Stress Seeker

Last night, I was forced to face an ugly truth about myself:  I am a stress seeker.  It is something that I have long suspected – reinforced by the fact that my husband labelled me as one years ago!

At bedtime last night, my son began complaining about school.  He is in the younger grade of a Grade 2/3 split class.  He said that he feels pressure to learn the Grade 3 content.  I told him not to worry, that he shouldn’t feel this much stress.  And in response, he said:  “But I have to.  Because when I’m stressed, I know that I’ll get things done.”  Wow!  Pretty heavy stuff from a 7-year old.  But let’s face it… I know exactly where he gets this from – his stress-seeking mother!

We live in a world where, all too often, stress is synonymous with success.  And I have to admit, I know that the stress is (in part anyway) what made me successful in the corporate world.  I worried all the time – about making tight deadlines; meeting (no, exceeding!) client expectations; juggling multiple projects and ensuring that nothing fell through the cracks.  As a result of my worrying, it all got done.  But here is where it crossed the line: when everything was seemingly under control, I would do a mental map of all the work on my plate until I zoned in on the one possible pain point.  And the worrying began anew.  Being stressed out had become a defining aspect of my identity.

I don’t think I am all that unusual.  Think back to some of your recent conversations with friends and acquaintances.  How often do you hear the phrases “I am so busy” or “I am so stressed out”?  And when you hear this, aren’t you just a little bit impressed?  And intrigued as to what all is going on in their life?  Somewhere along the line, being busy – being stretched to the limit – turned into a badge of honour.

You would think that my stress seeking days would be over now that I am no longer working.  But, once a stress seeker, always a stress seeker!  Consider for a moment that I have essentially announced to the world (OK… maybe not the world, but certainly everyone I know) that I want to write a fiction novel.  Why did I do that?  Because, without the traditional work environment – without a boss, colleagues, clients and deadlines – I knew that I needed to hold myself accountable.  And so I made a bold statement, knowing full well that it would provide the added stress that I crave.

I know that things aren’t going to change overnight.  But hearing those words from my son last night was a bit of a wake-up call.  Of course I said all the right things to him.  I told him that worrying solves nothing; that he’s only in Grade 2 and no one expects him to be at a Grade 3 level; that we would work through this together.  But it isn’t enough for me to have the right words.  If I want a different life for him (and his sister), I have to walk the talk.  I need to model the kind of behaviour that I want to see from them.  And so I am going to try very hard to lose my stress-seeking ways while still chasing my goals.  I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Canada’s Favourite Pastime

“Hello my name is Michelle.  And I’m a hockey Mom”.

Never, ever could I have imagined that I would utter these words.  Those who know me well know that I am not exactly a hockey enthusiast.  So how did this happen?

I grew up in a hockey family. In my childhood home, winter equaled hockey.  My brother could cite NHL statistics long before he could ride a bike.  He played competitive hockey for years and my father enthusiastically coached his team (in fact, my father’s coaching career extended well beyond my brother’s commitment to the sport). My mother was most definitely a hockey Mom.  She could be found dutifully cheering in the stands – with a cowbell in hand!  I, on the other hand, grudgingly accompanied the rest of my family to these cold, smoke-filled arenas, complaining the whole time.

This past May, my son tried out for his first competitive hockey team.  I have to admit, I entered into the try-outs with great trepidation.  Did I really want to repeat the past?  Was I prepared for hockey to take over our lives – disrupting our carefully planned schedules and sending us to far corners of the city?

As it turns out, my husband, who typically takes care of all hockey-related activities, was away for part of the try-outs.  I reluctantly agreed to bring my son.  And then, something unbelievable happened.  I began hoping against all hope that he would make the team.  I know that other parents will relate to this.  For the first time in his life, my son wanted something that I was helpless to deliver for him.  He desperately wanted to make the team – and so I desperately wanted it for him.  After several agonizing days of try-outs, we received the good news…  My son had made the cut!

On top of it all, my husband agreed to be one of the assistant coaches.  We also hosted the first parents meeting at our house.  And you know what?  I was thrilled!  For, as much as I remember being dragged to damp rinks as a kid, I also remember this:  my parents met wonderful people in those arenas.  To this day, some of my parents’ most treasured friendships are rooted in those early days of hockey.  There is something truly magical about getting together with other people to cheer on your kids as they play a game they love.

Hockey season has just begun and my son’s team had their first exhibition game yesterday.  I am happy to report that they won 6-3.  And I cheered them on the whole time, surrounded by other hockey parents.  My daughter sat beside me in the stands, looking thoroughly unimpressed – placated only by popcorn from the concession stand.  I can only hope that she too will one day look back at this experience fondly.

If you’re looking for me this winter, you’ll find me at the rink!

The Magic of Tidying

I think I already mentioned that I left my job in June.  Which means that I have been out of work for three months now.  But there is a big difference between my pre- and post-Labour Day life.  Pre-Labour Day, I enjoyed the freedom of summer with my kids at our cottage north of Toronto.  It was exactly the escape that the kids and I needed – carefree days by the lake basked in sunshine.

But the kids returned to school after Labour Day.  And I was left to figure out this new life.

As an aspiring writer, my home and my office are now one in the same.  I like to think of myself as an organized person.  But truth be told, my home is only organized on the surface.  You could stop by for a visit, and remain clueless about the “stuff” stored behind closed doors and inside cabinets.  And it drives me nuts!

