Faith Is Peace: A Story And Invitation

Imagine that there was a sudden shift in Canada’s social and political landscape, and your religion or spiritual practice was outlawed. Those of you who attempt to maintain your faith are persecuted if caught. You continue to practice your faith in secret. You have all been evicted from your Church, Synagogue, Mosque or Temple; let’s call it your Sacred Place. Companies vie for the chance to use the property. Your Sacred Place becomes a factory, and is desecrated and polluted.

In time, Canada becomes more equitable and fair towards followers of your religion. And the factory in your Sacred Place closes down. Your city agrees to return your Sacred Place to your community, since its industrial use has ended. One of your faith leaders has a beautiful vision for restoring your Sacred Place to its former glory and to be the place for you to worship and take refuge once again. You are very close to getting your Sacred Place back, but have not quite raised enough money to restore it.

And then a local company, BlowHard, announces it will buy your desecrated Sacred Place and transform it into eco condos and retail space called “Faithy.” Despite protests from your community members and allies, the City allows your Sacred Place’s land to be rezoned for this proposed development.

Your community was hit hard by the former repression, and now BlowHard approaches community members offering them work – if, and only if, they will work on further defiling their Sacred Place. BlowHard manages to hire some community members, and with slick and expensive media campaigns is busily convincing the mainstream public that your community supports the Faithy project and that it will create jobs for your community members.

What would you do?

Akikodijiwan behind bars

This is what happened to the Anishinabe (Algonquin) who were pushed away from their Sacred Place, Akikodjiwan. Akikodjiwan is comprised of the Chaudière Falls, which were dammed 200 years ago and are inaccessible, and the islands downstream: Albert, Chaudière, and Victoria.  Akikodjiwan was and continues to be a sacred site for the Anishinabe and many other Indigenous Peoples.

Organized religions and some spiritual communities make human-built buildings their places of worship, their Sacred Places. But the Anishinabe and many other Indigenous Peoples identify their sacred sites in nature. They then pray and conduct their ceremonies at these sacred sites, like Akikodjiwan.

The fact that there are no buildings at many Indigenous sacred sites does not make them any less sacred or important than a Temple, Church, Mosque, or Synagogue. The land is just as soaked with prayer at Indigenous sacred sites as it is beneath a sacred building.

With Akikodjiwan, we know hundreds of generations of Indigenous peoples have offered tobacco to the majestic falls, and conducted their ceremonies on the islands downstream. If anything, the land and waters of Akikodjiwan are far more soaked with prayer than the much younger religious buildings built by settlers.

Anishinabe Elder South Wind (Albert Dumont) has called for support to protect Akikodjiwan. We are all invited to Faith Is Peace: Walk For Our Sacred Site, Akikodjiwan on Friday, June 23, 2017. This is our chance to support Anishinabe elders and activists seeking the return of their sacred site.

I will be walking in solidarity. With my baby. With all of you. For the future generations of all my relations.

Walk with you then!
Julie

More information​ about the Faith is Peace Walk

23 June 2017 Schedule:
10am: Gather on Victoria Island, at the Booth Street entrance. Prayers and ceremonies.
11am: Walk to Parliament Hill.
12pm (approximately): Reach Parliament Hill, gather for speakers

Call to action: http://albertdumont.com/indigenous-spirituality-is-precious/

“Indigenous roots intertwined and locked as one with settler roots, shoulder to shoulder, we will walk in prayer to the nation’s Parliament Buildings. Together, we will show the world that Indigenous spirituality is real and is as rich with the blessings of Creator as are all the other faiths practised by the citizenry who make up the population of Canada.”

Website: http://albertdumont.com/faith-is-peace-walk/

FB event to share share share: https//www.facebook.com/events/1906106689612742

Pictures and media from last year’s It Is Sacred walk: http://www.itissacred.ca/

Words Fail

Words Fail

I am
A writer,
A singer
A poet
A songwriter

Words are my medium
Words are my turf
Words are my home

But when I became
Your Mother

Words could not express
How much I love you

I cannot bend them
Shape them
Assemble them
Speak
Write
Or Sing them
In a way that expresses
How much I love you

I embraced you
With my whole body
For nine months

I will embrace you
In my heart
Forever.

