Flexibility Is Only Beneficial If I Use It

It is 10:28 am on Friday, December 3.

I woke up at 3:15 am (ugh, but I did fall asleep around 9 pm, so it wasn’t all bad). After resting for a while, I headed downstairs to tackle a work project. While I didn’t have a set deadline, it was one of those tasks that was going to hang over my head until I got it out the door. I also knew I need two solid hours of uninterrupted time. No contractors, no phone calls or texts or chasing the Inbox Zero dream.

So I put in my headphones and got to work. At 6:30 am, when the kids wandered into the office, I was done my main work responsibility for the day.

By 7:00 am, I was helping the kids get breakfast and prep their bookbags; we even fit in morning reading time around the table.

At 7:30 I hopped back in bed with some Magic Bags and dozed/rested until 8:30 while John drove the kids to school (it was raining, so we skipped the daily walk). I wasn’t feeling that tired, but I knew I’d handle the day better if I had a bit more sleep.

At 9:00 am I whipped up a batch of waffles for supper. By 9:30 I was on a virtual work meeting; it’s now 10:36 am and I’m heading down to the office to work for the next hour or so getting some strategic e-mails out the door.

At 11:45 am, I’ll head to the bus stop to get the kids (parent-teacher interviews, so it’s a half-day). Then we’ll have lunch, I’ll take them to drop off some local Christmas cards in person, and we’ll come home in time for me to finish off some week-end Friday work responsibilities, have supper (the waffles are all ready, hooray!), and then I’ll kiss everyone goodbye and head out the door for a Christmas pottery-painting session with a group of local girlfriends.

I have a lot of flexibility in my life.

For starters, I’ve been working from home for over a decade now. There are drawbacks to this – mainly the fact I never “leave” the office. Work and home management tend to blur and I don’t get to outsource the mess of working materials to another location.

But, for the most part, it’s a net positive arrangement. Long before COVID forced this lifestyle on the masses, my husband and I were doing it from our very tiny apartment (with two little ones in the mix).

And I’ve been thinking more about this flexibility lately. I have, overall, less than I once did in the sense that I have more working responsibilities, especially since I assumed another role at a local university. In another sense I have more than I once did – the kids are both in school and are increasingly independent outside of school hours.

Regardless of where the needle falls from one week to the next, though, this flexibility is only advantageous if I use it.

I’ll feel guilty about going to run an errand at 10 am on a Tuesday morning or fitting in a walk with a friend during normal working hours – but that’s the flexibility my life affords. I also have the flexibility to work a second shift from, say, 7 – 9 pm (or 4:15 – 6:30 am) to tackle a pressing work challenge. One family member, who works in a dental practice, has to be there – boots on the ground, so to speak – at specific times. There is no multi-tasking with home administration; she can’t switch out a load of laundry in between seeing patients (but it also means work doesn’t come “home,” so there is a tradeoff).

It can be challenging to work outside of normal parameters/social constructs (and adhering to them relatively closely has distinct advantages for staying on track), but when I give myself license to fit things in when it’s convenient, I make use of my flexibility muscles. And they’re a gift. When I don’t use them these muscles will atrophy – and what a waste.

Header photo by Michael Walter on Unsplash

Saturday Bonus <> Action Is An Antidote to Anxiety: Why Just Making A List Can Help Lighten A Mental Burden

I’ve had a stressful work situation cycling around lately; it’s an old issue (6+ years) that rears its ugly head every few months and settles in to cause trouble. For the most part, it’s out of my hands. I’ve put blood, sweat, and tears (literally – the blood is the only exaggerated part, and I suspect there has been the odd papercut inflicted while working on this issue) into a project and it occasionally – but repeatedly – hits major roadblocks.

I feel out of my depth. Much of what needs doing doesn’t fall within my skill set. I’ve learned to delegate more and remove some of the stress from my own plate, but ultimately I’m in charge of this project. The buck stops with me, even though I often feel like a helpless pawn in a much larger game.

One day a little over a week ago the situation escalated to the point I felt physically nauseous. Frustration from other involved parties was getting taken out on me, and I felt a gnawing sense that I wasn’t in control of the situation (I’m not!) and that I was letting people down. I dislike conflict and like to feel I’ve given 100% to every task. Yet, here I was face-to-face with this annoyingly familiar challenge…again. And I was virtually helpless to resolve the issue.

