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Mental Health Week: What’s good for you?

secluded bay, spring

Solitude Bay

This view is one of the ways I protect both my physical and mental health. It’s Mental Health Week and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) has some great information and resources at mentalhealthweek.ca.

In the article “How is mental health like physical health?” CMHA states: “In the same way that we all have a state of physical health, we all have a state of mental health. Mental health is more than the absence of mental illness.” The following resonated with me.

Even if you don’t have a mental illness, you may at times feel mentally unwell. Stress, an overwhelming schedule, and difficult life events or circumstances can put pressure on your mental health.

Yep. Been there. Done that. Recently.

Despite the fact that I’m now living and working full-time in my cabin-turned-home immersed in the splendour of nature and with a gorgeous view, I was not feeling my best as the cold, hard edges of winter hung on and on.  This was amplified by grief and a succession of losses both personally and professionally.  When these feelings emerged I felt ungrateful and weak. I was “living the dream” wasn’t I?

I reached out to a few people – my support system – who have been with me through this new “journey”. They reminded me that there has been a lot of change and while much of it is good, there’s  also the losses and grief. And that it was okay for me to feel this way.

Ducks flying

Two mallards signal spring is here (finally)

Spring has sprung and I’m starting to feel better. I think we can all take a page out of Brené Brown’s teachings in The Gifts of Imperfection:

Get Deliberate: Carve time out of every day, even when multiple priorities demand your attention, for creativity or whatever feeds your soul.

Get Inspired: Make connections with like-minded people with whom you can share ideas, respectfully debate issues or somehow make a  contribution to the stories around you.

Get Moving: We all like to feel safe and comfortable but as as Brené says there comes a time when we need to open ourselves  to the risk of “feeling vulnerable and new and imperfect.”

This last point brings me to something else I want to set straight. Last week, I posted about my struggle with good enough as it relates to my work as a freelance writer. In that article I railed against good enough a bit, in particular when it becomes a habit. That’s my professional stance and I’ll stick by it but I’ll also restate, without any judgement, that getting something out is often better than doing nothing at all –  hence the appeal but also the true gift of good enough.

Perfectionism isn’t our friend and there are times when all we can do is step back and know we did our best…even if others disagree.

Here are a couple of key messages that CMHA provides in it’s Mental Health Week toolbox:

Mental health is about more than mental illness

  • One in five Canadians live with mental health problems, mental illnesses or addiction. But the reality is, five in five of us have mental health, just like we all have physical health.
  • We can all benefit from celebrating, promoting and acknowledging the role that good mental health plays in living a full and meaningful life.
boss goose

Goose boss also happier the ice is gone

Let’s #GetLoud about what mental health really is

Mental health is about more than being happy all the time. It’s about feeling good about who you are, having balance in your life, and managing life’s highs and lows.

  • Everyone deserves to feel well, whatever their mental health experience. And we all need a support system to lean on.

Please, join me and let’s #GetLoud about mental health — our own as well as that of others who struggle, are recovering, or need our help and understanding.

Also, please be good to yourself.

Leanne, fishing, catch

Good Enough: Is there a Catch?

fish, Leanne, good enough

Look what I reeled in on my first try. Good enough?

As a professional freelance writer, I know the way to continually improve is by doing lots of writing (meaning it’s my full-time gig) and ongoing learning (because it’s a gig that changes daily).

This comes with a tough realization. Despite continually honing my craft, there are people out there who will still choose to work with a competitor of mine: “Good Enough”.

Good Enough can be a worthy contender. Many people write reasonably well and know how to get at least part of their story out to the world. I am the first to say doing something is better than doing nothing at all. I also agree that Good Enough has a place in our lives when we need to protect our own well-being. I could write the book on perfectionism; I highly recommend against it.

Good Enough and I have a love-hate relationship, much like I do with other things in my life that aren’t good for me if I over-indulge (chocolate, wine and certain people come to mind).

Mike,fish, pickeral

Hard work and deeply honed skill pays off with the real catch of the day.

What I can say is that when I work with clients and prospects, Good Enough isn’t at the table. There are many reasons for this but the most important, for me, is that since these people have given me the honour of helping to craft their message, I owe it to them to create the very best story I can.

In an email marketing webinar I recently attended, Carlijn Postma founder of The Post, a Norwegian content marketing agency, pointed out that while just about anything can reach a target group, it takes a lot more work to build an audience. In her words, “I am a target group to many but an audience to only a few.”

Your audience only allows those in they know and trust. You can only build that trust with meaningful, relevant content that is all about them, not you.  The challenge here is to balance telling a business story that humanizes your product or service with a compelling reason for consumers to buy the solution you’re offering because its going to change their lives for the better.

In my experience, this requires more skill than just a surface-level piece of adequate copy or content marketing. It’s even more important if your audience has shown signs that they’re not that into you anymore.

Here’s my approach for clients who want to go beyond good enough.

  • I  ask a lot of questions and listen to the answers, during which the big picture of what we need to do starts to form. I may ask some things that haven’t been considered, and that may cause some discomfort, but working past that is necessary if we’re going to get to a better place. Things might get messy before they get elegant. These extra steps aren’t for everyone, hence the lure of Good Enough.
  • I dig a little deeper than might be possible without some extra help. This includes interviews with others who are part of the story and a look through the latest research  — to inform the narrative but also to assess what’s been done and how we can do better.
  • I make sure that whatever we do aligns with the brand and its purpose and answers questions the audience might have regarding why they should care about the solutions that are being offered.
  • I’ll bring the audience into the story—because again, it really is all about them.

So in answer to the question Good Enough: Is there a catch? I would humbly, and with full disclosure as a writer for hire, say yes.  The catch is that you should consider some outside help to take you beyond good enough when you would rather not go — or just don’t have the time to go — beyond the first draft to the deeper layers of a story to really make a difference. It may also be that you need some additional expertise, an outside perspective, or the stakes are just too high to shoulder the writing all by yourself.

If you still want to work with Good Enough well, good enough and good luck! You are welcome to use the steps I’ve suggested to help ensure that what you’re saying has purpose, aligns with your goals, achieves results, engages and shows your audience that you truly care — because if you don’t care enough about the quality of the story you’re telling them, who will?

I’m one of the lucky ones, having worked with many people who are making a difference in the world (see below). I’m grateful they’ve put their trust in me to help tell their amazing stories.

If you’re ready to say good-bye to Good Enough and you’d like to talk about how MightyWrite can help create your business story, send me an email or visit mightywrite.ca and fill out the contact form.

Every project we do is customized to our clients and their needs.  It begins with a conversation.

P.S. Good enough fishing also doesn’t cut it in my neck of the woods. I’m improving through lots of practice! 

Who wouldn’t with this view?

boat, bow

With thanks to Mary Ann, Jan and Rona

I don’t hire Leanne to do work for me. I partner with Leanne to create great work. I get her involved at the brainstorming stage and she stays with me through writing to publishing. For the past decade Leanne has supported me with everything from a blog to web content to an entire book. Her work in interviewing over 100 key informants ensured that this book was much more than my personal perspective. Her attention to detail and to getting the facts straight is a testament to her professional integrity. Leanne also walked the talk of psychologically safe work by being especially supportive during a difficult time of my life that happened to coincide with the writing of this book. I am forever grateful.

Mary Ann Baynton, Mary Ann Baynton & Associates

Working with Leanne Fournier was an extremely positive experience. She is meticulous, thoughtful, and scrupulous. I felt I was in perfect hands. She understood the sensitive issues of mental illness and workplace-triggered depression. Each time she made a change, she ran it by me, giving me plenty of time to review and comment on her edits. I couldn’t have worked with a better writer and editor.

Jan Wong, Author and Professor

Leanne’s empathy, listening skills and knowledge of the perplexing mental health landscape made her a first-rate storytelling partner. At every stage of our work together, I was struck by her respect for honesty and accuracy.

Rona Maynard, Speaker, former Editor of Chatelaine and author of My Mother’s Daughter

Read Jan and Rona’s story

 

 

 

boat, bow

Repurposing: Tips, trends and knowing your audience

canoeing, audience, trends

Up the creek…with a paddle.

I’m repurposing part of this post on the advice of an outstanding content marketer, Andy Crestodina, Co-founder and CMO, Orbit Media Studios (@crestodina). Andy was one of the presenters at Content Marketing Institute’s ContentTECH 2018 (#ContentTECH). His session, Higher Rankings in Less Time Through Data and Repurposing, sent me to my blog archives to see what I could dig up. I found this little gem, which touches on a whole bunch of things I’d been thinking about writing anyhow (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!).  A few updates and boom! – I had a relevant, timely piece of meaningful content. I highly recommend this approach  when you find yourself short on time to keep up the momentum of your eNews.

And there’s a bonus! Following are some of the top trends that will change content marketing in 2018,  according to Rohit Bhargava, Founder, The Non-Obvious Company (@rohitbhargava). Rohit was one of my favourite #ContentTECH presenters, bringing a unique sincerity to his insightful session, How to Predict the Future and Use Trends to Drive Customer Engagement. Here are some of his top predictions:

Manipulated Outrage – A few minutes on any social platform quickly reveals that people are primed to be outraged. Rohit suggests that we respect the outrage but rise above it by bringing something positive to these stories and the world.

Brand Stand – Companies need to stand for something. Rohit’s tip is to become part of the community, take a meaningful stance, and give people a reason to believe in you.

Back-Storytelling – This, Rohit says, goes beyond just social meetings. The key here is learning how to share content in an interesting and differentiated way. Again, make some meaning and then tell the story behind it.

Light Speed Learning – Rohit describes this final trend as repurposing long experiences to train customers before they buy.

 

sunset, river, mosquitoes

Hard for any audience to ignore this sunset.

On that note, here’s a story I wrote as I sat semi-unplugged and disconnected from technology at my camp in the wilds of N.W. Ontario. This escape is a large part of my back story. I like to think that what I learn here and share with others who stop by is meaningful, relevant and useful.

But the reality is, just like in our day-to-day content marketing, that isn’t always so.

My partner Mike and I have sometimes been guilty of letting our passion for our place in the woods overshadow the wants and needs of our “audience”.

I rant to my clients all the time about the importance of understanding your audience!

Who knew that a canoe ride on a windy day would be less appealing than curling up with a good book in front of a fire? Yes the weather gods offer up many surprises here in every season.

Or that the gorgeous sunset on the horizon is invisible to guests who are blinded by the mosquitoes swarming around their heads?

Haul some wood? Are you kidding? This is a VACATION! Surely it will all be there when we actually need it?

And what about that 5 hour (mostly uphill) snowmobile ride off the groomed trails to that perfect fishing hole? Ummm no, there isn’t a Holiday Inn at the end of the trail. Just more ice, cold, and the hole.

