Lessons from a “Failed Year”

2017 was “supposed to be” a year all about achieving balance; about carving out a happy place between success and stress, and about having the courage to do more of what is good for me, and less of what I think I should do, or what others decide I ought to do.

I was inspired by the words of Marissa Sharkey when she said, “Know yourself and let that guide you. The hardest thing as defined by the outside world is not necessarily the best for you, or even the most challenging. Be courageous and choose your own path.”

In retrospect, it’s easy to see that I was trying to find a way to establish boundaries, and reclaim the power to decide where my time & energy should be directed. Those things are essential to a healthy work-life balance, and beginning to feel burnt out, I was seeking them desperately. Unfortunately, as a teacher, I’ve been trained to give of myself constantly, and without thought.

A student needs extra help with an essay after school? Give the time.

Leadership class wants to run a 30 Hour Famine Fundraiser? Give up your sleep to supervise from 2-5 a.m.

The grad class needs a teacher advisor? Give administration a big fat “yes” when asked to take on the part-time job of event-planner.

Give. Give. Give. 

Now, giving is not a negative. In fact, I like to give. I am invigorated by teaching and by demonstrating service. However, I am depleted by being forced to give when my agency to choose where my time and energy are directed is taken away.

One of the places I badly wanted to direct my time & energy this year was into learning a second language, which has been on my bucket list for ages. I decided on Spanish, and registered for an introductory class through Athabasca University.  I could, I told myself, be successful at balancing a full-time job (including the demands of marking that come with teaching English 30-1), planning our school’s grad ceremonies, instructing aquafit a few nights a week, and taking on the job as administrator for my condo association, with one university course. After all, didn’t I believe that one finds time for the things they honestly believe are important? I’d just have to practice what I always preach about the important of good time management. . . but with so many other responsibilities imposed by outside forces, I had little time for the things I found to be important by personal choice (including my relationships, even though I was oblivious to this problem at the time) no matter how much I exercised good time management. Even after committing myself to 30 minutes a day of study for the month of March, I withdrew from the course in April after finding out I was pregnant.

Here I was, struggling to balancing the demands described above, and fighting constant nausea and fatigue. It was a recipe for disaster.

Reluctantly, I also set aside my running and fitness goals to focus on just surviving all of the other commitments piled on my plate, along with feeling so crappy.

Even now, months later, I am mad at myself for having failed so miserably at achieving my goals. I feel genuinely ashamed, and incredibly disappointed in myself. Perhaps I could have planned better, perhaps I should have started waking up even earlier, perhaps . . . perhaps . . . perhaps. I’m trying to learn that I can’t do it all & that sometimes, saying “NO” is a perfectly okay response when asked to take on something else because if I can’t learn to do so, my personal well-being & aspirations suffer.

Now, halfway through week three of my maternity leave, in this strange pocket of time after the demands of school, and before baby, I have finally achieved what I hoped to at the beginning of 2017. I started maternity leave a bit early to give myself time to de-stress, clean the house, & generally prepare with some self-care. I didn’t go back to the pool in September to teach aquafit. And I resigned from being the condo association administrator at our AGM in November.

Today, I’m calm and settled. The measurement of my success isn’t how busy I am.  I am in control of how I spend my time and where I direct my energy, more than I have at any other point in my life.

While I may be learning how to me a Mom in 2018, (& I recognize that this journey will be anything but easy) it was a conscious decision to do so on my part. It’s somewhere I’ve decided to devote my time and energy. It’s a decision I made. I’m so looking forward to having the luxury of time & space in 2018 to measure my success by my health, my personal fulfillment, & my happiness. Finally.

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#Idareme February: 28 days, 28 new things

January was a difficult month. To be blunt, it sucked. While it was really tempting to continue to stew in the grief of loss, I needed to shake things up in February & inject some positivity, excitement, & wonder back into my life. I came up with the idea of challenging myself to try something new every day for the month of February.

