A Day of Love

St Valentine’s Day is approaching and retailers are gearing up for major sales. Restaurants are almost fully booked, florists and jewelers are overwhelmed with orders, and chocolatiers are working overtime to stack their shelves with heart shaped boxes filled with sweets. The Christmas holiday aside, more cards are sent for St Valentine’s Day than any other holiday in the year. It is, after all, the day for ‘lovers’ right? Not quite,,,,at least it didn’t start out in the mushy romantic sense in which we’ve come to know it. In fact, there no official documented theories around the origin of this day.

There are however, several ‘stories’ as to how it came about and none are pretty. The ancient Romans celebrated the ‘feast of Lupercalia’. This was the celebration of purification and fertility, held annually on February 13-15. The men would sacrifice a goat and a dog, skinning them, then using the bloodied hides to whip women. (boy, those Romans sure know how to party!)  It was believed that this ritual would make the women more fertile. So strong was this belief that the women actually lined up in the streets to have the men belt them. (ok, these are not bright women)

Another legend contends that Valentine was a catholic priest who served during the third century in Rome. Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families so he outlawed marriage for all young men to maintain his force. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the law defied Claudius by performing marriages in secret for young lovers. When his activities were discovered he was put to death. He was one of three saints by this name who were martyred. The other two weren’t quite as romantic in their feats, rather they displayed various acts of heroism in celebration of the day. (still, having to marry in secret is lot easier to take than getting slapped around with a bloody hide)

Another theory stems from Europe in the Middle Ages where it was believed that February 14 was the beginning of the birds’ mating season, adding to the notion that the day should be reserved for romance of all species. (ok, that’s a bit of a stretch. I can’t ever recall getting amorous from watching a bunch of birds, but to each his own)

Regardless of where the actual holiday originated the general theme was one of love, and by the middle of the 18th century the practice of exchanging tokens of affection on this date was common between friends and lovers. It’s only modern society (and greedy retailers) that turned the holiday into the circus it is today where ‘small tokens’ have become new cars, 3 carat diamonds, and 10 pound boxes of chocolate, but the commercialism aside, I take issue with the notion that the day should only be celebrated by lovers, the romantic kind.

There’s a whole world of single people who love and are loved but because the nature of these relationships isn’t ‘romantic’ they aren’t included in the celebration. They aren’t the target audience of retailers, i.e. florists aren’t advertising that you should send a bouquet of roses to your sister, and yet, what’s wrong with that? Everyone likes to be reminded that they are loved, even by friends or family. Even something as simple as buying a cup of coffee for a buddy at work with a “Happy Valentine’s Day’ message is sure to bring a smile and let someone know they are loved and appreciated.

For too many this holiday is difficult to get through, not unlike Christmas, because not everyone has a close circle of family and friends with whom to celebrate. I say we revamp this holiday to include everyone in society. Let’s celebrate the love not just the romance. Surely for one day a year everyone deserves to feel as though they are special to someone? Send your dear friend a note, send chocolates or flowers, if you feel compelled to, just go out of your way on this one day to make someone feel as though this day of love and appreciation is for them as much as it is anyone else.

I hope you are showered with love on this day, from all who know you,,,,, then spread it around. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Valentines day

A Dreary Day

I awoke on a Monday morning to drizzle and fog – another do nothing day, or so I thought. I had an early morning physiotherapy appointment so lounging about wasn’t an option. I showered, ate a light breakfast and headed out the door. Once on the road I got a burst of energy and decided to make good use of this otherwise dreary day, so when I reached my appointment I sent a text to my very good friend Jo to see if she was up to meet for coffee. This is the same friend I continuously start my diet with – too date neither of us has lost a pound, but we sure plan a lot!

