Currently in June

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I’ve been having a tough time coming up with a post for this week. I started writing several different things but nothing has held my attention long enough to become something worth posting. I’ve been so happy to be back to using this space and posting consistently each week, though, so I’ve decided that instead of skipping this week altogether I’ll share one of the “currently” posts that I love reading so much on other people’s blogs.

Currently, I'm...

...reading Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is one of my favourite authors (join the club, amirite?) and this book is exactly what I’m looking for right now. It’s a super fun read that isn’t too cheesy or fluffy (v technical book terms, I know). I was trying to read Infinite Jest as well but have decided to put that down until winter. Have you ever tried carrying a book that size around in your backpack? Do not recommend.

(P.S. I've been really into using Goodreads this year, so if you're using it too we should probably be friends!)

...watching American Gods, a series based on the book by the same name written by - you guessed it - Neil Gaiman. Jackson and I don’t have cable (or even own a TV anymore - more on that some other day) and I refuse to illegally download movies and TV shows (people need to be paid for their work, dammit!), so most of our TV watching happens on my laptop via streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime. Too often we find ourselves binge watching a TV show instead of savouring it slowly, so I really appreciate that this one has been released on a one episode per week basis. So good.

...listening to Lorde's new album. I can't stop. CAN'T AND WON'T.

...looking forward to our trip to the Okanagan to visit Jackson’s mom at the end of summer. This is a ridiculously busy time of year for me at work and our trip falls nicely between when things start winding down for the fall and when I have to dig into year end/audit season. I’m so looking forward to walking away from all of my responsibilities for a week, meeting more of Jackson’s extended family, and (hopefully) spending lots of time outside.

I love spending time in this space every morning. Hey there, sunshine. 👋☀

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...loving decorating our home! We’ve lived in our beautiful old heritage apartment for almost a year now, and in that time I have been decorating the space very, very slowly. I love spending an hour or two at the antique mall every weekend or finding the perfect piece at a thrift shop, and the challenge of creating a beautiful space on a modest budget has been so fun for me. These days I’m all about filling our home with houseplants (and our patio with veggies), which I display in all sorts of fun pots that I’ve been finding at thrift shops. My favourite might be the Golden Pothos in my bedroom, which I’ve hung up where my cats can’t get at it. Pro tip: the ASPCA website has a great list of toxic and non-toxic plants that I definitely recommend checking out if you have pets. It's been such a helpful tool as I’ve worked to fill our home with lovely green things!

What’s going on with you lately?

Self(ie) Love: How and why my opinion on selfies has changed

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A few years ago I was going through a weird time in my life. I had quit drinking and was coming to grips with the fact that by rejecting everything alcohol-related, I had essentially stomped out my own identity over a few short months, leaving me with little to no sense of self. At the time this was terrifying, but of course hindsight being what it is, I see now just what a gift it was. In a lot of ways I was working with a blank slate, so I did exactly what one might be expected to do: I started trying on new identities and making attempts to create a version of myself that was as far removed from the old one as I could manage.

The result was a string of attempts to sort out my values through trial and error that spanned at least two years. I tried out Super Formal Business Vanessa (or, as I like to remember her, Pencil Skirt Vanessa), Tabletop Gamer Vanessa (SO FUN), Student Vanessa, Forced Humility Vanessa, and Socially Conscious Vanessa, to name a few. It was a strange, super interesting, and difficult period of growth and self discovery in my life that I feel so grateful to have gone through. 

Bits and pieces from almost every persona I tried on have endured in the long term (the best bits, I hope). I’ve retained the drive for constant improvement and steady growth in my career; the appreciation of a good board game; a love of learning and hunger to continue furthering my education; and a deep desire to act and work in ways that contribute positively to the world around me. The one stage I went through that I have come to reject almost completely, though, is the period of forced humility. There was a span of what I think was about six months when I questioned my ability to be fully committed to philanthropic values while still concerning myself with what I considered at the time to be shallow pursuits like wearing makeup and taking selfies. I decided to stop wearing makeup completely and swore off selfies as well, hoping this would somehow make me a better, more committed person (sounds a bit like the martyr syndrome I’m constantly railing against in the nonprofit sector, doesn't it?). The result was a bare-faced Vanessa whose existence is not particularly well-documented because it turns out that taking selfies is actually a pretty darn good way of preserving moments in our lives for future review and reflection. Who knew?

