get into leadership. Hardly anybody remembers that leaders need affirmation. The people you lead will look to you for affirmation, but rarely, if ever, will they affirm your work.
4. Leadership can be really, really hard. And seriously draining. It can suck the life right out of you if you’re not careful. Do not enter the profession lightly. Be prepared to give a big chunk of your soul to the work. If you’re not prepared for that, find something else to do.
5. Every leader needs to find ways of ensuring they can stay healthy when there are way too many pressures and expectations and the people you lead are acting like normal flawed human beings and they don’t recognize how much they ask of you. Take up yoga, write in a journal, find a career coach or counselor, join a mentoring group, or find a really good friend who’s also a leader who knows what you’re going through.
6. Carve pumpkins sometimes. Remember to have fun with your team. One of my best leadership moments was the time the team I used to lead got together to carve pumpkins for the Halloween pumpkin-carving contest. Not only did we win, but our team really gelled over pumpkins and wine.
7. Be honest - even if that sometimes means hurting people. This is especially tough when you’re doing annual performance reviews, but staff need to hear things like “you have not been extending enough grace to other members of the team” now and then or they’ll NEVER get it.
8. Be vulnerable. Let your team catch a glimpse of the fears and insecurities you’ve been hiding. They don’t have to think you’re perfect all the time. This can be really, REALLY scary, but it can also help the team connect on a deeper level than they have before.
9. Find good people. If you don’t have supportive people on the team (who have the team’s best interest at heart), find a way to get rid of them. And if you have to keep saying the same things over and over again at every performance review, there’s a good chance it’s NOT sinking in and the person should probably move on.
10. Communicate. And then communicate some more. And when you’re convinced you’ve been open and transparent enough, trust your gut and don’t take the complaints seriously. Because the thing is - even when you think you’ve done a great job of consulting everyone on the team on a major decision, someone will invariably complain that they didn’t know what was going on. Get used to it and suck it up. You’ll never satisfy everyone.

Monday, June 29, 2009

A new take on "strategic planning"

Have you ever told your staff or volunteer team to grab some scissors and glue and get down on the floor with some old magazines?

If the term "strategic planning" strikes fear in your heart, and yet you've got a team of people you need to lead and you have to figure out where you're going in the future, you might want to try dreamboarding with them. You can find out more about it in my guest post at the amazing Jamie Ridler's blog.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Wrecking with friends

Definition of a kindred spirit (a.k.a. soul sister): someone who doesn't bat an eye when you pull out your Wreck this Journal and instead, jumps right in and starts wrecking. She might even ask a complete stranger to pour coffee on it. A few days later, she calls from the bookstore and says "what was the name of that journal again? I need to buy one."

That's my friend Jo-anne, wreck-star extraordinaire! (Hope the anonymous coffee-pouring lady doesn't mind her moment of "fame".)

video

Friday, June 26, 2009

Give it away

Budding

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m working on this new creative venture that will have, at its heart, a website called www.whatareyougivingaway.com. (I talked a little about the blossoming of the idea here, and showed you some of the early artwork.) Based on my years of doing lots of things including writing/creating, working as a communications professional, facilitating leadership and creativity workshops, teaching sessions on identifying your gifts and personalities, leading a national team of people involved in fundraising, education, and stewardship, (and loving all of those things) I’ve decided to take a big bold step and declare myself a bit of an “expert” on owning your giftedness and figuring out how to share it with the world. (Yikes! Hear that sharp intake of breath? That’s my self-doubt having a mini panic attack at the suggestion that I could possibly be an EXPERT at anything.)

Self-doubt or not, that’s my dream – now I just have to find the time to let it unfold. The whole thing feels like a pretty powerful force right now, so I’m not letting myself doubt that it WILL unfold.

If you’ve been reading for awhile, you’ll know that I’ve been suffering from a bit of burnout and weariness and overwhelmedness (I KNOW it’s not a word, madame spellcheck - but it’s all I can come up with, so deal with it.) It’s partly because this big idea is trying to get born at the WORST possible time – a time when I’ve got some pretty intense things going on in my work life (huge board proposals, staff evaluation time, my own performance evaluation time, new staff positions and subsequent hires, staff handing in their resignation… ALL AT ONCE.) But we all know that ideas, like babies, have this habit of showing up in their OWN SWEET TIME THANK YOU VERY MUCH and messing up all those lovely things like schedules, plans, and SLEEP!

