Letting Go of the Past

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I can’t believe 2017 is here!  This time of year always makes me thoughtful about the year that has passed, and excited about the year that is about to begin.  The words of one of my clients came back to me today… he told me that he’d decided that it was time to look forward and not backward in his life.  This makes so much sense – after all, we can’t change what’s already happened, but if we put our energy into things we can control, we can make amazing things happen.  Yet, so often, it’s not that easy.  I hear people talk all the time about wanting to move forward, yet in reality, I see people struggling to do this.  What is it that keeps drawing us back into the past when what we really want is a happy future?

I’ve felt this pull myself recently.  This year, my youngest child turned 18 years old and moved out.  My life has been incredibly rich because of these two amazing people that I got to be a mom to.  I’m so proud of them, and excited for the lives they have ahead of them.  But at the same time, it’s the end of an era.  I’ve found myself looking through old home movies and picture albums, and it’s bittersweet.  What a wonderful life I’ve had!  It’s hard to believe that those childhood years are gone. 

I used to get belonging from cuddling up and reading bedtime stories to my kids; from packing picnic lunches and spending a family day at the beach; from roasting marshmallows together over the fire while camping.  I felt pride when my children showed kindness to others, when they achieved success in school, when they nailed their part in the musical production or stood on their head goaltending on the hockey ice.  We joked with each other; we laughed together; we played together.  We had amazing family vacations.  It’s easy to let myself get overcome with sadness of those days that I will never have again.

As we travel through life, we find ways to meet our needs.  And being a mom was very need-fulfilling.  And I think that’s the draw to the past.  It’s hard to find new ways to get your needs met – especially when the old ones were so darn effective. 

But I’ve also learned that even when they aren’t that effective, it’s still hard to figure out a new way.  The alcoholic knows that drinking is destroying their life, yet can’t find another way to relieve their stress.  The abused woman knows that her life is in danger, but goes back to her partner because she is so incredibly lonely without him.  It’s hard to move forward when you can’t even picture another way that you could find happiness.

            So whether life has changed on you – with the death of a partner, the loss of a job, or your children growing up – or whether you want to change your life – going back to school, leaving an unhealthy relationship, learning to control your anger – the key to achieving your goals is in creating new pictures for yourself.  You will need to let go of how you did things in the past, and find new ways to meet your needs. 

So – my wish to you in 2017 – may you allow yourself to be creative, try new things, take chances, and create many new pictures for yourself that will bring much happiness and joy to your life!  Happy New Year!

How To Truly Help

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I’ve been working my way through a really cool course… it’s all about how those of us who work with Indigenous people can cultural safety in our practice.  I have to admit, I was skeptical about how painful it might be to do an online course – but it’s really well done, and I’ve quite enjoyed it  If you are interested, you can learn more about it here.

However, it’s not to plug this course that has led me to this post today.  I had a bit of an “aha” moment when I was working my way through a section today that I really wanted to share.

They were talking specifically about the experience of Indigenous people with the health care system, and how so many times, people’s different experiences, perspectives and beliefs are not valued.  The comment was made that we should not approach Aboriginal people as if we know what’s best for them.  The importance of listening, and working to understand where a person is coming from and what is important to them is key in truly helping a person.  For example, it’s easy to tell a person that they should be eating a healthier diet, but without listening, you might not find out the challenges of doing so in a remote community where fresh fruit and vegetables are not readily available or financially reasonable to purchase.

What struck me is that this is really true for every person in a helping relationship.  It’s so easy to think that we have all the answers and know what’s best for a person.  But each person is truly unique – with a different balance of basic needs, and different preferences about how to achieve these needs.  What works for me to fill my need for connection with others may totally backfire for someone else.  The things that make me feel powerful and like I can make a difference in the world are not the same as they are for others.  My idea of fun and freedom is not skydiving out of an airplane – but it is for many other people.

Yet, it’s so easy when we are working with people to make judgments and think we know the answers to people’s struggles.  I know I catch myself all the time thinking “If only this person would….”, without really honoring the fact that whatever they are doing they are doing for a reason.  If only I was able to slow down and explore the reasons, perhaps I could be a better helper….

Perhaps those of us in the helping professions need to ask ourselves – are we simply telling people what to do, or are we seeking to truly understand and help people find what’s right for them?

 

 

Twas the Night Before School….

