30 August 2010

Socializing and Learning

I can recall what it was like growing up in a home where all of the men worked in the trades. They came home after a long day at work and slipped off their boots and the socks that were glued to their feet and ate the lovely meal that mama had prepared and got washed up. Men would wander by and they would chat about the new things that they had learned or saw that day at work. Sometimes they’d do a mock-up and practise a tough concept or go over it in their minds. It might also be the case that they ran over to a friend’s place to help him with something trade related. Imagine the benefit from a learning perspective that this type of downtime meant? A man wasn’t only exposed to trade related learning at work.

Contrast that with how a woman in trades might end her day. She comes home from work, peels off the socks that have glued themselves to her feet and the dog is bouncing around and the kids are starving and there are 5 loads of laundry to be done. She runs a cloth over her face, throws something in the oven, starts the washer and asks little Sarah if she has any homework. Little Sarah then tells her mother that she has to bring cupcakes in tomorrow for the bake sale and that she needs 2 sheets of Bristol board and it has to be black.

This difference has an impact on women’s learning. I was thinking about this the other day and it occurred to me that men had an advantage in trades over women because of course they get to talk about new projects, solve problems, cement new ideas in the brain – it’s part of the learning process.

Sitting around and leisurely discussing work is often not an option for women who have a double day. There may not be any time or opportunity for her to relive her day or think about a new technique.

What can be done about this? A woman must look at her reality and recognize that she is responsible for her own training and professional development. She must then create opportunities for learning.

One possible solution is to make a concerted effort to network – whether you use social networking or online help and chats. It is essential to have those conversations about your work. A second option is to develop relationships with other men onsite even though that will be tough. The key is to create opportunities for learning. It will benefit you in the long run.

Sometimes when a woman asks for help onsite, it is used as evidence that she is not suited for the job. Men, on the other hand have plenty of opportunities, both formal and informal, to acquire help with skills development and it is never mentioned.

Recognize this distinction - create opportunities of learning in spite of….

22 August 2010

Accountability Partners

If you have ever tried to change something about your life, you know that it is tough. It's possible to change but it is a challenge. This is the way that it usually plays out. You'll make up your mind that next time you're going to do things differently. Your logical voice can even articulate all the wonderful reasons why it is a good idea to change this particular thing. You'll have a plan of action supported by conviction and you know for certain that things are going to be different next time.

Then!!! You start to waiver. You hear another little voice saying, "Well it's not that bad." "Better a devil you know then one you don't know." and it goes on from there. Before you know it you're falling back into old patterns of behaviour. I know it to be true because I've been there and I've met others on the journey with the same story.

What I enjoy about awareness is that if we know this pattern, we can put a plan in place to deal with it. I have adopted the practise of working with an accountability partner when I want to change a behaviour. At one time I thought I'd team up with someone who needed to change in the same way that I did. But that didn't work because what happened is that not only would I talk myself out of my plan of action, my peer supporter would help me to justify not changing.

Now I've figured out that my accountability partner will have to be someone who is solidly situated where they are. I articulate what it is that I need from them with regards to checking in. We have a contract of sorts at the beginning to say that this is how much freedom I'm giving the other person to help me to change. It works extremely well and the key is that it has to be someone you trust.

When you start to hear your destructive voice telling you that things aren't that bad or that the status quo is OK, you know intuitively that this is not beneficial to think this way. At this point, you check in with your accountability partner and through chatting, you once again find the resolve to stay the course. When you give voice to your concerns, it has a very positive effect. It reminds you what you are now committed to and calls attention to the destructive voice.

I believe that with an accountability partner, our chances of succeeding in change are greatly increased. Change is still difficult, you still have to do all the work, but getting the help you need to stay on track speaks to commitment and courage. You can do it.

