Volunteering is a rich experience

I was one of about 100 volunteers giving their time at Choices this weekend — Choices is a personal development program that is founded on the belief it is possible to “assist people in living their lives with clarity and passion,” by providing them with simple tools to help each participant live their dreams with joy, passion, peace and abundance.

Choices is held in Calgary, Vancouver and Dallas, Texas, nine times a year. And every time it’s offered, volunteers come out to give back.

That’s a powerful testament to what Choices offers. It’s also powerful statement of the effectiveness of the processes, the tools, and the community of people who connect through their shared experience and want to keep coming back to give and receive value.

I went through Choices six years ago. Both my daughters went through that same year and they too, as often as possible, come back to assist whenever they can.

Recently, my eldest daughter said, “The tools work, as long as I work the tools.”

She’s wise my daughter. So often, we ‘know’ what we need to do, but…. habit, fear, confusion, all the things we do that get in the way of living rich and fulfilling lives, impede our progress because we forget to use the tools we have to create more of what we want in our life.

The Choices tools are nothing earth-shattering. They’re simple and effective. “If I do what I’ve always done, I’ll get what I’ve always got,” reminds us to ‘change our glasses’ and step outside our comfort zone. “I Hear. Think. Feel” is another tool trainees learn to use to clean up communication and deepen intimacy in relationships.

Coming back to volunteer keeps the tools alive in my life. And, coming back connects me to people eager to live on purpose, excited about being their best, and committed to living with heart.

When I’m in the Choices room I know I am loved, exactly the way I am. I know I add value, have value, and can find value in everything going on around me. In the Choices room, I get ‘real’ without fearing I’m not good enough or I don’t do enough. I know, 100%, I am enough, just the way I am.

And that’s why I volunteer. Yes, it makes a difference in my life to give back, to be part of Choices founder, Thelma Box’s dream of ‘Changing the world one heart at a time”. Yes, it is wonderful to see hearts break open in love, to witness dreams take flight and spirits soar free. And, yes, I love connecting with each person I meet and following the three rules every coach is given at the beginning of each training session, “Love the people when they walk in the room. Love the people when they walk in the room. Love the people when they walk in the room.” And in that loving, in helping hearts break open, in watching dreams take flight and miracles unfold, there is a very selfish reason for volunteering. It makes a difference in my life. It helps me continue to grow and expand and fall deeper in love with me.

I got to make a difference coaching at Choices this weekend. And in the process, I was made different — not in big, sweeping ways — but rather, in those small, incremental happenings where each moment I become richer because of the people I meet, the experiences we share and the love that grows for and with all humanity. In volunteering I deepen my understanding of who I am, how I am and where I am at in the world around me.

In volunteering, I become richer for the experience.



Spread Like Wildfire — Guest Blog

He is young. Articulate. Caring. He’s building his place in corporate Calgary and he’s charting his path with philanthropy at the core of all he does. Des Nwaerondu gives. Back and forwards and up and down. Des is a young man committed to making a difference — in business, in life and in the world. I met him for the first time earlier this year when, after hearing my talk at TEDxCalgary, he emailed to ask if I’d have coffee with him. From that simple cup of coffee, we both came away inspired. Des has gone on to get involved with the United Way of Calgary’s BeCause campaign and continues to look for ways to ‘give back’.  I’ve continued to write every day about making a difference and today, Des shares a touching story of what lit his ‘volunteer fire’ and inspires us with ways to get our fires burning brightly.

Because, as Des invites us all to make a difference, there is power when we unite as one and become the difference we want to see in the world.

Thank you Des for sharing your spirit here with such grace and ease. Thank you for all you do to make a world of difference!


Spread Like Wildfire

Guest Blog by Des Nwaerondu

Being a positive and optimistic person can be contagious and spread like wildfire to all of those around you.  I strive daily to take the “glass is half full” approach which, I know makes a difference in people’s lives. One of the main ways I portray this is through volunteering.  I encourage everyone to get involved in volunteering because not only will you do it, you will get others involved and your energy, initiative and liveliness will be contagious and hopefully spread like wildfire.

