Write your leadership manifesto

How does anyone learn anything? By getting their hands dirty and figuring it out.

So, even though I’ve been studying leadership in the workplace for a decade, dipping my toe in here and there…

I learned to lead over the past year, because of my family, because I had to.

At our house, I’m the lead parent. My partner is wonderful. And we have agreed that I’m the lead parent.

The primary steward of two special souls, entrusted to me to raise on this earth. A sacred privilege. Significant.

I am responsible for feeding them and ensuring they get enough sleep. I identify when they’re not well and make sure they get treated.

I set boundaries. I draw the lines around which books and toys and activities and friends and caregivers and screens and language we do and don’t engage with.

And as the lead parent at our house, I have cobbled together what I stand for in that role.

My leadership manifesto.

Because after stumbling through it for the last year, questioning whether I was doing it right, when everyone, everywhere (literally) is doing it differently, I needed to find my feet as a leader. And stand on them.

It includes things like: They chose me as their mother. We don’t meet one person’s needs at the expense of another’s. Humans before schedules. One of my jobs is to demonstrate living the kind of aligned life I want for them… the list goes on.

So, why am I telling you?

Because I want you to think about your leadership manifesto, whether you’re leading children or a company or a team or a wine club.

Get clear on what you stand for. Get empowered in your role. Define yourself as a leader, in whatever aspect of your life feels most in need of steady, empowered, authentic leadership RIGHT NOW.

Because you were made for this. And because the clarity and confidence you create will carry you through the up days, the down days, and all the days in between.


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Grace through change: returning to work after maternity leave

This post is not about babies or mothering or priorities or meaningful work or difficult decisions or finances or getting a tribe or a therapist or setting expectations or negotiating flexibility or guilt or feminism or all the things I promise I’ll write some day.

This post is about grace through change. Because regardless of who you are, the truth is that returning to work after maternity leave generally feels like a massive and terrifying change (even if you’ve never been more excited to get to work!).

I have this friend who actually claims that she loves change. I’m like, what?

Not that I don’t like change. I mean, of course, I am obsessed with personal development and evolving as a human being and that is all change, all the time.

But what about changes that shake up your world suddenly, like returning to work after maternity leave? Or adapting to any new routine (hello, back to school). Or moving and building up a repertoire of favourite spots in your new neighbourhood. Or moving in with a partner or going through a breakup. These are big changes. But good news: they usually feel bigger than they actually are. Here are some ways to handle them:

Honour that sh*t  

It’s happening. And it’s not easy. And you’re going to make it through. And in the meantime your going to get a little anxious. Just permit yourself to feel all of it. And cry or take a day or whatever you need to do to honour it and honour yourself moving through it. Change is not easy (except for my friend, #yougogirl). For most of us, it’s a challenge.

Lighten up 

I know, annoying. It’s like when you’re freaking out and someone tells you to relax. Not helpful. But try this: nothing is permanent, everything is a lesson, you’re on a journey, this change will come and go and soon it will be the new normal and you’ll be on to the next. The only sure thing in life is change. If you’re starting a new job, you’ll still have good and bad days, take vacation and spend time with your family and all the good stuff. If you’re moving, you’ll still eat breakfast every day (if you do that) and enjoy coffee (me) and find a nice place to go for runs (in my fantasy life). However big this change feels, it will not change everything; nothing is that powerful. So lighten up on the gravity of the situation.

Send that change some love 

Now if you’re like me, you might have some experience with catastrophizing that change to death. Like what is it going to feel like when you have to commute to work at 7am on a Monday in a blizzard in February and your kid is like “no mommy, don’t leave. why don’t you love me?”… Let’s just put that in perspective for a moment: that’s an imaginary thing that may or may not happen. So instead, think of some good things that are going to come out of the change and send it some love that way. Like how much reading you’ll be getting done during that commute. Or the amazing coffee you’ll be picking up every morning on your way into the office.

Change is actually good 

Because you’re going to grow! Baby, you’re going to grow so much from this. It’s going to hurt some days but it is going to take you somewhere you would not have been able to go without it. Even if it’s quickly out of this job and into another, or back home to care for more babies or into your own business or who knows? This change is a step on your path. It is actually good. Courage pants on. Hand on heart. Bring it on!


If you are heading back to work after maternity leave and want to talk it out, get in touch with me here.


