A bagpiper walks into a blog

Man in kiltSpecial guest blog by David Swinton.

Ok, I’ll admit it. When my wife started this blog, I rolled my eyes and said ‘God Help Us’. Why would any person feel she is in a position to tell others how to be happier?

For a while, I even nicknamed it the ‘Crappy Act’. But personally deep down, I knew that there was no one better qualified to accomplish this mission. I have known my wife for almost 35 years. To this day, she continues to amaze me with her positive, energetic look at life. You might not always agree with her take on happiness (what the heck is an Easter Chicken anyway) but you loyal readers still come week after week to expand your happiness quotient.

When she asked me to fill in for her this week, I knew exactly what I wanted to say. After my Mom died over a year ago, I spent a lot of nights asking myself why should someone so giving of herself be taken in such a cruel manner. As with all tragic events, I started to question my own existence and where I fit into this continually evolving saga we call life. As my thoughts drifted more and more, I realized how complicated my own life had become. Between work, hockey practices, 4-H, bagpipes and the general pace of the world these days, I felt myself struggling to stay engaged. What kind of life is that? You only get one shot at it, folks.

So, in response to this, I have decided to focus at least a half hour each day to the appreciation of the simplest things in my life. One day, it might be the cardinal that has mysteriously appeared after my mother (an avid birder) died. The next day it might be the sound of wind whistling through the large pines around the house. One night I might watch a flying squirrel drift into the feeder from the darkness of the forest. The next, read a good book in a quiet corner boiling maple syrup. Laugh with your child as she pranks you for April Fools or savour a cold Corona at 10 in the morning on a hot day. Kneel down while your 9 year old shows you how intricate insect galleries under pieces of bark from a dead tree can be. Explain to her that the simplest of organisms created something this beautiful.

Your assignment this week? Put the world away for a half hour, slow down and take the time to glean a moment of pure joy from your world. And next week, enjoy while someone with actual writing talent takes back this blog.

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Be a mentor part 2: Matt’s perspective

Matt and his wifeSpecial guest blog

(Read part 1)

It took me awhile to figure it out, but, I am a writer. The longer I worked the more I realized my passion in life was with writing and communication. Since my current job involved no writing at all I was looking for a change. I didn’t want to leave my company or all of the insurance knowledge I had gained over the years, so I looked for an inside move. My sights were set on our company’s Communications area. Without any related experience or a related degree I knew it would be tough. I needed some help. That’s when I reached out to the one person I knew in the Communications area, a person I had been looking up to for inspiration for years, and asked her if she would consider mentoring me?

I had no idea what to expect when I asked Laurie if she would be my mentor. I was hoping she would accept, meet with me a few of times, give me a couple of writing assignments, and layout a rough map of what I needed to be doing to get where I wanted to be. Well, almost two years later our monthly meetings have continued and the scope of our discussions have expanded to more than the narrow field of communications.

Is this mentor – mentee relationship what I expected?

NO!

It was much, much more.

Professionally, my mentor has given me more than I expected.

  • She has shared her vast network of contacts with me.
  • Guided me on where the company is moving and where opportunities for experience and jobs will be.
  • Brought me up to speed on what industry leaders to follow and what books to read.
  • Stressed exactly the things I needed to do in our company to succeed (and have a chance at moving into the career I dream of).

Helpful? Very!

But, it was the non-professional things that had a bigger impact on me.

  • I am more motivated now then I have ever been in my work. Not only do I have that dream of moving into a communications job, but with my mentor’s support it feels like it is a realistic goal.
  • Having someone you trust, to share personal work related problems (such as conflicts with coworkers or management) is invaluable. Especially if that person, like my mentor, has been on the other side of the fence in management roles.
  • It has made me more empathetic. My mentor has changed the way I view those above me. She has allowed me to see the more human side to those in supervisory/managerial/directorial roles.

I did not expect this mentor mentee thing to cause such a monumental change in the way I feel about work, but, it definitely has. I am a much better employee in every way because of it.

This week’s #HappyAct is the a repeat of last week’s: find someone to help you grow. And thanks, Matt, it’s been a slice!

Contributing author: Mathew is a very productive and sarcastic cubicle citizen who reads way too many Dilbert comics. He blogs about his life outside of work at theplaceunderthepine.blogspot.ca.

Be a mentor

Me and my mentee MattFor the last two years, I’ve been in a mentoring relationship at work. I say mentoring relationship, because even though I think my role is technically the mentor, I’m pretty sure half the time I’m the mentee.

I knew a little bit about mentoring from some research I had done and from people I’ve known that have benefitted from having a mentor. But I had never taken the step to approach someone to help guide me in my career.

It’s been such a rewarding experience and I can safely say I’ve learned as much from Matt as Matt has hopefully learned from me. I’ve also learned a lot about myself and what I have to offer to others.

Here are some of the benefits I’ve discovered–some expected, and some quite unexpected–of mentoring.

  • In a mentoring relationship, you are constantly learning and sharing. Matt and I both blog and are involved in our kids’ school parent councils—we share ideas regularly on how to promote our blogs and council events through social media.
  • When Matt first approached me about being a mentor, my first thought was what could I possibly offer? I’ve learned that I have a lot to offer from years of experience dealing with people and issues at work.
  • Having someone you trust and can confide in is precious. Recently, I shared something with Matt that I have not shared with my team or my boss. It was something quite personal, and it felt good to be able to open up to someone who wouldn’t judge me and help me gain perspective and support me.
  • A mentor is a great sounding board. Often in our careers, we know the right course of action, but you just need a bit of advice or affirmation you’re doing the right thing.
  • A mentor can help you achieve your goals. By sharing your goals and making them “talk goals” you are far more likely to achieve them.
  • Having a mentor can also broaden your perspective and give you insights on other areas of the organization.

