New Year Roundup


Every time the calendar ticks over to a new year, I invite friends and family members to share moments from the year gone by, as well as their hopes for the year to come. 2014 was a year of ups and downs: some had the best year of their lives, others had the worst. Many of us were on a roller coaster with good bits and not-so-good bits.

My friend Kandita, who I met when I roomed with her at a blogging conference a couple of years ago (that was an insane weekend) started 2014 with one last name and ended it with another. She looked absolutely beautiful and radiant as she married the love of her life.

My former co-worker, carpool buddy and maid of honour Michelle moved to London, Ontario a couple of years ago. Since then, she has dealt with many personal challenges, but she has never lost her desire to help other people. This year was a big one for her. She gave up her liver disease awareness work and started focusing instead on helping homeless and underprivileged people in her city. She also got a job, ending a lengthy period of unemployment, and she saw her daughter through some challenging times.

Karyn, who lives in New Zealand, also went through some major life changes. She decided to leave a marriage that was making her unhappy, and in doing so, she has started to rediscover her inner sparkle. In one of my favourite Facebook statuses on her wall in 2014, she said that happiness has become her default state. She starts 2015 with a goal to build a happier life for herself and her three sons.

Caroline, who lives a short way outside of Toronto, went through the shock and heartbreak of unexpectedly losing a very close friend. This brought home to her that we are not indestructible. Therefore, in 2015, she wants to take time for the things that really matter in life.

Corinne lives on the other end of the city to me, and a few months ago I saw her for the first time in years. She took the leap of reopening her business this year, and she enjoyed reconnecting with a lot of people she had lost touch with. She is looking forward to a year of discovery and success in 2015.

Sara, who lives south of the border from me, has a condition called Chiari, that results in debilitating headaches. Two years ago she had surgery, and in 2014, she finally got a handle on the pain. She is hoping that in 2015 she will be well enough to move out on her own.

Bronwyn also lives in the United States, but I have known her forever, since she was a little girl in South Africa. Last year, she quit her full-time job and went to work at a summer camp. This year she intends to continue the work she has started on her self-development, by getting her weight under 200 pounds and by going back to school full-time.

Fellow Torontonian Tawnya had a mixed year. She lost her beloved grandmother, but she ran her first half-marathon. She had two bicycle accidents, but is alive thanks to the fact that she always wears a helmet. In 2015, she wants to do the Army Run again, simplify her life by getting rid of clutter, and embrace challenges and changes instead of running from them.

My cousin Gillian, who lives in the back-arse of nowhere Tasmania, has family that is scattered all over the globe. Last year, she got to be with her whole family as they celebrated her mother’s 80th birthday. Her wish for 2015 is for health and happiness for everyone.

Noella lives in Missouri and is one of the loveliest people I know. She had a bittersweet year – she had a painful disconnect with her stepchildren, and at times her bills exceeded her income. But somehow her bills got paid, she was able to put food on her table and she got a part-time job just in time for Christmas. Her year did have some high points, like a Mothers Day trip to Memphis and a fancy birthday dinner, both with her son. Her health stayed strong and she received wonderful support from family and friends. Her dream in 2015 is to go to Savannah.

Jennifer, also from the United States, worked with her husband on putting their marriage first instead of focusing solely on their children. In 2015, she wants to find full-time work, get her fitness journey back on track, and go on a couples getaway to recharge and reconnect with her husband.

Elle lives in Australia with her husband Ray. In 2014, they flew back to South Africa where Ray proudly walked his daughter down the aisle at her wedding. This year, Elle hopes to find a job that she will be happy in until retirement.

And what about me? Well, 2014 was a huge year for me. I reevaluated my running goals, and through a bittersweet process I decided to take the full marathon off my bucket list. I also made the leap into self-employment and formally registered my own business. I have high hopes for 2015: I am going to run a half-marathon in 2:15:00 or less, I am going to build on the early successes in my business, and I am going to declutter and organize my home.