When I have a creative idea, I have this tendency to get all panicky about having to follow up on it RIGHT NOW or it will slip away and I’ll live with regret for the rest of my life. After visiting the labyrinth and my son’s grave, though, I’ve decided that I have to try to be more zen about it and just let it unfold organically, trusting that the right time and space will appear when it is supposed to and babies and ideas grow whether you want them to or not. (Trust me – my first baby is now as tall as me!) (On the other hand, though, sometimes they're not meant to grow - I've had one of those babies - and lots of those ideas - as well.)

As I'm waiting for the right time and space, I’m trying to find ways of feeding the idea and feeding my tired burnt out self at the same time. Playing along with the Wreck this Journal fun has been a great start (especially since I’ve made this great connection with Jamie, who’s such a wonderful generous spirit, I’m dying to meet her). Working on my creative sanctuary and doing some paintings has also helped.

A few days ago, it occurred to me that, with all this burnout and weariness, it’s been a long time since I really practiced spontaneous generosity. I’ve gotten so focused on trying to hold myself together, I didn’t have a lot to give other people (just ask my 7 year old daughter who’s gotten extra clingy in all of this – longing to have her fun attention-giving mom back). Since I’ve worked through the worst of the insanity-inducing time at work, and because I want to start a website about giving stuff away, I decided it was HIGH TIME I got my butt in gear and started being a little more generous.

Yesterday’s beach day was one of the things I’ve done to try to get back on track. Giving my daughter and her friends a day of freedom and fun and the delight of feeling just a little bit naughty for skipping school for a day at the beach was a delightful way to start. (Who said being generous couldn’t benefit ME at the same time?) And a few days ago, at lunch time, I walked to my favourite music store, bought gift certificates for my three locally based staff and gave one to each of them with a note that said “sorry I forget to show appreciation when I’m too busy and stressed out, here’s a little gesture to make up for it”. I also bought a cd for my friend Sam who was visiting from Ethiopia, because he’d heard The Waifs on my mp3 player when I was in Ethiopia and he’d liked them.

Here’s the thing – giving stuff away is SO MUCH FUN! It has lifted my spirits in a delightful, refreshing way. As I continue to work on my website and my creative sanctuary, I’m going to spend some of my time trying to think of other ways of giving away meaningful gifts that lift my spirit as much as the spirit of the receiver of the gifts.

I invite you to join me. Do something spontaneous and generous – buy a friend a book they’ve been talking about. Pay for the coffee of the person behind you in the drive through. Take your staff out for lunch. Or if you have no money – give away your time, your listening ear, your encouragement - you name it! Get creative, give something away today, and come back here and share it with the rest of us.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Oh my

It turns out that playing hooky to spend a day at the beach hangin' out with the seagulls, my daughter and her friends, and a lovely friend of my own was JUST what the doctor ordered! Summer is too short to let those spontaneous golden moments pass by. Just ask the seagulls!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Savour

On wish-casting Wednesday, I wish to savour sunshine, stillness, family, beauty... and all of these lovely things:
My horribly cute nephew...
Jack

My equally cute (and somewhat goofy) daughter and niece...
Making faces

The magic of birth (and a little nostalgia for me and my farm-raised siblings)...
New calf

Maddie's magical fort (with a TV on the ceiling, a magic bookcase that turns the pages for you when you're tired, a kitchen that cooks anything you want, and a club membership that guarantees you a free trip to Spain and Disneyland every year!)...
Maddy in her fort

And a small taste of my new creative venture...
'Paintings

Name three adjectives that begin with "un"

I’ve tried to write about four different blog posts today, and so far, I’ve deleted all of them. (If you can see this one, it means it didn’t face the same fate as the others.) I’ve tried to write about re-watching my fearless video halfway through the year, I’ve tried to write something about where I’m at with work now that the board approved my proposal, I considered writing about the creative stuff I did yesterday on my day off… none of it is working for me today. I’m scattered, listless, unengaged, unsatisfied… I could come up with a whole list of adjectives today, and most of them would have the prefix “un-“ attached to them.

