#24 Scientist Sue

My boys are now 23 and almost 20, so I am at that point in my life where I have limited opportunities to be around little children.  While I admit I enjoy the freedom that comes with having young adult sons, I sometimes miss the wonder of their imaginations when they were small. So, when my friend Karen invited me to attend one of her Scientist in School workshops with a local junior/senior kindergarten class, I jumped at the chance.

Walking into the classroom, I was struck by how small everything was – the chairs, the tables, the kids! As part of the program, there were several areas that the children would travel around to over the hour including a chemistry, astronomy, paleontology, and weather centre. There were two parents who were volunteering for the morning. The young woman sitting closest to me tentatively asked if I had a child in the class; with a chuckle, I explained to her that my kids were grown, that I was a friend of Karen’s.

My wonderful friend, Scientist Karen, gave me the best centre to oversee: the marine biologist station. I quickly read my instructions for my role as Scientist Sue.  There was a table covered with shells and what I came to know were sea stars (not star fish as I would have called them since they don’t have bones like fish – my learning continues) as well as magnifying glasses. Another station had rubber fish that the children would roll paint onto and then cover with paper to form a fish fossil. Finally, the pièce de résistance, three real (dead) octopOctopusi that could be touched, held, and explored.

Karen is a retired elementary school teacher and as she sat with the class at the beginning of the workshop explaining the morning ahead, I understood why she is so warmly greeted by former students every time we are out together.  She is an exceptional teacher! Karen managed to connect with the kids immediately.  She asked questions of the tiny soon-to-be scientists, ensured that both the eager sharers and the more reticent children all had opportunities to contribute, and genuinely praised their ideas and suggestions.

Each student was then assigned to groups of 3 or 4 and directed to their first station. Four little people (two boys and two girls) joined me at the observation table and sat with me on the ridiculously small chairs (to be fair, the chairs were perfectly sized for everyone but me). While two students inspected the shells and plastic marine animals with magnifying glasses, the other two moved to the painting table where they made their fish fossils. They then switched places so everyone had a turn at both centres.

In the last few minutes, the four excitedly stood close to me as I opened the container holding the octopi and held one in my hand. There were gasps and giggles as they tentatively touched the octopus (in truth, many of the giggles were mine); a few even held it in outstretched hands.  They looked at the tentacles, commented on how it felt (slimy, cold, bumpy), and smelled (yucky).

When we heard the sound of the gong that signaled the end of their time in the first area, the kids followed instructions to push in their chairs, and repeated with Scientist Karen: “stand up and breath, it’s time to leave.” They took two deep breaths (as modeled by Karen, in through the nose and out through the mouth) in order to prepare their “scientist brains”, then, after pointing in the direction they would be going, walked quietly to the next station.  I was again impressed by how effortlessly Karen incorporated mindful breathing into the activity, and how quickly the children adopted the techniques.

I had five sets of kids over the course of the morning.  Even though it had been a while since I had spent the morning with 4 and 5 year olds, after I had finished one round, I got into the groove and was able to simply enjoy the moments.  I laughed at the different reactions each child had to the octopus, marveled at the little blonde girl who complimented her classmate on his “really good fish picture,” and enjoyed engaging with both the outgoing and more reserved children.

The end of the workshop saw the little scientists sitting on the carpet with Karen leading them through questions about what they had learned. Just as she had incorporated breathing techniques into the station transitions, Karen used the science to introduce a bit of yoga, having the children stretch out their arms like sea stars. While I realize that these kids were particularly well behaved, I also know that Karen’s calm approach and mindful tools supported their self-regulation during the morning’s activities.

Later that day I showed my younger son the picture of me holding the octopus for the children to see.  He said I looked like the most excited kid there.  He wasn’t wrong.  However, even though I had an enormous amount of fun, being with small children took significant energy and I confess to being pretty exhausted for the rest of the day. I gained a newfound respect for teachers who do this job all day, every day and a great appreciation for teachers like Scientist Karen who support and encourage every child’s growth and development.

Next up: The week is up for grabs – anyone want to suggest a feat?




