A Picture’s Worth 871 Words

October 28, 2012 § 3 Comments

My mom is magic. Really, she is. I haven’t given her nearly enough credit for the woman she is and the influence she’s had in creating the wonderful person I’ve become.

She’s recently taught me yet another valuable lesson, though I think I’ve expanded on it a bit further than she intended me to. (Such are the joys of an active thinker, trust that I will take any concept you give me and stretch it far and wide!)

The lesson she intended to instill in me is that I am wanted and loved.

I’ve been doing an incredible amount of work on relationships lately, with a much stronger focus since the spring. It’s one of the areas of my life I’ve seemed to struggle with the most and so I’ve been delving deep behind the scenes to see what can be done about strengthening the foundations I’ve built.

Last week, I called my mother in a moment of impatience and frustration. “I’ve been putting myself out there, meditating, making my lists, making space in my life both in my schedule and in my house… hell, I’ve even cleared out a drawer. Come on! What else is it I need to do???”

A little voice in the back of my mom’s mind told her that there’s something she’s been needing to tell me, something critical that would help me over this last part, but she didn’t know what that message was. Coincidentally, she’s been on a similar purge, preparing herself to let go of many of the items she hasn’t been ready to release for one reason or another. A couple of weeks back she got to her old photo slides. She tossed many of them without even opening the box to find out what was inside, but there was one in particular that she couldn’t bring herself to throw out. As she pulled out a sleeve of slides, one of them caught her eye. “I need to get a print of that photo made,” she thought. “No, I need to get two prints made.” One was for me.

She knew what the message was.

Just after I finished my little temper tantrum, mom told me about the photograph. It was a photo of her and my dad – before they had Wayne and I – and it was a picture of them just being really happy together. Her insight? Somewhere along the line, I became jaded about the relationship my parents had. The photo is a reminder for me that they started out in a happy place… that I came from a happy place. They wanted children together, they very much wanted my brother and I, we were a happy family for quite some time. But between what I viewed as them bailing on the relationship (I was 19 when they split up), and my brother leaving this planet for whatever is beyond a few years later, the family I was born into collapsed around me and I felt like the only one left standing, the only one who still wanted to be there.

As my mother told me more, like how my father was there in the room to hold me when I was first born and how he used to ride around Millet with Wayne in the truck beside him, tears were streaming down my face. My mom saw what I was in the middle of, but what I couldn’t see. My assumption had become that nobody wanted me or what I had to offer. And yet, as she painted the picture of the happy family I had actually come from, there was the belief, plain as day, staring me in face. It’s influenced everything I’ve done and every acquaintance, friendship and relationship I’ve had. I’ve entered each believing I wasn’t wanted in the first place.

After percolating on this point for a few days and deciding it was safe to send this belief out with the rest of the trash I’ve been getting rid of, I put on my new lenses and really took a look at each of the relationships I’ve had in the last few years. I had always believed the ending of each was a reinforcement that the entire relationship wasn’t right and a part of me thought it shouldn’t have happened at all. But my new lenses were showing me my next lesson.

The meaning and beauty I’ve attached to a particular person or moment needed be tarnished by subsequent actions or results. It can shine on with the same significance it previously held.

I find myself now enjoying this new space. It’s one where I can appreciate a moment independently of what is happening around it. Regardless of the final outcome of any given situation, I’m no longer allowing myself to diminish my significance or that of another in my life for the sake of defending an old belief that doesn’t serve to lift anyone one up anyway. Instead, I’m now surrounding myself with these happy memories. They are the soft cloak of love and support with which I move forward. They are my reminder, regardless of what’s happening, that a life full of joy and happiness is a choice I can make today and everyday.

Note: The photo’s still printing. I’ll share it soon!

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The Easiest Lessons Are Often the Hardest Ones to Learn

April 9, 2012 § 1 Comment

Reading glasses

Reading glasses (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love it when my brain is able to process things for me and still let me get a good night’s sleep. Like it did on Saturday. I woke up well rested, but also with a big “A-ha!” on my mind. In this particular moment of clarity, I saw an obvious obstacle. It must’ve been in a blind spot. I’m glad I’m learning to change and evaluate different perspectives, because now it’s staring me directly in the face.