Let’s start with “un-settled”. Lots of things feel unsettled these days. Marcel’s dad is back in the hospital (and may never be out of it again – who knows), so our emotions have been doing lots of flip flops. Mostly, I’ve been feeling kind of emotionally removed from the whole thing (it’s been dragging out for too long), but after spending a good part of Saturday night (my “fun day” ended in a “not-so-fun night”) in emergency with his mom and dad (Marcel was on driving duty that night but he was sick) and seeing how weak and lost he looks and how worn out she looks, I can’t help but feel the weight of the whole situation.

And how about “un-motivated”. Yes, the board approved my proposal, and yes, I appreciate the trust they put in me, and yes, some exciting possibilities were unleashed, but… does that give me enough motivation and excitement to stick around and invest in these really big changes? I don’t know. The whole thing really wore me out, quite frankly. I’m tired. I’m waiting for my passion to be re-engaged.

Let’s add “un-satisfied”. I’ve got lots of ideas blossoming and they feel like really good ideas and I so badly want to jump whole-heartedly into them, but I’m just not finding enough time and space and energy. I took yesterday off, and made a little more progress on my studio space and created some paintings for the space (and for my new website idea), but they felt like such tiny steps when I’m chomping at the bit to make some REAL progress. I have a full time job (that’s a little extra stressful these days), three busy kids that need to go to soccer games and who-knows-what-else, mountains of laundry, a house and yard that are looking increasingly unkempt, and that just doesn’t leave a lot of space for creative projects.

I’m trying not to get to “un-happy”, but it’s a slippery slope. I want some fresh space to open up, but I can’t see that happening for quite some time. Perhaps I need to let go of this blossoming idea for now. Perhaps I need to just be satisfied with letting it percolate for another year or two while I re-invest the energy it will take to be really good at my job again.

What do you do when a bad case of the “un’s” drags you down?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The wreckage continues

After a couple of weeks of having a stressed out, grouchy mom/wife/me in the house, the whole family needed a bit of a release. I officially declared today "Fun Day" and swore off any work.

What better way to celebrate Fun Day than with a good adventure and some journal-wrecking? Oh boy - are you in for a treat with this video! The girls and I really got down to business this time. Basketball, bike-riding, flying lessons - you never know what might be next!

Jamie, I know you didn't do this just for me, but... seriously? This whole thing could not possibly have come at a better time! Wreckage, creativity, playfulness, release, connecting with other like-minded "wreck-stars"? Turns out it's just what the doctor ordered!

Now sit back, relax, grab a Slurpee, and enjoy!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Gratitude

Today feels so much more hopeful than the last few weeks have felt. Partly it's due to a huge release in pressure since the board meetings are over and I no longer need to stress out about the big proposal I was presenting.

With the return of hope, I thought a gratitude list was in order. Here's what I'm feeling grateful for this morning:
- the delicious burritos my daughter cooked for supper last night
- my husband has been picking up the slack a lot around the home front while I've been busy having meltdowns and disappearing when I needed to for visits to the labyrinth and the grave
- the fun and crazy orange and green room Julie and I created - just in time for her 12th birthday (eventually I'll get some pictures posted)
- the free carpet I just got for my new creative sanctuary in the basement
- the lovely voice mail from the lovely Michele, "just so that there was a pleasant voice on my answering machine not asking for ANYTHING"
- the equally lovely emails from Linda and Cynthia for essentially the same reason
- all of the friendly, supportive comments on this blog - you really lifted me up when I was feeling pretty low
- the fact that our board of directors put enough trust in me to approve my full proposal (even though they had to drag it through the mud a bit before they could approve it). (But... can I just say... YIKES! I have a lot of work to do!)
- some really kind and supportive things said to me by several board members (some of whom felt really badly for the "dragging through the mud" I had to live through)
- I get to hire 2 new staff to take some of my workload (and launch lots of new and exciting ideas)
- I have some renewed energy and a few new creative ideas for my day job and don't feel quite as desperate to leave it as I did a few weeks ago
- a fun day on Monday when I got to take a Zimbabwean visitor out to a field to ride a tractor and play farmer for awhile (by the way, according to him, things are looking up in Zimbabwe!)
- the wonderful email exchanges I'm having with my soulsister-whom-I've-never-met Vicki (not much point in linking to her blog since she NEVER UPDATES IT! hint, hint.)
- a great book
- speaking of books, I sold a photo (from my Flickr set) for $50 and get to buy some new books, guilt-free! Can't wait 'til they arrive in the mail! (Some of them are recommendations from you, my lovely blog readers. Thanks!)
- great biking weather the last few days
- it's Friday! It's the weekend!

