Let’s Celebrate a Brilliant Woman Today: Marla Richler

Marla

This post is co-written by three people. I collaborated with my siblings, Neil Richler and Darcie Richler, as we celebrate the most special woman in our lives, our mother, Marla Richler.

Whoever said ‘it’s the journey, not the destination” probably never retired. From what we hear, retirement is quite the destination!  

Today, our amazing mother Marla Richler (AKA Marla Gomberg to her work colleagues) is retiring after nearly 50 years in the social work field. She achieved a Master’s degree from McGill University by the time she was 22 and devoted the first ten years of her career to children in the Montreal school system then to youth at the Ontario Official Guardian’s Office. Marla spent the last 35 years working as a clinical social worker at a GTA hospital and covered everything from the ER, surgery, the ICU, palliative care, rehab, medicine and her true passion of geriatric medicine (and probably a lot more than that). 

Our mother has been on the front line, in the trenches.  She has fearlessly worked with the vulnerable, the marginalized, the weak, the frail and the very sick.  Her heart has ALWAYS been in the right place and her brain is always set to  “GO GO GO”.   You want something done?  Call Marla. You want it done with high energy and total positivity?  Definitely call her!

Even when we were young, our mom never stopped working.  Our dad had a very demanding and intense career and travelled often.  Somehow, Marla managed to do it all.  Never was she late for carpool, after school activities, dance recitals, etc.  Our food was home cooked with love and she endlessly pushed us all to achieve great things.

And her work. It was her real baby (well except for maybe her dogs!!).  Anyone lucky enough to be supported by our mom knows just how lucky they are.  Over the years our family connected with countless people who Marla had cared for during their time of need.  Patients and their families became beloved people in her life, often regularly following up with her for many years to come.   Our mom TRULY cared about each and every person who was in her charge.  And let us tell you, clinical social work isn’t for the faint of heart. Our mom was a rock, often a shoulder to lean on or cry on, for people during their difficult times.  She advocated and fought for her patients, all the while offering kindness and respect to everyone she encountered.

Over the years, we had the opportunity to get to know many of her colleagues well.  From doctors to nurses, to orderlies and other social workers, we learned that our mom was a true superhero.  Doctors would call her at home to follow up on a patient, knowing that they would be better off calling at night with important information instead of waiting until the next day.  Those who know our mom understand the kind of devotion that she has maintained with her work.

And, let us not forget, her mentorship.  Over the years our mom has mentored and supported too many social workers and students to name.  She LOVED this.  It would take hours of her unpaid time, but she passionately guided and helped the newcomers to the office become the talented professionals that they are today.  In particular, our mom has always been incredibly protective of the young women who have entered the workforce.  Her love for the “younger generation” was endless.  Helping other women find a balance between work and home and everything in between was something she cared about deeply.  To this day, she has colleagues who are in constant need of her support.  She offers it with a complete and open heart.  

If it isn’t obvious enough yet, we are very, very proud of her!  To add, this is the second pandemic that she has worked through.  Her experience with SARS, though very scary, was invaluable on this round.  

As we celebrate our mother and all her incredible achievements,  there is another side to today as well.  Our mother is retiring today because she felt had to. She believed she didn’t have a choice. 

Over the last decade, our mom has felt drained and pushed around by the leadership at the hospital.  As someone who showed up to each work day with her best possible attitude, she felt incredibly depleted by the workplace politics and power trips. One would think that this exhaustion would come from the years of hard work, but in fact, her patients bring her joy, and helping them energizes her.

While we are disappointed that her clinical career, that spanned almost 50 years, is concluding this way, we know it will come as a great relief to our mom to not have so much stress at this point in her life.  

We are sharing this information with our mom’s permission.  She was ok with us doing so because she cares. Maybe someone will read this and see the compassionate place that it is coming from.  So many individuals have retired in recent months and years feeling the same way.  And there are many others who are too scared to speak out.

The workplace that our mother entered in 1985 was clearly ahead of its time, with strong and capable leadership and good people steering the ship.  Colleagues looked after each other and operated in a caring environment that encouraged and supported team work. There was little or no drama and tight bonds were formed that have lasted to today. There was no room for immature behaviour or pettiness.  We are sad to say that it seems that today’s leadership in the current organization has a lot of work to do to maintain a basic level of respect and integrity.  The pandemic threw this observation into technicolour.  It was very clear to us that our level headed and hard working mom did not feel safe working there anymore.  At 70, she was not willing to risk her health to be working in person (factoring in everything currently going on in the world), knowing the potential for danger. Our mom has worked because she wanted to, not because she had to.  Thankfully she was in a position where she could have an easier time making this decision.

Even with that said, today is still a day to celebrate.  A career like this one had a lot more ups than downs.  And yet, our mom still has passion in her.  She is not ready to stop and actually retire. She has decided to set up her own, private practice to support patients and their families who need expertise with aging and later life transitions.  And yes, we will continue to brag about her.

Mom, you truly led by example.  We absorbed so much of your goodness over the years just by watching you in action.  You taught us to open our eyes fully and help when we can.  Your WAZE is always set to the high road, which is probably why you got as far as you did.  

Wishing you a giant mazel tov.  May we all continue to learn from you and be blessed with such long and fulfilling careers.  May others still get to benefit from your great wisdom and compassion for years to come.  May you find the balance between offering that support and doing every single thing that you love.  We are so lucky to have you. 






I Took the Plunge

Plunge

I took the first step. My toe touched the water. Then one foot was immersed. Wow, that’s cold. Okay, keep going, I said to myself. The second foot went in. And I stopped. It was boiling hot outside, and I felt cooler with just my feet lapping the water. But I had to go on. I took a few steps in to the lake, until first my knees were covered then my thighs. I looked around at the deep lake beyond and knew I had to go on. It was cold. Very cold. I don’t like cold water. But I was determined to go further. I had to take the plunge – all the way in.

