Instagram. Facebook. Twitter. Email. IMessage. Snapchat. WhatsApp.
I have used all seven of these platforms to share photos of my son, view pictures of my friends babies, and also look at tons of babies that I have never met in person. Instagram has been a place online that helps take away some of the loneliness of being a stay at home mom. So many parents are constantly posting absolutely gorgeous photos of their everyday life and sharing so honestly about their struggles and celebrations. I have felt inspired reading their stories and seeing how they decorate their homes and dress their little ones.
But there is this question I have that I am afraid to address:
Should my four month old be online?
In the early weeks with Tennyson, I was really adamant that no one post anything about him on their social media accounts. Something about it made me feel like I had no control if I wasn't the one posting about him. I didn't like the feeling of his picture being out there for the whole world to view. I even messaged friends to delete pictures they had already posted. But if social media is for sharing about my life how can I not post about Tennyson? I literally spend all night and day with him and he is just the cutest little guy, you should see my phone's camera roll.
The thing I am really thinking about is I don't picture that we will allow Tenn to have his own social media until he is at an appropriate age, and when he does get into it I will want to teach him about privacy and boundaries. But if I've been posting about him his whole life is there really any privacy for him to protect? I honestly do not know the answer to this question.
Recently I have thought about ways I could protect his privacy, while sharing photos for friends and family to enjoy. I have come up with this list of things to check myself on before clicking 'share'. This list is for me, it's not a suggestion for everyone else :)
I am in no way suggesting that this be everyone's list, or that you even need to have a list. But if I'm honest with myself, my motivation for posting pictures is not always coming from a humble posture. I would be interested in hearing from others what their rules or boundaries are for sharing photos of kids, or if you don't think that's even necessary.
Okay, I have to talk about what happened this weekend!
Millions of women came together and marched in the name of equality and justice on Saturday. The pictures of these marches are moving. Whether or not you are in a position of support of these events, it is hard to ignore the size of the crowds and the involvement of friends.
But the thing I want to talk about is the verbal attacks happening on social media following Saturday's events. I am reading things that are hate-filled from all sides of this topic:
My friends, let's have grace for one another!
You might not know the reason why your friend felt compelled to march this weekend. You might not know what's hidden beneath her Facebook post, or #womensmarch tweet. You also might not know why your friend is so uncomfortable with the whole idea.
My point is, I feel that it is so important to seek to understand each other before assuming we know what someone believes or feels. Personally, there are some topics where I have come to a decision or a stance that I believe is right, but other topics I am just on a journey of asking questions. Let's figure out where our friends are on their own journey and have conversations where we build each other up rather than tear each other down.
Every day I hear about issues in my clients life that often make me think, "This would be so easy to fix if only London had....."
There are many amazing agencies in this beautiful city that are doing so much for our community. I regularly work with people who are consistently striving to make London a better home for all who live here. I have seen some amazing start-ups and I have heard ideas here and there for ways we can help our low-income neighbours.
I work very closely with people who often need very practical assistance. We sometimes overthink and over plan how to help those who are struggling, but often we forget the little things that can make a huge difference. I've made a small list of my own dreams for very practical solutions that could make a huge difference in the communities I work with.
1. A temporary shelter for pets. Too many times I have seen people abandon their beloved pets because they won't have permanent housing for a couple weeks and they cant take their animals to their temporary housing options. Many animals are abandoned for this reason, or their owners decide not to move to a better home for fear of losing their pets. If there was a place where one could leave their pets for up to a month at a time for a very low cost it would make a huge difference.
2. A stroller/carseat rental program. Many of my clients who are expecting their first child are particularly nervous about how they will be able to purchase a car seat. They are required to have a new car seat in order to take their baby home. If there was a rental program for those who don't own cars but need to get their baby home after delivery this would take away huge amounts of anxiety.
3. Mobile Counselors. I have a few clients who have expressed interest in meeting with a counselor or social worker, but they often miss their appointments because they don't have bus fare or childcare. If the workers could go directly to someone's house or to somewhere in walking distance to the client that would be amazing!
4. Apartment Listings for Youth. It can be really hard for a young person to navigate on their own how to find an affordable apartment. If there was one website that had listings of landlords/apartments that are willing to rent to youth it would make the process faster and easier.
These are just some ideas- anyone else have suggestions from your own observations?
This February will mark 20 years since acquiring my catastrophic closed head injury. What that means is, though I had little damage on the outside of my head (no fractures to my skull), my poor developing brain was jostled around so much that it caused lesions and bruising from the inside. I was in a coma for 11 days, and at the time I was only 15.