“All too often we let the fear the unknown stop us. But pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones is actually good for us. Trying new things not only helps us to vanquish those fears, but it also allows us to expand our minds and learn—both about said new thing, and about ourselves.”
-Maggie Peikon

I didn’t stress over what my new thing would be each day. Sometimes it was obvious, & sometimes it was 10 p.m. & I hadn’t tried anything new yet, so I had to get creative. Regardless, it was challenging & enjoyable.

Here’s what I did:

1. Tried bookcrossing

2. Jumped off the diving board at the local pool

3.Played squash

4. Drank a double-double

5.Took on a solo renovation DIY

6. Tried a chia seed drink

7. Made a DIY headband

8.Made overnight oats (To make, layer the following in a mason jar & leave in fridge overnight: 1/2 cup quick oats, tiny bit of vanilla extract, sprinkle of cinnamon, 2 tbsp. almond milk, tbsp. of chia seeds [they’re optional], 1/2 cup vanilla greek yogurt, sliced strawberries)

9.Took my Gr.11s to the local Lodge to interview seniors for the “Gathering Wisdom” project

10. Took the Anthony Henday around the North side of Edmonton

11. Visited the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum

12. Ate my first maki cone & tried a new roll

13. Made an at home oil + honey deep conditioning treatment

14. Taught Brian aquafit

15. Tried a new brainstorming technique: Iconic Figures

16. Went to my first Oilers game @ Rogers’ Place

17.Made a lucky paper starhttp://www.craftpassion.com/2013/12/curled-paper-star.html

18.Seen Garth Brooks in concert

19. Watched ear candling

20. Tried having a Chopped competition

21. Tried a Qi Gong video

22. Listened to a new podcast: Missing Richard Simmons

23. Started a new series: Kindness Diaries

24. Installed Privacy Badger to block spying from invisible internet trackers

25. Watched the Oscar-nominated shorts

26. Drank a Starbucks sample

27. Hosted a Creativi-tea activity

28. Posted a message to the Canadian Armed Forces Members

I chronicled this challenge on instagram. To see my thoughts about the experiences each day, check out the posts below.

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The takeaway
If you’re in a rut & feeling frustrated, give this challenge a try. The new things can be big, or little. Either way, they’re a reminder that the world has plenty to offer, sometimes we just need to make an effort to look ?Be curious & open to explore. It makes every day better, I promise.

Interested in giving this challenge a try yourself? Here are some additional ideas:

  • Try Tai Chi (check online for videos)
  • Check out an art show
  • Go for a backwards walk
  • Calligraphy
  • New Pinterest craft
  • Play a new board game
  • Play a new card game
  • Walk to work or take a new route
  • Eat vegan or vegetarian for a day
  • Learn to change a tire
  • Get acupuncture
  • Creative challenge: take one object & take photos of it from 7 different angles
  • Make origami
  • Have your palms or tea leaves read
  • Try shopping on Etsy
  • Watch a sunrise & a sunset in the same day
  • Have a tech. free day
  • Have a progressive meal
  • Order dessert first
  • Go to a live game of a new sport: hockey, basketball, baseball, football, etc.
  • Try a new workout (Rowing intervals or hot yoga anyone?)
  • Play a new sport (I tried squash!)
  • Learn a new style of dance
  • Workout at a new time (yup, try getting up early before work)
  • Go for a barefoot run
  • Ride a segway
  • Try a new food (the ethnic aisle at the grocery store is great for this one)
  • Cook a new food/dish (homemade icecream?)
  • Throw a dinner party or a murder-mystery party
  • Check out a new restaurant or shop at a new store
  • Donate to a new cause that you really care about
  • Write a letter to your MP or MLA about an issue thats important to you
  • Capture your day in pictures: try taking a photo every hour
  • Join a new gym
  • Learn to count from 1-10 in a new language
  • Try cake decorating
  • Attend a Paint Nite
  • Visit your local library
  • Watch a classic movie that you’re secretly ashamed you’ve never watched
  • Play bingo
  • Get hypnotized
  • Milk a cow
  • Take on a new project at work
  • DIY spa treatment
  • Try Uber
  • Try Postcrossing
  • Geocaching
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2016’s 50 Book Pledge