After my physio appointment, I check my messages and see she’s agreed to meet in half an hour for coffee. I make my way over to the coffee house and note I’m a little early, so I shop on route – no sense wasting time! By the time we meet I’ve already got a new pair of shoes and two sweaters – Jo reprimands me for my lack of self-control.  (ok, she’s not that good a friend, really)

We buy our coffee and settle for a good chat and the conversation invariably returns to our dieting woes. We decide that a new year deserves a new plan. I suggest that we change up our routine, maybe take a yoga course to motivate us, and she’s on board! Jo also suggests that we meet a couple of times a week to walk for the exercise. I remind her that we walk fairly frequently already but she’s quick to point out that wandering the shops for sales is not technically exercise so I grudgingly agree to a twice weekly walk outdoors. (killjoy – She’s really more like the friend of a friend)

New plan in hand we decide we need to get new workout wear and head to the local shops. After two hours of trying on every form of spandex available, we head to a nice Greek restaurant for lunch this planning an exercise regimen really works up the appetite.

While inhaling our food the conversation moves to other activities we can enjoy to fill our days (and keep us away from the fridge) Jo admits to a love of music and suggests we join a choir. I agree that it’s a great idea, but most of the singing groups I know of are church choirs or seniors. Jo and I are retired but only newly so, and we’re on the younger side of retirement so I don’t see the appeal in joining a group of eighty year olds that warble like old hens, and I tell her as much. “We’ll start our own singing group” she announces, then reprimands me for my less than flattering description of ‘elderly singers’. She’s always harping on me about being too direct, but honestly, have you listened to a choir of seniors trying to croak out a tune? It’s not like the gentle sound of a songbirds trill or the melodious tones of a childrens choir. This is the ghastly sounds emitted from aged throats and a rusty voice box  – hardly the stuff current radio stations are tuning in. (I barely know her actually, she’s just an acquaintance really)

I suggest we start a book club – that would be fun. I can think of a few people we could invite, meet once every couple of weeks to discuss the book. My only stipulation is that I get to pick the books cause if I don’t like it, I won’t read it. No history, no politics, no drama, no sci-fi, no mysteries. I just like happy stories, comedy, romance, biography (only happy ones)   “Ok, this could be a problem” Jo says, “you need to be a little more flexible”. (Bitch, I never really liked her)

Jo suddenly lights up and excitedly suggests we join a bowling league! Her elderly mother bowls twice a week and loves it, she gushes, and we’d get to wear those cute little bowling shirts! (sure thing Wilma, and maybe we can get Fred and Barney to lend us their bowling bags) I think I’d rather warble with the hens. (What was I thinking befriending this loon?)

We explore various potential new hobbies throughout lunch and after a good round of laughter we determine it’s best to take small steps. We’ll meet to walk twice a week (no stores, no shopping, no lunch – this seems to be cruel and unusual punishment, but ok) and we’ll scout out a good yoga studio to enroll in some beginners classes. After lunch we continue our shopping cause if we’re going to act fit we’d better look it! Finally with matching spandex outfits sure to impress, we stumble across a lovely leopard print dress that we laughingly label our ‘choir uniform’, then stop off for a bottle of wine to warm up the old vocal cords.

Heaven only knows where this new routine will take us but if you should pass two women walking down the street in spandex (or leopard print) warbling like two old hens, you’ll know it’s us, and if we don’t lose a pound or read a book or bowl the perfect game, at least we can take comfort in knowing we made good use of an otherwise dreary day!


Everyone’s got a story….

While on my daily walk recently I thought of a very old man I would often see riding a really old bicycle. I passed this fellow often, when driving or walking, and would see him daily, pedaling for several miles throughout the neighbourhood. He was slight of build and wore what looked like work apparel; old slacks and a flannel shirt, both worn. He had an old satchel tied to the back bumper with bungee cords and it was heavily weathered, like the old man. He rode with determination and a stamina you wouldn’t expect from someone of such advanced years. I got the distinct impression this man wasn’t riding for the pleasure of it…he had to be 80 years old, if a day, and his heavily wrinkled face belied his youthful energy.