This is not some vivid dream I had this summer or a parable out of some book of legends. This was me, last week, as I stood on the water’s edge, by the lake, in the mountains, right here in Canada.

For most of this summer, okay most summers, I’m happy to sit on the sidelines, relaxed on a lounger, and watch others swim and splash in the lake. I don’t love cold water, but really that’s not the reason I avoid it. For me, and I am going to throw it out there – for many people – it’s easier to sit and watch, to let someone else do it, to stay away from risk, to keep the status quo. I could describe it ten other ways. Basically, it’s harder to take the plunge and go in the water than to stay on the shore.

Back to my first steps into the lake last week. I had been thinking about taking the plunge for a while. I sit at a desk all day working, and I spend most of my evening in the kitchen. It bothered me that I wasn’t very active, and I watched many people around me find time every day to cycle, run, hike, and yes, swim. I had to do something about that. I had to act.

I waited for a hot day, and into the lake I stepped. Slowly. One foot in front of the other. I kept thinking to myself, what am I doing? Am I crazy? It’s freezing! There are better ways to be active. I almost turned around many times. I stood in the lake, submerged to my waist, for a long time. Finally, I gained my composure, and yes, I took the plunge.

I went in. It was freezing cold. I screamed. I cursed. Then I calmed down, and I swam. I kept moving, and it was exhilarating. After a few minutes the cold didn’t bother me. I kept swimming, all the way to the raft that lives a short distance from our dock. I was out of breath and took a break when I reached the raft. Wow, I was out of shape. I gained some strength, turned around, and I swam back to our dock.

I emerged from the water triumphant. I did it! And I felt great. That moment of exhilaration, when I took the plunge, was very meaningful. It made me pause and think about who I am, what I do, and the choices I make. And it made me want to swim again!

Since that moment, I have taken the plunge, into the lake, for a swim, every day. My confidence builds every day (as I close my rings on my iWatch too!). But that moment, the first dip in the lake, has pushed me to take the plunge to do more than just take a swim in cold water. It made me realize that it’s hard to accomplish anything if I’m just sitting there, on the sidelines. Yes, it’s easy to be stagnant, to relax on a comfy chair and live with the status quo. But is that what I really want?

Clearly, the answer is no. This plunge into the lake helped me raise up my voice, assertively, and take steps towards some life goals and career goals, How can I take on more responsibility, do the work I want to do, or work with the people I want to work with, if I don’t take the plunge and tell people how I feel and what I want? I’m not a shy person, but when it comes to my personal growth, I admit, I am often quiet and reserved. It’s not that I always put others ahead of myself, but I’m hesitant, even anxious sometimes, to act.

If I’m comfortable, I stay put. Sometimes that’s okay, but my plunge into the lake reminded me that I need to take a cold refreshing swim more often. It’s worth it. How will I know until I try it? I tried it. I took the plunge. Into the lake. Into my work, and my life. And I’m loving it. I encourage everyone to take a plunge of some kind. It’s worth it.

plunge
I started to paddle board too every day, with my dog!

Women Run Circles around the Men

If you know me, or if you follow my blog, you know that I’m a sports fan. It’s a topic I love to write about, from baseball to hockey to football and basketball. Skiing. Tennis. And of course, the Olympics. Yes I admit it. I love the Olympics. I love to watch the Olympics, whether it’s the winter or summer games. I can’t get enough of it. For the past week and a half I have closely followed the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, but what has piqued my interest the most are the Canadian women.

I am a person who defines myself in many ways. When I ask myself who I am, I never have a simple answer. Of course I am a mother and a wife. I’m a daughter, daughter-in-law, sister, cousin, friend. I am a writer and communications leader. But I’m also a woman. I’m a woman with a voice, often a loud voice.

My career has been shaped, in part, by choices that I made as a woman. I turned down a promotion, and raise, when my son turned one, so that I could work part-time and be with him. I was laid off from a job during a supposed reorganization weeks after I returned from a year-long maternity leave with my older daughter. I lost another job while I was on maternity leave with my third child!

I learned years ago that I couldn’t do it all. Kudos to the women who find a way to do it all, but for most of us, we need to make choices. If I wanted to be with my children when they were babies, it meant my career slowed down, or at times, paused. If I want to push myself all the way now at work, it means time away from my kids. So many women feel this pull, as they push forward with a career and raise a family.

So, back to where I began and my love of the Olympics. I’m not going to make excuses for that. There are many reasons why the Olympics may be past their prime and need to be rethought for our 21st century society. The cost to plan and execute the games is absurd. Venues are built that often fall into a state of decay a few years later. The lives of the locals are put on hold when the world arrives in their town. Quite frankly, the Olympic games are rather unpopular.

The Olympics has never been less popular than the 2020 games (yes, happening in 2021). Even I, a long-time fan, had my doubts. But, I woke up at 6:30 am back on July 23rd, to watch the opening ceremonies on TV. As soon as the countdown began to the live event, at 7:00 am my time, I was hooked. I watched the athletes march out, each with a woman and man holding their country’s flag, together. I heard the commentators state that Team Canada has about an equal number of men and women this time. There was a feeling in the air that it was an Olympics that wouldn’t just be defined by a global pandemic but also the strength, determination and power of great women.

Before even one game was played or one race run, women made headlines around the world. Canadian boxer Mandy Bujold won an appeal to compete, since she chose to have a baby during the qualifying period. But it wasn’t only Bujold who got a chance to compete. She changed the rules so that in the future, women who are pregnant or postpartum during qualifying will have a chance to compete.

