“I’m allergic to B’s…”

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“I’m allergic to B’s.”  I still remember my mom telling me that over the phone and it hurt.

I was in my first year of university and honestly, even though I was a straight-A student coming out of high school, I was still finding my subjects difficult.  To top it all off, I was unprepared for being away from home, having to make new friends, making sure I had enough money for tuition, rent, and food, and the list of responsibilities went on….

Essentially, I had to grow up.

To be honest, I totally understood where my mother was coming from.  As immigrants, my brother and I knew the value of hard work.  Coming to Canada meant that if we worked hard, we can help my mom make a better life for us here.  Not only that, our older sister, Sofy, had worked so hard to bring us over… so failure was not an option. We had no choice but to work hard.  At any rate, I did graduate with honors and passed the qualifying exam on my first try.

But still….to this day, Peter still talks about the first time he actually saw me cry.

Anyway, this week brought this memory back.  Olivia had decided to do the International Baccalaureate (IB) program and for those who are familiar with this program, it is a doozy.  Olivia had such a tough two weeks with all her evaluations and tests, along with her other extracurricular responsibilities.  The final straw was her math test this past Friday where she said that it was so hard that some students started crying during the test since they had no clue how to answer it.  Some students even said that they cannot tell their parents about this.  One of her teachers called it “mathematical treachery.”

At any rate, I definitely am not following in my mother’s footsteps….

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Peter is the tough one since he always wants to figure out what went wrong.

                    Did Olivia study enough?

       Did she have enough Omega 3s to improve her memory? 

 Did she get enough sleep?

And his checklist goes on….Meh, he means well. Truly.

As for me…..

 I know the power of a comforting hug and shoulder to cry on.

So, really, parents have different ways of trying to make things better for our kids but one thing is for sure, all parents want their kids to succeed.

But as parents, sometimes we forget that our kids are just that…KIDS.  Their brains are still under construction as I wrote in my blog How to Survive Middle School: My Mindfulness Guide  (see point #4) ).  We may resort to threatening them, saying that they are not doing enough, or that they border on being useless, but we take the risk of that backfiring…BADLY.  These kids are already under so much pressure that they don’t need additional grief from us.  Would you agree?

Anyway, here’s hoping that Olivia’s weeks get better…and “No, I’m NOT allergic to B’s…”

Have a good week ahead, everyone!

Debbie.

Unfinished…

 

I finished drafting my first ever book.  Actually, I started it about 13 years ago when Olivia was first born….and I just finished it today.  It’s a children’s book about colors….

What a wonderful feeling of accomplishment….!

…..which immediately turned into feelings of inadequacy as questions like “what else have I never finished?”

Begs the question….”Am I one of those people who loves starting things and leaving it unfinished?”

Now that I think about it….I have unfinished paintings, unfinished piles of laundry (my husband has resorted to buying new pairs of socks), an unfinished basement, unfinished poems,  even unfinished sections of my garden (that weeds have taken control of!)….

Begs the question…..”Why do I leave certain things unfinished?”

Now that I think about it…I always seem to run out time, run out of energy, run out of money, or worst of all….run out of interest.

I know I am not alone in this.  I hear people all the time saying that the weekend was too short or their vacation ended too soon or that the bathroom is half painted….

Then I hear this little voice in my head that says “Well, you did finish your book!  It only took 13 years but hey! It’s done…! ”

That is true….so what if I don’t finish things…it’s not the end of the world.  I guess I do finish the important stuff….like medication or antibiotics…!

Anyway,  I’m going to go get ice cream…THAT I know I will finish!

Have a good week, everyone!

band instruments at guitarcenter.com

Debbie

Multi-tasking: Debunking the Myths

images   I used to work for someone who would be drafting an email, “supposedly” listening to me, and scarfing down a late lunch, all at the same time. When I paused, she would look at me and say “Continue, I’m listening.”

I am not sure if she really was listening but did you know that multi-tasking is not only counter productive, but it is may also be damaging your brain?

The Myth:  “I’m good at it!”

Reality:  No, you’re not.  Our brains were not built to multi-task.  In fact, it can only focus on one complex thing at a time (note the words “one” and “complex”).  This means that while you can read this article and chew gum at the same time, it is a different story when you try to do two input-rich activities –like balancing your budget while talking on the phone with your lawyer.  In reality, our brains switch back and forth between tasks. In the process, we have to disengage neurons involved in one task and activate the new ones and paying less and less attention to either task.  Studies have shown that this task-switching results in an average of 50% more errors and it takes about an average of 23 minutes to get back on track on what you were doing previously, resulting in about 40% decrease in productivity.  Ouch.

