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.

Immigrants of 50 years!..Blog #78

It’s amazing how life happens, and great intentions get pushed aside. That’s what is happening to my blog…life! (be prepared, this is a long one!)

Bangor, N. Ireland (before my sister was born)

However, our family hit a milestone yesterday that simply screams for reflection. October 1, 2020 was our 50th anniversary of immigrating from N. Ireland to Canada. 50 years! I can hardly believe it. How life has changed over that time. And what a courageous decision for our parents to make – they sold everything and packed up 3 kids to fly across the ocean to embark on a new life. Landing in Ontario early October brought with it the most picturesque autumn colours…little did we realize that we were being lulled into the transition of Ontario winters.

I recall the first snowfall while living in Bracebridge, Ontario. We had never seen that much snow, 6 feet of pure glory (at least that’s what we kids thought). The downside was the freezing temperatures that came with that white wonderland; the gooey content in our noses froze shut as we walked what seemed like 10 miles to school.

There are so many stories I could share of the adjusting, adapting, re-learning, culture shock, missing family and friends back in Ireland. Still, it was the best thing that could have happened to us. That ‘starting life over’ decision made by Dad and Mum lay the foundation for such amazing opportunities for me and my siblings. We have all chosen different career paths, live in different parts of Canada, but share a common bond and love for all that Ireland instilled into the very core of our beings.

Obviously, this immigrant family of 5 grew over the past 50 years. Our parents started a clan of what now includes 3 amazing in-law spouses, 7 wonderful grandkids, and 15 of the most adorable great grandkids. Sadly, Mum developed early on-set Alzheimer’s and didn’t live long enough to meet any of her great grandkids…such a loss for her, and her grandkids. Dad hasn’t fared much better, vascular dementia and geographical distance presented a barrier we just couldn’t beat. He is now in a care facility.

Sadness and loss aside, life has been amazing! As I was reflecting on this major life re-direction, I was struck by the thought that while this immigration greatly impact my brother, sister and me, it might also have had an impact on our kids…so I asked three of the grandkids, ‘what difference do you think it made in your lives having a parent raised during their formative years in another country?’ I love their responses so thought I would share them with you (with their permission of course).     

Nanny McReady, mum, and me having a picnic at the sea.

Shannon (mother of the youngest great grandchild): My mom was born in Ireland and due to that I have always had a fascination and a small sense of pride for the country. It had always been my dream to travel to Ireland and experience the culture myself. I have now been 3 times, with the most recent trip taking me to the city where my mom was born, Belfast. At that time, I heard a bit of the history which created so many questions creating the need for a conversation with my mom; it left me wanting to know more from her perspective. Since visiting there, I have a greater sense of pride for Ireland; even though I wasn’t born there I feel Ireland is part of me. Having had a parent born in a different country, which they love and have many fond memories of, means I have two cultures to celebrate.

Nathan (father of 6 great grandkids): My mother’s Irish-ness was revealed to me in subtle ways as I grew up. Despite many attempts, I could never get her to talk in an Irish accent, and I heard very few stories of what her years in Ireland were like. Even still, I knew that her childhood was a deep part of her, even if it was a secret part of her. I’d later learn how much she felt a need to establish a new identity once she arrived in Canada, and how that sadly meant suppressing some of the very things that made her, her. It would be many years before I’d come to see how deeply Ireland was part of my mum.

As an adult, I moved to Ireland with my wife and children. Mum and dad’s first visit allowed me to begin to get to know my mother’s ‘secret identify.’ Whether it was in the way she approached the Irish Sea with holy reverence, or the way she cherished Guinness as only an Irish born woman can, or even in her deeply emotional reaction as we drove through Belfast and felt the deep fear held in memory by the murals depicting the fighters of “peace.”

I suppose for me, without really knowing it, Ireland has always been a part of me because of her, and I knew this to be true the first time I took in the rolling green hills and wild seas myself. I felt…home? No, not home, but at least I felt like I belonged there, just as she always will.