Then there’s Kim Gaucher and her baby, Sophie. She appealed – and won her case – to bring her infant with her to the Olympics so that she could nurse her daughter.  And don’t forget the Norwegian women’s beach handball team who were fined for not wearing bikinis at a European Federation event. It went viral on social media and was not actually connected to the Olympics, but it brought up the role of uniforms for women in sport.

And once the games began, Canadian women are lighting it up. As I write this blog, Team Canada has won 3 gold, 4 silver and 7 bronze medals. How many have been won by women? Thirteen. Do the math. 3 + 4 + 6 = 13. With the exception of the great Andre de Grasse who won a bronze medal in the 100 metre sprint), all the medals have been won by women. I do not want to discount the hard work and incredible effort and achievements by our Canadian men. Just being at the Olympics is an achievement. A top 10 finish is amazing. And how about a fourth place finish? Two one-hundredths of a second in a race can separate an athlete from a medal and fourth place.

But let’s go back to the incredible achievement of our Canadian women. Like me, every one of Canada’s female athletes has a story and define themselves in many ways. Some are wives or mothers. They may be students or professionals. And they are all Olympic athletes. It would be hard to find another sporting event around the world where women are adored and celebrated like they are at the Olympic games.

I watched as the Canadian team rowed and raced in the Women’s-Eight event. I was in awe as they pushed themselves to the brink of exhaustion and stayed ahead of the competition from the moment their ores hit the water. This amazing group won gold. They come from diverse backgrounds and came together as one strong team to achieve greatness – while the world watched.

Canadian women are making their mark in the pool, as they swim and dive. Weight lifting. Softball. Judo. And of course rowing. But they are really making their mark on Canadian women – and girls. We are reading about them on the internet. We are watching them achieve greatness on TV. And we are talking about them at home. The story in Canada right now is just how great our female athletes are. These Olympic games are pushing women into the headlines, as we celebrate them every day.

On the weekend the Summer Olympic Games will come to an end. Many of the women who became household names this week will return home, some to train at school, or back to work or hug their kids. It is my hope that we keep the momentum going, to encourage our daughters to be their version of an Olympian. Maybe our girls will be baseball stars, or concert pianists or become a doctor or teacher or write an award-winning novel.

Or maybe win a gold medal at the Olympic games.  Or just compete at the Olympics. And I’ll be there to watch. Every time.

Blueberry Fields Forever

blueberry

This afternoon, as usual, I was heads down in work. I have a very busy, and often challenging job, which I love, but sometimes I am so focused on my task at hand, as I jump from virtual meeting to meeting and file to file, that I forget to pause, to look up, to take a break. Like millions of people around the world, for the past 16 months my home is my office, and my office is my home. It’s sometimes hard to separate the two sides of my life. On days when work is particularly busy or, I’ll just say it, demanding and stressful, it can envelop me. I forget that something sweet, and relaxing, and mentally healthy is just steps away: the blueberry patch.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic there have been many research studies, papers published and articles written on the virtual workplace or how to balance work and home life, or for women in particular, the tremendous stress we often feel to perform at work and take care of our family. I openly admit that I have a lot on my plate. I love that I have a job where I am respected for my experience and skills, where communications is playing a central role to materially contribute to the success of the business and I am given an opportunity to write almost every day. But as I sit in my home office, when does the work day start and end, and when – and how – can I find time for me? How can I refresh and feel good about myself?

The first way I’ve done that is to escape the city in the summer. I recognize that I am very fortunate that I can do this. I’ve spent the past few weeks living – and working – from my husband’s family country home deep in the mountains in Quebec. I am mere feet away from a beautiful (yet freezing cold!) expansive lake, where the air is fresh and the sunsets are magical. While I work most days from dawn to dusk, when I remember to look up, I see a magical vista. But I rarely take a break.

Today I actually walked away from work and took a short break this afternoon. Which brings me to the blueberry patch. I am surrounded by wild blueberries here. Some years the land is barren, and finding just one blueberry is a challenge. But this year, with our warm spring, that had just enough rain, the conditions were perfect for the patches surrounding the house to bloom and grow. My husband and I, along with his mother, were on a mission last week to pick enough blueberries to have a pie on the weekend (my pie post is for another day. My husband bakes the BEST pie. I am not exaggerating.). I joined them in the evening, after I stopped working for the day, when I was often exhausted. We succeeded. We picked those blueberries and wow was it worth it.

blueberry
Some of what we’ve picked the past few days.
blueberry
My slice of pie last weekend. Heavenly.

This week we’re on a mission to pick some more, to have enough for him to bake yet another blueberry pie. But this week is different. I looked up at my stunning view early this afternoon – at the mountains, and the lake, even my filthy dog who flitted past the window as she stalked another chipmunk – and I saw the blueberry patch. I decided that I deserved a break. It was healthy for me to walk away from my work and clear my head, in the blueberry patch.

blueberry
Selfie in the blueberry patch today!

And that’s exactly what I did. I stood up, grabbed a plastic container and walked into the centre of a huge patch of gleaming bright blue berries. As I sat there (yes I sit in the dirt when I pick blueberries!), in no time I released all stress from my body. It was easy to pick each blueberry, with so many of them clumped together on their delicate branches. I’m careful to only pick the blue ones though. The very immature green berries sit closely packed in beside the maturing purple and fully mature blue.

blueberry           blueberry   

In about 20 minutes I had picked about ¾ of a cup of blueberries and it was time to return to work. I felt a sense of accomplishment, that I had contributed to our next pie, and that I did something healthy for myself with a short break, outside. And yes, I had a little snack too. I mean really, how can I not eat just a few as I pick?

blueberry
Even my dog can’t resist a blueberry treat!