Of course beyond this irksome project there were appointments to schedule, other work streams to manage, kids to get to after-school programs and playdates, meals to prep, and laundry to put away. In other words, life had to continue.

I floundered for a few hours. I made lunchboxes on auto-pilot. I sent e-mails and tried to keep going, while mostly I just wanted to curl up in a ball and cry.

I’m familiar with temporary wallowing. I actually find it to be quite useful – a natural way of recovering from stressful situations. But it didn’t feel like the right fit this time. And I didn’t want to be my own cheerleader, either.

So I did what I know best – I spent 5 minutes before my next meeting writing a list for November. Personal, work, and other life items that were on my radar got spewed on the page. Because the unsettled feelings that were stemming from this very specific work issue were infecting my thoughts in all areas of life. In this moment I felt like everything was about to come unhinged.

Years ago I heard someone say “Action is the antidote to anxiety.” After some time to ponder this wisdom, I’d actually change that to read – “Action is an antidote to anxiety.” Sometimes I need to take a nap or lay on the couch and do nothing. Sometimes I need to take a long shower and cry and avoid checking e-mail or making supper.

And other times I need to send that tough e-mail I’ve been putting off. Sometimes I need to call and schedule that meeting, chop up the vegetables, or finally go get those passport pictures taken.

But this day, action simply meant writing a list. Seeing everything in black and white made it all feel…less daunting. Was there a lot to do? Yes. But it was also doable. Figureoutable.

I made it through that day and the next day dawned (slightly) brighter. As for the specific stressful situation I mentioned – it’s only partially resolved, but it’s moving in the right direction (for now, I’m trying to be realistic with my expectations).

I know I’ll fall into this cycle again. Overwhelm, temporary despair, and then resolve to do something to move the dial in the right direction. And often, for me, that starts by making a list.

What action step(s) helps you feel less anxious?

Header photo by Daniel Álvasd on Unsplash

Casual Friday + A Work Update

  • My father-in-law is visiting. It’s the first time we’ve seen him since October 2019 due to the all-too-familiar travel restrictions of COVID. We’re looking forward to Thanksgiving (the Canadian variety; second Monday in October), sharing good food and just spending time together. It’s a long time to go between visits and the kids have grown so much – Levi hadn’t even started school the last time we were together!
  • Abby started cross-country this week. Because of COVID they have a reduced running schedule (only 3 meets and their practices happen during school hours). It’s fun, though, and I’m proud of her hard work. It also makes me wish we’d kept running with her over the summer…
  • We took family photos last weekend. One of my close friends, Joy, takes them for us most years. She’s a saint. A cheerful, happy, saint. To say we dread Family Picture Day is an understatement. Our last photo session (in 2019) ended in tears (after Joy, the saint, left). I purposefully lowered the bar this year. We went 2 minutes from home, picked outfits out the day-of by shopping our closets, and took fewer pictures/poses than any other years. But still. It’s family pictures. This year was definitely easier – yet another activity that improves as the kids get older. As per usual I have my eyes closed in at least 50% of the shots (it must be a family condition because one of my sisters and my father suffer from the same affliction), and the kids were constantly squirming – as kids do. But we got a reasonable number of winning shots. I’ll do a bigger post in a few weeks about how and why we do family photos. But for now I’m heaving a huge sigh of relief that they’re over.

At the very end, we were getting some last-minute pictures of just the kiddos and I asked Levi to smile ONE last time. He said “Sure, but then can you please take one of a silly face.” Absolutely, bud. After an hour of smiling, he earned it – I happen to love the silly-face outtake very much.


So, I have a new job. It all happened so quickly and I’m still in processing mode, but it felt like too good of an opportunity to turn down.

One of my former research supervisors reached out to me a little over a week ago – out of the blue – asking me to join his team of researchers and industry collaborators. My role will be as project manager. It feels nice to dip my toe back into the research waters while staying clear of any fume hoods and pipette’s myself. It was also a fun exercise in polishing up my CV (wow, I have gotten to do some pretty cool stuff) and reconnecting with references (wow, I have gotten to work with some pretty incredible people).

While exciting, and likely a great career move, it’s a bit overwhelming. Although part-time for now, I already have my hand firmly fixed in other roles with our small business + some other project management. And then there is the fact we, at this point, have no childcare aside from school. That may have to change, but we’ll test the waters for the first few weeks and see how it goes. The kids are used to being flexible after a decade of having work-from-home, entrepreneurial parents, but I have my eye on a few high-schoolers that could fill some afternoon gaps.

