January review/February preview

At the beginning of January, I posted about upcoming projects. At the beginning of February, I posted this on my Patreon! If you’d like to see what I’m up to in a more timely manner, I definitely recommend the Patreon. One of the benefits is you’ll see posts theoretically a week early, but actually more like a week and a half, since I am forever struggling with herding those to-doodles. This version of the post is updated to add details that have developed in the last 12 days. Phew! What a moving target life is.

One reason I’m going to keep up with the review/preview posts through 2018 is because I tend to set unrealistic goals for myself, not attain those unrealistic goals, and then feel like a failure. I would like to start documenting my goals and my work, so that I can bring my goal-setting more into alignment with my actual available time, energy, and financial resources.

This will be particularly important in this upcoming year because my Master of Narrative Therapy and Community Work program starts this month. (Yes!) Update: Today! It starts today! Once I hit publish on this post, I’ll be hopping over to the UofMelbourne site to get started on my readings!

I work with people to help them develop sustainable self-care strategies and to help them make progress on the goals that are important to them. I want to help myself in that way, too. And the first thing I tell almost every client is – start noticing. If a client came to me with my life and asked for help, I would say – Notice what you’re asking of yourself, notice what you’re accomplishing, notice how it feels, notice what choices you’re making to support and care for yourself. See it, name it, make space for it.

So that’s what I’m doing in these monthly posts, and I’m hoping to keep that up throughout this year.

So here’s what I accomplished (and didn’t accomplish) in January, and what’s on tap for February.

– The Caring for Neurodivergent Kids book club has soft-launched. The Facebook group has been created, and the first book has been chosen. We’ll be reading No You Don’t by Sparrow Rose Jones, the author of Unstrange Mind. There is still space available in the book club, so if you’re in Calgary and interested, let me know! Our first meeting will be happening at the end of February. If you’re not in Calgary, or not able to attend, I’ll still be writing up a detailed review of each of the books we read, and those reviews will be posted on my Patreon, and then on the blog. Update: mid-March for the first meeting, so that we have time to read the book, which hasn’t arrived yet.

– The Extroversion and Self-Care/Mental Health resource is progressing slowly. We ran into a few hiccups with scheduling because January was full of migraines and illness for myself and the people I was trying to coordinate with. It’s progressing, though! And there is definitely still opportunity to get involved, if you’re interested. Update: I had an absolutely fantastic interview with someone for this project, and have a refined vision of what kinds of issues to include in the resource. Namely, the expectation placed on extroverts to be perpetually resilient and constantly available.

– The collaboration with my brilliant sibling, Domini Packer, has a name. Well, This Sucks will be a resource to help support that self-care and recovery process for folks following sexual assault – both the survivors and the people supporting them. I’m not 100% ready to reveal the major changes to the plan but trust me when I say… it grew exponentially. It started as a plan for a downloadable resource, similar to other resources I create on specific topics, and over the course of this month, during discussions between Domini and I, and one really fantastic interview with a community member, it grew. And it grew in ways that made my therapist say “wow, that sounds really exciting!” Domini and I are heading out of town for a day of planning, budgeting (yes, it has become a plan that requires a budget), and preliminary-outlining. I’ll have more to share after we get back! Update: Ye gods, is there a lot to share. This will be a whole post. 

– The Bad Gender Feels resource is also slowly progressing. Very slowly, but that’s okay.

– The January Possibilities event was great, and the Winter Self-Care for Weary Queers resource was posted earlier this week. In February, we’ll be talking about Self-Care in Queer Relationships. I think the upcoming discussion and resulting resource will be important, and I’m really excited about it.

– The February Self-Care Salon will feature Rein Sastok presenting on self-care for teachers and other child-centric professionals, with the conversation also extending to parents, stepparents, and other carers. To be honest, I have been struggling with the Self-Care Salons – attendance is low, and I have yet to cover the costs of renting the space and paying the guest speakers. Update: This was cancelled. We are still going to generate a resource, to be completed in May, with companion modules for professionals and parents/stepparents/non-parent carers.