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Here we are again – the night before the first day of school.  I’m excited about the upcoming year, and full of anticipation for all that is to come.  I’ve watched as my new students have walked through the doors to register – many are nervous and unsure of themselves, and I want to make sure that each and every one of them leaves at the end of the year confident and capable in their abilities.

But I know that this can be difficult.  While school is all about learning, mastery,  and achievement, and is designed to reward and celebrate those things, I also know for some of my students this year, in spite of having a great need for power,  they might not be able to satisfy that need easily.  How does someone feel a sense of accomplishment when they work hard and still fail that test?  Or when they are sitting in a class trying desperately to understand algebra, and it’s just not connecting for them?  If they are to leave feeling confident and capable, how can we create the conditions for this to happen?

So tonight, I’m thinking about ways that people can gain that sense of power in ways other than strictly academic achievement.  I want to ensure that there are leadership opportunities for them- so that even if academics are a challenge, that people still know that they are important to how our school functions and that their efforts really make a difference.  I want to ensure that my students learn that no one has all the answers all the time, but that they have figured out where to go and how to get the answers and help that they need when they inevitably hit a wall.  I want to teach them how to honestly reflect on their own progress, and to take pride in their own growth instead of focusing externally and comparing themselves to others.  I want them to know that when they have lent a helping hand to someone else, that they may have changed the course of another person’s life.  I want them to know that achievement and success come in many different ways.

What ways do you help to create opportunities for your students to fulfill their need for power?

Does Money Make The World Go Round?

I had the great pleasure of hearing Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band and the Osoyoos Indian Band Development Corporation at a conference this week on the topic of Aboriginal education and business.  He passionately shared his experiences of the changes in his community that he has been a part of during the ten terms he has served as Chief.  His story is truly inspiring – the band proudly operates a vineyard, a winery, a golf course, a conference centre, among other things.  He has been central in creating economic prosperity that has benefited the community in many, many ways.

One of the statements he made was that when people talk about emotional, spiritual and physical health, that he thinks at the centre of that all should be a dollar sign.

At first, this statement shocked me a bit.  But then I realized, he wasn’t really saying money was all that was needed.  In fact, he argued that welfare is one of the worst things that ever happened to his people.  What he was talking about was the ways that economic prosperity can impact people.  He talked about the pride that he sees on the teenager’s faces when they earn their first paycheck.  He described the sense of purpose that the community has in creating something amazing that draws the world to it’s doorstep.  He talked about the ways these initiatives have brought people together.  He talked about the feeling of pride in being independent and self-sufficient.  In creating your own future and destiny.

He was talking about belonging.

Freedom.

Power.

Fun.

He was talking about how emotional, spiritual and physical health comes from people meeting their basic needs.

It made me reflect on the neediest students I have worked with.  Have I at times contributed to their feelings of inadequacy by doing too much for them in the name of “helping”?  Are there ways that I could instead have created opportunities for them to take control of their own lives, and feel pride in their achievements?  To feel that they are a part of a group that is doing something important together?   To become strong and independent people?

How can we do a better job of this with our students?

Comparing Pain

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It was a really long day at work. There was a million people all demanding my attention at once. There were deadlines looming that I couldn’t envision possibly reaching. The computer wasn’t cooperating, and I couldn’t figure out why nothing would load properly. Couldn’t anything just go right?

And to top it off, I had an hour long commute after this crummy work day was complete. By the time I got home, I had a pounding headache and I still had to deal with a disaster of a kitchen before I could even start thinking about preparing some kind of sustenance for supper. By the time the family was fed and watered, I was thoroughly exhausted. What a day! My poor husband got an earful that night about all the stress that I was feeling!

Ever have one of those days?

Don’t we all?

Now, I know that I have a lot to be grateful for. I live in an amazing country, with amazing freedoms, and amazing opportunities. I am blessed with a fantastic family and a group of incredible friends. I love my job. I have a beautiful home. I have a wonderful life.

I am not fighting cancer. I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is coming from. I don’t have to live in fear for my life because of political unrest in my country. There are a million things that I take for granted every day.

But that doesn’t mean that sometimes I don’t just feel overwhelmed and tired.

This week, our Prime Minister’s wife expressed that she is overwhelmed and feels that she needs some additional help. And a whole firestorm of public outrage ensued about how someone who leads such a privileged life has no right to complain.

And then I thought about my day. Did I not have a right to feel the way I did?

I often have students come into my office that share the burdens they are living with, who feel they have no right to their pain because there are people much worse off in the world. I always tell them – it’s not fair to compare pain. Pain is pain. It hurts. If you break your arm, does it mean that you have no right to feel that pain because there are people in the world who have no arms?

