Connecting The Dots

Discussing the threads of my own passions which have culminated in my work as coach, mentor, presenter in my own business.

What is my purpose?

Mary Johnson - Monday, April 30, 2018

Purpose. A big concept. Current wisdom says we all have one. We are all on this earth for a reason, have a purpose to fulfill. This is something I have been struggling with. What is MY purpose? What is inviting my time, enthusiasm and energy? Today. Right now ...

For years it was a no brainer. I wanted an education and career. Tick.  Was lucky to find a good partner and marry. We had 3 boys. I knew what I was about in a very practical way every day. Tick. Work required certain skills and abilities I was able to provide. Tick. My parents got older and needed care before they died. Tick.  Friends, travel, new learnings. Tick, tick, tick. Somewhere in there I was fulfilling a purpose. I hope!

Now I won't be so foolish to say 'what's left?' There is much out there. Trouble is nothing has really grabbed me. Throwing myself at things because I can doesn't interest me any more. I have more than enough day-to-day activities to fill that box. No I am looking for the 'the one thing' that turn my head and creates that whole body 'Yes'. I have a couple of friends that have been clear on their purpose for years. 'To touch the lives of a million people.' is one.' To support and create resilience in young women in our still misogynistic workplace'. These provide a clear direction every day. My sense of purpose has never seemed this large or well articulated. If I am truly honest what still gets me excited and spun out are new ideas, new concepts and how they might apply to everyday life. How they might explain behaviours and actions. I can get completely lost in the world of ideas for hours and hours. Or lose time exploring those ideas and concepts with like minded individuals. This is certainly a passion. Is it a purpose?

Or could it be I am looking for a purpose bigger than it needs to be? One that I can hold up against my friends and say 'see me too!'. Perhaps I have fallen into the trap of comparing myself to others. Wouldn't be the first time! Or maybe purpose is an invitation. A siren call that you can't resist. One recognizes it when it shows up. Either way I'd like to think I will know it when it appears. 

In the meantime I cannot force a 'purpose'. As much as I'd like to have that tick mark. Ha! My challenge is to sit for a time empty and leave enough space so I will recognize it when it shows up.


Catching yourself in a mental trap

Mary Johnson - Wednesday, April 18, 2018

In my last newsletter, (go to for sign up), I spoke about sitting in a trough of energy. A place where nothing happens and you can't see what's coming. It's a place I don't do well! Interesting too were some of the reactions. A good number of folks identified with this and shared how they ride it out. Others though were concerned, worried that I was in a too deep funk. All comments were appreciated. 

Siting and marinating in this 'no-thing' time allowed me to see I had placed myself in the mental trap of persistence. To keep going in a set direction at all costs. Persistence has a doggedness, moral imperative that we finish what we start. Even when the original reason has evaporated. The act of beginning binding us to continue no matter what. We put ourselves in a leg hold trap of our own choosing. This is in contrast to perseverance. To pursue our aims despite obstacles has a very different feel. There is a clear headedness to perseverance. An occasional stepping back to course correct.    

When I caught myself in this persistent thinking, I realized the word insistent is in someway embedded in it. My body should have been a pretty strong indicator being wound tightly. My posture pitched forward both walking and sitting. This influenced my thinking narrow down a most linear path. A + B = C. As you may have experienced this is not creative or fun! 

So back off I did. Indulged an 'only just before bed' love of reading. Gave myself permission to read some mystery novels. Inhaled 7 of them actually. Can't remember the last time I did such a thing. When I felt sated and wonderful thing happened. My energy came back. A more discerning energy that looked at my 'to-do' lists, general direction with kinder eyes. A number of personal items that have been dragging on are now finished or in the final stages. Other things have morphed into something I actually want to do - without a need for a certain result. Others no longer matter. 

In persistent mode all thing felt like they had equal weighting. Required equal attention. This took tons of energy keeping all those balls afloat. I was tired and didn't recognize it at first. A mental vacation was what I needed to see the mental trap I was in.  

What's in a name?

Mary Johnson - Wednesday, April 04, 2018

In 2017 I was contacted about my time at the Charles Camsell Hospital. It was regarding a documentary about the hospital including some of the darker history associated with it's exclusive 'Indian Hospital' days. I felt I couldn't truly represent a time before I was even born but did have a story of my time to tell. My time included the last 3 years of the Camsell being a northern referral hospital. I chose to participate in the documentary.

