Safe At Home? Be Grateful


I did a fair bit of driving this weekend. Saturday it was the trip from Lindsay to Toronto and home again, then Sunday the drive from Lindsay to Mississauga and back again. As I made the final turn onto our Crescent both evenings, the Christmas lights on the front lawn and house itself brought me a measure of both happiness and relief; we were home.

Home is sanctuary; the place with which within I am calm, protected and at peace. It’s where I recharge, relax, settle back with a blanket and at this time of year, enjoy the festive decorations, the Christmas tree, and perhaps a cup of tea. Yes, every time I make that last turn in the road and ascend the hill to our home, the promise of such sanctuary awaits me.

I imagine many of you might have similar feelings as you travel home from both near and far, whether it’s a house, condominium or apartment you return to. Once inside, it’s your space; your private sanctuary from everything beyond your door.

Of course it’s not the case for everyone. I can’t truly imagine what it must be like to live without that promise of a safe and secure place to take my rest at the end of a day. When temperatures outside are below zero degrees Celsius, not only does being homeless rob a person of much of their physical energy, it has to be incredibly taxing on the mind to constantly have to focus on finding a place to spend the night. Can you picture having to spend much of your day scrounging for shelter and then when you wake up the following day from a restless sleep, you have to move on and repeat the same process; wondering again where your head will rest that night?

Now were it you or I, we likely believe we wouldn’t be in such a predicament long. We’d likely use our resources acquired over time, including our interpersonal skills to locate and secure some place of safety and warmth. We’d turn quickly to finding work, then use our earned money to rent a place and begin to improve our lot.

The difference I suppose though is were we truly homeless, the mind that we rely and trust to make good decisions each day would be adversely affected. The mental strain upon us is not something I believe we would be prepared for. The lack of a place to shower and clean ourselves would be an eye opener, then even if we had such a basic resource, how upset would we be putting on the same garments, unwashed themselves and thus carry with us the grime, the odour? Without money, how would we feed ourselves? How might the quality of the food we do consume when we find it differ from what we eat now?

You and I, we not be rich, but we are rich by comparison. We can not only close our doors to the world each night, we sleep in comfortable beds, we eat without having to guard our plates; when thirsty we find options in our fridges. We don clean clothes each day, we snuggle in against the bitter cold, raise a thermostat if we so choose. Lucky? Well, yes I suppose we are.

Now yes, we do make our own luck I’ll affirm, but what we make our luck with is an educated mind. We have had resources our entire lives some never will have. If you grew up with a mother and father, lived in a house, had three meals a day and went to school, you likely took much of that for granted. As a child,  perhaps this is how you believed we all started out. Not so. If you’ve never had to visit a foodbank other than to drop off a donation, or never had to leave some items at the checkout because you haven’t got enough money to pay for them, you’re lucky indeed.

The nights are dark and cold, the daylight shorter at this time of year in my part of the world where winter is upon us. The streets are often slushy, which makes it trickier to walk for some in heels and harder still to push those shopping carts and buggies with worldly possessions in them for others.

If you think the simple solution is to get a job and be self-supporting, think of what herculean effort that must take. A homeless person has to concentrate on where to sleep, where to eat. They have few items to improve their personal hygiene and fewer to clean and maintain the cleanliness of their clothes. They are often shunned for their appearance, their smell, their cleanliness and much of the time lack personal identification such as birth certificates, health cards and social insurance numbers.

Luxuries are things like haircuts, dental visits, prescription glasses, non-processed foods, undamaged fruits and vegetables. Families are typically dysfunctional, relationships hard to establish and harder still to maintain. Without an address, services are hard to get, being always on the move, they have no sanctuary at the close of a day, sleeping with one eye open out of fear until absolutely exhausted.

Enjoy your home as do I, but be benevolent when you can. Consider a donation, be it a used article of warmth, food, toiletries, or your time. Be grateful, be humble.

Finding Happiness In Your Work


Yesterday someone said, “You really love your job don’t you.” (It was more of a statement than a question, so that’s why there’s no question mark at the end of that opening sentence.)

I immediately answered in the affirmative, but then within two seconds, I said, “Actually, what I love is the people I meet while doing my job.” I think I stand by that answer.

Pausing to look back at the many jobs and careers I’ve had over my lifetime, the one thing that’s made each one a pleasure or not has been the people. In this case, both the people I’ve worked with and the people I’ve met in the course of the work I performed. You learn to appreciate many things over a lifetime, and some of the things you learn replace or change things you believed years earlier. However, one thing I learned early that’s never changed is that for me personally, I’ve always made it a goal to surround myself with good people.