Sometimes, if he passed close to me I’d smile and say hello but he never answered, never smiled. In fact, he never acknowledged me at all so eventually I learned to ignore him, reluctantly, because despite his apparent unfriendliness, I cared about him. What was such an elderly man doing riding a bicycle such distances? He’d ride in all kinds of weather, up hills, long distances, alongside traffic – it was obvious this wasn’t a pleasure ride, and I couldn’t help but wonder what his story was.

On this particular day, the day  I realized it had been several months since I’d last seen him, it occurred to me that he’d either retired from whatever it was he rode to and from each day, or he passed away.  Either way he was out of my sight and I could only speculate on his life story. I had a feeling it wasn’t a happy one.

This brought me to thinking about others we encounter every day. The cashier at the grocery store, the school bus driver, the dentist, the housewife, the unruly teenager, the business man, they all have a story and no two are alike. Wouldn’t it be interesting to have a glimpse of another’s life, just for comparison? Maybe we’d see a life filled with struggle and turmoil, a life story that would make us grateful of our own. On the other hand we might also glimpse a life of pleasure, one we deem more pleasurable than ours ….maybe it’s better not to know. Or maybe witnessing a life better than ours would motivate us to make changes or improvements to our story.

‘People watching’ is something we all do, most often unconsciously I suspect, and we also likely pass judgement on these individuals based on our first impressions . This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because our first impressions are generally drawn from instinct, intuition, and that gut feeling is generally accurate in reading the basis of a situation, but that’s where it ends. From there our imagination kicks in and our subconscious embellishes the situation to explain it or to make it more interesting.

I imagined that the old man was unhappy based solely on my first impression; that he kept to himself and didn’t smile or acknowledge me told me he was unhappy….he had to be. Wouldn’t a happy person smile and return a greeting? And would a happy person impose a physically taxing lifestyle on themselves at an elderly age if it wasn’t necessary? My logical mind says no but then who am I to define what is or isn’t logical? I created a life story for this man to make sense of my first impressions of him. I envisioned a hard and lonely life. I convinced myself he was pedaling to and from a job of labour where he made a meager living, hence the need to ride a bicycle. He had no family and invited no friendships. Life brought him little joy and he merely existed to fulfill the routine he had established to sustain himself until his time to pass would come. Pretty gruesome picture huh? But then in the absence of any details or explanations from the old man himself, I had to create a picture that justified my first impressions.

I also have to face the possibility that this fellow is an eccentric millionaire who lived the life of a pauper by choice, then retired to his island in the Caribbean.

Speculating on another’s story gives your imagination free reign. You can create whatever scenario you want to make their story interesting and you can justify anything in your life that doesn’t measure up, because you’re the author and this particular story will never be read by another. The only thing we need to remember is that while we’re watching others there’s someone watching us and it would be interesting to see what story they fashion for us based on their first impression.

old man on bike

It’s never too late

I have a dear friend, a fellow, who retired after decades of working a high stress job in financial services.  Now he could’ve sat back and enjoyed the fruits of his labour, and no one would’ve judged him, but he didn’t. With a zest for life and a passion for music, he re-invented himself and launched a solo music career, in his sixties. How’s that for inspiring?

He performs at local pubs and was recently featured on a local radio show as an ‘up and coming new artist’. The fact that he has musical talent aside, one has to admire his gumption. It’s not easy to put yourself out there at any age, so to do it when you’re past middle age speaks not only to his courage, but also to his confidence, and that’s what got me to thinking.

We spend so much of our lives learning, practicing, and proving our worth, in our home, our relationships, and our careers, and it is the collection of these experiences over a life time that gives some of us the confidence to forge into new territory in our advanced years. Now not everyone feels compelled to launch a 2nd career. Many are happy to retire from one role and enjoy a quiet life, i.e. they don’t feel the need to prove anything to anyone because they are content with what they’ve accomplished and they just want to relax and enjoy life. For many though, the completion of one cycle just signals the start of another.

