because it’s happening anyway, that’s why

“You get what you get and don’t be upset.” ~ Emily, 6

Sometimes you find wisdom in the most unexpected places, like your friend’s kindergartener. This quote was innocently uttered by her during a Saturday afternoon visit. I can’t remember who it was directed toward or what we were even talking about, but over a year later and it still strikes me with simplistic sensibility.

Whether you’re talking about your younger sibling getting more marshmallows in their hot chocolate, the fact that you’re stuck in an endless meeting yet all you can think about are the deadlines that seem to be tightening like a noose around your neck or that look on the doctor’s face that tells you, without saying a word, “I wish I had some better news”, acceptance is one of the hardest things to, well, accept.

And just so we’re on the same page, the fact that I’m writing a blog about acceptance with Easter on the horizon… well, the irony isn’t lost on me. Being raised Catholic, I am fully versed in the “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do” lesson, but I also know that we tend to lay it on thick to get the point across. Add being raised in a big Italian family into the mix and you can just throw in the mapina (dish towel) before even getting started.

The ability not to be able to accept things has plagued me, as I’m sure it has some of you, for most of my life. We think that by arguing, crying, screaming, and shaking our fists at the heavens things are going to change. How can’t they? Well, I can tell you right now, it won’t make one iota of a difference. The only thing those reactions will do is get you frustrated.

The lesson for me came about six and a half years ago, when I was told, during my regularly scheduled annual checkup, that I needed to be admitted to the emergency room right away for what would be my 4th open heart surgery.

Now I don’t mean to sound full of myself when I say this, but I’m a darn good patient. I go with the flow, I let them take as many blood samples as they need and I accept the fact that breakfast, lunch and dinner is not going to be 5-star.

But after almost a week of waiting, and two delays, I was started to get antsy. Are they going to do this already, or not? So when the doctor walked in at 4:55 that Monday night and told me we’d be going ahead tomorrow (instead of the originally scheduled Wednesday), I responded with “I’m ready… the question is, are YOU ready?” After he left the room I allowed the tears I had been holding back to stream down my face.

Was I scared? Hell yes. Was I nervous and about the outcome? Uh, yeah! Was there anything I could do to change the situation? Nope. Nothing. Nada. Why? Because whatever my reaction was, not matter how upset or angry I got, it was happening anyway.

After taking the sleeping pill the nurse told me would help me get some much-needed rest (not so much) and with my father sitting/sleeping/worrying in a chair beside my bed, I inhaled deeply and accepted the situation for what it was.

Spoiler Alert: Here comes that almighty fork in the road. I chose not to give up. Instead, I got determined… I got focused… and I decided that even though I couldn’t control what lay ahead of me, I was going to do the best I could.

It’s also critical to the story arc that I mention that when I shared with my boyfriend (now my husband) how things were going to go down (I have a fairly good memory and although it had been 21 years since my last surgery, there are some things you always remember), he didn’t bat an eye or leave my side.  In fact, when I told him that when (not if) I got out of this, we were going to Philadelphia so I could run up the same stairs Sylvester Stallone had made famous in Rocky.

“Eye of the Tiger” became my theme song that night, a song that played in my head as they wheeled me down to the surgical floor, throughout my recovery in ICU and during the week I spent walking the halls of the 5th floor cardiac wing.

In his book A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle writes about how “acceptance of what is takes you to a deeper level where your inner state as well as your sense of self no longer depend on the mind’s judgments of ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ When you say ‘yes’ to the ‘isness’ of life, when you accept this moment as it is, you can feel a sense of spaciousness within you that is deeply peaceful.”

Have you ever had moments like that? Where you’re so in harmony with the moment that there’s an inner peace – a feeling of complete contentedness – that comes over you? I have, and it’s nirvana!

That feeling comes when you are, as Tolle says, “fully conscious, yet the mind is not labeling this moment in any way. This state of inner nonresistance opens you to the unconditioned consciousness that is infinitely greater than the human mind. That is why, by letting go of inner resistance, you often find circumstances change for the better.”

In simple terms, once I accepted the situation for what it was, a shift in my thinking took place that allowed me to focus on the outcome – getting better.