18 August 2010

Self Advocacy - Speaking for yourself

Self advocacy is the ability to ask for the things you need in life and the ability to protect and establish boundaries. There are many people who are unable to self-advocate for one reason or another and that is not so bad if you can ask someone else to advocate on your behalf. There are times when it is wiser to get someone to advocate on your behalf especially where the subject matter is complicated. Lawyers are advocates in this sense.

In our day to day dealings with people around us, we do not want to resort to asking for someone to speak for us if it can be avoided. It is much better, if possible , to learn to ask for what you need or speak up when an injustice is occurring.

It is never too late to learn how to speak up, we learn across the lifespan. A very good first step is to start small and build on success. In our day to day lives, it can be as simple as telling someone that what they are doing is offensive..

Let me give you a simple example in what can happen in the home. Our family are always eating snacks and when they are finished they leave their dishes all over the place. I found it disrespectful to have to go around and pick up the dishes after everyone had tucked in for the night. So I spoke up. I said that I felt unappreciated after making such a delicious snack. I asked if they might pick up their dishes and place them in the dishwasher when they were done. I was surprised with the result. I only have to remind them occasionally.

That's a simple example but think of the ramifications in other parts of your life if you can't even speak up with people that you love and who love you. You're sitting at a meeting at work one day and your supervisor is telling you what the new policy will be. You know that this policy won't work but you don't speak up because you don't want to be seen as a complainer. The new policy takes effect, your direct reports are miserable and they come to you and complain. What kind of a leader will you look like if you tell them that you saw this coming but didn't speak up. If you speak up on such occasions, it is quite possible that your idea will have merit - maybe the policy makers had not taken your point of view into consideration. The other positive outcome is that people see you as a person who has principles and doesn't shy away from a difficult conversation. It's a win/win.

Of course it is possible that your idea will be squashed or ignored but you will be better served having voiced it and having it on the record. People report that once they speak up in a small way, it becomes easier over time. Build on success, set small goals and then move to larger things. People who advocate for themselves are not thought of as complainers by the people that matter. Think about it.

17 August 2010

Peer Support

Looking back at my own career as a woman in trades, I realize that I would have benefited from connecting with other women in the same situation. I often felt alone and misunderstood by my male colleagues. My only option was to connect with the office staff and they were not experiencing what I was and sometimes there was difficulty relating. Peer support is a wonderful resource and even if you don't have that option onsite, there are other ways of creating it.

Go outside your immediate workplace to create your own group of support. It will take some creativity and your assertiveness skills will be an asset. Contact other employers where you know there are women working in the non-traditional sector and ask them if they want to get together periodically for a gab session. It doesn't have to be formal, you can meet for a drink after work or get together for a meal on a weekend. The idea is to surround yourself with a group of like minded people who will serve as a support system. You have now created a group of go-to people who can immediately understand and appreciate your challenges.

The benefits of knowing you are not alone are amazing. When you have an issue you can share it and someone in the group may have suggestions for how they dealt with that same issue. You can share successes with people who can understand the unique challenges of the industry. It is a win-win for all.

11 August 2010

Assertiveness and Self-Advocacy

Being an entrepreneur takes a substantial committment and one of the skills that is most beneficial is an ability to articulate what it is that I need. This ability to ask for what I need and push boundaries is something that came in handy for me as a tradeswoman.

One of the trends that happens to women in trades is that they end up getting stuck in the jobs that are less technologically challenging and more physically demanding. Female mechanics, for example, will often find themselves working in the service bay where they will be performing routine preventive maintenance on vehicles while some of the choicer aspects of the trade will be out of reach.

There are several reasons why this takes place. First of all, women are often discouraged from taking on new tasks. I have heard women say that they have been told that they would not understand the new task. There is sometimes a condescending attitude about women's ability.

Secondly, women who work in environments without supports, often refrain from taking on new tasks for fear of failure. Most new tasks in life require us to crawl before we walk - for example as a speaker, my initial attempts were probably not noteworthy, but with time I mastered the ability to speak in front of people. The same is true in the trades, new tasks can be awkward at first but with time they can be mastered. A woman, however, will often not be given the grace period to learn effectively. She will often be judged on her first attempt. As a result of this negative scrutiny, women refrain from stepping outside their comfort zone.