One of my business (and personal) goals this year is to put in over 200 volunteer hours at various organizations around Calgary and around the world. I’m almost a quarter of the way to my goal currently and expecting a majority of my hours to come from a two week trip in November building homes with Habitat for Humanity in Thailand and giving back to those living in a less fortunate circumstance than many of us.

When Louise first started her Year of Making a Difference blog I was sceptical that she could find something to write about daily, but I liked the challenge she set for herself and began reading along. I realized that making a difference occurs daily and you just have to take a second and look back at what you’ve done. In reading Louise’s articles, you’ll notice that things as simple as driving someone who needed a ride, giving career advice to someone who was looking to apply for a job or simply picking up a piece of garbage has and will continue to change the way the world turns and make a difference. In reading her blog I began to think about what I am doing to change the world and how my positive actions can help foster a culture that is focused on giving more than receiving.

My “inner fire” in volunteering started after a friend’s brother passed away from cancer at the age of 19. It was a hard time for both her and her family and it resonated with me, a very naive 20-year old. I thought, what would happen if this was me? The remarkable story is that this young man, Daniel, continued to live his life to the fullest every day that he was alive and never let his cancer get him down (or at least he didn’t show it). His funeral was a celebration of his life and the difference he made in over 500 lives of people that attended.  The fire in me started on that day and continues to burn stronger and stronger every day. It has gotten me involved in events like: The Relay for Life, The Underwear Affair Run & Walk, Breast Cancer fundraisers, Kid’s Cancer fundraisers and 2 years ago I started my own fundraiser named Des Fights Cancer. This annual event I host is a night dedicated to raising money towards cancer research and raising awareness that cancer can be fought and protection can be purchased to reduce the financial burden of those distressed by cancer.

In the numerous fundraisers I participate in, volunteer for or host throughout the year I’ve noticed one thing. The more I talk about them, the more people want to become involved, participate, donate or simply give back. People often ask me “what’s the next event you’ll be involved with and how can I help?” The small wildfire within me continues to spread to my friends, family, colleagues and even those who I barely know through social media.

I think Calgary Mayor  Nenshi summed it up best when he came up with his 3 things campaign.

  1. Decide what you are going to do to change this city.
  2. Do what you said you would do.
  3. Then, tell others what you have done.

If you have that fire burning within you, let it spread and let’s all unite as one and make an impact on not only this city, but let’s make a difference in this world!

The Heroes in our Midst

It’s Saturday! Time to celebrate the heroes in our midst. Those ordinary people living extraordinary lives everyday.

Four years ago, my friend Tamara fell ill to a debilitating illness. She hasn’t been able to work, has required over 11 surgeries and has been unable to do many of the things she loves to do. Currently, she is undergoing very challenging, and painful, therapy for her disease in the hopes this will rid her body of the infection that has caused her so much pain and discomfort. Last week, Tamara wrote me, “I am moving forward and letting go of trying to control [this], accepting the gift of healing. So everyday is a bit brighter and closer to the end of this phase in my life…” Her optimism, attitude and grace inspire me everyday. Tamara is amazing!

Tamara is a hero!

and whenever I think of people with chronic illnesses, I think of my sister and her amazing courage.  Jackie has had a chronic disease for most of her adult life. Countless surgeries that have resulted in bits of her body being cut out, devices to help her body function being inserted and endless rounds of drugs and therapies have taken a toll. Yet, my sister doesn’t complain. She doesn’t wrap herself up in a cloak of ‘woe is me’. She remains, positive, living each day with grace and ease, doing things for others, taking care of our mother, being the amazing sister and aunt and step-mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, friend she is to everyone. Here’s to Jackie and those who suffer chronic illnesses, especially Crohns.

Jackie T is a hero.