So, fast forward to 2014. I am living on my own, putting my challenges in perspective and doing my best to get by on a day-to-day basis. I had been without a dependable, living-wage-paying job for over two years. Thankfully I was able to access the only grant in Canada (at the time) that assisted people in starting up their own business. The grant was paid out in a program similar to EI and was meant to sustain me as I got my business up and running.
This was a blessing - an awesome opportunity that came along at exactly the right time. It has now been just over a year since starting my little "companionship and helping-hands" service, and the process has had many awesome and not-so-awesome experiences as a part of the journey - chock-full of emotion, thanks to that 20yr-old injury. What exactly does that entail? Read on...
After having the awesome opportunity to access the small business grant, I was enrolled in an awesome start-up support program through the Small Business Centre in London. There was panic and stress and frustration as I worked my way through the training, then the set-up; but, for the most part, it was a God-send having the security blanket of support (both financially and emotionally). I met some awesome fellow-entrepreneurs along the way who have since stayed in touch and we encourage one another on the journey.
The next and probably THE MOST awesome part of my job is meeting and working with my clients. They make my day on a daily basis and remind me why I'm glad to be doing what I do. 80% of my clients are seniors and for some reason I just always feel at ease around them. I have also tripled the size of my interior foliage thanks to my new-found friends who treat me like family. Having clients' families embrace me as their own has been my absolute favourite part of what I do.
Thirdly, I'd have to say that dictating my own schedule has been another very important and awesome perk that comes with my job. Making my own hours allows me to put in the extra time where I may need to (due to cognitive fatigue), and go easy on myself due to other needs. Being my own boss gives me the chance to manage my own priorities, which is not a luxury afforded to those working for someone else.
Just like the song says, "Along with the sunshine there's got to be a little rain sometimes". As great as it's been to have the freedom of setting my hours and managing my own resources energetically, there are many things sacrificed in the process.
Structure and clear expectations are things that are encouraged for people with a brain injury. However, outside of my setting my own hours, the only consistent expectation a "solopreneur" has is the promise of inconsistency. The inconsistent, always-changing nature of my work has to be one of the most draining parts of my job. A cancellation often works in my favour, allowing me an extra hour to eat or the opportunity to at least not rush. But week-to-week changes in scheduling or a sudden loss of income can cause an overwhelming increase in anxiety.
Secondly, working from home can be both a blessing and a curse. Who doesn't love the idea of writing blogs in your pj's, snuggled up on the couch? Or the freedom of "getting to it when you get to it" rather than an over-the-shoulder, micro-managing boss? And yet, when your bookkeeper is scheduled for your tax return input meeting next week and you haven't finished logging your kilometers and utility bills from last year, you can bet you wish you'd had someone to keep you on track a little better. Distraction happens easily to an injured brain.
And lastly, I'd say that dealing with personality conflicts becomes more challenging when you are your own business. As an introvert, I would much rather keep to myself most days. However, part of being your own boss also means wearing several hats, my least favourite being the "marketing yourself" hat. I would much rather build relationships slowly and one-at-a-time, keeping my social circle small and accessible. As a business owner and service provider, though, I need to be "putting myself out there" on a regular basis - which is honestly one of the most anxiety-inducing activities I can think of.
So, there you have it, folks! The good, the bad, and the ugly of running a business with a brain injury. It's a neat option for those willing to put up with the stresses. Of course, any job is going to have some degree of stress. In my mind, if there's going to be stress in life anyway, it's merely a matter of deciding which stresses we are willing to work with (and around), and which we would rather do without.
Amanda Stark is sole proprietor of The Friendly Visitor in London, On. She is a graduate of Emmanuel Bible College and is a self-proclaimed community cheerleader, involved with many local organizations and initiatives.
Follow Amanda @starkamanda & @LdnTFV
If you have ever tried to reach my by calling my phone you may know that it is unlikely that I will answer, but if you text me two seconds later you will get an instant response. First of all, I apologize. Its not you, its really truly me. I cant remember a time when I was comfortable answering the phone or the door for that matter. My sister and I used to say that whoever was closer to the phone when it rang had to get it, so when it rang I would run to the other side of the room if not fleeing to the bathroom and locking the door.
So here I am, a 25 year old working woman with not only a cellphone, but now a work blackberry that I have to answer during business hours and check frequently after business hours. I will admit that receiving another smartphone was maybe one of the most anxiety inducing parts of my job. I think its safe to say that anyone who has reached me at that number would never know that before I answered I was taking deep breaths and saying to myself "you can do this, just say hello."