So, yeah. In a little over a week, I was pitched and then accepted a job I didn’t apply for – exciting, daunting, and just another new adventure. Hopefully I’m not biting off more than I can chew, but perhaps I’ll just have to tackle the chewing part later?

What Do You Do? A Work Q&A

I’ve had a few questions about what I do. Sounds simple, right? I should have the answer down to a science…but I don’t and the question always makes me feel a bit like a deer caught in headlights.

That’s because my career has been a veritable smorgasbord!

MY backstory and Why Having a baby changed things

My academic background is Biology. In my undergrad, I studied intertidal ecosystems – specifically behavioural responses of an amphipod to predation by shorebirds. It was muddy and exhausting and my time spent in this lab provided three of the most fun summers of my life.

While winding up the final year of my degree, I was accepted into a PhD program in New Zealand to complete a project scoped on Black Stilts (one of the world’s most endangered birds). Then I met my now-husband, and three years on the other side of the world lost its luster very quickly.

I had already secured research funding but convinced the agency to transfer the monies to a Master’s program in North America, and that’s how I wound up in Nova Scotia – which has now been home for almost 15 years.

Banding a Semi-palmated Sandpiper. They were very sensitive to overstimulation and would “faint” while being handled. They are truly incredible birds, doubling their body weight in just a few weeks and then migrating 3-4,000 km non-stop to South America (in total they can migrate 15,000+ km from breeding grounds in the North to feeding sites on the East Coast, on to their wintering habitat in South America).

For my graduate degree, I ended up pivoting from birds to bees. And yes, there were a few jokes that circulated as a result of this switch.

While I didn’t love research, I was good at it and was lucky to have incredible supervisors along the way.

Hey little guy. A honeybee licking some sugar-water off a toothpick. In two years of research, I only got stung once and it was in the lab when one wriggled out of his modified pipette-tip holder. I deserved it.

For my Master’s, I looked at the effects of commonly used pesticides on the neural responses of honeybees using classic Pavlovian conditioning. Basically, I was looking to see if in-hive treatments (for mites, bacteria, etc) impacted honeybee’s ability to learn – and respond to – scented cues. Between this, and some interesting side research into the impacts of standard lab protocols, I got four papers out of the degree (Journal of Experimental Biology, Journal of Economic Entomology, Naturwissenschaften, and the Journal of Insect Physiology. It wasn’t Science or Nature, but it was pretty exciting stuff for a 22-year old)!

When I defended my thesis the next logical step was a PhD but a) I really didn’t want to end up on a research treadmill (my favourite part of the process, by far, was the writing) and, more urgently, b) I was 7 months pregnant. I finished up a full-time research contract two days before my due date.

I was entitled to a full year of paid maternity leave; I opted to take 6 months and my husband took the remainder (an option in Canada).

The whole time I was completing my graduate degree, I was also heavily involved with student support initiatives – TAing labs, providing private tutoring, and proctoring exams. I was eventually hired to take over and build a fledgling university-wide tutoring and academic support program. After a busy day in the lab, I’d come home to our little apartment to mark first-year lab reports and create marketing material, develop contracts, and liaise with faculty and staff. It was a lot of work, but it was rewarding.

What a crazy experience. Two weeks overdue, I ended up with an unplanned C-section, an epidural that gave me a severe allergic reaction (you can see where I scratched the side of my nose raw) and, aside from this picture, about 5 days of nonstop crying from our precious new bundle of joy. Literally.

A few weeks after our daughter was born, I actually proctored an exam until 10 pm with a fever of 102; I found out the next day I had mastitis – oh the irony.

post-degree + Martial teamwork + Motherhood

Like so many aspects of life, everything I’ve done is intertwined with my husband, John. We’re a team in every sense of the word and our professional careers are no exception.

At the 6-month postpartum mark (when I transitioned out of my maternity leave), I started working for an environmental consulting company. I handled day-to-day logistics and reporting for a series of land-use studies for community monitoring projects in Canada’s High Arctic. Since I was still tied down with an infant, John ended up traveling all over Nunavut to help support the technical side of the project in my place.

This was the launch point for our first business, which focussed on creative media and custom software development.