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What 2-year-olds teach us about tools

This is the second post in the series Career Cornerstones for a Lit-Up Life. If you missed the first cornerstone (VALUES), read it here

Lately my two-year-old has been acquiring new skills with alarming speed. This week alone she mastered such critical life skills as climbing in and out of the tub, putting on pants, plugging in a nightlight, dragging a toy shopping cart up and down stairs (v. dangerous, not a life skill), climbing every public play structure within 1km of our home and putting a full garbage bag in the giant bin outside (not asking questions, going with it).

But more amazing than any of the skills she’s developing is the attitude a person needs to learn that much that quickly. It’s an attitude of being in the moment, embracing the process, unencumbered by expectations and unconcerned with what others might think. It’s the ultimate winning belief system and we’re all born with it.

So where does it go?

Over in the corporate world we looove talking about our toolkits – what’s in there and what we want to put in there next. The general practice is to equate “tools” with “skills”. We identify skills gaps and then gather said skills – think courses like coding-for-beginners and speaking-with-confidence. But often after we’ve checked off the skill we needed, we’re still experiencing our work – satisfaction, motivation, all of it – in exactly the same way as before.

This is because skills only comprise some of our work tools. If our values are the “WHY” of what we do, our tools are the “HOW”. And that includes the skills, traits, habits and beliefs that we work with every single day.

The toolkit analogy reminds me of those plastic toy sets where it’s the whole construction site – workers, truck, road signs, crane, and tool boxes complete with tiny colourful tools. Everything in its little place.

Skills alone are basically inanimate objects like the tiny colourful plastic tools. It’s our mindset and beliefs that bring them to life, cause them to play, and allow them to shine.

The “it factor” behind my toddler’s outrageous development is not her gross motor skills or her cognition or even her inquisitiveness, it’s her sheer tenacity. This little creature believes in herself 100% and that enables her success.

We could learn a thing or two from that.

Next time someone asks you about your toolkit or career development goals, think beyond new skills and take stock of your beliefs. What new ways of thinking could bring your existing skills to life?

 

 

 

How to recognize your child’s strengths… and position them for success in life

First, I listened to this. From Good Life Project, the podcast that turned me on to podcasts.

It’s a discussion with psychologist Lea Waters about her work in positive psychology and her new book The Strength Switch: How The New Science of Strength-Based Parenting Can Help Your Child and Your Teen to Flourish.

I feel so empowered as a parent, to give an(other) amazing gift to my children: helping them to know their strengths.

As parents we have an incredible opportunity to be a mirror for our children. Before they are conscious of the world around them, before they are influenced by social phenomena, before they are exposed to irritating cultural lies like “artists don’t make money” or “athletes get girls” or “kindness is weakness”, etc…

Meeting their incessant needs as tiny people means that we are uniquely positioned to identify their strengths for them. We are literally right there when they are plainly becoming who they are. In Lea Waters’ strength research speak, we see what they:

(1) exhibit above-average performance at,

(2) are energized by, and

(3) really LIKE doing.

And that true-strengths test defines the talents and character traits that are the secret sauce for their individual success.

 

For my part, I see that FL has a good memory and makes connections easily. She is determined and strong-willed. She is conscientious, taking pleasure in putting things in order. She is empathetic, friendly, sensitive, and funny. And she likes to sing in the morning when she wakes up.

If you are a parent, be on the lookout for your child’s strengths. And share your findings with your child as they grow!

Doing this simple thing can help them avoid beginning a process of self inquiry when they’re in midlife and unsatisfied with their careers, and instead give them a shot at a much happier, more fulfilled life.

 

 

 

 

Tweak

Who has ever felt stuck? All of us. And when we feel that way, it is so easy to fall prey to our culture’s go-big-or-go-home attitude toward improving your life. The messages coming at us encourage huge leaps in the pursuit of a better, happier, more fulfilled life. “Quit your job! Leave your unsatisfying relationship! Move off the grid to a tiny home and eat insects!”

These might be advisable solutions for some of us (where we’ve done the work to understand our situation, analyzed all the best available options for improving our lives, and are making educated choices).

For many of us, the risk of these alluring wholesale Life Changes is significant.

We underestimate the power of much smaller changes to radically improve our sense of happiness, purpose and wellbeing on a daily basis. These require a fraction of the energy, resources and risk associated with bigger changes. Here are five ideas for small tweaks with a big return on investment:

1. Do not leave your town or even your home, if you don’t want to. Just change what you’re doing in it. Watch a different show, read a different book, go to a different restsurant. Repeat regularly to continuously shift your perspective.

