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Calling all restaurant owners, managers and customers: We can do better

Stella’s employees are speaking out about harassment at work. Article image reprinted from the Winnipeg Free Press. Photo by Mikaela Mackenzie, Winnipeg Free Press.

 

I’ve been planning to write a story about workplace mental health in the hospitality industry for some time. If you’ve heard about the #notmystellas movement on Instagram and Facebook , you know the story is writing itself.

I’m not surprised.  I’ve been listening for years to the complaints of my daughter, Angela, and many of her friends, who all worked as servers at the local eatery. Much of it was the usual whining and complaining our generation tends to roll our eyes about, thinking oh you poor little Millennials.

But, there were some serious concerns (see below), and a few times, I wanted to go down and talk to management – but Angela wouldn’t let me; wanted to handle it herself. She did handle it the best she could, but the pervasive abuse on many levels has stuck with her, causing lasting damage. For what? $11 an hour plus tips?

Stella’s isn’t alone

Sadly, Stella’s isn’t the only place where this is happening. And it isn’t just management. We customers need to look at ourselves too. Here’s a real-life example: A  table of 50+ aged men ask their 23-year-old server, whose working her ass off on a busy night, which one of them she’d like to go home with. They expect an answer. The server is offended but nonplussed as this has  happened many times before. She responds blandly with something like, I’ll have to get back to you on that and carries on. She’ll get her tip but it will feel dirty, and she’ll replay this conversation in her mind, thinking of all the things she could have said.
Same when a drunk man tries to stuff a $5 bill down her shirt.

The server was my daughter and this happened in a different restaurant where she worked after Stella’s.

It happens all the time, according to Angela and hundreds of young people – now more than I can count – that have posted to the #notmystellas page.

The articulate women who are leading the charge on this issue are hopefully, rewriting this story. They’re clear on what they want to see happen and are getting that message out through the power of social and other media. They are even getting some results but there’s still more to do in achieving all of their requests:

  • Full acknowledgement of the abuses and harassment that have been reported
  • A formal apology from company owners and top-level management
  • Continuing dialogue and creation of a safe space where people can share their stories
  • Permanent removal of two senior managers who appear in a multitude of the complaints
  • The creation of a human resources department
  • Funding for past and present staff to access mental health services

Calling out ourselves

While this was unfolding, I felt my temper rising as well-intentioned people were commenting on Facebook, threatening to boycott the restaurant, etc.  The recommendation from the #notmystellas group is to not boycott but rather, go to any one of the Stella’s locations, order something cheap, and tip in cash.

Why was I getting angry at people who were actually being supportive? I’m being called out as well. I berated my child for her complaints before and after shifts, and on days when she simply didn’t feel like going into work. I would expect her to be perky and “on” whenever I, along with friends and colleagues, went to eat at Stella’s. I expected her to blow off the harassment she was experiencing and just do her damn job. It couldn’t be that bad, could it?

It was. It is. Heads up parents. We need to do better. We need to ask our young people if they’re really doing okay when they head out the door to their minimum wage jobs.

Words from the trenches

Angela Fournier hopes all restaurant owners are paying attention to the #notmystellas movement.

Here’s Angela’s post:

In regard to #notmystellas, I worked for Stella’s for 3 long years. My story is similar to that of many others I am sure you have heard. I was constantly harassed by a customer and made to feel extremely uncomfortable every single day that I worked. This customer was not asked to leave after I made several complaints to my male GM at the time, who didn’t see the customer’s constant inappropriate comments about my body or asking me to go out with him, as a problem. Eventually he was asked to leave by my female manager after making advances towards another female manager. I know many of my friends that experienced harassment from managers and other male employees who were never fired and only transferred, often keeping their manager title or being promoted.

Stella’s is not the only restaurant I have experienced this treatment with.

The restaurant industry is an unregulated industry that consistently forces marginalized people into compromising situations and is the result of many mental health issues.

Stella’s triggered much of the anxiety I suffer from today both in and out of the workplace. However, Stella’s has a reputation of hiring amazing people as their front and back of house staff who are treated like garbage. Many of my close friends who I worked with have been fired for invalid reasons as well as made to feel expendable.

I hope that this inquiry into Stella’s misconduct will encourage other restaurants to look into their policy and treatment of staff.

Just because it is a restaurant doesn’t mean the staff should be subjected to any lesser treatment than any other industry.

Thank you to the women of #notmystellas for creating a platform for so many of us to have a voice and taking this issue head on and not backing down.

Such grace and courage. By Angela and the others that are leading the charge for positive change. Let’s hope Stella’s can show an iota of the same.

What we can all do

What’s made the news this past week is happening everywhere. As my brilliant daughter describes, there are many people who need their jobs, and endure unspeakable harassment and abuse, often at the hands of managers who should know better but don’t. I’ll give that some don’t do it intentionally. Many servers and back of house staff move up through the ranks and eventually get promoted into management, without any training, and don’t have a clue what being a manager of people really entails.

Let’s hope the Stella’s debacle can help set a standard that no restaurant wants to settle for. We and they can all do better.