Destination Fishing Hole

We’ve wizened up to the fact that, for it to be good for everyone, we need to think about our audience and their needs for these cottage gatherings – but we do have our limits! I’ve taken a page out of my content marketing playbook to share the lessons I’ve learned – whether it’s a face-to-face exchange, live event or webinar, a website, blog,  social media post or pretty much anything you’re doing to engage with your “people”. Including camp life. 

Happy Camper checklist

Who is the audience? Is this the annual family get together with people of every age, a more adventurous crew or kids who come bearing tech toys and attitude? Food, services, activities and “toys” will need to be planned to address budget (ours and theirs), physical abilities, tech realities, and attitudes.

✔Define your audience

✔Speak to them in language they’ll understand

✔If  necessary, segment your messages for different sectors of your audience

Ericksons, Lisa, Signe, Soren, camp

Happy campers

What’s the problem they need your help in solving? Are there a few new paddlers, friends or family who need to reconnect, a guest who can’t sit still or one who doesn’t want to move? While it’s not all up to us, we work to consider expectations – as well as any “problems” our guests might encounter – during all stages of their stay with us.

✔Assess the situation

✔Identify risks

✔Clearly communicate how you’re addressing their concerns

✔As much as possible, make it about them

✔Be clear about the the action you want them to take

✔Make it easy for them to “sign on”

Now that their here, what will we do with them? Our camp offers different year-round activities and we love them all. We’ve learned however, that some of our guests aren’t as enamored with cuddling up to a wood stove when it’s -45C while others embrace this experience. Still others just can’t stop counting mosquito bites or measuring the degree of their sunburn at +30C, while there’s also those who are all about – and prepared for – lake life however it comes. For us, it’s been important to help our guests come prepared with a clear understanding of the realities of our camp life – and to limit the surprises when they get here.

✔React to the market conditions and opportunities

✔Make it about them

✔Be prepared to be flexible

Rene, snowboarding

A new discovery: Camp Hill

How do we keep everyone engaged? Guest stays over a few days usually start to push the limit in keeping everyone happy and participating in the natural gifts that our cottage offers them. This is when we usually reach out to our guests and hand some of the “entertainment planning” over to them, including giving them space to do their own thing.

✔Have a plan for sustaining your audience or “program”

✔Reassess to see what’s working and identify gaps

✔Listen to your audience

✔Be open to new ideas

Leanne fishing

Do you see your audience?

And what opportunities can we optimize? While I’ve had some fun with this, most of our guests have heard us going on about our adventures at the lake so much that they want a part of it too. So what do we do with those people who always show up and are always ready to “buy into” just about anything we have to offer?

✔Bring them into the story

✔Deliver what you promised

✔Give them incentives to do more with you – and feel good about it.

Allison, Matt, Angela, Rene

The look of satisfied customers (and a few “insiders”).

How do you measure success? We know we’ve succeeded when the hugs and smiles of our departing guests are bigger than when they arrived. Sometimes, for whatever reason, this isn’t the case and we need to assess what we missed and how we can do better next time. But again, most leave with promises (or threats?) of returning soon.

✔Set measurable goals

✔Ask for feedback

✔Do something with what you learn

✔Celebrate successes

So take away my paddle the next time I suggest a canoe ride when the thunderclouds start rolling in. When it comes to lake life, Mother Nature is and always will be the best teacher of all.  Beyond that, we need to take our cues from one another, and hope that will continue to pay off down the road…or hiking trail, lake, creek or never-ending back country snowmobile trail…

Happy camping!

 

Has this article helped you in some way on your journey to better understand your audience and/or trends for 2018? I’d love to hear about it. Please send me an email – leanne@mightywrite.ca – or leave a comment below.

All the good photos are by Michael Fournier.

Recognizing our own heroes on International Women’s Day (#IWD 2018)

As I writer (and reader) I’ve always found it interesting how certain words on the page can resonate with you more deeply depending on where you’re “at” when you read them. This was the case for me when I came upon the following passage about mothers in Louise Erdrich’s brilliant book The Painted Drum:

“It isn’t enough that she sweat, labored, bore her daughters howling or under total anesthesia or both. No. She must be responsible for our psychic weaknesses the rest of her life. It is alright to feel kinship with your father, to forgive. We all know that. But your mother is held to a standard so exacting that it has no principles. She simply must be to blame.”

When I read this several years ago, my mother was in some of her darkest days of depression. She likely had been depressed for many years, but it hadn’t been diagnosed as was often the case for women of her time. There’s no doubt that I, the (recovering) perfectionist had set ridiculously high standards for my mother. Somehow my dad always got off easier.

My mom Aggie (sitting) and her sister Eileen (another hero)

For much of her life, my mother was known to be the life of the party (in a good way).  Whether it was jumping up on a table to dance, or putting together the most hilarious costumes for a curling bonspiel or the annual labour day parade, her huge smile and boisterous laugh could light up a room (I’m blessed with that same laugh). Maybe that’s why, seeing all of that disappear as it slowly did, was so hard to watch and understand.

Our house was the usual gathering place for our large extended family and these were always great times. My mother wasn’t one to stress out about preparing enormous meals with all the fixings. Her sisters, my aunties and my grandmother – all my heroes – contributed to the feast. Washing up afterward was even fun as the women, including cousins and “in-laws”, would come together in the kitchen sharing stories, laughing at each other’s various mishaps. We were a lively bunch and family was everything.

grandma, grandpa, Aggie

My grandparents Oscar and Mary with daughters Lucy and baby Agnes (my mom)

Then my grandfather died and 15 years later my grandmother. In both cases, my mom was with her parents as they left this world and I think that has always stayed with her. I know she considers it a gift to have held them as they struggled for their last breaths, but at the same time, a piece of her left with each of them. A piece of her heart for sure, but I think something more. A part of who she was.

It wasn’t long after that when my mom’s depression, which had been percolating under the surface as she cared for all of us, my dad, her dad, our growing families, and then finally her mother, bubbled up. It was still slow though, showing up as physical symptoms for which no diagnosis could be found.

My brother intervened when, upon visiting my parents at their winter retreat in Osoyoos, B.C., he found my mother in really bad shape. Knowing what I know now, I can see that this was the worst place she could have been, as she was isolated and alone during the days while my dad golfed (she doesn’t). He called me and said something had to be done.  I was defensive at first, and then ashamed. I write about mental health for crying out loud. How did I miss this?  I then finally did do something, on the advice of a colleague, by filling out the free online assessment Check Up from the Neck Up, pretending to be my mom because there’s no way she would have done it at the time. The results clearly showed depression. I remember being petrified driving out to my parents to deliver these “results”.  While my mom knew she was sick, she was resisting our intervention. Regardless, and with her glaring at me across the room, I tagged along to one of her doctor’s appointments to share my “findings”. Even if she disagreed, I knew she’d need an advocate.

The doctor was new, as they often are in my parent’s small town, few staying long enough to really get to know their patients. I described some of the symptoms from the “Check Up” I’d done and then said, “The woman you see here isn’t my mom.”

While those words were an effective strategy to get the doc to look beyond her physical symptoms, they weren’t true. She was still my mom, but over the past years leading up to that day, she had become a little lost to me. I’m ashamed to admit I judged her for not seeming interested enough in a lot of things that were important in my life at the time, including those beloved large family dinners, my work, and more painfully, my children. Now, looking back, I wince when I think of how hard it must have been for her to “show up” as much as she did.

Medication helped, and with more understanding and a diagnosis, my mom showed tremendous courage in opening up about her illness and assembling her own amazing support group to help her through. She wasn’t interested in psychotherapy, told me it would stress her out (!), so we never went that route. It took a while to get the dosage right and there were some relapses, but she was always brave enough to call me and tell me she was feeling “that way” again. Once she knew what it was and how she could feel better, she never looked back.

Then, as things continued to improve, my dad was diagnosed with dementia and my mom with COPD, which actually helped spur on another series of events – The sale of our family home of over 50 years and their moving into a 55+ apartment nearby. We were bracing ourselves for the worst, when my mom called me one day ecstatic that the doctor had said my dad’s was a misdiagnosis and that he didn’t have dementia any more than the doctor himself did.  He said it was likely he was just going to be a weird grumpy old man. We continue to track my mom’s COPD but she’s doing well.

My parents have now both said they are happier than they’ve ever been (at 78 and 79!) in their apartment. The complex is in the community my mom grew up in, next door to the town where I was raised and my dad was born. It’s also the last place my grandmother lived independently and is filled with those great memories. I think my mom feels like she’s come home.

My parents are looking after one another like never before…well my mom doing most of the looking after as always, but there’s a renewed appreciation that seems to be mutual. I can’t say enough about the value of our aging parents having social connections as mine have found in their new “community”.  Who would have thought my deeply depressed mother of five years ago would be out in the common room playing cards and doing puzzles several times a day, running the complex’s fun night, cooking up some of our favourite dishes again, and just generally being the life of the party once more.

I have always needed my mom and I missed her terribly when she wasn’t well.  Now I can call her anytime and regale my latest successes or failures. And she’ll give me the ass-kicking, spot on advice she used to. She’ll say what needs to be said. Always with an I love you to wrap it up.

My hero

Always my hero.

I’d like to dedicate this story to all the women, like my mom, who have raised us up and shown us the way. Because of them, we and our daughters have a greater understanding of what it takes to make a difference in the world.  And that it isn’t always easy. Hopefully we, like they, will continue to #PressforProgress on issues like mental health, equality and inclusivity.

It is not lost on me how lucky I am to be able to share this story with my mom still here. Most of my best friends’ mothers are gone. But man, have they left behind some strong, loving, kind-hearted, spirited women who are changing the world—One day, one daughter or son, one great act of sisterhood at a time. I’m sending my gratitude, love and admiration to every one of you. You know who you are. You inspire me every day.

Have a great International Women’s Day!

Printed with permission from my mom.

#ContentTECH 2018 reminds us to ‘Pay Attention’ in our content marketing

I spent today at the Content Marketing Institute’s annual #ContentTECH virtual event. I’ve attended for a few years and it delivered, as always, on its promise to provide “actionable, best practices” to aid people like me in taking a more strategic approach to content marketing.

I’m sharing my #ContentTECH tweets from today as they include some great insights from the speakers but also their Twitter handles, so you can check them out yourself if you weren’t lucky enough to be able to attend. Please excuse a few typos in the tweets as I was multi-tasking as best I could! If you’re a content creator/writer/story teller I strongly recommend you give yourself the day off to attend next year. It’s worth every minute.

How To (Actually) Predict the Future and Use Trends to Drive Customer Engagement with Content Marketing

Rohit Bhargava, Founder, The Non-Obvious Company, @rohitbhargava

Rohit’s presentation was amazing. I loved his sincerity and approach to what he refers to as “idea spotting.” He touched on a number of trends that will change content marketing in 2018 as well as the leading habits of trend curators.

