Working through it…Blog #81

I truly believe we are meant to live in community; to share life with others, to laugh, cry, learn, explore, and journey together. I have journeyed so with a dear friend and colleague and have learned so much from her. For this blog, I invited Candace to share some of her personal journey and learnings with you regarding mental health–I know you’ll benefit from her story. Please enjoy…

“I care about you…and I care about this place. You aren’t yourself and I need the full ‘you’ for the work we have ahead of us. Take the rest of the week off, then on Monday, we’ll check in and I want to hear from you what your plan is to get well …and what you need from me.”

This conversation happened about 7 years ago but I can recall it like it was yesterday. I remember how embarrassed, angry (at myself), relieved, and determined I felt. I knew I wasn’t well, but what I didn’t know was that it was affecting my work. Well, I knew it was affecting my work, but I didn’t know that the covering up, compensating, and hiding I was expending energy on wasn’t working as well as I thought it was.

My work provided meaning, a sense of control when a great deal of my life was feeling out of control, and was a huge part of my identity. The message that my performance was not up to standard and that I was letting my Executive Director down was terrifying and triggered the fight response I needed at that time.

We’ve come a long way in our view of and approach to mental illness in the workplace. Historically, we just whispered behind people’s backs, marginalized them, and believed that stopping work (i.e. going on a leave) was what they should do. Thankfully, campaigns to increase awareness and reduce stigma are part of our culture now, and there are champions for mentally healthier workplaces in every sector. Many workplaces and leaders have come to understand that people who live with mental illness can be healthy, functioning contributors on our teams and in our workplaces, and it’s the workplaces who have provided flexible work arrangements who have often been the most successful in retaining and engaging employees with less visible disabilities like mental illness.

While I’ve heard many workplace leaders express concern about the mental health of their employees (and rightfully so) these last several months, I wonder if this may be the time for people with lived experience with mental illness to shine and contribute in new ways?

Struggling with figuring out how to be well when it feels like any minute the world might crash around you? A person with a chronic and persistent mental illness will say, “Been there.”

Wondering what the right rhythm in your work/personal life is to effectively manage all that has to be done when you just feel tired and scared? Yup.

Feel like your brain is exhausted from managing all the scary thoughts running around? Uh-huh.

Following are a few thoughts to help us promote mentally healthy workplaces, when we’re working apart:

·       Wondering how your staff are doing? Ask them or create opportunities for everyone to check in and respond to one another. For many, working from home has meant disconnection from their work friends and so loneliness has added to everything else that’s hard about this time.

·       Provide a lunch and learn that addresses some of the challenges of balancing work and caregiving pressures or just work and life!

·       Learn about people who live with mental illness and have learned to be well at the same time. Search for stories of resiliency and learn from people’s lived experience. I have been well for years now, but know that I am more at risk than maybe others are and so need to be vigilant in employing strategies that help me be well. Want to learn more about this? Click here to access some great resources that can help you learn more about resiliency and mental health.

·       Behave your way into being. Every day I get up and start doing the things that I know promote health for my body and brain. Trust that doing these things will make a difference even if you can’t feel the results right away.

·       Add a WWW practice to the end of your day. Martin Seligman, author of “Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being” recommends a practice of writing down What Went Well each day. He suggests identifying three things that went well plus reflecting on why they went well. This exercise has been shown to positively impact mental health.

·       Book a bit of worry time when you need it. Adam Grant in his Work-Life podcast describes this suggestion in more detail, but in short, he suggests that if your brain is worried about something, a strategy to help can be to set a timer and let it run. Worry, think about what might happen and then identify a step or two that you can take to address the fear or worry.

·       Ask for help. You are not weak if you reach out for help and you don’t need to wait until it’s “bad enough.” If your mood has been low for more than a couple of weeks and the normal things that would help you feel better don’t seem to be helping, reach out.