The husband (who has since passed) of another close friend, preceded his own upcoming retirement  from a career in law enforcement by returning to school to get a law degree  because he knew there was more in him to offer. Returning to school as a mature student is daunting enough, let alone taking on the challenge and discipline of higher academia while middle aged and working full time.  He finished out his 2nd career, as a lawyer, then tried his hand at acting, (something he’d always enjoyed) landing several support roles in movies, television shows and commercials.  He lived life to the fullest and were it not for his untimely passing, I’ve no doubt he’d be on his 4th career by now.

These two individuals not only warrant our admiration, but reaffirm to anyone over 30 that our worth never expires. The lessons we learn throughout life contribute to our library of knowledge, feeding our self-confidence and fueling our ambition.  It is never too late to learn something new, or launch a new career, or make a new friend, because despite the snow on your roof, it’s the passion in your heart that ignites the fire that is our driving force. The older we get, the more open and accepting we are, and the more open and accepting we are the more freely our creative juices flow.

Don’t sit down and look back on your life, sit on the edge of your seat and look forward with enthusiasm because there is still so much to accomplish before you write your last chapter.

youre never too old

Organized Religion

I was born into a Catholic home. We went to church every Sunday, I sang in the choir, and I received all the applicable Christian sacraments. I raised my 3 children in the same manner but somehow I did not ingrain the religious discipline of my own parents practices into my children because somewhere in their young adult lives they made the conscious choice to walk away from organized religion.

I can’t say I’m surprised, nor do I blame them. When I think back on the years when my family were young much of our routines were simply formed from habit; going to church was something we just did. And somewhere in my mid-thirties I came to realize that my heart wasn’t in it anymore. It’s not that I stopped believing in God, no never. I always have and always will. What I do struggle with is the religious ‘organization’ itself.

Society, mankind, whatever you want to call it, has evolved since 24 AD. The Catholic church, on the other hand, sadly hasn’t. Parish priests struggle with a rapidly diminishing flock and family traditions no longer include any religious routine. Does anyone say grace before a meal anymore? Do any of us wake up in the morning and give thanks for a new day?

We’ve become a busy society, too busy. Families no longer have the time to give to the church. Both parents work. Children are busy with studies, and preoccupied with sports, music, friends, part time jobs, life. And by the time Sunday rolls around all are tired and grateful for a day to catch up on homework, housework, or visiting parents/family/friends. Church then takes a back seat, by choice, cause let’s face it, we do have choices. If we wanted to give the church a bigger role in our lives we could, but we don’t, and I think I know why (at least for me)

I struggle with the Catholic church’s refusal to move with the times. Parish priests are not allowed to marry or carry on any kind of ‘relationship’, yet they are required to counsel young couples on that very thing prior to marrying them in a church. How does one counsel on something he knows nothing about? (and don’t even try to sell me on the notion they learn it in the seminary where emphasis is on religious studies and philosophy. Relationships are not taught, they are experienced)

For that matter, why are women still not allowed to become priests? Personally, if I had to take advice on marriage and relationships from someone who’s experienced neither, I would, hands down, pick a woman. I just think women are more compassionate and intuitive when it comes to relationships. For that matter, I think there are many who’d prefer to serve confession with a female versus a male, (although I don’t buy in to the whole confession process at all – I talk to God regularly and if I need to relieve my conscience I do it direct to the big guy himself! I do not need to seek approval or punishment from any of Gods ‘representatives’)

I recently watched a wonderful series on the history of the Popes throughout the ages and was shocked to discover they had all kinds of relations back in the early days of Catholicism. (Apparently not being able to marry didn’t stop them from having children. How’d they get around that…”the Devil made me do it?”) So it seems the laws of abstinence were only enforced much later. (which is a darn shame cause if the church would allow priests to marry and live normal lives, maybe they wouldn’t have to resort to committing these ‘indiscretions’….oh, and you might consider selling off some of the billions of dollars worth of art in the Vatican to pay the settlements to the abuse victims instead of bleeding the resources of the individual diocese that are under the pastoral care of these wayward clergy)

It is unnatural to mandate anyone to live a life of celibacy and I find it hard to believe that a loving God would set such unreasonable expectations of his own children, especially knowing they are mortal, and flawed.