Since then I have had the pleasure of getting together, on a number of occasions, with the young woman involved in spearheading this initiative. Miranda is an activist in championing awareness, fairness and due process for Aboriginal people's. I love her energy, determination and chutzpah. She has gently provided materials and sources of information to help broaden my understanding of what's at stake. That indeed is happening. In our times together though I have continued to come away questioning 'what the hell have I missed?' in terms of the abuses and substandard care that is at the bottom of a class action suit being brought to bear against the Federal Government and it's 'Indian Hospital' system. Was I naive? Willfully blind to what was happening around me? 

On this I have searched my soul, horrified that I might have actively participated in something so terrible. My 2 tenures at the Charles Camsell are quite simply a highlight of my nursing career. I learned so much about a different approach to treating patients. One that moved in Kairos vs Kronos time. Was more inclusive of the patients because their reality didn't fit into nice neat boxes in a linear framework and we had to work with multiple levels of complexity in people's lives. This opened my eyes and my heart. And clearly was not the experience of those pursuing the lawsuit.

One day it dawned on me as the news reported on this lawsuit that the moniker 'Indian Hospital' did not describe the time I worked there. My stint saw all manner of patients from northern Alberta as well as the Territories and the Yukon - Whites as well as Aboriginal. We also served the Department of National Defence so had patients from Griesbach and Cold Lake airbases. My floor also treated end stage cancer patients from the city cancer hospital. My experience was a more eclectic and diverse version of that early hospital. 

When I shared what I had realized with Miranda she said no it was still an 'Indian Hospital' when I worked there and the lawsuit included that time. Hmm yes people who hadn't stepped foot inside still referred to it as such. I can remember correcting people on a regular basis. Certainly Aboriginal patients who had been treated at the old Camsell returned to as it was where they were familiar. It had changed though and perhaps with that so had the care. I do know what I saw. There was not abuse or substandard care. This was not my first job. I was not naive. 

So northern referral hospital or Indian (TB) hospital? In recalling my time there in no way takes away from how this place is remembered by others. Really it was both over it's history. A time of great learning and growth for me and a dark time for others. The name does make a difference. In saying this I do wish those who experienced harm at the hands of those who should have be there to respectfully care for them the best in receiving acknowledgment and restitution from that dark time.            

The conundrum of Social Media

Mary Johnson - Friday, March 23, 2018

Have you given away lots of your personal information on social media? I certainly have! We know now the degree to which data collectors (and a whole lot of other potentially unsavoury people) can follow your movements travelling, your political leanings, who your kids and grandkids are and where they live, etc. etc. The revelations of the last few weeks has me really thinking about the benefits vs the risks of staying on FaceBook, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Pinterest. For many of us it's too late. What started out as a super easy, fun way to stay in touch has a decidedly dark side.

While I knew political parties were in their like dirty shirts - in the US, I was floored last night on the news when the it was revealed the volume of ads targeted at us here in Canada. Just yesterday it was reported on Global news that the Conservative party sent out 247 ads on social media- many attack ads. The Liberals 25 mostly about Trudeau and the NDP 4 about tax cheats. I'm not lauding any party. On another day the ad count numbers could be look quite different. And the ads are tailored to what you like or don't like on social media. That's only the more obvious tip of the iceberg. While I thought I knew my information was being used, this came as a shock to me. Like to think of myself as an independent thinker. Heck most of us would abhor thinking we are being constantly manipulated.

So does the upside of social media out weigh the dark side? Do we all delete some of our personal information in the hopes that some sort of regulation requires the social media machine to cease and desist? It is reported to take 90 days for your information to be deleted. 90 days. What else will happen while we wait? Or do we vote with our delete buttons? 

What's the message you want to send?           

Time to think Seeing patterns

Mary Johnson - Friday, March 16, 2018

Just returned for some time away. It was wonderful seeing new places and old friends. We also had some very long days on the road. The hum of the motor and beautiful scenery has a tendency to put you into a rather Zen like state. In my last blog Do you need a new question? it was early in the game. I was having some difficulty gearing down. Became focused on being grumped about not having a map. (I did get an Atlas by the way.)  

