Month: February 2016

Teen Drinking Tragedy


A few days ago, I shared on Facebook a CBC story about the death of a young man I didn’t personally know. Though he’d graduated high school and was learning to be a welder, Brad Grattan was still a teenager when he succumbed to the effects of playing a game of “beer pong” with hard alcohol. I offer my condolences to his friends and family.

You can read the full article here:

To be honest, the idea of teenagers chugging hard liquor scares the heck out of me. I’ve lived too long and too faulted a life to not realize that that could have been me, or that it could have been friends of mine. Sadly, at times, it has been.

I can’t say I have the best answers to this. Brad had good parents and people in his life that cared and loved him. None of them could have predicted his fate. It can only serve to remind us all to be vigilant, to be parents to our children to the best of our ability. The dangers of drinking hard alcohol at that age are great, and most kids don’t know how lethal it can be. That’s the message his parents, Cody and Tracey Grattan, want people to know.


As a teen fresh out of the house in the 1970s, drinking and drugging parties were the norm in my world. Working with teenagers over the decades confirms things have not changed much since. Absent parents or other positive influences, things can get out of control pretty fast. Many of the kids I hung around with back in those days had brushes with death of their own. Two of my first three girlfriends had been hospitalized to have their stomach pumped because of alcohol. That’s how they did it back in those days. But even if the relationship between parents and teen is good, hard liquor represents one of the ways things can go awry really quickly. We never see it coming, do we?


When I was just sixteen and living on my own at a rooming house in downtown Ottawa, I used to hang out with my best friend at his father’s apartment on weekends. His dad was a medically retired lawyer who had contracted malaria during the 1950s Korean conflict which eventually left him in a wheelchair after developing multiple sclerosis. He managed to wrangle a full military pension but his marriage fell apart as he deteriorated into drinking more and more. The daughters had stayed with their mother while his only son moved into this tiny apartment with his father. There, it was party central most of the time, with every disillusioned young teen from our school area dropping by. Old man Nash would often send us to the liquor store across the street at Billing’s Bridge Plaza, where producing a note from him to the store clerk would get us his gin. Of course, we added our own purchases to the list of provisions too.

I was out of school by then, a high-school dropout. Dad and I had fallen out and I was on my own… something about two roosters living under the same roof and one of us had to go. Leaving a large family of siblings behind, the only world I’d known, meant I’d lost my rudder in life. I worked during the week at menial jobs and spent weekends at my friend’s drinking and getting high with the crowd there. It was where I felt welcomed. I used to sleep on the floor of my buddy’s room in a sleeping back after getting shit-faced.

One time, I drank a whole bottle of rye over the course of the night and blacked out completely. I woke up in my sleeping bag fully clothed and realized I had puked all over myself. To my horror, I then noticed that I’d actually shit and pissed my pants in my sleep, and then slept, unconscious more like it, in puke, shit and piss for the rest of the night. In the morning, all of this was partially dried and caked to my body, great scabs of human detritus of my own making, stuck to me like dried blood from battle. It was all we could do but carefully remove my wallet from my pocket with two fingers, and undress in the bag. I carefully emerged, first a head, then a naked torso, then the rest of me, dried puke on my arms and neck, shit caked against my ass. I headed to the shower and the soiled clothing stayed in the bag. My friend closed off the top of it, pinching it shut with one hand as he pinched his own nose from the stench with the other, and carried the lot of it straight down the hallway to the garbage chute. There it was tossed to everyone’s relief. He lent me fresh clothes so that I could go home. It was my first blackout, and first hangover. Not my last.


Many years later, my own son Corrie approached the age where drinking experimentation would be inevitable. Going off to meet his friends on a Friday night at someone’s house posed the same risk. There’s always a more tolerant parent somewhere who grants access to their basement or garage for mild partying, often as a way of keeping an eye on their own teen as they make their way into adulthood. Better here than out there, they figure. Sometimes, they have substance use issues of their own, but just as often not. It’s someone who wants to keep the fading connection of influence with their child at any cost.

So how did I handle this critical time with my son? Well, I knew that if I lost influence with my boy his peers would take my position pretty quickly. In fact, after around the age of fourteen, I noticed that his peer group had become such a big factor in his life that it was unlikely I’d ever regain what we once had. This was my sweet little boy, the kid who up until age ten automatically put his hand in mine as we prepared to cross a road or walk through a parking lot. I had given up so much to be his father; it was a role that had defined me for many years. How would I protect him from himself?