What were your biggest moments of 2014? What are your hopes for 2015?

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle, with input from the above-mentioned individuals. Photo credit: Takashi .M. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.


The Flea In The Bottle

George and his dad, enjoying the concert

George and his dad, enjoying the concert

A long time ago, I heard a story about a flea that was put into a bottle. Since fleas are capable of jumping something like 30 times their own body length, the lid had to be put onto the bottle in order to contain the flea. Whenever the flea jumped, it dinged itself on the bottom of the lid, and eventually it figured out how to jump to a level just below the lid. After a period of time, the lid was removed, and the flea was free to go. But by now, it could no longer jump high enough to escape from the bottle. The physical capability was there, but the flea had the expectation that if jumped any higher, it would get hurt.

The story is a metaphor, of course. It’s supposed to illustrate the idea that we perform not according to our abilities, but according to the expectations we have, that are put there by ourselves or by someone else.

When George was diagnosed with autism seven years ago, I promised myself that I would never put a lid on my expectations of him. I would ensure that he had whatever opportunities he needed to learn and grow, and to discover what he might be capable of.

This strategy has not always been easy to follow, but it appears to have been reasonably successful. Over the years, periods of rapid progress have alternated with disheartening plateaus. Lately we have been experiencing the latter, and my husband and I have been having some depressing conversations about George’s limitations.

In the midst of all of this, my other son James has been preparing for his school’s spring concert, which happened this evening. In the past, we have left George at home with his grandma on occasions like this. Sometimes crowds and excitement overwhelm him, and we don’t want to stress him out or wreck things for James. Tonight, however, Grandma was unable to watch George, so we had to bring him with us.

While we were standing outside the school waiting for the doors to open, George was already getting antsy. My husband and I spoke about which one of us would leave with him, and which one would stay behind to watch James. In the end, we decided to see how long George would last for, so we went in and took a seat.

The concert started with the 8th Grade band. As soon as the music started, a huge smile appeared on George’s face, and he started swaying in time to the beat. He briefly clapped his hands over his ears when the drumming started, but for the most part he stayed calm. He even started singing along when the band played We Will Rock You.

The folk-dancing act that James was participating in was quite late in the program, and throughout the whole concert, George was sitting calmly, listening to the music and clearly enjoying himself. From time to time he would bop up and down in time to the music.

When James and the rest of the folk dancers came out, I scooted to the other side of the auditorium to get a clear shot with my phone’s video camera. While the dancing was going on, I turned my head to see how George was doing. To my astonishment, he was standing beside his seat, trying to imitate the moves of the dancers. As his hat-bedecked head bopped and jived in time to the music, my husband caught my eye and gave me a thumbs-up. For a few moments, I swung the camera around to capture some of his dancing.

We left soon after James was done with his performance. George was brimming with happiness, but we could tell that he was ready to leave. We took the boys to McDonalds to reward both of them for a job well done.

Now, as they settle into bed for the night, I cannot help reflecting on the fact that if my mother-in-law hadn’t had a prior appointment, George would have stayed home and we would have missed the opportunity to see him having such a wonderful time. This has renewed my resolve to keep testing his limits and pushing him beyond his boundaries. I don’t want to put a lid on my expectations of him, or his expectations of himself. I don’t want him to be that flea that is conditioned into lowering its potential.

I want George to dream big, and to fly as high and as far as he dares to go.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit to the author.


The Beating Of A Butterfly’s Wings


Last week, while my husband and I were on the road, we saw a man walking dejectedly away from a car that was in the emergency lane. We pulled over and offered him a ride, which he gratefully accepted. It turned out that he had run out of gas, and we took him to his nearby home so that he could enlist the assistance of his wife.

As we were driving him home, he said something that made me feel sad. He said, “I didn’t expect anyone to stop.”

