Thursday, April 29, 2010

La nobless oblige: the cocktail party

Wine-glass in my right hand and precariously balancing a plate of hors d’oeuvres in my left, business cards in my breast pocket, I make my way through the room chatting. There is that person standing over by the window—how do I break the ice? What meaningful words might I say to unlock the doors to communication? Inside I feel shy, unsure, but circulate I must!

The cocktail party: the bane of professional co-existence!  We dread these and yet we anticipate them as an evening out, a chance to network, a way to hobnob in circles that are professionally meaningful, but they still daunt us. Why is that?
While I consider myself socially skilled, and like the best of them, I can don a suit and articulate my thoughts, the contact feels rather forced and fleeting. There is that sense that I’m in a contrived situation, not unlike siting through that first dinner at the new boyfriend’s parent’s house. Only you may never see the parents again, while these cocktail party contacts may be your professional future.

There is something innately unnerving about balancing dishes, while trying not to talk with your mouth full (as taught by well-meaning parents who obviously had in mind that you would be attending many cocktail parties in years to come!). And lest we forget, how does one chew, swallow, and satisfy the appetite while doing all this, not to mention perform the business card trick?

I'm no Emily Post, and Martha Stewart--last I heard--was negotiating with Walmart, rather than renewing with Zellers (what Cocktail party was that?), so here are tips that make sense to me. Call them Guidelines for Cocktail Party Survival, in true adult learning style:

1.     Dig out those dusty business cards. Forget the fancy carrying case whose little gold clasp jams just as your pickles go sliding off the plate in your left hand. Wear something something with pockets, so you can carefully withdraw your card with a sleight of hand not unlike a party magician executing a card trick. Make sure your scatchings are done ahead of time—bringing a pen into the glass-plate-business card equation is a little ambitious at this point. So if your e-mail address has changed, ensure that it's already noted. By the way, if you’re a man, you have the added bonus of not toting a purse (in most cases anyway!), which means that both your shoulders will be relaxed. If you’re a purse-toting woman, expect to do a further balancing act as you wear a purse slung on one of your shoulders and hopefully not the shoulder of the hand in which you have the wine-glass as we may have experienced that slip that sloshes the wine—looks like we can't hold our liquor, let alone all our belongings: plate, glass, business cards, and now purse! Maybe leave the purse at home or tucked away safely in the car.

2.     Eat before you leave home. While this may seem unfair, think about the sheer enjoyment of sitting down to a quiet meal versus picking at finger foods while balancing that wine-glass in your right hand! And you might eat less, a definite sell for those individuals not wanting to overindulge!

3.     Pay attention! You can only shake hands with so many people at a time, and this while holding that wine glass. First of all, make sure your plate is big enough to hold your wine-glass in such circumstances! This doubling up is really freeing. You’ll be speaking with one person, while out of the corner of your baby blues, you spot another person you’d like to talk with, and at the same time, your peripheral vision shows someone to your left, looking like they wish to chat with you (And then you drop your napkin! Oh, I forgot to tell you: this is another item you might be holding—it could be tucked under the plate in your left hand.). How do you make the transition? Well, you can begin by introducing the person in your peripheral vision to the person with whom you are speaking.  Eventually they’ll get to talking then you can carefully excuse yourself to go see the person you spotted.

4.     But listen, and this must be genuine. Cocktail parties can yield a wealth of information that can be meaningfully obtained during a short interchange. Think back to those active listening skills you always wanted to try but could not use with family because they are onto you. With all the chatter and clatter, there is much distraction. Focus because you have a short period in which to make a long-lasting impression.

5.     Be gracious. Most socially adept individuals know how to work a room, saying just the right thing. You can't go wrong speaking about the evening itself, any presentations that were made, the décor, the food, or the theme of the evening. Be careful though because many of these cocktail conversations can be overheard (Remember that person in your peripheral vision?).

6.    Ever wonder what it would sound like to have a hundred alarm clocks going off at once? Well, with the growing cellphone technology, you need no longer wonder! Your cellphone can be clipped to your waistband or discretely hidden in your purse (maybe that's why it keeps slipping off your shoulder!). How useful is this little item at your cocktail party (“Oh, one moment, I need to call my Uncle Bert—he knows how to repair chicken coops!”)? Unless you are on-call, just shut it off. If you really need to keep in touch, clip the phone to your waistband and set it on vibrate so that you feel the ring rather than have the room hear it. Then if you must, discretely answer the call upon making the appropriate apology and moving to a quiet corner.