#23 Fun on The Hill

For people who live in Niagara Falls, Clifton Hill is a place visited only when visitors come and want the whole Falls experience; otherwise, we generally avoid the crowds and traffic as much as is possible. That was, of course, before I took on my 50 Fabulous Feats adventure.

Every year in January, the awesome attractions on The Hill participate in a charity day in support of Cystic Fibrosis research.  This is the 28th year that certain activities can be enjoyed by local residents for only a loonie. So this year, when I saw a posting online DSC_0016advertising the day, I decided to get in on the fun. I enlisted my older son as my companion for the day (his younger brother was too overwhelmed with course assignments to accompany us – at least, that was his story).

I confess that I may have also had to offer a Falls Manor breakfast as incentive in order to get my son on board. We were on the road to the Falls by 10:30 as I wasn’t sure what what the crowds would be like. The weather fluctuated between drizzly and downright pouring rain so I felt confident that few people would be making the trek. I was wrong.

We turned into one of the large public parking lots on Clifton Hill and joined the line of locals who also chose to brave the elements for some cheap fun. When I gathered up my umbrella, I discovered it was only half functional, but it was enough to fend off the majority of the rain, so it was perfect for me.DSC_0019

There were already long lines forming at the various attractions. Fortunately for us, I get sick on any kind of 3D ride, so we didn’t head in the direction of those most popular rides. Instead, I had my heart set on the Movieland Wax Museum. Thankfully, the line was short and my son was lulled into a French Toast coma and so didn’t balk at my choice.

Within a couple of minutes, we were to the front of the line and exchanged a toonie for tickets for both of us. It was as silly as I had anticipated with wax figures of everyone from Clint Eastwood to ET, Cary Grant to Jim Carrey. We walked through the winding aisles and giggled like kids as we took pictures with “the stars”  – I even got to hug Homerand sit on the couch with the whole Simpson family.

DSC_0021After we came out of the wax museum, the rain was still coming down, and the crowds started to cause a little anxiety for my son, so we solved both concerns by going into the building that housed Boston Pizza and the dazzling Rock ‘n Roll Bowling Alley. Although bowling wasn’t part of the dollar days, we were the only patrons and decided this was our next adventure. As a kid, I fondly remember my cousin Anne and I used to regularly go to the downtown Brampton bowling alley, but it had been a really long time since I had thrown a bowling ball ( yes, thrown is, in fact, the accurate word when it comes to my bowling prowess).DSC_0024

We rented our stylish shoes, and I picked the lightest ball I could find (which still felt ridiculously heavy) and let the games begin. I admit to smittenly trash-talking upon my first strike, but soon was humbled by throwing at least as many gutter balls as those that hit any pins – inconsistent would be the appropriate characterization of my game. Nonetheless, I still gloated about my 2 point win – 101 to 99.

When we returned to the street, the crowds had increased, and we mutually decided that lunch rather than another attraction was our preferred course of action. While we ate our food, I watched the array of people walking up and down The Hill. There were families with small children awed by the experience, couples hand-in-hand gazing lovingly at each other, groups of teenaged boys trying to look cool, and packs of teenaged girls trying rather unsuccessfully to ignore the teenaged boys. They all made me smile and realize that Clifton Hill was pure fun no matter your age.

As as we left to return to our car, I stopped at a one of the dinosaur displays to strike a DSC_0025pose, defective umbrella at half mast as if it had battled the giant lizards à la Jurassic Park. Another feat accomplished, another novel experience under my belt.

Next up: it’s as much a surprise to me as it will be for you!


#22 The Force Was With Me!

I have to admit right off the bat that I never was a super Star Wars fan. Yes, I saw the originals when they came out in the late ’70’s and early ’80’s, and I did like them, but I didn’t return to the theatre again and again like some folks I knew.

When the new trilogy came out more tha two decades later, it was my children who drew me back and I enjoyed both the old and the new movies through little boys’ eyes.  On top of watching the movies (over and over), thanks again to my sons, I got to play with all the Star Wars toys: every movie character (Jabba the Hut was my favourite), and a few incredible models – the Millennium Falcon and a giant Walker were especially great – that we used to relive movie scenes as well as create our own adventures.

