Know where you belong

sign that says happiness is knowing where you belongI’ve spent the last four days in Toronto. It struck me more than ever, that even though I was born there, I don’t belong there.

Toronto is an amazing city, but like with any large city, there is the good, the bad and the ugly.

Toronto the good

Stunning skyscrapers, lakefront paths and parks, festivals and events, fine dining and shopping, and people of every faith, race, culture living for the most part in respectful harmony.

Toronto the bad

Relentless traffic, air pollution, soaring housing prices, long commutes and endangered greenspace from concrete sprawl.

Toronto the ugly

Poverty, homelessness, and indifference. Both days, walking the few blocks to my course in the financial district, I walked past at least a dozen people sleeping on the street. One man was lying in the middle of the sidewalk sideways and was so still, he could have been dead. Everyone, EVERYONE including me stepped around him and walked by. I’m still ashamed.

This week’s #HappyAct is know where you belong. United Ways across the country are kicking off their campaigns. Get involved, give and help change lives locally where you belong.

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Make an inspiration wall

inspiration-wall

Grace’s inspiration wall

What inspires you? That’s the question we’ve been asking our employees during this year’s United Way campaign. Once again, the employees at Empire Life have blown me away by their generosity and willingness to be inspired by the incredible work United Way agencies do in our community and to make a difference.

There is so much in the world that is uninspiring today. It is rare to find something that compels you to feel or do something to create change in our society or something unique or beautiful.

I get my inspiration from my children, my friends and co-workers, and the natural surroundings of where I live.

The other day, Clare told me she wanted to start a new project: to create an inspiration wall. She started looking up inspirational sayings online. Her plan was to print them out and post them around her room. (Her teacher said she couldn’t do this at school if you can believe it). Grace created a similar inspiration wall a few years ago.

We need to be inspired at work, at home and in our community.

This week’s #HappyAct is to create your own Inspiration Wall. Here are some of the sayings Clare planned to use on her wall. Leave a comment. What inspires you?

“Happiness is found when you stop comparing yourself to other people.”

“When we get to the end of our lives together; the house we had, the cars we drove, the things we possessed won’t matter. What will matter is that I had you by my side.”

“You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

“When it rains, look for rainbows. When it’s dark, look for stars.”

“If plan A didn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters.”

uw-inspiration-wall

An inspiration wall created by Empire Life customer service teams who adopted the Kingston Youth Shelter for this year’s campaign–there were posters like this all over the floor to encourage people to bring in donations for what the shelter needs.

Reach out your hand in peace and friendship

Paris, Brussels, Lahore, Pakistan.

The world has become a bloody place.

I don’t claim to understand these terrorist acts, but I have been thinking about what drives a person to destroy human life and what we can do to turn hatred into love and acceptance.

I’ve also had a lot of different experiences in the past few weeks that continue to send these thoughts swirling in my head.

On Easter Weekend, we took Dave’s Dad to the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton. There was a special exhibit on Anne Frank that detailed her journey into hiding alongside Hitler’s rise to power. It was the week of the Brussels bombing and as I stood looking at the images of the Nazis in the 1930s, it was easy to draw parallels to today and how circumstances can make otherwise good people conduct acts of horror under the philosophical banner that the end justifies the means in fighting evil.

Leaving Hamilton and arriving at Union station in Toronto during rush hour on Easter Monday for business, I tried to imagine the destruction if a bomb exploded in the station. I thought of those people in Brussels and the images I had seen on television earlier that day of the Easter bombing in Lahore, Pakistan. Years ago, I had been in London, England a month before the bombs went off at the Kings Cross tube station. We had been in that station at least two or three times a day.

When my kids ask about these terrorist acts and whether they could happen where we live, my answer is always the same. “Yes, they can, but we cannot live in fear.”

Later that night, over dinner with a friend, we talked about everything going on in the world. We both admitted despite being “good people” and wanting to accept all races, creeds, cultures, we were not above profiling people (see an earlier blog post on stereotyping kids with autism).

Then I went and saw Johnny Reid and his What Love is All About tour at the KRock Centre in Kingston. I’m a huge Johnny Reid fan. I was fortunate to sit next to him on a plane to Nashville once. He was so genuine and generous with his time I became just as big a fan of Johnny Reid the man, as Johnny Reid the musician. During the concert, he said that one of the reasons he loves Canada so much is because it is one of the few countries in the world that truly accepts and celebrates diversity. His message was clear: love is the cure for the evils of the world.

It is hard to hate someone you know. This week’s #HappyAct is to say a kind word, or reach out and offer your hand in peace, friendship and acceptance the next time you experience fear or prejudice without basis. Get to know the person. Together we can try to change the world.

Does being a leader make you happy?

Nelson Mandela quoteThis is the question I’ve been pondering this past week after spending six days with leaders from across the country at the Queen’s Leadership Course.

It was an amazing but exhausting week, where we learned about team building, transformational leadership and how to be a good coach.

Transformational leadership is elevating others by inspiring people to see the importance of what they do so they want to do it better. It often results in change through a shared vision. Think of leaders like Nelson Mandela, the great basketball coach Phil Jackson and Mikhail Gorbachev.

With this definition in mind, you would think the obvious answer would be yes. That helping people develop and elevating them to new heights would result in immense personal satisfaction and happiness.

But Mandela and Gorbachev also had to endure incredible hardships, stress and conflict in their lives.

It made me think of two of my most recent leadership experiences, both non-work related. I would probably rate my performance in both these cases as a 4. Sure, I shared my vision, I worked hard, I led a team to the best of my ability, but in the end, after my leadership stint was over, there was very little change. When I ask myself the tough question, did I elevate others, the answer is no. I failed as a leader.

