Category Archives: Professional

Week 18: Finding the Raven and new heroes

An event I attended at the end of March marked, for me, the beginning of the homestretch of my temporary appointment. It was the raising of a prayer pole and warrior canoe at the Cowichan campus in Duncan, where Megan Joe became my latest hero.

Her grandfather Harold was lead carver on the project: overseeing the pole carving and doing the work alongside a team of carvers on the warrior canoe. They’re very impressive – go see them if you get a chance.

He couldn’t be there for the ceremony, so Megan read his words to the 100 or so people assembled. She was visibly petrified of speaking in public. Shaking and near tears, bolstered by her family and her community, She did it. She stood up there and did it anyway. We patiently waited and listened to Elder Harold’s words spoken through her. She was a brave young woman among all the veterans on that day. I was almost in tears with her.

I wondered if it was simply the age-old fear of public speaking that 90% of the world has, or if there was an added weight on her shoulders to represent her family in place of her grandfather, in front of her whole community. I wanted to go up to her afterwards and tell her what a wonderful job she did, that public speaking gets easier, that it’s good to feel the weight of responsibility, that she’ll grow into it, because she’s got such a strong community behind her.
I was also acutely aware this was one of my last events as a VIU employee, and it made me a little verklempt. I’m a sentimental fool, as anyone close to me knows.

One of the speakers that day explained why the Veterans Prayer pole is Raven. “The shapeshifter – he changes. Warriors must change to go to war. Some of them didn’t change back when they returned.”

April was a blur – the realization that my term here at VIU is ending has spurred a different set of tasks: reports to write, files to hand off, vacations to plan. After my last day here, I’m taking three weeks off, then deciding what direction I want to head next.

I am going to miss this place. I chose to take this job despite the distance from my home and my family, because I knew it would be a tremendous learning opportunity – a chance to shift and change in new and productive ways. I realized that day in Cowichan: I’m always seeking to learn, to grow, to change. I’ll always be touched by new heroes like Megan, and I’ll always be on the lookout for The Raven.


Weeks 9 and 10: what’s really important

Two Tuesday mornings ago. Raining like crazy, I bailed out of our Tuesday morning walk. Took some time to look realistically at my goals, deadlines, aspirations, and interests, versus the number of hours in a day and my energy levels. And I made some decisions.

May 1 is a deadline for a writing award I want to enter. I am on a couple of volunteer committees. I have a demanding job. I am determined to get back running again and regain most of the former activity level after knee surgery a year ago.

The only way I can get this all accomplished is if I get out my inner laser pointer and focus, focus, focus.

So, two weeks ago I managed to get Chapter One of my novel re-jigged while getting my homework done in prep for the Blue Ribbon panel for judging IABC Gold Quill Award entries. Then, a group of us, all Accredited Business Communicators, met last Saturday to team up and complete the judging process. It was a lot of fun, a lot of work, and a lot of learning.

This past Tuesday: woke up near Whistler in a retreat facility. with a tension headache, but also a thirst for learning. I took the intensive three-day Prosci Change Management Certification course last week in the midst of back problems. This (trying something new, then the back problems) is a natural progression for me.

Change Management–

Communications and marketing is all about persuading people to change their minds about something, and take action. Increasingly, professional communicators are asked to help out with organizational transformations: changes in technology, processes, leadership, etc.

We’re sometimes told: “If we could only communicate this better to staff, they wouldn’t be so resistant. We need you, communications people, to deliver us some results in this area!” My answer to this has always been: “I can’t create change on behalf of leadership unless the leadership is seen to be behind this change 100%. Leadership has to walk the talk.”

Now I have the data and training to back that up. Change management, I had intuitively known, is more than communications. It is a systematic process that has to be supported from the top and reinforced all the way through an organization. Change is supported through communications, but it is done by individuals.

Regarding the back problems – the more stressed I get, the more a hunch up my back and get headaches. I’ve come to learn that doesn’t mean the stress I’m under is bad, it means I’m under some kind of transformation myself. It means I’m learning; it’s a signal I need to pay attention to the change I’m experiencing at that moment. The best way to deal with change (and the stress that comes with it) is to find ways to relax into it, stretch often, keep hydrated, and rest when necessary.

And find a good physiotherapist.


Week 8: why do we do this to ourselves?

I was felled by some kind of bug last week. There’s been a flu of some sort going around campus lately, many of my colleagues succumbed.

I managed not to get a full-on set of respiratory symptoms, but on Tuesday morning, after my walk with my walking buddy, and while I was sitting in on a media interview with my boss, I suddenly felt like a train wreck. I could barely keep my head up. When I got back to my office, my staff said I was looking as bad as I felt, and sent me home. I collapsed into bed and slept for four hours, woke up for two, and collapsed back to sleep again for the rest of the night.I dragged myself in the next day feeling slightly better. Less train wreck, more limp dishrag. The smart thing to do would have been to stay in bed another day.

Trouble is, I was working on some files that I felt I could not delegate, defer, or cancel. Truth is, at least one of those files I could have delegated. One of them I did defer. One I simply could not delegate or defer because we were preparing for the board of governors meeting on Thursday. But still, there really was no need for me to drag my illness through campus most of that day. I was very thankful to be feeling better by Thursday, and able to show up at the Board meeting alert and unmedicated (those daytime cold meds never really work for me anyway).

Why do we do this to ourselves? (I say “we” because I wasn’t the only walking wounded last week.) I have a few ideas:

  • We’re committed and invested; we really, truly care about the University, we bring our best selves to work on all our projects.
  • We don’t have the staff to delegate to; I am down three people in my department, and I know the more I delegate to my managers, the more they in turn will be working overtime to deliver on projects as well as do the heavy lifting in hiring for the vacant positions. My other admin colleagues are in the same boat. One Executive Director doesn’t have an executive assistant, and I do, so I felt like a whiner next to him.
  • Some things just can’t be delegated, because of their strategic importance or because of confidentiality, safety, or security concerns.

When we take a step back and look at all the above from a strategic viewpoint, here is what we are left with: we had many administrators showing up to work sick in the last two weeks who felt for many valid reasons they could not stay home and get better. However, if we had stayed home, and phoned in to some crucial meetings, would we have had as many people down for the count (viruses love a party after all)? Would the sky fall in? 

Probably not.

I felt like my presence was too important not to show up to work, when in fact it probably contributed to the problem by spreading whatever bug was going around. I always tell my staff to take care of themselves first, so that they can show up at work when they’re healthy and able to give their best. It’s time I took my own advice. 

Indications are chronic overwork and burnout among administrative and other employees happens not just in post-secondary institutions, not just in the public sector, but in every sector, in every industry. I suspect if more of us took better care of ourselves, we would probably all end up better for it in the long run. 

Do you agree or disagree? Do you take the time you need to stay healthy, or get better when you’re sick?