It is amazing how fun and freeing it was to set aside the real world for a short time and live in my sons’ Star Wars universe where we could do anything, be anyone, set aside the logical and even defy the laws of gravity if we so chose. I remember the conversations that took place between characters, and the sparkle in my older son’s eyes when he escaped in the Falcon; I can hear the giggle of his younger brother who, though invariably relegated to play supporting characters, was beyond excited to be part of his brother’s world.

Mike Star WarsFor Halloween one year, both boys dressed up as Jedi Knights, complete with light sabers and “rat-tails’ braids like Anakin Skywalker. I think I had as much, if not more, fun than they did watching their antics throughout the day. Alas, I don’t believe I dressed up that year, a Jabba outfit being a little beyond my limited sewing skills.

For my part, I recognized how privileged I was to be a part of this fantasy, to be included in their world, in this fleeting time and space.

So, when the making of the new Star Wars movies was announced, I admit to being pretty excited.  Over the years, I had become invested in the characters and their storylines, and I was anxious to see how the next chapters would evolve.  Although I didn’t see the movie until a few weeks after its release, I was able to avoid spoilers, and so it was a  pure experience of fun and wonder.  I cheered when originalStar-Wars-The-Force-Awakens characters appeared on screen for the first time (my apologies to those in the theatre with me who were not the trusty, and understanding, younger son and friend who accompanied me to the show), came to know and immediately love the new ones, and many times sat on the edge of my seat during the tense action. In short, I was like a kid again.

I will include no spoilers in this blog.  Suffice it to say that I enjoyed every minute of the movie, with the awe of a child, and the freedom of an adult to simply enjoy without worrying about how completely uncool I allowed myself to be. I understand that the next installment will not be out until sometime in 2017. The anticipation of the next adventures for me will be half the fun.  In the meantime, I might just have to go back to the theatre to see The Force Awakens again – I suspect it will not be a hard sell to convince my older son to join me once again in the fantasy world that we both loved so much as he was growing up.

Next up: More silliness at Clifton Hill.






#21 Kickin’ Back in Kauai

When I had the opportunity to go to Kauai, I began to think about all of the potential feats I could accomplish there: a helicopter ride, learning to surf, hiking down canyons, and ziplining over treetops.

The first morning, as I sat on the patio poring over the brochures of various activities, I noticed one of the Hawaiian geese, nene (pronounced nay-nay), walking towards me. The signs on the lawn warned that the nene were nesting nearby and the male birds were extremely protective of their territory, so I was a little nervous.  But, the bird just came up on the 20151218_011942896_iOSpatio stone and settled in next to me. I thought it was likely that other visitors had fed him before, so was sure that he would get bored and move away when there was no food coming his way.  I was wrong. Each time I came out on the patio, Ralph, as I had named him, not only came over to sit with me, but RAN over as soon as the door opened. I don’t know if birds smile, but if they do, Ralph was. One afternoon he brought another nene with him.  In hindsight, I think it was his mother and it is possible that in bird-terms we are now married.

As we made our way to the various points of interest on the island, I found pleasure not only in the beautiful sights, but also in the unexpected encounters.  At the Wailua Falls (they used these for the opening shot on Fantasy 20151216_234119570_iOSIsland for those old enough to remember that show), I laughed as the man selling jewelry in the parking lot chatted with his friend, Oscar, a wild boar, standing just a few feet away. I swore I saw Oscar wag his tail upon hearing his name (this, I later found out, was true; pigs actually do wag their tails like dogs when they are happy). Once again, it is possible that food might have been involved in this friendship.

As the vacation unfolded, I felt less and less inclined to shoehorn a whole host of activities into each day.  I decided that this particular feat would not be about a particular adventure, but a reminder to slow down and see the wonder in the every day.  Okay, I recognize that a beautiful Hawaiian island is not ord20151219_211101797_iOSinary, but that simply reinforced my point. I felt the Universe once again trying to make sure I got the message by sending me a sign – literally.  And so, I did as the fish advised: I enjoyed morning walks listening to music, occasionally singing and dancing as the mood hit me, taking in the glory of the sand and the water; I sat in the sunshine and admired the trees blowing in the breeze; I marveled at the million dollar view from the balcony of the St. Regis hotel at sunset that was free to anyone who came to have a look. And I reflected on how incredibly fortunate I was no20151217_025911452_iOSt just to have been given the opportunity of this trip, but for all the many blessings in my life. As 2016 fast approaches, I look forward to the chapters ahead for me, big and small.  I end 2015 with a better understanding of myself, and my priorities in life.  Wishing everyone a very happy, healthy, and prosperous (however you define it) New Year!