To become a master in the trade, it is essential that she expose herself to all aspects of learning. This will often require that she be persistent in articulating her need for support in the beginning. It means that she has to push back against resistence to new learning. She will often have to be her own advocate and understand that if she allows the scrutiny to influence her, she may never advance in the trade.

One of the things that I noticed was this. In new tasks where I tried and failed, tried and failed, tried and did better until eventually I could do it, even in a modified way - the persistence earned me the respect of some co-workers. It also connected me to the real support onsite. It helped me to identify who my real mentors were.

The environment can be harsh and sometimes toxic but a woman must learn to develop her own skills to get her needs met. The rewards are many.

8 August 2010

Creating the Life You Want

People around me who have known me a long time know that there were times when I I have been stuck. There was a time when I could not have imagined a rich life in spite of vision loss. This is not a blog about vision loss although I should do that one later on.

It's a blog about the necessity of changing the way you think. If you think you can't you probably won't -

Glass half full/glass half empty

These analogies make perfect sense when we get to the other side. I recall when my glass was half empty and it was in direct relation to the direction of my thinking. I felt sorry for myself and these were the thoughts that consumed me:

- I can't drive anymore and life is worth nothing if I can't drive
- How will I ever raise a healthy child without a vehicle
- I'm going blind and won't ever do anything again
- I'll never be able to make a living or have a career

Contrast that with my present reality

- I have a 16 year old daughter that would make many parents proud, she will get her lisence this year
- I have written 2 books, one will be self published this month and the other is at a traditional publisher
- I have a business, a five year marketing plan and all the supports I need to succeed and this will ensure that I can support myself later in life, after all I will be blind and I want to live comfortably in my old age
-I'm a mentor for others now who have trouble moving beyond obstacles in life
-I now know that my life is blessed not because of vision loss and all the affiliated losses, but in spite of

That's quite a switcheroo and people ask me "What happened?" Well my thinking changed that's all. Oh it took a lot of work and I needed help and support in different places. Sometimes when you're advocating for yourself all that you're capable of is reaching out for help. I had lots of wonderful support to lean on. I went through the stages of grief for certain - but in an ad hoc kind of way. The nice part about acceptance is that it frees up a lot of creative energy. Lately I'm learning about taking the creative process to the next level.

We build on success. Achieving does that - it helps you to believe in your ability and the only thing that you can say then is "Watch Out"

I think everyone has the ability to do the same as I have done but many people choose not to.

5 August 2010

Roots and Wings

I really didn't think that letting go of my daughter would be a problem for me when she became a young adult. I enjoyed being a mom and raised a wonderfully bright, mature and caring child in spite of the challenges of single parenting.

Now she is almost 16 and she is pulling away which of course is a natural occurrence at this age. I like that she has developed great friendships and that she wants to try new things on her own without her mother's input. I did try to raise her to be a successful adult.

In spite of this, I still want to protect her from a world that I know can be unkind. I look back on my own life and see that I was often stubborn and I really didn't learn from people telling me what to do as much as I learned from trying new things and then failing or succeeding. I'm certain that the same will be true for her.

Even though I understand how it is that adults learn, I still struggle with the notion that she is ready for a world that can be unkind on occasion. It can also be very rewarding. Did I give her the right tools? Will she be overwhelmed? Will she be duped by some and inspired by others? Oh, probably as I was and others before me. I hope that I gave her good tools to manage in the world and that she will acquire more along the way.

As for me, I'll have to get over it. Detach with love - let her go to explore and take risk and find her own way in the world and her place in it. I wrote her a note and told her that I was always here for her with no problem too big for us to handle. I also told her that her friends would help her out too and that there was no need for me to be her only "go to" person. I'm a little sad inside that I won't be of course. But such is the role of a mother - roots and wings.