And please don’t mistake the purpose and the beauty that is acceptance. Just because you accept that something is happening, doesn’t mean you agree with it. It simply means you’re acknowledging it, without judgment or justification. You’re not labeling it in your mind as bad or good, you’re just recognizing that it is happening. Because, guess what, it is?!

As I write this, I also recognize there are those times when you have to walk away – either a draining conversation or a dangerous situation – and, at that time, it will be the most appropriate response. However there are some cases when walking out is not an option. So that feeling of “I don’t want to be here” is not only useless, but dysfunctional. That negative vibe you’re sending out makes you, and others around you, unhappy. So take a deep breath, accept it for what it is and let it go. Easier said than done, but practice makes perfect!

So you might be wondering about that trip to Philly… I’m happy to share we did hit the road that following Labour Day weekend. In fact, hubby recorded what would later become a mini movie about my ascension up the stairs that lead to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with the accompanying track being “Eye of the Tiger”… as if there was any doubt!

Even today, when I hear that song it brings a smile to my face, because it reminds me of one of the most amazing journeys I’ve ever taken. It reminds me that even though you can’t change the weather, you can still appreciate the rainbow after the storm. And trust me, there is always a rainbow.

my heart is full…

“What goes around, goes around, goes around
Comes all the way back around.”

~ Justin Timberlake

I like to stick it to people. And when I say that, it’s not meant in a watch-out-for-that-horse’s-head-in-your-bed type of way. I do it by treating people to home-baked goods, going for a mid-afternoon Tim’s run or leaving what I hope are thoughtful gifts for them to find.

Why? Simply because I love to see the smile it brings to their faces or to hear how they’ve enjoyed something I’ve made… it fills my cup.

And it’s these same people who have returned the favour on countless occasions. Leaving my favourite Tim’s or Starbucks beverage on my desk at work (even though I’ve told them repeatedly they don’t have to, you know who you are!) or treating me to that Second Cup biscotti or Lazar rice pudding they know I love.

In fact, my friend Jen did just that the other day. She had listened to me explain, on one of our daily walks, that I was hoping to create a fun Easter craft I had seen on Pinterest for the 15 family members coming to our house on Sunday. But, I wasn’t able to find those darn marshmallow creatures anywhere. So what did I find sitting on my desk Tuesday morning? You guessed it…

peeps

As you might recall in my blog “that’s great, but what did you learn?” I mentioned the first store we visited on our St. John’s shopping spree was Johnny Ruth and Living Planet because of the heart pillow we had seen in the window.

It was in this same breath, one I had totally forgotten about, that our EMCEE Michelle had playfully warned “I’m going to buy that pillow for you when we get back”. We had a laugh and I hadn’t given it another thought… until today.

After my morning walk I came back to my office to find this pretty package sitting on my chair…

package

My first reaction was the same one The Old Man in A Christmas Story had upon the delivery of his “major award”. “Oh my… there could be anything in there!”

Bursting with anticipation I opened the card and read the sweet message Michelle had written inside…

note

As if that wasn’t enough, when I pulled away the tissue paper I couldn’t believe my eyes… it was the same heart pillow we had seen that first afternoon together in Newfoundland!

heart_photo

Rarely am I at a loss for words, and thankfully Michelle had a colleague in her office when I dropped by to thank her for the awesome gift or else I would have cried… and we’re talking an ugly cry. The kind of cry that not only embarrasses you, but all those in the general vicinity.

This thoughtful gesture truly touched my heart and made me feel both thankful and blessed for the people I’m surrounded by on a daily basis. Thank YOU, Michelle!

A reminder that whatever goes around does come back around – and in the best possible way. You never know who is listening to you ramble on about something that matters to you… but it is those same amazing people who, as you journey through life, truly illustrate what a wonderful world it can be.

getting OUT of the habit…

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

~ Aristotle

Ah, Sunday. The one day of the week specifically intended to be a day of rest in a world that seems to be consumed with non-stop action.

Chances are you went to church this morning, or had brunch with the family, or watched five back-to-back episodes of Corrie Street on the CBC (guilty)… and even though there’s an even greater chance those are the Sunday traditions you’ve built over weeks or even years, there’s an even greater chance you do them out of habit.

