Respect others alone time. Some people are ok being alone. Respect that. Not everyone needs 3 walks a day. Some people are more comfortable reaching out when they need to socialize. Overloading them can become overwhelming. Some people need time to adjust, reflect, and articulate when they are ready. Know your people and respect their boundaries.
As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing (Yanna) Joanne Papadopoulos.
(Yanna) Joanne Papadopoulos has been a teacher for the public board in Calgary for 15 years, she is a college instructor, a professional development workshop facilitator for educators, the Vice president of Seeds Organization, and founder and owner of Teenacers, where she offers academic and leadership coaching for teens and young adults moving through their academic careers and entering the workforce. Yanna holds a Bachelors of Fine Arts, a Bachelors of Education, and a Masters in Educational Leadership from Gonzaga University and teaches teens the leadership strategies that have been successful amongst leaders in becoming resilient and empowered change-makers in their lives and inspires them to have an impact in their schools and communities.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Ihave been teaching at a professional level since 2005, but have been involved in teaching, in some shape or form, since 1997. Many students I’ve taught are still in contact with me until this day. My teaching experience, combined with my education, organizations I am involved in, associations I am part of, and higher education institutions I work with have shaped my understanding of teens and young adults. My humble beginnings trace back as an art instructor for a local art company. I was mentored and given a chance to teach, by a local artist and entrepreneur, way before I had completed my schooling. I had embarked on a journey of being mentored and empowered by the most talented and gifted educators and leaders. For some, I had the honor of working with, and some I had the honor of studying with in my early years, and later in grad school. All of these thought leaders shared one common characteristic; they asked me the right questions. They taught me how to think, rather than what to think. These mentors instilled in me that although we all have the same education, we have different areas of expertise, passions, talents, and our own niche that sets us apart from the crowd and helps us create a life and career that is fulfilling and rewarding. I do this for my students,and I do it for the teens I work with. My passion has become guiding teens along the same path of self-discovery, early in life, and giving them the tools to light up their own path and unleash their own potential. As someone who has been lucky enough to have had many coaches and mentors on my journey who empowered me, I wish to empower teens who are embarking on theirs.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
India 2011. I had been chosen to be part of a cohort of teachers who would travel to India and work with an NGO called Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA). On this trip, 20 educators from Calgary, along with my very own principal, had embarked on a 3-week adventure to learn from the NGO leaders on how to use participatory research and practices to communicate the needs of the people at the grassroots level to the government. We traveled through the most remote parts of India, slept on trains and buses, held meetings in huts with translators between multiple dialects, laughed with families, cried with families, and took with us some very important lessons. We came back to Canada, humbled by the power of listening, the power of taking the time to learn about others’ needs, obstacles, traditions, and how culture shapes our decision making and leadership practices. It was a life-changing experience for me and the cohort. It has shaped my teaching practice ever since. I have learned how to value the time I have with my students as the most precious resource, a resource we can never replenish.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Communicate your vision. Be open with your team, express where you see everyone moving towards. Share this vision. If this vision isn’t shared, your team will not know why you are asking them to do the things you are asking them to do. Similar to teaching a class, you need to have an end in mind. When a team knows why they are doing a certain task, they can all focus on doing a good job rather than wondering why they are doing something.
Be vulnerable. Share stories and let your team know who you are. Share mistakes you have made and share with your team what you have learned from those mistakes. I always use the analogy of a teacher. A good teacher is not the one who knows the answers to everything and makes no mistakes. Being a good leader is not someone who is beyond human error, it is someone who takes ownership and grows from these experiences.
Encourage others. Get to know your team. Know what their passions, talents, and niche are. Encourage them to showcase those skills. Use empowering language. No one wants to be part of a team when they’re being undermined or belittled, and yet we have so much of that. Encourage them to take on a new task and support them and mentor them along the way.
Set an example. If you are asking your team to change or grow, you must do that yourself first, as a leader. Show them the way and they will follow. People like being part of a team and having faith in each other. It is crucial to our survival. Harness this power of modeling behavior, facing difficult situations, challenging personalities and model for others how you’d like them to behave.
Ask the right questions. Coach your team. It takes a lot more time to do this rather than telling them what to do, but as in teaching, it has a long lasting impact when individuals are guided rather than downloaded with information.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
I read this book while I was travelling through Asia and had just recovered from a serious condition that had required me to take time off work. It helped me put a lot of things in perspective at the time. I had never heard language like “pain body” before. I felt empowered that I am in control of my thoughts and I have the ability to change negative and harmful self-talk.
