Confidence Check-in

From the desk of Teresa Jordan, Executive Director – I recently heard Oprah say that almost every guest she had on her show would lean over during the commercial break and ask if their segment was okay, seeking Oprah’s confirmation that they were on track and doing it right.

Now, sure, that makes total sense if I were on the show, having pretty limited exposure to national television, but Oprah interviews a lot of stars, authors, world-renowned speakers and comedians, in addition to everyday people with a story to share. Oprah says, though, that this seeking is the core of the human condition – we want to be seen and heard, and we want to know that we measure up and are all right.

All of this makes me think about all the times that I wonder whether I measure up, whether I am accepted or even liked. What Oprah is saying is that everyone else in the room is wondering the same thing.

So how does knowing this make a difference to how I move through my days and weeks? I guess I will try to be a little gentler with myself and others, a bit more patient with people, and make sure more often that I am behaving in a way that makes people feel that they are important to me.

It is a humbling and confidence-building experience to know that we are all really looking for the same things – appreciation, belonging and a sense that somebody sees us and hears us and likes us, just the way we are.

OK, I am feeling ready for my TV segment, Oprah – I await your call.

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Yoga Matter

From the desk of Teresa Jordan – When COVID was just a typo when I meant to say “Covert,” I used to go to yoga class twice per week. Yoga time was my time to unwind and, well, do some yoga.

Each week it was pretty much the same small band of amateurs participating, including a woman I will call Nicole. Nicole always arrived 5 minutes after we had begun, blurted an excuse of some calamity that had befallen her, and then plunked down her mat on the floor.

Here’s is the thing about Nicole – she never rolled her mat. It was always a crunched-up mess sprawled on the floor. Now, it takes about 38 seconds to roll up a yoga mat and then the next time you need it, it will roll smoothly onto the floor. And yet, week after week, Nicole had a total disaster, rushed in grumbling while the rest of us were already in the breathing-stretching zone, and plopped that wrinkled mat down with a huge sigh.

I have no theory here, just an observation. We all rolled. At the end of class we would talk and connect and roll our mats… then we’d tuck those well-rolled mats under our arms and carry on.

None of this modelling, example setting, peer pressure moved Nicole to action. In the end, I guess she had to be true to herself – she had her own priorities, and she was clear about what they were. She never missed a class, she was fun when she was there, and it did not seem to bother her one bit that she was not conforming. She was overtly individual and she was clear in her own priorities, needs and patterns.

I can respect that.

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Syrupy Sweetness

From the desk of Teresa Jordan, Executive Director – I recently decided to make one healthy change, to swap out my usual yogurt cup for plain yogurt and plain berries. This would save tons of sugar.

My husband usually packs my lunch and was on board. Easiest change in the world, as the replacement was just as yummy each day.

It was several weeks before something came up and I had to pack my own lunch. I remarked to my husband that something must have been off because my yogurt and berries was not tasty at all. It was then that he told me – he did not think I would enjoy the new combination and had been adding a bit of maple syrup.

Seems to me this happens often, and we may not even know, that someone around us is adding the maple syrup.Making the shift, the day, the meeting, the interaction sweeter by adding something uniquely wonderful. And how often do we only notice the magic after a person has moved on, or when they are absent? How often do the people around us gauge what we need and adjust? Know that we really cannot face that task and do it for us? See that we are depleted and offer us a joke or compliment?

Take some time to look for the maple syrup that someone is adding to your day – acknowledge it, revel in it, say thank you and then in turn add that liquid gold to someone else’s. There can be no upper limit to this sweet magic for one another to help the sour cherries of the day go down.

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Squirrelly Logic

My daughter is a biology major and this past weekend I was out with her looking for squirrels. The essence of the project as I understood it was to observe squirrels at different times and in various weather conditions in order to understand their behaviour.  The professor chose black squirrels for study as they are everywhere. 