Bev and Larry Pettigrew raised two beautiful and loving sons. And, along the way, they also created a home for foster children with disabilities. Their sons are adults now with families of their own, and still today, Bev and Larry continue to love and shelter two young foster children with significant life challenges. As well, they work with other foster parents, shedding light on the challenges and joys of foster-parenting, providing guidance and counsel to others, sharing their wisdom, knowledge and love fearlessly and willingly to ensure every child receives the help and love they deserve, and every foster parent the support and guidance they need to be loving parents to these children.

Bev and Larry are heroes.

The first time I saw The Butterfly Circus, I was moved to tears. Inspired by the story, and Nick Vujicic, the lead actor’s journey in life, I used The Butterfly Circus in the self-esteem courses I taught at the homeless shelter where I used to work. Give yourself the gift of inspiration and take 20 minutes to watch this beautiful and awe-inspiring film from Doorpost Film Project Productions.

Nick Vujicic and Doorpost Film are heroes!

Volunteers at work

I spent a couple of hours yesterday volunteering at the Choices office organizing groups for this weekends Givers 2 training. It was a delightful, and productive, two hours where I got to live on purpose, grounded in my belief in the importance of giving back.

And as I worked, other volunteers were in the main seminar room assisting in the five day Choices seminar.

And as they coached, other volunteers were connecting with trainees, ensuring they are feeling supported and loved as they prepare to come back for this weekends Givers 1 and Givers 2 training sessions.

And as they connected, more volunteers are out there in the world working to ensure organizations and charities and amateur sports teams and medical research facilities and hospice care centers and hospitals and animal shelters and a host of other organizations that could not work without their support, continue to operate, to deliver services and care to people, just like you and me.

Volunteering makes a difference.

Volunteers are the difference.

At lunch today I am meeting with members of the This is My City —  Tip Your Hat organizing committee. We are preparing for this year’s event during Stampede. Everyone on the committee is committed to making a difference, to ensuring this years Tip Your Hat is even more successful than last year’s.

Yesterday I meet with my friend, Dave Tod, who is organizing a 24 hour golf charity event on behalf of a local agency that works with individuals with mental health issues. Golf-around-the clock is his brainchild — that’s assuming someone who willingly, knowingly, consciously golfs for 24 hours straight has a brain! (But then… I volunteered to accompany him on the course throughout the 24 hours so I could tweet and blog and promote the event for him! Colour me crazy too!)  He volunteers his time and energy to create this event because…. it makes a difference.

Whether you give a couple of hours to organize paperwork, answer phones, sort mail, or you sit on a board of directors for an agency of any sort, whenever and whatever you volunteer — your time, treasures, talents — your spirit  makes the difference.

As you move through your day, watch for volunteers. Those kids on the corner with Green Peace… they’re volunteers. Do share a smile with them. You may not agree with their convictions — but they care enough to give their time. Volunteering a smile costs nothing and makes a difference.

That woman in the giftshop at the hospital? She’s a volunteer. Give her a smile. It will brighten her day.

That man shepherding visitors in and out of the Emergency room. He’s a volunteer. Say hello. Share a greeting. You will encourage his giving.

It doesn’t take much to make a world of difference. Sometimes, all we need to do is notice those around us who are volunteering their time, and smile.

Attitude always makes a difference

I had a great day yesterday. It began with a breakfast meeting at 7 with the Calgary Counselling Centre where I listened to the fascinating and informative Dr. Scott Miller talk about therapeutic outcomes and the therapy model. It ended at 9:30 pm when I said good-bye to my meditation group and headed home feeling balanced, whole and alive.

It was a great day.

The fact is, the particulars of my day, while important and beneficial to me, are not what made the difference. What made the difference, what always makes the difference, was… Attitude.