Content Marketing’s Technology Challenge

Stuart Eccles, Chief Product Officer, Percolate, @stueccles

Stuart shared  practical approaches and gave some great tips on how to get started in assessing your technology needs as a content marketer. I have some work to do in this area but now have an excellent “guide”.

3 Little-Known Workflow Game-Changers

Claire Burge, CEO, WNDYR, @claireburge; Nishant Taneja, AVP Product Marketing Wrike, @wrike

Claire is a brilliant thought-leader and I look forward to learning more from her. I loved her perspective that workflow is actually a form of change management happening within a company.

How to Google Proof Your Lead Gen Content Marketing Programs

Tom Martin, Author, The Invisible Sale, @TomMartin; Stephanie Mansueto, Content Strategist, ion interactive, @stephmansueto

Okay, I’ll admit it. Tom Martin has been one of my heroes since I heard him speak at an event I attended in Denver, CO, a few years ago. He didn’t disappoint today and I was nerdy-thrilled when he actually thanked me for my Tweets. The “Taco Truck” analogy really struck a chord with many of the attendees. Was it because it was around lunch time? At any rate, he was brilliant!

Stephanie Mansueto rounded out Tom’s  presentation perfectly with some great case studies and stats. I loved how she played on his Taco Truck theme with “Be a Taco Truck – Go where the audience is and make them hungry for more.”

Experience-Obsessed: Scaling a Thriving Global Enterprise in the Consumer Empowered World The average lifespan

Ekaterina Walter, Author, Think Like Zuck: The Five Business Secrets of Facebook’s @Ekaterina

Ekaterina kicked our collective asses during her spot-on presentation, even admonishing attendees to “Pay attention!” She knew she was dishing out gold and, among other things, gave some outstanding insights on what leading brands are doing right when it comes to content marketing.

Data That Drives Email Marketing Relevance and Revenue

Jessica Best, Director of Data-Driven Marketing, Barkley, @bestofjess

Jess really is best. Her presentation highlighted the need for both great content and data to optimize content marketing.

Higher Rankings in Less Time Through Data and Repurposing

Andy Crestodina, Co-founder and CMO, Orbit Media Studios, @crestodina

Andy’s presentation was a great way to end the day. He made everything we’d heard seem more do-able by sharing practical strategies to save time and simplify the process for creating loads of great content.

In closing…

I offered up my appreciation for the day and it was reciprocated. It hasn’t escaped me that this is really the end goal of our content marketing strategies. To offer our stories to the world, using the tools available to us, and hope they stick with someone who cares.

 

 

 

 

Shining a light on the need to talk about mental health

A beautiful beach on the shores of the Atlantic brought some comfort.

It’s #BellLetsTalk Day and this year, I come to it with a greater understanding of the importance of the conversations around mental health. I’d like to share this story with you but just a note that it includes the topic of suicide, so please don’t read if that is a trigger for you.

It is a story of how I was supported in my grief, how being vulnerable and open can make a difference, and finally how my friend, a survivor of suicide, has found a measure of peace through an unbearable loss.

My tears haven’t stopped since a young friend died by suicide a few months ago. His mother has asked that we focus on how her son lived rather than how he died and I am respecting that. But I am devastated like many others who were touched by the brilliance of this big, short life.

I carried this grief with me as I boarded a plane, attended a gala celebration and launch of a book (coincidentally about mental health), and then a meeting with a group of experts to discuss peer support for the workplace. It was there, as the conversation shifted to suicide, and the fact that the work we were doing might save lives, that my grief bubbled up to the surface. This was a safe place for this to happen but still, I fled the room.

When I returned to the meeting, everyone respected my space as I got a coffee, collected myself and took my seat at the table.  I felt their support and kind energy. One of them reached over and touched my arm, another one waited until break and gave me a hug with no words; himself a suicide survivor. Two others shifted their chairs ever so slightly toward me.

These are the kinds of small gestures that can be so powerful when words don’t seem to be enough.

Then, as the meeting ended, and I began to pack up my bag, the fellow next to me pulled up a chair in front of him and motioned for me to sit down. This was Brian Hansell whose son Paul had died by suicide. It was his words that had made me think of my friend and her family.

“I am as healed as much as I will ever be over the tragic loss of Paul,” he said. “I’ll never get over it. I just hope that every day I get a little bit stronger and find my way past it.”

I wondered if my friends would ever be able to get to such a place.

On that day, Brian held his hand up to stop me as I apologized for bringing my “stuff” to the table. He said that is exactly what we need to do. He shared that he was Paul’s best friend. How could he not have known? But he didn’t. And now instead of going into what he calls that “dreaded spiral of guilt and blame” he celebrates who Paul was—someone who was always giving others a hand up. This, he said, is how he gets through every day.

Brian is tireless in doing what he can to raise awareness of mental health issues in young people through the Paul Hansell Foundation and the #ConvoPlates. The purpose of each plate is to start conversations about mental health and keep the conversation going along with the plate, which is meant to be sent to someone new every few weeks.

When I shared this article with him in advance of posting it, he thanked me for being “both open and vulnerable.” That, he said, “makes a huge difference too.”  I am grateful to have been in that room at that time to receive the support I did. It will stay with me always and help chisel a small piece of my sadness away every time I think about it.

For that reason, I finally shared this story with my friend. I wanted her to know that her son is still in our hearts, that we think of him often and that there are good people like Brian and many others who are sharing their stories to make a difference.

I have chosen to keep the names of my friend and her family confidential to protect their right to honour their loss  in the way they choose. And that is to shine a light on their son’s big, bright life.

My friend describes this light as something that keeps her going every day. She finds great solace in her spiritual connection to her son. Both she and his dad see signs that he is with them all the time.

She said, “I feel like I have made deliberate choices with some hope, some understanding, and whatever spiritual beliefs I have.

But she describes the “big swing.” “There’s spiritual choices and attitudes, where something is more positive. Then there’s the parts that overwhelm you. You thought you’d be watching a sunset and all of a sudden you’re dropped in the middle of the ocean and you’re swimming for your life,” she said. “You don’t really know if there’s ever going to be a purpose to any of this.”

But the fact that she is able and open to feel her son around her makes all the difference. “There are just too many coincidences for it not to be him.”

She agrees on the need to have more of the conversations like those being promoted through efforts like Bell Let’s Talk Day and the Paul Hansell Foundation.

But she also acknowledges how both of the stories shared here highlight how those conversations might not happen. My friend’s son had been living away from home and kept up a strong, positive front when they saw him. He had a great job, was well-liked and had plans for the future.

“We had no clue that anything was going on,” she said. “I’d been monitoring his health his whole life but had no idea. So we were in the dark about what this conversation even was.”

Bell Let’s Talk is one place to get some help in starting those conversations. You can also find out more about the Paul Hansell Foundation and the #ConvoPlates here

P.S.

I was given a #ConvoPlate a few months ago at the gala I mentioned earlier. I was mulling over who I would share it with. Then it came to me. It was my son’s 19th birthday. I would give it to him.

I am so grateful to be having this conversation.

rene, leanne, convoplate, paul hansell foundation

Starting the conversation

 

 

Pelicans, secluded bay

A change of scenery is good for the soul

Otters

Otter family taking a break. Photo by Michael Fournier.

There’s been a change of scenery in the MightyWrite world. We’ve recently relocated to our camp, just outside Kenora, Ontario, where “neighbours” like these are close by for most of the year. This was earlier in the season. The view from my office today is in the photo below.

Other than our new neighbours and address, there’s very little change for our clients and colleagues as we’ll be continuing to offer the same great customized writing and communications support as we always have.

 

 

Office view. Photo by Leanne Fournier.

Connecting to our core values

While most things went right during our move, a few went wrong with painful results. I was still reeling from one of these when I attended Brene Brown’s Daring Leadership course a week later.

What great timing. The course opened my eyes to the importance of being aware of and aligning with our values in everything we do both professionally and personally. I wish I’d known this during the move! Had I been able to step back and see how my values were being threatened in a few instances, I likely would have understood my emotional response better. I also could have regrouped to respond in a way that aligned with my values (see below). That way, even if things still went wrong, I would have felt like I did the best I could.

So, with that tough lesson learned and under the brilliant guidance of Brené Brown, I decided to draft up some core values to help guide me and my family, as well as MightyWrite in the future. Brené advises you should only have a few, but what the heck. Here’s the current long list. Also, (editor friends) I intentionally didn’t write these to all be in the same voice. They’re written as they came from the heart.

I also didn’t include Integrity in the list because it’s the overarching theme of everything we do. For us, it’s kind of like breathing…or drinking a cup of coffee.

Kindness

It never hurts to act in a way that considers the pain of others.

Compassion, kindness and respect go a long way every day.

Commitment

Do what we say we’ll do. Always.

If our heart isn’t in it, we shouldn’t do it.

Truthfulness

Seek the truth, tell the truth and protect the truth (see also Kindness).

Accuracy

Getting it right is better than getting it fast.

Partnership

Be a member of the team, not a commodity.

Everyone has something valuable to contribute.

Consideration

Think before we act.

Be open to all the possibilities.

Self-Care

Honour all aspects of well-being.

Take care of one another.

Passion

Do purposeful, positive work.

Make a difference.

Wisdom

Listen and learn.

Strive to be wise rather than popular (see also Humility).

Boldness

Go where no one else wants to go.

Recognize that it takes as much courage to admit fears as it does to face them.

Choice

We get to choose our own response to challenges, difficulties, or situations that don’t align with our values.

Humility

It isn’t all about us.

Value what others bring to the table.

Empathy

Everyone needs both understanding and people on their side.

A compassionate ear can draw out the greatest stories.

Understanding

Not everyone will share our values.

Be open to different points of view.

Mike and I taking a break.

I would love to hear how you have succeeded, maybe even failed, or what you’ve learned by paying attention to your core values. Please leave your comments below or send me an email.

Evolution book Leanne writing

New book looks at the evolution of workplace mental health in Canada

Ten years ago I received a phone call that changed my life. It was from a consultant from Toronto who had been hired by Great-West Life to head up their latest initiative—a centre for mental health in the workplace.

Mary Ann Baynton

Mary Ann Baynton talks about banner year that included Centre launch.

The consultant, Mary Ann Baynton, had been told that I was probably the best person to help her get this thing branded and up and running online in the shortest time possible. I recall that there were still a lot of questions about what this centre for workplace mental health would be, in particular from a messaging and branding perspective. But Mary Ann and I persevered and the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace was launched on the web just three months after that first phone call.

Workplace mental health was a whole new world for me at that time, so I am indebted to the people at Great-West Life as well as Mary Ann who trusted me to help get things started.

While that endorsement changed the course of my career, it also connected me to one of the most inspiring people who would help steer the course of my life. Mary Ann is a trusted colleague, an expert who is always generous in sharing what she knows, and a friend I know I can count on to have my back.