If you’re a restaurant owner or manager, get training in place to prevent this kind of harm. Be the place people want to work. Invest in training for your managers. Every dime you put in will pay off ten-fold in employee loyalty, satisfaction, less turnover and ultimately, happy employees and customers.

There’s free resources available through public service websites like workplacestrategiesformentalhealth.com, psychological health and safety training for leaders at places like Mindful Leader, plus numerous HR and workplace relations firms that can help develop policies and processes that clarify what is and isn’t acceptable in the workplace, as well as how to prevent psychological harm.

If you’re a customer, treat your server with respect. None of us have the right to respond to people, who are required to show up and provide service to us, with anything less than that. In most cases, your server is doing their best, despite what may be going right or wrong in the back of house or maybe even in your day.

If they’re truly doing a crappy job, then exchange a kind word to help them do better.

That costs nothing and everybody wins.

 

You can read more (you may have to subscribe) at:

Past, present employees claim Stella’s restaurant workplace rife with harassment and abuse

Public asked to support Stella’s employees amid harassment allegations

 

 

Ocean

It may be time to tell a different story

I recently attended a session on advertising, presented as part of Small Business Week. In it, Brian Hagel, Sales Manager at Mix 107.9 / FortSaskOnline.com, chatted about many things, including what he’d learned from The Wizard of Ads® matriarch Roy H. Williams. While I’d heard many of William’s “wisdoms” before, I perked up when Hagel said, if you can substitute someone else’s name in your story – and no one notices – you need to tell a different story.

YAHOO! That’s what I’ve been saying!

Home

Walking in Lucy Maud Montgomery’s footsteps was transformative for this humble writer (PEI 2018). Read about it.

I’m like anyone else. I find it excruciating to write my own story. For me, it’s a combination of not wanting to face some of my own pain points and the incessant fear of failing publicly. That’s my very short story (here’s a tidbit). You can also read some of the stories I write about other people and the world around me.

The story behind who you are and the business you have built (or helped build) is as important as what you’re selling. It’s also a glaring gap in much of the marketing I see people using – from websites, to social posts, to the email newsletters that hit my inbox on a daily basis.

Humanizing your business story is the way to share your brand message, engage your audience, and drive action based on the emotional response it inspires.


Case Study
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 her struggle to develop content for her website on her own for nearly a year. She is stalled on doing any social media marketing because that story hasn’t been told.

As we talked through the challenges she’s been facing, I naturally started interviewing her, asking her about her passion for what she’s doing for clients, why anyone should care, and as Hagel emphasized, what’s in it for them. The veil began to lift. We barely scratched the surface but I could hear the panic subsiding as she began to see that she has a story that matters.


Bottom line: If no one ever hears your story, how do you expect to build ongoing, lasting relationships based on that narrative?

Rob Hatch of Owner Media Group put it this way: “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.”

It’s time to tell your story, and I’d love to help.  Maybe this can make it easier for you.

 

 

Mary Ann Baynton, profile story

Mary Ann Baynton on being open to whatever work and life throw our way

Some of us are lucky enough to have someone walk into our lives and suddenly, it’s changed for the better. Such has been my experience in the 10 years since I received a call from Mary Ann Baynton, an Ontario-based workplace mental health specialist, who was looking for some help to develop a website for a new client. Who knew that all this time later we’d still be connected — as colleagues who have been through the trenches together, and as friends who have had each other’s backs through the toughest of times. Her story inspires me and many others.

Mary Ann Baynton

Mary Ann Baynton is energized by openness and opportunities.

Early in her career, Mary Ann read something that changed her life. It was Eckhart Tolle’s teaching, in the Power of Now, to be open to everything and attached to nothing. It is advice she’s shared with me many times! Mary Ann is someone who can accomplish more in a day or even an hour than anyone I know. She laughs when she says that the reason she is able to do that is because she “resists over planning.”

Energized by openness and good work

“On a daily basis opportunities present themselves,” she says. “People express their needs and pain points. By being open to whatever comes my way I can react to it and think about how I can help, and if there’s an opportunity to collaborate.” This, she said, leads her to consider who might be interesting to work with to make things happen. It’s an approach that she says has provided many opportunities to do great work.

She emphasizes that being “attached to nothing” isn’t about not caring. “For me, it means that I don’t pre-determine what the outcome must be in terms of building a relationship or collaborating. I’m always open to talking it through with others and if something doesn’t turn out as I had anticipated it would, I’m okay with that. I can let it go and be open to doing it a different way.”

She adds, “I get so much done because I love my work. It’s an opportunity to do something that matters. My energy comes from that sense that what I’m doing makes a difference. Otherwise, I wouldn’t get much done.”

Being open to different outcomes

Mary Ann Baynton, Building Stronger Teams

Mary Ann has helped develop many resources with some great outcomes.