The cocktail party is a necessary obligation. As my colleague Anna-Maria tells me: “La noblesse oblige!” It’s a healthy way to network, increase your visibility and learn about what's going on in the world outside yourself. So, lighten up and have fun. It will be over before you know it and you’ll be looking forward to the next cocktail party! Now where did I put that business card the Director of Services gave me the other evening as I sloshed wine onto the pickle sliding off my plate?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Of Gratefulness and Gratitude

Have you started your list yet? Not your To Do List, your Gratitude List! In Simple Abundance, Sarah Ban Breathnatch talks about being grateful for the abundance in our lives and she promotes the idea of keeping an abundance journal. This has spawned gratitude journals of many colors by many authors. But you can do this yourself. Start a Gratitude List. It's simple and it's free. For the cost of an empty book from the stationery aisle of your local dollar store, you'll have enough blank pages to fill for many months to come.

Personalize your Gratitude Journal or Book. Make it a running list. Start with the heading "Today I am grateful for..." and then write down those things in your life for which you are grateful. At first, you might find yourself writing about the material items you have, something nice a friend gave you or a thoughtful gesture your partner did for you. Also try to list those little gifts of observation: the butterfly you noticed alighting over a spring flower, or a colorful rainbow you just happened to see while driving. Also remember to note the small gifts you give yourself: taking time to listen to a friend with a personal dilemma, or standing up to someone who was rude to you, or even taking a hot bath. All these little acts represent the abundance in your life that you will attract more of when you take the time to notice and note them.

Abundance thinking can be conscious. I have a mantra, which I learned from creative visualization expert, Shakti Gawain, that I recite to myself when I'm driving. It goes like this: "All that is good is now coming to me easily and effortlessly." And you can replace the words "All that is good" with "Financial abundance" or "My perfect relationships" or ________ (fill in the blank). The book, The Key, elaborates another mantra which is all-encompassing: "I am whole, perfect, strong, powerful, loving, harmonious and happy." These phrases, recited when we quiet our minds to the negative self-talk that often speaks loudly, have the power to help us increase the abundance in our lives.

Abundance is a curious occurrence. Abundance is an attitude. This may be why the word "attitude" appears in "gratitude." The more you look for and see the abundance around you, the more of it you will attract. And best of all, you will not only come to see the abundance in your life but you will live a life of plenty! Thank you for reading my post. I am grateful for your visit to my blog!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Care-giving and Advocacy

This needs to be said and more importantly remembered! Who will advocate for you if you cannot? Strange question, isn't it? When we think about having our affairs in order, we consider the importance of having a last will and testament, but what about having a living will? Who do you trust to be your spokesperson in the event that you cannot speak for yourself? Most of us don't even want to venture there, let alone even think about it!

For the past 6 years, I've assumed the role of care-giver to my in-laws. This meant driving some of the key decisions impacting their living situations and more. The importance of advocacy struck me recently when dealing with my mother-in-law's hospitalization for chronic lack of appetite due to advancing Alzheimer's complicated by some underlying health issues. Although she was being closely monitored by a nurse at her residence and then by her doctor, I was the one who told the hospital nurse to feed my mother-in-law pureed food, something it seemed that health care professionals dealing in geriatric issues would automatically explore. I stood at the nurse's station while they entered my request for pureed meals into the computer and it dawned on me that our health care system is just too taxed for any continuity in follow-up. How did I know to do this? Well, for one, I've been informing myself about Alzheimer's Disease and its various stages, what to expect and what to watch for. Secondly, I know my mother-in-law--and well. But most importantly, I would absolutely want someone to do the same act of love and kindness for me if I were unable to advocate for myself.

The twist here is that we never know when that time will be. And while we're young and vital, we dare not even think about it. Please think about it--for yourself and for your loved ones. My previous post, Empowering the Sandwich Generation, touched on this critical subject. You can go online to find a living will template through your government and other social service agencies. We take our wellness for granted. And chances are that we will be well for a very long time. But if circumstances should dictate otherwise, wouldn't you want to be prepared, so that those around you respect your most important wishes and advocate for you in a system that is just too stretched for time and resources?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Changing Needs, Changing Hats: Defining and Redefining the Self

The topic of how we define ourselves came up over lunch with a dear friend this week. More than just the different hats we wear, defining ourselves is about how we feel wearing these hats and ultimately what we want that hat to convey to the world around us and the payback we may get from that. It also relates to where we draw our energy and how we spend our energies. Like money, energy flows through and around us. How we define ourselves contributes to that energy flow.

We wear various hats: daughter, mother, friend, lover, partner, employee, business owner, writer, consultant, (profession)...the list goes on. What does that hat say about me? This got me thinking about Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. According to Maslow, we have five basic needs that must be met in a certain order for us to thrive. For example, if I am hungry, I am not thinking about a sense of connection with anything but food!

We are constantly renegotiating our basic needs. And we continuously redefine ourselves in terms of these different needs. Today I may feel the need for more money to properly care for myself, so my job takes precedence. I may thus define myself in terms of how much money I make. This ties in with the first two levels: physiological needs and safety and security needs. My need to feel good about myself and fulfill my self esteem needs based on recognition might have me define myself in terms of what I do as a job or profession.