Our work over the past 10 years has included collaboration on tools and resources that cover a multitude of topics and issues related to workplace mental health. All were developed with the goal of being available free of charge to help business leaders turn knowledge into action in addressing and preventing workplace mental health issues.
Together we explored topics such as depression, anxiety, stress, burnout, addiction, suicide, bullying, harassment, stigma, dementia, and trauma from a workplace perspective.

I brought everything I had to the table and in a some instances, was writing my own story.

A few years ago, the language started to change from these issues, which were often considered concerns for individual employees, to psychological health and safety, which concerned the responsibility of the employer. This was part of a huge shift that Mary Ann and others were leading that was looking at how the workplace could be addressing this aspect of health and safety.

I cheered on from the sidelines as Mary Ann and a large number of other like-minded, passionate, committed pioneers helped draft the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. It is the first standard of its kind in the world.

About a year and a half ago, Mary Ann turned to me and said, “I’ve been thinking…” When I’ve heard those words over the past decade I usually knew it meant more work for the cause that Mary Ann is tireless in supporting. She had been thinking about a way to celebrate those who had been working — also tirelessly — to bring positive change to workplaces in the area of mental health and more recently, psychological health and safety.

Her idea was for us to collaborate again—this time—on a book that would capture these stories.

Mary Ann likes to quote Margaret Mead in saying, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” What she is referring to is the fact that it took people from government, not-for-profits, treatment facilities, businesses, and organizations to make these changes to workplace mental health. Although the group was not large, they certainly achieved some very big things.

Sharing their stories was one of the goals of our book.

The Evolution of Workplace Mental Health in Canada: Toward a standard for psychological health and safety, was released on September 21, 2017. Those that are part of this tremendous movement have said they are thrilled to see the many events, people and stories that contributed to this evolution gathered in one place.

Leanne Fournier photo credit: Robert Durham Photography

It has been an incredibly busy, demanding, exciting, terrifying, and finally, exhilarating year. At times I wondered, who am I to think I can write this? But with Mary Ann’s persistence, encyclopedic knowledge, and patience we got it done together.

We also were lucky to have the help of numerous reviewers of the book, including many people from Great-West Life, and our colleagues from across Canada who were continuing to advance workplace mental health. This included in no small part people like Dr. Joti Samra and Dr. Ian Arnold. Our editors and proofreaders — Christine Gordon Manley, Sherry Kaniuga, Kate Heartfield, Cassandra Filice — were invaluable, as was the book design team at Relish.

The many people who shared their stories with us are truly in a class of their own. I am humbled by their dedication, insights and expertise.

One of the best things about my job is the opportunity to engage with people that have made a real difference in the world. I get to talk to people like Mary Ann, Joti and Ian, Martin Shain, Maureen Shaw, François Legault, Mandi Buckner, Stéphane Grenier, and so many others who figured in our book.

I get to be moved and motivated by their stories. And best of all, I get to share them with you.

You can download your free copy of the ebook here.

Let’s talk…about mental health and well-being

As many of you know today is earmarked for the national campaign #BellLetsTalk. Kudos to this big Canadian company for putting mental health on its list of corporate priorities. They have us talking about an issue that for many years was a dark secret for workplaces and families.

Moods Winter 2017

Over the years, I have had the great honour of hearing and writing the stories of numerous individuals who have “worked through” their mental illnesses. I urge you to pick up the winter 2017 issue of Moods magazine to read one of these stories – “Mental Illness and career success”. This special workplace issue is loaded with tips and strategies for improving mental health and addressing workplace issues. Since many of us spend up to 60% of our waking hours at work, its impact on our mental health is significant.

Like many people, I have personal stories that bring this issue closer to home. Sharing these stories is what’s now known to help us see mental health as part of the human condition. My mother was diagnosed with depression several years ago and it has taken a long time for her to find her way back into the light. I am so proud of her and happy to have her “back”. A few years ago, I was the recipient of relentless workplace bullying that depleted my confidence and broke my spirit. As part of my recovery, I made weekly treks for counseling sessions at the Fort Garry Women’s Resource Centre. When our sessions wrapped up this past December, I told my counselor that she saved my life and she responded…no, that was all you. You did that. I’m incredibly proud and grateful for her and for this free resource that makes mental health support accessible to everyone. We are so lucky here in Winnipeg and Canada!

At the last counseling session, I wrote a letter to myself that was to arrive at my home at some random later date. It came last week but has been sitting on the corner of my desk. I was waiting for the right time to open it. That time was today. It feels right to share what I’ve learned by ‘talking about it’ as my contribution to #BellLetsTalk…

Dear Leanne,

I really do admire you in all your quirky wierdness. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that. And many times I’ve judged you. But you keep showing up with the heartfelt goal of always being your best self. How do you keep doing that?

You do it by understanding and accepting that while you believe strongly in your values – everybody else doesn’t necessarily live by the same values as you and that’s okay…as long as no one gets hurt!

You’re doing it by removing judgment in how you see others and the world. This also means stepping back from the power that the judgment of others has on you.

You’re working to be more kind to yourself and others, but also to be more firm in what you will and won’t do. Make these choices free of blame. Live with those choices.

You’re remembering to love. Always love. Love yourself.

You’re learning to let go of those things that aren’t about you. You can’t fix or save the world. Dammit you’ve tried but stop. It’s too big a job for one person. Do your part and find your allies to fix what you can.

You’re starting to realize your own wisdom (or is it wiseness?). Some lessons have been learned the hard way. Be proud that you’ve had the courage to bring it all to the table. That you faced your fears and challenges and asked for help to heal and to understand what you have to do. Keep asking, keep learning, and when necessary, keep walking away from those things that are not yours to carry. 

You’re forgiving yourself, you’re loving yourself more. You are doing your best. That’s all you need to know.

Don’t be afraid. When you show up with your best self, there is nothing to fear. You might fail or not get quite the results you’d hoped for. But you tried using the best of what you had to give at the time. No one – including you – can ask for anything more.

Love,

Leanne

As a friend and leader, who I admire very much, often says, “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.” I know it’s pretty tame compared to those of others who struggle daily with mental illness or illness of any kind. But in saying that, all of our stories matter. I’ve shared mine to honour those like my mom who have walked through the darkness of mental illness, and for my many friends and colleagues who have also done so – some who have found the light and some who continue to struggle.

You are the real heroes of this day. So let’s do this!

#BellLetsTalk.

 

Workplace well-being is a shared responsibility

If you’ve followed my business page on Facebook, you know that I’m a huge fan of Harvard Business Review. They provide exceptional well-researched and well-reported articles about the latest trends and challenges in the  business world. That’s why I was surprised by the Management Tip of the Day, How to Handle an Unpredictable Boss, which essentially placed all the responsibility on the employees of such bosses to manage their own response to such things as workplace bullying, harassment or intense emotional outbursts.

What distressed me about today’s article was that it suggested that the behavior of such bosses could be managed if the employee were to employ strategies such as learning to cope  with the bosses’ outburts by noticing their patterns, understanding the bosses moods before making requests or showing gratitude to defuse tension. While employees share the responsibility for their health and wellness at work, workplaces are increasingly seeing it as a core competency for for those who lead, manage or support others to gain emotional intelligence or at the very least understand the consequences of their own emotional response as well as bullying and harassment on the psychological health and safety of the workplace. I don’t say any of this without an appreciation for how difficult it can be to manage and lead  people in highly stressful workplaces. But there are things that can be done to support the leader as well as employees.

While I’m not sure what is in place in the U.S., in Canada, numerous provinces have legislation that requires employers to develop policies and practices to prevent and respond to violence, harassment and bullying in the workplace. We also have a National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. It states that the “The vision for a psychologically healthy and safe workplace is one that actively works to prevent harm to worker psychological health, including in negligent, reckless, or intentional ways, and promotes psychological well-being…Psychological health and safety is embedded in the way people interact with one another on a daily basis and is part of the way working conditions and management practices are structured and the way decisions are made and communicated.”

Leadership is seen as a key component to psychological health and safety in workplaces and the Standard states that among other things people in leadership roles “shall lead and influence organizational culture in a positive way.”

The Standard also states that “Workplaces with a positive approach to psychological health and safety are better able to recruit and retain talent, have improved employee engagement, enhanced productivity, are more creative and innovative, and have higher profit levels. The voluntary standard has been downloaded over 30,000 times and early results are showing that organizations that are implementing it are already seeing some of these positive results. This underlines that behaving in ways that reduce psychological harm to employees makes sense from both a human and business perspective.

There are many resources to help leaders and their teams. Here are two:

www.workplacestrategiesformentalhealth.com/pdf/Building_Stronger_Teams_Oct_2016_EN.pdf

www.workplacestrategiesformentalhealth.com/free-training-and-tools/bullying-awareness

Both are courtesy of the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace. The site has many other tools and resources to address these kinds of issues.

 

Help is now available for building stronger leaders and teams

I worked closely with my colleague Mary Ann Baynton and the work of experts in fields like resilience and emotional intelligence. The result is a book to support team leaders in building stronger teams available at the link below.

It was released to a standing-room only crowd this week at the Better Workplace Conference being held in Vancouver. If you lead a team or are part of a work group that could use some great team building skills – download the book!resilience, team building, mental health, psychological health and safety

Focusing on hope: the faces of mental illness

Seeing the first throught the trees; photo by Michael Fournier

Photo by Michael Fournier, MightyWrite

Hope has been a clear message of the 2016 Mental Illness Awareness Week campaign (#‪MIAW2016).

The Mental Health Commission of Canada, marked MIAW with the following statement (courtesy of CNW):

“Recovery journeys are built on individual, family, cultural, and community strengths and can be fostered by many types of services, supports, and treatments. That is why each individual and every organization has a role to play in supporting people through their journey of recovery.

The Faces of the MIAW campaign are the ultimate ambassadors of recovery as they courageously lend their faces and share their personal recovery stories with everyone in Canada—illustrating there is no standard path to recovery.

The 2016 Faces, Andrea Paquette, Dexter Nyuurnibe, Stéphanie Fontaine and the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s own Samuel Breau—and all those who have come before them—are living proof that recovery is not only possible, it is probable provided timely treatment, services and supports are accessible.”

You can view the MIAW 2016 Faces of Mental Illness videos on YouTube or at www.camimh.ca.

It’s true. There is hope. People do get help. And they do get better.

Here is one such story from my colleague and friend Mandi J. Buckner of  Mandi J. Buckner Consulting.

I have journeyed through depression – and the trip wasn’t easy.

Yet here I am today – an accomplished return to work consultant specializing in mental health with experience in employment protocols, career development,  job preparedness strategies and workplace mental health peer support.

Mandi J. Buckner, MHA, CCC, CPS, Ad. Ed. Cert. CMHA Cert. – Psychological Health & Safety Workplace Advisor Facilitator / Consultant

Mandi J. Buckner, MHA, CCC, CPS, Ad. Ed. Cert. CMHA Cert. – Psychological Health & Safety Workplace Advisor Facilitator / Consultant

But there’s more to this story.

