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Any advice?

November 19, 2010

I know that several of my readers work or have worked in the education field and/or have raised teenagers, so I’d like to ask your advice…

My daughter Julie has always been academically advanced. She started doing fractions in kindergarten and had read all of the Harry Potter books before she turned 9. You get the picture.

She’s in grade 8 now and is completely bored with school. To the point of tears. To the point where her lack of motivation for school is spilling into other areas of her life. To the point where I’m starting to worry about depression.

Throughout her education, we’ve often asked the teachers for advice about what we/they can do for her and whether there are advanced programs available for her. We’ve never really gotten any concrete advice or any programs offered. (We have another meeting with her teachers tonight.)

I’m worried. She is capable of so much, and yet she’s stuck in an education system that isn’t challenging her. (She rants about how the students who have trouble in school get extra attention and extra resources, and the advanced students just get told to read a book when they’re done their work.) And I feel like we haven’t done enough for her either.

Any advice? I know that private school might be an option (Michele, I’m sure you’ll say U of W), but financially that just doesn’t seem viable for us right now. The area that she is particularly bored with is math – she could have done grade 8 work in grade 5.

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Please welcome… my new baby!

November 15, 2010

I bet you didn’t know I was about to give birth! Okay, so it’s not a flesh and bones baby, but it certainly feels like I’ve gone through all of the steps of the birthing process – germination of the seed, gestation, labour, and even the occasional heartburn. And… it’s another girl!

I’m talking about my new website… Sophia Leadership. She is alive and well and ready for you to come on over and ooh and aah and tell her how beautiful she is. ūüôā

Thanks to all of you for being part of this birthing process – for inspiring me, encouraging me, challenging me, and just for sticking around and listening when I was full of new-mom angst. You are all wonderful.

A letter to my Dad

November 11, 2010

Dear Dad,

This morning as I was running through the gently falling snow (Yes, I’ve taken up running. Surprised?), I found myself thinking about you, Dad. You see, there’s something I’ve been aching to talk to you about this week, and it’s making me miss you like crazy. There’s a lump forming in my throat as I write this.

Dad, this week I became a teacher. For real.

Oh, it’s not that I haven’t been a teacher before (I’ve lead lots of leadership and creativity workshops before), but in those cases, I usually referred to myself as the “facilitator”, not sure I had acquired the authority to call myself “teacher”.

But this time, I’m a bonafide teacher, Dad. In a university. I’ve been hired to do the job and I have no doubt I have the qualifications or authority to call myself teacher. After being a writer for most of my life, and a communications professional for more than thirteen years, I don’t have any qualms about being the expert in the room when it comes to writing for public relations.

Do you remember, Dad,¬†about nineteen years ago when you made a special phone call to tell me you thought I should be a teacher? I could hardly believe it when I came home and one of my roommates told me you had called. “My DAD?!” I’m sure I exclaimed. “He CALLED? He NEVER calls! This must be important.”

And I guess it was important. Important enough for you to do one of the things you hated most in the world – pick up a phone and make a call. You did it because you knew that, after graduating with an English and Theatre degree, I was contemplating whether an after-degree in Education might be a good way to put my otherwise rather useless degree to work. You wanted me to know you thought it was the right choice. I think it’s probably the only time in my life you offered me career advice. Mostly you were okay with your kids figuring those things out on our own.

I never did go for that after-degree. I applied, but then I missed the appointment for the interview and then never bothered to reschedule. The truth is, I really didn’t have much interest in becoming a teacher in a traditional school setting.

But that phone call kept nagging at me. What was it you’d seen in me that made you think I should be a teacher? I wish I’d had the sense to ask you that question when you were still alive. Honestly, though, I think I was a little afraid that your reason was simply that you wanted to persuade me to persue something more practical than the writing career I dreamed of. I guess I didn’t want to hear that, so I never asked.