The Myth:  “No harm done”

Reality:  A study by the University of London found that multi-taskers experience a drop in their IQ levels comparable to someone who has missed a night of sleep. In some cases, the IQ dropped by as much as 15 points, a level to which would be comparable to the cognitive equivalence of an 8 year old.  In addition, MRI scans have shown that brains of multi-taskers have less brain density in areas that impact our sense of empathy and emotions.  By multi-tasking, we may be damaging our brains in the process….

Definitely something to bear in mind the next time you receive an email that sounds like your gradeschooler wrote it and sounds a tiny bit snarky…

The Myth:  “Hands-free” 

Reality:  If you have not seen the movie “Dr. Strange” starring Benedict Cumberbatch, I suggest you do as it is due to multi-tasking that we have a movie.  Driving a fancy fast car while trying to look at an x-ray is just plain stupid.  To dumb it down for us mere mortals, it would be the same as driving and texting at the same time.  Hands on the wheel, eyes on the road, and focus on driving, people!

The Myth:  “I can just stop” 

Reality:  I dare you to just stop, cold turkey.  Not so easy, is it?  A further complication with multi-tasking is that we become addicted to it.  What we perceive to be a “successful” multi-tasking increases our dopamine levels–the hormone responsible for the feeling of happiness and thus, we don’t want that excitement and stimulation to end. However, the dark side of this equation is that in addition to dopamine, multitasking also releases adrenaline and other stress hormones that contribute to long term health problems.

So, what to do?

Taking all of the above into perspective, multi-tasking really is just another bad habit –like nail biting.  You need a concerted effort to be more mindful and stay present.  This may include chunking out the time for specific tasks.  For example, check your email only at specific intervals during the day and actually booking a meeting with yourself for an hour to get through without interruptions.  Taking little breaks between tasks also helps in reseting our brain and our mood to what needs to be done next.

In addition, being a role  model of being a “unitasker” goes a long way.  For example, in meetings, put aside your work phone and focus specifically on what is being discussed. Sending out an email during a meeting is not only rude but distracting to the presenter.

So, the next time when you feel that you have that urge to do two things at one time, pause….and say, “Just One Thing at a Time”.

Debbie.

2016: the Year of the “Office Rage” and personal reflections..

I came to a realization that 2016 was not such a good year for me. Actually, that is an understatement. It was crap.

I also came to a realization that I have come a long way with my mindfulness journey this year.

Well, okay…if I take those two together and net them, I guess this year has not been so bad after all.

I quit my job of over 10 years and was forced to rethink my future as an accountant. The culture at work had changed and I didn’t like where it was heading. On the positive side, it made me question whether I really wanted to work in a field full of egos, where arrogance masked personal insecurities, where favouritism trumped hard work, where WHO you knew was more important than WHAT you knew.

The stress in the office was too much, not just for me but for everyone. I heard  the saying “I got thrown under the bus by so-and-so” almost daily.

It became every person for themselves.

“Office Rage”, I call it.

People buckled under the stress and in some instances came up with outlandish excuses why things were going wrong.

“She actually did not want to work for so-and-so, that’s why she quit.”

“Only he knows what is going on…”

“She was not doing her job that someone else had to work the weekend for her.”

“I’m going to give her something so difficult so that she screws up and quits.”

“She was not really sick so she had come back to work.”

“The units are all stupid.”

“It’s all her fault…”

“It’s all his fault…”

“Idiot.”

When I recall the instances when I heard these sayings, I cringe. How can people say these things about each other?

I wanted out. I realized I needed to spend more time with my daughter and rethink, regroup, and reconsider what I really wanted to do. I’ve dubbed them my “3Rs”.  Besides, did I really want to work with people whom I had considered “friends” all this time and then find out that they had thrown me under the bus several times!?!? Were they ever my “friends”? Or was I just a pawn in a game of office politics, just as everyone else?

My family was supportive and understood that it was time to leave. I can honestly say that I was so relieved when I quit.

I must admit that it is because I have been in this mindfulness journey that I have survived such a toxic environment.

I too could have played the game and thrown people under the bus. I recall I was pretty good at playing the finger pointing game in my previous life…I could have convinced myself “only the fittest survive” or it’s a “dog eat dog world.”

Yet..

How can one look at themselves in the mirror and like what they see?

How could one not feel as if you sold your soul to the devil when you do something like that?

…and for what, a few minutes of feeling superior?