When my 26-year career in the financial services industry tanked after my diagnosis of depression, I thought it was all my fault. The constant barrage of questions around my ability to recover and do my job depleted my energy as well as my confidence.

As I started to emerge from the depression, I realized that my recovery would be dependent on a successful return to work where I was supported for who I was – not who I had been. What I encountered instead was being told that it was best if I didn’t acknowledge what I had experienced; that I should hide my illness, put on a strong face and carry on like nothing in my life had changed. I remember thinking, “Is this what the rest of my life at work is going to look like?”

Colleagues, family, and friends could not understand how I couldn’t just bear through it for the next few years until retirement.

At the time, I made choices out of fear and out of feeling helpless. Yet in retrospect, I actually chose to recover my way. I wanted my journey to wellness to be one of authenticity, truth, and respect.

A few years after my early “retirement” I became certified as a Mental Health Peer Coach in Georgia State’s Department of Human Resources. My goals? To provide respect and a different voice for those who were experiencing what I went through. To help others get through the endless fight against the stigma of having a mental illness and focus instead on returning to work successfully with support and accommodation.

I began to understand that there was a huge gap in how the return to work was being handled for people who were working really hard to get well and wanted to be at work during their recovery.

I wanted to provide services to fill that gap and draw on my diverse education to do this work, gaining more confidence with each step: Masters in Healing Arts; Career Consultant; Personality Dimensions Accreditation; Leadership and Coaching Accreditations; Suicide Prevention and Crisis Intervention Training; the list goes on.

I also became involved with the Volunteer Ontario Recovery group where, as a volunteer, I was connected to training that helped me gain a better perspective of what had happened to me. Mindfulness training was another game changer for me during this time.

The last phase of my recovery was feeling confident to return to work. An opportunity to become an instructor at Sheridan College presented itself. For the first time, during the interview, I disclosed the reason why I had left my long career in the financial sector. I related from a position of power and recovery. I was hired in spite of, or possibly because of, my ability to discuss this topic with confidence.

My time at Sheridan was a turning point for me, as I was able to achieve career success in a way that has been authentic and meaningful. As I ventured out into my own consulting business, I was contracted by Sheridan to develop curriculum for a return to work program for individuals who were off work due to stress leave or mental health issues.

We took the 12-week course and turned it into a Mental Health and Work Program, with 3
4-week courses:

Course 1: Recovery

Course 2: Self-Management

Course 3: Return to Work/Workplace Strategies

Information about the program is available here. The first course, Recovery, is now open for registration and begins on Oct. 31.

I was thrilled that my former employer was paying attention to this issue. I am honoured that my story has helped to inspire that journey and that I am able to be a part of this monumental change in workplaces across Canada.

What I now know:

  • Remaining silent does not support recovery
  • Open, supportive dialogue can make all the difference for a successful return to work when mental health is a factor
  • A supportive workplace can help recovery
  • Recovery from mental illness takes time and accommodation
  • People do recover from mental illness
  • Employees with mental illness can be as competent and productive as before their illness – some even more so!
  • Being mindful of our responses to stressors in life and at work supports ongoing wellness


I have always been searching for that moment when I could feel good about my experience of depression. That it does not define who I am, but it is part of who I am.

That moment has arrived.

I feel empowered to have that experience continue to inform my journey.

Mandi also helped inspire the free resource Working Through It, where people who have experienced mental illness share their stories of how they reclaimed well-being at work, off work and returning to work. Their stories also give hope that can help others persevere through the sometimes challenging work of recovery.

There is hope and help to find answers and support:

Partners for Mental Health seeks to transform the way Canadians think about, act towards and support mental health and people living with a mental illness.

The Canadian Mental Health Association promotes the mental health of all and supports the resilience and recovery of people experiencing mental illness.

Mood Disorders Society of Canada offers support programs to people, and their families, who are living with depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada is a catalyst for improving the mental health system and changing the attitudes and behaviours of Canadians around mental health issues. Through its unique mandate from Health Canada, the MHCC brings together leaders and organizations from across the country to accelerate these changes.

The Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace provides free tools and resources to help employers improve psychological health and safety and support employee success when mental health is a factor.

Turtles and the truths they teach us

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Grandmother turtle poses for her audience

It’s been a busy few months as I’ve been immersed in storytelling and business writing…and the revered summer tradition: Escape to the Lake.

So…in the spirit of a season that’s coming to an end way too fast, and the hope that it may have brought you closer to nature in some way of your choice, I’m sharing a story.

It’s about a turtle. Not just any turtle but a respected, giant snapping turtle that graced our bay just off the Winnipeg River for over a decade. All the time we’ve been in the area. She was the matriarch of our camp life. Untouchable. Shy. Yet occasionally showy and willing to allow us a glimpse of her magnificence. It didn’t happen nearly enough. In the early days, our family was a little afraid of her, but as we grew into life at the lake and the wisdom of how we were meant to be a part of it, we welcomed her as we did the many other creatures that are part of our life here.

We lost our great friend, turtle, this summer when she drowned by becoming lodged in an abandoned tire that had made its way into her territory along the bed of the river. A tragic end to a stately, venerable animal that we hope had many offspring. My partner Michael and I both wrote about her at different times as we worked through our grief for what felt like a senseless, irreplaceable loss of part of our history at the lake.

This is our shared story.

Michael: When I first acquired my bit of earth I, like most cabin owners, went about the business of making it hospitable for human existence. I did this in total ignorance even though I have spent much of my life close to the water. So much was forgotten during life in the city. Over time the land has again taught me things I couldn’t learn on the Internet. I am wiser now about nature, how strong it is, how dominant and how flexible. I’ve always had an affinity for the natural world but until recently, I’ve never been saddened by it. Often, as humans, we think some of the things we do in the wilderness are just fine. We don’t think enough about the legacy we’re leaving. Just the simplest of things can make all the difference in the biodiverse system. I’m sad because this cost a dear creature her life.

Picture a large snapping turtle stuck in a tire at the bottom of the lake. She is drowning. Eventually she dies and her body and the tire rise to the surface. This is what I discover as I’m out fishing.

She was known to us, known by everyone in our bay. Just this past month the family had been excited when she came up on our shoreline. Maybe she was saying good-bye. She avoided us mostly – for good reason.

I felt awful as the wake from my boat dislodged her from the tire. It wasn’t pretty and that isn’t the picture I’ll leave you with. The one you see here is instead of a splendid Mikinaak* in her prime.
In wildlife years this turtle was an elder and deserved better.

She was like the whales of the world. How old are they? Do they get what’s happening to them; that it isn’t safe to be near humans? I think she did, like I said, mostly avoiding us. In the end, would it bring her any comfort to know that she would feed the river?

You do not gain wisdom because you are smart or clever or strong. You gain wisdom because you survived. And she did for a very long time.

You have been with us, around us, near us for over a decade. I remember seeing you for the first time, green and moss covered like a living plant, watching my family. I took your picture, marveled at your size, at your ability to just sit in the sun and ignore us all. One time you came right up to us as if to chat. We swam with you fearfully wondering if you’d ever snap at us. But all you wanted was to see us. Another time you visited and stayed awhile, unafraid. You charmed us with your colour, blew bubbles as you drifted to the surface and under again. I will miss you my friend. In wildlife years you are up there with the whales, the giant elms, and 100-foot white pines. How old were you? 75 years? Nearly a century is a long time for a wild thing. You have my respect, my admiration, and my prayers. My family and the bay will miss you. Meegwetch**.

Leanne: Turtle. Mikinaak. She was the grandmother of our bay for many years, majestic and graceful in her sleepy, lumbering way. Neighbours who shared the bay would tell us how they often saw her popping up for air around our floating dock.canoeing

One season she nested on an island nearby and, as our children were small, I worried that they might land on her someday as they jumped off the dock. That never happened.

A few years later, she perched herself higher up on the same island and we were able to get a photo, immortalizing her. Then there was a blissful, warm afternoon when a friend and I came upon her as we paddled into a bay where she was basking in the sun. We were so close to her and she looked enormous but just for a second as she slid into the water causing my friend to exclaim, “Will she attack us?” She didn’t.

None of these brief interactions with Mikinaak compare to the time she popped up to meet me eye to eye. Turtles represent truth in Indigenous teachings. That wizened gaze reminded me that if I faced my own truths and was also truthful in what I did, I would always be okay.

That great turtle has been lost to us, her long, enduring life ended at the hands of humans. It’s unfathomable to me that she is gone, drowned in her own river home.

We’ve since talked about how she fit into the biodiversity of our river system. Untouchable as she made her slow and steady appearances in and out of the bay over the years. Almost immortal in a way that is rarely seen in natu

These creatures instill themselves in our lives and we watch for them when we’re in their places. At the lake, I feel this way about the turtles, herons, beaver, loons, otters, fox, eagles, ducks and birds of all kinds, and even the bears and wolves (who we hear often).

We know that we may not see a creature like turtle again although we hope to see her offspring. Yes her end was at the hands of humans, a discarded or lost tire, likely once part of a dock that floated away, harmless at the bottom of the lake until she decided to investigate it. The owner of the tire likely didn’t mean for it to cause such harm.

But if we think about it now, maybe we’ll do a better job tying those damn tires or floats to our docks to protect our precious boats from getting scratched or keep our docks afloat.

There was a time when our family didn’t always show nature the respect it deserved. When we first set up camp on our weedy bay we were hell-bent on making the wilderness work our way. This included many hours dredging the weeds in the bay – actually not weeds at all but wild rice that always grew back, usually thicker than before. It wasn’t the first or the last time that nature would show us who was the boss.

We certainly weren’t the only ones with this idea. Along our river and on nearby Lake of the Woods we’ve seen cottages where hundreds of pounds of rock or concrete have been put in to kill everything that needs to be mowed or maintained. Creating sterile surroundings where people feel less encumbered and less threatened.

Sand put down that kills the ecosystem so the children and adults can enjoy the beach experience in places where beaches weren’t meant to be. Killing everything to create barren environments. Is that the legacy we want to leave our children? Is that what they want? How about we ask them…or at least try to get them to take notice?

Even if we can’t get their attention, can we at least think about it? Because everything we do matters.

A turtle and a tire taught us that.

 

Blog page illustration by Lisa Rydin Erickson. You can find more of Lisa’s work on Etsy.

Photos by Michael Fournier.

*Turtle
**Thank-you

Change is good…even when it hurts

Good day my colleagues, clients and friends. Since I’ve been away for a while, I just thought I’d weigh in with why. I’m very grateful for your ongoing support.

Change is definitely in the air. Our daughter is on her way to university several provinces away in Nova Scotia, while our son is graduating from high school. My parents are moving out of my childhood home of 53 years. My partner is now working away at a fishing camp in N.W. Ontario. And of course my work as a freelance writer in an agile and ever-changing business and social world is continuously serving up something new.