I’ve seen Mary Ann’s ability to “get things done” on many occasions. One was helping to build the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace (the Centre) from the ground up. This was the project she first called me about. No one quite knew what the Centre would be, but 10 years later, it has helped set the standard for promoting psychological health and safety in workplaces. It has also given Mary Ann the opportunity and a platform to collaborate with some of the best minds in mental health to develop resources to help business leaders improve psychological health and safety in their workplaces and support employee success when mental health is a factor. Most are available on the Centre’s website, which we continue to collaborate on.

One glowing example of Mary Ann’s openness (and commitment) occurred when she was supporting a colleague, Mandi Buckner, who had struggled with mental illness in the workplace. This was before the Centre had been established, and Mary Ann was working with Mental Health Works,  a Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) initiative. “Mandi told me that, when she wasn’t well and couldn’t focus, one thing that would have really helped her was short videos of people experiencing the same things she was.” This conversation would eventually lead to the creation of the popular free resource Working Through It. But the road to get there wasn’t easy.

Mary Ann first brought the idea to the CMHA, who didn’t have the funding or resources to do it alone. So, while she was open to what Mandi suggested, she wasn’t attached to the outcome and let it go. A couple of years later, after she became the Program Director for the Centre, she brought the idea forward again. This time there was funding and interest but there were still many challenges to get it right. While Mary Ann was charged with the ultimate responsibility for the project, she says not being over attached to the outcome or micromanaging it is what worked in getting the true richness of the stories from those living with mental illness. “While I helped direct the project, it’s these individuals who really informed it,” she said. “It’s one of our most accessed resources and touches so many lives –  from those who are looking for peer support and want to understand more, to leaders who want to improve awareness.

“Those outcomes weren’t intended by me but that’s where it ended up.”

Seeing setbacks as opportunities

Leanne Fournier, Mary Ann Baynton, Joanne Roadley

Taking a break from work with Mary Ann Baynton and Joanne Roadley.

Mary Ann is well aware that her working style isn’t for everyone. “If I plan too much, I just get stuck. Others need to plan as a way of supporting their success or, in some cases, to be accountable.” In the corporate world this is often the case, which she manages by aligning with good people, such as the Centre’s Joanne Roadley, who can help make sure that all the different pieces fit together. “We use each other’s strengths and being able to work with someone with that skill set has been great.”

Occasionally, like many of us, Mary Ann has had to work on projects that drag her down and offers these insights. “I step back and wonder why this happened, and what am I supposed to learn from this setback.” An example was when she felt that she had stopped moving forward with a non-profit after just two years on the job. Instead of becoming “stagnant” she opened herself up to the opportunity of working with the Centre where she’s been able to continue to help make a difference.

“Sometimes setbacks are actually just opportunities in disguise and when we’re forced to move on it can all be for the best.”

She emphasizes the importance of realizing that we’re not failures just because we have a setback. Maybe it’s just time to move on.

“This attitude can definitely help keep us from lying awake at night feeling sorry for ourselves when things don’t go our way.”

Mary Ann Baynton is a workplace relations specialist at Mary Ann Baynton & Associates. She is also the Program Director for the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace.

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youth, mental health, hope

Finding and Giving Hope: World Suicide Prevention Day

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. While the issue of suicide has always been important to me,  I had never been personally affected, although I knew of and had offered what support I could to others who had. Still, I knew nothing of the full measure of such loss. That was until last year when a close family friend died by suicide.  He was young, a bright light in the world, with great parents and friends, and a promising future. Yet he wasn’t able to see his way out of the darkness.

That’s why, when  I was asked to do some writing about the National Walk for Youth Mental Health this spring I was immediately on board. The fact it was named Hope in the Darkness brought the issue home for me. I was energized to be a part of this, even though it brought me face to face with the grief I’ve felt since we lost our friend last September—almost a year ago today.

Kevin Redsky and west coast walker Robert Campbell from the Algonquins of Greater Golden Lake.

The cross-country walk was initiated by Sgt. Kevin Redsky of the Anishinabek Police Service from Shoal Lake 40 First Nation whose niece died by suicide in 2013, while in the care of Child and Family Services in Winnipeg. “The walk is inspired by her story and the stories of other young people who have struggled with mental health issues and the causes including the child welfare system, poverty, intergenerational trauma, and racism,” Redsky said. “The main purpose of the walk is to bring youth and police together to address mental health and to rebuild relationships between young people and police.”

Mitchell Boulette (Right) with his brother Irvin Boulette urges people to reach out for the help they need.

The hope was also to show communities, and in particular young people, that police officers do care. This was a surprise to some of the youth along the way and something that was especially important to Mitchell Boulette, a youth police officer for Treaty #3 who personally walked several hundred km for the cause. “Kevin shows he cares by walking every day,” Boulette said. “He’s encouraging everyone to come out and share any experiences they’ve had with police officers during a mental health crisis.” This in turn, he said, is providing police with a better understanding of how they can be more effective in helping young people in these situations.

Boulette has lost two family members to suicide and has personal experience of depression and reaching out for help. He saw the walk as a great way to address the stigma that youth, as well as police officers and the public in general, may feel about asking for help. He shared how he feared that admitting he was struggling would have a negative impact on his career and life. But he did reach out and got the help he needed and urges young people to do the same. “I’m living proof that if you reach for that help, you can beat it.”