More importantly, how could I prevent him from becoming me?


Communication was the key, of course. That’s what I did my best to preserve no matter what. It meant suspending judgment and listening, and moving from parent to acting as an adviser most of the time. Easier said than done, that’s for sure, and I was far from perfect at it. But I realized that if I could position myself as his backup adviser, where he could come and rely on safe counsel without me jumping ahead to impose my views on him, I might stand a chance at keeping the connection. However awkward, it worked. People ask me about what my goal was with my boy during those years. My answer was always the same: to make sure he lives past the statistical danger years of fifteen to twenty-five. That’s still my best advice.

I had a big talk with Corrie about the insanity of drinking straight booze.  We talked all about blackouts, hangovers, and about me pissing, puking and shitting all over myself. I told him about some of the teens who worked for me, kids he knew growing up by name, and some of their mishaps with alcohol. Sadly, Brad Grattan isn’t the first kid to die this way. When newspaper articles from that era reported how another kid lost his life to this folly, I’d seize upon it and we’d talk about it. We can honour the Grattan family by doing the same here.

Back in the days when I talked to my boy about drinking hard liquor, inadvertently, spontaneously, I ended up blurting out more than I had planned. Desperate, I took a gamble.

I told him I was so serious about this, that if he’d agree to never drink straight alcohol—to be wary of it, to be the guy who says no—I would instruct his mother to buy him his own beer to take to his friends. I remember thinking at the time, did I just say that? At this, his eyes lit up. “Really?” he asked. “Really,” I said. “If you drink a couple of beers in your friend’s basement that’s one thing, but the straight booze thing can’t be part of what you risk. I want to you to promise me and really mean it. Swear on it with me as a man.” He answered, “That’s awesome, dad, sure I’ll take you up on that promise, no problem. I will not drink straight alcohol.” I was crossing my fingers.


So, there it was that his mother and I dropped him off at his friend’s place a few blocks away on a Friday night. In he went, barely concealing the grin on his face as he stepped up to the curb to face his buddies, several of whom where outside, probably waiting to see if he’d actually appear with beer his parents bought him. Holding his little twelve pack of Coors light cans, he showed up like he was a rock star, his status assured at a critical time in his life. And all he had to do was not drink the hard stuff. He’s in his thirties now. He still drinks but has never been a big drinker. Though, I’ll worry a bit when he moves to Ireland later this year. Of all the places…


I suppose I just got lucky. It was the connection between us I worked hard to preserve that seems to have carried the day. I’m probably the least able to judge other’s behaviour given my own past. I don’t condone using my particular method, but that’s part of what worked for me. The important thing is to have the conversation with your teen, and to do whatever you can to keep the connection good between you. People need their attachments and our children naturally want to attach to their parents first. As that connection wanes, they will have no choice but to attach to their peer group. Nature makes it so.

And what do peers know? Not much if you ask me.


CKWallace, 2016, all rights reserved.

Contact me here if you need help getting through to your teen about alcohol.

Photo credit: CKWallace. Son and father with their Dodge pickups 2012.


Hi, it’s Caroline calling from Revenue Canada


Hi, it’s Caroline calling from Revenue Canada.