When the kids went back to school, I made it my mission to “tidy” the house – working under the belief that an organized house equals an organized mind.  I managed to get the kids’ rooms done, as well as the master bathroom, the mudroom and the laundry room.  I was giddy as I filled garbage bags with unwanted items.  And then I stalled…  I had gotten rid of a lot of stuff, but the rooms that I still had to tackle – my closet, the furnace room, the garage and the office (!) terrified me.

My husband and I have lived in our house for nine years.  We moved here in August of 2006.  Ten days after moving in, I left for a six-month consulting contract in the UK.  I rushed to unpack boxes so that we would be “settled”.  But some boxes were never unpacked, stored away in the furnace room and other hidden places.  And then life got busy…  Between kids and work, we lived happily among the clutter.  Yes, it stressed me out from time to time.  But I was just too distracted with diapers, various lessons, and my clients.  And so the clutter remained.

Recently, my trainer (the great Dara Cox) told me about a book that she had read entitled “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” (yes, between squats and planks, we do manage to talk about serious things).  So I picked up the book and have been dutifully poring through it.  I should add that this book has sold 3 million copies worldwide.  This is serious stuff!

In her book, author Marie Kondo advises people to work through their homes, category-by-category and do an intense purging.  She urges people to discard everything that does not spark joy.  That’s a tall task!  To look at every item in my home to determine whether it “sparks joy”…  But I’m up for the challenge, and I’m not going to stop until it’s done.    If my personal and professional lives are to coexist under one roof, I’m convinced that my space needs to be tidy.  And I’m only a little bit nervous about my husband’s reaction when he comes home to the giant pile of stuff that we’re getting rid of 🙂

I ❤️ September

I have always loved September and everything it represents – clear, crisp days; a new beginning; and yes, even school. I especially LOVED school. Yes, I was that kid!  When I was little and misbehaved, my Mom used to scold me saying “Michelle, if you don’t behave, you’re not going to school tomorrow” (if only I had known there was little chance of her following through with this threat…). I loved the structure that school provided. And I especially loved the social outlet – I was also the kid who consistently had comments on her report card that went something like this: “Michelle is a good student, but she talks too much”.

It is little surprise that I spent eight years in university, first pursuing Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Engineering, then an MBA. Friends and family alike were beginning to think that I was becoming a professional student, destined for a Ph.D. in some obscure subject (my Master’s thesis was entitled “The Acclimation of Anaerobic Systems to Biodegrade Chlorinated Solvents” – it still baffles me that I retain this piece of information and yet regularly forget my locker combination at the gym!) . Were it not for the fact that I was tired of being a destitute student, I might never have left academia.

I spent most of my career in professional services where September always offered up new challenges.  There were new projects and new clients to keep me busy.  And now that I have kids, September once again provides the excitement and eager anticipation of “back to school” routines.

This September is a little different for me though.  Having recently left my job, my life has been turned upside down. There are so many unknowns… What will my days look like?  How will I fill my time?  Who will I spend it with? And so, I turned to the one thing that has always brought me comfort: school. In two weeks’ time, I will be returning to the University of Toronto to take a course entitled “Writing the Novel: Introduction”.

My kids were absolutely baffled when I told them that I would be going to school. In their minds, I will be sitting in a little chair at a grouping of four small desks, dutifully listening to Mr. or Mrs. So-and-So teach me how to write.  And they might not be far off! I must say, I am slightly terrified about my first day. It has been – gulp! – 15 years since my last “first day” of class. I’m sure that much has changed in that time. All the same, I look forward to telling you all about it!

A blog you say?

“A blog?  What do you mean a blog?  What will you write about?  Will you share the private details of our lives?”  This was my husband’s reaction the other night when I casually mentioned the idea of starting a blog.  It is something that I have been mulling over for several weeks.  But, if I’m being perfectly honest, I’m not 100% on-board with the idea either.  The very thought of writing something for public consumption terrifies me.  But it is also exhilarating!

Let me rewind the tape a bit…  This past June, I left my company of five years.  I worked at an executive search firm.  I loved the work and the people.  But there was something missing and I couldn’t continue denying it.  At the risk of sounding cliché, the “balance” was off.  And I don’t just mean the work/life balance, although that was certainly a big factor.  I have seven-year old twins and I was increasingly feeling like I was missing out on my children’s lives.  But more than that, I felt like work was only fulfilling one part of me.  I worked with a group of intelligent, driven and engaging people.  I have always loved a challenge, and there was no shortage of intellectual challenge at my job.  But there were interests that I wanted to delve into – cooking, photography, tennis, golf (maybe…).  I wanted to spend more time at the gym.  And I wanted to figure out how to give back to the community in a meaningful way.

All of these things propelled me to quit.  But there was one over-arching reason:  I wanted to write a book.  There, I’ve said it!  For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to write a fiction book.  But there was never enough time.  So I quit my job to begin this exciting, terrifying, crazy new chapter (pun intended!).

My goal is to dedicate this next year to writing a fiction novel.  I’m still working out the details – genre, plot, setting, characters…  There’s a lot to work through!  In the meantime, I want to make sure that I am writing on a regular basis.  And so we come back to the idea behind this blog – holding myself accountable to writing as often as I can.  After all, there is no boss looking for deliverables, and no co-workers to measure myself against.  It’s all on me to get this done!

So what can you expect from this blog?  Much to my husband’s dismay, you’ll probably hear about the daily goings-on in our household.  You’ll hear about my new hobbies.  And you’ll certainly hear about my trials and tribulations as I enter the writing world!

I hope you join me on this adventure!