So with the 'big picture' in hand - literally, I began to relax. The bigger picture of my life floated before me. Accompanied, as always, by a good book. Well several in my case. The book I was spending time in was Harriet Lerner's 'The Dance of Anger'. I had read it years ago and it certainly resonated. But I was also not prepared to accept as much responsibility for my contribution to situations. Now as I reread about patterns of behaviour, in particular, over-functioning, I was able to connect a number of dots in my life.

Over-functioners have a number of hallmarks**;  

~ know what's best not only for themselves but for others as well.

~ move in to advise, rescue, and take over when stress hits.

~ have difficulty staying out of and allowing others to struggle with their own problems.

~ avoid worrying about personal goals and problems by focusing on others.

~ have difficulty sharing their own vulnerability, under functioning side, especially with those people who are viewed s having problems.

~ maybe labeled the person who is 'always reliable' or 'always together'.

AHH! I was reminded these are all ways anxiety and uncomfortable feelings are kept at bay. I have circled around this whole busyness thing in a number of blogs. Are you busy or productive? The frame of over functioning provided another piece in the puzzle regarding my how I tend to deal with life. When the going is tough, I squash down my feelings about it, and immerse myself in a lot of activity. Not all productive. Usually end up exhausted and I feel resentful. 

 Sooo you say this is all well and good. Any insights?!? Yes indeed. 

1. Remind myself (as I feel the need to fix someone's thinking!!) that I'm not responsible for them - their feelings, dilemma, etc. 
2. If I have misstepped I can (and have been working on) circle back with whom ever (usually my husband. Also an oldest and over functioning) to talk about The Real Issue. I am getting way better at identifying what in me is off kilter!
3. Stay our of triangles. Families are full of them. Certainly I can hear someone out. But I need to stay out. Zooming in to soothe can takes away the opportunity for the other person to deal with their issue straight on. Follow Harriet's 3 part process. Stay calm (remind yourself it's not about you!) Stay out of other people's situation/ emotions. Hang in - don't withdraw emotionally.     
4.  Spend regular downtime with myself. Come into an understanding, recognition of how I get ramped up and how to ramp down.

Holidays gave me a chance to see myself in action. It's a low risk, lower stress time. Realize I worry about Neil's energy levels driving. Hate 70 - 80 MPH in the US on their busy freeways (and ALL the trucks). Struggle with long hours in the car vs Neil's seemingly limitless capacity. I worked on identifying what was up with me and what I was needing. Felt a whole lot less uncomfortable speaking up. The real test will be in a crackerjack situation. But practicing everyday has strengthened this practice.

 **(from Page 192 of 'The Dance of Anger 2005)

Do you need a new question?

Mary Johnson - Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Maybe you too are familiar with the saying that goes something like it's better to live the question than have an answer. Okay so I don't remember it exactly but there's the general gist. Sounds great in theory and I'm a want-to-know kinda gal. This has reared it's head on a wee bit of a holiday Neil and I are taking. I like to know where I am going (map in hand). A plan also helps. We are traveling fundamentally without either. This is a challenge! Wish I could say I am 'going with the flow' but I'm struggling. 'What's your thinking about what you want to do? 'Where are you thinking we'll travel to today?' 'This is unexpected. What's plan B?' It's more or less up in Neil's head (or so I tell myself) and not in my hands. Hmm my not so inner bossy pants twitches with this!! My default is to find ways to rephrase the same question. Not working!

On another hand I usually take along some inspiring, uplifting books to read. One idea by Jennifer Krause** was when you find yourself hooping around the same thinking, it's time to find a new question. One that opens up the situation; or on a much larger scale one that your life can be an answer to. Seems like a great suggestion for my situation! 

So I've been playing with what question(s) might get me out of fretting about the trajectory of our trip. Here is some of my fruitful ones. 'What might I see on this trip that I've never seen?' 'How will I be inspired today?' 'Who or what will touch me?' 'What will I try that's new?' With practice and perserverance it's helping. I'm a little less obsessive about the particulars. When I evoke the questions, my eyes and my heart are less focused on my need to know and more open to some delightful and /or new to me experiences. Have met some wonderful folks, been helped by strangers, narked a whole lot less when we got tired and had a long ways still to drive. Her wisdom showed up at the right time!

 So now it's got me thinking how might this approach work for some of the bigger questions in my life!

