Thursday, November 09, 2017

Time Out

This summer my husband and I took a long vacation – three weeks. And two days, my husband would add, which perhaps conveys his thoughts on all this family togetherness (the whole family came) and being away from his business for such a length of time. And he’s not alone.
In his chapter on recovery, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of Rest, shares that “For many people, the idea of leaving the office for two or three weeks feels impossible, and the thought of facing a mountain of work and an overflowing inbox on their return is more stressful than never leaving. “
But not taking a vacation has high costs too – to the individual and to the company as there is a higher risk of heart attack, burnout and lost productivity. All of which leads you to ask what length and type of break have the best return for employee and employer. For the last twenty years, German sociologist Sabine Sonnentag has been exploring that question.
Her findings are fascinating. In her research, she found that there are four major factors that can impact performance and health – relaxation, control, mastery experiences and mental detachment from work – and a combination of all four produces the best results. 
For relaxation, it’s an activity that’s pleasant and while not totally passive, not connected to work. For some, this could be playing golf or sailing, where you still have to concentrate, or gardening where you can get absorbed in what you are doing  – anything that takes your mind off work.
Or it could be volunteering. I spent several weeks sorting clothes for the refugee families coming to Guelph. It was such a pleasant break. I didn’t have to think too hard and it gave me a warm feeling to know I was making a small difference.
The impact of control on your recovery can be measured by the amount of control you have in your daily living. If you have the freedom to decide how to spend your time, energy and attention, then it is a quicker fix. If however, you have family commitments, work shifts and generally less control over your life, then it will take longer to recharge.
Mastery experiences could be a hobby or interest where you have developed some skill and talent, and which uses your creativity in a different way. My daughter, for example, is a prolific knitter and quilter, both activities help her to relax and switch off from the demands of work, and at the same time, she has something positive and tangible to show for her efforts.
During World War 11, the people working on the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park would play chess. The game still required their mental skills, but had rules and was concrete, unlike the work they were doing trying to crack the code.
Another example was a group of physicists who played in a rock band as a way to totally remove themselves from the mental demands placed on them every day.
One of the challenges to becoming detached from work is with our Smart Phones, and the Internet, it is much harder to switch off 24/7. Yet if you wish to avoid burnout, leaving your phone behind on weekends maybe the answer.
Going back to World War 11, apparently, when Eisenhower arrived in the UK, he was first based in a hotel in London, a hotel that was brimming with military personnel and where everyone was on call and on edge.
He chose early on to move out of the city and found a hideaway, Telegraph Cottage, where he would relax, get in tune with nature and not talk nor think about the war at all. Yet when he went back into London, he was alert, astute and in control. 
Many of us in Canada may already have our hideaway - our cottage - where we can escape from the pulls and demands of work.
As Jessica de Bloom, a psychologist and vacation researcher advises “vacations are like sleep, you need to take them regularly to benefit.”
So what’s my takeaway from reading this research – we need to switch off, and if possible, get away. Look at taking mini-breaks on a regular basis, every few months or so, and for your ideal vacation – researchers found it was eight days. 
But shh… don’t tell my husband! 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Belonging in our changing world