Traditional drumming, singing and a jingle dress healing dance greeted the walkers.

The walk along the TransCanada Highway ran between April and August 2018, bringing together youth, families, communities, police, and mental health service providers from the east and west coasts. Walkers from the two directions met for a grand finale in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on August 3, 2018. They merged in front of the Canadian Human Rights Museum, accompanied by traditional drumming, singing and a  jingle dress healing dance.

Walkers from the East and West come together.

The turnout and support from law enforcement was inspiring. Winnipeg Police Services was actively involved throughout the day, doing traffic control but also walking the route from the East and West sides of the city – many in full uniform in the blistering heat.  RCMP also walked and these forces were joined by Manitoba First Nations Police, Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), Treaty #3 Police and Anishinabek Police Service who all spoke at the welcoming ceremony that followed at the Oodena Celebration Circle at the Forks. Watching these individuals walk and later stand alongside the large number of youth that participated in the day suggested that Redsky’s goal had been accomplished – at least in part. 

Redsky shared that with over 68,000 law enforcement officers throughout Canada, there is more work to be done. This walk shows us there’s more work to do in terms of making this a real police-driven initiative so we’re going to be counting on the services to really get involved like our host police service (Anishinabek Police Service) has.” 

The walk provided a platform for action and learning. “What we’ve learned is the answer isn’t just funding or a therapist; the answers really lie in communities taking action  — relying on service providers but standing up and being active and involved. The reality is you have to make adjustments to make things work better, whether that’s using social media to contact people or being available on weekends and 24/7.”

One of the greatest outcomes has been sharing by young people. ‘These have been incredible stories and the strength is unbelievable.”

“There have been so many youth lead walkers on this journey, there have been youth facilitators in this process, and there have been youth volunteers as well. So there’s been a lot of opportunities for youth to really share on a platform that’s culturally safe that they can trust.”

This has included talking to police officers, something many of the youth had never done before. It is estimated that the total engagement and reach was about 100,000 people. This includes over 1,500 young people that walked or participated in some way.

The words shared in the Oodena Circle by law enforcement, walkers, youth and even the Mayor consistently reaffirmed to the youth gathered that they are not alone.

National Walk for Youth Mental Health winds its way through final steps in Winnipeg.

Chief Irwin Redsky, Shoal Lake 40, talked about how important it was to “come together in the circle” to talk about the issue of youth mental health and thanked the walkers, including Redsky and Boulette, for bringing people together on the issue.

When all was said and done, it was the youth themselves whose messages really struck home. Clyde Moonias from NAN Youth Council, urged anyone who was feeling hopeless to remember that there is hope, that they mattered and that each and every one of them was sacredWill Landon, from Treaty #3 Youth Council, echoed these feelings and the need for communities to take action – a lesson he learned firsthand walking over 200 km.  He saw the power of “walking the talk” and the need for investing in the “business of hope.” 

In wrapping up, Redsky was humble about his 4,600 km walk, simply saying that the stories were all too familiar across Canada. He talked about the four flames, an integral part of the Hope in the Darkness movement.

It only takes one small flame to start a fire, and that it can build from there with the actions of everyone who take steps to start the conversationand create light where there’s been darkness.

Hope in the Darkness flames, youth mental health, suicideFollowing is more about the four flames that were lit along the journey:

1st match lit April 1, EAST COAST START at Cape Spear, St Johns NFLD: Starting the conversation – addressing the stigma

2nd match lit May 15, WEST COAST START at Haida Gwaii BC: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and the impact on mental health

3rd match lit July 13 THUNDER BAY ARRIVAL:  Youth experience with racism

4th match lit Aug 3, WINNIPEG CLOSING CEREMONY: Youth at risk/child welfare

I definitely saw a “spark” growing  and spreading through the Ooneda Circle that was packed with representatives from law enforcement, mental health and youth support workers as well as community leaders and families — all ready and willing to be part of the change that needs to happen. To be part of the solution.

To be part of the light and a way out of the darkness.

Additional reading and resources:

The International Association for Suicide Prevention provides resources and asks us to light a candle at 8 pm tonight to show our support for suicide prevention, to remember a lost loved one, and for the survivors of suicide.

Providing hope and help for those contemplating suicide is an article courtesy of the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace.

Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention provides information and links to resources across Canada.

Quinnton.ca provides links to emergency community resources.

Mumford and Sons agreed to allow their song Ghosts that We Knew be the official song of the walk. The song was chosen for its themes of hope and reassurance that everything will be all right. It’s available on itunes and YouTube. 

Youth walking and running to be part of the solution.

Ingonish Beach

#eastcoastwearehere: Life’s a beach!

Ingonish Beach

A quiet day at the beach in Ingonish, Cape Breton Island.

August 30 to September 3, Maritime Beaches — After the tourist explosion of Cavendish and the superfluous extravagance of the Chinese Junk Boat tour the night before, my travel partners and I decided we weren’t going to schedule anything more but rather, let Day 2 in PEI take us where it would.  I now know that this approach is so much better for someone like me who is crazy about scheduling and always being “on time”.