Click here if you want a place to start

Work can and does play a critical role in most people’s wellbeing. One final suggestion? Take a few minutes to reflect on how *you* are doing at managing work-life wellness and lead by example. Notice and give permission where people are attempting to set boundaries or when they need boundaries relaxed. You’re not alone. We’ll work through this together.  IMG_3492.JPG

Candace Giesbrecht is a Strategic HR Coach and Consultant. Thanks for your heart felt contribution to Probe and Ponder.

Is Zoom fatigue really the issue? Blog #80

My wall calendar ‘But First, Coffee’ Brush Dance

It’s amazing how a term quickly gains global adoption…zoom fatigue. Who among us hasn’t used it, or at least heard it – and we all know what it means. But lately I’ve been wondering if it hasn’t become a scape goat of sorts. Let me explain.

Besides coming alongside organizations learning how to effectively work with remote or hybrid teams, I’m also a business professor. I’m part of an amazing, supportive, collaborative faculty…no complaints there! Most are on-line teaching 12 hours a week, and that doesn’t include the additional student meetings, and other faculty related meetings, the above normal preparation, and an audience who are on-line up to 18 hours a week taking classes. Outside of work, many choose to hold social gatherings on-line in lieu of face to face…but my gut says those social events are lessoning. This is life as a post-secondary educator…for now, and we get that. However…  

The common theme I hear, not just from my professor colleagues, but others I speak with, is ‘we are just so tired!’. Enter ‘zoom fatigue’…thus my question; are we really tired from being on-line too much? For me, I really don’t think that’s totally where the blame lies. The bottom line is that life is challenging right now. Everything takes extra effort. We are less active, but more worn out.

I find myself longing for the ‘good old days’…the good old days of summer 2019 when we relished our sojourns in Europe with family and friends, or even Christmas past! Remember the days when we could call up a friend to go for a coffee or a glass of wine at our favourite hangout? Or when we could have a bunch of folks over for a games night, that was really an excuse to gather and share food, good wine, a newly discovered craft brew, and of course, lots of laughter. Ah yes, the good old days.

Business is adapting, we are moving past triage and settling into how business operates in a pandemic inflicted world, and beyond. We are learning new ways to communicate, to collaborate, to lead, to follow, and to deliver services to our valued customers. Most are saying they will never return to business as usual…so much has been learned about productivity and efficiency that new practices and policies have replaced more traditional approaches. We have truly hit a crossroads; we can no longer do things the way they’ve always been done.

But some business aren’t able to adapt due to the nature of their offering, and for them I truly feel pained.

Along with a new context comes the need for upskilling and reskilling around what it takes to lead an unfamiliar team construct; leading hybrid teams probably offers the greatest challenges, but also presents amazing diversity opportunities (more about that in another blog). As humans we were created to learn, grow, adapt..and we will.

But we are still tired. We, most of us, have focused on ensuring the needs of our students, customers, and children have been met. All good! However, what has fallen by the wayside is figuring out how to maintain our own life balance and sanity. ‘Normal’ activities, plans, escapes, or rejuvenators are no longer as accessible. As already mentioned, spur of the moment meetups, in public or in our homes, takes extra planning, if even possible at all. Planning weekend getaways or vacations seem to lie more in the realm of dreams and wishes than actual concrete possibilities.

I don’t know about you, but my default is simply to work more. Not a wise alternative, but a reality. Bad habits are setting in, work time is slowly seeping into what should be down time. The self talk of ‘just hang in there for another month…’ has been replaced with even greater uncertainly about when ‘it’ will end and the world opens up to once more enjoy physically being ‘there’, as in actually visiting the Louvre vs taking a virtual tour.

While I am no psychologist, I’m starting to learning that the way to survive and thrive in this crazy period of time, starts in the mind. We can’t change the reality of what life looks like, but perhaps we can reframe how we look at it, and let a cognitive change influence how we act from an emotional and behavioural framework. My friend keeps harping on the importance of a growth mindset vs a fixed mindset…she’s got something there!