What are you grateful for today?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

More about shadows

Two places I go for solace and support - the labyrinth and the grave. Tonight, after a long and tiring board meeting that left me feeling beat up, dragged through the mud, and totally spent, I went to the grave.

On the way there, the tears flowed... again. The words that escaped my trembling lips were "I am not enough."

More than anything else, these days, I am realizing that I am just not enough. I am not enough to fill the tank of all of the people who need it. I am not enough to respond to all of the hunger in the world. I am not enough to fill the ever-present needs of my children. I am not enough to provide the affirmation and support that my staff (who sometimes think I'm a little aloof) want. I am not enough to respond to the demands of my boss, my board, and all the stakeholders who want my leadership, my decision-making, and my vision. I am not enough to support the friends and family who need supporting. I am not enough to reach out to the people in the neighbourhood like the young mom who just died of a drug overdose. I am not enough to do the volunteer work that I often feel guilty about avoiding.

I am just not enough. I cannot fill everyone's tank. Especially when mine is empty.

As I sat there at the grave, I leaned on a sturdy tree and looked out across the rows of graves. With the sun setting behind me, my body cast a long shadow across the grass.

A gentle voice whispered in my ear. "You can learn something from that shadow. If you stand here and trust the Light, it can make you much taller than you ever dreamed you could be. Keep the Light behind you, and even if you bend over with the weight of the world on your shoulders, you can reach the people who need to be reached. Leave the rest to someone else."

Somehow, I've got to find and trust others who are willing to stand with me with our backs to the Light. I'm tired of trying to do so much alone.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The letter and the poem

Imagine my surprise today when I walked into my office, opened the envelope on top of my in-box, and spotted my dad's unmistakable writing on the letter inside. He's been dead for nearly 6 years. How could I be getting a letter from him six years after we buried him?

It turns out the editor of The Messenger (a publication of the church denomination I grew up with), who has known my dad for alot of years, thought I might appreciate the letter dad had sent him 9 years ago. He couldn't have been more right.

In his later life, my dad became something of a writer (I come by it honestly, as do other members of my family) and had a few articles and letters to the editor published. He didn't write alot, but what he did write carried alot of weight. He was a thinking man. I remember many times when he'd come in from long hours on the fields or in the barn, he'd sit down at the kitchen table, and he'd ask a deep and thoughtful question that he had been pondering all day. Sometimes (all too seldom, if you ask me), those thoughts would make their way onto paper.

For many years, Dad had had a particular fascination with sheep. His interest stemmed from years of studying the many references to sheep in the Bible. (Look for them sometime - there are lots of them.) He wanted to know what it was really like to be a sheep following his shepherd. The letter I received today was the basis of an article about why he'd chosen to own sheep on the farm.

I'm not sure why the letter showed up today, but I think there's probably a reason. I've re-read the letter a few times and will continue to read it. Dad was a man of few words - when he spoke, you knew it was important to listen. Today, for some reason, I think I'm meant to listen.

This post started out being just about my dad, but now I need to write about my daughter too. As I was writing this, Julie walked up with a poem she'd just written. When I read it, I got a little teary eyed thinking about how proud Dad would have been of his thinking granddaughter. With her permission, here's her poem:

I lie awake and wonder
What is there I cannot see?
I lay awake and ponder
This lack of knowledge scaring me.

I have not felt the touch
Of searing pain
Or seen the stars
like falling rain

I never can be quite sure
Even of the things I know
Should I stop and smell the roses
Or is it time to go?