“True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are." Brené Brown
Before I headed south to hear Brené Brown, I got into a discussion with a friend about belonging and its relevance to Company of Women.
Belonging to me was an integral part of what we do. Everyone, I felt, needs and wants to belong, to be part of something larger than themselves. So reading Brené’s new book Braving the Wilderness, confirmed what I had recognized intuitively.
Brené Brown grew up in a large family but outside of her family, she often struggled to fit in. Because of her father’s work, they were always on the move, making it hard to settle down, make friends and fit in. Feeling that she never belonged was one of her greatest pains.
She shares a story of how she was speaking at a conference, all dressed up and feeling distinctly uncomfortable, to the point where she got up, grabbed her suitcase and changed into her more casual clothing. As she said, how could she talk about being authentic, when she felt disconnected with herself.
Being yourself, she warns, means sometimes we have to stand alone. We have to brave the wilderness of uncertainty, vulnerability, and criticism. We have to belong to ourselves first.
And Brené is definitely brave as she tackles and labels what is happening in the world today. Right now, she says the only thing that binds us is fear, disdain, and rejection, not humanity, shared trust and love. We’ve become afraid to speak up, to reveal our innermost thoughts or opinions.
Partly because we treat everything as black or white, whereas grey might be a more accurate description. We are either for something or against it. No middle road here. She challenges us to be prepared to stand alone with our integrity.
Braving the wilderness, she cautions, means that you’re not going to like all the terrain. It means sitting with people, listening and having hard conversations. It means being curious, not defensive.
She talks about the spiritual crisis we find ourselves in. We are so busy stereotyping people, slotting them into our comfortable files, without realizing that they are people, people with pain.  Pain, she feels, that leads to anger and hate.  Pain that can only subside when we acknowledge it and care. But she argues, people are hard to close up. Move in, she suggests.
She goes on to say that we are dehumanizing people. It is much easier if we create an enemy image, one that depicts people as inferior or even dangerous. It starts with language. Abusive words should not be tolerated at any level or “either side.” The names tossed at Hilary Clinton, she suggests, are just as deplorable as those aimed at the President. We need to challenge ourselves to live by higher standards.
It is, she observes, those precious moments of joy – like going to your band’s concert, watching children play or spending time with old friends – that will fuel our lives. We need more joy. But it is also about being prepared to feel the pain. Funerals, for example, are not just for the people grieving, but for everyone who is there. However, not enough of us know how to sit in pain with others.
The way we engage with social media is like a fire – you can use it to keep warm and nourish or you can burn down the barn. Much depends on your intentions, expectations and reality checking skills. That said, face to face connection is imperative in our true belonging practice. 
And that brings me back to why Company of Women exists. While connecting online enables you to “meet” globally, it is through the in-person, face-to-face connections that we can build a community; a community where we all belong; a community that cares.
What can you do to speak out and belong? It takes all of us to make a difference. Together we have strength.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Speak up - the world needs women leaders

 “No guns allowed.”  

This was the first sign we saw as we entered the Pennsylvania Convention Centre.  It quickly brought home the difference between living in Canada vs. living in the United States.  No wonder there are so many shootings there.  It is obviously a norm that you may carry a gun.

Because Michelle Obama was speaking, security was tight, as it should be. Heaven forbid someone took a shot at her.

One of the reasons I wanted to go to the conference was just to witness how other groups manage their events, but my lowly 200 does not remotely compare to the 12,000 there.  Imagine 12,000 women and a few brave men in one room!

I am still digesting all that I learned that day, but overall the message was that it’s time for us to speak up as women, to find our place at the table and if we are not going to do that, then move over so another woman can.

Given all that is happening in the US – politically, the shooting in Vegas, floods, and earthquakes, there was a serious undertone at the event.  It doesn’t mean that there wasn’t laughter or fun, but people were aware of the strife and suffering around them. It was hard to deny.

Brené Brown tackled it head-on.  She lives in Houston and shared that her home was one of four on her street that had survived the hurricane, but only because they’d recently rebuilt with a stronger foundation.  Her husband went out on his kayak to try and help people, and as she said, “it doesn’t matter how you voted, we are here to help.”

Brené advocated that now is the time to come together, to help each other, regardless of our colour, faith or political stripes.  “People, she said, are hard to hate close up. Move in closer.”

She also encouraged the audience to connect with one another.  “Be civil and talk.” she advised.  She wants us to walk through the world with a strong back, soft front, and a wild heart.

The conversation between Michelle Obama and Shonda Grimes echoed the same sentiments.  No one was denying the recent tragedies.   Michelle was relaxed and real, especially when, with great humour, she described the challenges of raising teenage girls. Listening, you felt, she’s just like us. 

