Life Lesson: Conceive. Believe. Achieve.

“Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”

– My dad to us kids-

O.K., so Napolean Hill was the guy who first said it. But, my dad was the guy who instilled it as a mantra in our lives.

Growing up, I didn’t believe this as easily as I do today. But the power of this statement, or rather, the power of the mind and how we choose to channel our thoughts can literally be life changing.

As a child – a teenager – it was easy for me to be depressed by my reality. When mom served up nothing but plain rice porridge for dinner, or when ballet lessons ended for good mid pirouette, I knew we had no money left that week, or month, and had to make do. But I’d rather not dwell on the tough parts of growing up, or the things we missed out on, because as a child to my parents, I have so much to be grateful for.

Every one of us (we are five) are successful and happy in our own right. And it was no small feat for Mom and Dad to ensure our success. They taught us to set goals, and they championed our dreams every step of the way. So, we each set goals (yes, with my parents in the background nudging, nurturing and guiding us along) and we pushed hard to achieve. And achieve we did.

When I look back on my life, I see distinct points along the way when I stopped and visualized my path and my future. Once I’d mapped it out in my mind, my body instinctively took over and propelled me towards it. I’ve failed, for sure, but when I did, I carved a new plan and moved on.

10 years ago, when Bruce and I got engaged, we began to write down our goals. We made it a ‘couples’ thing to do and we’ve done it every year since. It’s been good for us on many levels. It’s allowed us to focus, to work hard, to overcome obstacles and to bounce right back up when things don’t go to plan. Several times a year now, we pull out our ‘Goal Book’ and look back on what we’ve written. It allows us to recognize what we’ve achieved (everything from getting out of debt and owning a home to getting fit, learning new things and exploring the world). It makes us both feel good. We know that when we reach into the shelves of our lives, they are not empty.

As we celebrate Family Day here in Ontario, I  thank my Mom and Dad for their gifts to us – confidence, self-belief, gumption and love. And, thank you Dad for giving me my life’s mantra: Conceive. Believe. Achieve.

Happy Family Day!

Listen Up. Exceed Expectations.

“Perhaps if people talked less, animals would talk more. People are incessant talkers – I can give you my word on that.” 

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Listening’ is something few people do truly well. Worse, our ability to listen continues to deteriorate thanks to the constant stimulation from our devices and endless cacophony around us.

So, about six months ago, I made a commitment to myself: to listen actively and to listen consciously.

For me, it’s been an interesting challenge.  Most of the time, I want to get my ideas out – quickly – before my mind wanders off to the next thing and the idea is gone forever.  My mind is always racing, bouncing from one thing to the next, formulating responses, anticipating reactions, assuming feelings or devising solutions. Sometimes (likely, too often) I start to respond before the other person can finish their third sentence.  I know I’m not alone here.

We interrupt, because we think we know.

Conscious, effective listening, I discovered, can be one of the most difficult things  to do because to listen we must first be silent. For many of us, being quiet can be disconcerting. If you’re not speaking (read participating), then you must not be interested (read engaged). That’s one assumption. The wrong one. 

But, it’s not impossible to learn to listen consciously in our harried, noisy worlds.

To listen, we must first be silent.

Listening is possibly the most crucial element in effective communication. If we fail to listen, we will fail to meet our customers’ needs, let alone exceed their expectations. The same is true of our personal and family relationships – a failure to listen consciously to the person across the table, be they an adult or a child, can easily destroy any relationship.

Here are five lessons I’ve learned about active, conscious listening and what it can help us achieve.

  1. Nurture relationships
    When you set aside your devices, quiet your mind, purse your lips and focus only on the person and subject at hand, you will hear so much more – what’s spoken and what’s left unspoken. You may even find that doing this can be exhausting the first time. But, trust me, it gets easier with practice. Conscious listening allows you to nurture stronger relationships and build a higher degree of trust with the people around you – because for the time that you are listening to the person across from you, it will reflect the fact that there is nothing else more important to you than what they are saying.
  2. Discover new ideas and more solutions to a problem
    When you let someone else on your team or family speak, you will uncover new ideas or discover several more solutions to a problem. Think of that person who always hangs back, or the introvert on your crew – the one who holds back because there are already too many loud voices (often the same ones) in the group. If the same voices hold court every time, you will fail to tap the wealth of ideas within your team. Allowing, or rather, encouraging new voices at the table can sometimes take work. You may have to ask that usually quiet person what they think about a problem or idea. You may need to show them that it’s quite safe to offer an opinion and then encourage the discussion along. They might be blown away by the fact that you want their opinion, but what follows could well blow you away.
  3. Go beyond the ordinary to surprise and delight
    Someone I met recently said, “just shine the light on your customer and let them speak. You will hear all you need to know to exceed their expectations.” That goes for family, friends and loved ones alike. When you do this, you will discover so much more about the them. The right question at the right time to clarify or probe will give you valuable information about the speaker. You can use that insight to solve a problem for them – one nobody else could quite help them figure out. Or, at just the right time, you could use relevant information you’ve gathered to create a very personal, memorable gift for them. All of this will go a long way towards making you standout from the crowd. If you’re in business with this person, it will kick-start a chain reaction of good things for your business, simply because they would talk about what you did for them (think customer experience) – you will be known as the person who genuinely cared, someone who not only listened, but truly heard what was said. If it’s for a loved one, well then, you will only reinforce and strengthen your relationship. At the very least, it shows that you respect your speaker.
  4. Plant yourself firmly on the learning path
    Once you’ve discovered the three points above, this one just reveals itself. New ideas, new information, new solutions, all lead to you being on a path of constant learning, nurturing both  your personal and professional growth. We are always learning from those around us. Conscious, active listening not only enables this process, it accelerates it.
  5. Become a better leader
    If you think about the people you most enjoy being with, you will very likely find that you love being around them because of the way they listened to you. When I think about the people in my life who I most enjoy being with, I find that the best of them are exceptional listeners and, in turn, great leaders and mentors. In short, these people make me a better version of myself.

