Things that matter the most

Well, the house is on the market and an offer is in. If all goes well, I’ll be out of this house that I’ve lived in for the past 26 years in mid July. Holy cow.  I wander around through the rooms, and memories spill into my mind and tears spill down my face. I think about Rory’s first days here, when I was learning how to be a mother. There was the time Jaime marked her entire body with blue permanent marker, but purposefully kept her diaper clean! I remember lying in bed with a broken leg, Olivia C. rushing in to hug me with tears in her eyes. Or morning coffees last summer with Olivia T. before we both went to work. I will miss all those moments.

Last week, while I was in Whistler, something happened that made me consider things that mattered the most. I was on top of Harmony Ridge with three friends, and they had already taken off to get to the big bumps in the bowl. I looked around at the mountains and they just took my breath away. Then I pushed off, and as I rounded a corner, there was one of my friends waiting for me. The mountains were spectacular, but what mattered the most was that he had waited.

Lori McKenna,  singer/ songwriter from Massachusetts (http://lorimckenna.com/) writes:

“My life is pieces of paper that I’ll get back to later. I’ll write you a story how I ended up here. Why the little things make us and how long it takes us, to figure out what matters the most. . . .”

Why does it take us so long to figure out what matters most? I don’t know. But I decided I should consider what mattered most from my Whistler trip, because all those little things reflect what is important in the rest of my life. Here they are. Some are serious, some sad, some silly, but all are meaningful. You might want to think about how they reflect the things that matter most in your life…

  • the feeling of joy that swells in my chest as soon as I see the mountains. That joy can’t be bottled or shared, but it makes me smile uncontrollably. How amazing is that?
  • standing in the village, laughing and singing John Prine songs at the top of our lungs with a street musician, and just for a moment, nothing else matters but the song.
  • going into Starbucks and after the second morning, the staff just took the mugs I was holding and gave me an Americano and Pike Place. To be remembered is a wonderful, empowering thing.
  • going to the bathroom at Horseman Hut, then heading down 7th Heaven, realizing I have to go again…and knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Kira will just say “Okay, we’ll stop and I’ll wait for you” and I don’t have to feel bad about it! How lucky am I?
  • my father’s voice on the phone when I call to tell him about my day, and to find that he’s been online looking at maps of Whistler so he’d better know where I was.
  • …and being waited for at the top of Harmony.
The power of friendship...so lucky!

The power of friendship…so lucky!

As I look at that list, I don’t see things like houses or money or anything big. Look at it yourself, and this is what you see:

  • a feeling of joy
  • a song
  • delight at being remembered
  • strength of friendship
  • love
  • a feeling of being valued

It is the little things that matter the most. And now, It is the memories that matter in this house, not the house itself. I can’t lose those by selling my house. It is the feelings, the song, the delight, the friendship, love and the value that matter from my ski trip. I’m no longer in Whistler, but I can’t lose those either.

I got home, then headed back to Ottawa for meetings. As I was leaving, my boss and one of my colleagues both hugged me goodbye. Those things matter the most.

“My life is green grass through the snow , a sweet reckless hope, and baby I know what matters the most”

Keep it PLAIN!

There are two official languages you can use while working for the public service in Canada. And there’s one unofficial language. I’m doing some really interesting work with Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) right now and I was describing it to my Dad the other day. But I was using that third language and he had no idea what I was saying!

My Dad is amazing. He has a host of letters behind his name – two Bachelor degrees, a Master’s (actually, two, if you count the thesis that my grandmother threw out!), and a doctorate. He has been the Head Master/Principal of day schools and boarding schools in both Canada and the US, while serving as a minister in the Anglican Church. He’s no slouch.  We discuss the research I’m doing, the role of the media, about the way the Canadian government functions (or doesn’t), and I am certain many people would be hard pressed to keep up to his intellect.

I like it when he knows what I am doing, because he can always provide me with unbiased and critical advice without being immersed in the middle of a project. So the other night, I launched into a description of this NRCan program. And despite my father’s knowledge, wisdom and experience, it was really hard for him to understand what I was trying to explain. He’s really smart, but he doesn’t have a background that provides him a context for understanding this kind of stuff.

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My incredible Dad and my brother. Looks like Dad’s giving autographs!

I found I was speaking another language, a language that was based in jargon, acronyms and techie-speak that was difficult to translate. ARGH! I was becoming a jargon-head!!!

My father laughed and laughed as I struggled to communicate. It was his laughter that made me realize that if I was going to continue to work as a communicator in my consulting business, I’d better find a way to explain everything in such a way that my Dad, or my daughter or anyone not in the “industry in question” can understand.

A few weeks ago, Gail and I helped deliver the Ontario Parks Leadership Foundations Course. During that time, I met Bradley Fauteax, the relatively new Managing Director of Ontario Parks. I liked him for a few reasons. First, he loves single malt, so we’re bonded for life. He’s also got a music degree and loves to sing. Those two are enough to build a friendship on, but it is the third reason that got my respect. Bradley uses plain language. He speaks clearly, doesn’t mask anything in techno-babble, and as a result, his listeners pay attention…because he is easy to understand.

My friend Julie Towers is the same way. She is a biologist, field trials judge, single malt lover, fly fisher, and currently Executive Director of the Renewable Resources Branch of the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources. She has a multitude of talents, but her business colleagues tell me one of her finest talents is that she speaks and writes so that everyone can understand her.

Julie, using plain (sign) language!

Julie, using plain (sign) language!

I challenge you to look at a document, or at something you are reading or working on, and test it for clarity. Surely you and those in your line of business can understand it. But would my father? How could you explain it to him so that he does? How can you provide the context as well as the information?

Tonight, I’m going to tell my Dad about the plain language project that my friend and colleague Christina and I are going to work on for NRCan, and get his advice. I’m also going to pour myself a single malt, call Julie and see what she has to say.

I do love my work!