The conversations usually go well once I answer, and when I hang up I laugh at myself for getting so stressed out. But there is something about not knowing who is calling especially when it is very possible the person calling is experiencing some sort of crisis or maybe doesn't speak English all that well.
I feel like I am not the only one who struggles with phone anxiety. I have heard it is very common with people who have anxiety disorders like my OCD, but I don't want to settle with that. I want to get more comfortable with answering the phone and not always resorting to emails and texts.
Coping Strategy #1- Having two smartphones means that if I am getting a call on one, I can Google search the number on the other phone so I know who may be calling.
Coping Strategy #2- I never interrupt an appointment to answer my phone, so likely the caller will leave a voicemail and I can decide when to call back
Coping Strategy #3- Literally tell people (friends, not work related) that they will reach me easier by text/email so that they know what to expect.
Any other ideas to help with phone anxiety?
Ok, there's something I need to address.
Compassion isn't always natural for me.
I used to think romantically about the idea of meeting peoples needs, helping them get back on their feet, or teaching them a practical skill that will help them in the future. I looked forward to learning all about peoples struggles and being able to bring them to the other side of things. I knew there would be difficulties in the work I've chosen, and I still am so glad I am able to work where I do, but there is a whole other side to this work that I avoid confronting.
Sometimes people I meet with are not kind to me. This is completely understandable because a lot of folks I meet are doing their very best to survive within a system that has beat them up time and time again. I am just one more person that they have to tell their story to in order to get what they need to keep on living. I will never be able to grasp what it is like to worry each day about what you are going to feed your kids and how you are going to get to that appointment.
A few years ago I would have told someone in my position that compassion trumps everything else and that if you aren't being kind first and foremost than you aren't doing your job. I still believe that compassion is important, but with it needs to come grace, assertiveness, and boundaries. I cant help people when I resent them. There are times when I need to step back and hope that there will be someone else to step in. Sometimes I have to let someone be angry with me, which is difficult for my people-pleasing personality. Here's to confronting it!
Welcome to my next mini-series titled Let's Be Honest.
It's so much easier to blog and post on social media about all the awesome things that happen to us, but I want to get into some of the not so awesome and raw feelings. There will be some guest posts and more from my own life, are you ready?
I have always been fascinated by human interaction. I analyze conversations to an embarrassing amount and I know right away when something has unsettled me because my body temperature rises or my heart starts pounding. Even just thinking about a past communication fail can get my heart rate up. I lie awake at night replaying interactions I had throughout the day and making sure I didn't offend anyone or if someone offended me I think about how to bring it up with them. This is not a pattern of thinking that I would recommend to anyone, but it has helped me to notice things about clients, coworkers, friends and family. When I am meeting with a client I have to quickly assess how assertive or passive to be with them based on the signals they are giving me.
Recently I have really been thinking about what I value as a communicator. (Read my last post). I put a huge emphasis on harmony and positivity which is a good posture to have in my field of work. But I have also been thinking about how my cultural background prevents me from understanding or seeing the perspective of clients, coworkers and friends who do not share the same cultural perspective.
It is definitely a hot topic in social services right now to talk about diversity, inclusion, equality, etc all of which I am a firm supporter. However, I wonder what it truly means to be a diverse community. Often I go to meetings where the topic of diversity will come up and we will talk positively about that and then move on. But as I look around the table I see a lot of white North American females making the decisions (myself included). It is true that there are many more females working in the social service field right now, and I have been so impressed with the dedication that my colleagues in the community show everyday. So I don't mean to criticize or take away from the meaningful work that they do, but I do wonder if we are missing key voices because we have set up our workplaces and meetings in a way that caters to people of the same background.
This came startlingly to my attention a few months ago when I was at a community meeting discussing a certain ethnic population in London. At the end of the presentation someone stood up and asked a question along the lines of "So how can my organization help this group of people if they are not willing to come to our office?" The answer was something along the lines of "You can't help them if you aren't willing to go to them first or hire someone from their community that they will trust." There was a few more minutes of back and forth where the questioner tried to defend their practise and the presenter pushed back. The facilitator then politely ended the question period. I left that meeting thinking how much it would have benefitted me to hear the end of that argument. That's when I started thinking that the idea of embracing diversity might be harder than it sounds.
For me right now the question is, am I willing to engage in healthy conflict in order to truly include all types of people in my workplaces, my church, and my home?