I first had an inkling of the battle between habit and tradition this past September, as we started planning our big year-end event at work, which happens every July. As we put our presentation together, the team agreed on one core belief – habit (how we do things) vs. tradition (what we did) was the main concept on which we would facilitate change. Guess what… it worked!

Coincidentally, a short time later I heard about a book by Charles Duhigg entitled The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. In it, he talks about a habit as being a simple neurological loop that consists of a cue (my mouth feels gross), a routine (hello toothpaste), and a reward (ahhh, minty fresh).

It can best be described in this simple illustration, courtesy of theemotionmachine.com.

the_habit_loop

Duhigg writes that understanding this loop is the key to exercising regularly or becoming more productive at work or tapping into reserves of creativity. In fact, marketers are learning how to exploit these loops to boost sales (there’s a fascinating story about how Febreeze came from the brink of bankruptcy to be the success it is today), while CEOs and coaches are using them to change how employees work and athletes compete. Essentially tweaking a habit, as long as it’s the right one, can have staggering effects.

It might sound like a lot of work, but it’s not – it just takes consistent practice. For a helpful example, check out how theemotionmachine.com breaks down how you can replace old (possibly bad) habits with new (more effective and healthy) ones in a comprehensive, three-step process.

After reading the book, I got to thinking about my own habits. Over the past year, I’ve lost 20 pounds. Did I do it by crash dieting or cutting out foods (hello pasta!) I loved? No. I simply started walking every day. Eventually, that walking became a regular routine of 30-45 minutes a day, three times a week.

Now, every day at work and two minutes before the start of break or lunchtime, I put on my running shoes and change into my T-shirt and head to the warehouse for my daily walks. It has become a healthy routine and I genuinely miss it when I’m so busy I can’t fit them into daily schedule.

In the same breath, I still indulge from time to time (my favourites are iced capps with white milk, rice pudding from Lazar bakery and Turtles, just in case you were wondering), but not every day. I also use a fantastic app called myfitnesspal. I’ve gotten in the habit of tracking my calories and cardiovascular activity on a daily basis… allowing for little leeway on the weekends, of course.

I’ve also come to the conclusion that the key in trying to replace a habit (we’re talking more behavioural here) is to take stock of a situation before it happens. Picture it, you’re at your desk, paperwork piling up, email ringtones blinging away, you’re in the middle of doing a task that requires concentration, when a co-worker knocks on your door to ask you a question.

200334149-001_XS

Do you get frustrated and snap at that person or do you take a moment – and a breath – and turn to them with a warm, inviting smile?

If you’re like me, chances are you’d react more in line with the first description – anxiety and frustration. Can’t they see I’m busy? You might roll your eyes or get frustrated, making the other person feel sorry to have disturbed you, and fearful to take the chance again. But I’m working on it and, I tell you, while it’s mindful work, it’s setting me up for a positive change.

Now when I find myself in the middle of a creative flow (you writers know what I’m talking about) and I get interrupted, I try to take a deep breath before turning around the respond. It allows me to calm myself, refocus and give the person awaiting my response my full, and pleasant, attention. After all, isn’t that what I’d expect when I go knocking on someone’s door for help?

Now I’d caution a bet that since it’s Sunday, you’re already dreading your Monday morning – the start of the workweek, the answering of voicemails and emails, another five days of the same routine.

So since the focus of this blog post is about altering your habits, I challenge you to do that today. Instead of worrying away your Sunday on what’s to come tomorrow, why not go see a movie, take a drive or go to the park with the kids (it’s the first nice, sunny day in a long time – take advantage!)? Or, as my hubby and I are doing, ditch the cooking at home and enjoy an out-of-the-mill Sunday night dinner. It will take your mind off what’s to come Monday morning and, bonus, you’ll have some fun.

Who knows, you might even make a habit of it.

practicing what you preach

“Teamwork makes the dream work.” ~ Unknown

I love my husband. He’s handy around the house, can make me laugh until tears roll down my cheeks and he can cook too! His specialties are roasts, chili, meat of any kind and, of course, BBQ. But, and this might come as a bit of a surprise since he’s a certified pork chop, he can make a mean pizza. He manages to combine the right amount of Italian seasoning with pizza sauce, cheese and an array of toppings, made to order.

