Run your own race…

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The first time I heard this was when I was training for my first half marathon.

Makes perfect sense, right?

However, try sticking to that in the middle of the race when everyone is speeding past you and you are trying to keep up.

I realized then that it is not really just “run your own race”…it should also be “RUN AT YOUR OWN PACE!”

Needless to say, I did finish my very first half marathon at a half-decent time (no pun intended!) and went on to run many more races after that.

However, lately, it seems that I have to keep reminding myself (and others) that I am “running my own race and at my own pace.” when it comes to my own career.

“You could make more money somewhere else…”

“You are so smart; you should ask for more money.”

“You are already doing more anyway, why not get paid for it…”

Money, Money, Money.

In a fit of impatience, I had blurted out “I don’t want more money!”

In my previous experience, more money, meant more work, more expectations, more stress.

No thanks.  Been there, done that.

The best decision I have ever made was to leave my high-stress job, take a step down the proverbial corporate ladder, and take a significant pay cut.

“But you still get stressed in this lower-paying job, so why not get a promotion and get more money?”

But somehow, the stress is different.  I leave it all behind at 5:30 pm and I look forward to spending more quality at home…

Walking through my garden and seeing if the squirrels left me some strawberries…

Having a beer in the front patio and count the number of white cars that go by…

Getting the mail from the mailbox and actually sorting and reading the flyers that came with the bills…

Work should not be just about money.

But for some people, it is about the money…. which is unfortunate. I guess for them, their race is to amass as much money as possible, as soon as possible.

Wrong race for me…

I think next time, I will not feel the need to justify that my race is to find what makes ME happy and it may take me a while to figure it all out. My happiness is worth more than a million dollars in the bank.

So, when you feel that someone is pushing you to do something that you know is not for you, tell them:

“I’m good.  I am running my own race at my own pace.  Thanks though.”

Have a good week, everyone!

Debbie.

 

 

EGO–how to deal with it.

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I’ve had a tough week.

As an accountant, I have had my share of meetings full of fragile egos and people who seem to exhibit sociopath tendencies and do not seem to care about throwing people under the bus.

Difficult people.  You know what I’m talking about. There should be a Difficult People 101 course.

Okay, you are right–I’m probably overreacting but I’m sure I am not alone when I say, dealing with difficult people sucks the life out of you and makes you wonder how you can deal with them.

Soon after I started my mindfulness journey, I began to really pay attention to the types of difficult people I normally deal with.  I started grouping them in the  following categories: 

1) Talkers (they talk more than they listen and they interrupt incessantly!),

2) Perfect (they are NEVER wrong),

3) Fake (they often lie to get their way),

4) Control freaks (they are controlling and their way is the only way),

5) Only Me (they bring down others to prop themselves up). 

I’ve thought of this long and hard and I think I may have a way that may ease the pain a bit.  I’m not saying that it will be roses and wine from now on but it may give you a new perspective on how to deal with difficult people.

E—Empathy.  Empathy is the ability to put yourself in one’s shoes and understand what they are going through.  In most cases, I have to remind myself that everyone has a back story.  It may be that they are under stress and feeling overwhelmed, or they have some personal issues they are currently dealing with.

G—Gratitude. Be grateful that you have a difficult person who you can practice your mindfulness on!  In the Buddhist tradition, difficult people are to be cherished. 

O—Opportunity. View difficult people as an opportunity for growth.  Pay attention to what your body is feeling.  Are you holding your breath? Did you just tense up? Tighten your jaw? Stay present. Stay silent and just listen with a beginners mind.  Perhaps, the difficult person may have a good point and emotions are getting in the way, or it may be YOUR EGO that is clouding your judgement.

One final thought–I always believed that these difficult people had inflated egos.  Now that I think more mindfully about it, it may be quite the opposite–they have deflated egos and they need to push people onto oncoming traffic because they believe that by doing so, they can attract more attention and elevate their own value.

What do you think?

At any rate, as I finish my second glass of wine, I am not looking forward to the coming week.  However, armed with a new perspective about ego and how to deal with difficult people, meetings may finally be something to look forward to.