I have not felt true horror
I know perhaps I will
I lay awake and wonder
My head with thoughts I fill

We've just finished decorating Julie's room, and the first picture she's hanging up is one of her on a horse that her Grandpa is leading around the pasture.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Come to the labyrinth

Walking the labyrinth

“Come to the labyrinth,” She said, “and don’t leave until you feel the tiniest of shifts. It won’t feel like the earth shaking, but you will notice it if you pay attention.

“It might feel like a gentle breeze tickling your cheek. It might sound like the songs of a dozen birds in the bushes around you. It might smell like the roses at the centre of that labyrinth. It might look like a tired fuzzy purple crocus getting ready to die to make space for the eternal cycle of seasons passing.

“Pay attention to all of those things,” She said. “That’s where I am – in the rose, the bird, and the tiny worm dangling from an invisible thread. You’ll find me there and we’ll sit together at the centre of that labyrinth. Because I want to be in your company today. I want your attention and I will give you mine.

“The other things filling up your mind right now – the energy-sucking demands of the seven-year-old energizer bunny waiting for you at home, the conference call your boss wants you to be on this morning, the fact that you left too many things in a state of undone – those can all wait for another time. Or better yet – let them go entirely. The world will not fall apart if you miss the conference call.

“Just sit,” She whispered, as I protested. “No, don’t come up with another ‘but…’. Just sit. I have things I want to tell you. But you have to be still to hear them, because I won’t speak above a whisper.”

And so I sat. And listened. And paid attention. And waited for the shift.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Lost in the shadows

In the shadows

There's nothing particularly amazing about this photo, but of my recent "walk in the Springtime" collection (taken yesterday), it's the one I feel most drawn to today.

Just like the iris, I feel a little lost in the shadows these days. My sunny companions, the daisies, are busy basking in the sunshine, but I'm not finding much light where I am.

The gloom has not lifted, though there have been periodic breaks in the clouds. It's not that I don't expect to see the sun again, it's just that the clouds keep moving in front and blocking the view. (Both literally and figuratively this week.)

I spent part of the day at work today, and though there was nothing particularly bad about it, I just felt an overwhelming sadness when I left. I've poured a lot of myself into this job for 5 years, and it has sucked the energy out of me. Being a leader, a change agent, and key decision-maker can be very, very draining.

I need my tank re-filled. I'm not sure how that will happen, but I know that - in order to emerge healthy and whole again - I need to find a way.

You can't see the tears in this picture, but trust me when I say they were streaming down my face. It was one of those shadow moments. (Why did I turn the camera on myself? Like I've said before, it's one of the ways I process the world, including my own sadness.)

By the river

Like the dandelion, I want to let go, let god and nature take over, and lose myself in the breeze.
Spreading seeds

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Creating and wrecking, all at the same time

Wow! It's amazing what a little fun and spontaneous creativity can do to revive a person's spirits!

First of all (before we get to the creative part), I had to recognize my burn out and do what needed to be done. I emailed my boss (who, by the way, is supportive and won't hold this against me) and said "I can't do this. I need a REAL break. You'll have to sign off on this video project for me." It was hard to do, since I've had a huge stake in this project and I feel a lot of ownership and responsibility for its success, but sometimes, I just have to let go.

Then (while the paint dried in the room I'm painting), I started to wreck my journal. And it was fun! I've signed up for Jamie Ridler's online book club, The Next Chapter, and we're working on Wreck this Journal by Keri Smith. Well, let me tell you, this is a hoot!

First of all, I have to admit, I'm not in this alone. When my daughters discovered the book, they quickly confiscated it and begged and begged until I said they could contribute. So it's become a joint project. Turns out they're wonderful, uninhibited journal-wreckers.

Maddie and I dug into a planter and rubbed dirt on this page:
Dirt rub by Maddie and me
And then Julie filled this page with a great word:
Julie's happy page
And then it was my turn. I started with this page...
Getting ready for good thoughts
And decided the good thoughts would focus on the project I'm still hoping to get to later this week.
Thinking good thoughts
I'm working on a little studio/office/creative space that I've decided to call my "creative sanctuary" (I think I owe that term to Olivia, but I can't seem to find the original note.) So my good thoughts were about the things I dream of creating in my small cocoon-like space in a dark corner of the basement.