Love Always,
Your Mom

Gratitude for my Body

Nap Trapped Thoughts: There were times when I felt so broken. I even questioned whether I deserved to live, because it seemed to take so many more resources for me to function. If another person took my place, they would likely thrive on just a fraction of the blessings I needed.

Intellectually I knew this was not a helpful way to look at my situation, but emotionally I felt undeserving.

I’m sure it must have been a hurtful and discouraging message to be sending to my body. There she was, breathing, heart beating powerfully, powering my brain to think these ungrateful thoughts, digesting (even if not to my satisfaction), moving, etc. And yet I was sending the message she wasn’t good enough. Yikes!

I tried to practice gratitude for my body, and self-love, and I do think it helped. But it’s like I was doing this short helpful practice and yet the background thoughts and beliefs were overwhelmingly negative about my body.

I think she noticed.

I continued to spend a lot of energy managing symptoms, rather than on my soul’s purpose, or even on more mundane and practical things, like doing my taxes and tidying my office.

Then I got pregnant. And my baby thrived in my womb.

Then I had an unmedicated birth. And when I held my daughter for the first time, I was in awe of what I had co-created.

She was strong, healthy, beautiful. My body had carried her in an embrace for 9 months. Had been her exclusive source of nourishment. Had then birthed her into the world. And now, as I experienced this awe, gratitude, and love, she started nursing. And so my body again was nourishing her.

If my body was capable of co-creating this wonderful young creature, then that was proof I was in fact whole, healthy, and strong. And if my body could create this healthy creature, then surely she could recreate herself as a healthy creature.

And so I’m excited about the Dynamic Neural Retraining System (DNRS) I’m doing right now.

Awe. Gratitude. Love. Perhaps all my body needs is to feel that to heal. To be treated with kindness and gratitude, and to tone down the stress response. To be allowed to be relaxed, and spend more time in the “Rest & Digest” state instead of in “Fight or Flight.”

Thank you, body.

For everything.

Shine,
Julie

Choosing to Soften

Nap Trapped Thoughts: For my baby shower, friends and family wrote me advice and well wishes on cards. My sis-in-law wrote that our children challenge us, and we can choose to harden or soften towards them. She urged me to soften. That advice sang to my heart. Of course!

But at almost 7 months now, my baby IS really starting to challenge me at times. She is wonderful. I love her more than words can express. She delights me more than I could ever have imagined.

And she pinches, scratches, and smacks me a LOT while breastfeeding. I have hypersensitive skin and my eczema has been flaring lately. It’s hard enough to not scratch myself, and when her razor sharp little nails rake my skin, it’s kind of like chalk on a blackboard. Not exactly painful, but very VERY irritating.

Ain’t gonna lie. I’ve been tempted to harden. Bat the little claws away. Speak harshly. Swear under my breath. Even though I know it is ME who has not been keeping her nails short enough. But I consider it a good practice to soften instead. Instead of batting the little hands away after wards, I practice prevention: bring her hand up for kisses BEFORE she scratches or grabs. And zerberts. The zerberts get me a sly smile while she’s preoccupied with the task of nursing.

This current potential conflict reminded me of what I heard Shelly Lefkoe* say, that a good question parents can ask themselves in the heat of the moment is, “What are the long-term consequences to my child of me getting what I want right now?” Anytime there is a conflict with my child, I am the adult in the situation, and I am the one with the responsibility to take action that serves both our interests.

I don’t succeed every time in my practice of patience, tolerance, and love. But I will do my best to choose to soften.

Keep Shining,
Julie

* I can’t find a source for this quote at the moment, but Lefkoe and her late husband discuss their ideas on parenting in this article.

PS – Just trimmed and filed her nails as she slept. Phew!

Non-Violent Communication: Lesson for Business

I’m on maternity leave and massively in debt thanks to my PhD. I also love Mother Earth. And I have a baby, so of course care about her health and about the planet she will inherit.

And I needed a mop.

Something that wouldn’t just push dirty water around. The cleanliness of my floor had suddenly become more important since my baby spends so much time on it!

In fact, having a baby brought housework into the foreground. I now have more to clean, and less time to clean. Being sanitary is more important, but without using toxic cleaning products.

A friend invited me to her Norwex party, and there, along with other Cool Things, was a mop that sounded too good to be true! It cleans without any floor cleaner. Just water. Thanks to the microfiber it is made of.

