New Year, True You

New Year, True You

Tammy Plunkett 2020

It’s that time of year where we set good intentions, make resolutions, and are inundated by motivational quotes that push us to be our best selves.

New Year, New You! Rah Rah!

It’s also that time of year when we look back over the past year and measure our success against all the goals that we set for ourselves 364 days ago. Boy, did I fall wide of the mark!

But what if we didn’t need a new you, what if we need the true you?

I have spent countless years in the business of pushing motivation and inspiration. I love self-development. I read all the books, attended all the talks, wrote books and gave talks myself. I hired all the coaches and became a coach myself. This time of year is the cash cow in the business of change and I have cashed in over the years. But things changed for me this year. Drastically. From profit to non-profit.

Do you pick a word for your year?

I’ve done this for several years. I chose a word to focus on and keep top of mind throughout the year. In January of 2019, I attended a mastermind with brilliant businesswomen in a stunning house in Bradenton Beach Florida. I had finished 2018 with 6 figures in sales. My business was doing well and ready to scale even more.  At the beach house, in the throws of the entrepreneurial fervor, I chose Profit as my word for the year. After all, I had all the tools, business knowledge, and the motivation to double my income in the next year. I was ready to rock!

Nose to the grindstone, I set to work. But my business was not my entire life. I was writing my book, and my literary agent and I were finalizing my book proposal. I was volunteering, and Airdrie Pride hosted our very first Pride Festival. I was a mom, and my third child was still transitioning. I was busy with everyday life in addition to building an empire. And then my world came to a screeching halt. The nursing home called to say that my dad, who lived across the country, wouldn’t make it through the night. On July 4, 2019, I lost all concept of the word profit.

True You

I thought I had done grief before when my mother passed unexpectantly. But this grief was completely different. This grief was sacred. It was my wake-up call. Not as much in the sense that death reminds us of our limited time, but more that I was losing pieces of me and what remained needed to be preserved. I needed to know who I truly was in order to preserve what connected me to my dad and my mom. I spent months walking my dog lost in thought, trying to figure out who I truly was in a world without my parents, in a world where I was the parent to a transgender child. The gift of that time was that the voice in my head became my voice, not the voice of my parents, not the voices of my business coaches or my therapists, not the self-help authors, not the famous people I quoted on memes. My voice spoke to me.

From Profit to Non-profit

My voice started asking some pretty deep questions. Big questions about every aspect of my life. Did I want to write my book? Did I want to be a volunteer with Airdrie Pride? Did I want to move back to Ontario? If money were no object, how would you change your life tomorrow? That last question I knew the answer to immediately. I would go to university and finish my degree. Luckily, that was something I could do with the money I did have. But that led to another question… what would I study? What did I want to be when I grew up at 48 years old? More walks with the dog, more time in deep thought with only my voice in my head and it came to me. Advocacy work in the non-profit sector.

That realization started the war in my head between my true self and my inner critic, of course. My inner critic invited the voices of all my coaches and therapists and my mom’s critical voice from my teen years to form a formidable itty-bitty-shitty-committee. How could I walk away from a successful business? How could I be so lazy and selfish? How could I add studying to my full plate? What are people going to say about you? So, I flogged myself with those stinging questions for a while. And then my true self asked a wise question: If you want to leave your business for a career as an advocate, you should know what it is about your business that you don’t like first so that you don’t repeat it.

More walks with the dog. More thinking. What was it? What was missing in my business? People. I was desperately lonely. I worked alone, and when I spoke with clients it was business focused. I had no water cooler moments. My business is also a business of privilege. I work with individuals who can afford my fees and have the time to spend on writing a book. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it’s a high contrast to volunteering with people who can’t get a job and use the food bank because they’re experiencing discrimination as a trans woman.

I had my answer. I enrolled in school.

