Blog Posts

An unexpected lesson on sustainability

My 14-year-old woke his Gen-Xer mom to her unhealthy consumer mindset.

After school one day last week, my son announced he was interested in improving his wardrobe. He wanted me to take him shopping for new clothes. This was music to my ears. “Wow”, I thought, “he cares about how he looks and doesn’t want to keep wearing those jogging pants and sweatshirts he wears every day”. It turns out I was only partly right. When he showed me images on the internet of the clothes he had in mind, I couldn’t tell the difference between them and his current clothes. But alas, at least he cares!

Anyway, to his request I immediately replied, “Yes, of course. I’ll take you to the mall this weekend.” He was happy and said sure. He then paused and suggested, “Or we could go to a thrift store.”

He stopped me and my mind in my tracks.

I thought of myself as a responsible parent who instills values in my kids and models good behaviour. I teach them values including caring for each other and our environment. Why didn’t I think of a thrift store as a first option?

Don’t I talk about global warming and the threat of climate change? I’m the one that warns not to run the water too long or leave lights on in rooms.

My son made me realize that I still have things to learn and unlearn. Again, he proves to be one of my greatest teachers, as I shared in Good Morning, Life!

The Aha Moment

This was a real ‘aha’ moment for me as I realize that I still have work to do to shift my ingrained consumer mindset. Rather than feeling guilty or beating myself up over my shortcomings, I will use my mindful awareness to learn how to shift my mindset.

It’s natural to go through a transition when for years my generation became accustomed to a certain way of living. This Story of Stuff video is a great watch that explains how we adopted consumer mindsets over time.

We followed fashion trends. Every season or two a new fashion would come along and we’d get rid of our pinned skinny jeans and run to the mall for the latest trendy clothes. We became accustomed to eating a variety of foods, whatever is tasty and convenient, without thinking much about how it got to our tables. Other conveniences and luxuries, such as vacations and home renovations may be enjoyed without huge consideration for their impacts on the environment and the resources expended in the process.

Let’s consider the dilemma.

The Problem

Climate change and the risk it poses to our economy and financial services sector is a big focus for my organization. While I was working and reading through climate analysis, the below chart caught my attention.

Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-03036-x

The chart shows that the world’s CO2 emissions have been rising steadily, until . . .

The pandemic.

As you can see, in 2020 there was a sharp decrease in CO2 emissions. Then there is a sharp increase as things started going back to “normal”. My optimistic self reads this graph with hope. It shows me that we can reduce our carbon emissions. It tells me we just need to rethink what we consider “normal”. Our new normal can’t be our pre-pandemic normal because, as the chart shows us, that is leading us to big trouble. I’ll spare you the depressing graphs showing the scientific predictions if we don’t change our ways and keep going back to our old “normal” ways.

The Solution

The solution starts with awareness. Awareness of the issue and, more importantly, the knowledge that we all have a role to play. From my role at work, I know many governments, corporations and financial service companies are starting to take action but still have lots of work to do. But it will take everyone and there is a role for consumers to play as well. Households consume 29 percent of global energy and consequently contribute to 21 percent of resultant CO2 emissions.

At the individual level, as my son taught me, it can start with my mindset. I need to consider my actions and lifestyle with a new perspective. I need to think about the impact of my old habits on the environment. Below is a list of things each of us can do as a starting point to being part of the change to sustainable life on Earth. You will note that mindfulness is key. That’s because without being mindful we slip into old behaviour patterns and automatic pilot. We know that our old patterns aren’t working for us, so new behaviours are needed.

Actions for sustainable change:

