Sunday, November 28, 2010

Things You Hear In A Coffee Shop

I’ve been spending a lot of time in coffee shops lately.  I tend to hang there between ‘coffee dates’ or meetings rather then going back and forth to home between my appointments.  I just find those that have free wireless networks, crack open the Mac, and tada, I’m doing everything I’d normally be doing in my office at home.  One day I’ll introduce myself to my ‘mobile colleagues’.  There are quite a few of us doing this.    

Last week, I was sitting in a Good Earth coffee shop, sitting just feet from 3 gentlemen.  It appeared that they were doing some sort of roundtable ‘coaching’, where they’d listen to concerns or issues each was having, and then would provide positive feedback and advice. They were discussing everything from employee issues, employer concerns, work/life balance challenges, and some personal health issues.  Nothing too salient, but it was interesting to observe (although not obviously) the support given by the men to their friend/colleague. I had to stop myself from adding my own opinions.  Didn’t think that would be too well received, however, since I wasn’t actually part of the discussion!

In a Starbucks a few hours later, I was sitting next to what appeared to be a brother and sister discussing their parent’s health.  The conversation was in French, so presumably they figured no one would understand their discussion.  Again I was very close to providing them feedback in dealing with elder parent’s health issues.  Apparently the mother is using her illness in the old ‘illness guilt trip’ to get her husband’s, children’s, and generally everyone’s attention.  We all concluded (silently in my case) that mom is responsible for her own health and that not giving her the attention will send the signal to her to get on with it.

I’ve been observing the shop employees as well.  As everywhere, there are those who truly enjoy their jobs and those that are miserably ‘putting in time’; no different that my observations in large corporate offices.  The real difference however, it that these folks can’t go hide in their cubicle and likely aren’t paid very well.  They have to face the public every minute.  I came close to providing my sage advice of: “perhaps you need to find something that suits you better rather than wasting your life doing something you hate”.  But then again, I was just there for tea.

I did get some good stock tips a well.  A company that will remain nameless is in the throws of a significant acquisition which will only be announced in a few weeks.

Then there’s the couple that believes that sitting side-by-side, busily typing/texting on their respective Blackberries, comprises a date.  Very few words are exchanged.  So my cynical self thinks this is ridiculous.  My romantic self thinks that, gee whiz, these guys are so compatible that they know what the other is thinking.  NOT.

So coffee shops are great places to eavesdrop if I want advice, entertainment, or a reminder why I don’t want to get back into the corporate race just yet. The downside is that, so that I don’t feel guilty using up their space, I have to buy something…and it’s not just a tea.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Travel = Change

Travel - it means something different to different people.  Whether it’s a short trip nearby or an adventure farther afield, to a 5-star resort or to a backcountry hut, all can be equally satisfying to the traveler, depending on the expectation of the trip.

My most memorable trips have been those where the person who left is not the same as the one that returns.  That is, the sum of the experiences resulted in a personal change within my spirit which would not otherwise have been possible.  Be it some newfound awareness of a culture or a fresh understanding of my own being, I cannot return to how I was before I left.

I am currently inquiring and narrowing down some options for travel next year.  I use an online Home Exchange site to find travel opportunities across the globe.  Not only does this type of travel reduce travel costs significantly, but it also allows us to live amongst locals who usually contribute greatly to our understanding and enjoyment in the visited locations.

My biggest dilemma is deciding on the purpose of the trip: exploring versus relaxing.  All options are in hot climates because I’d like to get away from our Canadian winter in March or April.  However, some options are a bit more adventurous (Central or South America) than others (a luxurious condo on the beach of Baja, Mexico).

Either way, I sense an adventure in the air…

Sunday, November 14, 2010

So How About That Rock Star Thing…

A while ago I declared that I’m a ‘wannabe-rock-star’.  Thought I’d give a bit of an update on my newfound talent. (NOT!!)

Well, I’ve increased my repertoire from two to four songs, gone from strumming using only major chords to using ‘transition chords’ (also called polychords), and, in some instances, can play, sing and count the beats all at the same time. (equivalent to chewing gum while rubbing you stomach and head simultaneously!!)  I should be ready for a premiere at the Jubilee Auditorium sometime next year…

What I do need to mention, however, is that I’m having a wee bit of difficulty with the transitions (kinda like life don’t you think?).  There are occasionally some lulls between chords while my head and my fingers communicate.  This is also the point in my performance where you might hear some sighs and even curses… because yours truly is rather impatient with her progress.