 Great! I’m so glad you called Caroline. It’s really wonderful.
Well. Thank you Mr. Wallace, that’s not our usual reaction. 
I don’t know why Caroline, I love it when Revenue Canada calls.
Well I’m calling about your latest HST returns. 
Yes you are! Isn’t it great! I’m all up to date!! 
I see you just filed recently; I’m calling about your last quarter 2015. 
Yes. Of course you are. I suppose you wouldn’t know this, but my mother’s name was Caroline. I’m in the middle of eleven, four sisters and four brothers. Of her four daughters, my mother’s closest was my younger sister, also named Caroline. She took care of our mother in her last years. Yes. Ma passed a year ago in December. She was surrounded by her nine adult children. Her husband of sixty two years, my father Howard, whispered sweet reassurances to her until her last breath. Lived until age 86 and loved dearly right to the end. By the way, I assume you’re calling because I filed so many returns and put in for a large amount of input tax credits on that last one, right? 
Yes, Mr. Wallace, it’s been flagged by our system. 
Makes sense, that’s because I sent in several years’ worth of input tax credits on that one return. You’ll notice that the previous ones had none. I’m ready for your audit. I have it all laid out for you. When would you like to stop by? 
No. No. Mr. Wallace, we haven’t decided if an audit is necessary yet. 
But, Caroline. I insist. And call me Christopher. I love it when you guys come by. It’s always a learning experience for both of us: good conversation and we take care of business. I usually find some things I forgot to claim too. I’ll set aside a whole day. How about next week? Would that do for you? Will you come personally? You sound nice and I’d love to meet another Caroline. 
No. No Mr. Wallace, like I said, an audit hasn’t been ordered. 
Please, call me Christopher. You know, I almost named my daughter Caroline. I lost that battle I’m afraid. She insisted on Charlotte; that’s a pretty nice name too. It was our first child together. It was the least I could do. Missus was heroic during the pregnancy and 18 hours of labour. There was blood everywhere and she’s so tiny. She deserved to name her. I call my little girl Charlie.
Laughing: Yes, that is a nice name, Christopher.
Thanks. You never know though, we could have another. Well, actually, we did, only it was a boy. If you come by, she’ll tell you it was a mistake, but, I only believe that so far. In any case, my father had five sons Caroline, and none of us named a boy after him. So when I got this little guy in my life, I named him after my father. Little Howie, we call him. He’s a real delight, now two and a half.
That’s great Christopher. 
Although, there’s still a chance we could have a Caroline. Don’t give up! You just never know. The missus says no, flat out, no way. In fact, she wants me to go under the knife–if you know what I mean. But I just can’t bring myself to do it. I mean, seems pretty drastic. What do you think? Another Caroline would be great eh? 
Laughing: Well yes, I suppose that would be good too, Mr. Wallace. 
Then again, we could have a boy, Caroline. Then I’d really be in trouble. I have no plans for another boy’s name. It seems so vain to name him after myself, you know what I mean? 
Ha! I’m sure you’ll come up with something if that happens Mr. Wallace. 
Yes, I don’t even want to think of the wife’s reaction if I knock her up again. I’m not getting any younger you know. Well, that’s too bad you’re not stopping by, Caroline. I really made sure to have things perfectly in order to make it as easy as possible for you. Are you sure you couldn’t? I have a big conference table and chairs where you can go over three or so years of receipts. I’ll serve coffee too! 
No. No. Mr. Wallace. Could you just send us a sample of the expenses, like maybe the five largest ones? 
Well, I suppose. I mean, most of my receipts are for pretty small stuff. I have one vehicle that’s dedicated to business. Unfortunately, I was in newspapers sales and creative destruction has killed off my niche so I’m moving on as of this week. 
Oh, that’s too bad Mr. Wallace. I know. Newspapers are all on-line now. Print is less in demand. 
Yes, that’s right Caroline. It’s the end of an era. To tell you the truth, I have mixed feelings about it. I spent 14 years flogging newspapers across Canada. At one time, I had more than a 150 reps working for us, ten managers, a dozen newspaper clients and seven regular account offices. I’m bittersweet about leaving. 
It must be terrible Christopher. I hope you find something else that works for you. 
I will Caroline. And when I do, I’ll make sure to keep proper records in case you want to come by. When I think of it, there was a couple of transmissions put into that vehicle, those are pretty big bills. Will those do? I mean, what can do to make your job easier today? If you won’t come by for an audit, how can I help you? 
Mr. Wallace, how about I send you a letter asking for the five largest expenses and a sample of one of your month’s expenses. Send me that and we should be good. 
Caroline, that doesn’t seem like much. Are you sure I can’t do more? 
Laughing: No Mr. Wallace, that should be fine. I’ll send out a letter today. 
OK. Gees, I was sitting here pen and paper in hand ready to write whatever you said but if you’ll send me a letter I won’t take notes. Darn efficient of you then Caroline. I’ll look for your letter and I’ll make sure to send off whatever you need by the end of the week. And if you need anything else, you just let me know. Is your contact information going to be in the letter? 
No. No. Thank you very much Christopher. You don’t need to do anything. Yes, my contact information will be there too. I’ll put it all in the letter and if you can just do that and we should be good. It was nice speaking with you today. 
It was super speaking with you too. Please call anytime. I’m more than happy if you do. Goodbye now.
Good bye then. If I need anything, I’ll let you know.  