I also didn’t enjoy the one experience at all. Instead of being energized, I felt drained most of the time, frustrated and unhappy.

So, back to my original question. Does being a leader make you happy? I’m not sure I can answer that question, but I do know that some of the things they reinforced this past week does make me happy and more important, makes the world a happier place. Things like caring for others, taking the time to say hello and ask people how they are doing, what’s important in their lives. It’s the little things that are the hallmark of a great leader and the good news is, we all have the ability to be great leaders.

This week’s #HappyAct is to think of one small act you can do this week to help elevate others. Tell me what you think. Does being a leader make you happy? Leave a comment. Here are some inspirational quotes from the week to inspire you.

“Leadership is not about taking control; it’s about helping others make better decisions.”

“People respond remarkably to what you say and how you treat them.”

“You don’t need to be inspiring all the time. Be inspiring at the right time.”

“Great leaders elevate their followers; terrible leaders demean their followers and make them feel smaller.”

 

Thank a community leader

Charity cheque presentation

Brit Smith from Homestead Land Holdings presents $3 million to the UHKF, Susan Creasey is on the far right

Years ago, when I first moved to Kingston and was involved in a charity event, I called someone named Brit Smith to ask him for a donation for our cause. He said yes.

Brit Smith has been saying yes to the Kingston community for 50 years. Recently, he pledged to donate the remaining $3 million dollars needed to Kingston General Hospital to purchase and install a new MRI machine. He was moved to make such a generous donation after hearing that up to 1,000 people may be waiting for scans. Thanks to his donation, KGH will get the machine a year earlier than planned.

I found this wonderful Kingston Whig-Standard article about him published last year when he was awarded the rank of Knight of the French National Order of the Legion of Honour for his role and service in the second World War. He’s 95 now and still is active in his family-run business, Homestead Land Holdings going into the office every day.

I’ve never met Brit Smith. Some day I would like to meet him and thank him in person for saying yes to me all those years ago and for his generous ongoing support of our community.

We are so lucky to have so many incredibly gifted, generous people in our community who devote their time and energy to helping others.

This week’s #HappyAct is to thank a community leader. Send them a tweet, an email, a note on LinkedIn or give them a call. Here are a few leaders I would like to personally thank:

Thank you Bhavana Varma and the United Way for being such an inspiration, force for change and voice for those in need in our community.

Thank you Sheila and Peter Kingston, Susan Nicholson and Les Herr, and Susan Creasey. And thank you, Brit Smith.

Enjoy the wizard’s light show

Christmas lights at Upper Canada village in Morrisburg

Alight at Night at Morrisburg

When Thomas Edison first hung a string of incandescent lights outside his laboratory in New York in 1880 so commuters on a passing train could see them, they called it the wizard’s light show.

As the Winter Solstice approaches, and the days grow shorter, we turn to lights to brighten the darkness and warm our hearts.

I was in Montreal this week, and even though there was a raging snowstorm, it was beautiful with magnificent wreaths, statues and lights gracing many of the buildings.

Every year, Regent Street in London lights up. Here’s this year’s lighting ceremony on Regent Street. Even though I’ve never been lucky enough to attend the Regent Street festivities in person, I watch it online each year. My favourite was the year Nokia sponsored the display and made the lights interactive, so the crowd could control the lighting. Watch this amazing video of how they created the Unity Nokia Regent Street light display that year.

For those of us in Eastern Ontario, Alight at Night at Upper Canada Village in Morrisburg is a must-see. We went last year and it was magical. The entire historical village is lit up, and you can take a horse-drawn carriage ride or simply stroll through the streets admiring the lights and light shows timed to music.

Whether you live in a big city, small town or in the country, this week’s #HappyAct is to get out and brighten your night by looking at the lights of the season. For more information on the history of Christmas lights, read this interesting article.

 

 

Step right up and make a change

United Way volunteers

Co-workers Elaine Peterson, Jordan Grundy and Jessica Schonewille at the United Way breakfast

This week I attended the kick-off breakfast for the 2014 Kingston, Lennox, Frontenac and Addington United Way Campaign. The room was packed with more than 500 community leaders and volunteers who run campaigns in their workplace. This year, the goal for our region is $3,481,000.

Our company, Empire Life is a huge supporter of United Way and always runs a fantastic campaign. This year our theme is “Step right up and make a change”, and we’ll be planning lots of fun events based on a carnival theme to raise almost $300,000. That’s a lot of change.

Over the years, United Way has become a charity of choice for me. I’m personally invested for two main reasons. One, it is the one charity where my money goes directly back into my own community and is distributed across many agencies and areas of need to help my neighbours, my colleagues, my friends.

The other reason is I’ve seen first-hand the incredible work United Way agencies do. I’ve been on the Board of Kingston Literacy and Skills, volunteered with CNIB, have worked for the day at places like Kingston Interval House and Kingston Youth Shelter as part of the Day of Caring, and visited other agencies through the United Way Seeing is Believing tour.

There is a third reason, knowing some day that could be me. We are all one pink slip, one medical crisis away from our lives changing inexorably. Life is fragile. In a flash, everything you hold dear can change, as we heard firsthand at the breakfast when 15-year old Oscar Evans described how his life changed after a chemical accident at the age of 13 when he became blind. We may all need help some day. I, for one, am grateful the United Way is there when that day comes.

This week’s #HappyAct is to step up and make a change by giving to United Way. If you live in a community where you aren’t as aware of the incredible work United Way does, make it a point of finding out. Volunteer for an agency or ask about a Seeing is Believing tour in your community (there is one in Kingston on September 23, find more details here.) Special thanks to the Empire Life team who braved the miserable rain yesterday at our 6th annual Community Garage Sale for United Way. You guys are amazing!