Good people make your days more enjoyable. Sometimes they roll up their sleeves and help you complete your work, they contribute ideas and tell you you’re a good person to work with yourself. Good people are positive, go about their own work with enthusiasm and contribute to the energy of the space you work in. As for the people that you come into contact with such as clients or customers, these too can make your hours more pleasurable. When you provide them with a great product or service, your interaction with them will by association be that much better. Deliver sub-standard services or goods and you’ll likely deal with dissatisfied people and you’ll feel less positivity from the experience of interacting with them. This it seems, is just logical to me.

And so it is that I’ve come to realize – for me personally – that the more I invest myself in the success of others, the better my own days go. This might be the recipe of success for you too, but not necessarily because we’re all unique and we have differing values, likes and needs. But for me, the more I extend myself and put in the work to make people’s interactions with me better, the greater the odds are of me having a good feeling walking away. And I do want to feel good.

I share this glimpse into my outlook because I often get asked about my apparent and obvious happiness doing my job. Many of those I work for tell me that they wish they could find work that would make them as happy as I am, and they’d like to feel as good about what it is they’ll do. Now let’s be honest. My days aren’t all roses. There’s a lot of running around getting things organized, planning in advance, recruiting participants, updating electronic files, documenting other’s experiences. There’s refreshments to prepare, rooms to set up, handouts to print and all of these take precious time; time that I always want more of to prepare. There’s interruptions, people to cover for, unexpected and yes, sometimes unwelcomed mandatory training that comes at the worst times … sure there’s all that.

It’s all worth it. Why? Because it brings me in contact with some of the best people I’ve ever had the good fortune to know; each one of them makes me better for who I am. For this, I am extremely grateful.

So, are you looking for work that will bring you a large measure of happiness and satisfaction on a regular basis? Most people are – unless of course they’ve already achieved that goal. There are some of course who don’t believe they care at all about job satisfaction. As long as money is deposited into their accounts, they’ll continue to work and don’t really care much about ‘happiness’ in the work they do.

Those people aside, if you truly want to leave for home feeling good about what you’ve just done for 7 or 8 hours, you have to know what it is that will bring you that happiness. My job entails leading workshops, making resumes, sharing interview tips and the career planning process. But – and it’s a huge but – it’s the people who participate in these presentations that have always and will continue to inspire me; bring me happiness. Having determined this, I am rewarded each day when I interact with them.

When people express their thanks and appreciation for something I’ve said or done, it makes me feel good to have been of help. When that happens several times throughout a day, the day is measured by me to have been successful. Not all days are fabulous of course, but most are.

So what would make you feel good? Do you want to feel appreciated and valued for what you’ve contributed? Is it your employer or the customers of that employer, (perhaps both?) that you would like acknowledgement from for your service? Is it a safe, caring work environment you’re after? What is it you want?

When you identify what it is that you want from the work you’ll perform, it makes it easier to focus your energy and time finding jobs and occupations that will bring you what you want.

My hope for you is that you find work that brings you happiness and fulfillment too. That your days find you surrounded by good people too.

Teamwork: Co-Worker Care


It’s at the core of what teamwork is all about; first and foremost. Caring for others on your team with whom you work from the time you greet each other until you part for home.

Teamwork is so essential to working productively and successfully that it’s almost a given in every job posting you’ll read these days. Oddly enough however, when it comes to providing an interviewer with concrete, specific examples of teamwork, many people I speak with struggle. Many tell me that they don’t really have experiences working on major projects, taking the lead on initiatives where they delegated responsibilities etc. While those are examples of working on teams, they are but two ways to demonstrate teamwork. However, there are other, and I will argue much more significant ways to demonstrate your effectiveness as a valued team member.

Just yesterday, one of my colleagues was off work unexpectedly. In addition to her absence, our team had two people on vacation, one working at a second location and we’re currently short one person on our team until a replacement is hired. With our supervisor off for the day, it fell to those of us working to shore things up. As it happened, another colleague and I had a scheduled meeting in the morning on-site, which meant for us both to attend, we’d need a co-worker to staff our Resource Centre for an hour or two with our placement student alongside.

So up stepped one of my valued colleagues; happily and willingly able to set aside the time she’d counted on to do some planning. After our meeting was over, I returned to take my place. While the meeting had kept me away for an hour and half, all had gone smoothly for my colleague. Except, honestly…we’re all stretched a little thin these days, and we’ve been over-extending ourselves for quite some time. As it turned out, that time she gave up to cover was really needed to regain a measure of control and feel prepared for what she had going on later in the afternoon.

As it happened, my colleague started sharing with me just how stretched to the limit she feels. Not only was she stretched thin at work, but a prolonged home renovation is also going on, and I immediately knew that this meant there was no place for her to relax and recharge; what home should be. As she talked, I could see the visible signs of stress; talking rapidly, nervous laughter mixed with big gestures and just venting. This is good; this is healthy, this is sharing a burden and reality with a listener that cares.

