Life's Lessons

This is my birthday month which typically motivates me to reflect on life and lessons learned. I believe everyday life is the very best school, especially when we heed our learning and implement change as needed to increase satisfaction and joy.

I'll begin with some context for those who don't know me well. I am a woman whose childhood and adolescence resembled sitcoms like Leave It to Beaver and Father Knows Best. My parents already had grandchildren when I was born and the family system was patriarchal. Like many families of that time, ours believed that you follow the rules and contribute as best you can to the common good.

Here are a few life lessons I have learned:

  • I understand and accept that mental and moral qualities emerge from children's lived experience. My upbringing was by old school rules, so when I became a parent, I wanted to do some things differently. I admired the poem Children Learn What They Live by Dorothy Law Nolte and used it as a guide. But I also parented in the Dr. Spock era, and in hindsight wish I had not followed one of his suggestions, which was to let the baby settle himself by crying. Yuck! Fortunately my first son was an excellent sleeper.
  • Perfectionism is a nasty habit. Trying to have everything perfect totally undermines enjoyment and fun. Thank goodness it only took me about 40 years to figure that out!. I used to rake the shag carpet in our living room every day. I can now let furniture be dusty and the floor need sweeping with no shame at all. In the paid work world my perfectionist approach undoubtedly annoyed both colleagues and direct reports. Once when I polled several people at work about what I should continue doing, start doing and stop doing, one manager asked me to stop red penning her letters! We had a good laugh! I stopped!
  • Confront unacceptable behaviour immediately. This was not hard for me to do as a mother because the parenting guide books were all over it and my perfectionist nature meant I was driven to get it right as a Mom. Adhering to that as a best practice in supervisory roles in the workplace, however, was much more difficult. Many clients talk about how hard it is to confront at all, never mind trying to do it "in the moment." Caring enough to confront and give feedback that can be heard and heeded, is a carefully crafted, learned skill. It takes more than reading a book about how it should be done. Becoming competent and confident with confrontation takes extensive practice-based training. I highly recommend conflict resolution training for learning those skills.
  • Approaching life as an optimist is a good thing. Negative energy can quickly ruin the day. I have a difficult time being with people who approach life with a rain cloud hanging over their head. A positive attitude has contributed to high levels of energy and satisfying relationships in my life. Lucky for me, my spouse is also positive by nature with a great sense of humour. I'm sure that was the reason I married him.
  • Take Your Soul to Work. This is the name of a superb book written by Tanis Helliwell. Published in 1999, it's as relevant today as it was then. Discovering this book put me on a healing path that would satisfy both my personality and my soul's needs. In Tanis Helliwell's words both those needs must "work together in partnership because the soul knows the purpose for our life, and the personality is the vessel we have have been given to fulfill that purpose."

I think it was Dr. Joan Borysenko, author of Fried: Why You Burn Out and How to Revive who said "you can't burn out if you were never lit up in the first place!" That was certainly the case for me.

I graduated from university when my oldest son was finishing high school. As someone late to the game, aching to prove her worth, and driven by strong perfectionist tendencies, I soon became a full blown workaholic. I never said no to an opportunity to learn and to prove myself capable. I worked ridiculous hours. Was I lit up? You bet! My hair was on fire!

Finally after many years at that pace, I found myself standing at Burnout's door. A friend I hadn't seen in a year came to visit. When she could not recognize the person she knew in the frazzled woman facing her, she confronted me with the truth. I was a mess!

I soon resigned from my job and enrolled in a three year master's degree that transformed my life. Now I cherish every day that I can help others learn how to take their "soul to work."

I wish you health and happiness,

Love, Kathleen