Have a good week ahead, everyone!

Debbie.

 

 

S.T.O.P. –A refresher…

 

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I had a little argument with Olivia on our way to school this morning.

I didn’t have time to make her lunch and I was a feeling a little vulnerable since I knew I have not been a model parent these past few days. I was on a training course and we were off our usual routine.  Although I get home earlier than usual, I do not seem to have enough time to do laundry, put away the dishes, or go for a run.

Although…I seem to have time for two glasses of wine and cheese, check the Raptors game, do some Amazon surfing for some retail therapy, sleep later than usual, etc…

At any rate, some consequences have certainly been felt the mornings after….I’ve been oversleeping, Olivia scrambling for clean jeans, no time to sit down and have breakfast (or even packing lunch), and both of us grumpy and testy in the morning.

I knew she was going through a rough patch too…she was worried she didn’t study enough for her Spanish test, she has a history project to work on, a finance test for DECA Ontario (an extracurricular finance club for young and upcoming junior executives), a math test to study for  (trigonometry, as I recall) and she was having some trouble prioritizing which one to deal with first….

Anyway, she said, “I’m hungry.”

For some reason, I took this negatively.  I immediately responded that we should really do better at planning our mornings or even consider laying out our clothes the night before and she should give me some ideas on what she would want for breakfast or lunch instead of relying on me to read her mind…and how late did she stay up last night that maybe she should be waking up earlier in the morning?

…all in my “pissed off” and “accusing” tone.

Silence on the passenger side.

Then I realized that with all the mindfulness practice and mantras I have in my arsenal, there are still times when I fall off the wagon and I revert back to old habits of mindlessness.

Anyway, I dropped her off and said, “Have a good day, honey”.  At this point, I was hoping that she had forgiven me for my outburst.  As I was waiting for the train heading downtown, I remembered one of the simplest techniques in my arsenal that I should have done:

S.T.O.P.

S–stop and take a time out; pause

T–take a slow breath in and out. Take another one, for good measure.

O-observe what is happening inside you. Were you holding your breath? How about your shoulders–were they tense and up? Just notice. No judging.

P-proceed; having checked into what is happening, continue with whatever you were doing.  Maybe, just maybe…you are feeling calmer and clearer to deal with the present situation.

Anyway, as I write this blog on the train on the way home (the course finished early! yay!), I remind myself that there will be times when I will fall off the wagon, but it is okay.

I can always begin again.

Next time, I hope that I remember to STOP… before I blow things out of proportion.

Hopefully, you will too….

Have a good rest of the week, everyone!

Debbie.

 

 

 

A new year’s resolution: another look at Work-Life Balance….

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As another year draws to a close and a new year just around the corner, this is generally the time when everyone takes a deep breath and comes up with an impossibly unsustainable new years’ resolution…like going (back?) to the gym, eating out less, or spending more time with the family.  However, one resolution that tends to come up with most of my workaholic friends is striking the right “work-life balance”. 

I first heard of the phrase “work life balance” in the early part of my career as an accountant for one of the Big 4 accounting firms (it used to be the big 5).  The managers and senior managers were always talking about not having time for dinner with their families during the peak of audit season.  In fact, they had not seen their wives or husbands in daylight as they generally left for work before sunrise and when they came home, the whole house was already asleep.  They always said, “I have to get a job with more work life balance, man.”  

What exactly is “work-life balance”?  In a nutshell, it is the holy grail of the art of balancing work (i.e. career and ambition) with life (i.e. family, leisure, health).  This balancing act can be tricky and many of us have fallen into the trap of focusing on the work aspect….leading to the demise of the other.  Burnout and the compounding stress of a never ending workday in contrast with boredom and the compounding stress of always watching the purse strings are just some of the results of too much focus on either work or life.

In Nigel Marsh’s TEDtalk about work life balance, he brilliantly sums the paradox as “it is quite easy to balance work and life when you don’t have any work; not a very useful skill, especially when the money runs out.”

So where does this leave us?  Work life balance is different for everyone but these are some of my thoughts and tips that may help in find YOUR balance:

1.  It was never about Balance

Consider the three words again:  Work, Life, Balance. 