  1. Be mindful about every purchase. Being mindful about everything we purchase will make a difference. We can always start by asking ourselves: Do I need this? If I need it, can I borrow it or purchase it used? How long will I use it for and what will happen to it when I’m done with it? In the case of my son’s shopping trip, we ended up going to two thrift shops in our area and he found some great “new” outfits. It feels good knowing he’s not adding anything new to our landfill sites.
  2. Be mindful about what we eat. Here are 5 basic tips for sustainable meal choices: prioritize plants, minimize meat (especially beef), select sustainably caught seafood, look local and eat mindfully. The food sector accounts for around 30 percent of the world’s total energy consumption and accounts for around 22 percent of total Greenhouse Gas emissions. We should also limit the amount of food we waste.
  3. Be environmentally conscious with travel plansAccording to studies, motor vehicles are the leading cause of air pollution in the United States, though other modes of travel, such as planes and cruise ships, create greater emissions per trip per person. Globally, transportation accounts for between 15 and 20 percent of emissions each year. Therefore, being mindful about vacation and travel plans can make a big difference. In this article, the WWF has some good vacation suggestions including choosing where to go and how to get there. Using public or shared transportation and choosing destinations closer to home are better options.
  4. Educate ourselves. We need to continue to educate ourselves. There are a lot of informative studies that show what we can do as consumers. Throughout this blog, I’ve linked to articles with lots of information and helpful suggestions as a starting point.
  5. Advocate and influence for action. Pressure from consumers and voters will help ensure that our governments and corporations take necessary and fast action that is needed to make changes. Look for ways to be a positive influence in your workplace too. Where there are opportunities to make changes to old ways of doing things, step in with more environmentally friendly ideas (e.g. less work-related travel).

The New Horizon

Here we are on the precipice of a time that matters most for the future of our planet. The pandemic has given us a wake-up call and a chance to change our ways for a sustainable future. We all have a role to play.

Will we answer the call? Will we ‘Look Up‘?

Now is our chance. And we have a pretty narrow opportunity before it’s too late, as the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report suggests. The UN reports that it’s now or never to take action before the world becomes uninhabitable.

Time to change our mindset and our future!

Presence. Intention. Do Your Best.

Purpose – Part 2: Aligning purpose and happiness for success

With a clear purpose and vision, our life and business can soar and happiness can be at the core.

In Part 1 I shared my personal vision statement as we dove into the importance of being clear on our purpose and its relation to happiness and success in life.

Just like individuals, a company’s success is rooted in a clearly-defined purpose and values. It helps ensure employees are working toward the same end game. A clearly defined purpose can give a company its North Star. When a company defines a higher purpose beyond short-term financial goals and puts employee happiness at its core, it’s a tremendous win-win.

Let’s start by looking at how purpose can be defined.

Defined purpose and core values

Companies should set a vision statement and define their purpose. Without a clear purpose, organizations can fall into patterns of reactivity and short-term thinking. They can lose their path to long-term, sustainable success. Thinking only of current year profits is a dangerous approach for a business, especially in today’s ever-changing environment.

When defining a company purpose, the same process can be followed as for individual’s defining our core purpose, as outlined in Part 1 of this blog series. Companies can ask these key questions:

  1. What are our company’s core values?
  2. What character traits do we want our company and employees to be known for?
  3. What differentiates our company from others?
  4. What is one thing we do better than anyone else?
  5. What impact would we like to have on the world?
  6. What are our most fundamental beliefs?
  7. What is the greatest thing we want to achieve?

These questions can force a company to think longer term about where it wants to go and who it wants to be.

With a clearly defined purpose it will be easier to attract and retain employees that have compatible values and goals. When working towards a common purpose, the business succeeds through the successes of its employees. It can be a beautiful symbiotic, mutualistic relationship that benefits both the company and the employee.

Now more than ever, customers and employees are interested in understanding companies’ core values. They want to work with ethical, environmentally and socially aware companies. Therefore, when developing a corporate purpose, it’s wise to think bigger picture and go for a higher purpose. What can the company offer to employees and society beyond the basic product(s) or service(s) it provides? A higher purpose is one beyond just profits and immediate business results.

Higher purpose and culture

Zappos is an intriguing example of a successful company that discovered the power of defining its higher purpose. At the center of Zappos’ higher purpose is its culture, which is defined by happy, growing, creative, empowered employees. Zappos’ employees define/capture the company culture through the creation of an annual Zappos culture book.

Due to Zappos’ culture of growth and innovation, the vision of the company has evolved. At Zappos’ inception in 1999 its brand promise was having the “largest selection of shoes”, but it slowly evolved to “delivering happiness” in 2009.

“Delivering happiness” is a good example of a higher purpose for an online shoe company.

Having a robust company culture means living by those values and that mission each day and encouraging your teammates to do the same. A strong culture produces employees with a well-tuned sense of direction and helps create common definitions of success, so your company can grow as a team.