The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Pozner
I studied this in my Masters in Leadership degree. It is the bible of leadership and the I have used it to build my leadership classes, my coaching program, and I always use the characteristics and attributes of leadership when I am looking at leadership models.
Reframing Organizations by Bolman and Deal
This book is full of cases studies that provide a structural, political, human resources, and symbolic lens of decision making. It has helped me understand why organizations make the decision they make, and if they are not seeming like they are the best at the moment, once I funnel them through these 4 lenses, things make more sense.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. From your experience or research, how would you define and describe the state of being mindful?
Let’s start with what being mindful is not. Being mindful is not a state of meditation nor is it spending hours with your eyes closed in a dark room. Being mindful is being in your body, aware of your breathing, aware of your thoughts and your surroundings; the ability to slow down the frequency of these thoughts and stimulations in order to simply observe them, not shut them out. It is a way of being, not necessarily a state or a moment in time. Being mindful means you are becoming aware of your patterns of thought, the way you go through your day, the things you say, the eye contact you make with people, the time you dedicate to them when you are intentionally listening and making space for them to be. It requires language that many thought leaders are now offering us, like Brene Brown. These language tools can be applied to yourself, as well as others. It sounds like this: “tell me more,” or “the story I’m telling myself is…” Or Tara Brach’s “I’m here, I am sorry, and I love you.” Being mindful is not only ‘being in the moment’, something that can become trivialized unless you have spent time observing yourself. You can’t be mindful and be in the moment unless you have been compassionate with yourself, forgiven yourself, allowed yourself the time to heal, love, and accept love. Self-care doesn’t work if you’re heading back into a situation that will re-traumatize you over and over again. Being mindful means to take into account where you are losing energy, every day, and find the courage to address these areas in your life.
This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to spell this out. Can you share with our readers a few of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of becoming mindful?
I have spent years learning about the Indigenous ways of knowing and being. My Masters’s work revolved around Indigenous ways of learning and leading. We have so much to learn from the Indigenous Peoples and they ways their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual worldviews align and have aligned for thousands of years, with what we’ve come to understand as being mindful. I have come to understand and interpret these in my own practice and life:
Physical: being mindful of your body is realizing what a miracle it is. Take some time to simply look at your toes. Send thanks to the creator, whatever it is you believe in, for your feet. Then move your way up your legs and consider all the things you are able to do. Send thanks again. Keep going. Tara Brach says, “what we constantly think about, that becomes the inclination of our minds.” Think about your body and notice, observe, what comes up. Notice the parts of your body you don’t have a healthy relationship with. What memories are triggered that have shaped this? This is very powerful for teens who are beginning to form body image or distorted body image. Also consider this, you are made up of the same molecular makeup as the universe. You are the universe. The interconnectedness makes us more aware of the oneness we tend to forget in our busy lives.
Mental: We only have the ability to feel emotions for 60–90 seconds. Everything is temporary. The fact that we feel or relive emotions is because we either repeat them to someone else or to ourselves. This in turns creates paths in our brain, a default per say, that redirects us to these emotions. Eventually, this takes a toll on our bodies, as our bodies don’t know the difference between you reliving the event in real life or in your mind. We re-traumatize ourselves over and over. Our mental state can be changed. Change the energy around you. Play music, take a nap, go for a walk, start a note in your phone and date it. Track these thoughts and soon you’ll see how they follow a pattern. As Eckhart Tolle has described this as your “pain body,” you’ll soon realize that your mental state has a pattern. Finding the triggers and working through these is where the real work begins. This is where we find peace in our minds. When we sort out the triggers, the patterns, and figure out our wiring. Eventually, our brains start to love this, and this becomes our default. This point of, “oh, I see how this works, I thought the same thing, last week…” is, in a way, very empowering.