So, that’s the challenge I need to work through, and invite you to join me in the journey. We all have many precious humans in our lives, and we never want to stop caring for and supporting them. Because of each one of them, we need to adapt more than our business practices, we need to adjust our outlook and mindsets to making life now and in the future something extraordinary.

Sounds easy…hmmm, not at all! But necessary, and possible. One tiny action is where I need to start…what might your one tiny action be?        

Gamla Stan, Stockholm, summer 2019

One on-line professor to another…Blog #77

That space between

I have recently learned a new word, liminal space. Indulge me as I share a definition with you.

The liminal space can be seen as a transformative space. It occurs when things such as our thoughts, knowledge or ideas are in some way challenged, when our understanding of something is unsettled rendering it fluid. That space of in-between is a state of liminality, a transition in the learning process, the crossing of a threshold. From here we begin to reconfigure our prior understandings, perspectives and conceptual schema. We let go of the conceptual stance we had. Once we reach this post-liminal mode the shift is irreversible and “alters our way of being in the world”. (O’Sullivan as cited in Meyer, Land & Baillie).

We are at the start of September, on the brink of meeting new groups of students who will bring with them life experiences, hunger to learn, need to challenge, and always the ability to push us to new levels of learning. We are in a liminal space.

Over the summer, as business faculty colleagues, we shared our learnings, with a great deal of focus being on the technology of making on-line learning most effective.

As we now prepare for classes to begin next week, making sure the course outlines are completed and submitted, assessments figured out, technology working, welcome videos created, and so on…I would like to invite you to pause for a moment. Let’s put technology aside and think about the humans we are preparing this material for. Who are they? Where are they from? What do they enjoy? What are their fears? What are their dreams and aspirations? What liminal spaces have they been experiencing as together we transition from the familiar to the unknown?

As professors, how are we going to discover this important information giving us a peek into the lives of these amazing humans? We have learned that teaching concepts on-line takes more time than in a face-to-face context, making it challenging to get through all the material we are accustomed to. We have also learned that content needs to be delivered both synchronously and asynchronously. And, we know that facilitating interaction with students on-line is challenging, but oh so very vital!

As you work on your lesson plans, can I invite you to intentionally build in 10 minutes to connect with the students, and help them connect with each other? Give them time to ‘arrive’ in the space. Help them to get to know who they are learning with, and help them get to know you as a person, not just a Prof. When students feel like they belong, are safe, and have a voice, they will engage and learn so much more. And remember to combine on-screen and off-screen activities…screen fatigue is a real thing (as you know!).

I trust your liminal space experience will result in exciting things as together we re-write the learning adventure.

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Then came COVID-19, and pivoting…blog #75

Pivot “to turn or rotate, like a hinge”

 

December 20, 2019 was the day life changed significantly for me. I had a total knee replacement. Believe me, the purported timelines for recovery are not to be trusted…nor is it wise to use other’s recovery milestones as targets for which to aim.

I was just starting to emerge into ‘the real world’, trusty cane by my side, when the second significant change landed bringing as much joy as an unwelcome guest. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was turned around by this global pandemic we soon came to know as COVID-19. My ‘coming out’ was quickly shut down, and the excitement of re-entry was snatched away. Conferences already registered for were cancelled, a greatly anticipated trip to Hawaii with our daughter and son-in-law was cancelled, and a scheduled vacation to Helsinki to visit our son, daughter-in-law and grandkids faded away before becoming a reality.

But life did not slow down, in fact it become busier than I could have imagined. Almost immediately I began receiving invites to present at virtual events; the answer to each invite was a resounding ‘yes!’ This remote community welcomed me with open arms when I began my journey into remote work research…this was my opportunity to return the favour. But the business went beyond that. You see, I’m an educator as well as a remote work advocate. I teach Human Resources and Management courses at the Okanagan School of Business, in Kelowna, British Columbia. We immediately went into pivot mode; face to face classes had to be transformed into on-line delivery. Within a week of the self-isolation announcement, every one of our students were fully engaged in a whole new way of learning (for them), and a new delivery platform for us (professors). Unbelievable to say the least.