Aside from listening, I could really empathize with her because as I say, we’re all feeling stretched and I’ve been through reno’s at home. Throw in the emergence of the Christmas season, decorating a home, taking on a responsibility at work I’m aware of, and I could immediately get a feel for what she was feeling. By allowing her to share, she actually started to feel better. Then she did something I found intelligent and kind. She asked if I wouldn’t mind allowing her to go to lunch when I’d planned to, meaning my own lunch would be set back an hour. How is this kind? It gave me a chance to do something tangible to help.

While gone, I spoke with our placement student; a smart, aspiring young woman who has her own sights set on working in the field and with whom I can see myself working alongside. Here was a teachable moment. Having seen and overheard much of this interaction, I pointed out that this is exactly how to demonstrate care for one another as teammates. It’s funny how many of us are comfortable saying we love our jobs, we love our work, but the thought of saying we love our co-workers sounds odd if not just plain wrong. Well, it’s little things we do like letting each other vent, putting the needs of another ahead of our own etc. that demonstrate care and love for one another. It was important to put a label on this. “Loving” your co-workers isn’t likely on the University curriculum.

While sitting there awaiting her return so I myself could go for lunch, I got a text from my colleague. It was a picture of her lunch, with the words, “Feeling relaxed. Thank you”. I grinned and felt a measure of happiness for her. That’s all it took to bring control back. When she returned, she brought a tea for me, a coffee for our student and I even got a hug of thanks. That too is love and care reciprocated.

Now this isn’t monumental teamwork that saved the company thousands of dollars or brought some new client onboard. This is an example of everyday, small but significant interactions where you can either step up and support one another with genuine care for your coworkers, or you can say, “Not my problem – I’ve got my own problems. I’m going for my lunch now. See you in an hour.”

It’s the little things we do – you and I – throughout a day that over time become our reputation. When you pitch in, cover, listen, empathize, extend help, support each other, encourage each other – these I argue are the testaments of your teamwork.

On every team, some will get it and some won’t. Be one who does.

“How Do You Always Stay Positive?”


8 people sat before me yesterday, only 1 of whom I’d met before. It was our first of a 7 day journey, embarking together on bettering knowing ourselves and then looking at the possible occupations that we might pursue. I include myself in that phrase, for although I am employed, I too will confirm what I know already and discover new things about myself as I facilitate this workshop.

It’s my practice to ask each person their name, why they are present and what they hope to get out of the experience. This is an excellent check for me to ensure we’re on the same page. It’s great confirmation for each participant, knowing they won’t be disappointed on our final day because if there is something they are expecting beyond my own objectives, I have time to build it in.

After hearing from them, I typically tell them about myself. Why not? I mean I’m a part of the group too. I know I always wonder about the backgrounds of  facilitators when I attend their presentations. However, yesterday I went about it differently. Rather than give them my career path, I opted to give each person an opportunity to ask me one question, which I promised to answer as best I could. This way I reckoned, each person would get at something they wanted to know, and I’d get an early glimpse of their thought process.

I was pleasantly surprised with one gentleman’s question. We’d only been together for about 20 minutes when he asked, “How do you always stay so positive? You have a lot of energy and I believe you are always positive.” I was surprised because as I say, he’d only met me 20 minutes earlier and had already picked up on my positivity. Here is the power of the first impression and I was understandably happy he’d picked up on both my energy and positivity.

I gave him a spontaneous answer; “I choose to be.” I went on to tell him and the group listening in, that we make choices not just each day, but hundreds of times a day. When things don’t go as we’d expect, we have a choice on how we react. Now the location I am in this time around is not my usual work destination but rather what is for me, a satellite office. I had technical issues with my computer login and as it turns out, had to download a new operating system which would take about 2 hours. My choice was to go around and express this frustration with 6 or 7 nearby co-workers, or – and this is what I did – contact IT and had them walk me through the process. This choice got me the result I wanted sooner, (connectivity) and conserved a finite amount of energy I’d otherwise have poured into complaining. My choice.

Now I know this sounds trite doesn’t it? I mean just choose to be positive. However, it’s the simplest explanation why any of us are typically positive; we choose to be. One thing I did share was an admission that I’m not always completely positive and yes there are some times I choose wrongly; later regretting I didn’t make a more positive choice. Thankfully those times are few.

Last week we had a snowfall which made the commute in messy and a coworker told me how much she hated the snow. I told her how pretty it looked to me and how it covers up so much dirt and grime of the city. “You’re always so positive”, she too said. Well, it’s a choice again isn’t it? I mean the snow has arrived and is now a factor for us all to interact with. It’s our response to the snow that makes it welcomed or something to complain about. We interact with the event in either a positive or negative way. I chose positivity and that choice makes traveling through it a more pleasurable experience.

