Hi, I’m Karen Switzer-Howse, and I’m delighted that you’re interested in thriving and found your way here. Because I’m on a mission, a mission to help people combine their work life with their family life and personal life so that they can create what I call “ThriveSynergy™”, the synergy to thrive, living life fully, enjoying all facets of their life to the fullest without stress, burnout, guilt or regrets.
You see I believe everybody deserves to thrive, especially working mothers! Yes, even with to-day’s chaotic world and the pressures we often face of doing more with less, I truly believe each and everyone of us can make the move to a happier, more ‘Thriving’ lifestyle. I really do believe that we can “have it all”, and enjoy it, but we have to be pro-active about it since it’s highly unlikely it’ll just happen on its’ own. And we have to be very, very clear about what we want and what’s important to us, since we will be faced with making decisions about competing commitments every day.
As you’ve likely noticed I’ve even put together a special “Thrive-Ability Jump-Start Kit” to help you begin, complete with a ‘Thrive-Ability Audit’ to help you identify areas you can start tweaking to-day to increase your ability to thrive.
It’s based on some of the things that helped me increase my THRIVE-ABILITY while I was working full time in environmental research, raising 4 kids and helping my husband on the farm. And it’s also proven effective for people I’ve worked with. If you’d like to get a copy, just sign up in the form to the right.
Now you may be wondering what makes me an expert of thriving, and what ThriveSynergy™ is all about. It’s a question people often ask me and I have to tell you it didn’t just happen overnight. The seeds were sown ‘a long time ago in a ‘place’ far far away….’, well actually not that far away, at least not in another galaxy. I guess some of the first seeds were sown as I was growing up on the farm. I was expected to help with whatever I was capable of and some of the work was downright hard, like mowing away bales of hay near the top of a steel roofed barn on a hot summers day. But along with the hard work my parents made sure that there were always opportunities to have fun and do things I enjoyed, as long as they didn’t cost a lot of money! So I developed the attitude that life was a combination of hard work and fun times, which evolved into a belief that work should be something that I enjoyed (and yes, I did enjoy working on the farm, even if it was hard :-)) and it shouldn’t supersede every other part of my life. In fact one of the reason’s I left a supposedly secure government job was because it wasn’t fun anymore, I no longer enjoyed what my job had devolved into.
But maybe it would be easier if I just answer a few of the most common questions I get for you.
1. I see that your background is in research and development in environmental and agricultural sciences, how did you become a ThriveSynergy™ expert and how long have you been doing it?
Actually from my perspective it was a very logical progression, although the final commitment to helping others, especially working mothers, create the personal and professional synergy to thrive was a while in coming. In retrospect my environmental interests were always about helping things thrive and I was always looking at it through an ecological perspective, which is really just about the inter-relationships between all components of whatever system you’re looking at. And it’s true, I was always interested in nature and how things were interrelated in the natural world so I did my degree in the biology and chemistry with a physics minor because I wanted to understand how everything was related and how one could help make the environment we live in healthier. Two courses I took proved to be pivotal to everything I’ve done since – one was an Arts elective called “Communication Skills for Extension Specialists’ or some such title, and while that may sound odd it focused on how to convey and communicate and gain support for new scientific advances when dealing with non-scientists. It was all about differing communication styles, how differently people communicate while thinking everyone sees things their way and the implications for this in all that we do. It was fascinating and I was hooked – I became a life-long student of people and how we are all unique and see things differently yet need to be able to relate to others to be happy and successful.
The second course which helped set me on a path to thriving was again an Arts elective. I remember sitting in a Psychology class and listening to a professor say that we really only used 10-15% of our brain. My first thought was wow, image what I could accomplish if I could use just 10% more – I’d be almost doubling my capabilities. Then the biologist in me kicked in and I thought ‘whoa, it’s an accepted scientific principle that if you ‘don’t use it you’ll loose it’, so how come our brains haven’t atrophied and shrunk?’. And thus began my second lifelong fascination with how people can knowingly make better use of our brains and accomplish more better and how to make sure I had some idea of what my brain was doing that science didn’t seem to recognize. And of course the connections between how the brain functions and the role of communication in our lives was totally fascinating to me.