So, on Saturday we drove to Port Perry on our mission and decided to drive through the neighbourhood and park when we saw a squirrel, then walk from there. That happened quickly enough – we saw one fat black squirrel sitting on a branch.  We parked and then zig zagged around the community for another hour and a half. And what did we see in all of that time? Exactly zero squirrels. 

I agree with the professor, black squirrels are everywhere – I see them out my office windows, I see them on all the streets I drive, I see them tussling on the fence around my car in the Peterborough parking lot, I see them in street fights around bird feeders, I see them all over. I see them, except when I am intent on finding them. 

I’m not sure whether this is biology, psychology, philosophy or maybe just physics, but I find this to often be the case in life – if I look too hard, plan my next three moves too carefully, try to anticipate the different encounters that I may have, I am most often staring at empty tree branches and wondering what’s going on. 

A friend once accused me of “always trying to read the tea leaves”  and I must admit that she is right. I am trying to be prepared, to log as many squirrels as possible, always trying to figure out my perfect, often defensive move in the ring. And I guess, the lesson that keeps circling back around as I so passionately work against learning it, is that I would fair better in a situation if I were to stay present and let things flow. 

As I sit here typing this a squirrel is strolling along the top of the fence in the Peterborough parking lot. My daughter’s project is over, I have no clip board, and there is a squirrel. This is not to say that I will never plan, prepare, learn, or work out my strategy, but sometimes we all have to just stand still, stop searching and scheming, and just let the squirrels either show up or hide out.

When it is all said and done, there is so little that we really can control – squirrels, other people, situations, how people interpret communication, and all those tea leaves are going to behave in all kinds of wild ways. All we can really do is stay present and control what’s inside us – our thoughts, reactions, emotions, next moves in the moment. 

So here is my conclusion from this fourth-year university project – squirrels behave exactly as they want, in the moment, without worrying or planning – and they do not feel any obligation to show up, even when a grand plan is made to observe them; they simply roll with it and will show up “all over the place” exactly when it is right for them. And they do not try to anticipate that which people with clipboards are actually seeking. They just flow.

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Check Engine!

From the desk of Teresa Jordan, Executive Director – When I thought my children were far too young, my husband surprised them with dirt bikes. 

I was a little frightened by this development, but he explained to me that there was a way that he could to adjust the engines so that they would stay at lower speeds. I have no idea what I am talking about here, but he called it a governor – an engine is limited in some way to prevent overwork, higher speeds and/or overheating. So, as it turns out, these smallish children ripping around our property on their little red dirt bikes could be pressing hard on the gas to speed up and the engine simply did not follow suit.

This memory makes me think about all of us ripping around, focusing on problems, challenges and events. There are times during our hustle that I think we are imagining that we need more speed or power, but do not seem to be able to adjust. Perhaps there are also governor forces at play, and we are not aware.

If we are feeling stuck or slowed down is there something we are not readily aware of that is holding back our power, our drive, our motivation? My children did not know about the governing until they became a little older and it was removed, and suddenly they had speed and power like never before. 

An unaddressed misunderstanding, a difficult conversation not yet had, poor sleep, pie as the choice for breakfast too many days in a row – all manner of challenges could be slowing down our internal combustion. Take a look under that hood and perhaps you will find a way to adjust to you maximum “ripping” speed potential.

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The Key to Success

From the desk of Teresa Jordan, Executive Director – I started to learn to play the piano when I was 8 years old. I remember so clearly my dad saying, after my first lesson, that it would be no time until I could play a song. I proudly responded to him – I already can. In the little song book that the piano teacher game me the first two-note offering was called By the Lake, and I proudly played the song for my dad – two notes repeated four times – in all its glory. 

I guess I can say now that my dad may have been exaggerating his sudden passion for the song and for my expert playing. The thing with learning to play the piano, as with learning to play any instrument, is that the sounds one makes are not always instantly song-like. Despite my commitment to By the Lake, it was years before anyone really wanted to be in the room with me while I was playing, although my dad never let me know that. 