I consider myself to be a very conscientious shopper. I know that every dollar I spend on something tells its manufacturer, “Yes! I like that! Do it again.” For obvious reasons, this means I don’t buy plastic toxic crap made in sweatshops.

So I fired a bunch of tough questions at the Norwex Independent Consultant running the party, and was impressed by her good work in getting answers. One thing lead to another, and suddenly… I became a Norwex Independent Consultant, too!

After the initial mop and Enviro Cloth euphoria (“I can clean anything with Norwex microfiber and plain water! I am UNSTOPPABLE!!”), it dawned on me I had my own small eco-business. And that I had to Do Stuff to make sales. The products are excellent. But no one will buy any of they don’t know about them.

To encourage performance, Norwex clearly subscribes to dangling tantalizing carrots instead of using a stick. It works. I did not have to hit my first sales target, but I really really wanted to. Because then I would get free products which I either use myself or can offer to customers, which helps build my business.

But with a baby and a late start, I did not set myself up for success. There was not enough lead time before my launch party. Both the in-person and online versions flopped. Following up was slowly working, but it was now noon of the day my orders were due, and I was not even close.

A delightful and gregarious friend had been away during my launch party, and had just gotten home. She cares about me, loves Mother Earth, so I figured she would love the Norwex gear and be keen to buy some and host a party. Voila! Problem solved.

I kept working my other leads, but really I just wanted to meet up with her.

But she was busy, and I felt the clock ticking. My partner was out, and my baby not terribly cooperative about Mommy’s business.

Finally we met at 7:30pm. And she was not interested. At. All.

It was rather awkward and icky for a few moments as we navigated the fact I’d had an expectation of her that she was not willing to meet.

We were both honest about it. And I took a deep breath and reminded myself about my (albeit brief) training in non-violent communication (NVC).

Besides healthier and more compassionate communication, the gift of NVC is the shift in perspective. One of the premises of NVC is that the purpose of communication is to meet our needs. A source of conflict is when it seems our needs are not being met. A “no,” seems far worse about something I really need, versus something not that important to me.

But the truth is there are usually multiple ways to have our needs met. Suffering comes from thinking only this specific person, or that specific action, will meet our need. When I have an expectation of a specific person, for example, then I’m disappointed if they refuse to meet my need. And they may feel bad, too. But meanwhile, someone else may have been thrilled to meet my need.

And that is exactly what happened that night. In the afternoon, I had flung out a last minute Hail Mary post on FB. Basically, just being honest about what I was trying to achieve with my business that day, and that I would really appreciate it if my friends would check out my website and consider placing an order with me.

And as I talked with my uninterested friend about non-Norwex subjects, other friends were placing orders online.

In the end, I surpassed my goal. And had a lovely visit with my friend, who delighted my baby and regaled me with her adventures while away.

I’m sharing this because I think it’s valuable to remember when we get stressed out and are not thinking clearly that there really are multiple ways our needs can be met.

This is freedom. To ask for what we need, and be delighted by a “yes,” and to know that a “no,” just means a different way or person will say “yes.”

And then we can enjoy the gift of each other’s presence without expectation or disappointment.

AND be UNSTOPPABLE!!

Keep Shining,
Julie

Trump Elected: USA Returns to the Dark Ages?

I woke up this morning to the bad news. I still can’t quite believe Trump was elected President of the United States. I’m processing the shock. It seems like a terrible joke.

It seemed unbelievable that Trump would become the presidential candidate for the Republicans. But then it happened. At first I thought this was simply an idiotic move by the Republicans, and would ensure Hillary Clinton would win. It seemed unbelievable that Trump would have any support at all, but despite the scandals and horrific things he said, the pre-election polls showed he was only slightly behind Clinton in popularity.

Having Trump in the race certainly made things more entertaining. And sickening. And provided plenty of fodder for amusement, such as Juice Media’s video Hillary Clinton vs Donald Trump.

But as Trump’s popularity continued, it stopped being funny.

As the date of the US election drew closer and closer, I was getting more and more alarmed.

When I went to bed last night, Trump was leading. I had a feeling of foreboding.

I frankly dreaded checking the news this morning. And there it was. Trump elected President. Have United States citizens collectively lost their minds?