William Craig, 8 Ways Company Culture Drives Performance, Aug 2017

Zappos not only defined a higher purpose, but in the process it discovered the win-win of happy engaged employees with business performance and success. This leads me to another key link to a truly successful company – happy employees.

Alignment – happy people and business performance

As I was going through the process of defining my purpose, one of my fundamental beliefs surfaced – happy people and high performance go hand-in-hand. Therefore, it’s a huge win-win for companies and their employees when those employees are happy!

This belief has taken shape over the course of my career. From business school to more than twenty years working with banks and insurance companies, I see the impact people have on a company’s results. Financial services companies’ biggest asset and cost is their people. If employees are performing at their best, the company has a great chance of success.

As discussed in Part 1, peoples’ end game is happiness and studies show that happiness leads to success. Therefore, making happiness part of a company’s purpose and culture is a powerful win-win. When considering some of the key things that make people happy, and thus engaged (e.g. purpose, balance, connection, growth) it’s easy to see how workplaces can actually contribute to an individual’s happiness. Unfortunately, old corporate paradigms don’t always seem to naturally align work with happiness. These outdated perceptions can and should change though. Which is why a key message in my corporate speaking engagements is that the workplace is a great place to cultivate happiness.

For companies, it’s not only smart to pay attention to employees’ happiness, but there’s a high cost to ignoring it.

The cost of ignoring happiness and culture

In Part 1, we discussed “the great resignation”. There are numerous studies that have put a cost to employee disengagement resulting from poor cultures. One study found that 53% of Americans feel disengaged at work. Another study found that unhappy workers cost the North American economy $350 billion in lost productivity per year.

Happy employees tend to be engaged and stay with their company. Unhappy employees cost organizations in a number of ways, including:

In addition to the costs above, there are immeasurable costs from the negative ripple effects when unhappy employees go home to their families and communities.

Therefore, when considering your company’s purpose, think about its higher purpose and also how employee happiness can fit into the equation. It will be a win-win for employees and for business success.

Go for the win-win

If you’re an employee or a leader, consider your company’s higher purpose. Is it clearly defined? Does it resonate and inspire you? What role does happiness play in the purpose and culture?

Consider the studies of how happiness leads to success and how you can use the science of happiness to benefit not only your own life, but also your business.

If happiness is everyone’s ultimate goal, wouldn’t it be great if we could change the world and get everyone and every business thinking in that context and that framework?

Tony Hsieh, Delivering Happiness

What can you do to better align purpose, values, culture and happiness to benefit you, your company, and the broader community? We all have a role to play. Perhaps the starting point is simply sharing this article.

The positive ripple effects are overwhelmingly worth going for the ultimate win-win of people and performance.

Purpose.

Purpose
Photo by fauxels from Pexels

Purpose – Part 1: What’s your end game?

With a clear purpose and vision our life and business can soar, and happiness can be at the core.

I just finished reading the book Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, the late CEO of Zappos.com. Zappos is a successful company (purchased by Amazon in 2009 for $1.2 billion) known for its workplace culture, where happiness is at its core. The last chapter titled “End Game” really struck a chord with me for a number of reasons. Notably, the message lines up with Purpose from the happiness formula in Good Morning, Life!

Interestingly, I’ve also recently been reading lots of articles on what’s been coined “the great resignation”. In 2021 a record number of Americans quit their job. While there are a number of factors contributing to this high rate, a common theme is that workers are reevaluating their life priorities, prioritizing work passion over financial security and want to work for companies that align with their values.

It really emphasizes the importance of a clear end game or purpose for both people and businesses. This will be a two-part blog post: this first part focuses on the end game for us as people, while Part 2 will focus on companies and the link between the two.

What’s my end game?

To get people thinking about their end game, Tony Hsieh would ask them, “What’s your goal in life?” He typically got lots of different answers. Some said they wanted to start a company, some wanted to find a spouse, and others wanted to be healthy. Whatever their goal, he would follow up with “why?” He would ask why again and again after each ensuing response. Eventually the final answer inevitably came down to the same ultimate pursuit: happiness.

At our core, we all want to lead happy lives. Happiness is generally our desired end game.