The wild blueberry patch is a bit of a legend within my husband’s family. Picking the most blueberries is a competition some years, and licking your plate clean after you have consumed your piece of wild blueberry pie is a must.

For me, the wild blueberry patch is an escape. It energizes me and makes me feel happy. I learned today that it’s an important part of my work day. I work better and am more productive when I walk away and take a break. As I think about it, the blueberry patch is a metaphor for a mental health break while we work in our homes. It is sweet, healthy, and just steps away.

Today is the Day After International Women’s Day

International Women's Day

March 8th is an important day on the calendar. Not only is it my paternal grandmother’s birthday (she would have turned 96 this year), but it’s also designated as International Women’s Day (IWD). It is significant that this day is marked around the world. But… I believe there is a more important day for women – March 9th, the day after International Women’s Day.

My husband reminded me of this yesterday. I told him all about how my employer, ADP Canada, celebrated women on IWD, and we discussed the Insights Survey released by ADP entitled, Workplace Gender Gap Hits Home. He said to me, “Just like Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day,” don’t you care more about every day except that day?” And I realized, he’s right. Let me explain.

I have always told my family and friends that I did not need any specific day designated on the calendar to tell them how I feel. Take Mother’s Day. I should show love and gratitude to my mother every day. Or Valentine’s Day. I don’t need a special day of the year to tell those I love most that I love them. I should feel compelled to show my love, devotion and appreciation every day of the year.

In particular, I have always felt that the day after a special or designated day is most important. It’s the day the merchandise on the stores shelves is gone, replaced by items that represent the next one. Or it’s the day when we don’t see posts on social media or headlines in newspapers. It’s not that people forget, but it’s not top of mind anymore.

I feel this is particularly the case for International Women’s Day. I respect and honour this significant day on the calendar. And I am proud to celebrate on March 8th. But today, on March 9th, is the day I am choosing to write about it. And maybe tomorrow, and the next day too. Celebrating women is something dear to me. And celebrating the great boys and men around me, who help raise me up, and who have guided me and mentored me to be the woman I am today, well that matters too. The world is made up of women AND men, and I feel we will all succeed if we support, and celebrate each other.

As I have written here before, my career began in sports radio. I can’t remember how many people worked in the sports department at the radio station, producing shows, as on-air hosts and reporting sports news. But I do remember that they were ALL men. Well, except me. That’s right – I was the ONLY woman on the team at this all-sports radio station. And I have only kind, wonderful things to say about the few dozen men who I worked with there. I was never looked at as being different, because I was a woman. I was respected for my intellect, my hard work and my dedication to stepping up and being part of the group.

I felt the same respect when I worked on the assignment desk in sports television, and when I pivoted my career into communications. I count both women and men among the people who raised me up, taught me new skills and reminded me that I’m smart.

And what’s important is that all of the wonderful women and men who I have worked with throughout my career celebrated me, as a woman, every day. Not just on March 8th. I want women to know that it’s their right to speak up and speak out every day. They deserve to achieve whatever career – and personal goals – they wish. And they deserve to be celebrated every day for their achievements. They deserve to work in an environment that promotes equity and equality, every day.

The theme for IWD 2021 is #ChoosetoChallenge. So here is my challenge to you: celebrate the wonderful women in your life today, March 9th. And tomorrow, and the next day. Raise them up. Tell them that they are great and they can achieve anything they put their mind to. And when we cycle around to March 8th, 2022, remind them again.

Thank you to everyone in my life who have reminded me that as a woman I can do anything. You can too!

 

Why I left Sports Media

My son often asks me why I left Sports Media. In the eyes of a child, the early part of my career was glamourous. I met, and sometimes worked alongside, world famous athletes. I had access to a press pass on occasion, to attend games. Part of my job, both in radio and TV, meant I HAD to watch sports. My son just cannot fathom how I would ever choose to leave that world. But I did. And I don’t regret it.

I also don’t regret the wonderful and unique opportunity that I had to work in the industry. What has stayed with me today aren’t the memories of athletes I met or games I attended. I learned life skills, how to hustle and was lucky to work with some talented people who I consider my friends to this day.

My choice to leave sports media is one that I haven’t really thought about too deeply for a long time. But over the past week, hundreds of great journalists lost their jobs, many of them in sports media. Earlier this evening, in particular, when I saw social media posts from former colleagues, writing of radio stations changing their formats and wiping out their employees, brought a memory back of when I was one of those people, many years ago. It was one of the reasons that eventually led me to leave my job on an assignment desk and follow the career path of a communications professional.

Where it Began

In my final semester of my Master’s Degree in Journalism at New York University I had to choose an internship in media in New York City. I still remember listening carefully to the guidance from my mentor, Professor Michael Ludlum. He was my Radio Broadcasting professor from my first semester, who brought me under his wing and taught me everything I had to know about working in radio. He encouraged me to pursue a different kind of internship, at ABC Sports Radio. It was a small operation, a kind of central intake hub of sports news, and he felt that it would give me skills that I could take anywhere.

Of course Professor Ludlum was right. I learned how to grab quick interviews for the radio format, edit my tape and write copy. And my first big assignment was to represent ABC Sports Radio one night, to collect sound bites, on the field, at the World Series (the Subway Series no less!). At that moment in time I thought sports media, radio in particular, was my future. I knew it was for me.

Where my Early Career was Shaped

When I decided to pursue my career back in Toronto after graduate school, it took me a few months to find that coveted job in sports media. My first “real” job was at the Team 1050 sports radio station. The guys took a chance on me, a young, very inexperienced journalist, but I was eager to learn and grow. My colleagues were genuine, wonderful people who had a love of sports and great talk radio that was infectious. I was excited to go to work every day. I produced everything, from shows that started at 10:00 pm on a Friday night (when I learned sports reporters in Texas cover high school football, not hockey) to the morning show. Sometimes I arrived at work at 3:00 am and sometimes I left at 3:00 am. It was everything I dreamed of.