I also struggle with the whole atmosphere at church, and I’ve touched on this in a previous blog. I just don’t understand why going to church has to be so somber. Isn’t mass supposed to be a celebration of our faith? Shouldn’t we come out of church feeling better? I think the short answer is yes, and yes, but we don’t. Too often the homily is delivered as a rebuke for our supposed sins when it should be simply a message reminding us of the right path; something positive and uplifting i.e., you shouldn’t walk out of mass feeling like someone pounded the snot out of you. And again, I don’t think God would’ve intended for his words to be delivered this way.

I don’t insinuate that the bible is just a ‘guide’ by any means, but I do think much of what the church dictates is under the Vaticans’ interpretation of the holy book, and isn’t interpretation personal and  somewhat biased? And if society has progressed and adapted their beliefs and behaviours to accommodate change over centuries, why can’t the church? We’re not saying change the word of God. We’re just saying modify the terms of delivery of His word to adapt with society’s progression. Surely there’s room for compromise in every interpretation of His word.

Couple that with the tiresome, morose, drawn out music played in church and it’s a wonder more people don’t leave mass and head straight to a bar to drown their woebegone hearts.

I don’t think the church has ‘lost’ their flock. They have however, lost their ability to effectively communicate with them and that has resulted in a loss of visible support. Those who believe still do and always will, but they will practice their faith on their own terms because they know their God is nothing if not loving and understanding.

Move with the times already.



Yesterday, it’s gone, and that’s ok.

Yesterday, it’s gone, and that’s ok.

New year celebrations are now firmly behind us, and thank goodness! I am not a fan of New Year’s parties. I resent having to stay up later than I’d like simply because the date is changing (you know, it’ll come whether we’re awake or not) and I especially hate the behaviours of some New Year’s Eve revelers (too many men use New Years as an opportunity to get drunk and grope everybody else’s wife) Suffice it to say, I don’t like New Year’s Eve but I do love the prospect of a new future – there’s 365 tomorrows full of promise ahead of us and I can’t wait to see what is in store for me!

Now I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions, for no reason in particular. I just don’t feel the need. If improvements need to be made to myself or my life, I’d like to think I’d act on it as the need arises versus waiting for a deadline to ‘motivate’ me. I am not perfect , I make mistakes, and like anyone, there’s things about me I could change, if I really wanted to. I guess I just don’t allow myself to dwell on the things I didn’t do – it just seems counterproductive. (besides, who needs to be reminded of their shortfalls?) I do, however, allow myself to reflect on what I did accomplish in the past year and that’s a pat on the back we all need.

So I didn’t lose 20 pounds, learn to speak Italian, take up yoga, return to church, volunteer at a charity, join a book club, or meditate daily.

I am learning to love my additional girth, (even if only a little..ok, all I need is one good flu to kick start a new diet! Hope is the last to die)

I bought  the Rosetta Stone CD to teach myself Italian, (ok, my son bought it for me 4 years ago and I’ve yet to crack it open, but when I last travelled to Italy, everybody spoke English……if Italians aren’t speaking it, why should I?)

I have been taping various yoga programs to find a suitable style for me, (I watch them almost daily (…is it my fault the right program has yet to appear? As soon as the right one presents itself, I’ll participate)

As for returning to church, well, let’s just say God and I have an agreement (as soon as the Catholic church moves out of the 14th century and peps up the atmosphere a little, I’ll be there, Until then, I go direct to the big guy and he seems to be ok with it)

As for volunteering at a charity, that’s a toughie. I can’t even make eye contact with a homeless person because my tears well up – I can’t seem to detach myself from the emotional aspect of those less fortunate (if I volunteered at a soup kitchen I’d probably end up needing more consolation than those I’m serving) No, I’m not capable of that kind of task – If I’m truly meant to aid others I need some direction as to other ways to be of charitable service. (it’s not for everyone)

I also didn’t join a book club. I would’ve liked to, but to date I haven’t been invited to join one I’d like to be a part of. (ok, I haven’t been invited to any…I guess I’m not as popular as I thought)

And as for meditation, I did try, and will again. It isn’t easy to gain the discipline needed to truly relax the mind but I suspect practice is what is needed so I will continue to make the effort and, as luck would have it, I have a whole new year ahead of me to give it a go!