My baby find s out Trump won
My baby finds out Trump won

How could a man who has been proven to be a liar, racist, sexist, and a bigot be elected to represent the United States’ people? I remember in a past election a commentator saying that Americans would elect the person they deserved. But it seems to me that there are a lot of wonderful people in the United States who do not deserve to have Trump as their president. I feel sorry for all those who will suffer under Trump’s reign. No wonder the Canadian immigration website appears to have crashed due to Americans seeking to escape to Canada!

And from my perspective as a Canadian, I know that just as Americans who did not vote for Trump will suffer, we who absolutely did not vote for Trump could also suffer. This is the danger of being the neighbour to a superpower. And I’m sure the rest of the world is concerned too.

I wonder if this is how citizens of France or Poland or Belgium or any other neighbours felt when Germans elected Hitler. “How could such nice people elect such a racist bigot? How could such a great country let itself fall into the hands of a narcissistic tyrant?”

When I told my partner the news this morning, his first reaction was that Trump must have rigged it somehow. If anyone could do it, I guess someone as rich as Trump could rig the election. But even scarier is if it was NOT rigged. That the majority of Americans really did vote for Trump.

In the Juice Media video, the announcer jokes that Americans can vote for Trump if they want to return to the Dark Ages. Let’s hope the rest of the world is not dragged down with them.

Keep Shining (especially in Dark Times!),

Julie

Comments? What do you think?

Mixed Feelings on Halloween

I LOVED Halloween when I was a kid. Getting dressed up? Getting free candy?! What’s not to love?

But now I know how dangerous and addictive sugar is. Given the epidemic of obesity in children, it seems completely irresponsible and harmful to be dolling out candy to children. Not only for the huge sugar-hit itself, but because it further entrenches the idea that candy, sugar, is a reward.

And chocolate bars from big corporations are popular to give out. But the bitter irony about some of these sweet treats is that child labour, which can include deplorable exploitation and abuse, is what helps keep those mini chocolate bars cheap to be handed out to relatively lucky Canadian children. I need not belabour the point that exploiting one child to give candy to another is wrong. And actually bad for both kids!

And some costumes are very offensive to certain cultures and ethnic groups. This is a fun video about avoiding racist costumes.

And, isn’t odd we give kids junk food, and the healthy food, the pumpkin, often gets thrown out? Nowadays in Ottawa, at least it is more likely the pumpkin will be composted in the Green Bin. A few years ago I used to write blog posts to encourage people to use the pumpkin, with recipes for the flesh and seeds. I also used to take part in Trick or Eat, which collects non-perishable food for local food banks on Halloween.

All in all, the way we now celebrate Halloween in Canada seems pretty misguided to me. It just makes me want to opt out. Given I have a new baby, I will this year.

But when I am ready to meet the young goblins, ghosts, and super heroes at my door again, I’m thinking of giving out a non-candy treat. I’d like to acknowledge each child and their creativity, and then offer them something they will like, but won’t rot their teeth or guts. Or make them fat. I’m not sure what this would be, but perhaps marbles or stickers? That weren’t made in a sweatshop? Any ideas?

Mind-expansion about Halloween?
Mind-expansion about Halloween?

So Happy Halloween, and when I’ve figured out the trick to a good treat, I’ll participate, too.

Shine,
Julie

Comments: How do you feel about Halloween? What do you give kids who come to your door?

Note: A friend directed me to a lovely project to make Halloween more inclusive for kids with food allergies: The Teal Pumpkin Project. Click here for their non-food treat ideas. A positive step to Halloween evolving?

Just A Bird

11 October 2016
In the spring, I heard strange noises that seemed to be in the ventilation system of my apartment. Perhaps some sort of rodent? I was pregnant and overwhelmed at the time, and also wondered if I told my landlords whether they would use a humane pest removal service. So I didn’t mention it to my landlords, hoping that the little animal would leave on its own (and not take up residence!). I heard the noises, like scuffling or fluttering, a few times over a two-day period. Then nothing. I hoped this meant that the little creature had left the ventilation system, but something did not feel right. I wondered if I should have done more to investigate the sounds.

feathers on filterThen in September I was replacing a furnace filter because the deadbeat landlords don’t do this. There were feathers all over the filter. Startled, I managed to use a flashlight to peer into the narrow slit where the filter goes. I could see the wing of the dead body of a bird, a starling.

