INDEVOURING: a new introduction

With 2015 comes a new cohort of #INDEVOURS…my fifth to be exact. Like at the start of all things familiar yet new, I’m excited and nervous and full of anticipation. Where will this new group of students go –  in the class, while on placement and beyond? What will they teach me? What impact will I have on them? I may have hopes and plans – but the answers to all of these are unknown.

It amazes me as I both look back and gaze ahead: past #INDEVOURS who reach out to me seemingly out of the blue, new #INDEVOURS wanting to figure this out. It’s a pretty awesome position to be in right about now.

Past cohorts challenged me to blog – to practice what I preach (if you will). Not that I don’t blog elsewhere and for others, but not about this class and these experiences. My own blog analysis would be abysmal right about now – but thanks to amazing cohorts to date, my toolbox is full, and this year is full of promise.

In short, where I guess this re-introduction to my blog is saying this: I’m learning (increasingly) how much of my life is an #INDEVOUR – I’m always on a path, taking in as much as I can and trying to always live up to my 3Es (encourage, empower, equip).

To all my #INDEVOURS – past, present and future – thanks for joining me on this path. Thanks for all you show and teach me, and thanks for the opportunity to show and teach you things too.

Re-Meets

My life has a soundtrack. For every moment there’s my internal DJ finding the right music to go along. And I know it seems ridiculous and ages me and is even somewhat expected and corny, but today’s track is courtesy of David Bowie.

INDEVOURS cohort 2013 is returning from their placements as I type. Some are packing. Others are on buses or in taxis. Others are boarding planes. All are, in some way, coming home. And this is exciting, and sad, and scary, and all sorts of things.

I can’t wait to re-meet these INDEVOURS. That’s right. Re-meet. These will NOT be the same students who left on placements eight months ago. And, through their experiences and my experiences, I’m not the same person they left either. This experience is truly a transformative one for ALL who are involved with it. Yes, for the students themselves. But for the communities they were living in. For their families and friends. For their school and their program. And from a self-centred perspective, for me too.

And while all this is happening, INDEVOURS 2014 are preparing for their last Ontario term. They’re getting their grades from winter. They’re hearing about their placements. They’re starting their own fundraising. And, without even fully appreciating it, they are starting their own transformations. And this time next year, I get to start the re-meeting process all over again.

It sounds clichéd and young and perhaps tacky – but being a part of this whole process is just so cool and fantabulous and…well…I lack the words and analogies to explain it. For once I am speechless. Through INDEVOURS I’m in what appears to be a constant state of anticipation-awe.

Thanks INDEVOURS – whether you be students, alumni, other staff/faculty, parents/family/friends, or donors. All of you are truly agents of change, both in your own lives and in the lives of all you meet. Sure, we’ve made good impressions, made positive impacts, and changed some people for the better. And, we’ve made mistakes. It’s cool. If we knew better, we’d do better. So take your learnings, change from them.

And here’s one piece of unsolicited advice (how many times do I say that?): In all of these re-meets, give yourself the opportunity to re-meet yourself.

 

Patience

pa·tience

noun \ˈpā-shən(t)s\

1:  the capacity, habit, or fact of being patient(see 1patient) (merriam-webster.com)

I struggle with it. In fact that’s an understatement. From driving to waiting in line to pretty much everything, I always have to stop being the “bulldog”, the “bull in the china shop” the whatever analogy you’d like to use. It’s a hard one for me.

But, each and every term my INDEVOURS teach me patience – and not in the way you are thinking.

Yes they are my students. No, they do not try my patience. But, they do help me to practice it.

These are students – bright, eager, driven, passionate – who want to change the world. Who know we can all do better. Who are doing better themselves – each and every day.

They are literally chomping at the bit to get out, get up and go. And yet, for a hundred different reasons, they often have to wait.

Yes, being patient is hard for many of them as well. But, in their treading water I still see action. In their pause and reflection I still see momentum. There’s something about their practice of patience that I’m trying to learn.

 

 

 

Safety Scissors

I remember the frustration I felt when entering kindergarten I was provided with the stub-nosed, dull safety scissors. I was upset because I was raised in a home where we used (shock and horror) real scissors with the lesson to be respectful of them because they, like knives (which we also used – I know, my family were rule-breakers) were sharp and their misuse could have some serious repercussions.

I like to get things done (don’t tell me you already forget the toaster post). Inefficiencies, perceived (or real) like dull safety scissors were, well, frustrating.