Mike’s Eagles Glenn golf experience in Cavendish hadn’t been the greatest so he was wary. Angela and I however had had a great day at Cavendish Beach although our time there had been cut short by my distraction at LMM Montgomery’s childhood home (see an earlier post). Still, the red cliffs at the beach were stunning and the water was clear and quite warm. I’d left my phone behind so no photos. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

I haven’t spent a lot of time on beaches since we bought our river front cottage over a decade ago. Since then, and pretty much during our children’s entire lives, our time in the water has usually happened jumping into deep water off floating docks and boats.  In PEI and all throughout Cape Breton Island, I rediscovered my love of beaches. And these aren’t just any beaches, but sprawling expanses of sand and rocks swept clean by rolling ocean waves.

Pigeon, seagull

Pretty sure these guys are part of the reason Maritime beaches are so debris free.

Maritimers seem to have an inherent respect for the land. There’s definitely a code of conduct for public places and attractions like the beaches and hiking trails where I saw very little garbage left behind.

Beaches became a bit of theme during the entire vacation, starting with a great day at Lawrencetown Beach on our first day where our daughter, who now lives in Halifax, showed off her new surfing skills.

Angela’s 2nd day ever surfing. #lifeontheocean

There were numerous stops at beaches all along the Cabot Trail, and while I didn’t collect their names, I did collect rocks at every single one. Flat lovely stones I plan to make part of my dream catchers. I love that this eastern connection will be part of the story of the catchers I create for family and friends. I was actually thinking of who I’d like to give each of the stones to as I picked them. It’s unlikely I’ll remember who a particular stone was destined for but just stopping (and stooping) to pick them up helped connect me to both the present moment and the places we stopped.  They are evidence that I was there.

Basin Head Beach

Relaxing on the “singing sands” of Basin Head beach.

While still in PEI, we’d heard that Basin Head beach was great, had a cool bridge people jump off of and best of all was free! Enroute we realized we were passing by another golf course, Crowbush, that was on Mike’s bucket list.  Since we didn’t have any deadlines, we decided to drive in to see if it would be worth the green fees and indeed, as the ocean rolled out beyond the impeccable fairways, we decided it was.

Crowbush

Michael Fournier can tick this one off his bucket list: Crowbush Cove Golf Course.

 

We left Mike behind with plans to head onto Basin Head and swing back for him in a few hours.  Angela and I loved Basin Head, had some idle time to talk about all of her hopes and dreams, as well as her worries, for her third year of university that would start in less than a week.

I’ve since read that the beach is often called “Singing Sands”in reference to the pure white sand that “sings” as you walk through it, due to a high silica content. I don’t recall hearing any such “singing” and neither of us ever did jump off that bridge (it was a little too kitschy for us) but wandered off the beach quite late, much more relaxed than the over scheduled, overpriced day before.

Best of all, we found a lobster fisherman along the way and stocked up on 3 succulent 1.5 pounders for an amazing meal back at our B & B. As the warmed butter dripped down our faces, we all decided we prefer to eat lobster this way not just because it’s at a fraction of the price of a restaurant meal but because we can dig in, make a mess, and enjoy the comfort and comradery of all of this in our own time and place. Photos also weren’t taken during this small extravagance out of respect for a family member (aka Ren) who wasn’t with us. It would have been too painful for him to watch!

All and all, it was the perfect ending to a great rejuvenating, unscheduled day. Check out other #eastcoastwearehere posts on the stories page.

Cabot trail, beaches

One of our last beach stops near the end of the Cabot Trail.

Ingonish whale watching

#eastcoastwearehere: A whale of a day

whale, ingonish, cape breton island, cabot trail

The blow signals that a whale watching show is about to begin. Sometimes. We were lucky.

Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

The view during our hike in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

September 2, Ingonish Beach, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia — There’s no doubt that the best things happened when we least expected them on our tour along the Cabot Trail. Such was the day we retraced our steps along the southeastern shore, without a plan or even a place to stay.  That’s not entirely true. Unable to restrain myself, I had called and scheduled an afternoon whale watching tour in Pleasant Bay, which was about 3 hours away on the northeastern side of the trail. 

We had just arrived in Ingonish Beach and stopped to snap some photos in the harbour when we saw people donning life jackets. I walked over and learned that a Zodiac whale watching tour was just setting off.  William McNichol of Ingonish Zodiac Adventures, read me like a book, not tolerating my hesitancy, fears or need to stick to the “schedule”. He told me point blank I had to make a decision “right now!” My partner Mike was more surprised than anyone when I turned to him and said, “Let’s do it!” Knowing the weather could turn and the wind could come up I realized this might be our only chance and whale watching was definitely at the top of my Cabot Trail bucket list.

Kinnon McKinnon, Ingonish whale watching tours

Captain Kinnon MacKinnon was our guide on this glorious, windy day.