Next up: It’s a surprise – since I haven’t any idea what it might be yet!


#20 School’s Out!

When I began my Master of Education program full-time in September of 2014 I could hardly think past the next day, let alone to its successful completion. While I a a voracious reader, and had taken the odd course here and there, it had been over 25 years since I had completed my undergraduate degree.  But, I had always wanted to do graduate work, so when I was downsized out of my job, I felt like the Universe might be giving me a little nudge to really take my life in a new direction.

I applied, was accepteWP_20151207_17_56_41_Prod, and found myself joining the rush of university students, shiny new backpack full of text books slung over my shoulder, as I walked to my first graduate class that Fall.  When I entered the room, I was struck by how young my classmates looked. In fact, most were freshly out of their undergraduate education programs, returning to school while they tried to break into teaching during a time when jobs were scarce to say the least. In one class, we were to introduce ourselves and tell each other one interesting fact about ourselves- I blurted out that I was old enough to be everyone else’s Mom. Smooth.

It is true that it took me until November to stop saying “whatever made me think this was a good idea,” but when I did, I realized I was loving my experience. When I completed my undergraduate degree, I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. I enjoyed psychology, perhaps because it focused on human dynamics, which I found fascinating. I took a personnel psych course and then applied to a summer program as a student in personnel (SIP). I was fortunate enough to be hired to work at the University of Toronto in their Human Reources department and spent the next 4 months thrown into the world of HR. I interviewed candidates, conducted salary surveying, and became hooked on HR as a profession. I began my first real HR job a week before my convocation, and spent the next 26 years there.

While I loved working in HR,  because I worked in a university, I sometimes thought about how much I had loved researching and writing as an undergrad. But my life was full with work and family, and it wasn’t until 2009 that I started taking courses towards a Bachelor of Education in Adult Education. When life again became too busy, I shelved my courses after only completing 2 of the required 5.  So when my job ended, after the initial grieving, I chose the to look for the opportunity – school was the obvious answer for me.

As I now look back over the last 15 months, I am humbled by the experiences I was able to participate in as part of my programming: research into the elimination of self-stigma surrounding mental illness; a directed study at the hospital mental health unit related to the impact of positive psychology tools in enhancing mood (which spurred my 50 Feats); an internship with a local women’s addiction recovery organization where I developed a holistic aftercare curriculum; and my final culminating project that explored the potential for a combined coaching and mentoring model to support the success of early career academics.

Throughout the experience, I was continually impressed by my young and talented classmates – they were keen, friendly, inclusive, smart, funny, and committed. I know each one will make their own unique and positive impact on the world in the years to come.  I learned with them and from them and feel very privileged to have met them all.

My final poster presentation seemed almost surreal to me. Could I really have completed my M.Ed. requirements? We had a little celebration as part of our class time, and everyone looked both as tentative and relieved as I felt. As we filed out of the room at the end of the night, I confess to feeling just a little empty too.

Like all graduates, I am now back to the real world of looking for employment. But, my heart is still that of a student and I’m not yet ready to completely give up that rediscovered world: a few days ago  I signed up for the 3rd of my online Adult Education courses that I abandoned in 2010.  Do what you love; love what you do.

Next up: a get-away to Kauai.



#19 Mindful Meditation at South Coast Guest House

One of the delightful things I have discovered as I work my way through my 50 feats is the incredible experiences that are available to me in my own backyard.  Niagara is such an amazing place to live, but we sometimes imagebecome so accustomed to it that don’t look up and around as we make our mad dash through life.

This week, my slower pace of life was rewarded with a beautiful venue, lovely company, and a mindfulness experience that reminded me how to stay focused on the now, especially at this time of year.

