Elastic is Fantastic – Flexibility Breeds Creativity

Elastic is Fantastic play with Sarah McVanelOne of my favourite conferences that I love to speak at, the Spark Women’s Leadership Conference, couldn’t happen for the first time since its inception seven years ago. However, being the resourceful women that they are, they pivoted and put things into the virtual space. So although the entire lineup has been beautifully crafted, it’s been bumped to 2021 and other interesting things are happening in the meantime, including the launch of the Spark Virtual book club. So weirdly lucky that Flip Side of Failing was the first book that they chose to put on. And you can imagine the savvy sisters that show up to have a conversation about all the obstacles, challenges, roadblocks that exist in their work and their personal lives right now in the middle of COVID.



Well, one of the interesting phrases that really stuck with us that came out in our last session came from a Sparkler (what we call rockstar SPARK attendees) who used to have a very senior human resources position; responsible for thousands of employees, donning fancy suits and even nicer shoes, kicking butt and taking names (as they say…I am sure she never kicked anyone in her life). When her organization hit a huge slump, she had the painful job of laying off the workforce and then exiting herself from the organization too. It was devastating…initially.

She felt her sense of identity was lost.

She quickly learned how much her sense of self was wrapped up in not just the title, but also the going to work and getting dressed up and feeling like I have a role (I can so relate). Let’s face it, when you meet somebody for the first time, isn’t the first thing we ask is, “so what do you do?” How would she answer that question?

She wanted to take a step back and reassess her career, stay at home with her kids for a bit, and plan in the future to reenter the workforce. It was hard to shake the feeling that you were “important” if you had a job to go to, weren’t letting yourself down if you didn’t “make something” of her education, and were still legitimately a “professional” if you weren’t currently practicing it.

Benefit to failing with Sarah McVanelHow many of us during this challenging time has felt like our identity is questioned? Am I a good business person? Am I making good ethical choices as a leader? Am I being a good employee if some of my time I need to spend homeschooling my kids?

For those laid off, do you have survivor guilt? “Why am I here and she is not?” If you are the one laid off or redeployed, do you question if you can still identify with your job or take on a new persona?

She’s come to terms with this. And it can be summed up in one juicy statement she shared in the middle of our book club:

When you go elastic, life is fantastic. 

In that one statement, she shared:

  • I like working at home
  • I like raising my kids as my role right now
  • I like ditching the suit for the sweats
  • I like me
  • I like my choices

Self-acceptance and self-compassion need not be in short supply, however, we control the access.

Imagine if you fully embraced the elasticity in your life. What is one aspect of your work or your personal life that if you were a little bit more flexible and adaptable, it would be a little bit more fantastical? 

don't give up with Sarah McVanelAnd remember, if you think that this just sounds like a fluffy thing, adaptability and flexibility are core functions of emotional intelligence. So really this is building your stress management skills as a professional and as a leader (and cool fact, I don’t normally train on emotional intelligence any more however so many clients are asking for a great connection to and management of emotions these days, it’s becoming a theme; sharing that in case you’re thinking “Is it just us?” who are working hard on emotional regulation and management right now).

And trust me, as I write this in my elastic yoga pants and my dress shirt (never a pre-COVID look yet now the norm), the more elastic I allow my mind to be, the more creative and curious I become. It’s what a former coach, Marion Howell of the Iris Group used to suggest: Tight, Loose, Tight – get a tight focus, get loose in how you explore it, get tight in how you execute it. 

What are some of the strategies that help you to be more flexible even in uncertain times? I’d love to hear about your elasticity factor.

Here is a recap of the links listed above:

PS. SPARK has gone virtual this year! My dear speaker friends Stephanie Staples, Pamela Barnum, and Paul Krismer are taking the virtual stage and you will NOT want to miss these superstars!

“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”

– Mother Teresa

Judy Kucharuk

Director, Marketing and Special Events, Encana Events Centre

"Funny, full of energy and incredibly motivating – all words to use when describing Sarah and her passionate stage presence. We were fortunate to have Sarah join us as a speaker for Spark Women’s Leadership Conferences and her presentations about leveraging greatness hit the core of our objective at SPARK: “A rising tide lifts all boats”. I would not hesitate to recommend Sarah to other organizations that are searching for a well-prepared, well-organized, thoughtful and passionate storyteller."
Shelley VanVeen

Learning & Development Manager, Libro Credit Union

"Sarah brought so much energy and enthusiasm to our International Women’s Day event at Libro! Her message was uplifting, thought-provoking and truly appreciated by our team. Dealing with Sarah was wonderful – she was open, professional and willing to work with us to customize her message to incorporate our culture and connect to our topic and participants. During the session, she was a pro with a powerful message and a fantastic delivery. We had wonderful feedback from all that attended and can’t wait to have Sarah back for another session in the future!"
Sylvia D’Intino

Executive Director, Community Living Hamilton

"THANK YOU so very much for leading the engagement activities today! You’re a constant professional, with an amazing attitude and always seeing the great in everyone. I am grateful for how you have helped us this year to transform our in-person staff recognition events into virtual and on-location events. Our staff feel more inspired, appreciated and motivated after they hear you speak, and I know our amazing in-house team here looks forward to designing engaging appreciation events with your support."
Melissa Chaulk

Manager of Professional Development

Canadian Dental Hygienists Association

"We work hard at CDHA to give our members a wonderful conference experience, so we were thrilled to have received resoundingly positive feedback on Sarah's opening plenary keynote. It was the highest attended of the entire conference for both dates!"
Jamie Campbell

Director, The Center for People in Organizational Development, Sheridan College

"Smart, challenging, innovative, committed, dependable, and reliable, I highly recommend her for all your recognition needs. I have brought Sarah into my last two organizations to help build a culture of recognition and celebration. The focus on appreciation is more important now than ever."

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