Let's focus here on our love and belonging or social needs. This one is HUGE. We all have a need to belong--to a couple, a family, a group. And this is where how we define ourselves has the power to put us in a situation of actually giving our power away--for the sake of that belonging! Our society is wired these days. We tell ourselves that cellphones, computers and other devices that purportedly facilitate communication, bring us closer. In fact, these electronics can distance us rather than bring us together if we are not mindful. So we look to belong to something greater than ourselves. We have this need to affiliate with others and be part of something bigger than ourselves. Is where we seek to belong truly representative of who we are, and what we wish to say and have others know about us?

Maslow's final need for self-actualization is what allows us the creativity and insight to express ourselves and our potential as in the way in which we constantly redefine our SELF. Certainly it is our prerogative to redefine ourselves. We redefine ourselves every day, whether we consciously do so or not. Very often it's a messy process. That's how we move forward and evolve in our lives.

What Maslow's Hierarchy need most defines you at this moment? What do you stand for? Does it give you energy or drain your energy? Is that hat you wear truly representative of what you want to say to the world around you?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Art of Self-Promotion

Blogging has become serious business. Anyone who has anything to say is blogging away these days. We live in a world that is paralleled by Face Book, Twitter, Linked In and Digg, to name a few. And that doesn't even touch the myriad of web sites and chat rooms that see more traffic than the Autobahn on a summer's day! We have become a socially connected society...and all through the click of a mouse. How easy it has become to network! What did we ever do before these social networking sites? (Maybe we got out of the house more and met at our local hangouts!)

At a recent writer's symposium about the changing landscape of publishing in Canada, the presenters strongly encouraged everyone of us aspiring and accomplished writers to get ourselves a web presence. I sat there in awe, thinking about the dusty old web site of my graduate school days ten years ago and wondered about resurrecting it. The task of getting lost in creating a web site/blog seemed ominous and daunting. Where do I start? Do you have to be a techno Geek to have a web site? And a blog--what would I even have to say? (Interestingly, I am never short of words!) I recalled my initial reluctance around having a Face Book account and was still scratching my head about how to use it.

At the same time, I was noticing other people's blogs and how they seem to have a focus--a purpose.  It struck me that the bottom line is promoting yourself and what you do! Okay, so what do I do and how do I promote that? We all do something. Perhaps it's a hobby you are passionate about or sports, or an activity, work-related or not. And the more esoteric the better! One guy collects airsickness bags as his hobby and to date, he's hosted a whopping 250 some-odd-thousand visitors to his site! Another collects toothpastes from around the world. Of course, your traditional stamp and coin collectors would still draw a following.

It really is about passion and having something passionate to say! Know that there are other people who share your interest and trawl the Net looking for information. It's so easy to get a blog that your biggest challenge will not be the technical part, but rather what words to put to your idea. And there exist many free web page design sites to make your home page creation as easy as point, click and drag.

So what are you waiting for? Get creative and put your voice out there on the Internet!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Butterflies and Laundry: Quick, I've Got an Idea!

An idea for a play, a poem, an article, or even a blog entry finds its way to me almost insidiously. I feel ambushed by the need to get my idea on paper. Perhaps I'm falling asleep at night or awaken in the middle of the night or am simply doing a task or activity, and then it hits--the need to write my idea down somewhere and quickly!

Yesterday two ideas came to me prior to falling asleep for a nap as I am fighting a cold these days. I told myself not to reach for my pen, that I would remember these ideas when I awoke a few hours later. Guess what? I only remembered one of the ideas and I spent the rest of the day wracking my brain trying to figure out what the other idea was! Lesson learned. Always write your ideas down when they strike!

A close friend of mine, who is currently writing her memoirs, tells me that she carries a small hand-held device into which she recites her ideas no matter where she is. She even uses it to remind herself that a load of laundry is ready!

And just where do these ideas come from anyway? Friends tell me that they must watch what they say or they may be reading about themselves somewhere. Certainly conversations are wonderful fodder for inspiration. Commercials have the same impact. I find myself watching television commercials in a way I've never done. It's the dialogue, especially since I love to write the dialogue that forms plays. Commercials are great because so much is said in so little time.

Be open to all sources of inspiration. If you like to write, all you need is an idea. The rest will follow. Always ensure that you write or record it quickly, because inspiration is like a butterfly--fleeting. You want to capture it and record it's beauty, then like any good writing release it back into the universe for others to enjoy.

Now I must go bring in that load of laundry I hung yesterday!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Empowering the Sandwich Generation

“I’m really not sure I should go.” mused Alessandra, contemplating a much-needed long weekend away with her husband and preschool children. “They might call to say they've found Mom a long-term placement.” Her Alzheimer’s mother was awaiting a bed in a long-term care facility close to Alessandra’s home and it could be any day now. She felt that she needed to be there to help her mother make the transition from her current interim placement, especially since her brother was working abroad.