©CKWallace, 2016, all rights reserved.

P.S. If you’d like to learn how to build immediate rapport with anyone you meet, let’s talk.

My Newspaper Finale


I’m not sure why it is that the papers in Canada haven’t done more to survive. Clearly, they have things on their minds other than paid circulation—which is where I have worked for the last fourteen years. From a societal viewpoint, it’s already tragic that newspaper ownership has been allowed to concentrate in Canada the way it has, let alone what that means for those who operate as their vendors.

 Very few people will read this, even fewer will care. So many started their working careers selling or delivering newspapers that it’s worth a mention. It’s the passing of an era.

I’ve heard there are partially publicly funded newspapers in some Scandinavian countries. I’m told these seem to be working well enough, with sufficient legislation keeping the government’s nose out of editorial to allow the fundamental role newspapers play in their societies to continue. Unfortunately, Canada is so close to the US in ideology—with its reliance on letting the marketplace decide the viability of a product no matter its importance—which means it’s doubtful that we’d ever consider moving to that kind of model.

A malevolent stew of ingredients has been slow-cooking this part of the information sector for some time. These include the aforementioned ownership issue, in Canada an almost laughable consequence of precedence.

Detractors like to mention hubris, citing things like decisions made in the 90s to sell yesterday’s news. Though I wasn’t yet working as a full time vendor, having read at least one daily most days of my life, I remember at the time this was pivotal. It signaled something almost ungrateful, something that disconnected people emotionally from newspapers. As far as many were concerned, it was seen as breaking a pact with the public; we no longer shared the same-day news value.

It also was part of what left newspapers open to being beat in the marketplace by faster and more efficient assemblers of information. First Craigslist and later Kijiji obliterated their once great stranglehold on the classified ad, and then a plethora of online news products offering free content watered down the once mighty status of newspapers of all stripes.

The tradition of newspaper ownership insisting on using their platform to sway public opinion by backing favoured candidates during elections has also undermined credibility with a public that expects at least a modicum of neutrality on issues. That’s what customers tell me. I know this because my reps have been knocking on doors across Canada for more than a decade, and people tell us what they want or don’t want, but especially what they don’t.

I know. Editorial stance has a long tradition. I’m saying it was a bad one.

The list of gripes goes on. We weren’t swayed. Trust me when I say as vendors we developed a keen answer to every objection over the years. Despite all this, newspapers are still valued by a segment of the population. However, what I read is that when the market is allowed to determine the true value for newspaper products, the natural price falls to zero. That leaves us in a difficult position. At least in Canada, we have an economically worthless product that commands only a tiny fraction of the loyalty required from the general public to survive.

Speaking of which, I’ve been asking about loyalty programs since before 2009. I’ve talked with every circulation manager from Alberta to Ontario, and got a polite audience each time from well-intentioned folks hamstrung by decisions being made under an increasingly centralized chain of command. Any financial inducement to new subscribers by our sales teams has to be built into the price, making it far more than what your average consumer will pay. I’ve asked about using premiums from local advertisers to provide additional value to the print reader. We saw a short-lived sprinkling of green/organic trial coupons tried in Calgary and it worked very well, boosting sales; Edmonton did even less, and the other markets even less than that.

As soon as the Ipad came out, many predicted the newspaper’s days were numbered. Sure enough, half a dozen years later almost half of Canadian households have at least one. The drop in advertising post-2008-9 recession, the severity of of which had not been seen in more than half a century, ensured the print news at least, if not the whole sector, was in deep trouble.


The one day per week print paper might still have appeal, or a bundled print/digital product that came at a very low subscription rate. We’d need to get paid a good rate as vendors for both a weekend order and/or digital edition to survive. The Canadian newspapers responded by cutting our deal for one day orders even more. It seemed at the time as if they were petulantly insisting we give them what they want, or nothing, regardless of what the market demanded. I prefer to think it was just that they didn’t believe they had the money.

That first Christmas when tablets appeared, I picked up two of the first generation Ipads–one for the missus and one for my top account manager. I felt a little guilty about reading newspapers this way after being a loyal print reader for four decades. It took a couple more years before I picked up a Blackberry Playbook and began to read the free online edition of the National Post. I kept my daily print paper coming to the house until two years ago. Now I read the odd print paper out of nostalgia, if at all.