I was fortunate enough to be one of the inaugural participants in the wellness programming being offered through a new venue in Port Colborne: The South Coast Guest House includes a beautiful house, incredibly peaceful wooded grounds within walking distance to the beach, and a brand new guest house that is now accepting reservations for guests. We were there for an afternoon of mindful meditation led by Maggie Denison, a gentle petite woman who has practiced meditation for decades and whose calm demeanour spoke to her practice.

Once everyone arrived,  the dozen or so of us sat in chairs arranged in a circle. the room was surrounded by big windows that overlooked the tranquil grounds of the property; I could have simply rested peacefully imagewatching the birds and felt I had more than my share of mindfulness.

Maggie’s session provided us with two hours of guided meditation. With soft music and her soothing quiet voice, Maggie introduced us to the peace of deep breathing, the ease of a walking meditation practice, and the wonder of fully experiencing the sight, smell, and feel of a simple flower.

The beauty of this workshop was my ability to take away very practical steps that I can easily incorporate into my day without being overwhelmed by feeling I need to have a complicated meditation practice. Just three simple breaths upon awakening can set the tone for the day. A mindful walk around the kitchen can return calm at the end of a stressful day. The best part is there is no equipment needed- just your mind and body and a moment or two throughout the day.

The other benefit of the workshop was the ability to meet a group of new, like-minded women. During the break, I had a chance to chat with several of them and discovered on woman worked for CMHA-Niagara, and another was the daughter of a former colleague at Brock. We all expressed our interest in getting together again for another session, so comfortable were we with each other by the end of the experience.image

This was the first of many wellness programs that are being introduced by The South Coast Guest House. I really look forward to attending more events in the future and maybe even treat myself and friends to an overnight stay at the guest house. If you want to learn more, or register for upcoming events, further details can be found on their Facebook page: Niagara’s South Coast Guest House.

Next up: School’s out – my final M.Ed presentation.

#18 Sushi for Susan

Anyone familiar with my family growing up would likely know that fish wasn’t often on the menu.  My Mom was not, in her words, “a fish person.” She didn’t like the smell of fish, especially the aroma that fills the house when it is cooking. The closest we came to fish dinners were Hunt’s fish and chips on a special Friday night (the battered halibut and crunchy fries arrived wrapped in newspaper) and the odd breakfast bass or perch fillet fried up at the cottage freshly caught that day from the Georgian Bay. And, after joining Weight Watchers when she was jTunaust about my age and middle aged spread was becoming a challenge, solid white tuna in water also made its way into our meals.

As a result of having limited exposure to fish as a child, and potentially exacerbated by inheriting my Mom’s taste buds, I have always shied away from fish too. My kids still tease me about my unwavering loyalty to Clover Leaf tuna – solid, never flaked – the only fish I regularly eat.  Since I didn’t serve fish to my boys growing up, it was a great surprise to me when my older son expressed his love for sushi a few years ago.  He suggested this feat to introduce me to what he was sure would be a whole new world of culinary pleasure for me.

On his recommendation, we went to Raw Fish in St. Catharines for all-you-can-eat lunch. The restaurant had pretty little hanging Japanese lanterns, and wooden booths with Christmas stockings hanging from the rafters to give it an extra festive feel. Our server asked us if we had been there before to determine how much she needed to explain.  She showed me that the order form on the table was perforated so that we could order our courses in stages. While I was clueless, my son was well versed in the ordering protocol and I took my lead from him. I began with Miso soup while we perused the menu and decided what else we would try.

Together we chose a variety of dished including cucumber rolls, calamari, File 2015-12-05, 8 35 24 AMbeef teriyaki, spicy chicken skewers, salmon rolls, mango and shrimp hand rolls, and eel. I diligently tried everything, starting with the least challenging chicken, beef, and cucumber.  Next up was octopus. I have eaten calamari before, but nothing like this dish – for the first time it was real to me that this was an octopus: the tentacles were 6 inches long, and I could see the suckers through the thin batter. Down the hatch it went, followed by a generous swig from my water glass. It was rubbery, but not so bad.  Then I tried the salmon sushi roll. The roll was pretty, with the pink salmon wrapped around the top. Unfortunately for me, pretty didn’t translate into appealing according to my tastebuds: as I swallowed, I actually experienced a gag response. My poor son looked very concerned and asked if I was okay.  He then gave me the option of not trying anything else out of both genuine concern for me, and a realization that his ability to frequent the premises in future depended upon not having his lunch mate throw up at the table.