Now, let’s be honest here. Leaving my house at 6:30 am is not what I consider fun. In fact, at that moment in time, my desire to stay inside and not enter the foggy morning attitude may have been closer to a tree sloths desire to continue to hang on than to let go and experience the day.Yet, getting to the Ranchman’s Club where the breakfast was held, chatting with other attendees, revved up my energy and put me into, ‘present it and I’ll listen’ mode. And, once Scott Miller began to speak, his enthusiasm, knowledge and humility, combined with ability to share openly and to engage the audience were contagious. I got engaged. Fast. And the rest of my day became a reflection of the energy sparked by Scott Miller’s infectious sparkle. His ‘brilliance’ was catching. And my attitude got me through my day feeling alive and curious about the world around me.

Which got me thinking about attitude. If I had clung to my foggy morning soggy awareness outlook, I would not have become as engaged and excited about my day. Letting go of ‘ho hum, it’s just another early morning free breakfast’ thinking and moving into, what can I learn, how can I grow, where can I expand made a difference.

Sure, it helped that the first meeting was filled with exciting engagement. But, more than anything, what helped me move out of foggy morning into sunshiney gratitude for the wonder of the world around me really was based on my willingness to enter my day open and curious about what I’m encountering, learning, seeing, experiencing. My openness to discover meaning in my day created a day of discovery.

Attitude makes a difference.

Ask yourself this morning, or at whatever time you’re reading this, What’s my attitude? Is it making a positive difference in my day?

Am I… open to discovery? Am I carrying thoughts of sleep clinging to my wishful thinking like a barnacle clinging to a whale? Or, am I open to discovery? Am I willing to let go of ‘been there, done that’ thinking and move into ‘here I am, engage me’ thinking?

Think about it. Whether you enjoy what you’re doing, or not, is a thought that will either keep you feeling down and out or up and at ’em.

Which will you choose?

What are you willing to do today to create a world of wonder all around you?



Making a difference in what I carry

They were standing at the top of the ridge taking each other’s photos.

“Would you like me to take your picture together?” I asked.

Big smiles. Heads nod in unison. Up and down. In broken English, the woman replied. “Oh yes please. That would be most nice.”

I told Ellie to sit and stay, took the proffered camera, focused on their smiling faces and clicked. As I handed the camera back, Ellie grew tired of sitting and raced forward. The woman laughed at Ellie’s antics.

“Please,” she asked. “Can you take picture of us together?” and she swept one hand in a motion to include Ellie in her together.

I laughed. “If she’ll sit long enough with you.”  (Ellie is not known for her ‘sit’ when being friendly with strangers. She prefers to squirm and wriggle and make all sorts of fuss about how they’re the only people to pet her and make her feel wanted…)

“We’d like very much,” the woman said.

And Ellie sat and the couple smiled and I took a photo and a sunny warm spring afternoon grew brighter.

When we parted, the couple thanked me profusely and I smiled and waved and Ellie and I continued on our way down the trail towards the river as they walked back towards the parking lot.

It was a simple thing. Taking their photo. A less than five-minute moment on our walk that made a difference in the lives of two strangers. A small thing that left everyone laughing and smiling, even Ellie.

We hiked along the ridge, down the escarpment to the river’s edge. Ellie splashed in the water as I built a sculpture out of heart rocks on a patch of icy snow that clung to the riverbank. The afternoon sun beat down and I felt its warmth soak me to the bones.

When we were finished, we climbed back up the escarpment and on our way back, I walked past a crumbled up paper bag that lay discarded at the edge of the path. I thought about picking it up but didn’t have an extra bag in my pocket. My mind wrestled with the ‘do it ethics’ as I kept walking. A few feet down the trail, I stopped, turned around and walked back to gingerly pick it up by a corner.

I thought of the hiker’s creed — “Carry out what you carry in.” When I started my walk, I was smiling and my mind felt light and carefree. I wanted to carry out what I brought with me on my walk.To walk past the garbage and ignore it would leave my mind unsettled. There was no sense in letting a crumbled up paper bag mar the beauty of the day.