** Jennifer is the author 'The Answer: Making Sense of Life One Question at a Time'.  


My Auntie Betty

Mary Johnson - Sunday, February 25, 2018

On Thursday my mom's sister, Auntie Betty, passed away at home. This was her wish. Auntie's heart had been failing. It simply stopped getting ready for her day. An accepted  inevitability of her disease. I have written before about the dear Old Ones in my life and just wish to reflect a little on this dear soul here.

There were 9 years difference in ages as well as a different father between the 2 sisters. Mom was first born. Lost her dad at age 4. Mom was taller, larger framed, dark haired, more out going. Auntie was born after her mom remarried. She was short, finer boned, wicked white blonde and, as I found out these past number of years, introverted and extremely private. I have often described my mom as a little brown bird. She never found the knack of doing her hair, wearing stylish clothes or feeling comfortable wearing some of the beautiful jewelry Dad gave her. Auntie, on the other hand, was classic and classy. She wore beautiful expensive clothes, tasteful but lovely jewelry and was always impeccably coiffured. And lipstick. She had her signature color and was never without it on. I was fascinated by my Aunt. She shaped some of my ideas about dressing up and jewelry. Let's not forget the lipstick. I too love to wear it. It's rare to see me without!    

The sister's lives traveled very different trajectories. The very regular family gatherings of my childhood dwindled as family busyness took over. Though bless my uncle Leo's heart, he created periodic gatherings for us to stay in touch. When he died around 8 years ago,  in a variety of small ways so did my Auntie. Or at least the impetus to be out in the world with the variety and enthusiasm as she and my uncle had done. She became a bit of a recluse. Hard to draw out of her home. That said last November Auntie was feeling better. Her daughter, my sister and I took over a lunch and had a wonderful visit. It had been close to 2 years since I had seen her. Auntie was in fine form. We enjoyed a delightful afternoon. A quick story, .... she wanted to show me some pictures of a fellow that starred in a Netflix series she was really enjoying. "Isn't he a hunk?" she said. You could have bowled me over with a feather. Never heard her say anything as earthy as that. And yes he was a hunk! It delighted me that part of her life was still in play. 

Secondly, there was a wee piece in our last correspondence on email. She loved email! I had shared that my sister and I made pirogies for the first time in any significant way. Used her dough recipe and it was amazing! Also told her I had received a ring for Christmas, similar to one I had admired for years and years of hers. Told her I thought of her when I wore it. "Good hubby" she wrote back. Made me laugh!

There will not be a gathering of any kind. Am sorry for that. There would be other sweet stories of my Auntie Betty that would have been fun to hear. She lived and died on her terms. In the end what more could you ask for. Will miss you dear one!


Downstream effects of technology

Mary Johnson - Thursday, February 15, 2018

As I have written before, I love when presented with a new twist on an old idea. So it was on the weekend when I read an article by Michael Harris in the Globe where the author wrote 'I have forgotten how to read.' He was talking about a book or a whole article. It twigged a conversation I had, oh about 6 months ago when my website fellow mentioned the same thing. He said he was too impatient to read a full length article let alone sit down with a book. Seems our digital technologies are indeed shifting the way we take in information. I had resisted the notion that I too was developing a shorter attention span! Yet it's true. It takes a real effort somedays to read to the end of an article rather than just browse the title and first few paragraphs. I can still chug through a book but gee it better be pretty darn interesting and fast paced!!

There are secondary effects of this needing to be engaged at such a constant level. Author Nicolas Carr (The Shallows) has suggested that "digital technologies are training us to be more conscious and more antagonistic towards delays of all sorts." Think of the implications of this. As I did certainly driving in traffic came to mind. I tend to drive just over the speed limit and yet constantly have other drivers sitting on my backside just waiting for a chance to get around. Grocery and other line-ups is another place to experience loads of impatience and rudeness towards those doing their jobs. Send an email and get huffy if someone doesn't reply right away. And texts are expected to be an immediate response ( I know Jane has her phone on ALL THE TIME. Why isn't she texting back!!). Have an issue with a service provider, email your question. We'll get back to you within 2 business days. WHAT?!? ........ You get the idea.

Then in a societal sense we are losing the ability and patience for due process. People are convicted in the social media sphere without all the facts. No explanation afterwards or during is good enough if I feel you are wrong! We want immigrants to hurry up and integrate so they are like us (and yet aren't), minority groups to just get on with 'it', old people to quit taking time and resources. Our sense of urgency and impatience has permeated so much. We get tired, frustrated, bored easily and want to move onto something less messy. This isn't serving us.     