Now as for you. Would you describe yourself – and would others generally describe you – as a person who comes across as typically positive? I tell you this, being perceived as positive in general is so much more attractive than the alternative. Given that premise, why wouldn’t we all choose positivity over negativity? And if not negativity (for that’s the other extreme), I’d rather be positive than fluctuating back and forth all the time to the point where others are never quite sure what mood I’m in from one day to the next, from one moment to the next. I like consistent positivity.

And here is a poorly kept secret of mine. I have found that surrounding myself with people who are generally positive and upbeat feeds my own energy and positivity. I get what I give, and I hope being positive attracts others who make the similar choice to me.

When you first make the choice to be positive it’s a change. When you repeat that choice a few times it becomes a pattern. When you come to act positively on a regular basis it becomes your reputation. This is perhaps why after only 20 minutes, this gentleman picked up that positivity was in my nature. How observant of him and what a kindness he gave me in both recognizing that quality in me and asking how I do it. Hopefully, he thinks about my answer and tries it out for himself. Positivity can be learned and it’s contagious.

Sorry Team, Not My Best


Yesterday I wasn’t at my best near the end of the day for my teammates. Ironically the reason why was precisely because all through the day, I’d been at my best for a number of people. I found myself jumping from one person to another, expending a lot of ‘me’, without time to pause, reflect, debrief and center myself. My 11 years plus office mate I historically debriefed with has moved on.

It started at 7:40 a.m. and ran right through until I shut down during a team meeting around 3:15 p.m. At 4:10 p.m., I walked out the doors where I work and carried it right into the usual transition sanctuary of my car. It wasn’t until early evening at home, cup of orange pekoe in my hands that I worked through the days stories and gave them up.

Like me, you’ve had those days where you too gave a sizable portion of yourself to others, beyond your typical capacity? At some point, your saturation level was reached, yet you were pushed beyond into your reserves and without your typical full self-awareness, that one extra thing came your way. And it’s that one extra thing that causes us to either shut down or act in some way we wouldn’t typically. The proverbial straw that breaks the camels back.

The weird thing about yesterday was I’d sum it up as a good day for the most part. It sure didn’t go the way I’d drawn up the day in my mind when arriving at 7:30 a.m. though.

I’ve already worked through a full day yesterday twice; experiencing it live and working it through in the sanctuary of home last night. I’ve no desire to lay it out here a third time. Suffice to say, in addition to the regular responsibilities of the day, 4 people unexpectedly shared with and entrusted to my keeping, their own substantially heavy life events.

Now this is a privilege; to be the one person who comes to mind when a crisis comes up and help is needed. I’m so thankful that I’ve done enough in the past that my voice at the end of the phone, my physical presence or reply to their email was what they sought.

It was a perfect storm you know; arriving at work early with an idea to revising some workshop materials, having a call 10 minutes after arriving even though that call came 20 minutes before I officially start at 8:00 a.m. Then heading into a workshop 5 minutes before it was due to start after a huddle with two team members about an important topic expected to arise at our meeting later in the day. Then working through the a.m. break because I was needed, prepping for a lunch meeting with someone who also needed me but couldn’t make it. Hurriedly eating a shortened lunch after giving up 45 minutes of it for someone else who needed me. Responding to a couple of consults from co-workers via email seeking my advice on how to proceed with someone’s trauma, wrapping up a shortened workshop and then heading right into a team meeting for the final two hours of the day. It might be exhausting to read this paragraph, but it was ever more so to experience it first-hand.

That might not sound like a lot to many of you. Comparatively speaking, you might have days much more draining that mine. I’ve no wish to contest who’s days are more taxing so I’ll concede that for you the reader, you may have far more energy draining days. The thing about working with people though, for those of us who live it, is that if you really want to be effective, you have to open yourself up and touch emotions to empathetically feel some semblance of what they are experiencing. Then you listen, acknowledge, support and where appropriate and invited, provide hope and encouragement with some advice on finding resolution and forward movement.

To do this and do it well, you listen attentively and respectfully; it’s time consuming and can’t be rushed. So when you think about it, you move quickly doing what you’d expect and in the moments when you should be processing and recovering, you’re unexpectedly in the middle of another story; and there were some major ones shared with me. So it’s move quick, halt; move quick, halt; and it happened all day.

So in my team meeting, with no debriefing, no down time, receiving a full agenda and all of us feeling individually pulled and stretched of late, I shut down to avoid saying and acting in some way I’d later regret. It wasn’t any one thing someone said but rather a few comments which in those circumstances, had me disengage and I told the team I was doing so. My capacity was exceeded, my reserves near exhausted, and we still had 45 minutes to go at that point. I knew I had one last call to make to someone who only seconds before our meeting, also really hoped I call before the days end.

My perfect storm.

I’m glad actually about one thing. After 3 decades in the Social Services field, people’s anguish and life stories still impact me and affect me. That’s important for me at least, to know and have awareness of. To know I am still of help? That to me is it’s own reward.