While we may take different paths, our ultimate goal is the same. Instead of blindly following old behaviour patterns, we can consciously choose actions that help meet our end goal. Without being mindful about our true desired end game it’s easy to veer off our path.

How do I figure out my end game/purpose?

I recently had a speaking engagement where I walked through the happiness formula in our work context. After the session, an attendee told me that in his group’s Zoom breakout room they got into a philosophical discussion about the concept of Purpose. So I thought it’d be helpful to write this post about how we can define our Purpose in a practical way.

Creating a personal vision statement is what helped me define my purpose. I started with a list of questions. Grab a pencil and jot down notes as you ask yourself these questions:

  1. What are my dream character traits? Choose your top 3 personal character traits that are important to you. You can Google to find a list of character traits from the internet, such as this list.
  2. What energizes me?
  3. What did I enjoy doing as a child?
  4. What differentiates me from others?
  5. What is one thing I do better than anyone?
  6. What impact would I like to have on the world?
  7. What are my most fundamental beliefs?
  8. What is the greatest thing I want to achieve?

Based on your answers, create a short overarching personal vision statement (1-2 sentences). It should be present tense and action oriented.

Personal vision statement

If it helps to see an example, here is my personal vision statement:

Bring compassion and joy to the world by being authentic, doing my best, and inspiring others to be their best.

Personal vision statements can be easily referred to and mine helps me stay grounded in my purpose when faced with the many daily demands on my energy and time. My vision statement is my North Star, creating alignment between my daily actions and my end game.

My personal vision statement is about how I choose to live. I also have a core purpose statement that focuses more on what I focus my attention on. The what may change over time, so it’s always good to revisit and check in.

If life is a journey, then purpose is a compass that helps us stay
the course. And if you veer off the path, don’t be discouraged.
Replot your course and refocus on what matters most to you.

Deloitte – Defining Your Purpose Info Graphic

What’s your purpose?

What’s your purpose/end-game?

By reading or listening to Good Morning, Life!, you’ll discover the secret that happiness is not actually a future end game, it’s for today! Putting off happiness for another day is a dangerous plan. We risk getting to the end of our life and realizing that we ran out of time. Instead of spending our days being happy, we spend our days waiting to be happy.

It is not uncommon for people to spend their whole life waiting to start living.

Eckhart Tolle

Now that we’ve had a chance to dive into what brings meaning to our lives, stay tuned for Part 2. We’ll explore how purpose and happiness can come together in a symbiotic relationship for people and companies resulting in strong business performance.

Purpose.

Purpose and vision for happiness
Photo by Valentin Antonucci from Pexels

Love like you love your cat

This Valentine’s Day my cat Jackie reminds me what unconditional love is and the importance of having an open heart.

As I woke up and reached over to stroke my cat Jackie’s furry coat and gently kiss his head while he purred softly, a feeling of unconditional love washed over me. I wondered aloud, how do I love this creature so much? Considering I was a “non-cat” person as I share in an earlier blog, and that Jackie has ruined two designer chairs in my family room, curtains, an area rug, along with other sundry items. To be sure, cleaning up his business is no fun matter, especially when he occasionally misses his litter box. So what’s his appeal and where does this love come from? He doesn’t actually DO much for us, other than meow for attention when he wants something. And while his purring indicates some happiness on his side, I don’t know if he loves me.

Continue reading “Love like you love your cat”

I want to be happy. Where do I start?

A friend recently confided that she doesn’t feel as happy as she’d like to be in her life. She hasn’t been feeling at her best and wants to be happier. Her question to me was simple, “Where do I start?”.

I told her, “You’ve already started! The first step is the awareness that you are not as happy as you’d like to be.”

This blog is for my friend and for everyone who is feeling the same way. And I know that she isn’t alone.

Continue reading “I want to be happy. Where do I start?”

The dance of a lifetime

I don’t think I truly realized how much I love to dance until I was much older in life. As a kid my mom enrolled me and my siblings in Scottish highland dance lessons. My sisters and I would practice by dancing around rulers at home. It was fun but felt like work, as it was structured and there were very specific ways we had to hold our hands and move our feet. There was a lot to focus on.