Bridges and Boundaries: Social Self-Care has launched, and I am really happy with how it’s going! I also had the realization, as I finalized the Week Two content earlier this week, that once I’ve run each of the four core courses this year, I will have 200+ pages of work, which could form the backbone of a book on self-care. That’s not something I’m committing to, it’s just sort of floating around in my head as a thing that could happen.

– Speaking of books… the 100 Love Letters book is… still going to be happening. I did make some progress on it this month – I won that package of coaching sessions for writers back in December and I had the first coaching call on January 18. I’ll be slowly (emphasis on slowly, and on low pressure) moving ahead with this project.

– I haven’t made a ton of progress on pulling my work off of Facebook and onto the blog more consistently. For some reason, that extra step just feels overwhelming. I am considering figuring out some kind of content management system that will let me cross-post to multiple platforms at once. But I’m not 100% sure when I’m going to do that so… we’ll see. But I do know that many of my favourite people have fled the mess that is the books of face, and I want to stay connected. It’s simmering in the back of my head. I’ll figure something out, but I’m not sure what or when.

– I started working on the disenfranchised grief project(s). There is a set of grief-related projects that are coming up. One is a resource on sibling loss, and I’m collaborating with a new friend, who has lost a sibling, on that project. We’ve started pulling notes and resources together. Another is on the loss of someone who is addicted or street-involved, because that grief is so complicated by our victim-blaming culture. And the third is a project on anticipatory grief. This is all in the preliminary stages, but I’m including it here because it’s been floating to the front of my mind pretty regularly this month and I’ve spent time and energy on it.

– I’ve kept up with the Tender Year posts, and am posting those on my personal facebook page (almost) every day! I’m really proud of this project, and of the fact the three of us collaborating on the project have stuck with it for 120+ days so far. I don’t know what will come of this work, but I am excited about it either way.

And in terms of new goals and projects for February.

– That Master program thing. I’ll be doing a lot of reading in February, but I won’t have my first written assignment due until early March. Would patrons be interested in hearing about what I’m reading and learning? I will definitely have to slow down on the output of my other writing (look, aiming for sustainability!) and this would be one way to keep up my end of the Patreon deal. (I will still be producing the Possibilities resource and the Patreon reward posts each month, and I’ll still be working on the other resources, just a bit more slowly.)

– I’m going to take one day off every week this month. That’s not an “output” goal but I think it is important to take note of. I had hoped to do that in January and it just fell apart after the … honestly, I only managed it one week in the whole month. So, I’m putting it here as part of the accountability part of this project. Update: Lol. BUT! I am trying. This week, for sure. For sure!

– I have two outstanding Patreon reward posts for January, and one Patreon supporter whose birthday is in February who has asked me to do something super terrifying rather than write them a reward post. So, I’ll be catching up on those two posts and also considering the absolutely mortifying idea of setting up some kind of crowdfunding for the financial gap I’m looking at over the course of this year. I will, even if I don’t set up any crowdfunding, definitely be writing about the process. I think that money shame is a topic I’ll be tackling in February. (And by “tackling” I mean “sidling up to slantwise and with much trepidation.”)

– I’ll be hosting another Smutty Story Circle facilitated writing group for the Calgary Centre for Sex Positive Culture on March 2. (I know that’s not February, but I’ll be doing all the prep in February.)

– I’ll be meeting with a professional grant writer this month to talk about finding some funding for the (suddenly enormous) collaboration with my sister, and possibly for some of my other work. Update: Wednesday! Wish me luck.

And, of course, continuing to post about self-care, including Stick Figure Sunday and Woodland Wednesday, on the Facebook page.

If you want to be involved in any of the collaborative projects, let me know! And if you have any feedback on the projects, or other projects that you’d like to see added to the slow-moving list, let me know that, too!

I really could not be putting as much energy, time, and effort into creating the self-care resources without the support of my Patreon patrons. When I get discouraged, and feel like my work isn’t making a difference because the world is just so sharp these days, the fact that people consider my work worth supporting keeps me going.