I also started looking for a job in the non-profit sector. The reality was that what I disliked about my business was not going to go away by making more profit. My true self was longing for fulfillment and to be around likeminded people. On December 4, five months after my dad passed away, I signed a contract working three days a week as a communications assistant for a non-profit organization.

From Profit to Part-Time

I work part-time. I study part-time. I write my book part-time. I volunteer with Airdrie Pride part-time. And, I now run my business part-time. My drive is no longer profit, it is people—the people I help write their books and the people who will one day read them.

None of this came to me on December 31st… this was a process. A process of walking the dog and thinking, a process of listening to my own voice, and daring to be true to my own self.

I urge you, as this time of year starts pulling at you to be thinner and more profitable and a better mom and a better everything, to take the time to slow down and tune into what you need to feel fulfilled and not what your itty-bitty-shitty-committee says you should be focused on. Be true to YOU.

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Gender Compassion

Gender Compassion

With International Women’s Day on the horizon, I am forced to have a deeper look at my self-identity as a fierce defender of women’s rights. Before my third child transitioned to a boy, I spoke of empowering women and gender equity until I was blue in the face. I purposefully worked with women clients and spent my dollars in women ran businesses. But having two sons today has opened my eyes to so much more than my own experience of “being a woman in a man’s world”.

Last month, my husband and I cuddled up with our two sons and fresh popcorn to watch the Grammy awards. My heart was warm and fuzzy when the opening included five powerful women—Lady Gaga, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Alicia Keyes, Michelle Obama, and Jennifer Lopez. They each spoke about what music meant to them, ending with “Tonight we celebrate the greatness in each other through music.” And then Alicia Keys said, “Who runs the world?” and I shout back to the television “Girls!” almost jumping out of my skin with fervor.

My youngest son quietly responded, “I don’t like feminism.”

My son. The offspring of the Wonder Woman idolizing, once Women Talk co-director, card-carrying feminist warrior just said he doesn’t like feminism?! I think my husband actually recoiled to save himself. But seriously, this taught me that I needed to not only define things for my son, but for myself as well.

Feminism

Feminism is definitely getting a bad rap these days especially among Millennials and Conservatives with traditional gender role values. Some women born into a society that already allows the right to vote, own property, get a job and have access to birth control view feminism as an unnecessary plot to devalue and denigrate men. That is not what feminism means to me. While we are miles ahead of where we used to be, women still often earn less than men, hold fewer senior management positions, and own less of the world’s wealth. Compound all that by the fact that women are more likely to pause their careers to raise children and take care of aging parents. Compared with a man with no workforce interruptions, the average woman cumulatively has earned $1.06 million less by the time she hits retirement age. That’s an enormous wealth gap. That is why I am still a feminist.

Male Privilege

This was where my conversation with my eleven-year-old son began. A fish doesn’t know it is swimming in water. My son, like most men, doesn’t know the privilege he enjoys. It is difficult for him to realize that at such a young age. I gave him the example of being allowed to walk to Seven Eleven alone, but I never would have let his sisters go alone in grade six.  From his point of view, my son feels that he didn’t ask to be treated special, but more than that, he feels that he doesn’t matter when I celebrate women and girls. We are asking a whole new generation of fish to evolve and breathe air on land. Of course, there will be pain and push back for them! They were happy in the water, we dragged them out!

Gender Compassion

I am going to be very frank. When my third child came out as a transgender boy, I felt like he was crossing the aisle. I wanted a little feminist warrior working alongside me and I had a tiny bit of resentment that, by becoming a boy, he would enjoy the same male privilege as his younger brother. Privilege I never had. I’ve grown and changed quite a bit since he came out. Thank God! And this has also changed my view on the gender binary and gender equality. I hear what the anti-feminists are saying in terms of not wanting to denigrate men. We don’t need to make someone else wrong to make us right. This is not about right or wrong, good or bad, it has always been about the fact that everyone matters.  So, I am changing my language. I now stand for gender compassion. Compassion for women who are striving to have access to all that matters most to them. Compassion for men who are learning to adapt to a new society where they may have to yield access. Compassion for gender non-conforming people who have a right to take up their own space too.