The whole experience was a bit like putting a frog in a pot of tepid water. Familiar with the analogy? You start a frog in lukewarm water and they stay put; move the pot over a flame and the water heats up but the frog acclimates and never thinks to jump away. We were young and, somehow, we made it all work. Today-Elisabeth could not do what decade-ago Elisabeth did. Sometimes it’s only in hindsight the craziness of that period comes into sharp relief.

We started a second business (aerial imaging/machine learning in agri + aquaculture). We hired staff, mentored Coop students, and partnered with local university departments. We bootstrapped (some of our escapades deserve their own post; most notably how we ate massive quantities of beef jerky, pickles, saltine crackers, apples, and spinach in the name of research and to help make ends meet [Update: I wrote this post]). We applied for grants and gave talks and traveled to conferences. We got office space in an entrepreneurial incubation hub where we networked daily – maximizing every opportunity that came our way. We practiced pitches for hundreds of hours and we shook hundreds of hands. We won an Agriculture Innovator Award and were named by our local Chamber of Commerce as Innovator of the Year – heady times indeed.

It required an incredible amount of hard work, much of it in the fringe hours, with one of us trading off with the other on baby duty. For years, holidays and weekends didn’t register on our radar – every day had the potential to be a working day. But there were perks too, which we leveraged. We could opt to go for a family walk whenever we wanted. We could travel and work remotely. We could take a sick day without asking for permission. It was a lot of work, but it also came with tremendous flexibility. We were our own bosses!

So we worked early in the morning, during nap times, and both of us often pulled an evening shift. I remember one evening a client had a software malfunction; we received a panicked e-mail about 8 pm and both of us stayed up until 4 am doing manual database work. I can’t remember who staggered through baby-duty that day, but I’m sure whoever it was didn’t win any awards for energetic parenting.

Another aspect of the bootstrapping: throughout this time I was still working part-time for the environmental consulting company + managing an entire university tutoring program + logging a huge number of parenting hours (our kids didn’t start preschool until they hit 2.5 years old, and even then it was 3 days/week). I remember laying on our bed, 2 weeks into one child’s bout with pneumonia with them lying on my chest while I participated in a conference call with stakeholders for a big custom mapping project I was completing (today’s Elisabeth would have deferred this call to post-pneumonia). John was in the other room designing a custom media package for a different client. It was all pretty intense.

We lived in a small 2-bedroom apartment; when Baby #2 arrived, and I realized I just could not share a room with a baby, we started moving our queen-sized bed out into the living room every single night so the kids could each have their own rooms. Remembering those days fills me both with a sense of pride – we worked so hard – and also disbelief. How did we find the energy to do all that? There was no guarantee this hard work was going to amount to anything…

And then our second start-up was involved in an aqui-hire when our aerial drone work caught the attention of a major player in the space. John and a number of our employees began working on other projects, and I took over day-to-day operations of our first business.


The last 5 years have been primarily focused on keeping life afloat. As John’s expertise has propelled him to the top of his field, it’s been a busy time for me on the homefront. Levi was a baby when John started traveling and I’ve had to pick up a lot of slack in terms of home/life management. I still run business #1, though it is a relatively well-oiled machine at this point. I also still help organize academic support at several universities (in various part-time capacities), but I’ve also gotten these to the well-oiled stage. In fall 2021 I was asked to assume a project manager role for a multi-year entomology research project. This has been a big shift and definitely feels like drinking through a fire hose!

For anyone still reading, a much quicker overview:

  • School + research
  • More school + research + publishing + academic support
  • Birth a child
  • Academic support + environmental consulting + parenting
  • Academic support + environmental consulting + startup #1 + parenting
  • Academic support + environmental consulting + business #1 + startup #2 + parenting
  • Birth a second child
  • Academic support + assume responsibility for business #1 + parenting x2 + husband working insane hours and away on business 60% of the time
  • Academic support + business #1 + project management + parenting

I’ve learned a lot in the last decade and wouldn’t change anything about my non-conventional journey.

So next steps? I’d love to ramp up writing and other creative ventures. I’m interested in collaborating with John on some humanitarian/non-profit projects that play into our academic and personal skillsets. Maybe dabble in some angel investing?

Also, realistically, because of John’s career, a lot of my work (unpaid, admittedly) is home and child management, and that is rewarding in its own right (but also, by far, the hardest “work” I do).

I’m not sure what will come next, but it’s bound to be interesting. For now, it’s time to put my head down and get back to work!