The next dancing I remember is from my high school dances. As a teenager, I felt very self-conscious on the dance floor, aware of my every move. Oftentimes I’d choose to sit on the sidelines and watch to avoid the discomfort of putting myself out there. Before too long, my small town friends and I discovered that alcohol was a great way to dissolve self-consciousness (and self-awareness unfortunately). Even though I then had the liquid courage to dance, it wasn’t very graceful and the memories are foggy. It was fun, but still not overly satisfying at the end of the day.

Continue reading “The dance of a lifetime”

How I learned to tame my anxious energy

I realized that I have an anxious energy problem during my first coaching experience. It came early in my career when my company had a Life Coach, Joshua Zuchter, come in to deliver a wellness session. He was engaging, insightful and full of optimism, hope and positivity. When he offered a complimentary one-on-one coaching session, I took him up on it. At our agreed upon time I called him up. He asked what I wanted to talk about. It didn’t take long before I was rambling on telling him about my dilemma. I was stressing about whether I should write a professional exam, after a previous unsuccessful attempt.

Awareness is the first step

Continue reading “How I learned to tame my anxious energy”

The blame game

One of the most practical lessons I’ve learned on my journey to happiness is the role of blame. When I stop blaming and take responsibility, the road to inner peace becomes much more smooth.

I had an “aha” moment the first time I watched this Brené Brown short video on Blame. I recognized the feeling of immediately looking for someone to blame when something doesn’t go my way. And like Brené’s example in the video, the blame for those little things, like spilling coffee or forgetting to take out the garbage, often falls on my husband. The more research and practice I’ve done with mindfulness, I realize that there are many ways blame manifests in daily life. We might find ourselves blaming colleagues or leaders about something that happens at work. Perhaps we blame society or fate for an external crisis or dilemma we find ourselves in. The fact is blaming doesn’t work. It keeps us in a negative cycle and prevents us from taking action.

Blame prevents happiness

Continue reading “The blame game”

Labels and limitations – the good, the bad and the ugly

We use labels to describe each other based on characteristics, gender, roles, backgrounds, affiliations, etc. The labels are limitless but their impacts can be limiting. Depending on how identified we are with these labels they can restrain our behaviour, actions and growth.

The “Shy” Girl

When I was young, I could have been considered “shy” or “quiet”. An example that demonstrates this quality took place one afternoon while we were camping. My sisters and I wanted a snack so we jumped on our banana seat bikes and headed to the camp store. My older sister Heather and I were shy, so when we wanted to know the cost of a pack of gum, we immediately turned to our little sister. Janice was around four years old at the time. She is two years younger than me and four years younger than Heather, but was much less timid than both of us at the time. We quietly asked her to ask the lady at the counter how much the gum was. Without hesitation, she posed the question for us while we eagerly listened for the answer. We were a good team with Janice compensating for her older siblings’ shyness.

This “shyness” lasted through my teen years. I remember meeting my boyfriend’s parents and spending time at his house, where I spoke no more than I had to. At our wedding his parents reminisced at how quiet I was when they first met me.

Continue reading “Labels and limitations – the good, the bad and the ugly”

Mindful media: Is social media friend or foe?

Social media is like our mind and mindfulness is the key to making it a friend

My family and I recently spent a beautiful summer evening on the lakefront in a nearby town. We had a picnic and took a stroll along the water, enjoying the warm weather and lovely sunset. I took some social media worthy shots. They depicted a happy family along with colourful scenic views. But they didn’t show the whole picture.

What they didn’t show was the unhappiness that came towards the end of the evening as the boys were getting tired and their mom was trying to eke out every last bit of relaxation and enjoyment on the last few days of her summer vacation. I love walks, nature and quiet evenings, however my thirteen and eleven year old boys don’t appreciate it quite as much. They’d much rather be playing video games with their friends or working on YouTube projects. While I don’t want to detract from the family bonding time and good parts of the day, the reality is there were tears, frustration and unhappiness towards the end of the evening as our interests and energy levels were at odds.

I’m fairly sure we are a typical family, going through natural challenges as we navigate our different interests and try to find balance. Oftentimes we don’t get the balance just right. In this case, we stayed up too late. I’ve learned over the years that tiredness is a big culprit of negative emotions that are hard to control.

My pictures didn’t capture this part of the evening.

Continue reading “Mindful media: Is social media friend or foe?”