2. Think of three people in your circle that you admire and plan to spend more time with them. We know the people we surround ourselves with have a major impact on how we develop as people and how we feel. Choose wisely.

3. Skip the degree or expensive certification unless you are really sure you will love the experience. There are no guarantees with formal education anymore. Instead take a course in your community or online for free. Learning about something that interests you is extremely rewarding plus you’ll connect with a tribe of like-minded folks along the way. And you can still put it on your resume.

4. Update your rituals. Take a moment to consider where stress lies in your day. Is small talk in the elevator with your boss every morning driving you to consider quitting your job? Arrive 5 minutes earlier. Is packing your kid’s lunch the worst part of your morning? Supervise him doing it the night before. Do you wake up feeling tried everyday? This one’s easy: go to sleep 15 minutes earlier, moving bedtime up until you start to feel refreshed.

5. Get meaning. A really common complaint as we grow in our careers – especially for women – is a feeling that it lacks meaning. Here’s how to get some: lead a philanthropic project in your company. Socially minded business is in vogue – even unexpected companies will get onboard. Or, volunteer through or outside of work, even once a month or year. Or, do a race for charity. Or, if you have no time for any of that, but you have some money set aside, make a donation. Find something you really believe in and choose to invest in meaning with the money you earn at your less-than-meaningful job.

Small changes, big impact. What will you do?

What a moment to myself looks like

Baby F is sleeping and I have a moment to myself. I finish folding laundry. I think about cleaning the kitchen counters but instead I brush off the bits of dirt that came loose when I unwrapped the potted tulip that’s sitting there. All red with yellow insides, opening coquettishly.

Last weekend a friend told me about how tiny dogs are being bred to fit into purses but are developing terrible health problems in the process. I already knew this but she seemed pretty rocked so I went along.

“That’s terrible”.

It is though, actually. These dogs are just not meant to be that small.

Did you know that human newborns are the most vulnerable, under-developed mammal at birth? Our little brains are only 25% developed when we come out of incubation. It’s because of the mother’s physiology – as upright walkers, we can only grow the baby so much and still be able to safely birth it.

No other animal needs to care for their young in the way that humans do.

I want to love my red and yellow tulip, but I have this ominous feeling it will die in here. My Valentine’s day roses fell and wilted in a matter of days. This can’t be good.

I’ve become comfortable with the untidy mess of my house. On account of I’m caring for a human infant twenty-four hours a day. And I’m used to disappointing my partner who will come home and see the counter I brushed off but didn’t clean and he will just see a slightly dirty counter. I imagine that he imagines this is some negative reflection on me, but to be honest I don’t know if that’s true.

Another friend recently told me about her experience getting on anti-anxiety medication. She’s been on it for about eight months. Is that past the honeymoon stage? I thought so, but I don’t know. She says the meds have profoundly increased her enjoyment of life.

She’s a mother, by the way.  I wonder how I would do with a little medication…

I wonder how it went as we evolved to upright walkers – as our physical bodies put limits on the development of our babies, did our emotional intuitiveness expand so that we could care properly for our newborns? Or is it possible that we gradually developed this immense capacity for caregiving, and that meant we could start to stand on two feet?

I googled “are tulips naturally two-toned?”. Nothing but ads for tulips.

You know what? I will keep this tulip alive because it might be a genetically modified mutant. And that seems unfair. I’m going to water it for all those poor tiny dogs.

I can do this because I’m the master nurturer of the animal kingdom.

Even when unmedicated.

And for this, I don’t know whether to say thank you or you’re welcome. I think both.

Young hearts run free

 

Teaching mama and baby yoga has had me questing to discover the best yoga postures for energy. Because sleep is hard to come by when mothering a baby. I’ve learned that back bends, twists and deep breathing can help.

Inhale. Exhale.

And time apart. Which is why I’m camped out at my local independent coffee shop. Alone with my americano and my words. Blending in with the regular crowd, I think. And all of a sudden a swarm of moms and babies are entering. Unkempt, earthy, tired. Noisy. I feel like I’m undercover – I’m one of you but you can’t tell. My baby is at home with her granny. I miss her. But I love being here on my own.

Inhale. Exhale.

I’m so excited to talk about things outside of baby. To scale my life in a bigger ecosystem. To say we’re ordering in and not feel like I somehow failed to fulfill the duties of Home Life President. As defined in a different time, for a different woman. A job I’ve learned is not for me.