Something I find interesting in looking back on that time - and also something that in retrospect should have tipped me off that the rules I was imposing on myself weren’t really in line with my deeper values - was that I didn’t apply the reasoning that I was forcing on myself to other people. In my mind, if I posted a selfie or spent time doing my makeup in the morning I was being vain, but if someone else did I understood that they could have any one of a million motivations for doing so and there was no reason to judge. 

It was all a bit extreme, but I did come out of that period of my life with a new appreciation for my naked face and an understanding that I don’t need to feel obligated to wear makeup or look pretty every day (but if I want to do so that’s totally OK). I developed a firm belief that everyone should be free to dress and otherwise adorn themselves in a way that they enjoy and feel comfortable with on any given day - myself included. 

If anyone needs me I'll be swishing this happy little skirt all the way to the park to read books and love life. 🙌

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These days I’m a big fan of selfies, particularly the outfit-of-the-day (OOTD) Instagram variety because they give me an outlet to share something that I really enjoy - pulling together outfits from mostly thrifted clothes - without feeling like I need to go through a full-on photoshoot or write a whole blog post just to share a look I like. I love scrolling through other people’s posts and borrowing ideas, or just reading the little tidbits they share about their lives in the caption. It’s a fun, easy way to add a little bit of creativity to my day while also creating a digital archive of outfits that I can look back on for those days when I just don’t know what to wear. 

Another thing I love about selfies is they have helped me develop a stronger awareness of what I actually look like. I struggled with disordered eating when I was young and into my early 20s and have only in the past few years really started to develop strong, healthy habits around how I think about food, my body, and overall wellness. I’ve lived in a body that was unhealthy, uncomfortably overweight, and stricken with addiction. I’ve also lived in a body that was “skinny-fat” from yo-yo dieting and haunted by a skewed self image. These days I live in a body that is healthy, capable, thrives on daily exercise, and feels comfortable to live in. I’m always working on developing more healthy habits and have strength and wellness goals the same as most other people I know, but I no longer dislike or feel dissatisfied with my body. Part of that is recovering from addiction and healing myself in the aftermath, part of it is getting older and becoming more accepting of myself and others in general, and part of it, I think, is taking and seeing photos of myself that confirm that I’m no longer that sad, depressed, alcohol-dependent version of myself. That’s a powerful and important affirmation for me, and I’m willing to accept all the risk of vanity that comes with it.

Five Ways I Avoid Overwork While Rocking a Flexible Schedule

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Last week I posted about how having a flexible work schedule helps me crush it at work and why I think more organizations need to offer flexible scheduling wherever practicable. When I shared the post on Facebook, one of my friends responded with a link to this article, which cautions that flexible scheduling may lead folks to work more hours than their more rigidly scheduled peers. I’m glad she shared this with me, because not only did it show that she had read, engaged with, and given a damn about what I’d written (<3), the article made me realize that in writing about how I use a flexible schedule to make my work life more manageable and produce higher quality work, I completely neglected to discuss the other side of the coin - how, with such a flexible schedule, I keep my work life from overtaking my other interests and relationships.

It’s funny that I haven’t written about this before because it’s something that I can’t seem to shut up about in my day-to-day life, particularly in the context of nonprofit work. I’m sure we’ve all read at least one article stating the positive effects that taking breaks throughout the day, eating well, getting enough sleep, meditating, etc. have on our body’s (including our brain’s!) ability to function and just generally get shit done - not to mention the myriad of safety concerns that can arise from being tired and/or stressed at work. For folks working face-to-face with community members, sleep and overall health can make the difference between being attentive or impatient with the very people they are there to serve, whether it shows outwardly or not. Clearly taking care of ourselves and avoiding overwork are important factors in how prepared we are to show up and be present in our lives - both personal and professional.