Today shall be good. I shall be better.

 

An Example Of Shifting Perspective


Last week I made preparations to lead a one week workshop on the fundamentals of looking for work. One week, twelve participants. I prepared for it as I would any other workshop; gathered the necessary supplies including handouts, notebooks, pens, notepads and made sure I had all the refreshments stocked and ready to receive. As I left work Friday afternoon, I looked over a room that was neat, welcoming, fully stocked and felt good. That feeling of being prepared allowed me to spend the weekend enjoying it fully, rather than feeling some growing anxiety about all the things I’d have to do upon arriving to work Monday.

So there I was, opening the doors to the room at 9:15 a.m. and hoping that in the next 15 minutes, 12 bodies would walk through the door. I say hoping rather than expecting, because history has told me that in most situations, a full house is seldom the case. Well, as it turned out, two of the twelve showed up. A third person came on the off chance there was an opening and so he was admitted too. 3 people, 1 week.

Now yes, I know that life happens. What I mean by this is that in the lives of the people I support, many face multiple barriers to employment. Many have dysfunctional families, physical and mental health issues, some just have poor decision-making skills, weak problem-solving abilities and so yes, some are on social assistance because they do not have the necessary skills yet to be successful.

Three is disappointing. However, what an opportunity for the three who did show up! I mean, they’ve got an enthusiastic and knowledgeable Employment Counsellor for a week to split between them instead of having an additional nine people to share me with. By the way, being excited for the three present rather than focusing on the nine absent is a shift in focus I want to stress. It’s so easy to be disappointed and let it show which can rob those present of your enthusiasm and passion. Unintentionally, you run the risk of making those who did show up feel less than worth your time.

Now sure I communicated to the staff who made those referrals to the program who showed up and who did not. It’s their role to follow up and determine next steps for the non-attendees after hearing why they failed to show. My focus is on the three.

It’s not always like this of course. Last month I taught a two week class on the basics of using the computer. For that class, fourteen showed up for a class that could only accommodate twelve people. Twelve started and twelve finished with perfect attendance. That was a special group of people; as is every class.

Without knowing the reasons why, it’s easy to make assumptions why people fail to show up for classes that are free, supportive, fun and beneficial. In addition to learning subject matter which helps them move towards self-sufficiency and financial independence, they receive additional funding for transportation, networking, sometimes funds for suitable clothing and/or grooming too. Then there’s the social engagement; connecting with others in similar situations and feeling less isolated. And in the case of this workshop, job searching support; a stronger resume and cover letter, help with preparing for an anticipated interview too. All free.

I’m not angry lest you think I am. No never angry.  I suppose I’m just disappointed. I know the opportunity missed to get all the benefits I’ve mentioned above. I understand the circumstances in which these people live and the pressures they are under. I get the stress that sets them up to make decisions I’d not make myself, and I know sometimes they have every intention on coming but they mix up a date or forget about it until it’s too late. I know they have childcare issues, they have poor health in many circumstances; a consequence of not being able to eat healthy foods as often as they should. I understand they don’t all have strong accountability either, both to themselves and others. You see I get all this.

I’m allowed to feel what I feel though too; disappointed. Disappointed for them not me. It took me no time at all to gather up what became excess supplies. That’s the least of my concern. A very busy week for me, constructing or revamping twelve resumes and writing twelve cover letters got a whole lot easier with only three. The energy I was prepared to expel shifting between twelve people with varying career/employment goals was going to be substantially more than it is now too.

Yes my job got easier – substantially easier. You’d think that as I’m getting paid the exact same wages for three as I would for twelve that I should be ecstatic. Ah, but I’m not. Now, my disappointment isn’t so deep that I’m walking around with a long face and moaning about things. Far from it my reader. I’m happy and invested in the three I do have. I can actually accomplish more for these three than I would have otherwise and we’ll have many more significant conversations.

For a time though, I’m permitted to consider the ??? that goes with the missing participants.

I’m thankful for what I have, not consumed with what I don’t. Hey, that’s  good enough for me and worth reminding myself of.

My Advice: Hold Off Job Searching


Sounds like odd advice from an Employment Counsellor to give on the surface of it doesn’t it; putting your search for a job on hold. Yet quite often, that’s the advice I give some of the people I meet with.

Now if you’re employed and see yourself first and foremost as a taxpayer and believe that everyone in receipt of social assistance should be completely investing 100% of their time looking to work, my apologies. There are some situations in which I believe looking for a job is not only ill-advised, it can set someone back tremendously from finding employment in the long haul.

Take yesterday as an example. For two weeks, I instructed a dozen people in the basics of using the computer. I’m talking basics here; using it to make an email, learning how to access the internet, find employment opportunities, make a resume, apply for work with that resume. We did more as well, but I like to instruct with practicality in mind, so as most were unemployed, why not learn the basics of the digital world and at the same time, showing them how competing for employment these days requires computer skills? Anyhow, there I was yesterday, seated with one of the participants from that class, doing a follow up appointment.