Two more updates: First, I lost one of my paying jobs. This is a big deal, because I was already facing some challenges on that front. I’m applying for more editing work, and renewing my focus on finding ways to get the word out about the coaching business. And second, I am launching an exciting new tarot project. It’ll be separate from this work, so if you’re interested, send me a message and I’ll connect you with that!

January Preview

I’ve spent the last couple days mapping out my immediate upcoming projects. It’s pretty exciting, and there are many things coming up that you can be part of!
Check these projects, collaborations, and events out, and get in touch with me if there’s anything that piques your interest.
  • I’m launching a book club for parents, stepparents, and caregivers of autistic kids. We’ll be reading books by autistic authors, and recentering the conversation about what autistic kids need away from neurotypical experts, to autistic experts. I feel like this is a critical counter to the standard approach, and it’s important to me because both of my stepkids are autistic. I want to do the best that I can for them, and that means listening to autistic adults. You can get involved by sending me a message and letting me know you want in. Unlike most of my work, this one will be in person. We’ll be meeting once a month-ish at my home, so space is limited. However, I’ll be writing up a detailed review of each of the books we read, and those reviews will be posted on my Patreon, and then on this blog.
  • I’m collaborating on the creation of a resource for extroverts, addressing self-care and mental health, since so much of the available self-care and mental health writing assumes introversion, or assumes that being outgoing and social is incompatible with depression or suicidality. You can get involved by sending me a message. Our first in-person round table discussion is coming up on Saturday, and there will be a second in-person round table discussion later on. You can participate online (in text or skype interviews), in person (in one-on-one interviews or round table discussions), or some combination of these. I am particularly interested in talking with folks whose experience of extroversion has been impacted by cultural norms that don’t leave space for extroversion. (For example, autistic folks are assumed to be inherently introverted, and so are many Asian folks, while Black and Indigenous women are interpreted as “angry” or irrational if they’re extroverted, and women in general often find it difficult to be accepted as extroverts without being shamed for being “gossipy,” “loud,” or other unacceptable things.)
  • I’m collaborating with my brilliant sibling, Domini Packer, to create a resource for survivors and supporters following sexual assault, to help build and sustain networks of support following a crisis. You can get involved by sending me a message. We’re meeting with people one on one to chat, and also talking with folks online. This is going to turn into a zine (or similar), with stories, resources, and action plans for survivors and supporters following sexual assault. We noticed a pretty big gap in the available resources, and a lot of “lean on your community” without a lot of insight into what that looks like, how to ask for what you need, how to keep boundaries between yourself and your supporters. And for supporters, a lot of “believe them, be there for them” without a lot of information about how to do self-care during the crisis so you don’t end up burning out (or worse, turning around and leaning back on the person who has just been through a trauma), how to maintain boundaries with the person you’re supporting, how to reach out for your own support in safe and respectful ways. We’re going to attempt to fill that gap a bit. I’m also interested in talking with professionals who would like to contribute. (This one is coming up quickly, so get in touch asap if you want to be involved.)
  • I’m working on a resource to help folks navigate those “Bad Gender Feels” days. This project is in the germination stage, but I am starting to meet with folks to talk about what would be helpful and what they’d like to see included in a resource like this. This resource will also include information for parents and other supporters of trans and gender non-conforming kids who want to help them get through those dysphoric days.
  • Possibilities Calgary events are running on the third Tuesday of each month at Loft 112 in Calgary’s East Village, and are always free to attend. Every month has a theme, and our in-person discussion becomes the framework for a shareable, downloadable, free resource booklet. You can participate at the conversations, or by sending your ideas or suggestions once the monthly topic is announced. (January is Winter Self-Care for Weary Queers.)
  • The Self-Care Salons are running every month on the first or second Sunday at Loft 112 in the East Village. The cost is $50, sliding scale is available. Every month includes an in-depth conversation and a resource book. 10% of the profit from the Self-Care Salon goes to the Awo Taan Healing Lodge. (In January, Vincci Tsui, RD will be facilitating a discussion about food, health, and bodies that is size-inclusive, anti-diet, fatphobia-challenging – Self-Care Salon: Bodies, Food, and Health.)
  • Bridges and Boundaries: Social Self-Care will be launching Jan 22. It’s a 6-week online course focusing on building tools for social self-care. The cost is $150, sliding scale is available, and it’s going to be awesome. You can sign up by sending me a message.
  • You can also get involved by supporting my Patreon. And at the $10/month level, I’ll write you a post on the self-care topic of your choice. My Patreon supporters are the reason I’m able to put so much time and effort into developing resources that are comprehensive, inclusive, and available for free.
  • And, lastly, my self-care and narrative coaching (for individuals and relationships) is on sale until the end of January. You can check out my services on my Facebook page (I’m in the process of updating this website to be up to date), or you can just send me an email! A single session ($150) is 10% off, a package of 3 ($400) is 15% off, and a package of 10 ($1200) is 20% off.