Sitting across the café table from Alessandra, her friend Shelley retorted: “It's better than what’s happening with my Aunt and Uncle right now. I’m running back and forth between Montreal and Toronto because they're in two different nursing homes and some kind of crisis always seems to come up! I’m running ragged holding down a part-time job and getting the twins ready for college in the Fall.”

“Sounds like you two are pretty sandwiched!” observed Tamara “That’s a case for staying single! But even I am feeling the stress of being a caregiver as well as doing all my course work.” Tamara was single and back in school, with her newly widowed mother living with her.

Does this sound familiar to you? These adults are part of a growing phenomenon: The Sandwich Generation, caught between the diverse needs of their own lives and those of their elderly parent or relative. Typically in middle adulthood, Sandwichers find themselves caring for an elderly relative while juggling career, children, family needs, studies, and more. They are suddenly thrust into the situation of making life-altering decisions with and for their elderly parent or relative. They aren't used to this new role of taking care of their parents’ financial, physical, emotional, and social needs. And their time is often compromised as they manage full lives of their own!

In the early 2000's this issue was so prevalent and compelling that I proposed and won funding through the Quebec Association for Adult Learning (QAAL) for a project to deliver a series of workshops on this topic to remote communities around the province of Quebec. I learned that many families suffer this phenomenon which prevails just as much today in the late 2000's as it did then. And my motivation for revisiting this important topic is that we are reliving this sandwich experience with my mother-in-law, now in the later stage of Alzheimer's Disease.

Here are some important thoughts to consider if you are finding yourself sandwiched and facing the role of caregiver for a family member or friend:

1. Be aware of the normal developmental stages of the aging process and associated limitations and diseases.

2. Initiate important conversations with your elderly relative and family members about "What if...?" This is very difficult to do and involves much tact, diplomacy and effective listening skills.

3. Learn how to get into the driver's seat with your elderly relative and actually begin actively planning for the "What if...?" This is the hardest part and may involve issues related to power of attorney, living will or mandate of incapacity, not to mention the actual notarized will. Do this early on as there is nothing more frustrating than having your hands tied because the paperwork is not in order.

4. Become and advocate and mentor for your elderly parent or relative. You may often find yourself making decisions and dealing with health professionals on behalf of the person for whom you are caring. And while you may not like it, someone needs to advocate and mentor during this important life transition.

5. Link with local support services. Don't wait for health professionals to tell you what you need. Tell them. Make the system work for you. It is indeed a case where the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Speak to social workers and reach out to those provincial associations, such as the Alzheimer Society, for valuable information to help you navigate these uncertain waters.

6.  And perhaps most important of all, manage care-giving by learning to say "No" and apply some of that care-giving TLC to yourself. You cannot adequately care for another person when your own reserves are depleted. Take time for you, be it to exercise, see a film or have coffee with someone in YOUR own support system.

Empower yourself as you give care!

To learn more about this important topic or to host a workshop for the care-givers in your community, contact me.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Successful Video Conferencing

Video conferencing is a relatively new technology that allows people to connect via screen and using a technology bridge from remote locations. What makes for successful  video conferencing with small and large groups?

1. Location, location, location! Your room layout is key. If hosting a meeting with an open seating arrangement, allow for maximum visibility of the screen by the in-room participants. Place the camera and speakers where they can be easily accessed by the technician and so the camera can pan the room when someone speaks. Nothing should obstruct the speaker, such as a water jug or laptop screen. These should be placed off to the side.

2. Be inclusive. Pay close attention to turn-taking. Make your remote sites feel welcome by including their voice in any question period. At the same time, it is important to check in regularly with your remote sites to ensure they are still connected to the conference.

3. When sites do comment, ask them to identify themselves by name and region, especially if you have more than one remote site participating.

4. When doing smaller breakaway groups, ensure that everyone around the table introduces themselves at the start and include your remote participants in this round of introductions.

5. If the speaker is giving a power point presentation, work it out in advance with the technician to have the speaker appear on one half of the screen while the presentation appears on the other. This is what the remote sites will see. No one wants to just stare at a power point presentation with a disembodied voice explaining the slides. Find that balance to make the power point presentation large enough for the in-person participants to see.

6. Silence is golden. It is important that remote sites know how to mute their sound so that any noises do not interfere with the presentation. Instruct remote participants to unmute their microphones when they wish to speak.

In my experience, it is much easier to coordinate a video conference with small groups and that involve only one or two remote sites. Keep in mind that video conferencing technology is still relatively new and not perfect. Your first few attempts are learning exercises. Practice will make your video conferences run smoothly.