Looking back at the list of books I read in 2016 is an interesting exercise in reflection & recollection. For example, when I see book no. 34, My Wish List, it takes me back to my honeymoon. I bought My Wish List in a small bookstore in Quebec City, with an itty-bitty english-language section and read it on the train trip back to Montreal. But the most important book I read was no. 26, The Happiness of Pursuit, because it made me realize that the #50bookpledge is more than a goal to encourage myself to read; it’s a quest for continual learning & personal growth. Inspired by the benefits of pursuit outlined in the book, I decided to turn my yearly reading goal into a life-long quest to complete the 50 book pledge for 50 straight years.
So, without further ado: my #50bookpledge list for 2016 (2 years down, only 48 more to go!)

  1. Open Heart, Open Mind By Clara Hughes
  2. They Left Us Everything By Plum Johnson
  3. The Garden of Letters By Alyson Richman
  4. Ballad of the Whiskey Robber By Julian Rubinstein
  5. The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules By Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg
  6. Remembering Forever: A Journey of Darkness & Light By Eva Olsson with Ron Jacques
  7. Sugar Falls By David Alexander Robertson
  8. The Steady Running of the Hour By Justin Go
  9. Ellen Foster By Kaye Gibbons
  10. All My Puny Sorrows By Miriam Toews
  11. Code Talker By Chester Nez
  12. A Rose for Her Grave By Ann Rule
  13. Fatty Legs By Christy Jordan-Fenton
  14. Pinnochio By Carlo Collodi
  15. Introducing Shakespeare By Nick Groom & Pie
  16. The Birds By Daphne Du Maurier
  17. In Cold Blood By Truman Capote
  18. Horse Sense By Tillen Bruce
  19. The Way of the Runner By Adharanand Finn
  20. The Fish that Ate the Whale: The Life & Time’s of America’s Banana King By Rich Cohen
  21. If I Should Die Before I Wake By Han Nolan
  22. Precious By Sapphire
  23. God Thinks You’re Wonderful By Max Lucado
  24. Running with the Kenyans By Adharanand Finn
  25. Bay of Secrets By Rosanna Ley
  26. The Happiness of Pursuit By Chris Guillebeau
  27. Adore By Doris Lessing
  28. My Year of Running Dangerously By Tom Foreman
  29. Little Bee By Chris Cleave
  30. Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy & Hard Times By Jennifer Worth
  31. Kingdom of the Golden Dragon By Isabel Allende
  32. Call the Midwife: Shadow’s of the Workhouse By Jennifer Worth
  33. The Mermaids Singing By Lisa Carey
  34. My Wish List By Gregoire Delacourt
  35. Call the Midwife: Farewell to the East End By Jennifer Worth
  36. The Undertaker’s Daughter By Kate Mayfield
  37. True Crime Addict By James Renner
  38. What Doctors Feel By Danielle Ofri, M.D.
  39.  The Midwife’s Sister By Christine Lee
  40. The Wave By Todd Strasser
  41. Animal Farm By George Orwell
  42. Maximum Insecurity By William Wright, M.D.
  43. Running Like a Girl By Alexandra Heminsley
  44. Stuart Little By E.B. White
  45. Maybe this Christmas By Sarah Morgan
  46. Stiff By Mary Roach
  47. Fun Home By Alison Bechdel
  48. Julius Caesar: A Shakespeare Story By Andrew Matthews & Tony Ross
  49. The Tempest: A Shakespeare Story By Andrew Matthews & Tony Ross
  50. Modern Romance By Aziz Ansari


Interested in joining me for 2017’s pledge? Visit 50bookpledge.ca & get reading!

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