Alicia (mother of two great grandkids, and oldest grandchild): Growing up I really didn’t think anything of the fact that my dad had spent his formative years in Northern Ireland. It wasn’t like he looked different, or even sounded any different than any of my friends’ parents. I mean, I guess the red hair (what was left of it at that point), and the freckles that cover about 98% of his body did stand out, now that I think about it. And then there were the odd expressions…I remember going to someone’s house with him, and he told my brothers and I to go “knock the door”. My smarty-pants (can I say smart-ass) brother inquired where exactly we should knock the door to? And then there’s the cutlery. Heaven forbid you eat a meal without a knife! How on earth could you get food on a fork if not for a knife? I jest.

In all seriousness, having a parent raised in a different country informs so much of how we were raised. Going to Grammar School in Northern Ireland created in my dad such a strong work ethic. Schoolwork and grades were always something so important and such a priority for us. Thankfully, he didn’t adopt the strict rules he grew up with in school, and thankfully he never implemented the Ruler as a form of punishment either. For my dad, growing up meant soccer, or more accurately “football”, and seeing him instill his love for that sport, as well as rugby, in my brothers and myself, is something that has fostered in us a love of sports, and competition. Being born and raised in another country, and then as a family choosing to leave that country and come to a new one, starting a brand-new life is such a huge decision. While that wasn’t my dad’s decision independently, but rather his family’s decision, it is still something that informed so much of who he is, and how he and my mom chose to raise their family. I see that through that uprooting, family becomes so much more important, something not to be taken for granted. And while, we may not have always lived close to family, we have always been intentional about being a part of each other’s lives. It was also always so fascinating to see my dad refer back to his Irishness, his lilt if not a full accent, when we were with his extended family. It was like we got to see a bit more of his true self. My dad fought hard not to stick out when they moved here, his aforementioned flaming red hair and freckles, as well as the fact that he was tiny after having been skipped ahead a couple of grades made him stand out. And so, he tried to blend in, tried to fit in, tried to lose his accent. And while, as a teenage girl I totally got that – that need to assimilate – as I grew up, it also made me want to stand out, to be proud of being half-Irish. Perhaps as a result of that, and my love of that accent, it has pushed me to really embrace my Irish heritage. I am proud of the choice that my family made to leave Northern Ireland, but I am also proud to be Irish.

We are a truly blessed family, and even though we are spread out across the globe, there is a deep love for each other and an immense gratitude to Dad and Mum for their sacrifice. And we are, and always will be, Irish at our very core.

The shore of the Irish Sea

What’s in a name?…blog #76

What is in a name?

In short…everything! I am often asked why I have named my business SAM Consulting…who is Sam? Where did the name come from? Let me assure you, it wasn’t inspired by the main character in Dr. Seuss’s ‘Green Eggs and Ham’, however, it was inspired by people who are very important to me.

The full name of my business is Sawatzky and Associates Management Consulting, thus SAM. But please, let me pull some things from the name that will give you a glimpse into what I value, and what informs how I conduct my business.

Annalong Harbour

My grandfather on my Dad’s side was named Sam Campbell. I remember going to visit this set of grandparents in Annalong, a little fishing village in Northern Ireland. Besides the exploring we did around the harbour, watching the fish being dumped off the boats then sorted and cleaned in the fishery (now that’s a smell you never forget!), climbing the rocks, and watching my brother and cousin jump onto the fishing vessels, my fondest memory was sitting on my grandpa’s lap listening to him tell stories and quote poems in his soothing Irish brogue. And of course, there was always a fire in the grate to ward off the chill of the Irish weather. My Grandpa Campbell was not a man of great physical stature, but was a giant when it came to his character. He earned respect in all areas of his life from those who were fortunate to be in his presence, and by reputation. He was a fair man, full of integrity, caring, empathetic, and loved his family dearly.

These values are ones I have committed to emulate in my business dealings (and all of life). Sam is a simple name, yet it holds such awe and inspiration for me.

Samuel Sawatzky

Further to the name ‘SAM’— my business officially launched in 2009, the same month I was taking my final course earning a Masters of Leadership & Management…and the same month our fourth grandson was born. His name? Samuel. He has a lot to live up to with that name, but already we see how his character has developed in a way that his great, great grandfather would be proud.

Some businesses that are operated by sole proprietorships, use ‘associates’ in their name to perhaps give the impression of a more robust offering. While I get the intent, this was not the reasoning behind adding the term to my business name. Let me explain.