As we boarded the Zodiac, I snuck into a seat at the back where I figured I could hang on for dear life to a bar that was much like the ones you see on ferris wheels. Fearless Mike headed to the front of the boat, camera in tow. I then heard him tell the captain, “There’s room for a wife up here” to which captain, Kinnon MacKinnon, responded, “Wife to the front!”  It was a hilarious start to a very memorable hour.

Zodiac, whale

A little tongue tied along with my Zodiac mates awaiting the big sighting.

The Zodiac took off and after I hadn’t fallen out in the first 10 minutes I relaxed realizing I likely wasn’t going to. I leaned into the joy of bouncing along in the swells. I tried to take pictures with my iPhone but it was jammed and with only one hand free to fix it (I was still hanging on for dear life), I put it away. William had given Mike a blanket for his camera, which was needed when the waves came over the side of the boat a few times. Kinnon was a pro though having done this for a while, steering us effortlessly through the swells.  We eventually arrived at the location where a fin whale had been spotted by a boat that departed as we came along. It soon became clear to us that the boat operators all communicate with one another about the sightings. This company boasts a very high sighting success rate – over 95% – and one of the best in Atlantic Canada according to its website.

The show begins.

I was getting worried when we hadn’t seen anything after some time, thinking just my luck. Then Mike spotted the “blow” as we’d been instructed to watch for. We headed for it, while Kinnon said that it might be another 8 to 12 minutes or so until the whale surfaced again. We waited. And waited and it was closer to 15 minutes when I spotted the second blow.  The Zodiac eased up to this location and it was now time for a show as she (“it” became a “she” at this point) blew again upon our approach.

I’ve seen whale watching tours where the spectators are all jumping and screaming in the boat but this crew was different  — maybe because we were in patient pursuit of just one whale vs. a pod, or because the Zodiac required us all to be a little more “steady”. I was silent with the rest of my Zodiac mates during the long wait for the first and subsequent blows. As we drew nearer and she blew a third time, the group, which included a mix of ages and nationalities, was still quiet. At this point, Kinnon said, “It’s about 350 feet deep here, which isn’t that deep when you’re 85 feet long.”

Not long after, we got to see pretty much all of that 85 feet. Grace. That’s all I could think as she pushed her massive, gleaming body through the water barely making waves. There were some gasp from our side but the only other noise was the whale’s swoosh through the water and deep puffs as she blew again.  When she moved to within about 20 feet of us, heading to starboard, the young woman next to me whispered, “Where’s she going?” but there was no fear.  Only admiration and wonder to be a part of this.

whales, Ingonish

Here she comes!

 

 

 

Ingonish whale watching

Breathtaking

Closer…

…and closer…

And closer!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

whales

Thar she goes!

After her last push, she disappeared bit by bit under the surface, turning the choppy water flat in the wake of her large tale as she headed downward. All 85 feet of her.

Our captain broke the silence then, saying simply, “Well that was one great sighting.” Despite the fact he does this all day, it didn’t seem to be “old” even for him.

The ride back was euphoric and more light-hearted as Kinnon pointed out some of the other landmarks we’d all been too distracted to notice earlier. As we disembarked I asked him if that whale was really close and he said it was, calling it “A great day at the office.”

I wobbled back to the car, perhaps due to having to get my land legs back. Or just because I’d lost my footing, knowing I’d seen something that would stay with me for a very long time.

As it turned out, the wind was furious on the northeastern shore so this was a lucky break. I didn’t really need anything else on this day.

Next group of whale watchers on the way!

Chinese Junk Boat, PEI

#eastcoastwearehere: Chinese Junkboat Tour leaves us “hungering” for more

Chinese Junk Boat, PEI

Can beat the view of a glorious sunset over the harbour in Charlottetown, PEI.

Later August 27, Charlottetown, PEI —  After a full day in Cavendish it was time to make our way to the harbour in Charlottetown where we’d booked a 2 hour Sunset Chinese Junk Boat with Dinner. Mike had been craving Chinese food and we were intrigued by the promise of an authentic experience as had been described in the promotional literature. After I had stressed everybody out about getting us all to the dock on time (the boat won’t wait for us!), we were told we’d have to come back in an hour rather than boarding at 5 pm as our ticket had said. Still in good spirits, we spent the hour at Peakes Quay. This is a pretty spot overlooking the harbour that’s quite popular and we sampled some oysters as well as some local beverages. We were starving as we’d all saved our appetites in anticipation of the Chinese food we’d paid extra for as part of the cruise.

Pipa players. Mike is looking worried about dinner.

Once aboard, we were warmly greeted by the boat owners and hosts, Monty and Danielle and were  impressed by the young woman who was playing an authentic pipa — and even more so, when the boat owners’ super cute daughter disappeared and returned with one of her own.

We had checked the reviews before we dropped $85/person for this little jaunt around the harbour and were confident it would deliver on the promise of “trip back in time of authentic Chinese culture.” It wasn’t long before we began to clue into the fact that the online description of the cruise may have been a wee bit overstated. But, we were in for the tourist experience and that’s what we got. We had a blast as we cruised along the bay and got some amazing photos as the sun set over the harbour. Captain Chris let our daughter have a turn at the wheel and we heard some of his stories as a fisherman in the area for most of his life. The cruise hosts were friendly and attentive – especially so as we were the only ones on the ship!