Things got more complex when I moved into the work world, especially since science really was to all intents and purposes a male dominated field – and they didn’t see any reason to change! My first boss at Environment Canada told me at the interview that as far as he was concerned “all women should be kept bare-foot and pregnant and chained to the kitchen sink” ( I won’t repeat my response to that idiotic statement here). To my utter surprise, I was hired! But I was the first woman professional hired and it didn’t make life any easier, so now I had a real reason to improve my understanding of communication and interpersonal relationships. Then, when we started our family and I returned to work, I was faced with the daunting task of combining my personal and family life with my work life – without sacrificing anything that was important to me. Sadly there were few role models, and no coaches to turn to for support, so not willing to admit it couldn’t be done, I set about finding ways to make it work for myself and my family.
When I took a new job and we moved over 500 km (>330 miles) away from our families and support network to a farm south of Ottawa, I was once again the first woman professional hired at the Land Resource Research Centre, and again my new boss wasn’t particularly happy that I’d won the job competition. Add to that mixture I was pregnant with our second child, so I continued to read all I could and take courses that would help me create the life I wanted.
As I moved from lab and field research into more inter-disciplinary studies (and added two more children) and became involved with experts from other specialties I realized how useful self-knowledge about ones own approach and awareness of other peoples’ differing styles and way of operating was in getting things done without being completely overwhelmed. I read and took even more courses that I could find time for that would shed more light on people’s different ways of approaching life and responding to it, the role of attitude, belief systems, mindset and communication styles and how these played out in our workplace relationships – and elsewhere.
I found that the better I understood myself, the easier it was to understand why others did what they did, which was very useful when negotiating for a more flexible schedule! Trying to combine my career with my family and personal life was an ongoing challenge because my workplace was definitely not family friendly! And all of my learning and research into how to have both a career and a life away from work showed that it was far easier to take on and successfully achieve large goals with the support of others. This played out at work as well since results were always better when people worked well together in a team and enjoyed both the work and time spent with their colleagues. Yup, being nice to people, supporting them and helping them be happy and flourish at what they did at work and home helped increase productivity! And it helped me thrive and be happy without sacrificing anything, or anyone, that was important to me.
Then when the government went through one of their earlier ‘downsizing’ exercises and people’s stress levels skyrocketed it became even more evident that you’re not going to get great results when people are stressed and unhappy. If people aren’t thriving, than neither will their organization! So helping people deal with workplace stress and helping them limit the spill-over into the rest of their life became a necessary addition to my ‘real job’ of Business Development Strategist! More and more I felt that people needed to be able to weave all the different facets of their life together to be truly happy and productive. And I know that it was true for me.
But all of my learning was really put to the test when I and a colleague became the target for our Director’s abuse of power. Long story short, after going through an intervention and forcing the powers that be to acknowledge the issues, I chose to take early retirement rather than work for an organization that in reality condoned such actions. So now I was on my own – well not totally on my own – I still had 4 kids and a husband. And a desire to use everything I’d learned in how to not just survive but to thrive to help others do the same.
So basically I’ve been helping people find ways to combine their work life with their personal life in a fully satisfying way for over 25 years, although it’s just been in the last year that I’ve brought together the best of what I know to develop a complete, proven step-by-step system to help people ‘have it all’ (their way) and truly thrive. While I still believe in the importance of communication and leadership skills, which is what my workshops, speaking and coaching have centered on over the last 15 years I know having the skills alone isn’t enough. You need to bring everything together in a manner that creates the synergy to thrive – hence ThriveSynergy™, the term I coined to describe the concept.
2) Who do you work with exactly?