Is it really worth it?

Perhaps for some people it is a means of getting ahead. But this is definitely not me.

I also believe in karma. It will always come back to you in some form. I remember listening to someone who was going through a rough day. When asked what she should do, I said “Do Nothing. Believe in karma.”  Her response was “Well, I can’t wait for Karma! It takes too long!”

Mindfulness helped me navigate the minefields of getting through the days, through the year. Not to say that I escaped unscathed, but at least I stayed true to myself.  I can honestly look at myself in the mirror and say “You are alright.”

Ironically, a few days after I quit, I was offered another job with another company–still accounting related but more theoretical. I guess these things happen for a reason.

I am looking forward to 2017 and I’m interested where it will take me….

Here’s to a happy and prosperous 2017, everyone!

Debbie

They come in all shapes and sizes…

School is out and so my daughter is now off for the summer. This is also the time that she looks back over the past school year and how it went.

She doesn’t talk much about marks or the classes. She knows she was excellent in that front. Instead, one lazy afternoon, over a plate of paleo cookies and milk, she talked about how some of her classmates were trying to bully her and how she dealt with it.

Actually, this gave me pause since I knew she was going through a rough time with some kids ever since she told the principal that one of the kids (let’s call him JD) was saying nasty things and throwing things at another (let’s call him AD). AD was in tears but JD was on a roll and everyone just stood by laughing..that is until my daughter decided to call the principal to break it up. My daughter knew she could not handle JD on her own so she called someone who could.

The backlash for what she did was immediate.

Who she thought were her friends went up to her and asked why she called the principal over and got JD in trouble. They called her a “snitch”, that they would never trust her again, that she would never survive high school, that she was just trying to get attention, and that she is a teacher’s pet.

Whatever name she was called, my daughter stood her ground.  She asked her accusers what they would do if it was their sister or brother that was being bullied.  Would they just stand by?  Or what if they saw a murder happening, what would they just keep it to themselves?

Not sure how the battle of wills ended but as she was telling me this story, I could see the steely look of conviction in her eyes and it was then and there that I realized that my daughter is STRONG. Somehow, somewhere, she learned to stand strong for what she believes in.

….and then she said “I’m sure bullies come in all shapes and sizes. They are all around us and we just have to deal with them.”

Interesting.

I think I agree. I would think that bullies are not isolated to the playground…they could happen in the workplace as well.

The difficult part of workplace bullying may be recognizing that you are being bullied!

Let’s think about that for a minute….

Imagine this….

Your supervisors yells and accuses you of not doing your job, for leaving early, or showing up late and other insidious deeds you are apparently guilty of. Your supervisor’s angry voice is interspersed with profanities and for added effect, papers are thrown around on the desk.

You know the accusations are without merit and will not stand up in court in the event you are wrongfully dismissed.

Would this be workplace bullying?

Perhaps.  Perhaps not.

I guess if this has only happened once, then I would probably chalk it up to heat of the moment, a momentary lapse of judgement or maybe low blood sugar…

Now consider this….

What if….say, in addition to the above case and on a regular basis, the supervisor makes you feel stupid in public, says profanities to attendees during meetings, or talks about people behind their backs, or will give you work that sets you up for failure so you would leave, or coerces you to put favourable insights in employee satisfaction survey.

Would this be workplace bullying…? or just normal office politics gone crazy?

Whatever name you put on this, this supervisor is definitely not someone you want to work for.

Even if you wanted to report these incidences, I don’t believe there would be an appetite for such confrontation…especially when  you have bills to pay.

The sad part about workplace bullying is that the backlash would likely not be immediate but rather very slow and painful….and the stress of dealing with such a roller coaster at work will likely take a toll over your health, both mentally and physically.

I feel for those  who are unfortunate enough to be in this position since the feeling of hopelessness AND helplessness must seem insurmountable. Anxiety and depression may become constant companions much like unwanted visitors who have overstayed their welcome.

Fear is probably the main factor behind one’s inability to act in these circumstances….fear of losing one’s job, fear of not getting another job, fear of looking like a failure, fear of what people are going to say, fear of going out of one’s comfort zone, fear of the uncertainty and the unknown.

I must admit, that is a lot of fear to carry around inside your head.

So, what would you do?

My daughter’s way is face it head on and damn the consequences.  As for me, I am not sure how I would deal with bullying in the office (or anywhere for that matter!) but I certainly wish for all of her courage if and when I find myself in such a dire situation.