Typically, I plan on giving someone feedback on what I observed over those two weeks, encourage them and point out moments of success and accomplishment. However, I threw all that out the window yesterday when this one woman came in and we sat down in my office. She was 15 minutes late, and said she had almost decided not to come in for the scheduled meeting. Two developments on the day before our meeting occurred; she was contacted by her Doctor who said she must meet immediately with her to share results of some medical tests and her 13 year old daughter was committed to a hospital for a few days after telling her own Doctor that she was thinking about killing herself.

Suddenly, giving feedback on computer skills and talking about using these new skills to job search seemed entirely inappropriate. Of greater importance in that moment was listening, supporting and responding to her disclosure, her fears of what her Doctor knows and must share in person immediately and her own daughter’s thoughts of ending her life. At a time like this, the focus on receiving, comprehending and processing these two major life events supersedes any encouragement to get out and get a job.

Besides, if you believe that she’d be able to effectively job search at the present moment, I’d venture you’re views are based in ideology and not practical reality. Do I think governments always get this? No. I suspect when they look at stats, they focus solely on how many people start a program, how many finish and how long it takes someone to find employment after taking a program to determine its effectiveness. Numbers don’t tell the whole story; not by a long shot.

“Will I get in trouble for not looking for a job though?” she asked. So I took an hourglass from my desk and flipped it over, letting the blue sand fall. “You only have so much energy. Right now, your focus and energy is on receiving your own diagnosis and whatever implications that holds. As a caring mom who has a daughter in crisis, the two of you have a lot to work through, you’re probably blaming yourself and you’re scared. You just got two extremely upsetting events on the same day. Forget the job search for now; you won’t be in trouble.” She looked at that blue sand accumulating in the bottom half and said seeing how the top was emptying was how she felt.

Near the end of our meeting, she told me how glad she was that she’d decided to come because she’d considered staying at home. There she was, expressing gratitude to me for making her feel better. It’s pretty humbling to hear someone in the midst of heightened anxiety and trauma be so genuinely kind and thoughtful. When she left she hugged me; we hugged each other. Somewhere in that simple act, some of her fear melted into me, and some compassion for her suffering flowed from me to her.

Do you really believe she should be focusing 100% on looking for work? Do you really think I – anyone for that matter – who counsels and supports people looking for work should pressure her into making a job search her first priority? And where I now wonder does any government making funding decisions and program cut decisions factor in this kind of experience?

I tell you this, were I that woman, receiving these two pieces of information, I’d sure be grateful to meet with a compassionate, understanding and patient person. Yesterday I was fortunate to be that guy, but this is not about me. I believe there are people with equally, even better responses everywhere, having similar experiences daily.

Something as simple as removing an expectation of finding work and assuring them they won’t have their benefits suspended, can do far more good in the long run by building a trusting, human connection. For who is equipped to deal with either of these situations let alone two on the same day?

So yes, put aside the job search; there are times when it’s not priority #1.

And your thoughts?

Networking Basics


There are essentially two types of interviews you can be part of: the traditional interview you get invited to and the less popular but equally effective interview you arrange yourself. This second type is generally referred to as an informational interview; one you initiate and take the lead on, designed to gather information rather than apply for a job.

The problem for many people is that interviews are seen as a negative experience; only to be endured and tolerated as a means of getting a job, and the fewer the better. So the idea of voluntarily initiating further interviews with people – and taking the lead at conducting it, just isn’t remotely appealing.

Yet, more and more we hear the advice of experts that we should be out there networking. Not very often does the advice we get include who to talk to and how to get the conversations started; even less so on how to keep them going. So here’s a few ideas.

Think about the people who currently work in the jobs you’re interested in, and for the companies you find highly desirable. These are the people you’d likely benefit from having conversations with. The key is to approach them when there is no job currently advertised, for it’s likely they’ll decline any invitation to have a chat at that point out of a desire to avoid any conflict of interest.

20 – 30 minutes is what your after. Less than 20 minutes just isn’t sufficient and anything longer should be entirely up to them to extend their time voluntarily. So how do you get to meet? Initiate a phone call, explain you’re doing some research into the field in general, the position they hold in particular, and you’d love to have 20 minutes of their time. Make yourself available on their schedule by the way, not yours.

Okay so you’ve got a meeting set up and now it’s up to you to come prepared with questions. Have these down on paper and come prepared to take notes; bring along your resume to share and get some feedback on as well.

What to ask? This is the hardest part in the beginning and why some people refuse to try; they simply get anxious wondering what they should say. Well, think about what you want to know; what’s important to you. You might want to ask about what their worst day looks like. Not as an opening question of course, but at some point, finding out what the worst day they experience looks like can reveal if you’re up for it or not. Of course, finding out what success looks like is key too.