Where is all this talk about scissors coming from, you ask? Well, from my INDEVOURS of course.

If I were scissors, I’d be the non-safety type: sharp, quick, efficient and to the point. Especially in communications. If you ask me a question, my knee-jerk reaction is to give you the answer straight up: no sugar coating, no white gloves, and no concern for “feelings” because we’re all adults and we’re dealing with a situation. Like a sharp pair of scissors, I just want to cut through the (insert your choice of word or analogy) and get to the goods. I’ve learned, however, that this isn’t always the best approach. That being sharp in my responses can cause some serious damage. Like stitch-inducing damage. Irreparable in some instances.

In class, I had a student blurt out such a response, followed by an “I can be blunt, sorry” response. And it was an aha! moment for me. I realized that we need a lesson on scissor safety. That our words can and often are short, sharp and pointed. And that this isn’t always good in the long run.

We need to remember to dull our approach. Not dumb it down. Not be insincere. But to approach situations with the safety scissors (if you’ll allow the analogy) – with a calm, honest, truthful and gentle approach. One that may take more time, but that saves relationships, projects and feelings in the long run. And, truth be told, all of this is actually more efficient than the quick and to the point.

While it may seem to be troublesome, frustrating and burdensome…while we may think that the brand new, super sharp scissors will be faster…experience tells me different (and I’ve got lots of experience to prove that). That in the long-run, it’s when we use our safety scissors that our relationships do better and last longer. That our communication can be more effective.

So, in communications pick your scissors (words and their delivery) carefully. If you really check yourself you’ll find that more often than not, safety scissors are the only way to go.

Image

(image from http://www.etsy.com/ca/listing/180862636/vintage-childs-scissors-childs-safety?ref=market)

Aha! (or Following One’s Own Advice)

I don’t know about anyone else, but for me I know that it is so much easier to give some solid advice than it is to adhere to it myself.

For example – I remind my son often that mistakes are where you learn the most, and that they are, in fact, your best chances to shine. And yet, I have trouble embracing my own mistakes.

As a coach I would tell my tyke lacrosse players that it wasn’t about winning or loosing; it was about playing hard, learning and having fun. And I believe this as a coach and mom. As a player in anything, I hate not winning – or at least beating my own previous personal best (but mostly I hate not just winning).

To my students, I remind them that INDEV 303 and 403 are their chances to try something new. To get out of their comfort zones and to build new skills. If they are often leaders, I urge them to shy away from a formal leadership role. If they are amazing writers but struggle at public speaking, switch it up.

This last one brings me to my having to swallow my own medicine most profoundly.

Those who know me, or who have met me even a handful of times (who am I kidding – it often takes only one meeting, but I digress), will not be shocked to learn that I am an introvert, that I tend to be socially awkward, and that for having figure skated fairly gracefully for a large portion of my life, I make klutzy look glamorous. I can, and do, walk into anything – often. I stumble. I trip. And I usually make some sort of commotion doing so.

Next Friday Dare to Wear Love (#dtwl) returns to Toronto. A fashion show in support of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, it brings together many top Canadian designers (including my dear friend Rodney Philpott) with regular individuals under a theme. This year’s? Glam superheroes. And Rodney has designed the most amazing couture dress. And…have you guessed it…I’m wearing it.

I’m more the alter-ego than the superhero. I even have the glasses. And I’m good with that. The reality that is next Friday is SO far out of my comfort zone, it’s not on the same map as my existence. And everything inside of me is yelling out that I can’t do it. I shouldn’t do it. I won’t do it. It’s not me. And I have the proof and excuses as to why this is the road we should all follow. But, then I’d be living an inauthentic life, wouldn’t I? My narrative would be a hollow truth.

On Monday I had an aha moment in class. I was talking to one of you INDEVOURS about pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone and I realized that this is what I’m facing with #dtwl. Next Friday, I get to give back to a cause I believe in. I get to do something I never thought I would, and that is providing me the opportunity to grow and learn. It’s amazing – I would have thought that my best role in #dtwl would be marketing or promotions – my tried and true expertise. But that just doesn’t seem to be in my cards.

Aha! My own learning moment. Thanks INDEVOURS for providing me with it – even if you didn’t know you had.

Toaster Moments

Recently I was found in the kitchen being, well, let’s just say “impatient” with the toaster. I was found slamming the little lever down, waiting no more than 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi (with my hand overtop to feel the (absence of) heat) before slamming it back up, and repeating. Uttering what some might call threats at said inanimate object and pressing buttons galore.