On the piano, songs start out very simple, the hands are often learned separately, and there are many wrong notes. Then after all this painstaking practice starts to add up, the hands begin to be played together, the notes become more complex, chords are added, and then we actually a song that, over time, someone could listen to and enjoy without earplugs. I have found this to be true about many things, that there is usually chaos before a big project just seems to come together to make beautiful music. 

In those days of learning piano, I always started by playing each hand separately until it was more or less polished. So, my right hand could play a wicked melody all on its own and my fingers seemed to know their path. Then my left hand chorded and played its parts pretty masterfully in the bass clef.  Then came that fateful moment when my teacher would say the two hands were ready to play together. And while both hands were well practiced on their own, the act of starting to play the two together set me back to earplugs almost immediately. 

If I think about great changes, massive projects or just life, the same is true. I can be doing fantastically with my part of the project and other team members have their own mastery. We come together to move swiftly to the finish and inevitably our mash up takes us a few steps back or sounds pretty terrible at the start. We need to spend time together, figure each other out, figure out the notes and how they come together and learn from one another in order to have all the parts come together into a masterpiece.  

I guess the thing to remember is that this part is a stop on the arc of any project, the chaos before the rousing finish, and the scrambling to find the notes before the perfect melody. A natural part of any kind of partnership, unless we want to hold back all progress and be content with where we are, is thinking beyond By the Lake and moving along the continuum of playing to Beethoven and his peeps. It is hard work and takes practice but in the end, there is something enjoyable to listen to, to be proud of and to move us to something better.

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I Think I’m Covered

From the desk of Teresa Jordan, Executive Director – It’s cold right now so in my house that means one thing- wool blanket weather. And not just any blanket – my threadbare, weird orange colour, sort of flowery woolen blanket. 

So far, every person I have lived with in my adult life has told me that it is the ugliest blanket in North America, and it just occurred to me given it origin that it could be over 100 years old. Needless to say, it is proudly displayed on my bed right now.

In 1951 my great grandparents and their two young adult children immigrated to Canada. They brought with them almost nothing except hopes for a better future for following generations, a fearless attitude that they would succeed, a willingness to work hard and a trunk of belongings that included a certain orange flowery wool blanket.

I know that my great grandparents would have been ruthless in deciding which few possessions would get put in the trunk, so I know that this blanket was special. I am comforted and inspired to think that part of their decision to leave everything behind had me in mind. While they had not met or even dreamed of me exactly, they were thinking about their children’s children’s children when they left the world they knew behind and loaded up that steamer trunk. 

So yes, the blanket is not pretty, but it keeps me warm and reminds me when I am challenged or overwhelmed that not so long ago people disembarked to a new world where no one spoke their language, bringing along with them a dream of a better life for me and a wool blanket. I think I can meet my challenge today, and I am warm.

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Boxed Set

From the desk of Teresa Jordan, Executive Director – I have been listening to the same radio station for over twenty years. And because many of the hosts have been there for a long time, their voices are now part of my psyche. In fact, I sometimes catch myself when I am reading a book, and realize that all of the voices in my head for the characters in the book are in fact the voices I hear on the radio each day. 

I have been listening at work through the internet since the pandemic keeps me alone in my office quite a bit more than used to be the norm. So, the other day I was actually looking at the website and caught a glimpse of one of the hosts whose voice I know so well. And I realized, he does not look anything like the person I had formed in my mind over these last decades.  And why should he? How in the world did I come to create a picture in my head of what Bill Anderson should look like? 

This experience reminded me that our brains are doing this kind of thing all the time – categorizing, pattern seeking, looking to put everything in a predictable chart. And I think this is a well-designed system, keeping us from getting overloaded with new data and images all the time. And like my radio host, who epicly failed to fit into my creative imaging, I think there are a lot of things that we can just sleepily slot over and over again into our boxes without a closer look – the drive to work with its predictable roadside, the work relationship that grates on your nerves and never seems to get better, the wild opinions and theories that we hold tight to because everything we see seems to reinforce our position.