What keeps them up at night? This question gets at problems and concerns they have in the job that might spell an opportunity for you. First and foremost, will you worry about the same things they do if you’re in the job and can you handle what the job would have you potentially taking home? The thing they worry about most might be something you can address or at the very least prepare yourself for. Keep in mind that just because they hold the job you’d like, they are a different person than you, and their worries need not be yours. You might be creative and innovative whereas they aren’t, and their biggest worry might be something your ingenuity has an answer for.

Asking what advice they’d give themselves were they in your situation is a thought-provoking question because they have inside knowledge of the role, and they know now what they’d do differently. As you’re entering the field, you have the opportunity to bypass mistakes they’ve made, maybe concentrate on some key aspect of the business that is emerging or trending.

The biggest and best thing you can do is listen with crystal clear focus. If they sense you’re asking questions but not really engaging in what they say, they’ll shut down, give you surface, predictable answers and send you packing quickly. If however, you listen intently and with a peaked interest, they may extend the time, give you sincere help and drop a nugget or two for you that they didn’t plan on doing when you first walked in. These nuggets are golden opportunities and will help you strengthen a future interview.

An unusual question but a good one is to ask what you should be asking but aren’t. You know, that one thing that might be the make or break factor to getting hired or rejected. Only they will instantly think of whatever it is that’s essential when you ask this question. What immediately comes to their mind is what you’re after.

Networking is about creating and nurturing ongoing relationships and something you want to leave with is another person to potentially meet; someone you’ve been referred to by the person you’re now meeting. Ask for a name and see if they’d be willing to introduce you or at the minimum, allow you to mention their name as referring you on. This referral is a pass that gets you in where your competition might be blocked.

By the way, when you’re done, leave them with a handshake, a smile, a word of gratitude for their time and follow up with a short thank-you card – not an email.

Networking is having conversations and it’s these that may help you; it is still often who you know.

Thankfulness And Gratitude


I make a conscious effort to express my thankfulness to people in my workplace on a regular basis. Sure it takes some thought, it takes some empathy and it requires some action on my part. “Hey so-and-so, thanks for what you did just now. I really appreciate it.” There. Done. It takes some thought, empathy and action but not much. But the effect? Impactful.

Now, sure being thankful is on my mind with Thanksgiving upon us this weekend. May I suggest and hopefully encourage you to spread a little thanks around yourself at work today and tomorrow, if not the entire year.

Thank you Roxann, my Team Clerk who works diligently each day, providing myself and the team with administrative support. Roxann makes it possible for us to focus on what we do by taking care of things behind the scene. She’s often pulled in many directions, some days stretched pretty thin, but always finds a way to come through.

Thank you Trevor, who for over 11 years shared an office with me until this week when he switched his role in the organization. Together we shared so much, professionally and personally and the impact you had on me each day is hard to measure but I’m glad I was wise enough to appreciate you and tell you every so often rather than waiting until now.

Thank you Terri, another team member of mine, who has both her heart and her head in the right place. Like me, you’ve come to the employment counselling role later in life with a rich background of jobs and past careers. I am so grateful for having you in my life and having the privilege to work alongside you.

Thank you Sherry who puts up with my, ‘dad’ jokes, supports me with a compassionate ear and every so often just accepts a hug when given to her. Having worked together briefly as Caseworkers and then Employment Counsellors, we’ve shared a lot of frustration and success but always been there in the important ways for each other. Again, big heart.

Thank you Kathleen, the single best Supervisor with whom I ever had the pleasure of working with. Under your leadership and supportive guidance, I learned to be flexible, became a better employee and by consequence, a better human being. You know how much I value you because I made sure you heard it often enough. Thanks for never shutting down my innovative creativity; even though we know there were times you were saturated with yet another new idea of mine.

Thanks Nataliya, for the consistent, high quality customer service you provide me with when I’ve got a technical need. But more than that, thanks for opening up, sharing and trusting in me. We need more people like you who are both good at what they do and always have serving others the best they can in mind.

Thank you Kelly, my former Manager and now Director, for two distinct gifts you taught me. First, I have always been struck by your routine of turning away from your computer and turning 100% of your body to me when we talk. I’ve copied that and I know it’s value. Second, you always lobby and advocate for those who need a voice most; those we serve, and that’s so important for all of us on the front line to know; you believe in us.

Thanks Rochelle, who has remembered me each and every year on my birthday with an email. Thanks for your past, present and ongoing support, kindness and your way with words. Following your passion is Rochelle all over, and your love of writing is something I can truly appreciate.