Something to drink? Our host Marty.

While all this was lovely, it wasn’t quite the cultural experience we were expecting evidenced by the meal, which ended up being fried rice, some PEI potatoes and a small side salad. Me thinks it was an off night for the cook. We’d been told Danielle’s father, the real cook of the family, wasn’t with us as he was busy preparing dinner for a large group the next night. Sigh. We laughed about this afterward but it was still a painful for frugal travellers like us who take pains to stay within our budget. Any extravagance comes with very high expectations, which I expect few could satisfy.

Still, we were together in a boat on the edges of the Atlantic Ocean and the sunset was spectacular. What more could you ask for? Um…pass the egg rolls please?

Check out other #eastcoastwearehere posts on the stories page.

Our daughter sailing us through the harbour, with Captain Chris at watch.

Lucy Maud Montgomery's home

#eastcoastwearehere: Walking in some very big footsteps

Cavendish, Lucy Maud Montgomery

Walking inL.M.M.’s footsteps in Cavendish.

August 27, Cavendish, PEI — This is the first post travel article in a series I’ll be sharing under the heading #[location]wearehere.

My partner Michael and I caught up with our daughter, Angela, a student at the Nova School of Art and Design (NSCAD) in Halifax, early on day 1 after a late arrival and short sleep at our Airbnb in the Bedford area. We were up and off early the next day for the 4 hour drive into PEI. For me,  every turn evoked the descriptions by Anne of Green Gables author Lucy Maud Montgomery (L.M.M.) of the island’s charm and beauty: the land of “ruby, and emerald, and sapphire,” or woodlands, sea and shorelines where the sun is often “like a great rose window at the end of a cathedral aisle”. I was wary of the tourist insurgence thatL.M.M. had railed about in some of her journal writings but was open to what this first phase of our Eastern tour would unveil.

Our Charlottetown Airbnb was exactly as described – a cosy apartment in a vintage home. We spent our first day wandering around Cavendish after dropping Michael off for what, unfortunately, was a somewhat disappointing round of golf at Eagles Glenn of Cavendish. Angela and I immediately partook in the local fare, having an orgasmic breakfast of Lobster Eggs Benedict at Chez Yvonne’s.  Yes it was that good!  After breakfast, we abandoned ourselves to the local tourist trappings, starting at Lucy Maud Montgomery’s birthplace and then the Ann of Green Gables Museum. While charming, I found both to be a little too much ‘look but don’t touch’ for my taste, but still a great way to get some of the context for our next stop, which was the Macneill Homestead where Lucy Maud Montgomery grew up and wrote the Ann books. This site is painstakingly maintained by her Macneill descendants and it’s here that I could happily have spent the rest of my time in PEI.

Trees, Lucy Maud Montgomery

L.M.M.’s beloved “companions”.

I didn’t mind paying the $6 to walk through the “hallowed grounds” in the steps of such a worthy storyteller; to pause alongside the trees under which she’d sat and imagined the many memorable tales she would tell.trees, companions

As I wandered along and read the placards placed alongside her favourite flowers and trees and the paths she took to do her chores or walk to school or church, I was struck by how her stories were even more impressive because of some of the difficulties of her own life; how she had written past these to capture the gems she embedded in all of her writing. This of course is the foundation for great fiction that writers like LMM create – something that’s been unfolding in my writing mind more and more and in particular during this day. In her journal LMM described it this way: “amid the commonplaces of life, I was very near to a kingdom of ideal beauty. Between it and me hung only a thin veil. I could never quite draw it aside, but sometimes a wind fluttered it and I seemed to catch a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond-only a glimpse-but those glimpses have always made life worthwhile.”

Home

L.M.M.’s words about the light of home struck a chord.

Home

Back at the house of her birthplace (a tiny structure with mostly closed off rooms) there was an article that described L.M.M.’s worry that the popularity of the Ann books would attract flocks of tourists to her little town. It’s a biting prediction that has come true but fortunately, the idyllic countryside and secluded island charm she described – and in which Anne found heaps of trouble – are still very much in existence.

I am certainly not the first writer to retraceL.M.M.’s footsteps or to contemplate my own life and writing alongside the author’s astute, brilliant words that are shared throughout the Macneill Homestead grounds.

And I’m sure I’m not the only writer, still searching for their own big story, that found it somewhat gut wrenching. So much of what this prolific master of fiction wrote was inspired by an acute awareness of every detail in the natural world around her that prevailed no matter what was going on in her personal life. All of it, material for stories that stand the test of time and awaken readers and writers to the possibilities of an open, unfettered imagination. I think I’m finally starting to get it.

Check out other #eastcoastwearehere posts on the stories page.

Angela, Leanne

My daughter Angela and I sharing a great day in an amazing place.

LMM homestead, kitchen

Restored building captures some of the spirit of the old homestead.