My heart sank. Now the noises back in the spring made sense. Somehow the starling got into the ventilation system, and must have been fluttering at an intake grate, the only light it could see.

I felt terrible. A sentient being had been in need, and I had done nothing.

This morning at 5am, nursing my baby back to sleep, I thought of the bird and performed a kind of inner ceremony. I called upon the bird’s spirit, and visualized a conversation with the bird. I apologized to the bird’s spirit and asked for forgiveness. I promised that the next time someone needed help, I would do my best. I also said that I truly would have helped if I had understood that it was a bird who could not escape without help, versus a mouse or squirrel I thought would be able to get back out of the ventilation system.

The starling’s spirit forgave me. I asked if there was any message the starling had for me. The bird said that the promise to help next time was good. That it was in my nature to help others, and to not let external circumstances cause me to stray from what my heart knows is the right thing to do. (The bird also told me that the message of its death within the darkness of the ventilation system was not to warn me away from darkness. In fact, it is my responsibility to illuminate any darkness I encounter. But that is for another writing project.)

Fast forward to today. I took my nine-week-old daughter to the Mommy & Me yoga class at Bayshore Shopping Centre. I could have driven, but I decided to try taking the bus. It was my first time taking my daughter on the bus. The trip there went well because she was asleep! When I got off and walked in the overpass to the Bayshore Shopping Centre at 9:50am, I noticed a small dark bird with white speckles all over within the overpass, huddled on a beam at the entrance into the Bayshore OC Transpo station. (Thank you Safe Wings for identifying the bird: a European starling in non-breeding plumage.)  The bird flew several times into the windows, trying to escape. Then would return to perch on the beam by the entrance.justabird_11oct2016

I quickly determined that there was no way for the bird to get out except the exit at the other end of the overpass. The windows were open but there were grates and screens on them. Especially given I was carrying my baby in a carrier, I couldn’t undo any of the fastens holding the screens on. I figured it would be a two-person job to free the bird. Two people could shoe the bird gently down the overpass corridor towards the exit. Then one person could hold the door open while the other person shoed the bird through.

The yoga class was at 10am, so I went into the mall seeking help and was directed to the Security Desk. But the young security guard on duty said there was nothing that they could do because the bird was in the overpass, which is OC Transpo’s jurisdiction. He said he would call the appropriate OC Transpo number. I asked to make sure that he would actually do this. He said he would so I went to the yoga class, but was concerned.

The yoga class went pretty well (lots of cute babies!!), my daughter let me do maybe 2/3 of the class. The rest of the time I walked and bounced her. And by the end, she was quite fussy, and I suspected she was having gas pains. So I made a hasty departure, hoping that I could get her back to sleep by the time we got on the bus.

To my dismay, the bird was still in the overpass. It had been over an hour since I notified security in the Bayshore mall, and since they had told me they would notify OC Transpo. My daughter was crying and I was trying to sooth her while simultaneously find phone numbers on my ancient slightly broken cell phone and ask for help from those walking by.

I managed to find the number and call OC Transpo Customer Relations. The representative said he would call the appropriate Department. Once again, I just had a feeling the situation might not be addressed quickly. So I texted my partner to find the number to the Wild Bird Care Centre. When I called the Wild Bird Center a volunteer on the line told me they were a very small charity and couldn’t send anyone to help. She gave me advice on how I could try to shoe the bird towards the exit. I explained I had a fussing 9-week-old baby in a carrier and the ceiling of the corridor was very high, so the bird could fly back over me back to the beam near the entrance that lead deeper into the Bayshore station (versus towards the other exit to freedom). She said maybe I could use a blanket to wave above my head. She told me it was OK to tire the bird out so that I could then capture it in the blanket.

This seemed a dubious approach, but I did have a receiving blanket. So I waved it over my head, trying to convince the bird to fly down the long corridor to freedom. But it kept flying back over me to the beam near the wrong exit.

I knew there was another organization that might be able to help, but I couldn’t remember the name. I kept asking passersby for help, and though initially friendly due to my baby, they were all evasive once I asked for help with the bird, though a few seemed sympathetic to the bird’s plight.