Having been more deliberate about the way I listen to others, and seen what it can do,  this is one skill I intend to keep building.

What does conscious listening mean to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

On Canadian Soil in…France

It’s Memorial Day in the US today, so this post is somewhat timely. I was lucky enough to be in Europe on holiday this past week.  Our trip this time  included a visit to Vimy Ridge – the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.

Canadian National Vimy Memorial

Canadian National Vimy Memorial

Today, the landscape around the magnificent Vimy Memorial is peaceful and quiet. Solemn. Sheep graze the grounds just beyond the fence, oblivious to the horrors that took place there once upon a time.


Beyond the fence

But as the annals of history tell us, Vimy, just 10 clicks north of Arras in France, was the site of fierce fighting in World War 1. The grounds around the memorial are littered with hummocks and craters – markers of the horrific explosions set off all those years ago. Many, many lives were lost, but the capture of the narrow ridge by the Canadian forces in 1917 marked a significant moment in Canada’s history during the war.


Hummock-ed fields

We walked the trenches and the tunnels on a guided tour to stories about the courage, valour and ingenuity of the young men for fought a horrifying battle all those years ago. We also heard stories of humanity between the men who were enemies across the trenches.  These stories are echoed all along the Western Front.

We Remember.



Canada, Abundantly Nice

Eric Weiner wrote this article – Can Canada teach the rest of us to be nicer?’ for BBC Travel. In it he talks about why he and his family make Canada a destination for their annual American road trip. If you are a Canadian, take a moment to read the article, then stand up and be proud to call yourself Canadian. If you’re not, read the article anyway. 🙂

“Canada is to niceness as Saudi Arabia is to oil,” Eric writes. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve shared some of my thoughts on Canada in previous posts here, here and here.

Over the seven years that I’ve lived here, I’ve been continuously amazed by Canadian niceness. Never mind the ease with which they strike up conversations with strangers, or the way drivers let you into traffic, even during rush hour. There’s a degree of road courtesy only seen in Canada. I’ve met polite, friendly wait staff everywhere I’ve gone and courteous, friendly, often helpful TTC staff. Polite, friendly public transit drivers?, you ask. Yes. This was one of the most difficult things for me to believe as being true in Canada – but it is. TTC drivers wait for you when they see you rushing for the bus.

It’s inherently Canadian to be polite, and over the years, I’ve picked up many of these Canadian habits – hold the door for the person behind you, say ‘thank you’ when the person in front of you holds the door for you. Simple, common courtesy. Stuff that’s not common in many other parts of the world.

For a Canadian, ‘sorry’ isn’t the hardest word. It’s the easiest, and they are often mocked for it. ‘Hello’, is another word that’s easy for a Canadian. Walk down the street and smiles and hellos are exchanged with real ease, whether you were born here, if you chose to make this your new home, or if you’re only passing through.

So, go ahead Canada, teach the world what you know.

I look forward to your thoughts on this Canadian trait.

Note to new drivers in Canada: Learn Canadian road courtesy. Then practice it – it’s good for you.

Life Lesson: Picture the calm. Now Relax.

“Imagine the ground covered in snow. Picture the calm. Now relax.” – My Dad.

My dad probably never ever saw snow in his life. But that’s the image he asked me to conjure up in my mind’s eye one morning, almost 15 years ago. It was just past 9:30 and it was already a hot day in Kuala Lumpur.

I was far from calm. I had my first job interview with a financial newspaper – the country’s leading business paper at the time. The interview was an hour away and we were stuck in traffic that was inching along the highway towards the city. I was angry with my dad for being late. He’d promised me a ride so I didn’t have to take the bus that day, and he knew I desperately wanted the job. Now, beside the stress of an interview, I was panicking for I knew I was never going to make it on time.

So, when he said, “picture the ground covered in snow…”, I didn’t know whether to scream or laugh. Dad had a way of cutting through the tension every time, or trying to anyway. He was an eternal optimist. “We will get there on time,” he added. “Don’t worry”. I stopped talking, mostly because I thought it was pointless. I just resolved to being upset, and hoping for the best.

50 tense minutes later, we pulled up at the offices of the newspaper.  I had a few minutes to spare, so I rushed in and found my way to my interview, a little frantic, but not much worse for wear. An hour or so later, I walked out of the editor’s office with a job offer in hand. At the front of the building, my dad was still waiting for me. He had a smile on his face. I suppose he knew that I would make the cut.

He was an eternal optimist.

If my dad had ever seen a winter’s day like some of the ones we’ve had these past few years, or lived with the traffic chaos that comes in the aftermath of a major snow storm, he might never have asked me to picture the ground covered in snow to calm me down.

The thing is, since that day, my life has moved along a trajectory that I could never have imagined before. My personal and professional life changed tremendously after that job and I’ve gone places and done stuff I never thought I would.

So, when life gets a little stressful and I panic from the fear of not being able to make it to the end of the day, I remember these words from my father…

“Imagine the ground covered in snow. Picture the calm. Now relax.”

And I do.

After all, for anyone who has lived through a major snow fall, it really is pretty, peaceful, and calm after the snow.  Wouldn’t you agree?

Calm after the snowfall

Calm after the snowfall