I did step back for a bit and filled up mostly on the chicken and beef dishes. But, my big finish was to try the eel that we had ordered. I actually File 2015-12-04, 5 20 58 PMthink I might have swallowed this without chewing, but my adventuresome heart was in the right place.  We ended our meal with green tea ice cream, which I kind of liked, or maybe disliked less than most of the other dishes.

In the end,  I enjoyed lunch with my son, but, I confess, don’t think you will see us out for another sushi meal anytime soon. I guess I am my mother’s daughter, just not a “fish person” unless you count a little Miracle Whip and Clover Leaf solid white tuna.

Next up: Mindful Meditation at the South Coast Guest House




#17 Being Brave for Brené

Flash mob 3This week’s feat falls under the category of “fun with a purpose.” I was particularly interested in participating in this experience because it was inspired by the work of Dr. Brené Brown, who is a hero of mine. Dr. Brown, who describes herself as a researcher/storyteller, explains her qualitative research by declaring “stories are just data with a soul” (http://brenebrown.com/research/). One of the volunteers from the Canadian Mental Health Association – Niagara Branch recently read Dare greatlyDaring Greatly and decided to try out the core value of courage through vulnerability and invited others to join her in “showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

The plan was for a number of kindred spirits to band together in a flash mob. In this case, we wouldn’t be wearing our hearts on our sleeves; our messages would be written on our shirts.  The idea was to write a personal insecurity that we have some discomfort sharing on the front of the shirt and an accepting statement that contradicted it on the back.  We would all meet at a certain place and time, throw off our coats to reveal our shirts of vulnerability, and perform a dance routine to Sara Bareilles, Brave. 

In case you were wondering why on earth we would want to do this, Dr. Brown’s research has supported the need to embrace our vulnerability in order to truly experience joy, love, belonging and connection. Our flash mob leader in this feat wrote the following: “To be accepted as you are, without judgement, is a very powerful feeling. Hopefully this event will empower each of us as we encourage others to Brave too.”

I was enthusiastic about the event, but a little intimidated by the choreographed routine part given my less-than-coordinated dance skills. Nonetheless, I jumped in with both (left) feet. Having not been able to attend the first rehearsal, my first glimpse of the group practice was on a video sent to us so we could teach ourselves the moves.  The dance began with two very talented dance teachers engaged in wildly complicated (from my perspective anyway) steps and gestures, followed by some kids from a dance group who were part of the troupe. At the first chorus, the rest of the “mob” joined in.

My first instinct upon seeing the video was to come down with a contagious illness from which I would not recover until after the flash mob performance. But, I chose instead to “dare greatly” and I attended the next rehearsal where a very patient instructor broke down the moves for me and a couple of other neophytes to the point that I was only one or two steps behind everyone else at the end of the hour.  We had one more dress rehearsal the day before the event.  By then I had decided that I would be less concerned about delivering a perfect performance and more tuned into having fun with the whole experience.

We met up at the mall and learned our mob would take over the food court where, hopefully, we would have an audience of Christmas  shoppers. Speakers and cameras were set up as unobtrusively as possible, and then the music started.  Just as in the rehearsals, the instructors began their beautiful routine, joined first by the kids, and, finally, by the rest of us.  I managed to mostly stay with the group, and, more importantly, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, absorbing the positive energy from those around me.  In our final move, we all turned our backs to face the crowd, pointing at our statements of strength. My shirt said “I am afraid to show the REAL ME” on the front, and “But I will DARE GREATLY and let my light shine” on the back. As I pointed my thumbs at the words, I felt a rush of adrenaline; it is my hope that our feat might inspire other to cast off the shadows of fear, and bravely let your beautiful, imperfect, lovely lights shine.

