Be the Light

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.” 

~ Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers)

As I watch the news these days, it is hard not to feel sad, scared and overwhelmed. There are many frightening and despicable actions taking place every day and it can often feel like there is no hope. When I start to feel like this, I lean on the wise advice provided above. I look for the helpers. I search for the light. Throughout history there have been brave and selfless people who have fought for justice, despite facing great personal and professional risk. Alongside the pain and injustice in the world, there continues to be an abundance of kindness, love and bravery.

With this in mind, I wanted to highlight some positive stories and resources for you to check out. I hope they inspire you, as they do me.

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Factfulness: Ten Reasons we’re wrong about the world — and why things are better than you think by Hans Rosling

When asked simple questions about global trends―what percentage of the world’s population live in poverty; why the world’s population is increasing; how many girls finish school― people consistently get the answers wrong.

In Factfulness, Professor of International Health and renowned global speaker Hans Rosling, together with his two long-time collaborators, Anna and Ola, offers a radical new explanation of why this happens.

They reveal the ten instincts that distort our perspective―from our tendency to divide the world into two camps (us and them) to the way we consume media (where fear rules) to how we perceive progress (believing that most things are getting worse). 

Our problem is that we do not know what we do not know, and our guesses are informed by unconscious and predictable biases. It turns out that the world, for all its imperfections, is in a much better state than we might think. That does not mean there are not real concerns. But when we worry about everything all the time, instead of embracing a worldview based on facts, we can lose our ability to focus on the things that threaten us most. 

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Official Secrets

The other night, I watched a film called Official Secrets, which tells the true story of British intelligence specialist Katharine Gun. One day in 2003, in the lead up to the Iraq War, staff at Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) received a memo from the National Security Agency (NSA) with a shocking directive. The United States was enlisting Great Britain to help them collect compromising information on U.N. Security Council members: with the aim of blackmailing them to vote in favour of an invasion of Iraq.

Unable to stand by and watch the world be taken into war under false pretences, Gun makes the incredible decision to defy her government and leak the memo to the press. She does this at a great personal cost to both herself and her family. She is arrested, loses her job, and faces trial under the Official Secrets Act. Her story is an inspiring example of how an ordinary person can do extraordinary things.

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Together Rising

Glennon Doyle is a writer, speaker and activist. Doyle’s online writing career began in 2009, with the creation of her blog, Momastery. The funny, conversational and tell-all nature of her writing quickly gained popularity. Viral blog posts beginning with 2011 Lesson #2: Don’t Carpe Diem led to the publication of her memoir, Carry On, Warrior and the growth of her social media audience. Doyle has since gone onto write two more books, Love Warrior and Untamed. She is a professional public speaker and the President of the not-for-profit, Together Rising.

Life is brutal. But it’s also beautiful. Brutiful, I call it. Life’s brutal and beautiful are woven together so tightly that they can’t be separated. Reject the brutal, reject the beauty. So now I embrace both, and I live well and hard and real. My job is to wake up every day, say yes to life’s invitation, and let millions of women watch me get up off the floor, walk, stumble, and get back up again.”

~ Glennon Doyle

Together Rising invests money in both domestic and international projects. It’s motto is “Love Wins”. 100% of what Together Rising receives from every personal donation goes directly to an individual, family, or cause in need – not one penny received from individual donations goes to administration costs, unless a donor specifically authorizes that use.

Ringing in a new decade

As 2019 came to an end, and we welcomed in 2020, it made me to pause and reflect back on the decade coming to an end, as well as look forward to the one about to begin. The main lesson that I learned over the past ten years is that we have very limited control in this life. Don’t get me wrong. There is great value in planning, visualizing and working towards goals. This serves an important purpose. It is essential to be clear and know the direction that you want to move in: to identify your dreams and values. To set a course towards a destination.

The truth of the matter, however, is that despite the most careful planning and preparation, much of life simply happens to us without rhyme or reason; and it is often presents a very difficult and unpleasant reality. All we truly have control over in those moments is the choice on how we respond. The good news is that there is power in this choice. There is dignity in this choice. There is grace in this choice. It may not be what we planned or hoped for but it is where we are at. Rather than fighting what is, there is an opportunity to change and shape it through how you look at it, and how you choose to move forward. I have taken a lot of solace in this over the past decade and I will continue to lean on it in the years lying ahead of me.

Never Walk Alone

When my marriage ended almost four years ago, I was emotionally devastated; underlying all of the pain and heartbreak, there was a deep seeded fear that I would always be alone.

I have since discovered that this is a common fear many of us share: often leading people to enter into a new relationship, not because it is the right one, but because it is available.

I was determined that if I had to go through the unwanted experience of a marital break-up, I was going to turn it into a growth opportunity; and I made the decision to remain single until I could do some inner healing and rediscover solid ground and connection within myself.

