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.
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
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
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.”