It was just recently that I realized that perhaps I was looking at this phrase all wrong.  Isn’t “work” really just part of “life”?  Why would “work” garner 50% of this equation? In fact, in thinking about this more deeply, MY life would likely be broken down into these components:  work, my family and friends, and my SELF.   All of these contribute to my overall happiness—but certainly not 50% of work!!!

Work is just part of life, such as my family and my health and wellbeing would also be.  Put another way, work is really just a piece of the Pie of Life; we should not give it more (or less) importance as the other parts of our lives. Alas, sometimes, this realization comes too late when our health fails us or when we suffer our first anxiety attack, for example. As far as I know, no one on their deathbed has ever said “I wish I had spent more time at the office”.

So perhaps, a change in perspective is warranted since it was never about balance to begin with….it is really about integration of the work in the overall scheme of things.

2.  Beware the Golden Handcuffs

Maybe it was just me but I found that even though I made a good living, it seemed as if it was never enough.  So, I went for promotions that paid me more money which meant more responsibility and more stress; other times, I would change jobs just for the fact that it paid more.  You would think that if I had more money, I could save more and be happier.  Quite the opposite.  Ironically, I found that the more money I made, the more expenses I seemed to have!  So, when finally I realized my happiness was inexplicably connected to my work life imbalance, it was so much more difficult to just throw in the towel and say, ENOUGH! 

Faced with choice—would you quit a job that makes you sick or would you just suck it up?

So beware the golden handcuffs…

3.  Establish boundaries

Employers try to attract talent or keep employees by giving incentives like flexible work environments including work from home, the perks of having the newest smartphones in the market, dress down Fridays, or even a daycare in the premises.  If you come to think about this though, these incentives just make your work day even longer!  I am sure that these employers have good intentions but it is critical that boundaries are set early on or else work will definitely take over all of your hours of the day. 

“But wouldn’t that limit my career?” you are probably asking.  Well, that would be up to you.  I think that you would likely come out to be a more productive and happier employee since you actually have time to BREATHE.  Have you ever worked with someone who always seems to be on edge since they have too much on their plate and everyone is tiptoeing and walking on eggshells around them for fear of being yelled at?  I worked for someone like that—I remember I used to take the longer route to the washroom so I wouldn’t have to walk by his office. Yah, not nice.

So, there you have it, a few thoughts to ponder as a new year is once again upon us.

Do you have any work-life balance tips of your own? Let me know in the comments below! Don’t forget to follow me by email so you never miss another blog… sign up below!!!

As always, thank you so much for following and reading my blog and may 2018 be a year filled with smiles, love, much happiness and prosperity.

This is my heartfelt wish from me to you. Happy New Year, everyone!

Debbie.

It started with an offer of Kleenex…

I caught a really nasty cold this past week…it may have been the flu but nonetheless, it devastated my whole entire week.

I even missed celebrating our Canadian Thanksgiving. I am not a big turkey fan but hey, I didn’t get to enjoy the long weekend it came with.

I think I caught it from the person who sat beside me on the train on my way to work.  It started with me offering her a Kleenex. In fact, I even texted my good old friend Joya the dilemma I was going through…

 

Joya suggested that I should move…

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I should have, now that I think about it…

Would you have taken a Kleenex from a total stranger?

I mean, I look like a perfectly respectable person, I take a shower every morning so I’m sure I smelled alright, and I had the obligatory Starbucks mug…and I was offering a brand new Klennex packet!  Brand new!!

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The “Debbie smile” as my dear friend alluded to has been known to create confusion. My former boss had once asked… “why is Debbie smiling that weird smile…there is so much to do!…and she’s smiling??!”. Needless to say, she hated it when I smiled my lunatic smile…as if I’m going to lose my marbles…

Anyway, at this point, I was clucking like a lunatic after Joya reminded me about “the smile”…

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So there you have it, folks!  It all started with an offer of a Kleenex to a complete stranger who was in grave need of one…

So what have I learned from all this?