Just for fun, I tore that page out of the journal and buried it in the wall, as a bit of a blessing for the space. I'm hoping that all of those good dreams will come true.
Buried in the wall of my new creative sanctuary

And then, because that creative act revived my spirits and I was feeling bold and spontaneous (plus the sun poked through the rainclouds momentarily), I went for a walk around the block in my paint clothes. It started to rain again on the way home and I just burst out laughing. It was a good, healing laugh, and (truth be told) it was followed by tears (that's kind of how my emotions are going these days), but it felt good and right to be laughing in the rain.

Just for fun, here's a picture of my amazing paint pants. I've worn them for about 15 years and I don't think I could ever give them up. They've got so many stories in those dry colourful bits of paint.
If these pants could talk...

One more thing... when your emotions are all over the place, and you're busy painting bold orange and green walls and then taking creative breaks to wreck journals and dream of creative spaces, it turns out that Ani DeFranco is a great companion. I can't stop listening to her.

Gloomy

I had high hopes for this week. I took some time off work, and was dreaming of a magical week with lots of creativity and growing-of-new-things. But I may have overestimated the potential of a week off.

I haven't lost all hope, but... I've just discovered that I'm more burnt out than I realized. Yesterday was mostly a productive day (painting bold colours in Julie's room), but then I had to deal with a work issue (final approval for a video project), and suddenly I fell apart. The moment I had to go on my work email, my mood took a nosedive and I spent the rest of the day and evening trying to hide from my family the fact that I was fighting tears. (They thought I was spending an inordinate amount of time painting behind the door so they couldn't come in.)

I knew I was a little burnt out, but I thought I could just bury it and keep on coping. Maybe not.

So for the rest of this week, I'm not going to put much pressure on myself to finish the projects I was planning to work on (sigh). I'm just going to focus on making sure I don't fall apart all together.

On top of that, I just found out that a woman who lived across the street, whose 2 daughters were friends of Julie and Maddie, died on the weekend. I'm feeling heartsick.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Are they dancing still?

Having been to Ethiopia, India, and Bangladesh in the last year and a half, I find there are some stories I just can't shake. In both Ethiopia and India, we were delighted to watch young girls who danced in our honour. But, because of the stories I heard after the dancing ended, those visions haunt me sometimes in the night. I've tried to write about it several times, but in the end, what came out was a video (though an article is also in the works).



Note: all photos are mine. Song by Sara Groves.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Casting the net

Sometimes, before you know it, you’re cracked wide open. In a tiny whisper, you offer to the universe your readiness, and the universe responds beyond your capacity to dream.

It starts with a burst of an idea, coming out of nowhere… and yet at the same time emerging from everything you’ve ever been, everything you’ve ever thought, every person you’ve ever met. A fully formed thought that says “this is what it all means… this is what those years of practice have prepared you for.”

The practical, hard working side of you says… “it couldn’t be that easy. No-one will pay attention to something that showed up so noiselessly, so seemingly without effort or agony.” The doubting, fearful side of you says… “you won’t possibly succeed at this – why bother trying?” At the same time, though, you know that this gift is one that you have to pay attention to. The muse is calling and this time, you know you have to listen.

The seed of an idea grows and before you even say it out loud to anyone, people who cross your path begin to tell you of their deep longings, of their precious guarded gifts, of the ways that your words and paintings have inspired them, and even of the way they’ve used you as a positive example of creativity and dream-seeking in a counseling session with a client. Each of these stories feels like a little bit of magic, because each thing you hear is directly in alignment with the gift you feel called to offer up to the world.

You begin to take baby steps. You tell a few people and they applaud with their eyes and their hearts. A friend looks deep in your eyes and says “this will succeed. I have visions of you telling this story on Oprah,” and you blush, because you’ve never dared to imagine quite what she’s imagining. Your brother affirms you before you even tell him, just by reserving the webpage you’re dreaming of building for this new venture.

A friend whom you’ve never met but who feels connected to your soul in a long thin line across a border sends you an email and you feel your hands begin to shake because she is whispering your dream in your ear even though she has no inkling that you dreamed it a few days earlier. (Thank you Vicki!!)