A clean slate!

If I had to make any resolutions, I would make only one. “Don’t look back to yesterday”  I did the best I could with what I had at the time, and if it didn’t work out as well as it should have, well, that’s a sign to try something else. It is not a reason to berate myself, so don’t go there.

I’m a good person, with good intentions, as I believe we all are, and I like me just the way I am. The past year gave me time with my family and friends in a wonderful way, and the New Year poses opportunities for me to expand on that. And if somewhere in there I manage to read an Italian book, on yoga, while on route to a book club meeting, hosted by a priest, I’ll try to meditate on ways to help those less fortunate. If not, I will still be ok….I’ll just re-evaluate my goals for the following year.

I’m ok, and life is good. Love and accept yourself, just the way you are.

Happiness and blessings.


The Aftermath

The Holiday Aftermath

T’was the day after Christmas and you wake up with dread                                                  Those 12 drummers drumming still pound in your head

Tiptoe to the kitchen without making a sound                                                                         And survey the damage while glancing around

Your holiday table once festive and pretty                                                                                Now looks like a war zone all tattered and dirty

There’s ribbon and paper all over the room                                                                                    And sighing reluctantly you reach for the broom

The tree stands majestic, a beautiful sight                                                                                    So you reach for the plug to turn on its’ light

Closing your eyes, thinking back on past days                                                                                You relive the moments your memory plays

The weeks you spent shopping and cleaning and cooking                                                            The nights you spent wrapping when no one was looking

That cold frosty day when you hung outdoor lights                                                                        The friends that you welcomed those holiday nights

You still hear the laughter and carolers singing                                                                        And off in the distance you hear church bells ringing

Chocolate wrappers are strewn everywhere                                                                                    And the smell of roast turkey is still in the air

You pause in your sweeping and put on the tea                                                                  Ignoring the mess that you no longer see

Settling in to your chair, your warm mug in hand                                                                    You give in to the respite your memories demand

The mess of the holidays may today bring you sorrow                                                                But the warmth of the season runs long past tomorrow

Happy New Year

Holiday Hang ups

The Christmas holiday is almost upon us and unlike most years, I am more organized than ever. Gifts are long since purchased and wrapped. The tree is up, the house decorated, baking is done, and my holiday menu is set, needing only last minute preparation. I should be thrilled…so how come I’m not?

Last week I was wandering through a local shop with no particular plan to buy anything, and I bumped in to a good friend, also wandering aimlessly. We engaged in the usual chit-chat then parted ways, wandering again. The encounter replayed in my mind throughout the afternoon, but not because there was anything remarkable about it…..we are good friends and see each other often. What struck me later was that she appeared as ‘low key’ as I did about the upcoming holidays. And like me, she too is prepared, so a relaxed and jovial demeanour should be the mood of the day, every coming day over the season….but it’s not.

The puzzle remained in my subconscious, unresolved, until a conversation with another good friend several days later. We had planned a shopping day and soon after she picked me up she mentioned how happy she was to be getting out, doing something, anything, because she had been feeling blue and wanted to snap out of it. This was the opening I needed.

I mentioned my own feeling of malaise and the sense that my other friend too was less than jubilant, for no apparent reason. We all three have loving families, homes, friends, all the gifts one could possibly want, so what was our problem? And are we alone?

What is it about the holidays that brings with it a feeling of melancholy? It is after all, a celebration of birth, and life, and faith. We gather with friends and loved ones. We eat and drink without abandon. We give and get ‘stuff’, whether we need it or not – what’s not to love?