You probably think that the moral of this blog is never offer a Kleenex since it will just be rejected and forget about being all martyr-like and sticking by your window seat since you are comfy and you got there first…

Nope.

The moral of my story that I got from this is…

I am grateful to have very good and dear friends like Joya who would stick by me even when we have inane and silly text conversations like how an offer of a perfectly good tissue morphed into the flu…and actually remember to check up on me.

She is who I am thankful for.

What are you thankful for?

Happy belated thanksgiving, everyone!

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.

The 5 ways I practice SELF-CARE….

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I remember literally cringing when my therapist first told me that I have to practice “self -care”.  For one thing, I have never heard of that term and it didn’t sound like a medical term to me.  Somehow it didn’t have the same razzle-dazzle as other medical terms I had recently come across like “cognitive behavior therapy”.

“What is self care, anyway” I remember asking.

“It is really just taking the time out to take care of yourself.  Debbie, give yourself permission to relax, to play, to watch grass grow….whatever you want.”

Well, fast forward to present day…I must admit it is the best prescription I have ever received.  In fact, I will share my 5 favourite ways I practice self-care.

 1. Wear comfortable clothes

Gone are my days of high heels and tight shirts/skirts for work, as well as those skinny bootie jeans that always made me rethink whenever I want to sit down.  Of course, this required a cold and heartless examination of my wardrobe.  Items that I know I haven’t worn in the past year (ok, 2 years–I’m not exactly made of money) or those that makes me itch after 5 minutes go on the donation pile.  I am also ruthless when deciding on new clothes.  I have to very honest with myself that I will be comfortable in them and that I am going to end up wearing it for a long time.  A classic and elegant look never goes out of style.

Try it.  You’d be surprised how good you feel afterwards–both mentally and physically!

2. Outsource

Not all of us are made of money, but sometimes, just sometimes, it is nice to actually have someone else do the cleaning.  I’m talking about having a cleaning person come once in a while to actually clean your house from top to bottom.  I still have to do most of the cleaning but once a month or once every two months is just enough for me to have a break and it doesn’t break the bank.

The feeling of walking into a clean house after the cleaners have left is ….indescribable.

3.  Take a “mental health” day off

Most companies nowadays offer personal days off as part of their compensation package–two or three days to deal with personal obligations, dentist appointments, or waiting for that errant cable guy to finally come.  I know that I used to just take them when I needed to do something during normal business hours like taking my car in for an appointment or renewing my passport. Then, forget about using the remaining days.

No longer.

I have learned that taking a day off for no apparent reason other than for “just chillin” (as my daughter always says), really helps me refocus and rebalance…again, both mentally and physically!  Don’t let those personal obligation days go to waste!

4.  Buy something small and inexpensive.

Remember when I said that I was going to learn how to play the ukulele ? (see my previous post here A New Year’s Resolution…?).  Well, I got past “You Are My Sunshine, My Only Sunshine” and now I am learning “Riptide” by Vince Joy.  I bring this up since I’ve been mulling that perhaps something like a guitar pick could help improve my strumming abilities ( check it out! ).  I am by no means ready for “Canada’s Got Talent” (in fact, I don’t think I can call myself a musician anytime soon!) but my point is, if you have something you are interested in, buying yourself something small and inexpensive (and hopefully, useful!) to help in your quest for greatness, may be just the ticket to bringing that little smile to your face.

5. Play tourist

Did you know that I have lived in Toronto, Canada for almost all of my life but have never gone up the CN Tower?  I pass the CN Tower almost everyday while riding on the train to Union Station, but have never gone up it.

There was once a time when my family decided to have a “staycation” and we played tourist in Toronto.  We stayed overnight at a downtown hotel and did the normal touristy route (ok, except for the CN Tower!).  It was so much fun!  I decided then and there that I would do it again. So, to that end,  I have visited the Royal Ontario Museum,  the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Ontario Science Centre…all on my own and at my own pace.  I do relish the fact that I can stand in front of a painting for 5 minutes and not care….

So, there you have it, some of my favourite ways of taking care of myself.  How about you?  Do you have any other tips for practicing self-care?

Have a good weekend, everyone!

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.