These Mondays though, they come with pangs. A pang of future Mondays. What will it feel like? To get dressed and leave the house without her? To leave her in the care of another? Another who doesn’t love her like I do. Who won’t sing her our songs.  My eyes sting.

Inhale. Exhale.

I have often remarked, if it was the 1950s we mothers wouldn’t sit around planning our childcare, agonizing over daycare wait lists and nanny shares and transitioning back to work. I have said this out loud to rooms of new mothers, in these safe sisterly communities we are always trying to create, for me in vain. No one has picked up the conversation. Is it too painful? Confusing? Overwhelming? A foregone conclusion? A stupid comment?

I don’t wish myself back in time. Not for a second. The fight for gender equality has barely started in my view, and I won’t give one inch back. But sometimes these choices don’t feel like choices. To spend the bulk of the week working outside of the home, or, caring for my young child. Now my job is to make an impossible choice I can live with.

Inhale. Exhale.

Podcasts, walks, fatigue, anxiety, cuddles and overwhelming love. These are the ways I will remember maternity leave. A warping, tinting, melting, of the glass walls through which I see this world. They say the years are short but the days are long. At ten months Baby F astounds me. She knows her home, her toys, the best vents to bang on, where the baby monitor is kept (favourite thing to throw across the floor). I let her because I secretly want it to break, its random beeping for no apparent reason one of the most elusive and frustrating mysteries of these past ten months.

The greatest mystery of these past ten months though, remains: what does the future hold for me? Unsolved.

Seeking strength and wisdom now and always. To lead a life I can look back on with pride and joy. And that I can embrace and exalt in along the way.

Inhale. Young hearts. Exhale. Run free.

 

How to stop being a perfectionist

There was a time when I would change my sheets weekly. I did this with pride, it was the chore that always got done over the weekend, even if there was no food in the fridge (common) and a drying rack covered in sweaters and underwear in the middle of the apartment for days. 

This year the sheets fell behind. And I am so over my smug weekly sheet washing. If there’s one thing babies do, it’s trim the fat on your time. 

This is the advice to new mothers about housekeeping: lower your standards. Aka get over yourself. Choose happy self and happy kid over perfect house. You can’t do all three. 

I listened to this great interview with Margeuerite Deslauriers (philosophy professor and founder of McGill’s Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminisit Studies) about the emotional work that women kill themselves doing. They are stressed out and exhausted and it’s completely off balance with what men give in this area. This is a real issue of course, but the professor had  a suggestion for managing it: ask yourself if it actually needs doing. And if it does, must you always be the one doing it?

Like emotionally supporting your coworker through her breakup?  Sending birthday cards to every friend every year? 

Is doing these things moving you toward a more enriched, fully lived life? Probably not. Is weekly sheet cleaning? Nope.

I’m talking about living life as an active verb, here. Not dragging your feet from obligation to obligation. 

Which means letting go of the things you think you should be doing and instead finding better stuff to do. 

Better stuff as defined by you, for you. 

A good friend came over today and brought a Christmas card.  And inside there was a gift card. The thought to reciprocate this hadn’t even entered my mind. What can you do? Say thanks sincerely, make her a grilled cheese sandwich and drive her home. Then let it go. 

Christmas is a vulnerable time for measuring yourself against other people. Everyone’s getting together, dressed in their finest, on best behaviour and exchanging gifts. If you’re feeling down and perfectionistic after the holidays, find something to do that moves you toward a more enriched, fully-lived life. 

Not laundry. 

Not gratuitous emotional support. 

Not unhealthy comparisons to people who are more planful gifters than you are. 

Mine is writing this. What’s yours? 

How to be present

The house is full of blankets, most of them small. They are strewn about and grabbed up at random, for tucking tiny feet into car seats and strollers, mopping milk and tiny faces, for keeping cozy while we peak outside in the early morning. The neighbours are gardening, proud and strong. Gardening is such a wholesome habit. Earthy, creative, vibrant, cyclical.

At yoga teacher training in 2008 we all got Karma yoga positions. A chance to give back to the retreat centre where we stayed. My friend worked in the kitchen and became romantically involved with the chef. The same chef who borrowed an acoustic guitar on my behalf during the course and hid it under the table in the front hallway for me to find like a kid on Christmas. They made a cute couple, I think they actually toured tea festivals in Europe afterwards. Oh, to be twenty-two again…

I had the best job – in the garden. Every day for two hours I dug in the earth.