While I’ve worked with people from many sectors over the years I’m now on a mission to support mothers working in the professions to ‘have it all’ their way so they can live the life they want fully, without burnout, guilt or regrets While I don’t exclude working with men I know that my experience, insights and ‘lessons learned’ are most applicable to working mothers in professional positions, working under conditions similar to what I experienced. These are highly talented women that have to deal with not only the obvious workplace hurdles but more subtle ones as well that working mothers must deal with to achieve the level of success and fulfilment they crave and their abilities warrant.
These women are bright and ambitious yet still want a life outside of work that includes children. They are committed to their work and want to make a difference but they are also committed to their families and friends. As a result they often feel torn between what feels like two different worlds. Additionally they have to deal with many challenges that their male colleagues can mainly avoid because society has deemed it ‘women’s work – caring for the family, running the household operations, looking after ailing parents, social obligations and a host of other things that are part of daily living but fall outside of workplace related activities.
3) You call yourself a “ThriveSynergy Strategist”. How are you different from other life/success coaches?
What makes me different is that I have a deep understanding of what my clients are going through because I’ve lived through it, it’s not just book learning or an academic exercise for me. The overwhelm, the guilty feelings that no matter what I did I was letting someone down, the feelings of isolation and self-doubt – these are all very real to me – I’ve been there and have the bruises to prove it! Remember, I worked in research and development in environmental and life sciences at a time when the number of women in the field was likely hovering around 10% and there were very very few accommodations made to help a mother combine her family responsibilities with her work ones.
I was also the only female professional on staff when I worked in environmental research and again when I moved to agriculture and the environment. At the same time I had a growing family and was involved in several organizations that I enjoyed volunteering for, so I know the frustration of having a surprise 4:30 meeting suddenly called when I was supposed to pick up my kids from the babysitter or take my son to soccer. Creating the kind of life that I wanted, where I could flourish in all areas was not easy and I had to deal with many doubts, difficult decisions, negative attitudes expressed by others about my choices and the guilt that maybe what I was trying to do was doing harm to those I loved, my family and friends. And there were no role models or mentors for me to turn to who could speak from their experience to help me. It involved a lot of trial and error, but my ‘in the trenches’ knowledge can help others reduce the learning curve significantly. I know what it’s like to feel isolated and overwhelmed by ‘the system’ so I can relate to my clients and share what I learned, what worked for me and what didn’t, but might for them.
Plus when I combine the logic and analytical skills from scientific training with my innate intuition and right brain thinking I’m able to support my clients with both logical and intuitive creative strategies and tactics to help them design the life they really want.
4) Why are these differences important?
They’re important because too often the real depth and breath of the challenges faced by working mothers who want to “have it all” – a productive and rewarding career, a happy family life and a fulfilling personal life – are underrated and downplayed. It’s hard for those who haven’t experienced the subtle discrimination and barriers thrown up for mothers who want a ‘real life’ outside of the office or lab to understand the frustration and guilt these women feel about the future they want. And for a woman, ambition is too often taken as a negative thing and works against her not only in her career, but how sees viewed as a mother. It’s been said that for working women, ‘you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t’ when it comes to taking a leadership role, and this is even more so if you’re a mother, because no matter what decision you make, you can be sure that somebody will criticize you. Maintaining your self-confidence in the face of such criticism can be a challenge, so getting support from someone who knows what you’re going through can make a huge difference.
And being able to see not only the trees but the forest from the 50,000 foot level from both a left and right brain perspective helps open up new possibilities for solutions.
5) What type of personality do you work best with and what is expected of me?
I have worked with many types of people and I have become quite picky in who I work with now. I work best with women who are high energy go-getters, women who want to ‘have it all’, who feel called to make a positive difference in the world while at the same time not sacrificing their families or their own personal happiness and need for fulfilment. Women who take life seriously but not themselves and who are not afraid to laugh at themselves. Women who work hard and play harder, who aren’t afraid to take risks but don’t jump in recklessly without first considering the options. People who are flexible and open to change and are willing to try something different.