As she finished her milk and brushed away the crumbs,  I could not help but be proud that she is growing up to be an admirable young lady….

I also thought that maybe we should have more cookies with milk over this summer….

Debbie

 

 

 

 

 

The injustice of it all…

My daughter got an A on her school essay about Canadian history. However, instead of being happy with her mark, she felt that she did not deserve it and thought that compared to a fellow classmate’s piece, it was just an A- or just a solid B+.

“JD should have gotten a higher mark than me but Mr.S gave me a better mark because everyone thinks I am one of his favourite students.”

I have always known Mr.S to be a fair teacher and so I would not put a lot of weight on that reasoning.  He would have taken all the factors into consideration–the perspectives presented, the flow of the writing, the research gathered and conclusions reached. After reading the essay, I thought it was deserving of the A.

But, let’s step back for a minute.

What if…someone you did not perceive to deserve such accolades but due to favouritism, received more opportunities than others?

Not quite fair, is it?

This is of course assuming that your perspective is accurate that they do not deserve to be the favourite and the opportunities in question are truly opportunities that everyone would die for…

I recall a recent conversation with one of my closest friends from school …the promotion she was working hard for was given to a more junior person (let’s call him Junior) who always went for coffee with the boss, did not rock the boat and followed whatever was asked of him. Whatever his work ethic was, I did not know and my friend was not in the mood to tell me.

“I went to MIT and Wharton! Junior went to a small college in the US!”

“I had all these ideas and he had none!”

“He made all these mistakes that cost millions but no consequences!”

At any rate, the comparisons went on and on and all one sided. I don’t think she even spared a thought of how Junior must feel…perhaps he doesn’t really want to be the favoured one? I am not entirely sure if all of it were true or even relevant but at that time, it was not a good idea to interrupt her rant..

Sound familiar?

Last I heard from my dear friend, she quit and moved to a better job where she makes loads more money…and more importantly, where favoritism is not as crippling. She is happier and I’m extremely glad that all turned out fine for her.

Let’s consider a hypothetical scenario where it doesn’t impact yourself directly but you may have to take on more work to help the favoured one out?

Or how about when the favoured one has a protective shield and is immune to any consequences while the ordinary people have to watch out for their own backs?

I hear lots of these types of indignant stories….in the elevator, on the train to and from work, while waiting in line at Starbucks…and almost always involves the workplace.

So, what is one to do when faced with such injustice?

I personally think…do nothing.

It is what it is.

I think it is part of our human nature to indulge in favoritism and try as you might to change someone’s perspective about their favorite person, you cannot do anything until that person is ready to open their eyes to what is happening in front of them.

My daughter says “sounds like a defeatist attitude to me.”

Is it?

I don’t believe so. Doing nothing does not mean that I consider favoritism in the workplace to be okay. On the contrary. It does a great disservice to everyone in the team and no one wins. However, most of the time, one cannot do anything about it.

So, I accept that it is unfair but it is out of my control. Continue doing a good job and move on. Focus on something else more important outside of work and move on.

Of course, if it becomes intolerable, doing what my dear friend did would be the best course of action….leave a potentially toxic environment and hope that you find greener pastures.

In the perfect world, we would all be the favoured ones….but sadly, the world is not perfect.

Accept and move on.

Debbie.

“Don’t push me…please.”

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Those who knew that I was on this mindfulness journey were actually afraid for me…”That’s it.  Debbie is going to be a doormat once the word gets out that she is actually nice….”

BEFORE that fateful spring day in April 2012, I was the “Yes, I can handle this” type of person.  There was nothing I couldn’t juggle:

  • a stressful career and since I just got promoted, my “proving mode” was on overdrive
  • a busy family life (swimming lessons, piano lessons, Olivia’s homework, renovating the basement, laundry, grocery shopping…you get the picture)
  • running regime (trying to break sub-2 hours in a half marathon and not throw up at the finish line),
  • learning Spanish for work (fail…although, I can order a bottle of wine and ask where the bathroom is)
  • writing a children’s book (still not finished)

While I thought I was a pretty good juggler, I admit I was not the nicest person to be around.  I was more impatient, more crabby, more mean…just “more”.

I remember telling my husband that his 102-year old grandmother will die a very bitter old woman and she deserves it. Ummm, yah. Not nice.

In the office, I had just gotten a promotion and so I was so engrossed in proving myself…if someone disagreed with me, I spent the day poring over accounting rules to prove them wrong.   “I am right and you are wrong.” Ummm, yah.  Not nice.