Emotional and spiritual: Understanding that our emotional and spiritual worlds are connected to our physical and mental is crucial. Our emotions can be felt in our bodies, not our minds. We have come to believe that simply because we can articulate our emotions, we can manage them in our minds. Becoming mindful of our bodies, allows us to become mindful when emotions arise. Notice sensations, notice how a comment makes you feel? Is that triggering? Where did you feel that? Your tummy? Your heart? Tension in your head? These are all signs that your body knows what you feel, no matter how much you try to hide it or suppress it. If we don’t observe these changes when they in the state of whispers, they eventually will become, as Mark Groves states, a cosmic 2 x 4. Your body will shut down to prevent you from continuing to do this to yourself. You will experience health issues. The universe will stop you in your tracks, because as Carolyne Myss says, “the universe is law.” Our bodies know what we feel and feelings are intelligent, even fear and sadness. They teach us something. They direct us. The notion of “don’t worry be happy” does not serve us here. In order for us to be happy, we must understand that happiness is not a blissful state some people are always in and some other aren’t privy to, that for one reason or another. Everyone has a different happiness set-point. We don’t all need the same things to be happy. Happiness is relative. Some of us need to feel creative in order to be happy. Others need to make money to be happy and others are happy following a workout routine. Being mindful means you have the right to make your own rules about your feelings and that you have the right to these feelings. Be compassionate to others and ask for grace and a safe circle where you are encouraged to express how you feel without shame or judgment.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop mindfulness and serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.
- Listen to thought leaders. Turn off the news. You deserve some time at night to decompress. We need to be informed but we don’t have to be inundated. We are so lucky to live in an era where we have unlimited access to podcasts! Never before have we had the ability to listen-in to intellectual conversations from people who have made it their mission to help others. During this time, focus on podcasts from thought leaders who either record their retreats, or interview other thought leaders. Listen to them a few times over and you’ll pick up language that is positive, affirming, and part of your tool box. In addition to this, you’ll discover that you are not alone in you how you feel or think. Ask your friends if they know any good podcasts that focus on self, the soul, human nature, and relationships. Find your favorites and subscribe! Play them in the morning and at night. This will help you set your state of mind for the day.
- Create a space and time for yourself. Our homes were not designed for the entire family to work from home. These are challenging times for all of us. Not everyone can have a desk and a laptop, but somehow we all need that now. Find a space for yourself and for your kids. Call it the safe space. It can be any room in the house that has a door. Create a sign-up list for who gets to have an hour a day to rest. We all need time alone to regroup, rejuvenate, and recharge. Some of us need more time than others. Use this space as you know you can sit for an hour, uninterrupted, and do some work, sleep, be quiet, read, eat, and simply be alone. If you do live alone, be mindful not to fill your day with work, house chores, or organizing your closets. People who live alone tend to ignore the importance of simply sitting there and resting or reflecting. This leads to burn out. If being alone is triggering to you, play some music, call a friend and chat with intention, not running around doing more work.
- Prioritize and don’t compare yourselves to what others are doing. Somehow, quarantine has become the time to reorganize our homes, do marathon workouts online, teach our kids, work from home, and go for a hike all in one day. We all used to be busy people and now we are busy comparing ourselves to how others are keeping busy in the house. Keeping up the same pace you’ve had when you had your freedom is not possible right now. Slow down. Limit social media feeds and what people are doing and stop comparing yourself to what others are doing. Everyone is experiencing this differently. Everyone has different priorities than you. Also, be compassionate with others about that too. Acknowledge that, right now, it’s not the best time to check in on a friend and invite them to a workout. They might be feeling anxious, scared, frustrated, or confused. We don’t all have the same needs and expectations. Be mindful of what is important to you. Know your capacity right now as a parent, employee, homeschool teacher, or single person craving company, and reflect on what this time is offering you to learn about yourself.
- Reflect on what gives you joy. During this time, you’ll come to discover a few new things about yourself and those around you. Be mindful of what you miss, what you are grateful for, what did you always want to try or learn? What are the steps you can take now? What can your research? What gives you joy? Remember, we don’t all get joy from doing the same things. Some of us are content doing very little, so don’t compare yourself to others. Learning something new is very rejuvenating and empowering. Try to remember what is it you wish you had the time to do. You have time. Use this time to grow and nurture those talents. You might discover it is your new path!
- Reach out to others and listen. Ask how their parents, or friends are doing, or their kids. Laugh at yourselves, or cry, it is all normal. We do this when we are with each other over coffee or drinks, so keep doing it now. Ask your kids to check in with their friends and ask how they are doing. Being in quarantine doesn’t mean that you don’t have feelings. Share stories from others, It sounds like gossip, but it’s not. We don’t all have the ability to meet with people like we used to, we now rely on sharing stories. People are story tellers; it has been crucial to our survival as a species, as stated Yuval Harari in Sapiens. The fact that we can talk about what happened to others is the reason we survived being eaten by the lion down the river.