There are other projects coming up that aren’t collaborations or events, too. Blog posts and other plans for creating new work, mapping out my content focus for the year. 2017 focused on wholeness and integration, and 2018 will focus on hope. I’m in the process of figuring out what that means, and how to bring that focus into my various pieces of work.

I’m also working on pulling some of my work off of Facebook and making it accessible elsewhere. I’ll be shifting my Tender Year posts into a new blog (and cross-posting with Facebook), and once that’s up and running, I’ll share the link here. I’ll also be posting more of my self-care content onto my Tiffany Sostar blog so that people can read it without being on Facebook.

And, perhaps most exciting for me, two major projects are lurching up to speed:

  • the book I’ve been talking about and writing about and thinking about for ages is happening and I’ve started to pull the content together for it, so watch for updates on the 100 Love Letters book coming throughout this year, and,
  • I’m 83% certain I’ll be doing the Masters in Narrative Therapy and Community Work this year at the Dulwich Centre (I’ve been accepted into the program, and now I just need to sort out funding – yikes!)

And one major project is just starting to simmer more assertively:

  • I’m putting together my speaker event wish list, and starting to think about restarting the UnConference Series and bringing people in for events (Avery Alder is at the top of my wish list, and I’m hoping I’ll be able to bring her in for a weekend workshop on transformative gaming sometime this year).

2018 is going to be about continuing to do what I love, learning how to do it more sustainably and effectively, and working with my communities to develop strategies and resources for resilience and hope. It’s going to be good.

My name is Tiffany, and I’m in the business of failing

My name is Tiffany, and I’m in the business of failing

At the end of November, I learned that I had been shortlisted for the Innovate Calgary RBC Social Enterprise Accelerator program.

I was very proud of this. The application was really well-done, and it was an accomplishment to have sat down and clarified what I want to do with this business, who I want to help, how I will help them, why there is value in this work. Because Innovate Calgary is a business-focused organization, and the Accelerator programs focus on helping entrepreneurs create profit as well as social benefit, the application really focused on the potential collaborations with business. I linked the self-care and narrative coaching to work I’ve done with Rebecca Sullivan on shifting leadership culture in large organizations*. I was really proud of it.

We spent a day putting the power point presentation together for the five-minute pitch.

It was going to be so good. I could picture myself standing in front of the judges, so convincing.

I could picture their responses. So enthusiastic! How could they not love it? This is important work! I am going to be so good at this, and it is so needed!

One of my most cherished personal stories – one of those stories that I come back to again and again – is that I am a good presenter, a good public speaker. I have loved giving presentations since I was a kid, and I have done public speaking in almost every professional job I’ve held. As the canine program coordinator at the Calgary Humane Society, I was interviewed on the news multiple times. As a dog trainer running my own company, I ran regular sessions for the Town of Okotoks on dog behaviour, and spoke to large groups about various topics. I facilitate workshops every month. I’m a public speaking rock star. I love it. I love it. And I’m good at it.

So, what happened on Jan 12 when I stood up in front of that panel of judges, with 8 months of business mentorship and networking and professional assistance on the line?