My partnered entered and quizzically inquired “What did the toaster do to you?”

My response was a scoff – because wasn’t it OBVIOUS – the toaster was not toasting…well not quick enough and definitely not to my standard.

The scoff fell on deaf ears and I was asked again, what the poor, innocent (useless and incompetent I might add) toaster was doing wrong.

I decided to prove myself and situation. “Look. I press it down. I hold my hand here to see it heat up and it’s not heating up so I’m pushing it back up.”

“Really?” he asked. “Tell me…what happens if you counted to five, or even three instead of two? Do you think if might heat up?”

I pulled myself up in all my self-righteous vigor to show him I was, of course, right and the toaster was, of course, failing at it’s one simple job – to toast.

Looking at him I pressed down the lever and held my hand over the toaster: 1 Mississippi (no heat), 2 Mississippi (no heat and a grin of I’m right spreading across my face), 3 Missi-what? Heat?

“Vic – do you think the toaster wasn’t doing its job? Or was it simply not doing it on your time and to your standard?”

Ouch.

So, what’s the point of this my INDEVOURS? That there are a lot – and I mean A LOT – of toasters out there in the development world. Out there in the marketing and communications world. Simply – there are a lot of toasters out there. And it doesn’t matter what our timeframe or expectations are. It doesn’t matter how often we proverbially slam that lever up or down to prove our point and make it toast faster. What matters is that we respect the toaster to do its job in its time.

And while it’s hard to revel in the 3 (or more) Mississippies, the lesson is to allow the toasters to do their jobs. To take a step back. To breathe. To realize it’s just a toaster moment. And that it’s ok.

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(image from takepart.com)

Fearless Leadering

There are many things INDEVOURS has taught me to date. The biggest, however, is a profoundly altered understanding of what it means to not just be a leader – but a fearless leader.

Any one who has met me quickly learns I have a nurturing side. Ok – that’s putting it mildly. Many would argue that that “nurturing” is a mask for my serious type-a symptoms. I like to be in charge. I plan. I strategize. I look for speed bumps and avoid them. I thought that was the fearless leadering type – get out there first, take the hits, make it smooth for those following me.

What I’ve learned, thought, is that while this personality type and leadership trait has its merits – for example, it makes me good at communications – it doesn’t always make me a good leader. At least not in the INDEVOURS sense.

As an instructor/leader, my job isn’t to go out there and make the path smooth for my students. Instead, it’s to be there to find the teachable moments. To help them navigate the terrain for themselves. And that’s scary. Or it can be. But it’s also rewarding.

Thanks INDEVOURS past, present and future for teaching me about fearless leadering. About letting go, getting out there with you, and helping you learn things for yourselves.

 

to look ahead, we must look back

It’s hard to believe that the 2013/14 academic year marks the fourth cohort of INDEVOURS. And to remember that it all started as a class project. It’s been a ride…to say the least.

In four years, I’m pretty much 100% certain that my students – third/fourth year International Development students – have taught me more than I could have ever imagined.

Among the lessons I’ve learned to date (and which I’ll be sure to expand upon in posts that look back and add to as I experience this year of INDEVOURS):

1) perseverance – I’ve never seen so many people push through so many obstacles

2) innovation – I like to think I’m creative and innovative but man-o-man…the thinks that these students can think

3) community – I don’t mean it as a cute, trite saying: my students really understand community at all levels…and when they bring you into one or more of their communities, be prepared to be transformed

4) humility – I know that you may not believe it, but not all 20 somethings are proud, strutting peacocks (yes, I’m much older than a 20 something as my lingo is proving)

5) patience – I bet any INDEVOURS reading this are thinking either a) that I mean they tested my patience or b) but we’re impatient…and if they, or you, are thinking this than y’all are WRONG…but I’ll get to that…and I’ll touch on a) and b) too

6) optimism – I’m a realist…I see the world as it is and I accept the things I want to accept, and I work towards changing the things I think need changing, and I even have to just shrug my shoulders or hang my head at times. I’m on the happy side of life. I tend to look for the good in all situations. That said, realism is just that – and it can cloud my interpretation of the world. But the INDEVOURS…wow

They’ve also taught me some amazing lessons on all manner of topics – some of my favourites being food, music and fashion.

This is me indevouring through another cohort…and hopefully many more to come…welcome to my part of the journey.