Before becoming First Lady, Michelle was a typical working mother, juggling all the different roles and she spoke of the time constraints women face but also said that she would start her day with exercise. She was determined to eke out this time for herself.

Asked what was next for the Obamas, she answered with a smile, that right now they were just chilling, given the pace of their lives for the past ten years. 

She is writing a book which will come out next year and wants to focus her energy on making life better for young girls. Often, she said, “there are rules that slowly suffocate young girls.”  They are like thin cuts, paper cuts that leave scars and eat away at their self-esteem.

She also wants to see training for future women leaders and more women entering politics.  “It is important to make way for new people. The seats, she observed, belong to the country, not the people elected.”

As she described her childhood, where her conversation at dinner was respected, not dismissed, you can see why she is so grounded.   The session ended with Barack Obama coming on screen to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, which brought a big sigh from the women in the room.

Just being in the same room as Brené and Michelle was almost an out-of-body experience.  It was hard to believe that they were there, talking to us. They were funny, real and authentic, advocating for the strength of women.  As Brené said, true belonging is the courage to believe in yourself.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

New look. New feel. New direction.

We did it.  Whew.  Nothing like a deadline to make you move and make it happen.  Yesterday our new website went live!

We started our rebranding discussions back in March.  After 15 years of operation, we decided that Company of Women needed a facelift.  As an adolescent, our views on what we needed to do had changed, and it was time for the organization to represent the new reality of doing business today.

Gone are the pinks and purples that represented our femininity.  We are women in business and we’re here to stay and to be taken seriously. We’ve gone with an edgier look – lime green and blue.  Our logo is no longer just our signature.  We are more than that and the symbol of the mountains reflects the journey we are on.  

Each mountain represents the three pillars of our organization – business development, leadership and personal development.   After working on the Good Enough book for three years, in which we explored why women don’t feel good enough about themselves, it became clear that without confidence, we can’t achieve what we wish for ourselves.   So in addition to focusing on business development, we also want you to have the tools and faith in yourself to be successful.

And talking of success – our new slogan is Success on your own terms.   No more comparing yourself to others. No more living someone else’s dream. No more striving for other people’s definition of success.  It is all about you and what you want out of life, and we’re behind you every step of the way.

The smaller triangle in the middle represents leadership.  It is smaller because not all of us are leaders, yet we wanted to foster women’s leadership because this is the way to the future; to changing the world we live in.

So there you are – a quick snapshot of our new look and programming focus.  Yesterday we launched the new website, so we start October afresh, moving forward.

It is a bit nerve wracking and a lot of work.  I’ve had to let go of my need for perfection, because while we have hopefully ironed out the kinks, there are bound to be some teething problems.  Please be patient.

I’ve always said you are never alone when you own.  Well that is so true.  None of this would have happened without the facilitation, input and creativity of other others. My thanks to my team for helping us pave this new future.  And a special thanks to my daughter Megan, who worked tirelessly to create the new website. 


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Lessons from the trenches

Fifteen years ago I started Company of Women.  It was supposed to be a sideline to my consulting practice, something I did that was really for me, rather than a whole separate business.   

You see I found working at home isolating and I suspected that other women likely felt the same way and to be honest I just wanted to meet some like-minded women and perhaps make a few friends!  It wasn’t that altruistic at all.

Little did I know that 165 women would show up to my first event, that two years down the road, I would close the doors on my consulting practice, Community Connections, or that 15 years later, I would still be running Company of Women.  Perhaps it is as well, as if I’d known I was in for the long haul, it wouldn’t have been as much fun.

Now it hasn’t always been fun and I’ve learned and grown a lot since 2003 when we started out.  Here ‘s what I have learned.


1.              Surround yourself with people who believe in you.  We all need cheerleaders on our side who are there when we succeed and when we fail.

2.              Let go of the naysayers, the negative nellies or those who just want to “use” you.  They drain your energy and take you away from what you want to achieve.

3.              You won’t please everyone.  As women, we tend to be pleasers, but it is impossible to keep everyone happy. There will always be someone who complains. Don’t take it personally.