Now that I’m older, though, (and a little less resistant to the advice of my elders) I think that perhaps you perceived something in me that I didn’t yet see. Maybe you had a foreshadowing of a calling I didn’t see until later in my life.

The truth is, you were right. I love teaching. When I stand in front of a classroom, I know that I was meant for this.

No, I still don’t want to be a schoolteacher, and I don’t regret that choice I made so many years ago, but now that I have gathered some wisdom worth sharing, I believe that I am called to share it. And that’s what I’m going to do. Find ways to share it – both in my writing and my teaching.

One of the things I’m wondering, dad, is if your phone call had something to do with what you felt was your own missed calling? Perhaps you saw in me what was in you as a young man? Because I’m sure you would have been an amazing teacher dad.

See, there’s something I think you should know, Dad. ¬†It served as such an inspiration to me how, later in life, you found ways of fulfilling that calling you probably thought you’d buried. I still have some of the clippings from pieces you had published, and some of the notes from sermons you preached in your simple, untrained but eloquent way. Thank you for having the courage to do that, even though you probably doubted whether you had the qualifications. Thank you for every envelope you had the courage to address “to the publisher” and place a stamp on. One of those envelopes (complete with an article penned in your unique handwriting) was returned to me after you died by a publisher who knew it would be meaningful to me. It is one of my most cherished possessions.

Thank you for the inspiration, Dad, and thank you for your blessing. Even though it took me nearly twenty years to follow your advice, I did it, and I hope you’re smiling right now.

Say hello to Matthew, will you? And Marcel’s dad. We miss you all. So much.

Your beloved daughter,

Heather

p.s. If you want to read more about losing Dad, or read a poem I wrote about him, check out this post.

Time for recess

November 8, 2010

As a novice runner, I use a handy-dandy app on my iPod to tell me when to switch from running to walking. So far, I’ve worked my way up to nine minutes of running and two minutes of walking, repeated four times (for a total of 44 minutes).

Each interval is marked by a chime that rises above the sound of my music. I’ve switched most of the chimes to pleasant sounds, like a Tibetan singing bowl, for example – sounds that sooth me as I run.

The only sound I haven’t changed from the default is the one that sounds at the very end, after all of the reps are completed and I’m home or close to it. It’s a buzzer that sounds exactly like a school buzzer reverberating its way down locker-lined hallways.

It’s a rather jarring sound, and when I first heard it, I was determined to change it. But I didn’t get around to it right away, and by the second time I heard it, I realized that I’d grown to like it. Like Pavlov’s dog, the moment I heard the buzzer, I was filled with childlike glee. It’s the recess buzzer! It’s the sound that tells you it’s time to put away your work, grab your jacket, and run outside with your friends for fifteen minutes of unadulterated fun.

When I get to my front steps, exhausted and sweaty from a hard run, the buzzer sounds and I know that it’s recess time. Time to relax. Time for a hearty breakfast, a soak in the tub or a refreshing shower, a tall glass of water, and then maybe a cup of tea. I’ve worked hard and I’ve earned this recess time.

This past month has been an extended time of recess for me. When I quit my job (and the contract I thought I’d be starting with fell through), I was determined to take some time to refresh myself before jumping into new work. I’ve worked full time for all of my adult life (with the exception of maternity leaves and university), and I knew I needed a rest more than I needed to work at that point.

You know what? It was truly, truly wonderful. I have emerged feeling refreshed and excited about what this new business venture will look like. Now that it’s November, I’ve started some contract work, I start teaching this week, and I’m having lots of exciting conversations with people about interesting work on the horizon. Plus I’m getting ready to birth Sophia Leadership in a week or so. It’s all good and exciting stuff that I feel ready for since I took a break first.

Maybe you need to sound a buzzer now and then to remind you it’s recess time too? You know what they say… all work and no play, makes Jill a dull girl!