It is interesting how, if you have been in relationship from a very young age, much of your identity is tied up in the other person, and in being part of a couple. It is hard to answer the question – who is at the core of me?

I set about trying to discover the answer to that question for myself. Through paying close attention, I began to identify what gives me joy. Personal joy. And what saps my energy. I also learned how to befriend my emotions: to sit with them when they arise and give them space to breathe, rather than pushing them away, or distracting myself with activity. To closely listen to what they have to say.

How am I feeling? What is my body telling me? What do I need? What is the next step that I need to take? It is in asking these questions, over and over again, that leads to more intimate connection with self. The quiet small voice at the core of my being who offers gentle guidance, clarity and loving support. My most constant and committed companion.

The other day, I realized that I can now clearly hear my inner guide. The noise and inner chatter of my mind remains but it is turned way down. If I need support and grounding, she is always available to me. It provides me with great strength to know that I can tap into this source of love and wisdom whenever I need to. I simply need to ask.

This benevolent, knowing presence has always been there. It is a kind and trusted friend. Since the day I entered into the world, she has been by my side; and she will remain there until I take my last breath. It is just a matter of listening and tuning in. I can never truly be alone, as she is always close at hand. That simple but profound truth gives me great peace and confidence as I walk this path of life.

The Perfect Fit

Trying to figure out the world of online dating reminds me of shopping in a crowded outlet store. The vast warehouse stretches before you, with its aisles and aisles of clothing, intimidating in its size and scope. You are there to find a perfect pair of jeans. First you wander around for a good long while until you finally locate the right section. You are then faced with daunting task of sorting through piles and piles of mismatched pants, mounded high on the bargain table.

Too tight. Too long. Too retro. Too wide. Too acid washed. It is overwhelming and exhausting. From time to time, you look up at yourself in the mirror of the change room, sweating under the fluorescent lights, pulling off another ill fitting option, and you wonder why you are bothering. But then you remember that all you need to find one perfect pair, just one, so it is worth the effort of trying them all on.

As I have written previously, I am currently testing out the world of dating. More specifically, the world of online dating. As you get older, there do not seem to be the same opportunities to meet potential partners through the regular channels: friends, colleagues, work, social circles. Everyone is paired up. You really need to search further afield.

There is something very intimidating about putting yourself out there in the virtual space: writing a short biography, adding photographs, posting it and waiting to see who responds. It requires a willingness to both expose yourself and allow for vulnerability. You need to remain open to what shows up: both the good and the bad.

Through the relative anonymity of the internet, I have noticed that people often lack the manners that they would normally have in a face to face encounter. They do not respond. They lack curiosity. They do not ask questions. They drop off in mid-conversation. They do not respect boundaries. They ask for revealing photographs. They expect sexual promiscuity. They do not show up for scheduled dates. It goes on and on and it truly boggles my mind.

The lesson I am learning throughout is how to hold on to myself during this challenging experience. To trust that I can be my most authentic self, staying rooted in my own values and beliefs: to not lose myself in the process of trying to find a partner. What I am realizing is that it could take a long time for me to find the right fit; and that is ok. I am content on my own. I have created a good life and I enjoy my own company; I am surrounded by a loving community of friends and family. Romantic companionship is not a must but it would be a lovely addition to my life. In the meantime, I will try to remain open and curious about this strange and unfamiliar journey, and welcome growth along the way.

Local Explorer

I just returned from a local adventure with my daughter. We live on Vancouver Island and we spent a week on the road, stopping in three different destinations along the way. All of the locations were within a few hours of our home. During our journey, we enjoyed music, hopped ferries, savoured good meals, hiked, paddle boarded, swam in the ocean and played in the sun. The best part was visiting with friends and family at each stop; and there was a lot of laughter along the way.

It was wonderful to discover all kinds of local treasures, as shared by our hosts. There were lake trails, mountain views, hidden beaches and ocean spits to be explored. Our friends shared their favourite places, which we would never have discovered without their local knowledge and insight. My daughter and I came home feeling full, refreshed and happy. All of this took place within a few hours of home, which proves that you do not have to travel very far to discover adventure.

In recent years, I have also tried out a “staycation”, which entails staying home for your break. There is something really nice about exploring familiar surroundings. The key is not to let chores around the house take over your time. Staying close to home can be quite relaxing, as it offers you the opportunity to be a tourist in your own town, and spend quality time in your community. There is an additional element of mindfulness and intention that is required to ensure you maximize the experience; but it is well worth the effort.

I am always grateful for the opportunity to travel to other countries, explore other cultures and experience the world but a local experience can often be as equally fun and fulfilling. It is wonderful to have an economical option for spending time with your friends and family in a unique and meaningful way. There is so much to discover close to home. It just requires a little curiosity, openness and effort.