The manager of the gardens was a middle aged Buddhist woman who was wiry and frank and knew the garden intimately. There were three yogi trainees on the team – an unlikely crew including myself, a young male Berliner who was smallish but strong, blonde and remote, and a middle aged Scottish chap, a bit round for what you might expect from a yogi, open and trusting and kind. We all found our own brand of joy in the dirt. In the fresh air of the impossible Scottish North. An old fishing village turned hippie town, where the tide came in and out at a crawl and left the little sail boats teetering on their keels like beached gravestones.

Are these the stories that I’ll tell baby F when she’s older? When we’re done with the blankets and on to shoes with soled feet and solid food and bicycles and then car keys and eventually no evidence at all in the old family house but for a box of report cards in the crawl space? Photos on the wall. The old family house we haven’t bought yet.

We are in the process of losing my grandmother. She’s moved from the large apartment where she and my grandfather lived for twenty-five years to a smaller apartment inside a residence where she can have meals and activities with other people. Where she can find the company and care she needs now. My parents have started to dismantle her life in things. A sterling silver cup won in a running race in 1912 – R.W.Theobald, boys under 15. My great uncle. A sterling silver cup much more permanent than he was, he having died some fifteen years ago.

I look at these blankets that are everywhere. I smell them, I smell baby F. I am a sensitive person with time on my hands, caring for this ten week old baby whose needs still come in unpredictable waves. I wonder about this trail of things we’re all creating behind us. It inspires me to live minimally, acquire less. Meanwhile outside the people garden and the birds sing. Earthy, creative, vibrant, cyclical. No longing for the past, no fear for the future, just the dirt and sun and rain.

The baby wakes up, makes tiny adorable noises and looks at me from her little plush rainforest seat. With intense violet eyes and strong fists stretching up over her head. Feathery dark hair, tongue out, fleeting smiles. Tucked under a flannel blanket. This is how to be present.

 

Re-sizing your world

I was thinking about sharing my thoughts. “Everything I need to know I learned from parenting my three week old baby”. Or something like that. She’s bigger and I’m calmer. She grew a pound – a pound! That’s 12% of her body weight at birth. In three weeks.

I slept for six hours which is a huge accomplishment. Or a lucky strike. The sun has come out at last.

Today I learned that Lululemon is in the business of vision and goal setting. They have this great worksheet on the topic. Lulu has three main categories for goals: health, personal, and career. Could it really be that simple? I wondered – what about financial goals? But financial goals are a means to an end. Why think about what you want your investment account to look like? If one of your goals is to establish a scholarship for example, well then, maybe that’s a personal goal. Or potentially a career goal. The money isn’t the goal itself.

It’s interesting, staying home most days, not spending much money at all. And spending time with an infant who doesn’t know what money is. She will have to learn, one day. But she was born knowing what love is. That’s what matters.

Which brings me to the environment you’re in and how it shapes you. What you choose to let in. My mother described life with an infant as having your world shrink down. Which is a true observation. But how often do we change the size of our world? And what an adventure it is – to make that shift.

Last year when J and I were in Italy, I felt my world expanded. It was awe-inspiring, stepping back and forth in time, seeing world famous works of art up close, feeling tiny standing in the Roman Forum, or seated in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Caring for an infant has the same world-shifting effect, but it gets smaller. We are the centre of our own universe, my baby and me – we eat, we rest. It is so beautifully small and simple, our world, there are no unnecessary trappings. We don’t care about make-up or expensive shoes or anyone else’s schedule but our own. And even then, our schedule doesn’t require a clock most of the time – just our instincts and urges.

Not everyone can have an infant (and I get that not everyone wants one!). But everyone can experiment with shrinking their world on purpose – even if it’s just for a day. A day where time is irrelevant, where you follow your whims through the day. Where you wear something perfectly worn and deliciously comfortable. A day where you leave the house only to walk around the block one time, slowly. Where you eat what’s in the pantry and love it, or just order pizza. Where you barely notice current events or much of anything at all outside your home. Where you daydream and nap by a sunny window. Where you find another person and share their body heat.

While you’re at it you can consider your vision and goals – health, personal and career. And where and how re-sizing your world can fit into your plans – to shift your perspective and stretch yourself in new ways. Perfectly simple. And it doesn’t cost a thing.