Tidbits

November 3, 2010
  • time for play at the Listening Well workshop last week

  • I am so very, very happy. Happy to be working in my tiny basement office/studio with my candle burning. Happy to be dreaming of all of the creative things I will be doing in this self-employment journey. Happy that I’ve been connecting with so many extraordinary people and learning some life-changing things. No, I don’t have a thriving business yet, but there are so many possibilities that I am somewhat in awe of how lucky I am.
  • Next week, I’ll be a bonafide teacher. I start teaching a “writing for public relations” course in the university’s professional development program. Walking onto the campus yesterday and realizing I was there as a TEACHER instead of a student was kind of trippy. In a “holy cow – they’re going to take me seriously” way!
  • Speaking of teaching, I had a flash-back this week of the day many years ago (when I was contemplating going for a second degree in education) that my dad phoned me (if you knew him, you’d know how extremely rare a phone call from him was) and told me he thought I’d be a good teacher. That thought keeps choking me up this week. I have such a deep yearning to be able to ask him “can you tell me what you saw in me that made you think I should teach?” (Dad – can you send me a sign? Anything?)
  • Yesterday I went to my first business owners’ networking luncheon (invited by a dear, supportive friend). And you know what surprised me? It was fun! People were so genuine and welcoming and I realized I have to let go of my irrational fear of networking events. Perhaps I was just at the wrong ones up until this point.
  • At the networking luncheon, I was reminded once again about how much easier it is to speak with passion about something you are truly inspired about – something that emerges from your own heart, your own giftedness. Perhaps that’s why past networking events were flops for me.
  • I got some business cards printed with my photos on the back (thanks to Moo Cards), and they proved to be a stroke of genius. I pulled out the cards at the luncheon and let people pick their favourite photo. It creates a great opener when you want to talk about a creative consulting business!
  • If you haven’t been there yet, check out my re-vamped business-y site… http://www.heatherplett.com
  • I am also working on another site (to be revealed soon) for all this Sophia Leadership stuff buzzing around my brain. Painting, writing, dreaming, collaborating – fun stuff!
  • One of other things I’m planning to do is re-launch a course I created eight years ago – Creativity and the Spirit. It will probably happen from mid-January to mid-March (for 8 weeks – in Winnipeg). If you’re local and you’re interested, let me know and I’ll send you the details when they’re ready.
  • On an unrelated note (but somewhat related, I suppose), today is “take your kid to work” day for my oldest daughter. Since I work at a computer in a tiny basement office, and her dad is a substitute teacher never knowing where work will be from day to day, I made other arrangements. She is spending the day working with a local fashion designer. (You may remember – she’s the one who designed her own grade 9 grad dress.) I am ridiculously excited for her. I’m no parenting expert, but one thing I know is that there are few things more gratifying than helping teenagers foster their passions and giftedness.
  • And speaking of my daughter and creativity, it was fun this week to watch her cut up a pair of her boots and re-vamp them into entirely different boots (shorter with more fringes and bling). She has such a cool sense of style.
  • And just one more thing… I only created one Halloween costume this year – a coke can.

Carrying the circle into my life

November 1, 2010

As life and time take me further and further away from that incredible circle of women who met by a lake last weekend, I continue to reflect back on the powerful things that can emerge when we sit together and imagine “what transformation can we birth if we share our hearts in circle and story?”

Let me share one of the stories I’ve brought with me from that weekend…

In the middle of the afternoon on our third day together, we had free time to replenish ourselves in whatever ways we needed to. Two beautiful older women (“crones”, we came to call them, and not in a negative way) who brought the wisdom of the labyrinth into our circle invited me to join them in creating a labyrinth out of the fallen leaves outside our meeting room. I was eager to join them, but knew that first I needed some time to myself to wander in the woods.

The golden energy of so much wisdom and authenticity and yearning and love that had been shared around the circle that afternoon carried me off into the woods on a cloud of peace and fullness. Or perhaps, to use a more personal analogy – carried me off on a horse named Sophia. We had been sharing that afternoon about how much we yearned for more feminine wisdom and energy in our workplaces, our halls of learning, and our communities.