I also know that we will not be a good fit if you are judgmental, have a tendency to focus on the negative side of things rather than the positive, are resistant to trying new things, take offence at a well placed ‘damn’ or appropriate (from my perspective) ‘shit’, and have difficulty seeing the humour in situations.
6) How fast can I expect results?
People who are open to discovering what isn’t working for them and willing to get really clear on what’s important so they can focus on those things and take action see results fairly soon. That being said how fast you’ll sees results is directly related to the effort you put into implementing new ways of being in the world. Because I can’t do the work for you, and wouldn’t even if I could (because it would provide no lasting improvement), I can’t guarantee when you will experience results.
What I can guarantee is that if you are fully engaged in the coaching, do the work to get clear on what’s important and then take action you will see changes that result in a more thriving life. You’ll start to create a life in which you will flourish in all areas of your life, without the stress, overwhelm, guilt or regrets that have too often slowed you down or stopped you in the past. Some improvements will happen quickly, others may take a little longer, but if you do the work (sorry, there is no magic bullet – believe me I already looked for it!), you can have it all and thrive your way.
7) What exactly is the “ThriveSynergy” program and what does it include?
This program is especially designed for busy professional women who are also mothers who want to step into larger leadership roles while living their life fully, without sacrificing anyone or anything and WITHOUT OVERWHELM, GUILT OR REGRETS!
It’s a simple, easy to follow seven step program delivered in bite-size pieces that guides you through what you need to know and do to really THRIVE at work, at home and at play, without overwhelming you ! Here’s an overview of the 7 steps:
T. = Take Time to Take Stock
It’s always best to begin at the beginning so the first step will help you take stock of your current life and where it falls short of a THRIVING life, then we’ll focus on what your life would look like if your were THRIVING, living fully, without regrets. A major obstacle to THRIVING for many people is that they have never taken the time to clarify what they want in their life, although they likely have an idea of what they don’t want. Before you can enhance your THRIVE-ABILITY you have to have a clear picture of what you really want your life to be like and how that differs from your current situation. As you develop clarity around what you want and need to THRIVEyou’ll be able to identify what might be slowing you down or keeping you from achieving your more THRIVING lifestyle. By the end of this step you will be able to not only see the gaps between what you currently have and your THRIVING future but will be able to recognize where small tweaks can leverage big gains in enhancedTHRIVE-ABILITY.
H.= Harness the Power of YOU!
This second step is all about YOU – discovering and honouring your unique gifts and qualities and your own unique brilliance so you can shine brightly as the star that you are in a life that truly is your own. Self-awareness and acceptance are key to leading an authentic, more harmonious, happier life. As you learn about your innate characteristics and traits you’ll see how you’re actually hard-wired to respond to certain events and in certain ways. You’ll also discover why you react the way you do when dealing with others, why you just seem to click with some people while others can rub you the wrong way just by walking in the room! As you come to better understand and appreciate your innate attributes and style and see how these guide your actions you will be able to better self-manage and self-lead, stepping forward with more self-confidence and self-assurance, comfortable and at ease no matter who you’re dealing with. The ability to self-manage and self-lead are important in developing relationships with others, both personal and professional, and in helping you create a more authentic, less stressful, happier life.
R.= Re-Energize Your Days and Re-Vitalize Your Life
To really THRIVE and enjoy life fully you need to identify the activities that energize you and provide meaning to your days as well as those that drag you down, so you can incorporate more of the former and reduce the latter as much as possible. When you are really clear on what’s most important to you and what deep-seated desires play a role in decision making you will stop second guessing yourself and experience greater harmony and happiness in your life. Knowing what drives you and what energizes you will help you make better decisions faster with less stress and doubt.