Change is good. But sometimes it can be tinged with a gentle ache that perseveres even as we tell ourselves that the changes are all part of the natural progression of our lives.

While I’m thrilled that my daughter has the courage to pick up her life and dreams and take them to a new and exciting place, I’ll miss her amazing spirit, talent and goodness. While my son still has no clue what he wants to do after graduation, he’s becoming a good man and will find his way when he’s ready…and he will graduate despite years of struggles within the education system. I’m feeling my partner’s absence, but he’s doing what he’s meant to do.

My parent’s move from the home my dad said he’d “die in” has been escalated by health issues, which is normal for people their age – but unexpected, in particular for my dad, who just hung up his hockey equipment this past winter. The fact that they are going along with this – even though they can’t take their dog! – is both courageous and gracious. It really is all good but there’s a lot of history wrapped up in that old house on Beech Street.

I am also a second-year Sundancer at a ceremony that is happening the same weekend as the move. This is filling me with a surreal sense of loss. I won’t be there as a house filled with so much of who I am is being emptied room by room.

Amidst all this, I’ve been awarded the writing project of my dreams – an opportunity, like the Sundance, to bring everything I have to the table. The convergence of all of these things has struck me as being significant somehow. While I could be overwhelmed, I’m strangely thrilled by the complexity of life and the things that are beyond our control that we can choose what to do with.

Like so many of us who juggle the demands of life and work, I haven’t always been the best at protecting my own space and well-being. Yet the demands on me and the choices I’ve had to make over the past few months have forced me to do so.

A colleague and friend recently told me she couldn’t believe the change she saw in me. All I could tell her was, “I had no choice”– no choice but to make the choices that put my own well-being first. In doing that, I’ve been able to take care of myself as well as all the others who are depending on me during this change-ridden time. It’s normal for people to depend on me because I’ve usually come through. But I often did so at great personal and professional cost.

While I haven’t completely come through the other side, this time it feels different and I can see the changes in both my work and personal life.

Many of us are in that time in our lives where it feels like all we do is look after others, with little or no attention to our own needs. When the onslaught of all these changes started to roll toward me I knew I wasn’t going to survive if I didn’t make some serious, responsible choices in how I was going to manage them. Here is my top 10 list of the strategies I used. Hopefully some of them can work for you:

  1. Don’t sacrifice yourself – instead I set clear and realistic boundaries for what I would and wouldn’t do. I consciously didn’t say “could” or “couldn’t” as this wasn’t negotiable.
  2. Pause and refocus amidst conflicting priorities – in doing so, I also ensured my decisions aligned with my values.
  3. Find and use your voice – I used mine to again state what I would and wouldn’t do and what I would need to make it through.
  4. State what you need from others – this was important so that I could remain strong and supportive amidst all the change and competing priorities.
  5. Decide what you can give up and what you can live with – for example, I really don’t want my parent’s dog, but I understand it’s a barrier I needed to get out of the way so that they can move forward. I have space in my heart and my home for another dog and it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.
  6. Check off the things you really don’t need to worry about – my daughter, for instance, is incredibly capable and will figure out her move with some gentle guidance. My son will graduate from high school. My parents will eventually love the place they’re in.
  7. Hand off what isn’t yours to carry –since I can’t be there to help on moving day, we’ve hired movers. What I will do is show up a couple of days before Sundance to pack and move what I can and again at the end of Sundance to say my good-bye’s to the house.
  8. Stop making unnecessary apologies – Guess what? I don’t know everything and I’m stopping my apologies for that. If I thought I did, I wouldn’t learn anything new.
  9. Recognize your own worth – I try to do this while also reminding myself  that I have always done my best.
  10. Know who has your back – I do know this, and I’m grateful for each and every one of you.

Some of these choices have been tough, but as far as I can see everyone is still standing while I’m making them. I’ve shared this because I’m surprised and gratified by the positive impact all of these choice are having on my work, which is incredibly important to who I am… and to the services I provide to my clients, colleagues and friends.

And that I believe is also a very good thing.

I’d love to hear how you’ve managed your well-being through change. Send me an email  or comment below.

Cheers!

Leanne

Blast from the past – this old family photo, confiscated from my parent’s house, cracks me up!

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World Water Day asks us to think about the water we rely on

Today is World Water Day. It’s not to be taken lightly anywhere in the world including here in Canada where on any given day, more than 1,000 boil-water advisories are in effect across the country.

The David Suzuki Foundation is on this of course and has offered an incredibly easy way for all of us to be part of addressing this issue. I urge you to visit their page World Water Day reminds us not to take clean water for granted.  Follow the steps to submit your letter to editors in your area.

Here’s mine:

I am a homeowner in Winnipeg and a cabin owner in N.W. Ontario. I enjoy the privilege of clean, available water in Manitoba but have learned what it’s like to live without drinkable water at my cottage. This is a small inconvenience as we can easily fill our water jugs at a reasonable cost and haul them with us on our weekly travels back and forth to camp. It has not been lost on me that on every trip I pass by the turn-off to Shoal Lake 40, that along with nearby Grassy Narrows and Neskantaga, have been under boil-water advisories for decades. Online I see there are also numerous Manitoba communities under boil water advisories. But this is a bigger issue than Manitoba and Ontario. On any given day, more than 1,000 boil-water advisories are in effect across the country, many in Indigenous communities. Yet Canada has one-fifth of the world’s fresh water, a quarter of its remaining wetlands and its longest coastline. Canada is the only G8 country without legally enforceable drinking-water-quality standards at the national level. We need to do more to address this national blight on our wonderful, rich country. We should be calling on our federal government and every Canadian to care about this issue, which we can address together. This is too important to stand by and do nothing. I know I for one will do everything I can to protect the people and places I love.

The photos featured here are of our most beloved creek that we hope to always protect as well as the Winnipeg River where we spend countless hours in the water. We swim, canoe, fish and hike along this river throughout the seasons. We are incredibly grateful for how it sustains us and do everything we can to protect and sustain it as well.

The feature image (below) of my partner sipping from a glass is the water we pull from our creek is a joke. the water isn’t drinkable and we also need to boil it…for now. IMG_1612

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Above: The creek that runs alongside our cottage. Below: An outlet of the great Winnipeg River.

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I’ve got this

The idea of someone having my back and me reciprocating has been on my mind a lot lately. In the work I do related to workplace mental health, we talk about this as one of the ways we can improve the psychological health and safety of workplaces.

Everyone wins when people look out for one another and honour each other’s contributions. These are workplaces that have a culture of civility and respect.mightyscrib-pencil

For an independent consultant like me, those we can count on to have our backs can vary depending on the projects and clients we’re working with. I am at the top of my game when I feel supported in doing my best work and can tell a client or colleague with confidence, “I’ve got this.”

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege to write for numerous clients whose business is supporting healthier, more productive workplaces. This area of knowledge has taught me how work can be done in ways that benefit everyone. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned about building civil and respectful team and work environments:

Let others know that you value their contribution. Recognition of accomplishments and effort is a sure way to help others feel healthier and happier at work. Be on alert for when you see others going that extra mile or showing up in a way that really benefits the team.

Be flexible and open to new ideas. If the workplace culture is truly open, civil and respectful, people will be more likely to share their ideas. While you may not be able to act on all of them, be as transparent as possible about your decision-making process and invite employees to help develop solutions that may meet their needs.

Reward those who go out of their way to help a co-worker or colleague. This can be as simple as encouraging those that received help to posting the deed and deed-doer on a whiteboard, giving a card that the deed-doer can display on their desk, or recognizing the deeds by drawing for gift certificates, lunch or a team pizza party, etc.

Find opportunities to bring work teams together outside of work. Social activities outside of work can help co-workers learn new things about one another and forge stronger working relationships. Make it okay for people to show that they’re human and to connect as people not just co-workers. Anything you plan should of course consider the abilities of everyone to participate.

Let your people know how important their work is and the difference they make in the lives of clients, co-workers, members, etc. People are more energized and inspired when they know that their contribution matters.

Walk the talk. If you happen to have a successful year or a big win in your business, consider how you can pay that forward – in your community or workplace.

Take a break. Everybody needs one. Find some healthy break activities online that people can do together or on their own. Some great free exercises are available at workplacestrategiesformentalhealth.com/newsletter/Healthy-Break-Activities.

Remember external stakeholders. So what about those (sometimes lonely) consultants or remote workers you’ve hired? I would hope you’d think about treating them with the same civility and respect as your on site co-workers and teams. Consultants like me are often brought in to do the heavy lifting and it’s a lot easier when we know someone has our back too.

Consultants like me are often brought in to do the heavy lifting and it’s a lot easier when we know someone has our back too.

I hope you find some of these ideas useful. I’d be happy to help you in communicating an approach or initiative related to wellness or mental health within your business or to those who make the decisions. Send me a note.

A few great places to learn more about the ways we can improve our work environments so that people are supported to be their best are noted below.

Workplacestrategiesformentalhealth.com

Mindful Employer Canada

Short and sweet articles

Choosing the right length for your articles: The long and the short of it

I’m just barely 5 ft (1.5 meters) tall. So you would think that I would say that short is always better. But um…no.

I often get excited about clients’ stories and will pitch them on the reasons to give the story the space it deserves. There’s just so much good stuff!

What to cut?

There are strategic considerations for how long an article, post or web page should be.

Often, shorter is better. But at other times a longer, more indepth story is the way to go.

Slate.com shared that only about 50% of readers would actually read through one of their articles. However readership was much higher for content in a photo or video. This underlines the importance of making content, in any form, as engaging as possible.

In a recent article for the Content Marketing Institute, Neil Patel noted that those who stick along for the bulk of your article are your more important and engaged readers anyhow.

With that in mind, let’s talk about what you need to do to engage those readers. I see this as the true driver of how long or short your content should be. If you can achieve this in 300 words or less, good for you and that’s the perfect length for your message. But if it takes longer, do everything you can to make it engaging, entertaining and valuable every word of the way.

Use clear, descriptive words in your subject lines, headlines and lead-ins. Engage your readers but don’t make them think too hard. While clever headlines will show how creative you are, they don’t search well and will not be as reader-friendly.

Know your audience and speak to what matters to them. Every message you write can’t possibly be for everyone in the world. Narrow it down by using your platform to respond to a concern or problem your readers or customers have told you about. Use the insights you’ve gained through your interactions with them on social media or other platforms to respond to what’s important to them.

Are you still along for the ride? Great! Let’s keep going.

Tell a good story. But not just any story. Tell the story that will mean something to  your audience. Draw on your experiences to teach something new or solve a problem. Help readers see where they belong in your story. “Happily Ever After” isn’t just for fairy tales. It’s for all great stories especially in the world of business and sales.

Build trust. Research around current buying habits shows that shoppers, specifically millennials, are more likely to buy from brands they trust. Make sure the stories you share deliver consistent, quality solutions for your audience so that they will keep coming back or watch for and engage in your posts because they trust you to deliver something of value.