IMG_4487

But, and as much as I love him, he has a memory like sieve. He can run a job site with calculated precision, but ask him to remember a birthday or what we’re doing on the weekend (even if you ask on a Friday) and he’ll look at you with worried eyes and a hesitant smile (dimple included).

So it came as no big surprise the other day when I went to grab my lunch in the kitchen before work and didn’t see the pizza dough (the same one we had talked about the night before) defrosting in the sink. While I do admit I hesitated for a mere moment before opening the freezer to take it out myself, I took a breath and mentally said “no, if you really want to change, this is the first step”. So, without judgment or resentment, I transferred the frozen dough to the awaiting sink so it could be transformed into a yummy dinner that night.

The funny thing? I received a text around 2 p.m. that day – hubby had remembered he had forgotten to take the pizza dough out of the freezer and asked if I had, probably with a slight sense of hesitation, in fear of the typical response. The exchange went like this…

Hubby: “Hi Hun. Did you happen to take the dough out this morning? I forgot again. :(”
Me: “I sure did… We are a team, after all. 🙂 But kudos for remembering.”

You know what the best part of the exchange was? No one got frustrated or had hurt feelings. We were both hoping for the same outcome, a yummy pizza for dinner, so why not work together to achieve it? I knew that if I really want to change my mindset, the first step was changing my response and, in turn, my actions. By putting the theories about teamwork I had so passionately blogged about to work, the end result was a positive one.

And here’s another thing… which I recall as I write this. Last week we had a group of friends over and guess what was on the menu? Pizza. Hubby had to work, which left me home alone all day, glued to my computer watching back-to-back episodes of Downton Abbey, which led me to forget to take the dough out in the morning to defrost.

He could have gotten frustrated, irritated or, instead of putting his work boots back on after a long Saturday working in mud and dirt, told me to get in my car and go to the grocery store to pick one up. But he didn’t. He cut me some slack and picked up the ball I had dropped.

And isn’t that what it’s all about? That and being careful with how quickly you jump to react to the actions of others because, as soon as you do, it’s going to come back to bite you in the ass with the sting of red, hot chili peppers… which just happen to be tasty on a pizza!

a long day’s journey into Winterpeg

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”

~ Lao Tzu

Irony. Coincidence. Fate. Whatever you want to call it, this was the quote that awaited our St. John’s EMCEE when she returned to the office and flipped her calendar over to March 1, which just happened to be the same day we found out all planes in and out of Newfoundland had been cancelled the weekend before.

I had received the email while I was sitting at our gate in a packed airport, awaiting our flight with our Winnipeg crew for the second weekend of our cross-Canada event. I smiled and took it as a good sign, especially after the adventures we had experienced the previous week, and even though I had almost forgotten my “work” clothes (skirts and blouses) that morning a few mere moments before the airport limo was set to arrive.

Now before you think the epiphany brought on by our Newfoundland experience had me sitting all Buddha on a mountaintop or running through a fresh field of daisies singing “The Hills Are Alive…”, I’m going to stop you right there. While I continue to live off the high achieved from our east coast adventure – and strive to implement the habits I formed over those few extra days into my everyday life – I also know enough about myself to know that I’m also a realist, which can sometimes translate into being a cranky pants.

Although I didn’t let the fact that I almost forgot my dress clothes or that our EMCEE, upon realizing she had forgotten her coat at her seat in the airport had to turn around and make a mad dash from a boarding plane, I knew Winnipeg wouldn’t be the same. It was going to be what we made it, that was for sure, but the atmosphere, the city and the expectations had to be adjusted.

When we arrived at our hotel the concierge was fantastically friendly and there was even a Starbucks in the lobby (bonus!), but we were tired. As fun and exciting as our Newfoundland adventure was, we had flown back on Tuesday night, headed into the office on Wednesday for a full day and then headed home that night to pack again for a plane leaving the next morning. We joked that the show could literally run itself with all the obstacles we had overcome the previous weekend, but just because it could didn’t mean it would.

In the hotel lobby, while the team waited for their steaming hot cup of crack (i.e. a Starbucks latte), I closed my eyes and remembered Mary Kay’s mantra of eating an elephant one bite at a time. Feeling more centred, I opened them to glance out the nearest window and onto the downtown streets of Winnipeg. What did I see? You’ll never believe it…

IMG_4712

There, sitting and staring at me, literally waiting to have his picture taken, was man’s best friend – a chap I nicknamed Sidecar Sam. Definitely something you don’t see in Toronto every day… it brought a smile to all our faces and reminded us to lighten up a bit because everything would be okay.