Because of the natural transition from print to digital occurring everywhere, newspapers didn’t see the benefit of paying much for digital customers at the door or kiosk. There was already a migrating wave of e-edition subscription enrolment as readers got rid of print. Perhaps that was sufficient to convince our newspaper clients they were doing well enough in that area, since they weren’t making much money from that type of subscriber anyway. These were readers they could deliver to practically for free online.

However, it also meant we were showing up at customer’s doors selling a format the reader had already divorced themselves from mentally. Many were grateful not to have to recycle all those newspapers, and the comments above represent just a sampling of the public’s negativity. We found that our reps had to be trained to such a high level that we’d soon lose them to competing jobs. Sales anywhere are trendy—we realize that. There aren’t many bible salesman around anymore either.

Regardless, if our newspaper client’s brand isn’t in front of the consumer in as many ways possible, both in print and digital, then I suppose the risk is we lose them to Google forever. That seems to be the case.

What was a fairly easy impulse buy at five or ten bucks a month for three months just ten years ago, rose to almost thirty per month for a six month deal and is now a commitment of twenty dollars per month, six months minimum. To ask a Canadian to fork over more than a hundred bucks for news they can get for free doesn’t fly, no matter how you dress it up.

For the past few years, we’ve been pushing our Canadian newspaper clients to adopt some of the practices of the US markets in which we still have decent sales, where there was enough competition to encourage different approaches. Bright spots emerged as a result of that collaboration. Cities where we sell a one day order bundled with digital for a very low monthly rate retain at 50% or better a year or more out. That’s pretty good for our business. Whether it’s good enough for everyone isn’t for me to decide. I note other markets are asking for our services south of the border. People seem to be willing to tolerate a one day paper with digital bundled in, if it’s priced inexpensively at five or ten dollars per month.

Unfortunately, Canada doesn’t seem willing or able to go that route, at least not yet. Of course, we can’t keep sales teams in the field while they decide. Just a few years ago, I had more than 150 reps working for up to ten managers in seven cities for up to a dozen newspaper clients. We were good at it because we looked after our people. The papers supported our efforts, and we felt more or less valued. We did our best to represent our newspaper clients with integrity and honour, proud to be part of its great history. However, over time, we’ve lost every manager and a steadily dwindling turnover of reps to the forces of creative destruction and an apathetic client who seems to be in the game for the ride downhill. I’m the last crew man standing in Canada from our company.

I, for one, would have been happy to spend the rest of my days flogging a product I believe in deeply. My grandfather had been a reporter in his youth, and my father got his writing start in Halifax as a cub reporter. Our family had the Le Droit, the Ottawa Citizen and, when it was still around, the Ottawa Journal, delivered to the house as I was growing up. I was a carrier for all three, and even did a stint for the Globe and Mail, rising at 5 am and delivering papers by bike all over the south end of Ottawa. I got my start doing doors selling subscriptions on Saturdays after finishing my route.

Every Canadian city where we once held flourishing accounts have now closed: Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, Hamilton and Toronto, all gone. Smaller communities we’d often go into once or twice a year to boost circulation haven’t had crews or kiosk visits for years. Though there was some grumbling in the last few years about our service, and about me personally not being able to deliver, I hold no hard feelings towards anyone who was in the business, or the few of them who remain. I’m not a miracle worker and I did my best. My experience working with dedicated newspaper folks all over Canada has been positive, and I still hold many of them in high regard.

Some have left the business like rats swimming away from a sinking ship; some have nobly disembarked with heads held high… and some have been forced to walk the plank. My best to each one of them.

It is the wonderful reps and managers I worked with over the years that were by far the best part of the job. I know I’ve had an impact on many of them, just as each of them in their own way was able to teach me something. I was also proud to represent our company, rising through the ranks to the top Canadian job. I learned so much from my experiences and a lot of us will stay in touch. Recently, one of my old Vancouver managers told me about his girlfriend’s sister’s husband who worked for me over a decade ago. I don’t really remember him but the name is familiar. He says he remembers many of my motivational speeches, with one thing in particular that has stuck: happiness is a decision. A fitting thought to end on.

So it’s with some regret and misgiving that I won’t be in the business any longer. I wish the whole industry the best of luck as it finds its new low, or morphs into whatever it needs to become to survive. I’ll be pulling for this important guarantor of democracy and free speech from the sidelines.

Last person to leave turns out the lights.