Clearly, I rocked it, right? I mean, I did all the positive thinking. I did the visualization. I had the positive self-storying down pat. I’m experienced. I know this stuff. I rocked it.

Except…

It was awful.

I wasn’t just awkward, I was a disaster. I panicked. I forgot everything I had planned on saying. I got stuck in a loop of saying “the stories people are told about who they are supposed to be” (I swear, I said that phrase probably twelve times), and I couldn’t get out of it. I started reading off the powerpoint slides, but then I panicked more because I know that’s terrible presentation form. I trailed off into awkward mid-sentence silence a couple times. After about seven minutes of my rambling (two minutes over the strict five minute limit), and less than halfway through my presentation, they cut me off. There were people waiting – the time limit was strict. The position was competitive, and mine was far from the only good idea being presented.

It was humiliating.

I felt sad, and ashamed, and disappointed.

I was proud of being shortlisted, and upset to have bombed so hard when it came down to it.

I failed.

I failed so hard.

On the way out to our cars, Rebecca told me that the business will happen either way and that it was okay.

I went home, and crawled into bed.

There were a million good reasons for my failure.

I was sick.

I was over-tired.

My throat hurt, my head hurt, and I was medicated.

I hadn’t had as much time to practice, because I had been sick.

Still, it was a failure.

And I don’t like failure.

I like to be really smart. Really witty. Really awkward, in a charming way. Really smart. Did I mention smart?

When I was a kid, this was foundational. I didn’t have a lot of friends, but I was very smart. I didn’t do well at sports, but I was very smart. And I was very smart in a very specific way – I was “book smart.” Word smart. Eloquent. Loquacious. (The former being a word I bandied about with obnoxious ubiquity as a precocious youth.)

That afternoon in front of that panel of judges with Innovate Calgary, I did not come across as particularly smart. I did not come across as eloquent. I came across as frazzled, and underprepared, and panicky. It hit me right in one of my most cherished core stories. It hit me right where I’m vulnerable.

This isn’t the first time I’ve taken a hit to this particular core story.

Fibromyalgia decimated my memory, my reading comprehension, my reading speed, and, for a few years, my ability to write. I’ve adapted now, but those were hard years and I still miss my old, pre-fibro mind.

The point of this post is two-fold.

First, it is an acknowledgement of how much I struggle with perfectionism, and shame, and unrealistic expectations of myself. I don’t want to be a self-care and narrative coach, I want to be the self-care and narrative coach. I am setting bars for myself that are literally impossible to clear on a first try, and those expectations are part of the reason it has taken me so many years to start actively pursuing this dream I’ve long held, of being able to help in this way. I want to change the world. I want to do it with my brain and with the power of my words, my narrative. I want that so badly. And I don’t want to fail on the way forward. I don’t want to trip and land on my face. I want to be at the end of the journey before I’ve even mapped the path. My clients will want that, too. You probably want that, in your own life. One point of this post is to say – I get it. I struggle with that, too.

I want to look that sharp and painfully deep desire fully in the face, and acknowledge it. Our most powerful and meaningful and beautiful dreams have the potential to fuel a shame machine that could push us into the shadows for years. Or, acknowledged and honoured and tempered with some humility (yikes, the vulnerability), these dreams have the potential to open doors for to address that shame and challenge, and even heal, those internalized narratives.

Second, it is a public acknowledgement of my failure. Not to beat myself up, but to remind myself that failure happens and that we survive it.

That our core stories can take a hit, and stay true.

It is an attempt to live within the narrative framework I’ve been working so hard to define – to know and welcome the positive and wholehearted truths about myself. To reframe and transform the narratives that are less wholehearted.

One of my core stories is that “Tiffany is smart.”

But I can reframe that. I can keep the part that feels whole and healthy – my love of books, my often-quick mind, my wordwizardy – and transform it into something with more space for failure and for adaptability.