Punctuated throughout our circle time that weekend, and again as I headed into the woods for some personal time with God and Gaia, were the sounds of gunshots from the other side of the lake. Geese hunters, we presumed.

The sharp contrast of the circular, gentle, feminine energy on one side of the lake and the violent, loud, masculine energy on the other side of the lake was a constant reminder of the tensions that exist for all of us. Not only in society as a whole, but within each of us individually, there exists both masculine energy (animus, from Jungian psychology Рrational, direct, practical, assertive qualities) and feminine (anima Рcreative, intuitive, feeling, visionary qualities). Both have beauty and yet both have the possibility of becoming corrupt or too all-encompassing.

As I followed the path through the woods, and listened to the rustling of the leaves, the honking of the geese flying overhead, and the occasional gunshot across the lake, I found myself yearning to (figuratively) row into the middle of the lake to meet the men for a pow wow.  To move past the tensions and find a way for the masculine and feminine energy to co-exist without either swallowing the other up.  To encourage both men and women to embrace their feminine side along with their masculine side. Yin and yang together in a circle.

Despite the gunshots, the walk through the woods replenished me as I knew it would, but then something happened to deplete my energy once again. Near the end of the trail, someone had dumped a lot of big household garbage – an old couch, old appliances, etc. Standing there with the tranquility of the woods behind me, and the jarring presence of garbage in front of me, I found the sadness welling up within me. This garbage suddenly represented oil spills, the plastic island floating in the middle of the ocean, and all of the other travesties humans are causing all over the world (including, shamefully, the garbage that comes from my own household.)

What blights we allow to appear all around us when we stop caring about the way we treat our earth!

Carrying on down the path, I spotted a path marker – a weathered old wooden sign standing with its back to me. When I reached it, and read what was written on the front, I stopped short. Just one word – “Lifeline.”

In that moment, God whispered in my ear “You are called to offer a¬†lifeline. All of those things that saddened you back there – the tension with the (distorted) masculine energy across the lake, the garbage marring the face of Mother Earth – they represent a lot of lost and hurting hearts. They need a lifeline. Badly. And it’s you. And your circle of powerful women.”

Wow. That’s a pretty huge calling! I felt a little shaky. I had to stand there for a moment before I was ready to move on.

As I got closer to the retreat centre, I paused for a few more photos in the woods. On the ground, half buried in dry leaves, I spotted something white that was clearly not organic. Moving the leaves away, I realized it was a bowl.

I almost ignored it, but then the voice came again “you can’t do anything about the couch or all of that big garbage, but you CAN do something about this bowl.” Right. Just do my small piece.

So I picked up the bowl and carried on. As I fingered it, though, it became more than just a ceramic bowl someone had discarded. It became a begging bowl, like the ones the Buddhist monks carry into the village every day, trusting that it will be filled with just enough food to sustain them for that day. It was a reminder that, if I am called to offer a lifeline, I also need to trust that God and my village will sustain me with the energy and hope that I need every day.

Back at the retreat centre, I found the women near completion of the labyrinth. I rejoiced with them as they swept the last of the leaves into their designated circles.

And then, because it seemed like the right thing to do, I walked to the centre of the labyrinth and danced with my begging bowl, honouring the labyrinth, and honouring this incredible circle of women who were filling my bowl with so much goodness to sustain me for my journey away from the circle and into my future.

Note: it is never my intention to point blame when I talk about “masculine energy” or to imply that men have it wrong (gunshots) and women have it right (circles). That would be far too simplistic and not at all what I believe. I do, however, believe that we have not sufficiently learned to blend the feminine in with the masculine when it comes to leadership and organizational structures in our politics, communities, businesses, and homes, which is why I am working on launching my Sophia Leadership site soon.

This is why we write

October 27, 2010

With Christina Baldwin at the Listening Well workshop

Why do we write?