Then 16 months later, one summer morning, the Team 1050 radio station disappeared. Just like that. All of the employees were brought together into a room and were laid off. I was devastated. In a short time I got the taste of what I wanted my career to be, and I wasn’t ready to walk away. I remember Paul Romanuk, who co-hosted the morning show, walked over to me that morning and said, “Alicia, you are not a true journalist until you have been fired at least once. Welcome to the club.”

When I made the Choice to Leave

I was one of the lucky ones, as I was hired by Rogers Sportsnet days later. It was an entry level job, but I took it. I had made some great friends in my days in radio, and one of them brought me over to TV. He knows who he is and I am forever grateful for his kindness. It took me only a couple of months to apply and get an opening on the Assignment desk. It was a different pace than radio, with different personalities, but again, some great people. This is where I really learned how to hustle and get the news on air.

The days were long, and during hockey playoffs I often worked until 4:00 am. Some days were exciting and full, and I felt the adrenaline running through me, but over time I became less motivated. I kind of lost my drive and desire to go to work. I knew I was good at my job and respected by my colleagues. I knew a career in sports media was unstable and while it never happened to me at Sportsnet, I continued to see colleagues within the industry losing their jobs every day. And I knew this problem would only deteriorate.

And so, I eventually left my job in sports media and pursued my career as a communications professional. There are many days when I miss the energy of the newsroom. When I read a piece of breaking news I can still picture what was happening at that exact moment at the assignment desk as the news came in. Who should they interview? What are some key questions to ask? What headline would be good?

No Regrets

While I may miss my days in radio or TV, I do not regret my decision to leave. I have met and worked for and alongside some equally talented and wonderful people during my years as a communications professional. In particular, I work for a company right now who respects me, as a professional and as a woman and parent. The skills I have learned along the way, from my Broadcast Radio class with Professor Ludlum, to producing the morning show at a radio station, are some that I use every day in my current job.

To all of you who chose to stay in sports media, who either lost your job recently or are currently employed, I applaud you. You are some amazing people, many of whom I had the honour to work with. Stay strong and follow your passion. That’s what I did, and I have never looked back.

My Girl Can Do Anything

my girl can do anything

I took this photo three years ago – January 2018, when my daughter, Julia, earned her Purple Belt in karate. That’s no small feat, no matter how big or how old you are. Julia was just seven years old the day she wrapped this precious belt around her little waist. I remember the day like it was yesterday, and it makes me smile with pride. I knew it already when she was very tiny, but on this day, when Julia raised her arms high, holding that purple belt, I knew: my girl can do anything.

There has been much written and discussed over the last week about the incredible achievement in the United States, that a woman is now their Vice-President. It took the U.S. 244 years to elect a woman to the second-most senior seat in their government. I, like millions of women around the world, am thrilled and feel that it’s about time. I even admit that I teared up, just a bit, on January 20th, when I watched this incredible woman, Kamala Harris, take the oath of office.

But through those tears of joy a little bit of the cynic in me was there too. Other thoughts were pulsing through my head, and I can’t get them out. Writing about my thoughts does not diminish Vice President Harris’s achievement, but I feel I need to share my considerations.

Much of the Democratic World is far ahead of the US: they’ve elected female leaders

I can’t help but think about the fact that the U.S. just inaugurated their FIRST ever woman Vice President, in 2021. If I look over the past 100 years, in democracies around the world, it’s not hard to find many incredible women who haven’t just achieved the second highest office in the land, but the highest. There are dozens of women on the list.

Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1979. Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister of India, first elected in 1966, then again in 1980. I can’t forget Golda Meir, who led Israel as its Prime Minister from 1969 to 1974. Even Canada had a female Prime Minister, Kim Campbell, for six fleeting months in 1993. Angela Merkel has been the Chancellor of Germany since 2005. Jacinda Ardern became Prime Minister of New Zealand in 2017 and has even had a baby during this time.

Throughout our nation’s history, in Canada, three remarkable women have achieved the office of Deputy Prime Minister, starting with Sheila Copps in 1993. Anne McLellan held the role from 2003-2006, and since November 2019 our Deputy Prime Minister is a woman of whom I have tremendous respect: Chrystia Freeland.

Celebrating the United States’ first ever female Vice President is important and is significant, and Kamala Harris is following in the footsteps of some of the world’s greatest women. But is she first on the world stage? Is the U.S. a leader here? No.

My girl can do anything: it’s not just about going after political office

During a recent conversation with a friend of mine, we discussed, in jest, what our children may be when they grow up. We both have three kids, and our third child, in both cases, is outgoing, confident, even a bit of a dictator. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but the fact that hers is a boy and mine is a girl didn’t even come up in our conversation. For us both, as successful working mothers, we know that our children can do anything. Whether their child is a boy or a girl, it doesn’t matter. I always know that my girl can do anything.

Here’s a question I have been asking with respect to women: is becoming the Prime Minister, or President, or Vice-President, the highest achievement? Is that what I want my daughter to think, that women have achieved greatness only once we have been elected, not just in the United States, but around the world? My answer is the same here: no.

To be the first woman to do anything is significant, and it must be celebrated. Books have been written, movies have been produced, on the many trail blazing women from around the world who were firsts to achieve greatness, and most of these women had no political aspirations. Those women, who have been our drivers of change, have made it possible for a female to be the Chief Medical Officer of Health in Canada, Chief News Anchor, or the President of a University, CEO of a Fortune 500 Company or the Head of my daughter’s elementary school.

What about the second woman?

The first is important, in politics for sure, and in medicine, journalism, education, corporate boards and more. But how about that second woman or third or fourth, or 717th or 7,000th?