Maybe it’s our sentimental side that emerges with the season.   We appear to take the time to ‘reflect’ at the holidays and it seems when we have time to reflect, we also have time to regret, and reminisce, and that’s not always a bad thing, but it can be painful.

As it turns out one friend was remembering Christmases past when her husband was alive and she keenly felt the void of his passing, especially over the holidays because they spent much of their holidays celebrating at one event after another, together.

The other friend too was reflecting on past years when Christmas was lively and so busy you didn’t have time to reflect. She ran herself ragged cooking and entertaining, reveling in the joy her labours bestowed on others. So how come she’s not feeling the love now? Nothing has changed. Family and friends are still gathering, happily, and are appreciative of her efforts.

When I took the time to look inside myself I found I too was remembering what was. I remember holidays with my family as a child; a sparkling Christmas tree, laden with gifts and chocolates. I remember my parents and grandparents laughing around the holiday table. I guess through the eyes of a child we see only the wonder and happiness of the holidays. Oh, to be young and naïve again!

As we age we see not only the celebration of the occasion, but also the memories of holidays past, and the reality of the notion that not everyone has had the ‘happiness’ we have enjoyed…..I guess that’s the hard part of growing up, facing reality.

Our holiday table now has new faces filling the seats of those we’ve lost, either by death or distance, and old traditions are replaced with new. The little ones (thank heaven for them!) still run wild with excitement, eating cookies and chocolate, and dreaming of Santa’s arrival, and the elders who once hosted the holidays (and called all the shots), sit quietly at the table, having passed the torch to the next generation. This is, I guess, the cycle of life.

Change isn’t always easy but it is necessary, and it seems it is most apparent at the holidays, and since we can’t avoid it we’d best view it through the eyes of our inner child. Celebrate the moment and all who share it with you, but don’t leave out those fond memories of people and times past because it is they and those that fashion the memories we are making now. Life is good.

Merry Christmas and may God Bless!

Holiday blues


Speak up or shut up

I admire those who speak their mind. It speaks to their confidence and tells me they deem me worthy of engaging in a conversation with them because the conversation will be two-way. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. What I don’t like is those who deliver their opinion with a mission to conversion, and I’m sure we’ve all come up against these individuals!

Every encounter we have, every person we meet presents an opportunity for us to expand our mind. I love spending time with someone who has a different view of things, a twist on the typical opinion, an educated opinion that is, and that education can be from books or life, and both are valuable.

Now I might not necessarily agree with the opinion of another but I respect their right to express it as long as the exchange is reciprocal. I’ll hear you out with an open mind because I’m open to ‘possibilities’ – who knows, maybe you’ll teach me something I hadn’t considered before and change my way of thinking. There’s also the possibility that I’ll walk away shaking my head and thinking you’re nuts. When you speak your mind, you take a chance to enlighten another, possibly effecting change. When you stay silent you take no chance and effect no change, and that is a missed opportunity.

To speak up is to express an opinion freely with confidence and without expectation; you are seeking to educate for the benefit of another and without personal gain. One who is outspoken on the other hand, is candid, forthright and relentless, often considered the know-it-all, and with the goal of convincing another to change their opinion for the benefit of their own ego, i.e. they are on a mission to recruit followers. Personally, I’ve been accused of both and while I acknowledge I may be unwittingly outspoken, I have never been so with the goal of converting another to my way of thinking. It’s too much work and simply doesn’t interest me. (Maybe I’m lazy or lack the confidence?) I do, however, believe there is a very fine line between the two, one that is easy to cross. (give me a topic I’m comfortable with and a pulpit and I could go on for hours!)

There have been times when I’ve had to extricate myself from a conversation because the ‘sales pitch’ was too exhausting. The individual simply wouldn’t let up because they could see I wasn’t ‘sold’ yet and they can’t move on to their next victim until they’ve convinced you to join their cause. These people are easy to spot – by the end of the evening they’re usually alone.