Be a good distraction. Yes people are busy and studies show more distracted than ever before. However research also shows that digital users welcome distractions that can help relieve some of the stress in their lives by offering real solutions to real problems. Be that distraction.

Use data to back up what you’re saying. Good for you if you have your own data through user engagement, buyer experiences, comments, likes, etc. to back up what you’re saying. Otherwise take the time to do the research and gather it from reliable sources. Make sure to cite your sources.

Tell readers what you want them to do next. You’ve identified the audience and given them a story about a problem they might share along with some data to support the solution you’re offering. Now it’s up to them…but they still might need a push to take the next step. Tell them what to do and why this matters.

Deliver what you promised. At the beginning of this article I highlighted the main point – the problem I hope to help you solve: There are strategic considerations for how long an article, post or web page should be. The steps I’ve laid out provide the groundwork to determine what your messages should include. How many words are needed to deliver each step? That varies:

  • If you’re already an authority on the solution you’re offering, then building trust may not need to take as much space.
  • If no one has heard from you for awhile – or ever – you’ll need to share more about who you are and why they should trust you. Be aware of any online privacy guidelines (like CASL) that limit what you can do online.
  • If everybody knows your story, then less description may be required.
  • A follow-up post on something you’ve written in detail can also be shorter.The data might be one short sentence of a new finding and then a call to action about why this is important and what your readers need to do.
  • Social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter demand brevity. This is another reason to make your headlines as descriptive and clear as possible so readers want to link to your longer content.

The long and the short if it? The length of your message will be driven by what you already have in place and how much work you have yet to do in building your audiences, gaining their trust and ultimately, establishing your authority.

Good luck and let me know if I can help. Send me an email or drop a few words on my contact page.

Not so MightyWrite

A good friend and I were the weaving through streets of Winnipeg on our way to a dinner date with some other friends.

She was driving, trying not to make too many sudden stops and turns, as I was simultaneously juggling my laptop while on the phone reviewing some work with a client. I had my headphones on so she was only hearing my side of the conversation but as the call ended, she burst out with, “Sounds like your company should be MightyREWrite!” She’s a funny one that Allie but in that moment she was absolutely write. I mean right.

Yeah, we all have times when we miss the mark on projects or things we create. In the case of this past week, the feedback was all really positive. There was just a lot of it.

The end products were way better because of the thorough review and feedback my clients so generously provided.

As a writer, you never want to receive a document back where your golden words are obliterated by revisions and comments. But it happens. In one instance this week an article I wrote pretty much came back as one great big comment. Ouch. But the email cover included positive remarks about the fact that while there were difficulties with this piece, it was by no means a reflection on my professionalism and the good work we’d done together in the past. The client just wanted something else.

So once I dusted myself off and settled into doing the rewrites I had to agree that the comments were workable and would improve what this client was clearly invested in having me write about this topic.

Key word. Invested. It makes all the difference in everything we do in the world of content and marketing. So while the truth can hurt, you need to say it – whether it’s in the feedback you’re giving to a writer like me, or the story you’re telling your audiences.

What did I miss this week? I think I had the voice wrong and these clients were right to call me on it. I can laugh at myself now because I’ve fixed the content and everyone’s happy. How about you laugh along with me and we can agree on some things we can all do to save ourselves from this kind of pain…

  • Ask the right questions
  • Know the audience – and write for them in the right voice
  • Consider the client’s expertise and perspective
  • Stand up for what you think is right but be open to another point of view (see above)
  • Congratulate yourself on your ability to accept feedback to make your work the best it can be!

Good luck and let me know if I can help. Send me an email or drop a few words on my contact page.

The Interview

Give the interview your brand story deserves

What the interview tells us

We’re asked to write and design a lot of websites. An important part of this, for us, is the start up interview we do with clients so that we understand their story at the outset. The purpose of the interview isn’t just to research the content we’ll be creating. It also helps us determine the visuals, the overall look and feel and brand differentiation. This occurs through answers to questions such as:

What’s the tone of the business?

Who needs to hear your businesses story?

What do they want?

What to they need?

How will you deliver this to them?

Once we’ve established the foundation, I like to take a deeper dive into some of the things I’ve heard with questions like – What do you mean by that? Can you be more specific? Why do you need more customers? What do you want them to say about you?

Occasionally, clients have pushed back when I prod them for these answers. I understand this psychology – sometimes we’re uncomfortable facing what’s difficult for us. But I persist because I know that my clients’ customers are looking for the truth. They want stories that are specific, interesting, surprising, helpful, and authentic. They want to hear that you acknowledge and understand their pain and care about providing solutions. Sometimes this gets complicated. If it does, I know we’re on to something.

Being interviewedA good interviewer knows how to ask the right questions that earns the trust of clients. That trust is important because it strengthens the two-way relationship. If someone has trusted me with his or her story, I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that the content or article I develop honours that trust.

What that means is that at the outset, I’ll be ensuring that the story is professionally written, accurate and in step with the piece’s overall goals. But that’s just the start.

Building trust takes more work, but it’s the work I love most.

As an example, earlier this week I was talking to a potential client for the first time. I could hear the agony in her voice as she described trying to develop content for her website on her own for several weeks. She realized she needed help and called me.

As we talked through the challenges she’s been facing, I naturally started interviewing her and the veil began to lift. We barely scratched the service but I could already hear the panic subsiding as she began to see that I could be trusted with her story.

That’s where it all starts and I’m often shocked by how often businesses under-manage this aspect of their brand. You could have the greatest business idea with an amazing story behind it – but if no one hears it, your chances of ongoing, lasting success are greatly reduced. Why do so many business owners take that chance?

I love what Rob Hatch of Owner Media Group wrote about this:

“The reality is, your stories reveal part of who you are and what you’re capable of even as you have yet to accomplish your greatest achievements.”

The startup interview might help you discover aspects of your story and business you haven’t even thought of. So if whomever is charged with developing your website, or your blog, articles, videos or other social media asks for an interview…give them the time. Otherwise they will only be telling part of your story.

In my case, such interviews have caused a few new business owners to rethink their approach. In one instance, the client actually discovered she didn’t want to do the business at all and decided to stay in her full-time job in which she has found increasing satisfaction and success. I like to think that’s in part, because the questions I asked helped her see the story she was meant to be in.

The Content Management Institute states: Your story identifies what your passions are and serves as the foundation for all your future content developments.

If you’re wondering where to start with your story, I might be able to help. Send me an email or drop by my contact page.

If I don’t hear from you soon, that’s okay too. I’ll be back with another story next month.

Feature illustration by MightyWrite’s Michael Fournier ©2015

Photo Credit: Getting the story of startup success from Andrea Kraj of CORE Renewable Energy Corp. at Innovate Manitoba’s Pitch’Day. Photo by Leif Norman.

Global experts gather to talk about workplace mental health

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IIMHL participants gather in Toronto. Surprise new young delegate joined the photo!

I was honoured to have the opportunity to participate in conversations about workplace mental health and psychological health and safety with a lineup of global experts (pictured above) over the past week in Toronto. Delegates from Canada, Australia, Sweden, New Zealand and the U.K. came together to open dialogue, share and learn from one another about the diversity of perspectives on psychological health and safety in the workplace. The gathering of these great minds was part of ‪the International Initiative for Mental Health Leadership (@IIMHL or #IIMHL) – a unique international collaborative that focuses on mental health and addictions.

There were many great “aha” moments that I shared on Twitter (@mightywriteca or #iimhl) during our two-day session and I still have over 25 pages of notes to compile! My colleague Mary Ann Baynton presented the highlights from our discussions including strategies for accelerating change towards mental health and well-being and inclusion and building leadership for the future at the IIMHL conference in Vancouver. 

A key takeaway for me was the importance of embedding psychological health and safety into everything we do in our workplaces. This includes how we treat one another (including having one another’s backs), how work is assigned and managed, how we manage and support employees and co-workers with mental illness and ultimately, how we work to keep people at work. A theme I loved was the idea of putting recovery in front of leaders, managers and others who have the responsibility of advocating for and supporting employees who may be experiencing mental health issues. This speaks to the power of peer support and making it safe for those with lived experience of mental health concerns to talk about it.

The youngster in the photo wasn’t a delegate but jumped into the photo and we all welcomed her. I thought it was an excellent example of why we’re doing this – To advocate for inclusion of all workers and the importance of working toward healthier workplaces for the future.

How often have you thought about the labour in Labour Day?

In Canada, Labour Day’s origins can be traced back to the late 1800’s when unionized organizations went on strike for a shorter work week (something like 58 hours!). Although police made arrests related to these demonstrations, unions continued to march on Ottawa, prompting then Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald to revoke the anti-union laws of the time. Unions continued to protest for shorter work weeks and better conditions for workers.

As in the United States, Labour Day is observed on the first Monday in September, in recognition of this history as well as the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our countries.

As this Labour Day approaches, I would like you to consider and celebrate just how far we’ve come. Back in the 1870’s, workers were required to work long hours in unsafe workplaces where they were often exposed to the risk of physical injury, and even death. Psychological injuries weren’t even acknowledged nor was there any kind of disability compensation for workers while they recovered from illnesses or injuries caused by work conditions. Workers didn’t speak up because they needed their jobs and didn’t have any other options.

Little by little this changed over the decades and credit is owed to many front runners in the labour movement as well as forward-thinking business leaders who worked tirelessly and often at great personal and professional risk on behalf of workers.

Today, workers in both unionized and non-unionized workplaces are protected by stringent guidelines that safeguard both their physical and psychological health and safety at work. The Duty to Accommodate page on the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the workplace’s website highlights some of these requirements and includes links to the human rights codes information.

We now even have a National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace and there are a growing number of organizations and agencies dedicated to promoting mental health awareness and the prevention of psychological injury in workplaces. In addition to the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace, there’s Mindful Employer Canada, Mental Health Works, The Mental Health Commission of Canada, the Canadian Mental Health Association and many others. I’d like to give a personal shout out to my colleagues at Mary Ann Baynton & Associates who are workplace relations specialists dedicated to helping organizations resolve workplace issues related to mental health.

So as you enjoy this upcoming Labour Day with your last picnic or to wrap up final weekend of the summer, perhaps as you look up at the fireworks, or just bask in time with your family and friends, remember those workers who paved the way for the improved workplace that you may be returning to on Tuesday morning.

If your workplace hasn’t advanced to this level, then I’d suggest you check out Mindful Employer Canada or for more in-depth consultation and support, Mary Ann Baynton & Associates.

Marketing and content … what’s strategy got to do with it?