Then I saw a Caucasian man with sandy-coloured short hair and steel blue eyes walking with a young child, maybe 4 years old. A fellow parent! Surely he’d be keen to teach his young one about kindness. I greeted him and quickly explained the situation and possible solution. He looked at me with hostility and said, “It’s not important. It’s just a bird. It flew in here, it will find its way out, too.” And walked away before I could say anything.

This interaction really troubled me. It was obvious to me the bird had gotten itself into a situation that it could NOT easily find its way out of. (Who reading this has not done the same?) And why not say he didn’t want to help or couldn’t? Why make up some story about it, and make a blanket statement? It was not important to him. That did not mean it was not important, period.

It was important to me. Especially since that very morning I had received forgiveness from the starling that had died in my ventilation system. And the reminder to be true to my nature. I do believe I am a kind and responsible person. Some of my favourite adventures were rescues, like a mouse, a vole, a green heron, a puppy, among others. I didn’t mind if I looked a bit silly, there in the overpass waving a receiving blanket over my head with my daughter starting to fuss.

But she started to get more and more distraught, likely gas pains. I had to get her home, and reluctantly headed towards the bus. One came shortly, and unfortunately for most of the ride she screamed. I’ll write more about that some other time, because I would like to use public transportation as much as possible, but I feel bad if my baby is crying.

But back to our story, once I got home I was able to post about the situation on Facebook with a photo of the starling in the overpass in case a nearby bird-lover could help. I called the OC Transpo Customer Relations again, and the man said that he had contacted the appropriate department and that a contractor would take care of the situation within the hour. This time I felt more hopeful the situation would be handled well.

And then I was reminded of the name of the organization I had wanted to call when I was still there: Safe Wings Ottawa. Many people on Facebook had the same thought and suggested I contact them. By 12:30pm I reached a volunteer via Facebook, and they said they would look into the situation and follow up with OC Transpo if needed. I was relieved. My baby needed my attention.

At 2pm the Safe Wings volunteer swung by Bayshore’s OC Transpo station to check the overpass. No bird. So one way or another, the bird was out. I hope the rescue was as humane and stress-free as possible. But I don’t know. All I can do is send the bird blessings.

I wish I had been able to just free the bird myself. Or that a passerby had been willing to help me. But I did my best. I don’t think it was a coincidence that a bird needed to be rescued the very morning I asked forgiveness from the bird I had failed. I believe everything is interconnected. And so every being is important. And I personally believe the world would be a better place if the people rushing by in that overpass had actually stopped to try to help a terrified little bird. I think we all pray for kindness should we ever need to be rescued.

It was not “just a bird.” It was an opportunity to make the world just a little better.

For All My Relations,
Julie

Comments
I’m always been interested in what readers have to say. Have you been in situations like this where you’re not quite able to do what you thought was right? How do you decide when you’ve done enough to help?

Dedication
I did not know at the time that Elder Jacob Wawatie was passing to the Spirit World when I was attending to this starling. I now think of the video, below, in which he tries to get the logging industry to see the consequences of their logging: a dying baby bird whose nest was destroyed by the logging machines (see especially 8 to 16 minutes into the video). This post is dedicated to Jacob.

The Little Grief: Losing the Exclusive Relationship of Pregancy

Éléa & me (little grief)I was breastfeeding my 6-day-old daughter, Éléa, side-line (both on our sides) when I was overcome with sadness and love. She is a beautiful, healthy, robust little creature with a hearty appetite, and I could feel the gentle tugs from her nursing. Then she drifted off to sleep, and I thought about how our relationship had already changed since her birth.

For the previous nine months, I held her in a full body embrace. Physically and metaphorically, I held her closer to my heart than I could ever hold anyone.

I will never hold her that close again.

Being her mother will be a profound ongoing lesson that everything changes, and of letting go while still loving fiercely and fully.

But right now I cry and grieve a little for what I had with her. Even though I so wanted to meet her and hold her in my arms. Even though wanting to meet her outside my womb was part of what gave me the strength and determination to push past pain and fatigue and push her into the world.

Before, we were connected by the umbilical cord, and her every need had been met through my body. Now, my breast is the closest thing she has to the warm liquid womb-home she once knew, and this is one way I meet her needs. Another way is by holding her as close as I can.