I love to celebrate great women, and not just our trail blazers who are the first to achieve something great. Most of the young girls and women with whom I have crossed paths in my life and career have no aspirations to be the first or even to be a driver of change. But they do believe that they can do anything. And that’s because 717, or 7,000 or 7 million women have gone before them to create that path.

To be the first woman Vice President of the United States is an achievement. It is worth a celebration, across social media, newspapers, TV, movies. Everywhere. If it makes even just one young girl develop the ambition to seek the highest political office, then the world is a better place. And you will hear me cheer. Let’s also cheer on the second woman who will one day be Vice President of the United States, or the fourth woman to become Deputy Prime Minister in Canada, or the next woman to be named the CEO or President of a University, or really, to achieve whatever dream she has.

Let’s encourage girls and women to do anything and be everything they WANT to be, no matter what that it is. That’s what I do in my house every day, and I know that my girl can do anything.

It’s Groundhog Day, Again

Groundhog Day

 

Then put your little hand in mine, there ain’t no hill or mountain we can’t climb…. These are the words that Phil Connors hears each morning, at 6:00 am, in the famous 1993 film, Groundhog Day.. It’s a favourite in my household, with its humour and downright silliness, and yet lesson about being open to change and being with those you love. Now I’ll state the obvious, what so many of us have been thinking: we are living the movie. It’s Groundhog Day, again.

As I thought about writing this post, and as I started to put the first few words on my screen today, I wanted to state something very important up front: it is not my intention to make fun of or to minimize the impact and power of COIVD-19. This virus is to be taken seriously, and so many people are ill or have died. I am not poking fun at COVID-19.

Our lives changed in an instant on Wednesday, March 11th, 2020, when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a “global pandemic.” We were scared, politicians and scientists had more questions than answers, and we all panicked. In Canada, at least, we locked down. Our lives, it seemed, stopped in an instant.

Which is when the real-life version of Groundhog Day began.

Since that fateful day in March, does it ever seem like every day is the same? No matter what your routine is, does it seem repetitive? Here’s my typical weekday. And when I say typical, this is my life, every day:

A Groundhog Day in the Life of Alicia since March 16th

  • 6:50: radio turns on, by timer of course, to Newstalk 1010. Yep I love to hear John Moore in the morning. I listen to the daily updates and chatter for a few minutes, in a semi-comatose state, until I have the strength to roll out of bed just after 7:00.
  • 7:20: Shower and make myself look decently presentable.
  • 7:40: Start the process to wake up 13-year-old son.
  • 7:42: Return to bedroom of said son and see if he’s conscious.
  • 7:45: Return once again to bedroom of said son with louder voice and make him respond.
  • 7:50: Wake up my daughters, who now insist on sharing a bed. Enlist the help of the dog, to climb on them and lick their faces. They get up.
  • 7:55: Run downstairs as fast as I can to avoid hearing the fight that the four-year-old needs to pee but her brother is still in the shower.
  • 8:00-8:20: prepare breakfast and lunches for the kids, load school bags and get everything ready at the door.
  • 8:20: Sit down at my new home-office desk (which used to be my dining room but now is my office/sitting room) and turn on my computer. Have a quick check at morning emails.
  • 8:25: turn on the espresso maker, grind my beans and get my morning cappuccino ready.
  • 8:30: Raise my voice that it’s time to leave and maybe children should get their shoes and coats on.
  • 8:32: Raise my voice further as at least one of them is ignoring me.
  • 8:34: Remind them to bring their backpacks as they run out the door to the car with my husband, as he drives them to school.

**Note the “drive to school part” is only as of September 8th. In the spring they learned virtually and most of the morning still looked like this.

  • 8:35: the workday formally begins, with meetings on Webex, email, writing, phone calls and a lot of multi-tasking. Jump from one file to the next and back again. Finally take the first sip of my cappuccino. Brain is waking up.
  • 8:35-4:00: the heart of the workday, when the house is quiet and the kids are at school. My main distraction is my cute personal assistant, aka my dog, who takes issue with any person who dares walk along the sidewalk in front of my house.
  • 11:00: I suddenly realize that once again I’ve eaten nothing and make myself a light breakfast. Same thing a few hours later when I realize maybe lunch is a good idea as all I’ve consumed is coffee and yoghurt.
  • 4:00: My girls arrive home from school, bursting through the front door like a tornado. Note that sometimes I pick them up and sometimes my husband does. So I guess there’s some variety in the day. Dog goes wild. Children scream. Everyone who I work with knows my children are home.
  • 4:20: My son arrives home. He adds to the pile of school junk at the front door and disappears to some corner of the house to check all the sports news he’s missed in the past 8 hours.
  • 5:30: I start to try to wind down my workday, though this will often stretch to 6:00, 6:30 or beyond.
  • 6:00: Enter the kitchen, to discover a hurricane has yet again come through, with a sink full of dishes, empty food containers on the counter and a dishwasher that needs to be emptied.
  • 6:01: Get over the daily shock, turn on the TV and watch CTV News at 6 for the day’s daily depressing update.
  • 6:30: Once my kitchen is sparkling clean, start cooking dinner. Yes, I cook dinner every night, and not simple basic food. This part of the day is cathartic for me, though I do scream at my kids every few minutes to leave me alone while I cook. How do they constantly want a snack?
  • 7:30: Dinner is finally ready and everyone attacks. I will admit it here: we gave up on sitting together at the table for a family dinner months ago. The five of us spend so much time together that the kids dumped us when it came to mealtime. So everyone does their own thing.
  • 8:30: I realize that the evening has flown by and maybe I should start putting the four-year-old to bed. Sometimes she’s jumped in the bath already and other times I look at my messy, yet only lightly dirty child, and decide a bath isn’t worth it. Meanwhile I holler to the 10-year-old that screen time is over for the night. She has just spent the past 4 hours on her phone and laptop, socializing with her friends and it’s time to say good night.
  • 9:00: If I have my act together, I have the girls in bed, ready to read with me. First it’s a preschool book for the younger one. Then I switch to the good book: Harry Potter, which I’m reading aloud with my 10-year-old. We’re on book 6 now, and we enjoy every minute. And yes, I do all the voices and even some accents!
  • 9:45: I fall asleep reading to my daughter, which displeases her every night. Her sister (and the dog) have finally fallen asleep, and I slowly get up and move on with my evening.
  • 10:00: I consider doing something around the house, like a load of laundry or cleaning my office but instead fall over on my bed. Luckily my husband has cleaned the kitchen. At this point my son is ensconced on the couch, and depending on the night, either watching football, playing XBOX or reading up on yet more sports news.
  • 10:50: After lying on my bed for the past 50 minutes, either chatting on WhatsApp with friends or playing Scrabble against the computer, I get up and get ready for bed.
  • 11:00: I’m in bed, watching the news and seeing that it too, hasn’t changed.