I am a firm believer in collaboration. Working together with others brings a diversity of thought that can be lacking when working as a sole proprietor. Collaborating with others also adds a greater level of expertise that, at the very least, brings value to the client. Since the inception of SAM in 2009, I have had the privilege of collaborating with others, of ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’, of benefitting from the minds of individuals who challenge me to think outside the box, and listen well.

There is a Gaelic word that I have come to greatly appreciate– Anam Cara. I was introduced to the concept through the writings of John O’Donahue  an Irish Priest, writer, and poet. It simply means ‘soul friend’, and brings a further meaning of being a ‘thinking partner’. If SAM had a tag line, it would somehow express the desire I have to be an Anam Cara to those I am privileged to come along side and support, to be a thinking partner as they work through new endeavours, challenges, or simply grow in their professional lives.

The name of my blog is Probe and Ponder; to me, life is full of wonders that often cause me to stop, ask ‘why?’, then probe and ponder some more. I love the opportunity SAM provides to come alongside teams and individuals, collaborating with others as together we Probe and Ponder the many opportunities life throws our way.

For the sake of simplicity going forward, I will be posting this Probe and Ponder blog on my updated website (stay tuned for that) www.samisremote.com.

And yes, the name is once again significant; I am a remote work advocate, researcher, consultant, and coach. I am also a Business Professor at Okanagan School of Business, specializing in HR and Management, designing and teaching on-line courses.

That, in a nutshell is who I am…SAM I am.

Annalong, N. Ireland

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

Hibernation is over…blot #69

I don’t do hibernation well, but that’s what I feel I have been doing since December 20 when I was gifted with a new knee. This ‘Christmas present’ came with unexpected packaging. 

“Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht” is an old Yiddish adage meaning, “Man Plans, and God Laughs.”

Michael Chabon

I totally get that. Despite my plans and intentions for medical recover, the past ten weeks have been nothing short of life controlled by…not me!

Imagine ten weeks of reading for the joy of reading, journaling everyday to capture the healing process, time to catch up on Netflix series a hair back kind of schedule doesn’t afford, afternoon snoozes, and crafting well researched blogs that would encourage and challenge remote workers in their exciting contexts. Imagine was exactly what I did; none of this actually materialized.

I think when the anesthetic was administered it not only knocked me out for the ninety minute surgery, it also contained a time release drug that lasted for at least eight weeks! Seriously, I’d pick up a book and not remember the story line from one page to the next. Game of Thrones? I managed five minutes of viewing before being overwhelmed, and I had previously read the first book!

Many of you share my love for roller coasters — crawling up an impossible vertical 250+ feet at a snail’s pace, then plummeting down to the bowels of the earth, only to hit a turn that just about propels it’s screaming riders into outer space. Fun on a roller coaster, not so much when this describes your emotional state. Name an emotion and I’m pretty sure I lived it. Rational? Logical? Not necessarily, but very real and very exhausting. For example, one particular interaction with another knee replacement patient left me feeling totally shamed when she commented that I wasn’t as far along the healing process as she. I’m an adult, but the power of peer pressure hit me like a ton of bricks. 

But today…ten weeks later, I actually feel that one day in the future I will once again engage in most of the activities I was missing out on, pain free, and ready to take on the world.

At one point in the post surgery days, I signed up for an on-line writing course tutored by my friend Karen Barnstable. This one thing I could do; there was no pressure to complete within a given time frame. I could write, maybe day dream for a time, or reminisce on life experiences that led me to this point in life. Each lesson submitted resulted in thoughtful, constructive feedback that informed my next attempt at telling more of my story. And the writing continues.

You see, I’m working on a memoir that focuses on my life and learning in the realm of remote work. It may take a while to complete because I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning about, and living this phenomenal approach to work. The discipline of writing is also helping me to focus on my next research topic that builds on what we’ve previously completed (still needs work to clearly articulating). 

My understanding is that the path to full recover is not a short one; however, the good news is that day by day, I’m getting there. And the great news is that the roller coaster has slowed down to more resemble a bike ride through the dunes connecting Zandvoort and The Hague; hills that still make you breathe hard, but reward you with moments allowing you to catch your breath and appreciate the journey.    