Walk to promote youth mental health arrives in Kenora July 26

L-R: Kevin Redsky and west coast walker Robert Campbell from the Algonquins of Greater Golden Lake

The Hope in the Darkness National Walk for Youth Mental Health will arrive in Kenora on July 26. A welcoming ceremony is planned, starting at 11 a.m., at Seven Generations Education Institute, 240 Veterans Drive, followed by a fundraising barbecue. A walk to Keewatin Place will commence at 2 p.m. Everyone is welcome.

The cross-country walk was initiated by Sgt. Kevin Redsky of the Anishinabek Police Service from Shoal Lake 40 First Nation who lost a niece to suicide in 2013.  “The walk is inspired by her story and the stories of other young people from Treaty #3 who have struggled with mental health issues and the causes including the child welfare system, poverty, intergenerational trauma, and racism,” Redsky said. “The main purpose of the walk is to bring youth and police together to address mental health and to rebuild relationships between young people and police.”

Since it began on April 1, 2018, the walk along the TransCanada Highway has brought together youth, families, communities, police, and mental health service providers from the east and west coasts. Walkers from the two directions will meet for a grand finale in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on August 3.

Redsky and his team will walk into Kenora prior to the welcoming ceremony, which will include traditional greetings and prayers, words from local dignitaries and elders, and the singing of the Honor Song by the Whitefish Bay Singers. Youth and others are invited to join the 5.8 km walk to Keewatin, which will continue on to Granite Lake later in the day.

Mitchell Boulette Hope in the Darkness

Mitchell Boulette (R) walks with the support of his brother Irvin.

While he won’t be at the Kenora event, Mitchell Boulette who is a Treaty #3 Youth Mental Health Police Officer, is representing the local precinct by walking from the east beginning at Tilley, Alberta. This is Boulette’s second stint donating his time for the walk which, he says, hits close to home. He had a cousin die by suicide and has personally recovered from depression.

“I’m proof that if you ask for help – and get it – there is a way out of the darkness.”

Find out more at www.hopeinthedarkness.ca or on Twitter: @YouthMHWalk; Instagram: @walkforyouthmentalhealth; and Facebook: facebook.com/walkforyouthmentalhealth.

There is also a Facebook page for the July 26 event that will include the latest updates:  https://www.facebook.com/hopeinthedarknesskenorarally.

 

Da-namaamin moseyang giw-ganchigaazjig kwewag (We will walk in prayer for these murdered women)

Walkers honouring murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls passing through Kenora on Thursday, July 5

 

Da-namaamin moseyang giw-ganchigaazjig kwewag (We will walk in prayer for these murdered women)

From left: E Naad Maa Get, Niibin, Jacqueline Hines and an elder from Garden River First Nation

Kenora, Ontario, July 4, 2018 – Da-namaamin moseyang giw-ganchigaazjig kwewag (We will walk in prayer for these murdered women) is a group of young people walking in prayer across Canada to raise awareness of the issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls.

They are expected to arrive in Kenora, following Highway 17 through town, late in the afternoon on Thursday, July 5, weather permitting.

Organizer E Naad Maa Get (Branden Emmerson) said, “What we’re seeking to do is not only raise awareness but also to show solidarity amongst First Nations for the families that have been affected; to show that their loved ones aren’t being forgotten.”

He said the decision to do the walk was a pro-active step to do something when nothing else seemed to be making a difference. “We know that we can’t solve the issue but maybe one of the people we come into contact will have some of the answers.”

E Naad Maa Get is a band member of The Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation. He started the walk on the Winter Solstice along with Niibin (Tianna Fillo also of Nawash) and Jacqueline Hines (Pennsylvania). They have been joined by others including Carolyn Gable of Pennsylvania.

He describes how having a unified sense of purpose is helping the group continue on in the face of many challenges including the breakdown of their RV, which is their home on the road, dramatic weather conditions, and dwindling funds. Theirs is a grassroots effort with no corporate sponsorship.

The group starts each day by reading reports and sharing the stories of one of the women or girls they are walking for online.

“We all know that we’ve become involved with something that’s larger than ourselves,” he said. “We’re walking for these women that we don’t know, but we have a shared sense of why this is so important.”

prayer staff

Prayer staff

E Naad Maa Get adds that another goal is to bring the conversation more into the open in First Nations communities. “We need to become accountable and recognize that we’re a healing people and to show that, through our acts and involvement, overcoming this is not an impossible task.”

He believes that many Canadians have no idea of the extent of the issue. On its website the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) states: “Throughout our work, NWAC believed the violence against Indigenous women to be much more pervasive than publicly available data would indicate. This suspicion was confirmed in 2013, when the RCMP released a report revealing 1,181 cases of missing and/or murdered Indigenous women and girls.”

Funds are starting to run low and the group can always use gas and gift cards. The public can offer their support by visiting the Da-namaamin moseyang giw-ganchigaazjig kwewag Facebook page.

For more information:
E Naad Maa Get
(226) 974-2200
Or leave a message on their Facebook page

 

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

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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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