Why do we come to the page day in and day out and pour out our souls? Why, especially, do we who are bloggers regularly choose to send our words, our hearts, and our hurts, into cyberspace for all the world (or at least a dozen or so people) to see?

Let me tell you why we write.

Eight or nine years ago, I was in a dark place in my leadership journey. Working for the federal government as the Communications Manager for the only Level 4 lab in the country, I was the proverbial fish, swimming against the tide in water that was not my own. (Side note: thank you Kelly for being the other fish swimming with me.) Surrounded by scientists, I would often sit in meetings in which I was the only one in the room without a PhD attached to my name. I was also the only one who didn’t spend half of the meeting trying to peek under the table to check what was going on in Blackberry world. AND sometimes I felt like I was the only one who had a clue (or even cared) about the poor morale running rampant in the building.

The problem was, in the land of high-end science, there’s a tendency to promote good scientists into leadership positions because that’s the only way they can think of to reward them. Unfortunately, nobody stops to figure out whether they’ll make good leaders, nor do they bother to train them to think differently than they’ve thought all those years lost in their little worlds of test tubes and beakers. In my experience, what makes a good scientist rarely makes a good leader. (There are exceptions, of course, and I like to think some things can be taught, if you put some effort into it.)

Needless to say, it wasn’t a happy place for this right-brained artist who looks at a dna strand and can only imagine what a pretty necklace it would make. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a happy place for a whole lot of other people either, including people who were much more science-minded than me.

I’ll admit, I soon gave up on trying to swim upstream. Early on I tried to help create a more positive leadership culture, but it didn’t take long for discouragement to wear me down.

All the while, I kept thinking “there must be a better way! There must be a way to stem the tide of all of this negative energy we are all swirling in. There must be a way to lead people that makes them feel valued and that helps us all move forward in a positive way.”

I don’t remember what rabbit trail I followed to get there (perhaps I was Googling “alternative leadership models” – though we may not have called it “Googling” back then), but one day I stumbled upon the PeerSpirit website. “Life and leadership through Circle, Quest, and Story.” Ummm… what? And might I add… WOW? (I don’t really know if those were the exact words they had on their site at the time, but something to that effect certainly drew me in.)

More beautiful words have rarely been spoken to this right-brained artist/leader. Leading with circle, quest, and story? It sounded a little like nirvana to me, and so far removed from the culture I was living in.

I dug a little deeper and found out this was the work of Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, two incredible women who’d become disillusioned with the status quo and were looking for ways to engage people in meaningful conversations that are about how we can all contribute to the transformation of our world. At the time, I read everything I could find of theirs and vowed that some day I would meet them and learn from them and perhaps even work with them.

For years that quiet little intention was buried in the back of my mind. Life happened – I had another baby and switched jobs – and mostly I forgot about PeerSpirit or the impact Christina & Ann’s words had on me at the time. But then last year some time, their names started popping up again in things I was reading or in conversations I was having. I started perusing their site again, and started dreaming of going to one of their workshops.

When I decided to quit my job this summer, I knew that I wanted to invest in at least one learning event that would help launch me into this new work. As luck would have it, Christina was traveling to Ontario to present a Listening Well – Circle/Story workshop together with some other facilitators. I jumped at the chance to participate.

In the opening circle of the workshop, I shared my story with the group – about how it had felt like someone had lit a candle for me when I discovered Christina’s writing eight years ago.

When it was Christina’s time to speak, she got a little choked up when she said “you know, when you’re a writer, sometimes you feel a little lonely, not knowing for sure who is reading your work and if it’s making any difference. But then when I hear a story like Heather’s I’m reminded that this is why we continue to write – to light candles for people we may never meet.”

Christina’s words continue to reverberate in my heart.

I don’t always know who shows up at this blog, and I don’t always know if it’s making a difference for anyone. But I will continue to write in the hopes that for someone who’s feeling lost or alone, a candle will be lit and they’ll begin to see the way more clearly again.