Next up: Time for another food feat: sushi anyone?Flash mob 1

#16 Facilitating a World Café

World_CafeDid you read the title of this feat and think “what?” If so, you are not alone, which could have been slightly problematic since I was, in fact, one of the people who was to be doing the facilitating.

Here’s the story:  As I am currently exploring career opportunities, I have been reaching out to friends and colleagues to gather guidance and knowledge based upon their experiences. I am privileged to have wonderful people in my life who have been generous with their time and wisdom when I ask to meet and “pick their brains” of useful and sage advice. During one recent chat, a friend suggested he had a need for some facilitators for a workshop he was running and asked if I was interested. Normally I am somewhat risk averse, and would have hesitated at the offer, but, in keeping with my new 50 Feats motto, I immediately responded “I’m in!”

And so, the following week I received an email outlining the task: facilitating a modified world cafe on the topic of physician-hospital partnerships. I admit that the blood drained from my face since I was neither familiar with the format nor the topic. However, instead of finding some excuse to beat a hasty retreat, I turned to the Internet to get a sense of just what I was getting myself into. It turns out that a world cafe is an organizational workshop designed to open creative sharing of knowledge on a topic of mutual interest often used with large groups. When I understood the concept, I realized that I had facilitated numerous similar discussions during my Human Resources career. With respect to hospital -physician partnerships, I turned to the research literature and, after reading several articles, I had a general sense of the topic and its challenges.

Armed with somewhat of a framework, on the day of the workshop I tackled the next challenge – finding the venue. Anyone who knows me is painfully aware of how directionally challenged I am. However, the creation of the GPS has been my salvation and, just to be sure I would end up where I was supposed to be, I updated my maps in advance of setting out for my destination, adding a cushion of 45 minutes in the event of the inevitable missed turns, construction, and potential parking challenges. Much to my surprise, I managed only one wrong turn, and was parked, oriented and settled well in advance of my necessary arrival time.

When I entered the meeting room, I knew only my friend, who was engaged in his presentation preparation, and his partner who was also facilitating at the session.  Everyone else  was involved in the set up of tables and chairs so I jumped in and helped. By the time participants began arriving, I felt somewhat comfortable, that is, until the facilitators gathered and we introduced ourselves.  Each person said their name and a bit about their background: 36 years in organizational development in a hospital setting; former hospital administrator and current consultant for the healthcare sector; nurse educator with 25 years of experience…I admit to feeling somewhat intimidated, but, when it was my turn, I told them of my 25 years in university administration and my almost completed Master’s degree related to coaching and mentoring.  I looked around and was relieved to see no horrified or dismissive expressions or questioning of my lack of hospital experience – first hurdle overcome.

We were assigned our tables and questions that would form the basis of discussions; I was thankful that I had done my research since my groups would be working on the possible format of a hospital-physician partnership agreement. I introduced myself to the participants as they arrived and was feeling relatively comfortable about my ability to get through the next two hours.  That is, until the final individual took his seat at my table – he was the hospital CEO. Yikes! I took a deep breath and reminded myself that he was simply another participant, and I was an experienced facilitator.  I also remembered the advice of one of my early career mentors: whatever happens, act is if it is what you planned because no one else knows any different.

The next couple of hours moved along quickly.  I facilitated the discussions and recorded a summary of the dialogue for the first table, then recapped and continued the process for two subsequent 20 minute sessions as the table participants shifted to the left giving everyone a chance to answer all three of the questions being considered.

I was even able to connect with a couple of the other facilitators who suggested we stay in touch regarding our interests and consulting opportunities as we were interested in similar kinds of work and research.

As I walked to my car at the end of the evening, I felt quite buoyed by my accomplishment.  Instead of second guessing what I might have done differently as I often did in the past, I took the time to just feel good about my performance. I reflected back on the feats I have completed so far and realized that each time I stretch myself a little more doing things that interest me, I broaden my skills, experiences, and comfort with taking the next leap; this is what Dr. Barbara Fredrickson identified in her broaden and build theory of positive emotions (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/ PMC1693418/). My positive psychology experiment is in full swing!

Next up: Time for some more musical fun – Flash mob ahead!