 P.S. Need help with something? Check me out at or fill out this form and we’ll talk.


Christopher K. Wallace

 Senior Vice President, Canada
Circulation Marketing Inc.
© CKWallace 2016, all rights reserved

Anxiety’s riddle


acorn tree_edit

Anxiety and stress are good things. It means your body and mind is working as it should.

I like to tell people who are anxious that they should be thankful for their anxiety because in days of old, they’d be less likely to be eaten by a bear.

It’s also a signal that you care about something. After all, if you didn’t give a hoot, there’d be no reason to feel anxious. You have no vested interest in feeling fearful about something that you have no feelings for.

Anxiety and stress: caring emotion.

There you have it: both can be a good thing, and it means you care. Something has meaning for you. We are meaning-makers: we search for meaning our whole lives. You’ve found some of it.

I wonder if Olympic athletes are fearful before they compete, or if actors feel anxious on opening night? What about those who have to give a speech in public, folks like politicians, academics, even Tony Robbins?

All of them feel it before they go on.

Top performers in every field you can imagine feel nerves and anxiety when they are challenged. I did my best exams in college when I felt my most anxious. Executives in companies and people in everyday life feel it. We all do. There are people right now all over the world feeling anxiety and stress. You are not alone. It happens to everyone.

When you ask people who have excelled at something, you rarely hear “it was nothing, no big deal,” unless they’re bullshitting, or trying to calm themselves.  No. Usually, you hear how they wondered if they’d pull it off. We hear about their fears, their trepidation. They might downplay something, probably so they don’t get a big head, or just to put things into perspective. But almost always, they use determination and perseverance to stick at something despite how awful it might have felt at times.

Determination and perseverance.

It’s like the sapling growing in the forest: when the wind blows it bends deeply, opening tiny cracks in its bark that quickly fill in with new growth. In this way, it thickens until it becomes as solid as the giant oak it was destined to be.

Anxiety and stress can be our wind, there to make us grow.

Here’s where it gets interesting. When we are pushed, we often find a deeper level of creativity or resourcefulness that we can call upon, and we often do things we never thought possible when under stress.

Everyone has heard the story of someone lifting a car off someone trapped underneath after an accident, or braving flames to rescue someone in the nick of time, acting without thinking out of fear. Being scared shitless can make us push back. As a kid, I ran my fastest getting away from that bully that was going to kick my ass; it made me go like the wind. We all have times we can remember where we rose to challenges in an unforeseen way. While such heroics sometimes make the news, all of us have a hero inside us coming up with new ways to overcome obstacles and burdens–often energized by fear.

You can use that stress and anxiety to search and find answers that you perhaps didn’t have before. The discomfort is there to propel you forward into action, often new action. Not to fear it, but, instead, to use it.

Here’s a suggestion: use three Ds to handle anxious thoughts. First detect a fear producing thought. Then detach from it–making no particular judgment about it–just that it’s there. Then detour around it by leaving it to hang and disappear on its own, realizing that you are not your thoughts. You know how as wee kids we blew bubbles?  Thoughts are like bubbles that hang in the air for a moment and then burst. They just come and go; some are useful, some are useless, some are freaky shit. Detect, detach and detour.

I do something similar with my feelings. Allow yourself to feel them as temporary physical sensations, without allowing them to define you. You are not your feelings either. Instead, look to how you can put your body to good use in that moment, in a way that allows you to live truer. How can you take your emotional energy and use it to live what you value, to pursue a goal, to meet your desires?

What if you find yourself with big anxiety? I’ve had that. It’s a bitch. I’d get a big pain right in my chest, in the sternum. First time it happened, I thought I was having a heart attack. Friends took me in to hospital where I got hooked up to all the machines and had blood work done. Old doc, about seventy, came out and told me my gullet was flipping. To me that meant there was something seriously wrong as I imagined some part of my chest tied in a life-threatening knot. I wondered how the heck I did that, and would I need surgery?

Seeing the dumb look on my face, doc tells me, “You’re having an anxiety attack. You can go home now.”

What the…? Anxiety attack? Me? Isn’t that for girls?

I had a bunch of them until I learned how to get control of my body. Another old guy, this time a psychologist-priest I knew, told me to go for a run next time it happens. He said you can’t feel anxious and run at the same time, you’ll fall down if you do. There’s something about putting one foot in front of the other at any speed that alleviates the tension. The deeper breathing helps too. Sure enough, within a few blocks, the tightness in my solar plexus would dissipate.