Years ago, I took training in Outward Mindset and there was an exercise called the Collusion Box. It was powerful as it showed that we quickly adopt a certain way of responding to people based on judgments, and we get trapped in this collusion box and never really see the relationship from another angle. 

So just like the new-to-me face of Bill my favourite radio host, when you can, look with different eyes, crush the boxes of your catalogue system, take a fresh look at everything.  You will see things new, all over the place.

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Staying Power

From the desk of Teresa Jordan – Last week on a tired Thursday I stopped for groceries. When I came out of the store and walked to my car, three people were waiting for me.

It was a bit nerve-wracking being mobbed by strangers in a parking lot. All had the same concern – a truck with a plow had hit my car and left, and they wanted to offer their aid. The damage was extensive, and I would be lying if I said, after everyone left, I didn’t cry.

But the story here is in the people who stayed. They took time out of their tired and busy lives to make sure that the note left for me had contact information (it did not), that I understood how it happened, that I had the license plate number and that I had their contact info if I needed it.

I was overwhelmed and a little confused; they told me what to do next, made sure that I was all right and wished me well.

I love that in a time when we are distanced and a little sad there are still glimpses of people caring about each other, caring for a stranger who just happens to now have a long gouge down the side of her car big enough to hide a couple submarine sandwiches in.

They stayed and they put aside their worries, and I have no real way to thank them, except to send this message to everyone who has taken a few minutes to help a stranger. You are the people who make the world a better place, you make a lasting difference, and that your kind of magic is the glue that holds us all together in good times and in grocery parking lot demolition derbies.

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Setting the Record Straight

From the desk of Teresa Jordan – “Like attracts like” is a quote by Richard Bach, and he adds to it, with glorious sentiment, that all we need to do is shine brightly exactly the way we are to attract like people. There are some challenges to this idea, however. 

Brene Brown uses a technique to get through tough times, during which she pauses and reflects by asking herself, “What is the story that I am telling myself?

I have been mulling over the collisions that would probably ensue when we tell ourselves a story based on our past experience, or go to automatic pathways of guilt, blame or superiority – and then those stories or actions attract people to us who have similar stories. 

Which is all completely super-fantabulous except how do we ever move the needle over on the record to stop it from skipping? This self-reinforcing feedback loop is incredibly easy to embrance in current times, as the internet processes my stories through what I read and search, and then makes sure that I see more of the same. 

After all, what is more satisfying than having a huge circle of friends who are like-minded, supportive and keep you safely where your thoughts have thus far led you?  

This past week a friend, in response to what I thought was a simple teasing remark about ex-spouses, backed me into a corner in which I was challenged to face my deep groove of thinking about my current situation with my ex-husband. Step one, remove all said friend’s contact information from my devices. Step two, ask myself – what are all of these stories, both true and embellished, that I tell myself? And are these serving well me anymore? 

This interaction and the ensuing reflection were uncomfortable but offered me new insights – as well as a few moments to unload some baggage that I no longer need on my journey.

So here’s the thing – if we don’t seek out different types of books, counter arguments to some of our favourite perspectives, and welcome dissenting points of view, we are arguably comfier, but we are also stuck. In any point in time there are a lot of great things to be stuck into – who doesn’t like their comfort zone? – but there are inevitable problem areas and discomforts. In order to change those up we need someone or something to challenge the trajectory of our thoughts, even just a little to help us see the B side of whatever is holding us back, or moving us forward in the wrong direction. 

After that, maybe we will stay in the track we are on, but at least we took a few moments to make sure we know how we got there and what we are attracting. Seek out the friends who challenge, seek out the experiences that offer a new view, go to a completely different area of the record store and peruse. 

I suppose step three is to enter that friend’s contact information back, for now…

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