“Tiffany loves books and words, and she is often sharp and insightful and able to convey a point.” (It is so much more true, and it doesn’t carry so many hierarchized ways of knowing – “smart,” with its implied corollary of “stupid.” With its implication that a “smart” person is somehow more valuable than a “stupid” person – these internalized oppressive hierarchies cause so much harm, and fuel so much shame and fear. Every voice is valuable. And there are many ways of knowing.)

In addition to healing my core story, I can add another story.

“Tiffany is brave enough to try something risky, and resilient enough to experience failure and keep going.”

That’s a pretty good story, I think.

I failed so hard, and I hated it. I still feel a flicker of shame when I remember it. But failure, and shame, do not have to be so powerful. They can be shifted into catalysts for change and invitations to compassion.

We can do this, my friends.

We can be brave, be vulnerable, be resilient.

We can get up and keep going, because we are so much more resilient than we know.

This post was available last week to my patrons. If you would like to see posts before they are made public, you can join the Patreon at www.patreon.com/sostarselfcare.

* This is a digression from the post, but the collaboration with Rebecca is really important. She’s been working with the Calgary Police Services, and I’ve been involved with that work, but the progress is so slow. Too slow. Organizations change at a glacial pace, and much like a glacier they grind the people at the bottom into dust. The weight of structural and systemic oppression, the constant microaggressions, the daily stereotype threat and the way it erodes resiliency… it’s great that organizations want to change, but while that slow change is happening, we must find a way to support the people who are being actively harmed during that painfully slow process. I think that there is a lot of potential in collaborating with organizations who are engaged in the process of pushing cultural change through and shifting towards equity and inclusivity and active, intentional diversity. Supporting the people who are suffering, so that once the leadership works through the process of addressing systemic and structural inequality, they haven’t crushed the people they’re changing to help.

Here’s part of the application:

There have been over 300 studies published in peer-reviewed journals regarding stereotype threat, and its pervasive negative effects. Stereotype threat, and the toxic narratives that drive it, undermine the ability of vulnerable identity groups to function in a variety of areas, including the workplace. It is a well-documented social challenge that impacts any person whose identity (their sense of self and their understanding of who they are in a social context) is impacted by stereotypes about their identity group’s ability to succeed in a certain situation. (Women’s performance in negotiations is a well-documented example of stereotype threat resulting in negative outcomes.)

One of the best ways to reduce stereotype threat and promote resilience is to give individuals tools that foster self-storying, self-awareness, and self-care. Resiliency models of intervention and empowerment have proven effective in raising consciousness about discrimination practices in a safe environment, and developing self-sufficiency skills to respond effectively and respectfully while maintaining maximum mental wellness.

Self-storying is one key practice of resiliency models. It gives employees the opportunity to use narrative to reframe a problem in ways that are both internally cohesive and strategically useful, meaning the individual has a sense of wholeness and authenticity, and a solid grounding in positive narratives of who they are and how they operate effectively in the world. Using narrative consciously and intentionally has been able to effectively, as David Denborough puts it, “retell the stories of our lives.”

Tiffany uses a variety of narrative approaches to teach self-storying, including leading clients through the process of identifying the harmful narratives they’ve internalized (the stereotype threats they are currently operating under) and also searching for possible resolutions to re-write those narratives and gain the confidence and support they need to move forward in their careers.

Self-awareness and self-care are parallel skillsets that allow clients to look clearly at what narratives they’ve internalized or are facing from colleagues, and to develop sustainable self-care strategies to help them build resilience to manage and eventually thrive in difficult situations.

It’s not reasonable to expect individuals who are facing threats to their emotional wellbeing and resilience because of sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, classism, and other identity threats, to wait indefinitely while organizations change. We must offer support at both the individual and the organizational level.

The goal of this coaching is not to “fix” the issues that clients are facing. Sexism, homophobia, transphobia, racism… these issues will not be fixed with positive thinking or by being the “right” kind of employee. Rather, the goal is to give clients the skills to be able to navigate on-going challenges and to thrive despite the issues they are facing. This is a significant departure from traditional models, which tend to focus on “fixing” the person and making hollow promises that if the individual changes, the organization will certainly follow.