It worked like a charm. After a few months, I never got them again. That was thirty years ago.

What’s interesting is looking back at those episodes the same principals apply. I used my high anxiety to get moving, first by running off the tension and then to make huge adjustments in my life. I had just given up a ten year heroin and cocaine habit. I had a three year old son we just brought out of hiding after stashing him with relatives for a few months. A bunch of my friends and “co-workers” had been killed or died recently, and even I’d been shot, stabbed and had an arm broken with a bat over the course of a few months. Now I was in school full time studying behavioural sciences and working as a doorman/bartender at night. So my anxiety meant I cared. My stress was there to push me forward.  So is yours.

Anxiety and stress is just part of your energy, a deep wellspring of power you can harness for good. It’s a signal to find a way to live according to your own version of value-based happiness.

And here’s perhaps its greatest gift: It can put you into the zone. That state of flow that represents your best level of confidence.

Confidence isn’t a feeling,  at least not at first. No. Confidence is an action. Its Latin root is con fidere: with trust. Confidence is an act of trust. It’s acting with the highest degree of trust in you. More often than not, it is fear that puts you there.

Here are three ingredients to getting into your zone. But first, here’s what I mean.

I used to play a lot of pool. Snooker, nine ball, you name it. When I was in the zone, there could have been five hundred people watching, twenty-five people watching, or no one watching, it didn’t matter. I’d prowl around the green baize cloth, my eyes focused so intently that I wouldn’t even notice my surroundings, only what was under the lights. Commanding concentration shrank my world down to the size of the 6 x 12 or 4.5 x 9 foot table. The key to pool is controlling the white ball and I’d feel as if I could put it within a quarter inch of anywhere on the table, as if I had it on a string. If my opponent spoke, I wouldn’t acknowledge or hear them beyond what information they could convey that I needed to control the table. Time would seemingly stand still; I’d feel no hunger. And it was fear that would put me there because before every big money game or tournament match, I’d feel anxious to the point of shaking throughout my body.

The first zone ingredient is to master the fundamentals of whatever it is you are involved with. I’d practice twenty hours per week at my pool game, taking on players all over southern Ontario back in the day. I even got coaching from Canada Fats, Tony Lemay.

Second is to focus one hundred percent on the task at hand. At every college or university I attended, I sat in the front of the class and took the best notes possible, completely absorbed in the lessons of the day. That allowed me to excel.

And third, try the impossible. When you allow fear to put you into the deep trance of your zone, calling upon everything you know and have practiced, creative solutions emerge that you never knew existed. I’ve made impossible shots at the table while in my zone. When pro ball players learned to block Michael Jordan’s jump shot, he came up with the fade-away jumper during a game to compensate, sending the ball over defenders to the net. Somehow, acts of confidence are summoned from within flow, often surprising even yourself.

If you can see fear and stress and anxiety as your body’s way of signaling you have extra energy to devote to living according to what you value, suddenly a force that once held you back is replaced by a power that brings out your best efforts.

Before you know it, fear, stress and anxiety is replaced by action and confidence.

What a gift this thing we call fear.

P.S. Have a fear you need help with? See me at, or  contact me here and we’ll talk




© CKWallace 2016, all rights reserved

photo credit:

Top: The Acorn Tree. A large white oak that has been growing near my parents home in Heron Park, Ottawa, since long before me.

Bottom:  combination snooker and pool cue. Four shafts, three extensions fit in the custom case. I traveled to Montreal to meet and be measured by Marcel Jacques himself somewhere around 1990. In his day, Marcel was one of the best custom cue makers in the world.



Mel’s Birthday Relief

Melissa Davey and I have been together going on ten years. In fact, we are pretty certain it will be ten years this coming summer. She’s a little younger than I am. I remember how we met and found love.


I was newly single and living in two cities. I’d been the account manager for Calgary, Alberta and was handed the Vancouver account as well.  To avoid staying in hotels, I kept a duplex in Calgary and a condo in Vancouver, and flew or drove between the two cities often. I was unattached and focused on work.