Thanks Dave, who is one of the truly great ones. Dave who works with a Servant Leadership style akin to my own. Dave, for whom I look up to with great respect, not only for working every day with service excellence as his legacy, but who does so with grace, humility and compassion. You my friend, are so appreciated and held in the highest regard. And Dave, you’ll get where you want to be; I believe that.

Thank you Leena, Mairna, George, Carl, Bill, Alexandra, and all the other people who welcomed me to walk alongside you for a brief time on your own life’s journeys. It takes a wise person to reach out for help and an even wiser person to accept help when it’s offered to them. You each touch me in profound ways, change me hopefully for the better and for that I am extremely grateful.

Thank you Gayle, Dale, Steven, James, Sherrie, Mike and so many others I can’t list you all; you out there in my readership. When you comment on or like some piece of mine, I feel encouraged to continue. Although we’ve never met in person, I see your faces on your profiles, read your words with appreciation and feel were we to meet one day, we’d shake hands, sit down and talk like we’re old friends. Your communities are fortunate indeed to have you.

So, if I may, make a point of thanking some of those you come into contact with today, tomorrow and each day. Thanksgiving is a good reason to start, even if you feel at the moment you’ve got little to be thankful for. When you look for things to be thankful for, you’ll attract more reasons to be grateful.

Why You Might Not Get The Best


“My answer to your question starts with, I want to help others.”

The question asked is some version of, “What do you want to do?” Every person who has ever entered the fields of Health, Social Services and Emergency Medical Services just to name a few, has at some point been asked this question and replied with the above. Most of us asked ourselves that question long before anyone else directed at us. We are helpers.

There’s so much reward in what we do and if we’re smart, we never lose sight of the special place we’ve landed in our society. We are the fortunate ones, although many outside of our professions don’t entirely understand why we do it. Many of our friends, many of the people on the receiving end of our help don’t get it either. We often hear, “I’m glad you like what you do. I know I couldn’t do it.” That’s okay; you be the best you can be at what you do, we’ll do the same.

And you know for the most part we do; try our best that is. We hope every day that our best is consistently excellent. We admit though, sometimes the best you get from us isn’t the best you’d have received the day before, two days from now or even an hour ago. In that moment that brings us together, we’re still giving you the best we can muster.

That might not at first glance make a whole lot of sense, so let me explain. Our jobs you see bring us up close and personal with people in some pretty traumatic circumstances. We may have started our shift physically and mentally ready to go but prior to your contacting us, we just finished up with someone you know nothing about. That interaction has affected us in some profound way. Right now, we look our normal best on the outside, but in our heads and our hearts, we’re grieving at the worst and still processing at the best. It’s a double-edged sword this job of ours; we often meet people at the worst periods in their lives, and we do so joyfully – but it’s the humanity in us, the caring in us, that strong desire to help our fellow beings that sometimes has us distracted when serving you, because you were next.

So what it looks like while we still try to do our best might be a lack of focus. You know, repeating a question we just asked. Or we might seem on autopilot, just going through the motions and not all that helpful. That personal service we pride ourselves on just isn’t there at this moment and as one of those we serve, you’re smart enough to recognize you’re getting inferior service.

Now we know you don’t really care about the last person before you – not in the sense that you have zero empathy for them, but in the sense of it’s you before us here and now and you want 100% of our attention. Right now it’s all about you and you’re right, it should be. Like I say however, we’re human. The very best of us has a day here and there where something or rather someone has had an impact on us in such a profound way that we’re struggling to keep that concealed as best we can while we help you. How do we do that? Right…autopilot. At first we think we can pull it off and you’ll never know what’s going on in our head; we’re disconnected at the moment here in the present while our head is still in the past.

The thing is, we’ve been doing this job a long time. You’d think by now we’d be immune to anything that would set us back. We’ve cut our teeth on some bad situations that as a rookie we hadn’t dealt with before. We got stronger for those experiences and by now, you’d think having seen it all, we’re capable of putting that aside and just giving you the very best you’d get any day. You might even demand it, saying, “I’ve got my rights you know. Just do your job; that’s what you get paid to do right?”

The thing is though, we’re sometimes still caught in the moment; profoundly affected by a sorrowful story, a tragic event, a death or suicide, a victim’s retelling of their personal horror. It’s strangely good though. It is precisely because we are so touched at our core by these moments that we are reminded that even after all these years, we’re still in the right place and the right people to be here. The depth of the event and the magnitude to how we are touched mirrors the length of time it’s going to take us to get back.

And here’s the thing…we’re never going to be exactly who we were before. Nope, never. Why? Because this one event; just one of many, has added to who we are moving forward. We are the sum of all our experiences. In changing, we’re actually going to be better if you can believe it. Having shared your story or some tragedy in our personal lives, we now carry these as we evolve and grow. These allow us to channel our empathy – even though you may unknowingly trigger hurtful memories in us – your collective interactions make us better.

We do our best and we sincerely hope on your day – this day – it’s good enough.