That night we celebrated our first night in Winterpeg, which was bound to be a successful show (our shipment and guest speakers had all arrived safely!), at the Olive Garden. Along with our corporate guest speaker, we took pictures, ate more breadsticks than I care to count and had some great laughs. We set the tone for a professional, fun event.

But by the second day I noticed the things that would have made me laugh in Newfoundland, just plain old pissed me off in Winnipeg. Like getting stuck in the stairwell… I thought taking the elevator from the 21st floor down to the 11th floor would be simple – no such luck. Twice I pushed the button (with a pause in between to ensure an empty car) and twice I got a group of apologetic cleaning ladies saying that it was for service only. So, binder, pencil case and Starbucks in hand, I decided to take the stairs. All went well, until the 14th floor, where the sign above the only available doorway read I had to exit.

Long story short, I ended up wrapping my hoodie around my waist, juggling the stubborn contents in my arms and trying to find my way out of the labyrinth of stairwells. I eventually did and, when I reached my destination backstage to the awaiting crew, I relayed my story with a sense of frustration – which managed to quickly turn into laughter. It was pretty funny… I would have laughed if someone had told me the story. It was another sign that I needed to just get over myself already and have some fun!

Speaking of funny stories, with the Friday night show going off without a hitch (aside from the music conking out at the beginning, which was quickly recovered by our masterful AV tech and without anyone knowing the difference) I turned in for what I hoped was a good night’s sleep so I could tackle a full Saturday. That was until I woke up an hour early (the clock in the hotel room somehow jumped back an hour overnight) and after not being able to figure out how to turn on the shower I decided to take, and you’ll pardon the turn of phrase, a “whore’s bath”.

Now I like to think I’m pretty sharp. If I don’t get something right away, I either conduct testing until I figure out the answer or just ask someone. But I was in no mood to call down to the front desk that morning after not being able to find a single lever or button to work the shower. So instead, I sandwiched myself in between the tub and toilet to dangle my head under the bathtub faucet to wash my hair, thinking in my head with growing frustration “Seriously?!” Although I did laugh when I caught a whiff of the hotel soap because it smelled like Italian almond cookies (amaretti) and brought a little home to the road. It also made me smile because my sister always teases me that I’m still the only human on the planet who prefers a washcloth over a loofa when I shower – and here was proof of her suspicions… I was a nonna!

All in all, the Winnipeg show went off without a hitch. The audience was pumped and the energy was electric. Our team – both from the office and the AV Crew – were on top of their game and worked together seamlessly. I found that by the Saturday afternoon, and after the “shower” which dare not speak its name, my enthusiasm was renewed and I had even more A-HA moments listening to the speakers in attendance and watching the same videos I had reviewed countless times before during our AV reviews at the office. For some reason, this time, in this place, they spoke to me differently.

I think it’s summed up best by one of our speakers when she said, “Learn to be driven by your vision, not your circumstances. If you are driven by your circumstances, then all you will do is worry. If you are driven by your vision, you will be passionate and excited, and everyone will want what you have.”

Isn’t that the truth? We need to let go of our circumstance – real or built up in our minds – and work from our vision. Decide to be the best and then do the work – take the required steps – to get there.

I like to think of it as everyone being their own manager. You might not have the power to manage what happens to you, but you do have the power to manage how you react to a situation and how you treat people in the process – no matter what your job title is. An effective manager doesn’t lead with emotion, she puts her own feelings aside and does what is best for the greater good. Take yourself out of the equation, listen to others, try to give them direction and see how you can help get the job done.

Keeping in mind, of course, that just because you can manage doesn’t mean you can control. Once you try to take that road, you’re going to end up at destination failure. Why? Because a lot of people – including myself at times! – get those two confused. They worry that just because they aren’t making an effort to control, it can be perceived as them not caring enough. So not true!

You can do all the work to the best of your ability, plan until you’re blue in the face but just like a special event, once you get onsite and the show starts, anything can happen. I sure learned that lesson over these past few weekends – and I hope it’s one I soon won’t forget.