Tips to get the most of your mentoring relationship.

  • Meet regularly—we aim for 30 minutes each month
  • Try to set one goal or topic for each meeting
  • Trust is key—find someone who you can trust and who will respect your confidence

This week’s #HappyAct is to find someone who you can help you grow. Want to hear the flip slide? Read Matt’s perspective on mentoring next week.

Develop your emotional intelligence

EQI’ve been reading a lot about emotional intelligence lately. Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize, understand and manage emotions. Studies show that people with high emotional intelligence have better mental health overall, higher job performance and satisfaction, and are strong leaders.

While I haven’t read enough about emotional intelligence to know for sure, it seems safe to reason that people who are emotionally intelligent are also happier. If you can recognize, understand and manage your own emotions and the emotions of those around you, you are far more likely to be able to connect with people and be happy with who you are.

The article, 13 Habits of Exceptionally Likeable People, lists thirteen habits of people who are emotionally intelligent that make them likeable. You can read the full article—it’s quite interesting, but for the purpose of what makes you happy, I will focus on these seven:

  • Be curious and ask questions—it shows you care, but it also pays off in dividends in terms of learning new things, understanding, and acceptance
  • Be genuine: it will make you feel confident and instill trust in others
  • Be open-minded and don’t pass judgment
  • Be consistent—people want to know what to expect from you
  • Balance passion with fun—be serious when serious is called for, but don’t be afraid to have fun
  • Use positive body language and words. Remember “how you say something can be more important than what you say” or in the words of mother Maya, people won’t remember what you say or do, but they will remember how you make them feel
  • Smile and greet people by name

Here’s the good news: we all have the capability to build our emotional intelligence. This week’s #HappyAct is to raise your emotional IQ. How well did you listen to others? Did you smile and greet people by name? Were you consistent and open-minded? Have a great week everyone.

Love in the workplace

Tomorrow, most of us will go back to work after some much deserved time off. Not a single person I asked this year had a new year’s resolution about work and yet global employee engagement is at an all time low.

A 2015 Gallup study showed just 13% of employees are engaged in their workforce. Gallup defines employee engagement as employees being involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace. The remaining 87% of employees are either not engaged or indifferent–or even worse, actively disengaged and potentially hostile to their organizations.

What if we had more love in the workplace? Not romantic love, but the supreme emotion of love that affects how we feel, think and motivates us to act.

One leadership expert, Mark Crowley thinks love is the answer. In his Fast Company post, “Why engagement happens in employees hearts, not minds, Crowley says while traditionally using the word “love” in the context of the workplace has been taboo, when people feel cared for, nurtured and growing they will serve the organization well.

Another fascinating thing Crowley discovered in his research is “while people used to derive their greatest sense of happiness from time spent with family and hobbies, how satisfied workers feel in their jobs now determines their overall happiness with life. This monumental shift means that job fulfillment has become essential to people everywhere.”

I think employee engagement boils down to this. Your pay cheque is what makes you show up for work every day. What you do with your time when you’re there depends on four things:

  1. the degree to which the work you do is aligned to your passion and strengths
  2. the relationships you have at work and the “love” factor Crowley talks about
  3. how much you believe and are committed to the purpose of the organization,
  4. and what I call the “negative quotient”: the degree to which negative factors at work affect your ability to succeed. This can be anything from office politics to feelings of anxiety around change or direction to not having access to tools or resources to help you do your job (what experts call being “enabled” when defining sustainable engagement)

Employee rewards are important for attracting and keeping good talent, but not necessarily motivating people. Only people and love can motivate people.

If you have five minutes, read his full post. There are some great basic nuggets in the article: companies only focused on profits without a compelling mission will inherently neuter employee engagement and the importance of recognizing people.

This week’s #HappyAct is to love your co-workers and the people at work. And if I don’t say it enough to my team: thank you for everything you do. I think it’s a miracle you show up at work every day and do the amazing work you do. I love you all.

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.”

 

It can buy me a boat

I’ve been thinking a lot about money lately. November is Financial Literacy Month, and once again my company, Empire Life, is issuing a challenge: to take action this month on the one thing you need to do to feel better about your financial health. We call it the Financial Weight Loss Challenge—lose the weight of whatever financial worry is weighing you down.

Financial Literacy Month ad

For the past two weeks, I’ve been trying to decide what action I will take this month. Last year I said I was going to change to a cheaper cell phone plan, finish a spreadsheet I’d started with all our insurance and investment policies, and start saving more for the kids’ education. While I didn’t get it all done last November, I followed through on all three things.

My family’s favourite song right now is Chris Janson’s song, Buy Me a Boat. The lyrics are, “I know everybody says money can’t buy happiness…but it could buy me a boat, it could buy me a truck to pull it.”

When it comes to money, we’ve always taken a balanced approach between saving and living. Right now, living is winning out. So my actions this month will be modest: sign up for ebilling for those final bills that are still mailed to me (bonus points for going green, something I should have done a long time ago), put a few extra payments on our line of credit, and waste less food in the house, which for us mainly means cleaning out our fridge more often.

That will leave a little money in the bank to dream. And while the last thing we need is another boat, you never know what might show up in the driveway or where the wind will take us on our travels next year.

This week’s #HappyAct is to take the Financial Weight Loss Challenge and share what you’re going to do to lose the weight of financial worry. Post a comment here or on the Empire Life Facebook page. You can also help support Pathways to Education if you share one of our posts with the hashtag #EmpireFLM this month. Every time someone uses the hashtag in November, we’ll donate .25 cents to Pathways to Education. Take the challenge: how will you lose financial weight? Leave a comment.