While I am saluting all of my women friends, sister, daughters on International Women’s Day, I am also sending love out to our men who are making an effort to shed their toxic masculinity and love to anyone who doesn’t identify with the prescribed gender binary.

Seeing Yourself in Others

Seeing Yourself in Others

 

It was meant to be a relaxing bookend to a glorious day. We headed to the hot tub right after dinner, our tummies full and my muscles loose from the heavy pour on my one glass of wine. Though the evening temperature was mild, we had played in the snow chasing moose for photographs most of the day and were ready to melt into the bubbling waters under the starry sky.

When we got to the hot tub, nine of the twelve spots were occupied by young, giggling, gossiping women and my hopes for a relaxing soak instantly vanished. I sat Anderson on my lap, so we could all fit. The young ladies decided to head to the indoor pool instead. I was relieved as they departed one by one and only two remained.

The girl who sat in the corner proceeded to explain why she would not leave the heat of the hot tub, “the pool is too cold, and my leg muscles cramp up. I need the heat.”

“I don’t like cold pools either,” I replied.

She avoided eye contact, though I sensed she was talking directly to me. “I have a disability, it’s hard for me to walk. I’m also small for my age but I’m going to be sixteen soon. I’m a Halloween baby. Well, actually, born November 1st. This bathing suit is a size 8 even though I’m almost sixteen.” She barely took a breath between each staccato sentence. Her hands fidgeted with the bead at the end of the tie of her bathing suit.

Rod and the boys stayed silent and turned towards each other almost to create a bubble around themselves from the onslaught of conversation. They didn’t speak because the girl’s silence was never held for more than a millisecond.

The girl continued to tell me about her family—a family constellation that sounded very familiar—a step-father and a biological father, cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents from the step-father side of the family, and her mom, the one who bought her the size 8 bathing suit. They had a family tradition of spending Thanksgiving in Jasper every second year, and in Banff on the opposite years.

A wise woman had recently challenged me to engage in curiosity and be in conversation with someone I would normally avoid, and this situation was certainly the case. Not only because all I had wanted was quiet time relaxing with my family, but also because the girl in the corner of the hot tub reminded me of all that was inside of me that I tried to run away from my whole life. Being from a broken home, being the different one in the family, not wanting to make eye contact because I always thought people could see in my eyes all the shame I carried from my past. But I also knew the pain of being silenced, of having so much to say but terrified of telling the truth. We fill the silence with inconsequential fluff. Don’t stop talking too long or someone might ask you the question you don’t want to answer, the one that will break your life open.

So, I sat in the one-way conversation with the girl in the corner and compassionately let her fill the silence that she dreaded as much as I once had feared, and sometimes still do.

 

Healing My Heart

Healing My Heart

 

The stress and trauma of the last two years have calmed enough for me to finally take a few deep breaths and heal my heart. Of course, this is not something that is done in a day, as much as my strategizing, achievement-driven, forward-focused self would prefer. No, this is a long, deep, and emotional process and it’s not going to be something I get to tick off my to-do list.

I have been feeling exceptionally tired and my mood has been low for the greater part of two months, so I decided to book an appointment with a Naturopath. Part of her intake form asked about the most recent, top five, stressful events. I knew I was in trouble when I wrote out my list.

  • January 2017 My husband was diagnosed with colon cancer
  • February 2017 My third child who recently came out as transgender was suicidal
  • April 2017 My oldest child relapsed in her mental illness and drug addiction
  • May 2017 My mother passed away suddenly and unexpectedly
  • October 2017 My youngest child was diagnosed with a lifelong autoimmune disease
  • I threw in a 6th for good measure… I had major surgery in November of 2017 followed quickly by the flu three weeks into my recovery.