I spent all of my practice time last week playing five chords over and over and over, trying to smooth out the transitions between them.  How slow can a girl play?  Believe me….VEEERY SLOOOWLY.  Just when I think I have it licked, I realize that at this rate of play, I’ll get through American Pie sometime in 2012 and Stairways To Heaven in 2015.

Transitions… seems like I’m destined to deal with them somehow and sometime!!  Who would have thought that guitar playing was so deep??

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pearly Gates Principle

Having grown up in a small, rural, and French Catholic community, I now realize that there were many contradictions which influenced the shaping of my thinking.

Without getting into the nitty-gritty details of why I’m so messed up (I’ll leave that to my therapist to sort out and potentially a novel one day), there were many competing cultural and religious philosophies.  I realize that these attitudes and contradictions are found everywhere; however, in a small isolated area, they seem more concentrated and perhaps more extreme.  Without the dilution by other ideals and cultures, the philosophies actually can become unspoken ‘laws’ in many people’s minds. (eg. Does it matter which language is my core language? Am I a bad person for not marrying into the same culture?  Is going to weekly mass imperative? (Let alone a French one!))

At some point in my life, I had to reconcile these contradictions and learn how to cope with the seemingly incompatible values (Love thy neighbor…as long as they’re Catholic!).  I created my own “Pearly Gates Principle” to guide me. 

This Principle is simply:  “When I get to the pearly gates, will this matter?”  At the end of my life, is the issue that I’m grappling with going to truly matter? 

Being able to bring the issue back to a simple Yes or No answer has helped me be less conflicted and more compassionate towards those who may not have the same perspective I have…because they too have their childhood influences to grapple with.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


It’s unfortunate that it often takes an extreme life event to bring things back into perspective.  Only then do we hit ‘reset’ to recalibrate our view on what is really important.

My recalibration occurred a decade and a half ago when I went through my divorce.  It wasn’t a hard divorce in terms of the physical and finance split: we both agreed to keep the breakup fair and conflict-free.  What was hard, however, just sorting through the debris of our lives to understand what went so wrong.

Looking at myself in the mirror was very difficult.  Of course I took my fair share of the blame…if not more.  The hurt of knowing that I, as a somewhat intelligent 25-year old (when I married), could make such unwise decisions.  What hurt the most, however, was the pain we both went through to come out the other side better human beings.

Resurrecting out of that fog, I distinctly remember thinking that nothing could possibly be more painful (other than the death of a family member).  Yet I knew that close to 50% of the adults in North American did or would go through this experience.  How could that be???

My new criteria for measuring the criticality and impact of my pedestrian life’s events became:  “If no one is dying or starving, it can’t be that bad.”  I used this in business as I do in my own personal life. 

Life and living became much more important than the potential worry and stress of most events that filled my days.

I do, however, have to remind myself of this once in a while.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Three-Act Life

I recently saw an interview with Jane Fonda which really caught my attention.

Jane Fonda, a 72 year old fitness icon, described how, at the peek of her career, she was suffering deeply from low self-esteem. How could this be??

Jane described her philosophy on life (I paraphrase here):  The first thirty years are the Growth Act; the next 30 years are the Building Act, and the third or last phase is the Becoming Whole Act.  The third act, which brings with it the cumulative wisdom of the first two acts, is the best of all.  You are not looking for validation, affirmation or success.

How did she get to the third act in tact?  Jane’s approach, when she was 59, was to do a Life Review.  In this Review, she researched the aspects of her life which were difficult or unresolved in order to fill in some blanks.  She interviewed those who influenced her greatly (ideally parents, siblings, childhood friends, …) in her life so that she could better connect the dots of her ‘play’.

She finally understood why her mother committed suicide when she was 12, why her father was a narcissist, why she had no intimacy in her three marriages, and finally, why, despite all her fame and fortune, she sold her mind and body to whomever offered her love.  Knowing now that she had never been able to love herself first has enabled her to fill in the puzzle pieces of her life.

It was only in her third act that she became whole.  No more need to please others in order to feel complete.  The love she needs comes from within.

I don’t plan on waiting until the end of my second act to begin my Life Review….primarily because I want the benefit of having my parents’ input on some of it.  

Out come the notepad and recorder…