#15 The Other Side of the Table

It has been over 25 years since I have had a job interview.  I was one of the fortunate people who was hired right out of university into an organization and profession I was able to enjoy for over a quarter century.  One of my main functions for many of those years was recruitment; it was also one of my favourite portfolios.  I loved the opportunity to match talented individuals with just the right position. I always tried to make committee interviews as comfortable as possible so each person could demonstrate his or her best self and determine if this job was the right fit from their perspective as well as ours.

I consider myself a very seasoned interviewer; however, I can’t say the same about my experience as an interviewee. While I had the opportunity to work in different areas of Human Resources during my career, I evolved into those roles without ever having to be on the other side of the table in an interview situation. During the last year and a half, I have been focused full-time on completing my M.Ed. and so it has only been in the last few months, as I finish my final course, that the prospect of being an interviewee entered my thoughts.

Engaging in a job search after such a long time in one career at one organization has been a new challenge. Some days I a filled with the excitement of all the possibilities; others I wonder whether my age is an advantage or a drawback. Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to work with a wonderful job coach who has helped me to discover the type of work that gives me energy by playing to my strengths and passions. This exploration has allowed me to consider work that is outside what I would have previously considered myself qualified to undertake.

All this preparation did not make me any less nervous as I prepared for my very first interview. While I am generally a confident and outgoing person, I worried about how I would perform in the hot seat. Despite my years of experience in recruitment, I turned to the internet to see what the latest articles suggested regarding how to prepare for an interview. Interestingly, google completed my search with “how to prepare for an… earthquake”; I’m assuming both are equally as nerve-wracking.

Not surprisingly, the information contained in the various commentaries were mostly not new to me: research the organization; anticipate potential questions; review your resume; plan what to wear… Yikes, for the better part of the last 18 months I had lived in my jeans-and-tshirt student uniform.  Fortunately for me, previously-working Susan had the foresight to buy suit pants with an elastic-waist that still fit present-day larger-sized Susan, saving me the agony of having to go shopping.

On the day of the interview, I arrived early, and waited in the reception area.  Understandably wonder womananxious, I decided to use information from a TedTalk by Amy Cuddy to enhance my confidence with a two minute power pose while I waited. I used the “Wonder Woman” which has been shown to increase testosterone and decrease cortisol in stressful situations. I tried to disguise my posture by looking at the decorations on the wall as I stood feet apart, hands on my hips, not wanting to be “caught” in the moment.

The interview itself, I am relieved to say, was a very positive experience. The panel was friendly and we engaged in a conversation rather than The Spanish Inquisition that I had feared. I left the meeting feeling like I had been able to present my best self. As well, I felt I had learned enough about the organization know I would be comfortable in the environment should I be selected for the job.

In the end, another candidate was selected for this position. While I was disappointed, I did not have any regrets about the experience. I was thankful to have had such a positive return to the world of interviews, and confident that I will find the right opportunity for me in the not-too-distant future.

For those of you who may be also be engaging in a job search, I wanted to give you a few tips that I didn’t find in the hundreds of articles on how to prepare for an interview:

  • Take the time to discover who you are and what you love before you strike out on your job search; we spend a lot of our lives at work and we are both happiest and most productive when we are able to play to our strengths and do something that gives us meaning and purpose;
  • Think about not just what you have done before, but the transferable nature of your skills and experiences from all areas of your life: work, home, and community activities all count
  • Remember that the interview is a two-way dialogue and that you want to learn enough to assess whether the job is a fit for you as much as the interviewers want to make their determinations;
  • Be your authentic self in the interview; the person who is hired is the person who needs to show up every day to work and, while it may be easy to put on a different persona for an hour, it is draining to have to put on that mask every day to go to work;
  • Let it go; second guessing your answers and beating yourself up about what you did or did not say after an interview is a recipe for unhappiness so, instead, give yourself credit for having the courage to put yourself out there and celebrate this accomplishment.
  • Finally, check out social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s TedTalk about the impact of power poses(http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are); it costs absolutely nothing to try it and it may just help you get over the jitters and present your best self!

Next up: Trying my hand at facilitation