In past newsletters I’ve given you some tips for creating a solid marketing plan and hiring a writer to help deliver your message most effectively. Now let’s talk about content strategy – the overlooked gem of marketing and media!Return to MightyWrite

To begin, you should know the difference between a content strategy and a content marketing strategy. In an article in Content Marketing Institute, Robert Rose shared this:

Content marketers draw on the wall with magic markers, while content strategists use fine pensThe content marketer draws the story and plans the channels that will be used to develop the customer relationship with the brand. The content strategist ensures that story, language, and management processes work consistently and efficiently across multiple teams, languages, and every publication the brand leverages.

Marketing uses content to achieve its objectives and in Rose’s words, to “deepen our relationship with customers”.

If your communications’ efforts are strictly limited to social media, a one-stop content marketing strategy will likely do.

For business clients, I’ve found this is rarely enough. Marketing can be so many other things besides content – such as face-to-face meetings or internal processes that are used to advance your business goals. In some cases, such as when it’s extremely sensitive and directed at limited, internal or external audiences, content shouldn’t be treated as marketing. These are situations where people just don’t want to be “sold” so a more deft non-marketing approach may be required. Being sensitive to these differences can help deliver a more solid plan that embodies the right balance of marketing and content strategies.

The goal of content in the modern world is to provide useful information that creates engagement and in most cases, an opportunity to interact with customers or followers in meaningful ways.

Content isn’t just words. It’s also graphics, photos, videos, audio, keywords – all the pieces that form the body of your message – that should also be included in your content strategy.

Here are some questions and answers to consider:

illustration of a magnifying glass over white backgroundAre you clear on why you’re developing the content? Its purpose should ultimately be to tell your story but also to serve needs or solve problems for your audiences. In all cases, it should be emphatically helpful and support your marketing goals.

When should you bring the content strategy people to the table? It’s almost never too early. Starting to talk about content strategy after you’ve settled on the design for your website or any other marketing or media is really too late. The content strategy should be embedded from the start for maximum results.

Where do you start? In most cases, your content strategist should begin by doing a content audit of your existing materials to identify gaps and opportunities for improvement as well as gems that should be maximized. New content should support your larger business and marketing goals and key messages.

Will you invest time in the conversations? Debating the ideal content strategy may feel like “pie in the sky” conversations, especially when you’re busy and focused on the end goal. You might want to say, “Just write the darn thing!” but these discussions can deliver immeasurable benefits in terms of solidifying your message, maximizing your brand and engaging your audiences in a sustainable and profitable way.

How can you ensure your content will provide value? Do the research so you understand what your audience needs from you and establish processes to ensure that every piece of your content is developed with a focus on being user-centred, accurate, relevant, meaningful and true to your brand. Identify and support your content experts to fulfill this task and engage writers who know how to make your content sing.

Done right with attention to all of these details, your content strategy will help deliver both eyeballs and ROI.

Examples of websites that are built on a solid content strategy

The Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace website – www.workplacestrategiesformentalhealth.com – Staying focused on the overall strategic goals helped us to develop and optimize large volumes of valuable content to support different audiences.

Mandi J. Bucker Consulting’s – www.mjbuckner.ca ­– Mandi was creating her business as we were building her website. It was critical to have a clear content strategy to ensure the messages were consistent with her business vision and goals.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or send me an email: Leanne@mightywrite.ca

 

Best,

Leanne

Tips and tricks real writers use to open more ears and eyes to your content

MightyWrite
Return to MightyWriteDoes your story really matter? Has anyone ever even asked you? Or pushed you to think about why it’s important enough to share with the world? A real writer would. Because real writers know how to ask the tough questions to create meaningful content that can inspire your audiences to stop and read or listen.I admit there are some good writers out there who have little or no professional writing experience or training. But there’s still a case for hiring pros that know how to write content or stories that can rise above all the noise. In the end, the cost is likely not much different when you measure it against real, lasting results.Experienced writers know to push past their first instinct for a story (although it may be the one they come back to in the end) and look for different, unique angles that will stand up against an editor or reader’s questions. We know how to ask the tough questions, gather and check information, delve into all the angles for the story, and boil it down into a relevant, memorable, reader-focused piece.A writer with some reporting experience is always going to seek the authoritative voice and sources for information. You can’t just say it. You have to be able to prove it.Real writers also expect review and revisions. Our egos are wired to understand that we are only part of the process. Our expertise comes from our sources – you as well as others – and we understand you’ll have something to bring to the final product.I really want you to consider the services of a real writer, because I think your story matters. I do of course have a stake in this as I like to think I’m a real writer but I really hope that you’ll use the tips I’m sharing to find the right writer for your job. Someone who will bring you enormous value over time – thereby giving all of us real writers a good name. Here’s some questions to consider:

  1. How will they approach the subject you’re assigning them to write about? You’re looking for some thinking about how they’ll acquire expertise on the subject – either through their own research or by talking to subject matter experts.
  2. What will they need to get started? Any writer should be asking you questions to gather your insights and details for the story as well as the results you’re looking for. If they don’t ask you any questions about your audience, send them home. Understanding who we’re trying to reach or move to action with a story or writing assignment is always job 1.
  3. What’s the process they use to get the story? You want to see that they place a lot of importance on doing the research and that they’ll check in with you (or your designate) for any questions or concerns before they start writing the story. For more in-depth assignments, you’d also like them to provide you with an outline of the story or content.
  4. How long will it take? A good writer will resist your attempts for next day turnaround for writing that should take some time to research and develop. However, most writers with any kind of experience working to deadlines, are adept at fast turnaround. In these cases, I’m transparent with clients so they know what they’re giving up for super fast turnaround.
  5. What will the first draft look like? Depending on the time that’s been allowed for the project, you should be seeing the writer’s best work, error-free and embodying any specifics you’ve asked for. Hopefully you’ll also see what the writer has brought to the table through research, expert information, great storytelling and most importantly an understanding of your message and audiences.
  6. Will they be open to doing revisions? Here’s where you can check just how much ego is in the room. I always expect and am prepared for revisions from my clients or others involved in creating the content because they have perspectives too. However, an experienced writer may respectfully challenge you on changes – which you should expect if they’ve submitted their best work.
  7. How much will it cost? Do yourself a favour and look into the rates that are posted by writer’s unions or writing organizations or guilds in your jurisdiction, understanding there’s usually room for negotiation. A better win-win can usually be achieved for a volume of work, i.e. weekly or monthly articles for eNewsletters, social media platforms, websites or publications with room to move on the budget for longer, more in-depth articles for local or national media outlets. That way the writer becomes an expert on your business and audiences and can deliver work that is accurate, original, effective and engaging on a consistent basis.

A writing pro who follows this approach for you will definitely have more success in developing unique, authoritative, accurate and relevant stories and content. And today, authority = trust. It’s what can move your audiences – customers, employees, colleagues, investors, followers and friends – to believing in what you have to offer them. This in turn can generate more leads, sales and a return on every dollar you’ve paid the writer to help achieve results.

Take a peek

Here are some stories that might interest you. If you want to share your thoughts about them or chat about your story, I’d love to hear from you. Send me an email: leanne@mightywrite.ca or pop over to my contact page.

Service dogs working for mental illness Ghost-writing about mental health issues has been an important part of my job over the past several years, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to write this story under my own byline.

Canada’s New Anti-Spam Legislation – The fears and the opportunities Getting the facts straight on this issue was key.

Focus on Innovation Makes Manitoba-Made Technology a Game Changer I was really proud to have the opportunity to write about Kelly Beaulieu’s growing success in building this amazing business.

Teen wasn’t as much afraid of dying as he was of not being remembered This story required a deft approach to cover the news of an event but also to honour this young man’s wish to be remembered.

Queen of pastry has all the ingredients for success Heather Daymond is a very sweet made-in-Manitoba success story.

Best,
Leanne

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Fly Away

Michael Fournier Photogarphy ©2014The mist sits thick and heavy on our secluded bay. As it slowly lifts, I am held by its beauty and its promise. I watch with anticipation. I’m anxious for the light and warmth of the day, yet also want it to stop, stay just as it is, because I am secure and still in its embrace. The mist, the morning, the day, all emerging in their individual glory. It’s easy to miss. To be moving too fast off to the next thing and away from here. It is a rare gift to be still like this.

The Great Blue Heron is here today. I didn’t see her at first, as she blends into the tangled, weedy shore. Revealed, like the day, through the mist. I have a kinship with this bird. Have followed her many times as she shyly wanders in and out of the bay. I know she will leave again soon and I want to hold her back. I’m not ready to let go, yet at the same time I understand her need to fly.

I have no idea if this is a male or female heron as they look identical from a distance. The size of this one might suggest male, but for this story I’m going with my gender.

When I first spotted her, she was standing tall and straight. Unassuming, grey, nearly hidden in the shadows of the towering poplars and pines. Shaded by all the others. Pelicans, ducks and geese, loons, ravens and many other birds, including the eagles. All more visible, more bold. Yet when the heron spreads her great wings and flies in, flies away, she is the mHeronost glorious of all. Her grey turning to sky blue, soft like the morning across and edged with the darker hue of dusk.

Flying alone, she is led to her next destination by her own guide. Something that tells her when to soar across the bay, up to the highest tree along the shoreline or down again to rest upon a river island not far away. But far enough away that we miss her as soon as she leaves. The heron flies away in my mind on this day as I crawl along the damp shore, camera in hand. I want to capture this time, this memory before it is gone. I have missed many of these pictures.

Then, as I pause, contemplating the heron’s grace, an eagle interrupts the scene. Eagles are not unusual in the bay, but this setting isn’t right somehow. The heron has boldly landed on the tallest pine tree across the bay. The eagle doesn’t like this. Why I’m not sure. Possibly he protects a nest somewhere in the tangled bushes beyond. He circles impatiently as the heron raises her beak. Is she taunting him, blind to this danger? Will she get some sense and get away to safety? Get away! I want to shout from my spot on the weedy shore.

Nothing happens and I wait patiently. Then impatiently as life calls me away. I have work to do. I stand, glancing over at the foolish heron. As I turn and start up the hill to the cabin, there’s a flash of blue grey. It is the heron but she is straight and thin as she thrusts forward across the sky. Ruffled black and white follows. Eagle. He’s had enough and is pursuing her. I’m stunned at how fast she is. I had no idea she was so strong, so sure. But he’s quick too. They skim past me, out toward the creek, over the rocky ridge and then they are gone.

We do not see the heron again for a long time. Eagles, always the more prevalent in our bay, return often, but I do not know if it is that one. The one who chased my heron out of the bay.

When she does return, she’s changed somehow by her time away. She skirts the edges of the bay, seems to glance more often over at the eagle perched atop the big pine not far away. But she doesn’t bait him this time. Does she remember her close call?

I can’t really tell if she is the same heron and I don’t care, as she spreads her wings and floats across my bay. She is back. She is hope. And I am happy to watch her fly.

Photo credit: Heron and Eagle –  Owen Deutsch; secluded bay – Michael Fournier, Winnipeg and Kenora; lonely Heron – me.