I.= Integrate And Implement for Increased Influence and Impact
It’s really all about integration! You will learn a simple system to integrate and align your knowledge, skills, abilities and values to create a plan that will enable you to THRIVE in all areas of your life as you achieve greater Influence and Impact with Integrity. You’ll develop a Purpose based on your core values and define the Principles that will guide your future actions in support of “Key Success Strategies”. You’ll also create some simple ‘Dashboard’ gauges so you can quickly evaluate how well you’re actions are supporting achievement of your ‘Key Success Strategies’. You’ll discover how purposeful actions backed by values based decisions and principles also strengthen your Inter-personal relationships, which in turn fuel your ability to THRIVE . With a clear plan to guide you developed from your own characteristics, core desires and principles and a simple method for keeping you on track you will discover how much easier it is to move forward when everything feels so right for you.
V.= Value Your Vital Connections to Yourself and Others
Increasing your ability to THRIVE will move you outside your comfort zone and establishing and maintaining strong connections with your authentic self and others is very important as these connections are the pillars that support your ultimate success Once you start implementing your Plan you may start to have doubts, people may discourage you from making changes so you need to ensure that you have the necessary level of support for success – nobody achieves great things without ‘a little help from their friends’. Strengthening your “Vital Connections” to yourself, to others and to your higher purpose combined with values-based decision making will lead to more authentic and fulfilling success. Creating and strengthening your Vital Connections to others will not only provide you with a network of support for when you start to have doubts but also give you a sounding board to bounce new ideas off of and get other perspectives. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – you don’t have to do it all yourself. Different perspectives and new ideas from others can be an enormous boost to creating a THRIVING lifestyle so strengthening these Vital Connections will further assist you in THRIVING and living the life you really want.
E.= Evaluate Effectiveness – Eliminate The Blocks
Evaluating the effectiveness of the various components of your Action Plan and using your Dashboard gauges to see your progress towards a more THRIVING lifestyle will help you uncover those areas where any ongoing obstacles, including previously unrecognized beliefs and mental blocks, might be sub-optimizing your success. Once uncovered it is much easier to eliminate these hurdles, including the internal roadblocks and resistance which may be slowing you down or standing in your way, so you can tweak your Action Plan where necessary and take the next steps. This step is extremely important because we often don’t realize how we are standing in our own way and sub-optimizing our own actions, even when we say we really want something. Once you’ve eliminated both the external AND internal roadblocks you’ll be amazed at how rapidly you’ll enhance your ability to THRIVE.
Savor Your Success!
Too often people are so caught up in looking towards the BIG goal that they overlook each success along the way, and this is especially true for working mothers who think they’re too busy to take time out to celebrate the little things in their lives. And that’s a mistake. The bottom line is you need to celebrate each and every success along the way, no matter how small. Too often we wait till we’ve reached our “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” before we take time to give ourselves a pat on the back. And in doing so we lose steam because we don’t seem to be making an progress (I know because I was guilty of this in the past). Even a big goal is made up of small steps, especially the goal of a THRIVING lifestyle as it addresses all areas of your life. Achieving each small step along the way is worthy of celebration, so this an important step to helping you recognize all that you achieve on your journey and maintain momentum as you work on enhancing your over-all THRIVE-ABILITY. Although this is listed as the final step it is in fact woven throughout the program, ensuring that you will never loose sight of each and every achievement and that you will take time to savor every one of them
Now if you are a self-starter and feel confident that you can do it once someone provides you with some ideas on how to get started on your way, then you can use the sign up form at the top right side of this page or click on the following link to get your own copy of the free Thrive-Ability Jump-Start Kit. This will provide you with a Thrive-Ability Audit to help you identify areas that could yield good return for time spent, as well as a collections of tools and worksheets to help you make changes.
And if even this looks daunting, I’d love to chat to see how I might best support you. You’re not alone, even if it sometimes feels like you are the only one who can’t figure out the whole motherhood/work/life balance thingy.
See that little ‘Click here’ icon, up on the right near the top of the page – that will take you to my online calendar where you can pick out a time that’s convenient for you to have a virtual chat with me. I truly believe that you do have the right to have it all and thrive, so let’s do something to get you there!