And at some point in our lives we have all been the outspoken one; preaching what we think we are knowledgeable on, and determined to convert our listeners. Neither role is offensive really, just human. We simply want to periodically exert our expertise for the benefit of our self-confidence, or maybe for the benefit of another’s self-confidence, or maybe just to effect change where we think it is needed, and that’s never bad.

Don’t be afraid to speak up. (I’m not) You might lose something good, but you may well gain something even better, so if you want to effect change speak up, otherwise be happy with life as it is…..quiet and boring.


The corporate vortex

We all want a satisfying and rewarding job, and taking pride in our career is only natural. For so many it’s who we are. But have we gone too far in our quest to succeed in the workplace? At what point do we cross the line of balance between work and family and what are we losing in the process?

When traveling in Europe a few years ago I was surprised when businesses, including stores, literally closed for 21/2 hours each day so that families could be together for the midday meal – what a wonderful practice! For that matter I recall it was difficult to find coffee or tea ‘to go’. The expectation was that you sit down and enjoy your beverage instead of gulping it down on the run, so it was served in a glass cup or mug. How civilized is that!

North American society has developed this 24/7 mentality that sees our personal lives being encroached upon more and more by work related duties, and mandates are endless because no sooner do you complete a project than a new one is assigned. The more you give, the more they expect. Lap tops, Ipads, Blackberry’s and cell phones have only added to the burden by keeping us ‘connected’ to the workplace 7 days a week, 365 days per year, so you’d better love your job….. because you can’t escape it.

There are those who revel in their jobs. They live and breathe the corporate culture, and they identify themselves first and foremost by their ‘career persona’. Men tend to fall into this category more than women. Women identify themselves as wives, partners, and mothers first because the home front is typically their domain. The career is second, or even third, but as women gain ground in the workforce priorities are shifting, even for them, and often not by choice. Many prefer the challenge of working outside the home and that’s great if it works in their personal lives, but too often they are having to give more than they want simply to stay employed.

Demands of the job are taking over not only our personal lives but our personal goals. Employers want us to complete a 75 hour mandate in a 40 hour work week and if we dare to complain of overwork, we are quickly reminded that there’s any number of people out there happy to have our job, so we sacrifice home and family to keep the job, because we need the money.

And if that isn’t enough, employers also want us to perform community service, in their name, and on our time. (What happened to charity begins at home?)

Too often I’ve witnessed the career driven individual who gave their life to their career only to find themselves downsized or eliminated when their purpose has been served, and nothing is more devastating to them – their personal purpose is gone, along with their confidence. “But don’t take it personally…it’s a business decision”  the employer tells them. “We’re just moving in a different direction with the business and your skillset is no longer relevant.”  This is the stuff breakdowns are made of and I shake my head at the complete lack of corporate conscience.

Let’s learn from our European neighbours. What if we took time every day to be with our loved ones, without any corporate devices? Enjoy a meal with friends or family, read a good book. If we are motivated to do charitable work then do it for ourselves, not to improve your employers corporate profile.

People are working longer and harder in jobs that are less personally satisfying. A job well done used to be rewarded and appreciated. Now it’s expected in half the time and appreciation is not forthcoming because you’re just doing what you’re paid for. I can remember when employees wanted to play on the company baseball team, and colleagues would go out for a drink after work on a Friday night. They were happy, and it reflected in their performance on the job because happy employees do better work. Now people have been so squeezed of their energy and joy in the workplace they are reluctant to socialize with colleagues at all. Even company Christmas parties have lost their attendance because employees are tired and undervalued so they don’t want to spend any more time in the workplace than they have to.

At the end of the day we all have to do what is necessary to support ourselves and if you’re truly happy in your workplace, lucky you…because you are not the norm. Just look around. Most are overworked, stressed and unhappy. If you can make the changes to balance your work and family life do it, because no one is impressed with an obituary that reads “Here lies John Doe, who dedicated his life to the corporate cause (which, by the way, is also what killed him). He leaves behind a family who barely saw him.”

The obituary will be followed by a job posting for his now vacant role, because business is business.