I met with The Naturopath in her corner office overlooking the beautiful autumn colors on a walking path along the Bow River. We discussed the list and all my symptoms and we’re doing blood tests and exploring the physical implications, of course, but the biggest takeaway I got from the Naturopath was what she found during some muscle testing. She said my Heart Chakra needs work. She explained that I am hyper-focused on tasks and work, and that I need to learn to trust others with my heart again, to acknowledge my fear of more disappointment in relationships, my fear of being let down yet again, and my fear that getting close to someone may add more stress and demands on my time and energy.

She had just met me, yet my body told her the story of my life. She mirrored for me exactly why I felt desperately lonely. And, she was 100% right.

This is how I cope with stress, the way I coped my whole life in my dysfunctional childhood, as an ICU nurse, and with every challenge as a mother: shut down all emotions except anger, lock them up inside, be cool and composed on the outside, and focus on the solution. The role I assume is the strong one, the responsible one, the fixer. I don’t do warm and fuzzy in a crisis, and I have been in crisis so long that I don’t remember what warm and fuzzy feels like.

How has this affected my kids, my husband, and my sister all dealing with their own level of grief? Do they know that I shut down to survive and not because I don’t love them?

I had started making friends when I moved to Calgary, mostly in the context of being an entrepreneur, but I have retreated from all of them on some level. I was ashamed of how crazy my life had become, I didn’t feel like I had deposited enough in the friendship bank after knowing these women for such a short amount of time to justify requesting a withdrawal yet. And I had nothing in me to give to them if they had a crisis of their own. I was ashamed of my need when I spent a lifetime being the caregiver. Ironically, I know many of these women would step up and show up if I asked, but I just can’t bring myself to ask, so I continue on with this façade that tells everyone that I’ve got my shit together and deal with my lonely broken heart alone in the dark.

Make no mistake, this is all my responsibility. This is not a convoluted cry for sympathy or a manipulative way to make others feel bad or sorry for me. I am responsible for the choices I made under stress and I am responsible for the choices I make to heal today.

This is a precautionary tale for anyone who is hiding behind a mask and dealing with a broken heart in silence. It doesn’t get better on its own. We have to take the steps to trust and love again. This is also an apology. I am sorry for not fully showing up in relationships, for not asking for help, for not revealing my true essence and for not seeing, and being with, your true essence. I swear I know how to do this, I know how to love and be loved. If you can be patient with me while I get my heart back online, I look forward to nurturing and trusting true friendships again.

The Joy of Being

The Joy of Being

I was speaking on the phone to a business colleague as I packed my bag for a six-day retreat in the Canadian Rockies with Eckhart Tolle. “I’m actually nervous about this trip. I’m worried about leaving my business behind for six whole days and I’m worried about the money I am spending because I’m not sure this is going to do anything for my business.” In fact, I was so nervous about going away on this trip that my stomach swiftly kicked out my lunch before I got into my car to make the two-hour drive to Lake Louise.

I didn’t know what to expect. It had been 10 years since I read A New Earth, and though I swear it changed my life when I read it, I could only recite some platitudes from its passages. I didn’t remember it’s essence anymore. I racked my brain wondering why I signed up for this in the first place only to recall the year from hell I had last year and how much I needed self-care just to live another day.

I awkwardly stood in line for the opening talk and found a seat in the third row. The foundation leader came on stage to say that the room was filled with almost 700 people from 40 countries, to which I looked behind me to realize the size of the crowd. We dutifully turned off our cellphones—my link to my business and my children—and on walked Eckhart, slowly, purposefully, fully present.

I, too, slowly, purposefully became still. Fully present. Connected to my essence.

I remembered instantly how Eckhart Tolle changed my life, and I instantly found that peace again.

Over the five days that followed I met Fran, a mother of 9, who imparted her wisdom onto me when I said I wished I could give this awareness we learned on retreat to my children, to which she replied, “you never want to be so awakened that your children don’t struggle and grow.” That hit me like a brick and was exactly what I needed to hear.