I’ve missed a few details, and sometimes a few things change, but the beginning, middle and end are basically the same each day. And so it is, I believe, for many other people. My long, often monotonous day, is repetitive and really, not exciting at all. I watch and read too much news. I participate in some of the most inane conversations with friends and family on my mobile device. I’m constantly paranoid that I forgot to add certain items to my online grocery order. I regularly check my storage room to see if I have enough toilet paper, power towel and flour. Then I head to my computer and buy more.

As those of us living in Toronto head into a new stretch with increased restrictions, I guess I’ll just keep singing the song, I Got You, Babe, every morning. As long as COVID-19 rages across the world it’s going to be Groundhog day, today, tomorrow and for many days to come.

To Every Thing there is a Season

To every thing there is a season

 

The famous words of the poet, Kohelet (also known as Ecclesiastes) are often in my head. No matter who you are, how old you are or what you have experienced in your life, you can find meaning in these most profound eight verses. Though penned over 2,000 years ago, if you read the words carefully, they are relevant even today:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die; A time to plant, and time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend and a time to sew; a time to keep silence  and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

I have a file, in my “notes” section of my iPhone that I call Blog Ideas. Ever since I started to write my blog, over 3 years ago, this is where I house my quick thoughts and ideas as a I walk through life. Someone cuts me off in traffic, an idea about rude drivers. My husband experiments with eggs one day in the kitchen, and a post about Dads making dinner. Take me out to the ballgame is sung during the 7th inning stretch at the baseball game, and there I go, writing about how much I love baseball.

So many of my blog posts are inspired by a moment, or a person, or even a joke. I see or read something, and it sparks an idea. But sometimes I have thoughts that keep coming back. I write a note to myself, sometimes in the middle of the night (yes, I keep my phone beside me at night, and random thoughts go in there sometimes!), and whatever I wrote just eats at me. I don’t jump onto my computer to write. It has to marinate for a while. The thoughts have to properly form and develop.

That’s the case here. I can’t remember exactly when I scratched the words, “To Every Thing there is a Season” into my blog ideas file. I also wrote “Kohelet – note the words.” I studied this book, which is part of the “Writings,” or “Ketuvim” of the Tanakh (the three books of the bible, which include the Torah, Prophets and Writings), way back in high school. So many of the phrases are ingrained in my head, and not just because they’re part of a well-known song by Pete Seager, “Turn, Turn, Turn.”

The ideas have been churning in my head, and I decided earlier this week that finally it was time for my For every thing there is a season post. It was, let’s call it, a tumultuous week in the United States, and it got me thinking. Then on Saturday night, the new US President-Elect, Joe Biden, stole my thunder. Here’s what he said during his victory speech:

“The Bible tells us to every thing there is a season – a time to build, a time to reap and a time to sew and a time to heal. This is the time to heal in America.” His words were true, and I believe, were from the heart. But this blog post is not about politics, in the US or Canada, or how individuals have conducted themselves over the past four years, four months, four weeks or four days. What President-Elect Biden’s words did (though he pulled phrases from across the verses!) were to remind me of that true relevance of Kohelet’s words to every one of us.

Pick any day in your life. Choose an experience or a story from your recent past or long ago, and I promise you, I can connect it to at least one phrase in these first eight verses of chapter three. Here’s a few that I can think of easily. Take, for example, the current COVID-19 pandemic. How about, “a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.” How about the many paths and turns I have taken in my career? My first job was in radio, where I began to build my career, and where it came crashing down 16 months later when we were all laid off. Sometimes you build up and then you break down. (note I quickly got another job, but the day I lost my first job I thought my professional life was over).

Some moments are burned into my memory, like the exact second each of my three children were born. And yet the moment each of my grandparents died, including my Poppy’s death in April this year, can never be erased. I think of these often. As Kohelet says, “A time to be born, and a time to die.” Planting a seed doesn’t mean growing vegetables in the backyard (though it can of course). Every action we take must start somewhere, with some small idea in our heads and hearts, that grows and blooms.

“A time to keep silence, and a time to speak” is a phrase to which my eyes keep returning when I read these verses. Some may ask, is there ever a time that the better choice is to keep silent? Don’t we live in a society, where we value our freedom to speak? Shouldn’t speak be raised up on a pedestal? I see the choice of one or the other – silent or speak – to be what I value most. Or maybe that’s what Kohelet was telling us. His words are less about the meaning of life and more about the choices we make in life or options laid out before us.