4.              Not everyone is going to like you.  This was a tough one to learn but it is a reality.   Develop a thick skin and keep believing in yourself.

5.              Take the high road. Don’t get drawn into battle when someone bad mouths you. You and your “people” know what is true.  Look at the source and let it go.


6.              Be clear on who you are trying to reach.  When you can visualize your target audience, who they are, what they do and what they want, it becomes much easier to recruit and attract them to your business.

7.              Do your homework.   (Disclaimer - this was before social media)- but we once we spent thousands advertising in a publication that wasn’t read by our target audience.  

8.              Be nimble and fluid.  Don’t get locked into how you want your business to unfold and what you have to offer, as you could miss out on some great opportunities.

9.              Nothing is carved in stone.  If something isn’t working for you, change it.
Early on I learned that having membership run for a calendar year was disastrous cash flow wise. So we switched it up year two.

10.          Stay current.  Pay attention to the trends.   

11.          Change things up. Just because something worked in the past, doesn’t mean that it always will.  Be prepared to change your mind.

12.          Listen.  Ask your customers/clients what they want or need and deliver. It’s not about what you think they need.  After all, you could be wrong.

13.          Do the math.  Be sure you know how much it costs you to deliver a program, product or service.  Be ready to change the price if it is not working out for you financially.

14.          Delegate.  Build a team of people who can help you realize your dream. You don’t have to be the expert or do everything in your business.

15.          Revisit your vision.  On a regular basis, at least annually, check in on your vision for your business.  Are you on track? Are your end goals the same or do you need to change them?  Involve your team to make sure you are all on the same page.

Last but not least - You

16.          Learn to celebrate.  Too often we focus on what went wrong.  Instead,  spend time congratulating yourself on what you have achieved.

17.          Mistakes are lessons you needed to learn.  We can all too easily beat ourselves up on our mistakes.  Instead, ask yourself what you would do differently next time? And then move on.

18.          Trust your gut.  If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Pay attention.

19.          Be authentic.  When you connect with people, be who you are. Don’t try to be who you are not, play a role or be sales driven.  Be sincere.

20.          Take a break.  Don’t let your business become all-consuming. There is a life outside of work.  Take time to enjoy it.

When I started writing this blog, I was initially aiming for 15 pointers – one for each year, and I wasn’t sure I could come up with fifteen.  Guess I could.   And more.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

It is what it is...for now

When you first start your business it is such a leap of faith, and you have such wild and wonderful dreams of how it will be.

The reality however often proves to be very different.  Sometimes the business takes off with great zest, only to wind or slow down at a later date. And for others it is more a timid start, picking up as you learn and grow.

The challenge with any business is you just never know.  Popular one minute, struggling the next.  Any one of us could find ourselves in this predicament. 

I started to think about this because several women I know have had to go back to working for someone else because their businesses were just not bringing in enough money to make it work for the family.

That’s so tough, and what a difficult decision to have to make.  Yet, it is what it is. When you have to keep a roof over your head, food on the table then you have to do what you don’t want to do.  You could say that you have to put on your big girl pants and get on with it.

That doesn’t mean it is easy.  It doesn’t mean that you may feel like a failure. And it doesn’t mean that you don’t second-guess yourself as to whether you are making the right decision.

You probably are.   For now. 

But here are some thoughts that may make it more bearable:

1.              You are brave. You took a risk and learned from it.
2.              Make the most of your time back in the workplace.
3.              You can be intrapreneurial in the workplace too.  Don’t lose your entrepreneurial skills, just use them differently.
4.              Learn new skills when you are there, ones that you could use if you return to your business.
5.              Make new contacts, you may meet some people who can help you down the road.
6.              Enjoy the steady paycheque. (Many of us envy you that)
7.              Sometimes taking a break and stepping back from your business, gives you fresh insights, so next time you know what you need to do.

And keep in touch.  We want to hear how you are doing.