I also met the beautiful and enigmatic Claudia. A spiritual goddess in her own right that allowed me to be adventurous and free as we acted as mirrors for each other’s life lessons. She introduced me to a Thai artist and musician and a former Thai monk, and I introduced them to Moraine Lake. I also got to meet successful conscious business owners which also served as a lesson for what I can do differently in my own business.

I won’t even attempt to write the lessons Eckhart taught us into a blog. Do yourself a favor and read The Power of Now and A New Earth. I will give you a short passage from my notes on Creativity because it is relevant to my biggest A-ha from this retreat.

“Creativity is the act of creation that comes from our connection to source. We receive it fully formed and are often overpowered with the insight, invention, music, and art. Creation needs a vehicle, the power needs to manifest into this world, and after many hours of practice you eventually are no longer the dancer you are being danced, you are no longer the writer you are being written.”

Why was I so nervous to go on this retreat? Because it meant that my overworking, artificially busy life might change, most importantly my ego was going to be challenged and die a little. I no longer identify so strongly with my business, my role as a mother, and my self-construct that was cutting off my connection to my true essence.

My big revelation came with regards to my intention with writing my next book and its underlying message. It has gone from being about my unspoken grief raising a transgender child to about how raising a transgender child has transformed me and brought me closer to my deeper true self, just as he dares to be his true deep authentic self. The book is writing itself and writing me.

I’m now back home and much more present to my children, much more present to my clients, and much more present in my writing. Though I am purposefully living in the present moment, I can assure you that I will not wait another eight years to recharge and attend another Eckhart Tolle retreat.

The Great Equalizer

The Great Equalizer

 

They say death is the great equalizer because regardless of your income, nationality, gender or age every human being still has that one thing in common: we all die. But illness is not an equalizer, neither is the dignity we show to the ill or to their exhausted and overextended caregivers and families.

I once lived in a community where there was a boy with a very rare and debilitating disease who fought for his life. Both he and his mother were often covered by the local news highlighting his condition and their determination to beat the odds. It was a feel-good story. Fundraisers happened on a regular basis, the local radio celebrities and sports teams got involved, networking events and small businesses all pitched in to help fund experimental treatments far from home. He passed away at the age of 17 this past month and it was all over the local news and in the newspaper and all over social media, celebrating his heroic battle with an outpouring of love for a mother who never left his side.

In that same community, one of my closest friends was a foster mom to a boy with a rare and debilitating disease who fought for his life the whole 16 years that she got to raise and care for him. They were not in the news because of confidentiality issues. There was no news coverage, no community uproar, no sports teams getting their pictures taken with him. There was a rally by a local network of small businesses to get a very necessary wheelchair accessible minivan. That’s it. This amazing boy made it to the age of 18, he walked across the stage to a high school diploma, celebrating every precious milestone. His passing devasted my close friend who had to learn to live again outside of the caregiver role. There were no news articles about his passing, no citywide call for support for a grieving mom.

How many people are there that suffer horrible diseases and die without fanfare? How many mothers have buried their children this month without a citywide outpouring of love? I can’t help but see the inequity. I don’t think that it’s fair that a child who dies from cancer somehow matters more than a child who dies from Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. Every time I see a fundraiser for a particular individual or their family I can’t help but see how unfair it is that one gets what everyone needs and deserves.

I know the media has its own agenda for showing us sensational stories that move us. I know they can’t show us every human being that is fighting a disease on the news every day. But as a society, maybe we each need to go up to someone who is suffering and tell them that we see their battle, we hear their cries of pain, and their time on this earth, no matter how long or short, matters. Maybe instead of sending $25 to a GoFund Me campaign we can adopt a family with a critically ill member and sit with them as they battle every day for dignity.

I know one thing for sure, we all want to be seen, heard, and know that we matter. All of us. So how can we as a society make sure that every single one of us feels that? How can we make love the great equalizer?

I dedicate this to my friend, Kim. I see your grieving, I hear your pain, you matter.