My new job has forced me to rethink how I communicate- my polite, non-confrontational style doesn't work in every situation the way I want it to. Tough love doesn't come to me naturally and I am more aware than ever of the way I like to converse with people. My 'rules' of communication are almost exactly the same as the rules of Improv Comedy. I remember learning the following guidelines in high school drama class, and it's always stuck with me:
1. Always agree and respect what your partner has created
2. Always say "Yes, and.."
3. Make statements, not just questions
4. Think of everything as an opportunity
This could not explain my communication style any better. First off, I always make a point of agreeing with someone and showing that I appreciate their perspective before anything else. This is good when meeting new people, trying to gain trust and show respect. This is not good when I actually don't agree with someone or need to be more assertive.
Secondly, I value adding my own words to someone's opinion to show even more that I appreciate their perspective and respect their voice. Rather than just saying yes all the time, it is important to add my own voice to the conversation. Then it feels like we are collaborating and both trying to get somewhere.
The third rule is also important, because if I am constantly asking a client or friend questions then it feels like I am interrogating them and the conversation is one sided. But if I add my own personal statements then it gives the other person a chance to ask me something as well.
Lastly, and very importantly I hope to be the kind of person who views every interaction as an opportunity. I can either build a person up through conversation or intimidate them with my words. Honestly, I will likely never change the foundation of my communication style as it works for me most of the time. However I am so conscious right now that this style does not always benefit me. I am always trying to be polite and gracious so sometimes I come across in professional settings like I don't have an opinion or that I can't stand my ground. I also get caught being too sensitive when a more assertive approach would be more effective. Here's to learning how to communicate more effectively!!
My last entry in this section was about the uncertainty of part time work. I am excited to say that I have moved out of that uncertainty into the wonderful and stress free experience of full time work! Ha! It's definitely not stress free and the uncertainty is still there, but mainly due to my over cautious personality.
I am still working with one of the organizations that I have been employed at for a year now, I have just stepped into a full time role as a Youth Outreach Worker. This position is challenging and full of mystery. Every day is different as our goal is to find isolated youth and support them to reach their goals. The way we do this work is by hearing the youth and what their needs are, giving them all the options they have and then supporting them with the decisions they make. That could mean that we are helping a youth move out of home and into a shelter/group home. It could mean that we are helping them apply for work so that they can support themselves. It could mean that we are helping them navigate difficult family relationships. The most important thing is that we let them make their own choices and we don't pressure them to make what we think is the right choice.
I am excited to write more about the stories that I may have throughout this work. I will change details most likely as to protect those I am working with, and will commit to never revealing personal identifying information.
I hope you will follow along!
Since graduating from University and most recently College, I must say I am thankful that I have found work in my field that I find meaningful and challenging. I am grateful that I have steady work and that I am making connections in the social work field that I feel will benefit me in my future career. I have had part time jobs since high school and have always managed to find work even if it isn't the best position, so this past year has been refreshing in that I actually have training for the work I am doing!
With all that said though, I have discovered the uncertainty of part-time work. Most people I know who are out of school and working hold part-time positions (or have employers who keep them just under 37.5 hours/week). This can be difficult for many reasons, and I am sure I am not the only person who longs for a full time position someday, so I would like to share some of my observations from having up to 3 part time jobs at one time.
1. Being a part-time worker distances employees from their organization.
When I am not able to participate fully in what an agency is working on because I have less hours then my co-workers, I am not able to fully engage and use my skills. So many work-related decisions happen when people are talking over lunch, or just hanging out in the office. Part-time workers miss out on important discussions and then are not fully utilized on their teams.
2. Working two or three jobs at the same time means an employee isn't giving their best.
At one point this year I held three part time jobs, and the main reason I quit (other than realizing the insanity of that decision) was because I couldn't focus at each different job. So even though the 3 jobs added up to full time hours, I was never in the right headspace when starting a shift which led to feeling like I was working all the time. Also, some days it meant working a full day plus more into the evening to accommodate scheduling, so being tired was inevitable.
3. Contract work and part-time hours can be a barrier to major life decisions.
Personally this has come up for me in terms of buying our first home. Even thought I work full time hours, I only get a certain amount of guaranteed hours per week which doesn't look the best when applying for a mortgage. (Thanks to Evan for his full-time job). Additionally, when we choose to have kids it may be difficult to re-enter the workforce after taking time off.
4. Part-time work does not allow for sufficient rest and down time.
This is where I see myself and my friends struggle the most. When you are working multiple jobs you can never guarantee that you will have a day off, which results in bring overtired at work. I have friends who take sick days from one job so that they don't have to miss a shift at their other job. Working seven days a week, even if some days are minimal hours is not healthy although when you have to decide between being financially secure and having time off, it can be hard!
These are some of my thought on part-time/contract work. Would love to hear any thoughts, or advice you might have on the topic?