Like they so often seem to do, a book appears in your life at just the right time (shortly after you turn 43 and write a blog post about being half way through life) and you read, “At the midstage of life, the impatience of our inner reserve begins to make itself felt in various ways: the sense that we have brought to our present work all that we can and it is time for a new challenge; a vague but pervasive feeling of discontent with the configuration of activities and relationships in our life; a growing desire to step out and allow a recurring fantasy to become reality.”

You close your eyes, clench your fists and say “okay god, I’m ready.” Your fingers relax as you let go of the net and watch it drift out across the water.

Note: I'm taking a little time away from my day job next week to spend a little time working on that net. I'll tell you more soon.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Five years

When I started my current job, I told myself “5 years. I give this job at least 5 years.” I said that partly because I know that I’m a restless soul and up until now, my history has been about 3 years in each job. A wise mentor once told me that it takes at least 3 years to change a culture, and I think in all of those past jobs I kind of gave up at the 3 year mark when there was very little evidence of change. (It takes A LOT to change a government department – trust me.) Even though I learned a lot in almost all of those jobs, and had some great experiences, I need to be in an environment that values creativity and positive change, and mostly I wasn’t.

I also said it partly because I knew that in 5 years Marcel would have graduated from university and would be back in the workforce. I’ve always dreamed of breaking away from the 9-5 life and doing more freelance/consulting work (you can find out more about that at my website), and once our family was a little less reliant on my income, I felt I’d have a little more freedom to explore those other things.

Well, today is my 5th anniversary. I still love my job. And I am finally in an environment that values creativity and positive change (and philanthropy and global awareness and justice and a whole bunch of other things I value). And I can say, in all humility, that I have definitely impacted this organization in a positive way. Years from now, people will look back in the history of the organization and say “that changed during the time Heather was here.” Interestingly enough, change started happening in a fairly big way around the 3 year mark, which was definitely the motivation I needed to stick around.

It’s really been an incredible 5 years. Since I started here, I’ve learned a tonne about leadership, I’ve gone on some incredible adventures, I’ve managed some exciting creative projects, I've met amazing people, I’ve gotten to do lots of writing and photography and visioning and creating (and get paid for it!), I’ve hosted some big media events, and most of all, I’ve learned SO MUCH about my own passions and values and personal calling. Sometimes, it’s been really challenging (especially the part that involves leading a diverse team spread across the country), but mostly it’s been an amazing ride.

But… (you KNEW there was going to be a “but” didn’t you?) I’m starting to feel like I’m done. I’m starting to feel that restless feeling that I always get when it’s time to move on from something (even when that something is really good and is worth sticking around for). I’m starting to dream of other things. I’ve got a big dream project that I really want to sink my teeth into, but I need time to do it and there’s no way I can get there while holding down a full time career and trying to be a good mom and wife.

There’s still lots I can do here (and if the board approves a plan I’m submitting, I’ll be able to unfold a whole lot of new ideas and growth opportunities), so I’m pretty sure I can be happy here for awhile, but I’m just not sure if I’ll be fully satisfied if I have to wait too long to try out some of these other big dreams that seem to have camped out in my imagination. Patience is not one of my greatest strengths.

What about you? What are you dreaming about? How do you handle the waiting when the timing isn’t quite right for the unfolding of the dreams?

Monday, June 01, 2009

Taking stock

With an annual report, a report to the board, my staff's performance appraisals, and my annual self evaluation all due (or... ahem... overdue) this week, I've spent alot of time taking stock of what I've done this past year. Even though I moan and groan a lot at this time of year (these are tedious, mind-numbing, and sometimes genuinely unhappy tasks), I'm usually rather pleased when the work is complete and I can sit back and gaze over the list of things I've done. It turns out (as it usually does) I've done a LOT of work this year and have some pretty sizable accomplishments to report. Yay me! (No wonder I'm feeling a little burnt out!)

It occured to me that perhaps there's something to learn from this for our personal lives as well. Perhaps it would be a good idea if, once a year, we set aside some time to take stock of the past year. It doesn't have to be big things that make the list. It could just be an accounting of all the minutiae that eats up our time day in and day out. How many soccer games have you attended this year? How many loads of laundry have passed through your hands? How many times have you vacuumed the floor? How many forms have you filled out? How many bills have you paid?

Go ahead... take stock. If I were your boss or your board of directors, what would you include on your report to me this year?