I realize that motherhood teaches us to be less selfish. My daughter is no longer only “mine.” She can be loved and soothed and cared for by her father and so many other people who love her. By birthing her, I lost the exclusivity of pregnancy. And she gained a whole new world of people and other beings to love and be loved by.

My Little Grief is worth this expanded horizon of love.

Shine,
Julie.

Job-Hunt Adventure Series: Overqualified

I began my job hunt in January 2016 with high hopes. I had just handed in my PhD Dissertation. With only my oral defence left to do, this freed me up to finally return to full-time work. This was my chance to pull myself out of poverty and debt. I was stoked!

I made use of every (free) career service and career counsellor I could. I revisited notes I had taken during last year’s Beyond the Professoriate Conference (this year’s conference is on May 7 and 14). I revised my résumé over and over and over. Each job application would take me an hour or two so that I could implement all the best practices: tailor my résumé, tailor my cover letter, somehow keep my cover letter under one-page, research the organization, etc.

With all the career counselling appointments, reading up on job-hunting, actually trying to implement what I learned (upgrading my LinkedIn profile, making a snazzy new format to my résumé and cover letters, networking), and applying to one to four postings a day, I was working more than full-time. It was exhausting. But it was paying off, as I got more and more interviews.

But I just couldn’t seem to land a job.

I’m good at building rapport, and I felt good after all the interviews. Although my PhD is in Education, the majority of my contract and volunteer work over the last eight years has been in communications. So I felt qualified, that I had the right experience, and that I was a good fit for most of the jobs I was interviewed for.

After nine interviews, I had six rejections, and I withdrew from the selection process for two jobs. Only one interview resulted in a job: as a Crew Leader for the 2016 Canadian Census. And I’m grateful for that, and happy to be working full-time. But it is a temporary contract, and not in the field I wanted.

In the hopes of helping other job-seekers, especially those who, like me, did a PhD, I want to discuss the feedback I got from one unsuccessful interview: that I was overqualified.

The person who emailed me the bad news that I had not been selected for the position gave some feedback in the email:

Unfortunately, you were not the successful candidate but that’s only because we felt you are overqualified – you could and should be contributing to an organization at a much higher level than required by this role. You were very impressive and gave a great interview.

This person very kindly agreed to a brief phone call with me so I could clarify the feedback. And later sent me a job posting for a position they felt was a better fit!

Let’s pause for a TIP, job-seekers! See if you can get feedback if you don’t get the job. It can’t hurt, since you already didn’t get it. Keep in mind most people are awesome and genuinely want to help others. And who knows, they might then think of you for other opportunities.

Back to our story: My perspective was that I had been out of the full-time work world for years, and I was willing to accept more junior positions as long as they were in interesting organizations and there were opportunities to grow. This was why I applied for the above position.

I sought feedback from colleagues and career counsellors, and one retired manager told me that if a candidate was thought to be too experienced or too educated for a position, managers felt they wouldn’t stay long in the position.

Navigating "overqualified"
Navigating “overqualified”

And a career counsellor thought that perhaps I had been aiming too low. She said the qualifications listed on a job posting were the employer’s wish list, but some qualifications were more important to them than others. And that was not something I could guess from a job description. She suggested I try applying for more senior positions, and let the potential employer decide if I was qualified or not. In other words, don’t take myself out of the running prematurely.

After this interview, I made sure to prepare more thoroughly for the “so why do you want to work here/have this position?” question we sometimes get asked during an interview that can be such a gift. If asked, I emphasize how much I want to work for the organization, and if it’s a more junior position, that I am happy to accept it because the organization is so awesome and the work sounds meaningful and interesting. Something like that to try to address their concern I would not stay long.

Since I am now working full-time and preparing for my PhD defence (in less than two weeks!) I have not had time to research further how to address the “overqualified objection” a potential employer may have.

So I’m planning to ask about this at the 2016 Beyond the Professoriate Conference, an online conference for PhDs and PhDs-to-be who are looking for a non-academic career. Day 1 is on May 7th, and Day 2 is on May 14th. Check it out!

Then maybe I’ll have a follow-up blog to share!

Have you been told you were overqualified? What strategies have you found effective? I’d love to hear in the comments section!

Shine Bright,
Julie