What’s your remote work story? …#67

Las Canteras Beach, Las Palmas de Gan Canaria

I recently had the honour of being part of NomadCity2019 in Gran Canaria…amazing! In preparation for the event, the presenters were asked to respond to several questions by way of introduction. I found that exercise to be an amazing reflection.

So, in that context, what is my remote working story?

While I didn’t realize it at the time, I have been working remote in some form for the past 29 years! I was a stay-at-home mom until our kids went to kindergarten. At that time I was approached to take on a leadership role in a non-profit organization. Before accepting, I laid out some conditions: if my kids were sick, I could work from home; if there was a school field trip, I could attend and complete my work in the off hours; and I would be able to adjust my work hours to facilitate volunteering in the school. I also assured them that in no way would the quality of my work or leadership of my teams suffer. To my surprise and delight, they agreed! That set the precedence going forward, and never once was I denied the privilege of such a flexible schedule. Unknowingly, this lay the foundation for both our children to desire non-traditional work options. Our son is a digital nomad, in his fourth year of travelling and working in Europe (with his wife and 6 kids), and our daughter has just transitioned to a remote leadership role in a collocated organization.

Topic: ‘Identify, screening for, and nurturing critical self-management skills’

In 2008, Canada suffered a recession and jobs were being cut. I led a team that was responsible for developing and sourcing leadership training resources. Because we were not generating revenue it was the ‘logical’ area for jobs to be cut…my job was one of those. At that time I made the decision to start my own consulting business working from home. Fast forward to today and I still have my consulting business focusing on all things remote, but I am also a business professor at the Okanagan College School of Business (British Columbia, Canada) specializing in Human Resources and Management. This academic involvement has provided the access and funding to become involved with research; my area of interest and passion is of course remote work. As well, I have been afforded the freedom to travel internationally to both research and speak about the research. I’ve also been privileged to make work happen where it will be most effectively and efficiently done. One of my current roles is orienting and supporting new faculty…term and full time. Many of these individuals are not on campus on a regular basis, some located on campus’ in other locations. A remote work perspective has opened the door for virtual meetings and collaborations, saving the professors valuable personal and travel time, while still being connected with their colleagues.

Now, I love a challenge! That means sometimes saying ‘yes’ to things before thinking through my current capacity. As a result I have suffered burnout and been forced to pull out of activities, and even commitments, that drain me. This becomes magnified when straddling the ‘virtual’ world and ‘physical’ world. I need to honour my employer, as well as the clients I work with through SAM. The upside of such a challenge is that it serves as a reminder to focus on my strengths, and to pour my energies into areas where I can have the greatest impact.

Yup, we have a wee bit of a shoe fetish!

Support, whether working in a fully collocated business, as a digital nomad, or somewhere in between, is vital! I have an amazing group of women with whom I meet on a regular basis. They serve as my sounding board, accountability partners, comic relief, and general support. We all have different work focuses (researcher, educator, dentistry, writer, business developer, executive coaching, mental health…), some work remotely, some collocated, and some hybrid like myself. Great support, and of course getting to the ocean as much as possible helps to put everything back in perspective (I grew up in Ireland right on the Irish Sea, so the ocean is my happy place). I also have an incredibly supportive family (specifically my husband, kids, niece) who serve as the best support a person could ask for…and have no problem speaking truth to me when the need arises.

I started off asking ‘what is my remote story’, well, that’s pretty much it. I have learned that stepping up and asking for a flexible schedule, or to work remote really isn’t such a scary thing, and it’s not an all-or-nothing equation. Some people work 100% remotely, and some 1 day a month…do what works for you, your organization, and your community. While there are challenges, none of them are insurmountable if you reach out and ask for help. Remote work can have such a powerful impact not only for individuals and organizations, but also the whole area of economic development.

 

My advise to others starting a similar journey? Stay open minded…embrace opportunities that come your way, and it’s never too late to start a new rendition of your career. Always remember that we were created to live in community, be that face to face or virtual…so make sure you stay connected!

So, what’s your remote working story? Where is your journey taking you?