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
- Ask people how they are feeling not what they are working on. It is a shock to the system now that we are able to do very little in comparison to what we used to so many of us are going full force into fixing everything in our house, organizing, getting 2 workouts in a day and posting this all on social media. Some people don’t have the ability to do all that, so be mindful of this. Some are sick, or worried they or their loved ones will get sick, some have to learn a different job in order to save their job, and some are adjusting to the abruptness of this situation. Simply asking how someone is feeling today is all it takes. A friend of mine posted on Facebook this suggestion for moms working from home to share what their kids are doing, but asked they refer to them as their “coworkers.” It makes for a funny way to explain to someone how their days was. Try it!
- Don’t project or suggest unless you have consent. Again, some of us have taken on the mission to use the next few weeks, or even months of quarantine, to transform our bodies and our minds. Not everyone has a peloton or a gym. Not everyone has the time to redecorate or organize, and quite frankly, not everyone cares if that is what some of us are doing. Calling someone up to share what your projects are this week in the house, or what they can be doing, is a recipe for disaster during these times. If you feel triggered by a suggestion, you can simply say, “it is not a priority right now, but thank you for checking in.” Be mindful of each other. Everyone is experiencing emotions they never had or they have avoided. Ask how you can help. If that is by listening, do just that.
- Set up a call or zoom or Facetime for your friends or kids. Some kids are in very negative home environments with no way out now. They don’t get to go to school or the ability to reach out. Ask your kids to check up on their friends. Set up a chat time. If you are a teacher, send them a message, send them links or numbers they can reach out for support. Stay in touch with the most vulnerable. Start a group chat for your kids. They miss their friends as do you. Let them facetime a friend when they are eating lunch or watching a movie. Remember, kids spend hours during their day socializing, and it is very crucial to their wellbeing.
- Respect others alone time. Some people are ok being alone. Respect that. Not everyone needs 3 walks a day. Some people are more comfortable reaching out when they need to socialize. Overloading them can become overwhelming. Some people need time to adjust, reflect, and articulate when they are ready. Know your people and respect their boundaries.
- Drop off a treat and go! The best thing to do is a quick drop off of a treat. Especially when someone is worried or unable to get the essentials, adding something in there that they are missing is enough to turn them around for the day. For me it’s a chai latte. Nothing makes me happier than a chai latte. My coworker dropped off her banana loaf and chatted with me from a distance and that was enough to get me going for the rest of the day. Doing little thoughtful things like this will change your mood too!
What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?
Tara Brach podcasts
Mark Groves podcasts
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“Every student who comes to your class is someone’s baby.”
This has been the cornerstone of my practice. The one lesson I keep coming back to, again and again. From children to adult learners, it is so crucial to understanding that every person sitting in front of you in some’s baby, someone’s friend, mom, dad, brother, or sister. Parents don’t keep the good ones at home, they send us their very best. They send us the most important thing in their lives. We must treat learners with respect, love, care, and above all, compassion. This was instilled in me early on by my mentor and principal, Carol Hall, a good friend, and outstanding leader in education.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Adolescent Leadership. Offer the tools to the younger generations now.
As adults, we spend time and money on personal development. We are now becoming increasingly aware of the impact this has on our lives and fulfillment. We are surrounded by thought leaders and we recommend them to each other because we want everyone to experience the transformation, inspiration, and empowerment that these resources have offered us. Some of us seek out life coaches to help us gain some perspective, clarity, direction, and knowledge in achieving our goals. As adults, we don’t see this as a result of our shortcomings, rather, we admire this as a quality of being focused on our personal success and being open to receiving wisdom, building lifelong skills, and resilience.
Imagine if teens had these tools earlier in life? Imagine if they had this perspective and guidance from educators and leaders investing time in their personal development during adolescence? What impact could that have made in their life? How would life unfold if they had the courage to see their true potential before fear of failure, doubt, time, money, judgment, and self-sabotage got in the way?
Teen coaching does not replace parenting nor does it undermine its profound power. Teen couching does for teens what a network does for professionals; what a mentor does for a beginning teacher; what a leader does for their team, and what a sports coach does for athletes, it empowers them; it’s a partnership.
My movement would be to offer these resources to educators, coaches, and parents to begin investing in adolescents’ empowerment. They are the most important people in the world. They are, literally, the future.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
You can follow me on Facebook at Teenacers and our Facebook group page Teenacers A group of teachers, artists, and wellness coaches helping teens. On Instagram at teen.acers and sign up for my newsletter on my site www.teenacers.com
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!