I think it is sad that we live in a world where we expect our fellow man to not help us. All too often, we see instances of people walking past other people who need help. Have we all become so busy and self-involved that we just don’t have time to look around us and lend a helping hand? Or is this a manifestation of the “crowd mentality” that makes us assume that if we don’t do something, someone else will?

What we did for that man was so small. It cost us about five minutes of time, but it probably made a huge difference in how that man’s day went.

The very next day, I went out for a long run. It was cold and windy, and it was snowing a little. Because of the extreme winter that we have had, several of the sidewalks are still packed with ice. About six kilometres in, I was running along a relatively clear stretch, so I was able to build up a decent pace. A man walking towards me indicated that I should slow down.

“There’s a big patch of ice up ahead,” he told me. “It’s hidden under the snow. Be careful.”

I thanked him and adjusted my pace accordingly. As I gingerly picked my way over the ice he had told me about, I pondered the fact that if he had not taken the time to tell me, I could have ended up with a serious injury. Those five seconds of kindness possibly changed the course not only of that day, but of the next few weeks.

It has been said that the beating of a butterfly’s wings can start a hurricane on the other side of the world. In the same way, just a few seconds of kindness can completely alter the course of the recipient’s day, week or month, and it can make the giver feel a whole lot better too. Several studies have shown that the single biggest predictor of happiness is the propensity to be kind.

My wish for all of you reading this is that you will take advantage of opportunities to be kind, and that you yourselves will be on the receiving end of kindness.

Tell me, what acts of kindness have you recently given or received?

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit: Sephyr_Raon_Noxor. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.


An Unexpected Treasure


While I’m waiting impatiently for my coffee machine to work its magic, my son suddenly appears by my side.

“Little pig, little pig, let me in!” he says.

I know the drill. I’ve done this enough times. “Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin!” I reply.

“Then I’ll HUFF! And I’ll PUFF! And I’ll BLOW your house in!”

He draws in an enormous lungful of air and then blows mightily in my direction, while I pretend to fall backwards from the force of wind.

Like many kids with autism, my son George has never really been one for stories, but from time to time a story comes along that really captivates him. The Brown Bear, Brown Bear books fell into this category when he was younger, and he still occasionally returns to them. The current flavour of the month, though, is The Three Little Pigs. George takes great pleasure in watching YouTube videos of the story, and quite significantly for a child with autism, he likes to role play some of the scenes.

By coincidence, The Three Little Pigs was the central activity of a training course I attended last week. The course was about Agile project management, and the theory was covered on the first day. Day Two was given over to a practical application of the theory. We were divided into teams and given the task of using Agile project management practices to make a comic book depicting the story of The Three Little Pigs.

The process was fun and interesting, and definitely helped highlight the ideas behind Agile project management.

The end result was pretty much what you’d expect from a group of five IT types, none of whom can draw to save their lives. Let’s just say that none of us will be leaving our day jobs anytime soon.

Since I had played the role of “product owner” during the exercise, and since my team-mates know that I am the mother of young children, I was allowed to keep the comic book we made at the end of the training. When I got home, I put the book on my desk, and George immediately pounced on it.

“The Three Little Pigs!” he said excitedly. And he started paging through the book, reading all of the words out loud in his sweet lyrical voice. When he got to the end, he took the book to his computer, clicked onto a Three Little Pigs YouTube video, and read the book while the video was running. During dinnertime, the book was beside George’s plate on the table. At bedtime, it was taken to his bed and stashed under his pillow.

While George was sleeping, I managed to sneak the book out from under his pillow so that I could reinforce the makeshift binding that was beginning to come apart from overuse. I put the book back where I had found it, and it was there for George in the morning.

George doesn’t care that the pages aren’t all quite the same size, that the pigs look more like cats and that the wolf looks more like a horse. All he sees when he looks at the book is a treasure to be enjoyed over and over again.

The training course did a great deal for me and my professional growth.

It has done a lot more for the happiness of one child.

(Photo credit: fdecomite. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)