Not only did our faculty have to reframe their delivery method, they were called on to facilitate learning in a manner that embraced synchronous and asynchronous learning in an effort to continue fostering impactful relationships with their students. And, they had to do this while suddenly working from home where a workspace had not yet been created. More pivoting.

I say ‘they’ in this reference, because I was not teaching in the Winter 2019 semester due to the assimilation of a new body part! However, I was able to fully engage in the facilitation of the transition and bring my expertise around remote work to bear on the situation. Ironically, it wasn’t until this event happened that many in our greater institution were even aware of the research I had conducted on remote work — research the College had funded. However, it was fortuitous that I was able to provide some support and insight to my colleagues and peers during a period of disequilibrium.

Remote work is not new to me, in fact, I have been engaged working remotely for quite a few years. However, as many of my remote work advocate colleagues confirm, working from home is not the same as remote work. By definition, remote work relates to those who don’t have to show up at a physical location on a regular basis. They are mostly location agnostic or location independent 

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Contrarily, COVID-19 turned the majority of us into location dependent workers — our homes. This was not a choice; time to prepare a home office was not afforded those used to going to a physical building to conduct their work. For many, the kitchen table, living room couch, or bedroom floor became their ‘home office’. Add to that the reality of a partner also looking for a quiet corner to work, while carving out space for newly homeschooled children to meet teachers on-line for the purpose of receiving their (and their parent’s) marching orders for the week. Our homes became co-working/co-living spaces. Major pivot.

In all fairness, this is not a clear picture of the realities of remote work. Sadly, for some, this experience has tainted their view of the value of remote working; being able to comprehend the benefit to individuals, teams, organizations, and communities has been greatly overshadowed by a working context that has caused overwhelming stress. I’ve heard some of your stories and can’t fathom the life challenges you are experiencing.

On the other hand, many are realizing a glimpse of ‘what could be’. Your work from home experience has opened your eyes to a way of life and work that decreases stress, allows for greater productivity, gives a sense of control over your time, and allows you to sneak extended moments to enjoy precious time with your loved ones (albeit in closer quarters than you would prefer). These pivots are positive.

We in BC, Canada are experiencing wWe keep hearing the phrase ‘the new normal’. Do we wait with bated breath for another year to see what the new normal will be, or do we start living that new normal today? hat is being called ‘stage 2’ of re-opening. What does this mean for you? Time to pivot again? Are your children heading back to school this week? Are you opening your ‘bubble’ to invite in friends and loved ones? Are you venturing out to the grocery store more often? Frequenting parks and beaches? Are you honouring social distancing? Are you feeling some anxiety…is this all happening too soon? Is this pivot more difficult that the absolute of self-isolation?

What does work look like for you now? For the organizations you work for? Will you transition back to working co-located in the office? Will you join the ranks of remote workers around the world?  Or will you and your organization embrace the many who are moving to a hybrid (some folks working remote while others co-located) approach to working?

We keep hearing the phrase ‘the new normal’. Do we wait with bated breath for another year to see what the new normal will be, or do we start living that new normal today? From what I see, much of the pivots we have been asked to take are actually behaviours that we should have adapted a long time ago. Granted, the results of not adhering to these certain behaviours come with serious consequences in these current days. But let’s think about some of these suggested behaviours:

  • Stay home if you are sick
  • Respect those around you
  • Take care of each other
  • Wash your hands
  • Respect other’s personal space
  • Work from home…if at all possible
  • Support local business
  • Stay connected with friends and loved ones using whatever means possible

This brings to mind the wisdom shared by Robert Fulghum in “All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten

As blogs go, this one has found me rambling and wandering down some rabbit holes; Sunday afternoon with no virtual meetings, no marking, no schedule, tends to foster such ramblings. It actually ties into the name of my blog site ‘Probe and Ponder’. I would love to hear your thoughts; what is making you pivot, or causing you to stop and ponder life around you?