THEN, while on a conference call that fateful spring day in April 2012, my brain and lungs decided that juggling was no longer fun. I could not catch my breath and everyone in the office thought I was having a heart attack.  They called 911.

Not a heart attack, but an anxiety attack…equally as life changing.  It took months of doctor’s visits, hours of therapy, rigorous regime of mindfulness practice and meditation to realize that it is OK to be…imperfect, vulnerable, not be in control.

FAST FORWARD TO TODAY ….

I am more centered, more mindful, more present…just “more”.

My daughter loves that fact that I am patient, calmer, and actually listens…

Work is also more enjoyable–both for me and for my colleagues.  I try to inject humor and an all-around-positive-attitude during meetings, I try to actually listen with a “beginner’s mind” even though I may have seen the issue in the past (hey, I might learn something new), and I am more patient in explaining myself (if the other person does not get it the first time, it is OK…I can try to explain again).

So, getting back to the “doormat” issue.  I must admit that I too was worried that people would take advantage of my “niceness”….and you know what?  Yes, people have tried to take advantage.  I don’t fool myself into believing that just because I am on this mindfulness journey that everyone is also on the same journey. However, as Mahatma Gandhi once said,

“You cannot change how people treat you or what they say about you.  All you can do is change the way you react to it.”

So, when someone pushes me, I generally pause, assess (the person may be having a tough day!), and say with kindness and compassion…”Don’t push me…please.”

So far, this reaction has worked for me.

However, I wonder if they had kept pushing me…I think I might have eventually taken a page from the book of one of my very passionate Latina friends…..”You keep pushing me….and I BITE YOU!!”

At that point, I would have taken away the WELCOME mat….

Oh well.

Debbie

Leaving early….

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My best friend at work resigned today. After months and months of “should I or shouldn’t I?”, she finally said “I’m done here.”  She has lupus, an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system becomes hyperactive and attacks normal, healthy tissue. While she has not had a flare-up in months, she realized that her health was more important and that she would rather focus on her art full time.   So, good-bye stress and office politics!

I have known her for almost 15 years and I knew that this decision to leave did not come easy.  Lots of sleepless nights and doubts about whether she can finally make the leap to the art world full time.  There were good days and not-so-good days but lately, it may have been more of the not-so-good days.

When I did ask her what finally pushed her to make the decision, it was not that she had shrewdly played the stock market and she was financially secure in her decision to quit, but more of avoiding the stress of quarter-ends (which always made her lupus flare up) and that she was at her happiest when she was making art (encaustic paintings). “Life is too short.  Do something that makes you happy”, she said.

Retire at 45, what a grand concept!

Like a good accountant, she had crunched the numbers and did her risk analysis, quantitatively and qualitatively, leaving no thought unturned between her left brain and right brain.

If I were in her brain, I think this conversation would have happened:

Left brain:   “Am I nuts?  No steady flow of income? What if I live to be a hundred–am I going to have enough money? What about the social interaction–won’t I  be missing that?  I will miss the office and friends–networking will be more difficult”.

Right brain:  “Right on!  Now I can be the best that I can be! If necessary, I can just live off dreams of apple blossoms and rays of sunshine…that would look pretty, yes?”

Left Brain:  “Apple blossoms and daydreams? If it has a dollar sign in front of it, sure!”

Right Brain:  “Art makes me happy….now I can do more…and sell more.”

Left Brain:  “How about day to day expenses?  Medical insurance? Dental care? Trust fund for Sunny?  He is only 11 years old but he may want to go to university? It will be expensive.”

Right brain:   “That is taken care of–took that into consideration when you crunched the numbers, remember?”

Left Brain: “What if….?”

Right brain:  “So ‘what if’…?”

Left Brain:  “I’M SCARED.”

Right brain:   “It will be alright.  If we don’t do this now, we will regret it forever…”

At some point, the left and right would have finally agreed and taken the right course of action:  to be happy.

I must admit, I am a little envious of my best friend having the courage to walk away from a well-paying job and step into a world of uncertainty.  I wish her all the best and knowing her, I am absolutely sure she will do well in her new adventure.

As for those of us left behind, the ripple of her leaving is already being felt in all parts of the team.  She will be sorely missed.  However, most of the topics of conversations around the water cooler were ” Retirement at 45 is possible?! Really?” and  “What makes me happy?  I should really plan for it..and plan well.”

So, the question that you should ask yourself “If I were on my death bed, would I wish that I had spent more time in the office….or more time dreaming about apple blossoms and rays of sunshine?”

Hmmmm….No regrets.

Debbie.