Minutes later, the dirt trail met the pavement where the garbage can sits. I threw the garbage in and Ellie and I walked slowly back to the car. I was content. I was carrying only my peace of mind and a great big smile.

And somewhere, two strangers were carrying a memory of their encounter with a dog who made them smile too. It was a perfect day.

The trap of my open to experiences nature

I’m still stuck on the election. The results are in. The party I feared would gain a majority did not. I am content with the results.

It’s the comments of one of the pundits that is making the difference and disturbing my peace of mind this morning.

Political guru, former PC bagman and advisor to Premiers, Rod Love, was at the WildRose Party headquarters last night. He didn’t actually say he was a supporter, nor did he say he wasn’t. He just was ‘there’. Which in and of itself irks me because it speaks to a desire to not stand up publicly for your beliefs — and that is my opinion not the truth for Mr. Love. (I don’t know what is true for him). In his comments to two separate television reporters he repeated, and repeated, the statement that the ‘PC brand is strong and won’.

The ‘brand’ did not win.

People voted. The PCs won.

Now, let’s be clear here. I have never been a card-carrying PC until Alison Redford’s second run for leadership. Then, I made sure I got out and voted because I did not want her opponents to win and in the leadership election, every Albertan, regardless of political affiliation, could vote if they bought a party membership.

Holding a PC membership card did not dictate my decision to vote PC in this election.

It was a heart and head decision.

I historically vote Liberal not because of the ‘brand’. I vote liberal because I believe in social justice. I am, as Jonathan Haidt describes ‘liberals’ in his 2008 Ted Talk on the moral roots of liberals and conservatives, ‘open to experiences’ as opposed to the conservative affinity to prefer things that are familiar, safe and dependable. It isn’t about right and wrong, it’s about natural affinities, says Haidt and he quotes researcher Robert McCrae who studied the ‘open to experiences’ phenomena and wrote:  “Open individuals have an affinity for liberal, progressive, left-wing political views.” They like a society that is open and changing, adds Haidt, who goes on to quote McCrae’s study. “Whereas closed individuals prefer conservative, traditional, right-wing views.”

I didn’t vote a ‘brand’.

I voted for change. And Alison Redford has been shaking up the PC’s since taking office last year. She has been creating and building change into our cultural, social and economic fabric. Change that will make a difference to our province’s future. Change that will create more vibrant, healthy communities.

I didn’t vote brand. I voted against an ideology that is not part of my nature. That does not sit well within my psyche and natural affinity to be ‘open to experiences’. I voted against ultra-right-wing views that promised to entrench our province in hardcore conservative policies that would have hurt those at the bottom struggling to get up.

Okay, so this is becoming a political discourse — not intended, but Rod Love’s repeated comment about ‘the PC brand’ and its strengths, really rubbed me the wrong way last night. It was the worst of my profession — communications. It sounded rote, practiced and a familiar, safe, and predictable comment that doesn’t allow for change to play a part in the political future of our province. Yet, in the context of being open or closed to experience — it makes sense. If an individual tends to have a natural affinity for conservative views, not rocking the boat, holding onto tradition will be natural.

And that’s where I can make a difference.

I can recognize my fear is that I don’t want to be caught in the trap of ‘safe and predictable’ — and note the word trap — it is my perception that safe and predictable is a trap — not the reality for those who hold conservative, traditional, right-wing views near to their hearts.

My perceptions are the trap I fall into when I do not allow differences to have a voice, to hold equal footing for others as my need to be ‘open to experiences’ holds for me.

Yesterday, a surprised PC party continued the party’s reign.

Yesterday, a surprised Wildrose party did not take up the reigns.

Either way, change is in the air.

And I am open to the experience.

And, being open to the experience makes a difference.

If you want to understand more about our natural affinity for open or closed experiences, do watch Jonathan Haidt’s 2008 Ted Talk. It is enlightening.

And…. I promise…. today is the last of my political discourse. Back to regular programming tomorrow!