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Negotiating with Grace

Life is full of difficult conversations. It takes great skill to both advocate for your own needs and empathize with the other person’s position. A successful resolution is one where each party walks away feeling both heard and satisfied with the end results.

I recently finished a short book by Bob Burg and John David Mann called The Go-Giver Influencer. It is written as a parable; and it presents a set of simple, actionable steps that can be taken to negotiate with grace, kindness and dignity.

  1. Breathe: Master your emotions. Retrain yourself to respond to conflict and disagreement by ruffling your feelings. Make calm your default setting.
  2. Listen: Step into the other person’s shoes.
  3. Smile: Set the frame. Whoever sets the frame of the conversation also sets the direction and tone in which it will go.
  4. Be Gracious: Communicate with tact and empathy. Let yourself feel what the other person is feeling, and speak to that truthfully, yet also with compassion. Remember that they are a chime and you are a tuning fork.
  5. Trust: Let go of having to be right. As long as your premise is that your position is the right tone, and the other person’s is the wrong one, you have no chance of arriving at a genuinely satisfying solution.

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Seeing is Believing

I recently listened to a podcast where Oprah spoke to the profound impact of advice, given to her by legendary poet, Maya Angelou: “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” It is one of the single most important lessons that she has ever learned.

It seems so simple. Believe a person’s actions, not their words. Actions do not lie. But when I think about it, there are so many times in my life where I have ignored the obvious when it does not line up with my perception. It always results in disappointment and heartbreak.

The human brain wants to rationalize the world: to line up reality with our desired state and explain away any inconsistencies. Reflecting back, I have done this myself in all kinds of relationships: romantic, personal and professional. I whitewash negative behaviour when I spot “potential” in a person or I focus on what I want to see, rather than what is really happening right in front of me. The irony is I am always “surprised” when the person proves to be who they said they were in the first place.

My focus going forward will be to remain present with reality. To allow the truth to reveal itself, without an argument. Who shows up when they say they will? Who does not? Who follows through on their promises? Who does not? It really is that simple. Armed with good information, I can then make decisions on who I allow into my life and who I keep a distance from. A strong and loving community is such an important part of nurturing overall health and well being: with a tribe of loving and kind friends, colleagues and family, anything is possible.

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Strengths Based Living

This week, I have been exploring the strengths based work of Marcus Buckingham. Marcus is a career coach; and he believes that we are taught to focus on the wrong things from a very young age, which leads to unhappy and unfulfilling careers. Instead of learning to identify our own unique strengths, we are taught to seek external input from teachers and bosses on weaknesses to improve.

A strength is something that only you alone can pin point and a weakness requires external validation. A strength is a specific activity that fills you with joy and energy. It is sustaining and you lose track of time when it is underway. You look forward to the opportunity to do it every time.

This is different than something you excel at. You can be really good at an activity, but if it does not provide you with the things listed above, it is not a strength. This is why only you can truly identify your own strengths, as no one else can tell you how it makes you feel to do it. A weakness, conversely, is something that you will never excel at; with focused effort, it will be improved to mediocre status, at best. 

If you do not learn to identify your own strengths, it will land you in a job that is not well suited, as you will follow a path laid out by others. This can result in feeling drained, dejected and depleted when you show up to work every day. 

Oprah invited Marcus to lead a career intervention with group of professional women on her show. The free, step-by-step workshop is available online. I have done the work and and I found it to be incredibly helpful and insightful. He breaks out all of the steps of how to discover your own unique strengths and demonstrates how to tangibly action them. It is a wonderful resource and I hope you enjoy it too.

https://www.oprah.com/money/marcus-buckinghams-career-intervention

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I See You

Lately, I have been taking notice of a habit. As I walk down the street, I tend to look down at the sidewalk, rather than up at the world around me. I focus my gaze five to ten feet ahead, as I move towards my destination. My comfort zone is to keep my eyes lowered and my focus inward.

I recently decided to test out a small experiment. Rather than looking down, I have been intentionally looking up at every person that passes me. If it feels safe, I offer them a smile. This pushes the limits of my comfort, as it brings me into direct contact with strangers.

The vast majority of people do not meet my gaze. Some people look down or straight ahead into the distance. Some are busy talking with their friends. Others are intently focused on their cell phones.

Once and a while, however, I am successful. There is a simple but powerful moment of connection. Our eyes meet and I silently think to myself: “I see you. I acknowledge you. I honour you.” It often results in their face lighting up as we pass one another.

Although it is easy to dismiss the importance of small acts of kindness, you never know their true impact. That moment could offer a glimmer of hope to someone experiencing a difficult day, reminding them that they are not alone. It may inspire them to pass kindness onto the next person they encounter: generating a ripple effect of love. Whatever its impact, I am enjoying the practice of bringing myself into the moment, and taking the opportunity to connect with others along the way.