 

 

 

Coming to terms with the unexpected…blog #74

Photo by Tjaard Krusch on Unsplash

It’s almost the end of the week. One more day. Actually, it’s the Victoria Day weekend and I long for even two days to shut down and be totally off-line. How quickly life has changed from truly enjoying connecting with folks virtually, to being so screen weary that the thought of settling in with a real, hold-in-your-hands book is ripe with anticipation.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the times I get to visit and work with individuals across physical distance. I am truly blessed to participate in thought provoking, encouraging, challenging, and stretching conversations with amazing minds around the globe. But I miss going to a coffee shop for a visit with a good friend, or simply having dedicated, productive time working while sipping on a rich americano created by a favourite barista.

It’s the small things I miss. Happy hours on a patio catching up on the happenings of life around us, bike rides that end with a dark beer at a local brewery, hugging friends at will, holding a new born baby without fear of endangering their fragile life, sitting by the bedside of a dad who still remembers me…but for how long? Planning weekend getaways to…anywhere!

Still, I have much to be grateful for. I am still working, enjoy health, have a safe home in which to dwell with an amazing husband, have a loving family who are committed to staying connected without compromising health, have a great community of friends who make the extra effort to reach out and share life, I have amazing colleagues with whom to create and plan, live in a town/province/country where residents respect the need to ban together to fight this crazy virus, and I have purpose.

But it’s tough. I have deep empathy for those who must live life in compromising environments, not always of their own choosing. I struggle with isolation even though my days are filled with virtual conversations, and I long for the days when we can confidently plan to meet up with loved ones who live in far off lands. It will happen again, I know that. But for now, life is not what any of us expected, or even dreamed of.

It’s…well, it’s life! Let’s pray for a brighter tomorrow.

“Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” – Nelson Mandela

Photo by Raphael Andres on Unsplash

The power of words…blog #73

“One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can’t utter.”
James Earl Jones

There are times in life when I so desperately want to have something profound to share…like right now. You know what I’m talking about…some way to offer comfort or encouragement to family, friends, neighbours, or colleagues. Those whose experiences during these days vary from sadness to fear, despair to frustration, from loneliness to exhaustion, appreciate to being totally overwhelmed. Some are even expressing gratitude for the forced slowing down of life. Even the simplest comforting touch or high five is not an option. All we truly have to express our love, concern, empathy, praise, appreciation or whatever, are our words.

All we have is words? All we have? Perhaps we need to remember how powerful words actually are. Remember the old saying’ “Sticks and stones my break my bones but words can never hurt me.” So not true. How many of us have been hurt beyond measure by the words spoken by friend or foe? Then again, how many of us have been ministered to by the power and beauty found in a thoughtful, genuinely crafted message offered in a time of need. Words have the power to hurt, yes, but more important, they have healing power that goes beyond what we can imagine.

“Beautifully crafted words have the power to captivate the mind of anybody.” Sam Veda
“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.” 
Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind
“Good words are worth much, and cost little.” George Herbert
“Kind words are a creative force, a power that concurs in the building up of all that is good, and energy that showers blessings upon the world.”
Lawrence G. Lovasik
“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” William Wordsworth
“Go inside where silence is. Stay there. Let words bubble up.” Maxime Lagacé

Words are powerful. When time is taken to connect with what we want to express, to identify the feelings, the emotions, then paint a word picture that expresses those deep thoughts to someone who needs to hear them, the outcomes are nothing short of magnificent. What’s more, the beauty of the written word is in the reading, and re-reading, prolonging the joy or affirmation received by the ‘other’.

I’m not a great orator, nor am I capable of orchestrating a magnificent symphony with words, but I want to learn. Not for self-edification, but to put into words–spoken and written, what I have lived, what I feel, what I am learning, and offer them up as a gift to bring meaning and edification to others.

Perhaps together we can create verbal touches and virtual hugs offered to others through the sharing of  thoughtful, genuinely crafted words, seasoned with a healthy measure of empathy.