With that in mind, here are five ways I keep my flexible schedule from causing me to over work and ultimately burn myself out (which I’ve experienced and am not interested in going through again):

  1. I don’t work overtime unless absolutely necessary. I’m a big believer in applying the concept of quality over quantity to my work hours and in the need for regulation around maximum hours of work and overtime compensation to protect workers from overwork and/or abuse by their employer. I will always look for ways to streamline my work using better tools and systems not only to get the most out of my time (i.e. high quality outputs), but to ensure that I can do what I need to do without going into overtime. My best work is usually done before about hour 6 of my workday anyway, so I know that anything over 8 hours is probably garbage work that I could have done better if I had just gone home to rest and attacked it first thing the following day.

  2. I protect my personal time. We use Google to manage most of our internal communications at my organization, including email and instant messenger. I have the apps for these tools on my phone, which is great for when I’m out and about during the workday, working from somewhere other than my office, or to stay in contact during work events. Once my workday is done, however, it’s easy to fall into the trap of checking my email after hours or responding to messages when I’m off the clock. To combat this, I’ve had to set rules for myself (e.g. no email unless I’m on paid time, messenger apps get muted when I get home) and develop some serious self discipline. I’ll be the first to admit that I sometimes mess this up, but on the whole I’ve gotten pretty darn good at only working during work time, whatever my schedule might be that week.

  3. I try not to eat lunch at my desk. I won’t lie, this is legitimately the most difficult part of managing my work schedule, mostly because the lunch breaks I take are unpaid and I struggle with the idea that taking a break extends my workday (which is not to say that I don’t like being at work, but I also like cooking dinner or reading in the park after work - you know?). Still, I’ve observed a marked difference in the quality of my work (not to mention my overall energy level) when I walk away from my desk for lunch. The time I take to get up, move around, and eat something noticeably improves my ability to focus and overall productivity in the afternoon. I know I'm not alone in finding that a proper lunch break gives the quality of my work on any given day a real boost, which is why I think all workplaces should offer paid meal breaks (more on that another time).

  4. I take my vacation time when it is owed and make myself completely unavailable to work when I do. I think the truest test of one’s systems and ability to delegate is whether they can go away for a week or more without the entire workplace crumbling in their absence. My organization has a finance team of 2 - myself and a part-time bookkeeper who has been with the organization for many years and is completely capable of working independently and picking up the slack when I’m away. If I didn’t have that ultra-reliable person on my team, it would be my responsibility to find someone and train them properly so they could fill that role. The way I see it, as someone in a management position part of ensuring that my job gets done is making sure there is someone else to step in if I’m not there for any reason, whether that means being away due to an emergency or taking the vacation time I’m entitled to. It can be scary to let someone step in and cover for you while you take a break, and frankly I think that some managers don’t want to believe that anyone else can fill their shoes, but sometimes we just need to get over all of that and step away so we can come back refreshed and ready to tackle our workloads with a clear head.

  5. I take quiet time to tackle tasks that require high levels of focus. I don’t believe that having an open door or being instantly available via email or messenger apps 100% of the time is conducive to effective or efficient work. Since I’m all about getting things done efficiently while also wanting to be available when people have questions or need my help, I’ve taken to communicating my occasional need for space to my coworkers before digging into a task. Usually that means sending out a quick message to everyone that I’ll be muting my messenger app and ignoring emails for a set number of hours, then putting a sign on my office door and shutting it. I let everyone know that they are welcome to call me on the phone if there is something urgent that they need help with, and I’ve found that to be enough to keep less urgent requests at bay until I can make myself available again. This helps me get things done in a reasonable amount of time instead of dragging the work out with constant interruptions, which have the potential to put me into overtime if I don’t keep them in check. 10/10 do recommend setting and communicating boundaries at work - it’s a much more elegant solution than getting cranky when your 20+ colleagues can’t read your mind during busy times.

So there’s a short-but-long-winded list of ways that I keep my flexible schedule from resulting in overwork. Asking for what I need, advocating for myself, and taking time away from work not only make my overall life experience more balanced and fulfilling, but allow me to be a more focused and engaged employee who thrives in my professional life (which in turn is good for my employer and the community we serve, not to mention incredibly satisfying for me). While I can understand the concerns around flexible scheduling and believe strongly that workers in all sectors need to be protected from predatory employers and the dangers of overwork, I’m confident in my ability to manage my work hours while enjoying the flexible schedule that, for me, has been an incredibly powerful tool for getting the most out of my week.