It is less about for every thing there is a season and more about a key word in the next phrase, a time to every purpose under the heaven. Time. There is a time for everything. In one’s lifetime, most of us will face everything Kohelet writes about. Birth and death. Peace and war. Laugh and weep. Get and lose. We may choose all of these. Or they may choose us. There is a time for sure.

2020 has been a rough year. It’s probably why Kohelet’s words keep streaming in my head. This year has been about breaking down, weeping, mourning, and a lot of hate. I hope our future will be a time to plant, heal, peace, love, dance, and laugh. That’s right, dance and laugh. I look forward to that most of all.

Search and Secure: How do People Find a New Job?

search and secure

 

Kinetic Motions is the place where I share my musings. My life is busy, and often stressful, and writing here is cathartic for me. I think about so much, and I am blessed to have the opportunity to write about how I feel. Sometimes the journalist in me just wants to ask questions and seek those answers by writing. Today is one of those days. I want to ask a question that at first seems so simple but is actually quite complex and a bit terrifying to even ask: how does one search and secure a job in today’s world?

Many of you, instead of having a quick and easy answer for me, are probably going to ask a question right back to me: Alicia, are you looking for a job right now? My answer: I am lucky to not just be employed right now but to have a great job at a great company. I’m treated well and respected, and I work with some of the most talented people. The question I posed is not about me. I ask it, for the most part, in general, and it’s not the first time this question has irked me and caused me tremendous anxiety.

Searching for a job, in particular when one is unemployed, is one of the greatest challenges that any person faces. There are any number of reasons why you must find that new job, no matter how smart, talented or experienced you are. Company reorganization Bankruptcy. Mass layoffs. Your company is bought by another. I could go on and on. This has happened to so many of us over the span of our careers.

Everyone around you can say, hey it’s not your fault. You will be scooped up by someone great soon. But when is soon? How will I find someone great to hire me? How will that person know that I’m great too? Where do I begin? How do I put myself out there? Where do I search? Who do I talk to? What should I include on my resume? Do I delete the stuff from 20 years ago? How do I get noticed?

I could fill the page with the hundreds of questions that go through the mind of a person who is searching for a new job. I’ve been there. It’s awful. And depressing. You feel that all your skills and talents that were so valued at your previous employer don’t matter. Each day seems so long, and waiting for an email response or phone call back is interminable.

All the power is in the hands of the people doing the hiring. Whether it’s a recruiter or an HR team or a hiring manager, ultimately it is their choice. It has to be, of course. If you imagine a set of scales, the weight of power is clearly on the side of the person doing the hiring. But why is it so weighted? Why does the person who is looking for a job feel weightless and often powerless?  I will ask my same question again: how does one search and secure a job in today’s world?

I understand that we are in the middle of a global pandemic right now. There is higher unemployment and some very smart and skilled people are looking for work. Competition is greater than ever, and like everything in the world, the hiring process had to adapt. But there are still some fundamental elements to the job “search and secure” process that I do not understand. I don’t know if there are easy answers to my questions but I hope this can start a discussion.

Before I ask my next set of questions, I want to turn this piece from general to personal. My husband is searching for work right now. He is a licensed, Professional Engineer with years of experience. Like so many of us, his career hasn’t followed a straight line. His areas of focus have changed over time. Fundamentally, he is one of the smartest people I have ever met. He’s a problem solver, and the harder the challenge in front of him, the more determined he is to solve it. Anyone who has worked with him knows that he’s not shy to seek help when he needs it and produces quality, detailed results.

A couple of years ago he brought together his years of experience from various jobs and started his own consulting business called Adaptor Analytix. He actively sought short and long-term contracts and was very successful at doing so. But then the world faced a global pandemic, and his most recent contract suddenly ended a few weeks ago. What seemed easy last year – to secure a new contract – became impossible.

What you plan for doesn’t always happen, and you may face variables that are out of your control. That’s the case when one wants – and needs to “search and secure” a job. Or contract. Or any other kind of employment. My husband had an open mind a few weeks ago when he started his most recent search. He applied to postings online, spoke with recruiters, connected with people in his network. The early conversations are always positive and hopeful. But through no fault of his – or his many wonderful contacts who have been so kind – most paths have led to a dead end.

So, back to my next set of questions. Is there a formula? Are there do’s and don’ts? Do you email the person who interviewed you? And if so, when? What do you say? Do you call them if you don’t hear back? And speaking of which, if someone interviews me, why don’t they email or call me, no matter what? Is it normal to be interviewed by a company two or three times then never hear back? How do you get noticed amongst a pile of 200 resumes? Does knowing someone inside help? What’s a reasonable amount of time to wait before you just give up on what you thought was a real spark but whose potential flame is just smouldering?

A hiring manager is a busy person. I know this – I’ve been that person too! You have to do your busy, full-time job, and in between find the time and headspace to read resumes, interview candidates and make decisions. You fit this in when you can, and it can take weeks, or sometimes months. Even if you know you need to fill that position soon, you perceive time differently than the person who wants that job you posted. Waiting a day or a week for that call back from the hiring manager is emotionally draining and painful.

Every hour that goes by, the person looking to secure a job questions themselves, their behavior and their actions. Did I say the right (or wrong) things in my interview? Should I have sent a thank you email the day before? Should I have told the hiring manager about that story? How do I follow up? Which is more important to this person – my skills and experience, or my personality and how I’d fit on the team?

I admit I am feeling anxious as I write. This post is quite different than my gentle musings of the last few weeks. I am watching my spouse feeling despaired and more vulnerable than ever, and I just want to help him. I guess I’m desperate for some insights into this process. I know that there are no easy answers.  There is no simple single path to the search and secure process in the job market. But maybe writing about it, asking the questions, will get us talking. I am naturally an optimist, and I know that good things are just around the corner for my husband – and so many other people searching for that next great opportunity.