What I’ve always known on some level, is that the way to success in any endeavor is to come at it from a space where we’re 100% genuine, authentic and ourselves. In terms of work and my career, I’ve never had any problems doing this. Thus, I’ve never really had any problems in the workplace. Most of the time, I get what I want, although it’s not always when I want it. And if I’m not getting it, I’ve got the ovaries to say something about it or stick my neck out and seek it elsewhere.

Where I run into the most difficulty is in primary relationships. I get stuck on what I think a “girlfriend” or a “wife” type is supposed to be. I put on my happy face and play the polite, nice girl from a small town that everyone’s parents would find delightful. And though those are certainly elements of my personality, I don’t allow the rest to shine on through with them. And yet, over and over, in each given situation, I would start off being myself, but the more I’d get into the relationship, the more I would play the role, and the quicker things deteriorated.

Somewhere in my logical mind, I’ve of course always known this one. I would have had to in order to have that kind of approach in my work life. It surprises me that I wasn’t able to make the connection before between my behaviour in either situation and the results I was seeing (or perhaps it was more that I hadn’t attributed this point as the direct cause of my success or lack thereof before). But alas, it’s always those things that are right in front of us that we often have the most trouble acknowledging.

A conversation I had with my friend Dave later on in the weekend regarding relationships spurred the topic of censorship. How much of ourselves do we censor in order to be the kind of person we think our other half wants to be involved with versus just being ourselves? Each of us had numerous examples of couples in our lives that we considered to be censoring dreams, attitudes, beliefs – any number of things really – for the greater good of the relationship. We also each had a much more limited quantity of examples of couples we felt had attracted their ideal mate and just worked because both parties were coming from a space of complete authenticity.

My biggest challenge now is changing the behaviour. I’ve been playing the role for so long, it’s going to take me awhile to reprogram things, undue the habits I formed long ago. But they aren’t providing the results I desire, so why continue to repeat them?

As I think about all of the steps involved, it seems like I have a relatively large task at hand. Yet, I’m reminded of an example I once read in the book by Chip and Dan Heath, Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard.

My loose rendition of the example is as follows… Essentially, there was this doctor researcher type who was supposed to head over to a developing nation and attempt to solve some of the hunger problems. He was to have a couple of years to complete the research. Unfortunately, a change in government showed up on the horizon and his contacts warned him that his time frame had just shortened to about six months. They couldn’t guarantee that they’d still be around if and when a new government took power. Six months were not enough time to understand all of the factors at play, yet him and his team decided to go in anyway. Instead of trying to identify all of the complexities of the problem, they would look for what the book calls the “bright spots.” In this particular example, the bright spots were any children in the villages that were above average health in their communities. Outliers, if you will. They surveyed families from a variety of nearby villages and found that most families fed their children rice, but the families that also mixed in a local plant had healthier children. The plant was viewed by most as something only lower class families would use, but was providing much-needed nutrients to the children that were consuming it. The researchers then encouraged all mothers to mix in the plant. A decade or so later, the average height and weight of children in the same area had risen considerably. The lesson here? Identifying all of the factors in a problem can waste valuable time. Looking for consistent examples of a preferred situation and discovering what’s being done differently in those examples can bring a simple solution to a large problem.

So, transferring over the mindset of work Wendy versus relationship Wendy is as simple as speaking my mind and going after everything I want in any given situation. If I give no regard to any “considerations” I might come up with to delay progress, I shouldn’t actually experience any delays in progress.

Wish me luck! Let’s see how this goes.

The Journey Continues

November 10, 2009 § 12 Comments

Canadian rocker Tom Cochrane had it right: Life Is A Highway.

My blogmate, Wendy, won’t be surprised I’m using a musical reference in my blog. We both do that with regularity to explain things.

In her last post, Wendy described the search for herself as a long one. She wondered if she would stand still for a moment or if she’s destined to keep moving and to continue in search of herself along the way.

I’m certain Wendy’s journey toward more knowledge of herself will be ongoing, just as mine about me will.

Anyone who constantly looks for more out of life, who is not content with the status quo, is bound to wonder what role they play in the scheme of things. There is going to be an ongoing search of who we really are because we continue to evolve and grow with the new circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Yes, life is a highway. Mine is just significantly longer than Wendy’s since I am several years older.