Of course, it’s good to keep things in perspective. It does help keep me grounded to remember that I have much to give thanks for. I don’t want to turn into a person who chooses to be unhappy and wastes their life with constant complaining.

But at the end of the day, when it’s been a challenging one, it does ease my load to share my thoughts with someone who cares, and have them wrap their arms around me and tell me they understand, and that it will be ok.

When someone shares their load with you, do you validate their feelings, or tell them they have no right to feel that way?

Why Are We So Cruel?

A couple of events that hit the news recently left me incredibly sad at the cruelty that we humans can heap upon one another.  One was the tragic death of a young toddler in Austin, Manitoba who wandered off from his home and was found in a nearby stream.  And this week, the same thing happened when Fort McMurray, Alberta went up in flames.  In the midst of the most horrific experiences of their lives, other people pointed the finger and blamed the people involved for bringing these events upon themselves.

That mother should have been supervising her child more closely.

Its karma that the environment took down a city built upon the oil industry.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be in your darkest hour, and to see such hurtful comments being thrown around social media.  Does any mother want to do anything to cause the death of her child?  Does any person really want to endanger the survival of our planet?

Anyone who knows me well can attest to the fact that my hands are covered with scars from a never-ending series of kitchen knife mishaps.  Now, I know that knives are sharp.  I am more than aware of the consequences of not being careful while handling them.  But it still happens.  Why?  Because I believe that I can save the time of pulling out a cutting board and instead slice up an apple in my hand to calm a screaming toddler.  I think I can be safe and get things done quickly at the same time, and sometimes I make a mistake in judgement.  And I’m sure thankful when I need stitches that I’ve never had a doctor tell me that I deserve to be in pain.

People do the best that they can, and sometimes things just don’t go as planned.

But in both these recent tragedies, I don’t think this is even the issue.  It’s not that anyone made a mistake in judgement.  Bad things simply happen sometimes, no matter what you do.  Kids get away from their parents, no matter how watchful your eye.  Forest fires do not target anyone; they just burn.

So then why must people point fingers and blame instead of having compassion?  When I’m getting my fingers sewn up, the medical staff  are gentle with me and freeze my hand so I won’t feel anything as they make it all better.

I wonder if it has something to do with power.  We all need to feel a sense of control in our lives, and when we see these terrible things happen to others, it makes us afraid that perhaps we could be vulnerable too.  But if we can find some fault with the victims of tragedy and convince ourselves that they did something to deserve their pain, then it follows that as long as we make better choices, then we can make sure nothing like that ever happens to us.

Of course, it’s smart to be careful.  Don’t drive while drinking, be careful with electricity, ensure you have supplies in your home to manage a power outage.

But don’t for a second think that any of us our capable of controlling everything so perfectly that nothing bad can ever befall us.  Sometimes we misjudge.  And sometimes things happen to us that were beyond anyone’s control.

And when they do, wouldn’t the world be a better place if we could lift each other up when disaster strikes?

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What Motivates the Other People….

Last week, I asked the question “Why do you work?”  I’d like to send out a big “Thank You!” to those of you who participated in my little survey to find out your thoughts.  And now for the results….

For the majority of respondents, they found doing something important/making a difference in the world motivated them the most.  Financial reward and enjoyment/fun were tied for the least motivating factors.

I heard about a research study (I’m so sorry – I’ve searched for the reference and can’t find it!  If anyone knows about this study, please let me know!!)  where they interviewed people to find out what they would choose to do if they had a choice between a career that paid very well but was pointless work or a career that was very meaningful but didn’t pay as well.  Not surprisingly, the results were the same – meaning is very important to us.

The part I found most interesting, though, was when they asked people what they thought the majority of people would choose.  Most thought that others would choose the well paying job.

In spite of the fact that there is a mountain of evidence that tells us that people want to engage in activities that make a difference, we often think that we need to provide treats, stickers, bonuses, etc. to increase productivity.

So – the question this week:  Whether you are managing a staff, trying to engage a classroom of students, or get your family to help with the household chores – are you focused on providing external motivation, or have you found ways to help people connect with the purpose behind their work?

What ways have you found to tap into people’s desire to do something important?  Please share your ideas!  (Trust me – taking a minute to share your stories can make a big difference in the life of someone who may be struggling right now!  Yes, YOU can make a difference!)

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