So how does one navigated enjoy the (now not so new) technologies and maintain a sense of perspective and remember those larger rhythms of time? My thinking is it is about catching your self in moments of impatience. Slowing oneself down, even briefly, to regain as sense of equilibrium. Be mindful of the degree your technology has you in it's grip. (Digital providers are admitting to wanting to bind you more and more to your phone/ their app.) 

The world needs cooler heads, less reactivity, more playing a 'long game.' On this one you can make a difference!


Mary Johnson - Wednesday, February 07, 2018


The other day a friend of mine made an interesting comment. "I'll be glad to turn 65 as then I don't have to go back to work. I can be retired." This is a friend who left the workforce 4 years ago in a combination of circumstances about government downsizing and her health. She but has felt the not-so-sublte  pressure of 'aren't you consulting? or here's a good job that fits your skillset.' Her declaring that 65 was now safe to say one is retired. There is a lot of jockeying and competition amongst colleagues and friends about who is still working and for how long. Then there are those that circumstance have favoured and have left the paid workforce sometime before 65. Even though choices and legislation have made working longer possible, it caught my attention that 65 was still a significant demarcation line in the sand. If not in terms of work vs retire, certainly as marker of our next stage of life.    

Going back to the 80's and 90's I remember the sparkly days of 'Freedom 55' being championed and desired. Watched a whole generation aspire, indeed take up the cause, of endless playtime. My folks sure wanted this but circumstances precluded them from leaving their jobs that early. That said they were 'outta Dodge' before age 65. The cache of saying you could retire sooner was a desirable thing.   

As my cohort has been facing this time the situation is now reversed. For those considering leaving the workforce before 65 I hear the inevitable "What will you do with your time? I couldn't just sit around!" Wow! conversation goes from a discussion to running defence about your choice. Boom, judgement passed that retirement means turning into a slacker. Working on and on carries a big badge of honour - proudly worn. I have several colleagues who profess to be somewhat or semi-retired. Then they take great pride in telling you the extensive hours and number of clients/ projects they have. The numbers don't add up to semi anything! Heck be thrilled you still like the game and indeed are thriving.  Don't couch it. You're still  working- period!  

My wander around this, is this. We have choice, maybe more choice than any other generation. People will chose what feels right for them and their journey. Be curious. Invite a sharing of how someone can to their choice. Applaud what they have come to. It would be a wonderful place not to feel as my friend does. That hitting a number - what ever the number, means get folks off your back. Surely we've earned the right to simply travel by our own lights!        

The tale of two weekends

Mary Johnson - Monday, January 29, 2018

Usually after Christmas January weekends are pretty quiet. Neil's retired and I have loads of flexibility in my calendar. That means we don't always have to place things we want to do in the Saturday/ Sunday timeframe. Well Neil's taken a 4 months contract right now so Monday - Friday have one old rhythm and the weekends the other old rhythm. So this year our January has been very busy with all weekends planned for. Except two weekends ago our plans for visiting some friends in a near-by small town got postponed due to an unexpected family situation. It was disappointing and things happen. Still we had been so looking forward to getting together. 

Now nature abhors a vacuum and so do I! When I got off the phone I immediately thought "Well we will invite the 3rd couple up! Or there are a couple of things around town I could book. Or, or, or ...." The possibilities popping into my head were endless. Luckily my wise self took me by the collar (could literally almost feel it!) and said "What are you doing?!?" The coming off autopilot came with a big outloud OH! Okay I thought. I will wait until Neil got home. We could figure out something then. My inner organizer was appeased - for the moment! Well low and behold Neil's reaction was like "YAY! a weekend with nothing on the go!" It felt funny. All of this white space and not marking it up! It took quite an effort just to let the weekend be empty of planned comings and goings. Fast forward to this past weekend and it was chock-a-block full. 

Came to remember this was our norm for years and years. Pack your weekends full. So much to and so little time (or so I told myself!). Don't like the constant planning and motion so much any more. The weekend that opened up we just putzed around the house, got ourselves outside, listened to the radio, enjoyed each others company. We handled this weekend with it's multiple happenings and each other much better I believe in good part because we had some genuine downtime. It was a good noticing.