Sometimes we can whip into fifth gear and zip into the fast lane on our life’s highway – things are going great and we haven’t a worry in the world. Other times there is road construction and we are forced to travel along at a snail’s pace – perhaps we are overwhelmed with competing life or work priorities that are bogging us down. Sometimes there is a blizzard and we are storm stayed, stalled from moving forward – a death has occurred in the family or maybe we’ve had a relationship go south.

Events and people along the way can serve as jet fuel to thrust us ahead while some individuals and circumstances can clog up life’s carburetor.  It is always a good idea to do a maintenance check to see our personal engine is firing on all cylinders.

In my case, I was flying through my 20s. I had the fortune of meeting my bride-to-be and my best friend by interviewing her for a profile while I was a newspaper reporter in St. Paul. I was married at age 25 and she has been my rock ever since. If I had any doubts, having my wife follow me across the country for my latest job when she loved her work and the people she worked with would have removed any questions.

My life euphemistically veered for the ditch when my father died in January 1989. Somehow I knew when I moved to Ontario, that I would never see him alive again, but you can’t live life on premonitions.

It wasn’t that my father and I were that close. We were alike in many ways – our work ethic, values, kindness, our friendliness once we get to know people, and our concern for the underdog. But we had little else in common in terms of interests, other than we shared the Montreal Canadiens as our favourite hockey team.

My father’s death became something of a Circle of Life moment in that we knew he had plans to come and see my son once he was born in April 1989.

Although I have never developed the prototypical work-life balance we are reminded to find, his untimely passing did underline for me that it is important to live in the moment.

I was able to launch my communications consulting business, The Write Stuff!, and have some flexibility in my life because my father had left an inheritance. However, I would give all that back to have seen him live longer. He was just learning how to enjoy himself when he died. In fact, Dad just attended his first NHL game on the night he passed away.

I have strived to find my own level of conformity with the work-life balance ideal, but I do love what I do, so it is not a 50-50 proposition to me.

So, I have found myself working hard like he did, but playing hard when it came time to see some of my favourite performers in concert. Between 2005 and 2006, I saw the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger live. I have also taken in numerous hockey and baseball games over the years.

After my mother died in 1991, it was back into the fast lane again. I refocused my career to move from newspaper reporting to corporate writing, editing and photography at the Ontario Lottery Corporation.  Five years moved by quickly and I learned a lot of things that would help me find opportunities down the road.

When restructuring began occurring in 1997, I knew it was time for me to revamp my career. It was in that year that I started my company. That led to my position with the Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board, which in turn, paved the way for my current position with the City of Grande Prairie as Manager of Marketing and Communications.

When I think back, my highway of life has been mostly bare and dry, allowing me to travel at top speed most of the time, changing gears as needed.  Setbacks, such as my diagnosis of diabetes in 1999, have not been debilitating.

When I found out I had diabetes, I said that the D word is a whole lot better than the C word – cancer.

My good friend and best man, Darrell Skidnuk, was not so fortunate.

He was taken from us after a lengthy battle with cancer in April 2004 at the very young age of 42. Darrell and I met as reporters at the Daily Herald-Tribune in Grande Prairie. He would become associate publisher of Fort McMurray Today. Darrell was the consummate professional, husband, father, volunteer and citizen.

Even though I believe in God, I have not been able to rationalize why He would let a great guy like Darrell suffer and perish when he had so much to offer the world. Many others hate their existence and wish to die.

Darrell was one guy I could talk to about anything, so it seems natural now to wonder when I am having a dilemma, “What would Darrell do?”

Another friend, Diane Sims, has ovarian cancer and multiple sclerosis, along with other related ailments, yet still has a strong spirit to continue writing and helping others through their pain.

Again, I wonder, “Why Diane?” Is it that there are certain people put on this earth simply to inspire others?

So, how does all this relate to me and my life?

I have been motivated by them and try to be better at what I do when I think of them.

Although I don’t know where my highway is taking me, I know my role is to make every workplace I have been to better and to encourage others to be the best they can be. I am here to foster better lives for others who have not had the same fortune as I have while constantly raising the bar for myself.

Wendy is right, we only have one shot at life. Darrell packed a lot into his short existence. Diane continues to fight the odds.

I haven’t always lived up to their standards, just as I don’t always heed the Serenity Prayer when I should.

But as long as I remember where I should be on that highway of life and follow the signs, I will enjoy a rewarding journey.

Where Am I?

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