Mel had been a stellar rep for one of our Calgary managers. The first time I met her while joining up with her manager’s crew and running a combined team one Saturday, she threatened to quit because I’d gotten a little pissed at her for talking non-stop while I was trying to train in the van. We mended fences over the years and she became one of our most reliable Calgary reps. Eventually, her manager went back to Mexico and Mel moved on, though, she stayed in touch with a lot of our team members. When I took over the Vancouver account, she was over visiting our Calgary office manager when I happened to be in town.


I needed Vancouver reps. Mel was an adult and I offered her a job. She could stay in her own room at the condo in Vancouver and help me train managers. She thought about it and later agreed.


She moved in and did a splendid job. I mostly worked all day and night. I had a shop in Vancouver where I was leaning to fix our trucks, just for the hell of it. I also fished. British Columbia has some of the finest fishing in the world. At the time, I think I must have had thirty rods. That was my life: working, learning rudimentary welding and mechanics at the shop, and exercise and fishing. I often cooked us dinner late at night, usually the same thing: salmon and salad, washed down with cold beer.


One day, Mel asked if she could cook dinner. As soon as I said yes, she almost shoved me aside at the kitchen counter. From then on, I was out of a job. She acted as if she’d done it before, though, she kept burning herself on the frying pans. As soon as she healed one burn, she’d somehow burn herself again. Insisting she’d been cooking her whole life as angry red welts an inch long appeared on her hands and forearms. I told her all the great cooks have those. She was good company in the little time I had to spend with her.


On occasion, she’d ask a favour: could I go downstairs to the pool so she could swim and soak in the hot tub. She didn’t like going alone. So, I’d do some exercise in the little gym overlooking the aquatic area while she splashed around. Then I’d join her and do laps and sit in the tub with her for a bit. Later, I’d often run up the seventeen flights of stairs returning to the condo, while she took the lift. Usually, I’d be so dehydrated by then that I’d stop a few floors shy of the seventeenth and take the elevator the rest of the way.


We got along fairly well and our relationship was completely platonic. She dated here and there, as did I when I had time.


One evening, just as we were leaving the hot tub I happened to mention that I usually get so hot from the soak that I don’t run all the way back up the stairs to the apartment. Joking, I told her that maybe if she ran up the stairs ahead of me in her little bikini I’d probably be able to make it all the way to our floor.


To my surprise, she immediately said, “I can do that for you.”  What? Did I hear that right? She was straight-faced but I could see something in her eyes before she quickly averted them.


Not long after, we decided to go on a trial date. We’ve been together ever since. Well, there was one week a few months later where she became unsure of herself because of our age differences, but she soon got over it. Maybe I’ll tell that story one day, who knows?


Anyways, when she did, she accepted us, embracing what we had together. She said to me, “You might be an old man, but you’re my old man.” To me that was one of the sweetest things I’d ever been told. I was smitten.


I couldn’t argue the old man bit. I was in my late forties and she was thirty years younger. I’m in decent shape but all I could muster in reply was, “You might be a little young but you’re an old soul.”


And she was and is an old soul. She’s already been through a lot in her life; things she’s weathered and come through stronger and wiser for. She’s quite a remarkable lady.


It was enough for me that she was a woman. There is plenty differences between us on that basis without worrying about something as silly as age too. Perhaps she was mature for her age and I was immature for mine. Who knows? Who cares? She is a woman and I am a man and we have plenty of love between us.


So here we are, ten years later. We’ve seen a few birthdays come and go. Each one is a reminder of our personal mortality but also of our special bond, not unique by any stretch but something quite magical. We now have two children, something I’ll explain later. Mel is a wonderful mother. I knew she would be.


But each year I turn a year older in December and it takes until early February for her to catch up and restore the thirty year spread between us. My protectiveness feels it during this time. Those sixty or so days leave me as if I’m pulling away from her, like I’m aging and she is not. So it’s with mild relief that my darling Mel turned twenty-eight this week. It seemed like the temporal boundary of our mutual existence had been restored.


I got her socks for her birthday. Beautiful knee-high handcrafted free-trade loomed socks in an explosion of brightly coloured stripes. She has Raynaud’s and gets cold feet. I offer her my best winter socks from the box under my bed at night in winter, so that she’s warmed and comfortable as she sleeps. She also gets up in the night often to tend to our youngest son who has some challenges. This she does without complaint. She’s not high-maintenance; she’s all down to earth heart and soul.


Yes, old soul, the best kind.
MockIt_tartan fun
P.S. Want to learn how you too can find love? Get me helping you by contacting me here.